Review: Why We Ride – The Movie


Why We Ride Movie

Yesterday I saw the new documentary movie “Why We Ride” at the AMC 14 theaters in San Francisco along with a hundred or so other motorcycle fanatics. I’ve never seen so many helmets in a theater at one time.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie which walked in the footsteps of Bruce Brown’s 1971 classic “On Any Sunday” and many of Warren Miller’s ski films. The cinematography was outstanding and the flow of the film worked well.

But recently, I have been watching a lot of motorcycling documentaries and it seemed to me that what Why We Ride lacked was why a non-motorcyclists would enjoy the movie. A few months ago, I discovered Evan McGregor’s “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down” mini-series. I recommended those to my sister who has no interest in motorcycling whatsoever. She was captivated by the story, partly because of the adventure, but mostly because of the incredible friendship that comes across onscreen between Ewan and Charlie. That was the real story of Long War Round, the phenomenal bond between two blokes, who happen to ride motorcycles and who embark on an incredible adventure. By contrast, Why We Ride seemed to be more of a public service announcement for motorcycling, especially for the family-friendly aspects of the sport.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the film and think that a love letter about motorcycling is something that is needed. The only problem with Why We Ride is that it will only be seen by people who already ride. There is no overarching story that would cause a non-motorcyclist to care about the movie.

And maybe that is okay. Maybe that is the way that all enthusiast documentaries about a specific sport our activity end up. Maybe this movie will play well with the seven million or so motorcyclists in the U.S. and maybe that’s enough. But I can’t help but wish for a deeper story that would keep me coming back to the movie time and again, or to recommend it to my non-moto friends. Why We Ride, is not one of those movies. It will remain as a beautifully shot and well told story about motorcycling, for motorcyclists. Or, for a husband to convince his wife that it’s okay to get mini-dirt bikes for the kids. There is a LOT of that message in the movie.

So congratulations to the director and producer. And know that I, and many others, will indeed buy the DVD. But please also take this as encouragement to keep going and take your prodigious cinematography and moviemaking skills and tell other, deeper stories about the human condition on two wheels. In my opinion, only then will you really get across the story of Why We Ride to those who don’t already know the answer.

What did you think? Please leave a comment below.

Advertisements

A Great Father’s Day Weekend


Starting Out
How’s this for a great Father’s Day weekend: Load up “MyConnie” with camera and camping gear, point the front wheel north, and GO! Just me and MyConnie getting some quality time together since the wife and youngest son are away for a few days. I plan to update this post throughout the trip, so come back often to check it out.

20130614-121906.jpg

Rest Stop
Thank God for Starbucks and lane splitting. Sitting still in 88 degree weather on the freeway is not my idea of a good time. Seems like everyone else in the world is escaping to Lake Tahoe. Well, at least a rider can get hydration, caffeine, a healthy snack and WiFi thanks to the Pequod’s chief mate.

20130614-142729.jpg

Cooling Off
Possibly the best $29 I have ever spent was on an evaporative cooling vest. After a two minute soak in the bathroom sink at Starbucks (which was immaculately clean) the vest is “charged” with water. You then blot off the inside fabric barrier that stays dry against your shirt, and put it on under your riding jacket. I was then able to ride in complete comfort in 90 degree heat. Amazing.

20130615-073221.jpg

Dark Territory
After stocking up on pita, avocado, bananas, water and a salad bowl at the Grass Valley Safeway, I headed north on Hwy 49 towards Downieville. This road is listed in the Destination Highways moto-map book as DH9 and carries a score of 81/100, and it deserves it. It is wonderfully scenic, twisty and empty of traffic. Downieville itself looked very cute, like a preserved gold rush era town. I decided to camp instead of finding a room, but on some future trip, I’m definitely going to stay in Downieville.

I timed my ride so that I could set up camp while it was still light, but only just. I use a great iPhone App named “Sol” that tells you times for sunset, dusk, dawn and sunrise wherever you are. This allowed me to keep riding until I found Chapman Meadows campground around 8:00 P.M.

Getting old is terrible. I remember when hotel rooms were $6.00 at Motel 6, so it makes it painful to pay $21 for one night at an unimproved campground. Well, at least it had “nice” pit toilets. The mosquitoes quickly drove me into my tent where I fell fast asleep straightaway.

20130615-075236.jpg

20130615-075313.jpg

20130615-075427.jpg

Zero Dark Thirty
The great thing about traveling alone is that you don’t need to cater to anyone else’s schedule. So, at 4:45 A.M., I rousted myself out of my down cocoon, performed my morning ablutions, and started breaking camp. I got on the road a little before six and headed over the Yuba Summit to be treated to a gorgeous sunrise over the Sierra Valley. I left Hwy 49 a little before Sattley and turned north on Hwy 89, headed towards Quincy and Lassen Volcanic National Park beyond. Although I was bundled up in layers, winter gloves, and TurtleFur neck warmer, I was freezing when I arrived at the Express Coffee Shop. Nothing that a spinach omelet and 10 cups of coffee couldn’t cure. Something tells me MyConnie is going to get a few more RPMs now that MY motor is running.

20130615-081402.jpg

20130615-081522.jpg

The Pine Forests
Can you ever overdose on the beautiful conifer forests of the High Sierra? I think not, but you certainly get your fill traveling through the Tahoe and Plumas National Forests. But every once in a while, the trees are interrupted by a glorious body of water like Lake Almanor. I crossed over Canyon Dam and marveled at this man-made interruption to the Feather River. The outlet tower shown behind MyConnie sends the product of this 90 foot deep reservoir to two smaller reservoirs and others downstream to powerhouses capable of creating a total of 360 megawatts of electricity!

