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Monday, December 28, 2009

You need a good battery

I have found that there are certain times paying more is well worth it.  Peanut Butter, riding gloves, tires, and batteries to name a few.

When it comes to batteries I am an avid fan/consumer of Interstate Batteries (ISB).  In order to provide complete disclosure I must confess that I know an ISB employee, but I have no other connection other than that.

Whenever I replace the OEM battery on my bike or any of the family vehicles I purchase ISB batteries.  I have found that the ISB batteries last long, provide great cranking power, and are extremely reliable.

Only recently did I start using ISB dry-cell batteries for my flashlights, camera, toys,... and I have  found that the higher cost translates to longer battery life and more power.

When it comes to my VStar I rely on the ISB battery and it has not disappointed even when my starter clutch was going out and I had to strain the battery to start the bike.  The bike also fires up easily even when it is cold and the bike has been sitting a while.  I have had to let the bike go upstarted for over a month, with NO battery tender attached, and when the time came to start, it fired up!

When you need a battery I recommend you pay a little extra and purchase a battery from Interstate Batteries. You will not be disappointed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jacket for those colder days.

The following review is from a friend of mine who rides a lot and has for many years.  He has plenty of experiences with motorcycles and accessories.  I highly respect his recommendation and want to share his review with you.

Now that winter is actually settling in, I am really enjoying my new FirstGear TPG Ranier jacket. Apparently, this is an outgoing model because they are on sale at both Cycle Gear ($180) and NewEnough.com ($149) – MSRP was $400!

This jacket is stout – it weighs almost 6 pounds with the liner and armor in. The outside layer is heavy nylon, with Kevlar reinforcing at the shoulders and elbows. The nylon full-sleeve liner is removable, and can actually serve as a separate windbreaker. The front closure is a stout two-way zipper (so you can unzip the bottom parially for more freedom of movement) plus a snapped storm flap with rain gutter. It keeps the wind out quite well.

There are plenty of pockets, including four waterproof ones on the front: two large ones with inner and outer compartments below, a smaller one above on one side and a cell phone pocket on the other side. The cell phone pocket includes a clever strap with which you can lift your phone out without having to dig down into the narrow pocket. There are other pockets on the arms, inside the liner, inside the outer shell and a large pouch on the back. The front left inner pocket even has a grommeted opening in the inside at the bottom so you can route your MP3 player headphone cord with the zipper fully closed.

The fit is adjustable, with zippered gussets at the waist and cuffs The cuffs also have a velcro strap for additional trimming. This makes it easy to fit the sleeves inside your glove gauntlets. There are two waist adjustment straps and a stretch cord adjuster around the bottom edge. The jacket fits my fairly narrow build very nicely, with a couple of layers of shirts and sweaters under it.

The neck is covered with a comfortable fleece lining, and has a small flap that protects your neck from the zipper. There is a velcro closure on the neck band. A very nice touch is a nylon rain hood that fits under your helmet and stores into the collar when not needed. This should do a good job of keeping water from dripping down your neck.

Knox CE-approved armor (good stuff) is included at the elbows and shoulders. There is a thin foam back pad, which can be replaced with a more substantial one (not included). There are strips of reflective material on the back, arms and front of the shoulders.

While I have not yet tested this jacket in a full monsoon, I can verify that it is truly waterproof while riding in a moderate rain, for about 45 minutes. In addition, I find that my cold-natured body stays comfortable down to freezing temperature, with the afore-mentioned extra layers under the jacket. (My fingers, on the other hand, are another issue…!) (Pun intended J )

There are large zippered vents on the front and rear of the shoulders, which should help with ventilation in warmer temperatures. Nonethless, I don’t see this as a warm-weather jacket, because it is so substantial.

If the cold days are causing you to miss some riding, I recommend this jacket as a good cure.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Motorcycles - the ultimate classroom

During the last 4 summers (06-09) I have taken my son, who will be 13 in Feb 2009, on long motorcycle trips with friends.  Each trip has been filled with great roads, good food, amazing vistas, and superb educational opportunities.  We have greatly enjoyed each trip and each year I have worked to increase the educational aspect of the trip.  It is one thing to study about geographical landforms and another to see and touch them. Reading about the Civil War is fine, but standing on a battle site, beside a cannon, or behind a bulwark deepens the understanding and reality of the conflict.  Many more examples could be given.

Two historic sites we visited are the Fort Donelson National Battlefield and Fort Donelson National Cemetery in Dover Tennessee (83 miles NW of Nashville - Map).  Fort Donelson was located on the south side of the Cumberland River and was fortified with earthworks, a natural bluff, and a lot of cannons.

