Matt Blackham Blogs
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Mile 132.7 - 189
This past weekend was the Klim Cow Tag Race in the hills above my home. This is an annual event that has been held for the last three years to raise money to protect trail riding in Idaho, and in which I have never participated. This year I thought maybe I would give it a go to show off my new XTR 250, and maybe raise some awareness about PitsterPro being a competitive bike at a great price. So, I asked a trusted friend what his take was on it and he said "sounds great dude, but what are you going to do to stand out," to which I had no reply. A few days later my wife showed up with a vintage Stars and Stripes helmet which gave me a stroke of genius — and this is what I came up with.
Picture of me in the suit
I would dress up like Evel Knievel, and put the words "Powered by PitsterPro and Outlaw Motors" on the cape. Little did I realize I didn't need a costume to stand out. Being on an air-cooled Chinese bike amongst 200 other top-of-the line European crossovers was shock factor enough. I got a lot of funny looks, had some good conversations, and made some friends along the way. Needless to say I will probably do it next year costume and all.
Most people who know me well would probably say I'm a pretty reserved person who doesn't like to draw attention to himself, but if you get me on a bike it might surprise you what I will do. When I was 17 years old my best friend scraped up an old jeep Cherokee that only ran on 5-8 cylinders depending on the rpm range you happened to be in at the time. One day while tinkering on the old jeep we ran out of gas and had no alternative way to get to town for more except on an old Honda Saber road bike. The coveralls I would wear while tinkering were an old retired orange jump suit from the county jail with these words still printed legibly on the back, "Property of Jefferson County Corrections." Without thinking twice we grabbed a five-gallon can and headed into town on the back of the old Saber. Once at the gas station we realized it wasn't the gas can I was holding out at arms length into oncoming traffic that was getting us the funny looks, but rather the escaped convict that had hitched a ride into town.
There is something about being on the back of a motorcycle where you feel like you can be yourself, and not care what others think. You can evaluate your life uninterrupted by cell phones, co-workers, or other distractions. It's just you and your thoughts. An acquaintance of my father-in-law demonstrated that he understood this principle (maybe too well and at the risk of his own life), when one day he stopped his bike to chat with us as we worked along the side of the road one evening. He commenced telling us of the long trips he and his wife had made the past summer and how much fun they had had touring North America. My father-in-law asked a logical question "How did you and your wife communicate? Did you have an intercom system?" He looked around to see if anyone else was looking or listening and said, "Why the hell would I want that? If she needs something she will just squeeze my arm." It would be interesting to hear his wife's perspective on that, but to protect his life, I will let that question go in answered.
As I peeled out of the parking lot no one knew me as Matt, or the PitsterPro dealer, or the guy on the Chinese bike, but by the end of the race almost everybody had gotten a glimpse of Evel Knievel. I never heard what they really thought, but it took me out of my comfort zone and it brought me to conversations I wouldn't have ordinarily had, and I felt good knowing I was different, not just another guy on an orange bike with black gear.
I rode some trails that race officials had labeled double black diamond and the bike handled really well. I got help going over one large root after I helped the three people in front of me and I got help after I picked a bad line on a deep creek crossing and ended up in knee deep water stuck between two boulders. Later on one of the trails, I towed a kid about a mile so he could bump start his bike after he sheared off the kick start and dumped it over in the creek. I rode about 40 miles on single track and the rest was split between atv trails and a gravel road along the river. The chain is still stretching and needed adjusting about mid day but I didn't have the tools so I just kept going. I bent the brake lever in a tip over, and I depleted the battery with all the starting and stopping, but that was all the damage the bike sustained during seven-and-a-half hours of grueling riding. The bike held pace really well I only got passed once by four guys, but that was because I was stuck in the creek.
I was afraid I would run out of fuel so I took an old Gatorade bottle full just in case. I poured it in mid day but I did it more out of duty than necessity, as I probably would have been fine without it, but better safe than sorry.
I did not get any really good video because with all the rain we've had this year the trails are overgrown and a branch right at the beginning knocked the camera out of alignment, so I have six hours of video of the bushes along the trail and two hours of decent footage. Here are the highlights.
