Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I Look For Crabs With Dick -- No Pictures

There is nothing quite like steamed crabs on summer’s day. The Maryland blue crab is without equal as the ultimate fingerfood and a great culinary democratizer. The complex structure of the crab renders everyone into patient, crab-meat pickers, swinging little wooden mallets to crack the shells, before going after every little morsel to get a mouthful. It doesn’t take long for the air to become thick with bits of crustacean, nor for the participants to begin wearing the guest of honor. And the blue crab is an expert accompanist. It goes equally well with white wine, beer, a Tom Collins, or a planters punch.

My buddy Dick and I have made numerous two-wheeled pilgrimages up and down the Eastern Shore, and in small towns that hint at a maritime connection in pursuit of the perfect steamed crab. The Crab Claw Restaurant, in St. Michaels, MD offers one of the most genteel settings for the consumption of the blue crab, overlooking the yachts of wealthy WASPs, initially launched on the sweat of the proletariat. Yet some of the best crabs within an easy riding distance of Chester County, Pa are steamed in modest “shacks.”

Captain Bob’s Crabs House on Main Street in tiny Railroad, Pa, (Route 851) continually sets the high-water mark for steamed Maryland blue crab.The ambiance is defined by a small, air conditioned dining room. This is enough on a July day. The crabs are succulent, fresh, and perfectly seasoned. Depending on the size, they run $30 - $65 a dozen.

Getting to this place is a pisser.

Choose any one of a variety of backroads that take you through the Amish communities between Lancaster and the Maryland stateline. Cross the Susquehanna River on the picturesque Rt. 372, and turn left on Rt. 74. In a mile or two, turn Rt. onto Rt. 851. This stretch is 15 miles of twisties, changes in elevation, and open farms. Some of the road surface is milled. Railroad, Pa is about ten minutes past the intersection where I-83 passes over Rt. 851. Don’t blink. Look for “Bob’s” on the right as soon as you cross the tracks.

One of the most peculiar places we’ve stopped for crabs is the Hopkins Crab Shack, on Rt. 222, between the towns of Conowingo and Port Deposit, in Maryland. This is the area’s oldest and strangest crab shack. A collection of ramshackle buildings that have been flooded a few times, the Hopkins crab shack offers mediocre crabs and fantastic steamed shrimp. If you have to take a piss, you can go in the woods. The place is on hard times. It would be worth it just to hit this joint with 20 riders at least once next season (if there is one). This is the kind of place that gets swallowed up by history. Again, getting here is most of the fun. We ride Rt. 926 (Pa) west to Rt. 10 (Pa), south to US-1 (Pa), southwest to Rt. 222 (Md), which runs right past the place.

Rt. 222 (Md) is really pretty here, running alongside the river. The cops watch it in the summer, especially on Sundays. It is the address of the Union Hotel and Bar, which is a big Harley hang out. You can find six acres of chrome outside this place on any summer Sunday.

Yet one of the big surprises for great crab is a little joint on Rt. 662, just above Douglassville, Pa. The place looks like an ice cream stand. That’s because it is. (They have a sign up that says, “Crabs.”) Once inside though, you discover they have an extensive seafood menu -- steamed and fried. Although the steamed crabs must be consumed on a picnic table outside, due to flying crustacean detritus. We ordered a pound of steamed shrimp and a dozen medium crabs. Lunch took about 90-minutes of crab meat mining. The crab and shrimp were excellent.

My arthritis was bugging me, the day was nice, a breeze was blowing, and I was in no hurry to get back on the bike. Dick starting putting on his ballistic Spiderman costume, however. This involves no less than 16 separate parts. He was in the middle of this ritual when a car, driven by a hot patootie of a young blond pulled into the lot, and stopped twenty feet away from us.

I have a sixth sense about these things.

She glanced around and started to change her clothes in the car. Off came the sweat shirt to reveal the skimpiest Victoria’s Secret brassiere that I had seen in a long time.

Dick had his back to her.

“Aren’t you going to put your jacket on,” said Dick.

I sat in silence, afraid to break the spell.

“Are you all right?” asked Dick.

The blond was fussing with the buttons of another top, getting ready to put it on.

“What’s the matter?” asked Dick.

“Turn around,” I hissed.

“What?” asked Dick.

“I said ‘turn around,’ “ I hissed, like steam escaping from a pipe.

“You want me to turn around?” asked Dick.

“Yes,” I hissed, in a stage whisper that could be heard two hundred yards away.

Dick turned around and froze like a deer caught in two Victoria Secret headlights.

The blonde put on the blouse, combed her hair, and stepped out of the car. She walked right passed us, smiling, and went into the crab place.

“Was that why you were just sitting here?” asked Dick, incredulous.

The ride home with Dick is always quick.

©Copyright 2008 Jack Riepe -- All rights reserved
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Adventures in Perspective -- A Simple Trip For The Soul

The difficulty with writing a blog for riders who take motorcycle touring seriously is that many of them have had real adventures in comparison with those of my own.

My friend Edde Mendes recently returned from a 29,000-mile ride from Morocco to Sudan, to Turkey, to Russia, to Asia and across the United States. He faced poisonous spiders and bears in Russia.

Pal Doug Raymond rode from Philly to Prudhoe Bay (on the Arctic Circle) in Alaska -- and back in 14 days. He was chased by a wolf.

Buddy Jeff Harth conducts tours through the Andes, and routinely rides from Argentina to Bolivia. He got married.

Steve Asson, who first challenged me to a five-state ride three years ago, rode from Oregon to meet me in North Carolina. So did longtime friend and acquaintance Granny Two Wheels (Sammye), who rode from Oklahoma to attend the same rally. I stuck both of them with a bar tab. Granny gave me a lap dance, so she got something out of the deal.

