Politics, religion no match for oil arguments

They say you should never talk politics or religion with strangers. Motorcycle riders can add another off-limits topic – oil.
The thick liquid that is the life-blood of all combustion engines is a source for endless bickering and disagreement. Riders spar over which brand is best, whether one should use synthetic or not, filters and, of course, how often oil should be changed.
Search almost any motorcycling forum on the Internet and you’ll find heated debate accompanied by insults and hard feelings. Oil, like politics and religion, is one of the areas where people don’t back down from strongly held beliefs.
Usually, the fight is on when someone poses the innocent question: Which is the best oil for my motorcycle?
Opinions come fast and furious and divide into several camps. There are the synthetics-only, who usually make up the majority; the smaller “dinosaur oil” traditionalists; the exotic brands and special additives group and the I’ll-use-anything-as-long-as-I can-buy-it-at-Walmart crowd.
All will tell you their oil is best. They’ll boast trouble-free riding years or make various claims about gas mileage and performance. Others will question the wisdom of $10 per quart synthetics or obsessive oil changing at 3,000-mile intervals. Someone will always maintain they use cheap car oils with great success.
Talk usually comes around to filters. Every once in a while someone will cut one open with a hack saw and make observations about filter area and material.
No one can ever agree on anything.
But there are some truths.
The first is you should always use the grade of oil specified in your bike’s owner’s manual. Put in just enough, being careful not to overfill. Top off your oil with the same kind. Don’t mix. And don’t use car oil. Motorcycle oil has special additives that prevent things like premature clutch and transmission failure. Unlike most motorcycles, cars have separate oil compartments for engine and transmission.
When it comes to changing your oil, don’t heed the 3,000-mile commandment. It’s a myth perpetuated by industry types that oil must be dumped so soon. Many mechanics now say you can go 7,500 miles or more between changes. How long will you go?
And of course, recycle your oil and filter.

How to ride an Indian, doggie style

The following is a guest blog submitted by Indian owner Glenn Heimler of Thousand Oaks, Calif. Glenn rides with a unique passenger – his dog Neko.

By Glenn Heimler
Today was the last of three days off and I didn’t have too many things to do. So I rolled the bike out, warmed it up, got Neko’s sun glasses and my gear and set out toward the Rock Store on Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Canine companion

On the way out, my little buddy got situated in the sling and enjoyed sticking his nose into the wind.
When we arrived at the Rock Store, to my surprise it was closed. It was Thursday around lunch time, and no other riders were hanging out, so we just kept cruising and headed up and over Kanan Road to the coast.
At Pacific Coast Highway we turned north and rode through Free Zuma, as Neko wanted to check out the bikini scene, then continued north up to Neptune’s Net restaurant which is located on the Ventura-Los Angeles county line.
We stopped to water ourselves and Neko was quite an attraction to even the nonriders. We hung for a bit and soaked up the attention.
After leaving Neptune’s, we continued north to Deer Canyon Road which takes us back up into the mountains.
We rode up to the top ridge to view Boney Mountain. By that time I thought we had a tire fire so we both got off the bike to put it out.
We got rolling again and eventually circled back to the coast.
While cruising at about 70 mph with nobody around we spotted a flock of seagulls enjoying some road kill in our lane about 100 yards up. We slowed down to about 50 mph. I was expecting them to fly away before we were on top of them. That didn’t happen. They took flight too late. I hit one square on with my windshield and the other got wedged in between my right mirror and throttle. The force was strong and almost laid us down.
I checked my shorts (!*?@#) and was ok, lifted Neko’s tail and he was ok. So we continued up the road past the old State Hospital. It was featured on the cover of the Eagles’ Hotel California album. Then we rode back into the mountains on the other side of Boney.
This little section of road is just great. Nobody hardly on it and the scenery is nice. Takes you past the hospital, through a small valley and back up on to a plateau where it passes a horse stable and gradually brings you back into town.
I’v taken this route many times but it seemed a little extra special to have my buddy Neko and to be on my Indian. What more can you ask for?
Keep riding. Native Spirit.

Neko is a Maltese.
And how I get him to ride is I put him in a newborn baby sling that I bought at Babies R Us.
I put it over my head a one arm through. The sling hangs down to my waist and my top thigh. Neko fits comfy all the way in with just his head out. He likes to hang 10 with his front paws out and just his body inside the sling.

Riding the one-man rock concert

Two's a crowd?

