Saturday, June 15, 2019

Spring ride day 1 - on the road again

Every year for the past 14 years (2006ish, maybe) my Dad, Todd, and I have been getting together for a spring ride. Out buddies Greg and Alex, and my brother have been known to join us from time to time. I'm sure I've missed a year or two when my son was little. This year it was just the there ham-egos.

For a long time, we'd meet up in Wisconsin Dells and ride the twisty roads of the Driftless area. They would ride out from Milwaukee and I would head down from St. Paul. Lately we've been branching out and exploring new lands. This year we set our sights on Starved Rock State Park in north central Illinois.

Buena Vista circa 2010

Friday morning I walked Jr. to school and finished packing my bags. My plan was to take the four lane south to Zumbrota and head over to Wabasha on highway 60, a beautiful road with big sweeping corners that winds its way down to the Mississippi river valley. It's been a long time since I've ridden it and I was excited to see it again. Unfortunately, the four lane exposed me to side winds that would dog me all weekend.

From Wabasha, the I stuck to the river valley all the way to Clinton Iowa. For the most part, the bluff protected me from the wind. Riding alone meant I could ride as long as I wanted and stop when I got hungry. It's an important process for disconnecting from work and stress. Focus on riding, slow, fast, far, whatever. I did have a goal of arriving at the Chateau de Lasalle motel sometime in the vicinity of supper but that was all.

I love riding down the big River valley. The roads on the west side mostly stick to the flood plain and there's much to see as you traverse the Driftless area. The bluffs grow bigger as you ride south and the culture quickly changes from walleye to trout to carp. (Not a typo, I'm talking about fishing here.) I feel like that's a fair way to describe the transition from Minnesota to Iowa.

My first stop of any length was at Effigy Mounds National Monument Just North on McGregor, Iowa. They have a beautiful visitor's center with a few small mounds just a short stroll away. If I had more time I would have taken the two mile loop up to the bear and snake mounds. The mounds sit just north of Pike's Peak State park. On the Wisconsin side of the river is the confluence of the Wisconsin river with the Mississippi, and Wyalusing State Park. Wyalusing has the most spectacular bluff top view if the river valley and is worth a visit, I feel some plans brewing for a family trip.

I've never ridden south of McGregor Iowa, from here on in I was breaking new ground. The great state of Iowa made navigation easy by designating all the good roads "Iowa Scenic Byway." The   road from highway 52 at Millville to Dubuque is called C9Y and "Great River Road" in spots. It winds up and down massive bluffs an packs ineradicable views of the Mississippi River flood plain below. The pullout in Balltown is particularly spectacular.

There are some tricks to following the river roads in Iowa. In several of the towns you need to take the small two lane levy roads out of town rather than highway 52. X52 south out of Lansing and north out of Guttenburg will do that.

Crossing the river in Clinton Iowa brought me out of the valley's protection and put me back in the wind. Thankfully it had settled down now that it was mid afternoon. Illinois State Highway 78 was a pleasant ride with long straight stretches that reach out to the horizon. Not bad in small doses, and I got the see beautiful Hooppole, Illinois! From there I-80 took me over the the twin cities of Peru and Lasalle, the Illinois River valley, and Starved Rock State Park.

I met up with Todd and a my dad and headed out for dinner and shenanigans in Lasalle. We caught up over a fancy diner at a restaurant that I didn't catch the name of then walked over to Re Phil's for drinks, more catching up, and a Bucks win. (Fear the Deer!) We always run into a cast of characters on these trips and Re Phil's didn't disappoint.

Day two was spent exploring the park and making our way up to Galena Illinois.

- Ride North.

May 18th, 2019
470 miles
10 hours

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Good morning St Paul!

I made a sketchy attempt at biking to work earlier this month and decided to stick to four wheels a little longer. This week is bringing us sunshine and 40s, and a  lot of melting. I'm hoping for better results.

The ice is off the river and the water's rising. We're not in flood stage yet but it's coming, much of Minnesota is experiencing floods. As the rivers break up and the ice melts, ice dams form and the water backs up into towns and homes. Its a mess and the state is predicting a drawn out flood season.

