Short Days and Hazard Lights

The days are getting shorter and I find myself riding in the dark more and more. My place of employment is about 28 miles away, if I take a direct route, and I usually try to be there between 7:00am & 7:30am. The ride takes about 40 minutes, which means I am leaving the house in the dark and get to the office around sun-up. This is a perfect part of the day to ride as I love watching the sun come up, but really, what part of the day is bad for riding?

For the most part, I like the controls on the ST, particularly those on the handlebars. After you figure out where they are, they become very intuitive. My wife's Honda Odyssey is very similar, once you figure out the multitude of buttons, (there's a lot, and they're everywhere; like flying the Space Shuttle), everything is in the right place. (I do, however, take exception to two of the 'environmental control' switches for the rear of the Odyssey. After 70,000 miles, they're still counter-intuitive to me.) Thankfully, the ST only has a few buttons and switches on the handlebars, all which are standard on every bike I've ever owned or ridden.

But... there are three non-standard buttons and a non-standard dial on the ST dashboard. Their uses are very straight forward though. The dial adjusts the headlight pitch. The headlights can be adjusted - raised or lowered - on the fly. There are eight increments on the dial that allow the rider to find that happy place. If you carry a passenger, or adjust you rear shock with too much preload, and your headlight is pointing in the trees or only shining 20 feet in front ahead, a quick turn of the knob and it's all good.

The three nearly flush-mounted buttons are placed to the right of the headlight knob, and control some of the information shown on the ST's dash board computer read-out info screen. The lower right button toggles between the two trip meters. The lower left button toggles between instantaneous fuel mileage (updated at ten second intervals), average fuel mileage, or just turns the mileage data off with one less piece of info cluttering the info screen. The top button is simply a brightness adjustment, with three increments, for the info screen. This top button I've been using a lot lately as I've been riding more in the darker hours. During the daytime, I like to set the info screen at its brightest. It's not absolutely necessary, but it helps when the sun glares on the dash. When the sun goes down, I turn the brightness on the info screen down, where its brightness about equals the backlights in the analog tachometer & speedometer.

Of those four controls, two of them, the headlight dial and the info screen brightness adjustment, are intended to make functional adjustments between daytime and night-time riding. As such, they are frequently used in low-light, to no light conditions. I think Honda could have made them a bit easier to use in these conditions if the buttons lit up, or at least had a light halo around them. As they are, they're black buttons on a black dash. At night, it's just a whole lot of black nothing. When I do want to adjust them, unless I pass under a street light at the right moment, I have to grope my way around until I find them. The knob for the headlights isn't much of a problem, but finding the right buttons with my winter gloves still involves some trial and error. I try to dim the lights only to find I'm toggling between my trip meters.

There is one other nit I can pick about button location, but I'm not sure if I can attribute the problem directly to Honda. I have a set of bar risers on the ST that lift the bars 3/4" up and 1" back. They do make the riding position much more comfortable than I believe the stock position would be, (The risers were on the ST when I got it) but they place me farther from the dash, making the buttons harder to reach. Now, I'm a tall guy - 6' tall - with a longer than most wingspan. I can reach about 6'4", but I've still got to lean pretty far forward to reach the buttons.

Now, there's another button on the ST that is standard on many newer motorcycles, particularly tourers and sport-tourers; the Hazard switch. The ST has one located on the top of the left hand control cluster. For comparison, my BMW GS has a hazard switch located on the right of the dash, opposite the switch for the heated grips. Honda put it closer to the rider, but it's still necessary to let go of the bar to activate it. The problem I'm finding with it's location, and this (minor) problem may be attributed to the bar risers, is that when I lean forward to grope in the dark to find the the headlight dial or the info screen brightness adjustment, my forearm hits the hazard switch and activates the hazard lights.

