Motorcycle Gear – My History, Part I – Boots

I was working on part III of my motorcycle journey and bumped up against my gear. Then got off thinking about what I’ve worn over the years. That led me to thinking I should discuss the evolution of what I wore, when and why. How I got to here. I’ll begin at the bottom.


When I bought my first bike, gear was not really a big consideration beyond a helmet. My footwear was initially, whatever I was wearing at the time or figured to wear once I got where I was going. In this case as can be seen in the photo, I was wearing trainers. Not ideal for protection, but it is what I had beyond my work boots and heavy expedition hiking boots.

It was summertime in Colorado and cold weather was not something I thought much about. Driving cars, we tend not to consider our clothing choices and changing weather. Those Puma trainers were shoes from my high school track days. They worked OK on the little Honda, they were not warm or weatherproof in any way. They did provide good enough traction at stops. I got soaking wet in them more than once and thus began the never ending search for suitable footwear.

Next up were a pair of Hondaline riding boots. These were styled after road racing boots, but tilted toward real world travel with a more upright or neutral bend at the ankle. They had some sort of plastic/rubber composite soles that managed to be slick on nearly any surface beyond the dealer parts department floor. Despite my best efforts with Snowseal they were never close to waterproof, or even resistant.

Not only was my footwear choices evolving, but my reasons for each choice led to more considerations of that and future choices. My considerations for protection were initially limited to weather protection, with zero thought to crash protection. The Hondaline boots soon wore out their welcome thanks mostly to leaking and being more than a little bit uncomfortable to walk in. Nothing I tired helped, and since I was mostly commuting on the motorcycle, my workbooks became my footwear of choice. One time riding to a big hike in my heavy hiking boots relegated them to single taskers. They were perfect in winter backpacking mode or long backpacking trips in the summer. But, on a motorcycle, I couldn’t tell if I was stepping on the brake or find the top or bottom of the shifter. They were solid feeling around my ankle and that feel led to later choices. But, for non-commute motorcycling, I wore my harness boots that had been waterproofed with Snowseal when I first got them. This worked well enough for walking in the wet, the boots combined with tube socks in the wet on a motorcycle at speed were cold. Add winter and it was even colder. Wool socks became a choice with silk sock liners. These made fitting feet into the boots a vey much too tight situation. Back to hiking boots, but lighter boots similar to what I wore for work.

Six months after I bought my first motorcycle, I’d traded it off for my second bike the first week of December. Footwear was now very much on my mind. My hog nosed harness boots were OK for warmer winter days in Denver, but the search was on for warmer protection. I worked night shifts so it was always cold when I rode. That first winter of motorcycling became hiking boots or work boots, wool socks over silk socks.

By the next summer, I was back to the harness boots with lighter socks for everyday wear and travel. I took my first two week long ride. I wore my harness boots. They did get soaked a few times on the way home riding through the southwests monsoon season. The harness boots wore out to the point they leaked when walking across wet grass and became very uncomfortable. Tony Lama were next. Again, trusted waterproofing to snow seal.

I was by now working as a BMW motorcycle mechanic and needed footwear that protected my feet and would work for riding when testing a bike. This got me back to hiking boots for riding. But, for travel or just w weekend ride I usually wore my Tony Lamas. I had a custom made pair of Bates road racing boots for a while that were very nice for feel and comfort. And provided the level of safety that was usual at the time, that being very little beyond being high quality, thick leather that covered the ankle. They fit snugly. closed with a zipper and a strap and buckle at the top to secure the zipper. I sold them used to somebody who came into the shop and liked the fit. They were replaced with a pair of Frank Thomas road racing boots that were nearly identical but never fit quite the same. Also around this time I went through a few pairs of BMW touring boots. I’d wear them until they leaked, then either give them away or sell them.

The Frank Thomas boots gave way to more modern road race boots for both commuting and playing on the motorcycle. By now, I was into my sport bike phase, commuting across Orange County California and have a blast at trackdays.

I ‘m wearing a pair of Sidi roadrace boots that were the last pair I bought. I was at the point of ordering a new pair with even better protection, when I got bit by the adventure bike bug. The Honda went away and a big 1150 BMW GS Adventure came to play for the next 200,000 miles. My footwear changed too. Now, I had a pair of Sidi Discovery boots.

First True Adventure Ride – Photo credit: Nick Kline.

had migrated from running shoes to hiking boots to work boots to motorcycle touring boots. Then custom made road racing boots, then modern, more protective road racing boots and finally ending with adventure touring boots or light enduro boots.

In the above photograph, my current riding boots sit under what used to be my desk at what used to be my office. Back when I worked and commuted, I’d wear the big boots for rain days. My more usual footwear were my hiking boots. I wear these Sidi Crossfires for any riding that isn’t a grocery run or errand and for travel now. They have good ankle protection, comfortable enough to walk a ways in and good instep support for extended standing with the stock pegs. They don’t fit under jeans like Discovery’s do.

To answer the question of why I wear theses really down to protection first, comfort second. The Crossfires are waterproof. As long as I don’t step into a stream that is deeper than the tops. I’ve had them just over the top buckle and stayed dry. Over the top, my feet got wet. I was glad that was a day ride and not traveling.

I like how footwear as evolved, I’ve managed to keep up, as I wore boots out or changed rides. I’ve had two pair of Sidi Discovery boots, the first pair I put two soles on and sold cheap once I decided I was only going to use the Crossfires. The second pair of Discovery boots were given to me when a friend sold his adventure bike. I ended up giving those boots away as we downsized here in a smaller house. For local riding and errands I wear the hiking boots. If I’m traveling the big Crossfires get the job. When camping I’ll carry some sandals for in-camp wear and any light hiking or short walks. Even showering they are fine, the synthetic straps dry quickly enough. I expect these Sidi Crossfire boots to be my last motorcycling boots. I’m old enough and I travel seldom enough they should outlast me and my riding.

Safe at Home

We are into our fourth week of semi-isolation here on the left coast. Each of us have slowly slipped into a somewhat regular daily routine that now feels as familiar as an old dressing gown and slippers. I wake, and make my with through my morning toiletries, glasses, washing hands and face, fresh shirt and underwear. Fill and turn on the kettle and set up my coffee press. Light the fire in the grate to warm the house. Back to the bedroom, we make the bed, shut the window and open the shades. It has been chilly in the mornings. by then the kettle is finished and I can use this Aeropress to make my morning americano. Two shots. Then a bowl of instant porridge with raisins added and sometimes fresh fruit or dregs of some bag of cereal. Once the bowl cools from the microwave, breakfast can be completed. A banana or an orange complete the morning.

None of that is much different from the past three years of mornings here in retirement. What comes next is.

I no longer ready my cycling kit for a days riding across the heat of the day. Where I used to sometimes, even enough times to make it usual, wander as far as 65 miles in a day. Those parks, restrooms and water fountains are all closed now. The crowds who used to fill the beaches are sheltering, home-schooling or wandering the paths. Traffic on the roads is light, but traffic on the paths that remain open is crowded. Our beaches have been closed. First it was parking, now the beaches themselves.

