Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: December 2011


Dirty motorcycles have character. Make yours filthy. (And Happy New Year, too.)

You'll see them at every powersports convention: super clean and shiny bikes with not a single scratch, ding, dent, or imperfection, out for display for the world to ooh and aah over. The shine attracts a crowd faster than the mini taco sample table at a Costco. And yet, despite the beauty of new paint and accent lines, the reflective properties of layers of wax and detail spray, they're still a blank canvas with no expression.

When I see the newness of these polished creations, the first question that comes to my mind is, "How much time did that person waste to make those rims shine like the top of the Chrysler building?"

Now I don't imply that I'm not a clean person. I do bathe frequently and wash my hands after using the bathroom and before preparing food. However, there comes a revelation to quite a number of motorcycle riders that there's really no point to keeping a bike clean when you're using it every single day. When I put on the gear and jump on my machine, I've just put on my play clothes. And when you play outside, you're bound to come back with a few specks of dirt. Spend enough time outside and there's usually no energy left to hose off the machine and give it a good bath...or any motivation to do so.

A rider attached to a motorcycle is the start of an exciting story of exploits both near and far. As I understand that there is a sense of pride in having a clean machine to jump on, there is also an overwhelming allure to leaving the comforts of the garage and venturing out into the world and all its obstacles both on the road and with the weather.

So how many stories can your motorcycle tell? I think about that first glowing splotch on my windshield when I struck a firefly entering Minnesota. When I see the gash on the right hardcase I think about the green Jaguar that decided that it needed part of my lane on the 105 West freeway near Hawthorne, CA. There are stickers from places such as Chicago, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and Ontario, Canada that line my bike like an unofficial passport. There's that scratch on the front fender from a bird plinking off of it en route to Sandusky, OH. The list goes on and on. For me, there is an intangible value of a bike that goes beyond its engine and its accessories - it is the unspoken worth of where the bike has been and where it will go in its lifetime.

As 2011 comes to a close today, I take a couple steps back and admire the stickers, scratches, tarnished rims, carcasses of insects that line the front of my beloved FJR1300AWC, and the over 121,000 miles that we have ventured together in the last 4.5 years. As I write this, she sits out in the rain in a futile attempt to make itself more presentable before I take it puddle hopping down a street. Again.

If I were to offer a suggestion to start the new year, it would be to keep up the good work with your filthy two-wheeled beast. Pile the miles. Explore the world. Step outside of your comfort zone. Take your chances and discover what you and your bike can do together.

To all my readers, best wishes and great rides for 2012 and beyond. May your motorcycle proudly display every type of road (and off-road) grime imaginable and speak of your crazy adventures through them.


Is heated gear absolutely necessary? Your call.

I thought about revisiting the topic of heated motorcycle gear after my umpteenth ride to work today in wet sub-40°F conditions. My commute to work and back is about 52 miles round-trip, or the distance one-way from Los Angeles to Mission Viejo on a good day. As much as I would like to be cruising that distance in the warmth of the West Coast where it's 75°F and sunny on the beach on Christmas Day, I'm not in luck at the moment. To compensate for the riding "season" that exists in the Midwest, I ride every opportunity that is given to me and not wait for the next perfect day to come around (those rarely happen here, by the way).

I have a single basic rule about riding conditions: the bike is parked when conditions get icy or snow sticks to the road. How I determine this is has been fodder for another blog post, but other than that issue, cold conditions are not a problem during a ride as long as they are properly managed.

The story of my motorcycle life after October in Central Ohio. Good grief.
I've been asked about different types of remedies for those days when it's a bit nippy out there but you want to get out and ride. Regardless of whatever method you use to keep warm on the motorcycle, there are a few basic rules to follow:
1. Cover all holes where air can enter while the bike is moving.
2. Layer appropriately to allow for adjustment to colder/warmer temps.
3. Stay dry. Moisture will reduce the warming effects of your gear.

What's more important? Warm hands or a warm core?
The circulatory system is the human body's natural source for warmth. In simpler terms, it's like a miniature pipe system that spreads warm blood throughout the body. Alternatively, if your blood is cold, then you will feel cold. This is why scarves cover the neck, the location of the major carotid arteries, in the winter while water-soaked bandannas wrapped in the same area aids in the cooling process in the summer.

With that being said, a heated vest/jacket liner helps maintain warmth in the chest area (the center of blood circulation) keeping it at a more comfortable temperature. In turn, the warmth from the center will radiate to the rest of the body. The hands (and feet) are merely end points of the circulatory system. Although having heated gloves will help with localized warmth, a warm core will benefit the entire body and greatly reduce discomfort as a whole. If given the choice between a heated vest/jacket liner or a pair of heated gloves, the former will be more beneficial during extended trips.

Many long distance riders (including myself) consider the heated vest/jacket liner an integral tool in any journey, regardless of time of year. When riding a motorcycle cross-country one should assume a 30-60°F fluctuation in temperature over several thousand miles. Additionally, the windchill factor can turn what is comfortable at standing temperature unbearable at prolonged exposure at highway speeds. For example, a cool 70°F night travelling at 75 MPH feels like 58°F. Does that extra layer sound good right about now? (Sound a bit harsh? Click here for a windchill calculator.)

What is my tolerance for "cold" and do I want to ride in it?
As I've written (and complained about) in previous blog entries, my definition a "fair weather" rider is a person that willfully chooses to depend on numbers and the weatherman to decide when to enjoy their motorcycle ride. In most normal situations, a simple change of the gloves, jacket, or adding an additional layer is enough to compensate for a 10-20°F drop in temperature. Don't know how you'll react in cold? You won't know until you actually try it. For alternatives outside of electric gear, here's a previous blog post on the subject.

How much is motorcycle heated gear?
Good quality heated gear and all its components can be a bit pricey, with a basic jacket/glove setup starting at a couple hundred dollars. You can even get heated pants, socks, and soles too! Several known makers of heated clothing are Gerbing's, FirstGear, and Aerostitch.

Am I the type of rider that can benefit from heated gear?
Like any accessory that's available on the market, heated motorcycle gear isn't for everyone. If your commute is short (I define that as less than 10-15 miles in one direction) and it's something you'll do occasionally, proper layering and windproof materials will get you there without too much trouble. With time and understanding of your needs during a ride, heated gear may become a future consideration. The extra warmth will benefit a rider at any distance, but your decision to invest in it is all up to you.