I’ve been doing some traveling lately, and I’ve noticed some interesting differences between drivers in Minnesota, Texas and California. As much as I love my home state, I have to admit California has better drivers.
We were sitting in traffic on “The 5” about 40 miles north of San Diego. The morning fog was beginning to dissipate. I glanced into the rearview mirror and saw a motorcyclist coming up from behind us, riding quite confidently between the lanes.
The American Motorcycle Association (AMA) advocates lane-splitting as a way to promote motorcycle safety. A 2014 California study showed that riding the white line prevented motorcyclists from being rear-ended in heavy traffic. If you’ve ever been in southern California, you know that freeways are clogged morning, noon and night. The ribbons of headlights and taillights stretch for miles.
Lane-splitting is legal in California. It’s verboten in Texas and Minnesota. It’s easy to see why.
In California, car and truck drivers tend to stay in their lanes whether they’re moving at freeway speed or at a stand-still. Texans and Minnesotans, on the other hand, are enthusiastic lane-changers. They change lanes often and don’t bother to signal their intentions. In freeway backups, it’s not uncommon to see a Minnesotan wrench his steering wheel left or right and stick his nose into the next lane . . . right into the would-be path of a whitelining motorcyclist.
Texans and Minnesotans also like to “park” in the far left lane, which should be reserved for faster-moving traffic. This causes other drivers to pass them on the right. On our way south through San Antonio, we observed several “bats out of hell” come up behind us, cut across three lanes of traffic from the right and zig-zag back the other way at speeds far above the posted limit (which, I will admit, we were not observing, either, but these guys were smoking!). The crazy driving, in fact, began shortly after we crossed the Oklahoma-Texas border. There’s no hope for a lane-splitter there!
The AMA’s rationale for lane-splitting makes sense. But it can’t be done safely in the Lone Star or North Star states.
Keep the shiny side up!
If you’re a motorcycle owner who lives in Minnesota and you haven’t been out riding your bike these past two weeks, you might as well put it up for sale. The weather just. doesn’t. get. any. better.
We’ve spent the past two weekends riding and doing research for an upcoming book and trying out my new GoPro camera. It’s a little more complicated than it should be (I’m going to suggest some software tweaks to GoPro), but the pictures have been incredibly sharp and clear — just like the weather!
Traveling by motorcycle sharpens your senses, too. You can ride a road you’ve driven in your car a hundred times and discover something new. There’s an intimacy with the landscape that you can’t get behind the wheel of an automobile. You feel changes in temperature and topography that you’d never notice with the AC blasting. And, despite the rumble of the motorcycle’s engine, you can still hear bird calls.
Our Victory is in the shop this week, getting outfitted with new tires and undergoing a thorough maintenance check before we take off for a big trip next month. I can’t wait.
I’m checking my supplies, making signs and getting ready for the Motorcycle Life Expo this coming weekend in Shakopee, Minnesota. I’ve been working closely with Audrey Johnson, the show’s organizer, to get the speakers lined up and press releases sent. I have my own booth and will be selling signed copies of Ride Minnesota. The two-day EXPO showcases vendors who cater to the motorcycle lifestyle. Tourism destinations will be emphasized, as well as aftermarket accessories, motorcycle touring apparel and home décor. In addition to the exhibitors, here’s what’s happening:
Bill Shaffer, state program administrator principal for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, will be the headline speaker. Shaffer will address an estimated crowd of 5,000 motorcyclists about Minnesota’s new Road Guard Certification program, which trains riders how to stop and control traffic for motorcycle groups. He will speak at 11:00 am. Sat.
Owen Riess, author of “La Ropa Sucia”, will speak at 1:00 p.m. Sat. and 11:00 a.m. Sun. about the “Do’s and Don’ts” of riding in Mexico.
Tim Hyma, Executive Director of the Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce/Driftless Destinations, will talk about riding in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area at 2:00 p.m. Sat.
World adventurer Phil Freeman, MotoQuest, will discuss motorcycle travel in “Alaska and Beyond” at 3:00 p.m. Sat. and 2:00 p.m. Sun.
Mary Pagel, Damsel in Defense, will talk about self-defense techniques for women riders at 1:00 p.m. Sun.
Local celebrities will also make an appearance at the EXPO. Brian Zepp, KQRS-Radio, will broadcast live from the EXPO from 3:00-5:00 p.m. Sat. Dave Dahl, KSTP Chief Meteorologist, will be on hand Sunday to meet and greet bikers from noon-2:00 p.m. Sun. He will also kick off Sunday’s noon fashion show. The 93X Girls will also make an appearance.
A fashion show will be held at noon each day, and live bands will perform both days. Bad Girlfriends will play from 4:00-7:00 p.m. Sat. Johntourage will perform both days from 1:00-3:00 p.m. 23rd Hour will play from 10:00 a.m. until noon on Sat. and 11:00-a.m.-1:00 p.m. Sun.
