Postcards from Kangolia

As I rode to work in this month of December, the temperature hovered in the mid-thirties. A full moon ahead of me, the sun rising over my shoulder, I can see the winter colors telling me we’re a few months away from the smell of Spring. Wait, do colors have a smell?

While the miles tick by on my commute, my mind wondered to spending longer days in the saddle and more consistent temperatures to ride every day. I’ve ridden many winters on my Harley’s but this winter I’m on my BMW GS. The view is different as the seat is higher, but my wishes of warmer weather will always be the same. I wonder what trips are in store for me in 2020?

I also just finished reading Ted Simon’s book Jupiter’s Travels for the third time, and as always, it makes me realize there is so much more world out there and at the same time, the world is such a small place. Heck, there are a few places and roads in Kansas that I have yet to see, so I’m not real sure a trip through Mongolia is on my schedule for 2020. As I ride across the prairies of my home state, maybe I’ll just pretend I’m there. Kansas/Mongolia. Kangolia.

I’m not real sure a trip through Mongolia is on my schedule for 2020. As I ride across the prairies of my home state, maybe I’ll just pretend I’m there. Kangolia.

I know, the modern day convenience of gas stations, fast-food restaurants and manicured roads can leave a lot to the imagination, but you know what? It’s the people. The people you meet and engage with are the true sights and sounds of an epic ride. Even with that dramatic scenery we all crave, and those lonely miles in the saddle where I find I do my best thinking, it’s those faces and the conversations I remember. The handshake or wave, sharing a connection with locals that always ends with a smile. That’s what Ted Simon speaks of and it’s so true. Even in my home country or my home state of Kansas. The motorcycle I’m on is a way of introducing me to perfect strangers.

While my dreams of riding around the world may never happen, it’s just nice knowing those that share the same feelings of adventure with me. Whether through print or video, or even in person, I know the experience is real, the people are real and the landscape is worth the ride.

While the riding this time of year leaves me longing for a big ride through vast territory, I’ll settle for whatever the weather will allow. Short days and shorter trips are enough for now.


Weather Or Not To Ride


It’s funny, winter comes around about the same time every year. We even have the early warning system derived from trees shedding their leaves. I know it isn’t an alarm or flashing lights but these leaves need to fall a little louder to the ground. They pile up and blow around signaling the coming of winter, but somehow it goes unnoticed to the motorcyclist in me. It’s this time of year when cold, blustery days start creeping in with excited weathermen and women telling us to be prepared. Even the dedicated weather channels start airing episodes depicting blizzards and freezing rain and the cause and effects of temperature change.

Cold temps can be tough enough to ride in, but when you just add water, in the form of rain sleet and snow, it brings us to a parked bike and a closet full of gear.

But the one detail left coming from the lips of said meteorologists is the affect is has on those of us who ride motorcycles. Cold temps can be tough enough to ride in, but when you just add water, in the form of rain sleet and snow, it brings us to a parked bike and a closet full of gear. Not to mention all the hopes and dreams of someday riding again. It just didn’t sound right to say “with the wind blowing through my hair again.”

So how do you break the bad news to a guy like me that the weather will make it dangerous to ride? First and foremost, don’t sound excited that bad weather is coming. This may be your line of work and I know at times it can be boring, but I like boring. Boring lets me get outside to ride. Secondly, be honest. Tell me it’s coming but give me hope. Hope that one day the sun will shine and the temperature will be above 20 degrees. And thirdly, be accurate. There is no honor in telling me lies. I know it’s hard to predict the weather but if we combine the room full of radar and computer programs you have at work with maybe a peak out the window we might get it right. Let’s recap – contain your excitement, be honest with me and be accurate.

One more thing, let’s get our local meteorologists interested in motorcycling. Maybe this will take the sting out of the cold weather forecast. At least then I would know we were in this together.

