My current U.S. motorcycle road trip reminds me an awful lot of when I first learned to sail. Not for me a series of lessons at the local yacht club, or even learning the ropes aboard the many yachts that sail out of Sydney, where I was then based. I, in my usual "If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing" manner, flew to Thailand, boarded a 28-foot yacht and set off out to sea.
Four months, five countries and two yachts later, once back on dry land in Kenya, someone asked if I'd ever been scared during the ocean crossings. On hearing my response in the negative, the fellow Kiwi I'd crewed with aboard the second yacht from Sri Lanka to Africa couldn't help himself.
"You should have been," he said. "You would have been if you'd known better."
I'm reminded of those words many times as I traipse around the east of America, and wonder if I would have undertaken this trip if I'd known better. But ignorance can be bliss (for me, at least) and I'm learning as I go.
First the bike, or the Bike from Hell, as I've described her before (bikes, like yachts, are always female and should be treated with similar respect). The MZ Baghira was designed and built by an East German company using the 660 single-cylinder engine that Yamaha uses for its Raptor ATV. It's fast, especially from standing still, light and easily maneuverable. (It also likes to wheelie if you're that way inclined.) The SuperMoto (a cross between a racing and off-road bike) was versatile enough to be enlisted as a Police bike in Germany and was, apparently, the impetus for BMW's GS series.
As the MZ's owner often tells her admirers, she's fast enough to hold her own with the big boys but can also take a six-foot leap in her stride.
What the MZ is not, I am discovering, is an ideal cruiser or tourer. (Her owner's big brother pointed this out to me numerous times, I paid no attention.) With her high profile, high rider stance and only minimal wind deflection, the MZ and her rider (being me), tend to take quite a buffeting on the open road. Add a little luggage for my two-plus months on the road, in the form of sissy bags behind me on the seat, and the center of gravity becomes higher and wind resistance increases.
Detroit friends and I have been looking at windscreen options since my buffeting on the Ohio Turnpike on my way from DC to here last week but nothing looks suitable. That said, I survived that 12-hour day (about 10 of which were spent in the saddle, with at least half in gusting winds) and don't plan to have a longer or windier single day. The MZ has shown she can handle it, even if she's nowhere near the comfort level of my friends' custom cruisers, and anything she can handle I can also.
The bigger problem is probably my naive ignorance, but my unfailing optimism seems to win out regardless. Before I borrowed the bike she was serviced and given new tires, plus lowered about an inch and a half so I'd be able to hold her up more easily. (Last time I borrowed her was only for a week so I didn't mind being on tiptoe - I also only had one long-ish ride alone.) But taking her across states and weaving in and out between big rigs on America's Interstates at speeds of 80-plus miles per hour has provided what in boating terms we would call a shakedown cruise.
Doing so without basic tools or equipment was an example of either my optimism or idiocy - take your pick. Jury-rigging a solution to the side fender wanting to leave the frame, while on the side of I-80 W with trucks roaring past, wasn't fun, but it worked. I'm blessed with my friends and once safely in Detroit, JD and others helped me with more permanent solutions, plus general maintenance and advice. I'll be leaving with more tools than just the Leatherman I arrived here with, plus cable ties, electrical and duct tape.
Appropriate clothing has also been a problem, and here's where the wind and weather conditions again come into play. I bought wet weather gear my first week here, but have come to realize that it's not really suited for Interstate speeds, particularly on such an exposed bike. My biggest problem is again wind, and one I discovered last week when riding home later than planned from an outing. A friend lent me his jacket, which was many sizes too large, and the effect was similar to what one might expect if trying to ride at 80 mph while towing a small kitesurfing kite. The bike wanted to go forward while the jacket filled with air and wanted to pick me off. The same thing happened, to a lesser degree, when I wore my wet weather jacket riding from East Lansing to Detroit today.
But, in the grand scheme of things, these are all just inconveniences. I'm loving riding the roads of America, even if they're less fun in high winds or thunderstorms, and loving the people I'm meeting along the way. And for each problem I encounter, there's always a solution, whether it be to wait til the storm passes by or to simply tough it out and get warm and dry once at my destination.
Perhaps I'd be more scared if I knew a little better, but its much more fun believing everything will work out for the best.