Monday, August 27, 2007

Preparing for a 9 day ride with no electricity

The crazy weather continues. Last weekend we experienced heavy rain, thunderstorms and flooding in Southeastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin.

Damaged roads due to floods in Wisconsin and Minnesota

These same storms moved east hitting Ohio, causing more floods and damage there, we in Chicago, were somehow spared that time. Then some more bad weather came this way, this time right in my backyard - literally. A tree fell on to the powerlines.

On Thursday August 23 in the afternoon, intense thunderstorms creating tornado-like conditions swept through the Chicago area. The skies turned dark and the tornado sirens sounded.

The storms took hours to pass and did a lot of damage. Winds as high as 90MPH were reported and lots of flooding and fallen trees resulted from the storm.

From the local paper's website

From the Chicago paper's website

The electric power went out across the city and suburbs, I lost power at 3:30PM on Thursday and I finally got the power back at 3:30PM Today – Monday. If this was any other weekend, we could have just packed up the bike and went riding somewhere, the weather on Saturday and Sunday was great, but this weekend we were getting the bikes ready for our 9 day trip and needed to get the laundry done and start packing also. I also was still working on the route and making campsite reservations.

Just not a good weekend to have no power. And it wasn't just us, no one around us had any power either. A lot of business were closed. Even supermarkets and gas stations. A lot of that needed to be done for this trip, simply wasn't.

We did remove and install the wheels on my ST3 without power, so I could get some new tires mounted, but we could only work during the day, while the sun was shining and the garage door was open. I'm glad we have electricity back, but now we have to kick it up a notch and hurry up since we couldn't do much over the weekend.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Avon Azaro tires - 10,300 mile review

Bye Bye Azaros!

The Avon Azaros have now been removed from the ST3 and as of yesterday I’m sporting some new Continental Road Attacks, which means it’s time to review the Azaros that I’ve been riding on since end of August of 2006.

The tires lasted 10,300 miles and actually they still “look” like they have some life left in them. Unfortunately as good as they look, they stopped “feeling” good a long time ago but I wasn’t going to get rid of tires prematurely and waste money so I’ve been riding on them until the tread wear indicator showed that they were done. Well that didn’t happen yet but I have a long trip coming up so I need to get new rubber mounted on the ST3.

A small crack and bulge in the front

What I’ve done in the past with tires was just replace the back tire and the second time around get a new back and front. I was thinking this time around to get to get a new Avon Storm for the back since the Storm replaced the Azaro. But on the last three rides I’ve been experiencing some minor front wheel wobble and some shaking of the handlebars, mostly at speeds over 50MPH.

I checked the tire, but couldn't really see anything wrong with it. When the day arrived to place the order for a new tire, I ended up getting a new set, front and back.

Once the wheels were removed I inspected the front tire again and there was a crack in the rubber, and if you ran your finger across it, there was definitely a bulge in the rubber at the same location.

New Road Attack rear tire on the left, old Azaro rear tire on the right

New Road Attack front tire on the left, old Azaro front tire on the right with the crack and bulge circled

And of course, there is no shaking or wobble now that I’m running the new Road Attack tires, so that’s what it was.

My Azaro experience

Last year, same time, I had removed the tires the ST3 came with and had the Azaros mounted. Then I packed up the bike and took off for a 10 day - 4,000 mile ride out west.

I have to admit it was a weird feeling first time riding on the Azaros. I pulled out of the garage the first day of my trip, the bike all loaded up and heavy and I was experiencing the slow-speed front wheel wobble of a new Azaro tire that some people claim to experience. It only lasted for the first 200 miles or so and knowing what it was since I read about it, it wasn’t a big deal.

I fell in love with the tires instantly. First, I’m short and the Azaros made the bike sit lower. Second, they gripped really well too and I rode them hard though some parts of Utah and Colorado (I love the roads out there). On day 8 of the trip I had noticed some minor “cheese grating” on the rubber. I’ve only seen that before on my tires after I’ve done a track day, and on sport tires, not touring tires. And finally, the Azaros also handled very well in the rain, and we had a lot of rain to ride though towards the end of the trip and many twisty roads were ridden in a downpour.