The Statistics of Fun


Who would have thought. Who would have thought that an inanimate object could be such an emotional thing? Certain bikers get caught up on fuel economy, horsepower, quarter-mile times and the like but what about the statistics of fun? Sure, horsepower can be good fun. Good gas mileage can be a kick in the pants when you know deep down you are “sticking it to the man” at the pump. But just for a moment, stop and think about the fun you have in between gas stops and those few times when you aren’t twisting the throttle to its stops. Feel that? That, simply put, is fun. You can’t really measure it on a pie graph, and you sure can’t measure it by sitting on the couch. It mostly happens when you can feel the wind in your face and the road beneath your tires. Sometimes it happens when you walk out to the garage and just – stare at your ride.

We often forget “fun” when talking about our bikes. We talk about customization, where we’ve been, how much we have invested in our bikes but rarely say “and I have a lot of fun riding it.” Maybe it’s implied, I don’t know, but you would think it would come up in conversation. I’ve seen motorcycles that just scream for someone to rip it down the quarter-mile. I’ve seen custom bikes that raise the question if it can be ridden at all. I’ve seen a smoky burnout in a cheering crowd that looked like a lot of fun (not on my bike please) but was it any fun riding it there? I guess after a few beers who cares, right?

Could it possible that saying we are having fun riding our motorcycle takes something away from the image we are trying to put forth? I bet those “nice” people on Honda’s are having fun, (you know – the ones you used to meet?) but what about the rest of us. I’ve had a few rides where it wasn’t a lot of fun during the ride do to the weather or something like that, but when I look back on that ride I don’t have much to complain about. And overall I think we all ride for the fun of it –  at least I do. Where are the patches sewn on leather jackets proclaiming “If You Can Read This – I’m Having Fun” or “Loud Pipes – Having Fun.” If you’ve seen one, let me know.

It appears that the culture of riding is based around the lifestyle and attitude of it all. We ride to have fun for sure and I know it goes beyond saying it out-loud, but to measure it like torque, horsepower or gas-mileage isn’t as easy as hooking your bike to a machine. I think, and this is just me, that it all boils down to perception. Fun isn’t built into our bikes, it’s built into us. We determine the fun we’re going to have in anything we do, and its up to me to decide if what I’m riding or where I’m riding to, is fun or not. And it’s revealed in what my perception of fun is compared to yours. It’s no different from our jobs, chores, or life in general, we can either make it enjoyable or make it suck. You decide. Can you measure suck on a pie graph?



100 Miles


One hundred miles sounds far, doesn’t it? If you had to walk it or even ride a bicycle that far you would have a full day ahead of you…or in my case several days ahead of me. But we ride motorcycles and one hundred miles may take a couple of hours if you find the right road. You see, as bikers it’s not about how fast you get there, it’s about the quality of the ride. It can actually be a “longer is better” mentality. Do we do that in our car? If you drive a classic Mustang convertible or a Jeep Wrangler with the top off you might feel this way. But the Chevette isn’t the “long way” approach of getting there.

That’s the difference of enjoying the ride or plain transportation. The motorcycle can pull double duty combining the commute with the long way home and that is often the case for the motorcyclist. For those of us that ride we might even take the long way home while driving our car because we know the mental benefits of doing so. But I might add that if you don’t ride a motorcycle and you find yourself taking the long way home-you are a biker in the making. You just don’t know it yet.

So this one hundred mile theory works just the opposite for bikers. We WANT the ride to take a couple of days if not literally, then figuratively. We NEED the ride to last longer than a mile a minute, so we take the long way. If it was all about getting there in a hurry we could drive-maybe not in the Chevette, but you know what I mean. We want one hundred miles to feel like three hundred.

I can’t change time and distance from the seat of my Road King, but I can change the speed it which I travel. I can change my attitude and the direction I go. So in a sense, I have a little bit of control over how late I will be when I get there! If you ever find yourself tired with your commute, that same old road you travel every day, think about taking the road less traveled. Motorcycle or not, you control how you get there. If you’re in a hurry, you might have to ask yourself “why.” Don’t we spend enough of our day in a blur? Slow down, go the extra few miles, and appreciate the scenery. You might be surprised how good the “long way” really feels!

So What’s Your Excuse?


