Category Archives: Motorcycling

Honda GL1800 Goldwing

Riding the Honda GL1800 Goldwing

As the year has been coming to an end and winter seems just round the corner I decided to fill some of my inter-locuming days with a bit of biking. Hired a bike but this time something a little more comfy for the longer journeys – a proper touring bike with heated arm rests and seats would you believe it!! This time I rented a touring bike from the same Manchester rental company I used before. The bike was the marvellous Honda GL1800 Goldwing.

Started off in Manchester and then headed into a not very nice drenching storm. The rain was so bad I had to get off the road as I had problems seeing the road and other cars. Luckily there was a handy Asda carpark in Queensferry where I took refuge. The rest of the trip towards Pembrokeshire was fine, but I would still say it wasn’t really a good biking day. After stopping in Haverfordwest I travelled down the M4 and A34 to Hampshire to see relatives and then up to Northampton to meet a friend. Stayed in a local Travelodge there that I would definitely not recommend. Very dirt as seen from the photos below…

The next day on to the M1 and M6 towards Manchester.

The bike itself was great and much more comfortable than the Pan European. It also had loads more of mod-cons like heated seats, radio and it even had an air-bag. I didn’t know motorcycles even had that! One of the serous problems I had was with the windshield. It was positioned to high and once it got wet I had lots of problems seeing the road in front of me. I couldn’t get it to lowered and I thing Honda should have made it motorized like on the Pan European.

Dodging storm clouds

I guess a lot of seasoned bikers are familiar this skill but I had to develop olit completely from scratch and it was up to necessity rather than fancying myself taking on a skill I might not use ever again.

During my few weeks biking in the US this June I got quite good at it.
What it basically is that as a motorcyclist you try avoiding getting wet by avoiding rainy clouds as they intercept your route. You do however have another choice which is to bd a fatalist and give in to nature and … well … get soaked. I preferred to stay nice and dry so I tried my best.
I basically learnt the hard way of what it felt like to drive through a cold front and come out the other side looking like something my mother would drag out if the washing machine after a good hours soak. I knew the storm was coming but really had no way to properly avoid it. I could either stay put in a nice warm and cosy (and pricey) hotel, I could try to outrun it or could try riding straight into it and shorten the suffering. I though at the time it was to panzy to stay in the hotel, I didn’t want to turn back and you really can’t outrun a cold front just to let you know. I have also already been to Wisconsin and I didn’t particularly want to go back.

So this is what it all looked like on my phone using a weather app showing the rainfall radar.

wpid-Screenshot_2013-06-09-08-17-59.png The red dot is where I was at the time so I could see that there wasn’t much weather on the other side of that wave of rain.

But I didn’t realize at the time that I was in for some good soaking that would last about half a day. I remember at one point stopping more out of desperation at this diner next to the interstate to get myself warm on a all-you-can-drink coffee and lots of yummy egg-soaked calories with some peanut butter on the side.
Seriously, I thought I was going to have to give up and find a hotel nearby and warm up for a week. But then it started to ease off the rain. Just a little at first. Far in the distance you could see the clouds getting brighter. Then half an hour later or so … a ray of sunshine here and there. After that it cleared up big time and once I arrived in Bismarck in North Dakota the skies were blue and the the air was hot.

Once I came close to the finish line of my trip I seemed to improve my wetness avoidance skills tremendously.
I was riding towards a small town west of Chicago and I had managed quite skilfully to avoid a few storm clouds in my path. At one point I had to leave the interstate I was on and to my surprise ended on the famous Route 66. A few friends asked me before I left on the trip whether I was going to do the ’66′, however this never in my plans. Well, did managed to get on it completely by chance.

hero-retail-service-station

The Oregon petrol station madness

I would admit the headline is a little sensational but at the time of driving through Oregon I did think there was something odd about the Beaver state. In my many years of driving round Europe and now the USA I have found that all petrol stations have turned into self-service affairs. You get there, you you fill up your tank, you pay and then you drive off.

