STARLING ON THE SLIPSTREAM

What the hell do starlings have to do with motorbikes? Here’s what.

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From Wikipedia:

Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds; the species familiar to most people in Europe and North America is the common starling. Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious.

From the band Pavement:
 I heard what you said
The leaders are dead
They’re robbing the sky
I can hear their followers cry…

Starlings on the slipstream

From Italian, the most musical of languages:
A starling is a stornello. Stornello is also used to refer to an old folk song, as in “C’era uno stornello così da noi.”  ( “That’s a little song we used to sing back home.”)

From Moto Guzzi:
This little bird is a 1972 Stornello 125. It’s a pretty darling starling.

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And this little bird is a 2016 V7II Stornello. My new Guzzi Stornello, a little song I brought back home, my starling on the slipstream.

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Isn’t she pretty? I’m in love with an Italian bird-bike, and I think I like it.

So how’d this red-and-white Italian beauty come to nest in my garage, next to a honking Super Ténéré, a waspy Italian little cousin (my Vespa GT), and a forty-year-old BMW airhead? Well, here’s how.

Last summer, after having had a multi-year itch for a classic bike and finally scratching it, I found myself the proud and newly-obsessive owner of a classic airhead: an all-original, completely unmolested 1974 BMW R75/6.  I wrote about it here.

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My airhead has been (and still is) a total hoot. Between the low seat, gently-raked bars, relatively light weight, and friendly overall ergos, the slash 6 is incredibly comfortable and easy to ride. I’ve done hundreds of delightful, low-key miles ambling all around southwestern Connecticut with her, and she never fails to turn heads, or the corners of my mouth upright into a smile.

But old-bike ownership has revealed a few things to me. First, if a forty-two-year-old bike is officially designated a “Classic” (note the special plate from the DMV below), then what is its fifty-two-year-old rider’s proper designation? Relic? Fossil? Antique?

Second: “classic” charm requires a certain love for (or generous forbearance with) classic technology. No matter how good the preservation or condition, riding a vintage motorbike is still an out-and-out mechanical experience, an analogue counterpoint to today’s inescapably digital world.

For starters, airheads run on carburetors, little metal contraptions that—with the twist of a throttle—fill up with gasoline and oil, which gets vaporized by a stream of vacuum-induced air and detonated in the cylinders. “Carburation” is achieved through a Rube-Goldberg assembly of needles, butterfly flaps,  floats, and bowls, cleverly assembled (Bingo!) into this:

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It’s primitive technology for sure, but not entirely without fascination or charm. The same can be said for many other aspects of this vintage beauty. Everything is purely mechanical and manual, like the choke. The clutch lever provides a vigorous left-forearm workout, and if you use it enough, you might even develop asymmetrical limbs. Shifting requires some aggressive pre-load from your toes to avoid gear clattering and clunking. The brakes, while disc, are 100% analog and unassisted by technology. Which can produce some thrilling/terrifying/upright-sliding moments, especially when deer decide to make a surprise appearance. Don’t ask how I know.

And finally, with my airhead (and apparently 95% of all the other ones) you have to get used to the gas/oil equivalent of “pee stains” on one or both of your shoes, because forty-year-old airheads tend to dribble more copiously than the fifty-year-old men who ride them.

All of which, getting back to my earlier flight of fancy, is what starlings have to do with motorbikes.  A starling is why I decided that I’m not ideally suited to be part of the airhead flock. A starling is why I grudgingly put my airhead up for sale (still pending). And a humble starling is why I decided to take a flyer on this.

It’s a 2016 Moto Guzzi V7II Stornello, or “starling.” The Storny (as I’ve come to call her) is a factory scrambler variant of Moto Guzzi’s seasoned and successful V7 line, taking the basic architecture of the V7 (now in its second II series), but adding a brilliant red powder-coated frame, wire wheels and knobby tires, a high-mount Arrow exhaust,  fork gaiters, rubber tank grips, and several delicious aluminum bits, including machined foot-pegs, laser-etched fenders and number plates, and a micro-aluminum front fairing.

Caution: hi-resolution bike porn ahead.

I mean, how could anyone resist? I first spotted the Storny on the showroom floor of Hamlin Cycles in Bethel, CT.  I’d driven up there in the drizzle to test-ride a garden-variety “V7 Stone” as part of their “Guzzi Demo Day” promotion, just curious what a more modern air-cooled motorbike would feel like.

But the V7 Stornello was sitting there all by her lonesome, aloof and apart from the broader flock of V7 Racers, Specials, and Stones, next to a sleek new V9 Roamer…

The little red and white scrambler just called out to me like a sweet summer song. I made the fateful mistake of swinging a leg over, saddling up, wrapping my hands around the grips, and glancing down at the headstock.

It was Stornello #51. This graying bike-obsessive was also 51. A sure sign. Kismet. It was beshert.

So after some hemming and hawing (and help from Jim Hamlin, Adam Zuckerman, and a sweaty checkbook), I went from bird-watching to bike-buying. Jim gently guided my trembling hand towards the signature line, and with a squiggle and stroke, it was done, and she was mine. Just in time to turn 52. HBD to me.