Can you smell it? It’s called anticipation, or maybe it’s exhaust fumes from you running your motorcycle in the garage waiting on that semi-nice day to ride. Either way its safe to say we all want to get the riding season underway. For some of us this will be a typical year of a few planned short trips and hopefully a couple of longer rides that require a little more thought. If you’re lucky like me you can ride to work to get that fix on a daily basis.

That’s why we have this motorcycle in the first place, right? You got into this for the freedom and the life-changing aspect that riding gives us, didn’t you? Or was it just to make the neighbors jealous of you because you have that “wild side” they don’t have? Whatever the reason, that motorcycle is sitting in the garage like a dog that is begging to be walked. You’re tired, sitting on the couch and Scout sits by the door looking at you-waiting for that sign that this time you aren’t getting up to go to the refrigerator. So what’s the excuse today?

It’s cold. It’s hot. It’s windy. I’m tired. Should I continue? We’ve all said it before, but really? Remember that feeling you had on your last ride and how you came back from it ready to take on the world? That short ride with your friends that took you down some beautiful back roads? Or was it that time you went somewhere and the weather turned bad and you had to suck it up and get through it. But afterwards you had something to talk about and it even made you say to those that didn’t go “exactly where do you buy your underwear, because it’s not the big boy department!” And yes, you STILL talk about that day and how amazing it was that you survived.

So this year you are going to challenge yourself. Un-plug your bike from the battery tender, un-plug yourself from your cell phone and go for a ride. The more you ride the more you want to ride. The less your ride, the easier it is to make excuses. Make your friends and neighbors really understand the reason you have that bike in the garage. Turn the TV off and get off the computer, put your gear on and go! You won’t regret it. Good weather or not so great, you will come back wondering why you struggled with the decision whether or not you wanted to. Of course you wanted to!

So the next time you have the urge to get on your bike and that little voice of excuses starts talking, you have a choice to make. You can turn the volume up on the TV, or you can fire up that motivator you have in the garage. It’s your choice.

But I warn you. If you are not going to do it, at least take Scout for a ride.

This Life Of Mine

I know it sounds crazy but I just don’t feel my age. It’s a younger me that rolls around in my head and there is a constant argument of how young I think I am, and the reality of how I look and feel on the outside. Let’s face it, I think I’m in my thirties and some would say I act even younger than that. What’s the old saying? “Act your age not your shoe size.” Well I would say I act a little older than ten and a half but not by much.

We all have those days when the mind and body are not talking to each other. It might be the weather, our health or it’s simply that time in our lives when no matter how hard we try we just can’t get ahead. Our mental state can be affected by just as much as our physical state. And those rare days when both are humming along at the same speed life is good!

So with age comes experience in life that we don’t have when we are young. But if you think about it, what is wrong with the youthful enthusiasm and curiosity that some lose as they get older? I can appreciate the experience I’ve acquired over the years but I still want to live my life and take some chances that I did when I was younger. I just don’t want to repeat the stupid mistakes that gave me the “life experience” to know better. We need to get that enthusiasm and curiosity back and take those chances with the experience that adulthood gives us to really find that perfect mix.

We all have our ways of feeling young. Some live vicariously through our kids, while some are active in their own forms of recreation. I ride motorcycles. I’ve been riding a long time and it has always been a way for me to connect to my youthful side. Do I think I could go out and win a few trophies at my age? Sure! The key word here is “think” and I do believe I could. Could I go out and ride hard enough to win? Maybe. Would I be embarrassed to try? No, I would always have my age to blame!

I think the secret to that youthful feeling is “living in the moment.” As kids or young adults, we specialized in living right there in the moment. Not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, or even an hour ago or an hour from now, and that gives you sense of freedom. Some adults are still good at that. But for me? I go on worrying or at least thinking about adult things. For a short time while I’m riding my motorcycle that will usually go away. Right there in the moment, riding nowhere in particular, and for a brief time my head will clear. I’m sure if you had me hooked up to a machine you would see stuff like my heart rate go down, my bad cholesterol clear up, or my waist size shrink, who knows for sure. But one thing I will say is I feel better and I feel like a kid again.

