Monday, August 24, 2020

Recapturing my youth? Mission failed!


Almost identical except I added frame sliders for track days, right!


It was the very year I married Margo that, together, we went for our motorcycle licenses. Somehow, with one weekend of training and a few dropped bikes, we managed to become licensed motorcyclists with that magic M endorsement affixed permanently to our regular Colorado driver’s license. At first, we didn’t pursue riding but in 2001, off to the show we went and bought a pair of bikes. In no time at all, we moved up the ranks to where we both were driving Yamaha V-Twin Cruisers – mine a 1600cc Roadstar and Margo’s, an 1100 V Star.

Pictures of these bikes have appeared in multiple posts through the years but as a reminder, you may want to check out the photo atop the post of September 2, 2018, The bikes are gone … However, these were relatively sane acquisitions and we both enjoyed Saturday afternoon rides around the front ranges. What could be clearly classified as being insane was the addition of a Yamaha one-liter superbike, Yamaha’s halo product, the R1. Pictured above is the identical model, color and all, of the R1 I purchased. But this is just the beginning of the story.

Adding my final conclusion to the beginning of this story may not be usual, but to set the record straight. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to allow these bikes on our roads! Having gotten this off my chest, what follows is coverage of one summer’s experience. Picking up the bike on a Friday afternoon, with spring’s gentle rains falling, riding it home was among the most nerve-racking experiences of my life. For the first 1,000 miles, the change gear “strobe light” blinded me whenever I reached 4,000 rpms. Mind you, this was a motorcycle with a tachometer that ran up and through 13,000 rpms. Get the picture? Even at this docile limit I was getting the sense of what I was riding.



See? That bright white strobe light? It’s all you CAN see …

 It was mid fall when the 1,000 mile mark was reached and the shop upped the change gear strobe to 10,000 rpms. Coming home from a ride with Margo and being on a backroad with no traffic, I decided to take off changing gears only when the strobe flashed.  Changing out of third gear, as the strobe flashed, I briefly saw 130 mph flash by on the digital speedometer.

For some, this might have been exciting news as there were still three more gears to go but for me, it was the beginning of the end. And I was only just then entering the bikes “power band!” Yikes … At speed, I no longer had the physique to embrace the ergonomics or adopt the riding position necessary to control this Yamaha. Why was that strobe light important? The acceleration drove my eyeballs to the back of my skull so that I couldn’t see anything at all other than that flashing light.

Talk about tunnel vision! Talk about straight roads being very short! I could only stay on the bike for 45 minutes or so before every muscle in my body told me to call it a day. It was only after a young girl pulled up next to me at the traffic lights, riding a similar superbike, who lifted her visor and turned to me to say, “Nice bike, mister!” that I quietly went about selling the bike. I had ridden sports bikes many decades ago but they were sports bikes with 250cc and 350cc displacement engines that did little to prepare anyone for the superbikes of today. As one journalist noted this month, when testing the latest Ferrari, that “it felt like a superbike; it’s a straight-cancelling machine!”



Parked at mall with nothing to look at

 Much more sensible to drive a car, you would think. This summer we have been putting a lot of miles on our BMW M4 Competition. Set up right, while not quite the oomph delivered by the R1, it’s still a reminder that there are plenty of highly capable vehicles out there that really are pushing the boundaries of normalcy. This is such a well-rounded vehicle that it’s easy to forget that, strobe light notwithstanding, it ensures that you really do pay attention to what’s happening around you.

