Friday, July 26, 2013

BMW Motorrad drops out of World SuperBike competition at the end of 2013.

And after all that work on the S1000rr. What a shame...strategic realignment, et cetera, blah blah.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Details and background on "Song of the Sausage Creature"

A long time ago, in one of my very first posts, I quoted a passage from Hunter S. Thompson's essay, "The Song of the Sausage Creature. I noticed that the link I posted to the full text is broken, and it's getting harder to find a good source to link to, so I figured I'd cheat and post the full text below for posterity's sake.

But in looking, I also came across a great Cycle World article from December 2012, written by the poor woman whose job it was to try and get a publishable piece of writing from Thompson to CW's editors while he possessed their brand new, very expensive, very exotic motorcycle. Here's the article about the essay.

And here's the original "Song of the Sausage Creature" from Cycle World, March 1995:
There are some things nobody needs in this world, and a bright-red, hunch-back, warp-speed 900cc cafe racer is one of them - but I want one anyway, and on some days I actually believe I need one. That is why they are dangerous.
Everybody has fast motorcycles these days. Some people go 150 miles an hour on two-lane blacktop roads, but not often. There are too many oncoming trucks and too many radar cops and too many stupid animals in the way. You have to be a little crazy to ride these super-torque high-speed crotch rockets anywhere except a racetrack - and even there, they will scare the whimpering shit out of you... There is, after all, not a pig's eye worth of difference between going head-on into a Peterbilt or sideways into the bleachers. On some days you get what you want, and on others, you get what you need.
When Cycle World called me to ask if I would road-test the new Harley Road King, I got uppity and said I'd rather have a Ducati superbike. It seemed like a chic decision at the time, and my friends on the superbike circuit got very excited. "Hot damn," they said. "We will take it to the track and blow the bastards away."
"Balls," I said. "Never mind the track. The track is for punks. We are Road People. We are Cafe Racers."
The Cafe Racer is a different breed, and we have our own situations. Pure speed in sixth gear on a 5000-foot straightaway is one thing, but pure speed in third gear on a gravel-strewn downhill ess-turn is quite another.
But we like it. A thoroughbred Cafe Racer will ride all night through a fog storm in freeway traffic to put himself into what somebody told him was the ugliest and tightest decreasing-radius turn since Genghis Khan invented the corkscrew.
Cafe Racing is mainly a matter of taste. It is an atavistic mentality, a peculiar mix of low style, high speed, pure dumbness, and overweening commitment to the Cafe Life and all its dangerous pleasures... I am a Cafe Racer myself, on some days - and it is one of my finest addictions.
I am not without scars on my brain and my body, but I can live with them. I still feel a shudder in my spine every time I see a picture of a Vincent Black Shadow, or when I walk into a public restroom and hear crippled men whispering about the terrifying Kawasaki Triple... I have visions of compound femur-fractures and large black men in white hospital suits holding me down on a gurney while a nurse called "Bess" sews the flaps of my scalp together with a stitching drill.
Ho, ho. Thank God for these flashbacks. The brain is such a wonderful instrument (until God sinks his teeth into it). Some people hear Tiny Tim singing when they go under, and some others hear the song of the Sausage Creature.
When the Ducati turned up in my driveway, nobody knew what to do with it. I was in New York, covering a polo tournament, and people had threatened my life. My lawyer said I should give myself up and enroll in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Other people said it had something to do with the polo crowd.
The motorcycle business was the last straw. It had to be the work of my enemies, or people who wanted to hurt me. It was the vilest kind of bait, and they knew I would go for it.
Of course. You want to cripple the bastard? Send him a 130-mph cafe-racer. And include some license plates, he'll think it's a streetbike. He's queer for anything fast.