We have each attended to various delayed projects. I’ve whittled my list down to nearly nothing. And have made up new tasks I can complete with what materials, hardware or supplies I already have on hand. There is a short list of items I’ll need from the local hardware store once that much is open and safe again.

Shelves and cabinets have been organized and reorganized. Clutter on the bench has been cleared, decluttered and cleared again. I’ve found stickers and stuck them. I’ve found wood and cut it for use or set it aside for later use when more materials are available or found for the next project on the list. I’ve swept the driveways only to have rain and wind make it appear to never have been attended to. I’ve begun to clear out a rolling tool chest to re-finish for the kids garage. But, have run out of sorting to storage and space for a bit here. Once I get that done, I’ll be waiting on paint. I think I have enough sand paper I can at least prepare the surface. There are still shelves that can do with more organization. There is likely a box or crate here and there I can clean up and repurpose to that end.

I’m now down to cleaning and detailing my motorcycle. I figure by the time I’m done, or run out of cleaning supplies, the bike will be far too clean to ride anywhere.

I’m about a third of the way through this first side. I’m to the point where I now need to disassemble some of it to get at the deep and complete cleaning. That will require moving some more stuff around and space to set the tank half outside while I work inside.

Working in the shop gets me out from in front of screens and out from under my wife’s feet. Our oldest daughter works from home in her room, so with my wife in the main room upstairs, daughter in her room and me in the shop we are separated together and safe here at home.

Our groceries are ordered online and delivered, moved to the shop for a bit of a rest, then put away after a wipe down. We have managed to arrange one Zoom meeting with much of the family scattered across the country. We will do more of those with more of the family. The hardest separation for us all down here is from little Ogden.

We’ve managed a few FaceTimes with him. He is used to seeing himself in short videos on the television or iPad or phones. This more interactive thing is new to him. He is warming to it. The other evening we played some of his favorite dance music and played with him making faces like we did when physically together. He played along and laughed. The rocking chair is one his aunt found for ten dollars and I repaired and refinished. It now sits in his room. Mommy and daddy tell us he often runs back to his room, grabs a favorite book and settles into the chair to mimmic reading the book to himself. A fun age of discovery for a small boy. And for mommy and daddy. And us grandparents as we recall the wonder of our children’s discovery of new things and experiences, now with their child. That makes for a wonderful connection of experience through the years.

So, for my projects so far, I’ve built two shelves, assembled two more. Fixed some trim. Installed an under cabinet light that was repurposed from an under shelf desk lamp. I tightened up the hinge mounts to three doors to the house. And I’ve rearranged and organized cabinets and shelves in the garage. More stuff was set aside for charity once those businesses reopen. I’ve replaced the cables and housings on my bicycle, replaced the bar tape and adjusted the seat. I’ve measured and documented the position of the saddle, stem and bars. I changed out the rear tire after 3,100 miles and finding the cord was showing. Cleaning up has its benefits. I fine tuned the position of the cleats on my new bicycle shoes. And completely cleaned, detailed and waxed my bicycle. The motorcycle has had the tires swapped out for used knobbies. I converted the rear wheel to tubeless. And I’m in two days into cleaning and detailing and adjusting the motorcycle. There is more than a week’s work left.

And finally at some point I’ll get myself pointed back to the history I began and wandered away from some time ago when I got distracted by the evolution of my gear choices.

Stay safe out there, and stay home. Cheer’s,

A Lifetime of Motorcycles – Part II, The Norton Rides

… continued from Part I, First Bike

December 7th, 1974 Lois and I rode the little Honda to Central Cycle and Marine for the last time. We had test ridden a new 850 Norton Roadster the weekend prior. We bought a European spec 1974 850 Norton Interstate. This bike had been brought over with two John Player Racer Replicas. I liked those too, but really liked the 7.2 gallon steel Interstate tank and big wide saddle. Much better perch for exploring the world than clip-ons and rear sets.

I’m pictured here astride our new 1974 850 Norton Interstate near the University of Denver, Denver Colorado.

The slide-up fog free shield wasn’t fog free. It fogged over one night as we rode home from work around one in the morning on snowy streets. I’d picked Lois up from her job in accounting at a downtown department store after my swing shift at an aerospace machine shop. I tried all manner of at the time gear in an attempt to stay warm. Korean War era insulated flight suits and shooting mitts to no success. I eventually bought a horribly fitting snow mobile suit. That suit had legs that were too short by a little more than a foot. I’d wear my hiking boots and heavy wool socks to my knees to keep warm. My hands would get so cold on my twenty-five mile commute, I’d pull over partway and hold my gloved hands against the cylinders to warm them and wait for the feeling to return to my fingers. One especially cold night I left work and the bank time and temperature sign read -22 F. When I jumped on the kick starter it didn’t move at first. Then ever so slowly it rotated down to the bottom. I lifted my foot and the return spring could barely push it home against the cold 90w oil in the transmission. It took three times to get the bike to fire, and one more to get it lit for good. It sat there idling and warming. I waited a few minutes until I could feel the heat on the cylinders through my gloves, then set off into the night. That night would take three stops to warm my hands. And riding along Evans Avenue the crown in the road would slip me from the center of the road to the gutter in a block as the tarmac was covered in snow. That was a long cold ride home and one I would only repeat a few more times when we got caught out in the elements. Leaving for work at 2:30 in the afternoon in Denver the weather could be lower 50’s and clear skies, only to have a storm blow in while I worked. Once Lois decided to drive up and get me, but had a lot of weather related traffic to slow her arrival. We passed each other on the road from the plant, so I had her follow me to my parents house three miles away where we left the motorcycle and drove the car the twenty five miles home. The next morning was clear and warm, melting the near foot of snow we got over night.

There were many weekend rides in the mountains on the Norton, and a few week day runs to breakfast at a cafe in some canyon. We took a few longer rides around Colorado then, the summer of 1975, Lois and I used the Norton to ride to visit her sister and her husband in Tucson over two week 4th of July shutdown my plant had. We all rode around Tucson on their CB750 and our Norton. We had a great time. We rode up Mount Lemon and got rained and hailed on.

Our motorcycle travel gear began to evolve from our backpacking gear. We added a Better Windjammer frame mounted fairing for travel and winter. We even found real rain gear after destroying a pair of sporting goods store plastic suits. That trip, we got home from fishing and hiking with my parents in the mountains with only the wrist bands, collars and snaps band down our fronts left of our rain gear. We used duffle bags strapped to either side for saddle bags and an old vinyl suitcase on the rear rack for our kitchen kit. The tankbag strapped on and the fairing had a good deal of storage as well.

Riding with friends around the mountains, My buddy Mike and I parked at the top of Loveland Pass.

