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The "To-Do" List

If you hadn't noticed, the month before last was November.

For some of us, that meant "turkey and mashed taters." For others, it meant "only one more month until I get a bunch of free crap for my bike from that fat white guy with the beard!"

For me, apparently the word "November", from the Latin, no-VROOM-vroom, translates loosely into "the month where you will change jobs, sell your home, move most of your worldly possessions and various things you have stolen into storage and the rest of it into your best buddy's house, fight a few more times with your fianc�e about the ongoing house search, and (last but not least) ride your motorcycles for what will probably be the last time until the year 2004."

Okay, okay, VERY loosely translated.

All of these stress buttons, and not enough Fahrenheit's on that little rat bastard thermometer to allow for the doctor-recommended dosage of stress-relieving Zen moments on a two-wheeled rocket. And, in the midst of all of this stress, the sudden realization that I really need to buckle down this weekend and try to write a column for next month's issue of your favorite online periodical and mine, Sound Rider. Should be easy, right? The first column was pretty well received by the people who read it. Of course, 5 of those 6 people were related to me (love you, ma) and the other one was blind, illiterate and too polite to say anything, but that's not the point. The point is, I had fun writing it, and it got some laughs. So let's do it again.

But what to write about? Sometimes, I'll admit it; the love of my life comes through in the pinch. Sometimes I pinch her, but that's not the point. In her wisdom, she spoketh thusly: "Write about what people around here do when they can't ride during the cold months. Maybe you can even come up with some ideas for how to deal with your own cabin fever, so you aren't such a jerk all the time when it's cold"

Hmmmm...

It happens every year. I select a pleasantly plump orange victim from one of the fields out in Carnation. I turn the "creativity" knob on my stun gun to "frap", cut hunks of gooey stuff out of a punkin, and stuff something flammable inside. I eat a bunch of candy and scare the poop out of some annoying, vertically challenged Jehovah's Witness types wandering around in cheap plastic costumes.

The next morning, I wake up and, WHAMMO, no sunshine. It's winter. It's cold. It's wet. My gas bill goes up, at home and at the gas station. I call riding buddies "just to catch up," and we torment each other with ideas of where we might go "if it's nice this weekend." I sit patiently in the garage while the engine warms up enough just so I can cuddle up to my Ninja and inhale the sweet intoxication of 4-stroke exhaust fumes. I finally wash the removable liner in my helmet.

Then I realize that it's been two weeks since my last ride.

I start to get the shakes. I holler at people more often and randomly than usual, and take back roads on the drive home in my pickup truck. I actually lean into turns, and twist my skull on my neck to look through the apex, doing my best vocal impression of 899cc's of Kawasaki throttle in 2 nd gear. My passenger, rather politely, tries not to notice.

I catch myself watching a "Monster Garage Marathon" even though I have seen all of them before. I use a yellow pad and pencil stump to list out the key components in my plot for springtime revenge on all of the left-lane slowpokes. "Squirt gun." "Brake fluid." "Ball-bearings." "Offensive Bumper Stickers."

Then, finally, when I'm ready to admit that I've been beaten, I start making the list. "Things to Do During the Winter to Ensure that I Don't Actually Throttle My Boss By the Neck or Commit a Federal Offense in a Crowded Shopping Mall before Warm Weather and Regular Riding Time Re-commences."

"Things to Do," for short. Here's my short list so far this year.

Go to The Show

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Disneyland for bikers. Every December, a few wonderful corporations bring us dreams of sunshine and warm tire rubber in the dead of winter in downtown Seattle. Cycle World, Toyota, and Bob's Jacuzzi and Motorcycle Repair charge us all a few measly bucks so that we can drag a loved one to go see all the new bikes, eat a corndog, and try to score some cheap gear and a free t-shirt, while out of the corner of one eye we watch some guy dressed like a skateboarder try to wheelie a Gold Wing on the latest "Las Vegas Extremes � Even More Wheelies" video.

I love it.

And you do to. Admit it. It's probably one of the easiest times to open that puckered up wallet all year long. Hot booth-girls. The latest and greatest ZXGBR 1400RRR. Race bikes on display. Hot booth-girls. Big fat custom cruisers with paint jobs that cost more than your last major surgery. More chrome than you can shake a ping-pong paddle at.