I am loving this bike on the single track, and I'm even learning how to wheelie over the obstacles. I softened the rear suspension and let a little air out of the rear tire and the bike’s response in the corners, and the riding comfort improved. I have now wheelied it over, crashed once, and tipped over at least a dozen times, and it just keeps going and going. I thought for sure I would have broken the levers off at the perch or had the blinkers ripped off by now, but everything continues to be fully functional. It's a great trail bike at a great price. My only complaints stay the same — I still want to trade out the chain for an o ring and put 2-3 inch risers on the bars, but in an effort to give it a good test, I will continue to ride it stock so no one can say I tampered with the test.
Mile 82- 132.7
After a few hours of farting around with all the wrong ideas, we got the old girl reassembled. The plastic welder epoxy didn't work as planned, so I Frankenstein stitched the broken plastic back together with tie wire. I figured tie wire holding the headlight in place was going a little too far down redneck road, so I went with Plan B. I fastened the upper side of the headlight by drilling a small hole in the plastic and running a small bolt through the plastic and the headlight bracket on the back side, holding it with jamb nuts. My soldering skills also turned out to be substandard, but with the back of the bulb blown apart and the wires exposed to each other, there wasn't much hope for that from the beginning, but I tried valiantly anyway. In the end after blowing two main fuses the only solution was to fork out the big bucks and buy a new bulb. The warehouse in Utah said they had one in stock they could send me, but before I placed the order, I found an acceptable replacement in town at the local automotive store, higher wattage but the same volts. I believe it should do the trick. The total damages for five new fuses and headlight was $15, which seemed reasonable to me. So, it would seem parts are easy to come by, but time will tell if that is really true. The only other casualty on the repair trail was I stripped out one of the bolts that holds one side of the seat in place, cha-ching, an additional $1.50 in stupid tax and we are on our way.
Pictures of repairs
In Lonesome Dove, Augustus McRae, of the Hat Creek Cattle Company proudly displayed on his sign a short phrase of garbled Latin which reads "uva uvam vivendo varía fit," Which means nothing according to the Wittliff collections, but they go on to state that it is probably a spin off of a Latin proverb which means a grape changes color or ripens when it is with other ripe grapes. This past week I got to ride with a couple of men that I've looked up to for a long time. I worked for them for a little while when I was younger and they taught me useful trades, they are also great husbands, fathers, and excellent businessmen who treat others the way they would want to be treated. Hopefully some of those attributes rub off on me and help me to ripen.
The miles covered in this section were ridden in two trips, the first with my father-in-law Tom and the second with a former employer Gary. With Tom we stuck to the gravel and dirt logging roads, and with Gary we did some technical single track riding. As I rode this past week with both these men I spent sometime evaluating why I have set such a lofty goal. In the past I've never really paid much attention to the miles I've ridden because none of my previous bikes had an odometer, therefore all I knew was I rode this week or I didn't. This was a pretty vague measurement of forward progress, but now with the miles clicking right before my eyes, I have felt a little rush of anxiety that the miles aren't accumulating fast enough. As a result, this question has come up, do I spend the time that I have to ride bombing down the dirt roads just to knock 150 miles out each trip, or do I enjoy the adventure and let the miles slowly accumulate as I ride the trails I want to ride and see the sights I want to see? This is the conclusion I came to: the goal was set because I love to ride and it's a break from my hectic summer lifestyle, so it shouldn't really matter how many miles I've traveled, they are only a tangible measure of the time spent on the trail. Don't get me wrong I'm not throwing my goal out the window, but I am going to cover up the odometer with electrical tape so I can't lose the real focus of why I'm riding. I'm going to enjoy the ride and not preoccupy myself with the fast or slow clicking of the miles.
So I finally got around to letting some air out of the front tire and it made a world of difference especially on the rocky portions of the trail. I have a lot more control of the front end because the tire folds around the rocks and roots instead of uncontrollably bouncing over them.
After almost 150 miles I am learning how to better ride this bike. It lugs really low, and second gear around 4000 rpm seems to be the place to be most of the time even on the single track. If that's too fast, first gear is great as well. I just have to remind myself that first gear in the higher revolutions gets too much tire spin and results in momentum loss. Additionally, I've found that even without a recluse, you can almost come to a complete stop while keeping the clutch engaged, and, as long as you feather the gas it won't stall. This comes in really handy on the single track.
