– Ben Martens


Motorcycle Sale

concourshawkAlmost exactly ten years ago, I bought my first motorcycle. Six years ago, I sold it and upgraded to the Kawasaki Concours. I loved both bikes and have a flood of good memories with them. I took Tyla for a motorcycle ride on our second date, I took a three day trip through Canada with Doug and Frank, and I saw countless beautiful sights.

As of Friday, those memories are all I have left of my motorcycle*. I sold it. The bike had been on consignment in Seattle for eight weeks but didn’t sell. After I got it back, I talked to a local Kawasaki dealer and found out they do consignment too. I should have just gone there first. After talking numbers, I decided to just sell it to them.

I told myself I couldn’t get a truck until a few things happened and one of them was selling the bike. Check.

Why sell it? I averaged about 3000 miles per year until Elijah was born but in the last two years, I’ve only managed 1000 miles total. Most of those were spent in traffic commuting to work. I just have other things to do with my free time these days.

I’d love to get another bike later in life once Elijah has other things to do with his free time, but for now, I’m going to enjoy this as one more simplification of my life.

*Not actually true. I still have to get rid of all my gear and a spare rear tire. Let me know if you’re interested.

Three Pass Blast

There’s a popular motorcycle ride in this area called the Three Pass Blast. You combine Snoqualmie, Blewett and Stevens Passes for a beautiful ~240 mile ride through the mountains. I’ve done the ride quite a few times before but I decided to give it another shot in the 80 degree weather from last Saturday morning. I went counter clockwise around the loop with an 8:15AM start to try and avoid the various traffic congestion points and it worked really well. I was home by 12:30AM and still had the rest of the afternoon to work on house projects.

With two GoPro’s, I thought I could record the whole ride. The first camera battery died just after getting through Blewett pass, but when I pulled the second camera out of the saddle bag, I noticed that the bumping around had turned the camera on and drained some of the battery. That second battery died after getting through most of Stevens Pass. I still stitched the video together and ran it at 1000% normal speed. It’s not super exciting, but if you’ve never done the loop before, flip through the various points in the video and notice how dramatically the terrain changes over those 240 miles!

Tulip Ride 2013

Approximately 3 hours after we signed up for a baby class, the annual Tulip Ride was scheduled on the same day. Thankfully we ended up taking a different class and Tyla was ok with me going on the ride without her this year.

This was my fifth time on the Tulip Ride. The first time I went it was about a dozen bikes. This year we topped 200 and raised over $5000 for charity before any company matching! There were police escorts both in Redmond and in Tulalip along with media coverage leading up to the event. It’s turned into a big production!

This was also the first year that we had some celebrities on the ride. Tricia Helfer and Katie Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame were there riding some Harleys donated by Eastside Harley and taking pictures with a bunch of motorcycle riding geeks. And yes, I asked Tyla’s permission before taking a photo with Tricia.

On a sidenote, that’s probably the first time I’ve ever had my picture taken with a celebrity, at least that I can remember. It’s weird. I’m not sure I like it. “Hi, we both know I’m here just to take my photo with you and then we’ll never talk again. We both have jobs and yours just happens to put your face on TV, but we could argue about who’s job has a bigger impact on people’s lives. There’s nothing I can say that you haven’t heard a thousand times before and given the long line of people, you must just want to get this over with.” And then seeing the photo isn’t too encouraging either. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I’m not that ugly. But then I look at the picture and it’s not hard to figure out who gets paid to look good for a living.

But back to the ride…

We started at Blazing Bagels in Redmond. Tyla and her family surprised me by showing up to watch us all leave. They weren’t alone as we drew quite a crowd of onlookers wherever we went. About 120 bikes left Redmond and we made our way up to Tulalip without staying in a super tight group. At Tulalip we picked up about another 80 bikes and then held the pack together for most of the way to the tulip fields before a car pulled into the middle of the pack and then let enough cars get in front of them that we completely lost touch with the pack. Thankfully between the four or five of us at the front of the second pack, we were able to remember the way to the tulip fields.

It started to rain near the end and since I’ve seen the majestic tulip fields many times before, I drove right past and headed home. It was a fun day but it I missed having Tyla along!

I geeked up a perfectly good motorcycle by putting two GoPros on the bike facing forward and backward. You can see the video on YouTube or embedded below. In most places it runs at 1000% of normal speed. I posted some of my photos to Flickr to share with the other riders.