Happily, the Storny is air-cooled, just like the airhead. She’s also low, light, easy to throw a leg over, and incredibly comfortable (and SOOOO fun) to ride. And just like an airhead, she’s propelled by a clean, maintenance-free drive shaft (not a dirty-bird chain).

But here, the parallels with a vintage BMW airhead end. The lil’ Guzzi might have all the optics and “emotion” of a classic motorbike, but she’s resolutely modern. Goodbye carbs, hello electronic fuel injection. Deceleration is assisted by ABS, which IMHO ought to be required equipment on all new motorbikes (and I guess now is). Wet road handling is made safer via electronic traction control. And the speedometer doesn’t make a gyroscopic whirring sound, since it’s not actuated via a set of gears and cables attached to the spinning front wheel.

I still haven’t sold the Beemer, although together, they make a pretty handsome couple—two birds of an airhead feather, flocking together.

But there’s really only room for one “classic” in my garage, and in my life.  And I’m going with the one that has classic looks, but a higher-tech soul. Anyone in the market for a pristine R75/6?

 

IDIOTS’ DELIGHTS

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Before we get to these two idiots, a brief meditation. It will help make this ride report make sense…

Like many other suburban New York eighties kids, I grew up listening to Vin Scelsa on WNEW-FM in New York. And after hearing just a few of his shows (usually at the kitchen table over unfinished homework in the last few procrastinatable hours of the weekend), I became a besotted fan of his Sunday-evening sonic walkabout, Idiot’s Delight.

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Idiot’s Delight was like the Schott’s Miscellany of radio shows, as eclectic and free-ranging as a Catskill’s organic poultry farm. I loved how Vin zigged and zagged, riffed and ranted, shifting from Lou Reed to the Ramones and then to something totally off-kilter like Patsy Cline, but always managing to string it together along a musical or cultural or observational theme. It was like taking a road trip inside someone else’s head.

What’s more, Mr. Scelsa’s jovial, every-guy delivery—all the more earthbound and un-DJ-like for having the imperfection of a minor lisp—made it feel like you were following along one of your best friend’s cerebral road trips. And enjoying the eclectic tunes along the way.

Back in those old WNEW days, I happened to be listening the night John Lennon was killed, and remembered Vin Scelsa taking to the airwaves to share the news. He was audibly shaken—literally, speechless—and simply dropped the needle on Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland, letting the song speak for itself.

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That night turned into a sort of impromptu radio shiva with listeners calling in from all over, and other DJs dropping by to talk, cry, reminisce, and ask why—all mediated by Vin’s poignant and very pointed choice of music. While I never counted myself a particularly avid Beatles fan, Lennon was an indisputable cultural icon, and listening to Vin and the show into the wee hours, I think I experienced the idea of grief for the first time in my teenage life.

Vin Scelsa was truly a DJ for the ages, which is sort of ironic and bittersweet now that we’re in an age that has about as much use for DJs as it does vinyl records, newspaper editors, or taxi dispatchers. I miss him. I genuinely miss that thoughtful musical curation and commentary, and the predictable regularity of a “friend” on the air, which you don’t really get with Spotify or Apple Music or DIY iTunes playlisting. I miss having someone interesting and worth listening to, a familiar voice guiding you through songs and ideas and experiences, a sidekick to the soundtrack of what’s going on in the world, or in your head, or in your life.

If you never saw John Michaud’s excellent appreciation, you can see it here.

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All of this occurred to me the other weekend—radio, voices, music, friends—when I set out with my old friend Jonah for a three-day motorbike trip up to Vermont.

Jonah and I have known each other almost as long as I’ve listened to my old radio friend Vin Scelsa. We’ve been buds since college days back at the University of Vermont, and we’ve remained close even as we’ve built careers, launched families, and grown older on opposite coasts. Given my social laziness, I consider it a real life-achievement that we haven’t just stayed in touch, but that we’ve always made time to hang out, do some traveling, and stoke our mutual obsessions with (in no particular order) surfing, cars, music, and motorbikes.

We’ve surfed Costa Rica and the Outer Banks. Hooned around deserts on motorbikes. And with the exception of a single broken ankle last year (thanks to a patch of greasy mud in Utah) we’ve managed to return from all our adventures in two unbroken pieces.

The two unbroken pieces:

 

Here are the two (actually, three) broken pieces from last year, now finally fused back together.

So here’s where Vin Scelsa comes in. On our past motorbike trips, we’ve always experienced the adventure analog-style, alone within the bubbles of our respective helmets. We’ve ridden together but apart, navigating and narrating the twists and turns of the ride with whatever happened to be flashing through the grey space corked up between our foam ear plugs.

Two bikes, two riders, two internal thought streams. But no radio contact. Communication was relegated to hand gestures.

But this time, for this ride, we were joined by this.

Not Ali G. But techmology itself, in the form of these little black discs embedded neatly up inside our pumpkin-protectors. As Ali would say, “Is they good or is they whack?”

Well, they is actually so freaking good, it’s whack.

Both of us have had these Sena Bluetooth headsets for a while now (thank you Revzilla), and we’ve noodled around with just a few of their features. I’ve used mine to answer the occasional “where are you and when will you be home” calls from wifely (you get those when you ride). And Jonah’s used his Sena to play road tunes.

