Archive for the ‘Touring’ Category

Rain-RidingIn all the years that I have been riding a motorcycle, I can honestly not remember one biker who loves riding in the rain. I do not think that there’s anyone out there who, when looking out the window and seeing a downpour, will say “ohhh great, it’s raining, let’s go for a bike ride”.

However I do know a lot of bikers who flatly refuse to go out riding when it rains. Personally, I think that is a mistake. Rain is nothing but water, and as long as a) it’s not raining very hard, b) falling horizontally (in other words a strong wind) and c) you wear the proper clothing, then the ride will be fine.

High Visibility Rain jacket

High Visibility Rain jacket

There are a lot of things to take into account when riding a motorcycle in the rain, but one of the most important ones is that you have to dress appropriately. Having your normal jacket and trousers might not be enough. If there’s a light drizzle, it probably will not be a problem, but when there’s consistent rain, water (usually cold) will seep through your clothes onto your body, and that is not fun! Getting wet, or at least humid, when riding is distracting and very uncomfortable. It’s also when you will get a cold, or worse.

Rain-Boot-CoverSo whatever you do, make sure the clothing (jacket, trousers and boot covers) you use during a rain ride is rain proof.

This is the most important tip for riding in the rain, all other tips are more or less common sense. The clothing doesn’t need to be a diver’s suit you use for deep sea diving, but it needs to keep the water away.

  1. Wear proper rain gear, preferably Gore-Tex or equivalent. It needs to be able to breath but still not allow water to creep in. Make sure your helmet covers your face, since rain above 30 mph is going to hurt you.
  2. Make sure your tires are correct for riding in the rain, in other words, do not go out riding in the rain with slick tires.
  3. Watch the road. What used to be kind-of slippery is now very slippery. White lines on the roads will have become ice rinks, metal plates/manholes are super dangerous, avoid them like the plague.
  4. Watch out for puddles. Yes, it can be fun riding through one, but since the water hides the surface you just don’t know what you are riding into. Can the puddle in fact be a 3 feet deep hole? Do you want to find out the hard way?
  5. When riding and you see a colored rainbow on the ground, watch it. It’s got nothing to do with the gay movement, chances are it’s oil.
  6. When rain first starts after many days of dry weather, it’s when it’s the most dangerous since there’s a lot of oil and dirt on the road. Wait an hour or two for the rain to wash away the oil/dirt before riding since the road surfaces are at their slipperiest. If it’s just drizzle, then the road will remain slippery.
  7. Railway crossing are to be taken as straight as possible. Remember the railway tracks are metal, and wet metal is slippery. Straighten your bike.
  8. When you need to brake, apply more rear brake than normal. If your front wheel starts sliding you’re done for, if your rear wheel slides you can easily correct.
  9. Do not brake strongly if possible.Brake gently. If you need to urgently apply your brakes, pump them so that you do not start aquaplaning.
  10. Give yourself more space between you and the vehicle in front of you. Braking distances are much longer in the rain.
  11. Relax when riding. Getting all cramped and bunched up is not good. First of all you will get tired real quickly and it is dangerous. Relaxed riding is much better.
  12. Be visible. Rain makes it difficult for cars to see you. If you have high visibility clothing, now it is the time to put them on.
  13. An obvious advice, but here it is anyway: reduce your speed! In many countries legally you need to reduce speed by some 10-20% when it rains, and there are good reasons for it.
  14. Since we don’t have wipers on our helmets (well, maybe some do) you can easily spray something like Rain-X on the visor to help you with your visibility. Rain-X keeps the rain from the visor.
  15. When lightning starts up, stop riding. Head for cover (don’t stop below a tree).

Riding in the rain will at times be necessary, and you should not stop riding just because it is raining. Relax and enjoy the ride. You are after all riding a motorcycle and that is fun. ENJOY IT.

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Tail-of-the-Dragon-mapMany countries have twisting roads, but none are as famous as our Tail of the Dragon in Deals Gap North Carolina bordering with Tennessee. And since Jafrum is from that part of the country (we are headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina), it’s about time we talked about it in more detail.

The Tail of the Dragon, AKA The Dragon, is motorcycle heaven; it’s an 11 mile road (US129) counting no less that 318 (yes, you read it right, three hundred and eighteen) curves. The 2 lane blacktop road brings you through the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in other words a forest with a magic scenery. And since it’s a national park, no sudden intersections that can cause a danger for you. But the road is not meant for the scenery; don’t slow down or stop to take photos. It’s the road itself that attracts bikers.

