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Latest rides, and a new book

Book 3: Paragon's Call
Book 3: Paragon's Call

Recently the weather has been cooperative enough for me to get both bikes ridden, my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. I try to ride each bike at least once every other week, rather than winterizing them and letting them sit. They only get non-ethanol fuel as well, and I think this keeps them in better shape.

On the V-Strom, I went up highway 224 to Ripplebrook. They are working on a hillside prone to landslides, so there are some construction delays to contend with. This is between milepost 31 to 37. At the Ripplebrook ranger station, I kept heading south on NF46 toward Detroit. We’ve had a lot of low-elevation snow this winter so I didn’t expect to get far, but I wanted to see how things were looking. The road has a few new potholes but is in otherwise good shape.

I had to turn back just past where NF42 heads east toward highway 26. Despite this, it was a fantastic ride and it felt good to stretch the V-Strom’s legs a bit.

Available for Kindle on Amazon.com

In other news, I have published my third novel. It is titled Paragon’s Call and is the culmination of The Taesian Chronicles trilogy. It is available for Kindle on Amazon.com, and is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

The sunset of an old hero
The dawn of a new foe

Paragon’s Call is the third and final book in The Taesian Chronicles trilogy. In this exciting and fast-paced conclusion, we pick up the story a year after the Battle of Eeron from book two, Ohlen’s Bane. Ohlen and his comrades, Therran and Ahmahn, discover the novaari, dangerous beasts that are half man, half animal. Ohlen is conscripted by Emperor Percy Saltos to lead a ragtag group of criminal misfits called Paragons, who are charged with seeking out these monsters and destroying them. But not everyone wants them to succeed.

2016 and I’m off to a slow start

I haven’t been riding much in the last quarter of 2015, and the new year isn’t shaping up to be any different. I try to get both the V-Strom and Gixxer ridden at least once every other week, rather than winterize them and let them sit.

The pattern is to find a dry weekend, even if it’s just an hour of opportunity between rain storms, and ride each bike for at least 30 minutes. This helps clear the exhaust of moisture and charge the battery. I keep my bikes in a storage unit and there’s no electricity, so that eliminates the possibility of putting the batteries on a tender/charger.

With El Nino, the weather has been rather uncooperative. It’s been raining like mad, and on the rare dry days, it’s bitterly cold and blowing wind. I also have to avoid most side roads because they often still have icy patches or gravel from previous freezes.

As a result, I have no interesting blog posts to write. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some interesting rides in as the weather improves with spring.

Rebuilt V-Strom suspension from Adventure Power Sports

During a recent trip to northwest California for a group ride, I came to realize how inadequate the stock suspension really is on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. The bike has 62,000 miles on it and the suspension is completely stock without modification or adjustment. Over time, suspension components soften and wear out and need to be replaced. Because this degradation had taken place over tens of thousands of miles, I didn’t notice the change.

The first evening of our group event, a presenter and fellow rider by the name of Jay Jobes of Adventure Power Sports, out of Eagle, Idaho, talked about suspension on V-Stroms in particular and adventure bikes in general. Jay, who goes by the nickname “Sasquatch”, discussed the mechanics of front forks and rear shocks, how they work, and what they’re designed to accomplish. Jay also talked about what happens when suspension isn’t up to the task, either through weak design or pure age.

During the day, our group had taken a 180 mile loop ride on the finest back roads California has to offer. This can best be described the way the locals put it, “If you go off the pavement and the ride gets smoother, you know you’re in California.” The route went from asphalt with more bumps than a teenager’s face to washboard gravel with gnarly potholes. It was rough, and my bike let me feel every bump in full detail.

I noticed several characteristics of how my bike behaved on those challenging roads. On abrupt bumps, I’d feel a ‘chunk’ in the front suspension. This was a result of the forks not being able to handle the impact and slamming at full compression. Other sections of pavement had numerous, small bumps like riding across invisible corduroy, that dislodged the bike and left the tires airborne for fractions of a second instead of remaining in contact with the ground. This created a slight stopping effect that felt similar to the way ABS pumps your brakes several times a second. When this occurs repeatedly and in rapid fire, I was actually pushed forward slightly. Finally, when cornering, because the bike’s tires were becoming airborne in tiny but rapid intervals, it became nearly impossible to go around a bumpy curve with any kind of stability or sense of safety.