But neither of us had explored the intercom function…until now. And all I can say is holy interguacamoleYou press a couple of buttons, do a little jog-dialing, watch a few lights blink, and presto—there’s a friend on the radio up inside your brain. No delay, no static, no hiss. Just someone in your head besides you.

So while we’d still be two idiots on separate motorbikes, we could delight in having someone else interesting and worth listening to in our helmets, an old familiar voice to guide each other through twists or turns or hazards or holy-shit vistas, sidekicks to the soundtrack of what’s going on inside our heads.

I know I’m late to the party, but it was kind of like a own 21st-century dawning of this:

So without further ado (Hark—I hear the moto-lions roar), and in humble homage to Vin Scelsa (I told you this would ultimately make sense) here is our “Idiots’ Delights,” a haphazard revue of our radio-enabled, three day on/off-road motorcycle adventure through Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Thanks for the inspiration and years of audio friendship, Vin. It’s like you’re part of this ride.

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Thus, I give you Idiot #1—yours truly.

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And Idiot #2, Jonah (brotherman never asks for dressing on the side, which is one of the many reasons we get along.)

Now the steeds. For the first time, we weren’t riding rented or borrowed bikes, which we usually do since we’re riding far afield from home. We took two of my own bikes, a pair that I like to refer to affectionately as the “Candy-Stripe Twins.” For obvious reasons.

And twins they are—a 1200cc parallel-twin and a transversely-mounted 750cc V-twin. I planned on mostly riding my faithful ’13 Yamaha Super Ténéré. Jonah would pilot the ’16 Moto Guzzi V7II Stornello. Both bikes have varying degrees of off-road capability, which I care about since finding and riding New England dirt roads is a singular, obsessive habit of mine. And that’s what we’d mostly be doing this trip.

I’d done a fair bit of planning and route-plotting with this in mind. A few folks over on ADVrider were kind enough to share GPS tracks (thank you, Rhode Trip), and I loaded my Garmin with them.

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We sort of planned a New England Dirt Opera in Three Movements. Based on the GPS tracks (and guidance from several other ADVRiders), the first and southernmost off-pavement route started around Naugatuck, CT and ran up to the top of the state in Winsted/Winchester (also known as the Town That Can’t Decide What to Call Itself).

The second movement would be the venerable Trans Mass Trail, which squiggles its unpaved way up through Massachusetts and terminates around Greenfield.

And the final, northernmost movement would be the Vermont Puppy Dog Route (aka PDR)  which runs from the Green River in southern VT all the way up to the Canadian border. The majority of these three routes run on filthy, dirty, dirt. And gravel. And a few pavement connectors. But mostly dirt.

So Jonah flew in from San Francisco on a late Thursday night before our ride, giving us some time to chill, have a beer, and play fighter pilot. Picture two idiots on kitchen counter stools at midnight, wearing motorcycle helmets and yammering on the radio “Tenner to Storny, Tenner to Storny, you copy? (fake static sound) Yeah copy—what time ya wanna say wheels up? Over. (fake static sound) Let’s say oh-seven-thirty. Rendezvous at Nespresso machine. Out.”

Motorcycling. It makes children of men. Which is the inherent joy of it.

So in the morning, after some caffeine and quick pannier-packing, and we were ready to roll.  Here’s the pre-ride warm-up sequence; the Super-T doesn’t need it, but the Guzzi really does—like me, it requires a few minutes of warm dark liquid sloshing through its innards before it’s even sentient, much less moveable.

The Flying Stupidity Brothers, in their kit and ready to split.

Besides the GPS tracks, we didn’t really have a definitive ride plan, just two end-of-day destinations. Manchester VT on the way up and Brattleboro VT on the way back down, where we had hotel reservations (candy stripe twins, meet the candy ass twins—Idiot #1 in particular might like riding on dirt, but likes sleeping on a Westin Heavenly Bed).

Along the way, we could ride as much or as long as we wanted. But having played with the GPS routes, it was clear that an all-dirt run up to Manchester through 3 states would vacuum-up 16 hours of time. So for the first morning we opted for a faster run up route 8 to Winsted, to get some early mileage under our belts before hitting the Trans Mass Trail.

Two uneventful road hours of riding and we were near the top of CT, where we stopped for provisions at the hotdog-skinny Winsted Diner. And I mean skinny like without the bun.

Watering the horses. Here’s Mr. Storny…

And Mr. Big Stuff.

I’ve been to the Winsted Diner a couple of times. The place is frequented by biker-type bikers, with their biker-type bikes. I say this without judgement, but I/we (speaking for you too, Jonah) have about as much in common with the chrome-plated/ape-hanger/leather-fringe Harley set as I/we have with Fez-wearing Lion Clubbers, Amish Mennonites or Magic-the-Gatherers. We’re totally civil, and we both obviously enjoy the ride, but we’re from other planets in the solar system.

Still, we all gotta eat.

And we all have to check in on Big, Important Things. Like whether our kids are getting to school back in California.

After a quick pitstop, on to the ride.

We headed out on 8 and up through the last vestiges of Connecticut. Going…

Going…

Going…

Gone. And across the Mass border around Sandisfield, this:

Dude let’s get on it OK Brotherman just remember last year—tank slapper death wobble dude wet clay after a thunderstorm  just ride chill until I get my sea legs again don’t be a fucking pussy don’t break my fucking Guzzi BRAAAAAAPPPPPPPP!!!!

