“This is your Christmas present,” Stiffie said with a laugh. “I hope you’re surprised.”
“Thank you,” I replied, laughing back. Our Christmas gift exchange is an old joke, but one that never fails to make us both laugh.
Ten years ago, Stiffie (Leslie) introduced me to a rather pragmatic approach to Christmas gift-giving that that eliminates any disappointment and the necessity to return stuff. It also puts a dent in the “surprise” factor. But when it comes to Christmas gifts, “no surprise” is better than “having to act pleasantly surprised.” Stiffie’s approach calls for agreeing on the amount to be mutually spent, and then submitting a “wish list” of items, one or several of which will fall within the pre-agreed purchasing parameters. The trick is to submit enough suggestions — about 30 — so you’re not exactly sure what you are going to end up with.
You might think this process is a trifle mercenary. I did at first. But then it just makes perfect sense. An old friend of mine’s wife successfully lowers the bar on Christmas gift expectations from year to year by getting him some of the most useless things a man could pretend to want. We are not speaking about grabbing one of the highly discounted, pre-wrapped, last minute gift suggestions kept close by the cash register at the door. Nor are we talking about the homespun variety of gift (which can be incredibly exquisite) mandated by financial necessity. (She has a good job.)
There is substantial evidence that my friend’s wife puts a great deal of thought into his gift and still comes up with three lemons whenever she pulls the lever. Last year, she gave him a selection of scented bath powders. (I shit you not.) The year before, it was a collection of 1940’s dance music. (He is not a fan of 1940’s dance music, nor do they go out dancing.) I have no idea what she gave him this year as no amount of persuasion would get him to tell me. (I’m thinking it was a book titled, “A Detailed Explanation of Women’s Studies.”)
I had trouble giving Leslie (Stiffie) my wish list this year. As preposterous as this sounds, I realized that I had everything I could possible want. Throughout the ten-year tenure of this relationship, Stiffie has given me the most extraordinary gifts I have ever received. When I was building my model railroad empire, she found me some exclusive pieces that defied easy collection. When I needed a watch, she got me the best. And when I began my career as a re-entry rider, she delighted me with exquisite gear. (The heated Russell Day-Long Saddle on the K75 was her combined Christmas, Valentines Day, and Birthday gift for me in 2009.)
This year there were only a few things that I could think of on the list — but only one that I secretly coveted. And now, I accepted the box with reverence and awe. The package was exceptionally light for its size. Shaking it produced a soft rustling noise.
“Open it,” said Leslie. “I’m curious to see what this looks like.
“It looks like the talisman it is,” I replied. In truth, the contents of the box were nothing short of technological magic. They could extend the comfort of the summer motorcycle riding season into the dead of winter, while eliminating a creeping kind of fatigue that has lured countless riders into making bad decisions.
Leslie’s christmas gift to me was a Gerbing’s heated jacket liner, and the required thermostat controller.
(Above) This is the new micro-wire Gerbing's jacket liner that Leslie got me for Christmas. It looks a little different on me, but does have a remarkable slimming effect. Photo taken from the Gerbing's site.
The jacket came with a fused connector to the battery, and a temperature controller that has to be purchased separately. I may also opt to get a coiled connector extender to give myself some additional squirm room on the bike. Despite the fact that my K75 has two power outlets (one on the dash and another on the left side cover), it is necessary to make the primary connection directly to the battery. Neither of the two power outlets is rated (nor fused) to match the 77 watts of the Gerbing's jacket liner.
I wore the jacket around the house for a bit to get the feel of the wires hanging down against my leg. I also practiced saying things like, "Is it really that cold? It's hard to tell with these electrics and a heated seat." You have no idea how encouraging statements like these are to riders who are freezing their respective asses off. I decided to quit when the dogs took an interest in the hanging wires, and offered a playful pursuit.
Since my debut as a re-entry rider in 2005, I have ridden my bike into the cold until the streets were choked with the detritus of winter (sand, gravel, and salt). Layered gear, much the same for heavy winter backpacking, kept the cold in check as Dick Bregstein and I routinely rode in temperatures as low as 22º (F). Below freezing temperatures take a bit of the spontaneity out of the ride, as frostbite awareness calls for gloves, pants and footgear with better insulation. Exposed skin freezes and turns gray within a minute or two at speeds above 60 miles per hour and some care must be taken.
My experience with getting cold on a motorcycle is limited, but poignant. I have an awesome pair of Lee Parks insulated riding gauntlets (also a present from Leslie) that are the warmest gloves I have ever owned. (They are a trifle on the bulky side and not my first choice for dealing with stop and go traffic.) I was concluding an eight-hour run late one November day (2008) when the temperature dropped to 25º as the sun went down. The Lee Parks gloves were in my top case, but with only 30 miles to go before I hit the garage, I decided to continue on with lighter weight winter gloves.
There was a peculiar throbbing in my hands about two miles from the house, and I started to shiver. Coming off the local expressway, I found the light at the top of the exit (where I must make a left turn) in my favor. Pulling in the clutch to downshift, the bike went into a wobble and nearly went over. I was amazed. Under normal circumstances, I would have pissed myself. And then I realized I hadn’t pulled in the clutch, but clamped down on the front brakes instead.
I did the same thing at another traffic light less than a half mile and a minute away.
It was then I realized I was in no shape to be riding the bike. Pulling off my gloves in the garage, my hands seemed a pale blue. The normal skin-tone returned an hour later, but they continued to throb for a good deal longer.
But now I have entered the realm of serious BMW riders who spit in the eye of cold weather adversity. Between my Lee Parks gauntlets, my Gerbing’s jacket liner, and my heated Russell Day-Long seat, the winter will be my oyster — as soon as I get over the fear of wading my bike through piles of sand and gravel, seasoned by little mountains of salt.
I showed my latest gear acquisition to Dick Bregstein, whose electrics include a jacket, gloves, pants, socks, and a codpiece -- all wired in sequence. Yet Dick had the nerve to imply that heating my jacket liner would take the same amount of energy to raise all the houses of Fargo, North Dakota, two degrees on a winter day. Those readers who follow my adventures and my example will remember that I had a voltmeter installed on my 1996 BMW K75 last winter to monitor the impact of my accessories on the battery. Running a pair of Motolights and a set of PIA HID lights makes no difference to the 50-amp alternator, which cranks out 600 watts, at 1000 rpm. The Motolights are 50 watts each. The PIA’s are 60 watts total, and the heated seat is 18 watts. Adding 80 watts for the headlight, and 77 for the Gerbing’s jacket at it’s maximum setting, comes to a total of 335 watts, leaving 265 for the engine and recharging the battery. Should it appear that the alternator is struggling, it will be a simple matter to switch off the Motolights or turn down the Gerbing’s gear.
Riding in the winter is a bit of an acquired taste and one that certainly separates the men from the boys. I was out running errands this Sunday (yesterday), and had stopped for lunch. Suddenly, the frigid air (temps in the twenties) was filled with the sound of summer, and 14 Harley Davidson cruisers roared by in tight formation. I was ready to stand up and salute these guys. They were certainly showing everyone (including me) how to ride. If I hadn’t had to be someplace, I would have chased them to take a picture.
Today, Stiffie and I stepped out to lunch and passed a vintage red BMW K100, that I think belonged to my friend Jim Robinson. And then down in Downington, Pa, we saw another superman roar by on a Harley. The time was you never saw the chrome and leather guys out in the cold. Now they are setting a new trend.
I the meantime, I am dying to give my new gear a whirl. In fact, I may get over my fear of the gravel and sand, and ride to the Mac Pac breakfast this Sunday.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)