But in Oregon – oh nooooo. I even saw some other fellow Americans drivers puzzled by what they we and were not expected to do at the petrol stations. I definitely wasn’t the only one. As soon as I crossed the border from Washington going south and pulled-in the first filling station I got told off by some petrol station worker that I am not allowed to fill-up petrol myself.

By the time I pulled-in my second Oregon petrol station I have almost but forgot what I was told the first time – my mother will concur that I was not always known for doing as I was told. Anyway, I was told again that I was not allowed to fill-up my motorbike myself. My disobedience was encouraged by the fact there was nobody at hand at the station to actually do the filling-up for me so I just went ahead and did it.

What also amazed me was the reasoning for this and the reasons were not exactly consistent. The first petrol attendant-guy told me this was to stimulate employment which in my opinion is one of the most idiotic ways of going about this. Forcing petrol stations to employ people to do something that everywhere they can do themselves.

The second reason at the second gas station was even more crazy – that its all because health and bloody safety. Now the reason why this seems crazy to me and will probably to everyone reading this is what happens in an Oregon petrol station once you pull-up with your motorcycle: first you have to patiently wait for somebody to appear at your vehicle. This person than has to take your payment card and swipe it for you through the card reader at the pump. you then have to tell the attendant the security code which is the US is not the card’s PIN number but your ZIP – code. Then he or she lifts the filling nozzle and instead of starting to fill your precious bike with gasoline he/she hands it over to you!
So if there ever was a ‘dangerous’ part of the whole filling-up process I think swiping your card in a card reader and pressing some buttons certainly wouldn’t be that and filling your tank definitely would be, wouldn’t you think? Oh no, they leave the use of combustible fluid to you – you know, because of health and safety.

By the time I came to my third and fourth Oregon petrol station I had more or less given up on being shocked by this bureau-stupidity and let them do their own thing. However I did refuse to pay gratuity. As far as I am concerned they can go to Salem (Oregon’s capital) and ask the governor for all I care.

One of the attendants even threatened that he and I could get a fine if we didn’t comply with this rule but I did not see one signs, not even one on any of the petrol stations I stopped in Oregon. I was also quite surprised that New Jersey has similar laws in place.

Oh, and yes, in case you think I am making this up, here is the legislature - http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/480.html

They lost me after slick surfaces and “Self-service dispensing at retail contributes to unemployment, particularly among young people;”.

The list of excuses why this has ended up and still remains a legislation is not short at all. The excuses are actually listed in the legislature text. I have sifted through it for your entertainment:

  • safety standards often are unenforceable at retail self-service stations in other states because cashiers are often unable to maintain a clear view of and give undivided attention to the dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids by customers.
    When I arrived at one of the Oregon stations I had to wait a while to get the attention of the attendant.
  • higher liability insurance rates as people can hurt themselves at these petrol stations: increased risk of crime and the increased risk of personal injury resulting from slipping on slick surfaces.
    Damn those those slick surfaces.
  • the dangers of crime and slick surfaces described before are enhanced because Oregon’s weather is uniquely adverse, causing wet pavement and reduced visibility
    Ohh fu** – now they are blaming the weather. Are they taking the piss?!
  • the law is here for senior citizins and the disabled
    In the rest of the world the senior citizens and disabled just have to remain without petrol then?
  • senior citizens and persons with disabilities must pay the higher costs of full service
    Oh really!? Never heard that happen but I think the US has to blame itself for all that gratuity-culture.
  • Self-service dispensing at retail in other states does not provide a sustained reduction in fuel prices charged to customers;
    So their reasoning is because self-service is not cheaper lets just ban it all-together.
  • prohibition of self-service petrol stations promotes public welfare by providing increased safety and convenience without causing economic harm to the public in general;
    Now they are just making shit up.
  • Self-service dispensing at retail contributes to unemployment, particularly among young people;
    Already covered it but I had to write it down again, just for laughs.
  • Small children left unattended when customers leave to make payment at retail self-service stations creates a dangerous situation
    And that is one of the reasons we have invented ‘Pay at pump’, not that Oregon lawmakers have noticed

Avenue of the Giants

Redwood forest

Redwood forest (photo taken from the internet)

The name sounds like something from a children’s adventure book, perhaps depicting an overgrown legume, but this was an actually road-sign I saw in northern California that was inviting me to leave the route 101 and explore its mysteries.

