Categories: Features
February 6, 2019
| On 1 month ago

Whatever: Back in the Saddle Again

I didn’t get a new motorcycle for Christmas, but I did get a new chainsaw. They’re enjoying the same conundrum as we are over there in the chainsaw world – gas versus electric. Since “range” is not important for me (I only want to trim branches and cut things up around the house and maybe in the bathtub), I went with a plug-in electric. I didn’t know you could get a chainsaw for 75 bucks, or I probably would’ve gotten one years ago. I mean, I’d like to ride motorcycles every weekend, but somebody’s gotta take care of the homestead – and the faster the better.

As it turns out, my chainsaw gives me an almost moto level of joy. They’re even made by the same manufacturers. A nice two-stroke powered Husqvarna would’ve been nice, but those are more money, and I’m probably not gonna run the thing often enough to warrant keeping fresh premix around – then figuring out why it won’t start anyway.

The Husky 3120 XP has a 119 cc two-stroke engine that puts out 8.3 horsepower, and can use a bar up to six feet long – for “extreme logging.”

My little electric puts out a reasonably loud whine to impress the neighbors, and when my mighty(ish) 16-inch blade bites into a nice eucalyptus branch, stand back! Wood chips flying feels a lot like fresh loam off a new  knobby – the main difference being that the resultant thunk is something other than my body hitting the ground. That’s refreshing. So is the smell, just like being out in the forest on your motorcycle. (With a two-stroke saw, you might close the moto gap even further.)

Naturally, there’s a learning curve just like with a motorcycle. On a chainsaw, you can put the chain on backwards, and if you do that you’re cutting nothing. Get ’er biting in the right direction, though, keep your chain taut and lubed, and stand back! This is fun. Hedges that laughed at the hedge trimmer melt before the chainsaw. Palm fronds jump off the palm at your approach. There’s a little expertise involved in chopping off bigger limbs so you don’t bind up your blade, and don’t call it a blade! It’s a chain. You just have to remember to be careful not to sever your femoral artery or suffer the dread kickback, wherein the thing bucks back onto your forehead. Ouch.

That kind of manly plaid-shirt fun can’t last forever, though, and work called me away to ride the new Ducati Hypermotard 950 at its European launch a couple weeks ago. Dang. Speaking of manly rural fun, who should also be on the launch than one of my oldest motojournalist pals, Don Canet. Rural because Don managed to escape the SoCal rat race a year or two ago when his Bonnier Motorcycle Group employers gave him the go-ahead to move up north to Oakhurst, California, and telecommute! Unfortunately, somebody else decided that that wasn’t such a good idea shortly after, and after 30 years as Cycle World’s Road Test Editor, DC vanished from the magazine’s pages without a trace.

I have surprisingly few photos of DC, as our relationship predates the cell phone. This one should embarrass him nicely.

Well, so have quite a few other people, so the time was right for CW to reenlist DC to jet off to Gran Canaria to ride the new Ducati. This is a good thing. Once upon a time, media outlets only sent really proficient riders off to review new motorcycles – sportbikes especially (yours truly excepted) – but lately they’re not sending their best. They’re sending rapists and drug dealers and influencers… (kidding about the first two, I think). Anyway, that Canet kid could ride the wheels off a motorcycle, leave the rest of the press corps for dead, and the people that run Ducati et al all still recognize DC’s speed and skill and seek out his opinion.

Hanging out with the guy takes me back, too. When we both were at Cycle World in the early ’90s, we both lived in Laguna Beach – DC in a rental house he shared with the CW art director a couple blocks from the beach, myself a bit farther up Bluebird Canyon in an ocean-view cottage I shared with a Road & Track art person destined to become my ex-wife. Our rent was $1,000; I think Canet’s was even less. I’m pretty sure you need to be a millionaire to live anywhere in Laguna now.

Now it’s all dyno numbers, but before that, the big magazines used to pride themselves on generating their own performance numbers, which we’d record out in the field. A bean field in Oxnard, at Cycle magazine, in fact, with a hokey third wheel we’d hose-clamp to the muffler and a cable to a computer the size of a toaster on the gas tank. Danny Coe was convinced engines made the most power cold, so once she was rigged, he’d hop on, hit the starter and blast off (making sure no tractors were about to cross the road). Hooboy!, as Phil Schilling used to say.

Later, at Cycle World, test equipment became more sophisticated as bikes just kept getting faster. Canet and I spent many an hour in the box van driving out to our Secret High Speed Testing Area(s) out in the desert, where we’d unload that month’s test bikes and set up the radar gun at the side of the road. Then DC would do acceleration and decel runs until he felt like he’d got the best out of each bike while I wrote down the numbers, or until I’d had enough sun for the day. I still remember watching the smoke pour off the ZX-11’s front tire as it settled back down onto the ground at 100-something mph.

In 1990, this thing was ludicrous fast. It still is.

Does anybody do 0-60 or 0-100 mph times anymore? It seemed like a big deal at the time. So were top speed and quarter-mile times, which Canet also measured. The ZX-11 in question did 170-something, which was crazy-fast for its time, especially on that baked, bumpy section of Route 66. I always said a little prayer, as I did not want to be the only medical care available if anything went wrong. Also important were 100-0 and 60-0 stopping distances. Now we just say “the brakes are really powerful” and leave it at that.

Wow, am I really the greybeard pining for the old days? Actually, I think I was one of the first to say all this is really a waste of resources now that the ubiquitous Dynojet is here and all brakes and tires are pretty damn good – though when I came to MO in 2001, we still went to LA County Raceway a lot just because it’s stupid fun to launch motorcycles down a dragstrip. Come to think of it, in the early Canet days, we used the dragstrip down the coast at Carlsbad, where the big MX park used to be. Jeff the caretaker would unlock the gate for us; he never wore shoes. Both dragstrips are long gone.

Good times, with DC, Corie and Freddie at Chuckwalla.

Where am I? Oh yeah, DC almost single-handedly invented supermoto in the US. I think he started on a KX80, then moved up to a CR500 Honda supermoto project that led to the creation of the SuperTT American Racing Series in 1997; STTARS was the very first supermoto series in North America. Canet was out there at least one weekend a month putting on races, and when the AMA started its own Supermoto series a few years later, it was DC they came to for track layout advice, etc.

Basically, I’ve always been a huge fan of DC’s skills and early adoption of new tech: He was already internet dating before most of us knew what the internet was, and he already knew the Nurburgring like the back of his hand when he flew off to do a feature story by learning it in a video racing game – a thing everybody does now. He likes to say he probably did the fastest third lap of anybody to ever ride a motorcycle around the ’Ring.

How apropos, then, that I got the chance to reunite with the old dog riding Ducati Hypermotards. Luckily they broke us into two groups and Canet was not in mine, so I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of him passing me like I was tied to a post again (Zack Courts did that), but I had fun watching DC ride from the pits, as usual. One guy in his group was faster, which was highly unusual. DC was not amused.

Do I have a point? Not really. Other than, appreciate your friends, and especially your motorcycle friends while you’ve got them. And to just give a big thumbs up salute to a guy (since it seemed like nobody else was going to) who actually has put his butt on the line many a time over the last 30 years for our motorcycling enjoyment. I hope we both keep getting to do it for another 30 years. Touch wood.