20130616-075701.jpg

Mount Lassen
I had been to Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park years ago but wanted to experience it’s burbling mudpots and sulphur-spewing springs anew. So I checked my trusty map book and found that the roads to, through, and around Lassen are included in their lists of great motorcycle roads. Without any hesitation I pointed MyConnie north along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.

20130616-081401.jpg

One of the troubles of blogging “live” from my AT&T iPhone is how poor their rural mobile phone service is. However, after paying my $10 park entrance fee, I noticed this sign and for a fleeting moment hoped that the U.S. Park Service had embraced modern technology by installing WiFi thorough the park. Alas, it was the icon for an amphitheater I mistook for WiFi symbol. D’Oh!

20130616-111244.jpg

The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center shows a great 20 minute documentary film every half hour that explains the history and formation of the park which is the only place on earth with all four types of volcanos.

20130616-111827.jpg

A mile north is The Sulphur Works where you can smell noxious fumes and see bubbling mud.

20130616-112115.jpg

After that, it seemed that every quarter mile were increasingly beautiful places that beckoned me to stop and take a photo.

20130616-112340.jpg

20130616-112621.jpgv

20130616-112648.jpg

20130616-112736.jpg

Unfortunately, the walking trails to “Bumpass Hell” which take you right next to all of the bubbling water and mudpots were closed due to safety concerns. But the ride up and over the ridge at around 8,500 feet elevation was spectacular as was the ride down and around to the north end of the park.

The Road Home
At this point, I had enough of solitude and decided to head home. I took a few more “Destination Highways” that were perfect for motorcycles on the way, but most was spent traveling 75 MPH on Hwy 5 in 90 degree heat. Once again, thank God for my evaporative cooling vest and the many rest stops and convenience marts along the way.

20130616-113622.jpg

Volcano Ride ‘n Photo Tour
I’m thinking of hosting a “Volcano Ride ‘n Photo Tour” for anyone who might want to join me. If interested, I’d be happy to share some tips on taking photos and “processing” them in the computer, as well. Please leave a comment if you are interested and I’ll start thinking about this for later this year.

As for this trip, I racked up 671 miles from noon Friday to 6:30 P.M. Saturday, a bit over 30 hours. Not bad for my first Father’s Day weekend solo trip. It’s not often I get so much “me” time to think about life without the distractions of other people (no matter how pleasant) or social media (no matter how addictive – then again, I am writing this post!). I might just have to make this an annual pilgrimage.

Note to fellow bloggers and those thinking about blogging: I took all of the photos above and wrote all of the text during the trip itself using the WordPress App for iPhone. This made ‘capturing the moment‘ much more spontaneous and added to my enjoyment of the ride. I went back later on my computer and added the sections below.

Ride Map: Click here for Google map
( Note to riders: map waypoints M through R are how to beat backed up traffic headed to San Francisco like a boss! )

Mount Lassen Ride Map

Ride Report:
– Date: February 14 & 15, 2013
– Roads: Since this trip covered so much territory, I encountered: 20 miles of lane splitting to get around everyone headed for Tahoe, wonderfully engineered and paved roads, nicely paved but less well-engineered roads, and tight curves with limited sight lines on the roads between Shingletown and Dales.
– Scenery: What can I say, I have been living in California my whole life and I am still awestruck in seeing its majesty. If you are from some other state, COME HERE AND RIDE!
– Weather: The weather was absolutely perfect on this Father’s Day weekend, albeit a little warm at times (high 80s) at the lower elevations. The sky was a sapphire blue with those intense puffy white clouds you want to photograph because they are so perfect.
– Challenge: Intermediate throughout with the biggest challenge being not getting run over my a semi-truck on Hwy 5.
– Food: Plenty of choices along this route. I stopped at Safeway in Grass Valley and stocked up on healthy food and snacks this time – what a concept!
– Gas: There were no problems finding gas, but then again, with my 7.5 gallon tank, I could have done the whole thing on way less than three tanks.
– Rating: 5-stars (out of 5) for scenic beauty. with a few most excellent motorcycle roads thrown in along the way.

Destination Highways: 
For you aficionados of Bosworth & Sanders excellent book “Destination Highways of Northern California” this trip included these DHs & TEs:
Destination Highways:
DH9 (81.9/100 rating)
DH3 ALT
DH38 (70.7/100 rating)
Twisted Edges:
TE-A (from DH59)
TE-F (from DH9)

Note: I bought the Destination Highways of Northern California book at the last International Motorcycle Show I attended. It is pretty expensive at $60, but I have to say that it is absolutely worth it. I use it to plan all of my northern california trips to ensure I get the most out of my time on the road. Although it is pricey for a map book, they actually put in the time and effort to bring the value to the rider than exceeds your expectation. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to ride in northern california.
Destination Highways of Northern California

Additional Photos:
The following photos were taken with a d-SLR: Canon EOS Rebel XSi:   

Chapman Creek Campground near Calpine MyConnie on Canyon Dam Lake Almanor June in California Vulcans Eye on Mt Lassen Peak MyConnie at Bumpass Hell Me and MyConnie in Mt Lassen MyConnie fronts Helen Lake and Mt Lassen Peak MyConnie and Vulcans Eye Sulphur Works in Mt Lassen Debris from volcano blast MyConnie fronts Helen Lake and Mt Lassen Peak 2

Me and MyConnie: First Year, First 10,000 Miles


One Year Down, 10,000 Miles in the Mirror
This week I’ve reached the one year anniversary of my getting back into motorcycling with the purchase of a 2001 Kawasaki Concours which I named “MyConnie.” Over the past year I’ve learned many things. Not the least of which is how much enjoyment I’ve been missing in the intervening years since 1990 when I sold my Suzuki GS750LX. I thought this would be a good time to reflect back upon the last year and what I’ve learned about motorcycling…and myself.