There is little I can write that will appear new and adventurous to these folks, but I hope to offer a different perspective to riders of my own ilk. I am writing to the bikers who hear the call of the road, but who insist on taking it out of context. Adventure is where you find it. It can be a new road, a new bike, or even just a pleasant change of surroundings. I am considering four multi-state rides this summer. Most are are within a 900-mile radius of the driveway. But one could could stretch all the way from the Jersey Shore to the Pacific. Yet another will barely span two hours of riding fairly local roads -- and I can hardly wait for the trip.

Living in southeast Pennsylvania puts the best of the Amish country, the Delmarva coast, and some of the most hotly contested sites of the Civil War within an easy ride. Terrain, local culture, and cuisine change with every county line. Going west, you find yourself riding through 18th Century farms and stone houses. Heading north, you ride into mountains, coal mines, and the hellish fires of Centralia. Moving south, the steamed crab reigns supreme. This is the direction of this post.

The most northern tip of Chesapeake Bay touches land about 50 miles from here, in the Maryland town of North East. This charming crossroads offers a mile-long main street with boutiques, antique stores, and a once legendary restaurant called Woody’s Crab House. Five minutes outside the center of town will bring you to the bar of the Nauti-Goose Saloon, a crab-oriented establishment with tables right on the water.

My destination is eight miles beyond the bars of North East, however. Elk Neck State Park is a heavily forested tract perched on heights, overlooking the cool waters of Chesapeake Bay. The park offers numerous campsites, that are attractive, level, properly drained, and well maintained (as a rule). Elk Neck also has a limited number of camper cabins and more commodious structures, that feature some amenities, but no commodes. The camper cabins are basically sheds, equipped with screened windows, an electric light, and a lockable door. Wooden bunks (a double in some cases) come with some kind of mattress and I believe there is a table and bench of sorts inside. It’s like camping in a wooden tent. Cooking is done on a grill outside.
The "camper" cabins at Elk Neck State Park are like wooden tents. 
But nice backdrops for the bikes.

An even more limited number of “rustic” cabins are available. These are larger, alleged to offer a stove and a refrigerator, and cold running water. I’m told they have a screened-in porch and a view of the water. Guests are advised to bring a sleeping bag, any linens they require, and utensils. A washroom with hot and cold showers is about a hundred yards away.
"Rustic" cabins are bigger than "camper" cabins, 
with a stove, refrigerator and cold water.
No bathrooms though. A restroom with showers is nearby.

I have always wondered about these places. This year I decided to cure my cabin fever by reserving a “rustic” cabin at Elk Neck. I have a vision of sitting back on my little porch and watching the dusk color the bay. I want to hear the peepers fire up as the shadows grow. I want to read a book and sip my hot cocoa as the sounds of night lull me to sleep. And I want all this without riding to ends of the earth. So I got my reservation in for the first weekend of the season.

While I may bring something to cook on site, this park is fifteen minutes away from North East. The Nauti-Goose Saloon is an interesting place that caters to the tourist trade and the boating crowd. It is right on the water. On a nice day you can get a dockside table or one in a shaded pavilion with overhead fans. The fare here is touristy with a lot of fried fish dishes. Pete Buchheit and I had ridden down for the day, specifically looking for a new place to try. Considering it was an October afternoon, when the temperature was pushing the envelope for an outside table, the joint was empty. 

Several blocks away is Woody’s Crab House. This place used to be good but is no longer worth consideration in my book. The last time I ate here, with Dick Bregstein and Tony Luna, the soft-shelled crabs tasted like they were caught in the toilet and fried in motor oil. Tony ordered a seafood platter that was 10 percent fried fish and 90 percent hush puppies. And this was not a sudden thing. We’ve noticed a gradual decline in quality at this place over the past two years.

Both places can be seasonally mobbed.

About 15 miles west of Elk Neck State Park is the town of Havre de Grace, and home of the Tidewater Grille. This is a superb restaurant, with a commanding view of Chesapeake Bay, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Patrons have been known to arrive in boats, float planes, and helicopters. There are both outside and inside tables. The bartenders are competent and dedicated. The food is always good, though with a limited menu in the winter (as you would expect). During crab season, the bill of fare is a lot more expansive.

Cooking and cleaning pots seems like a waste of time with these options available. A pot for making coffee or instant oatmeal may end up being my only concession to the kitchen. Then again, it would be just as easy to get something “to go” from the Nauti-Goose, and to eat it at leisure on the cabin’s little verandah.

Oddly enough, I’m planning on doing this ride alone -- at least the cabin part. There is something about being alone with your thoughts at night, in a strange place, that I find soothing.

©Copyright 2008 Jack Riepe
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dealing With PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome)

The symptoms of PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome) have been well documented by the medical profession and renown faith healers in biking circles. The condition is rampant in the winter. The more obvious signs include:
• Yelling at weather forecasters on television
• Putting on your helmet in the house
• Cursing each day of winter
• Regarding your home as a prison
• Telling people to “Shusssssh,” whenever a motorcycle is thought to be heard
• The feeling that your spouse has not stopped talking since the first snow fell
• Sitting at an eastern window for hours on end, drinking, waiting for spring, like a character in a Russian novel

In some acute cases, the afflicted individual becomes utterly listless, attempts to live in the garage, and responds to simple questions by making motorcycle sounds. One extreme case affected a rider in the same manner as Tourette’s syndrome. From December 1st through March 31st, this gentleman sporadically peppers every conversation with his mother-in-law with the word “bitch.” He returns to normal the first sunny day in April, greeting this dear relative with an apologetic wink.

Riders subject to PMS have devised a number of ways to deal with the symptoms, which gradually subside with longer, warmer rain-free days. One guy I know has a TV on a stand in front of his bike in the garage. He sits on it watching motorcycle races, and shows like “The Long Way Around,” while a fan blows wind in his face. He keeps a cooler handy too! From time to time, his concerned wife comes out and lifts up her shirt to add to the realism. Not all women are this understanding. When I suggested a similar arrangement, my girl thought the garage might get too cold for me, and suggested she could leave the car running to warm things up.

Another cure for PMS is to plan trips. A real trip plan calls for mapping out routes, setting an agenda, choosing hotels or campgrounds, and picking dates. Really getting into it means figuring out the things you want to see or picking the kind of roads that leave you exuberant, and dripping with sweat. These two objectives are not always parallel. And unless you’re riding alone, choosing the folks you ride with can be more important than the destination or how you get there.

I never hesitate to enlist the aid of a planning aid, such as a book or reports from experts. Road RUNNER Magazine  provides thorough recommendations for rides on three levels: the international ride, the local ride, and the some of the most challenging rides you can think of. My posse and I are thinking of two rides proposed in a recent issue. They are loops -- one through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia (775 miles); and another in Maine (975 miles). The mileages don’t include getting to the start. (What’s refreshing about Road RUNNER is that they occasionally review bikes and gear, and do not sugarcoat the reports to curry favor with advertisers.)

Some riders combat PMS by getting out on every clear, dry day in the winter. “It may be cold, but my electrics can take care of that,” said my riding partner Dick Bregstein, whose primary concern is gravel and cinders left on the road from a prior freeze. “I hate getting salt residue all over the engine covers, but that’s a small inconvenience when compared with the chance to get another day’s ride in. There isn’t much fun in waiting for spring, and there are a lot of pleasant 40º days in January and March.” Actually, we had a couple of days in the 50’s this past January.

Three weeks of winter down time can be put to good use in early January or February. There is no better interval to do your own maintenance, or get your bike over to the shop. Most mechanics and dealers are thrilled to get the business at this time of the year, and many offer incentives or discounts. I know guys who rush their bikes into the shop prior to a good snowfall for a thorough annual tune-up, then have the machines waiting on a battery tender for the first good day in January, February, or March. That’s the procedure I follow and I managed to log 775 miles in January, but only 124 for this month, owing to the weather. My riding partner and I head out in temperatures as low as 27º, as long as the road is dry.

Some winter hazards can’t be found on the road though. Not too far from where I live two old stone bridges constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad (circa 1900) cross over Boot Road. Old stone and masonry railroad bridges are notorious for leaking and seepage. I passed through these last week, and couldn’t help but notice huge icicles (four or more feet in length) dangling from the roof liners inside. These could easily kill someone in a car, let alone on a bike.

I study the weather forecast the same way brokers look at stocks. Yet in the enthusiasm of getting out on the road there is sometimes a tendency to discount the safety margin where the forecast is concerned. One cold winter night, a group of riders and I met for dinner, with snow in the forecast for midnight. I opted not to ride my bike but others did. The snow started during the appetizers and there was more than three inches covering their bikes when they came out. Ken Bruce, a real adventurer, took off in the snow having only 5 miles to cover. He later described it as not one of his wiser decisions.
Ken Bruce exits dinner to find his bike covered by three inches of snow.
He attempted to ride it home anyway.  

Just this week, two other buddies of mine left their respective workplaces only to discover that falling snow beat the forecast by several hours. One had but a few miles to on on a level road and got home okay. The other had ten miles of curves and changes in elevation. He ended up dropping his machine on a hill, but suffered no physical hurt, though he slammed one of his sidecases. (He picked the bike up and continued on his way.)

Another friend, Jeff Harth, rides extensively through Argentina and South America. This past summer he thrilled us with stories about getting caught in the snow, high up in an Andes pass. He was forced to spend several days waiting for the storm to pass -- at the bar in a ski resort. The road thawed to blacktop by the resort, but was solid ice several miles away. He reached a point where he could go neither forward nor back -- and a transport truck driver loaded his machine onto a flatbed.

Adventure is where you find it. But you seem too find it a lot more often on two wheels.

Jack Riepe
© Copyright 2008 Jack Riepe -- All rights reserved
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Motor Vehicle Eye Test Could Emphasize Bikes On The Road

One of the most common and sorriest excuses for a collision between a car and a motorcycle is, “I didn’t see the bike.” I got to hear this statement firsthand as EMS volunteers hoisted my banged-up carcass -- lashed to a body board -- into an ambulance this summer. Countless studies and hundreds of thousands of words aimed at public awareness of motorcycles on the roads just doesn’t seem to be making a big difference in cutting back on accidents of this nature. Probably because these filter down to a one-line statement on a bumper sticker, a rare 60-second public service announcement, or a paragraph on a division of motor vehicles mailer.

The fact is that if these folks can’t see a bike on the road, they won’t see any of this other well-intentioned stuff either. It amazes me just how dumb the average American can be. Many can’t coherently define the issues, or one issue, in the upcoming Presidential campaign. But I am amazed at how many can tell you everything about the contestants on America Idol, or the intimate details in the lives of the show’s judges. I have maintained that the best way to alert the public to watch for motorcycles is to tattoo an advisory just above Britney Spears’ coochie, and send her out in a limousine with Paris Hilton. Within hours, the message will be prominently displayed on every Hollywood exposé program and tabloid. I guarantee more people will see it and the message will travel like a lightening bolt from one computer to the next.

Various studies would have us believe that this is a question of motorcycle visibility. Many riders have become fanatical in installing brighter lights in a triangular pattern on their machine’s front ends. I am partial to Motolights for several reasons. They are bright. On my bike, they mount on the brake calipers about 9 inches above the front axle. The 52-watt bulbs throw a basket of light around the front wheel that my tired old eyes find very useful. The mounting is clean and the units are made of machined aluminum to last forever.
Motolights: clean installation, brilliant, good triangulation of light, all metal construction

I had these in addition to dual high-beams blazing when a mini-van made a left turn right into me, in broad daylight.

There are experts who believe that bikes’ dramatic lighting effects are getting lost in the sea of illuminated headlights that constitute today’s traffic patterns. By dramatic lighting effects I am referring to modulating headlights, laser-like PIAA lights, and xenon bulbs. And so the onus is again placed on the rider to wear fluorescent colors, reflective strips, and helmets that resembled Skittles the size of pumpkins. None of this stuff is a bad idea under any circumstances. But there is no magic talisman against driver stupidity.

