Sunday, February 21, 2010

Peeing in the Corners

No, I'm not talking about what happens when a middle-aged rider gets going a little too fast on a twisty road. (But when you think about it, BMW-branded "Depends" might open up a whole new rider market). What I had in mind was the inevitable "house christening" that happens when a well-intentioned but misguided animal lover brings home an adopted tom cat, thinking that this critter will make a good pet.

Tom cats mark their territory, "personalizing" it in their own unique and odoriferous way. Motorcyclists do the same thing when they get a new bike, generally in less "fluid" ways. (An exception: Years ago when I sold airplanes we had a repeat customer who, before his first flight in a newly-acquired airplane, would urinate ceremoniously on the nose wheel. He claimed it was a natural way to bond with the plane. It was a cosmically funny ironic moment when he crashed what turned out to be the last of his airplanes into a farmer's field, sliding to a stop in a stand of farm buildings and demolishing the outhouse.)

Back to bikers. I don't think I've ever met a biker who didn't personalize his or her ride. Each rider has their own particular style but the type of bike they ride has a lot to do with the personalization process. Sport bike types like "fender eliminator" kits (after all, what a silly idea, having a fender that keeps road spooge off your back), lots of carbon fiber parts (providing a performance improvement of approximately 1 mph for each $1000 spent), titanium exhaust systems (complete with dynamometer charts of horsepower curves derived from hours of wishful thinking) and, the ultimate admission of a limited ability to handle all that horsepower, a pair of frame sliders.

Dual-sport types are big into aluminum luggage systems, ruggedized GPS displays on machined mounting systems that, when you're not looking, transform into large mechanical movie monsters, and heavy-duty skid plates. The latter are guaranteed to protect the bike's oil pan against otherwise catastrophic impacts with the type of road debris most often encountered on these bikes: carelessly discarded double shot, extra hot, half sweet venti mocha cups in the single-track wilderness of the Starbuck's drive through.

The cruiser crowd has the easiest time of it. Recognizing their target market's desire to define their non-conformist identities through their V-twin alter egos, cruiser manufacturers offer their bikes in a variety of oxymoronic "standard custom" packages: tick the box on the order sheet, fork over several thousand extra dollars and you get the styling department's idea of your roadgoing persona. It's brilliantly simple. In fact, one vendor promotes their "Lemming Yellow" paint and doodad package with the catchy line "No hassles tassles!"

Then there are long distance riders like me. We're members of the Iron Butt Association, with license plate backers proclaiming that we're "The World's Toughest Riders!" We "farkle" our bikes. I'd better clear this up quickly: we're not moto-perverts. "Farkle" is a word we made up because we're tough enough to say it out loud. A "farkle" is an accessory that, in some way or another, helps us ride 1500 miles a day in any weather on any road. Common farkles (see, I'm so tough I use it without quotes) include tiny, powerful, expensive PIAA driving lights that focus on protecting our bikes' paint from rock damage, fuel cells that mount on the seat between our backsides and the cars behind us being driven by people talking on their cel phones, XM weather/traffic radios so we know which route will be the slowest, wettest and coldest and, of course, radar detectors so we know instantly when we've got a ticket.

On this bike, I took a more minimalist approach. I actually "de-farkled" it. First, I removed the radio, speakers, remote controls and antenna, removing twelve pounds of weight way up high on the bike and giving me a useable glove box. I'd never listen to it anyway as I find music distracting when I'm riding.

The bar backs were next. My body is one of the "Monday/Friday" ones, all oddly proportioned, like it was assembled from leftover parts by a worker who either had a bad hangover or wanted to get home and get started on one. My eyes are two different colors, my feet are two very different sizes, I have short legs, a long torso and monkey arms. The last thing I need are bar backs.

The second last thing I need was the last thing to go: the highway pegs. I know that long-legged riders love these things. Everyone's inner Easy Rider loves them. I can't stand them. (Heck, I can't even reach them!) I think they're ugly (particularly on a motorcycle as svelte as the R1150RT) and dangerous: they move your feet from the controls to some tortuous place out near the roadkill on the shoulder.

The rest was just cleaning. It took over thirteen hours to remove all the fairing plastic and clean eight years of baby powder-fine red Oklahoma topsoil from every nook, notch and niche on the bike. I used various stiff bristle brushes to loosen the dirt, an air compressor to blow it away, two different types of soap (heavy duty boat soap, then gentler car wash) and two full hand wash/rinse cycles to get it all out.

Fairing panels were washed inside and out, then hand polished and waxed on the painted sides. All the covered black bits (frame, wiring looms) got a generous spray of low gloss plastic protectant and all the exposed black stuff got two coats of tire gel (I could do a late-night info-mercial on the miracles you can work on sun-damaged black plastic with this stuff). The thirty six little screws that hold all the plastic on were cleaned, etched, sprayed with black appliance epoxy and oven baked. Finally, I removed the entire exhaust system and polished it, inch by baked-on inch, first with 1500 grit wet emery cloth then with  metal polish.

At 55,000 miles, my new-to-me RT looks like new. What a farkling lot of work! But that was the easy part. The hard work is still to come: naming my new friend.