Category Archives: Automobiles and motorcycles

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The Social Catalyst

Last weekend I spent 4 1/2 days riding about 1,200 miles with about 80 motorcycle friends with Backroads motorcycle magazine.

I say 80 friends because at the end of each day everyone would congregate at the hotel, have a drink and swap stories and it always amazes me how easy it is to talk to anyone in this crowd.  Stick out your hand in introduction and you’ll be chatting like long lost buddies within minutes.

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As something of a social observer this was an excellent opportunity to watch a lot of different interactions in a very short space of time, and I started to see a pattern I had never seen before.

Certain people (who I won’t name to avoid embarrassment) have the amazing ability to liven up almost any conversation whenever they join a group.  Within minutes the level of laughter and energy will move up a notch, and the effect lasts long after they have left too.

The characteristics of these social catalysts seem to be equal part a great sense of humor, broad knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, keen observation skills which they use to tease people with, and a certain amount of irreverence where they will happily delve into subjects that polite conversation might steer clear of.

Having noticed it, it was hard not to notice, even when they joined a conversation I was in.

Sadly I don’t count myself as one of these social unicorns.  But maybe I can use these observations to help improve my future social interactions.  Either that or I’m going to end up with a bloody nose.

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Motorcycles I’ve Owned

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December 5, 2015 · 9:35 am

Cars I’ve Owned

I’ve owned quite a few cars (and motorcycles) in my time. Some, like the 911, were incredible machines. Others, like the Marina, were turds. I loved them all!

I’m sure I missed one or two here, and I don’t count cars that belonged to my wife

Click on a picture for a short commentary of each car

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Simple trick to save money on car maintenance

What if I told you an easy to use $20 tool could save you hundreds or even thousands in car repair bills?  

It’s true!

This week my wife came back to a car with a dead battery after my son left the lights on.  Fortunately there was a friendly truck driver with some jump leads nearby and in just a few minutes the car was running and ready for the journey home.   Twenty years ago that would have been the end of it.  Not anymore.  Now the dashboard was covered in warning lights and scary messages telling her to “Have your vehicle checked by a dealer“.  These would not go away even after charging the battery.

Now she needs to book the car in to the service center, drive to the dealer and wait around while they “check the system”.

We know that the car was fine before the battery died, and it was only serviced a few weeks ago, so I think we can safely conclude that we know what the problem is.  But nooo…they have to run through a battery of standard tests that will rack up chargeable time before they use their tool to reset the computer and send her on her way with a bill for between $50 and $150.

Or you can do what I did.  

  • Spend $20 on a OBD II reader (I already had one)
  • Look up the code it provides on Google to make sure there isn’t anything seriously wrong
  • Use the tool to reset the warning codes

This is exactly what the dealer will do but without the cost and hassle of sitting in a service area waiting room.  These things are super easy to use if you can follow very basic directions and this thing will pay for itself over and over.

 

While I’m sure the auto manufacturer lawyers can make a good case for why fault codes should be checked out, it’s also a great way for the dealers to make extra money.

I can pretty much guarantee that if resetting the codes was performed at the dealer expense they would provide a button in the car to allow you to do it yourself.

Oh…and while you are there they will probably tell you that you need to replace your windshield wipers while you are there and they can do it for only $80.

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900 Miles on a Motorcycle – It’s All Dolphins!

I have just spent the past few days enjoying the best scenery and back roads that the Catskills and Adirondacks have to offer with the wonderful folks from Backroads magazine.  

It’s hard to put into words how great this trip was.  The weather was perfect and the ride pace set by my good friend MB was spot on – fast enough to enjoy the roads to the full but without being a hero.  We rode through spectacular scenery and little towns with architecture straight out of a fairy tale.  I spent a good deal of time checking out the beautiful old stone churches with tall spires and thinking how great they would look photographed from the air – my current obsession.

While on the trip I finally came to realize that the bike I bought new in 2001 is now the old girl of the group. Despite that she still rides great and, even though at least 50hp down on most of the bikes we were riding with, can hold her own.  After 15 years the old girl can still fly. 

MB and I were joined by Jeff, an honest to goodness private detective sadly minus the obligatory fedora.  Hanging out with Jeff and MB was a blast.  Their irrepressible charm and quick wit turned even the mundane items such as ordering lunch into a laugh fest for all concerned.  My cheeks ached from laughing so much.

Over lunch on Friday we talked about how sad it is that so many people are afraid to enjoy life.  When I told people I was going away for several days of motorcycle riding many assumed the worse.  As Jeff put it “People are afraid to go in the water because of the one in a million possibility of being eaten by a Great White when they are far more likely to encounter Dolphins.”

This led to the catch phrase “It’s all dolphins” being used for the rest of the trip.  This caused a few raised eyebrows with the wait staff:

  • “How was dinner guys?”
  • “It’s all dolphins!”
  • “?”

Backroads motorcycle magazine

On Backroads rides most of the riding is done in your own group, and at your own pace, with everyone meeting up at the end of the day for some lively chat and a few drinks.

If this is your first time with Backroads the first thing you will notice is just how friendly people are.  Everyone is family. People will walk up to you, shake hands and start chatting as though you have known each other for years.  Brian and Shira somehow know everyone personally and have great stories of their own but, as hosts, are in much demand.

Sadly our little troop all had things to do and couldn’t stay so we headed home early on Saturday morning.  I followed MB down as far as Lake George where we ate breakfast and then went our separate ways, with him blasting home on the highways while I took a more meandering route down through the Catskills and Bear Mountain.

I arrived home mid afternoon on Saturday after about 900 miles of amazing back-road riding in near perfect weather.  My BMW performed flawlessly and now needs to be rewarded with a service and a new rear tire, which is completely shot.

It’s a shame that many people will never experience something like this because of fear of the unknown.  Yes, things can go wrong.  But more often things go right and, personally, some of the most amazing times I have started out as a disaster and ended with the making of life long friends and memories.

I once heard the quote “Everyone dies, but not everyone lives” and that resonates with me personally.  Don’t be afraid!  Get out there and enjoy life.  It’s all dolphins!

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, Travel

A Ten Year Love Affair Ends

matchbox911Since the age of perhaps 7 or 8 I have been in love with the Porsche 911.  In 2004 I was fortunate enough to take delivery of one, starting a ten year love affair which finally ended yesterday.

But let’s start at the beginning.  As a little boy I remember playing with a model of a Porsche 911 in the bedroom I shared with my brother in South London.  To me this was a car for rich people and, being in a one parent family, and with my Mother working part time on the checkout of a local supermarket, I was sure that the model was the closest I would ever get to owning one.

Fast forward to an anniversary dinner in May 2004.  During dinner my wife handed me a card with the words “Let’s get that 911 you always wanted” nestled among the usual anniversary sentiments.

With 3 young children at home it took a moment or two for my brain to go from “Well…that’s not very practical” to “Where’s the nearest Porsche dealer?”  At the time I was driving an MR2 Spyder so, by comparison, the 911 was a family car!

Over the next month I drove the poor folks at Jack Daniel’s in Paramus crazy while I tried out various models of 911.   Each test drive would, at some point, end up on the driveway of my home where I would drag J. out from her wifely duties to admire the latest model.

123-2317_IMGOne day I turned up in a pre-owned 2003 C4S coupe six speed. When I returned home after the test drive, J. immediately said “That’s the car you’re going to get, isn’t it?”  Apparently the look on my face was all she needed to know that this was the car for me.  Ten years later, I know I made the right decision.

So, what’s it like to own a 911?

In one word…Awesome!

I’m a driver.  I like driving.  I drive in a ‘spirited’ fashion on the road and I have raced everything I can lay my hands on: cars, karts, motorcycles, quads, you name it.   The problem is that I quickly become bored.  I had never owned a car more than 2 years without saying “OK…what’s next?”  That all ended with the 911.

The 911 took everything I threw at it and came back for more.  Driving in the countryside, commuting, track days, Auto-cross, long highway drives and even (with the addition of snow tires) winter driving.  It took it all in it’s stride.

The car could be driven at speed, cornered hard, and yet still remained refined and poised enough to drive to a funeral without feeling conspicuous or out of place.

When driving it the car just a felt part of me.  The car could be placed with such inch perfect precision that driving other cars (even performance cars) somehow felt lacking.

Of course it wasn’t totally perfect.  The car was noisy, had a stiff ride, destroyed rear tires with surprising speed, and the rear seat was fine when my kids where small but, as my daughter frequently commented, not suitable once they had grown up a bit.  Oh, and the German’s might know how to build great cars but they are completely stumped by cup holders.

Of course all of those were problems for the passengers.  This is a driver’s car, pure and simple.

prama2006Over the next 10 years I added 110 thousand miles to the odometer, bringing it to a grand total of 125k.  Even after all those miles the car was in a great shape and, if you didn’t know the subtleties of the 911 range, you would be hard pressed to know which model year it was.

Mechanically the car was as reliable as a hammer.  Very few problems were encountered and the car never let me down.

Here I have to give a quick shout out to PowerTech in Rockaway, NJ.  These guys took care of my car from the day it was out of warranty until the day it was sold.  They gave great service at a more than fair price and, when it came time to sell, they took care of that for me also (see ad), obtaining a price sufficiently above what I could have managed on my own to more than cover their fee.  If you have a Porsche then you owe it to yourself to pay these guys a visit and see what keeps people coming back to them year after year.

In the end it wasn’t age, or boredom, or mechanical problems that pushed the car out, it was a teenage boy obtaining his driving permit. The addition of an older A8 for him meant that the 911 was rarely going to leave the garage because it was constantly blocked in.  If it were a classic model that would appreciate then I could have been OK with that but, sadly, that was not the case here.

A brief foray into selling the car through Auto Trader convinced me (after just one day) that I should hand this over to PowerTech to sell and, two weeks later, my baby was gone!  I never got to see her again after dropping her off, and it was a bit anti-climactic to part with her in such a manner after all those miles, but I know the next owner will be as thrilled with her as I was.  This also leaves me without a stick-shift car for the first time since I started driving.  Now that is weird!

With an 11 year old still in the house it will be a while before I can consider something like this again. I strongly suspect that by then cars will mostly be self-driving and the idea of a “drivers car” will be a thing of the past.  But if you are considering a 911 then don’t wait – do it now before it’s too late.  You won’t regret it.

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Tail of the Dragon – Part Deux – Wheels Through Time Museum

Wheels Through TimeWhile taking in the awesome roads  in North Carolina I felt compelled to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum, and I’m so glad that I did because I’ve never experienced a museum quite like it.  

The Wheels Through Time Museum is home to the world’s premier collection of rare American Vintage Motorycles.  Located 5 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, in beautiful Maggie Valley, NC, this All-American motorcycle museum houses over 300 of America’s rarest and most historic classic motorcycles, with over 24 marques on display, including the likes of Harley-Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Crocker, Henderson, and much more.  Featuring dozens of motorcycle-related exhibits, ranging from board track racers, hillclimbing, and original paint machines to American Dirt Track racing, choppers and bobbers, and one-of-a-kind motorcycles, this is a must-see place if you are a motorcyclist.  And if you are Harley Davidson fan then this must be as close to Mecca as one can find.

Riding from Deals Gap I once again found myself surrounded by amazing riding roads and the most gorgeous scenery.  This was also my first opportunity to ride a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway and riding the full length of that was immediately added to the bucket list.

From the outside the museum seemed a little disappointing.  I’m not sure why but standing in the parking lot looking at the entrance it didn’t seem that big and I was wondering whether I should bother.  I went and was immediately greeted by staff that were so genuinely happy so I paid my $12 and headed through the gap in the wall that serves as an entrance.

On the other side begins an Aladdin’s cave of motorcycle treasure and the atmosphere and attitude of the staff was beyond friendly.

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Only when heading upstairs and looking out across the whole space did I truly start to appreciate how vast the place is – truly TARDIS like.

I wandered around with no particular goal but just taking in the wonders of the place.  Every nook and cranny is filled with motorcycle memorabilia and, just when you thought you had seen it all, another aisle would appear with something new to behold.

While standing and admiring one particularly beautiful old Henderson one of the staff came by and the following conversation occurred:

  • “Beautiful machine isn’t it?”
  • “It sure is.  I’ve always loved Hendersons”
  • “Yup….Want to hear it run?”
  • “What?….Ummm…really?  SURE!”

At which point he fiddled, twiddled, tickled and twisted a few things and then spun the rear wheel.  Immediately the bike roared to life sounding both raucous and silky smooth at the same time.

I can’t think of any other auto museum that I have been at where they are happy to actually start the vehicles right in front of you, but that happened multiple times during my visit.  Sure every so often it made your eyes sting a little…but it was worth it to see and hear those amazing machine run!

All too soon I was out of time and needed to get back on the road but what an amazing experience.

This is a must-do event for any gear head that is in the area.  Just make sure that you have plenty of memory in that camera!

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