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November QuickThrottle Column

Just sent in my December column to the editor, so it's time to post the November one. Can't believe the year is winding down so fast!

Elections have consequences. A pretty obvious statement, but one that people tend to forget. By the time you read this edition, we will be a week or less away from another election. An election that will have consequences for riders in the Pacific Northwest, from the state legislatures to city councils to congress, as well as numerous ballot initiatives. I know a lot of people skip over or don’t really pay much attention to the initiatives – after all that’s how Washington got saddled with the disastrous and obscenely expensive Sound Transit 3 mess a few years ago. You know, the one that caused your license plate tabs to climb off the charts, and that make renewing your bike plates more expensive than your loan payment. Yeah that initiative.

If you aren’t careful, and you don’t read it closely, there’s another hidden little monster on your ballot this fall in Washington. It’s the “Carbon Tax”, known as I-1631. Now on the ballot it’s not called a “tax”, but rather a “fee”. In fact, the question on the ballot says: This measure would charge pollution fees on sources of greenhouse gas pollutants and use the revenue to reduce pollution, promote clean energy, and address climate impacts, under oversight of a public board.” The proponents think that by calling it a “fee” not a tax that you’ll be fooled into voting for it, just like with the Sound Transit “car tab fee” increase.

Now, why as riders should we care?  Two reasons. The net effect of this would be to further increase the gas tax, already the third highest in the nation behind Pennsylvania and California, another whopping 14 cents per gallon.  Let that sink in.  And while that will add about .72 cents to the cost of a fill-up on a six-gallon tank Harley Ultra, just think what that will add to the cost of your 20-gallon car every time you fill up on top of that!  Not to mention the additional cost added on to the price of everything that emits carbon, from the natural gas that heats our homes and runs our busses, and even fuels many power plants, to the diesel fuel that is used in railroad locomotives and trucks that deliver our food and goods.

This tax – err, “fee” – is expected to raise up to $1 BILLION, that’s with a “B”, and climb as it increases $2 per ton plus inflation each year. That .14 cents per gallon increases is based on the initial $15 per ton. Add $2 and change a year to that and each year the gas tax will climb about 10% more.  Fourteen cents becomes sixteen, which then becomes nineteen etc, in perpetuity! And what becomes of all that money? Well it doesn’t go to making the roads better or traffic flow more smoothly – something that would reduce carbon output much more significantly. It falls under the control of a board of “citizens” appointed by the governor. Fifteen unelected people will then get to divvy up that pot of money on any flaky hair-brained scheme they come up with. They are not accountable to the citizens in any way.

Still not convinced?  Consider this. As gas prices rise, the pressure to reduce the price then increases. The easiest way to reduce them is to add ethanol to the mix. The EPA announced in October that they are rewriting the rules to allow for additional ethanol – up to 15%, at the direction of the President. You know what 15% ethanol will do to an air-cooled Harley motor?  It’s not pretty. It eats up gasket seals, and it burns hotter than regular gas. Harley’s with their air-cooled engines will burn up. The likelihood of increased ethanol is why Harley developed those partially liquid cooled larger Milwaukee Eight engines. The easiest way to reduce tail-pipe emissions is to burn hotter and with more ethanol. On any older Harley engine, it’s going to destroy it. This is why the Motorcycle Riders Federation and other motorcycle advocacy groups have been working and lobbying the EPA to not go to E-15 fuel.

But the demand for lower cost fuel, coupled with the cry from corn farmers in the Midwest who have been hit hard with the trade war with China, is putting pressure on the EPA to adopt E-15. If Washington increases its fuel tax by .14 cents per gallon, that pressure further increases to do something easy to lower fuels costs. Say hello to widespread E-15, making those long trips where gas is scarce, harder to find something that will not destroy your rides engine. The EPA wants to also allow its sale year-round, not just winter months. But in the summer that high of ethanol causes more pollution not less. But we gotta make the farmers happy and consumers happy with lower gas prices. That is until they have higher engine repair bills that eat up those meager savings.

So yes, elections do have consequences. Pay attention to what’s on the ballot this fall and know what you are voting for or against -- especially those pesky initiatives. And keep a close watch on your wallet, as well as your motor!

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com

October QuickThrottle Column

Half way through October, and the heat's broken here in the desert -- with temps in the 80s for the most part! I haven't run the AC in a week!  Still talking politics in the column this month too.  Enjoy!
It’s October. That means the weather gets cooler, the days shorter, and the leaves change colors. I love the colors changing this time of year – the intense reds and yellows of the autumn leaves. These bright splotches of color are everywhere in the primarily green landscape of the northwest.  Oh wait, those colors aren’t all leaves, they are political yard signs!  They are everywhere this time of year, proliferating just like the fall leaves. And truth be told, I love seeing them as much as I love seeing the fall leaves. It reminds me it’s election season.

Yeah, I know, you probably don’t want to be reminded of that fact. You probably don’t need to if you watch TV at all. You can’t escape it, and when you want to escape it on your bike you can’t either because of all those darn yard signs everywhere right? But you should not – no, you must not ignore them. It’s crucial that we all pay attention to them. Not to each particular sign or ad or what not, but to the fact that it is election time. And it does matter to us -- as riders, as citizens, that we elect people who will reflect what concerns us when they are in Olympia, or Salem, or Washington DC or even our city and town halls making the decisions we elect them to make. Not paying attention has consequences.  Consequences that can be detrimental to what matters, or that can mean positive changes that we want.

The prime example in recent memory was the ballot question four years ago in Western Washington known as Sound Transit 3. It passed. You noticed because your plate renewals went up so high you almost need financing from a bank to pay for them. You also aren’t getting your money’s worth – especially if you live in Pierce County or Snohomish County. We could argue that even in King County you aren’t, but that’s a debate for another day.