And we’re off. By the way, and all caution notwithstanding, if you want to know what peak-happiness looks like, it looks like this.

We Trans-Mass-Trailed our way up through the left side of the state (since it’s Massachusetts, isn’t it all that way?)

Brotherman leftern Mass until Savoy then bang a right towards Greenfield dude what’s with all the Trump signs in Connecticut righty state home of Winchester and Ruger that’s bonkers all Hillary and Bernie signs here lefty state, just like the ‘Mats song…

So we wended our way up “leftern” MA through Otis, Becket, Peru, and Savoy.

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The grey, overcast morning gave way to a cobalt-and-cottonballs afternoon.

Somewhere around No-Idea-Where, MA, I stopped and used my iPhone to snap this. The Garmin confirmed our blissful mid-Mass nowhereness.

Here, an admission. While we were being “guided” by the voices along the routes (tracks?) that I’d uploaded onto the Garmin GPS, in addition to Jonah I had Lady GarGar periodically chirping in my head fol-low-the-route-for-thir-teen-miles. But I was becoming increasingly certain that I had no idea what I was doing by trying to actually navigate. Or that Lady GarGar had any idea where she was sending us.

This may be because I’m an idiot. But it might also be because the Garmin engineers had no f-UX-ing idea what they were doing when they built the functionality into their system, either. It seems like you should be able to load in a route and simply follow the directions. But the way the routes seemed to load, they were in discreet “sections,” which got you between two waypoints, and then you’d have to return to the menu, figure out which waypoint you’d actually reached on the route, and then select the next one to travel to. Despite Jonah’s and my best efforts, it was a navigational disaster.

What’s more, half the time Lady GarGar would put us on pavement for a stretch, and then chirp turn in one half mile…1000 feet…500 feet…100 feet…now-turn-right dude she’s saying to turn right where the fuck are we supposed to turn there’s no road or trail it’s the middle of a cornfield fuck I don’t know let’s bang a u-ey and see if we missed something okay right behind you yep that’s a field recalculating what the fuck is she doing i don’t know you wanna navigate that thing’s supposed to navigate it’s a gps for chrissake it’s a g-piece-of-shit well let’s go back to that last intersection and get gas and figure it out..

Which is how we found ourselves here in Windsor, MA, several hours after stopping in Windsor, CT. (If we make it to Windsor VT, do we get a prize?)

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Watering the horses.

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With tanks full and Lady GarGar (a third but thoroughly unreliable voice) in our heads, we headed back to dirt roads and dirtier language, cussing about her inscrutable so-called guidance. But it actually didn’t matter a lick, since we had nowhere to be but riding, and the riding was so gosh-darn delightful.

 

Dirt yielded to pavement after we made that right and noodled our way over towards Greenfield.

Greenfield was not what I’d call a high point of the ride. It’s a typically (and depressingly) beat New England town, with what must have been a once-charming and attractive main street a shell of its former self. Even on a sunny day, the place feels like surrender.  Peeling, nineteenth-century mid-rise buildings house empty storefronts, or off-kilter enterprises like a vape shop, second-hand music store, or budget furniture showroom. People-wise, the sidewalks seem a little like a rehearsal take for The Walking Dead. As this Trip Advisor reviewer notes:

“[Greenfield] seems to have been overrun with societies [sic] “less desirable.” Shopping downtown was downright scary, hassled by the homeless and apparently mentally ill. I couldn’t walk ten feet without being surrounded by a cloud of second hand smoke or dodging skateboarders, kids on bikes or a man walking with a traffic cone on his head.”

Sigh. Like too much of New England, Greenfield has succumbed to the post-oxycontin heroin epidemic, which must have made it compelling (upsetting?) enough for Anthony Bourdain to include in a 2014 episode of Parts Unknown; hometown native Matthew Becklo explored it further in this heartbreaking post. We two idiots took several laps up and down Main Street looking to score some, well, lunch, but were having a hard time committing to anything because it all looked so sketchy.

So we settled on the simplest option—a straight-up pizza parlor. We parked the bikes outside, but the general street vibe (and I’m a New Yorker) made me forgo my custom of just leaving my bike crap piled up on the handlebars. GPS, gloves, neckbrace, jacket, and helmet—all came inside.

As it turned out, the only other people we’d be sharing Greenfield’s finest pizza joint with (besides the decent and hard-working owner) was a skinny, tattooed kid in a wife-beater, and his clingy, hollow-eyed girlfriend. Cue the Lemonheads:

A coupe of slices, a surprisingly decent salad, and we were out of there. I don’t mean to be uncharitable or judgmental. But Greenfield might better have been dubbed Pittsfield. But then, Massachusetts already has one of those too, imprisoned by the same New England scourge.

Grim and sad. But we were out for dirt and joy. So onwards to Vermont.

We crossed under I-91, looking for a side street that would take us to Green River Road, a picturesque dirt and gravel ribbon which runs along the Green River and threads its way up into southern Vermont. I rode it several years back on an F800GS, and was looking forward to crossing this…

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But the Green River Covered Bridge was under construction, and we wound up following a long but pretty detour over the hills and through the woods.

At some point, we crossed into Vermont, which always feels like home to me. Thanks for hanging out the welcome sign!

If Emily and I ever build a place up your way, we might have to settle down on my own personally-branded dirt road. Relax, Jonah—we’ll look for a road for you, too.

We stayed on the PDR it until it intersected VT Route 9, the Molly Stark Byway, and hopped on some pavement  to head west, since our end-of-day destination was in Manchester. There’s a scenic lookout and store in Marlboro, where the Brotherman and I stopped for some Birch Beer and VT swag for Jonah’s kids. My guys have aged out of refrigerator magnets and maple sugar candy a few years ago, but are still not quite of age for a craft beer sampler. Plus no pannier room…sorry kids!

The remainder of Friday’s ride was mellow, aimless fun. We headed north and bumped into the West River, which after about 10 hours of riding looked like a good place to cool off with a dip. And it was.

Then Route 30 through Newfane and Townshend, and up and over to Manchester, where we arrived at dusk at the Kimpton Taconic for some hard core moto-camping.

They were hosting some kind of black tie benefit (in Vermont?), and the place was jammed, so we got to conclude the day’s adventure fittingly: off-road.

Then showers. Civvies. Bourbon. Beer. Chow…

And then this: ever wonder what two middle-aged idiots sound like after 12 hours on motorbikes and a couple of drinks, falling asleep in a hotel room filled with stinky moto-crap, with the TV left on all night?

Just like that, friends. Just like that.

Tomorrow, the Idiots delight in a lap of Vermont, and some Mass Trail joy in reverse…

 

TENNER LUBE

Oil changing. I’ve had the dealer do it for me before, which involves schlepping up Route 7 to Danbury and waiting…waiting…waiting. Ordinarily, it’s also an excuse to indulge in some fantasy bike shopping and gear fixation.

But since I have a New England road trip coming up in less than a week, I decided it was time to pull my big-boy pants on, get friendly with my Not-So-Little-Pony, and do it myself.

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Ténéré friendship is magic indeed.

I took her for a 10-minute warm up ride around the neighborhood, then parked her on my molten, 98-degree driveway and set up shop.

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Neat freak here. My mother is German. Hardcoded into the genes. Just can’t help it.

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Thus, I jumped into the manly and motorly art of earl-changin’.

Step one, remove the psuedo-plastic bash guard. To be fair, it’s not much of a bash guard, but probably ideal for suburban ADV-Loungers like me. Defends against errant imported beer bottle caps or granite chips from the really nice driveways.

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Now yer wrenchin’ man!

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Don’t forget all the nuts…two fore and two aft.

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Nice to be using the actual tools inside my very sweet tool roll. I got it from a guy In Wisconsin who makes them himself, and will sew them to your exact specifications. Great piece of kit. No affiliation other than the fact that I bought one from the dude here: TheoHenry Tool Rolls

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Next, remove Mr. Oil Filler Cap so there’s no vacuum effect…

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Then spin off the filter (sorry friends—here’s where my hands started to get greasy and photo-documentation became a challenge, so no pic). I didn’t use/need an oil filter wrench. Just wiped it clean, gripped it with my bare mitts, and twisted hard.

Now’s when the real fun starts. Bust out your favorite 12mm socket, position your oil pan under the oil plug, and get cranking.

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After undoing the plug, what started as a gusher started dribbling suspiciously early. And it turned out to have spewed only a meager 1.5 quarts of oil in the pan (the little hash marks on the inside of the pan said so).

The bike ostensibly holds nearly a gallon of synthetic dinosaur juice (3.8 quarts, to be sure). I wondered if the oil was somehow lingering up inside the engine, held up there in the cylinders by the vacuum effect (even though the filler cap was off). So I rocked the bike back and forth vigorously on the center stand, trying to squeeze the remaining 2.5 quarts out of the well. I got some, but certainly not all.

Here’s all I had to show for a day’s worth of oil-drilling.

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That’s when I became suspicious, and turned to the internets. Thanks to several posts on the Yamaha Super Ténéré Forum, it became obvious that there’s not one but two oil drain plugs on the Tenner: one under the gearbox…and one aft, under the oil reserve pan. This I confirmed by paging through that pristine, uncracked text otherwise known as “The Owner’s Manual.”

Doh. Thus, Plug #2.

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And when you tap that sucker, that’s when the real gusher starts.

I drained and rocked, drained and rocked, until there was no more than a very occasional drip of oil. Then I replaced the plugs and copper crush washers (reused them this time), torqued to spec, primed the new filter with 10W-40, oiled the gasket, screwed her on double-hand-tight, and poured about 3.5 quarts of oil into her (based on the clear plastic window gauge on the oil bottle). Closed the filler cap, fired her up, and nearly done.

I rolled the bike onto the flat garage floor to check the oil level. Since the Ténéré uses a dry sump, and sucks oil out of the pan via a pump, you really can’t be “too low” or “two high.” You just need enough oil in the pan to be siphoned up to do its work.

After shutting her down, my first check looked like this:

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I let it sit a while longer, and it didn’t get any higher. So I added maybe another pint or so of oil, which brought the level to this, healthily within the two bars next to the sight-glass window.

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And voilá. Done. Here’s my Not-So-Little-Pony…next to my new actual Little Pony.

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See? Friendship really is magical. But more about the lil’ Guzzi in another post…

MARCH MAPLENESS

When in March, most people’s thoughts turn to Madness. Mine turn to Mapleness.

Not that I’m a basketball hater or anything. It’s just that there’s something about maple sap running down collection tubes—nature whispering about winter’s looming demise, and a sure harbinger of spring—that’s more exciting to me than a bunch of college guys running up and down a court.

Plus it’s the perfect excuse to take a ride up through New England in search of this:

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So the other Saturday, I set sail on the good ship Ténéré, in search of some sweet, sticky spring.  Here’s my craft on the causeway over the Congamond Lakes at the CT/MA border.

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I had to stop and defrost at the venerable Granville Country Store & Cheese Shop…

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…where I had a “toasted cheddar” that was better than it had any right to be, and a hot cup of tea. My toes and fingers were frozen (it was in the forties, and I’d been riding for almost two hours), and I wasn’t sure how I was going to press on. I thought, “what are the chances they sell those “Lil’ Hotties” boot/handwarmers, along with cellar-aged cheese,  local jams and jellies, and pies?

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They had ’em. Score.

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The view from the grilled cheese table.

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I didn’t have a Coke, but this still made me smile.

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Before I headed back out, I did a Google search for “maple sugar farm”, and it turned out there was one less than ten miles away right in Granville. Bingo.

Much of the ride there was joyfully unpaved…

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In time, I arrived here at the corner of Maple and Happy.

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The sugar house was cooking with activity.

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Here’s their sparkling new evaporator, creating that intoxicating, maple cotton-candy fog that produces the single finest smell on earth. It’s the olfactory equivalent of crack.

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One of the farm owners (believe it or not, I assume this is Mr. Ripley himself) gave a little impromptu syrup tutorial on how you start with maple water boil it down to waffle-drizzling goodness.

Where there’s maple smoke, there’s maplewood fire.

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Fire in the hole…warmth for the soul.

I headed up to their “Pancake House” and store to buy a pint of their amber finest and some maple sugar candies (they’re so sweet your teeth hurt) before hopping on my Maple-conveyor and heading back south.

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Couple of hours of this….

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And it was time for some of this at our old farmhouse. Not quite maplewood. No sugar air. But you know what they call it. Home sweet home…

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SKI & RIDE

Skiing. Riding. Riding. Skiing.

With the possible exception of surfing, eating Twizzlers, or doing the New York Times Sunday crossword, they’re easily two of my favorite things to do on this green and white earth.

Some of these life-loves can easily be enjoyed in the span of a single day. But not skiing and riding. Twizzlers and crosswords? Easy-peasy—I do’em together all the time. Riding and Twizzlers? A natural pairing, and a motorcycle is a great excuse for executing a Twizzlers run (plus you look a lot less like an ass-hat riding with a Twizzler in your maw than a cigar or cigarette, especially since you can chew it and swallow it). Surfing and the New York Times Sunday puzzle? Totally doable between expression-sessions, so long as you don’t drip too much.

But I’ve never been able to jam skiing and riding into the same day, for obvious reasons. Good conditions for one (snow, ice, frigid temperatures, winter) are grim conditions for the other. Especially since I’m not one of these “studded” types.

But this Sunday, the last of this January, the stars (or suns) somehow aligned, and I finally got my chance to ski and ride…without actually planning for it.

According to the Weather Channel, Sunday was supposed to be a pretty mild midwinter day in New England. The weather gods were calling for mixed sun and clouds in the high forties. And since one of my kids is at school (hi Noah!), one’s in Florida seeing an aunt (hi Maisie!), and one’s taking the ACT (sorry, Ivy!), this here kid decided to go skiing. So I roused myself at the usual commuter wake-up time (5:30 am), hopped into my truck, and made a run for Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Ski Butternut.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride up Route 8 through the Litchfield Hills and the southern Berkshires. I was stoked to revisit the beginning of the Trans Mass Trail (see my all-dirt MA ride here) at the intersection of Rood Hill Road and Sandy Brook Turnpike in Sandisfield, MA.

That was then….

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And this was now.

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I made it to Great Barrington in under 2 hours, suited up in the parking lot, hoofed over to the base lodge, and was on boards doing runs by 8:45. Butternut (like most of southern Vermont and northern Connecticut) has had a disastrous snow-desert of a season, and everything on the trails was 100% man made. But for snow of the non-organic variety, it was surprisingly well-groomed, and actually pretty sweet.

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I went up and down Lucifer’s Leap a dozen or more times without pause, carving and charging the corduroy until I could feel the burn. Not this one (although I did vote for him  wayyyy back when I was a college kid in Burlington, VT)…

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But the one in my legs. Burning quads on the way down, and then riding the quad on the way up, run after run after run. It was a carver’s delight.

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Despite it being the dead of winter, it was actually warm enough to be skiing in a sweatshirt. Here’s yours truly at the top of Lucifer’s, a Connecticut guy on Massachusetts snow “representing” for Vermont, courtesy of his alma mater. Nice to get a few shout-outs from some other Catamount dads.

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I went up and down like a yo-yo, meeting oddball folks on the lift and making ski-talk on the ride up, and then dialing in the lactic-acid power-carves on the way down. I don’t think I stopped or paused once. And since I’d been making track since 8:30, I broke for an early lunch to rest and soak up some sun.