The beauty of this car is that left standing in a car park it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. Every now and then, a stranger will stop and ask, “is that the competition version?” Apparently, to the keen eye, the front openings are a little larger to better feed more aggressive turbocharges of which the M4 Competition has two very large turbos. We have driven this vehicle across America and while it truly doesn’t qualify as a grand tourer, it can serve this purpose when called upon to do so. Up until a few days ago we have been so looking forward to driving this to Seattle, but that proved not to be an option in these times

The M4 Competition comes with a 7-speed double clutch automated manual which I absolutely love. Previously, we had purchased a couple of Nissan GT-Rs – a 2009 and a 2013 – and at the time, these were the affordable benchmark against which all performance cars were measured. Truly a super car according to the original presenters at Top Gear. Looking back at that 2009 model with only 480 hp and how much like the R1 it felt, having only 444 hp in the Bimmer seems rather pedestrian until you realize it’s only a tic slower that that mighty 2009 GT-R. But again, driving out onto the highway and heading for the supermarket to pick up a fresh head of lettuce, this M4 Competition certainly makes for a fun “quick trip to the store!”



Margo behind the wheel taming the Tail of the Dragon

All of which is to say that Margo and I have had opportunities to experience some wonderful vehicles over the years, two wheels and four. But for this weekend, we are putting to one side any thoughts about what might come next as it’s time for the Indy 500. The greatest spectacle in racing! A pageantry for truly "super" cars! Through the years, I have attended the “Great Race” atop Mount Panorama and watched GM and Ford battle it out over 1,000 kilometres. Margo and I have also attended the Monaco Grand Prix on the streets of Monte Carlo. We have watched Indy cars around the streets of Long Beach and on the Sonoma circuit.

Could I drive like that? Could I stay focused that long and be able to concentrate in such a hostile environment? The lessons learned on the R1 motorcycle kept coming back to haunt me – OK, I was able to “hang on” to the R1 but could I ride it? Back in my youth, when I was a fearless rider, perhaps! The stories I could tell you of the number of times I crashed my Honda café racer have become legendary (to those who have sat through my story telling).  Unfortunately, when it came to that Yamaha R1 I failed miserably to resurrect any signs of my youthfulness and as I write this post, I have become a little gloomy as I know those days are long gone.

Behind me, on the top shelf in my office, are the helmets Margo and I had custom painted for our motorcycle adventures. I find it increasingly more difficult these days to look at them without shaking my head and wondering, what were we thinking? So, it is with total awe that I sit fixated on the television watching the boys of summer hurtle into corners carrying speeds close to 240 mph. For 200 laps the four turns on the Indy track will challenge their youthful exuberance where one microsecond of distraction can prove disastrous.



All revved up and nowhere to go … at least, for the moment!

Put it down to Indy Week, but for the past couple of weeks the stories coming from Indianapolis have helped build on previous years legendary tales. Who knew that it would be another Andretti on pole to start the race? Seated to the left of the famous Borg Warner trophy, the third-generation Marco Andretti was all smiles. To his right and only two seats away, sits Colton Herta. As previously noted, Marco Andretti drives for the Andretti / Herta team part owned by former two-time team owner Bryan Herta, while Colton drives for a different team albeit still associated with Andretti, the Andretti-Harding-Steinbrenner Autosport team.

In short, the above picture really did sow the seeds for what was to come in that any smiles that were visible would soon be replaced by lines bordering grim determination. These youthful faces, full of anticipation, would soon turn serious in ways few others will ever experience. When asked what his goal for the race was, Colton responded, “to win, of course and to become the youngest ever Indy 500 winner at 20.” He took a deep breath and then did the calculation – “I think I am still young enough to make two attempts as next year, if the race is held in May, I will still be younger that that previous youngest winner who was slightly more than 21 years of age when he won.”

There will be no failed missions this time around. Youth will dominate even if the likes of Sato and Dixon push the boundaries just a tad. You may argue that it’s only numbers but as you creep past 40 years of age, the edge you may have once had loses a little of its sharpness. I have lapped enough tracks over the course of a decade to know that I do really miss being 40 even as I barely remember anything at all of when I was 20.

We all know that it was Mark Twain who remarked, “Youth is wasted on the young,” but it’s not till you are well past any possible association with youthfulness that the message really sinks in. So much of your youth is wasted. But then again, when it comes to strategy, wiser heads prevail and in this case it’s the likes of Roger Penske, Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta that typically shine on occasions like this.