What I’ve Ridden
I’ve only owned three bikes in my life: a 1967 Honda CL350 Scrambler, a 1979 Suzuki GS750LX Cruiser, and my current ride, the 1,000cc Kawi Concours. I’ve only ever ridden three others: a 2010 BMW R1100RS that I rented, an 80s-era GPz550 I rode at Laguna Seca during Keith Code’s California Superbike School, and my friend’s 2009 Triumph Speed Triple. But it was the advice of an ex-CHP friend of mine that steered me towards the Concours, and I’m so glad he did.

My limited experience with different motorcycles hasn’t allowed me to have much of an opinion about other bikes like v-twins, dual-sports, or the like. In fact, all I really know is Japanese iron with one luscious weekend on a German boxer. So when I reflect on the specs of the rides I have owned, it shows me the following:

What this also tells me is that in terms of power-to-weight ratio (HP/LBS), my Honda was loads o’ fun—something I already knew. But even at a more sedate PTW ratio of 0.16, MyConnie will still impress any Porsche Carrera driver off-the-line, considering their PTW ratio is 0.19. Still, comparing motorcycles to cagers is a fools game as any biker knows. What got me thinking about the past year’s travels was more what I’ve learned, where I’ve gone, and where I’m going.

What I’ve Learned
One think I learned was how healthy it is riding a motorcycle. You read that correctly…healthy! That is, of course, assuming that I keep the rubber side down and don’t get too near the surrounding traffic. What I mean is that when I’m on MyConnie, I’m not trying to make my commute productive by scheduling conference calls in the car. Nor am I stopping on the way to work at Mickey-Dees to get a coffee or whatever other concoction passes for breakfast. And whenever I’m riding, whether on my commute or on the weekend, with helmet on head I’m not likely to be stuffing my face. Plus being in a tuck in the cool morning air does wonders for my abs while burning calories to keep warm. All in all, I’ve found that riding is quite an effective weight management tool.

I’ve also learned that the old saying that “you’ll never see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office” is really true. Spending a minimum of 1.5 hours a day riding to the office and back has given me the ability to shed tension like no other activity. Seeing the beautiful sights and smells when I take the back roads to the office has put me in the best frame of mind of my entire working career. I can’t even believe I’ve missed out on this for the past twenty years.

And I’ve learned—no…remembered—how great it is to take up an activity that has a huge learning curve with resulting stellar rewards, and also serious penalties. There is no greater learning than putting yourself in a situation where you will be tested. I think it is that, more than all the rest, that I enjoy the most. To challenge myself and see whether I will rise to the occasion, or fall down trying…only to get up, and try all over again. Call it my own “hero’s journey” of sorts. But one where there is no brilliant flash of heroism, only the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from mastering a complex endeavor.

Where I’ve Gone
I’ve spend the last year exploring the wonders of Northern California including the golden passes of the High Sierra, the windswept bluffs of the North Coast, and the twisty backroads of San Francisco Bay. The sheer magnificence of our natural surroundings is something that you take for granted when driving inside a cage of steel. Air conditioning masks the smell of eucalyptus, tinted glass dulls the glow of aspen groves, and soft suspension separates us from the hand-hewn roads originally carved by rough men across our great land. More than just a vehicle, my motorcycle has been the vehicle through which my five senses have been reignited.

How I Learned
I’ve approached re-learning the craft of riding through friends, through practice and by reading and watching the experts in print and onscreen. If I had the time and money, I would have preferred to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course…and may still. I would also like to repeat the course I took at Laguna Seca with Keith Code. But with the realities of budget and workload, I’ve settled for a do-it-yourself course of learning which has taken some discipline.

There has been an incredible amount of information that has helped me from an unlikely source, the Concours Owners Group. Besides being the quintessential knowledge bank for the Kawasaki Concours motorcycle, the group also represents hundreds of years of riding experience through its members who share their wisdom freely, with good humor and camaraderie. Their motto: “Join for the bike, stay for the people” couldn’t be more true. And besides the colloquial wisdom of serious amateurs, there is also a potent community of motorcycle professionals within the ranks of COG, both vendor companies like Murph’s Kits and regular people like Shoodabeen Engineering who have raised the level of home wrenching to an art form, and a business that Kawasaki could learn a few things from.

The Path Ahead
I have found in life that it is never good to drink your own bathwater. Meaning, all of the skill I have regained in the past year has really only served to make me more dangerous by potentially becoming too cocky. Now that a year has passed, it’s time to take stock and plan for the next year of learning, and trying to get rid of that last inch of chicken strip that defines my contact patch like bookends. A few predictions…

I predict that I…
– will watch Keith Code’s A Twist of the Wrist II DVD another 4 times…at least.
– will re-read David Hough’s book, Proficient Motorcycling to bone up on what I missed the first time.
– will continue to take my secret commute to Silicon Valley to work…every once in a while,  taking the long way.
– will start doing overnighter rides where I camp instead of staying in a motel.
– will do a dozen farkles to MyConnie.
– and I predict I will only increase my love for riding and hopefully my skill level, as well.

Until then, I’ll be the one flashing two fingers to you as we pass each other by…but only if you are on two wheels.

That’s Me on MyConnie

Let’s ride.

