Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

About the Route

 Gas stop in Kentucky

There are three main routes across Kansas, by road. I have traveled both the central and southern routes, in the past.

I-70 goes right through the middle of the state, and I have ridden and driven that route a half dozen times, or so. It is the route which prompts people to say, "The longest week of my life was the day I drove across Kansas."

The southern route follows US-50 and US-54 through Garden City, Dodge City and Wichita, eventually going through the Ozarks, in Missouri. It is flat, windy and hot (in the summertime, anyway), until you get to Missouri. I took this route the first time I rode a motorbike back to Tennessee to visit my parents, back in 1999. I rode a 1993 Suzuki GSXR 1100 on that trip; another motorcycle people thought I was crazy to tour on. But, I found it to be quite capable, out on the road.

On this trip, I didn't want to repeat the I-70 slog I've done so many times, and the southern route would have just taken me way too far out of the way. So, I took the northern route.

US-36 takes you across Kansas, 10 or 20 miles from the Nebraska line, continues across Missouri to the Mississippi River, then turns into I-72. Along the way, you pass through a small town every 50 to 100 miles, which gives you a bit of feel for the local culture, and the terrain is a lot more entertaining that that along the other two routes. It is actually a lovely ride, light on traffic, with a 65 mph speed limit between the towns.

One of the towns you pass through, in Missouri, is Hannibal, the birthplace of mark Twain.

That is, of course, where you cross the Mississippi River. I always feel a little bit of nostalgia when I see the Mississippi, having grown up along the Tennessee River and then having lived in Memphis, back in the mid-80s. The "rivers" in Colorado still amuse me, even after 23 years here.

Once across the river, I made about an hour's ride on I-72, then turned south. I wanted to avoid the St. Louis/East St. Louis area on the way to US-50, in the southern part of Illinois. I zigzagged along on a series of state highways, mostly lost, but always heading in the right direction.

I was lost most of the day, Thursday, because I apparently left my brand new Rand/McNally road atlas in the motel I stayed in on Wednesday night. For some reason, there were no atlases to be had in Illinois. Every place I stopped for gas was either out of them, or had no idea what I was asking for.

(I later got another R/M atlas in Ohio, which fell out of my map pocket on the tank bag as I was riding, on the way home. I bought a third atlas, but made sure it was another brand, since the Rand/McNally atlas curse was getting expensive. I got home with my "American Highways" atlas, with no problems, thank goodness...)

 Along the way, some of the small-town streets in Illinois, were still paved with bricks.

I eventually made it to US-50, about an hour later than I had intended, and set out for Indiana. I took the southern turn and hit 50 so that I could go through Bloomington, home of Indiana University, where the movie "Breaking Away" was filmed, and where my friends Sarah and Michael live. Sarah was out of town, but Michael hosted me for the night.

From there, I took SH-37 to Indianapolis, then ramrodded down I-70 to Columbus. That was my short day (about 280 miles), and I wanted to get into town with enough time to get settled before the rehearsal dinner. So, the superslab was my best choice.

High Street, in Columbus

On Sunday, I also opted for Interstate Highway riding to get to Nashville ASAP. Once past Nashville, I was on roads familiar to me from childhood through my late 20s. I went south, out of town, on I-65, then turned off on the Saturn Parkway, which takes you past the Saturn car plant, to Columbia, Tennessee. Eventually, I hit the Natchez Trace Parkway, in order to go through Meriwether Lewis State park, and the site of the Grinder House, where Meriwether lewis died. 

 Local legend has it that my ancestor, Robert Grinder, murdered Lewis, under the mistaken impression that he was traveling with a large amount of gold. The official verdict, a few years ago, upon exhumation and examination of Lewis's remains, was that he took his own life. Either way, my family is forever entwined within the events which led to Lewis's passing.

I exited the parkway and took US-64 into Savannah (Tennessee, not Georgia, btw), and spent the next couple of days visiting with my mom and my sister.

