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.


But what about the pants?


OK … I’m not a big fan of wearing a motorcycle jacket, especially when the temperature is 90 degrees and the humidity has you feeling like you’re in a sauna.  I’m a big fan of T-shirts when it gets hot (I also like to show off my ink).  Remember, I’m a motorcycle “libertarian” … I think adults should evaluate a risk and make their own decision as to accepting that risk.  That said, there’s no arguing that a leather or Kevlar type jacket with armor in the right places can save you from some serious pain and disfigurement.  But, even though the first thing riders think of when considering these jackets is usually safety and/or looks, there is also a strong case to be made for comfort.

On a recent journey, I rode through rain and temperatures that ranged from the low 50’s in the Rockies to 105 in the Texas panhandle. For this trip, I selected a Tourmaster Intake Air Series 3 Jacket.  While there are a lot of brands to choose from out there, if you’re looking for comfort, you should ensure that whichever one you choose has similar features that will make your ride more comfortable.

This jacket has a mesh shell that is very well ventilated and that means it remains relatively cool on a hot day (when you’re moving).  When the temperature gets cool, you have a choice of two liners that can be inserted separately or in combination for maximum insulation.  The lightweight liner provides great wind resistance and is also rain resistant (not at the level of a quality rain suit, but it does keep you dry in light or moderate rain).  The lightweight padded liner provides insulation and when these two are used together, the jacket provides comfort at temperatures as low as 45 degrees (for me).  Stick a thermal T-shirt under it and your good to go down to about 40.  For hot desert weather in the 90’s or higher, you can wear the mesh outer jacket over a wet T-shirt to keep cool and hydrated.  This jacket provides the advantages of three different pieces of clothing resulting in less required storage room and lighter weight, both premium requirements for long road trips.  Both liners can be rolled up tightly and take up very little room.  During my trip, I actually wore the jacket in extremely high dessert heat and at 12,500 feet in the Rockies, where I went from the high 70’s in Ft. Collins, CO to the low 50’s at 12,500 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park and then back down, all in less than three hours. I was able to adjust my clothing for comfort in just a few minutes and then easily readjust as I descended.  Very convenient, very compact and far less expensive than multiple jackets.

For those of you who also value the protective aspect of outerwear more than me, this particular jacket offers construction of Armor Link, 600 Denier Carbolex and 1680 Denier ballistic polyester with CE approved armor at all the strategic locations.  Hell, I don’t have a clue what all that means, other than it offers you some great protection from impact and road rash.

Comfortable long trips on a motorcycle don’t take any luck at all … they take careful planning.  The correct choice of equipment is critical.  You must pack lightly, compactly and efficiently, meaning that everything you bring along should preferably have more than one use and leather doesn’t fit this description.  This premium jacket certainly fits the bill (all right … leather looks a little cooler, but even without the liner and with the vents open, it is still hot as hell on a warm day).

Pants are a whole other subject …

Le Sneezola Du Printemps: Riding in Allergy Season

I live in California and we have, for the most part, had a pretty benign winter. The riding season is about eleven months and three weeks long here. In other parts of the country they are still playing hide and seek with the cold and the wetness while the motorcycles remain under wraps. Spring has yet to arrive for them  but when it does they will be going through, once again, what I am going through with this rain of pollen.

My sister isn’t  bugged by allergies. I most certainly am, its genetic roulette.  When riding a bicycle, scooter or motorcycle during springtime you are in essence turbo-injecting pollen into your sinuses. There are two conventional ways to lessen the effects of  pollen Rhinitus. One is to wear a filter mask over your mouth and nose while the other is the resort to chemistry.

There is guy in my neighborhood who rides a black Sportster; he dons a beanie helmet and a skull face mask on his head. Whenever I catch him out of the corner of my eye I am always slightly startled. Yeah, I know, that’s the idea. If you wear an open face helmet or a beanie helmet you can wear a face mask that will act as a filter to keep the pollen from your mouth and nose. A Freddie Kruger All Hallow’s Eve party mask is not gonna do it – you need a filter.

There is a company that makes a mask for motorcyclists which has a replaceable charcoal filter inside. Clever.  They come in all flavors from a shade of delicate pink to a Halloweenesque skull mask. I have forgotten where this company is but if you know about them please post a link. When I ride a bicycle during that period when the gods of hay fever are in high dudgeon I wear a standard 3M (or substitute) H95 dust mask. It works pretty well but doesn’t help the itchy eyes much – more about that in a minute. I cannot wear a mask with my full face helmet because the fit is pretty tight so I resort to chemicals when on the moto.

If you don’t want to go the face mask route you can try the chemical regimen. There are anti-histamines and anti-allergens out there that do not make you drowsy. Before you go riding you should absolutely know how any of these products will affect you. Needless to say do not take anything that will make you drowsy or in any way disoriented. I leave it to you to do the research on this because there is a lot of good information out there. Here is an excellent start:

My personal tea is a generic version of Flonase for the sinuses and Patanol eyedrops for the itchy eyes. It works reasonably well for me. YMMV. Once again, if you know who makes those masks with the filters let me know. I want to try one out on the bicycle rides – and soon.

Gerde Applethwaite