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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Harley Hillclimb in Malaysia

Great adventure last weekend! Some friends and I did a loop in Southern Malaysia from Singapore, including some unplanned off-road on street bikes. Here's a bit of footage from my friend's mobile phone. I didn't share it with the guy I rented from until after I got my security deposit back ; )
About 20 minutes after we returned to pavement, the rain began to fall and we rode the next hour or so through a tropical thunderstorm. Good times!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Running the Dragon

Just a couple pics from the recent Smokies ride- John & Lisa were excellent hosts and Zoe charmed us all as usual. John, thanks for your generous provision of the bikes! I was impressed by how much the Road King would lean before dragging floorboards.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok
Last weekend we took a boat ride through a floating market near Bangkok during a business trip in Singapore. It's a bit of a drive to get there, but well worth it. Ignore the souvenirs and go for the great food from floating vendors.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Eating well in SG

Of food in Singapore so far including expensive meals, only food that has jumped up and said "Wow, I'm delicious!" has been in People's Park, where ambiance is scruffy, cost is low, competition is fierce and the owner is close to the food.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Modern travel

Funny... Headed for SFO to SG, 3 people in car each on a different phone call (including driver). Zoom!

via mobile

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thank you, Soichiro!

Yesterday I dropped off my 2001 ST1100A for a new timing belt. It's well overdue at 98,000 mi and the recommended interval was 60K. I'd been putting it off because I was thinking of replacing the bike with something newer and more modern. After considerable looking around and shopping, I've come to the conclusion that keeping the old ST seems the best option. I have several reasons: for starters, it's paid for. It's also my favorite bike I've owned after about 15 others. Modern comparable bikes include the Yamaha FJR1300 and Kawasaki Concours 1400. Both of these are easy enough to find locally but still kind of expensive (as is my old ST, I've found), and the Honda ST1300. Unfortunately all of these are heavier bikes, have less fuel range, worse fuel consumption, and smaller luggage space. Furthermore, the hard bags on the other bikes stick out further into the traffic stream, complicating lane sharing. My ST scavenges space under the rear bodywork and close to the rear wheel, allowing larger volume with less width. The mirrors are integrated into the turn signals, unlike the FJR's. I like this because it's a cleaner look and puts the mirrors lower where I'm looking alongside my waist instead of at my shoulders in the mirrors. The lower mount also interferes less with the typical height of car mirrors while splitting. The mirror configuration plus narrow bags means if I can get the front end through traffic, the back will fit. My old K75 and Concours 1000 didn't share this trait.
It would take a while as well to equip a new bike the way I like it. This bike had a Givi tail trunk when I bought it, and aftermarket hot grips making it an ideal replacement for the BMW R1100RT I'd had before. It took a few months before I realized it also has a ThrottleMeister. Since then, I've added a headlight modulator, ScotchLite reflectors on the bags, aftermarket horns, and electrical outlet.
Gas prices keep going up, and this trend will almost certainly continue, so paying for a new bike that uses more of the stuff just doesn't make sense to me. On that note, in the newest CityBike magazine there's a nice story about recent electrics Brammo and Zero. I think these would be great replacements as commute vehicles for me- there's the purchase cost of course, but maintenance and power costs on these are so cheap that it's still very appealing as a commuter. I'd keep the ST for longer range trips too, but with charging at home and work wouldn't need it very often. Something to think about...