That night, Jay talked about suspension and described its dual roles: to efficiently absorb bumps in a way that conducts the least amount of shock to the rider, while immediately after pushing the tire back down as quickly as possible to maintain constant contact with the road surface. I asked a few questions and, with Jay’s well structured and informative answers, I quickly realized just how inadequate my suspension had become.

A rebuild or replacement of my stock suspension components was long, long overdue.

Jay has developed a technique for rebuilding the stock V-Strom suspension. This is significant because it was designed from the factory to be a throw-away component. It’s not built to be rebuilt. Jay’s technique provides riders like me a cost-effective way to get better-than-factory suspension without having to buy after-market third-party components. He takes the suspension apart, replaces the internals with higher quality after-market components, and puts it all back together. Even more, Jay interviews the customer to determine their weight, height, riding style, and frequent luggage load to make sure he chooses the right internals and makes the proper settings for their particular needs. It is custom suspension at lower cost than off-the-shelf after-market parts.

A week after the trip, I contacted Jay and gave him the details he needed. I took my bike to my local dealer and had them remove the front forks and rear shock, then store the bike in the back of their shop. I shipped the components to Jay at his location in Eagle, Idaho. He made sure he had the new parts ordered and on-hand in anticipation of the job.

Jay did the work and had my parts on a big brown truck headed back to my dealer within 24 hours. Once back at my dealer, they put the rebuilt forks and rear shock back on the bike. The total cost was $1280, and that included $200 in shop labor and $160 in shipping (there and back). I could have spent $1,600 for just an after-market rear shock and still had to pay for installation (or done it myself, which isn’t feasible where I currently live) — and that wouldn’t even include the front forks!

When I picked up the bike from the dealer, I took it for a short ride on a nearby semi-bumpy road for comparison. I had ridden the same road the day before I had the suspension removed, in anticipation of doing an A-B comparison. I didn’t feel much of a difference. The road wasn’t bumpy enough to make an adequate comparison.

The following weekend I took the bike for a 265 mile ride around Mt. Hood on a mix of gravel roads and bumpy Forest Service paved routes with lots of bumps.

The following Monday I called Jay to discuss my observations. Initially I was disappointed with the results. I hit several hard bumps and felt them similar to before. I went over washboard roads and they still felt like washboard roads. Other riders at the group ride had told me, “The difference is night and day.” My experience wasn’t anywhere close to that. More on that in a minute.

During my phone call with Jay, we talked about the specifics of how my bike was acting with the rebuilt suspension. Being an expert on the subject, Jay knew what to ask and how to describe the different aspects of the ride. I realized that the difference was there, the improvement was there, I just had unrealistic expectations.

My cornering seemed to be improved. Most of the route I took was very familiar to me, much of it memorized, so I was used to how fast I could go around numerous curves. I noticed I could go around the same corners at greater speed and with increased confidence and stability. Under hard braking, the bike seemed to stay level to the pavement, and felt as if both tires were providing equal grip to slow it down with greater efficiency. Before, the bike would dive forward like the forks were saying, “We give up!”

When hitting harsher bumps, I still felt them, but gone was the ‘chunk’ sound and sensation of the forks being overtaxed.

Rather than attempting to be an ace motorcycle mechanic, I needed to focus on how the bike behaved instead of how it functioned. In the end, it became clear to me that the bike was allowing me to ride at a higher level of performance and confidence with a lot less stress than before.

In the end, I have reached several conclusions. Above all, I was impressed with Jay’s knowledge and willingness to patiently explain a complex mechanical apparatus to a complete novice. He spent quite a bit of time describing how I can adjust the settings and do comparison rides until I get it dialed in exactly the way I want it. He met his commitments, was prompt, returned calls in a timely manner, and was well organized, having my parts on hand before my components arrived, got them rebuilt, and shipped back in very short order.

I also concluded that my bike’s suspension has become something I don’t have to think about anymore. I can now focus on the ride and other aspects of the experience instead of worrying that I might bounce out of a curve or lose hard parts from hitting big bumps.

Although I wouldn’t describe the before and after comparison as “night and day,” I would give it my highest endorsement of any expense for a bike: it is worth more than the cost, and to me, that is the best definition of a good value.