The cabin where my sister and I stayed, near Pickwick lake.

From the cabin, I took US-45 through Jackson (home to Carl Perkins). Then 412 to Dyersburg, where I jumped on I-155 to cross the Mississippi, once again. I flew up I-55 to St. Louis, in order to get a fresh rear tire, then headed north toward Hannibal, once again. I had enjoyed US-36 so much, going east, that I wanted to take it west on the way home.
Along the way, I realized that I was on the fabled "Blues Highway", US-61.

Bluesmen met the devil at a crossroads in Mississippi, and traveled to Memphis on this road. And, Bob Dylan sang about it:

Oh, God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man you must be puttin' me on"
God says, "No", Abe say "What?"
God say "You can do what you want Abe but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe said, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God say, "Out on Highway 61"
After my stop in St. Louis, I ran out of daylight in Macon, Missouri, after 500 miles on the road.
I spent the night in Macon, then hit the road early the next morning. US-36 was just as pleasant going home as it was heading out. I crossed the Colorado state line at 4:20 pm, feeling a bit melancholic that the trip was coming to an end. At about 7:30, after 700.1 miles on the road, I pulled up to Fermaentra for a beer and a wood-fired pizza from the "Wheels On Fire" food truck.

Unfortunately, "Wheels On Fire" actually caught on fire, after I had eaten, and the fire department had to come out and chop and spray the truck to put it out. Quite an exciting welcome home.

Frome there, I made the ride home, and parked the bike inside for the first time in 9 nights.

Goodnight motorcycle. Goodnight, moon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Can You DO That?

"I'm going on a motorcycle trip, for a week and a half. I'll probably cover between 3,000 and 3,500 miles in about 6 days on the bike"

"Where are you going?"

"Columbus, Ohio (for a wedding), then down to Tennessee to see my mom."

"What bike are you going to ride?"

"The Scrambler."

"Can you DO that?!"

You certainly can, and I did, last month. I had that same conversation with a number of people, all of whom were pretty certain that you have to have a big touring bike to actually travel any serious mileage on a motorbike.

I was gone for nine days, six of which were riding days, during which I traveled just over 3240 miles. The shortest day was about 285 miles, and the longest was a bit over 700. The bike ran like a champ, with no mechanical issues at all, and delivered between 43 and 56 mpg.

The main focus of the trip was the wedding of Hadley and Jim. I babysat Hadley pretty regularly when she was an actual baby.Valerie and I moved away when Hadley was about 2-1/2 years old. In the meantime, she grew up to be a beautiful young woman...

...and I grew up to be Hellboy.

The day after the wedding, I headed 500 miles south to see my mom (and my sister, who came down from Pennsylvania). 

Joy and I stayed in a cabin at Pickwick State park. It was pretty huge for two people, and quite comfortable.

One morning, we had a guest for morning coffee time. The cicadas were singing, the whole time I was there, and this fellow decided to hang out on the porch with us, rather than join in with the chorus.

On the way home, I stopped at Donelson Cycles, in St. Louis, to get a new rear tire. I had figured that I would need to do that, when I left Denver. But, I really didn't mind.

Donelson Cycles has a motorcycle museum inside their shop. I'd been there twice, in the past 10 years, and this third trip was no disappointment. There is so much stuff in a small area that it is hard to see it all in one trip through.

My homemade rear rack, which plugs into the backrest mount of the Corbin seat, held up fine and allowed me to carry my big bag, with a suit rolled up and stowed in a plastic storage tub, plus a cigar box guitar. The saddlebag held my toolkit (used once, to adjust the chain tension) and my rain gear (unused, since I never saw a drop of rain on the entire trip).

It was a great trip, and I can't wait to get on the road again. 

So, that's the bare bones description of the overall trip. More details, later...