There comes a point when you are statistically likely to come up against a motorist with the attention span of a gnat. I have often assumed these would be testosterone laden teenage boys, with car stereos rattling neighborhood windows, to compete the cell phone glued to one ear. Typically, these kids drive little four-cyclinder tin boxes with huge megaphone mufflers. Their counterparts are vapid teenaged girls, who apply make-up and text message as they drive.

Insurance companies will tell you that the likelihood of these kids having an accident is high, but not necessarily by running over a motorcycle. You may be more likely to meet someone 48 or older whose driving career is simply an accident waiting to happen. My dad used to say there were hundreds of people who never had accidents, but who caused 25 of them.

There are many reasons why an automobile driver might not see a bike. None of them are very good. It could be that their bad driving habits hadn’t caught up to them yet. Or, they may not not see bikes as a threat to themselves. Worse yet is that they fail to realize the hazard they pose to motorcyclists by tailgating, squeezing a bike in its lane, or treating a motorcycle as if it had the same operating characteristics as a car. (Yup there are hundreds of thousands of people who have no clue that a bike can bleed off 25% or more of its speed without ever showing a glowing stop light.)

There needs to be an equal balance between bike/biker visibility and automobile driver awareness. The place to determine whether or not a driver can pick out a motorcycle from other traffic is during the initial driving test and subsequent eye tests. The standard eye test is simply a chart on the wall, or a slide in a reader, that determines if the driver is blind. Something far more sophisticated is requited. Fortunately, the confluence of technology and the application of Pavlovian training makes this objective an easily attainable a reality. There are hundreds of virtual reality video games out there. Some of the pilot simulation computer games are damn close to the real thing. It would be easy to devise an animated video focusing on motorcycles on the road.
The standard eye chart doesn't confirm a driver can pick out a bike in traffic.

Using a kind of simulator device not unlike an arcade game, states could easily augment the standard eye test with a challenging and realistic program that would require drivers to pick out the motorcycles in various traffic patterns, under different conditions. The simulator would offer a clear road, a rainy day, fog, and traffic on a rainy night. The testing official would be able to run a standard program or increase the difficulty.

The driver being tested would have to find the motorcycle at least once in each scenario to pass. Two misses would score as a failure, and the applicant would be required to take a three-hour awareness course. For three misses, not only would the applicant fail but two bikers would come out from behind a curtain and beat the hell out of him or her, saying, “You stupid S.O.B... You could have killed me.”

I’m willing to bet cagers will start to get the message loud and clear.

Jack Riepe
Copyright 2008 Jack Riepe -- All Rights Reserved
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Advanced Age Of The Motorcycle Rider

I recently read the average age of the Harley Davidson rider is now 58-years-old. This is up substantially from the 23-year-old high-water mark recorded in 1948. Conventional wisdom attributes the confluence of higher incomes and more leisure time as pre-dotage retirement looms. According to Dr. Albert Hissingaz of the Wilmington Institute for Holistic Dry Cleaning (an independent research resource), most men experience several liberating factors at this magical age.

“Our studies indicate that at 58, the majority of men have paid off their alimonies, their mortgages, and their kids’ college expenses. They want one last shot at a youth pissed away on responsibilities. Most understand they are not going to meet that 35-year-old hottie for one last weekend of red hot sex, and just want a meteorific, chromed ride on the way to the La Brea tar pits,” said Hissingaz.

So if the average age of the Harley rider is 58, how old is the typical BMW rider? These figures are kept in a demographics vault at a secret location under a strudel bakery in Munich. Yet conservative estimates by Beemer watchers place the average age of the BMW rider at nearly twice that of their HD counterparts, or 116-years-old.

These estimates are based on a number of astute observations. For example, the second most popular beverage served at the beer tent of any BMW rally is prune juice. (When mixed with vodka, this is known as a “Purged Russian.”) Most BMW riders have a set regimen for a day-long ride, which includes stopping for dinner at 4:30pm, to take advantage of the “early bird” specials, including the cottage cheese and apple sauce on the buffet. A staggering majority of BMW riders camp right next to their bike at rallies and other events simply because they will not remember where they left them -- or even how they got there -- in the morning.

In a desperate bid to reverse this trend, some BMW clubs are doing what they can to lure in younger members. This includes leaving candy out by parked bikes and hiring young actors to show up at a few meetings each year, to pretend that they are having a good time.

Other marques go after a younger crowd with focused marketing. It is a well-known fact that Honda has a cradle-to-the-grave sales philosophy, starting with a 5 cc breast pump, that allows an infant to regulate the flow of milk with a motorcycle-type throttle that makes a reassuring CBX motor sound. It is rumored that BMW plans to counter this move with a sleek-looking tricycle, offering three-year-olds a choice of dynamic colors and an electrically adjustable seat -- for $8,427.

Earlier this year, it seemed as if the normally staid Bavarian Motor Works was reaching out to the younger crowd through dramatic videos that just oozed sensuality and raw sex. At least one of these appeared on a popular BMW e-mail list in 2007. The word on the street is that the legendary German bike builder is considering reaching out for the younger, calorically-challenged American market. One 60-second commercial is alleged to show a portly rider stuffed into an Aerostitch suit, flanked by two scantilly-clad Asian women. The rider is sitting astride a K1200GT, holding a piece of chocolate cream pie on a plate. He looks up at the camera, smiles, and flicks the pie off the plate, saying, “It’s easy to knock off a piece on a BMW.”

Then again, this is just the sort of advantage a slightly older crowd can appreciate.

Despite the fact that age is part of the BMW rider equation, Beemer pilot mileage figures are higher than ever. Seated next to a seasoned BMW veteran at the beer tent during a recent rally in Vermont, I discovered he’d ridden in from Tierra Del Fuego -- over a three-day period. He claimed the only way his age could be accurately determined would be to saw him in half and count the rings on his ass.

