Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The motorcycle

A few months ago I purchased a motorcycle, a used Suzuki GZ250, a small road bike. I've had a motorcycle license since my teens, but had been off two motorized wheels since I moved out of my parents' house after college. After the FedEx job in 2009-2010, though, with its very long duration commutes, I felt I needed to expand my ability to get back and forth to work, since buying a car at the moment was out of the question.

But where to get one? I really did not want to spend day after day chasing all over to look at bikes. Turns out my daughter made the connection through a co-worker at her job who was contemplating a move, but did not want to have to move a motorcycle, too. The bike, her husband's, had been off the road a couple of years, and had been off the road several years before that because the woman he bought it from had dumped it after driving it only a few hundred miles. Consequently, here was this 10-year-old bike with fewer than 1,000 miles on it, looking for a home. Calls were made, I looked it over, we made the necessary arrangements, and here I am with a motorcycle.

It did need some work. The brakes were grabby from disuse. The bent handlebars didn't pass inspection but were repairable. Batteries do not age well. The gas in it was old, making it hard to start. Also, I needed a helmet. But by digging around on Craigslist and otherwise shopping for parts and repairs, I got the needed things done, including insurance and inspection. Most of the costs came out of a savings account I built up years ago for just such a purchase. After driving it for a couple of weeks on the odd trip here and there, I put some fresh gas in it and it ran much better.

In the three months it's been fully legal and operating properly, it has mainly stayed close to home. The helmet required a trip to the far south suburbs, but it performed fine enough on that trip that I felt comfortable embarking on a long trip. Destination: metro Buffalo, New York, for a high school reunion. Since I've been out of work for a while, I also hoped to take the opportunity to do some job hunting up there. If I got a job there, I could use the bike to commute any day it wasn't too snowy, and could stay with family I still have there.

Preparations made, I was able to pack a week's worth of clothing, tools and supplies to the seat and head north. A 250 is not designed for expressways, and while I could hit 65 on I-279, I did not feel comfortable spending all day at that speed. Thus I took PA Routes 8 and 89 most of the way north, stopping to purchase rain gear the day of the trip. Most of 8 is posted 40 to 50 mph, and I was quite happy rolling along at that rate. I only hoped to make it to the gathering before nightfall. That I did, though took the time to eat dinner on the shore of Lake Erie near North East.

I purchased gas at a tiny store in Amish territory, Buells Corners, on PA 89. The person purchasing fuel ahead of me pulled in with a horse and buggy, clearly not intending to feed it to the horse. The Amish do own some modern implements. They just don't use gasoline for transportation. You would not learn this as you screamed along I-79.

After the reunion party, with the one beer through and out of my system in all accounts, I drove the familiar roads back to the old family house, in the dark, as I had done many a time before. I really had not ridden at night much, but the headlight lit up the road fairly well, provided I kept to posted speed limits.

The trip back a few days later, I again stuck to two-lane roads, but chose a different path. I was somewhat hoping to stop in Jamestown, New York, for the Lucille Ball centennial celebration going on then, but made a wrong straight. Not a great loss; I more wanted to visit the historic ghost town of Pithole, outside Pleasantville, PA, site of one of the earliest oil boom towns. That I did see, and walked around a good half hour or more before getting back on the road for home.

I refueled somewhere around US 6. Imagine my surprise when I found I had used 1.49 gallons of gas to travel 146 miles. Can this be for real? As it turned out, that was a little bit high, as when I refueled after arriving home, averaging the two tanks together, I got 89 mpg. Still, that is amazingly good gas mileage compared to a car! I attribute the number to a combination of a small engine, low road speeds, and not trying to be in a hurry. I can feel how hard I am working the engine, and tried to throttle back to a point where I was still moving along pretty well at the lowest throttle opening. This often meant slowing down on hills, just as I would if I was pedaling a bicycle.

At this writing, I've put about 1,000 miles on the bike, about 500 of which was on that trip. It serves me well, though is still hard to start. I have yet to pull (check, clean, replace)  the spark plug. Chances are good that it's gummed up from disuse over the years and running on stale gasoline. It runs OK if I can get it running, but does sometimes want to stall. Still, it's reliable enough if I use it every couple of days.

All in all, it's a good alternative to dropping a five-digit sum on a car when I can least afford it.

1 comment:

  1. Some thoughts about my recent purchase of a small road bike, a 500-mile trip I took on it, and the gas mileage I've been getting. Is a bike in your future?