Thursday, November 1, 2007

12: Just One More Day (Please)

While I am ecstatic about the purchase of the 999, I am also painfully aware of the approaching end to the riding season. I won't have much time to spend with the new motorcycle, so every minute counts. I even find myself jumping on it just to spin around the block, like a little boy with a new bicycle. A bicycle that moves from 0-60 MPH in under 3 seconds.
With the weather slowly deteriorating, I decided to take advantage of a 70 degree day on Wednesday, and burned a personal day at work. The morning turned out to be chilly, about 55 degrees, but the sun was coming and The Weather Channel promised me 71. I dressed for the occasion with a few layers, figuring that I could shed one if I started to sweat. I left a little later in the morning to allow the sun to warm up the world (and me).

This would be the first test of the Ducati since I'd brought it home the week before. The dealer, and the Italians, insist on keeping the RPMs low and the brakes light to break everything in, so I wasn't going out with any delusions of Valentino Rossi - just to see what it would do on the Big Roads. I departed Germantown via Rt. 355 traveling West, giving the tires a chance to scrub a little in the curves and heat up for a higher speed on the highway. This route takes me to Frederick, and Fredericktown Yamaha/Triumph is on this road. Naturally, I stopped in. I stop at almost every motorcycle dealership I pass. It's a great way to spend your spare time. Seeing new models, picking brains, looking for good deals (that's how I found the Ducati for such a relative steal, evidence that my habit pays off). Plus, Fredericktown is just a nice place to be. It's a family-owned shop, and the only Triumph dealer around. I have been there many times, and the staff never questions my tire-kicking and endless questions. They appreciate the British machines that they sell, and any others that show up in the lot.
One of the owners, Kyle, allowed me to interrogate him about the pending arrival of the 2008 Street Triple, the little version of the 1051i Speed Triple that I covet so much.

(Every motorbike I see is going to be my "next" one. But the Triples are very near and dear to me. I must have one, or I might die. Seriously.)

I even got free goodies. Kyle was nice enough to give me a breath-deflector and chin-curtain for my HJC helmet. Good for cold days, and I was lacking. These are the kinds of things that bring me back and assure that when I do get a new Triumph, it will be from these guys. A huge contrast to the big 5-company stealerships staffed by glossy-eyed kids who'd rather yack on the phone than sell bikes, and really have no answers to questions of a technical nature. "Here's a brochure... it might be in there". Tragic.

New nose-thingy installed, I left Frederick via Rt 15 North. This would take me to Pennsylvania, and being a Wednesday, everyone was flipping burgers, shuffling papers, typing, wrenching, and brain-surger-ing. Everyone except me. I was ripping North on a wide-open 4 lane highway, looking at the Autumn-orange foothills of Appalachia en route to one of my favorite places: Gettysburg. I was J.E.B. Stuart riding ahead of Lee, attempting again to circle Meade's Army of the Potomac. But before my glorious arrival into battle, I had to get some lunch.

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I stopped at The Shamrock Restaurant in Thurmont. I had seen the little roadside place a hundred times, marked in each direction on Rt. 15 by billboards depicting giant Guinnesses. Thirsty. Inside, the Shamrock was surprisingly crowded with he only people other than me that weren't working today - the Elderly. Lots of them, too. I sat myself in the relatively empty bar to avoid puzzled, bifocaled stares. After my Guinness came (not nearly as big as the one on the billboard, merely a pint), I looked around and noticed that the Irishness of The Shamrock was overshadowed by it's rural Maryland influence. Paneling on the walls instead of traditional dark Irish wood, no brass to be found. The Guinness was a bit too cold and slightly fizzy - not the work of a bartender that knew what she was doing, but drinkable. I ordered a cheeseburger as usual, and planned the rest of my day.

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My burger was a 6 out of 10. Greasier than I would expect from a place like this, but cooked right and big enough for the price. ($6.75) I would return here for food, but I will explore other options in the area for later rides. (PS: Green lights do not an Irish bar make...)

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Done with lunch (and an extra pint for the road), I continued North to Gettysburg. My ride across the Mason-Dixon line was and absolute thrill. Even holding the Ducati back to under 6000 RPM - with the occasional diversion- was simply amazing. I have owned numerous sportbikes in my life, but none of them were anything like this Italian machine. At 90MPH, the bike was as smooth as it is when it's standing still in my garage, and begging me to open the throttle. The control in the corners and turns is unlike any motorcycle I have ridden. It just "Knows". It almost steers itself. 100MPH comes so quickly and effortlessly that you hardly recognize your own speed. GSXRs and CBRs may have a little more scream and bat-shit top-end in their cammy in-line fours, but I can live without the extra few horsepower in trade for the glassy slickness and stability. It was even comfortable!

(However, I've been riding the DRZ and a Triumph chopper previously. By comparison, the Ducati seat was like a vibrating massage chair. The wrists and back on the other hand - I had forgotten about the aggressive sportbike stance until now. This old boy needs to get back in the gym and build a little stamina).

Route 15 takes one directly through the main body of the Gettysburg battlefield, between the lines of the Union and Confederate armies. Looking left, you see the treeline where the South had lined their divisions.

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Looking right, the Copse of Trees and The Angle, where Union lines and batteries stood their ground against Picketts ill-fated charge.

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Pass by Little Round Top -Joshua Chamberlains miracle bayonet charge that changed the direction of the battle. Pass through The Peach Orchard, The Wheatfield, Cemetery Hill - all places that demand capitalization due to their individual importance to history and the future of The Nation. I love this place, and find myself keeping very quiet when I'm here. Some places should not be disturbed. I choose not to take or post photos of the Kentucky Fried Chicken built not a quarter-mile from where I was standing, because it pains me to look at.

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Leaving the field and riding back South, I wanted to get back into Frederick before rush-hour on Route 15, and stop by my friend Tony's house. He hadn't seen the new machine yet, and I knew he wanted to. Back down the highway (still wide open save an occasional semi-truck), I pushed the Ducati a little harder, finding where the speeds vs. gears feels the best. One could reach 100 in first gear, so one must maintain some degree of discipline. At a faster clip, I found the differences between my cheap HJC globe-shaped helmet and the better-engineered models by Arai and Shoei, et al. The helmet was just dying to lift straight up off of my head, something I hadn't noticed while riding the Supermoto. (Then again the Suzuki hasn't seen, nor will never see 110MPH. Even an attempt at such speeds would surely burst it into flames.). I will have to consider a better helmet after the HJC has lived it's life. Head turbulence aside, the ride back was even better than the ride up.

I arrived at Tony's (after a short Starbucks stop to stretch my lumbar region) as he was arriving home from work. I had to giggle at how much his bright red Honda shirt matched the Ducati. One could easily see the conflict of interest as he sat on it and took it around the block. No matter how loyal one is to their company and it's machines, you just can't deny the wickedness of the 999 - and Tony's Arai helmet went much better with it.

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Time to go home, I was able to test out the headlight function on I-270, which was more than adequate and worked great (unlike the mirrors on this bike. They seem to be there only to hold up the turn signals and give you a good view of your elbows. Can't see a damned thing behind you). I even got to play with the very European "passing trigger" on the left control - kind of like a laser gun to shoot slowpokes in the fast lane. I got home from Frederick in 15 minutes, which was nice because I was beginning to get cold now since the sun had disappeared behind the hills. I arrived home tired and very happy. A good 150 miles on the odometer, I felt that the Ducati was pleased, too.

I will be anxiously waiting for another chance to get this bike on the road -watching The Weather Channel, staring out the window, sniffing the air, and wiping bugs off of the beautiful red fairing until it comes.