Tuesday, April 27, 2010

2010 Motor Officer Bike Blessing and Rodeo

God has a way of exceeding our expectations, and He certainly did on Sunday, April 25, at the second annual Motor Officer Bike Blessing and Rodeo, held at Rendezvous Leather in Uxbridge, Mass. The weather forecast that day called for rain, and not long after we had set up tents and marked the bike competition course by mid-morning, the raindrops fell and people took cover. It looked like the event was going to be a washout. But God had bigger plans: a total of six people made decisions to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior - including four police officers!

My brothers and sisters in the Christian Motorcyclists Association rejoiced at the news. It made all the planning, long hours and sacrifice worth it - even if just one person received God's gift of salvation.

"These blessings really give me a lift to keep on going," said Roland Caron, vice president of the Romans 8 Riders of CMA. "It's so easy to lose your momentum, because in my mind, I compared this to planning a wedding ... it takes so long and requires so much effort, and it's over in a flash in one day. But when you see the fruits of the effort ...."

About a dozen Massachusetts state and local police from various towns arrived on their department motorcycles around 11 a.m., lights flashing and sirens blaring, welcomed at the entrance by several people waving American flags. Members of several area CMA chapters - including my chapter, Romans 8 Riders; God's Posse; Kingdom Cruzers; Blood 'N' Fire Warriors; and Victorious Riders - split up to share the gospel message of Jesus Christ and bless the bikes of the officers, as well as civilians who rode to the event.

The rodeo showcases the bike-handling skills of the officers, who whip full-dress Harley Electra Glides through the tight slaloms, and ride them inside a circle of cones so tight they often scrape the floorboards. But the parking lot where the rodeo was held was wet from the rain, so the organizers decided to hold the bike games first, which are held on a dirt course. The games, which are a friendly competition between CMA members and officers, consist of a barrel push, slow race and riding on a string of 2" x 6" boards. I was one of the judges, and I have to admit I felt a bit awkward giving commands to the police officers riding their bikes up to the course.

Then the sun broke through around noon and dried the pavement, which allowed the rodeo to take place. A crowd of spectators watched the motor officer manuever their bikes around the cones, and a Hopedale, Mass., police officer tried to get Romans 8 Rider Andy Beaulieu to take his bulky Honda Goldwing around the tight circle.

"Put it on the floorboards, ride your way around, give it some throttle, and it'll stand up," said the officer, who made it sound simple ... in theory, anyway.

Amid the fun and games, many personal connections were formed. Romans 8 Riders chaplain Gene Snedeker and I joined our CMA sister Celine Songbird (sorry, I can't recall which chapter she's with) to bless the bike of a man named Rick, whose brother was having a difficult time following the death of his wife. Celine was able to offer prayers and encouragement for Rick's brother, because she experienced the loss of the spouse about four years ago.

Later in the day, I ended up making some new acquaintances by just asking some questions about a cool video camera I saw someone using. The couple, Jeff and Angela (she is president of Lakhota Riders, a riding club based in Stoughton, Mass.), have ridden through many parts of the U.S., including the Grand Canyon.

Bike season is just getting started, and I'm already getting stoked. You never know what God will do, but His plans are greater than ours.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Romance on a Motorcycle

I'm a blessed man ... my girlfriend, Anna, loves to ride on the back of my motorcycle. She's also a big fan of my blog. But, being an avid reader of several blogs, she did offer a suggestion on how to improve my blog: "Put a little romance in it, baby," she said.

I first took Anna for a ride on my Harley about a month and a half ago. We rode over the Jamestown Bridge to Beavertail State Park. Anna, who had not been on a motorcycle in more than a decade, loved it. A few weeks later, she took a personal day off work and made sure it would be a sunny day just so she could ride with me again. That time, we rode to Norwich, Conn., taking some winding country back roads that reminded her of her home state, West Virginia. Anna, a classic rock fan, called it a "magic carpet ride."

We met through Facebook around Christmas 2009. I had posted a prayer on a mutual friend's Facebook wall, and she liked my photo, plus the fact that I am a Christian, a biker and single. We met for coffee and slowly developed a romantic relationship.

Anna, who is also a Christian, is definitely a Harley fan ("it's a freakin' lifestyle, dude," she says) although if I didn't have a Harley, I still think she'd ride with me.

