Meet a Reader – Wheelz270

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It’s time to learn more about another Bike-urious reader – this time the Meet a Reader series continues with Wheelz270 (we’re going with his commenting handle for privacy’s sake)!

How did you get started with motorcycles – how did you learn, and what was your first bike?
My brother, who is five years older than I, paved the way for me. When he was in college, he wanted to buy a classmate’s KZ750. We being a Catholic family, and the college a small, traditional, Catholic college, my brother presented the plea to my parents along with the supplement that he’d enlisted the entire student body (about 225 students) to pray a novena that my parents would grant their blessing. Cuz, God’s Will and all! How could they say no to that (whatever that was)? And, when he came home he taught me to ride that behemoth. Illegally, on the street. Dad and Mom needn’t know.

After getting my license, my getting a bike was (while still entwined with prayer and Divine Contingencies) simpler and guaranteed. So, fat thanks to my bro! Just to assure you all, I did take the MSF course before I took possession of my first bike, a 1982 Honda FT500 Ascot, which also came from a schoolmate of my brother (there’s some trend here regarding motorcycles and guys at Catholic colleges…).

This purchase coincided with my graduation from high school and subsequent attending of Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix. That’s where I learned how to work on motorcycles while fiddling way too stupid much on my own bike: Mufflerectomy? Clip-on handlebars? Ghetto cam-degreeing by advancing and retarding a tooth, just run it and see how it feels? And so forth. Being a fiddler has been detrimental to me many a time, I cringe in hindsight, wait… being a fiddler has been more detrimental to my bikes than me, I’ve actually gotten less stupid with the experience! Great first bike, but I mistreated it and sold it when I completed my schooling and returned home.

Tee (L) gets his degree from MMI.

What bikes do you currently own?
Suzuki DRZ400SM (in various stages of being mucked around with).
Oset 24 electric trials “motorcycle.” With a 21mph top speed and a 12 mile range I hesitate to include this one, but it actually suffices for a lot of the dirt riding that I’d want to do on my DRZ or even any other more dirt-competent machine.

Assume for a moment that money is no object, and importation laws aren’t a problem. What’s the next bike you’d buy, and what would you do with it?
Being an ardent reader of Bike-urious I’d probably snag a Ducati Desmosedici RR or a Supermono – or with all y’alls advice – whatever you think I could mothball as an investment item (but that I would actually enjoy looking at, and I’d also wanna throttle whip it from time to time, yeah).

Because, if money’s no object, then we’re talking in the realm of desire and not purely use/riding, and I want to maximize the potential of this question. Besides, it would give me street cachet/sex appeal. When people at the hangout want to diss my lowly DRZ I could tell them I keep my Supermono cozy in my bedroom closet. My problem is that I suck at owning nice things. I wouldn’t enjoy riding something that I’d be terrified of dropping. Granted, I’m all about proper protection for bike and rider, but a Supermono probably wouldn’t look great with a stuntcage on it. Rnickeymouse’s videos on YouTube show that one “minor” lowside on most motorcycles kinda obliterates them.

What’s the most memorable motorcycle trip you’ve ever taken?
A few years back I decided to purchase a 2009 Yamaha TMAX from a guy in Flagstaff (I was living in the SF Bay Area at the time). The problem was that it was February, and he was antsy to unload the thing. And, my plan was to do a fly and ride. This story will underline heavily how bullheaded I am.

Obviously, snow was the issue. So, there was a fair amount of going back and forth on the date and figuring the weather in Flagstaff and Tehachapi. At one point I had bought the ticket, and then when the forecast looked iffy I realized I’d need to pay double to move my ticket one or two weeks further out. So, I stuck with my initial date in late February. (I’m not only bullheaded, I’m cheap.) The forecast at that time showed some snow in the evening, but my idea was to beat its arrival. I flew into Phoenix and took a Greyhound up to Flagstaff. On the drive up it started to snow. And, when I got into Flagstaff I had to wait a few hours in the station for the guy to get off work (we won’t talk too much about how unaccommodating and obtuse he was). Suffice to say that when he picked me up there was steady snowfall. He suggested I stay in a motel overnight or rent a truck, but that wasn’t in my original budget, so, yeah. I had formerly lived in Ottawa for a couple years and loved riding my bicycle in the snow, so I wasn’t fully freaked out. Yeah, I’m stubborn.