Working swing shift and Lois in college, Mike and I would ride or play tennis. That was a fun summer. I was averaging 12,000 miles per year riding almost all the time.

We moved to a new apartment about a mile from where I worked. I mostly walked to work. But, this is where my nice linear timeline of motorcycle ownership first goes off the rails. Oh, nothing bad happens mind you, I simply end up owning more motorcycles at once than I can ride at one time. Something to aspire to.

So, up first a small detour. At work there was a bulletin board of stuff near the tool crib. Employees would post rooms for rent, campers and cars for sale and once in a while a motorcycle. I had noticed a card for a 250cc Ducati. Now this was a 1968, no photo of course, just a phone number and price. A tiny price. Tiny enough to make the gears in my head begin turning and encouraged by my buddy, we came up with a plan. So, come morning we got in his truck and drove down to the address the guy gave me after I called. His very pregnant wife met us at the door and lead us to a waist high weedy back garden and the bike. She said her husband had explained the motor had blown up. It was grungy and dirty with drooping footpads and oil soaked parts that should not be oil soaked. An odd Honda seat was bolted to the frame by means of makeshift straps. I pondered. Prodded the kick starter and the motor moved so it wasn’t real bad. No loud clunking, from the lifeless lump. A twist of the throttle provided almost no resistance, but no return spring either. And manually closing the throttle felt like pushing something wrong. The slide did not move. My guess was throttle cable. I opened my wallet to extract the bills as the fellow’s wife peered in and said twenty would be fine.

Done. We pushed the bike out to my friends truck and lifted it in and off we went. At home we found the throttle cable broken, yet had been repaired once using one of those screw-on lugs at the throttle end. The slide end was fine, filthy, but fine. I cleaned things up and reattached the lug. The bike fired right up. Idled a bit high, but ran. Tires were low, all the bearings suspect, but there were bones.

1968 Ducati 250, Westminster, Colorado 1976

The plan was to turn this little bike into something like this:

This is a friend Mike, who was the mechanic at Harry’s Motors in Denver. He raced this 450 Desmo.

Mike’s 450 was street legal. We had talked long and often about racing and Demo Ducti singles in particular. I could pretty easily change my 250 into a 450 Desmo for not too much money. A plan was hatched. I made a list and a priority of each and how long things took to appear. We figured to do the work up at my buddy’s place in Boulder as my apartment didn’t have a garage. As I cleaned and reviewed this new bike, I found the frame was cracked at a weld. a known issue, but since my landlord was a welder he said he could easily fix it up for free. Then another friend entered the picture as I had just fixed the title and registration mess. I’d paid the crazy $45 fees for all that, yet of course didn’t have a paper title in hand. This other friend, upon viewing this little bike the first time at work one evening, offered me $100. Now, I’d spent $5 on a throttle and cable from a Guzzi to improve that, a couple of bucks on new grips and a few more on carburetor cleaner. I of course turned him down, because I’d barely ridden the thing. I did ride it a bit in the next week or so when I had time. I rode over to an open field I’d played in as a kid and flat tracked the little bike there. Rode up and down the trails and slid and just had a blast. It does surprise people that a slightly heavy and well underpowered bike can be fun out hooping it up. Well, another week goes by and my friend with the loose wallet, happens to be standing in my apartment with me and offered me twice his original price. In front of my wife, and knowing all the shortcomings of the little bike, I’d uncovered.

Also at this point I’d not done anything as far as deep service to the bike beyond checking the valve clearances and changing oil. Nothing else. I handed him the registration and we signed a bill of sale. Ten $20 dollar bills were counted out. I’d owned the little bike a few weeks, spent almost nothing on it and made money. This bike holds the title to best return on investment in motorcycling dollars in my history. My paper title showed up almost two months later and was signed over. And my friend was knocked off the little bike in the mountains of Colorado as he rode back from an Army reserve week exercises, when a truck dropped a head-sized rock off as it rounded a bend. The rock hit him square in the chest, at least that is what the doctors figured. He slide into the ditch, nobody noticing for nearly a day, when the Highway Patrol found the bike crashed, they looked around and found him breathing, but otherwise not responding. He was transported. Someone had taken his backpack with all his ID and belongings. While he was out, nobody knew where he was. The bosses at work were going to fire him for being AWOL, his wife was calling us and work wondering where he was. She called the army found he had left on time, and no one had heard from him since. She made calls to the police who after a day or so figured out the guy they had in a rural hospital was our guy. he recovered and wasn’t fired. The little Ducati was a wadded up pile of junk, never seen again. The rock had broken his sternum and bruised his heart.

There was one more motorcycle to come into the fold while we had the Norton. A 1974 BMW R90/6.

1974 BMW R90/6 and 1974 Norton 850 Interstate, Mom and Dad’s house 1976

I found this bike used in the new paper want ads. Owned by a doctor who lived near Cheesman Park in Denver. Low mileage, WindjammerII fairing and BMW bags. I ditched the crashers and airhorns. We decided to sell the Norton. I placed an ad and it was answered. A guy arranged to come by, then called and delayed. We had in the meantime changed course and were moving to California. The Norton was supposedly sold to a guy. But, no real money had exchanged hands. We had played a lot of telephone games and in the end I ran out of time. Our stuff was set to be moved. We arranged for him to pick the bike up from my dad. The guy never showed. So, we moved to California with one motorcycle with us and one in Colorado. After five months I decided to fly to Denver and ride the Norton to California. I flew to Denver at about Thanksgiving and of course the weather decided to not cooperate. A blizzard was set to hit the mountains, well I could go south to interstate 8 and come across the bottom of the US to the coast. One of my uncles had a friend with a trucking company, he offered to ship the motorcycle to my house in California for $50. A return plane ticket was $100, a no brainer. We built a pallet out of scrap wood, drained the fuel and pulled the battery. I carried the live lead acid batter with me on the flight. Different time for sure. And it was a real E-ticket flight for sure. Lots of turbulence over the Rockies, with drops big enough to launch drinks and loose junk.

The Norton showed up a couple of weeks later in the sunshine. A friend and I used a pickup to gather it from the shipper. The pallet split in half as it touched the ground in front of my garage. Now, I had two motorcycles in California. I decided to transform the Norton into a Cafe racer, and further fit the BMW for travel. The stock saddle on the BMW was horrible. We rode to Sequoia one long weekend and had to sleep on our stomachs because our backsides were so sore. Sitting down on anything that next day was painful in the extreme. So much so we cut short the trip and rode home. I ordered a custom seat soon after from Ez Berg in San Diego.

Sequoia National Forest

The BMW was a great travel bike. This was the 70’s with 55mph national speed limit and expensive $.50 fuel. With he 2.91 final drive we would get 65 mpg on the interstates. We traveled to Tucson and Phoenix, and up the coast to Laguna Seca. We had a great time on that bike. It got lowers for the fairing for better protection from the elements, I got a deal on some Morris Mag wheels that added a custom rear disc brake. We added a large capacity oil pan and oil temperature gauge after a very hot ride to a desert development overheated the motor and us.