She doesn't have a lot of time on the back of a bike, but sometimes she's even more enthusiastic than me about riding, saying she would ride in the rain with me and not complain. Her motto: "Life is tough - wear a helmet." Since I switched from the Yamaha to the Harley, I've become more of a fair-weather rider. I had committed to helping out with a bike blessing Sunday that was sponsored by my Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, and the forecast called for rain. I was considering taking my van instead of my bike, but Anna called me on it, and she's right - a true biker doesn't ride only when it's sunny and 70-plus degrees. So, I took my bike (it ended up only sprinkling). Besides, she made it up to me that night by cooking me a meal fit for a king: southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, cinnamon apples, biscuits and gravy, and pecan pie with ice cream for dessert. She's a keeper ....

The day before the blessing, Saturday, was sunny and in the mid-60s, and Anna had gotten a baby sitter for her son, so we planned a ride. Before the ride, she bought a leather motorcycle jacket (she didn't have a proper riding jacket and got chilled pretty good last time, but didn't complain), and I bought her some goggles. We rode through parts of southern and western Rhode Island, and stopped at Beach Pond in Arcadia. The pond was so clear she wanted to take her boots off and wade in the water and tried to get me to do the same, but I said let's wait until the weather gets warmer. She's definitely more spontaneous and carefree, and I'm more structured and focused. They say opposites attract.

One thing I had not planned was what route to take after going west on Route 165, which crosses into Connecticut. I asked Anna where she wanted to go, and she really didn't care. "It's not the destination - it's the ride," she said. So I decided to go into Connecticut, down Route 165, which turns into Route 138, and then take a right turn onto Route 49 north. I'm glad I did. Unbeknownst to me, there is an eight-mile stretch of Route 49 through Sterling, Conn., that is a designated scenic highway, leading through hilly farm country, with beautiful vistas. I wish I had taken some photos (I did bring a camera), but there were few good spots to pull over. Apparently several other bikers had the same idea, because we passed more motorcycles than cars. My left arm nearly got tired from waving so much (okay, I'm exaggerating).

Then we rode east back into Rhode Island, crossing the Scituate Reservoir over a high, narrow bridge on Route 14. The views are spectacular, and Anna, who is my age, said that was her favorite part of the ride. I stopped at Suzy-Qs, a hamburger and ice cream stand that hosts a weekly bike night, in hopes of a late lunch, but they were closed, so we settled for lunch at D'Angelos instead. As good as a D'Angelo's steak sandwich is, it can't come close to true Southern cooking.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The 2010 Bike Season Officially Begins

The riding season of the Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association began Sunday with a bike blessing at Precision Harley-Davidson in Pawtucket, R.I., for the Blackstone Valley chapter of the Harley Owners Group.

I woke around 5 a.m. so I could meet Cam, another Romans 8 member who lives in southern Rhode Island, at the Mobil station on Route 138 in Richmond for 6:30 a.m. From there, we planned to get on Interstate 95 north and rendezvous with other chapter members in Coventry before jumping back on I-95 north to our final meetup point at Cardi's Furniture in South Attleboro, Mass.

Having been a boy scout, I should have been better prepared, but I was running around like a headless chicken that morning getting my gear ready. I arrived at the gas station eight minutes late, but saw no sign of Cam. I assumed he'd left for Coventry, so I got on the highway headed for the next rendezvous point. The sky was overcast and it was in the low 40s. Even though I wore glove liners and insulated mittens with chemical heat packs in them, my fingers still went numb. I caught up with Cam at the Cracker Barrel parking lot, where we were joined by Bob Levesque and Ed Kershaw. Rubbing my fingers against my jeans, I thawed them out for the next leg of the ride. Then the rain began somewhere around Cranston. But my bigger concern was my low fuel situation. I prayed that I would not have to switch the fuel petcock to reserve (no easy task with mittens, I'm sure) on the Thurbers Avenue curve or the Pawtucket S curve, but I made it to Cardi's no problem. There, we joined our chapter president, Spike and his wife Pam; road captain Mike Chretien; Roland and his wife Sue; and guests Manny and his wife Denise. From there, we stopped for gas on our way to Precision.

After we parked our bikes at Precision, we huddled under a tree to escape the rain and wait for the Blackstone Valley riders to arrive. I didn't count how many showed up, but I'm guessing there were no more than 10, including Firm Locke, the chapter's director. A few members from another CMA chapter, God's Posse, also attended the blessing. It was definitely a day for diehard riders.

Ed and I teamed up to bless a couple of Blackstone members' bikes. I like the way that Ed, who is a longtime Christian, shares the gospel message with bikers - simple and direct. Several of us blessed Manny's bike.