When I ride alone, I prefer to be by myself.
Or something like that.
I start tweaking song lyrics when I’m blasting down the highway on yet another solo run.
I’m finding myself doing more one-man rides as the season kicks into high gear. For some reason, my usual cast of riding buddies are bowing out. And friends I’ve been pestering to buy bikes seem to be putting off for another year the start of their real lives.
No matter. I go it alone. Unlike George Thorogood, I don’t call on Jack Daniels or Jimmy Beam to accompany me. Although I might turn to one of buddy Weiser’s tastier relatives at some point.
Nothing like a cold beer.
It was the case last week when I set out on two, 350-mile rides in Northern California.
The first was a heat avoidance mission that took me up the bracing North Coast of California through Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
And you know what? It wasn’t that bracing. Temperatures topped 85 degrees, defying Mark Twain’s assertion about cold San Francisco summers.
It’s a solid ride, but one I’ve done a dozen times before. Your mind drifts as you cover the all-too-familiar ground. Did I close the garage door? Is my wife mad at me for being gone so long? Is the dog depressed?
Then comes the singing. My voice sounds pretty good when it’s bouncing off the inside of my helmet.
Deep in musical thought, I round a corner at 80 and find a slow-moving motor home in my path.
That’s usually when I take a rest stop. On this ride, I pulled over in the tiny town of Leggett, where hippies and lumberjacks coexist amid the odors of ripening weed.
The Peg House touts one of the best bacon cheeseburgers in the west, so I ordered one, along with a beer.
I consider myself a people person but my words to the cashier were the only sounds I would make.
As the meat cooked, I listened to other customers talk. A guy in tie-die prepared an outdoor stage, occasionally mumbling to himself.
The burger arrived. It was good but not great. I ate it in silence and was off.
I picked up Highway 1 and rode west, donning extra layers before emerging on the shimmering coast and heading down to Fort Bragg.
Fort Bragg, the former mill town, was awash in tourists soaking up its Victorian charm. I seized the chance to soak up a beer at the North Coast Brewing Co. and continued south, hitting Mendocino and then hanging a big left turn at Highway 128.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, Highway 128 is not to be missed. Its cambered turns, open straights and smooth asphalt make you feel like you’re on a track. But take care. You’re not. Plenty of slow traffic and California Highway Patrol officers, too.
I was face-to-face with a Chippy who did a u-turn in the middle of the highway to go after a speeder. He looked angry as I slowed and waited for him to complete a three- or maybe four-point turn.
He sped off, chirping his tires. I high-tailed it, too, jumping quickly into triple-digits with the knowledge the only cop for 50 miles was moving fast in the opposite direction.
Before I knew it, I was home.
I spent a day out of the saddle before embarking on ride No. 2 from Santa Rosa to the foothills town of Murphys – and back.
But there was a twist. I was meeting an old friend from Stockton who owned a motorcycle. I was excited at the prospect of riding with others.
I raced across the San Joaquin Delta in an early morning fog, anticipating an adventure.
I wasn’t disappointed, but my friend clearly lacked my enthusiasm. Turns out he hadn’t taken his bike from the garage in a few years.
We rode at a slower pace the 70 miles or so into the foothills, stopped for lunch and then he announced he had to go back.
It was still mid-day – well before quitting time for me. I pulled out a map and plotted a meandering route home.
Alone on historic Highway 49 I considered the fact that motorcycling is a solitary endeavor. You can ride with groups or install walkie-talkies in your helmet, but there’s no escaping the reality that you are alone.
And maybe that’s just as well. More beer and high speed for me.

Summertime and the riding is easy. Or is it?

The road beckons in summer but so do my family members, who’ve usually planned a series of camping trips during peak riding season.

white-line fever season

It’s an annual tension that typically ends with me going camping. As a compromise, I will sometimes ride my bike as my wife pilots our gear-laden SUV to the nearest state park.
This year, I was able to beg off three nights in a tent. My schedule changed and I had to work.
But since my wife and daughter were staying just an hour away on the scenic Point Reyes National Seashore, I seized the chance to ride out for dinner one night.
It was a good chance to road test the bike, which had just been repaired by my new, independent mechanic, Michael Pettis. Turns out, he did a great job.
The bike purred like a kitten on the gorgeous 60-mile round-trip that takes you from the rolling farm country of west Petaluma to the redwood groves of Marin County. On a weekday night when there’s hardly and traffic, you can fully appreciate the beautifully banked highway that wraps around the west side of Tomales Bay. On the long straight at Nicasio reservoir, I got into the triple digits, flying past a lonesome fishermen standing on the shore.
If you’ve never ridden this part of California, you are truly missing out. Marin and Sonoma counties are motorcycling nirvana. The roads and the scenery are unmatched. Just don’t come on the weekends, when crowds descend. And watch out for police, who have become increasingly aware of the region’s popularity among those who will go fast.
If like me, you must balance family obligations, the North Coast will serve you well. My wife likes to camp at Samuel P. Taylor state park near Fairfax. It’s kid-friendly, has a great swimming hole and is not far from the spectacular Point Reyes peninsula.
On my short visit, I saw a number of motorcycles parked alongside mini-vans. Best of both worlds?

