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Air-cooled Bike in a Water-cooled World

September 11th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

The cooler weather has arrived, but the sun is shining as Vancouver sees the last cloudless days for a while. This weather is the prime season for my motorcycle as I no longer have to worry so much about over-heating my air-cooled engine. In the heat of summer, a traffic jam caused by the endless road work or skytrain construction that we are blessed with, can cause immediate concern for the temperature of the two middle cylinders. With four heat producing cylinders, the temperature of the engine rises quickly and I am wise to kill the engine and push the big machine as much as I can through inching traffic. The armor that I wear starts to stick to my skin and my patience starts to erode.

Post-Labour Day September, the cooler air and reduced traffic on the highways made the idea of a weekend trip to Seattle with my daughter seem like a wonderful diversion. I still don’t have the video camera or hard luggage, but we were only going for a weekend. This was the longest trip I had ever taken with a passenger, but my daughter knows how to become part of the bike. I felt confident that it would be safer than her last trip in August on the bus shuttle service from Vancouver to Seattle. The bus was tied up in a four hour border wait and then was hit by a semi-trailer truck in Seattle. I had a premonition of danger when I dropped her off at the bus, but I had thought it was related to the helmet I was lending her. She told me that she was going to be a passenger with a young man who had recently started riding. I was worried about this idea, but at least she had an approved helmet. After the bus incident, I have to say that I am going when my time comes and I guess my daughter is too. I was worried about the motorcycle as statistically, most accidents happen to new riders, but sometimes I have to let go and say, despite my considerable investment, “It is your life”.

I don’t push my luck though, and I was careful to purchase additional medical insurance for us both before we left. Given my daughter’s proclivity for dangerous episodes, I bought it for a year. I departed from work earlier than usual, but I wanted to wait until the worst of rush hour was over before facing the suburban traffic snarls. We were packed and mobile by 6:30pm taking the South Granville bridge and driving though Richmond to avoid the Oak St line-up. Even though it would take the same amount of time, it is time with air over the cylinders. It was windy on the Highway 99 stretch between Richmond and the border, with nothing but open farm fields and suburban developments to block the wind off the ocean. I was glad to have the extra weight on the back as we passed a few semi-trucks. With the Yamaha FJ 1200, there is always plenty of power, but I am so light I often get blown around by the wind. There were some darker clouds ahead and was a bit concerned about rain in the small mountainous region near Bellingham. We were being buffeted by strong cross-winds and the smell of rain was in the air.

As I crouched to try to keep my windblown hair from whipping my passenger, we passed a cushy Honda Goldwing with full fairing and a big passenger seat with backrest built into the luggage. The rider had a sense of humour as he gestured to my daughter that his back seat would be far more comfortable for her than mine. At 100km per hour (legal speed) it was pretty amusing. He turned off at White Rock and I climbed the big hill towards the border.

I took the Truck Border crossing because the sign said a 5 minute wait and the extra drive was worth the 15-20 minute cut in creeping line-up time. You can check the border line-up time before you leave here, but I find things can change quickly if it is between 5 and 30 minutes. Last year, when I rode to the Bumbershoot Festival, I pushed the bike through a really long line-up at Peach Arch crossing, but this time I had help. To keep the big motor cool, I turned it off and pushed, if I started it every time I had to move, I would run out of battery before I got to the end of the line. It is really hard to steer when you are pushing a bike with your feet and someone else is pushing from behind up hill, but I was glad to have the help. The line-up really was 5 minutes and the Border guard joked with us that most people crossing had at least two wheels per person. We explained we were the environmentally friendly, economy tour, only one wheel each.

On to Seattle, the truck route bypasses Blaine, so we were right on to I5 and heading south. I stopped once for gas and a stretch, but the ride became more comfortable and the wind died down a bit as we followed the highway more inland and the sun began to set. The sunset from the highway was beautiful and I slowed over bridges and clear areas so we could enjoy the view. There’s not much chance for conversation due to wind noise, so I only asked for direction when I saw the moon glowing in the sky next to the Space Needle. It was 9:00pm, 2.5 hours Vancouver to Seattle when I found the restaurant called “Bleu Bistro” in the Queen Anne District.

Our host for the weekend, Robin, met us there and after a wait at the bar, we were shown to a private nook. The entire restaurant was filled with curtained alcoves and I wondered how the servers could manage, until I noticed the webcam surveillance. The menu offered a vegan salad option that I happily chose and the food that my two companions selected was more meaty and dairy rich, but looked equally delicious. After our meal, my windblown offspring decided to travel in the car back to North Seattle where our host lived. Robin was a swift and excellent driver who knows Seattle well, so it was all I could do to follow the silver compact car through the turns without being able to remember exactly where I was going.

Robin parked in front of a well-kept suburban home in a quiet, tree loving neighbourhood. I backed my bike into the empty space and covered it up. My daughter and our gracious host went dancing at the Mercury Club and I stayed at the house to work on my Linux Ubuntu firewire problems. Robin’s girlfriend stopped by with a queen sized inflatable mattress and helped to make me a super comfortable bed. I am unused to such welcoming luxury and I soon made use of the resting place provided.

Saturday morning, we went for breakfast in the silver car, a biodiesel powered Jetta, and I left my motorcycle resting in the driveway. There were so many novel experiences in Seattle, being driven around by someone else in a car was only the beginning. We met Ivo, who gave us a tour of the heritage home he is renovating and then joined us for breakfast. He offered to take us in his Prius, and I was interested in checking it out, but we ended up in the Jetta, using biofuel. We arrived at the Portage Bay Cafe, which has one of the most delightful breakfast experiences in Seattle and a satisfying time was had by all. Breakfast was followed by a trip to Ivo’s favourite hardware store where I found the elusive low pressure tire gauge. I bought the deluxe shock mount model, my major purchase of the trip.

Photo will follow

When we returned to Robin’s house, I found that he was very familiar with the Linux operating system. The other factor that made my trip to Seattle unique started to sink in. I was never in a room where I was the computer expert — and I did not visit one place where I felt it was my duty to fix their computer/internet problems. Instead, I found people who could help me and were willing to do so. This was a wonderful piece of serendipity; part of the reason I had taken this trip was that I knew if I stayed in Vancouver I would be working on other computers and not on Ubuntu notebook requirements. More details on this in my next post about my Linux + Firewire progress with the Saffire LE Audio Interface.

Unfortunately, my camera batteries were all dead for some reason and the only photos I took on the trip were with Kyle’s enormously expensive Nikon (on automatic). Kyle Cassidy and Trillian Star were in Seattle from Philadelphia and it was their presence on Sunday that has given my daughter an additional reason to make the trip. I took pictures of the three of them and hope they send me copies. Kyle is a photographer and Trillian is his actress beloved. They met us in a coffee bar and followed us back to Robin’s house where the conversation flowed until it was time for everyone to leave.

Seattle is a beautiful city and has the advantages that a larger population density can provide. Our motorcycle trip homeward was made late in the evening and was uneventful except for our gas stop. We arrived safely home after a very quick ride north on I5 and Highway 99, with only a 20 minute border wait. The FJ1200 proved reliable, but now needs some work and I’ve got to get those bags on the bike. This was a great test-run and I look forward to a trip northward along the coast soon; before the clouds and rain take up residence.

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