From there, we rode to Old Country Buffet in Seekonk, Mass., for a breakfast buffet before a 50-mile ride through several Massachusetts towns, including Seekonk, Rehoboth, Mansfield and Taunton. Weather was a mixed bag - sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny; sometimes raining, sometimes dry; but temperatures by this time were in the low 50s. I've ridden in a group plenty of times with my Yamaha, but this was my first group ride with the Harley. It didn't help that the roads were wet and/or sandy. Because of this, I took corners very slowly for fear my rear tire might break loose, and I often had to catch up to other riders after I came out of turns.

Besides the less than ideal conditions, I had issues with my bike stumbling every time I gave it just a bit of throttle, especially around 35-40 mph, which was the speed we rode at most of the time. I think my carburetor may need to be re-jetted.

The ride ended back at Precision, and after the Blackstone Valley H.O.G.s left, most of the Romans 8 Riders went to Spumoni's restaurant to celebrate Roland's birthday. On the way home, I rode with Cam, and I noticed another issue with my bike - I felt some wobbling or instability while riding on the highway around 65 mph. At first I though it was just wind turbulence, but then I remembered hitting a pothole earlier while I braked approaching an exit ramp. I checked my front wheel spokes at home and found that a few were definitely loose, which can cause a wobble at higher speeds. My Harley is definitely turning out to be a high-maintenance girl.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rite of Passage

I've heard it said there are only two kinds of bikers: those who have been down, and those who haven't been down, yet. In other words, it's not a matter of if, but when, you will drop your motorcycle, according to this bit of biker wisdom. Now, I'm sure there are plenty of longtime riders who have never been down, but, until recently, I took pride in the fact that I had never lost control of any motorcycle while riding it. My first bike, the Yamaha Virago, has fallen down more than once, but never while I was riding it (those incidents happened while the bike was parked or being walked).

When I bought my second motorcycle, the Harley Dyna Wide Glide, one of the things I liked about it was that it was in pristine condition and had never been down or dropped. I even rode it cautiously the first few months after I got it, since it was a much heavier and more powerful bike than my Yamaha. All was good, until this past Thursday.

I was having a bad day, and needed a ride on my Harley to blow away the stress. After riding about 25 miles, I decided to pull into a coffee shop for a break. As I turned into the parking lot, I couldn't decide on which parking space I wanted. At the last second, I decided I wanted the first space and turned my handlebars before I overshot it. For some unknown reason, I did the worst thing I could have done while making a low-speed turn: I touched the front brake. Before I even knew what was happening, my bike and I were both laying on our right side. It happened so quickly I did not have a chance to try to save the bike from going down. I was only going 5 mph or less.

From the first day I began riding in the fall of 2008, when I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider training course, the instructors drummed into our heads that you never touch the front brake during a turn, especially a low speed turn. You WILL go down. I was always conscious of that fact, and used only the rear brake on a low speed turn. There may have been once or twice when I found myself about to reach for the front brake during a low speed turn, but I always caught myself beforehand. Not so on this day - maybe I had too much on my mind, or maybe I decided to go for that parking space too late to maneuver safely, but whatever the reason doesn't matter at this point.

Fortunately, the only thing injured on me was my pride. I don't think anyone saw me go down, and if anyone did, nobody said anything to me afterward. After laying stunned for several seconds, I got up and spent a few awkward moments looking at my bike on the ground. More awkwardness ensued as I lifted my bike upright (fortunately, I had the presence of mind to lower my kickstand first so I didn't drop it on the left side). It's a 600-pound bike and not easy to lift, but now I know I can do it by myself, even with a bad lower back. The fall did wreck a pair of work boots I was wearing (the sole of my right boot got torn halfway off), but miraculously, I did not sprain or bruise my ankle or foot. In fact, I suffered no pain anywhere (I was wearing a leather jacket, leather gloves and helmet).

After parking the bike, I went inside for a hot chocolate. I wasn't ready to assess the damage just yet. My mind was still adjusting to what had happened. About half an hour later, I went outside to face reality. The damage could have been worse. The gas tank and fenders had not even a scratch on them, thank God. There was no damage to any of the engine or drivetrain components either, nor any fluids leaking.

The exhaust system heat shields and right mirror suffered the most visible damage. The right rear turn signal lens had popped off, but it snapped back on easily. There was very minor damage (nick/scratch/scrape) to the rear turn signal housing, rear brake foot lever, right foot peg and front brake lever, but those four items really don't look bad.

Another moment of truth came when I went to start the bike. I was nervous the carburetor might have been flooded when the bike tipped over, but it started and ran fine. No fuel spilled from the gas tank either.

