What's a Wisconsin trip without cows? This picture taken maybe two miles from my parents' house. Check out the little cow houses! Hee!

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April 23, 2002

So, hi. Remember me? I'm back from the homeland, after an extended visit of two weeks. Let me just say, and no offense to Mark (or any other readers from Wisconsin), but I'm so glad to be home that words can't describe. My visit, in a nutshell:

  • Wisconsin weather is pure evil. "Bring your long johns, Carolyn!" "You'll freeze to death if you rent a bike, Carolyn!" Instead, naturally, southeastern Wisconsin got a record-breaking heat wave, with temperatures hitting 90 degrees for four days in a row. Just as naturally, when I was driving to the airport two days later, it was 33 degrees F and sleeting.

  • Wisconsin drivers are pure evil. This is one of those eerie things that I swear must have gotten worse since I moved, because I certainly never drove like this. Really. Not only do people drive exactly the speed limit (granted, this is because you will get pulled over for going 2 mph over...), but they drive about 6" from the car in front of them. Here in California, sure, there are tailgaters, but the really bad ones are the exception, not the rule. In Milwaukee, all along the highway would be little smatterings of smooshed up clumps of cars, all about a foot from the car in front of them. It was starting to really creep me out by the end of the trip. Turn signals are also universally optional. So is, apparently, passing on the left and slower traffic keeping to the right.

  • No one talked like "Fargo" when I lived there. You betcha, dey all talked normal den, hey. I dunno when dey all started talking funny, yah. Yah der hey, it was disconcerting, you betcha.

  • You can't go back again. But, heck, if you're going to try, you might as well rent a motorcycle while you're there.

the buell.
First of all, if you're ever in the Milwaukee area and are looking to rent a Harley or Buell (and if you're in Milwaukee, trust me, that's all you're going to be able to rent), go to Hal's Harley-Davidson on Moorland Road in New Berlin. They're friendly, have good rates, always remembered my name when I called or went in there, had a well-stocked and clean showroom and service area, etc. Two thumbs up.

Because I'm lazy and my wrists are killing me, instead of doing anything original, I'm going to now cut and paste from a post I made to a couple of message boards earlier:


My off-the-cuff impressions of the Blast:

I would really enjoy this as an around-the-city kind of bike. Since it's light and small, it's very confidence-inspiring, and I was able to flick it around and make tighter turns than I'm usually comfortable with on the SVS.

I found that it really required a lot of effort to upshift. I'm not sure if this is a "Buell thing", or if it was just the one particular bike I had, but I really had to wedge the top of my foot (not just the toe) under the gear shifter and lift up with my entire leg. Once I figured it out, this wasn't a big deal at all, though it confused the SVS last night when I tried to do the same thing on it, out of newly-formed habit ("um, I already shifted. What are you doing?").

The braking on the Buell was excellent. I nearly ran into my garage door on the SVS last night because I was used to just doing a little squeeze to stop.

Nitpick: the turn signal idiot light on the instrument panel is just one light that flashes regardless of which turn signal you've turned on. I couldn't see the turn signals themselves from the seat (maybe a taller person could have), so I was never really sure whether I'd put on the correct turn signal.

An aftermarket windscreen would really help freeway riding, I think. When I got up to 75mph, there was a lot of helmet buffeting. Tucking down onto the tank helped that, but given the upright position of the handlebars and footpegs, this became really uncomfortable very quickly. A windscreen would probably eliminate the buffeting.

I found that the only way I could really reliably start the Blast was to sit on it and hold it totally upright while starting it. This might have had more to do with not realizing that it needed 92 octane gas than anything else, though. Seriously. Use 92 octane in the Blast. The difference was noticeable.

The vibration really threw me off for a while. Being a single cylinder bike, it really vibrates a lot at low speeds (again, this was a lot better once I put the right gas in, go figure). It was next to impossible to see anything in the mirrors sometimes ("there's something white back there....maybe it's a car, maybe it's a cow...who knows?"), but it was never more than marginally annoying.

I sound like I'm being really critical, so again, I'd like to mention that it was a really fun bike to ride on all the little back farm roads by my parents' house. The highways weren't bad in general -- just the one ~60 mile trip at 75mph when it was windy. Honestly, the SVS would have had some problems with the same ride. It was definitely a fun little bike, and cheap to rent ($49/day).


So there ya go. It was a fun little bike, no questions there, but I'm already thinking about how to bribe the Hal's folks into renting me a Firebolt the next time... ;)

growing up harley-davidson.
On Saturday morning, Hal's and the Milwaukee County Historical Society sponsored a talk by Jean Davidson, the granddaughter of Harley-Davidson founding member Walter Davidson. I'd just finished reading her book, Growing Up Harley-Davidson, and really enjoyed both it and her talk. If you're interested in history at all, I really recommend Growing Up Harley-Davidson -- it's not an officially licensed Harley product, and is all about the people behind Harley-Davidson from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Even if you're not a Harley rider, the stories and pictures are funny and interesting.

Interestingly enough, when I brought my book up for Jean to sign, I asked her and her daughter if either of them currently rode anything. Both of them shook their heads "no", and her daughter replied, "no, girls don't." I'm not sure if she was being facetious, or making a commentary on her family or the Midwestern values (with one exception, every woman rider I saw was the big burly leather-wearing scowling stereotypical Harley type), or maybe she meant nothing at all by the comment.

other things harley.
There's a huge difference between the riding population in my area of Silicon Valley, California and that of Muskego, Wisconsin. I can't recall a single rider that I would have pegged as the "typical commuter" that I see all the time here -- basically a normal looking person on a motorcycle. Most people were helmetless, naturally, and most had the stereotypical "Harley sneer" combined with leather jacket and grey beard. It was pretty amusing to me, given that they were most likely commuting, too. I remember talking to Peter on the phone one afternoon and explaining the "3:30 phenomenon" -- if I was out riding in the late morning or early afternoon, before 3:30pm or so, most of the riders that I'd wave to would wave back. Once 3:30pm hit, however, and you could almost set your watch to this, all the riders became the holier-than-thou sort, and would stare straight ahead, gaze unwavering, mouth set in a very serious scowl. Grr. I am man on Harley. I am big tough guy. I wave at no one. Grunt grunt. I'm saying this, not to pick on Harley riders at all, but because I thought it was pretty funny that it happened at the same time every day. I can only assume it was because the riders I saw in the mornings or early afternoon were out skipping work and were just out riding for the fun of it; the post-3:30ers were the commuters.

more later.
I'd like to talk some more about some of my trips on the Buell, but I think this is about all my wrists can take for tonight. Weather permitting, I'm hopefully also going on at least one lunchtime ride with my fellow DangerRiders this week, so that'll be fun. Lots of bike stuff coming up -- we're starting to get into full gear with the planning for the Women on Wheels Pacific Coast Rally (since I obviously think I have too much free time, I'm on that committee), which is scheduled for September 13, and the most pressing decision I have to make right now is whether I go up to Sears Point on May 4 to watch the Superbike races, or go on an unofficial WOW ride up to Napa to help plan a route for a later ride. Life is tough, I tell you. ;)

Oh, and if you've sent me email at any time in the past three weeks or so, and I haven't replied -- fear not. I'll get to it. Promise.