The Norton was transformed. We found a solo seat at an RC Engineering “garage sale” one weekend and some cross over rear sets to keep my feet working the controls properly. I was working for a small machine shop so had access to tools. I made mounts and bits I needed here and there.

In this livery, I rode the Norton to my local BMW dealer, Brown Motor Works in Pomona, California. I needed some parts for the BMW, the rear main seal had gone bad for a second time and I needed new bolts for the drive shaft coupling as well as the flywheel.

I Brown’s while I was getting my parts, Bob asked if that was my Norton out front. I replied that indeed it was. He then said, “I’ll bet you twenty bucks it doesn’t start the first kick.” Now, Bob likes to rib folks and maybe caught that I might be able to be ribbed a bit. What bob didn’t know is that I’d modified the bike to 12 volt car coils. It started every time on the first kick. So, I replied to Bob that I didn’t want to take his twenty, but I’d let him buy me breakfast. And not only that, I’d let him kick it and it would tick over before the lever hit home.

We marched out to the bike, my business having been done and Bob wanted nothing to do with starting the bike so I proceeded. The venerable Norton fired partway through that first kick and settled into a smooth idle, well front wheel being shook like a brick in a dryer thanks to the isolastic suspension. Bob, then asked who tuned the bike. I stated that I had. he then asked if I wanted a job. I said, you can’t afford me right now. I’m a machinist, which is why I can afford a Norton and a BMW. But, I said in about a year, I’ll be an unemployed student and then you can afford me. We became fast friends after that meeting. And that is how I set off on my second career as a BMW motorcycle mechanic. I’ll leave the rest of those stories for another time.

I eventually sold the Norton. I didn’t need to and it took up no space in our garage. I wasn’t using it hardly at all, so down the road it went and we were back to one bike, the BMW.

The BMW took us to Death Valley and all around the southwest, but the miles were piling up on it and at about 70,000 I decided I could get something sportier and new. I had my eye on an RS. I was by now, working for Bob Brown. We sold the BMW and I bought my next bike.

A Lifetime of Motorcycles – Part I, First Bike

I was working on something else when what I was writing slowly evolved into an history of my motorcycling life. When that fact finally dawned on me I was quickly closing on three thousand words. And nowhere near done. I knew I needed to edit everything out from where I’d made that wrong turn up the tangent, but I was now more interested in the history than my original theme. Thus this series of pieces documenting my stumbling motorcycle life from novice to codger.

Now, I am not at the end of my life. Nor do I view my motorcycle life over. I do however think I am at a point I’ve not been prior. I truly believe I am riding my last motorcycle. A combination of age and circumstance lead me to think this is true. First I’ve managed to survive to where 70 is closer than 60. On top of that retirement has closed the commuting chapter in my life. Those chapters comprised the bulk of my life aboard two wheels for greater than four decades. This year for the first time since the early 90’s I’ll have ridden more miles on my bicycle than I have on my motorcycle. And driven more than twice as far in our car. While to many those may not seem significant metrics from which to derive the above thesis of last motorcycle, that car driving is a big tell. Since the late 90’s I’ve not owned a car for my exclusive use. In fact, I’ve mostly ridden my motorcycle when I needed to get anywhere alone. Commuting, errands and simply entertainment. The motorcycle got the call. Since retiring I’ve walked more, cycled a lot more, hardly driven outside of vacation travel and almost never ridden the motorcycle. On top of all that, this year I went to the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, California with some friends and of course rode my motorcycle there. I didn’t sign up for any demo rides. I only sat on a couple of bikes while at the show. I didn’t see any bike that looked or felt better than the one I’d ridden there. My bike is paid for too, so that adds to the inertia that must be overcome. So, the bike I’m riding is my last. And that leads me to think about the bikes I’ve owned and ridden along my 46 years to get to here.

This will be a series of pieces, each devoted to each bike along the way.

I bought my first motorcycle in May of 1974, but, the beginning of motorcycling for me began a couple of years before after crashing an Italian wedding reception, meeting my soon to be wife and important to this narrative meeting her father and learning of his project in the basement.

In 1972 the Indianapolis 500 was shown on television later in the evening after it had taken place live. A delayed broadcast. I’d arranged my beer and popcorn and was just about to sit down to watch on a 13″ portable black and white TV, when a friend called. He wanted me to get dressed in coat and tie and meet he and his wife at a wedding reception because there was a girl there I had to meet. Well, I borrowed my dad’s car and drove down. We hit it off and ended up having a great time. This young woman would later agree to marry me. But, that is later, the motorcycle connected bit of this was her dad. Her dad was rebuilding a 1965 Norton Atlas in his basement. My motor experience was Briggs and Stratton go-carts minibikes, couple of line controlled gas powered model airplanes and our families Volkswagens. By that point I’d been on five motorcycles in my life. The first as a toddler with an uncle and a friend of his aboard a Harley in the 50’s, a Honda minitrail, behind a high school friend on his dad’s Triumph Bonneville, a Vespa and a 500 single desert sled. My to be father in-law and I spent a lot of time together in that basement talking motorcycles.

At about the same time, I began a new job. I worked 13, ten hour days then had a Sunday off. For the first two months I was on day shift, then went to third shift, 9:30PM to 7AM. A fellow I worked with rode a BMW R60/5. He had an old BSA 441 Victor when we first met, but sold it for the BMW soon after. We soon moved to two of us on a later split shift and one guy on days. I began subscribing to motorcycle magazines and read them each cover to cover. I learned a lot, listened a lot and walked through a lot of dealerships.

I made my first mistake.

I listened to the advise against starting with the CB750 Honda. I went for a smaller bike. Still Honda, but the first year update of the CB350, the CB360. It was awful. Well, it was OK at first, but soon. Very soon, it became lame. The bike lasted six months with me. Six thousand miles. I commuted, we took one trip. The vibration from the motor was so much of a buzzing it would put our butts to sleep. It was horrible at speed. Wobbling spaghetti chassis. I very quickly got to where I could easily drag the pegs and make the bars row. Top speed was an indicated 88 mph full throttle, laying on the tank.

Edit: I had to add the part where I teach myself to ride.

I’d picked the motorcycle up on a Friday afternoon. The salesman rode it back to our apartment for me since my experience with it consisted of circles and figures of eight in the shop parking lot. I figured rush hour across half of Denver was a bad idea. It began raining just as I dropped the salesman back at his shop and I headed into work. It rained all night and all Saturday, but I had to work anyway so no big deal. I read and reread the manual. A buddy at work with a BMW had been my primary riding mentor. Me not riding, but reading everything I could find and we discussed each tip and technique.