The 11 mile ride is an incredible motorcycle ride for those of you who love the twisties. It’s one curve after the other. Although speed has been limited to 30 mph since 2005, many bikers still try to run The Dragon as fast as they can (which is not very smart since law enforcement is out in force).

Many of the sharpest curves have received funny sounding names, like Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Mud Corner, Sunset Corner or Brake or Bust Bend.


Part of the folklore of Deals Gap is the Tree of Shame, a tree decorated with motorcycle parts of bikers who went just that bit too fast. It’s a reminder that it’s best to ride the road at a moderate speed. You will also need to remember that it’s not just motorcycles riding the road, you will also find many cars.

If you ride The Dragon, chances are you’ll see a photographer taking photos of you. This photographer is an institution; called Killboy you can find many of his photos on his website Killboy.com. Once you’ve done the 11 mile run and you are back safely at home, head on over to his website, since you might find a nice souvenir photo of you riding The Dragon.

If you want to see what The Dragon looks like on a motorcycle, have a look at this video (do turn down the volume before you do).

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Polar-Bear-Grand-Tour logoJust because it’s winter doesn’t mean it’s the end of your motorcycle riding fun. Yes, agreed, it’s not easy in snowy conditions, and it will mean you need to wrap yourself up in loads of layers of clothing, but riding in the winter can be much fun. Especially when you join a group of likeminded bikers.

One of these groups constitute the Polar Bear Grand Tour. Some 550 motorcycle riders brave the icy conditions and set out for rideouts. Often the rides have a purpose, like a children’s charity; brining toys to kids.

(c) Polar Bear Grand Tour

The rides are centered around New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Connecticut. Riders met up at a general starting point on Sundays, and from there they head on out in the cold.

Riding in the winter earns you points, as do special awards like giving blood at the blood banks. The accumulated points earn you patches you can wear with pride.

(c) Polar Bear Grand Tour

So not only do you get to ride your motorcycle in the winter, you do some good as well.

Click here to access the Polar Bear Grand Tour web site.

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We have seen what kind of clothing you should wear, and we have looked at what kind of precautions you need to take in order to ride your motorcycle during the winter months.

Now, let us look at the actual ride itself.

Once autumn is in full swing, and then the long winter months have come, roads will have become slippery. At its best, rain will have made them wet, and its worst, black ice will have presented itself, making roads treacherous.

1. Take your Time

The main rule, rule #1, is take your time. Respect the roads! Just because you are riding in a nice part of twisties in the forest, with no ice or humidity, does not mean that in the next curve there will be none. Anywhere where there are shadows, the temperature can be much lower, resulting in ice. If a part of the road is in the shadows (of trees or buildings), while the rest of the road is in the sunshine, chances are that the roads appears to be rideable, when it’s not. So ride carefully.

2. Increase your distance

Roads have become slippery, no matter what the weather conditions are. Keep more distance with the next vehicle.

3. Do Not Take Too Long

Although riding in the winter is nice, especially when you are dressed for it, do not be fooled. If it is really cold out there, no matter what you have got on, your body will start getting colder and colder. So take pauses regularly to heat up.

4. Bring Sunglasses

Sunglasses are great in the summer, and they make you look cool. But in the winter they are often a life saving necessity. Daytime during winter months are short, meaning that the sun is at its lowest. Chances are that you will be blinded faster during winter months than during summer.

5. Unsure? Feet on the ground!

If you are hitting a spot on the road which looks slippery, do not take any risks. Put down your feet to balance the bike. This serves two purposes; 1) in case you start slipping, you can redress the bike, and 2) your center of gravity is lowered, making it easier to correct your movements.


6. If you drop the bike, let it go!

If you do drop the motorcycle because it slips, and your immediate efforts do not reestablish the position of your bike, LET IT DROP! If you try to keep your motorcycle upright while it is going down, you will hurt yourself. At the very least, you will sprain your back muscles, and the worst, .. you do not even want to think about it. So let it drop.

7. Enjoy

Despite the dangers, you should enjoy yourself. Just remember that car drivers behave differently in the winter as well. They may not see you since the sun is low, and they are mindful of the road conditions. So be visible, pay attention, and just enjoy a winter ride.

If you have taken a liking to riding in the winter, then maybe you would like to participate in the Elephant Rally, or as it is known, the Elefantentreffen, This is a German organized motorcycle event in the Alps, during the winter, and involves camping in the snow, and to get there, you must arrive on a motorcycle.