These aren't huge problems. They are relatively minor in the grand scheme on the bike. (I have lived with bigger problems on lesser bikes.) Once the switches are set in the proper positions, you forget them. During daylight hours, these problems don't exist, and using the buttons is simple and intuitive. But, their existing design and configuration seem to make more work than it should be at night. Work that I'll have to get used to as the days keep getting shorter.

At least the ST doesn't have that same upside-down 'environmental' switch as my wife's Odyssey.


Bicycle Community

A blogger in Holland has posted about how the bicycle is a staple in Dutch daily life. Cars are prominent, as are motorcycles, but bicycles are much more than they are here in the U.S. Bicycles (and motorcycles) are a commonly used, and accepted form of transportation. When I was in Amsterdam in 1985 (has it really been that long?) bicycles were everywhere, and there were places for them everywhere. The system of bike paths was as developed and intricate as the general roadway system used by automobiles, and finding a place to park your bike was often easier than finding a place to park a car. In many places, it was faster to go to your destination by bicycle than by car because cars were not accommodated as well, either in the route you'd have to take, or where you'd have to park when you got there.

The US has become such a car culture that we often overlook the bicycle as a viable source of transportation. The fact that many of our cities are so spread out, and that bicycles are only looked at as an after thought in many areas, doesn't help. Recent gas prices have been showing many people the usefulness of the bicycle for commuting and general errands. This is something they've known in Holland, and most of Europe, for years. It's amazing. Imagine what that would be like here...

Read their full post HERE.


'Cool' has limitations

I've lost track of how many times I've been asked by someone, 'Which bicycle is best for me?' I usually reply with a couple of questions, the first of which is always, 'What kind of riding do you intend to do?' Most people don't know what kind of riding they'll be doing, but they've usually already got an idea of what kind of bike they want. Often times what they want, and what they want it for are not compatible. Rather than bike built for their intended purposes, they want a 'cool' bike. 'Cool' usually has limitations.

One thing that has always interested me is long distance, self-contained cycling. Touring. I AM interested in long distance competitions, such as the RAAM, but I know better than to aspire to that. Touring I can do. Consequently my favorite bicycle (for 18 years now!) has been my long distance rig: my Cannondale Tourer. Racks, bags, fenders. The works. It's not particularly cool, but it does everything I want it to do. My Honda ST1300 is becoming a similar bike.

This past Tuesday night I rode the ST down to Bakersfield for a seminar. From Fresno it's about 110 miles of long, straight, flat, dairy-strewn Highway 99. I've had the ST on a few multi-hundred-mile days in the three an a half months and nearly 7000 miles I've had it, but a good portion of those long days were mountainous and twisty. Fun stuff. This was the first opportunity I had to really see how I liked it (or it liked me) when the miles just droned on.

The short of it: Wheeeee! :)!

The long...

I filled the tank the night before anticipating the long ride. I took my usual 27 mile route to work and then left the office about a half-hour before rush hour. After I got out of town, and onto the ribbon of concrete known as State Route 99, I was able to settle into a grove. The stock ST does not have cruise control, or even a throttle lock for that matter. I know there are many riders who swear by their Audiovox CCS but I've found that in my part of the world, where it's long & flat for miles & miles, a throttle lock works fine. I like the throttle lock on my GS and use it frequently on long highway trips. The throttle springs on the GS are heavy and demand that you give your right hand a break after a while. You could either lock the throttle, or get off the bike every hour or so and practice the carpal tunnel exercise instructions usually included in new computer keyboards. I expected a similar situation on the ST but it was not to happen. When I first test rode the ST, I noticed how much lighter the throttle was. There's not a lot of pull coming off the fuel injector throttle bodies on the ST as there is on the GS's dual carburetor set-up. What that turned into on this long ride was a wrist that didn't get nearly as tired, nearly as fast. My hand and wrist still got tired, but it was from being held in one position, not from fighting with a heavy throttle.