The basics were down to learning where all the controls were, learning to operate them smoothly and then masting the balancing skills to pass the riders test at the DMV. I’d of course memorized the written test, so that was a breeze. But, I still needed saddle time and my DMV was 28 miles across town. My license having not yet changed addresses to our new apartment.

Sunday morning we were up early and I was excited. Clear blue skies and damp roads. 6AM around the university was quiet with only me and my new motorcycle puttering along to break the silence. I shifted up and down through the gears, practiced braking front and rear brakes at each stop sign. I slowly inched my way to balancing on the pegs, seated at each stop, then putting a foot down. I shifted to neutral at a stop, then engaged the gear and smoothly moved away. I found an empty parking lot and practiced tighter and tighter circles and figures of eight until I could ride full lock, and shift up and down while turning. Not a waver or dab of a toe required. At that point and as I noticed more traffic, I figured I was ready and headed back home.

Monday morning I rode north to my old home DMV. No appointments in those days, you simply show up. The written test flew by. Then off to the riding course. I was confident and doing well until the bike stumbled and stalled. I couldn’t restart it. The officer noting I’d been doing so well, told me to figure it out, practice and he’d retest me later.

I soon discovered I’d had the petcock on reserve this whole time and run the tank dry. There was a gas station just next to the DMV, so I pushed the bike there, filled the tank and rode back. Nobody around, so I practiced on the test range. I’d stop at the intersection in the figure8 cones, turn the bars to the opposite lock and ride that loop of the figure. All without putting a foot down. I rode the straight bit, shifting up three gears and back down, stopping, then turning round and coming back, again without putting a foot down. The testing officer came out and handed my signed off test. He asked how long I’d practiced and was surprised to learn I’d only begun riding Sunday morning. I’m certain I had just over 40 miles under my belt. I had to ride back home, change to work clothes, pack my supper and off to work. My motorcycling adventure had well and truly begun.

Over the course of owning the little Honda, I had to reset the valve clearances once a month or about every thousand miles. I could feel the running getting poor. I never balanced the carburetors as I did not have access to those tools at the time. The shop supposedly doing this for me after that initial 600 miles. The buzzy motor never stopped. As we neared our first Christmas as a married couple, the little motorcycle got traded for the next bit of this adventure.

… to be continued in Part II – The Norton Rides

Old Motorcyclists Dreams

There was a time when cafe racers were more than paint, jacket and internet shoes. Motorcycles were modified in order to work properly. Shocks were swapped for shocks that damped the spring action. Forks were worked, holes were drilled, springs and fluids were experimented with and rejected until something worked better. Brakes were fiddled. Mysteries were solved. Suspensions were crude devices back in the day. But then so were our tires. At least we didn’t have a lot of horsepower to make all that clearer.

We wore jeans not because they were cool, though they were, but because a pair of shrink to fit button-fly 501’s cost $4.50. And wore like iron. Abrasion tests be damned.
Horsehide roper work gloves seemed to work as well. And we had access to these from our garden sheds or garages. Our helmets were open faced because that was what there was. They kept our ears warm and relatively dry.
Some of us lived through the crazy rides, the canyons, winter sand in the corners and sports cars in our lane. Some of us didn’t.
We remember how bad a K1 Honda handled. And how much that CB450 vibrated at highway speeds. Buzzed really. Norton’s vibrated Hondas buzzed.
We remember that the absolute state of the art at the time was something quite different from the bikes popular with the hipster boobs today.
Those of us old enough to remember all that don’t think of some rusty old skinny tired sack of wobbling crap when the snow thaws and the sun actually warms our souls as we sit at coffee poking away at our smartphones.
We dream of Ducati, MV Agusta.

We dream the dreams we dreamed when we were young but the bikes are the bikes of now.
Those are the dreams of old motorcyclists in the Spring.

Now, when we are out in the world and one of those old nails trundle past; we are thrust back through the years to our youth. Some of us pull out our smart phones at the coffee shop and wander across the net in casual search of one of those example bikes from our fading memory. A few of us pull up an old scanned photo of our own period example from back in the day. A lucky few of us merely glance out to the parking lot where our own time machine sits quietly ticking as those big air cooled fins cool along with our coffee. 

My take has always been low bars rather than clip-ons. Stock pegs over rearsets. These choices were refined as I rode and used my motorcycles. I was influenced by magazines of course. Cycle Magazine had a project they called “The Gentlemen’s Express” where they cafe’d a CB550 Honda. In 1975 Gordon Jennings and crew took to creating a comfortable sporting motorcycle based on the CB550.

At the time I was a machinist working in the aerospace industry so had both time and money to consider such things as possible. I had a bike too.

My 1974 Norton 850 Interstate MKIV came equipped with european low bars as we called them, a nice comfy all day saddle and a huge 7.2 gallon hand pinstriped tank.

1974 Norton 850 Interstate MKIV, Summit of Loveland Pass, Summer 1975

This configuration would change based on season. Winter requiring more protection from freezing winds than summer, and summer long haul travel benefiting from that winter protection as well.

1974 Norton 850 New December 1974, Denver Colorado
1974 Norton 850 Interstate Touring Configuration – Westminster, Colorado 1976

There was a bit of a turn to the big touring bike travel here for a while. A pile of miles and Southern California canyons beconned so the cafe racer returned.

1974 BMW R90/6, La Habra, California 1978

The big fairing and bags gave way to shorter motorcycle travel with tankbag and duffle. Less 2-up capable but still fun.

1979 BMW R65S, La Habra, California 1979

The little R65S lasted a few months, but only 6,000 miles before we moved on. It was sold and I was off and hunting down an acceptable BMW R100RS, having now transitioned into sports touring mode along with the times.

1979 BMW R100RS, Ouray, Colorado 1981

I found an RS that had begun life as a Phoenix Gold RT. European red RS uppers and fender had been added. The mudflaps just ticked my anglophile box nicely. And they worked. That RS is one of my all time favorite bikes. It simply worked so well as a sport and touring mount.

The RS was sold to make room for our first daughter and a station wagon, soon to become a minivan to haul baby and kid stuff around the country. My bikelessness lasted almost ten months when I spied a 1979 CB650 for sale far too cheaply with 180 miles on the clock.

Yes, I bought it. A winter purchase in Denver that required I ride across Denver in about six inches to a foot of snow on the side streets. I was working as a BMW motorcycle mechanic and the parts manager Vern followed me trying the whole way to let me know I’d left the side stand down.

Nobody died, I didn’t fall and bike and rider made it safely not only back to the shop, but on to my home later that evening.

1979 Honda CB650

Now, I had the basis for my own “Gentlemen’s Express” project. I Was focused more on function, economy, comfort and handling than I was on racer performance.

The first thing I did was pull the carburetors out and unplugged the idle mixture screws so I could fiddle them. Then I mechanically synchronised the linkage on the bench, (actually the kitchen counter since it was winter in Denver.). Once back on the bike I did a final sync with mercury sticks and fiddled the idle mixture screws so the throttle response was nice and smooth. A new set of plug wires and caps may or may not of helped anything. But, the old wires were stiff with age from sitting so, new it was. I had to replace the battery since it was both winter and that bike had sat for far too long with that old school battery never having been truly serviced or maintained.

