first car drive in over a week

I felt under the weather yesterday (Monday) morning and therefore drove rather than rode to work. I couldn't help but note how much slower highway speeds feel inside the armored walls of my little Subaru compared to flying along perched on the back of the Ducati.


quick lunch loop

The combination of Stevens Canyon Rd, Mt Eden Rd, and Pierce Rd look like they could form the basis for a good quick lunchtime ride in southwest Silicon Valley.

boot camp concludes

Felt tired and sore on Saturday and therefore took the day off from motorcycle boot camp. Shame on me, since that meant I ended Sunday's ride just shy of 800 miles rather than the 1K I'd intended. Oh well.

Anyway, yesterday's ride had a plan and a map; however, in the end I simply followed where the roads and turns led. First, Hwy 82 took me to Hwy 85. Then, a wrong turn led me onto US 101 rather than to Hwy 17 as I'd intended.

So, I got off 101 at Gilroy and took Hecker Pass Hwy across the mountains into Watsonville, along Freedom Blvd to reach Hwy 1. This took me through Santa Cruz and then up around the peninsular coast. The waves were slammin', and the surfers were out in droves.

Left the highway, then, for Pescadero Creek Rd, another nice twisty motorcycle road up into the mountains. Found Alpine Rd and decided to take it. This was a very narrow and occasionally single lane road that had me running well under 30 mph most of the way.

At one point, a much braver and obviously more experienced rider on a Hypermotard zoomed up behind me, so I pulled aside to let him pass and watched in amazement as he zipped up those scary narrow turns faster than I thought they could be taken.

Still having fun and undeterred from riding that road within my comfort level, I continued puttering up it until I reached Skyline. I considered taking it toward Sky Londa to finally check out Alice's Restaurant and get some food.

The waning daylight and my desire to not drive the mountains on a weekend after dark made me turn the other way, however, and head for Big Basin Way down into Saratoga. Skyline is an amazing ride, beautiful, curvy, and easily taken fast most of the way.

In the coming weeks, I expect to be riding that stretch of road quite a bit, since the start of Big Basin Way in Saratoga is just a few miles from work. I'm thinking that a quick sandwich and a loop through the mountains sounds like a perfect lunch.


fast curves...and back again

Today I headed South out of San Jose, first on Monterey Hwy and then on US 101, to reach Hwy 25, which I chased down until I found its tail end and then rewound my path back home again.

While taking a break before turning around, I was passed by a flock of a couple dozen Goldwings, and I subsequently played leapfrog with them on the way back North toward Hollister.

Hwy 25 was great for practicing correct execution of leaned turns at highway speeds, including numerous S-turns where the bike needed to be rapidly leaned from one side to the other.

The odometer shows that I've traveled 600 miles over the last seven days; my goal of having a thousand miles of experience by the end of boot camp is still well within reach.


you can get anything you want

Today's ride took me down through Saratoga into the Santa Cruz mountains in order to loop through Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Then, I lost my race with sundown along Skyline Blvd to Alice's Restaurant. I'll have to visit there sometime when it's open and filled to the brim with other motorcyclists.

Finally, I descended Woodside Rd and bravely ran I-280 back home keeping brisk pace with traffic at 75 mph or so. What a hoot!


early morning highway chiller

Those of you familiar with Silicon Valley know that the highways around here are all relatively crazy. My normal car-based commute has been along a ten mile stretch of I-280 through the heart of the valley. The pace is normally...frenetic.

Waking up yesterday morning at five, I decided that it was probably early enough to ride that piece of highway without having to deal with too many cars. In that regard, my reasoning was correct, although an hour earlier would have been even better.

There was something I noticed once I got on it that I would have never considered. The normally brisk pace of that corridor was even faster at that time of day, with lots of people whipping past my relatively slow pace of 75 or so.

In retrospect, I believe I understand the psychology of what was happening. Many people who are commuting that early are doing so because they hate rush hour. I understand this, although I have the liberty to take the later approach to the problem.

So, I suspect that the mad speeds I witnessed then were due to those folks wanting to be done with their commute and off the roads before the rising volume of cars started to shut down the traffic grid.

Regardless, I did it, I lived through it, and I definitely don't intend to make a regular habit of it. Going 45 and the occasional 55 along major surface streets is adrenaline-surging fast for me yet. Going 75 just to keep up with the slowest cars chilled me with mortal dread.