The visitor center is located on Hwy 79. The center has several displays with many artifacts from the Civil War as well as exhibit about the Underground Railroad.  We picked up a self guided tour map before starting out on the six mile tour.

We stopped several times to walk around and view the earthworks confederate soldiers had erected.  We visited a one room log cabin that is a replica of the type of shelter that some of the soldiers would have lived in.

At the far end of the tour we viewed the Cumberland River bluff fortifications and cannons.  It was easy to see why this location was chosen; a clear view of the river in both directions.
After touring the battleground we stopped by the National Cemetery. This is a humbling site.  Headstones lined up row after row.  The big trees and dense forest around the cemetery made this a quite and solemn place.  There are soldiers from various wars and conflicts buried here.  We took time to stop and talk about the sacrifice of those buried and those currently serving our country.
Both the battlefield and the cemetery were educational, beautiful, and thought provoking.  There is no entrance fee at either location.  The battlefield has over 5 miles of hiking trails and is open 8am - 4:30pm.  The cemetery is open 8am - 5 pm.

We really enjoyed tour both sites and I think you would find it worth a ride up to Dover to see the battlefield and the cemetery.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Feedlot in Leakey, TX

The Hill Country of Texas is an awesome place to ride and work up a good appetite.  If you take the time to ride the famous "Three Twisted Sisters" (FM 335, FM 336, & FM 337) you ride through Leakey and past The Leakey Feed Lot (547 US 83).

The three FM roads make up "Sisters" along with the north connecting Hwy - TX 41 and a short stretch of TX 55 between Camp Wood and Barksdale make up a 100 mile loop through some great Texas landscape.  The roads a full of twisties, hills, and a variety of Texas scenery.  (Photo take on FM 335)

This is not a loop for inexperienced riders.  The roads follow canyons and at times there are some steep drop offs which little or no guardrails.

There are several exotic ranches along the way.  One ranch on FM 335 even had giraffes.

On two separate occasions I have ridden the "Sisters" in the morning and returned to Leakey for lunch at the Leakey Feed Lot.  At first glance I did not think the place was open and if you get after 2pm and before 5pm it is closed!  Actually it is open only on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11-2 & 5-9 and on Sunday 11-2.  (Photo from www.leakeyfeedlot.com)



On both occasions we sat outside in the front of the restaurant and watch the bikes go by.  I ordered the cheeseburger and fries.  The order came out hot, fresh, and on a paper plate - kind of surprising, but did not damage the burger.  The fries were hot and cooked just right (for me).  The veggies on the burger all seemed fresh.  The meat was lean and seasoned well.

The burger hit the spot and filled me up.  Although I did not have the chicken fried steak I have heard it is really good.

So go enjoying the Three Twisted Sisters and then fill your stomach with some good food at the Leakey Feed Lot.  You will greatly enjoy both uniquely Texas experiences.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Will Not Post A Review" list

You may have noticed that all of my reviews have been positive.  Not all are “glowing,” but none are negative.  I don’t really like ragging someone, but I do think I should communicate about places and items that I did not find worthy of writing about.

With that in mind I have decided to periodically post a “Will Not Post A Review” list.  I hope my silence communicates appropriately.

In no particular order here is my first:

                  Will Not Post A Review
1) True Grit Restaurant - Alamosa, CO
2) Chama Trails Inn - Chama, NM
3) Bar B Que Junction - Bowling Green, KY
4) Idaho Springs Motel - Idaho Springs, CO
5) Lea's Restaurant - Leonard, TX
6)Lewie's Burgers and Brew - Lead, SD
7) Maxima Spray and Shine Spray-On Detailer

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Keep those hands warm

Here in Texas the riding season never really ends, although there are short stretches of cold or ice.  For the most part the majority of Texans can ride year round.  Rarely do we have more than 5 or 6 days consecutively that would make riding impossible.  Certainly the Panhandle of Texas has a lot more days that make riding not likely.

We do get some cooler weather that makes us bundle up before starting the bikes and riding.  On those days I want a good pair of gloves to keep my fingers warm and operational.


There are numerous choices of good quality gloves on the market.  I have actually chosen a glove that is not motorcycle specific.  I wear the Black Diamond Gore-Tex Renegade gloves.  The Gore-Tex fabric keeps my hands dry even in the heaviest of rains.  The wool lining is soft and warm and yet the gloves are light and my fingers stay movable.  The shell is made of a durable 120d twill and the palms and fingers are reinforced with leather.  Black Diamond claims a temperature range of up to 0 degrees Fahrenheit!  I personally know they work great to at least 29 degrees.

I have found the gloves very warm, dry, comfortable, and functional.  The only negative is the short and tight gauntlet.  I really have to be careful to make sure my coat sleeve gets tucked in to the glove so that it does not slide up on my arm.

The real question is, "Would I buy this glove again?"  The answer is yes.  It it difficult to beat the quality of Gore-Tex and the quality of this glove.  If you are looking for a good warm, waterproof glove for riding or any outdoor activity give this glove a try.


Disclosure: I test some products for Gore.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Nice loop NE of Dallas, TX

Here is a nice loop to ride NE of Dallas. It will take you through some little known communities in North Texas and on some fun Farm to Market roads. The loop from McKinney and back is about 113 miles. There are plenty of curves and some great hills. Traffic is very light once you get a few miles away from McKinney. (There is a link to map at the end of the post.)  TX 5 and US 380 intersects on the east side of McKinney. There are several service stations in the area so riders can fill up the gas tank.

Heading east on US 380 the road is divided and multi-laned. About 2 miles you will turn left on FM 1824 which will take you through New Hope and then to the even smaller community of Altoga. Just after you pass the Altoga Baptist Church FM1824 will turn left (if you continue straight the road become CR 465). Three miles later you intersect FM 545. Turn right and you will pass Valdasta (which is where the picture of my grandfather on his Harley was taken in 1908 – see earlier post and pictures).

FM 545 East will take you to Blue Ridge. Turn left on Business TX 78, ride ½ mile and then turn right on FM 981. This will cross TX 78 and then procedure to Frognot, TX. The S curve in Frognot is pretty sharp so be ready. About three miles east of Frognot FM 981 turns north – the road continues straight, but becomes FM 1582 (this will take you to Celeste). Turn north on FM 981 and enjoy some more curves.

FM 981 intersects TX 78, turn right and ride into Leonard. You will go under a bridge for the train and you will be on the SW corner of the downtown Leonard square. Turn left when you first get to the square on Connett Street. Connett Street will end at Cottonwood Street, turn left and then take the first right on Oak Street.

Oak Street intersects US 69, which is a busy road. Ride across 69 and you will be on FM 896 or what locals call Randolph Hills road. This is a really fun road. After a big S curve you will come to a series of hills and some curves. Watch for farm equipment on the road, but have fun, this is a great stretch. Towards the end of this 12 mile stretch you will top a hill and you can see 2+miles of the road ahead, a great place to “air it out.”

At the end of FM 896 you will intersect TX 11. Turn left (west) and ride to Whitewright. TX 11 and US 69 merge just east of Whitewright. At the 4-way stop turn right on US 69. There is a DQ and a large Exxon on the corner – both good places to stop if you need to.

Once heading north on US 69 you will ride about 1.3 miles. Turn left on FM 697 (Ida Road). This 14-mile road is one of the best in the area. Numerous times Ride Texas Magazine readers have voted it one of the top 10 in Texas. During the first 1.5-2 miles watch for some road cracks. After that the road is nice. There are curves and a lot of elevation changes.

At the end of FM 697 turn left on TX 11 and ride to Tom Bean. At Tom Bean turn right on FM 902 and then left on FM 2729 (follow the signs carefully). A little over 6 miles later FM 2729 intersects FM 121 (not to be confused with TX 121). Turn right on FM 121 and ride to Van Alstyne. Turn left on TX 5 and ride south for about 1.6 miles. Turn left on FM 3133 and enjoy this road. You will come to a stop sign in Westminster and the road becomes FM 2862/ Houston Street. Go straight, the road will curve right and you will come to downtown Westminster. Park and enjoy a burger at Big Slicks and shop at the Motorcycle Outpost (see earlier post).

Proceed west on FM 2862 for 6 miles and you will ride into Anna. FM 2862 intersects FM 455 (another great road for another post). Turn right, cross the railroad tracks, and you will intersect TX 5.

At this time you could go north on TX 5 for about a mile and stop at the Malt Shop for a great shake or malt, or ride south into Melissa and back to McKinney, or you can ride straight and FM 455 crosses over US 75 and you can head home from there (or ride 455 west).

I have ridden these roads a lot. They are some of the more curvy ones in the area. You can enjoy some great NT countryside.

My suggestions is to begin the day with a great breakfast at Bill Smith’s Café in McKinney, drag some pegs while on the loop, and then enjoy lunch at Big Slick’s in Westminster. Sounds like a great day!

Map