But on the ride home, I did notice something seemed off with my handlebars. I took my hands off the bars and the bike rode straight, so after I got home and parked the bike in my garage, I took a closer look at the handlebars. My intuition was correct - the right side of the bars is farther back than the left side, when looking at it from above the handlebar clamp. I had to use a ruler to verify this - there is about 1/4" difference. I don't know if the handlebar clamp, bushings or risers got moved or bent, or whether the bar itself got bent. I'm guessing the bar is bent, but I will get some expert opinions.

For now, the bike is still safe to ride. The mirror, lights and brakes are fully functional. The damaged parts that sustained very minor damage are easy parts to replace, but since the damage to those parts is hardly noticeable, there's no rush to replace them. On the other hand, the parts that sustained the most damage, the handlebars and exhaust heat shields, are the more difficult and expensive parts to replace. They are also the parts I want to replace as soon as possible since they are most noticeable.

I'm mad at myself for making a stupid mistake, but my friend Mike Chretien, a longtime biker, told me not to beat myself up, saying, "it happens to the best of us."

I had hoped to use proceeds from the sale of my Yamaha to buy some accessories and upgrades for my Harley, but now, it looks like a good chunk of those funds will go toward replacement of stock parts that were damaged in the accident. As bummed out as I am, I have to look at the positives in this: a) I was not hurt; b) the bike can still be ridden and actually doesn't look that bad; and c) the damage could have been worse, especially had it fallen on the left side, where the primary cover is vulnerable.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Prepping the Yamaha

Since I bought my Harley earlier this year, my first motorcycle, a red 1987 Yamaha Virago, has received very little attention. My buddy Mike Chretien was right when he predicted, "you're not going to ride it" anymore.

I've only had it out two or three times since I bought the Harley, mostly short rides just to keep the battery charged. I knew I was going to be selling it, and I had to make a couple minor repairs, but it wasn't high on my priority list.

A couple weeks ago, I finally overcame my procrastination and bought the two parts I needed: a mirror, and a rear turn signal. The left rear turn signal broke last summer when the bike tipped over after I parked the bike, but failed to ensure my kickstand was locked in (that was embarrassing!), and the right mirror broke last fall when I was trying to walk the bike on some grass, lost my balance and the bike tipped over.

I had gotten used to riding the Yamaha without a functioning left rear turn signal (I hand signaled instead), or a right side mirror, but since I am selling the bike, I want it to be fully functional and safe for the next rider.

Although it took me several months to get the parts, which I found used on eBay, at least they didn't sit in my garage too long once I received them. I installed them today when I had a couple hours of free time. Now all the bike needs is a good cleaning before I put it up for sale.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Great Flood of 2010

In New England, April can be an unpredictable month, weather-wise. This month, when many motorcycles come out of hibernation, has been known to bring snow storms, 80-plus-degree temperatures, or anything in between.

Last week, though, brought record rainfalls and a flood that ranked as one of the state's biggest natural disasters. A total of 10 inches of rain or more fell on some parts of the state last Tuesday and Wednesday, causing rivers to overflow their banks, roads to wash out and collapse and basements to flood. The flooding, which followed another heavy rainfall about a week earlier, was especially devastating around the Pawtuxet River in Warwick, Cranston and West Warwick. The river flowed into the Warwick Mall parking lot, with water submerging cars. The Warwick sewer plant also flooded and shut down, prompting city officials to ask residents not to flush their toilets any more than necessary. Interstate 95 in Warwick had flood water up to the tops of Jersey barriers in one section near the Pawtuxet River and had to be completely shut down. The airport connector (pictured above) also had to be closed.

Although, to my knowledge, no deaths occurred as a direct result of flood waters, the economic effects to homeowners and businesses are staggering. And as many as 4,000 people are at least temporarily unemployed as a result of the flood, in a state already suffering from high unemployment.

The rain let up on Thursday, when I-95 reopened, and things began to dry out as people pumped out. Road conditions were not hospitable to motorcycles the first few days after the flood, as water washed sand, silt and gravel onto some roads, or eroded sections of roads away. A few roads remained closed due to collapses. But slowly, motorcycles began making their way out again, and Easter Sunday brought ideal riding weather, sunny and mid-70s.

Areas that were severely flooded will have a long road to return to any semblance of normal, but for the most part, at least in my area of the state, the main after-affect of the flood as it pertains to motorcycle riding is trying to avoid the puddles of water on the side of the road from people still pumping out their basements.