“So what would it take to get you to give up riding, “ I asked?

He looked at me in disgust, drained a 12 ounce glass of prune juice in three swallows, and replied, “Kryptonite.”

Copyright Jack Riepe 2008 -- All rights reserved
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Loose Interpretation of "Brotherhood"

The word “brotherhood,” as in the “brotherhood of two-wheel-riders,” carries the same weight and depth as the word “union” in the phrase “European Union.” While many of us exchange waves when passing on the road, there is very little crossing of party lines when it comes to socializing. In most biker circles, choosing a brand or a style of bike (to suit your riding tendencies, presumably) will also define the crowd you’re most likely to ride with or even gravitate toward. This is called “imprinting” when it occurs with baby ducks.

This inevitably leads to a some good-natured banter when party lines cross, and sometimes it generates the kind of pointed remarks that makes one wish he was Bruce Lee, and capable of planting a booted foot (with impunity) into the balls of the person with the big mouth.

On one of these occasions, I happened to be riding with my usual partner, Dick Bregstein, who mounts a 2007 BMW F800. This is a sport-touring bike capable of lightening fast speeds with great handling. Dick dresses the part in a full-face helmet and full ballistic gear. We joined a number of “our kind” at the Brass Rail Diner, over by Lambertville, NJ, for an early biker’s breakfast. The parking lot was filled with interesting machines. Harley’s, Beemers, and every kind of Japanese bike were represented, as were vintage Triumphs and Nortons.

We congregated among our own as two of the Harley crowd made their way down the line, inspecting the rolling stock. They paused at Dick’s and one said, “This looks like a copy of Japanese bike made for a little girl.” Dick glanced at me and rolled his eyes as if to say, “This guy misses the sexual attention he came to enjoy in a Turkish prison.”
Warm, appealing grounds of a Turkish prison.

I refused to take the bait and kept my mouth shut, considering I hadn’t been beaten up since the eighth grade, when Cynthia Balk punched the shit out of me for asking her to dance. But in my mind I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could yell out something Asian, jump over this bike, and kick this bastard right in the balls?”
Dick Bregstein and his 2007 BMW F800 loaded for a weekend (the bike, not Dick)

On another occasion, Dick and I pulled over on a scalding hot day in southern Virginia. We’d done about 340 miles and planned to do another 60 before throwing in the towel. Dick was wearing full body ballistics as was I (from the waist up and jeans below). We were like heat sinks in the 94º temperature. Yet between us and the ice cream stand were three representatives of the chrome and leather vest lifestyle. One asked, “Why do you jerks dress like that on such a hot day?”

I assessed the situation. My bike was idling and pointed toward the road. One twist of the throttle and I’d be scott free. My answer was, “Because your girlfriend humps me extra hard when I dress like Darth Vader.” But the words died in my mouth when I realized Dick had already dismounted and removed his helmet. I imagined how perplexed the coroner would be to find the F800 shoved so far up Dick’s ass. So I said nothing. As it turned out, this was friendly banter. We had a nice conversation with these guys. I’m sorry I didn’t get their phone numbers because I wanted to show them how I looked in that gear an hour later when some stupid bitch ran me over at a stop light.

On the other hand, I’ve met lots of friendly Harley riders at the HD dealership in Lancaster and at a couple of local charity rides. When I first participated in the Pediatric Brain Tumor Ride For Kids three years ago, the Beemer riders I met wouldn’t talk to me. One even suggested that BMW officials would seize my bike if I didn’t lose weight. I was shocked to hear this from a guy wearing a roundel on his jacket. A Harley rider next to me leaned over and said, “Wouldn’t you just love to kick him in the balls?”

I told the guy I’d give him five bucks if he’d hold the douche down while I went for a field goal.

The truth of the matter is that there is a lot of pointed remarks exchanged within our club too. I am the constant target of comments aimed at my limited riding skills. But I try to give as good as I get. After one group breakfast, a bald, humorless midget held everyone enthralled by revving his Ducati. I’m sure you are all aware of the distinctive sound this machine makes at idle. I suggested it might sound differently if he put a quart of oil in it.

Two seconds later, he butted me in the balls -- with his forehead. Apparently, there are limits.

Jack Riepe
© Copyright Jack Riepe 2008 -- All rights reserved
AKA The LIndbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Crash Course For The Motorcyclist An Absolute Must

Every now and again I am driven to write a serious editorial. This is one of those times.

There is no feeling more desolate than that which accompanies arriving on the scene of an accident and finding yourself overwhelmed by the circumstances. Worse yet is the feeling that comes with the realization that others at the same accident scene are acting with the best of intentions, but may be making existing injuries worse by following outdated conventional wisdom. And absolutely nothing compares with the helplessness you feel when the downed individual is your riding partner, spouse, or offspring.

The alternative to this sense of helplessness is possessing the knowledge and skills to act appropriately when everybody else is just guessing.

On February 2, 2008, I joined 16 other riders in an 8-hour class that emphasized skills, procedures, courses of action, and equipment essential to taking charge at an accident scene, and possibly saving the life (or lives) of the injured. Conducted under the aegis of Accident Scene Management Inc., the program is billed as “A Crash Course For The Motorcyclist” and offers participants a systematic approach to dealing with the unique aspects of motorcycle trauma.
Seventeen riders participated in this ASMI class.
Instructor David Riley gets the ball rolling.

The cost of attending this event was a very reasonable $70, and represents one of my better investments. Quite frankly, I paid the money just to learn the correct way to remove a helmet from a downed companion. I learned this and tons of other useful stuff besides. My purpose in writing this article is not to encapsulate the program, but rather to encourage all riders to take it.

Our instructors were a husband and wife team, Gail Riley RN/OEC Technician as lead instructor, and David Riley, First Responder as assistant instructor. The Rileys personify that rare kind of couple that play off each other’s strengths to build interest and presence into a class. While the program exuded an air of chumminess, it moved forward decisively and with precision. Both instructors engaged all 17 participants in lively dialogue that confirmed everyone was assimilating the information.