This election year we have another important reason to pay attention to what – and who – is on the ballot, especially in Washington’s State legislative races. I think it’s safe to say that one of the most significant or important issues for us as riders is the helmet law. In past years our riders groups have tried over and over again to get it repealed, only to have that effort stall in the House Transportation Committee.  The Chair of that Committee is nor running for re-election this year, so next session there will be a brand-new chair of the Transportation Committee. It’s entirely possible that position could go to someone who is more supportive of modifying the helmet law than the previous chair who was adamantly opposed and wouldn’t even hear the bill.
Now no one “runs” for Transportation Committee Chair – it’s given as a plumb to someone in the legislature that’s of the majority party. But, given the right mix of legislators elected this fall, that chairmanship could be given to someone who’s more in line with what us riders want. The only way to ensure that is to talk about it with whomever is running in your district. And trust me, they want to hear from you. They’ll be out doorbelling, or you may run into them campaigning at a grocery store on Saturday morning, or at a town-hall or community forum. Take a minute and talk to them, ask them about what concerns you. If it’s the helmet law, ask where they stand. If it’s car tab fees, ask about that. Just ask – and let them know how you feel. It will help you decide who to vote for, and it will help them see what’s important to you. If they say, “no way in hell will I ever vote for a helmet law repeal or modification”, well you know whether or not you should vote for them if that’s the most important thing on your list.

I’ve been writing this column for nine years now. In the very first one I wrote urged riders to pay attention to the election, and I’ve said it over and over again each election year, and I’ll continue to say it over and over again. We have to get involved, we have to pay attention, we have to meet with our elected officials on an ongoing basis, not just on Black Thursday at the capitol. We have to hammer, we have to put the pressure on, we have to be in their face, we have to be as annoying to them as I am here! It’s the only way we’ll ever be heard.

When your brakes squeal you fix them, when the motor makes a funny noise you work on it, when the gears grind you work on the transmission. When constituents make noise, policy makers listen, and they fix things. Make some noise! As the great African American civil rights leader Frederick Douglas said on his death bed to a young man asking how he could make a difference, the old man said “Agitate! Agitate!”   Well, you want to make a difference?  Agitate!

So, don’t ignore those colorful yard signs as you ride by trying to escape the real world for a few hours. Use them as a reminder to check in with your candidates and your elected officials on the ballot before the election and ask them questions. Tell them what you expect of them. Tell them what your priorities and concerns are. Then remember to vote.  Surely as the fall leaves change, elections happen, and policies and laws are changed too. And as the fall leaves disappear, so will the colorful yard signs – and your chance to make a difference if you don’t act.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

September QuickThrottle Column

So, here we are half way through September already. It's still hot here in the desert, but the nights are cooling off. I'm sad I've not taken a big long bike trip in some time...these days life gets in the way.  Here's my September column for Quick Throttle -- a look at the joys of riding solo on a long trip. It's making me want to hit the highway...
There are riders who prefer to ride in groups, and there are riders that prefer to ride solo. For the most part I’m a solo guy.  Don’t get me wrong, I love going in a group at times – say up to Cumberland for Taco Thursday or something, and even on a short one-night trip. But more often than not I love riding alone. It’s my time to think. I go where I want when I want.  I get up when I want, leave when I want.  I eat what I want when I want.  I stop and poke around at things that interest me and take lots of pictures of things that I want to shoot.   And my bike Angus doesn't mind, he does exactly what I tell him to do.

People have asked if I'm lonely out on the road by myself.   Not at all.  I've got Angus, and we talk. We talk a lot. Call me crazy if you want, but I have great conversations with Angus out on the road. We’ll often solve all the world’s problems in our conversations. And we meet a lot of people along the way, like the locals who welcome me to their small-town cafe, and the people who admire Angus on the street or at gas stations and say what a great looking bike he is and how jealous they are.   Sometimes on a long trip when I’m loading up in the morning I’ll spent a good 10 minutes loading up the bag and chatting with a people who loved the bike and wanted to know all about it, and who wished me well on my journey.  People love the black denim paint on Angus, and the custom license plate C2CB2B for Coast to Coast, Border to Border.

Sometimes I’ll have my music on my iPod too, and the joy of riding down a road in the sunshine.  No, I'm not lonely at all.  On a long solo trip with no plan I’ll get up this morning and do my usual - go downstairs to the breakfast room at the hotel and look at my Harley Road Atlas to figure out where I want to go while I eat breakfast.  And more often than not I’ll just look and say – that direction looks good. As they say, young riders pick a destination and go -- old riders pick a direction.  I guess I'm an old rider.

If I’m lucky I’ll have the road pretty much to myself, and if I’m really lucky I’ll be surprised at the sparse traffic on the highway.  I love it when the road is quiet and it’s rare to see someone coming towards me and I don’t catch up with anyone going my way and no one catches up with me.   Having the road to yourself is both scary and wonderful at the same time.  Scary in that you wonder if the apocalypse has happened and you are the only one left and wondering if something happens who will rescue you.   Wonderful in that you have the road to yourself and no one to distract you, delay you from turning into view points or making U turns when you see something cool and go past it!

It's no secret that I despise riding on freeways, and I relish finding a windy quiet back road, even if it takes much longer to get somewhere.  No, especially if it takes longer to get somewhere.  Back roads are by nature lonely affairs -- with sparse traffic and small towns and ghosts of the road, and that makes me love them even more.  Freeways can go through the middle of nowhere as well, but it’s not the same.  In fact, it becomes a boring ordeal on the freeway, when the same distance covered on a back road can be an enjoyable experience.  And for me, a big part of that enjoyment is the solitude.  Just me and Angus -- the road and the sky.