However, the lightness of the throttle does have at least one drawback: it doesn't take much of a bump in the road to jiggle the throttle, even a slight bit, in a way that makes the bike lurch or hesitate. On uneven pavement, it can become quite difficult to hold the throttle steady. The ST is somewhat known for having a 'snatchy' throttle, but I wonder if the lesser resistance in the throttle may have something to do with it.

One thing I've found about the ST is how much aerodynamics play a role it the bike's being. On a bicycle, 75%-85% of a riders energy is used just to move through the air and to move the air around the rider. That percentage is dependent on speed; the higher the speed, the higher percentage of energy needed, used, or wasted (depending on your point of view). Motorcycles are no different. Especially with the ST and it's large frontal surface area. The dynamics of the windscreen positioning I'd figured out fairly early on. The higher it is, the lower the mileage is. Not a lot lower, but noticeable. I like the windscreen about 1/3 of the way up, most of the time. (When it's hot, I can't get it down far enough.) At 1/3 of the way up, it deflects most of the air and bugs over my helmet, but I can still easily see over it. In that position. I can open my visor most of the way and not have a face-full of wind. It also doesn't seem to affect the mileage too much.

The slipstream created by the very forward rear-view mirrors is hardly noticeable until you let go of the bars and pull your hand out of it. The handlebars are wider than the windscreen, but your hands and arms feel virtually no wind at all because of the mirrors. Put your hand on the tank or your lap and your upper arm gets a big helping of wind blast. There's also nearly no wind at all down near your legs. The space between the lower faring and the saddle bags seems to be void of any breeze. I'm sure that lack of circulation doesn't help remove any of the oft complained about engine heat away from the rider's legs.

One thing I noticed, completely by accident, was that dropping your feet off the pegs, drops the fuel mileage. On one particularly long straight stretch, I dropped my feet off and pointed my toes toward the ground, just to stretch a bit. At the 75MPH I was traveling, there was enough wind to keep my feet from touching the ground. (At 65MPH, my toes would touch down.) As I did this, I saw the fuel consumption-o-meter scrub off 3-4 miles per gallon! I thought it may have been a fluke, but I tried it four or five more times at different times through the ride, with the same results.

Also on the subject of ST aerodynamics: it doesn't take much of a headwind to increase fuel consumption. Likewise, a good tailwind decreases the consumption crazy good. Drafting near a semi-truck produces similar results, but taking an already inherently dangerous activity and making it that much more dangerous by riding in, or near, the blind spot of a semi to save a few pennies is just plain stupid. So, don't be stupid; leave the drafting in NASCAR.

At the end of the day, I'd gone 277 miles. From home, to work, to Bakersfield, than back home. I did it on one tank of fuel and still had plenty to get to work again the next day, getting 306.3 miles out of the tank before I filled it. It took 6.699 gallons for an average of 45.72 miles per gallon. I think it could have been better, but when you consider that I did most of the trip around 75 miles per hour, that number gets more impressive. (Even more so when you consider that it was California gas.)

The more I ride the ST, the more I WANT to ride it. It's not as exotic (or yuppie) as the BMW R1200RT I was looking at (and really wanted), or as flashy as a Yamaha FJR or new Kawasaki Concours (and, man, those are suh-weeet looking bikes). The ST is certainly not as 'cool' as the others, but it's is doing everything I want a bike to do for me.

And that's what's important.


Bicycle or Drive?

A few years ago - 1988 to be exact - I needed to renew my drivers license. I rode my bicycle to get it done. I rode my bike everywhere; drove if I had to. I didn't know I'd be getting a new picture for my license. I'd bet there aren't many other people who are wearing a cycling jersey in their drivers license photo.

I was pretty proud of that. I still am.



Too much front brake can result in poor form.