Equipment was the first item for discussion. Nearly all of the guys I ride with (and almost 100 percent of those in this class) carry some kind of a first aid kit on their motorcycles. You can imagine the surprise when most discovered the contents of these kits were lacking. At a minimum, each trauma kit should contain trauma sheers, a breathing barrier with a filter, 2 pairs of latex gloves, and multiple packages of sterile gauze, surgical sponges, gauze rolls, occlusive dressings, and tape.

Trauma sheers are incredible. These blunt scissors-type instruments can cut through a penny! They are especially useful for cutting through leather boots, armored clothing, and helmet straps. It was argued that many of the guys in this class had been riding for more than 30 years, and never had a need for trauma sheers. But the truth is that you may never need them, until you need them badly.

Your trauma kit or first aid gear should be carried on the right side of the bike for two reasons: a) if the machine is on the side stand, then this will be the side facing upward; and b) this is the side of the bike that would be facing away from oncoming traffic. Horst Oberst, a well-seasoned motorcycling veteran in the class, claimed he carried his gear on the right side because, “I always lay the bike down on the left.”

Other useful equipment included a decent flashlight or even Cyalume-type Glow Sticks. To my way of thinking, the only worthwhile flashlight is a “AA” Mini Maglite. You can get the standard version of this light from various retailers and pay between $9.50 and $12.00. The light is extremely bright, made of machined aluminum, and comes with a spare bulb in the base. They last forever. However, I have discovered that the vibration of a touring bike, as slight as it is, seems to have a negative impact on bulb filaments.
A Mini Maglite really stands out with the NiteIze Glow-Cone.

My newest acquisition is a “AA” Mini Maglite with an LED instead of a bulb. This arrangement is much brighter, has longer battery life (up to 20 hours), but does not come with a spare bulb as the LED is expected to last forever. The price is $24 from Maglite. Enter NiteIze, manufacturers of great flashlight accessories. They offer kits to convert existing Mini Maglites into units with 3 LEDS and a smart switch. The kit costs $10.

Another interesting piece of gear by NiteIze is a clever “Glow-Spot” orange sleeve, useful for directing traffic. This gadget is not much larger than the Mini Maglite and serves as useful storage container for the light. This is cheap at $5!

However, I found the NiteIze website to be incredibly aggravating when it came to ordering these.

The Rileys demonstrated several colors of chemical glow sticks. Green lasts the longest, but yellow is the brightest, for 5 minutes. Glow-Sticks are popular with kids at Halloween. One or two weigh nothing, have a shelf life like plutonium, and require no batteries nor bulbs.
Lead Instructor Gail Riley demonstrates a reflective harness.
Good riding gear as well as emergency equipment.

The class followed a four-part format termed “PACT,” which stands for:

• Prevent further injury
• Assess the situation
• Contact The EMS
• Treat the injured with life-sustaining care

Under “Prevent further injury,” the first objective is to render the crash site safe from additional accidents. This entails detailing folks to help stop or slow down traffic at least 250 feet from an accident. The second consideration is to your own health. This entails putting on your rubber gloves and covering your mouth and nose against blood, sputum, or vomit. Oddly enough, the same riding gear that protects you from the road (gloves, goggles and some kind of mask) can also protect you from bacteria and infection.

When do you move an injured rider? When movement is essential to treating them or guaranteeing their safety.

There were several demonstrations on how to correctly move an injured rider from underneath a bike or from a position that prevents you from assessing injury. The two preferred techniques were the log roll (using at least one other assistant) and the blanket drag. In each case, the person holding the injured party’s head calls the shots. These maneuvers required the utmost concentration of all participants, and the class practiced each technique several times.
Getting the accident victim ready for a blanket drag requires concentration.

There are six general principles of movement:
1) Keep the head, neck, and spine straight.
2) Move the head first, if possible.
3) Use 3-4 people if possible.
4) Move as little as possible.
5) Slide, do not lift.
6) Have one person be in charge of supporting a broken extremity if there is one.

To correctly “Assess The Situation” calls for making a spot evaluation of possible injuries. The nature of the accident and manner in which the rider hit the ground or anything else (a laydown as opposed to being ejected) has a great deal to do with the expectation of injury. The instructors painstakingly reviewed the cause of accidents, the nature of impact, and the different kinds of injuries you could expect to find.

In a best case scenario, the victim needs to be in the hospital within an hour. It is critical to alert emergency medical services. The next step, “Contact The EMS,” is to have someone with a cell phone call 911. But here’s a tip. If you are in a rural location, ask several people with different systems to call together. The reason for this is not every cell system has uniform coverage out in the boondocks. And it is very important to make sure the callers know where to send the EMS.

The final phase is “Treat The Injured with Life Sustaining Care.” The first consideration is breathing -- not bleeding. If the injured isn’t breathing, it won’t matter how he bleeds. Ask if they can breath. If they can answer, then they can breath. If not, you have to work fast.

Gail Riley used an automaton to demonstrate the highly effective “Jaw Thrust” method of opening an airway. The same device was used to illustrate effective mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Participants had the chance to offer mouth-to-mouth to the machine, and to see if the unit’s chest rose and fell with each breath.
Gail Riley demonstrates the "breathing barrier."

It was here that we got a good look at the breathing barrier. This is device that allows you to fill another person’s lungs with air, without exposing your mouth to blood, vomit, or sputum. And these things are cheap too. In the classic case of a bad crash where the victim has stopped breathing and is bleeding, on person can resuscitate while the other stops the flow of blood.

The best was saved for last -- the removal of the helmet. When is a full-face helmet removed? A full face helmet must be removed if the individual is not breathing. This was a multistep operation that involved at least two people. It cannot be easily described and is best demonstrated by experts. But seeing it done, trying it, and studying the technique is yet one more level of preparation against the unthinkable.