The philosophy of bike upkeep in the real world

I’m pretty good about tackling the easy maintenance stuff like changing oil, plugs and filters. Anything more complicated than changing tires usually gets the tomorrow treatment.
It’s an attitude that drives a lot of my riding buddies crazy. And it’s one that got blasted in the seminal biker novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
No one should be surprised that I snapped an alternator belt last Sunday and was stranded about 75 miles from home. It was only 20,000 miles overdue for changing.
But what’s really strange about my Father’s Day breakdown was where my bike stopped running. It was in the tiny North Coast town of Point Arena, California, where there are no Costcos or Starbucks and not even a single traffic light, but there is a motorcycle repair shop that specializes in BMWs.
Guess what it’s called? The Zen House. And it’s motto? “The art of motorcycle maintenance.”

Zen in the sticks

I couldn’t believe my eyes as I rolled to a stop in front of the place, a puff of gray smoke rising from beneath my gas tank. The sign said, “Open Sundays till 1 p.m.” My head snapped in the direction of my on-board clock. It was past 2.
Just then a guy from the neighboring gas station walked up. An oval patch on his shirt said Mike.
“You just missed them. They took off on motorcycles, headed that way,” he said, pointing south on Highway 1.
I dialed their number on my cell phone just in case they had call forwarding. They didn’t.
To my surprise, my bike still ran – off the battery. I asked Mike the quickest way back to Santa Rosa. He laughed.
“Go back the way you came,” he said. “And don’t try to cut across the hills on the old logging road. You’ll get stranded and die.”
We shook hands and I rode off. The bike sailed down the scenic highway like there was nothing wrong with it. I passed through Gualala, The Sea Ranch and Stewart’s Point before the battery went dead at Timber Cove, about 13 miles north of Jenner. Without electrical power the motor won’t run, I came to find out.
Figuring I might as well try to salvage the day, I walked in to Timber Cove Inn, which is on a cliff over the Pacific Ocean, and had a beer. Eventually, I called a towing company. The 54-mile ride home cost me $400.
Replacing the alternator belt in time would have cost just $28.
When I got back, I went straight to the bookshelf. I pulled down the dusty old Robert Pirsig novel and have been reading it ever since.

This ain’t your dad’s Gold Wing

My new-to-me motorcycle is a real departure from the sport bikes and hooligan machines that usually catch my eye. It has a big fairing, built-in stereo, three bags and an electric windshield you can raise or lower as you ride down the road.

My ’02 BMW R1150RT is nothing if not gentlemanly. It drew light ribbing from my non-riding wife when I pulled it into the garage.

Blue bomber

“God, is that like a Gold Wing or something?” she asked, poking at the antenna next to the windshield. “You might want to join the Shriners now.”

I very quickly reminded her that this is the official bike of the California Highway Patrol. They use it to catch bad guys, see. It and its predecessor, the R1100RT, have been written up in every single motorcycle magazine as sport-touring benchmarks. It’s the bike all others try to match.

“It’ll hold it’s own,” I say as my wife is walking away. “It’s got 95 horsepower.”

But the damage was done. She planted a seed. That night I began to wonder if I made the right choice. I had been thinking about BMW’s sportier R1100s and even had a line on a Ducati ST3. However, neither bike was as confidence-inspiring as the bigger Beemer. Neither had the comfort. I thought about the last painful time I went touring on a sport bike. I cast my lot with the RT.

I could live with the pedestrian image. But a slow, ill-handling beast was something I could not tolerate. So the next weekend, I put the bike through its paces at the best place around for such a mission — Skaggs Springs=Stewart’s Point Road outside Healdsburg.

Getting there from Santa Rosa on Highway 101 was a breeze. The bike eats up slab without a hiccup. It sits high, affording great visibility, and splits lanes well. You get a lot of double-takes from people noticing the familiar CHP profile. Those who don’t pay attention and drift in your lane get to hear one of the loudest air horns ever on a motorcycle.

25 mph? Don't think so.

Things didn’t change much on the back roads. The bike is noticeably top heavy but acquits itself well in the twisties. My bike has recently installed Wilbers shocks front and rear so the suspension is tight. The linked ABS brakes take some getting used to. I found the key is to never step on the back brake pedal. It lacks the acceleration of a super bike but it will get into triple digits with minor coaxing.