2 videos of single track.
Once out on the road I opened her wide and at 8000 rpm I can touch 60 mph, which is plenty fast for the type of riding I do. If you wanted to step it up a bit for commuting to work or riding the desert, I'm sure you could change out the sprockets and get another 10-15 mph out of her without hurting your low end power too much. I have not tried it, but from the research I've done that would be my assumption.
Video of riding on the road
During the process of seat removal to replace the blown fuse, I loosened a bolt that holds the rear cargo rack in place, thinking it had to be removed. About midstream I realized it didn't so I left it loose thinking I would tighten it with the rest when I was finished. Well, I didn't, and it rattled out somewhere on the trail, so my Chinese bike lived up to the reputation of loosing bolts. Although this lost bolt was due to my own stupidity and not the Chinese design. Also, on the second ride with Gary, the slick pipe on a poorly maintained cattle guard at the top of a steep climb got the best of me and over I went. When the dust settled, the mountain had claimed half of my clutch lever, luckily leaving me with enough of the lever enough to continue the ride. Both the brake lever and clutch levers are notched at the mid point, so hopefully upon impact they break there and not at the perch, which is a nice feature.
Picture of levers
Overall I'm loving this bike. Yes, it doesn't quite have the thump of a 450, but it has carried me up everything I've ever climbed in the past without a hitch. So far, I would say it is an excellent bang for the buck if you are looking for a great trail bike!
Mile 44.2 - 82
Well, bad news team, turn the days without incident clock back to zero! In the thirteen-ish years I've been riding I could say I have only "crashed" once, until yesterday. Sure, I've tipped over a zillion times, but yesterday takes the prize. I'll let the video speak for itself, but here is the Reader’s Digest version. It hadn't rained at home, but fifteen miles away at the trailhead, it must have dumped. The trail was wet, muddy, and slicker than snail snot. This bike cruises the rolling hill trails really well in 2nd and 3rd gear, 15-25 miles per hour, without lugging the engine. I found that there is also an abundance of torque, that if not controlled in the right conditions will loop you out right on your head. I'm ordinarily one to try to ride a mistake out, even if I end up off the trail a little ways, but not yesterday.
Yesterday, I let the motorcycle-sized rock on the side of the trail use love and logic[b] method of parenting on me, and the choices were not good. Choice A, right the bike and center punch it, then fly over the handlebars down the hill fifty feet. Choice B lay the bike down and center punch it, fly over the handlebars and up the slightly inclining trail ten feet into some fist-sized rocks and maybe if I was lucky I'd miss a big tree. I was hoping for a Choice C that didn't include a center punch with resulting human caber toss, but none came so I took my chances on B and luckily escaped with a bruised side, some broken plastic, and twisted metal. As a result of the impact,I damaged the headlight, number plate plastic, and punched a hole in the front fender. Amazingly enough everything, even the blinkers worked, except the headlight, so up the trail we continued.
The end of this trail spits you out on a gravel road, which we rode to the end and up a single track trail about a mile just to see how low the snow line was. First gear on the single track was great, and I rapped it out a little more than I had before and got enough speed so I didn't feel so wobbly while maintaining plenty of torque to crawl over the obstacles. We then returned the way we had come. Once out on the gravel road I opened up the throttle a little, and in 5th gear at 5000 rpm I could clip along at 44 mph. If you pushed it I would bet you would top out at about 55 mph,(that will be a test for another day, when there isn't bad juju floating around).
Once back at the truck I thought I could fish around behind the broken number plate and fix the headlight, but in my hurry to fix the headlight, I shorted out the system and blew the main fuse. While standing there cursing my bad luck, we hear a guy on a 450 hauling up the gravel road to the parking lot, but before he can race into the parking lot, he realizes the hard way, like myself, that in order to ride a motorcycle the rubber side must stay down. He skidded on his backside almost into the parking lot, burning the butt right out of his 501s. Talk about a walk of shame! — Waddling into the parking lot pushing his bike with a busted clutch perch and a full moon hanging out of his once blue jeans. I thought to myself, "Well, things can always be worse!"
You should never say stuff like that, you will only find out a short time later that you were absolutely right. When I got home I decided to unload the bike by myself,which I've done a million times without incident, but this time not so. I'll spare you the gory details and the profanity which ensued, but somehow I ended up with the bike tipped over, me on the ground on my side and the handlebars threaded through the front pocket of my hoodie pinning me to the ground. Good thing it was dark because I had to half undress to get myself unsnarled from the mess.
Upon further review this morning the repair plan is as follows: new fuse, solder and fix the headlight connector, weld the plastic back, and bend the blinker mount back into place and Bob’s your uncle, good as new. As a side note, with the fuse fried you can still kick start the bike and the gauges work once fired. The kick start is an interesting design, you must lift the foot peg up which automatically locks into place so the starter lever can pass by it. I was skeptical as to how well it would work but it fired up second kick. It is a great emergency feature but its design makes the electric start system look even better.
Video of crash
Picture of damage
Picture of kick start lever
I did take the time to soften the shocks, and it made a world of difference, but I think I'm going to deflate the front tire down to 3 lbs and see if that will improve the control even more. The chain is done stretching, I think — at least it hasn't started talking to me again. I think an aftermarket o-ring chain would be something to consider. I was excited to test out the headlight a little but for oblivious reasons couldn't, so that will be a test for a later date. I was very impressed with the way the bike handled on the short distance of single track we traveled. I'm excited to put some serious single track miles behind us and see just how this bike handles on the most complicated trails.
Body of Blog:
As you may have guessed by now, by reading previous posts, I am not an English professor. I am what most people would consider an uneducated college dropout, who for the past few years has muddled around working for himself in various business ventures. Some have been monetarily successful, and others have offered an abundance of autonomy. In my opinion, the latter, would be considered more valuable. It has been said[c] that "time" is the only commodity that cannot be artificially duplicated, and therefore makes it the most valuable. The word uneducated is often used very loosely, meaning someone who doesn't have a college degree. Even though I never finished college, I would not call myself uneducated at all. I would say I am unschooled, or self educated. Self educated actually sounds conceited, so I will give credit where credit is due and call it environmentally educated. The philosophies that make me who I am weren't contrived by me, they were pirated from others more intelligent than I. Lord Coward said to Sherlock Holmes[d] "how terrible is wisdom, when it brings no profit the wise." My only claim to anything I've learned is that I have committed it to memory and tried to live by it. That being said, I've never received higher than a B+ on any paper I have ever written for an English class, therefore, if you want perfect grammar and punctuation, read the World Book encyclopedia, you'll be much more satisfied.
While reading my "about page" you probably thought to yourself, this dude was a grandpa in dirt bike years, before he even learned to ride, what on earth can be learned from him? There is no way he is a professional! This is all true, I didn't learn to ride until I was about twenty-one years old, and I'm definitely not a professional. What I do have is a love of riding that I am trying to share with my young family and others. Don't discount what could be a contribution to your education and experience, because of first impressions and your own preconceived notions.
For example, I once worked as a drywall contractor for a middle aged man who I thought didn't have two nickels to rub together, but as I went about trying to get to know him, I learned how he got to where he was and I learned some fascinating things. To my amazement this man,in his dilapidated truck and thrift store clothes was a real-life millionaire next door. He was in his early fifties and owned 80 rental units with only 10% having small mortgages. I learned more about business, money, and time management in 30 minutes talking to him than I could have learned in a semester at college, and it didn't cost me a dime, just a half hour of my time. The moral of the story to me, and it may be different for you, is that free advice is sometimes a "you get what you pay for" kind of deal, but other times you hit the jackpot and can learn a lifetime's worth of lessons in whatever short amount of time the giver allows. You may not get everything you are looking for from somebody but you can get something you are looking for from everybody.
A wise friend of mine once said when I first started riding the old XR250 that "if you aren't crashing you aren't getting any better, now go for shit!" Sometimes that's exactly what I got, but that's what has made me the rider I am today. I may not be able to show you how technical of a trail these bikes can handle because of the level at which I ride, but you will be able to see how much abuse the levers and blinkers can take being smashed on the rocks time and time again.
Enjoy the commentary and the footage, but don't judge the bikes by my incompetent riding or my lack of eloquent writing. Judge them on their ability to be bashed off the rocks, bounced through the bushes and road like a rented mule through the tough back country of the western states.