Which is true. I have been a connoisseur of fast motorcycles all my life. I bought a brand-new 650 BSA Lightning when it was billed as "the fastest motorcycle ever tested by Hot Rod magazine." I have ridden a 500-pound Vincent through traffic on the Ventura Freeway with burning oil on my legs and run the Kawa 750 Triple through Beverly Hills at night with a head full of acid... I have ridden with Sonny Barger and smoked weed in biker bars with Jack Nicholson, Grace Slick, Ron Zigler and my infamous old friend, Ken Kesey, a legendary Cafe Racer.
Some people will tell you that slow is good - and it may be, on some days - but I am here to tell you that fast is better. I've always believed this, in spite of the trouble it's caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba....
So when I got back from New York and found a fiery red rocket-style bike in my garage, I realized I was back in the road-testing business.
The brand-new Ducati 900 Campione del Mundo Desmodue Supersport double-barreled magnum Cafe Racer filled me with feelings of lust every time I looked at it. Others felt the same way. My garage quickly became a magnet for drooling superbike groupies. They quarreled and bitched at each other about who would be the first to help me evaluate my new toy... And I did, of course, need a certain spectrum of opinions, besides my own, to properly judge this motorcycle. The Woody Creek Perverse Environmental Testing Facility is a long way from Daytona or even top-fuel challenge-sprints on the Pacific Coast Highway, where teams of big-bore Kawasakis and Yamahas are said to race head-on against each other in death-defying games of "chicken" at 100 miles an hour....
No. Not everybody who buys a high-dollar torque-brute yearns to go out in a ball of fire on a public street in L.A. Some of us are decent people who want to stay out of the emergency room, but still blast through neo-gridlock traffic in residential districts whenever we feel like it... For that we need Fine Machinery.
Which we had - no doubt about that. The Ducati people in New Jersey had opted, for some reasons of their own, to send me the 900ss-sp for testing - rather than their 916 crazy-fast, state-of-the-art superbike track-racer. It was far too fast, they said - and prohibitively expensive - to farm out for testing to a gang of half-mad Colorado cowboys who think they're world-class Cafe Racers.
The Ducati 900 is a finely engineered machine. My neighbors called it beautiful and admired its racing lines. The nasty little bugger looked like it was going 90 miles an hour when it was standing still in my garage.
Taking it on the road, though, was a genuinely terrifying experience. I had no sense of speed until I was going 90 and coming up fast on a bunch of pickup trucks going into a wet curve along the river. I went for both brakes, but only the front one worked, and I almost went end over end. I was out of control staring at the tailpipe of a U.S. Mail truck, still stabbing frantically at my rear brake pedal, which I just couldn't find... I am too tall for these new-age roadracers; they are not built for any rider taller than five-nine, and the rearset brake pedal was not where I thought it would be. Mid-size Italian pimps who like to race from one cafe to another on the boulevards of Rome in a flat-line prone position might like this, but I do not.
I was hunched over the tank like a person diving into a pool that got emptied yesterday. Whacko! Bashed on the concrete bottom, flesh ripped off, a Sausage Creature with no teeth, fucked-up for the rest of its life.
We all love Torque, and some of us have taken it straight over the high side from time to time - and there is always Pain in that... But there is also Fun, the deadly element, and Fun is what you get when you screw this monster on. BOOM! Instant take-off, no screeching or squawking around like a fool with your teeth clamping down on our tongue and your mind completely empty of everything but fear.
No. This bugger digs right in and shoots you straight down the pipe, for good or ill.
On my first take-off, I hit second gear and went through the speed limit on a two-lane blacktop highway full of ranch traffic. By the time I went up to third, I was going 75 and the tach was barely above 4000 rpm....
And that's when it got its second wind. From 4000 to 6000 in third will take you from 75 mph to 95 in two seconds - and after that, Bubba, you still have fourth, fifth, and sixth. Ho, ho.
I never got to sixth gear, and I didn't get deep into fifth. This is a shameful admission for a full-bore Cafe Racer, but let me tell you something, old sport: This motorcycle is simply too goddamn fast to ride at speed in any kind of normal road traffic unless you're ready to go straight down the centerline with your nuts on fire and a silent scream in your throat.
When aimed in the right direction at high speed, though, it has unnatural capabilities. This I unwittingly discovered as I made my approach to a sharp turn across some railroad tracks, saw that I was going way too fast and that my only chance was to veer right and screw it on totally, in a desperate attempt to leapfrog the curve by going airborne.
It was a bold and reckless move, but it was necessary. And it worked: I felt like Evel Knievel as I soared across the tracks with the rain in my eyes and my jaws clamped together in fear. I tried to spit down on the tracks as I passed them, but my mouth was too dry... I landed hard on the edge of the road and lost my grip for a moment as the Ducati began fishtailing crazily into oncoming traffic. For two or three seconds I came face to face with the Sausage Creature....
But somehow the brute straightened out. I passed a schoolbus on the right and got the bike under control long enough to gear down and pull off into an abandoned gravel driveway where I stopped and turned off the engine. My hands had seized up like claws and the rest of my body was numb. I felt nauseous and I cried for my mama, but nobody heard, then I went into a trance for 30 or 40 seconds until I was finally able to light a cigarette and calm down enough to ride home. I was too hysterical to shift gears, so I went the whole way in first at 40 miles an hour.
Whoops! What am I saying? Tall stories, ho, ho... We are motorcycle people; we walk tall and we laugh at whatever's funny. We shit on the chests of the Weird....
But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity. We might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it's right. The final measure of any rider's skill is the inverse ratio of his preferred Traveling Speed to the number of bad scars on his body. It is that simple: If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles.
The emergence of the superbike has heightened this equation drastically. Motorcycle technology has made such a great leap forward. Take the Ducati. You want optimum cruising speed on this bugger? Try 90mph in fifth at 5500 rpm - and just then, you see a bull moose in the middle of the road. WHACKO. Meet the Sausage Creature.
Or maybe not: The Ducati 900 is so finely engineered and balanced and torqued that you *can* do 90 mph in fifth through a 35-mph zone and get away with it. The bike is not just fast - it is *extremely* quick and responsive, and it *will* do amazing things... It is like riding a Vincent Black Shadow, which would outrun an F-86 jet fighter on the take-off runway, but at the end, the F-86 would go airborne and the Vincent would not, and there was no point in trying to turn it. WHAMO! The Sausage Creature strikes again.
There is a fundamental difference, however, between the old Vincents and the new breed of superbikes. If you rode the Black Shadow at top speed for any length of time, you would almost certainly die. That is why there are not many life members of the Vincent Black Shadow Society. The Vincent was like a bullet that went straight; the Ducati is like the magic bullet in Dallas that went sideways and hit JFK and the Governor of Texas at the same time.
It was impossible. But so was my terrifying sideways leap across the railroad tracks on the 900sp. The bike did it easily with the grace of a fleeing tomcat. The landing was so easy I remember thinking, goddamnit, if I had screwed it on a little more I could have gone a lot farther.
Maybe this is the new Cafe Racer macho. My bike is so much faster than yours that I dare you to ride it, you lame little turd. Do you have the balls to ride this BOTTOMLESS PIT OF TORQUE?
That is the attitude of the new-age superbike freak, and I am one of them. On some days they are about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. The Vincent just killed you a lot faster than a superbike will. A fool couldn't ride the Vincent Black Shadow more than once, but a fool can ride a Ducati 900 many times, and it will always be a bloodcurdling kind of fun. That is the Curse of Speed which has plagued me all my life. I am a slave to it. On my tombstone they will carve, "IT NEVER GOT FAST ENOUGH FOR ME."
...Sweet jeebus. That's how you write a product review.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"...He has given us a secular version of a sacred text."

Nice write-up on some of the back story and present-day significance of Robert Pirsig and ZATAOMM .

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Tuesday evening, the 9th of July:

The air outside is like gravy. Thick, gray, flavorless gravy.


So I was cruising on my way home, just crossed the county line (my penultimate landmark) essentially doing the motorcycle version of SOCMOB (I guess that would RDRMOB) when THWACK!! this ginormous BUG hits me straight in the hollow of my throat at about 70 miles an hour (my doing the posted speed limit of 55 + this crazy-ass bug going twenty miles an hour THE WRONG WAY IN MY LANE).

I actually flinched and meandered in my lane for a second it hurt so @#$%^& much. But I regained my composure, continued down the road to my turn, and proceeded to the end of our lane where I stopped to pick up the mail. Whilst doing that, I reached down to check the slight tickling sensation I felt on my shirt. So, fumblefumblefumble OW OW OW OW OW! #@$%^&*!!!

Yep, it was a #@$%^&*!! wasp I hit on the highway at the posted legal speed limit while SOCMOB, so to speak, and that #%$@^&!! wasp wasn't content to just crash the @#$% into me. Nooooooooooo, he had to come along for the ride, and add injury to insult by giving me a big old sting right smack dab in the center of my sternum for my troubles. And after all that fussing and commotion, he had the audacity to fly off.

#@$%^&!!. ATGATT, my butt.

Footnote: For those of you keeping score at home, that's two snakebites and a wasp sting since Sunday.

Not sure what made me think of this—

The sky was lost and day-dreamy on the way in to work this morning. Vaguely defined clouds, vaguely defined horizons made for a soothing and relaxing trip. Stripped-down Beast, aka the 'R1100-less' seems like a different bike without all the plastic that usually encases it.

Today I added the hardcases back on, because I get nervous riding without all the crap and clutter the cases store—probably about forty pounds of extraneous junk that I rarely touch or use (tools, first aid kit, bungee net...) plus of course the extra drag the cases create. But I feel better having it all along for the ride.

So I guess it was the modest profile and the presence of the cases that reminded me of the 1979 R65 standard with Krauser cases we owned for a brief period back in the day. Brown bodywork and tank, snowflake mag wheels.

The R65 was the older cousin of Campaigner. The later R80st was built using many of the components of the R65; much of the front end, the instrument cluster and control assemblies, the headlamp shell, brackets and turn signals, and some other odds and ends. The R65 engine was a 248 series, smaller and using different carburetors, while the R80st used a standard 800cc type 247 engine.

For a brief run, the monolever suspension of the G/S and ST even made its way back to the R65 (about 1,700 units were built with that configuration) but they all came at the end of the sixty-year run of the air-cooled boxers, and were pushed aside to make room for the K-bikes in the mid 1980s.

The R65 had some issues, for sure. Standard criticism was that it was underpowered and underbraked, and that it was an answer to a question that few people were asking. But a lot of folks thought the R65 was an ideal urban bike, and I'd have to agree with that analysis. It shared many of the strengths of the R80st—short wheelbase, tight turning radius, light weight, supple and responsive handling.

It also had a classic two-into-two boxer exhaust system, and sounded pretty much like any airhead /2 or /5 from anytime. The modest power output of the 248 series was kind of fun in a way. You really had to think about where you wanted to go and how you wanted to get there (I'm not talking about road trips; I'm talking about lane changes).

The R65 demanded that you be working the gearbox pretty regularly, and a lot of riding it consisted of cranking the throttle open and listening to the throaty twin exhausts as those cute little cylinders spooled up and the bike slowly accelerated. It required a great deal of patience sometimes, and was no match for its contemporaries in terms of either speed or quickness. But the R65 was reliable, it was comfortable, and it was more than competent. The R65 is also one of the classic airheads that still looks good today, thirty years since the last one rolled off the line. On the rare occasion I spot one, it never fails to turn my head...and if I happen to spot an R65LS, that warrants a full stop-and-admire. I believe our R65 was the last motorcycle Mary rode while pregnant with Philip, on a very chilly group ride through a May snow squall in Virginia.

There's a lot to be said for the technology of the oilheads (ABS, anyone?) and I have no illusions about the pluses-and-minuses of new technologies versus old technologies. I wouldn't mind having a 247 or a 248 to putt around on, probably wearing a Belstaff jacket with tweed patches on the elbows. Beast is still my go-to bike, and for now I'll just lose myself in imagining it's an R65 from time to time...that's the best of both worlds.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Black Snake Days

I. Saturday morning, bright and early. Taking care of chores early so we can head into town ahead of the heat. In house#1, there is a turkey hen and four keets—half the number there were the night before. In lieu of the keets, there is a large black snake curled up in the corner, partially hidden beneath the wood chip bedding. It bulges conspicuously.

Without thought or hesitation, I locate the snake's head end and grab it; it erupts from the wood chips in a writhing fury and attempts to wrap itself around my arm. Bloated from gorging on our keets, it is slow and lacks the supple grace it would normally exhibit. I am stunned and furious at what it has done, and at how I have somehow failed our charges.

I stand with my writhing captive for what seems like an eternity, deciding what to do. I quickly realize there is only one course of action, and that is for the snake to die. Not to assuage my anger or rage or guilt or sorrow, not for vengeance or retribution or reparation or anything else like that. It must die because if i do not kill it, it will undoubtedly return and finish what it has started, and perhaps inflict harm on the hen herself, though she is too big to become a meal.

So without further thought or hesitation, I kill the snake instantly. Its tail continues to act without plan or guidance for some time, then finally quiets. I throw its body into the meadow for the scavengers to feed upon, and by the next day large sections of it have been picked to the bone, leaving the fish-like skeleton to bleach in the hot July sun.

II. Sunday morning. A black snake slithers along the fence line between the garden and the summer chicken yard, safely disappearing into the deep weeds and cover separating the two. The chickens are concerned but not alarmed.

III. Early Sunday afternoon. Another sighting, this time in the garden proper. I do not see this one, but shortly  afterwards, I see another black snake—significantly larger and longer than Saturday morning's snake—gliding silently among the summer flowers and forbs just inside the garden from the driveway. I walk along beside it for a time, trying to keep track of its head to gauge its intentions. It pauses briefly, as the fencing limits its options, then proceeds to disappear into a burrow. It advances six, maybe eight inches, paused, backs up an inch or two, then resumes its progress until its entire length has disappeared underground. I would not have thought it possible for such a large creature to disappear with such ease. What was it seeking? Food? Shelter? Respite from the baking sun? I have no idea.

IV. Later Sunday afternoon. We are relaxing beneath the creaky ceiling fan when the roaming guineas raise a ruckus outside our room. They are persistent and unusually focused, so on my way out to begin another project I pause to see what has them riled up so. The three clownish heads are staring and screaming at another black snake, which this time has sought refuge in the clutter next to the foundation. I realize there are many ground nests nearby, and we have noticed the occasional egg disappearing. So I step to the snake, and my complacency and overconfidence gets the best of me. As I reach for its neck, I grab too far back and the   glaring, angry head snaps back and bites me, once, twice. The second time, it does not let go, but hangs on to my finger with a fury.

My first thought was "aww...those are like little kitten teeth. Angry little kitten teeth. How adorable this little snake is." And the rest of the angry little snake body, all three-and-a-half feet of it, began knotting itself around my hand and arm. Realizing I was kind of stuck in an awkward predicament, I called for Mary to toss me a glove, with which I could proceed with a little more security and dignity.

Gloving up my unsnaked hand, I tossed the snake away from the house. Unfortunately the snake did not disengage my hand, but instead cut several little gashes in my finger as its flying body dragged its teeth away. Nevertheless, as soon as it was on the ground, it reoriented itself and began for the shadows near the house with great haste. I put my foot on its neck, and again, it struck several times at my shoe. But with safely gloved hand, I reached down, caught it directly behind the head, and picked it up to examine it before deciding a course of action.

I looked at the little bulge in its belly. It was not an 'egg' bulge. It looked more like a 'mouse' bulge. So at the exact same moment, Mary and I realized what the snake's fate would would be dragooned into our service. I took it to the fenced garden, and released it among the many mole-rich rows. Pissy to the last, it writhed angrily as I let it go, and it raced off for shelter and cover among the rich green cornstalks. I hope it has found a nice mole tunnel to call its own.