I wonder if my son will want to go on one of these rides with me in the future?

Three Day British Columbia Ride

It started as an idea to ride up my motorcycle to Whistler for lunch. Then it expanded to an overnight trip. And eventually it meant that FrankL, DougW and I headed on a three day ride through British Columbia.

We left Woodinville around 9:30 on Saturday morning and headed north on I-5. We crossed the border on Hwy 15, or rather, we tried. It took about 45 minutes of sitting in stop and go traffic to get across. We stopped for lunch right across the border at the Derby Bar and Grill which turned out to be an off track betting restaurant. We skipped the horse stuff and stuck to the food, which hopefully didn’t involve horses.

The ride through Vancouver was quite unpleasant. Most of 1 was torn up for construction and it was pretty clear that most of the construction crew didn’t ride motorcycles because it was ROUGH.

That stretch wasn’t too long though and eventually we popped out on the Sea to Sky Highway heading up to Whistler. That gorgeous rode was a real treat on the motorcycle and all too quickly we were in Whistler.

We walked around the village for a while, had a few beers at the Irish pub and then ate dinner at the brew house. We stayed at the Adara Hotel right in the village. It was nice to try a new hotel there, but I’m not itching to go back. It was VERY loud until late in the night. All the hotels in the village are loud, but this one seemed a bit excessive.

On Saturday morning on the way out of town, we parked on the side of the road to take a picture next to the big Inuksuk (one of the statues you probably saw during the Olympics.) Doug’s daughters (Frank’s granddaughters) gave them some stuffed bears to carry along on the ride and they were supposed to take photos with them. When we got back to our bikes, there was a policewoman writing us parking tickets! Frank pleaded our case by holding up the bear and saying, “I’m sorry. My granddaughter gave me this to take pictures with while we’re gone!” While she tried to keep up a tough exterior, you could see it melted her heart. After a lecture about parking, she voided the ticket and let us go. Frank later named the bear in honor of her: Canadian Bacon.

The ride from Whistler to Kamloops via Lytton was one of the most amazing roads I’ve ever ridden. It was windy, twisty, hilly, and very unpopulated. The only catch was that there was a lot of wildlife to watch out for. We stopped for some kind of quail that wouldn’t fly away, mountain goats, big horned sheep, one cow, and a deer that came a little too close for my liking.

By the time we crossed over the mountains, it was HOT. Temps were right around 100, and when that’s blowing in your face at 60mph it feels like you’re in a convection oven. We stopped often to hydrate, ate some ice cream from Dairy Queen, and soaked our shirts in sinks to keep us cool. We stayed in downtown Kamloops and wandered around to find some dinner.

Monday was the last day of our trip, but it was also the longest day. The first two days were around 210 miles but this one was 280 miles. It was all almost all interstate (interprovince?) so it went quickly. We crossed the border in Sumas which had a shorter wait, but still took us about 20 minutes in the hot sun.

By the time we got home, we were all sore, but we had big smiles on our face from the ride. We all had our little hiccups along the 710 miles whether it was a check engine light (me), dripping gas (Doug) or new rattles (Frank), but our bikes held up just fine and we all got home safely. We’ll have these great memories for a long time! A couple photos are posted below and more are in the photo gallery. I rode with a camera around my neck so many of the photos are snapped hastily without really looking at the shot. When we stopped I would sometimes take out the big camera for some nicer shots. Enjoy!


P.S. I think I figured out my check engine light without a trip to the dealer so that made me happy. It had something to do with the Speedohealer that I installed, but the error is cleared and hasn’t come back yet.

Rubber Meets The Road

If you don’t think that your physics classes were very interesting, hop on a motorcycle and whip through a corner or two. You’ll probably start thinking about those few square inches of rubber that are touching the pavement and somehow holding you in place. How does that really work?

Most of this post is a summary of a longer article so please head there if you want the full story. There are a lot of other good motorcycle physics discussions there too. The basic idea is that there are two laws of friction:

  1. Friction increases as weight increases.
  2. Friction is independent of the contact area.

The first one makes sense, but the second one probably sounds a bit odd. It states that if you set a brick on it’s end or on it’s side, it will start sliding at exactly the same angle either way. It might sound crazy, but it’s true.

So let’s apply this to a motorcycle. The first law states that when you brake you have more traction on the front tire because the weight is transferred to that tire. The second law says that when you corner, you have the same amount traction than you did standing up straight because you have the same weight of the bike pushing down into the pavement. (The force imparted from going around a corner is parallel to the ground so that doesn’t give you additional friction.) However, while you may have the same amount of total traction in a corner, you’re also using up more of your available traction to go around the corner. You can’t grab a handful of brake and expect good things to happen.

The second law always means that the size of the tire makes no difference in the amount of traction you have. In theory, if you built a bicycle tire and a motorcycle tire out of the same rubber compound, they would provide you with the exact same amount of traction. So why are motorcycle tires fatter? You get better handling characteristics from having a tire with a bigger curve on it. You don’t go from tread to sidewall as quickly when you lean over as you would with a bike. Also, most motorcycle tires have a tougher rubber compound in the middle for long tire life and a software compound on the sides for more grip.

Physics isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law!

Cruiser vs. Crotch Rocket

There have been a lot of conversations directed at me lately implying that my choice of motorcycle was ridiculous. This comes mostly from pure sport bike riders claiming that my bike is “slow.” However, a couple of the questions have been honest questions from new riders so I’ll give a little spiel about why I love my bike in hopes that it will help some of you decide what you want to buy.

There are two basic styles of motorcycles for the road: cruisers and sport bikes. On a cruiser you sit straight up with your legs out in front. Think of a Harley. On a sport bike the handlebars are very low requiring you to lean forward and tuck your legs up under you. This is what you see people racing on TV.

Cruisers are great for long rides. They’re very comfortable and while you’ll get sore, you could put in a 500 mile day and still be able to move the next day. Sport bikes are built for speed and they can be quite a bit faster than cruisers. Generally, the faster your sport bike is, the shorter the distance you can ride before you turn into a giant cramp. You might think twice about 100 miles on a sport bike, but you’ll experience more thrills in those 100 miles than you would on a cruiser.

Now of course I’m generalizing and it all depends on the specific bike. MattM has a bike that would fall in the sport bike category but he puts in way more miles than I ever have on any of my bikes. But in general, I think the above paragraph holds up.

My bike, a 2009 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS, falls into a tiny category called “sport touring.” Actually Kawasaki calls it “super sport touring” to reflect it’s race bred ancestors. It’s more of a niche market but it attempts to combine the performance of a sport bike with the comfort of a cruiser. Of course you can’t get the best of both worlds, but this bike comes pretty close. It has gobs more speed than you can ever pretend to use on a street (0-100mph in 4.7seconds?!?), but the seating position is much more upright giving you the ability to ride a lot farther each day.

It’s probably not a great category for your first bike since these bikes tend to be pretty heavy and they have huge engines that can get you in a lot of trouble. But if you like taking overnight trips but you want a little pep in your step, it’s a great style!

What’s next for me? Of course I dream about that a lot. I think I’ll have this for many years down the road, but when it does come time to sell it, I think I’d strongly consider going full “old man” bike. After I’ve hit 300-400 miles in a day, I really envy those guys on Goldwings with arm and backrests!

Your Mileage May Vary

If you’ve used a GPS in your car, you may have noticed that it doesn’t match your speedometer and odometer. Just about every car on the market has about a 3% difference between your actual speed and the displayed speed. (You’re really going slower than you think.) Imagine the lawsuits if people were getting pulled over because their speedometer reported that they were going slower than they really were. The difference can vary by car, tire size, etc.

Since getting the latest set of tires on my motorcycle, I noticed that my speedometer was getting pretty far off. It’s annoying to do math just to figure out how fast I’m really going. An actual speed of 60mph was reported as something more like 63-64mph. It also means that you’re racking up the miles faster which devalues your vehicle quicker than it should.

Enter the Speedohealer. They make a little box that connects in between your speed sensor and the dash. (Vist the HealTech web site to find the correct wiring harness for your bike.) You tell it exactly how much your gauges are off and it will make sure your gauges read correctly. I did a couple tests on the interstate with a GPS measuring my actual speed until I got it dialed in correctly. The unit also comes with a little button that you can mount somewhere near your dash that will recall your max speed and display it on the speedometer.

Installation on my 2009 Concours wasn’t just plug and play. When the unit was connected, the bike got a little hitch in it’s giddy up at low speeds. The instructions with the unit (specific for my bike) said that I needed to send the unaltered speed signal straight to the ECU. That meant cutting one wire from the main wiring harness and splicing in another one. I had to make the cut right by the plug going into the ECU, so if I did something wrong, it would have been very difficult to repair. I finally took the plunge and made the snip with visions of a four digit repair bill if I screwed it up. Thankfully all went well.

I hesitated to post this because I wasn’t sure how legal it was to monkey with your odometer, but I couldn’t find anything that said it was illegal to calibrate it correctly. Either way, I’m happy to be able to tell how fast I’m really going and have my odometer read the correct mileage. I don’t usually carry a mapping GPS on the bike so when I need to make a turn in 17.4 miles, I’ll actually be able to find it now!

Michelin Pilot Road 3

The front tire on my 2009 Kawasaki Concours has been wearing out and after 9700 miles, I no longer had much confidence in it. The back tire still looked pretty good, but I shopped around and decided to pull the trigger on new tires. The tech at Waldron Kawasaki suggested that I take the old rear tire home as a spare in case something happens to this new one and I don’t feel like shelling out the money for another tire right away. 10,000 miles isn’t a lot, but it’s not too low for a sport bike or a “super sport touring” bike which is what the classification of this bike.

The Bridgestones that came with the bike weren’t great and the compound on the front tires for the 09 model is notorious for being too soft and wearing out quickly. I opted for the Michelin PR3’s after quite a bit of internet research and talking to the guys at the shop.

First of all, it looks visually like it might be some kind of rain tire. The tire is siped and can move a lot of water on wet days, but it’s still very durable for hard riding and will last a long time. When people see the tire, the general reaction is that there is too much tread and there can’t be enough grip. However, a UK magazine did a wet weather test and was able to lean the bike over in the rain and drag a knee. Another reviewer took them to the famous Spa race track, ran a bunch of laps, and then ran thousands of miles with them on normal roads. Not too shabby!

The tire is dual compound which means the middle is a harder compound for long life and the sides are softer for increased grip in the corners. Reviewers also say that this tire is incredibly quick to warm up and you get good grip almost as soon as you leave the driveway.

Since this is the first time I’ve ever purchased new tires for a motorcycle, I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but it’s cool to see how much technology and progress there is in the tire world. I was surprised that I could feel a difference when I rolled out of the dealer, but I don’t know if that was just because the tires were a different shape. The old ones were squared off a bit. Whether I’ll be able to tell a difference beyond that or not, I hope these last me for another 10K miles and beyond!

Beware Of Bikers

It’s been almost four years since I wrote a post called “What Motorcyclists Wish You Knew.” While I still wish that every driver would read that post, I realize that there are always going to be bad drivers out there and it’s up to me to stay safe. I’ve been riding for seven years now and I feel like I’ve developed a sixth sense about traffic situations. 99% of people on the road follow a bunch of undefined social norms. The trick is to look for any car that is straying even slightly from the norm. It’s easy to spot the guy flying up behind you and weaving in and out of traffic erratically, but what about that car about a quarter mile up who keeps drifting slightly out of their lane or the person in the lane next to you who keeps slowing down to 50 before speeding back up to the speed limit. Those people seem more dangerous to me because they’re probably on their phones and are very unaware of what’s going on around them.

But if I could boil down that previous post to one item and share it with everyone, it would be “don’t ever enter a lane in front of a motorcycle.” That means don’t merge in front of a motorcycle on a highway or pull out in front of a motorcycle from a side street. It’s really hard to judge the speed of a motorcycle with a quick glance since the size is so different. Now if you turn on your blinker, wait for the biker to acknowledge you and wave you over, by all means go for it. But squeezing into that little space like you would between two cars is just not smart.

And while we’re at it, this applies to trucks too. I spent a lot of time on 405 in stop and go traffic and it blows my mind how many people will use the space in front of a semi to change lanes, even when traffic is coming to a halt. Why do you think that big space is there in front of the 30 ton behemoth? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not for you to cut into.

So be safe out there this summer! Pay extra attention to motorcycles around you and give them a little extra room. Yes, some riders are jerks, but the vast majority of us are just out to have a little extra fun on our commute. I’ll leave you with one little story from a ride a couple years ago. I was stopped in a line of traffic when a lady came whipping up the side and tried to cut into the spot that I was occupying. Thankfully she slammed on the brakes in time but she ended up close enough that I gave her a solid pound on her window with my fist. She rolled it down and started yelling at me. I waited for her to finish, flipped open my visor and said, “After you took this spot, were you planning on calling my wife to tell her why I won’t be home for dinner?”