A while back I was riding down US-395 in Central Oregon.  In the small town of Fox, Oregon I stopped to photograph a wonderful old church and a couple of abandoned farm buildings.  I pulled Angus to the shoulder and hopped off when a young man came ambling down the highway, stopping to remove those temporary plastic flappy square road markers that had been laid down some time back when they had paved the road but before they paint striped it.

Much of this stretch of lonely road had been recently paved and striped so it was a joy to ride – like ice skating on fresh ice after a zamboni goes over it.  The young man and I chatted a bit about the weather and his job -- all while standing in the middle of US-395, and the entire time not a single car came by.  He was walking back downhill to his car that he'd parked and would then do the same thing several more times down the highway.  As usual, he asked where I was headed and we chatted a bit about his wanting to ride and hoping one day to do so.

These are my favorite days -- when it’s just me and Angus, out in the sunshine, riding roads we've never been on.   Yes, I’m by myself.   But no, I never lonely at all.  I have Angus to talk to, strangers who amble by to converse with, and I have the whole world framed between my fists.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

August Quick Throttle Column

Already half-way through August. Spent a week or so in Utah with the family, now back here in the desert. Campaign work has kept me from riding much this year, which is reflective in the difficulty I have in writing my column each month. I need to get back out on the bike more...
Potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato....we all know that sound. It’s the trademarked, often attempted to duplicate, gut-rumbling, and yes even romantic and evocative sound that an idling Harley-Davidson motorcycle makes. We can recognize it when we hear it coming down the block. It fills our ears when we are riding. And yes, the louder it gets, the better it sounds right?  A former neighbor used to say she lived for that sound, and it was a sad day when I moved away and she couldn’t hear Angus coming up the road. And as we all know; loud pipes save lives. Next to being seen, being heard is the best defense against oblivious motorists in cars.

But the Seattle City Council, succumbing to pressure from a few of the folks who live along Alki Beach in West Seattle, think that loud motorcycles are something that needs to be fixed. Now Alki Beach is the closest thing we have in the northwest to a California style beach, and by nature, it is a place folks congregate to enjoy sun and the ocean, to cruise in cars and on motorcycles, watching scantily clad folks play volleyball and sunbathe and walk the beach. By nature, it’s a place where there’s going to be cars and motorcycles and yes, noise. I mean, it’s what you do!  Or used to anyway.

When I first moved there in 1989, and up to now, a few of the folks along Alki have been complaining about noise and cars and cruisers. It comes with the territory I suppose. But to me it’s complaining about one of the elements that makes Alki the cool place that it is, and they’d much rather have it be a private enclave for them to enjoy alone. And they just won at the Seattle City Council, thanks to West Seattle’s councilwoman, Lisa Herbold.

Earlier this spring the Seattle City Council took time away from their busy agenda of making things in the city worse as they drive off the cliff on the left end of the political spectrum, so they could pass a revised noise ordinance that would ticket “loud vehicles” $126. What’s more it’s the most poorly written ordinance I’ve ever seen. Noise ordinances are a tough one anyway, and this one is perhaps the worst one ever. It’s doubtful it can be enforced at all, and if it is, it’s impossible to enforce it objectively. And therein lies the problem. It’s designed to be used subjectively and unfairly.

For instance, the ordinance doesn’t have any objective measurements for a violation such as a specific measurable noise level. It does not require a police officer to measure the sound in any quantifiable way or even measure the distance with any accuracy. It merely states if it can be “heard” from 75 feet away my someone with “normal hearing”.  So what the heck is “normal hearing”?  And if you can hear it from 74 feet away and the officer steps back to 75 and he can’t hear it it’s OK?  Really now?

Even the police department conceded in a hearing in June before the City Council that it can’t really objectively enforce it. Their officers don’t have decibel meters and would they have to measure out 75 feet to determine if they could hear it? And even they couldn’t tell you what “normal hearing” is. But logic and reasoning never seems to enter into the thinking of the Seattle City Council.

We all know that this will be used as a tool to go after motorcycle riders and hot-rod car lovers. And it’s a shame too. The “beach culture” is part of the charm of the Alki Beach area, and there’s nothing more American than cruising down the beach boulevard on one’s motorcycle or tricked out car. The years I spent living above Alki it was never an issue for me, I love the sound, the sun, the surf, the people watching, and eating a good burger at sunset on the beach.

As a city grows and changes it’s interesting to see how attitudes and things change. For instance; the manager of the venerable Spuds Fish and Chips – a Seattle institution the likes of Dicks and Ivar’s and that’s been on Alki since before I moved there way back in 1989 -- said to the Seattle Times “it does affect us – in a positive way – the more cars the better” and she lives and works on Alki too!  Meanwhile the manager of new kid on the block, Blue Moon Burger which was took over an old service station, said “if someone passes by with a loud car or motorcycle it interrupts our service with the guest.”  Oh give me a break!  Folks sit on their patio, eat an overpriced burger, for the experience of eating on a beach and people and car watching – or did they forget that?  I mean it’s Alki!  People go there to cruise, to see and be seen!  That’s what you do! Or should we all now conform to the “yuppie over-priced burger with avocado and sprouts” crowd who show up in their uber quiet Prius or Tessla?  Are Seattle police going to ticket every garbage truck or Metro bus that goes by now too?  I doubt it – just the bikers and the muscle car crowd.

For now, Seattle PD will, they say, focus on “public education” and they don’t plan on issuing citations just yet. We’ll see. But while the weather is glorious this summer, you might want to take one last beach cruise down Alki before the Tessla/Prius crowd eating their yuppie burgers at Blue Moon take over and lock up Alki beach for themselves.  Do it while you can now. And please, make sure you rev it up a bit while enjoying the sun, surf and scantily clad folks on the sand. It seems those times are going to come to a close soon. Nothing better than hearing a rumble of “potato potato potato potato potato….”
Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

July QuickThrottle Column

I'm sad that I'm not writing essays and blog entries these days. Looking back, all I've posted this year are my QT columns. I've got lots of things I've started, just never finished -- including my book.  Life seems to get in the way. One day... Meanwhile, here's the July column, which, if I do say so myself, is one of my favorites. It was actually written some time ago as a blog post on here, and when I needed a column idea for July I reached back and revamped this for the magazine. I've lost track of the young man in this piece, he just dissapeared from Seattle before I moved to the desert... I hope you enjoy.
My friend Dan is deaf. And while I knew that, I didn’t really know him, and I really couldn’t say he was a “friend”, just a young guy who hangs out at the same neighborhood tavern I do from time to time. I’d see him standing in the corner with a few other deaf folks and they’d have very spirited and animated sign language conversations.  I often joked that when the bar gets hot and stuffy that I'm going to go stand by the deaf crowd and cool off from the breeze created by all their hand movements.

The other night I rode out for a drink, and Dan waved as I came in and went hang up my motorcycle jacket. After I did that he came up and made a sign like riding a motorcycle -- his fists in the air, cranking the throttle. I nodded yes I rode. He pointed to the door I guess asking if the bike was out there, so I nodded yes.  He gave me a look that I took as if asking "can we look at it?" and I nodded and motioned to the door and he followed me. He saw the bike and let out an "AHHH" and gave me a thumbs up with a huge smile. So I sat on the bike and patted the back seat with my hands and invited him to hop on. At first he was a bit hesitant, but I motioned "come on" and patted the seat again. He grinned and climbed on and started the bike up. Now this bike is LOUD, but I'm sure he couldn't hear a thing, but I bet he felt the big V-Twin rev up because he let out a laugh - making a sound almost like an infant would. It's the only sound I've ever heard him make other than the "Ahh" when he first saw the bike.  

I backed the bike out, and although he didn't have a helmet, we went a few blocks around the neighborhood. He held on to me so tight I couldn’t breathe and I could hear him laughing with pure joy as we rode around for about 10 minutes and I'd rev the engine at the stop lights. When we got back to the bar he hopped off, jumped up and down, and practically danced with delight as he waited for me to stop the bike and climb off. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back into the bar to the middle of the deaf group and started to wildly sign. They signed back, and introduced me to his friends, one of whom is somewhat able to speak and who said I had made his night and it was his first ever ride on a motorcycle. He was grinning still, as I headed to the bar for my drink.

A bit later I was ready to go, so I got my jacket from the coat check and Dan came up and grabbed my coat and tried to sign something I couldn't understand, and I gave him a puzzled look. He got out his phone and with the keyboard and typed out a note on the screen; "You go now?" And I nodded yes. He grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the deaf group again where there was much signing and a very "loud" but silent conversation. He got his friends camera which he pointed to me and to the door, and then lead the entire group of deaf folks out. He wanted to show it to them and have a picture on the bike. So surrounded by a group of deaf folks, I watched as Dan pointed at the bike, gave a thumbs up, and I climbed on, started the bike and all of them put their hands on the tank to feel the vibrations. I invited Dan to join me and there was no hesitation whatsoever this time, as he hopped right on and handed the camera to his friend.
I turned around and said "want to go again?" He nodded wildly yes, so once again we did the loop to the park and around, him hanging on to the seat loop strap this time and laughing out loud the whole way. When we got back to the bar I asked him to email me the picture, so I gave him my phone number so he can text me and my email address.  

The next afternoon I got a text from him: "Hi, it's Dan - thanks again for the ride on your bike, it was sooooo cool." So I texted him back, and said it was my pleasure and anytime he wanted to go for a ride to let me know. He asked if I was serious and I texted back "hell yeah!" Well, long and short of it, later that afternoon I rode up to Dan’s house with a helmet for him this time and we took off again. We headed out around the foothills of the Cascades and down near Enumclaw where we saw Mt. Rainier. When we came around a corner and there was the Mountain looming in front of us he tapped my shoulder and gave me a thumbs up and signaled to stop so he could take a picture. It was one of those perfect Washington days and the Mountain was out in all it's glory.

We continued on our way, and actually spent about 3 hours and did well over 120 miles that afternoon. Neither of us said a word. I was alone with my thoughts as I usually am on the bike - even when riding with someone. When riding with someone you communicate (with hand signals) or chat when stopped at traffic signals, whether they be a passenger or a fellow rider. But this time there was no talking --  however I wasn't alone at all. The only sound I heard was the bike and the wind -- he heard nothing at all, but I know he felt the wind in his face, the sun on his skin, and breathed deep the smell of the fresh air just like I did. He held tight to the seat strap loop, laughed when we went fast around curves, sighed when he saw Mt. Rainier and waved at all the bikers we passed like a he'd been riding all his life. I think we both hated it when I turned back towards his house. We got back to his house and his mother came out and told me that Dan had been a bit down and that since we’d gone riding that night at the bar, he’d been excited and happy and it was the best gift he’d been given in some time. You know I never really thought of it as a “gift”, but I guess the time and the experience was to someone who had never had it.

Dan wildly shook my hand and I got a back slap hug. I got out my phone and typed out a message -- "We'll do this again soon". He lit up and grinned, and before I got home there was a text message saying "I'm free next Saturday before 4pm". Weather permitting, I think my new friend and I will go ride and enjoy the sound of silence.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com

June QuickThrottle Column

There's nothing better than a long windy lonely road with no traffic. They are getting increasingly hard to find unfortunately. But there's still a few out there.  This month we take a look at Washingotn State's lonliest road...out in the wheat fields of the Palouse in SE Washington....

In the desert of the Coachella Valley where I live much of the year, our idea of a traffic jam is more than 10 cars at a light, or more than one change of the light to get through it. It’s that way a little bit of the year, in the high tourist seasons of mid-winter when it’s 80 degrees there and minus double digits elsewhere in the country. You get very used to no traffic, and so, as my friends will joke, when I have to go into God awful traffic areas like the SoCal/Los Angeles area it requires extra high-blood pressure medicine or maybe a medicinal edible on my part, and another driver so all I do is sit in the passenger seat and grit my teeth.  Even then I’ve been known to pout and throw a tantrum.  I’ve also been known to take extreme long-ways to get to San Diego or elsewhere in California on the bike just to avoid LA freeways.

Back in Seattle, it’s impossible to avoid as well. Traffic in the Northwest just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. It really shouldn’t take an hour and a half to get across Seattle in the middle of the day, but it does and it’s routine, and we become “used” to it. I have friends who say, “hey it only took me two hours to get home today!” Like this is something to crow about?  This is not good people. We shouldn’t get “used” to this, just like we shouldn’t get used to having a President who only lied three times today rather than his average five and we aren’t outraged by it. It’s the same thing.

That’s why I seek out lonely roads. There is nothing better than having the road all to one’s self. The most famous of the lonely roads of course is US-50 across Nevada. It’s marked on the maps and marketed as the “Loneliest Road In America”, and it’s a popular biker road. I’ve ridden it several times across the middle of Nevada. It’s kind of unnerving until you get used to it. There’s little or no cell service, and only an occasional gas station on this stretch of road. On one trip I went nearly an hour without seeing another car. But once you’ve done it, finding two or more cars at any given time becomes unnerving. It’s why I love that road.

But driving south to Nevada from the Northwest is a multi-day trip just to enjoy the solitude of the highway and America’s Loneliest Road. So, what’s an alternative closer to home? What, do you ask, is the Loneliest Road In Washington?
According to Geotab, a Canadian company who specializes in vehicle tracking and management, the loneliest road in Washington is SR-127 out in the Palouse of southeastern Washington – specifically between the towns of Dusty and Dodge.  You may have ridden through Dodge if you’ve traveled US-12 between Lewiston, ID and Walla Walla on your way to or from Sturgis.  If you sneezed or blinked while riding through you probably missed it too. But if you were to turn north in Dodge and rode up to Dusty, a distance of 28 miles or so, you’d be on Washington’s least trafficked road. You may even pass a car, but it’s doubtful.

What you would see is plenty of wheat fields rolling off to the horizon.  The Palouse area is one of my favorite parts of Washington. I love riding through it, especially in the spring when the wheat is still green, and in the fall when it’s turned golden. The hills are gentle, the road rolls along and undulates with the land, going up and down and around, moving with the earth. At harvest time you’ll see giant combines who’s rotating blades keep time with whatever song is running in your head, harvesting miles and miles of wheat. For a bit you might even forget you are in Washington and think you are in Kansas – but thankfully there’s no tornados here.

It’s an old road too – one of the earliest in the State to be named/numbered and even paved. It was once called the Inland Empire Highway, and it wound through small wheat growing towns all over central and eastern Washington. It was first named in 1913 and it was gravel, running from near Cle Elum up to Laurier on the Canadian border in Ferry County (which gets its name from a former governor of Washington, not from any boat across a body of water). At one time it went through Ellensburg, Yakima, Pasco, Walla Walla, Spokane and Colville.  Back then it was gravel, but in 1931 most of it was listed as “oil-macadam” – today we’d call that chip-seal.

The bridge across the Snake River was built in 1924, and replaced in 1968 with a large new bridge which is worth a stop on either end just to admire its structure and the crossing of this giant river.  You can wander all over the Palouse on roads just like this one – including US-12 which is a great road that will take you all the way across the upper Midwest if you want – or at least to Sturgis if you are going this year.

But if you are looking for solitude – of having the road to yourself – without driving all the way to Nevada for the “official” one, and of staking claim to the loneliest road in Washington, you can. It’s SR-127.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

May QuickThrottle Column

My column for May focuses on the final segment of the US Interestate System being finished later this summer, almost 62 years after it was started -- and the need to keep riding the "non-Interstates" or the "Blue Highways" as the wonderful travel writer William Least Heat Moon called them... I'm missing riding as much as I used to, it seems ages since I've done a long trip. I should probably heed my own advice a bit more...
I love maps – especially older ones. The ones you once got at the fillin’ station. On those older maps, Interstate Highways were more often than not drawn as red lines, US Highways were in black, and secondary roads were drawn in blue. That’s why those wonderful, windy, two-lane, backroads are often called “Blue Highways”. And for me, I’ve always felt more at home riding the blue highways than on the red ones. Unfortunately, over time most maps, including Harley’s Road Atlas, (assuming folks even read maps now since everyone GPS’s their way) now show the Interstate’s in blue and the US highways in red, and those wonderful “other” roads in black.  “Black Highways” just doesn’t sound as evocative to me, so I’ll still call these wonderful meanderers the “Blues”.

Now I don’t dislike the other road colors by any means, it’s just not my preference when I have a choice. I’ll ride the freeway if I have to but give me a wandering side road and that’s where I’ll go even when it takes longer. Back in my younger days when I had the knees for skiing I used to love bombing down a groomed blue or black run as fast as I my thighs and knees could stand, but I had a friend who was much more interested in skiing the green meandering runs at a slower pace. His favorite saying was “why go down a blue run when there is a perfectly fine green run right here that goes to the same place?” And while the freedom one feels skiing is very much akin to the freedom one feels on a motorcycle; my philosophy has changed. “Why take the freeway when there is a perfectly fine backroad here?”