This is actually the name of a byway, a road that runs close to the Route 101 but is much MUCH nicer. The roads twists and rolls round enormous Redwood trees, which are really sequoia trees. The oldest one there called “Immortal Tree” is about 950 years old which has survived logging, a direct lightning strike and attempts to cut it down by loggers.

My biking retrospective

End of the trip in Chicago, Illinois

End of the trip in Chicago, Illinois

Today marked the first week since I hit the road. It seems like ages since I departed Chicago and I must say the trip has given me the desired effect and changed my perspective on biking and bikers. Long I thought them to be criminal gang associated thugs. But the truth really is far faaar from that misconception. They are a really friendly bunch of people that will always help each-other in trouble. Even in the first week I have met loads and they are just normal people with a desire to explore the world. Just as an example I would mention the moment when I was riding on a road somewhere in Illinois and I noticed in my rear-view mirrors that my luggage was slipping to one side. I quickly pulled over after checking there was nobody behind me. But just as I got of my bike I car pulled up just in front of me and I was a little embarrassed when a driver checked that I was OK and if I needed any help. I was amazed.
One of the points of the trip was also to see if biking is really for me, am I really for it. To be honest after the escapade in Yellowstone and all the wet and cold weather I had to endure I realy realy miss my car, the fact that I push the button and warm air starts blowing in my face, the fact that even if it is cold outside my fingers don’t get frozen onto the steering wheel. If I would encounter a buffalo for example I would at least have some thin piece of metal between me and the hairy beast.

This was written upon my return to the UK…

After the second week most of the stuff I had to deal with was becoming a routine. I still had some issues with filling up as it seemed that every petrol station had a different way of doing things. The rest was not difficult at all. The biggest challenge was to decide where to go and where I am going to sleep but in truth the latter wasn’t actually that bad. Towards the end of the day, about 5pm I would start to think about this and I either tried to look for a campsite but that required more time as I had more work to set up the camp and tent. The quick(er) and easier but more expensive way was to find a hotel. A campsite usually cost about $20-$33 and a room would set me back from $70 to $110. I wanted to find good deals by using apps from Hotel.com or Trivago but for that you need a reliable mobile broadband which wasn’t always there to deliver. In fact the Hotels app would often tell me I need an internet connection and just wouldn’t do anything despite the fact I could browse the internet.

One thing that (sort of) felt worrying was a casual observation from a few people I met on the road who thought I was quite brave of travelling round a foreign country, on a motorcycle and on my own. However, I didn’t have a feeling at all that I was doing something brave (or ‘stupid’, which could be philosophically a different way of saying ‘brave’).

But as my general experience of the whole trip goes I really liked how the whole trip helped to detach myself from the day to day rubbish and problems of my life. Now I just had to stay on the bike (meaning not fall over) and not get the bike stopped (ie. run out of petrol). I managed to do both just fine. There was that little incident in Custer state park where I nearly fell over … what happened was that I had to stop for a warden to pay the entrance fee. The road was slightly on a decline and as I was sitting on the bike and kicked out the stand the bike rolled and the stand folded back nearly tipping the bike over. Got the warden to help me keep it upright but it taught me a valuable lesson about keeping the damn bike in gear when on a hill. For those who don’t know … these bloody things don’t have a handbrake. I also quickly learnt how to park the bike in carparks as a lot of them slope down towards the kerb. Not really noticeable when you park your car but damn noticeable when you almost give yourself a hernia trying to reverse the motorcycle. Also, and you have my word on this, this procedure does not look cool ;-)

Illinois

On top of the John Hancock Center - looking towards the direction of my long 23-day biking trip. A fitting end to the trip really

On top of the John Hancock Center – looking towards the direction of my long 23-day biking trip. A fitting end to the trip really

In the KOA campsite in Bismarck, North Dakota

In the KOA campsite in Bismarck, North Dakota