23 Feb 2016, 11:40pm
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Adventures on Two Wheels

I’ve thought about getting a motorcycle for the longest time. Every time I got the urge to purchase a motorcycle, I would go to youtube and watch crash videos for a few minutes. This one is particularly sobering. After a few years of watching these videos, you notice a few things. Like how deadly left-hand turns are, or how Russia is not a place any sane person should drive a vehicle, of any kind really.

I’ve heard tell that the prolific posting of Russia automobile and motorcycle accident videos is a byproduct of the justice system there. Everyone carries dash-cams to provide proof of fault in case of an accident. This means that with nearly every vehicle driving around with a camera, they’re bound to catch some drama.

the golden hour

the golden hour

Still, one of the things you learn is that you can do everything right, and someone else’s bad day can become your bad day. You can take precautions, you can pay attention, use good judgement, wear all the right gear, all of the time… and still get killed by someone else. Scary 🙁

So it took me a long time to decide I was ready to climb on a motorcycle. I started by taking a one-on-one private lesson from Monkey Moto School in San Francisco. Evan is a patient and talented instructor. Over the course of two days we went from very basic throttle control all the way to drag braking and figure-eights. I also took the MCSC course from California Rider Education. Much less individual focus, but still a great class, and it comes with a DL389 and discounts on insurance. Of the two, I felt like I got more applicable skills from Evan’s patient instruction than the Highway Patrol designed class, but I’m really glad I took both. Leveled against the cost of everything else, skill building in a structured environment is a no-brainer when you’re preparing to take to the road as meat wrapped around an engine.

I bought gear before I purchased a bike. My partner, S, went with me to help with the dizzying array of options, as well as provide the all-too-important moral support and style feedback. The advice I’d gotten on gear was, go for broke. Gear is not a place to cut corners. I put on each garment, and visualized myself skidding across pavement. A useful exercise. I went with a Weiss convertible pants/jacket combo. All weather gear means you’ll wear it all the time. I also have a pair of Ugly-Bros jeans, which are comfy as hell.

I looked at a lot of used bikes. I wanted a 300CC for my first bike, a good compromise between too-much-power 600s and anemic-at-best 250s. After shopping for about a month, and finding mostly compromises, I decided I wanted something I’d love. It’s been a depressing last couple of months, motorcycles are pretty good for that. I decided on a KTM Duke 390. The only problem was that everyone else also decided on this bike and they where sold out in California. I called a few dealers, and even had one laugh at me over the phone when I asked about availability! Even with a $1000 dealer markup, they where unobtainium. Somehow, I found a used one with 350 miles on it. Unfortunately, it lived in Indiana. I took a gamble and hired a shipping company to truck it over the mountains to sunny California.

I learned a valuable lesson about hiring a transport company: make sure you check the hell out of their references. The cost was low, but they took a whole extra 15 days past their original estimate to deliver the bike. All while giving me the run around. Eventually, It showed up in good condition. Just in time for me to leave for a month.

Since I’ve been back from travels, I’ve done nothing but ride my bike. Gingerly at first, and slowly with more confidence. I live near Skyline and Redwood Road in Oakland, CA. Two beautiful stretches of twisting two-lane through tree covered hills. I need to find a new stretch of road though. Lots of knuckleheads in their R1’s taking unnecessary risks on Redwood. Almost got sideswiped by a rider on a group ride passing on the outside. Eeeep 🙁

retroreflect

retroreflect

I’ve made a bunch of minor mods to my bike since getting it. One of the wonderful things about the Duke 390 is that the body work panels are pretty cheap. For around $100 you can get a whole new set and go completely custom. I love the look of retroreflective vinyl, so I put together some panels in Illustrator and came up with the above design. It’s super bright at night, and looks pretty sharp during the day too. The lace-cut vinyl doesn’t hold up as well as a single piece sticker, but I still have enough on the roll for a dozen or so more bikes.

The process for designing new vinyl is kind of interesting. I first used blue painters tape to capture the surface profile from the blank panels. The tape layup should cover the entire panel in the pattern you want. Next, I carefully peeled the tape off and cut darts in certain parts to relieve stress. After that, I placed the tape panels down on a large sheet of 1″ grid paper. The purpose of the grid paper is to give us a visual reference later when we capture the outline to computer.

pattern-making

Using a long focal-length lens to keep edge distortion down to a minimum, I then took photos of each of the panels. From the photos I traced the outlines in Illustrator, and set about making a new design. The overall process took about a day to complete from start to finish. The most challenging part was applying the vinyl. Because the retroreflective vinyl is less stretchy than normal sign vinyl it’s prone to creases and bubbles. Choosing a design that can be cut with darts will help the application process a lot.

pattern results

pattern results

If you like my design and want to use it on your 390, you’re welcome to! To make your own designs you’ll need my templates. They work for me, but no fitness for a particular purpose is claimed. Just like riding, you use ’em at your own risk 😉

Ride safe!