Ride Map: A Great Day to California’s North Coast


There is definitely something to be said for spontaneity. Last Sunday morning, I received this text message from my friend Dan whom I worked with back in the early 1980s:

I had been following Dan’s journey of getting back into motorcycling on Facebook with some interest, especially when he built his own café racer from a sweet ’77 BMW R100/7 which was featured in Iron and Air Magazine [ link to article ].

So when I received his text message, all I could think about was how fast I could install the new Motion Pro speedometer cable I got from Murph’s Kits and get on the road. I checked in with my boss (the wife) and responded to the text that I would meet him at a local watering hole parking lot in Novato in a couple of hours.

The previous Monday I had noticed that the cable had come loose from the speedometer gearbox on the front fork and apparently the inner rotating cable had fallen out somewhere along the road. So I temporarily reconnected the dangling cable but was left with no working speedometer. I read my Kawasaki and Clymer manuals and found no reference to the speedo cable, so I resorted to searching the Concours Owners Group Forum pages, where I should have gone in the first place. There I found a treasure trove of information that told me what to buy, where to buy it, how often it breaks, and exactly how to replace it. I have easily gotten more utility out of my $30 annual COG forum membership than what it cost for the manuals.

Having no indication of miles per hour made for an interesting commute that week. I found that needing to know my precise speed was largely unnecessary and interestingly…freeing. I could estimate my speed closely enough by reading my tachometer, following the flow of traffic, or just using the ol’ Mark I Eyeballs. But I also found that I was more relaxed and instead of fixating on maintaining a precise speed, I just kept my concentration on the traffic around me being sure to go neither too fast, nor too slow. It could be that I had been so intent on not getting a ticket that I had lost the feel for the road. That’s funny since I’m the guy who is always in the 3rd lane watching the other bikers fly by at 80 miles an hour in the fast lane.

Whether or not I would continue to monitor my speedo as closely as I once had, I followed the advice of my fellow Connie owners which made the new speedo cable installation a snap. After snugging up the new cable ends, I buttoned up the fairing, packed the saddlebags with various and sundry items for a day ride, and headed north.

One thing that must amaze visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area are its micro climates. I left my home in San Mateo where it was overcast and between 55 and 60 degrees. As I headed into San Francisco, it was positively wet from heavy drizzle…actually, very heavy fog. There were large drops of water dangling from the upper lip of my face shield and I had to use my forefinger as a wiper blade. Luckily, the MyConnie’s more than ample fairing kept my legs and torso dry as a bone. When going across the Golden Gate Bridge the weather could be best described as 50 degree sideways-blowing pea soup fog. And it wasn’t until Novato that it cleared back up to 60 degree overcast without any undue wetness. Soon enough, it would become sunny on the way to the coast, followed by a foggy coastline, and then 85 degrees and sunny heading through the redwoods back to Highway 101. Vacationers not use to these wild swings in temperature and wind chill have funded an entire industry of novelty sweatshirt manufacturers and vendors on Fisherman’s Wharf. But when on a motorcycle trip to Northern California, suffice it to say that a vented jacket with thermal liner plus extra layers in your saddlebag are an absolute must.

After an hour’s trip north through San Francisco and then through Marin, I arrived at Moylan’s Brewery in Novato, about 23 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I filled up with gas across the street and then Dan rolled in and did the same. After admiring the touring bike he decided to choose from his stable, a ’70s-era BMW R100RS, we headed north on Hwy 101 towards Russian River Road. Or at least that’s what we thought.

Upon entering the freeway, we immediately ran into traffic that was completely stopped for as far as the eye could see. We later found out that there was a fatal accident from someone who ran off the road about five miles ahead, and the CHP were taking measurements and cleaning up the mess while holding back the traffic to a crawl. All I knew was that Dan made a snap decision, which was really the only one for us to make, which was to split lanes and head up the road. What he didn’t know is that I don’t really split lanes. MyConnie is pretty wide with her saddlebags, and I believe it just infuriates motorists to see motorcyclists make progress when they can’t. So I don’t like to create even more pissed-off drivers bent on killing me, therefore, I don’t split lanes.

However, in this case, I really had no choice. If I decided to not split lanes I would have lost Dan, left him waiting for an hour up the road, and been branded a moto-wimp worthy only of a Vespa. And, MyConnie would surely have overheated and then I would have been stuck on the side of the road in the midst of a five mile long bumper-to-bumper nightmare. So, I screwed up my courage and headed forward between the stopped cars.

A view of what lane splitting looks like to the motorcyclist

What lane splitting looks like from another rider’s viewpoint.

What surprised me is that it was easier than I thought. I just had to keep a loose grip on the bars and stay incredibly focused on the obstacles ahead which included pickup trucks with dualie rear wheels, a bus, a truck, and innumerable SUVs with extremely wide mirrors. I found that the trick was to not move too fast in relation to the surrounding traffic. Also, to keep a keen sense of what the people in front of me are doing, like which ones will move left to see around the car ahead or the ones on their cell phones. This is what I usually do while riding on the freeway, but in this case it was even more important since I was less than a foot away from the traffic on both sides.

I made it through the entire five-mile jam without any problems and moved into a lane when I approached the CHPs at the front. Although lane splitting is not illegal in California, it is also not expressly legal, either. So, not being one to push my luck, I became a full member of the traffic jam for the last 50 yards. Once past the horrendous skid marks and crumpled guard rail, I saw Dan waiting on the roadside and we both continued on to Russian River Road.

River Road has a number of small towns that dot its length which are reminiscent of ’50s-era beach resorts. These are the resorts that San Franciscans visited to beat the summer chill (yes, you read that correctly) and many had second homes along the flood-prone Russian River. It was an idyllic ride with long sweeping curves, quaint and picturesque towns and sunny temperate weather. It took us about 45 minutes to travel the 29 miles from Hwy 101 to Jenner where the Russian River empties into the Pacific ocean.