On the way home I played with all the gadgets again, adjusting the electric windshield, fiddling with the heated grips and playing the radio. It may not be cool, but this Beemer truly is the King of the Road.

Buying a motorcycle — a true story

I got to know my local car rental agent during my recent quest for a new bike.
Rather than pestering friends or my wife for rides, I rented cars on a one-way basis with plans to drop them off in the seller’s hometown. A drive-and-ride, if you will.
I did it four times, traveling as far away as 150 miles to see bikes I spotted on Northern California Craigslist sites. It was about three times more than I hoped. And guess what? I didn’t buy any of the bikes. In the end, I picked up a nice sport-tourer from a guy living practically around the corner.

No dice

But it was a method with some promise, especially for those who live in sprawling regions. Or for people like me who just want to limit the number of friends and family members who witness our tortured decision making process.
Here’s the way it went for me. I’d spot a bike I liked, call the owner and have a nice long talk. If it sounded good, I’d reveal my plan to rent a car and ask if the seller could provide a short ride if necessary.
I’d pick up the car the next morning and make the drive. The first trip was the longest — nearly three hours one way. It was a gamble — and I threw craps. The bike wasn’t as described.

Too ... good for me?

It was too bad because I had just driven across the top of the state and the seller seemed nice. Within minutes of arriving I turned to him and said no thanks.
It had to be done.
Of course, I tried to salvage the day by seeing bikes on the way home but I couldn’t reach anyone. They were all at work. The rental agent was surprised to see me when I pulled onto the lot just before closing. It was a long day.
Less than a week later, I went for it again. This time I was positive it was going to work out. It was a one-owner bike with low miles and slightly underpriced. I’d always dreamed of having one. And it came with tons of extras that I envisioned selling on eBay.


But after making the drive and test-riding the bike, I began to have doubts. The seating position was too hunched over for a touring bike and it had that noisy dry clutch. I knew I was walking away from it when the guy produced maintenance records that showed the every-6K service was more than $1,500.
My mind raced to come up with an excuse for not buying a bike that was actually a pretty nice bike.
“It’s just too fast for me,” I lied. “I’m going to have to think about it over the weekend.”
I marched out to my rental car and drove home.
It was scene that played out two more times, at great expense, before I happened upon the perfect bike, virtually down the street.

Wet T-shirt contests and Redwoods

It’s early Friday morning and from my desk I can hear the rumble.

Camping with the bikers

Packs of Harleys are roaring up Highway 101 to the annual Redwood Run near the Mendocino County town of Piercy.
Organizers expect 5,000 people for the weekend event famous for its live music, skinny dipping on the Eel River and debauchery of a kind seen only on Bourbon Street.
My office is 1,000 yards from the freeway’s edge and about 140 miles south of the action. I sip coffee and Google the event on the Internet as a cubicle mate curses the steady noise outside.
First the images – biker women flashing their boobs, tattoos, a man on a Harley doing a wheelie. I go to the event website. The official poster describes it as the “last true run” and an “old school” party.
“Two nights of non-stop, kick-ass music. Scenic camping … motorcycle shows and wet T-shirt contests,” it declares.
What’s not to like?
I begin thinking of ways to convince my wife to go. I pick up the phone and call her at her office. We Google together. “Uh, I don’t think so,” she says, looking over the pics.
“What?” I say.
“You suppose a lot of men will be showing their penises?” she asks. “Not happening.”
We get off the phone and I think maybe I’ll just shoot up there myself on the Beemer.
But that wouldn’t be right. You gotta have a Harley. I pick up the phone again and dial a rental company. The guy on the other end just laughs when I ask if he’s got a bike available.
I guess it takes planning to be a biker. That and a biker wife. As I browse through more pictures of tattooed women in halter tops and sunburned men with bulging guts I think they sure seem to be enjoying it.

A gear whore’s world view

I mostly adhere to the motorcycling principal of ATGATT, which means All The Gear All The Time. Truth be told, I don’t always wear every stitch of protective clothing. I’ve ridden many a mile in Levis.