Video of me tipping it over
So for the first unofficial trail ride, the bike handled really well. It has plenty of ground clearance to step over the rocks and roots, and plenty of torque in the first three gears to move comfortably over the groomed, as well as the technical, sections of the trail. Since my last bike was a 450 with a recluse clutch[e], my tendency was to want to ride in an imaginary gear between first and second, and my clutching skills have also deteriorated. I hope as I get more time on this bike I will become reacquainted with the clutch and accustomed to how it pulls to be able to ride this bike to its full potential.[f]
Mile 17.4- 33.7
Body of Blog:
I've noticed in Idaho, as I ride, that each trail is unique — no two are alike, which to me is a lot like people. Sure some could say that twins look alike and to the casual eye are the same, but I'm betting such a person has never raised a set of twins. Not that I'm an expert or anything on the subject, but we do have identical twin daughters. They look the same but don't be fooled they are complete opposites! This polarization of personal preferences and personality has been the cause of more than one altercation in the ten years they have been part of our family. These fights are often a good reminder that if we were all the same, or perfect, and we didn't have to work to improve,what would be the point of getting out of bed each day? It's the struggle to make ourselves and our lives what we have envisioned for ourselves that makes life worth living! Just like the loose rocks, roots, and ruts make riding an enjoyable challenge.
“The tree that never had to fight
[g][h]For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.
The man who never had to toil to live,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.
“Good timber does not grow at ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees.
The further sky, the greater length,
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, in rain and snow,
in trees and men good timbers grow.
Where thickest lies the forest growth
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold council with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.”
With this poem at the back of my mind, this trip I tried something new. I climbed a section of trail that I've never attempted to ride up before(I've ridden down countless times). New bike, new trail, what the hell, and up we went. The bike handled really well, I on the other hand didn't. I tipped over on the way down, and stalled out a handful of times on the way up. I know, how embarrassing! But the rear fender is still attached and the blinkers all accounted for.
Video of tipping over and of climbing rocky section
So for the first real ride the bike handled good[i]. My only complaints, would be the same I would have with any stock bike, the handlebars need risers and the chain continues to stretch. So after 17 more miles it needs to be adjusted again. I noticed as I bounced over the rocks that instead of absorbing the impact, the front tire would try to wash out, so I think I'll soften the front suspension just a little and I hope that will fix the problem. One feature I hadn't planned on ever using, but works great, is the horn. Cows on the trail were no match for its powerful blast.
Video of horn honking
I wouldn't buy this bike just for the horn but when riding in open range country it's an added bonus. Cows are stubborn creatures and sometimes won't leave the trail without a little coaxing, John Wayne said it best in The Cowboys,[j][k] "You got to figure you're dealing with the dumbest oneriest critter on God's green earth. The cow is nothing but trouble tied up in a leather bag — and the horse ain't much better."
This sums up almost perfectly why I ride dirt cycles and not horses.
Picture of Krista and I
For the last two weeks my wife and I have been trying to go on a ride for our weekly date. The first attempt got derailed by projectile vomit coming from everyone at our house at ten-minute intervals for a twenty-four hour period. I think Bill Engvall was onto something when he suggested a baby puke alarm clock. So last Saturday we were determined to go, but the only problem was it was 36 degrees and trying to snow, but with my wife's coaxing we went anyway. The plan was to ride from Roberts to Hamer across the desert, along the wetland, to sand hole station[l] for lunch — then back. We made it half way and were almost frozen so we enacted plan B and rode back to the car then drove to the old Watson’s bar in Menan that has been converted into a restaurant. I had a burger and my wife had a salad. I'm not a food critic, and for good reason, probably because price plays too heavily into the equation for me. My philosophy is what's the best I can get for less than $10 per person. Therefore when the price exceeds $10 I have a hard time focusing on the flavor and quality of the food because one of the parameters is already out of whack, but that being said I would eat there again.
Sorry I got side tracked by vomit and food, now back to the focus, the bike. Not much to report, because in my mad dash to leave I didn't adjust the shocks or tighten the chain. Although I did notice that both bikes started and ran exceptionally well considering the near freezing temperatures. Other bikes I've owned in the past[m] haven't been so cold-weather friendly, rather, they have been more of the cold blooded variety.