A plate of fries, a bowl of New England clam chowder, sunny skies and temperature hovering in the mid-fifties? I was having a joy meltdown.

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Unfortunately, so was the snow. I skied until 1:30, at which point the snow was thick like Stew Leonard’s soft-serve, and just as sticky. So before bogging a ski and ripping my hip out of the socket (it almost happened a couple of times towards the mushy bottom), I decided to call it a ski-day, and head back to CT.

The drive back was just as delightful, and for most of Massachusetts it was so warm I actually had the windows down. At one point around Marlborough, the temperature gauge in my truck hit sixty. In January. In New England.

It is a natural law of New England that when the temperatures rise, so do the bikers. And as I drove through Winsted, sure enough I passed maybe a half-dozen guys out on motorcycles. They were the typical Northern  CT black & bedazzled Harley crowd, brapping their way up and down Route 44. But they were out there riding. On a Sunday. In January. In New England. So I stepped on it.

When I pulled into my driveway an hour later, I marched into the house, took off my ski pants, pulled on jeans and riding boots, threw on a jacket, grabbed my (other) helmet, and headed out to the garage.

I can’t express how weirdly satisfying it was to go from ski boots to riding boots, from ski helmet to Shoei, and from snow gloves to motorcycle gloves—all in the span of a few hours. It took a little more effort than usual to swing my tired legs over the bike, but once I was in the saddle, it felt stupendous. My airhead fired up on the second try, and we were off and riding. 

Two and half hours earlier I was carving on two skis. Now, I was carving on two wheels. Call it love-squared. 

I went for a typical Fairfield beach lap, motoring over to Southport, then Burying Hill, and then on to Compo. Here’s my airhead by the beach at Southport, with a mini dirty Buttenut in the background. 

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At Compo, I ran into another guy on an BMW, but a late-model R1200GS. He was out for a cruise with his young daughter, who was riding pilion. He knew his airheads (although he pegged mine as a ’73, when it’s a ’74), and we had a nice bike chat, both shaking our heads at the guilty pleasure of riding through such an unseasonably warm winter.

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“Yeah,” I said. “Whatever happened to skiing?”

Some pleasures shouldn’t be gloated-over. Just enjoyed in private silence. 

AIRHEAD AMBLING

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It was a dark and stormy Sunday. What else to do but grab your bike and go for a ride?

Once again, thanks to global warming, temperatures hovered in the mid-to-high fifties today—in mid-January. The only downside was the downpour and high winds, which made the Southport and Westport beaches pretty dramatic.

The riding occasionally so, too.

 

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A few observations. First, crash bars really work. I dropped the airhead, but through no fault of my own. Left her idling in the driveway and ran inside to get my helmet. When I returned, she was lying on her side, un-running, with gas dribbling out of the carbs, kind of like a drunken sailor with an open bottle, splayed out and happy. Either a gust of wind tipped her over, or some low-idle cylinder shudder kicked her off her stand.

Whatever the case, I picked her up, adjusted the mirror, and went on my merry way. Not a scratch or ding in sight. (Note to self: you need crash bars on your Super Ténéré.)

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Second, the newish Michelin Pilot Sport Activs are pretty good wet-weather tires. Comfortable, stable, and not a single slip. Great traction accelerating, cornering and braking to avoid the odd tree branch that had fallen into the roadway, and shattered into a blast of wood pulp and bark.

Third, the robots are getting pretty good. I discovered an app called Magisto that lets you dump a bunch of your raw video footage and photos onto their site, along with an uploaded song of your choice, and then it “auto-edits” a video for you. Whatcha think?

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It isn’t going to win any “Editor’s Choice” awards on Vimeo. But thanks Ray Garland and John Coltraine. I couldn’t decide on a track, but Indecision seemed to fit the bill just right.

Uh oh. Starting to rain again. Gotta get going…

2015: THE YEAR IN REAR VIEW

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‘Tis the season of the 5″x7″ personalized state-of-the-union address.

Rejoice!

Unless you happen to have a mild Grinch-streak and unlimited-space motoblog, in which case you’re rejoicing at the opportunity to dissect the holiday card phenomenon while you simultaneously indulge in it. (I may be a hypocrite, but at least I’m self-aware and honest).

So here’s the thing. Every December, our mailbox—probably like yours—fills up with cards that look like this:

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Perfectly art-directed tableaus of your friends’ perfect families, often with religiously-neutral seasonal messages. Note to Christian friends: it’s okay to send a Christmas card and to call it one, since that’s what nine-tenths of Americans actually celebrate. Nice if you remember to wish “Happy Hanukkah” to your Jewish friends—you have eight chances not to forget, but if you do, no one cares. The Kwanzaa thing seems to have come and passed, but if you celebrate it, I’m happy to wish you a happy one.

The funny thing about these holiday cards is that, in the age of Instagram, they’re like a more permanent status update. But even more considered, since you’re committing to actual ink, creating a sort of suburban family tattoo. You have to decide if you’re going with the hero shot of the kids in their scrubbed, hair-sculpted glory, or making your statement with a montage of smaller family victories—ski vacations, teen tours, the sailboat, the dog.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, I really do look forward to receiving these appealingly cheery moments of our friends and their kids. Some of them I see all the time; some I haven’t laid eyes on since a soccer tournament three years ago, and it’s wild to see the kids change (and the parents age). I also really do appreciate the ritual well-wishing and holiday tidings, and the fact that we’re on someone else’s mailing list besides Hammacher-Schlemmer, AT&T, and J.Crew.

But then there’s the neo-Rockwellian staginess of it, and the fact that so many of the cards look like literal outtakes of a J. Crew catalog right down to the cool typography and merry witticisms. Sites like TinyPrints, Shutterfly and Minted have democratized stylishness (and IMHO sapped originality) to the degree that everyone’s family winds up looking beautifully, homogenously generic. Like the Crate-and-Barrelfication of the American family.

We seem to be in the minority in not sending out a holiday card. This is mainly because we’re lazy and discombobulated, but also because getting our teenage kids to cooperate with any kind of photo-taking (other than selfies) is an exercise in frustration and futility. They’re good kids, just bad photo-cooperators. Then again, maybe we ought to try because our card might look refreshingly, awkwardly imperfect.

But that doesn’t mean Mr. Grinch here doesn’t have a two-wheeled family to pose and primp to his heart’s content, and then subject the internet-at-large (ok, maybe a dozen blog visitors?) to a holiday roll-call of this year’s rides.

So since you won’t be getting a card from me, here’s my 2015 Holiday “Year in Rear View.” Oh, and Merry Christmas from my bikes to yours (only the Vespa is Jewish).

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APRIL

After the Mother of All Winters (snow in the Northeast hung around until frigging June), I seized the first thaw-day to unplug the Ténéré from its electronic teat, roll it out of the garage, and take it to the bridge in Cornwall, CT. New England bliss. Brisk, but bliss.

MAY

Back to commuter-scooting (or is it scooter-commuting?) When I first fired-up the Vespa after winter hibernation, I noticed tufts of hay and what looked like horse-hair poking out from the side of the front cowling; I think the scoot was home to a few shivering mice for the winter. I understand, fellas—it was a rough one.

JUNE

Initiated a new tradition to break up the commuting week: summer f#ride#days. On the last day of the work week, I ride my Ténéré to a more distant train station than usual, just for some extra saddle joy. Work feels a lot less like work when you ride to it (even if you have to ride the rails afterwards).

I also squeezed in a Sunday Mass run through the Litchfield hills and into Massachusetts. My version of church on Sunday.

JULY

My riding buddy Jonah and I met in Salt Lake for our long-planned Utah BDR ride. We covered 1,300 miles in four days—about half off-road—doing a southern swing from SLC down to Torrey, across Capitol Reef State, up to Price and Heber City, and eventually into Wyoming.

Best part? Riding Skyline Drive in a full-on hail storm.

Worst part? Eating dirt in the slick Utah clay, and doing a number on my ankle. You can read the whole shebang here.

AUGUST

After flying home from our (completed) Utah ride, the only place I rode to was the orthopedic surgeon. If you’re going to play, these are the breaks.

Still, I had to get my late summer moto fix, so I drove to the 30th annual Brit Jam 2015gimping around a sea of vintage bikes in lovely Haddam’s Neck. You can see the bikes (and read my drool) here: British Jam and German Toasters.

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SEPTEMBER

After the Brit Jam show, I was bitten by the vintage bug hard. Somehow, the gods smiled and the Craigslist planets aligned, and I found myself the new owner of a not-so-new ’74 BMW airhead, after lusting for one for years. Here’s the skinny on my R75/6.

OCTOBER

Fall meant less riding & more tinkering while the ankle healed. Used the time to get acquainted with the airhead; I did some clean-up work on my own, but sent her off to MAX BMW in Brookfield, CT for some new tires, carb work, and professional TLC. Also commissioned a guy on Etsy to make a replacement tool roll for the bike, and it came out sweet.

NOVEMBER

Thanks to global warming (or el Niño or la Niña or whatever the hell it is), the New England weather remained freakishly warm through Thanksgiving. Which made rides like this to Roxbury possible. I know, it’s only global warming. But I like it, I like it, yes I do.

Even went to the beach a few times this fall. Not quite warm enough to get your toes sandy, but still.

DECEMBER

I went for a 160-mile exploratory loop up through western Connecticut (lunched in Kent), where the daytime high hit seventy degrees. In New England. In December. Bad for polar ice caps and Vermont ski resorts. Good for kooks like me (and apparently fly-fishermen, too).

Also celebrated Hanukkah with the help of my trusty Vespa menorah. Always fires up on the first try.

NEW YEAR’S EVE DAY

On the last day of 2015, I road tripped up to Wethersfield, CT to make my airhead an honest woman (she’s been un-plated until now). The DMV’s website indicated that to register any vehicle more than 20 years old in CT required an inspection at the main DMV office. So I rented one of these things for $14.95, and up to the altar we went.

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Turns out no one asked to see the bike or inspect anything. I didn’t care because it was our special day. Here’s our marriage license. Does this mean we’ll be honeymooning in Hawaii?

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And that’s my 2015 on two wheels. Hope yours was equally ridey. Mahalo for reading, Happy New Year, and here’s to another year of interesting rides…