Sunday, September 18, 2005

Flat 4 Tour Menomonie, WI

September 17 & 18, 2005

This weekend was the second F4T ride of the year, a ride that I’ve been putting together for 5 years now, twice each year. The fall ride is always smaller then the summer ride, we had about 30-35 people this time around. We had three groups riding, three people leading. I lead the slow group. Ridding the ST3, I arrived at Starks BP early in the morning, some people were already there, some were still rolling in to the gas station. The morning was foggy and cool, The high’s were expected to reach the 70’s. Looked like a nice weekend for a ride. The groups rolled out and headed west stopping only once in Stockton, IL for gas, then Dubuque, IA for lunch.

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When I arrived at Culver’s, one of the groups wasn’t there yet and I was informed that there was already a crash this morning near Galena. A new rider went off road in a corner. Rick arrived shortly with his group, the crash was minor, everything was good.

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We ate lunch and continued north stopping for gas in Iowa on the Mississippi River twice, then crossed in to Minnesota stopping again on the other side of the Mississippi in Wisconsin for gas. I was really enjoying myself, my group was great and I was having fun leading. I had a about half ST bikes in my group and half sportbikes. Andy was my back marker and since he is so much quicker then me though the tighter stuff, I suggested that he led the group up 88, the tightest road of the day. I took the position of back marker and relaxed for a while, we re-grouped just before entering Mondavi and I took lead again. We arrived in Menomonie just as it started to get dark.

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As we arrived at the Super 8 I found out that there was another crash in Rick’s group which took place on 88. He was pretty upset now, crashes are hard on the leaders and the group. They have to pull over and help the rider, make sure the bike and the rider are OK, it also delays getting to the next stop. Having to do that once in a day is bad enough, twice really sucks. The bike looked pretty bad, the guy was supposedly looking at cows and missed a turn. Our mileage today was about 400 miles and I would take a guess that some people just can’t ride that far, they get tired and loose concentration at some point.

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While the rest of the people took off for dinner and drinks to different places, Rick, Chris, Andy and I walked next door to Perkins. After doing this ride for so long and having people crash on each and every ride (except for one) I may just have had enough of it. I wasn’t in the mood to mingle. It was nice to have a quiet dinner with friends and go to bed before midnight.

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Sunday morning was beautiful. By the time we got to the first gas stop, two people had to run back to the Super 8, one left his watch behind and other left his cell phone, my back marker was one of the people, so I got another guy to take his place while he was gone. They would meet up with us as soon as they could, hopefully at the lunch spot.

We continued and as we rode the curves of road “N” the back marker from Rick’s group passed us going the other way motioning with his hand to slow down. Oh no! I knew exactly what that meant and I knew exactly what corner, there was a tricky “S” curve on this road, it’s tighter than all the others and not marked were well. The back marker from Rick’s group did a u-turn and led our group past the crash scene. I couldn’t really tell what had happened, the rest of the group was pulled over and waiting. I continued with my group to the next gas stop.

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We arrived at the lunch spot in Rockton at the BBQ place. One of the groups was already there, getting ready to eat. Over an hour later Rick arrived with his group. We found out what had happened. There were two crashes that happened right after one another. One rider went off road in a turn and crashed and the rider following him panicked and followed also crashing. Rick now had four crashes in his group on this ride and he was not happy.

We continued, although could not hook up with my back marker, they were already ahead of us. In Janesville some people headed for the northern suburbs of Chicago and some got on I-90. I continued via back roads alone.

I’m in a predicament. I love putting on this ride and introducing people to sport-touring, but I can not continue organizing a ride that people continually crash on, so for next year some changes must takes place. A pre ride? Invitation only? I don’t know yet. I hate seeing nice shiny bikes at the beginning the ride, looking crunchy, busted up at the end of the ride. At least this time no one went to the hospital. All the crashes are due to rider operator. New riders, riders not able to go though corners safely, and riding too fast and over their heads. Even though no one blames anyone and people that have crashed always say they have learned a big lesson from their crash, but still. The crashes impact the ride and other riders and give the Flat 4 Tour a bad reputation.

I used to able to sympathize with those that have crashed, but lately I can not. I look at myself. I can’t even flat foot any of my bikes, I’m not the greatest rider, so how did I manage to ride over 70,000 miles though unfamiliar curves without crashing? I ride in the rain, fog, in the dark and sometimes I’m very tired. I’m a bit surprised and I know my time will come, but I’m very cautions and I ride within my limits all the time.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Pennsylvania to Illinois (day #2)

Peter and I left Tawanda at about 8:30AM central time, we were in no real rush to get home as long as we got back sometime tonight. It was foggy and cold in the morning, but then the sun came out and it was a beautiful day, sunny, the temperatures never got too much over 80 degrees. The route was about 200 miles of back roads and 500 miles of interstates. First we took 6 West all the way to Kane, PA. This road only got nicer the further west we traveled, brand new pavement on the last leg, although some construction too. Then we grabbed 66 South which traveled though a forest, a nice winding road, not too much traffic until you get close to I-80. From there we slabbed it on I-80 West.

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Getting home took a little longer, we made a bunch of stops early in the day. But in the afternoon the interstate miles went by quickly. The sun went down near Toledo, Ohio and we rode though all of Indiana in the dark. Just after midnight near Chicago we pulled over, Peter was heading towards Chicago and I was heading towards the suburbs. He wished me a happy birthday, it was September 12 now. I ran in to some heavier traffic and major construction, arriving home at 1AM Monday morning.

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Day two was definitely harder then day one, but still significantly better riding the ST3 then the 954RR. On Monday morning I went to work, no major aches or pains. It didn’t feel like I had done 1400 miles in two days at all. So now the question is, will this bike be reliable. I shall see as I continue to put the miles on and I’m going to cross my fingers that nothing else breaks on it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Illinois to Pennsylvania (day #1)

So I figured out the most direct route up there – all interstates of course. I got to bed at 7PM last night and my alarm went off at 2AM this morning. I had already mostly repacked from the 954 to the ST3 and by 3:23AM I was rolling down the road. It was muggy and warm in Chicago, I got on I-249 heading toward I-80 East. Surprisingly there were many cars at this hour. Having to pay tolls every few miles sucks and then the construction on I-294 and I-80 made it even worst. Once I got in to Indiana and Ohio you only needed to stop once to take the toll way ticket and stop once at the end to pay. Not like Chicago where there is a toll booth every 15-20 miles asking for eighty cents.

I rode though all of Indiana in the dark hoping I wouldn’t run in to any deer. As I approached Toledo, Ohio the sun finally came up. I experienced the coldest temperatures after sunrise, I didn’t want to stop so I just hid behind the wind screen, it works pretty well, only my hands were cold. There were deer out near the interstate in Ohio, watching me go by. Those flashing lights are pretty cool, they flash when animals are detected near the road. Past Cleveland I grabbed I-90 East, which was heavily patrolled. Traffic wasn’t too bad, temperatures now climbing in to middle 70’s and sunny. My stops were very brief as I wanted to get out there as soon as possible.

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Near Erie, Pennsylvania I jumped on I-86 East but by the time I stopped for gas in Allegany, NY I had to get off the interstate for the day. I wasn’t all that sore or tired, just bored after 550 consecutive miles of interstate. I grabbed a sandwich at the gas station and took my first long break of the day. It was only 12:30PM central time, I was making very good time. I looked at the map and decided to take back roads all the way to Tawanda, PA, which was about 150 miles away now. It would cost me and hour or two but it would be more fun and I wanted to arrive in the afternoon anyway, since many people would be out doing rides still.

From Allegany, NY I took 417 which absolutely sucked. There were so many little towns so close together, that the speed limit was mostly 35MPH the whole way. I finally turned on 44 South, which was a nice winding road. In Coudersport, PA I continued on 6 East, which was a nice road with many sweepers and pretty scenery, there were a few towns so that slowed me down, but not too bad. I arrived in Tawanda at 4:30PM central time, 13 hours after leaving Chicago. The ST3 is definitely a more comfortable bike, especially while slabbing. Sure, I could have done this trip on the 954RR, but how would the ride back be tomorrow? Hmmm.

Saturday night the NEXXT meet had an organized dinner, then we hung out in the back of the Tawanda Motel around a bon fine. I went to sleep around 11PM, tomorrow morning I needed to ride back to Chicago. Everyone knows it’s the second day of riding that’s the hardest. I was excided to see how the bike felt on day two after another 700 miles.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Illinois to Pennsylvania (attempt #2)

So I get three hours of sleep, re-pack from the ST3 to the Givi top case for the 954RR and realize I’m already running late, rush hour traffic is already in full swing and I’m just too tired to ride, three hours of sleep, 700 miles of interstate on a 954RR, not a good idea. I call Peter to cancel. I can’t go. I’m so bummed! He leaves without me.

I went back to bed but could not fall asleep, it was already light outside and I’ve already had a bunch of coffee this morning. I just laid there and at 9AM I called my dealership and within 30 minutes there was a trailer at my house picking up the bike. A few hours later I received a call that the bike was fixed. The problem was resolved; apparently the ground wire that was connected to the computer, wiggled loose. With the bike all fixed, I though about still getting out to PA. I called up Peter telling him I was still coming up there, but I would leave early tomorrow morning after I got some sleep tonight.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Illinois to Pennsylvania (attempt #1)

Last night I packed in to my soft saddle bags, just in case my hard luggage wouldn’t arrive in time. My friend Peter gave me a lift on his XX to pick up my ST3 at the dealer. The brake in service was done and the leaking back tire mystery was solved: it was a leaky valve stem, which was replaced.
I was really happy to find out that the hard bags just came in today. We were about to leave when I realized that the service “wrench” icon was still lit up on the bike’s dash. The mechanic said it was going to be about 15 minutes to re-program the computer, it was more like 30. Delays, delays.

We rode back to my house and I proceeded to transfer the stuff from my soft saddle bags to the hard luggage, that took forever. The hard bags on the ST3 have a lot of little nooks and have to be filled up with little stuff, so it takes a while to fit every empty space with something that fits that size exactly. We were finally on the road and hit the rush hour traffic from hell going out of Chicagoland. Stop and go for over an hour. It was muggy and my bike felt as if I was like sitting on top of a toaster oven, this thing runs pretty hot. Once we got out to the boonies, the roads opened up and I started to enjoy the ride a bit more. We were making pretty good time and would be able to get in to Indiana before it got totally dark at this rate.
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Then southeast of Kankakee, IL I noticed the engine light starting to come on sporadically and flicker. But it wasn’t a solid light. Was there a short somewhere? I ignored it. About half an hour later my bike seemed like it wanted to stall while shifting. Now I was starting to get concerned, but I still kept going. As I pulled up to the stop sign at the intersection of RT 52 and RT 24 near Sheldon, IL, just a few miles form the Indiana border, the bike just died. I started it up and rode it across the intersection and pulled over on the side of the road. Something was definitely wrong with the bike. It would start and run, but without out revving it, it would die.
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I called up my dealer but they could not figure out what the problem might be, and since the bike had road side assistance, they suggested I called them and get the bike towed. Since the bike was under warranty and it was brand spanking new, I didn’t want to ride it and make it worst. We were about a 100 miles away from Chicago and I was told by road side assistance that Ducati only covers the first $200 of the towing. They were going to get back to me and let me know my options. Peter and I just sat on the corner and waited for the call. It was nice to see so many people pulling over and offering to help us. Even the Sheldon police offered to help. The lady that lived in the house on the corner brought us some water and sat with us on the grass and told us stories of her life. I received the call from road side assistance and they wanted to tow me to the nearest Ducati dealer in Merrillville, IN, which was 70 miles away. Since my house was only 88 miles away, I decided to tow the bike home so I could bring it to my dealer. I didn’t want to be stranded in Indiana in case they couldn’t get the bike running right away. They located a tow truck to tow me back home and Peter and I continued waiting and talking to the lady from the house on the corner. Three hours after the break down, the tow truck arrived, it was a flat bed truck driven by a fat Italian guy whose first words were “Doesn’t anybody ride naked bikes anymore?” Apparently he didn’t have a canyon dancer and was concerned about possible damage to the fairings from his heavy duty straps.

Peter rode my bike up the flat bed platform and secured the bike as best as he could, then he followed the tow truck to my house to unload the bike for me, what a nice guy. It was painful to see my brand new bike on top of the platform all strapped down like that. And it was such a beautiful night for a ride too. By the time I got home it was after midnight. I was a bit pissed by then and I think I was starting to refer to my bike as “the lemon”. Hours later and $269 poorer, I was at the starting point again, but now with a broken bike.

Peter decided to ride home and try to leave early the next morning for NEXXT but now having only one day to get there, he was going to take the direct route there – the dreaded interstate. I still wanted to go but I was not looking forward to slabbing it 700 miles straight on the 954RR to Pennsylvania. But I agreed to meet him in Indiana at 6AM at the I-80 oasis.

Monday, September 05, 2005

ST.N meet Richland Center, WI: Day 3

A bunch of us met for breakfast at the Center Café on 14 and from there we parted ways. I took the same way back, now with air in my back tire. 130 South of Lone Rock is such a great road, I can’t believe I’ve never been on it before. Nice scenery, the river, elevation changes, many tighter turns and many sweepers. By the time I got closer to home, the bike again started handling as if the back tire was low on air. There must be a leak somewhere.

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Today was a bit cooler and overcast and a bit windy. Even though I still had some more miles that I could have put on the bike, I was discouraged by the leaky back tire. Also, my neck was really sore today and bothering me. I couldn’t figure out why. I got home really early, about 6PM. I found out later that I had about 6-7 insect bites on the right side of my neck, don’t know what bit me, but my muscles were all tense and aching. The bites didn’t itch. The funny thing is, the last years, Labor Day Weekend, I was stung by a bee on my neck. This year, no bee, but something got me. I pulled in to the driveway with 702 miles on the odometer. Not bad for a back tire that doesn’t hold air.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

ST.N meet Richland Center, WI: Day 2

The tire seemed to be holding air, and rode way better. The group was doing a group ride but I wanted to ride solo and get to know my bike some more, plus I could only ride about 200 miles today anyway, if I was to bring it back home with less then 800 miles for the break in service. After the group left I took off on my own ride. The group was going to have lunch in Mauston, WI so I slowly made my way up there to meet up with them. Took 58 North, with nice sweepers and scenery, to G North, with nice big hills, nice sweepers and some tighter curves. Not too much traffic. I got to Mauston, but it was still too early, so I rode around some more, some straight roads, curvy roads and ever rode a bit on the interstate. Now with air in the tires, the bike cornered very nicely and so effortless. I was beginning to like it, although I was still getting used to the torque of the v-twin.

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I made it back to Mauston and rode though town now looking for a bunch of ST bikes. But how would I find these guys, there wasn’t just one main road though town, they could be anywhere. I took 58, 82, 12 and Q though town and came up empty handed. Maybe they weren’t here. I didn’t have anyone’s phone number. It was a bit warm now, so I decided to cool off with a McDonald’s vanilla milk shake and have some chicken nuggets.

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As I stood in line waiting for my food, wearing my ST.N shirt, someone came up to me and pointed at the ST.N logo. It was a guy from Ohio, who drove up this way to buy a V-strom from someone, he was towing his bike back home, taking a lunch break at this very McDonald’s. We ended up sitting together and talking bikes and trips. As I finished my food, I noticed a bunch of ST bikes pulling out of a parking lot across the street. Darn, they were having lunch across the street, no way! But the bikes must have been parked on the other side of the restaurant, where I couldn’t see them from the road.

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It was time to go back, I took 58 South and got to Richland Center before anyone else. An hour later the group was back. Now the group was smaller, some went home already. For dinner we walked over to the O'Finleys Pub & Grill on 14. The food was decent; I really liked the cheese curds. Tonight was much cooler then last night, we went to hang out in one of the meeting rooms until it was time to go to bed.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

ST.N meet Richland Center, WI: Day 1

I left the house in the morning on my brand new Ducati, with less then 3 miles on the odometer, this was first tour on the ST3. I packed in to the Nelson-Rigg saddle bags, since I didn’t have the hard bags yet.

I took I-290 at speed limit, keeping the RPM’s low and took the exit for Elgin-O’hare.
I mis-shifted a few times, shifter got stuck in between gears, I was on the throttle but not going anywhere. I’ve never had that happen before on any of my other bikes. I guess when you shift on the Duc you really have to shift. The shifter won’t slide in to the next gear like on the Honda.

RT 20 to RT 23, and I was in Harvard, IL. We were meeting at the Wave Café for the ride up to Richland Center, WI. I planned the route but I didn’t want to lead, since I was still getting used to this new bike. Before leaving, we also adjusted the shifter on the Duc, maybe now the shifting will improve, it did.

The day started out cool, in the high 50’s but the forecast was looking very nice, 80’s with plenty of sunshine. With each mile, I was adjusting to the torque and power of the v-twin the required precise shifting. I was amazed, the Honda was much easier to ride, and the shifting could be very sloppy, the bike didn’t care. Also, it would allow you to ride it anywhere from 2000PRMs up to redline, not the Duc, it liked to be around 4,000-6,000 RPMs. By the time we arrived at the Super 8 in Richland Center, I had 250 miles on the odometer. I can’t say I was very impressed with the bike. It handled very poorly in the corners. Everyone was surprised that I didn’t like the ST3. We went to Culver’s for lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the parking lot, welcoming new arrivals, until it was time to go to dinner. Then, by sheer coincidence, we realized that there was hardly any air in the back tire. I didn’t check the air pressure before leaving the house this morning since I just picked the bike up from a dealer two days ago. The back tire had only 10 lbs. of air in it, so we filled it up. I guess that would explain why it handled so poorly and wouldn’t even hold a line.

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Dinner was at the Ramada Inn & Whitehouse Supper Club down the road on 14. After dinner, as we got back to our bikes it started raining, but it didn’t last very long. The evening was warm, we spend a few more hours mingling in the parking lot. Then it was time for bed, the rooms had the mini refrigerators in the room, perfect for storing beer and Red Bulls.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I bought a Ducati today!

After work I drove over to the Ducati dealer. Tonight I was picking up my new bike, a 2005 Ducati ST3. My first Italian bike, my first sport-touring bike. It was parked outside, waiting for me.

After signing a lot of papers, I got the little tour of the bike, what it does, what it has. Everything was as expected except for the “enricher” or what I would call a “choke” that you are to use on cold starts.

Today was Thursday and I made an appointment for the following Tuesday for the 600 miles break-in service. I was going to break the bike in over this Labor Day Weekend. The guys at the dealership looked puzzled that I haven’t even pulled out of the lot yet and I was already making my first service appointment. I basically said that I ride a lot and want the bike to be serviced asap so I can start putting miles on it. The service guy though that one weekend was too short of a time to brake a bike in, plus what if the weather was bad, what if Tuesday came and I didn’t have 600 miles on the bike. All I needed was one day to break a bike in, but I wanted to do it right. And on top of that I was told to bring the bike in with no more than 800 miles. Wow, I had 3 days to ride but I couldn’t do more than 800 miles? That was going to be tough. Lucky for me that I was attending the Region 4 ST.N meet this weekend which was being held in Richland Center, WI, not too far away.

I had picked up the seat from the ST3 a few days ago and brought it to a nearby boat upholstery shop. The guy had shaved the foam a bit, about 1” around the tank and on the sides, 0.5” on top. I was a bit worried that it was going to be too much or not enough. I placed the seat on the bike and sat on it. It was perfect. I reached down with the balls of my feet, very much like I do on the 954RR.

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The only screw up was the dealer ordered the wrong color luggage and even though they were willing to lend those to me, I wouldn’t take them just in case I would end up dropping the bike or something.

I was very nervous about riding this bike home, it was so different from the crotch rockets I ride. I geared up, started it up and went. It felt squishy, the suspension was soft, the seat was very soft. The twin engine was way different from the in-line-four that most of my bikes had, it felt rough, accelerated hard. I was sitting inside the bike and I usually sit up high on the bike. The bike felt huge to me. The first five minutes I think I hated it. Did I make a mistake? Was I going to like this bike? Two miles later I was home, the bike was parked. I looked at it as it sat next to the 954RR. I really like the way the ST3 looks. I’m still in disbelief. I own a Ducati.