Wednesday, August 05, 2015


 I've been back from my big motorbike trip for a week, tomorrow. I have a few photo-heavy posts planned. But, I am still processing the trip in my head, planning how to arrange the info/photos. If you are interested, those posts are on the way. In the meantime, here's an oddity; a bicycle post!

I will say, without reservation, that I love my Funk bike. I designed it, had it built by a couple of the finest frame builders in Colorado, and I have ridden it for everything from 24-hour mountain bike races, to the Copper Triangle, to commuting back and forth to work. It has the cachet of being the only one of its kind (it was  prototype for a production frame, but that never happened). And if it was a woman, I'd marry her, assuming that she would have me.

But, a while back, the bike developed a bit of a creak. It was subtle, at first, and I thought it was the leather on the saddle rubbing against the rails. As time went by, the creak became more pronounced, and it really started to bug me. A couple of days before my vacation, I got the bike out and tried to fix the problem, by replacing the seat, removing and regreasing the seat post, etc. It continued to make noise, so I put it in the shop building and figured that I could look at it after I got home.

Today, I rode the bike to work, and the creak was worse; incessant and louder than ever.  For the first time, it would continue to creak, even if I got out of the saddle. At that point, I started considering the bottom bracket/crank/pedal interfaces as the possible source of the creak.

On the way home, the noise was driving me crazy. It was so bat that I was having thoughts of just abandoning ship and walking home. There is just something infuriating about a high-end bike with a low-class problem...

When I got home, I put the bike in the stand, and pulled the cranks. I figured that the first thing to do was to remove the bottom bracket and put some fresh anti-seize compound on the threads. Aluminum and titanium do not interact well without a buffer between them.

The bottom bracket is a Shimano external-bearing style. The cups could be creaking in the frame. Or, the crank arm could be creaking on the spindle. Or, as I figured out, once the bb was out of the bike, the bearing on the drive side could be contaminated and grinding itself into powder, while doing the bearing equivalent of screaming in agony: creaking!

Printing "Do Not Disassemble" on a bicycle bearing and selling it to me is the equivalent of printing "Do Not Chew" on a bone, and tossing it to a dog. I've never met a bike bearing that I didn't eventually see the inside of.

I didn't photograph the surgery, because I was more intent on fixing the bike than I was on posting photos of the process. Suffice it to say that they probably don't want you to disassemble these bearings because they are embarrassed by how small their balls are. The ball bearings in these bottom brackets are about 3/16" or 1/8" (I didn't measure), which is pretty small for the loads to which they are subjected.

I cleaned the bearing, then greased and reassembled it, and reinstalled the bb. No creak on the test ride!

But, I think that it is a temporary fix. The bearing is pretty much toast, so it needs to be replaced.  A new set of bearings is on the way. At about $20.00 for the complete bb, I don't see any need to ride around on a worn-out bearing.

Considering the wear and tear that I have put this bike through, I have no real complaints about the lifespan of the original bearings. If the second set takes as much abuse as the first, I will be happy!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hitting The Road

I'm attending a wedding in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday (and the rehearsal dinner on Friday), so I decided to make a vacation out of it and ride the motorcycle there.

Last week, I  installed a new chain and sprockets, changed the oil and spark plugs, and just generally went over the bike to make sure it was ready to go. I also swapped from the stock seat to the Corbin, with my home-built whaletail rack on it.

My new suit is rolled up and sealed into a plastic storage box. Everything else is bagged in ZipLoc bags to keep it dry during the inevitable rain storms I'm sure to ride through.

The little bag on top has my latest cigar box guitar in it. I wanted a travel guitar to take with me, but I didn't want to spend $250, or more, to buy one. So an old Memphis with a plywood body donated the neck (and a sliver of the body, inside the box). New tuners, and a cheap P-90 copy came out of the parts box, and I made a bridge from a piece of an old cheapo, plus some aluminum angle stock. The tailpiece is made from the same aluminum as the bridge.

It actually sounds pretty good. And, if it gets destroyed by riding on the bike, I am out very little money.