After those first 4,500 - 5,000 miles of riding unfortunately the tires never felt as good as when they were new, they deteriorated very quickly. They were still OK on dry pavement for the reminder of the rides but slid around a bit on wet pavement and I just never had too much confidence with them.

Seemed like they were a really great tire in the beginning and they lasted a long time, but they lost their grippiness after only 5,000 miles, kind of disappointing.

I’d like to try the Avon Storms one day, but I’ll wait until the tire has been around for a while.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Day 2: Flat 4 Tour - Winona, MN

In the morning we clicked on the TV to check the weather. It was not looking good at all. The area we were in was now flooded, there were landslides, roads were washed away, many roads were under water and the rest were closed to traffic. And it was still raining and it was going to continue raining all day and in to the night, here and in Chicago and everywhere in between.

We originally knew that there was a pretty good chance of rain for both days, but I rarely pay too much attention to the weather and even if the forecast calls for rain, it hardly ever rains for two days straight.

Quality Inn parking lot

The bad weather and road closings had me worried, but another thing that had me worried also was that I wasn’t feeling good this morning. It was something I ate that wasn’t agreeing with me. My stomach was killing me and I also had a had a headache. The last thing I wanted to do right now was get on a bike and ride 300+ miles home in the rain.

Things weren’t improving, actually they were getting worst. Everyone had left already to get home and I was still laying in bed feeling like total crap. Then finally at 10:30AM, last nights dinner decided it wanted out of my stomach. After I threw up all of the smoked chicken ravioli and the cheesecake, it was 11AM and time to pack up and check out of the room.

The lobby was packed with people, many waiting to get some food at the Perkin’s next door, many waiting to check in to their rooms. There was a sign posted of the “only” open road out of town, which was 43 south that was going to take us to I-90.

Since others had the ravioli last night, I really didn’t know what made me sick, but I was still feeling sick, not feeling like I was capable of riding a motorcycle in the rain, so I sat in the lobby on the couch trying to rest as much as I could. At 2PM we had to make a decision, either try to get a room around here or try and get back home. As much as I didn’t want to ride feeling sick I didn’t want to try and find a motel room in town, with so many people’s houses flooding, many were checking in to the motels, there probably wasn’t very many rooms available around here.

It was drizzling when we left Winona. As if being sick and having to ride in the rain wasn’t bad enough, I was riding on my old Avon Azaro tires, which now had about 10,000 miles on them and not as much traction as they used to. My new tires came in last week but there was no time to get them mounted before this trip and the Azaros still looked decent.

The ST3 didn’t like the rain either, the left blinker was on, but not flashing, and all the lights on the dash took turns lighting up by themselves, first it was the hi beams even though they weren’t on, then it was the oil light then the engine light and finally the signals. That continued for a couple hours, finally the blinker light was off and the instrument cluster stopped its madness.

The traffic got heavier as we headed further south on I-90, the drizzle stayed with us, sometimes turning to light rain. By the time we got to RT 12 and Lake Delton, I needed to stop and take a break. I hadn’t eaten anything all day and I was starting to feel very week. We pulled over at a gas station and went in to the adjacent sub/pizza place. It was good to be off the bike for a while. I ordered a turkey sub, not feeling like telling the guy all the stuff I wanted on it, I just told him to put all the toppings on that he had, I would just take off what I didn’t like. When I got to my table and I unwrapped my sandwich, I was very surprised to see on my turkey and cheese sandwich covered in lettuce, tomatoes, olives, bacon bits and fresh mushrooms. Bacon bits and fresh mushrooms?

Lunch stop near Lake Delton, WI - is that a banana tree?

This gas station only had low octane gas so we rode past the interstate to the other side to get gas there. This gas station was totally busy. Back on I-90, traffic grew heavier by the minute, at times all you could see was brake lights and cars slowing down to 40-30MPH for no apparent reason. Around Madison, WI for the first time today, there was no rain on my helmet’s visor, but that only lasted 15-20 minutes then the drizzle started again which turned to rain. The traffic started to creep and crawl again, so we took the next exit which was for RT 59 around Milton, WI. If the traffic on the interstate continued this way I was contemplating taking back roads all the way, realizing that we were still very far from home and it was getting late, and if we took back roads we would be getting home at midnight, but then we glanced at the interstate and it looked to be moving again, so we got back on.

More rain

A few minutes later we stared approaching very dark skies and what appeared to be a large volume of water falling from the sky directly ahead of us. Shortly later we entered the curtain of water and I was instantly soaked. With so many hours of steady drizzle and light rain, the rain was already starting to penetrate the waterproof fabric of my gear, but it took hours of rain to do that, now with the down pour I was instantly soaked, as the rain forced itself in to every crevice and nook. Not to mention I started riding today with my gear still wet from yesterday. The traffic slowed down to 30MPH and I could barely make out the tail lights of the car in front of me. Many cars were just pulling off on to the shoulder. About 10-15 minutes later, the downpour was done and heavy rain continued as we entered Illinois. We continued though the suburbs, I so wanted to pull over again and rest but I so wanted just to get home, so I kept going, arriving home just after 9PM.

At least I was feeling better now, having eaten something, but with the rain, heavy interstate traffic and feeling sick, this was so far the toughest day on a bike for me.

I definitely should brought rain gear and my rain gloves. The waterproof textiles are great for some rain, but not for two straight days of rain.

The rain made national news, these were the headlines from Winona Daily News

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Day 1: Flat 4 Tour - Winona, MN

You know how when things are going well you should never say that they are going well because that’s how you jinx yourself? Well, I guess that’s what happened to me although I have no scientific proof of it.

All summer long I kept thinking how lucky we’ve been that every weekend we ride, we either don’t get rained when rain is in the forecast, or get rained on very little, like 5 minutes of rain out of the whole day or we just miss the rain and ride wet pavement for a while. So for all the rain we’ve missed this summer, this weekend we definitely made up for it because instead of thinking it I finally said it. Jinx!

It was another Flat 4 Tour weekend, this time we were heading up to Winona, MN. At 7:15AM the morning was cool in the low 60’s, thick clouds hovered over us as we rode out of the suburbs in to the sticks. An hour later we pulled up to the gas station where the groups were all meeting. The rain started, very light at first. One group of bikes pulled out of the gas station just as we pulled in.

As we gassed up a blackbird pulled in, it was Mark. The three of us took off toward the west. RT20 had a few spots under construction and a bit of traffic also. For a while the rain stopped but as we got closer to Stockton, the skies ahead of us started threatening some big rains, the clouds smooth and sculptured, resembled meringue as in lemon meringue pie, just up side down and very dark navy blue gray.

Delays on Rt 20

The rain started to fall about half a mile before we pulled over in Stockton for gas. We were not rushing at all, then a woman came up to us and informed us there was a motorcade running though town in a few minutes. That could mean further delays, we finished up quick and headed out in to the rain, the fire trucks and police vehicles were already blocking off all the side streets, we just made it out of town in time.

The rain continued at a moderate pace and by the time we reached the Culver’s in Dubuque, my gloves and hands were wet and so were my arms all the way up to my elbows. Somehow water was getting in to my sleeves. This was my first experience wearing my Fieldsheer Adventure jacket and pants in the rain, both are 100% waterproof, it seemed like the rain was possibly coming in though the opening in my gauntlet glove, which has happened before in heavy rain on another jacket.

Culver's parking lot Dubuque, IA

Everyone was already at Culver’s eating lunch when we arrived. Forty five minutes later we were on our way again, the rain had stopped now and I caught a glimpse of the sun for a minute or two, but then the clouds swallowed it up again. This was to be it’s only appearance today.

We rode C9Y, which is supposedly one of best motorcycle roads in Iowa, and part of the Great River Road. This road was under construction for the last couple of years, but now it’ finally finished. I’ve been avoiding it during the construction years, so I almost forgot what a great road it is. My favorite part is from North Buena Vista to Millville, traveling west, this direction allows you to see more of the upcoming curves. The curves here are some nice medium sweepers, nothing tight, but there are hardly any houses or driveways on this section and really nice views of the Mississippi River valley.

Scenic overlook on C9Y with the Mississippi River Valley below

The first section of C9Y north of Sageville has been redone with new “grooved” pavement. The grooves don’t bother me and the shoulder is wider on the new sections, but there is quite a bit of houses along that part of the road. We stopped at the overlook west of Balltown, which is really nice and I do believe it’s new. Actually there are three scenic overlooks here really close to one another, I like the middle one the best.

Iowa’s C9Y

Since the rain had stopped, C9Y was dry, but as we were running the sweepers west of North Buena Vista, I saw a few lightning bolts in the sky not that far away and the skies were dark again in the direction we were going. We arrived at the gas station in Guttenberg just as the skies decided to open up. We waited for the big down pour to pass, but as we left the gas station the rain still kept coming down pretty good, the water running off the roads creating streams and puddles. With enough gas in our tanks to get all the way to Winona, MN we kept going, not even stopping in Lansing at the designated stop. Since we were the last ones to leave Culver’s no one would be there anyway. The rain flowed steady and hard all the way north, my gloves were beyond soaked, and other parts were also wet now. We stopped in La Crescent, MN to just stretch our legs and continued on to Winona. The rain never let up.

Newer grooved section of C9Y

We arrived at the Quality Inn just after 5PM. Even with this wet weather, there were at least 20 bikes here scattered thought the parking lot. The rain continued through the night. We weren’t prepared for a wet walk to the Green Mill for dinner in the wet, so we all took taxis there, embarrassing really since the restaurant is technically “across the street” from out motel.

Our table at the Green Mill restaurant in Winona, MN

We got two large tables and had a good meal. I always order the smoked chicken ravioli when I’m here, and today was no exception. It was yummy per usual. Mike and few others got the ravioli also, since I rave so much about it. We finished the meal with dessert, cheesecake.

Smoked chicken ravioli

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Harrison, MI - national enduro race

Today’s event - the 2007 Mosquito Classic National Enduro. We woke up early to the sounds of dirt bikes. By 7AM I was up, making my way to one of the Porta Potties. Of course with hundreds of people here, there was a line. I’m just glad there were porta potties here, the shower or sink I can do without, and I had to do without those last night.

A cool and cloudy morning, two hours before the race

KTM racing and Red Bull

At 9AM the race participants started to trickle to the start line. The cool thing was, the race started right by our camp site. It was nice to watch all the groups ride by without having to go anywhere.

The race is starting

Chris getting ready to take off

Darren's bike took a while to start

Chris and Darren at the starting line

And they are off...

And here are some random shots of people I don't know

Once the race moved to another area, Mike and I finished packing up and started to get ready to leave. I rode back through the grass portion but couldn’t do the dirt road today. The entry way and the portion going up hill was now torn up and loose from the dirt bikes riding it back and forth, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the road was part of the enduro, and bikes were riding it right now, and so were the trucks, as people went to chase down the next place to watch the race.

The first section of the road was torn up and sandy today

Mike went ahead to investigate the road conditions, he came back saying that only the first portion was bad, the rest was good. With out any further delay, he took off on my bike and I followed behind him on foot, we me half way on foot and he handed me my bike key as he walked back to get his bike. I found my bike pulled over on the other side of the hill parked in someone’s dirt driveway, got on and rode it to the pavement where I waited for Mike.

The nice portion of the dirt road that I got to ride back on

Mike being followed by an enduro racer on the dirt road

We had to get going in a couple of hours but we at least wanted to make it to one of the rest sites where we could see Chris pull in. We rode west then south arriving at such a location. It was a sea of orange clad humans and machines.

There were a lot of KTMs here today

Racing through the woods

We hung out for a while waiting for Chris, but he was already late by the time he got there, so he zoomed past us and kept going, he didn’t have the time to stop and rest.

We had to get going now so we got on the bikes and started heading south, then west to Baldwin where I was finally going to meet someone in “real life” that I’ve know from the message boards for at least the last two or three years. I know Cheryl from two message boards and we have made previous attempts to meet up and ride, but somehow it had never worked out.

Mike and I arrived at the designated gas station on the corner of 10 and 37 at exactly 1PM and five minutes later Cheryl and Don arrived. It was time for lunch, the four of us rode seven miles north on 37 to the Club 37 restaurant.

Club 37 - my chicken burger on the left, Mike's burger on the right

Cheryl and I

Mike checking out to see how Don's topcase fits on his bike

After lunch Don led us on some back roads to the Hardy Dam located in Newaygo at the Muskegon River, one of Michigan’s largest rivers. This dam is the third largest earthen-filled dam in the world and the largest east of the Mississippi River. As we walked the dam Cheryl was our tour guide, telling us stories of the biggest flood on the Muskegon River in 1986.

Checking out the Hardy Dam

Mike and I at Hardy Dam

After riding a couple more back roads, Don and Cheryl escorted us to I-196 in Grand Rapids, where we said our good bye’s just as it started to drizzle lightly. There was rain near Chicago today, which I was hoping not to run in to but it looked like it was closing in on us. Today we didn’t see the sun at all, there were thick rain clouds hanging above us all day, many times I thought it was going to rain but it didn’t. The temperature was cool all day, the highest reading that I saw was 73 degrees.

Riding some back roads, Don's ST1300 and my Duc behind him

Now at 6PM eastern time, I finally put on my rain/quilted liner, to keep me dry and warm when the temperatures dropped tonight. The drizzle didn’t last very long, I-196 was moving nicely and before we knew it we were on I-94. The all the sudden the sun came out and the temperature went up like 20 degrees. The next time to pullover was for gas, and that wasn’t for a while, I unzipped my liner underneath my jacket to let some air in, but it was hot and very humid now, the roads were wet, it had rained here recently and I was still way too hot. The heat finally became too much to deal with so we made an uncheduled stop to get the extra layers off, top of with gas, drink something and continue.

The traffic got heavier as we got closer to Chicago. Around Holland, MI, I noticed that most of the cars on the interstate had Illinois plates. It was just like coming home on Sunday evening from Wisconsin, highways packed full of Illinois residents that get away to their weekend homes in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.

It’s been a long weekend and I was looking forward to getting home already, but the worst was still to come as we got closer to the big city. The I-90 Indiana tollway was packed, as was the Chicago Skyway as well. There was no rest stops anywhere for a while so we decided to stop at the McDonald’s oasis on the skyway and since we were there and it was already late, we grabbed some food also. The traffic was backed up at the toll booths and even though I read the signs “cash only” and “I-pass only” I have never seen a cash toll booth that didn’t accept the I-pass. When we got going again, I decided against passing 4 lanes of traffic to get to the I-pass lanes and sure enough the cash only lanes didn’t accept the I-pass so we had to dig for cash.

Then through the construction again, it was much worse heading home, the ramp from the skyway to I-94/1-90 was stop and go all the way down and the traffic jam continued all the way from there to the I-290 exit. The bike was running hot, I was barely moving at 5-10MPH in first gear, stopping all the time. That just wore me out. Even I-290 had a lot of traffic on it, we arrived at the house at 10PM totally drenched in sweat and exhausted from the traffic and the heat. We did get lucky, all the way from Michigan, the roads were wet but we didn’t see any falling rain, except for some lightening in the background.

It was a fun weekend, packed full of new things, new places and new people. But I'm still shocked by the amounts of people traveling in and out of this state every weekend and all the construction and madness that we have to ride though, especially now that the high gas prices, you would think more people would stay at home.

As for the race today, KTM factory riders Mike Lafferty and Russell Bobbitt, along with Am-Pro Yamaha’s Barry Hawk, tied for the win at 34 points each today at round six of the AMA/FMF National Enduro Series. Lafferty now leads Bobbitt by 11 points in pursuit of his eighth National Enduro Championship.