I’m not suggesting we all go out and re-live our youth, that would spell trouble. What I think we need is a double-shot of whatever comes out of the fountain of youth. When I was young the fountain of youth must have been the end of the garden hose because I sucked on it all summer long. Whatever we do that gives us that feeling of “acting our shoe size” is exactly what we need to have that balance of our youth and adulthood. Don’t feel bad when your body says you “can’t”, it just hasn’t received the memo.  




The Reason I Ride

sturgis100_4434To look back over the forty years I’ve been riding motorcycles is easy. I like thinking about all the experiences I’ve had and even looking at the photographs I’ve got stored away in an old envelope on the shelf. Notice I said “shelf” not “memory stick” or “hard drive”. That’s back in the day when someone had to take your picture and then a conscious effort was needed to get the film developed all the while hoping at least one of the pictures wouldn’t be blurry. If nothing else the old photos prove that at some point in my life I have been in shape and I have had a full head of hair.

So as I look back I often wonder why the motorcycle impacted my life instead of football or any other type of sports or recreation. Simple explanations for gravity or inertia I can give, but an explanation of why I ride might be difficult. But I ride when those friends of mine don’t. They’ll watch football or basketball and I’ll watch Supercross or Moto GP racing. The funny thing is the majority of my friends don’t ride motorcycles. I know what you’re thinking. A guy like Jeff must be surrounded by the latest and greatest machinery out there. He must ride a million miles a year and his house is filled with trophies of championships and with friends who ride and do nothing but talk about two-wheeled adventures. The reality is I do ride a lot and I rarely hang out with my motorcycle friends. My close friends all watch the games on TV and come Monday I’m at a loss for what to say when everyone is talking about the weekend in sports.

Going through my formative years at school in White City, I just didn’t play much football or basketball. In a community where team sports are the talk of the town, I was riding my motorcycle out to the trails to practice, eventually racing motocross until I broke my leg in 1987. Was I any good? From the side of the track I probably appeared to be somewhat awkward and squidish. From inside my helmet looking out I was awesome! Fast and smooth and wheeling away from the pack! But average is more like it, although I finished my best year ranked third in the state.

I think the real reason I ride runs a little deeper than just individual sports versus team sports. I missed my chance to play team sports and if I could do it over I would have played more in school. This is something I’ve come to realize as I have gotten older. Again, from the sidelines at the game I’m sure I would have appeared awkward and squidish, but I would have been there all the same. I wouldn’t necessarily change things as they turned out, but it would have been a life experience to add to the many I already have. So back to the reason… 

Just like those folks that like football or NASCAR, I like motorcycles. It really doesn’t need to be explained at all. We are individuals that have our likes and dislikes and I like the two-wheeled kind. I think most people associate me with motorcycles by now and that’s no surprise. They sure don’t mistake me for a guy in shape with a full head of hair!

Chasing Horizons


The need to get there. You know…over there. Someplace you are not. We bikers are real bad about that as we are constantly searching for the “new” perfect road. Even as we travel the same old boring rides over the years, there is a pit in our stomach that there might quite possibly be a more perfect way of getting there. You know…over there. Better trees, curvier curves, more scenic bridges and more hilly terrain. I think you get the idea. And so the search continues.

Just when we think we’ve found our utopia, we realize it’s just not enough. Like a kid is to sugar, we bikers are to scenery. Our drug of choice is the feel of the wind and the sound of our bikes as we ride down another less congested highway to somewhere we’ve never been. Sounds easy right? Right. But life can be that way. We should always be searching or at least looking around with our head up instead of walking in circles looking at the ground. We should be wanting to discover things and places we have never experienced. Some people do and others…well, do not.

I must admit when I take on a new day I’m just as much in a rut as the next person. But once in a while I do wander out of my little world and take life on. It’s exciting to be somewhere new and to talk to new people, experience new things and make some new memories. But the searching I speak of is different. It is the horizon that we just can’t get to. It’s always just over the next hill. You know…over there. It’s that constant drive and curiosity that keeps us in motion. And besides, what would we do when we get there?