I'll leave early tomorrow morning, and head for St. Joseph, Mo. I am avoiding I-70 due to the fact that I have made that trip too many times, in the past few years, and also because there is a plethora of road construction projects going on just outside of Kansas City. I don't want to get caught up in that!

From St. Joe, I plan to go to Hannibal, then south to U.S. 50. I'll take 50 across Illinois, and into Indiana. Eventually, I'll turn north and end up in Bloomington, to spend the night with my buddy Michael. Then, on Friday morning, it will be a relatively short easy ride through Indianapolis and eastward on I-70 to Columbus.

Sunday, I will head down to West Tennessee and meet my sister at my mom's place. We will be there until Wednesday morning, when I will head back to Denver. If all goes well, I will roll into my driveway late in the day on July 30, after 3500 miles (plus or minus) of motorbiking.

Steve is taking care of the house for me, and Carol is taking the dogs, so all of those bases are covered. I will try to post from the road, if possible.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

I'm Big on Bigsby

Last weekend, I finally got all of the parts I needed to convert my Les Paul Special (Cooper) to P-94 pickups, and add a Bigsby B5 vibrato. As I did on my Flying V, I used the Vibramate adapter, so that I didn't have to drill any holes in the guitar. The Vibramate has the added advantage of giving you perfect alignment of the vibrato.

 The P-94 is a P-90 style pickup which fits the routing for the humbucking pickups which came stock, in this guitar. Gordie Johnson, one of my favorite guitar players, uses them, and that prompted me to install one on my 2005 Flying V. I liked it so much, I decided to install them on Cooper. I found this pair, used, on eBay, at about half of the list price, so I snapped them up.

The Bigsby (and the Vibramate adapter) bolted right on, with no problem. I was a bit afraid that I might have to reposition the Cooper nameplate, but everything fit together perfectly.

This weekend, I decided to pull out the 1960s-vintage Japanese hollowbody that I used when we first formed Skull Full Of Blues, and build a rockabilly-style guitar. I had scored a 1960s Bigsby B6 for cheap, and I had a set of aftermarket P-90 pickups. So, I went to work on it and ended up with this:

It was a bit of a challenge to get the Bigsby set up, since it doesn't have the tension bar that the B5 has. This means that the strings break over the bridge at a really shallow angle. I had to file the string slots a bit deeper, in order to retain the string position under hard strumming. It plays nice, and sounds amazing, now. I'll definitely be gigging with this one, again.

Now, I now have three Bigsby-equipped guitars in my quiver. Triple whammy!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Getting Back On The Bike / Working On Bikes

I haven't been riding the bikes a lot, lately. When I have, I have mostly ridden the 1985 Bridgestone MB-1 (above). It requires wearing a backpack, on the commute or errands, but the rear brake on the Funk was giving me problems, and I just hadn't felt like dealing with it.

Today, though, I figured it was time to get the Funk back into good repair. I need to get back on the bike, more, anyway, but Bike To Work Day is this Wednesday (for Colorado). I figure that's a good excuse to get back into the bicycle commute. Plus, the band doesn't have a show coming up, for awhile, so I don't need to hurry home for practice.

The rear disc brake on the Funk had become largely useless, and I figured that the pads were worn down. But, when I pulled them out to look at them, they were fine. I tried adjusting the caliper, but the adjusting nut was frozen, and it was inpossible to get the pads in the right position.

Luckily, I had another matching caliper in my brakes parts box, so I just replaced the whole thing. Once I got it and the front brake adjusted, everything was good. (This is the problem with me and commuter bikes; I tend to do maintenance by replacement, only servicing the bike when something breaks....)

Once the Funk was good to go, I turned to a bike that I was working on for someone else. This old red Peugeot was originally sold in a bike shop in the Alsace region of France, according to the bike shop sticker on the seat tube. How it ended up in Denver is anybody's guess.

