Last month, a good friend celebrated his 40th birthday at a cabin on a lake. Thirteen adventurous souls—including yours truly—ventured some 250 miles to spend a weekend at a vacation rental near Yosemite National Park. Since I was not the only motorcyclist amongst our merry band of boarders, a handful of us endeavored to make the trip a biker’s pilgrimage. Rolling five deep, we packed up our motorbikes, slid on our riding gear, and shot towards Bass Lake to observe our friend’s milestone holiday.
Like the birthday bloke, my motorcycle was also passing a a significant milepost: the odometer on my Ural creaked past 6,660 kilometers on the first leg of our trip. Knowing that this evil distance marker was worthy of memorial, I planned my fuel accordingly so that we’d have to stop for gas just in time for a photograph.
Yes, that’s right; I said kilometers. My stubborn Russian bike vill not conform to American standard of wehicular distance.
As you can imagine, this took some getting used to. My inadequate kilometer-to-miles conversion skills were the cause of a minor panic attack on the highway when I first took up the motorcycle.
Unlike cars and trucks, most motorbikes do not have gas gages to alert you when your tank’s low. Instead, they have a small fuel reserve. This reservoir exists to spirit choking, fuel-thirsty engines to nearby filling stations for salvation. So, as motorcyclists, you can either figure out your per gallon road requirements in advance of traveling, and refill accordingly, or wait ’til your bike putters out of gas and then use the reserve tank to make your way to the nearest petrol pump.
I prefer the gasoline pre-calculation method, but on my first long motorcycle trip, being accustomed to American mileometers, I’d forgotten to account for the kilometer discrepancy. Thankfully, the error caused me to UNDERestimate the amount of fuel in my tank. At the time, however, I was certain I was going to run out of gas on a twenty mile stretch of station-less highway.
Anxiety aside, one of the things I’m enjoying most about riding a motorcycle is the constant learning experience of how your vehicle and body responds to various road and weather conditions.
Last November, for example, I journaled about my first experience with rain on a motorcycle in the post “The Road Less Traveled” and how I was ill-prepared. Luckily, it rains a total of maybe eight days annually in California, but I still made a point of being better equipped for the Bass Lake Birthday Ride and upgraded my gear to include biker thermals, warmer gloves, and a full-face helmet. I also purchased a snazzy pair of kevlar-lined jeans and waterproof biker boots.
This trip was my first experience with riding in a group and it served as a crash course on the road etiquette and tactics required to keep cars from breaking up one’s motorcycle pack. It’s harder than it seems—our group was separated on more than one occasion—but the basic philosophy is to stay close and in a staggered lane formation.
Blasting up the highway with four other motorcyclists, I couldn’t help but imagine the theme song from Sons Of Anarchy blaring. “Ridin’ over squirrels and lizard bones…”
The ride was both challenging and exhilarating and the weekend getaway was a blast, replete with a boat ride around the lake, bad magic, and a ridiculous lineup of booze bottles for a night of whiskey tasting.