Grizzly Century, North Fork, Ca

I have sort of a running joke with my wife in that she'll let me go in a 12 hour bicycle ride on a Saturday, but my motorcycle ride time on Saturdays is limited to about 20 minutes. Of course it's not really true, but I think she'd rather have me on the bicycle. When I'm on a bicycle, I'm getting exercise and helping the environment. A motorcycle just burns fuel and tires. The latter is justifiable for commuting, not so much for weekend free time.

I've learned that if I use the motorcycle for a bicycle purpose, I can get out the door rather easily. Saturday the 4th was one of those days. The North Fork Chamber of Commerce had its 16th annual Grizzly Century bicycle ride. One hundred miles of some of the most beautiful Sierra Nevada scenery there is. It is an unbelievable bicycle ride that I've done a couple of times. I really think that the ride is one of the best in the State, due to the route, scenery and support. I was able to help them out with rider support (aka SAG) as I have in past years. Carry some water, spare tubes, a first-aid kit and strap a floor pump to the bike, then ride the course and help any riders who may need it.

Most of the SAG drivers drive a truck or car. I ride my motorcycle. In professional cycling events, particularly road racing like the Tour de France, motorcycles are everywhere. In recreational events, they're a rarity. A motorcycle has some serious advantages over a larger vehicle on this type of event. A motorcycle can cover more ground quicker, it can pull off the road in less space, and it needs less space to pass the cyclists, and it can get closer to the cyclists safer (if you need to talk to them) than a car. One big advantage a car has is the ability to carry a rider down the mountain if there is a mechanical failure or injury. For the most part though, most SAG drivers only help with flats, hand out water, and head back down at the end of the day without carrying a cyclist. Theoretically, this is the goal of EVERY organized bicycle ride; to get every cyclist home on their own power.

I was looking forward to the Griz (as it's affectionately called by the locals) as it would be my first time SAGging on the ST. I was curious to see how it would handle the sometimes slow, close-quartered maneuvering that can happen in this type of event. I was not looking forward to the weather, however. Early last week, there were reports of an incoming storm to the Pacific Northwest and most of the west coast. It was to bring the first rains of the season to our area. The forecast had it hitting our area on Saturday. As the week went on, I kept watching, hoping really, that the rain would stay away for one more day, until Sunday. No such luck. As I was preparing the ST for the ride on Friday night, light rains began to fall on the Valley floor. I knew that in the mountains where the ride was to be, the rain would be falling much heavier.

Sure enough, Saturday morning as I opened the garage door, I was greeted with wet streets. Generally, rain doesn't bother me - either a bicycle or motorcycle (that's what proper gear is for) - but the first rain makes me anxious. First rains make the roads slick and drivers stupid. When there's a lot of rain, or if it rains frequently, the roads are washed. We haven't had rain since April so there's lots of slippery goo on the roads, and there certainly wasn't enough rain to wash it away, only to make a mess. So I geared up, and cautiously rode the 65 miles to North Fork and the Start/Finish for the Griz.

The ride from home to the event start in North Fork was uneventful. Light rain, most of the way. I was impressed at how much protection the faring and windscreen provided. Even the mirror shrouds kept much (not all) of the water off of my gloves. Pretty amazing considering how far in front of and below my hands the mirrors are. I found that if I raised the windscreen to where I was just looking over it, I could open my visor enough to just look under it, and not get wet.

I don't mind riding in the rain. I think it makes me a better rider. Nothing makes makes me more aware of how smooth I am with the throttle and brakes as a fresh rain. I guess it's probably more appropriate to say that I become aware of my lack of smoothness. I do think I am an able rider - I have plenty of miles under my belt - but I'm not going to make myself believe that miles makes a motorcyclist a good rider. There is always something to be learned and skills to work on and polish. Two of the things that show me where I need to work are slow speed maneuvers and rain. Saturday had plenty of both.