Anyway, combined with the stretches of more moderate highway I experienced the day before, those experience contributed as exercises for the last of the formal lesson topics that I've been following. Here are the chapters.

Other than this quick ride, I spent most of the day, unfortunately, at work. Honestly, this was okay, since my aching body needed some recovery from the excessive miles from the previous day.

Afterwards, I took late rush hour major surface streets to meet with the local RPGA club in order to judge a D&D adventure. Later, honestly much later than I still wanted to be awake, I finally made my way home. Saddlebags were super handy yesterday.

I concluded day four of motorcycle boot camp with just over 250 miles of experience and some amount of exposure to almost all of the riding conditions I should experience...other than, thankfully, emergency maneuvers.

My stretch goal for the next five days is to bring my road experience up to 1000 miles and therefore become qualified, at least by numbers, to take the MSF Experienced Riders Course.


down from the mountain

Wow. That's all I can say right now. I figured I'd report that I made it back in one piece before taking a nap. I'll come back later this evening to describe the trip.

gassed, packed, and ready to goat

Here's a map of the route I'll be attempting today. Yes, I'm bringing the camera this time. I'll report back this evening. Wish me luck!

braving heavier traffic for serious twisties

Okay, by this point, I was seriously tired of stop and go. Unfortunately, other than superslab, there simply isn't anywhere I know of in Silicon Valley where you can just cruise for an extended period.

When Andy sold me the bike, he'd mentioned the ride up to Mt. Hamilton and back. When I looked at the map, I realized that I'd already made it two thirds of the way to Mt. Hamilton Rd. with my earlier light traffic practice.

So, intent on checking out this route, I set off again at a quarter to three, lust for altitude in my veins and the White Stripes rocking my eardrums. In order to get there, however, required going on the more heavily trafficked Alum Rock Rd.

This ride really reinforced the earlier countersteering lessons. I took it all at moderate speeds and had a great time working on smooth control of my speed through curves using mostly throttle control and as little brake as possible.

I did have one minor incident requiring me to catch myself as I was dropping the bike trying to negotiate a 360 degree hairpin turn while climbing with a car coming down in the opposing lane. Whew! I think it would have helped to have been shifted into first for that tricky passage.

It took me about two and a half hours to finish this journey, including liberal stops to rest and check out the amazing views. Unfortunately, this happened to be the lesson I forgot to grab my camera for, so I don't have any great images to post.

By the time I returned to the apartment, I'd unintentionally accomplished a number of firsts: transitioning from a stop on unfinished shoulder over a rough apron onto the roadbed going both uphill and downhill, riding through fog, riding at night, riding through fog at night, watching for gravel in the road and choosing a line to avoid it, and, finally, a trip to the gas station to fill the tank.

I arrived back home buzzed with excitement and drenched with sweat. At the end of day two of motorcycle boot camp I was sitting at the seventy mile mark, and I'd now had some amount of exposure to most of the types of road scenarios I expect to encounter other than highway travel.

I had so much fun with this ride that I'm planning on repeating it on day 3, extended to include Mines Rd., Tesla Rd., Patterson Pass Rd., and Calaveras Rd. Of course, depending on how I feel when I arrive in Livermore, I can omit the small loop through Tracy and leave it for some other day. Many thanks to Pashnit for showing me the way...

taking on traffic

Confidence bolstered by my early morning omelette excursion and growing rather weary of endless exercises in the parking lot, I set off to practice real world traffic handling skills on some of the nearby neighborhood back streets.

I found that I was having issues stalling coming off of a stop because I'm too timid to give the engine the revs it needs to keep going as I slide the clutch through the friction zone. Honestly, I had the same problem during my MSF.

After this, I came back and took a well-earned nap to prepare for the next lesson.

breakfast, a bunny, and a bit more range

I woke up at five, considered showering, eschewed cleanliness, and headed down the road to Denny's for a big breakfast to start the day. Afterwards, I chatted with Russ for a while and, while doing so, was visited by someone's stray pet bunny. As you can see from the picture, I still didn't know how to park a motorcycle properly.

Having allowed morning traffic to muster while talking overly long on the telephone, I took neighborhood streets back to my parking lot and rushed through the remaining low speed off-road exercises, impatient for practice involving more than my makeshift soda bottle cones.