Hard to argue with the team of Marco-Pole-Oh! and Bryan Herta

I cannot wrap this post up without adding something about the just-completed running of the Indy 500. In some ways it didn’t so much end with a bang – and there were plenty of bangs this year – but with a whimper as the race ended under a full course yellow. All drivers involved in incidents appear to have been able to walk away with no serious injuries although the last incident involving Spencer Pigot was a huge endorsement of all the steps Indy has taken to improve safety through the years.

As for team Andretti it really wasn’t their day. With all the hopes for Marco to do well it kind of ended with the first lap when he was passed by Kiwi, Scott Dixon who then battled with Japan’s Takuma Sato for the rest of the afternoon as they did indeed pushed the boundaries. As for Colton he turned in the second best drive for Andretti finishing eighth just one place behind fellow Andretti driver, James Hinchcliffe. This being Colton’s second Indy 500, it was a tremendous improvement for him as he finished last year in last place following a very early retirement. 

Youth may indeed be wasted on the young but then again, not all youngsters rise to the top as these Indy drivers have done – proof certain that it is very much a young person’s sport. Off the track it’s so important for them to perform as well as tapping sponsors’ support has become a lot harder to do. Knowing the value of winning and knowing the relative short-lived time in the spotlight is a reminder that time isn’t your friend. It was left to soccer player George Best to tell it frankly when he stated, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” 

It was a hectic start for Colton and #88

For Margo and me, it would be easy for us to admit that throughout our time together we have treated our cars just as we would have treated our children. In reality, this isn’t a fair or true observation but on occasion it kind of rings true. We have cars coming off lease in 2022 and already I want to take Margo on a tour of showrooms but for now, no matter what I spin on the day, there have been no visits to any dealerships. Even when I argue that the lead time for some cars is as much as eighteen months, there’s not a shred of excitement in any response she provides. Truth be told, we are toying with the idea of enjoying just a tad more comfort and ease of ingress and egress even at the expense of performance. Who would have thought?

One other sign that times are changing is that after decades of having more cars than garages, we are looking to downsize to just three vehicles. But for more on that you will have to wait for the post of winter 2021 where I take a look at the cars that would make sense for Margo and me to consider. For now, enough said. However, it does have me scratching my head and wondering what really will come next. One thing for certain is that any thought of throwing a leg over a superbike is definitely off the table.

And you don’t have to direct a strobe light my way for me to confess; it’s not that I am out of shape, mind you, but then again, yes it is! You don’t have to remind me either that turning more laps on circuits and looking for podium finishes isn’t going to happen as best as I can tell; concentration these days isn’t what it should be. On the other hand, in shape or not, for me the best person I know to earn a podium has to be Margo.









Saturday, August 8, 2020

Where our road is leading …

Another road trip has been postponed. Planned for next month it would have taken us up into the North West of the country, to the islands that lay between Canada and the US. We wouldn’t have gone through Seattle or Portland, but otherwise it had looked to be a good opportunity to revisit places we like. Unfortunately, there were no guarantees that the bars and restaurants we wanted to visit would be open. Even as we have been stocking supplies to safeguard us, the time just wasn’t right. Then again, those storm clouds appearing on the horizon are hard to ignore.

The effect of the global pandemic isn’t visible at all here, where we live. When you read headlines from newspapers published July 24, 2020, for instance, decrying the visit to the US by a couple of Australian politicians then you cannot help but wonder. After reading that headline Two senior Australian Government ministers will fly to COVID-ravaged US next week
I stepped out onto our patio and looked around. Poetic license by that Sydney newspaper, or written with all seriousness? COVID-ravaged US?