As I said, this was the best $70 I’ve spent in a long time. The class was organized through the auspices of the Mac-Pac Eating and Wrenching Society’s chief sensitivity officer, David Vukovich. It was underwritten in part through the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America Foundation and the Markel Insurance Company. The Mac-Pac Eating and Wrenching Society greatly acknowledges the efforts of these two groups to raise motorcycle operating ability, related skills, and public awareness.

The BMW MOA Foundation has been looking to expand their emphasis on rider education activities by supporting Accident Scene Management Inc classes across the country. As a pilot project the MOA Foundation recently worked with the Airheads Beemer Club and Markel Insurance to provide financial support for conduct of two sessions of "A Crash Course for the Motorcyclist" in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. One course was held on February 1st for the Airheads Beemer Club as part of their SuperTech weekend event and the second was held the next day for the Mac-Pac. The Foundation/Markel Insurance support enabled a significant reduction in the cost per student for the course and encouraged excellent turnout for a weekend in the dead of winter. Almost 40 MOA members benefited from the course and are now more ready to assist fellow riders if they 'come a cropper' while out on the road.

I am compelled to report that I have no commercial affiliation with either organization, nor with any of the gear manufacturers or suppliers referenced in this story. 

The next day found me riding in questionable company. We headed down to the Tidewater Grille in Havre De Grace, Maryland for lunch. There were five Beemers in the crowd, representing ”K” bikes, the “GS’ machines, the “F” bikes, and a royal “LT.” Stopping for gas on the way back, I slipped on some crap and lurched the bike onto the gas pump.

“Don’t anybody move him,” screamed Kimi Bush from her GS. ‘I am qualified to remove his helmet.” The look in her eyes backed up her claim. Too bad I was still standing and the bike had only shifted a few degrees.

Free Quote Of The Month:
“There is something very satisfying about blowing your nose in a shop rag.” -- Dick Bregstein, after hitting 95 mph in 30º, on a BMW F800 with a tiny little windscreen, on 2/16/08

Jack Riepe
© Copyright Jack Riepe 2008 -- All rights reserved
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain PS (With A Shrug)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Flashback 1975: Secaucus Road

Jersey City is not the kind of place improved by rain. It had been raining heavily for two and half days, spanning an irreplaceable Friday night. I was still in college, financing books, various vices, and payents on a new 1975 Kawasaki 750 Triple by loading trucks. Yet even at this early age I was fostering an invaluable work ethic that would cause me to spurn honest toil in favor of a writing career.

My faith in God -- a twitchy thing for most males at age 20 -- had been badly shaken by the fact I couldn’t pursue life like a Visagoth on the night I was legitimately off, Friday night, as it had rained in steady sheets. Granted, there were other circumstances that prevented me from getting out and around too. My Volkswagen Beetle sat in need of an oil cooler, which at the time cost a daunting $200. My girl, Roxanne, was waiting tables in a restaurant until 11pm, and an anticipated oregano sale -- a renewable source of cash -- had fallen through.

Now here it was, Saturday night. The girl was off (with a pocketful of tip money) and the roads were somewhat dry, though the night was draped with a heavy haze that held infinitely more promise for riding than a steady downpour. But I was slated to work. The injustice of this situation was driving reason from my mind. Desperate scenarios presented themselves.

Suppose there weren’t going to be any more Saturday nights? What if this was the last one? Suppose the sun turned into a super nova first thing on Sunday morning? Then I’d have spent my last night on earth loading endless trucks on a nameless freight platform. What a friggin’ waste!

I called Roxanne. “Want to go ridin’ tonight?”

“I thought you had to work.”

“I changed my mind,” I said.

“Sun turning into a super nova tomorrow,” she asked.

“You got it.”

“Pick me up around ten.”

Roxanne thought I had a direct line to NASA.

The 10pm pickup left me with an hour to kill.

The bike snorted like a war horse on the second kick, even though it was damp. Still, it took a few seconds for the three cyclinders to get the words to the song right. And sometimes, one of them just hummed. The Kawasaki was as smooth as a two-dollar quart of whiskey. I snicked the machine into gear and pulled into the street.

Less than two blocks away, I ran into Walter. The scion of Secaucus cafe society, Walter was riding a new Honda CB750. He too loaded trucks to support various vices at the very same freight company. Walter and I were creatures of habit, bad habits actually, and he’d been waiting for me for 20 minutes. “You going in tonight,” he asked around a Marlboro on his lip.

“Nope. You?”

‘Naaaah,” said Walter.

No further discussion was necessary. The fear of a pending super nova was evident in his eyes too.

Walter never struck me as the kind of guy who surfed the cutting edge, but clearly he was. He was the first in my circle to collect hot Asian girlfriends, and the first to photgraph them topless on his bike. (In fact, I never did get around to this. It is one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2008 though.) And Walter’s first bike was a Honda CB750, the motorcycle that would change the world.
The 1975 Honda CB750 -- The bike that changed the world

The difference in the two bikes was evident at a glance, despite the fact that both were new. The Honda oozed mechanical sophistication. It’s four cyclinders sat in a forward-canted block of fit and finish that seemed to mock the Kawaski. The raised chrome letters that spelled “HONDA” on the gas tank made the “Kawasaki” decal on my bike seem dated. And Walter’s Honda had a muffled growl whereas the Kawasaki always sounded like an enraged chipper.
The 1975 Kawasaki 750 Triple -- The curtain call for two-stroke street technology

Despite these distinctions, the Kawsaki had a slight edge over the Honda. It was 55 pounds lighter, had 4 more horsepower, and a top speed of 126 mph versus 120. But just as the Stanley Steamer had once been the fastest car at Daytona (127 mph in 1906), the Kawasaki 750 Triple was the curtain call of two-stroke street technology, whereas the Honda CB750 was the overture of another.

A comparison of plans revealed that Walter was going to pick up Soon Yi about the same time that Foxy Roxy would be on my pillion. We arranged to meet at a certain watering hole shortly thereafter. And as both ladies lived in Bergen County (NJ), we’d be headed west for a bit.