For reference, my list of bikes in my life to date: 1977 RD400 Yamaha (cheap but adventurous 1st bike, kick-start only, tall 1st gear 2 stroke), 1984 VF700S Sabre Honda (sold when I got spooked by the Honda V-four top-end failure stories, but a good bike), 1982 XJ650LJ Seca Turbo Yamaha (runs like a doggy 650 below boost, and like a normal 650 with it: compression 8.5:1 so it wouldn't blow apart under boost), 1980 GS750tz Suzuki (a great and classy looking standard air-cooled UJM four. This bike and I went up and down the CA coast quite a bit when I was in Monterey in the Army, and it was my college bike too in Minneapolis), 1986 ZG1000 Concours Kawasaki (bought in Monterey and drove to next duty station in Texas, great in MN after I got out of the service, kept for a while back in CA as a civilian but it was kind of top-heavy in the Bay Area hills with that big old tank up high. Open freeway though, it'd do the whole 240 mile tank in one sitting easy for me, and cruise at 90mph all day long  if I wanted to), 1982 XZ550 Vision Yamaha (a first used bike back in the Bay Area after the brother Paul had one of these new out-of-crate in 1984 or so when the market was glutted. Great little bike in city traffic, thumpy, sexy sound, very flickable, but with fatal flaws such as a tendency to drown its starter motor brushes in motor oil, sticky sidestand safety switch etc. Fortunately, very light to push home), 1982 XJ750 Maxim Yamaha (paid $100, bought from behind a fraternity house in Berkeley where it had been abandoned; lots of carb and tank work but eventually reliable), 1987 K75t BMW (my first BMW! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Nice hard bags & wind protection, fuel injected. Learned to blip the throttle on downshift as required on Beemers, rear wheel almost fell off in swingarm failure late in my ownership), 198? Honda CX500 (Shaleah's actually- bought it from a fellow RiderCoach for $100 when said RC was leaving country for Australia to follow love of her life, and returned a couple years later), 1985 XT350 Yamaha (1st dirt bike! Bought for ~$300 via CityBike, great deal from lifer AMA member who shuttled it to my house from SJ in his van for free. Lots of fun on this one in Metcalf and Holister), 2000 R1100RTs BMW (last BMW! Beautiful bike bought via BMWMOA and drove it back from Breckenridge, CO Thanksgiving weekend. Froze my a** off, forgot about winter and snow while living in CA. Had to stop at Ft. Courage Trading Post in West Gallup NM to wait out a blizzard.... later back in CA had to 'blackmail' a BMW dealer to honor the warranty when the valves coked up on one side at only 16K mi.), 1986 CB450SC Honda Nighthawk ($100 backyard special and fun project, 63 mph WFO on freeway, but no problem for UC Davis student who bought it), 2001 Honda ST1100A (current mainstay, in 2008 drove to TN and back for a weekend Smoky Mtns ride, invented some moto-yoga poses on the way and earned my IBA number on this one. Just like Israeli Air Force, a fighter-bomber good for all missions: sport, commute and tour), 1991 Vmax (another project bike, negotiated for a year to get for $700 after it had sat for 7 years in a parking garage. Fun experiment), 1984 Magna (bought for $900 cash in North Bay so a visiting colleague in Germany could ride with me, sold it later for $1300), 1989 Honda NX125 (most recent project- a busy mosquito 2-up in Alameda!),

Other bikes I've rented (in TN) Goldwing 1800 for the Smokies, torquey but kind of a pig on the Dragon, at least w/o body english. (in Singapore) CB400- sporty, but wary of speed limits there, (in Maui) Harley Dyna Low- paint was worth more than the bike. Pretty though. With only a shorty helmet and no wind protection, lid was trying to tear my head off. Fun. (Darmstadt) VStrom 650- see most recent story about Bavaria/Czech/Austria tour. A bit small, but very capable of autobahn and twisties.
Borrowed bikes (with many thanks!) Rob's CBR600 in TN (ride starts at 7K), Rainer's 1985 GPz900 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland- demon from hell, still great fun after all the repairs; and Seca2 XJ600 (electrical problems- stalls momentarily with each blink of turn signal)
Other bikes I've put notable work into, yes there are stories here: Jack's pair of 1990 VTR250's, Jory's 96RF600 Suzuki (straightening out the brake lever etc), Patrick's "Pavement Magnet" 82XJ400 Yamaha Maxim, and lastly a certain 1990 CB250 Nighthawk veteran of CMSP range duty, but still capable for commuting. I hope this list continues (any more loveless backyard bikes out there?) and eventually includes electrics as well. There's always time to learn something new.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why I Ride

I try to set a good example for my colleagues, my family, my kids…but sometimes I fail.  For twenty years now I’ve had a dangerous habit I can’t seem to break. I don’t even want to break it. It’s an example I don’t want you to follow. I ride a motorcycle, and I can’t recommend it in good conscience.
Why do I do it? I’m not trying to make sense to you. Humor me- I just need a sympathetic ear while I exercise my demons.