I’ve been trying to gradually convince people to the wisdom of this philosophy – riding the blues and blacks, even in every-day situations. My buddy Henry just a year ago went to the HD riding school on their Vets Ride Free program, got his license, and has already bought two bikes. He moved from Cincinnati to LA and now to the Desert to escape traffic and crowds, yet he’s still taking the freeway to work – until I showed him a nice backroad almost directly to his office, with two stop signs, some great hills and curves, and only a few lights. Yeah, it’s a 35-mile commute rather than a 12-mile one, but he’s sure in a better mood when he gets to work.

That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the interstate on a bike either – in fact one of the most gorgeous roads anywhere is the I-70 from Cove Fort, Utah to Green River, UT, and again up over the Rockies east from Aspen to Denver, and in our neck of the woods I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass is wonderful – and will be getting better on the East side of the pass once the construction is done (but I still love WA-410 and US-12 more).
Indeed, the entire concept of the Interstate Highway system is a marvel if you think about it. Can you imagine the old windy narrow backroads having to contend with today’s traffic and vehicles? It wouldn’t happen. When I ride old US-10 east of Cle Elum, WA, or old US-66 in the deserts of California and Arizona, or US 30 across Idaho, trying to imagine the amount of traffic on I-90 or I-40 squeezing on to those roads is mindboggling.

It was in 1956, 62 years ago, that President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act creating our modern Interstate road system. There was a lot of foresight back then, and we have to thank him and Congress for enabling the construction and maintenance of this system. And later this year, sometime in September – 62 years later, this country’s most famous civil-engineering project will finally complete construction.

You laugh – because we all know construction season never ends. The giant project up on I-90 over Snoqualmie pass for example, or that stretch of I-5 from Fife past the Tacoma Dome that has been under perpetual construction since -- well since they stared building it back in the 1960s.  But seriously, the last section of the original proposed Interstate Highway system should finally be finished. It’s back on the east coast. I-95, the country’s most used highway, will finally run as one continuous road between Miami and Maine. The gap on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey border will be closed, turning I-95 into an unbroken stream of concrete more than 1,900 miles long. In doing so it marks the completion of the original US interstate system.  I suppose you could say “typical government project – took way too long..” but when you consider the size and scope of the entire interstate system, I don’t think it’s all that bad.

And it’s done more to transform this country than probably any other civil engineering project, including the BPA and TVA dam projects, and the space program. Where would we be without the interstate system to transport us and the goods we all use? It’s safe to say it would be an entirely different country. My enviro friends will probably say it would have been better if the interstate highway system had never been built, it exacerbated the car culture, destroyed the land, and causes global warming, but I disagree.

You see, by building the interstate system, it took all that traffic off the wonderful blue and black byways that crossed this country before it was built – roads that are still there if you take the time to find them. Use the interstate for what it is – use it to drive to work, deliver your products, and get from A-B fairly quickly. But appreciate and love the back roads for what they were and what they still are – the slow-moving stream that winds through the woods, over hill and dale, through the small towns, and across the mountains. The interstate defined America, but you won’t find America there. You’ll really only find America on the blue and black highways of the old maps. This summer go ride some blues!

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

April QuickThrottle Column

Struggling with getting my May column done -- one of those "I can't think of anything to write about" days, and I start things, get a paragraph or two in and go ... "Nope!".   Got the rest of the morning to figure it out.  Meanwhile, here's the April version of my monthly muse....

Something happened this past March 8th that hasn’t happened in recent memory. It was almost a historic occasion. The Washington State Legislature adjourned sine die on time on the last scheduled day of the session. I felt a small earthquake here in the desert of Southern California that day. I can only conclude it was because of that. The last time the legislature adjourned on time and with no special session immediately following was more than 10 years ago. I’m guessing perhaps a booming economy and lots of money rolling in to the budget, coupled with an election year and a virtually tied legislature even though the Democrats run both chambers and the Governor’s office had something to do with it. But perhaps they ran out of things to do too.

But it’s not like we riders got anything out of the session. I asked my buddy Larry Walker who’s the lobbyist for the Washington Road Riders Association if anything interesting passed in the final days. “Not a damn thing” he replied. And that’s unfortunate, because again riders get the short end of the stick.

As much talk as there was in the halls of Olympia about having to “do something” to provide relief for the out of control cost of licensing vehicles in the Sound Transit district, nothing happened. We’ve all seen the fruits of that ST3 tax and how it’s caused our license plate renewals to skyrocket.  But the inability to fix this one kinda surprised me to be honest. The vox populi have been very loud and rightfully very upset about how outrageously expensive the cost of licensing a vehicle is nowadays, and the majority support in the legislature for “doing something”, in the end got nothing done. The Democrats actually have the nerve to blame Republicans for threatening to “filibuster” the Democrat’s “fix” which albeit minuscule was some relief from that outrageously high tax burden. But a filibuster isn’t allowed under Washington’s legislative rules, so we should hashtag that excuse as a real instance of “fakenews”.  In reality the pressure by Sound Transit and their allies to fully fund their expensive system and not delay it or scale it back by one iota is what killed that deal. So, break out the checkbooks for another year and get ready to pay through the nose when your car and bike tabs come up for renewal. And remember why that is come election time in November.

All the other bills that would concern us riders also fell by the wayside. No fix to the toll reader/HOT lane transponder issue on I-405. No ability to park multiple bikes in a metered spot as long as each pays for its time. No new spending on smoothing out roads and fixing infrastructure. And no helmet law revisions. For now.

The end of the session also brought a number of retirements of long-time legislative leaders, including House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn. Rep. Clibborn and I have been friends for a long time, and she’s been very good for overall transportation policy in the state the years she has headed the powerful committee. And what’s more, she’s a genuinely decent, honest, kind and honorable person. The kind that we need more of in public service, and it seems that are few and far between these days. I am sad she is going, Washington will miss her, and I will wish her well. And while Rep. Clibborn hasn’t been a champion for rider issues, with one big exception, she hasn’t been overtly hostile either. But she has been adamant in her opposition to repealing or modifying the helmet law in Washington. It’s the main reason that even when the bill has advanced in the Senate in years past, it was essentially DOA in the House. Whether that gave the Senate some cover to pass the bill along in years past or not remains to be seen. But if the House Transportation chairmanship passes to someone who may be supportive of helmet law repeal or modification, chances of that bill advancing improve. Who takes the reigns of that committee won’t be decided until next year after the fall elections, but it will be a fight for a plumb and powerful job. Let’s hope someone with some motorcycle experience and who is a supporter gets the job.

So, with the Legislature hitting the road, they’ll also later this year be hitting the campaign trail. You all know the drill too. It’s a golden opportunity for you to meet with legislators and those running to replace them or fill a vacant seat. It’s your chance to make yourself heard on the rider issues that concern you, whatever they may be. There are more than enough chances to get to meet them this year if you just take the chance. The more of us who “live to ride, ride to live” that do this the better off we’ll all be down the road, whether it be the amount of money we pay to license our rides, the quality of the road we ride down, the amount of traffic we share the road with, and yes, even the type of equipment we are required to wear. Making your voice heard with those who next year will be sitting around Olympia and Salem for long legislative sessions now will bear fruit then. I promise you.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net or www.grgardner.com, and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com

Riding Tips

So two days before the deadline for the April issue, my publisher calls and says "can you do a quick 1000 words for the "Get Ready To Ride" spring issue with tips on getting ready to ride. Ok, sure -- although here in the desert we can ride pretty much year round, back in the old stomping grounds of the Pacific Northwest, it took some work to get ready once spring rolled around. So i reached back into my memory and cranked this piece out for him...In addition to my column which I'll post tomorrow.

It’s April in the Northwest. The sun is shining (sort of), the rain has tapered off (somewhat), and the days are getting longer (most definite). It’s a time when riders start dreaming of getting back on the bike after taking a winter off from riding -- which the vast majority of riders around these parts do. I have to admire those hearty souls who brave the elements year-round on their scoots – they must all have synthetic motor oil running in their veins to be able to keep the bike running and them on top of it, day in and day out 365 days a year.

For those who don’t get the periodic transfusion of Syn-3, we have some getting ready to do as we start planning our summer road adventures. First and foremost is getting the moss and rust off the old bike and getting it ready to run. Yes, I said moss and rust. It’s wet in the Northwest. The longest I have gone without riding is 4 months, and that year I had some fungus growing on the spokes and some moss on the seat, I kid you not. I also had a family of mice make a nice nest underneath the bike cover and a black widow spider build a web from the kick-stand to the floor. So, in all seriousness, watch for the effects of moisture and critters if your bikes been in a corner of the garage for more than a month or two.

Now any biker worthy of the name in the Northwest knows that if you don’t ride all winter you at least keep your battery on a tender and charged up. If your bike is less than a few years old, all those new fancy things Harley and the other manufactures are putting on their bikes drain your battery even if you aren’t using it, and we all know how quickly bike batteries go out and how ridiculously expensive they are. Things like keyless fob starting and security systems put a constant drain on the battery even if it’s not running and after even four months or so you could be facing a dead battery. Make the investment in that trickle charger for next winter now while you are thinking about it. But If you’ve already done that, you know your electrical system is ready to roll.  If not, well, that’s the first thing you need to check. Make sure your battery is charged and working.

The other nifty trick us mossback riders will do in the fall before putting the bike up for the winter is add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tanks. I find this a heck of a lot easier than draining the tank, which also can tend to make water condensation a problem in the Northwest’s moist climate. If you topped off your tank after adding a bottle of stabilizer, your fuel system should be good to go. If you didn’t, open the tank and check for gunk and stratification. If you have bad gas, it’s wise to drain the tank and fuel lines (and carburetor on a non-fuel injected bike) and refilling with fresh gas before starting it -- and making a mental note to put in stabilizer next winter and avoiding that mess in the future.

Check your oil. I’ll do an oil change generally in December so in those months I don’t ride I know I’m full of good clean oil, and assuming any of it didn’t leak out over the winter, I’ll be good to go. If you didn’t do an oil change, now is the time to consider doing one or having it done. Oil degrades over time and settles and loses its viscosity. Make sure the oil is up to snuff. Check for other leaks as well – brake fluid, primary case, and coolant if applicable (remember those new Milwaukee 8s have their liquid cooled heads you old Hog-heads.)

Then check your tires. Make sure the air pressure is up to where it should be. Dollar to donuts they have lost a lot of pressure sitting over the winter – not enough to see with the eye or even feel with a good squeeze – but enough to affect performance. If they are low and you don’t have a pump, assuming they aren’t all the way flat, a short slow ride to the nearest filling station is in order to get the air back in. Also check for worn spots, cracks, and other flat spots.
After that, it’s time for essentially a good expanded T-CLOCS checklist. You should be doing this before every ride anyway, and a more thorough and expanded one before your first ride of the year after winter. When you fire the engine up the first time, make sure you let it idle a good minute or so. Make sure that the oil is circulating well, the charging system is doing its thing, and the engine is well warmed up before roaring out of the garage. It’s been sitting a while, and like a human operator, it’s going to be a little stiff and sore.