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Motorcycle Trip

For those who believe the descent from the peaks of Lake Tahoe and Donner Pass (CA) to Sacramento is a smooth one, think again. One hundred miles is a short ride, yes, but dropping nearly 8,000 feet is not.

It was in the low 40s when I departed Lake Tahoe, bitterly windy, and bits of snow still clung in the shadows under the pines and the peaks in the distance. The road, littered with sand and other debris as winter approached, required intense concentration. In the high altitude, my poor carbureted bike – I call her Molinara – had a painfully-low idle devoid of horespower. I lean on the throttle, and she barely responds. I looked forward to the increasing temperatures, but I did not adequately anticipate their abrupt arrival.

I began that one hundred mile downhill ride fully bundled, miserably cold, and with every bit of exposed skin covered with some form of protective gear.

Half an hour later, steering with one hand, I was flipping open visors, unzipping vents, loosening cold weather gear, and sweating. The only one enjoying the ride was Molinara, who saw a quick restoration of her torque and a robust roar in her pipes. She was happy, but I was not.

Baking in the now-70s temperatures, I pulled over outside of Sacramento to start peeling off layers and switching to lighter weight motorcycle gloves. There, parked conspicuously on the shoulder of a highway entrance ramp, I made a number of wardrobe adjustments.

As I stowed my gear, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) car tore past me, tires smoking, engine protesting, and disappeared onto the highway. Whomever he was chasing was going to be disappointed when he quickly overtook them. Another good reason to abide by the law. But strangely, another CHP patrol car pulled up behind me not five minutes later. Scrambling out of his car, the officer strode towards me severely.

“Have you seen anybody driving crazy here recently. Spinning their tires or something?” he demanded.

Yes I had, I told him, but it was another patrol car – no doubt responding to a call. Hearing my response, he started giggling.

“Yeah, that was me; I was bored. You gotta practice that stuff, you know?”

Over the next ten minutes, he tried to recruit me to CHP, talked about his time in the Marines (he and I were both infantry), and insisted that I use his name if I apply. If I make it, he gets a week’s vacation as a reward. I told him I’d consider it.

As we both readied to leave, he told me to be safe, watch my speed, and if I wanted, I could tail behind him for a bit. It sounded like a license to exceed the speed limit, so I quickly agreed.

He did at least fifteen over, and I followed directly behind him. Getting bored of it, I guess, he turned on his lights and pulled over somebody doing merely ten over. Popping an ugly, left-handed salute towards me, he grinned, and I kept going – fifteen over. Later that day, having arrived in the Bay area, I climbed off of Molinara, thanked her for safely carrying me more than 5,500 miles from one side of the continent to the other, and gave her a kiss. The other, I told her, I would save for when she got me back home.

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I Was There

You don’t buy a motorcycle for transportation, in my opinion. Sure, when you turn your car in at the shop, you might use your bike, but that’s an exception. As a general rule, bikes don’t have enough cargo space, they’re too vulnerable to foul weather, and they’re entirely too expensive. No, you have a car for transportation, and you have a bike because it’s fun.

Cars are boxes, and their occupants (aside from those who live a little and drive convertibles) are very much “inside.” They’re protected from the elements, hidden from the wind, and climate-controlled. At times they’re so stuffy that the gastrological behavior of a passenger in the back seat can ruinously disturb the driver up front. And as far as I’m concerned, drivers are spectators to the scenery and a world that swiftly passes them by. They are simply relocating from point A to point B. What lies between the two goes largely unnoticed.

But then there are the motorcycles. You have the wind in your face, regardless of the speed. You have the 20 degree wind chill (at 60mph) to factor into any weather report. You have bug guts slathered across various areas of your
leathers and motorcycle helmet (or windshield), and perhaps a few on your face. When it rains, you get wet; and when the road is treacherous, you stand a chance of seeing it even more closely – pinned under your bike in a skid. Riding is a real-time interaction with the scenery, the weather, the road, the buffeting wind, and the bike itself – constantly. Whereas drivers occupy the mental wasteland between their starting points and their destinations, riders are always precisely where they need and want to be: riding. Not spectators, but participants.

