A new Shinko 705

I have put close to 7,000 miles on my set of Shinko 705 tires. The front looks damn near new but the rear has very little tread left down the center stripe and about 50% tread remaining on the sides. For an $83 tire, that’s a very low cost-per-mile. The Shinko’s have been outstanding tires, providing excellent grip in cornering and especially on wet roads.

Normally I replace both tires at the same time. With previous brands, including Bridgestone Battle Wings and Metzeler Tourances, the front wore down enough to justify replacing it at the same time as the rear. With this set of Shinko’s, however, the front will last another 5,000 miles or so. As a result, I’m only changing out the rear tire.

20110923-082554.jpg This is how I rode to work this morning. I will swing over to Yamaha Sports Plaza after work to have the new rear tire mounted.

Riding: A metaphor for life

Over the past five years I have racked up over 43,000 miles riding motorcycles and have learned many things about the whole process. It’s not just a matter of how to mount, start, and operate the bike. It’s about trip planning, maintenance, safety, skills, awareness, frame of mind, and a host of other things that blend into the overall motorcycling experience.

Fortunately, none of the lessons I have learned involved loss of life (obviously), limb, skin, or even my dignity. Well, maybe there was some partial shame associated with getting my bike stuck in the snow with my wife riding pillion. But, as with life’s little experiences, we learn from our mistakes and we roll forward, hoping to avoid the accidents and inconveniences in future miles.

During one of my practice rides along Marmot Road, I was focusing on looking through the turns. Marmot Road is not in the best of shape. It has a lot of bumps, pot holes, and tree debris that can make a great ride go south in a hurry. My first instinct is to look at the pavement immediately in front of my bike. This makes my turns much slower than they should be and smoothness becomes a near impossibility. When I look ahead and keep my eyes focused farther up the road, my turns are fast and smooth and controlled. The thought occurred to me that there is a life lesson in that.

When we progress from day to day, if we have our eyes down at the minutiae traveling under our feet we lose sight of the big picture and become bogged down with trivial, petty annoyances. Minor bumps in the road seem much larger than they are, keeping us from living our lives smoothly and in control. Keeping our eyes focused farther ahead and more aware of the big picture enables us to overcome life’s little obstacles with greater ease and comfort.

I don’t intend to upstage Robert Pirsig or hijack the wisdom of his Zen work, but mentioning the parallels between motorcycle maintenance and life in general is worth the virtual ink. Keeping our bikes running smoothly isn’t very effective if we take a purely reactive approach. Exercising and eating right is just as important for our bodies as changing the oil and filters on a regular basis is to our bikes. We can go off-road or ride a little harder through the twisties or let the bike get frivolously dirty from time to time, but eventually we need to take a step back and give it a rest and take it easy, let the bike recover. Our minds and bodies are the same way. We can push things when we need to but sooner or later we need to offer up some give in equal measure to the take.

Finally, a motorcycle with all the world’s polished chrome and tricked out accoutrements is worthless if it never gets out of the garage and ridden. I wear the splattered bugs and road grime on my bike proudly because that is a certain indicator that I have been somewhere interesting. On the rare occasions when I see my bike parked in the garage washed and shiny I actually feel a sense of impatient guilt, as if I’m keeping it from having fun. We can talk all day about what we want to do in life, discuss our dreams and what-if scenarios until the cows come home, but ultimately all that verbal chrome is worth nothing more than a gnat’s fart until we take that first step out of our front door and actually walk the walk.

Fixing flats and Shinko 705’s

Back in September of 2010 when I was in Frenchglen, Oregon I picked up a fencing nail in my rear tire. I was able to fix the flat using a plugged tool and my DC powered air compressor. The tire — a Bridgestone Battle Wing — held air until today.

When I went into the garage to ride to work, the tire was flat. I fired up my air compressor, added some air, and headed into work. The day before I had dropped off a new set of Shinko 705 tires at Yamaha Sports Plaza in Fairview — my go-to service shop. All I had to do was ride there after work to get the new tires mounted. Except my rear tire had no air in it, again.

I pulled out my 12v DC air compressor and began filling the tire up. It took a while, mostly because the leak was still active. Hsssssss. I acted quick, suiting up and jetting over to the shop. I made it safely and an hour later my bike had new shoes.