From here forward, I'm paring down the partially filled plastic bottles to just their brightly colored caps so that I can have cones to set up range exercise reviews wherever I find a suitable parking lot.


quick report

I just got back from a two and a half hour ride consisting of about ten miles of surface streets and about 45 miles of mountain twisties on the way to and then along Hamilton Rd. to Lick Observatory and back. I'll give a more detailed description of day two of motorcycle boot camp after I've taken a nap.

the future is unwritten...may it continue

went for quick urban cyclocross sprint into depths of chaotic saturday night downtown traffic for salad and a slice of 'za followed by blazing anthem of joe strummer documentary; reminded afterward of messenger method of staying alive on track bike by maintaining momentum and, when in doubt, steering hard right which oddly summons memories of droning di prima poem, the party, if memory serves...may it continue.


duc, duc, goose...and review

This lesson ended up being shorter than I intended when the security guard came and unlocked the lot for evening downtown parking. Regardless, I was able to review some of the harder exercises from the previous session as well as to chomp down another chapter.

So, this wraps up day one of motorcycle boot camp. I've got a pretty good feel for the Monster's clutch and throttle by now, and I'm much better with my low speed turns than I was at the end of my MSF.

Tomorrow will be spent mostly in the parking lot again, finishing the final three chapters of the off-road exercises and again doing reviews of the previous ones. Depending on how I feel, I may start into the low traffic streets chapters in the late afternoon.

Also, I've decided that every day is going to start in that parking lot with at least a little bit of low speed handling exercise review. It's a good place to get the Ducati warmed up without alienating my neighbors, and there's a lot to be said for repetition when trying to build physical skills.

Oh, yeah, there's one more thing I should mention before signing off. I realized sometime today why the bike got away from me during my first lesson. I was trying to take that relatively tight low speed turn by modulating my speed with the throttle alone rather than mostly with the clutch.

So, even though lesson one cost me a replacement lever and some measure of pride, it taught me something rather important. Using the friction zone gives a lot more control and also is a safety valve against doing things like accidentally blipping the throttle.

lever replacement and extra protection

I called around and found that Honda Peninsula Ducati had a replacement clutch lever in stock for my Monster. They're super-nice folks, and I won't hesitate to call them in the future. So, I zoomed on over to Sunnyvale in the WRX to pick up the part.

When I was there, I decided to get a set of Fox Ventilator Knee/Shin Guards as well. Leg protection had been suggested by Andy, the former owner of my Duc, as a highly recommended protection accessory for the beginning rider, since the lower leg is often one of the first points of impact in a motorcycle accident. At $20 for the fancy version, it seemed like a heck of a good idea to me.

Back at my apartment complex, a little more Google research netted me instructions for replacing the lever. Ten minutes and liberal applications of grease later, the broken lever was replaced and looking as good as new.

Between the nap, some lunch, and my wrenching, I've taken a far longer break from my drills than I'd originally intended. So, it's time to put the armor back on and go for another round of low-speed parking lot exercises before my range gets infested with bar-hoppers' cages.

monster of a plan

One of the things I really wanted and even asked for in my MSF class was a copy of the range diagrams so that I could go do my own exercises.

Alas, the instructor said he couldn't give them to me. I suspect that the company giving the classes doesn't want other crews to steal their intellectual property in order to offer competing classes. Bah!

So, before I set out this morning, I put my google search skills to work and came up with a nice guidebook. With lesson plans and several plastic soda bottles partially filled with water to use as cones loaded in the saddlebags, I set out to my riding range.

As I suspected, it was deserted this morning as it usually is during the daytime. I got to work and after several hours had completed the following chapters of the exercise book I'd found.

Now, I'm going to take a nap since I definitely need to get some rest before the session this afternoon. Also, I should contact someone about getting my stubby clutch lever replaced as soon as possible.


Rise and shine, troops! The best thing about 4:20 in the morning is...no, you guessed wrong. That used to be the best thing about being awake this time of day.

Now, with Motorcycle Boot Camp (from now on abbreviated as MBC) officially underway after last night's lesson, the best thing about this time of day is "minimal traffic".

So, I'm off to check out whether my local "range" is deserted with plans to be nice to my neighbors and duck walk the Monster out of the complex.

Wish me luck!

to the lot and back

Lesson one should have started first thing on Saturday morning, but I was impatient and wanted to get started. So, I figured that I'd just pull the bike out, take it to the parking lot, do a couple of exercises, and come back.

First thing I noticed is that the Monster definitely needed some choke to get warmed up. I'm not certain if this is normal, and I suppose I'll have to ask Chalo as well as on the Ducati Monster List about this.

Next thing I found is that my clutch/throttle control needs lots of work. I got to a point during the MSF where I was fairly competent, but getting smooth is definitely going to be one of my challenges over the coming week.

Now, one of the things I didn't consider is that the normally empty parking lot would have lots of cars in it. Oh, yeah, that's right, it's Friday night. Normal people are out at the bars, drinking and trying to get laid rather than starting their motorcycle boot camp.

Regardless, there were a couple of fairly unpopulated areas of the lot, so I figured that I should work on clutch control and stopping before I finished the loop and returned home. In retrospect, I should have decided that the presence of the cars meant an abridged lesson and simply called it sufficient to make my way to the lot and back.

Unfortunately, I did do a small amount of damage to the bike, adding a couple of scuffs to the plastic on the back of the mirror and the little slider on the end of the left handlebar.

More importantly, I broke the last couple of inches off of the clutch lever. For safety, I'm going to need to replace that as soon as possible. I guess I'm going to start learning how to wrench on my bike earlier than I thought I'd need to, since motorcycle boot camp must continue.

Shortly after, one of the security guards from the bar a half block away jogged over to the lot. He'd noticed my novice skills while practicing and my spill and had decided to move his car out of the way. I noted that he didn't even ask me if I was okay.

Anyway, he didn't really need to relocate his car, since I'd definitely decided that this meant lesson one was over and that it was time to take the bike back home and review my mistake and what went wrong.

In the end, this was a great lesson. I got my first spill and damage to the bike over and done with, I gave myself a swift kick of humility and respect for the bike's power, I learned the advantage of having an EMPTY parking lot to start practicing in, and I still managed to have fun and not spook myself in the process.

motorcycle boot camp begins

In thanks for our hard work and the many amazing products we've recently released, the company I work for gave everyone the entire week of Thanksgiving off. I'm going to use this time to create my own personal motorcycle boot camp.

For the next nine days, I'm going to practice as much as I can every day, building from where my MSF class left off to the point where I can start safely commuting on surface streets to work.

It's a relatively modest goal but a very important one. If I can get to the point where I can commute on the Monster, then I'll be able to actively add experience every day rather than just on weekends or occasional evenings. Immersion is invaluable.

Fortunately, there's a rather large parking lot just a block or so from my house to start out on. Of course, I'll have to ride in traffic in order to get there, but the streets I need to navigate are relatively sedate, so I should be okay.

The one downside to all of this is that I should probably be using this time to go visit dear old friends in Austin, since I haven't been back yet since I moved to the Bay Area last March. I hope they'll understand and forgive me later.

meet my monster

So, I proceeded to solicit advice about what sort of motorcycle to buy from my good friend, Chalo. He's been riding motorcycles for many years and is also a big guy. Also, I started trolling eBay and later CraigsList exhaustively, learning the models, what I liked, and asking him countless questions.

Now, I trust Chalo's advice, and I even took some of it into consideration when deciding what to get; however, in the end, I chose mostly with my heart. After shopping quite a bit, I found a recent Ducati Monster 620 that had been babied for its first 1900 miles of life by a retired gentleman.

Unfortunately, Andy had discovered on his first low-speed spill that he isn't strong enough to lift a full size motorcycle anymore. Further, it was shaking his bones too much and leaving him so stiff after rides that walking hurt for a while afterwards.

Anyway, this morning he took his last ride on that beautiful black bike in order to exchange it for a cashier's check that he's going to turn into a nice scooter. I'm sad that he can't ride motorcycles anymore, but I'm also happy he's not completely giving up riding.

It was so hard to wait patiently through the work day today, knowing that my new bike was at home, just waiting for me to start learning how to ride it.

and so it begins

A few months ago, I was hanging at a barbecue with some colleagues celebrating the recent release of a couple of products we'd all worked very hard on for many months prior. One fellow mentioned interest in taking a basic motorcycle riding course.

It planted the idea in my head and got me thinking about how I've wanted to ride a motorcycle since I was a kid. I asked myself "Why not?" and begin to obsess about the idea. Relatively quickly, I'd signed up for the first available slot in a class in the Bay Area.

I had a blast over the weekend on the riding range. I highly recommend taking an MSF course if you want to ride, since it will take you from knowing nothing to knowing just enough to be comfortable and therefore relatively dangerous to yourself.

After that weekend, I was hooked. I applied for my M1 and started pulling the pieces together. Over the next few weeks, I purchased an armored mesh jacket and a good helmet, and I started shopping for a motorcycle...