We got to his place, did the paperwork, I hooked up my electric vest (life saver), and then we headed out (he followed me to the highway to make sure my departure would actually happen, and he later confided that he was filled with dread and thought I wouldn’t make it). He was in a subdivision off the main streets, and because of the lack of traffic the snow was about 2-3” in his neighborhood. Doable, but quite sketchy. At one point I spun a clean 90 degrees due to the idiots who put in very off-camber right-angle turns in several spots. Getting to the highway was not fun. My biggest problem was that I was fogging up my glasses and my faceshield constantly – I hadn’t let my helmet acclimate to the cold air. The drive to the highway was about a mile and consisted of following cars in a blur, because the snow was thick enough at that point that curbs and lane markings were covered, and I couldn’t see through my glasses nor my shield, anyway.

Once I got on the highway there was minimal traffic, which was good, but visibility was still horrible. I pulled over and wiped my glasses and my shield, and now that I was traveling at a higher speed the airflow kept my vision clear. The snow on the highway was 2″ or so, but there was semi traffic, which left very clear, visible tire tracks. The road markings were scary. Sometimes I wasn’t sure whether I was on the shoulder or what. I stayed to the right and occasionally could see the white line. I traveled at anywhere from 30 – 50 mph. Twice, I felt the front end lose traction, completely, but it hooked back up, quickly. I didn’t feel too scared, but I definitely did not like that.

As I descended from Flagstaff there were at least two cars that had slid off the highway and were in the median ditch. It was a serious storm, and anybody who was not prepared to camp out in their car for hours until a plow or tow truck came would’ve suffered Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest. Speaking of, I was probably at the top of that list. If I had crashed, I could’ve slid off the highway and been found as a frozen icicle some days later. If the bike had been immobilized, the storm was serious enough that I might not have had cell reception to call highway assistance (snow will block your cell signal!). The problem was that I couldn’t stop and there weren’t places to stop, anyways. If I had, it would’ve been pointless, as I needed to get out of the snow and hopefully to Bakersfield (a very ambitious schedule). This story is just too crazy.

The seller projected that I would drop out of the snow by the time I hit Williams, 40 miles west of Flagstaff. A couple miles before there I encountered nastiness. I had previously been riding in the tire tracks, where the snow had been pushed out of the way. But when I neared Williams the snow was thick enough and it got cold enough as the night progressed that the area in the tire tracks was now packed snow and might as well have been ice. It was a horrible feeling. Whereas before I had some sense of stability driving along, this time it felt utterly sketchy, as if I was going to lose the bike, instantly, at any single moment, every single moment. By the grace of God I found that riding in the unpacked snow strip between the tire tracks was the solution, and I regained stability riding on that.

After passing Williams things started to get wet and the snow disappeared, which was a relief, and I was able to resume normal speed. Unfortunately, that rain lasted for the next 160 miles to the CA border, where I stopped for the night. While the fairing on the TMAX is pretty darn good, my hands were out in the rain, so my gloves were wet. When trucks passed me in the snow they shot out a stream of highway slush to the sides, so that did in my boots.

The next day I did the remaining 550 miles back to the Bay in dry conditions. The seller told me that when he woke up that next day there was a good foot and a half of snow outside, so I think I got the hell outta Dodge just in time.

Speaking of the TMAX and recent mentionings on Bike-urious of Gurney’s Alligator and the RoHorn Racer, I am a firm proponent of the feet forward design, which allows a lower center of gravity. The TMAX is not super radical in this regard, but it’s dramatically different from any other bike I’ve ridden. The tracking and stability are what enabled me to ride through that snowstorm. I honestly can’t imagine any other motorcycle that would’ve been as competent in that scenario, excepting something with studded tires.

Do you listen to music while riding? If no, why not? If yes, what are some of your favorite tunes when you’re on your bike?
No music. A couple years ago I started listening to music when I rollerbladed or commuted on my bicycle. But those were scenarios where I either didn’t need too much attention – the bike route was routine and not super engaging – or didn’t have to worry about cars – skating largely occurred in a school yard. Motorcycling is very different and requires my full attention. While I’m not on edge like the Mad Hungarian in the Gumball Rally I’m never idly cruising along.