West Coast V-Strom Rider’s Rally

Over the past weekend, I attended the V-Strom Rider’s West Coast Rally in Fortuna, California. It was organized by two members of the Stromtrooper.com forum, Hans and Jeff, and included three rides, Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively. I participated in the Saturday ride.

There were 15 riders in our group, on V-Stroms that ranged from the older set like mine up to brand new models with less than 5,000 miles on them. Rider skill was fairly well matched, but we tended to blend into two groups, with the faster team up front and the more cautious team in the rear.

There was a presentation by Jay of Sasquatch Suspension of Eagle, Idaho on Friday night and another Saturday evening by Richard of RAK Luggage. The presentations were very informative, with the suspension talk especially pertinent to me. I learned that my bike, with 62,000 on the original stock suspension, is way overdue for work. It explains why my bike is so unsettled on bumpy roads.

Our ride on Saturday was over one-lane paved and sometimes gravel roads that probably couldn’t be any bumpier. As a local put it, “when you run off the road and it gets smoother, you know you are in California.” Grades both up and down were pushing 15%, and there were more hairpins than at a hairdresser convention. I kept up with the group and stayed proud despite my bike’s serious lack of proper suspension and the fact that I was only bike with knobbie tires (Heidenau K60s).

We rode east from Fortuna on highway 36, south on Van Duzen Road just past Dinsmore, to the misty community of Zenia. Then we headed west to Redway where we stopped for lunch. Next was the crossroads of Honeydew, and a stop on the Lost Coast Road by Cape Mendocino. That location reminded me a lot of the pictures and video I’ve seen of Scotland. It was absolutely gorgeous.

We then looped northeast to the Victorian and quaint town of Ferndale before returning to Fortuna.

Dinners both nights were at the Eel River Brewery, and there were a lot of laughs and great conversation. I made several new friends, and came away from the experience realizing we need to steal Honda’s old slogan:

“You meet the nicest people on a V-Strom.”

[Photo: One of the riders skipped his step-mother’s 80’s birthday party to attend the rally, so the group did what they could to make up for it. As he reported: “My stepmother wants me to be sure to thank all of you for the birthday greetings. She went on for several minutes about how wonderful the photo was. Sounded like our pic was the talk of the day. It certainly did the job of keeping me out of trouble for being with y’all rather than at her 80th birthday celebration.”]

320 miles on a GSX-R750

I seldom need an excuse to ride a motorcycle, but having a specific destination can provide the motivation to tackle a tougher route or longer duration than would otherwise be the norm. Last weekend was a good example of this.

My good buddy, Mike, recently moved to Albany and wanted me to visit him at his new home. I was already planning on taking the Gixxer for a spin, so I decided to give my ride a destination. Of course, I wasn’t just going to buzz down I-5 (ick!) and back. I chose the long way ’round.

I left Gresham at 9 AM and rode due south to Deep Creek Road, which connected to Highway 211 just west of Barton. I followed 211 east into Estacada and veered left onto Highway 224 and familiar ground. There were numerous rafters on the Clackamas River and many cars headed in both directions between Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station.

I stopped at the ranger station for a quick bio break, then headed south on NF46. I rode to Detroit without stopping, and maintained a spirited yet controlled pace. The temperature was warming up and by the time I got to Detroit it was already in the upper 70s. I ate a snack, filled up my tank with ethanol-free premium, and turned west on Highway 22.

This stretch of road, from Stayton, up over the Cascades to Sisters and Redmond, is busy and this warm late Spring day was no exception. I had to pass several slower cars, but kept my speed moderated for safety and economic sake — tickets are expensive.

In Mehama, I crossed the Santiam River into the the community of Lyons. It was my first time in that tiny town. Highway 226 west was my new route and I was impressed with how lush it was. This is a beautiful drive, and it exemplifies the beauty of western Oregon. The next town I came to was Scio. I continued south then west again on 226, past the community of Crabtree, and into Albany.

I got turned around in Albany and had to backtrack a few blocks to get onto the correct street to Mike’s house. I don’t have a GPS on my Gixxer and on the ride back I spent some time wondering where I could mount one in the cramped dash space of the sport bike.

Mike and I drove in his car to a nearby brewpub for burgers and BLTs and ice water. We were the only customers until a middle-aged guy showed up solo on his Harley-Davidson. He ordered a beer and Mike and I talked behind his back at how foolish we think drinking and riding is. That guy has his freedom to do what he chooses, of course, including the freedom to make poor choices.

I decided to backtrack the way I came, so I said my goodbyes to Mike and made it back onto 226 east bound. The weather had warmed up into the low 80s and was a bit muggy. The armpit and back vents on my Aerostich Roadcrafter did a surprising job of helping me stay relatively cool. I stopped for gas again in Detroit, before heading north on NF46.

There were many motorcyclists heading toward me and the waves were enthusiastic on both sides at how great of a day it was to ride. When I stopped in Ripplebrook for another bio break and to chug more water, there were a half dozen other riders doing the same thing. I saw a couple of Forest Service law enforcement vehicles parked at a boat launch on the way back on 224 into Estacada, but they paid me no mind.

I got back into Gresham at 4:20 in the afternoon, after riding 320 miles. I was hot, thirsty, and my helmet — which I had already cleaned three times during the day — was covered in bugs. The front of my Gixxer was even worse. It needs a thorough cleaning.

Highway 224 to Ripplebrook is open

On Saturday I went for a Gixxer ride and discovered the roadblock on Highway 224 just east of Estacada has been lifted. It was in place since late September of last year due to landslides after the 36 Pit Fire near Memaloose Bridge.

I rode up to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and noticed that the road was in normal condition, with rocks on the pavement in only two spots — which is typical for that highway. There was a sign in Estacada just as you leave town and head up 224 that said the road to Detroit was closed due to snow. They lie like a rug. Unless we get a freak low-elevation snow storm, it should be snow-free for the remainder of the season.

At Ripplebrook, I headed south on NF46. Again, the road condition was fine and normal and suffered no damage over the anemic winter.

I was in for a shock when I got to Detroit. The lake level is normally full this time of year, but instead the northeast reach, fed by the Breitenbush River, was at a record low. The docks were high and dry and only a 10′ wide creek flowed at the bottom of the lake channel. In the half dozen years I’ve been riding to Detroit, I’ve never seen the water that low, even late in the season.

I gassed up, ate a snack, and headed back. Despite not riding that route since last year, I still have the route and curves memorized. My bike and I were in the zone and it was a flowing, fast ride. There were many other riders on the route, too, so people were taking advantage of the road opening.

Post, Oregon … finally

I am running out of places in Oregon that I haven’t visited by motorcycle. One of the locations on my to-ride list was Post, Oregon, the geographic center of the state.

Been there, done that, won’t bother doing it again.

Don’t get me wrong, the ride there and away was fine, with some classic eastern Oregon scenery and roads. But, the location — you can’t call it a town — of Post itself is just a general store with a sign, and that’s it.

They do have a gas pump, which I suppose would be convenient if you were running low. Regular unleaded cost $2.96 a gallon, which is amazingly low considering the remote location. I paused long enough to get off the bike a take a picture, then moved on.

My route was Gresham to Prineville via highway 26. I know, boring. But I didn’t really have any other viable routes to take. Once in Prineville I took state route 380 east-south-east to Post, then kept going east to Paulina. When I left home, I stopped at a gas station in Boring to put some air in my tires and got chatted up by a retired school man named Val. He was very familiar with the area and suggested I take a side route south to Burns, then north on US 395. I thanked him for the suggestion and looked for the required road when I got to Suplee. Alas, I never found it.

Even my GPS kept wanting me to go all the way to 395 first, then south to Burns, which would involve riding the same 45 miles of road twice in the same day. That’s not going to happen.

The last dozen miles of 380 before you get to 395 are much more wooded and typical of the Blue Mountains kind of terrain. I came out onto 395 just north of Seneca. I rode up to Canyon City, gassed up, then got to my motel in John Day in the mid afternoon.

I stopped at the Shelton Wayside along highway 19 just south of Fossil for a break, and used the timer on my camera to take a rare self-portrait.

Dinner was at The Outpost next door. That night, some rowdy kids decided to paw-tay the night away in the room next door so it took ear plugs to give me a few hours of sleep. The next morning I left with temps in the mid 30s. I took my usual route home: Kimberly, Spray (where I got gas), Fossil, Antelope, Maupin, Wamic, Government Camp, home. The weather was perfect. I saw two cow elk cross Bakeoven Road between Shaniko and Maupin, and earlier saw a wild turkey on the pavement, but other than that the only other critters I saw were a half dozen dead deer at various places along the route.

International motorcycle travel

Stromtrooper, one of the motorcycle forums I belong to, is a fantastic source of information and insight about V-Stroms in particular and motorcycling in general. Recently, a forum member posted a request for advice about an upcoming trip with two buddies from Michigan to Brazil. Here was my response:

International travel

Regardless of your mode of transportation, you have a lot to think about when traveling internationally. You’ll need to get a lot of visas lined up, be sure you have high resolution copies of your passport and all related documents scanned into PDFs that are loaded onto your phone as well as in some cloud-based location like Dropbox. I know someone who lost -all- their docs and were able to get new workable copies from an Internet cafe in the middle of Bolivia. You’ll need to get a bunch of shots and vaccinations from your doctor. Check with the State Department’s web site to make sure there aren’t any new conflicts or hostage escalations in the areas you plan to travel. Etc.

Long-distance motorcycling

Traveling long distances on a motorcycle has its own set of concerns. Take good care of your chain, and clean it and keep it lubed especially after doing any kind of dusty or dirty/muddy riding. Go to your local service shop, ask to borrow an old to-be-discarded motorcycle tire like yours. Drill some holes in it and practice plugging it with your patch kit. Practice removing a wheel from your bike (front and rear), changing the tire, and remounting it to the bike. Make an inventory of the size wrenches you need to change the oil, change a rim/tire, replace mirrors or turn signals, etc. and make sure your tool roll has all of those sized wrenches (don’t forget allen wrenches). Clothing … I suggest ExOfficio and similar brands of travel wear. It is super lightweight, packs tiny, can be worn several days w/o washing if needed, can be easily washed by hand and dries quickly, and is super durable. Cotton is great for pajamas, not for long-distance travel. You will likely need to get new tires at some point along the way. Identify reputable dealerships in safer cities and contact them. Find out if you can pre-ship your new tires to their location so they’re waiting for you when you arrive (if they don’t already carry them in-stock). You’ll also be doing a couple of oil changes along the way. Take the gear (gloves, rags, wrenches, tinfoil, etc.) you’ll need — you can buy oil on the road. Don’t pack single-purpose items; save space by only taking items that are compact and can do more than one thing (as a general rule, anyway). Pack the same way every time, so you always know where your stuff is and can easily tell when something has gone missing.

Personal

Have you made a list of the bills that have to get paid, and when they have to get paid, while you’re gone? And made arrangements for someone to take care of those things for you? It’s great to go on a long trip, but no fun when you return home and your water got shut off from delinquent payment. Contact your motorcycle and health insurance companies to let them know your anticipated route, and find out anything they don’t cover. Also find out the procedures if you need to make a claim while on the road. Store their international phone numbers in more than one location, not just in your cell phone (which can be easily stolen, lost, or damaged). Be cautious about announcing your departure on places like Facebook because people will go to your house knowing you’re not there and rip you off (it happens, sadly). Do you have a Will? Not to be morbid, but it’s a good idea even if you never leave your own county.

Spend your time before your trip thinking about all these kind of things. Read books by Greg Frazier, etc. to learn what you can from people that practically do this for a living. It’s better to be organized -before- you leave, than try to reactively deal with complications once you’re already on the road.

Road Closed to Memaloose

Over the weekend I took a day ride up Hillock Burn Road into the Cascade foothills. This road heads south and southeast from Highway 211, a few miles south of Estacada.

A few miles up the road I saw several Clackamas County sheriff deputies and a Forest Service law enforcement officer standing at a canopy on a wide spot on the side of the road. They were handing out flyers describing the rules and laws of target shooting in the area. After telling them I was only there for a ride, the deputy I spoke with told me the road got gnarly a mile or two up the road. I thanked him for the warning, and continued onward.

It had rained the night before so the gravel road was wet and there were numerous small mud puddles, but the road itself was in relatively great shape. I kept going and never came to anything that was a challenge.

Hillockburn Road soon turns into NF-45. It heads south to a W-shaped pair of switchbacks before turning north again. The highest point of the road is just below 4,000 feet, and this time of year should have seen the road under a foot of snow. I went there the same time last year and had to turn back because of snow; not this year.

My V-Strom with its Heidenau K-60 knobby tires performed wonderfully and I built up my confidence riding on the gravel road.

It was my hope that the road was open at the north end where it quickly descends to the Clackamas River and crosses to highway 224 at the Memaloose bridge. The sheriff’s deputy didn’t say anything about the road being closed, so I remained hopeful. The previous September “36 Pit Fire” had burned both sides of the river near where the bridge crosses, and was behind the road closure. Still, since 224 was open to local traffic, I hoped they’d let me through so I could loop back to Estacada and not have to backtrack all the way to 211.

Unfortunately, within a mile or two of the final descent down to 224 I came upon the road block. They had erected several concrete barriers and piled boulders on both sides. One side could have been bypassed if I walked the bike through and was very careful, but I suspected there would be landslides or other natural barriers further down the road and didn’t attempt to by past it.

I ate a protein bar and head back the way I came. This time I was able to go a bit faster and with greater confidence on the gravel road. When I eventually got back to the sheriffs, I told him the road was blocked. He said, “Yeah, I probably should have told you about that. There are several landslides just past it so you wouldn’t have made it through anyway.”

By the time I got home I’d ridden 120 miles, more than half of it off-road. The total route took 4 hours.

South-central Washington on a sport bike

This past weekend I went for an overnight trip to visit family at their home in rural south-central Washington state. I rode my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, nicknamed “Shoot to Thrill.” The weather was perfect, the road conditions were great, the bike ran wonderfully.

I left Gresham Saturday morning and got on I-84 westbound. At I-205 I crossed the Columbia River and got on SR14 eastbound. Between Washougal and North Bonneville I got stuck behind some slow cars that for whatever reason were all Oregon drivers. To this day I don’t know why people think driving 10 mph below the speed limit is a good idea.

Here is the Google Maps route I took.

I stopped at the rest area on the north end of the Hood River bridge for a bio break. The sun was bright, air temperature was about 60 degrees, and the wind was calm. The river was nearly mirror perfect. Continuing east I had more of the road to myself without the hassle of slow cagers. At Lyle, I headed northeast on highway 142. This road follows the Klickitat River and has many fast sweepers and a few tight turns. The road was in great condition and didn’t appear to suffer any damage during the winter.

In Goldendale, I rode south a few miles on highway 97 to the Chevron where I filled up my fuel tank. I rode 133 miles on 2.3 gallons of gas. What a machine! After a quick snack, I continued east on the Bickleton Highway, then to my sister’s house. The last two miles were on gravel road, and although that’s never any fun on a sport bike, I kept it upright and stable.

The ride home the next day was even better. Rather than backtracking the whole way, I continued east to the tiny community of Bickleton before heading south to Roosevelt. This stretch of road is simple at first glance, but has some interesting characteristics. It has numerous straight stretches a few tenths of a mile long, followed by a 90 degree turn posted at 30-45 mph. Each turn is banked, and the pavement is in perfect shape. There is some gravel on many of the curves, however, so picking a good line and maintaining control is critical. The other interesting aspect of the route is the rows and rows of wind turbines.

Here is the Google Maps route I took home.

The road descents about 2,000 feet to the road-side community of Roosevelt along the Columbia River. It comes to a T-intersection with SR14. I turned right and headed west toward home. From this point forward, SR14 can be extremely windy. Today, however, it was calm and I had the road practically to myself.

I stopped in The Dalles for gas and food before continuing west. Traffic increased, and there were lots of motorcyclists about. Several sport bike riders gave me the signal for law enforcement ahead (by patting the top of their helmet). I saw one unmarked Washington LEO with his lights flashing, having pulled over a guy in a blacked-out Honda accord. I got two more warnings for cops but never saw where they were hiding.

I crossed back to the Oregon side via the Bridge of the Gods to Cascade Locks. I pulled up behind a buddy in his car just as we were getting onto the freeway. Small world!

By the time I got back home it was in the upper 60’s.