One of the main, off-highway roads to North Fork was under construction a few weeks ago when I was up here with a buddy. There were two or three miles of rutted and pot-holed, hard-packed dirt where there used to be asphalt. My buddy's VStrom loved the road. My ST would have liked to have been somewhere else. I was hoping that the road had been fixed by now as it was the shortest way to North Fork, but no luck there. I took one look at the very muddy road and I think the ST actually whined. And not in the good way that it's supposed to. So I turned around back to the highway to take the long way to the event start through Oakhurst.

I got to North Fork in the rain, checked in with the volunteers at the North Fork School (the event start), and after getting my supplies and loading my bike, I was back out on the road. Still in the rain.

The rain lasted most of the day. It was raining when I left home around 7:30am, and it was raining, drizzling, misty, or foggy (less than 100 feet at times) until about 4:00pm. Since I got the ST1300 in July, there has been no rain. Heat, yes. We've had lots of that. It was 95° barely a week ago. The ST is a warm running bike, no doubt, and a hot day just makes it worse, but I've haven't had a chance to run it in cooler or wetter weather. Today I was got both cooler and wetter and the ST was great in all of it.

The storm had prompted a route change. The planned route travels north from North Fork, up the Sierra Scenic Byway. A road known as the Grizzly cutoff connects to Beasore Road which takes the riders down to Bass Lake and then back to North Fork. The Grizzly cutoff from the Scenic Byway to Beasore Road was at an elevation that within the forecasted area for possible snowfall. Not a place to be on a bicycle. The change had riders leave North Fork to the south and travel between Kerkoff & Reddinger Lakes before turning north to connect to the Scenic Byway. The riders continued up to just past halfway where there was a rest stop waiting for them. From there, they were turned back around to North Fork again.

There were 600 riders registered for the ride. Just less than half checked in either the night before or the morning of the ride, presumably because of the weather. Many of the riders completed the lower portion of the ride, and then turned back toward North Fork when they connected back up with the Scenic Byway without making the climb up to the turn around. This cut about 50 miles off of their ride. There were many that did go up to the top. There were a few that missed some turns and a few that missed the turn around and continued their ascension toward the cutoff. There are riders who have done this ride before, who know the route, and who don't look at the map they've been handed.

After hearing that there may have been some rider that continued on toward the Grizzly Cutoff, I went higher up the mountain to look for them and turn them around. Twelve miles farther up the road and I got to the Cutoff. A few miles past that and I got to tha regularly planned Lunch stop. The thermometer on the ST dash said 47° and I didn't see any riders. I headed back down.

By the end of the day, the sun came out, all of the riders had been accounted for, and we all had a great meal waiting for us at the end. There were no major crashes, mishaps, or other injuries, and considering the potential for all of those due to the weather, it was a great day.

I'm ready for next year.


MPG and Gas Station Attendants

Regardless of how the computer on the ST calculates the mileage, or whether or not it gets worse mileage on a full tank, overall, the STs mileage impresses me. I pulled into the gas station this morning with 309.5 miles on the clock since my last fill-up. I went through the usual routine of handing the attendant $40 and said, "It'll only take about $30." I like watching the look on the attendant's face; she always looks out at the bike and looks back at me. Her eyes always say, "Yeah, right" as she hands me back $10.

Just trust me....

It took 7.23 gallons. At $3.859 a gallon, it came to $27.90. The look on the attendant's face always changes to one of awe (as she's getting me my $1.10 change).

"Does that bike really hold that much?"

I always reply "Yeah. It does.", but I'm thinking 1) If the bike didn't hold that much fuel, where would I put it? and 2) I've answered this question for you like a dozen times. Why are you always suprised?

I get the "Does that bike really hold that much?" question from other gas stations too. It's usually followed by, "What kind of mileage does it get?" With the price of fuel now, the non-motorcycling public is keenly aware that motorcycling community has something on them. On average, the ST gets about 42 miles per gallon. With this last tank, it got 42.81 mpg.


Two out of three...

I saw this on Killboy's (aka Darryl Cannon) website and thought it was a cool shot. I wonder how often the other wheels come up like that?