Next up the sixteen tooth countershaft sprocket was swapped for one tooth larger. Now I could get 65 mpg on the freeway. I would at times hit more than 70 mpg. These were the years of the 55 mph speed limit and that was a source of revenue around the state as far as any of us motorheads could tell.

Then came a pair of S&W shocks, and reworking of the forks. I added some Honda OEM air caps along with stiffer springs. I changed the fork oil to 5wt and increased the volume. This resulted in a very well behaved suspension for the power and grip I had.

Then came R90S bend bars, but in the diameter to fit the Honda. I changed mirrors to larger rectangular black plastic mirrors that were rock steady at 75 mph in the wind. The rubber brake lines were swapped out for stainless steel overbraided lines with nicer pads to get more linear bite when braking. The last change to the bikes running gear were a pair of Continental tires. Better wear and grip than the OEM Bridgestones. I still don’t like Bridgestone tires.

Then came travel and comfort accommodations along with some safety bits. First I added a pair of BMW hard bags with the rondels replaced with reflectors and mounted to Krauser modular racks. My trusty old Eclipse tank bag mounted up nicely. I could swap the tiny R80S/T fairing I’d salvaged from a wreck for the large plexiglass fairing when temperatures dictated.

1979 Honda CB650, “Gentlemen’s Express” Cafe’ Racer, Morrison, Colorado 1984

The little bikini fairing I salvaged had ground along the pavement at one upper corner. I body putty filled the scars, sanded, then wet sanded, then rattle can painted it in my garage using a makeshift paint booth constructed of plastic drop cloths, heated with an electric oil radiator and lit with two four foot shop lights. I wet down the insides of the booth to raise the humidity, warmed the paint can in the kitchen sink and painted first a primer then a few layers of black. I baked this in the oven, then hung it up to outgas in the garage for a few days, then once it was good and hard, a final wet sand, spray and bake.

Then I polished and waxed and mounted it up. I’d constructed brackets from 5052 aluminum I bought from the metal salvage yard down the street from the shop.

That was a fun little bike and nothing on it ever failed in the few miles I rode it between the pre-owned shop bikes and putting miles on demonstrators. I managed a bit more than 30,000 miles before I sold the bike.

In winter trim the bike was a very capable traveler. My commute was only twelve miles or 30 into Denver proper when I went to class so I never really needed any heated grips. I had added an accessory BMW power outlet to plug my electric vest and chaps into.

1979 Honda CB650 Winter Trim, Morrison, Colorado

The little Honda was sold after it sat for the better part of a year at back of the shop as I was too busy with shop bikes to ride my own. I’d also gotten the bug to build another project.

1982-85 BMW R100S

This project began as two motorcycles. Eventually added a third.

We had built three bikes based on the 1985 chassis as hotrods for customers after the “shop race bike.” Mine began life as two motorcycles from salvage. The chassis came from a 1985 R80RT. The motor and transmission from a 1982 R100. Of course we added some bits.

The motor got a pair of factory high compression pistons. Eventually high flow valves and light springs and keepers. Stock R100 cam. I wanted to keep the torque down in the middle. The chassis first got a Performance shock which became a Fox custom. The front brakes became Braking full floating iron with an R100G/S master cylinder and twin stainless steel over braid lines. The cylinder heads got twin sparks. The final drive was changed from the 3.36 to 3.0 to better deal with the higher freeway speeds in Southern California.

Yep, we moved from Colorado to Orange County California. Mecca for a motorcycle motorhead. the valve covers came off an R90/6. Polished by a friend. /6 valve covers offer more lean angle than /7. That mattered at the track.

1982-85 BMW R100S, Turn 2, Streets of Willow, Willow Springs, California

The OEM cans got swapped out for Luftmeister. The big bubble fly screen was traded out for stock. The stock saddle became a custom Sargent. Ride to the track. Ride the trackday, then ride home. A hundred thousand miles and it was over. Off to the next adventure. For a brief moment the next project was resurrecting an old 1983 Kawasaki GPz550. It was fun and frustrating and finally sold.

1983 Kawasaki GPz550, Yorba Linda, California

The little Kawasaki was a beast. Never loved by any previous owner. Only abused. I acquired it for free, but spent a good couple tons of cash on parts and several hours beating it back into safe shape. Overbraid brake lines, new chassis bearings, rebuilt forks, carburetors, all new control cables, mirrors, turn signals and deep cleaning. In the end I had a bike that looked OK, but burned oil a bit more than it should. Once that was discovered, I decided to cut my losses and sold it. The custom suspension was not enough to tame the noodle of a chassis.

But, it looked pretty good when it was done.

And that was the end of the cafe’ racers. The next bike was a superbike racer replica, then I made the jump to adventure bikes. I look back at cafe’ bikes while I sip my coffee in the shade and I think of these bikes one after another. I consider what I would build today based on what is around today. I think of the Triumph Thruxton. Maybe. We’ll see what the future brings. Now, i have another project to finish.

The Center of it All

I have sometimes wondered if motorcycles are the center of everything in my life. The real question would be is everything in my life connected to motorcycles. At times it certainly seems so. Though I’d say my true center is my wife.  I met her because a high school friend was at a wedding reception of another high school friend. My future wife was there to keep her sister company. I somehow was pulled into the equation. The rest is history.

That history began in earnest at that wedding reception. We danced, talked and laughed. We made a second date. It is a blur a bit and I’ll need to verify it all with my wife but when I knocked on the door her sister opened the door. I was slightly confused as they do look a bit alike. I was of course met with a good degree of scepticism as I was dating the little sister of the family, her older sister and brother held me at some distance. I had been warned about her dad, who I found interesting and we got on. Her mom will always try to feed me more than I can eat to this day.

Little did she  realise at the time that her dad would become a big influence on me. You see Roy was rebuilding a motorcycle in the basement. He had rescued a 1966 Norton Atlas from his son. Bob had crashed it, continued riding it with bent forks. A mercy mission. And Roy’s chance to travel back in-time.

My experience with motorcycles was limited at the time to riding on the back of a friend’s dad’s Triumph and kick starting a Matchless. That was it. I’d seen police bikes and a Honda Dream and that was about it beyond minibikes and one short trip around an unplowed field aboard a Honda Mini-trail as a teen.

My world progressed like this, I’d stop in to see my girlfriend (future wife) and end up in the basement with her dad working on and learning about this old Norton Atlas. In turn my future father in law and I learned about each other.

1965 Norton Atlas

I seem to recall it was the following summer we carried the engine in the frame out of the basement to the flagstone patio where Roy kicked the beast to life and revved the motor using a pair of vise grips on the old throttle cable. With no exhaust pipes installed, flames shot a foot out of either exhaust port as the 360 degree twin attempted to beat the flagstones into gravel. It was glorious.