Margo and I live in the village of Windsor, Colorado. It’s a small town just to the south east of the much larger Ft Collins. Our home sits alongside the local golf course where there is an almost constant stream of golfers passing by. It’s a bucolic setting that lends itself to peace and quiet and yet, apart from the self-distancing the golf course imposes all by itself, there are no outward signs that anything has changed.

And here is the paradox; as with many other countries there is tragedy emerging from a number of hot spots, but for many of us living across the west, where urban living is far less dense then no, there is little evidence that much has changed at all apart from facemasks, which we put on to enter a bar or restaurant (Colorado edict), before removing them once seated. Having said this we sure do miss our road trips and perhaps even more, our time together in our cars. This latest postponement was understandable and yet, there were still signs of nostalgia in the conversations that followed.

These days, even as we look around us at golfers darting furtively across the fairways looking to play their next shot, it seems like road trips have taken an unexpected turn for the worse and time on track simply isn’t happening at all. It was two years ago that on August 8, 2020, that I posted Ridin’ the storm out … Little did we know at the time that it would be our last outing in the Corvette.

The road course at HPR had become Margo’s and mine favorite track and we enjoyed many weekends away from home camped out on the parking lot. Track weekends had also been the catalyst for buying our RV, but again, it had always been about the cars. That last outing saw us dealing with a different cloud formation as a tornado made its appearance. 

Margo and I happen to live nearby a local craft brewery. Launched by Dan Miller, the son of our good friends, Jim and Dale Miller, we were uncertain over its fate in these times. However, there were no signs of a COVID-ravaged US as we spent an evening with the Millers even though to go up to the bar to order drinks, a mask was required. And yes, many of the tables had been removed so that a degree of social distancing could be maintained. Once seated, with adult beverages on the table and discussions covering almost every topic imaginable well under way, it was hard to correlate this to anything that appears in newspaper headlines.

All of which makes the postponement of this latest road trip more puzzling. Understandable, mind you, but still puzzling! Mighty River, as our local pub is called, is now a favorite and it’s worth discussing at this point the many favorites we have enjoyed over the years, be that road trip destination, the hotels and restaurants or even the cars. We have taken a hiatus from track weekends for now. Will we ever return to the track? It’s still far too early to contemplate the future without a track toy but then again, the passage of time is certainly reminding Margo and me of tour times on track.

For a decade we had packed up our car and headed out to tracks across the west and looking back, it was something that was not a hobby so much as it was a shared interest in being able to empty our minds from all that we had been doing the week before. Over that period of time, we had tracked a C6 Corvette we had supercharged, the Infiniti G37S, a C5 Corvette Z06 and the Viper.

HPR may have been our favorite track, but when it comes to which car was our favorite car then hands-down, the best just had to be our fourth generation Viper SRT/10. Then again, it didn’t have cruise control so road trips had to include regular driver changes but then again, that was a burden Margo and I were quite prepared to share. 

When it comes to favorite destinations we have pretty much seen most of the US and Canada. We haven’t been to Maine and we haven’t crossed the Canadian prairies opting to skip both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. As for all the rest we have driven through them, enjoyed the sights and bought the tee shirt. There really isn’t one destination that stands out as our all-time favorite but there are still many places we want to see.

As for roads then there was the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap (US Hwy 129), the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray (Hwy 550) and Mulholland Drive, California (not forgetting Decker). And then there was the Moki Highway, Utah (Route 261) that over the course of just three miles dropped more than 1,000 feet with 10 percent grades on a road that was mostly dirt and gravel. If you have to leave civilization, concerned over the COVID-ravaged US, then there are plenty of ways to get lost on America’s highways.

No topic featuring a ravaged US could be complete without a reference to the biggest bike rally of the year. It was back on this weekend in 2011 when our road trip home took us from Omaha and Minneapolis to Sturgis. Back then, there were more than half a million visitors to this sleepy little village of 7,000. You can always tell when this event is about to happen as the many groups of motorcycles passing us on the interstate highway were heading north.

This year, amid what some are calling the height of the global pandemic, the 2020 ride to Sturgis continued unabated although some of the planned activities were being scaled back. Expectations were that this year, the crowd would be cut in half but even so, there was no mandatory order to wear masks. And let’s be serious; who among us would want to challenge that many bikers. It came as no surprise then that our friends, the Millers, made it to the event as they trekked across the northern states on their way to Indiana.

As for their son Dan he opened up his Mighty River bar to a local radio station. They were broadcasting a pre-game broadcaster discussion and from where we were seated, it looked to be a lively affair. We never did find out the game that they were previewing but it had to be a local affair and here in Northern Colorado, there are plenty of sports still being played. A short drive to our favorite car wash saw us pass a local high school were the visiting team had been bused in and the game was under way. No spectators in the bleachers mind you, but then again, we haven’t seen too many attendees present for this game even at the best of times.

We hear so much about home field advantages. In cricket, the home crowd is often referred to as the twelfth man as the raucous nature in supporting its team cannot be ignored by any visiting side. It’s hard to imagine cricket, like golf, breaking any social distancing rules as the fielding side are so spread out and yet, there are still no crowds in the stands. Even as England played Ireland and is now playing Pakistan, it was all the commenters could do to instill a sense of excitement in those tuned into the matches. Seeing as we did the broadcast team at our local hunched around microphones as they were and without a mask in sight, well, it was hard to make out any storm clouds gathering nearby.

Our newly installed Weber grill is up and running but it’s not the only station we turn to for a sausage-sizzle. As we drove into a local burger place that we thought we could tap for a burger or two, we just happened to park alongside a C5 Corvette Z06. In torch red, no less and a perfect copy of the Vette we tracked during most of that decade of track weekends. We sold it last year along with the RV and trailer and who knew!

How advantageous having an RV would have been in these times. No need to worry about the absence of rest areas alongside the highway. No need to disinfect all the surface areas. And no, absolutely no need to be concerned about touching anything foreign at all – we would have been taking our home right along with us.

And this is the biggest stumbling block in the way of us taking to the road any time soon. Living outside of major cities and far removed from the COVID-ravaged US we are being warned about, Margo and I are still trying to make sense of it all. Our families express concerns about our activities – planned or otherwise – even as they are frustrated from our apparent lack of concern about it all. But then again, as we sit with our neighbors on driveways enjoying an afternoon cocktail party what else should we be doing?

The worst news of all happened just a few days ago. The magnum of 1993 Chateau Lafite had well and truly corked; a byproduct of the many moves we had made and of our inability to keep temperatures under control. Even so, we did have to snap off a picture as I tipped the bottle down the sink. On the other hand, the magnum of 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia held its ground and proved to be really good as did the magnum of 1997 Duckhorn Merlot. Fortunately, our driveway get-together ensured that there were plenty of thirsty neighbors on hand to share our two-out-of-three impromptu wine celebration!

Stumbling blocks aside and cognizant of the fact now that our last road trip was back in January when we took in the sites along California’s Pacific Coast, we really aren’t fooling ourselves. If you have read this post all the way to this final paragraph, rest assured we are taking this global pandemic very seriously. We have now been tested twice for COVID-19 with an early result in March informing us that we both had contracted Influenza B, but we are spending a lot of time at home. We are fortunate that for more than a decade we have worked out of our home offices, but all the same, like many of you we are social creatures who thrive on interaction with you all.

Where our road now leads, who can say? What car we will chose as we head out onto the interstate is still unknown but what we can say, we have never put less miles on our vehicles in all the time we have been married. Those clouds continue to billow as summer storms have erupted most nights but come sunset, the sky still paints a pretty picture. So perhaps, even as we all make adjustments to our lives knowing that returning to our former normal times might never happen, there will be less talk about the ravages of disease and more talk about how we all are keeping watch over each other. Here’s to many more sunsets yet to come!