A look back at my 2016 in riding
In the waning days of December, the nights come early and the tendency to look back comes easily. For me, the year of riding was far from the best or the worst.
For some, riding a motorcycle is a hobby, maybe even an expensive and time-consuming one, like playing golf or owning a boat. These are the people who post ads for used motorcycles for sale, saying “no time to ride.”
I don’t need time to ride because riding is just one more thread in the fabric of my life. It’s my job and my hobby, my entertainment and my recreation, and it’s my transportation. So I never have to make time to ride. It just happens because I’m living my life and going places.
In 2016, that riding included no epic, once-in-a-lifetime trips, but no year on two wheels is totally uneventful. There was that foolish thing I did back in April, a couple of “work” trips to the Superbike races, trips to the office in Philadelphia for work and to the hospital in West Virginia for family, and to Maine and Michigan for fun. Here are a few highlights in photos.
That foolish thing I did
Back in April, I was preparing to make a trip to Road Atlanta to cover the MotoAmerica races for RevZilla, eager to get started on the first road trip of the season. I replaced the rear tire on the Versys one evening. The next morning, I set out to run some errands. The morning was particularly cold, but instead of thinking about the new tire and the low temperatures, I was thinking about where I was going and what I needed to do. Less than two blocks from home, I turned onto Main Street and gave the Versys a normal dosage of throttle. But conditions were not normal.
The rear snapped loose and the motorcycle spit me into the street in a classic high-side. I didn’t even think it was possible to high-side at 10 mph. I’m here to tell you it is.
Do I know better? Don’t I know enough to baby a new tire on cold pavement? Of course I do. Knowledge doesn’t help if you don’t use it.
Fortunately, my gear (and the low speed) spared me from injury, except for one minor bruise. But the bracket holding the left footpeg and brake pedal snapped in two. I shifted the bike into gear by hand and rode the block and a half home with broken parts and left leg dangling.
It was just a few days before I had to leave for Road Atlanta. I called around and nobody had the part in stock. At the nearest dealership, I told the kid working the parts desk what I needed and he replied, “A Kawasaki what? How do you spell that?” Kawasaki has been making the Versys since 2008. You’d think anyone working at a Kawasaki dealer would have heard of it by 2016.
I ordered the part from another dealer that was further away but had done maintenance work on my Versys. But now I had a dilemma. Not being able to ride the Versys to Road Atlanta left me with the choice of canceling the trip (no fun), riding the 1997 Speed Triple (questionable reliability) or the Daytona (no way to take camping gear and cripplingly uncomfortable for a 500-mile day). Fortunately, I didn’t have to make that decision. The dealership called in 24 hours to say the part was in. I fixed the Versys and had a great sunny day to ride through the North Carolina mountains down to my camp site on the South Carolina-Georgia border.
It was a spectacularly beautiful spring weekend for racing at Road Atlanta with plenty of drama, especially when Josh Hayes collided with his teammate, defending MotoAmerica champion Cameron Beaubier, giving Beaubier two DNFs in the first three races and putting his title defense on the rocks (or so it appeared). The story of my year of riding would come back to Beaubier, with even more drama. But that was later.
A new nook of Maine
In May, after one of my bimonthly work trips to RevZilla in Philadelphia, I continued on to Maine for my annual visit to my sister’s house. Nobody is a better hostess, and dining on homemade pizza made on the grill at their beautiful backyard dining table was an early summer highlight.
I’ve made a trip to Maine every year for many years now, so I’ve explored just about every route between Cape Elizabeth and my home in Bexley, Ohio. This year, on the way home I was meeting my wife at Stowe, Vermont, where she was attending a conference, and I found one more new route to explore. This time it was a ride on Route 113 through Evans Notch, which actually crosses the New Hampshire-Maine border a few times as it winds north.
Summer and a milestone
For a while, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I was reluctant to see my old Speed Triple finally hit 100,000 miles. I only rode it about 1,000 miles in some recent years. In 2015, my attitude changed and I began looking forward to the milestone, and that accelerated into 2016. I became eager to hit that six-figure mark on what was already easily the one motorcycle I’ve ridden most in life.
Quite a few of those miles were racked up this summer, as my father had health problems and my parents needed help keeping up their property. In late summer, he went into the hospital for what was supposed to be outpatient surgery but turned into something much more involved, from which he is still not fully recovered all these months later. The Speed Triple carried me on most of those trips and in September it rolled over.
I made one modification to the odometer to add the “1” Triumph never planned for.
Old and creaky and filled with quirks as it may be, the Speed Triple in many ways remains my favorite motorcycle. I’m no longer reluctant to rack up miles on it. In fact, I’m now eager to see how far and long it can go. In March, it will be 20 years since it rolled off the assembly line, and I have plans to give it plenty of exercise in 2017.
Even without that milestone, September was my best riding month of the year. My bimonthly business trip to Philadelphia to clock in at RevZilla included covering the final round of MotoAmerica at New Jersey Motorsports Park. By that point, Beaubier had bounced back from his terrible start to go on a winning streak and bring a significant points lead into the final round. Going into the second race of the weekend, it looked like he had it wrapped up until the second half of the race. While leading, his Yamaha emitted a few puffs of smoke and expired, an exceedingly rare mechanical failure at the worst possible time. He rolled to a stop and became a dejected spectator on a far corner of the track.
At that point, Hayes was in third, behind the Yoshimura Suzuki duo of Toni Elias and Roger Hayden. If it stayed that way, Beaubier would be champ. If Hayes could win the race, he’d win the title. While Beaubier stood and watched, the most helpless-feeling man on the planet, he couldn’t know that Hayes was struggling with the setup on his bike and knew he couldn’t get past the Suzukis. The season ended with the result everyone expected (Beaubier repeating as champion) in the way nobody expected.
Later in September, after my trip east, I headed north to Michigan to meet an old friend for a camping trip along the shores of Lake Michigan. On the first day of fall, we rode the coastal and inland roads. I’m sad to say it became a bit of a forced march, because I was trying to get photos for a short article that will appear in Rider magazine, and it made for more of a long day than a relaxing ride for my friend. But he accepted my apologies and assured me he had fun anyway. And I did get this: maybe my favorite photo of the year.
One last memorable ride in December
The last notable ride of the year came in early December when I flew to Los Angeles for the press intro of the BMW G 310 R, the first in a new line of smaller motorcycles from BMW. These days, my younger colleagues Lemmy and Spurgeon do most of the press intros. They need the experience and the contacts. But this time the task fell to me, and riding down the serpentine curves of Decker Canyon Road into Malibu, with the huge expanse of the Pacific stretching westward under the California sunshine in December is not bad duty, at all.
Organized press rides are not as exciting to me as they once were: too short, too regimented. I’m happy to leave most of them to the younger guys and go off on my own rides, to places like Evans Notch or Little Sable Point. But they are great opportunities to reconnect with old friends in the business, and anything other than gratitude is just poor behavior by a jaded old writer. So many motorcyclists would love just once to go stay in a trendy Hollywood hotel, eat good food and ride a brand-new motorcycle that’s not even on the market yet. Honestly, it was a good time.
And also a good end to a good year. For all the jolts and shocks and violence and destruction around the world in 2016, in my personal corner, I can’t complain. Any year where I can still ride through this world and enjoy what’s good about it is not a year to take for granted.