Attending to Battery and Soul

When Little Red had her post-purchase checkup two months ago, she received a fuel stabilizer to keep her gas from getting gummy over the winter. So I thought she was essentially all set for her long nap. Although I had heard that owners regularly wake their sleeping beauties during the winter and during periods of not riding by starting their engines, I thought that was mostly just an alternative to adding fuel stabilizer. This past holiday week I had time to read about it and learned that there is more to it.

Winterization seems to be kind of a big deal. Cold temperatures and not riding cause a lead acid battery to lose its charge, moisture causes rust and damages the tires, and water spots and squashed bugs cause corosion. There is also the occurence of flat spots on the tires–a bit like bed sores, from the weight staying on the same area for too long.

Predictably, yesterday morning when I tried to start her, I had a Little Engine that Could Not. After listening to several reluctant I-think-I-can’s, I turned off the ignition. I further consulted the Honda Shadow forum I’ve been visiting, watched several YouTube videos, and downloaded my bike’s service manual. (I should have researched publishers! The picture by the reference to the negative battery cable cover showed a red cover, and the picture by the reference to the positive battery cable cover showed a black one.)

By the afternoon, along with my new knowledge, I proudly owned a big, fat motorcycle tool kit and a cute little battery tender (in addition to the air compressor that Santa Claus had already brought to encourage proper tire inflation during the riding months). A battery tender is wise and gentle. It monitors a battery’s charge and gives the battery some juice whenever the charge drops a bit. And you can keep the battery tender hooked up to the battery indefinitely–it’s safe, they say.

The intimidating part was accessing the battery. For my bike at least, it involves an undoing of things and a handling of dismembered parts. The mental image of that made my stomach feel funny. I couldn’t, and still can’t, even remember the last time I removed a dip stick from a car. At the same time, that mental image was awesome. And yesterday was not cold for a New Year’s Day in Indiana. I was comfortable in my garage and was singing along to Darius Rucker when I pulled off Little Red’s side covers.

While sitting on the same low stool I use for meditation, at her right side, I pulled back a rubber cover, tried but failed to remove the fuse box stubbornly attached to the battery cover (while noticing that the fuse box was lacking the screw for holding its own cover in place), wrestled with and removed the battery cover itself (also missing its screws), and found the positive terminal. No tools necessary, not yesterday.

On the left side, there was nothing to remove. With the help of a flashlight, I found the negative terminal deep, deep inside. I attached the negative clamp to the negative terminal. Then on the right side, I attached the positive clamp to the positive terminal–after passing the clamp wires through Little Red’s middle.

I plugged the battery tender box into a plugged-in extension cord, considered pulling my still-new car out of the garage, noted my own escape route, eyed a couple of leftover fireworks on a shelf, cringed, and then plugged the connector at the end of the clamp wires into the connector at the end of the battery tender box’s wire.

Nothing bad happened!

The light on the battery tender blinked green, indicating that the battery did have at least an 80% charge. So maybe Little Red would have started yesterday morning if I had tried more. (Later yesterday the green light shone solid, indicating a full charge.) I realized how basic the task was. Still, I couldn’t help but dance to “Only Wanna Be with You” out there in my woman cave, one wall of which will soon display a male firefighter calendar.

For my next impressive trick, I will replace the missing screws. I will also get some carpet scraps to put under Little Red’s tires, buy a good, breathable cover, give Little Red a nice bath and blow dry (leaf blower), and make a point of regularly moving her around a little to attend to her tires. Maybe I’ll get a little beer frig for out there too.

I’m not even sure if all this is truly necessary, but my next bike will be more expensive. So now is the time to jump in the deep end and learn–and start thinking of a name more sexy than Medium Blue. My new year’s resolution is to perform all of Little Red’s basic maintenance myself–and to identify nearly all her parts. With the right tools, music, and firemen, I think I can.

Inclined to Wait

Foot Pegs requires an epilogue, I’m afraid.

I must have ridden for about 10 miles, mostly on my neighborhood’s one-mile loop but also on connected cross-streets and cul-de-sacs, never exceeding 15 mph. A few cars drove by, and I passed people with dogs. Initially I thought, “You should all be afraid. This beautiful afternoon… it’s not a normal afternoon!” But the angst waned and I became more and more confident.