A few months later the bike slowly blossomed to what you see above.

A year or so later I would buy my own Norton.


When I was still riding my first bike, a short-lived 1974 CB360, Roy and I went for a test ride he riding my Honda and I on his Norton. I was amazed at the smoothness of the big Norton twin, while my future father in-law commented on the profound high frequency vibrations of the 180 degree twin Honda by calling it a buzzbomb. Hence the short life of that motorcycle with me of 6,000 miles across that one summer and fall. On December 7th 1974 I traded the Honda and some money for my new 1974 850 Norton Interstate. By that point my girlfriend was now my wife and we set off exploring the world aboard this venerable machine.


Yes the Norton worked well for this, though there were some shortcomings related to the design and directly related to the motorcycle’ ability to carry any load on the seat and subframe. That did not dissuade us from travel. Expensive fuel costs of the time of some $.50/gal and 60-plus mpg fuel economy were key arguments in our choosing a motorcycle as our mode of travel.

When we moved to southern California a few years later we were now riding a 1974 BMW R90/6 with a full touring setup. The Norton would become a cafe racer, I later sold it for no good reason, though not before it was instrumental in getting me a job as a BMW mechanic. Yet another plot twist in my life’s adventure thanks to motorcycling.

1974 850 Norton Interstate_Fence (1)

Along the way now two of us met people we might not otherwise of come across. A few of those now some years down the road are still friends. That Old R90 was sold and a 650 was bought. We moved back to Colorado, the 650 was sold. I went to work for motorcycle shop. We met more people. A 1979 BMW R100 RS was found after a very long search. More people and experiences. Life long friends and life long habits formed. We went from motorcycle touring to world-class bicycle racing. First as a motorcycle mounted marshal then as a licensed official. Big and small races famous racers and legends and legends yet to be.

Would I have been pulled into cycling without the motorcycle? I’m not sure my orbit would have ever crossed the path of cycling had it not been for motorcycles. Being a mechanic working on BMW’s led to an invitation to volunteer aboard my own motorcycle as marshal. Then as an official motorcycle mounted cycling referee.

BMW Marshals

This link to cycling led to more experiences with motorcycles and bicycles. I got to meet cycling legends and watch as young racers became successful on the world stage and became legends themselves.

Bernard Hinault
My beautiful picture
Greg LeMond

I took up cycling, more the training and riding than racing. Enough racing to enjoy. More working races though. Official, camera bike, referee, marshal. It was all good. More friends. And cycling stuck as a habit really. So much so that stopping cycling was only accomplished when work overwhelmed life and took all the time that wasn’t sleeping. Motorcycles were shoved to the back of the garage until the weather was warm and only on days when I could solo to work and home, not needing to shuttle kids. Cycling took over and became a family thing, first a kid seat squeezed onto the back of my team racing bicycle then later came the dawn of the bike trailer. Kids were hauled up mountain passes on bike paths, where they would later grow old enough to ride their own bicycles. As the kids grew we moved back to where the climate provided year round motorcycle riding. The kids were old enough to ride on the back of the motorcycle, so they got shuttle to and from school some days by motorcycle. This also began my wandering down the sport bike road for a while.


Trackdays increased as the bikes got more powerful. Still the motorcycle was a tool. No longer the vacation mount, but my daily commuter mount. Mileage increased to a high of 36,000 miles per year for a few years, then tapered off to around 22,000 at the end almost two decades later. In that time I made friends around the world because of motorcycles. One motorcycle rolled through the magic 100,000 mile mark, was sold and another bought.


That one managed the same milestone with little drama and a lot of fun. Another followed that one. This time I went off into adventure bikes. This bike doubled the 100,000 mile mark, but not without a lot of money on parts. A couple of tow jobs and some near misses. We had a time.


When that bike was sold I seriously contemplated quitting. I still had to commute. And that commute was sometimes hundreds of miles. The least was about 60 miles per day. I figured my options were a small eco-car that would qualify for solo use in the carpool lanes, but the motorcycle was the cheaper option. I had decided I wasn’t going to limit my choices of motorcycle this time. I didn’t really need two up capability for any real distance and if I wanted I could pick a solo mount. I let my mind wander a good bit too. Could I still fold my old body into the shape that fits a super sport? Did I want a small enduro? In the end I chose another adventure bike. A bike I’d sort of wanted and tested ridden a few over the years. I happened into a deal and it was done. Now a few years later and nearly 70,000 miles between us we’re pretty good at what we do. Not good, or pretty, but pretty good enough to get by.


And now here we are. I’ve retired from the long commutes. I spend most of my time riding my bicycle. This next last motorcycle spends a lot of time sitting in the garage. And that inevitably leads to my thinking I’ll see it and call this motorcycling thing quits. This happens mostly at night or when I’m away from home. Then I suit up one morning and ride up the coast road for coffee and a scone. Watch the ocean from the seat of the bike as my hands slowly absorb what warmth they need from the heated grips and I feel that v-twin pull. The front lofts as I blip the throttle just timing it right over the crown of the intersection. And I’m hooked all over again. There is no quitting. This is still cheap transportation and easily the best time machine there is. The brisk morning air with that faint wisp of bacon and coffee takes me back 45 years to a morning in Denver aboard that old Norton riding to breakfast. I can almost taste the pancakes from that day.

There are still new friends and old friends that I know because I met them on or because of the motorcycle.

My wife and I are still together, though our days of traveling by motorcycle are over. She is no longer seduced by the value as the cost in comfort has risen beyond her willingness to abide. Gasoline costs a good deal more these days so I too travel less. My old fingers don’t take the cold they once did and the work of changing a tire is something I have to recover from for a couple of days. Age and the mileage have seen riding friends pass away or move on to other amusements. A few of us remain and once in a while an email chain begins to snake its way around us eventually coiling us into a bunch where we head off to a common point and again have a small adventure. Old friends. Old motorcycle buddies on motorcycles. Motorcycles may no longer be so much the center of my life, but they are most certainly are at my core.


Irregular Maintenance

Those routine maintenance items we all need to perform from time to time, but a few of us don’t always catch on the nose. Thumb open that owner’s manual to the table where mileage, time and what to do when are listed. The “every time you ride” list and those annual and closer interval tasks.

There are those folks who hit that schedule like the beat of a waltz. They keep immaculate records of mileage and dates and costs and measurements. You would be forgiven for figuring that because I am an engineer and have been prone to such things, I would have some brilliantly complete database. I do not in fact keep those meticulous records.

I do keep records. They are neither regular, complete nor immaculate. The need to be careful and complete faded as I came around some corner maybe two decades ago. The records are good enough and complete enough for me. The intervals between maintenance activities is not so much regular, in a precise reading of the meaning, but close enough if glanced at from 40,000 feet as the middle executives are want to say. As if they would know anything meaningful when it comes to that. A little bit every now and then is closer to hitting the mark. The motors keep running economically and cleanly. So, my theory is that those exacting lists of chores are there to keep the people in line who are unfamiliar with things mechanical. And need keeping in line.