What’s your favorite piece of gear?
The Modular Helmet. I was first exposed to modulars in 2015 when I returned to riding after a decade hiatus. In my re-gearing phase I bought a used modular off Craigslist and was sold on the concept. I wear eyeglasses, and the ability to pull the helmet on, in its opened position, without having to remove my glasses was utterly fantastic! And, at slower speeds I enjoy riding with the chinbar up for the more open-air experience. My latest modular, an LS2 Strobe has the additional feature of a ratcheting quick release buckle, which after using I have zero idea why anyone would ever stick with a double-d-ring arrangement.

You have $25,000 to spend on anything in the world of motorcycles – 1 new bike, several old bikes, track days, a trip, you name it. How do you spend it?
In no particular order I’m going to name any and all of the options I’d enjoy:
Wheelie University. Yes, please! Whatever courses they have I’d be interested in at least a beginner’s course and something beyond that.
SoCal Supermoto School. Seen some of their YouTube stuff, it’s very good.
Can-Am Ryker 900. Yeah, not a motorcycle. Heck, it even has a cvt. However, it’s got the open-air experience, and I’m sure it delivers on cornering g’s. During my time in Phoenix my brother and I owned a Honda TRX250X quad, and sliding the rear end around was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. The Ryker would be a faster, more competent street version of that I’m thinking. Any traction and stability nannies would get turned off or be put on a selector switch.
– Trip time in places like the Phoenix desert, Sedona, Moab, and Neo Mars (spot used for Icon 1000’s Major Tom video):

– Some highly competent bike that I could use in the aforementioned places. As much as I love my Oset 24 it doesn’t have the range I’d want for those areas. Something quiet, very light, with maybe a 50 mile range would actually suit me. If electric I’d need to figure out how to charge batteries for multi-day trips.

What do you expect from the future of motorcycling, good or bad?
Rather than comment about the demise of the internal combustion engine, the looming restrictions facing recreational/ohv use, and the increasing use of algorithms/marketing logic to create what will sell, I would like to share an enlightening moment I had this morning.

I’d just had a particularly rewarding time rollerblading at the skatepark, and I told myself I would never have enough time in my life to pursue every single discipline I enjoy: the skating, kick scootering, bicycling, skateboarding. And, that doesn’t include all the other ventures I enjoy, including motorcycling. Why only now, in my late 40’s, am I just starting to really, really enjoy and become proficient at some of these things? Maturity.

Maturity is what has enabled me to slow down in my mind and cut through all the ego to see what really gives joy and pursue it. In my own way. At my own pace. Safely. No outside pressure or interruptions. No competing against any other person except myself and my own fears. Bike-urious reader Jeff Moore talked about the conundrum of how motorcycles are perceived as dangerous but needn’t be and should have wider appeal. While I also want wider appeal there’s no getting around the fact that sticking a motor between two wheels makes motorcycles intrinsically dangerous, and they need maturity and real ego-checking to be safely enjoyed (and maturity is also needed when it comes to all the fiddling, mucking around with, and “optimizing” of vehicles!).

This ego-checking is an approach I have never seen offered by the industry, in fact the opposite is always sold: speed, image, fashion, grittiness, ego! The most I’ve encountered contrary to this direction was the salesman warning me not to start on a bike too powerful or the MSF course instructing on the limits of available traction. But, putting aside the ego and confronting the unmet need for affirmation and recognition as a motorcyclist? OK, raise your hand if you’ve ever had even an MSF instructor who was a little needy for image boosting! Lol, it’s a pink elephant in the room, and it’s why motorcycles are the choice of vehicle for hordes of disillusioned, fatherless youth doing wheelies through town, those edgy “bikers” breaking all the rules and flaunting it in the ears of others with their loud exhausts. It’s a tricky mess, because motorcycles are inherently exciting and fun.

There’s a simple litmus test for all this, though: say there’s been a nuclear apocalypse, or horrors, a pandemic, and the streets are empty; do you any longer have joy screaming around on your loud bike in utter solitude? Or, do you need an audience to boost your image: authority to diss, boring cagers trundling along, throngs of teen schoolgirls giggling, or tourists strolling the beach boulevard that you commandeer as your spectators when you blip your throttle? My challenge to the industry for the future betterment of us all is to realize that the hard, sexy edge sells, but to what end? At some point the limits of traction are reached, road rash and broken bikes occur, or we get old, slow, and wise enough to realize the struggle for coolness is overrated.