Photo of downtown Guerneville, California by Dennis Goedegebuure

Downtown Guerneville – photo: © Dennis Goedegebuure

Once at the coast, we took Highway 1 north along the Sonoma coast. This is a truly breathtaking road that will challenge your cornering skills while providing incredible views of the Pacific ocean far below the bluffs. On the day we made this trip, riding was made a bit more challenging with the addition of fog.

Highway 1 on the Sonoma Coast – photo: © Herb Lingl

However it wasn’t too soupy, and without any problems, we made our way to the Timber Cove Inn for a sumptuous lunch. After the requisite photo standing next to our bikes taken by a kind stranger in the parking lot, we decided to head much further north and cut back over to Highway 101 via Highway 128 through the redwood forests along the Navarro river.

Peter and Dan at the Timber Cove Inn

Highway 1 along the North Coast is a combination of challenging curves mere inches from 100 foot cliffs and meandering roads through windswept ranch land. It’s hard to explain its rough-hewn beauty. On the few days that are without overcast, it is a wonder to see and a great place to gain further skill in cornering on a motorcycle. Recently, I purchased Keith Code’s “A Twist of the Wrist II” instructional DVD. It is nicknamed “the cornering bible” for good reason. Watching it before, and after, this trip helped me better my cornering technique and made me realize some things I had been doing wrong. Practicing and improving my cornering skills is one of the reasons I love riding the North Coast.

The other, is for the sheer beauty of the ride. I had never ridden north of Salt Point State Park, my favorite abalone hunting ground, so I looked forward to the next jaunt up past Point Arena to the Navarro River. What I didn’t expect was to be in the middle of a redwood forest on an idyllic motorcycle road. As this GoPro Hero2 photo of Dan on his R100 shows, the stately redwoods filter the light coming through the canopy and produce a surreal landscape.

Dan in the Redwoods

As we continued on our journey back towards Highway 101, the temperature started to heat up the further we got from the coast. We passed through the cute little burg of Boonville and ultimately passed by Cloverdale on the way to Healdsburg to gas up our trusty steeds. Although Dan’s Verizon smartphone had enough service along the route to post and tag trip photos to Facebook, my AT&T iPhone did not. It wasn’t until I reached our gas stop that I checked in on my phone and found that a dear friend of mine saw the photo above of Dan and I at Timber Cove and he left me a message to come visit him in Sebastopol, a mere 30 minutes away. Dan and I parted company after topping off our tanks and I headed toward my friend’s ranch.

It’s funny the tricks that fate can play on a person. I woke up that morning without having a clue what the day held for me. Then a text message arrived and I found myself at the start of what would become a 369 mile ride. I also found myself enjoying the company of a dear friend I had not seen in many a year that by happenstance was going into the hospital to receive another course of chemotherapy the next day. The five hours I spent with him that night were very special to me and served as an important reconnection with a person who has been my advisor, mentor, dive buddy and friend. A person who has played a significant role in shaping the arc of my career. And to think I would not have enjoyed that reconnection without a text message, a photo tagged with my name, and a return Facebook message. This is the value of social media…along with the company of great friends, good roads and our two-wheeled thunderbeasts beneath us.

Ride Map: Click here for Google map

 Ride Report:
– Date: July 1, 2012
– Roads: Well-paved throughout with a few moments of interest thrown in for good measure such as expansion grates on the Golden Gate Bridge plus cattle grates and periodic handfuls of gravel mid-apex on the numerous180° turns throughout the North Coast section of Hwy 1.
– Scenery: Rustic towns along the Russian River, breathtaking views from the winding cliff roads along Highway 1, and sunlight-dappled redwood forests along the Navarro river. An amazing variety of scenery in one day.
– Weather: Highly variable between 55° with dripping fog and 85° heat–and everywhere in between.
– Ride: Nice sweeping curves along the Russian and Navarro rivers. Numerous and sometimes tight twisties above precipitous road’s edge cliffs along Highway 1. Be careful and ride within your limits!
– Challenge: Intermediate to advanced (doable for beginners but in parts you need to take it S-L-O-W)
– Food: Various towns make bringing your own food unnecessary, but a picnic on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific ocean can be a real treat.
– Gas: There is plenty of gas available in the small towns that dot this route. However, don’t push it—some stretches are 30 to 50 miles between gas stations, so don’t get caught waiting too long to fill up.
– Rating: 5-stars (out of 5) for overall enjoyment and variety. The ride is challenging but not overwhelming while being incredibly beautiful.
– Additional Fun: Points of interest along the way include the Russian River resort towns of Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Rio Nido–great spots for a dip in the river. On the coast, stop for a tour at Ft. Ross, have lunch at the Timber Cove Inn, or bring your snorkeling gear to stalk the elusive abalone at Salt Point State Park.

Ride Map: Calaveras Reservior, Santa Clara County, CA


What a great day for a lap around Silicon Valley! My brother-in-law “Bocci” was on his usual ride: a 2010 Triumph “Bonnie.” And, I as usual, was on “MyConnie” – a 2001 blue Kawasaki Concours. We started out from our usual jumping off place in San Mateo. Then, after crossing San Francisco Bay on the historic San Mateo-Hayward bridge, we shortcut through a series of industrial parks which were virtually empty on a Sunday. Within only a few minutes, we made our way down to Niles Canyon Road, a great curvy jaunt for a crisp, clear morning.