The Mississippi, looking down stream from St Paul.

My new fenders are doing their job! 

St Paul. 

I spotted a Ruckus out and about yesterday. (a reasonable speed and height from which to fall from)  There's still a ton of ice on the city streets during the early parts of the day. I imagine that shadows and north slops will still see ice for a while. 

Riding season is coming! 


- Ride North

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Cheap and fun

I've been thinking a lot lately about the entry cost of motorcycling and what it takes to "recruit" new riders. I've always felt that getting into motorcycling has a price floor below which your chance of success tapers off like a 1970's disc brake in a panic stop.

How cheap is cheap?

Here's where we need to stop and talk about inflation for a second. See, my idea of what one thousand dollars is worth is pegged to about 2005 dollars. Which is roughly $1300 2019 dollars. ($1000 1999 dollars = about $1500 2019 dollars. :/ ) What really blows my mind is that the $5200 I spent on my 2000 Moto Guzzi Vll with 20k miles on it in 2005 would be $6850 today, which is about the price of this new V7 Cafe! (granted, that's a smoking deal)

So, with that out of the way, $3000 is probably the absolute floor for a clean used bike of reasonable displacement. Four to five grand will put you on a used Harley Sportster, a "middle weight" Japanese sport standard ( FZ-6, Ninja 650, Honda 500s, SV650 ), or a metric cruiser of what ever displacement feels like "enough" to you. At these prices, in 2019 dollars, motorcycling is way cheaper than you think, (If, like me, you're brain is just now catching up to the fact that it will be 2020 next year.)

There is the vintage bike game but the days of the sub-one thousand dollar "runners" are probably over. The cost to fix a "cheap" neglected bike is going to put you way over the $3000 mark. If you can find a well maintained runner for less than $2000, pat yourself on the back for cheating "the system." However, like the 1978 XS500 in my garage, you'll still have 1970 brakes and 2019 traffic. So there's that.

What's the thrifty biker to do?

Dear Harley Davidson, your used Sportster models have flooded the marketplace. For 3 to 5 grand, a new rider can get into your brand on a bike that requires no chain maintenance, no valve adjustments, and has provenance. How about, instead of selling electric bicycles in your American Iron dealerships, you buy up some of these used bikes, upgrade the rear suspension, and sell them for cheap to new riders. These new riders will then have an easy to use, easy to maintain freedom machine of their own with unlimited potential for customization. Also, please ditch the Nick Cage, Ghost Rider, Marvel Comics skull graphics. You are the authentic american motorcycle, please act like it. (I'm from Milwaukee and have opinions about the motor company. Sorry about the rant.)

How should I introduce my own son to riding?

Our earliest experiences on a bike need to be positive and successful. You can't be scaring yourself early and often, it will never last. If you never make it out of the garage well, that's not much fun either. I learned on a dirt bike in a horse pasture, it was not pretty but I'll never forget it. I'm guessing that a lot of motorcyclists who have kept riding well into adulthood learned in a similar way, big open fields with nothing to hit but horse apples.

What about the city dwellers then?

It's possible that the urban resident could become a motorcyclist without setting out to become one. Bicycle commuting is gaining popularity but hilly commutes and hot summer days are still an issue. Maybe e-bikes will be the next logical step for some. Maybe some will take to scooters. (not "razor scooters" but real Italian knockoffs like the Honda Metropolitan.) A scooter is cheap, fuel efficient, and has tons of storage. Even a Grom or Honda Monkey could work. By the time they master the scooter game they'll have buckets of experience to bring with them on heavier, faster, more powerful bikes. Or they'll stick with small, cheep, fun, efficient motorcycles for all the reasons just mentioned.

I don't know how my son will segue into motorcycling but it's likely that at some point he'll want to give it a go. When that times comes, it will have to be safe, cheap, and fun. Maybe these three values are the future of motorcycling?

- Ride North

Thursday, February 28, 2019

March Eve

On this, the last day of the snowiest February on record, I find myself reminiscing about simple sunny days. Lazy rides and open visors fill my mind. How I miss the smell of humidity and motor oil.