The Motorcycle Life Expo begins at 9:00 a.m. each day. Tickets are $10 if purchased online at www.motorcyclelifeexpo.com, or $13 at the door. Children under 12 are admitted free. See you there!
I just got back from a cross-country drive to California — via RV. My sister-in-law and mother-in-law had driven to Minnesota and needed a relief driver for the trip back to the San Diego area. Ralph had to work, so I got to go. It was a fun time, but I couldn’t help comparing the modes of travel.
On a motorcycle trip, you get up early, drive for an hour and find a little restaurant that offers home-style breakfasts.
On an RV trip, you get up early, start driving, and your sister-in-law hands you a fresh, hot egg burrito that she just made on the little stove in the back.
On a motorcycle trip, you stop frequently for gas. The motorcyle gets 40-plus miles per gallon, but it has a small tank.
On an RV trip, you stop frequently for gas. The RV gets maybe 8 miles per gallon, and it holds a lot of gas.
On a motorcycle trip, you make stops for nature calls.
On an RV trip, you just get up and walk to the back of the bus to the bathroom.
On a motorcycle trip, you become part of the landscape.
On an RV trip, you get to see a lot of landscape.
On a motorcycle trip, you stop every one-and-a-half hours to stretch your legs and look at stuff.
On an RV trip, you walk to the back to stretch your legs.
On a motorcycle trip, you stop and put on your rain suit when raindrops begin to fall and hope it doesn’t get too windy.
On an RV trip, you turn on the windshield wipers when it starts to rain and hope it doesn’t get too windy.
On a motorcycle trip, you try to get off the highway and into a hotel room by 5 p.m. so you can beat the families with kids to the hot tub.
On an RV trip, you try to get off the highway and into an RV park so you can connect your water, sewer and electric lines and maybe take the kids to the pool, if there is one, before dark.
Both are fun ways to travel, but I still prefer the bike, where the wind provides the air conditioning and Mother Nature has charge of climate control.
There are still a lot of great riding days ahead in Minnesota. If you’re looking for a great ride, check out Ride Minnesota, available at most Minnesota Harley dealers, and at Amazon.com.
Ralph and I took our first long ride of the season on Wednesday. We followed MN 47 north to the family cabin near Aitkin. It was a beautiful, picture-perfect Minnesota day, the kind we live for all winter. The sun shone down benevolently from a deep blue sky. The temperature was a motorcycle-friendly 65 degrees when we left Minneapolis in the morning and in the mid-70s when we returned that evening.
One of the things I like about riding a motorcycle is that you become part of the landscape. The corn, which has started to tassel out, seems much closer than it does when you’re riding in a car. You can see lakes and small ponds that aren’t visible from the cab of a truck. As the day heats up, you can smell the water, new-mown hay, the spicy-woody scent of birch trees and the heady aroma of pine.
You see more wildlife, too. As we neared Isle, I spied a deer happily chowing down on some woman’s flowers. I bet she was thrilled. On the way home I counted one deer, three Canadian geese and two herons.
Now that the June monsoon has ended, the weather has been absolutely perfect for hopping on a motorcycle and cruising to no particular destination whatsoever. Whether you travel in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Dakotas, the Midwest offers some really nice rides.
The Fourth of July is a great time to celebrate freedom on a bike. Traffic will be heavier, though, as Minnesota lakeshore property owners make one of their three mandatory trips to the cabin (Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day). Be on the lookout for people who may not be looking out for you. Stay safe, and have a great Independence Day!
The motorcycle season is short in Minnesota. It says so right on the back cover of my book, Ride Minnesota. Now that we’ve left winter behind, we’re in the rainy season when thunderstorms can crop up just in time for rush hour and dampen your ride home from work.
A lot of people ride their motorcycles to work. I temped recently at Thomson Reuters in Eagan and entire sections of the parking lots (there are multiple lots) were designated solely for motorcycles. It’s nice to have a motorcycle-friendly employer. Motorcycling to work not only saves money on gas, it also gets you there sooner, thanks to the diamond lanes on metro freeways.
Still, there’s nothing like riding two-lane blacktop on a sunny day. Discovering what’s just beyond that next curve lends an air of mystery to a ride, whether it’s another set of curves, an uphill climb or a cow grazing peacefully in a nearby pasture.
Today’s gray, rainy weather gives me another chance to work on building my retail network. Here’s a list of places where you can purchase Ride Minnesota. Here’s to sunnier days ahead!
Eat My Words Bookstore, 1228 2nd St. N.E., Minneapolis. MN 55413
Harley-Davidson Shop of Winona, 1845 Mobil Drive, Winona, MN 55987
Indian Motorcycle Twin Cities, 2967 Hudson Rd., St. Paul, MN 55128
Mankato Harley-Davidson, 1200 N. River Drive, Mankato, MN 56001
Northway Sports, 21429 Ulysses St. N.E., East Bethel, MN 55011
Route 65 Classics, 14954 Aberdeen St. N.E., Ham Lake, MN 55304
St. Paul Harley-Davidson, 2899 Hudson Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55128
Trav’s Outfitter, 7315 Hwy. 65 N.E., Fridley, MN 55432
Twin Cities Harley-Davidson-Blaine, 1441 85th Ave. N.E., Blaine, MN 55449
Twin Cities Harley-Davidson-Lakeville, 10770 165th St. W., Lakeville, MN 55044
SubText Books, 165 Western Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55102
Zylstra Harley-Davidson, 19600 Evans St NW, Elk River, MN 55330
Just when you think riding season can really begin, ol’ Mother Nature comes and gives you an unkind gesture once again. Who said it could be 20 degrees and snowing (tomorrow) this late in April? Spring is always an uphill battle in Minnesota. On the upside, the unseasonable cold has given me time to do a little more vacation planning.
I received a package of tourism info from Wisconsin yesterday. There’s a lot of unexplored motorcycle country in our neighbor to the east. And the Badger State is beginning to promote it. (C’mon, Minnesota, get your tourism act together!) In fact, many states are realizing that motorcycle tourism is a good thing.
According to the Rider Friendly Business Association (a Canadian group), there are more than 11 million potential motorcyclist/tourists in the U.S. and Canada, and they spend an average of $3,100 per vacation trip. That’s roughly $34 billion spent in the form of gas, hotels, food, entertainment and stops at tourist attractions. Motorcycle tourists can be big economic stimulators!
Of course, we’ll have to get the non-motorcycling public to change its perception of bikers. A few years ago, Ralph and I stopped in Durango, Colorado, for the night. We pulled into the Holiday Inn, which had a Green Mill restaurant attached to it. I went to the front desk to inquire about the availablility of a room. I was still in my full leathers, my hair cropped super-short to avoid having to deal with helmet hair. The sole was coming off of my old steel-toed work boots and I probably looked pretty travel-worn since leaving Arizona that morning. The young woman at the desk informed me that the hotel was full. “By the way,” she said as I thanked her and turned to leave, “for your future reference, rooms are $150 per night.” As if I couldn’t afford it. I felt as angry and misunderstood as Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.”
We drove down the street to the Travelodge, where the rooms were cheaper and ate at a fantastic Italian restaurant across the street. And had a far better time than we would have at the Green Mill.
“Got your Harley out yet, Karen?” I asked my neighbor yesterday afternoon. She has a beautiful blue Softail. “No. The snow has to be completely gone and all the sand swept up before I ride,” she replied.
Mother Nature put the damper on the start of the motorcycle season here in Minnesota last week. On Thursday, she dumped 8 inches of wet, heavy snow on the Twin Cities and more in rural areas. It’s enough to make you scream. By suppertime yesterday, the temperature had climbed to 62 degrees and there were only a few humps of snow left around the neighborhood — if you don’t count the shady sides of houses and the hard, black-crusted mountains stacked in parking lots, vacant lots and just about anywhere anyone can think of to pile large quantities of unwanted snow.
My neighbor is not alone in her caution. Yet there are motorcyclists out on the streets and highways, dodging potholes and braving sandy intersections because they just. can’t. wait. any. longer. Motorcycle fever has set in. The desire to feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair (or across your helmet) is irresistable, urgent. On weekends, the dealerships are crowded with people checking out new bikes, buying new clothing. Some are even picking up copies of Ride Minnesota.
I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of tourism materials from Wisconsin so Ralph and I can plan some summer rides. In the meantime, our great-niece in California has sent us a Flat Stanley. After reading the book in school, she has sent him to us so that we can bring him along on some adventures. If he’s lucky, Flat Stanley will get to ride on Uncle Ralph’s Victory some time this week.
I am so sick of this long Minnesota winter I could chew roofing nails! It definitely was a lot more fun when I was a kid and played in the snow and didn’t worry about breaking my bones. Ah, but there are signs of spring, despite below-zero temperatures (at the end of February? Ya gotta be kidding me!).
The first sign is a review of Ride Minnesota in the March issue of Thunder Press, a tabloid that reaches some 60-70-80,000 Harley Davidson owners. I can’t wait to see it.
As a result of that review, I received a call from Audrey Johnson, who organized the Motorcycle Life Expo that Ralph and I attended earlier this month (in a snowstorm). She’s got a booth at the upcoming Donnie Smith Motorcycle Show at the St. Paul River Centre, and asked me if I’d like to join her and sell my book at her booth. Would I! I’m already checking my booth supplies. I think I’ll need to order more books.
The third sign is an invitation to do a reading of Ride Minnesota at Eat My Words Bookstore here in “Nordeast” Minneapolis. I’m so excited that Scott and his son, Peter, are hosting this event. It happens at 3:00 p.m. on March 22. The store already has copies of the book on consignment, but I’ll bring more copies.