Our objective was to ride down Calaveras Road which runs alongside the large Calaveras reservoir. There were many signs saying that the road ahead was closed due to work on the dam, but the road was actually open all the way, making us assume that the signs were for weekday work.

Calaveras Lake near Sunol, CA. photo: Janice L. Green

Calaveras Road is slow, curvy, and not well-designed as a road with many one-lane sections and blind corners that invite an accident. In fact, right before our ride, I was reading on the Pashnit Site about a rider that collided with a minivan at one of those blind corners. The vivid descriptions of his broken femur and the $4,000 air ambulance bill certainly stuck in my head while I rode around those blind corners.

The lake is idyllic within its May greenery all around. And the road was at least well-paved, if ill-designed. At the end of the lake, the park land switchbacks gave way to ranch land and rolling hills. We decided to take a side-loop around Felter Road which connects to Sierra Road. There are some beautiful houses there, some that overlook Calaveras Lake and some that overlook Silicon Valley and the south bay salt ponds.

The South Bay from Sierra Road. – Photo Credit: Richard Masoner

Since the day was young, we continued through Silicon Valley and over to Stevens Creek Road, heading up to Hwy 9 and then to Hwy 35, thinking that lunch at Alice’s Restaurant would top off our great ride. We were not disappointed. Highways 9 and 35 are a beautiful romp through the redwoods and allowed us to get up to speed with wide sweepers and a 50 mph speed limit.

Many motorcycles in front of Alice’s Restaurant - credit: Nina Hale

You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant – Photo Credit: Nina Hale

For anyone reading this who hasn’t been to Alice’s, you really need to get there someday. It is just an unassuming little restaurant, but it happens to be mecca for weekend warriors of the motorcycle kind. It is located at the confluence of a number of highways, each of which have a beautiful day ride stretching out from Alice’s to great destinations like Santa Cruz, Pescadero, Woodside, Half Moon Bay, and Skyline Drive — making it the perfect jumping off place or rallying point.

After a leisurely lunch ( leisurely because the management of Alice’s seems to value food quality more than additional wait staff – not a bad tradeoff, mind you ) we headed off up Hwy 35 back to San Mateo. All-in-all, not a bad Sunday morning ride at 124 miles and a little under four hours.

Ride Map: Calaveras Road, Santa Clara County, CA

Epilogue:
I wasn’t going to write about this, but have reconsidered because of the safety message contained within. Bocci bought a new fluorescent yellow jacket to satisfy his delusions of being able to add safety to his motorcycling pastime. He commented every time we stopped, saying, “Can you see me?” After leaving Alice’s Restaurant, we got back up to the speed limit of 50 mph and were headed down a straight stretch of Hwy 35, noticing a group of bicyclists that had stopped off of the right side of the road. Apparently, one of the bicyclists must have been very tired, because he just got on his bike and crossed Hwy 35 without really looking. I was about 50 yards behind Bocci and I saw the bicyclist start to cross directly in front of him. In what seemed like slow motion, I saw the two of them headed for the same point in space and time and I cringed, waiting for the nasty collision. But ’twas not to be. The bicycle crossed through Bocci’s path, and they missed by about four feet. I’m sure Bocci’s heart was racing, but it was all over in the blink of an eye. Just goes to show you, that all that fluorescent yellow in the world won’t necessarily make a difference to an exhausted bicyclist.

I thought the adage was: “Friends don’t let friends wear neon”?

Ride Map: Mount Hamilton


Bonnie, MyConnie and “Bocci” atop Mount Hamilton

Towering above Silicon Valley, majestic Mount Hamilton is a place I had never visited even though I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all my life. The tallest of three mountains that rim the bay, at 4,196 feet Mount Hamilton bests Mount Diablo at 3,864 and Mount Tamalpais at 2,574 (see earlier post) feet elevation. With the weather being unseasonably warm and dry on December 31, my brother-in-law and riding buddy, “Bocci” and I decided to get one more ride in before the end of 2011.

We both live in San Mateo and saw on Google Maps that this ride was only 60 miles one-way. “No problem!” I said, worrying about being home before dark, “It should take us no time at all to get there and back.” Little did I know that we would encounter some of the longest sections of twisties in the Bay Area riding up to the summit.

We took the slightly longer, but much more scenic I-280 freeway around the bottom of the bay to where it morphs into I-680 and then exited on Alum Rock Avenue. Only a few miles up the road was the turn for Highway 130, the road to Mount Hamilton. The road was similar to those in many California foothills with a few tight turns interspersed with longer sweeping curves in between. What is deceiving about this ride is that you first need to go up and over a first set of mountains before having a fairly long stretch of road prior to climbing up to Mount Hamilton peak.

This first set of mountains provides some incredible views of the East Bay, but there aren’t any vista point pull-offs to make it easy to stop and take photos. Much of the road lacks guard rails and there are precipitous cliffs at the road’s edge, so this is a good road to practice caution and have your speed under control. Last year, I came partway up this road and nearly ran into a flock of turkeys! What is it with turkeys and motorcycles? This makes three times I’ve nearly hit the stupid birds wandering across well-traveled highways! A full grown coyote also deftly crossed the road well ahead of our bikes as we came down the mountain. Suffice it to say that this is a “heads up” ride more suited to intermediate and above riders rather than novices.

The first set of mountains gave way to the beautiful and intriguing Joseph D. Grant County Park and Halls Valley Lake, known for its bass, catfish and crappie fishing. This enticed me to do further exploring on another day, but Bocci and I kept our goal in mind and pressed onwards towards Mount Hamilton. We traveled onward and worried that we might have missed the turnoff, but then noticed the prominent observatory buildings on the mountain peak far above beckoning us to continue.

Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton

Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton

Having our goal in sight didn’t mean it was close by. We traveled another fifteen minutes and only then found the Mount Hamilton turnoff sign which noted it was still seven twisty steep miles before reaching the summit. We came across many ambitious bicyclists along the road and were passed by a number of lightweight dirt bike riders festooned with helmet cams. Eventually, we arrived at the summit and went alongside the observatory building to its parking lot and were not disappointed by this the most spectacular view of the Bay Area.

Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton

The Lick Observatory

Mount Hamilton panorama

The view from Mount Hamilton

Above is a panorama I shot and stitched together to give just a partial view from the summit. We were surprised to see another panorama in a photo inside the observatory that showed Yosemite’s Half Dome as seen from Mount Hamilton! Since Yosemite is a four-hour drive away, you don’t imagine that this elegant dome could be seen from your own Bay Area backyard, but it can! Here is a photo I clipped from the web showing California’s most famous peak.

Half Dome from Mount Hamilton

Half Dome as seen from Mount Hamilton

More amazing facts were found inside the Lick Observatory, such as…
– The Lick Observatory was built in 1887
– It was the first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory in the world
– In 1939, because of a nighttime fog that engulfed the summit, an Air Force A-17 attack plane crashed into the main building (only the 2 pilots were killed)
Suffice it to say that you could spend a lot of time visiting and enjoying the Observatory. We didn’t see that the telescopes were available to visit, and we didn’t have time to ask to see if that would be possible at all. On my next visit, I’m going to find out ahead of time whether it is possible to visit at night and participate in a star gazing event. What a wonderful gem to have hidden in plain view of where we live and work! Here is a photo taken in the direction of Mount Hamilton from my office in Sunnyvale March 2006 with the snow level falling down to 2,000 feet!

Snow on Mount Hamilton and surrounding foothills - March 2006

Coming down off the mountain, a bicyclist drafted behind Bocci the whole way! I actually felt pressured to speed up because he wasn’t 20 feet behind my brother-in-law’s Triumph Bonneville and no matter what we did, we couldn’t shake him until arriving on flat ground. It was amazing that he could keep up and not slide out in the many curves that had handfuls of gravel in them. I would label him an idiot if he didn’t show such nerve and skill.

My final comments to anyone reading this post is “do this ride!” And go early enough to spend time taking lots of photos and poking around Lick Observatory. If you are really into astronomy, see what public programs are available for nighttime star gazing (if any), but don’t attempt this road at night on a bike.

Learn More:
Mount Hamilton Web Cam
Time lapse video of the day of our ride
Lick Observatory on Wikipedia 

Ride Map: Click here for Google Map

Ride Report:
– Date: December 31, 2011
– Roads: A well paved road with sections of fresh paving, generally smooth with intermittent sections that are not well-cambered
– Scenery: Mountains, canyons, valleys and a unique view of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area
– Weather: Perfect for New Year’s Eve: mid-50s on the mountain top, no wind or rain.
– Ride: Tight, steep twisties with precipitous cliffs at road’s edge. Be careful and ride within your limits!
– Challenge: Intermediate to advanced (doable, but not fun for beginners)
– Food: Bring your own for during the ride, but there are vending machines with drinks and snacks at Lick Observatory
– Gas: As this is not far from civilization, gas should not be a problem. But, there is no gas available en route, so make sure your tank is filled
– Rating: 5-stars (out of 5) for overall enjoyment, although the ride itself was challenging and less fun than a romp in the Sierras
Additional Fun: Inside Lick Observatory is a gift shop and U.S. Post Office. Bring or buy some post cards and drop them in the box so you can delivered them postmarked from atop Mount Hamilton. This is a fun activity that so many people have forgotten to take advantage of.

Additional Ride Photos:

Ride Map: High Sierra Tour 2011 — part one


Incredible! That’s all I can think of to say about our 2011 High Sierra Tour. It was as if God had decreed: “Traffic…begone! Roads…repave thyself! Aspens…thou shalt turn unto Gold!” This 230 mile trip went from Manteca to Arnold the hard way, over three mountain passes that top 9,600 feet.

It’s hard for me to imagine that it was only one short year ago that I rented a BMW R1100RS from Dubblelju in San Francisco and started my journey of getting back into motorcycling after a hiatus of 20 years [see previous post].

What a difference a year makes

Jumping on that rental after not riding for two decades and immediately heading off for a 600 mile tour that included three steep and twisty mountain passes earned me a new nickname from my riding buddies: “Stones.” Apparently I demonstrated intestinal (or lower) fortitude on that ride. From my perspective, I was merely suppressing sheer terror and channeling my riding expertise from days gone by as best I could.

Well, that was last year. Since then, I’ve put about 4,500 miles all over Northern California on my very own Kawasaki Concours as frequent readers of this blog well know. And this year, we decided to repeat our High Sierra tour but this time conquer Sonora Pass, Monitor Pass, and Ebbetts Pass in one day.

Our initial rally point was a Starbucks on Airway Blvd. in Livermore. From there, we rode out Interstate 580 and then onwards to Hwy 120 via the I-205 cutover. After gassing up our four steeds in Manteca—Kawasaki Concours, BMW R1150RT, Triumph Speed Triple & Triumph Bonneville T100—we headed down Hwy 120 and continued on Hwy 108 which goes all the way over the Sierra Nevada mountains by way of the Sonora Pass.

National Hotel in Jamestown - a great place to eat

Riding on the Sonora Pass Highway was phenomenal. The roads had all been freshly paved and on this Friday in October were completely devoid of cars. We stopped for lunch at the National Hotel in the historic gold rush town of Jamestown and were treated to great food and a sparky waitress. After leaving Jamestown, we wound our way through the foothills and started our climb up and over the Sierra Nevadas.

We started to wind through mini passes and secret valleys tucked away in the mountains. Words fail me in how to describe just how beautiful it was. When we started to gain significant altitude near a spectacular lava formation named the Dardanelles, we rounded a corner and came upon an amazing sight — all the aspens had turned to brilliant yellow-gold. It was breathtaking. So much so, that the biggest problem I had was balancing the competing goals of keeping up the pace necessary to reach our destination before dark, and wanting to walk around taking photos of the scenery. I will definitely be making a trip back here next October and camping overnight with the primary goal being to fill a few memory cards with photos.

We continued on up, through, and over Sonora Pass, stopping for a few minutes at the summit. Seeing the elevation made me reflect on the fact that if we were airplane pilots instead of motorcycle riders, we would be mandated by law to be breathing from oxygen masks if only a scant 376 feet higher than the summit elevation. Thinking of this, and knowing that a mere three hour ride south would bring us to the second highest mountain in the contiguous United States, helped me put the sheer majesty of the Sierra Nevada mountains into perspective. I feel fortunate to have this world-class scenery in my own (relatively) back yard.

Moving down the back side of the Sierras brought us towards the Owens Valley, an absolute high-desert jewel shared by California and Nevada. From here, Interstate 395 goes north past Lake Tahoe and Reno all the way to the Canadian border, and south towards the Mojave desert. If you haven’t traveled down I-395 and seen Mono Lake, or the ghost town of Bodie, Tioga Pass the gateway to Yosemite, or the 14,505 ft. Mt. Whitney…you haven’t seen one of the most incredible parts of California.

The view east towards Owens Valley while heading up to Monitor Pass

Heading up I-395 from the Sonora Pass takes you alongside the Walker River which is beautiful all by itself. Many fishermen were trying their luck on its meandering banks. This part of the Interstate feels much more like a back country road than the 65 MPH superslab that it actually is—although the speed limit dips to 55 MPH or lower as the road gets curvier or as it passes through local townships—watch out for local Highway Patrol cruisers armed with radar. Soon enough, though, the turnoff to Monitor Pass came along and our trek up and over the Sierra Nevadas began once again.

One of my favorite parts of the ride was the climb up to Monitor Pass. Once you climb above the valley floor, you get a phenomenal panorama of the Owens Valley. This high, there are scant trees, and only mountain peaks on the horizon as far as the eye can see. But once on top of Monitor Summit, you pass through a dense copse of all-gold aspens that are only interrupted by the road cutting through their midst. More breathtaking scenery and worthy of stopping to explore. Alas, it was getting late and we needed to scoot.

After Monitor Pass, the road winds down towards Highway 4 which winds along the north fork of the Stanislaus river. Along this road are a number of small lakes that are gorgeous alpine gems. Kinney Reservoir, Mosquito Lake, and Lake Alpine are wonderful places to stop and picnic or try your hand at fishing for rainbow trout. But the shadows were getting long as we headed up towards Ebbets Pass—our final of three mountain pathways that were discovered when California was first settled—so fishing had to wait for a different trip.

The aptly-named Alpine State Highway—Hwy 4—is quite steep and twisty, providing a healthy challenge for riders on two wheels. More than one steep uphill hairpin turn resulted in unanticipated mid-turn downshifts, and less than elegant riding. Throw in a few handfuls of dirt and rocks in the turn’s apex, and you get pucker-marks on your saddle (sort of a man’s version of doing Kegel exercises). Ebbets Pass road provides about 30 miles of this riding, and it’s all one-lane, meaning no reflectors or centerline painted on the road. Not knowing if some vacationing family’s 6,000 lb. Yukon Denali is coming around each corner just adds to the suspense of the ride.

So, after getting chased by a high sierra rancher’s dog when slowing to reconnoiter a photo spot, we made the final hour ride from Ebbetts Pass to our cabin in Arnold—where we peeled our near-frozen fingers from the grips. But of most important at that point was emptying our saddlebags (and bladders) so that we could ride to the store in Arnold and fill up with vittles and beer. We found that the Saddleman saddlebags on the Bonnie were able to each perfectly hold a 12-pack of Budweiser, leading us to wonder if they were designed that way on purpose.

That evening was polished off with too much food, too much beer, and finding a neighbor who would drive two of our members to the local bar to check out the nightlife…and yet more beer. It’s always good to have a four-wheeled friend as a designated driver because if there is ONE rule in motorcycling—especially in the mountains at night—it’s that bikes and beer don’t mix.

The next day we had a great ride over backcountry roads to check out the local towns and scenery, but more about that in part two of this story. For now, it’s enough to bask in the glory of a ride well done over scenery almost too beautiful to imagine.

Ride Map:  Click here for Google map

Ride Report:
– Date: October 21-23, 2011
– Roads:
 Fresh paving, smooth and well-cambered the whole trip
– Scenery: Mountains, canyons, valleys, aspen groves, conifer forests
– Weather: Perfect: mid-70s in the valleys, mid-60s on the mountain peaks
– Ride: Rolling highways, sweeping curves, mountain twisties…the whole enchilada!
– Challenge: Intermediate to advanced (not for beginners)
– Food: Bring your own for during the ride, long distances between food availability
– Gas: Easily available, but plan well to not get caught dry between towns
– Rating: 5-stars (out of 5) for overall enjoyment

Stay tuned for part two: our Saturday ride on the gold country backroads

Additional Ride Photos: