By Gerde Applethwaite

A milkman rides a motorcycle during heavy rain shower in Chandigarh

Balance is tricky and also quite basic. You’re weaving in and out of traffic on a downtown street and you have to work the bars. You’re out on the big open slab and the speed just wants to keep the bike upright. Easy.

I recently had a chance to ride two friend’s bikes. They were very different machines: one is a lightweight Honda 400 from the mid-eighties and the other is a CBR 600. My current bikes are 2 touring machines with relaxed riding positions. I have gotten used to relatively heavy bikes that are designed to be ridden all day long. Both of these other bikes were a surprise.

The 400 had loosely adjusted steering head bearing tension and I got into the first turn and the bike seemed too willing to launch into it. It felt squirrelly to me.  I talked to my friend about it and he said “that’s funny, I thought your Guzzi felt leaden.” The bearing didn’t clunk but it just felt like it needed a bit more tension in order to give the bike some steering feel. I really didn’t like riding his bike in spite of the fact that tooling about on a lightweight bike was a treat.

The 600 had low clip-ons, as you would expect. I haven’t ridden a bike that made me straddle the gas tank in a while. The barking dog riding position isn’t for me. Nothing wrong with the bike – it’s me, I’m just not a sport bike type. There was something about it though. When you are tucked in like that the balance on the bike is different and after the first half hour of riding I noticed the speedo going higher and higher. Its hard not to go fast on a bike like that. Your balance is lower and your sense of the vagaries of the bike is enhanced. You get a lot of feedback from the bars and the seat. The engine is there howling and it constantly says …come onnnnn… just a little more.

I rode a touring bike through the Alps a while back. The weather was unpredictable. One day it was warm and sunny and later the same day I was in a soaking downpour. I had planned to camp out for the whole trip but on a couple of the rainy days I found indoor accommodations. On one of the outdoor camping days I woke up in the morning and my sleeping bag was wet, I was wet – the tent found itself in a small puddle. I packed up as fast as I could so that I could find a place to go for breakfast and sort myself out. Gear just got shoved into the two panniers willy nilly.

Out on the road the bike felt bizarre. It wanted to tuck into right-handers too quickly and it seemed to balk at left-handers. I assumed it was low tire pressure and I just slowed down. At a gas stop I got some snack food and checked the air. It was fine. Finally it was really bugging me and I looked over the bike when I stopped for food. It was then that I realized that I had overloaded the right hand pannier with all of my tools and the weight balance on the bike was all screwed up. I took twenty minutes to yank stuff out of the panniers, wet tent, wet sleeping bag, wet clothing and the two tool bags and rebalance the load.

Most of the stupid stuff that I have done while motorcycling has been because I was rushing for one reason or another. I was out of balance. That sense that you are behind time and you need to to rush to get back on the road or to get across that bridge or get to that hotel is the stuff that throws you off of your center.  In hindsight what I should have done on that Alpen trip was just taken a day off and found a hotel. I was in the mountains above Nice when I woke up drenched that morning.  If I had had my wits about me I would have slowed down and decided that this would be a good time to spend a day in Nice. I have stayed in Nice off and on over the years, I even have a couple of favorite little hotels that are out of the way of the tourist parade. It would have been nothing to assemble my gear and wander down out of the mountains and regroup for a day.

As I get a bit longer in the tooth I am getting better about this. I stop riding earlier in the day. I don’t sweat the miles. I loiter over lunch longer. It has become more important to be where I am rather than rush to where I am going. I am learning.


Common Sense vs. No Sense

Guest Writer: Big Guy 82

A few weeks back, I was picking up my new Gold Wing.  While waiting for the obligatory paperwork to be processed, I went over to the parts counter to spend even more money on a new bike that had not yet been delivered.  In my opinion, this is perfectly normal behavior.


I waited patiently while a young woman ordered some parts for her bike.   While there, she started explaining to the person at the counter why she needed the parts, which involved two (count ‘em, TWO) accidents in one day.  Now really, you just can’t make stuff like that up, so as she walked away, I turned and told her I didn’t want to be nosy, but I was very curious how she became involved in two motorcycle accidents in one day.

She proceeded to tell me about the accidents, both involving her falling off the bike, while “learning to ride” (in traffic no less) from her boyfriend.  Since her forearm was bandaged and she had a bit of a limp, I asked her if she was wearing protective clothing when it happened … you guessed it … no (other than the helmet that is mandatory in the state of New York).  I then asked how much time she had on a motorcycle and she told me that this happened on her FIRST DAY out … like I said, you just can’t make dumb stuff like this up.  Apparently, her boyfriend took her to a parking lot for a while and then out on the road they went. The very best part is that after arguably putting her life at risk, this guy actually sent her to the dealer to buy the repagirl-on-motorcycle-wallpapers007ir parts!  At least he didn’t make her ride the bike!








Now, normally, I really do mind my own business, but I kind of thought that this could actually be a life/death situation, so I asked the woman if she had considered taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation safety course.  She said no and I got the impression that she didn’t really know much about it.  I told her that when she completed this brief course, she would come away with enough skills to safely control a motorcycle.  I also told her I was an experienced rider and I highly suggested that she take the course for her own safety.  The counter guy even piped up in support.  Certainly, none of this was my “business”, but I took some comfort in knowing I may have saved her some pain or worse.

This woman and her boyfriend are just two of many riders who are on motorcycles and don’t really have a clue about how to control the damn thing.  They get a license by riding around with a friend or relative who may be just as clueless as they are, then they take a cursory road test (only if required by their state) and then off they go.  At this point, they have a huge chance of becoming an unfavorable statistic.  Their ignorance causes injury to themselves, endangers others and puts all motorcycle riders in an unfavorable light.


Since I am anti-mandatory on most things, what is the point of this little tale?  To suggest that you encourage those new (and maybe not so new) riders you know or meet to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course.

Why?  To help them stay healthy and to help maintain a more favorable image of motorcyclists in general.

Ride safe.

Big Guy 82


By Gerde Applethwaite

There are ritually repeated memes in moto blog posts; there are oil threads and there are tire posts and there are others of the same ilk that seem to keep the moto blogosphere arguing with itself about the proper course of action. They are well known enough that they are usually qualified with some eye rolling and apologies before the original poster commences. In a minor constellation there is the thread about whether or not to wash your bike. Welcome to this year’s celebration of Spring. Herein I will lean into the wind and signify next to nothing. Let’s commence.


I come down somewhere in the middle of the great unwashed thread. The anti-washites state that you are likely to contaminate your oil system by forcing your soapy water onto and into your bike’s parts. They also mention the likelihood of tweaking something in your electrics. Good points. The washists will tell you that dirt on your motor inhibits your engine from radiating out heat and adds to ongoing corrosion – oh, and it makes your bike look like crap. I agree that you should never take your bike to the wand car wash. The pressure is too great and you are likely to mess something up. Sure, take your dirt bike there and get the grunge off of the wheels and the frame of the bike but spray carefully when you get around the wheel bearings, the engine and the electrics. I use the common garden hose and a bucket of soapy water. I have never had a problem with this method but I am careful.

California is in the midst of a drought so there is yet another reason not to wash your bike at all. I think my compromise on this is going to be to ride out to a friend’s place in the near burbs, park the bike in the middle of their lawn and wash the thing with a green soap that the lawn will not dislike.

I have a project bike with a sad seat. It is in need of a reupholster but for this season I think I just want to get it back on the road and I will deal with the cosmetics bit by bit in the latter part of the season. My seat is not at the point where the foam beneath is being shredded but the vinyl is torn in places. Sewing up the seat while the seat cover remains on the bike is beyond my skill set. I have heard that they make a vinyl, adhesive backed, repair tape. I think that might be the ticket for right now.

I don’t mess around with tires. I mean, I don’t push it. When the tires are starting to go I put on new set. When I was a young, stupid and impoverished student I ran the tires on my CL77 down to the threads and lived to tell the tale but I am no longer young and (arguably) less stupid.  I don’t want to drop a lot of money into tires on the project bike and I have been told by other CB350 cultists that there is an inexpensive Shinko tire getting surprisingly good reviews. It will give me piece of mind to get these old tires off the Honda.

Wheel bearings and steering head bearings are a lot cheaper if you go to a bearing shop rather than the dealer for your parts. Some of the bearing shops will not sell you anything if you tell them the parts are for a motorcycle. Why? Dunno – maybe its a fear of being embroiled in some sort of litigation if you put them on incorrectly and then get into an accident. My steering head bearing is notchy – has to go.

I am going with a heated gear setup on the touring bike this fall and I am not sure that my alternator is sparky enough to keep up. This has led me to investigate LED headlights and taillights. The market is growing every month and an upgrade to LED’s is in my future. Check your state’s rules before you spring for an LED headlamp as some do not yet allow it.

I have just adapted my first aid kit to fit under the seat of the CB350. There is much less room  there than in the Flying Brick so I had to divide it up into two segments. I was still able to get it all under the seat.

Springtime is the official beginning of bike tinkering season.  I live for this time of year. Get on out there.