I tell myself motorcycling is very practical.
I dance through traffic on a gas sipping road-rocket; the rest of you doze in your rolling cages. I can park where you can’t, and cheaper. I save 60 bucks a month on bridge tolls alone. My insurance is less too- if I hit something I make a smaller dent.
 Teaching new riders even got me where I am today. I’ve developed skills as a motorcycle safety instructor that I use in my day job as a technical trainer.
I’ve adapted to all the benefits. It would be hard to give it up now. Except that…

Motorcycling is very impractical
Motorcycling is intellectual. It requires more understanding of physics and mechanics than driving a car. A rider is forced to adapt to his bike, concentrate, and drive defensively because he won’t win in crash. I have to wear armor. It’s sweaty in hot weather, but laundry is cheaper than skin grafts. I could wear less but even strong sunscreen has a weak pavement protection factor.
In cold weather I freeze. My only shelter is what I wear. I have to bundle up like the Michelin Man and my face shield fogs up. A sneeze in my helmet means an instant white-out. Rain, ice and snow are bad not only for comfort but also for traction.
Motorcycles carry less and sometimes luggage falls off the bike. Years ago I doubled-back for my poorly secured Franklin Planner, only to see pages explode out of the binder as a large truck hit it. Some riders use a backpack, but anything tied to your body could beat you to a pulp sliding down the pavement.
Carrying passengers is tougher too. We can’t talk face to face, even if we could hear over the motor and wind roar. A wiggly passenger jiggles the whole bike. Most passengers are more reluctant to accept a ride on a bike as well.

Ultimately I’ve found motorcycling is a metaphor for life.

I steer with my eyes. As in life, if I focus on my goal instead of impending disaster, I better my odds. Where I look is where I’m most likely to go. Years ago I taught a class for the U.S. Park Police in Presidio, San Francisco. At one point, the sergeant sponsoring the class brought us up a large concrete staircase where California Street dead-ends just west of 32nd Ave (Hey, we were on dual-sport police bikes). I couldn’t believe I was riding a motorcycle on a staircase, and almost fell when I looked down at the stairs passing under my wheels. Then I remembered to look to my destination, and soon I was at the top of the stairs looking down.

Balance takes a certain amount of speed. Too slow and I wobble around trying hold a course: that day we also rode Ocean Beach. In the deep sand, the bikes would bog down easily if we went too slowly. With speed, the bike would ‘float’ a little more and I could keep a good pace and straight line.  A little forward momentum can carry me over the rough spots more smoothly.

Motorcycling is social. I think about consequences of my actions more. On the road we’re all trying to get somewhere. Because I’m more vulnerable, I cooperate more to get where I’m going. Nobody wins in a crash, but the biker loses the most.

It’s more physical and sensual. Car driving is like watching TV. You sit on your motor-couch with the remote-wheel in your hands, viewing the world from your glass bubble. On a motorcycle nothing blocks peripheral vision. I can feel my speed through slicing the wind instead of reading it on a gauge. I lean into the turn with my bike and see the ground leaning back at me. I can smell rain coming, soak up morning mist in the lowlands, and feel the chill of a November ride burn my thighs.

We riders wave at each other, understanding the vulnerable journey we share. It attracts techies and unstable people who like this sort of thing. We pack lighter to experience life more fully. I think Helen Keller said it best: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all”- she would have made a great motorcyclist (or perhaps better a passenger).

I guess I’ve talked myself into it again, but please don’t follow my dangerous example. Don’t expose yourself to the risk. Keep a big steel wall between you and the rest of the world, and carry as much as you want.
Perhaps someday I can overcome my habit, but don’t count on it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Just came back from  meeting tonight at Oakland. My team continues to do well with career exploration and learning to run a small business. Tonight they spent most of their time at shopping a lifestyle and learning what it will cost. The next step they take is looking at what kind of jobs they'll need (in line with their interests) to earn the money supporting the lifestyle. While the kids were working, I talked with Robyn @ Cisco and Pier, a couple other mentors. It's kind of funny that none of us are particularly working in our field of study, although each of us can say there's a connection between the education we received and what we do. I try to relate that concept to the BUILD kids as well as my own- as a boat can only be steered when it's moving, a learner only learns when they make a choice and go in a direction.
Sometimes the 'wrong turns' are more interesting, and still educational. During my dad's visit from Arizona last week, he retold the story of how he was mortified when I chose to attend a vocational school rather that finish my degree (back in 1986). This has turned out to be a good decision, although I'm not still working as a car mechanic. Another way to express the concept: bonsai trees are only interesting if they aren't straight. My path to arrive where I'm at now is unconventional, but it makes a much better story. Dad wanted each of us four kids to be an engineer, and I've come the closest- with a studio arts degree. I train engineers to work on DNA sequencers. That's kind of an unimaginable outcome from my high school years. Along the way, I've learned I really enjoy international travel, and I intend to eventually live overseas for a period of some years.
How will I do this? There's a piece in there about going the right general direction, even if I don't know the complete path yet. I've found success in life is based on acting on current circumstances rather than desired circumstances, and I think I can engineer this change.  'Luck' is where the preparation meets opportunity. I'm going to see what I can do.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I've been meaning to do some writing here for far too long, and it's finally time to get on with it. Business travel does make finding the time a little easier. Anyway, if you've known me for some time you might have gotten a little bit of my chautauqua about the funnel. That's the core of this whole thing (and series of blog posts I intend to develop), and has even snuck into classes I teach and my thinking about how to live a life. The diagram above is kind of messy because this conversation touches on so many things. This picture is the final result of a conversation with KS Kang, a colleague of mine from Seoul, over dinner at the food court in Chinatown near Clarke Quay, Singapore. At the core of the diagram is a funnel, and the letters N, M, L, and W.
The N is for the right now. What am I doing right now? What should I be doing? Hopefully we are all living at least partially in the right Now (unless you've got your head stuck too far up your cellphone). The present moment is all we have, and being present in it is important. Kids seem to be especially good at it.
However, most adults need to plan a little farther ahead to function in the world we've created. That brings us to Mid. Mid is for short to mid-term planning. I suspect most adults live at the M. Even a 5-year plan is kind of uncommon among people I talk to. We pay the bills, work the job, keep up the house, and basically do what we need to do to stay functioning and solvent. It's important, but I don't see it as being key to a deep sense of meaning. The M does help dictate what we should be doing at any given moment though, and so it informs the N. Most people will use short and mid-term thinking to avoid future pain and make gains where they can.
Even fewer people live at the level of L, by which I mean thinking about M and N in terms of their whole Life. L is about strategy- lining up Mid-term events and the Now in order to accomplish life goals. The 'bucket list' I hear a lot of people talk about these days (maybe it's my age? The people I hang around?) has something to do with Life goals. Somehow it still strikes me as selfish although more likely to be fulfilling vs. living at M.
At the top of the funnel is W for World. It is a rare few people these days who view their own life contribution in context of a world cause larger than their own Life. These are often the kind of people who make history- Lincoln, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, etc. Sacrifice is involved- and subordinating one's own emotions and day-to-day happiness for something larger. I'm no longer particularly religious but my own link to this World state is an interest (irrational past my own life?) in the future well-being of the human race and our planet . My interest for my children is part of it, but I think the story goes deeper than that (see Charlie Stross' e-book Accelerando for another perspective). We live in an interesting time: On the edge of widespread sequencing of the human genome and possibly human genetic engineering, the impending singularity, and the anthropocene. I don't know how this will play out, but am very interested in exploring the question.