Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Whitey "Hacksaw" Hartman

                           Host of the Apr├Ęs-Ride Watermelon Bust - the illustrious Mr. Hartman

 Great Uncle to my kids, Whitey is a most exceptional individual and my cherished friend. He is more than 80 years old now and still riding motorcycles.

Whitey "Hacksaw" Hartman:
"I've won over one hundred trophies but I've never been a racer. I never thought I had to beat the other guy. If I see a guy wants to overtake me, I say 'go ahead, live it up.' Either you are better than me or you think you are. If you're better than me you deserve to be out front. If you think you are, I'll pass your wreckage along the way."

 Whitey thought it would be fun to enter the cross-country motorcycle race at Orfino, Idaho at the age of 80 — and do it riding the very Sachs Hercules he won that race on 50 years earlier. He didn't win this time around but if you look carefully at the above photo you see that the octogenarian is, in very fact, passing someone's wreckage. Needless to say, the man is my hero.

                                                 Visitor parking at Whitey's house.

 No, he is not listening to Snoop Dogg, Pink Floyd, Glen Miller or Vivaldi on his ever-present headphones. His hearing is all but gone so he uses a pocket amplifier and mic to pick up voice transmissions.

                                                     The lovely Suzie agrees to be interviewed
Whitey: "Do you trust me to lead this group ride down into the extremely treacherous Grand Ronde River Valley, on the gravel-strewn road they call The Rattlesnake."
Suzie: "Ah. Well. Ah."

This is classic. After successfully leading a bunch of power-mad muscle-bikers down the treacherous switchbacks, guess who gets stopped for speeding on the only safe stretch of road. Your man in blue is there to save us from ourselves should we dip into unsafe velocities above 35-mph. Hooligan Hartman gets a vigorous talkin-to. He could almost hear what the flapping lips were saying after donning the headphones. Give me a break, buddy! And how about that nice family in the mini-van I saw caught in your money-grubbing snare on our way back home.

Hacksaw at speed. Astride his beloved Yamaha 225, he's going so fast I couldn't keep him in the frame. Truthfully, he is more interested in grace on two wheels than speed or power.
"Most of my life I have always ridden the lightest bike I could get by with, rather than the fastest."
"I choose itty-bitty bikes but choose really twisty twisties to enjoy them on."
"Rather than compare myself to others, as one would while racing, I concerned myself only with enjoying riding near the peak of my own talents, just for the fun of it."

 As a young man, he once rode a Yamaguchi 55 (forefather of the Hodaka) from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Sacramento, CA.

 He claims to have owned over 250 motorcycles and I can't imagine how any of them escaped modification. I have personally seen him completely change the ergonomics and steering geometry of a motorcycle in less time than it would take me to repair a couple of flat tires.
Another time, we were changing wheel sizes on a bike and needed longer spokes to fit the new 21" rim. Whitey walks over to a group of drawers containing spokes of various lengths. He sized them up visually, grabbed a handful and said: "These ought to be about right." They were exactly the right length.

                           A Yamaguchi 55 is transformed into a tiddler trials bike named Li'l Ballerina

                            Grand Nephew, Heath, goes for a backyard putt and "cleans the section."

  I think of him as a bit of a mechanical genius as well as a tireless improver of his little corner of the world. Nearly everything he comes in contact with that could possibly be considered a machine gets the Whitey Touch — improved for his personal use. Even the keys in his pocket are modified for less bulk. A chair is his machine for sitting. A shoe is his machine for walking — it gets modified.  His workshop is full of innovative tools he has reworked or made from scratch.

                          A wheel truing jig, made from fork tubes, triple trees and a few adapted parts

                                                      A shop chair gets Whitey-ized.

                                            Why not apply the same magic to the kitchen chairs

                                          Even the toilet gets appropriate modification.

I wonder if Whitey might have worked as an elf in Santa's workshop?

            Upper left is a copy of a German Unimog truck that Whitey whipped up in sheet metal.
                                             The crawler tractors run on moving chains.

                    Let's see. Today, I think I'll fabricate an entire orchestra out of sheet metal and wire.
                                                         I'll call it the Ill Harmonic.
Too bad you can't see all the fun details (like the conductor's wild hair) in this photo.

                                              Note To Self on Whitey's bulletin board

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tiger Luggage Options

Those who rode with me on overnight trips this summer may remember that I was using some smallish, black soft-luggage that I have used for years on various bikes. These were made of pack-cloth nylon and were not waterproof. They came with slip-on rain covers that always made me nervous as they flapped in the wind. While riding in a heavy downpour near Coeur d'Alene this summer, one of the covers finally blew off on the freeway and was gone. I needed a better luggage solution.

I have a bulky, armored coat for cool-weather riding and a mesh jacket for hot weather. We often encounter both on these summer trips where morning rides over a mountain pass can see temps down close to freezing while afternoon temps on the same day could reach 90. In the past I would often leave my heavy coat at home for mid-summer rides and layer-up with my heated jacket-liner and PVC rain gear if things got really cold. I often wished I could take both jackets but had no way to carry the big one in my minimalist luggage while wearing the small one. I needed a better solution.

Last Spring, while I was considering the possible purchase of the Triumph Tiger 800, I investigated the available luggage options for that model. A problem with most of these Adventure-type motorcycles is the protrusion of the high-mounted muffler into the space we would like to use for saddlebags. I could either buy hard bags mounted wide enough to clear the muffler or buy a more expensive set with a reduced-capacity, right-side bag formed to clear the muffler. The wide-mount solution is so absurdly wide that I find it unacceptable on a skinny little bike like the Tiger. The total assemblage ends up being wider than any full-dress touring bike. The expensive bags, on the other hand, are still pretty wide, as well as grinding against my sense of economy. There must be another solution.

On our group rides I have noticed how handy a tail-mounted hard-case can be as we make a quick stop along the road. They are waterproof, hold their shape, and make it so easy to access a map, water bottle and snack, or a change of gloves. You could put a bag of fragile potato chips in there without fear of them being reduced to crumbs. I swear one of my friends had half a mini-mart in snack foods in his. Unlike some of my riding buddies, I like to pack pretty light. This is especially true when I have chosen a motorcycle for its lightness and sprightly handling. The problem I saw with the tail case is that its high, rear-mounted placement is the worst place to carry much weight on a motorcycle. Being so far from the rotational axis of a cornering bike, this is the opposite of mass-centralization and not conducive to nimble handling. I decided I could only give in to the convenience of a tail case if it was small and light.

I discovered that Coocase (sold by Twisted Throttle) makes a small, 28-liter tail case that appears to be equal to the popular Givi products and is considerably less expensive. It is very light and I will try to avoid placing heavy items in it when I am going to be chasing corners. It snaps on and off the rear rack in a flash. It doesn't look very racy but I like having it. I've even used it occasionally to haul tools and parts on my electrical service calls.

 To carry my cold-weather coat while wearing the mesh jacket, I bought a waterproof, roll-top duffel bag, of the type used on canoe trips and such. It's big enough to hold the big coat plus a few more articles of clothing that I don't expect to need until I get to the motel. It sits on the seat behind me, tied down with those groovy ROK straps every motorcyclist should own. I won't always need more capacity but when I do I can use a small, end-load waterproof bag strapped to the left side of the bike. This seems to compliment the muffler residing on the right side. I also have my trusty map-top magnetic tank bag, good for holding rain gear, gloves, camera, etc.

 Of course these bags are not lockable but they come inside with me overnight and can be secured with cable locks in the unusual paranoid circumstance. The Coocase and waterproof bags together cost less that $200, which gently massages my sense of frugality every time I think about it. The whole package is very light and compact, leaving my skinny little Tiger skinny still, and carving corners like a scalpel.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lightning Strikes and a New Bike Apprears

Buying used vehicles makes a lot of sense when you’re living on a budget, but every now and then a factory-new machine appears to have your name on it.  This kind of enticement only comes up about every 10 or 15 years for me. It has always been a new model that hasn’t been around long enough to accumulate on the used market. Something about it promises a significant leap forward in styling, utility or performance. Given my passion for bikes it is surprising that I have only been sucked into the motorcycle dealership showroom with my pocketbook three times now in a 46-year riding career.  

                                                                  Honda S90

My first new bike came only one year into that career after starting out on a Honda S90. Many hours had been spent absorbing every visual and factual detail found in my Bultaco literature collection. The pent-up desire for the 250 Matador was enough to make my teeth ache. Used ones could be found but they were pretty beat up. A new one made sense even on the tight budget of a 17-year-old kid.  It was the perfect bike for me at the time and money well spent.

                                                                 Bultaco Matador

                                                               BMW R60/2

Fast-forward a whole 24 years before I felt flush enough to consider the luxury of a brand-new motorcycle.  By now I am 42 years old and realizing that my youth was slipping away. After riding my BMW R-60/2 for 19 years, the “standard” street motorcycle had given way to more specialized models like cruisers, touring rigs and sport bikes. Wanting to sample a performance motorcycle before my body dictated otherwise I was drawn to blood-red Ducatis with their pounding V-twin motors and torque-rich power curves.  I rode out of the dealership on a new 1992 Ducati 907ie. Designed by the legendary Massimo Tamburini, it spoke to me in ways that nothing on the used market did and I have never regretted the choice.

                                                              Ducati 907ie

Twenty more years and many used bikes came went before lightning struck again.  This time it wasn’t passion but safety that provided the impetus. I have learned the hard way that unexpected obstacles jump out at you occasionally if you ride a lot. If they appear while you are leaned over even slightly in a curve you can’t afford to lock-up either wheel even momentarily.  Modulating braking pressure isn’t so hard when you have half a second to think about it. But in a panic situation hitting the brakes is so instinctive and modern brakes so powerful that, given a limited reaction time measured in hundredths of a second, things can go wrong before you have time to think. The pavement is hard and your day is ruined.  BMW pioneered the development of ant-lock brakes on motorcycles in the ‘80’s and they have become fairly common on the latest models from most every manufacturer. After last month’s run-in with a dog I decided that I would only buy bikes that had ABS.  It won’t cover every situation but it is one less hazard and in my experience is worth insuring against. One spill saved will more than pay for the extra expense.

I’ve had multiple bikes in recent years, each one especially good for a certain kind of ride. Current favorites in my garage include the Suzuki SV650 and Ducati Multistrada 1000.  The SV is used primarily for short rides around town and up local canyons but proved its worth last year on a 900-mile ride over some of Washington’s twistiest roads. I love the SV for its small size, light weight, eager, quick-revving motor and ease of use. It may be small but the grin factor is huge.

                                                               Suzuki SV650

The Multistrada was designed to handle the often bumpy, pot-holed mountain roads of northern Italy. We have a few roads like that around here and they tend to be my favorites. McNeil Canyon near Chelan, before it was “improved”, comes to mind. The Ducati’s long-travel suspension soaks up bumps without drama and the massive low-end torque launches the bike out of corners like a cannon. Because of its size and rangy, upright ergonomics it is supremely comfortable on an all-day ride. But the Multi is lumpy at low RPMs, too tall for my short legs and drastic overkill around town. As much as I have loved both of these bikes they do not have ABS and will have to go.

                                                               Multistrada 1000

Reducing my stable of street-bikes down to one or two makes a certain amount of practical sense.  They take up space in my garage and require annual renewal of license tabs and insurance policies. During winter months they call for the constant shuffling of battery chargers. It has been heart-warming to look over a menagerie of two-wheeled fun machines but lately I am in the mood to simplify. The quest to find one bike that would cover most of my pavement-riding bases began in earnest about a month ago. This kind of pursuit is always fun. Although my first choice for a new bike might have been the new Multistrada 1200 with ABS, it is simply too expensive. I would rather not get that kind of money tied up in one bike, especially one that would serve as a daily driver and errand runner.

Suzuki has been selling another 650 with the same motor as found in my trusty SV. The smaller version of the original V-Strom 1000 has developed a cult following among those who value function over panache. Affectionately known as the Wee Strom, the 650 V-Strom has earned accolades that approach the unbelievable for a budget-priced bike. Consider these words from the Sept. 2006 issue of Cycle World: “…the V-Strom is absolutely unreal in that regard (cornering). It lays into a corner so easily and holds its line so effortlessly that surely the laws of physics have been suspended and counter-steering is no longer needed. Not the case, of course, but there is some kind of magic going on here.” I have never heard such praise lavished on a production motorcycle.

                                                                     Suzuki V-Strom 650

I sought out a ride on the Wee Strom and came away very impressed.  The steering is delightfully light and effortless.  The SV’s peppy V-twin motor is there and the whole bike is the epitome of practicality.  To make this bike even more appealing, the new 2012 edition is improved in several significant ways, including standard ABS. Not only that, but Suzuki was offering them at zero down, zero percent interest. They were practically giving them away and it seemed a shoe-in as my next bike.  So why didn’t I get one?

Practicality has its place but is of limited value in my world of hot-blooded motorcycle passion.  Perusing the 2012 Motorcycle buyer’s Guide I noticed a bike I had ridden a year earlier – the Triumph Sprint GT with ABS.  It came in dark blue – a most enticing color.  I was looking at the Sprint with a new eye when my friend Doug suggested a trip to the Triumph/Honda dealership in Issaquah. He had been swooning over the Honda VFR1200 and hankering for a test ride. We noticed the Triumph Tiger 800, a new model last year, also came with ABS.  Re-absorbing everything written about the 800, it also came to the fore as a bike in bad need of sampling.

Adventure touring is the latest craze in motorcycling and bikes offering some pretense of off-road ability are selling well both here and in Europe. Never mind that most buyers never venture off the pavement, they do offer comfortable ergonomics and real-world performance on imperfect roads. These are the very characteristics that drew me to the Multistrada.

The Tiger 800 is available in two versions; one has a 19” front wheel and the XC comes with a 21” front and wire spoke wheels. The XC is the one to choose if you have real off-road aspirations, which I don’t. No way am I going to spend big bucks on a shiny new bike and thrash it in the boonies; I have a KTM dirt bike for that. The standard 800 (sometimes called the “roadie”) will handle a dirt road at cautious speeds – all the adventure I anticipate.

                                                               Triumph Tiger 800XC

Frank, at I-90 Motorsports in Issaquah, is an amiable salesman and not stingy with the test rides, allowing Doug and I to take out three bikes one day last May. The Triumph Street Triple is a very fun little naked bike in the same vein as my beloved SV but has no ABS. The Honda VFR1200 offers a frightening amount of forward thrust in an otherwise ultra-refined package. It made me feel drunk with power but this is not really the direction I need to go as I am trying to slow down and protect my aging bones. It is also too heavy to serve as my daily runabout.

The Tiger 800 was such a pleasing ride that we each rode it twice.  It has the same magical lightness-of-being as the Wee Strom but with more power, better suspension and a more aggressive look. It was also a Triumph – a legendary British brand that I had never owned. Although most of the bike is black, the gas tank and front fender come in a choice of three colors: black, white and something approaching metallic snot. White should be good. So, will it be the uber practicality of the new V-Strom or the more sophisticated, two-wheeled British Spitfire?  I don’t make these decisions impulsively and it took a few weeks to collate all the data and impressions floating around in my brain.

I only have a few miles on my new Triumph Tiger 800 ABS but the impressions so far are very positive. The state-of-the-art in motorcycling continues forward with every decade and the Tiger is certainly the recipient of that progress. Compared to the bikes of yesteryear it feels more like a gazelle than a tiger. It feels smaller and lighter that my Multi, with a more youthful athleticism. Like mixing in a little SV with the Ducati, it is a delicious blend of my two favorite bikes.

I will know more about the comfort after my first full day in the saddle but it feels good so far. I’ve already ordered a new MadStad windshield system for it. The clutch pull is lighter and mounting up easier than on my tall-horse Multi. The Tiger’s three, much smaller, pistons run smoothly at all RPMs and pulling away from a stop is shudder-free. Although I will miss the booming thunder of the big twin’s exhaust, I think the easy smoothness and broad spread of power of this triple will grow on me. Sometimes it just makes perfect sense to purchase a brand-new vehicle.

                                                            Tiger finds a new home