Thursday, October 22, 2009

All In the Family

I mentioned earlier that the first motorized vehicle I ever operated, at 12 years-old, was a Sears Moped. From there I graduated to a Cushman Eagle, then a Honda 65 [which I crashed] and a 90cc Suzuki Step-Through, which I rented for a day [I was 16 at the time]. The first bike I owned was a Honda 305 Scrambler. Since then I've owned over 50 motorcycles and having worked at a motorcycle dealership for 10 years, probably ridden 1,000. It's safe to say that I've thrown a leg over nearly every imaginable configuration from old Harley Police trikes to full-on Choppers, to sport bikes, road bikes, dirt bikes, and cruisers. I love to ride. And I don't much care what it is that I'm riding.

Riding the Piaggio MP3 has been an education in both the tightness of the motorcycling/scootering communities and the wideness of the gap between the various elements of that same community. At some level I suppose I knew that, but riding the MP3 has really put it under a bright light.

Anyone who has ever ridden knows about the "Rider Wave". As long as I've ridden I've always made it a point to wave at other cyclist, irrespective of brand or style of bike. My wave was a raised left hand. At some point the wave became something like a "Low Five". I think it started with the Harley riders but has become pretty much universal.

So now I give the low wave to everyone. But not everyone waves back. And depending on what I'm riding I can almost predict who will wave. If I'm on my BMW R1150R, a big "naked" road bike, nearly everyone waves back. Even the Harley and Gold Wing riders give a - sometimes begrudging - wave.

If I'm riding the GS, with the high front fender and off-road look, then I'll nearly never get a wave from the Harley or Sport Bike riders. It's just too big a gap. If I'm on the BMW650CS, a somewhat odd looking street bike, only the BMW riders wave.

If I'm on the Piaggio MP3, though, I get near universal acknowledgment. I didn't expect that. I thought there'd be a sort of elitist attitude among the two-wheelers. Quite the contrary. Big Bike riders, sport bike guys in tight leather outfits, cruisers folks with fringe leather jackets, and the BMW crowd in their Aerostich Darien jackets wave. And they smile.

That's, maybe, the greatest part of riding the MP3. It makes me, and everyone I encounter, smile. What's better than that??

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Frost on the Pumpkin

WOW. What happened to Summer? Heck, what happened to FALL? It feels a lot like Winter outside. Like the lyrics from the classic Guess Who song: Seasons change and so did I. You need not wonder why. So it's time to start thinking about running and riding into the new season.

I've ridden in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. I've been to Antarctica 6 times, 5 times as a part of the Race Operations Staff with Thom Gilligan's Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon. Riding in the cold is nothing new. The truth is, if you're well prepared, riding - and running - when most people have decided to hibernate is both invigorating and satisfying. Knowing that you continue to push the envelop, to find that part of yourself that is willing and able to take on the extreme challenge, is a great feeling.

In Antarctica, on King George Island where the race is held, it isn't so often the cold as it is the wind. It's not that it's never cold, one year the temperature dropped 20 degrees fahrenheit in 10 minutes up on the Collin's Glacier, but generally it's the wildly unpredictable wind that creates the greatest challenge.

The key, and the aspect of  riding in the cold that many people miss, is that you can't get warm, you have to STAY warm. You've got to be prepared for whatever the temperature does and whichever way the weather goes. Once you GET cold, there's very little you can do to get warm.

In some ways it's the opposite with running. If you start your run warm you'll end your run STEAMY. Those first few steps should make you wonder what you're doing outside. By the time you get a mile behind you chances are you'll be warm and toasty.

Whether it's running or riding the key is having the right equipment. Over the years I've purchased thousands of dollars of riding gear that was, at the time, state of the art. 40 years ago, unfortunately, the state of the art cold weather gear was a newspaper stuffed in your jacket and your feet wrapped in plastic bags. Things have changed.

These days I've got a Gerbing electronic jacket liner, compete with an adjustable rheostat. One of the first things I did when I got the Piaggio MP3 was to install the battery connection for the Gerbing. I've also got an Aerostich Darien Goretex suit, lined gauntlet gloves, and waterproof boots. As long as the temperature is above freezing, I'll be riding.

With a good technical base layer, a pair of tights, and a good wind/water resistant jacket, hat and gloves, there's almost no lower temperature limit for running outdoors. I've run with Jenny when her ponytail has frozen! It's neat.

This is the week to make the change. There will be warm days again this season, but not hot days. For riding and running, this is the transition week. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Don't Ask For Ketchup

One of the best kept secrets in the running industry is that I have a doctorate and that I was a university administrator and professor before the "penguin" took over my life. My column, "The Penguin Chronicles" was replacing Dr. George Sheehan's in Runner's World and they didn't want to use Dr. John Bingham, so "the Penguin" was born.

I mention this because I used to teach a music history course and we talked about how all music is culturally specific. The reason that the music you listen to sounds better to you than the music I listen to is because we both listen to the music of our culture. As specific as music is to the culture, food is even more specific. Enter Gene and Jude's.

Gene and Jude's is a tiny hot-dog stand/building in River Grove, Illinois. It's been in the same location for 60 years and - with the exception of adding a double-dog - has served the same menu for all those years. You can get hot dogs, corn tamales, fresh cut french fries, and a drink. Period. And on the hot dogs you can get yellow mustard, chopped fresh onion, pickle relish, and sport peppers. That's it.

I ate there with my grandfather and father. I've taken my son there since he was old enough to eat solid food. And this summer we took my grandchildren there. 5 generations of Binghams have eaten at Gene and Jude's. And not one of them has EVER asked for ketchup. It's just not done.

What's any of this got to do with running, or scootering, or life? Maybe not much, but it seems ro me that we all live inside of a specific culture and one of the most difficult things to do is to break out of that culture and change your life, even if you know it's what's best for you.

When I first started running my family thought I was crazy. When I wouldn't overeat at every meal they thought that I was turning my nose up at our culture.

As a motorcyclist for over 40 years I'm finding that as much as I would like to I don't understand the scooter culture. I love to ride. I love to be riding. What I'm riding isn't nearly as important to me as THAT I'm riding. My love of riding transcends my love of any particular form of riding.

So, just like when I started running, my foray into the scootering culture hasn't been met with universal acceptance. I don't get the "wave" from fellow motorcyclists. I don't get the nod from the "cool" guys. I don't get the "look" from kids in the backseat. And that's a shame.

The MP3 has become my "go to" ride because it is everything I want a motorcycle to be. It's fun, it's fast, it demands very little and delivers a lot. And for me, that's what matters most.