Those booth-girls are pretty hot, too.

Eyes partially glazed over, we wander past all of the swank corporate trade show booths, hypnotized by the spinning shiny things, dreaming of how we would spend those Lotto dollars. Our jaws are slackened just enough to allow salesmen to toss in a business card with "your special price" scribbled on the back. Spit, cough. We all do the perfunctory funeral-style final viewing around the "same friggin classic bikes as last year" display, paying homage to the old Indians, Harleys, Triumphs, Nortons, and Flintstones.

But we quickly pick up the pace again to stand in line and take our turns sitting in the X-tra Cab Toyota and playing with the seat and the steering wheel while the significantly-annoyed-significant-other sighs and struggles to carry the fourteen plastic bags filled with brochures that we subconsciously admit that we will never actually read.

We take five to alleviate the relationship stress and buy her (or him) a soft pretzel and a latte, and then stride over like smack addicts to rub our grimy, greedy little fingers all over the helmets, wheels, tires, jackets, and saddle bags. We make pleasant conversation with the riding buddies we run into, and talk up the retail store employees and the WMRRA guys. We get an autograph from one of the Hayden brothers (which one was that, anyway?).

Against our will, we get dragged by the significant other over to the trials bikes demonstration.

Oooh. Ahhh.

Finally, we elbow our way out the door, and sit in the parking lot behind everyone else, wishing we had a little neon sign that flashed "I have a bike, honest, this pickup means NOTHING to me, nothing, I swear."

Ahh, the Show. It's always first on my list. It always makes me hope that I somehow got swapped over from the "Naughty" list to the "Nice" list.

Missed the motorcycle show in December, catch it in Vancouver in January!

Also, I end up buying a lottery ticket within four days, which always makes me feel like I'm doing my part for alleviating the state's budget overruns.

Read about Motorcycles

If you have a halfway decent imagination, books can actually help you get through the cold parts of the calendar. Yes, yes, I know, you subscribe to all the motorcycle magazines, you can read those, what do you need with a book, right? Besides, you like the pictures.

Let me put it this way. Think of motorcycle magazines as a Pez. Consider what life would be like if you hadn't eaten a Pez candy in, like, ten years. I know, it's ridiculous, what kind of fool could possibly go that long without a Pez, but stick with me, non-religiously affiliated fasting from Pez, ten long Pez-less years. A magazine is like a single Pez that you found in the seat cushions of your sofa, with a little hair stuck to it. A fleeting moment of tasty sweet goodness, this is true. But hardly satisfying. A book� well, the right book can be like having a little hamster-feeder style Pez dispenser sitting next to your easy chair.

Seriously, why does everybody always look at me like that? Knock it off.

A good motorcycling story, or even a non-fiction book about bikes, can be an exceedingly nice way to pass winter afternoons and evenings. It can be raining outside, but inside your head, you could be wandering the southwestern states, building a custom V-twin, or restoring an Indian. I always end up reading more frequently during the winter months anyway, and I find that turning pages about motorcycles is a good way to deal with the months when you can't turn the throttle.

Here's a short list of a few books that I recommend to motorcyclists, because they're worth the time to surf over to a bookstore website or, for you more adventurous types, wandering into a real live bookstore.

Riding Technique

Twist of the Wrist: The Motorcycle Road Racers Handbook (Keith Code)

Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well (David Hough)

"But I TOOK the motorcycle safety course." Yeah, 12 years ago. "I've been riding for over TWENTY years." Um, that just means you are older and probably get the finger up the pooper once a year, dude, it says bunk-oh for your riding skills. Listen, I don't care if you are a road racer, a veteran tourer, a commuter, a fair-weather rider, or the ice cream man. Motorcycling is a skill. And it's one of those rare skills that requires not only physical practice, but mental preparation as well.

It's one man's opinion, but the best way to get the most enjoyment out of motorcycling over the course of your riding years is to take it seriously. Treat it like a hobby, and the Gods of Road Rash will certainly feast on your hindquarters. Treat it with respect, and you'll not only live longer and healthier, but you will roost on your friends on race day. Keep learning, Grasshopper.

These two books are a great way to feed and prepare your mind for the moments when you need to use the noodle at least as much as the throttle and the brake. "Wrist" is really written from the road-racing perspective, but the description of principles, styles, techniques, and layman's physics will all make you more aware of what's going on under your rump, regardless of where and how you ride. Hough's book, on the other hand, is actually a collection of columns that provide more "daily riding" tips and tricks, both for special situations and general technique. Buy or borrow one or both, and stretch those synapses. When you hit a batch of sand in a turn, you may not listen to those pesky brain cells, but at least this way they can say, "I told you so."


Motorcycle Adventures (Non Fiction)

Odyssey to Ushuaia: A Motorcycling Adventure from New York to Terra Del Fuego (Andres Carlstein)
The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America (Ernesto Che Guevara)

Both of these books are accounts of long motorcycle journeys. The first, by Carlstein, has an emphasis on the "motorcycle", and is a great read for anyone who fantasizes about, just once, packing up the Pez dispenser and the passport and riding as far south as the roads will take you. The second one is written by a cultural icon, and involves less emphasis on the "motorcycle" and more on the "journey". Both will fulfill that longing for the open road, bugs in the teeth, meeting random people, and getting lost without much gas left in the tank.

Motorcycle Restoration (Non Fiction)

Rebuilding the Indian (Fred Haefele)

All of us with any mechanical inclination (and some of us with imagined mechanical inclination) have, at one point or another, briefly considered restoring an old bike. Some of my friends with mechanical inclination have actually built and restored bikes. One of my friends, who will remain bald, tattooed, Honda-certified, and nameless, has amassed approximately as many old motorcycles as his mama has amassed personal attacks on her character, and they sit quietly in his garage, awaiting that first loving pinch of a wrench and squirt of thread-release agent.

For anyone who has successfully restored a bike, or for anyone currently trying, or considering it, this book is a fun way to remember it, relate to it, or fantasize about it. Haefele takes us on the journey with him from beginning to end, writing about how the bug bit him in the first place, his trials and tribulations in locating parts, fabricating new ones, and generally giving life to something that was previously impersonating a boat anchor with wheels. If you enjoy wrenching at all, these are fun pages to turn.

Motorcycling Lifestyle (Non Fiction)

The Perfect Machine: What It Is About Motorcycles (Melissa Holbrook Pierson)

Ladies: Read this book. It is cool. Enough said.

Gents: Yes, it is a book about motorcycles written by a female. No, you won't be considered any less masculine if you read it. No, you won't be considered any less masculine if you enjoy reading it. Yes, you will be considered less masculine if you paint your Hayabusa hot pink.

Pierson's book was one that fell into my hands about three or four years ago, when I was sponging up every book I could that had the word "motorcycle" at least fifty-seven times between the covers. It's one of the few books from that time that I still continually recommend to all of my riding cohorts, and particularly the women. Pierson has no agenda in this book, and she doesn't try to raise and wave some huge flag about feminism or women's issues or women bikers' issues or women biker authors' issues. She just tells you about her own experiences as a motorcyclist. How it became a part of her life, how that lifestyle and culture accepted her, and how it sometimes didn't.

But the part about this book that stayed with me was how well Pierson communicates some of the feelings and ideas that bring people of both genders to the sport and keep them there.

Okay, excuse me, now I have to go lift heavy things, fart and laugh about it, and ogle some girls in Easy Rider. Cough.

Philosophy (Non Fiction)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (Robert Pirsig)

A friend gave me this book to read back when I was 19 and hadn't even thought about buying or riding a motorcycle yet. I got through about 10 pages and decided that it was the single most boring thing I had ever read. A few years later, graduating from college, I gave it another try, not because the little "buy me I'm a motorcycle" light was starting to blink, but because I had just taken classes in Zen Buddhism and the subject really interested me. I got all the way through it, and really enjoyed it. I read it through again after I had been a motorcyclist for about three years, and it all came together even more clearly.

Straight up, this book isn't an easy read. Pirsig uses a story about a motorcycling trip with his son to introduce the reader to extremely deep thinking stuff� some real live philly-o-sophy. As you can imagine, about midway through the book, he forgets the "motorcycle" part of the whole thing, you meet this character called Phaedrus, you get bombarded by a sermon about the meaning of Quality� and the last few chapters of the book (in my opinion) are harder to get through than the crustiest section of your grandmother's fruitcake.

Buy it at your own risk, ye of the wee brains and Mini-Me-sized patience. It will force you to think more than the average Batman comic book, and there are no pictures. That being said, if you do make it through 75% of it, you will have some great conversations with friends who will look at you funny and ask if you have been "at the bottle" again.

Plan a Trip

When it's nipply outside, it's a Saturday, and you need a motorcycle fix, there are few better ways to spend your time than to plan out a multi-day motorcycle tour.

We live in an area where there are a multitude of day-rides and overnighters, and I know that lots of you have done the 3-pass run, or an overnighter up to Victoria or down to Portland. Believe me when I say that, in the case of a long motorcycle ride, more is always better. Some of my favorite motorcycling memories and best stories have been the result of long rides, both solo and with other people who love being in the saddle. And there is never time to plan when there is enough sunshine to ride.

Get on the net and look up trip mileages for places like the Canadian Rockies, Yellowstone, or Napa Valley. Figure on riding between 250 and 600 miles a day, depending on your age, riding style, the route, and whether you want to stop frequently and take pictures or get there and see the nightlife. Scribble out a general budget for the ride, based on gas, food, lodging, and any "big" items you might need, like new tires or new gear. Side note, this is a great excuse for buying that new expandable tank bag or the custom seat you have been eyeing. Set aside a duffel bag and toss in potentially-useful items as they come to mind, things like first-aid kits, spare tool kits, an "emergency" twenty-dollar bill, all those Canadian dimes you somehow have collected, etc.

Whether you surf the net, buy twelve books, and build spreadsheets, or call up a buddy and talk about trips you want to do, whether you actually go on a tour that you plan, or just go through the process of planning it out, it's a nice way to lose a few hours in the two-wheeled world when you can't actually ride.

Set Up your Spring Service

If you read the last column, you know how to keep your bike "ride-able" during the cold months. That's only half the battle. The other half of the battle is keeping an eye on your "recommended service intervals" chart.

Inevitably, every winter I park the bikes and promise myself that I'll call the shop to set up the next major service. And every spring, when I finally get around to calling the shop, I realize that, once again, every other yay-hoo in the metro area has also realized that the storms have abated and it's time to ride again. "Nope, sorry, nothing open on our calendar until JUNE, dude."

So, that's a lot of fun.

Not really.

If you aren't sufficiently mechanically inclined to service your own bike completely, do yourself a big favor. Right after that new year's eve kiss at midnight, politely excuse yourself, take a big post-it, staple it to your forehead, and have someone scribble "make a service appointment at the shop" on the front. Enter the booze-induced slumber of the first day of the New Year as usual. Then don't forget to look in the mirror when you are shaving and getting ready for work on the second of January.

Get a Tattoo

If I have to explain that one to you, you're a lost cause already. Just do it, it doesn't hurt that much. Honest.

Strengthen Relationships

"Huh?"

You heard what I said. Be honest with yourself, buckaroo. When the sun comes out, you throttle on and take off. The significant other knows that as soon as the roads dry up and the personal temp gauge reads, "warm enough", you will be out the door and on your ride, and he/she will be playing the second fiddle once again. We have all experienced the symptoms.

"You're going riding AGAIN?" "When will you be BACK?" "But you went riding LAST weekend." "Why don't you ever take ME to the races WITH you?"

Blah. Blah, blah blah. Blah.

So take a Doctor Phil pill. Recognize that you need to spend quality time with the people who love you during the wet season, so that they'll stay with you during the dry season. Rebuild the bridges of communication, trust, respect, and shared experiences.

Take them to the motorcycle show with you. Show them how to help you wash your removable helmet liner. Go with them to the mall and be a trooper, hanging out at the Harley store while they buy Christmas gifts for all of those family members that you don't really know very well. Show them your love by reorganizing all of the motorcycle-related piles in the garage so that they can park their car inside for the winter. Make sure to make them aware of the effort involved. Leave motorcycle-magazine subscription-renewal cards for them in convenient spots, like taped to their steering wheel. Cuddle on the couch and watch share a televised motorcycle race with them. Make sure to take advantage of the commercial breaks to actually verbalize, so that you can simply nod during the race coverage. Take the time to help them with your Christmas list by showing them catalog pages and giving them a "my size" list and "my bike" make and model, to make thing easier for them.

Really, folks, it's the little things that count when it comes to relationships. SR!

by Christian Kuwasaki


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