You know the type. That brother in law who tries to change the oil in his jeep only to flood the street with a few gallons of high buck synthetic transmission fluid and drop the whole car off jackstands with the wheels off. Then he calls you.

Things that move, and need to move to work. Things like our bodies, motorcycles, plumbing, yards and pools need regular maintenance.

Machines don’t know anything. Machines don’t react to a schedule of periodic maintenance. What they react to is lubrication breaking down and oxidation. Adjustments and wear changing clearances to the point things interfering. This would be catastrophic failure. Bouncing that valve off the top of the piston.

Most of the adjustments settle after a while. Owning and working on a machine long enough allows you to observe this. Owning several machines long enough, you see it happen over and over again.

Over time you get a feel for how long is too long. The airheads I had would begin feeling rough at about 4,000 miles or so. This would be down to the choke gasket being sucked inside the housing at the inside of the carburetor. Checking the valve clearances would usually not reveal any variation that would benefit from adjustment. As these were screw-type adjusters it was a quick job to get them perfect. Most of the time when the balance was a little rough I’d pull a carburetor off to check that choke gasket. I was never able to see it from the outside but sure enough after I’d pull the cover off there it was.

A 1997 Honda CBR900RR would display more sticky gear changes after a bit, but the difference was only felt between blended synthetic and full dino-oil after a few tanks of fuel. After that non-synthetic, full or blended felt and acted the same. I mostly used Castrol 20W50 because I could find it at any grocery store. Unlike all the BMW’s I’d ever owned or experienced it barely used any oil. In 5,000 miles the oil would not drop out of the sight glass limits.

Both the Honda and the last BMW were ridden through 10,000 miles without looking at the valves or changing filters or oil. I never changed a shim on that Honda. For the first 50,000 miles of its life it wandered around the middle of the tolerance band for clearances but never outside. I saw no great advantage to chasing perfection in an attempt to match all the gaps across the motor. Instead I left it alone as long as it was with tolerance. After 50,000 miles the measurements never varied enough to notice. Nothing changed much up to when I sold it at just shy of 100,000 miles on the odometer. There were more miles on the bike than appeared there thanks to the speed sensor failing and replacements being on back-order. That was about a month of riding which at that time was about 3,000 miles. That meant riding with traffic rather than sliding past them. For trackdays I didn’t need a speedometer.

All this means I’m comfortable with continuing to use a machine past where the manual states I should stop and do some maintenance. It is not like I’m going to skip the maintenance and wait for failure. The maintenance is performed after a short delay. I have found is this has never mattered.

Why this matters to me is that I can now be comfortable taking off on a trip with the expectation of not requiring any complex maintenance other than checking the tire pressures and oil level for as long as I’m usually able to travel at a time. So, if I were to take five weeks and do a 10,000 mile or so ride I would only check the oil and not figure I needed to change it. I would not expect to check valve clearances or change the coolant. I’d only check over the bike once a week for loose bits or particularly if it had been down a lot of teeth chattering washboard. After dusty conditions I’d check/change the airfilter maybe. Maybe not.

On the CBR I’d change the brake fluid after every trackday. Same for the fork oil. The engine oil would be fine. I changed coolant every 10,000 miles or about three time a year. I was running Water Wetter and liked to keep it fresh. The bike ran cooler with that stuff too.


These days the KTM 990R is the same day in and day out. Nothing like the high strung drama queen race bike rumours we all may have read about. The bike barely uses any oil and I’ve only changed two shims. We are more than 67,000 miles in and I still enjoy the bike. The maintenance is time consuming when the valves need checking. That is down to the bodywork really not so much engine design.

At present things are a bit tight in the new digs, so we will wait until the renovations are complete for our servicing.


The renovations finished up and some reorganization around the new place was also completed. The garage is now serviceable as a workspace for the motorcycle. A car will never fit inside I’m certain of that. I have managed to work through the maintenance on the KTM, take it for a ride and get it back to dirty. I noticed some things to adjust a little differently and some things to rearrange. All in all this last, last motorcycle is ticking along just fine. One thing regular maintenance affords is an opportunity to look the bike over in places not easily visible during daily use. For example I have found a small oil leak I need to dig deeper to discover the source. Cleaning up the bike then riding for about a thousand miles with some dirt and dust highlights little things like that before they become larger problems.


Working in a small space means I have to stage each task to keep clutter down. Getting sidetracked with cleaning while still adjusting, can be a problem.


A change of tires then load up for camping and travel and out on the road.


One More For The Road

First Night
As I sit here watching the stars come out, illuminated by nothing but faint moonlight and my own thoughts, I recall an experience I had many years ago.

At the time I was riding a 1974 Norton 850 Interstate. This bike was imported alongside a couple of John Player replica Café Racers, when Norton Villiers Triumph were in their last throws of existence. My Interstate as well as the JP bikes came equipped with different exhaust, and air boxes and filters than the rest of the models at least here in the US. In addition my Interstate came with a steel 7.3 gallon tank and low bars. The bars were similar to those found on an R90S BMW. A bike that also appeared on these shores in 1974. I had originally gone into the local BMW shop looking for an R90S of my own. Only to find they had all been sold. That I would later find out was the beginning of a much larger circle, but is a tale for another time.

Anyway I was commuting to work in a large machine shop from our new apartment near the University of Denver to the northwest side in the suburban sprawl. I was working second or swing shift so leaving work about the time the bars close. Long shifts and cold winters nights would push me off the freeway and onto surface streets looking for less crowned avenues in this older part of Denver, in the dark, on snow.

As I nosed out toward West Evans Avenue off a darkened side street I’d mistakenly gotten on to avoiding an accident backup out on the Valley Highway, I was hailed by a person standing outside a closed bar at the curb.

Dark, not that much light to see, winter and snow and ice-covered roads, I’m definitely cold, but I stop and we talk.

I notice the collar, and realize this is not likely a drunk. We become friends of a sort from that meeting. John a Jesuit Priest asks if I might take him on a motorcycle ride one day. He had not ridden on the back of a motorcycle since some time long ago, in a place far away.

It was an interesting encounter. One that provided a motorcycling experience for one of us and a view into a wider world for me. I learned of missions in faraway places driven only by the faith of a man. I thought it was pretty cool.

When my wife and I moved away I lost track. We once rode into the mountains, taking a small snack for a lunch in my tankbag. We sat by a stream somewhere outside Estes Park.

And that is the thought that winds its way through my mind as I roll into my summer sleeping bag for this night, beginning another ride. One of so many since that winter’s evening when I made a wrong turn, rode across a sidewalk, across the street up onto another sidewalk and down the block only to emerge at that closed bar.