The Shinko 705’s are more of a 75/25 tire whereas up to now I have been running tires biased more toward street riding — 90/10’s. My first impression was dramatic. The Shinko’s feel slippery and squirrely on pavement and I notice a distinct tread vibration at slower speeds. Everything I read about them says I’ll get used to their behavior, but initially there will no doubt be an adjustment period. I’ll post a formal review after I’ve got some miles clocked on them.

[Update 6/7/2011] I’ve put several hundred miles on the Shinko 705’s and really like them. They provide better grip on non-paved surfaces and corner very well in both wet and dry conditions. They are a great value.

Wash and ride

The weather in Oregon apparently didn’t get the memo about global warming. I guess that’s why they call it climate change instead. The planet is getting warmer, on average, but some areas will actually see colder and wetter weather. So far in 2011, Oregon has been acting more like southeast Alaska. It has been cold and wet and dry days have been few and far between.

Saturday was dry, although not overly warm. I started at 8 AM, pulling my V-Strom out of the garage, hooking up the garden hose for the first time since last Fall, and giving my bike a much needed wash. I ride all year and washing it during the Winter months is like trying to make the bed while you’re still sleeping in it. It took a while but eventually I got all the nastiness off. After giving it a towel-dry, I pulled it back into the garage and propped it up on the center stand to re-lubricate the chain.

After doing a few other chores around the house and eating brunch, I decided to get a ride in. I fueled up in Estacada, then headed up the Clackamas River highway 224 toward Ripplebrook Ranger Station. On this run I focused on practicing smooth cornering while hanging off the side for better cornering speed. It takes some getting used to and looks rather dramatic. It’s also unnecessary because I don’t corner fast enough for it to matter. However, it’s a lot of fun and that’s reason enough.

Just before crossing the river at Indian Henry Campground I saw three guys identically dressed in blue and white leathers taking pictures of their three identical blue and white Yamaha sport bikes lined up in a pretty, neat row. We waved and I zoomed over the bridge and up the hill on the other size. Once at Ripplebrook, I turned around and headed back down the river to home.

This run is about 65 miles round-trip and includes mostly big sweepers with a few slower curves thrown in for variety. The scenery is dramatic and there are no stop signs once you leave Estacada. There are occasionally slow cagers and every once in a while I see law enforcement, usually on summer Saturdays when the sport bikes hit the road.

A shameless plug…

… Spark plugs, that is. Friday after work I rode over to Yamaha Sports Plaza for some scheduled maintenance work on my 2007 V-Strom. After 35,000 miles, it was time for a new air filter element and spark plugs. I went with the touted K&N air filter and the NGK spark plugs recommended by the service manager, Steve. While there I had them grease the speedometer sensor in the front axle. After a while it can dry out and make an odd chirping noise.

I rode home before the rain started. To anyone that isn’t aware of what’s been going on in Oregon lately, we’ve had an extremely wet winter and Spring. March had one or two days without measurable precipitation, and that was it. It’s been nothing but rain the rest of the time, and lots of it. The few dry days we’ve had have been noteworthy, and even die-hard web-footed Oregonians are starting to grumble about the sun’s absence.

It was dry again on Sunday, so I rode up to Ripplebrook ranger station and back. It’s one of my standard routes. The bike performed great and the new air filter and spark plugs make it feel like new again. It never felt old and has been rock solid for all 35,000 miles, but psychologically it felt new again. You know what I mean.

I’ve been practicing leaning off the bike a little bit on my turns, a la Leon Haslam and Valentino Rossi, etc. I don’t corner fast enough for it to be necessary but it’s fun to do. I’m considering taking a Total Control course and being able to lean off your bike is one of the things they teach you. Lately I’ve been dreaming of getting a sport bike in addition to my V-Strom. I don’t necessarily like to go fast but I really like carving up the twisties.

From a practical standpoint, a sport bike doesn’t make much sense, though. My V-Strom is capable of harder cornering than I am, so why get an even more capable bike until my skills jack up enough to utilize it? That’s where Total Control comes in. Not only is it a good idea to gain further mastery of the bike from a safety and confidence standpoint, I think the new skills it imparts would add some excitement to an already exciting motorcycle. Cornering like a sport bike is fun, but having the skill to live to do it again another day is even better.