The rear wheel was pretty toasty, and I had to work on it for a good solid 45 minutes in order to render it useable, again. It is a replacement alloy wheel, from the mid-1990s. If it had been the original steel wheel, I wouldn't have bothered.  The front wheel was missing a spoke, so I replaced it, and trued that wheel, as well.

The brake levers needed a spacer between them and the add-on adjusters someone had installed in the past, to avoid the lever bottoming on the bar just as the pads hit the rim, no matter how I adjusted the brake. Once I added the spacers, the brakes worked great.

Then, it was on to the modifications that the new owner wanted: cruiser bars and a big cruiser seat. Once I got all of that done, the old road bike had a new persona as a pub-crawler.

  Corey, at Kaladi Bos. Coffee, bought this Miyata road bike from me, a while back. I fixed a flat on it, and gave it a quick tune-up, today. Such a nice bike...

 I bought these Wilderness Trail Bikes Trailblazer tires for the old 29er bike, a while back. I had installed 26" wheels, with 3-inch cross section tires on it, as an experiment, and I didn't like how they fit in the frame. Since I had some 27.5" (650b) disc wheels lying about, I sourced these tires in order to see how they would fit.
The WTB tires fit a lot better, both in the suspension fork and between the chainstays. So, I figure I will leave them on this bike.

Here, you can see that the WTB Trailblazer is taller, and slightly less fat than the 26x3 tire. It's still fat enough to provide good float in sandy stuff, and grip in the loose gravel we have on so many of our trails.

Frame clearance with the 26x3 was minimal, on the rear. Just a little knock out of true would result in frame rub. And, forget about riding in mud!

 As you can see, the WTB tire fits in the frame a lot better, both because of the slightly smaller cross-section, and also because the increase in diameter pushes the tire past the inward bend of the chainstays.

It makes a nice-looking bike, with the big meats on it. The suspension fork may have to go, though. The damping cartridge seems to be largely ineffective, so I might just put my VooDoo cromo fork on it and roll rigid.

My next big bike-work weekend will probably involve the motorbike. I have a long trip coming up, and I need to get it prepared. As for today, I am done working. Time for a shower and a cold beer!


Friday, June 05, 2015

Rain, Rain, Such a Pain

I moved to Colorado primarily for the weather. After growing up in the South, then living in the Midwest for 4 years, I was thoroughly sick of rainy Springtime weather and summer humidity. Three hundred days of sunshine a year! is a mantra for Denverites.

Well, it ain't happening this year! I honestly don't know if we have had a day of full sunshine, much less without rain, since April, and I am sick of the weather!

 My front yard, this morning, after I rode the bicycle back from the coffee shop, in the rain...

Everything is plenty green around here, but it's also soggy and out of control. I haven't been able to mow the back yard in a month, and the grass is taller than my dogs! It's going to be an unpleasant chore, once I can finally mow.

I did, at least, ride the bike to work a couple of times, this week. I have really not felt much like pedaling, lately, so it was nice to actually get on the bike for a bit.

 The wall above the work surface in my lab, at work, with all of our posters...

We have a couple of shows coming up, this month; one at 10:00 PM, this Saturday, and one at 6:30 PM, on the 19th.  I'm looking forward to taking the stage. I have a couple of new songs I am anxious to try out in front of an audience.

Outside of our building, adjacent to the outside eating area, is a railroad siding where tanker cars often sit for a few days (or weeks, on occasion). There was some interesting graffitti  on one of the cars, this week.

I was particularly amused by this one.

I have an Alternate Holiday I have to take before the end of our fiscal year (June 30), and I think I am going to take it on a Monday, so that I have a 4 day weekend. Then, I might just load up and go to Moab, for a long weekend. I haven't been in so long that I can't really even believe it. It would be nice to hit the desert (even if it rains).

Or, maybe, I'll just sit around and eat everything in the house, like I've been doing for the past 6 weeks...

Sorry about the rambling post.