But I almost always wear a padded riding jacket, calf-length boots and, of course, a full coverage helmet and gloves. For some, ATGATT is like a religion that promises to save your skin, if not your soul. I believe in it but I don’t necessarily go to church on Sundays.
As the motorcycling season gets into full swing, it’s easy to spot the straight-up heathens. They’re sporting half-helmets, sleeveless T-shirts and tennis shoes. Or worse – shorts. I wonder if they are receiving the motorcycle accessory catalogs I’m getting in the mail.
According to publishers of the latest rag, motorcycle riders fall into two categories, based on gear. The first is clean-cut, vaguely effeminate and prefers exotic sports bikes. The second is a scowling bald man with goatee, leather chaps and a cruiser.
I pondered the neatly simplistic division as I thumbed through the June edition of the aforementioned junk mail. Sport riders are happy people, I thought. Bikers are a pissed off lot. Sport riders have perfectly gelled hair. Bikers wear pirate earrings.
Where would I fit in?
My mind wandered. Are these guys real riders or just models? How many have ever thrown a leg over a bike? Is that an Aprilia in the background?
I pored over each picture looking for clues. As I did, I found myself drawn in by the marketing genius of it all. That waterproof adventure gear actually looks pretty good, I thought. Cheap, too. Maybe I should buy a jacket. And how about those gloves? Decent price. Maybe I should get a second helmet.
I reached for the order form.
I was an easy sell, in part because in addition to being a junk mail critic, I covet gear. Textile suits and Italian leather jackets are just a start. I get excited about the latest travel bags, tank-mounted video cameras and all manner of roadside emergency equipment. When it comes to riding I live the Boy Scout motto: be prepared. A less flattering label is Gear Whore.
It’s not a good image. But it’s a lot better than the sight of a road-rashed limb from someone who crashed wearing cargo shorts.

No time for the epic journey? Try a mini-mission in Northern Cal.

Each year, I talk about going on The Big Ride, a multi-state adventure that satisfies my wanderlust while transforming me into a better human being.
And so far, it hasn’t happened. I’ve been on a few overnight rides that could be seen as warm-ups for a long journey but the 2,000-mile odyssey across time zones has eluded me.

Mt. Lassen from Hwy 89

For whatever reason, I’m no Captain America. Not even a wild hog.
So it’s a good thing I live where I do on the north coast of California. It’s hard to beat as a jumping off point for mini-adventures. A weekend pass from work and family obligations is ideal but you can have fun with even less time.
Here are three short trips I highly recommend. They all begin and end at the Golden Gate Bridge. If you live outside Northern California, you are just a plane flight and motorcycle rental away from the action.
1. Highway 1/Mendocino loop: This three-county ride takes you to where the Pacific Coast Highway meets the redwoods. From the bridge, go north on Highway 101 to Mill Valley and exit at Hwy 1/Tamalpais Valley Road. It will take you west a bit to Muir Beach before it turns due north through Marin and Sonoma counties.

Highway 128 in Anderson Valley

Good places to stop include Pt. Reyes Station or oyster restaurants on Tomales Bay like Nick’s Cove. A good gas stop about 80 miles north of Pt. Reyes is Gualala. From there, you get into desolate coastal landscape reminiscent of Scottish highlands. Cool towns include Elk and Mendocino. random

Fort Bragg is about 60 miles north of Gualala. It’s a typical beach town with tons of clean, cheap hotels and a decent downtown. The brewpub is not to be missed. The return trip is faster. Head east on Highway 20 to Willits or shoot down Hwy. 1 to Highway 128, and go east through the scenic Anderson Valley. Hwy. 128 is preferred. Plenty of slow, sweeping turns with good asphalt underneath. All roads lead to Highway 101 at Cloverdale. You’ll be slabbing it on the freeway for about 75 miles to get back to Sausalito.
2. Trinity Wilderness (two nights): First day is about 225 miles. Head north from the bridge on Hwy 101 to Hwy 37 and go to Napa. Continue north on Hwy 29 through the famous Napa Valley, past Clearlake and onto Hwy 20. That takes you to Williams on Interstate 5, where you’ll slab it for about 100 miles to Redding. The real fun starts just west of Redding when you get on Highway 299. First, you’ll want to find lodging in Whiskeytown or French Camp. Rest up on this first overnight stop because in the morning you’ll be departing for major adventure on Highway 299. It twists and turns along the Eel River in some of the most spectacular scenery around. Go all the way to Eureka or detour on Hwy 3 to Hayfork.

Highway 36 near the Mad River

Then find Hwy 36 and go west. Come down Highway 1/101 through the Avenue of the Giants. You can camp or find a hotel. The Benbow Inn is nice. In the morning ride 200 miles south to san Francisco on Highway 101.
3. Sierra loop (one night): Same as ride No. 2 but when you get to Williams head east through Colusa and Yuba City until to Highway 70. From there, ride northeast as the road ascends along the Feather River.

Spend the night in Quincy, an old logging town on the back side of the Sierra at about 4,000 feet. Next day, ride south to Calpine and get on historic Highway 49 to Grass Valley. Go further south to Auburn and super-slab it 125 miles on Interstate 80 back to San Francisco.