If I were to close my eyes while riding (and I assure you that I don’t), I would still know where I was. Aside from the freedom and thrill of the riding itself, my favorite aspect is the smell. It changes constantly, and it always tells you
something. One moment it’s a skunk, and the next a cow pasture. Then it’s fresh-cut hay, or the dead leaves of autumn. In the Appalachians it’s wet rocks and moss. In downtown areas it’s the occasional whiff of marijuana, then
exhaust, then asphalt and rubber, then somebody’s grill in the back yard. On Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, it’s a virtual cloud of marijuana, movie theater popcorn, and the distinct aroma of weird. At random intervals along any
road, it’s roadkill. Regardless, it changes with the scenery, and I like it. Drivers miss every bit of this.

When they aren’t punching at their cell phones or wishing they’d reached their destinations, drivers might look about long enough to remember a billboard or a particularly rough section of road. I will remember how an area smelled. Then I will remember that I was on my bike at the time, and then I will remember how much I enjoyed it. It didn’t matter where I was going, or where I came from; it mattered that I enjoyed the ride. Why? Well, it’s easy. I didn’t pass a place; I was in it.

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Motorcycle Trip Planning
For those of you planning a lengthy motorcycle trip, my advice is to quit planning immediately. Planning means stating your intentions. And that means the gods of fortune are alerted to the fact you have hopes of doing something, at which point they unite against you to ensure that plenty of things go wrong. Two years ago, when I began arranging a multi-state ride, I knew none of this and planned carefully. Catching me totally unaware, the fortune gods ruined me.

Prior to embarking on a long ride far from home, it seems logical that you should turn in your bike for a thorough servicing. Take every precaution to ensure that your bike won’t leave you stranded, irritated, and walking from the Middle of Nowhere to Somewhere. Or worse. In my case, Molinara – yes, she has a name – received valve adjustments, fluid servicing, new brakes, and a new rear tire. The bill, of course, was astronomical. But, we can’t place a price on safety, right?

When the repairs were complete – and only a few days prior to my much anticipated departure – I had a friend drive me to the dealer to pick up the bike. I left like a bat out of hell, leaving my friend to drive back at a more reasonable, responsible speed.

26.5 miles later, roaring along swimmingly at 70mph on the highway, I heard a loud ping, a crash, and suddenly the bike sounded like it was on the verge of death. To my credit, I didn’t panic and do something novice. Instead, I simply pulled over, discovered my PIPES missing from the mid-joint back, and an enormous gouge torn out of my new rear tire. My pipes, by the way, were a quarter behind me in the ditch, severely dented, scratched, and at that moment searing a char mark into the grass. Despite being livid, I was thankful that my friend would be along shortly to spot me on the shoulder and help me out.

Completely ignoring me, he drove right by. Use a cell phone? No way. He never turns his on. He might have to actually TALK to somebody, you see. So, I called the dealer (who was now closed), informed them that I was standing on the side of the road with a broken bike, and that it was entirely their fault. That done, I limped the bike to a nearby exit, found a Waffle House, and sulked.

To my surprise, the manager called me back fairly promptly and announced that a vehicle had been dispatched to deliver me a loaner bike from their floor, and take mine back for repairs. They even paid for my Waffle House lunch.

But the loaner, of course, was tiny. And I’m 6ft 3in tall. I’ve listed the pro’s and con’s below:
Disadvantages of the loaner bike:

1. No windshield – and my friend called me a weenie for objecting
2. I ate bugs on the way home – I want to see HIM eat bugs
3. Smaller
4. Not loud and attention-getting
5. No saddlebags
6. It’s not my bike

Advantages of the loaner bike:

1. Um, it’s not my bike (ride hard)
2. I got home safely
3. It’s black
4. It’s better than walking, which isn’t cool at all

My Bike
Ben's Bike

Loaner bike
Loaner Bike

To shorten a very long story, the dealer discovered that they had failed to properly reattach my pipes after their work. The tire was replaced, the bike fixed, and returned to me – still broken and lathered in grease marks. So I took it back, and they fixed it again (meanwhile, I’m leaving in a couple days). Then my brand new sissy bar bag broke some buckles. Then it rained. Then I finally left – and was immediately rained on. And then, a state later, Molinara broke again, leaving me stranded, and sleeping overnight on a concrete stoop outside another dealer’s repair shop. And the next morning I was almost mugged in a gas station bathroom. Then, I tried something different.

Quite simply, I stopped planning. I would go where the road took me, stop when locals insisted there was something to see, and not stick to any schedule whatsoever. And you know, it worked perfectly. The next 13,000 miles were completely disaster free.

Don’t plan, folks. Sneak up on your trip and surprise it. The gods of fortune will never know what hit them.

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Some practical tips from Bill a real biker who blogs in atlas rider. The mental tips for those long trips are great!

Atlas Rider

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