So many black snake stories, such a brief period.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Seems kinda strange to me.

So today it's Friday, the fifth of July, and I seem to be one of the few folks riding in to work today. But it's nice, because I realize there's a steady stream of sport bikes—onesie-twosie—heading the other way, towards the piedmont and mountains. On a typical commuting morning, I rarely see many bikes heading west.

Some of them are solo, some have pillions; some are ATGATT and some appear nearly naked. Regardless, it makes me happy to think of all these folks having a long weekend and taking advantage of it by getting some road miles in before the heat comes on with the full ferocity the day promises.

But it gets me to thinking...pretty much all the folks I've ridden with in my couple decade-long riding career have given up their bikes. I go back through the years, and can't think of anyone who's still with it. At this point, I only know one other person who even has a bike, and we're not riding buddies at this point.

I look back at pictures from the last three decades of rides, and can still remember most of the names and faces and the places and roads we traveled. But the only long group ride (Tail of the Dragon) is almost seven years past; the most recent long solo ride (Vermont) is almost three years past, and the last ride that wasn't solo was a year ago. That leaves a weird hole in my psyche. I miss all those people, I miss those places, and I miss that activity.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Herons, plural

On my way to work today I saw something I had never seen before—a flock, albeit a small one, of great blue herons. Three of them, to be exact, flying in formation across the low grey sky.

Recently I have seen a pair of the smaller green heron, noteworthy for their brightly colored legs and feet, in the vicinity of the pond at GMU. They patrol the shore and shallows and nearby woods, and fly spectacularly. But they are no match for the great blues, unmistakable with their deep keels, long curved necks, deadly bills, gracefully extended legs and almost comically graceful flight made possible with the slightest exertion of their wingtips.

Earlier this week, a great blue took off from a pond next to where I work, then slowly, gracefully, ponderously gained both speed and altitude until it soared into the treetops nearby and disappeared. With each flap of its long wings, its scale appeared to change; it seemed to grow larger, more massive, with each stroke. By the time it reached the woods, it had transformed from a shore bird into a massive, commanding master of the sky.

I cannot envision anything but ancient pterodactyls when I see them in flight; slow, steady, unfaltering, their gaze fixed to a point on the far horizon. For the longest time, it always appeared to me that they only flew on paths diagonal to roadways; I never saw a heron cross a road perpendicular nor fly along one that I could recall. But recently I think I did see one cross a road at a right angle, and it seemed unnatural.

But I am sure that before today, I have only seen the great blue heron as a solitary traveler.

And Just Like That, It Came and It Went

At twilight last night—the first day of July—we went outside to gather the day's eggs and begin the process of closing up the flocks.

We were both going about our business in the summer chicken yard, Mary looking for eggs in the outside nestbox, me collecting the eggs from the main house, when I noted a strange sound coming from the south. It was not the sound of a car on the gravel road, nor was it the far-away sound of a truck on the highway. It was not an airplane, and it was not the rising of the wind.

We looked at each other.


It never occurred to me that the sound of rain approaching is different from the sound of the wind. It is a  white noise, almost devoid of characteristics, made up of countless tiny little granular noises subsumed within one another. In contrast, wind is complex and dense, rich with layers of turbulence and harmonics; bigger chunks of sounds made by lots of large, chaotic things interacting.

We quickened our pace, hurriedly closing the gates behind us. "Can you see it yet?" We looked to the distant treeline, far to the south. As we looked, the treeline disappeared behind a grey wall. The sound became louder, more insistent. The nearer treeline disappeared, then the trees in the backyard. We ran and ducked beneath the overhang of the shed just as the rain reached us, laughing as the roaring deluge obscured the world around us and pounded the earth.

Then, no more than thirty seconds later, it diminished to almost nothing, moving on as quickly as it had arrived. The ground, so recently assaulted, was barely wet; beneath the trees, it had stayed dry. And the sound of rain leaving is nothing to compare with the sound of rain coming.

It's too bad, because we really needed the rain.