Goodbye February.

- Ride North

P.S. We still know how to have fun!

Monday, February 18, 2019

IMS 2019

Just wanted to share some retro fun from the 2019 International Motorcycle Show. Despite missing some key players in the retro game (Triumph, Ducati, and Moto Guzzi) there was still plenty of style on display.

Indian continues to invest in it's primo display budget, as you would hope from the emerging brand. From the wood floors to the wall hangings, it looked more like their dealerships than a trade show display. The new suite of flat track inspired bikes and their accessory catalog, which is huge, drew the biggest crowd.

Kawasaki wins the prize for the best display that was not Indian.

Some bikes I'm just drawn too, Freud be dammed.

Go Moto was there again with the new Enfield 650 twins in tow. You'll probably never see these bike on their showroom floor, they will all sell out before the containers arrive from India. Lissa is taking orders so bring your lunch money down to the shop and get in line!

Suzuki is getting into the retro game too, just a different decade! I'd love to see more Hans Muth styling in the transformers/ mantis game that's plagued bikes of late.

Missing from this retro line up are all the amazing new Triumphs. From the speed twin to the the new scrambler, they have an amazing lineup of machines for the codger in all of us.

Another cheap fun bike on my radar is the Genuine G5400c. (Available at Scooterville)

I read story after story about slumping sales and rideship but I think bikes like the FZ09 have cracked open the cheap-fun game. And there's no putting that genie back in it's bottle.  Despite the hype, or lack there of, the manufactures are coming out with a huge variety of machines for all tastes and budgets. And I hope for our sake and theirs they sell like hotcakes!

 - Ride North

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Out on two wheels

I've been out on two wheels enjoying the winter weather. Commuting, as usual. I picked up some fenders and put them to work the past couple weeks. They are amazing, it's been sloppy, snow-covered-street riding for the first half of December but the temps were perfect (10-28F). With the fenders I was able to ride to work in my shoes with just some over pants, light coat, bacalava, and heavy gloves. And helmet of course. I'll have to put together a write up on winter biking soon. So far, it's the only time of year that I bike to work. because, you know, I have a motorcycle.

I made the trek to DePere for the family Christmas party this year. It was great to see all the Steinhofers, my how the kids have grown! (I didn't say that out loud, at least not to the pre-teens and teenagers.)

Some road worthy reporting: there was hoar frost covering all the land form St Paul to Wausau, even my six year old thought it was a beautiful winter wonderland. I love getting out and seeing the world with nothing more to do than drive.

We did some exploring on the way back, stopped just south of Wausau to do some hiking at Big Eau Pleine county park. It sits on a peninsula that sticks out into an impoundement on the Wisconsin River. (It's actually the Bige Eau Pleine River and the dam is at the confluence.) Google Maps had us driving down all kinds of questionable roads as we worked our way up from highway 10. (We stayed the night in Neenah, of man-hole cover fame, which is why were on 10 and not 29. Thanks Jane and Todd!) One of the roads, County O, cut straight across the Big Eau Pleine reservoir. It was a cool little detour.

Big Eau Pleine Co. Park has hiking, horse back riding trails, mountain biking trails (important to our family), and camping. This was mostly a scouting trip for next summer. :)

It's been a good December, busy but in a good way.

- Ride North

Thursday, November 29, 2018

the bringer of joy

A quiet morning.
The sun eases over the pines.
Finally, it is cool.
The dawn’s humidity is felt.
I am open.
I move in long, straight, determined lines towards the promised end of the rainbow.
Somewhere in the distance a rendezvous awaits.
The day’s labors come and go effortlessly.
This lump of metal spins freely as it is want to do.
Its fiery hum will push out anxiety.
A soul will rest.
The light shines in.

"Hear me, dear friends. This is the motorcycle, the bringer of joy." - Fuzzygalore

Inspired by Fuzzy's post "Be an evangelist for the church of the motorcycle".

Thanks Fuzz, I love your blog!

- Ride North