Finally, the last thing to check out is the operator. You. Ask yourself, are you ready to ride?  How long has it been since you sat on the scoot. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and that might be somewhat true. But we all forget our basic skills. We also may have (in my case definitely have) put on a few pounds of winter insulation – so we and the bike will handle a bit differently. Our muscle memory isn’t what it is. I know that after a long stretch of not riding, it takes me a few trips to build up strength and stamina for a long 200+ mile ride.  If you suspect you are rusty, and a winter in the Northwest makes everything rusty, take it slow and easy the first few miles, or better yet, go practice in a vacant parking lot somewhere for a bit. Get those skills and muscle memory back in shape before riding off down the highway.

And remember that the highway is going to be different after months of rain, snow, ice and traffic. More potholes and road cracks where there weren’t any before, bumpier rides, and lots of sand and road, especially in the curves, from road de-icing and plowing. You’ll want to be especially careful watching the road conditions early in the riding season.
Hopefully you’ve spent the winter pouring over maps and dreaming of places to explore so you have your list ready. Remember, spring cleaning isn’t just for the house. It’s for the bike and yourself. Get it done and enjoy the summer. See you down the road!

March QuickThrottle Column

Here is my March column in QuickThrottle -- in which we discuss the silliness that is Harley-Davidson's creating an electrick motorcycle... No.  Just no.

Last month I wrote about the death of Harley’s Dyna platform. Since then however, I’m seeing the early signs of what might be the impending doom of the entire sport as we know it. Sales of motorcycles are down. Way down. Polaris is closing-up the Victory line, but leaving Indian, who’s sales are miniscule. Harley just announced they are closing the Kansas City factory, consolidating production at the York, PA facility. The K.C. factory produced the now dead Dyna and V-Rod lines, as well as the Sportster and Street models, which now move to PA. What’s driving this downturn?  The economy is humming along. Harley is doing what they can to attract new riders, redesigning bikes for that younger crowd, but we oldsters are apparently dying off faster than new riders are coming into the market. My gut tells me that Harley’s top of the line massive cruisers are priced so high they keep folks out of the market. But what do I know?

So, what’s the answer? How do you re-tool an entire sport for a new generation? How do you take a 115-year-old institution like Harley and remake it for the next 100 years? Can you? I’m glad I’m not the CEO trying to figure that one out. But in the same corporate earnings report where Harley announced the Kansas City plant closure, they also announced their apparent vision for the future – and it isn’t a traditional loud piped V-twin motor.

In about eighteen months – sometime in late 2019 if all goes well, we will see the first electric Harley-Davidson. An electric bike, as incredulous as that sounds I know.  Think back a couple of years ago to Harley’s “Project Livewire”. When I first heard about it I thought it was a joke in a satire magazine. Harley? An Electric Bike? Yeah, sure and I’m gonna trade in my Hummer on a damn Prius. But it turns “Livewire” wasn’t a fluke, even though it looks like a metric crotch rocket.

And I just have to shake my head and wonder. Maybe I’m just too old school, but I love the smell of motorcycle exhaust and the rumble of pipes and a V-twin. I just can’t see myself on an electric bike, although I do admire the engineering complexity of the Livewire bike. It’s linear induction motor and the power that it is capable of is amazing. And while it only gets about 60 miles of travel at this time, I’m sure that technology will change that as time goes on. But still, an electric bike? Come on! It’s just so “not Harley.”

Already people are putting down deposits on something that isn’t even in production yet so they can be the first to have an electric motorcycle. I guess so they can ride to get some gluten free ice cream and a vegan salad maybe, and park it next to their Prius or Tesla. It makes sense and should sell wonderfully in the Northwest. According to Toyota, Washington is the highest per-capital sales market for those damn Priuses.  At least I think that’s how you pluralize it – maybe it’s Prii?  (And I just realized that these electric vehicles can’t be pluralized readily – for instance the Nissan “Leaf”. Is the plural form “Leafs” or “Leaves”?   If Harley goes forward with this they better come up with a name that can be readily pluralized.)

But there is this gross misconception about electric vehicles: that driving them makes some sort of “environmental statement” about saving the planet from terrible carbon pollution. But what most self-righteous Prius drivers seem to forget is that electricity in most parts of the world comes from burning the same fossil fuels that power a gasoline engine. In the Northwest, our power comes from hydro dams and windmills, which according to some factions of the environmental world, are just as bad as fossil fuels since dams mess with salmon and windmills are nothing but giant Cuisinarts for birds. Nothing is somehow “non-polluting.”

So, while all you electric vehicle drivers may think you are saving the planet, you actually are not making one iota of a difference. And if that’s Harley’s marketing ploy to get younger hip riders, I think they missed the mark. Younger hip riders would rather pay less than $30,000 for a bike I’m guessing. There’s your niche market guys.

Meanwhile I’ll go on enjoying my carbon spewing fossil fuel burning 103 cubic inch V-Twin rumbling between my legs and breathing in those wonderful smelling exhaust fumes as I roar out of my driveway and into the wind thank you very much.
But I know my time on earth is as limited as the fossils that fuel my engines, and one day I too will die out along with the rest of my kind (or ilk if you prefer.) The bikers of the future will be zooming around Sturgis on their electric bikes, the town will obviously have to put in some sort of massive magical power plant to produce enough plug-in stations, but that won’t be my problem. So, go forth Harley. Change the world with this first step. As a shareholder, I applaud the ingenuity and forward thinking and willingness to get out ahead of the curve. I hope it saves the company. My retirement savings will thank you.

But while I can, let me enjoy the rumble, the heat, and the smell of exhaust, and the freedom of the open road, my fists in the air framing the road ahead, and the wind blowing in my face. An electric bike? Sorry guys. Not for me.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com