“Want to let bikes run on Secaucus Road,” asked Walter. “Bet you two rounds I get to Krajewski’s first.”

Secaucus Road was hell’s straightaway in 1975. It had the remains of a pig farm on one end, and a slaughterhouse on the other. People dumped old matresses, furniture, and cars in the reeds that lined both sides of the pavement. It ran from Jersey City to Secaucus in a pefectly straight line for about a mile and three quarters, through the “Meadows,” a cattail-choked swamp that once meandered all the way to the Hackensack River.

“Krajewski’s” was the one bright spot in Secaucus history. “Farmer” Henry Krajewski was six-feet tall and weighed 250 pounds. His pig farm was once home to 4,000 swine, and he owned a bar called the Tammany Hall Tavern. To add to the legend, he would periodically trudge down to the New Jersey State House with a legitimate petition (1251 names), and run for the office of President of the United States. At the time, the outside of Farmer Henry’s bar was painted bright yellow and festooned with cartoon-type characters.

Krajewski’s was the first legitimate building on Secaucus Road, next to the only street light, just after the trestle for the Pennsylvania Railroad (now Amtrack). The road was pitch black all the way to the tavern.

“I’ll kick your ass,” I said.

The starting signal was the traffic light where Secaucus Road intersected with US-1&9. There was four sets of train tracks that crossed the road on the othe side of the light, through crumbling pavement. But it was a clear shot after that.

The light turned green, and the Kawasaki exploded in a banzi charge across the tracks. The raging two-stroke engine catapulted the bike forward with a scream of metal in anguish. I was flying through the dark haze when I realized that Walter was stuck back at the light. “The bastard stalled,” I thought with a laugh. It was then I started to smell a rat and a Hudson County survival reflex caused me to grab for the brakes. It had been raining for two and a half days. The darkest part of Secaucus Road was covered with three inches of swamp water.

I hit it at 75 miles per hour.

The tsunami created by the front wheel overwhelmed the fender and covered me in a second. The water shot up under the cheap snap-on helmet shield and soaked my face. Every inch of rider and bike was as wet as if they’d been dunked in a lake. I’d released the brakes and pulled in the clutch when I’d hit the water. I had concentrated on holding the machine steady and put my feet down in ankle-deep water as the bike rolled to a stop and stalled. I didn’t drop it.

Walter pulled up 5 minutes later. “You win,” he said. “I started to feel really badly when your tail light when out.”

The two of us busted out laughing. The Kawsaki started on the tenth kick and the sun did not become a super nova the following morning.

Jack Riepe
© Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
PS (With A Shrug)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Ultimate Motorcycle Accessory

The wizards at General Motors and Raytheon once offered an infrared deer detection system on the Cadillac Deville. Using technology left over from the Persian Gulf war, a device that measured body heat (or any kind of heat) was miniaturized to fit in a car and linked to a system that projected the image as defined by the measurement -- a deer in this case -- onto the windshield. The image would be appear in the approximate position it would be in relation to the vehicle.

Since I am not 80 years old, I was never tempted to buy a DeVille and have no idea what became of this noble idea.

The Geriatrically Sexy DeVille

But I do run with a renegade band of BMW riders, the majority of whom happen to be engineers, serving the electrical, aerospace, heavy manufacturing, nuclear and defense industries. There is always trouble whenever these guys get together. Any item of interest (i.e. a new computer, a watch, a camera, a steam iron, a tire pressure gauge or anything mechanical) will be disassembled, rewired, and reassembled in such a way that its performance is either dramatically improved or altered to function in an entirely different manner.

The boys had gathered in my garage on this particular occasion for an impromptu discussion titled, “Close Calls With Deer.” I was surprised to learn that nearly all had experienced a full-contact deer training exercise resulting in varying degrees of damage to the bike and injury to the rider. It was at this point I brought up the GM/Raytheon infrared deer detection project, stating I thought there’d be a market for a such a device among bikers.

Less than an hour later, the boys had resolved how to build such a unit to fit on a BMW K75. But so what? There are hundreds of deer lining the roads at night in Pennsylvania. Seeing them is only part of the problem. Avoiding them is a bigger part. It was then suggested that the effectiveness of an infrared deer detection device would be greatly improved if it could automatically trigger a system that eliminated the deer.

Several systems were discussed. Machine guns and grenade launchers were quickly dismissed as too conspicuous. Not everyone shares the bikers’ appreciation for “rats on stilts.” It was here the laser came to mind. These are easy to acquire, alter, and position on a motorcycle. Two visits to a Radio Shack later, the guys had rewired a laser pointer, placed it in a helmet-cam mount, and boosted it’s power to 20,000 volts by using a Xenon headlight ballast. They also gave it three power settings: tan, toast, and trim.

To assist in the final testing, I rode out of the garage on my laser-equipped 1995 BMW K75 in search of a deer-infested road. Most hunters can tell you that the best way to clear 400 acres of deer is to simply carry a rifle. The same applies to lasers apparently. I couldn’t find a deer anyplace. But I wasn’t on the road 15 minutes when I got cut off by some asshole driving a convertible. I shrugged it off to experience.

I followed the guy for a few miles, when he signaled for a left turn and slowed. I was just about to pass him on the right, when he changed his mind and continued straight. Judicious braking avoided a mishap and I fell in behind him again, thoroughly disgruntled. It was here I noticed he was talking on a cell phone.

Nearly a mile went by, including several possibilities for left turns, which he ignored while his turn signal winked in derision the whole time. We stopped at light and I yelled:

“Hey asshole! Hang up the phone and drive the car!”

The driver glanced in his mirror, raised his right arm (still holding the phone), and gave me the finger.

I hit the laser firing button. The laser was set for “trim.” The was a smell of ozone followed by the scent of fresh barbecue.

Now I have to figure out the best way to get this mounted, so I can display it on the same wall as my deer head.

Call Interrupted 

Jack Riepe
© Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
PS (With A Shrug)