I couldn’t wave to neighbors, of course. That would have been disastrous. So mostly I nodded, which was frustratingly subtle. I wanted to wave wildly, laugh, and rejoice. To a few I called out, “This is my first day riding!” like an eight-year old. One neighbor looked especially surprised and amused. I beamed back at him. I stopped to chat with one other. He rides too, and he keenly wanted to impress upon me that drivers don’t always see us. I don’t think a rider, especially a new one, can hear that enough. We must pledge allegiance to our eyes… to the road ahead, on both sides, and behind.

Elated and nearly in a state of disbelief, I rode back to the base of my driveway on its hill. The incline was a bit daunting, but I was in can-do mode. So I rode straight up the hill–and promptly stalled on the steepest part.

Instantly I stood up and squeezed the front brake hard, probably harder than necessary, but I had no interest in discovering the brake’s threshold or what being in gear was really doing for me then and there with 440 pounds. I switched off the ignition, and I stood there, stuck, knowing I had neither the strength to push Little Red up the hill nor the skill to start her back up and ride forward under those circumstances. My right hand was getting tired from squeezing the front brake.

I looked to the right. I looked to the left. No one was around. Where were all my nice neighbors? I looked to the right. I looked to the left again. I was alone. I wondered how stupid I looked. I kicked the side stand down, and it seemed to bear some of the weight, but I couldn’t trust it. I waited, squeezing that front brake hard as my hand became weaker. Time passes slowly when you’re feeling stupid alone on a hill and your hand hurts. A motorcycle. Really?

After a little while, a dog-walking neighbor did spot me and graciously lent his strength to push Little Red up to the level part of the driveway while I walked her and steered. Thank you, Steve!

A motorcycle? You bet.

Foot Pegs

No longer feeling fraudulent, I begin this blog.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been preparing for this moment. Little Red has had a thorough safety inspection by a qualified mechanic, she sports new tires, she’s all tuned up, her fluids are good, and she’s up to date on her vaccinations. I’ve had a couple of sessions rocking in first gear while gently squeezing and releasing the clutch and then Fred-Flintstoning around the driveway–insufficiently stable to put my feet on the pegs, terrified of the throttle, but traveling several thrilling yards at a time anyway before walking her backwards over and over and over again. After all that, and then bragging about it to friends while wondering if I ever would really learn to ride, Little Red and I ventured off my property. This happended two days ago, and I am a changed woman.

Before two days ago, I was worried. Worried that I would never get my feet up on the damn pegs. The Fred-Flintstoning phase was fun, but I also felt pretty stupid and not in control, and I wondered if beginners ever just tip over. I knew I needed more space, a good, long straight course, and that I had to stop being so afraid of the throttle. But it was hard to imagine ever becoming comfortable. A motorcycle. Really?

With winter knocking at the door, I knew I had to get over myself quickly, though. I wanted to truly ride my bike before hibernating, so that from under my winter blankets and books I could look forward to the spring with confidence and then take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class without further delay. I wanted to be a rider, not just a motorcycle owner, over the winter from my sofa. So I decided to take Wednesday afternoon off–no meetings and perfect, warm weather.

While I was gearing up, a friend sent these texts:

“Go ride that bike today.”

“And then again tomorrow. Rain this weekend.”

“YOU CAN DO IT!!!!! 😃”

A few minutes later I walked Little Red down the hill of my driveway at a T’ai Chi pace and with that sort of deportment. I learned how much to use the front brake to control her 440 pounds; she is no bicycle. On the road I wrestled her into a north-facing position far enough from neighbors’ mailboxes. A vast, mysterious plane lay ahead, and it was great to see. Anything could happen there. That’s right, I thought, this is supposed to be fun. I inhaled. I paused. I exhaled, and I put her in first gear. I didn’t have to Fred Flintstone for long. With room to ride and having gotten used to the clutch and gear shifter feel already, the throttle was less scary. I slowly gave the engine what it wanted and found the foot pegs. Unbelievable. I was riding a motorcycle and loving it.