Seat of Your Pants

Over time I’ve come to notice that all of my bikes have improved through the years. Suspension, handling, fuel injection and looks to name a few. Style and appeal are a matter of taste, and if I do say so myself, mine is about average. I have taken it for granted that the next bike will be better than the last in terms of reliability and ride ability, so it’s always been onward and upward when a trade happens. And as the bikes get better, the ride and experience should get better as well. And it does. But the fun we have as we ride really hasn’t changed that much over the years. The wind in your face and the sounds made as you crack open the throttle give you the seat-of-the-pants thrill we all seek.
What is it about the motorcycle that the automobile lacks? A true performance car can give you the kick-in-the-ass feeling of power and acceleration, but what about everything else? As cars have evolved, they have gotten quieter and more high-tech. They almost drive themselves. Designers have taken the car and turned it into an office or living room depending whether you are sitting in the front or the back. But a motorcycle gives you the elements. Weather, road conditions and even the sense of danger. Motorcycle manufacturers have also taken some models and pushed them to the limits of technology, performance and comfort without sacrificing the wind in your face feeling. Fast or slow, in a group or by yourself, that motorcycle feeling is always there.
 I guess you could argue that whether you are behind the wheel of your latest vehicle or hanging on to the handlebars of your new bike that there isn’t much difference from the previous one. And I would agree. Usually the new one has a little more power, the handling is a little better, and you look cooler on it. But it’s the “fun factor” that I’m struggling with. Old bike or new, the fun is about the same to me. I would almost go as far as saying that back in the day of  low-power, worn out tires and soft suspension, the fun level was a little higher. You had to compensate for what the bike didn’t have in those categories, and in the mean time you could see the smiles from miles away. The seat-of-the-pants meter was pegged out!
The roads are all the same and the dirt hasn’t changed. The trails are a little steeper to ride and the ground is a little harder. But when it comes to my pants…the seat that is…the fun is always the same!

The Price We Paid in the ’70s

As a teenager in the ’70s I was completely distracted by girls and motorcycles. If I only knew then what I know now, I would be in better shape with both motorcycles and women in general. You see, some of the motorcycles I owned back then have become new again. Highly desirable and worth more money than originally priced. Examples include, Honda 305 Scrambler,  1975 Yamaha DT175, Harley-Davidson X90, 1976 Husky 175, a Yamaha TY250 Trials and the list goes on and on. Sometimes, even in the moment, we are aware we should hold on to something with everything we have knowing we may never get them back. I know now I was never thinking they would be worth more than what I had invested, but living in the moment has its price. And I paid that price in full.

I was a child of that era and it goes beyond just motorcycles and girls. Cars and trucks came and went just as easy. 1966 Plymouth Fury, 1970 Dodge Charger, 1972 Dodge Charger, 1956 Ford truck, 1961 Ford truck Uni-body, 1949 Chevy truck, 1967 Chevy short-wide bed truck…see the trend? What was I thinking? But you have to remember, to me, cars and bikes were just a moment in time. Girls on the other hand were different. Like hair styles and bell bottoms. High School and dating. Transportation and recreation. Buy and sell or trade. Some were great deals and others were, well… not so great.

Even the Levi’s I was wearing back then are worth money! Say what? Yes, and in high demand. I’m not sure the pea green or sky blue leisure suites my mom made for me with her McCall’s Patterns would be worth much now, but who knows? Stranger things are happening. Some people save things from their past with hopes of it being worth something, but when it comes time to actually sell said things, they can’t part with them. They have a name for that. Hoarding.

As much as I appreciate the beauty of the Honda 305 Scrambler or the ’70 Dodge Charger, I can truly say that I am so much happier having owned and enjoyed them without the worry of damaging them or decreasing their value in some way. We rode hard and drove hard back then because we were living life. 8-track music blaring through cheap speakers or our Levi’s bell bottom pant leg chewed up from the chain of our motorcycles. It didn’t matter because we had a date that night!

%d bloggers like this: