Posts Tagged With: Motor Home

Lake Elsinore – RV Trip #3

Lake Park RV Resort - Lake Elsinore, CA

Lake Park RV Resort – Lake Elsinore, CA

I’m sitting on the couch in Redondo Beach, tired but happy. Laura and I just got through our third RV trip. This was another learning and shakedown trip. It was our longest to date – four days. I wish it could have been longer.

We tried out a couple of new facets of the RV lifestyle.

First, we decided to take our cat with us, as I mentioned in the last article. The Cat’s First Camping Trip

And second, we tried out our new membership in Passport America to get our nightly cost down to something a little more affordable.

This was not a “destination” trip, meaning that we didn’t go to a place that had lots of great sights and activities. We went instead to a Passport America park that had reasonable rates and was not unbearably hot in June.

The place we chose was Lake Park RV Resort and Lodge, which was one of two places that Passport America had listed on Lake Elsinore. We got two of our four nights for half price. The entire four nights cost just $105.

Lake Elsinore

Lake Elsinore

 

About the Lake

Lake Elsinore is in the Inland Empire, close to Temecula. It is the largest natural lake in Southern California. What does “natural” mean? Not man made. We didn’t build a dam and let water back up here. Lake Elsinore is in a natural basin. Water flows in from the San Jacinto River. Some work has been done over the years to keep the level of the lake stable via an outflow mechanism, but it basically remains a natural lake today.

My only prior experience at this lake was as a child, on an early boating trip with my family. I remember two things about this trip. Yards and yards of mud along the shore, and a mishap at the launching ramp that could have been a disaster. I don’t know what caused all the mud to be there, and there was no mud on this trip. The launching ramp incident was scary. My Mom was backing the boat down the launching ramp when the brakes in our ’64 Chrysler Newport gave out. The emergency brake was the only thing that stopped our car from rolling all the way into the water.

Old days of family boating. Not sure if this is Lake Elsinore or Lake San Antonio

Old days of family boating. Not sure if this is Lake Elsinore or Lake San Antonio

I remember reading about Lake Elsinore as a Jr High kid, mainly because of the famous dirt bike race that was held there from the mid 60s to the mid 70s. This race drew famous participants like Steve McQueen and Malcolm Smith. Honda named it’s first line of competition dirt bikes after this race….The CR250M Elsinore. In the mid-70s, violent outlaw bikers stared showing up to this event, causing so many problems that the City of Lake Elsinore had no choice but to shut it down. The event was brought back in 1996 and continues today, on a provisional basis.

Steve McQueen racing in the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix

About the RV Park

The campground turned out to be nice, but I would not call it a “Resort”. It’s a pretty large facility, and it does have some nice features.

There were the usual full hookup facilities for RVs on wide gravel spaces, with a mixture of 50 amp and 30 amp outlets that appeared to be randomly placed. There was sewer, water, and cable TV. Note long term “full timer” stuff next to us….storage lockers/sheds.

Hookups

Hookups

The Olympic sized swimming pool was nice. We used it a couple of times.

Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool

There are BBQ facilities by the pool with a large gazebo and tables. With all of the trees, it was fairly cool in here even during the heat of the day.

Gazebo and BBQ facilities by the pool.

Gazebo and BBQ facilities by the pool.

Two gazebos are next to the lake with tables and BBQs. This is a charming feature, but I didn’t see anybody using them. There was work being done in this area….note the bulldozer. They are spreading gravel on a large flat area towards the rear of this photo. Apparently this new area will be for RVs, but with no hookups.

Gazebo

Gazebo

There is a large grassy area across the road from the Pool, with rental “cabins” to the right.

Large grassy area. Cabins are off to right of picture.

Large grassy area. Cabins are off to right of picture. Note businesses across the Hwy. One is a Mini Mart.

Our dog enjoyed the grassy area.

Izzy on the grass, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells.

Izzy on the grass, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells.

The best spaces in the park overlook the lake, but all of those spaces contain park model trailers. Park models appear to be short single wide mobile homes. You can see one of them in the background of this shot.

Park Models can be seen facing Gazebos by the lake shore

Park Models can be seen facing Gazebos by the lake shore

It’s between 300 and 400 yards of walking to get from the regular RV area we were in to the lakeside.

There is no sandy beach……it’s basically dried dirt with rocks. Branches stick out of the water.

No beach....dried mud with bushes sticking out of the water. Wouldn't swim here.

No beach….dried mud with bushes sticking out of the water. Wouldn’t swim here.

Next to the Lake Park is a launching ramp and parking lot belonging to another facility. It was busy on Sunday but deserted during the week days.

Launching ramp next door

Launching ramp next door

This facility has many full time residents. I saw a lot of Class A motor homes and 5th Wheel trailers that didn’t look like they had been moved for many months. There was a bus conversion next to us, which had flat rear tires and bricks around the edges.

There are three main “streets” that have RV spaces on either side. Here is a typical view. There were quite a few open spaces available.

Looking down one of the streets. Many long term guests here.

Looking down one of the streets. Many long term guests here. At the end of the road you can see the “Motel” rooms.

I would say there were 30-40 RVs at the park while we were there, but only about 10 of these appeared to be short term guests.

The spaces here are very good sized, with ample room to park a TOAD, leaving plenty of outside space to sit with a group of people. No fires are allowed in the spaces, though.

Large space

Large space – the tree marks the back of the space. I’m shooting the picture from an empty space that opens onto one of the other three streets.

The lake itself was larger than I expected. The water is like I remembered it from my earlier trip….brownish green. It looks a little muddy. I had planned to so some fishing, but never got around to it.

Another view of the lake. It's pretty large. Lots of room for boating

Another view of the lake. It’s pretty large. Lots of room for boating

Free wireless internet was available, and worked well most of the time. There were a couple of short periods where we couldn’t connect, but speed was good enough to upload pictures for the last article on this blog.

The people here are friendly. Almost everybody waves to you as they walk by, and we had a couple of short conversations with fellow dog walkers (dogs are such a great ice breaker).

This was the first trip where the coach was situated at the right angle to use the awning. This provided shade in the middle of the day….mid morning to early afternoon. From about 3:00 to about 5:00 the shade goes away, and the sun is too hot to be outside. After 5:00 it got really nice, because one of the many trees in the park shaded most of the passenger side of our coach. This was perfect….sitting outside in the gentle breeze, having some beer and listening to music. Very relaxing.

It's Post Time!

It’s Post Time!

The experiment with our cat Milhouse was a success. He was nervous at first, but by the end of the second day, he was into the swing of things. He liked sitting in the bedroom, on the little counter that has a window, watching the world go by. We will take him on our future trips.

Milhouse by the bedroom window

Milhouse by the bedroom window

We put the cat box in the shower, with a white plastic trash bag under it to insure no litter gets into the grey tank. It worked out really well, but you have to keep it scooped out all the time! The quarters are too close for a smelly cat box.

Cat box. These high sided boxes work really well.

Cat box. These high sided boxes work really well.

Laura and I spent a lot of time on writing projects during this trip, as we have on our other trips. I spent much of my time editing the first draft of a novel. Laura was working on writing exercises and blog posts. This is one of the things I like best about RVing so far. Being able to write in various locations is very appealing to me, and has been working out well so far.

Overall, I’m pleased with this trip, and would visit this RV Park again. It had a nice laid-back vibe. There wasn’t any loud partying going on, and the people were nice. Facilities were good. There are a couple of mini-markets and an ice cream place that are walking distance from the park, but they are across Hwy 74 (the Ortega Hwy), so you have to be careful crossing. There is a Jack in the Box next to the park that doesn’t require crossing the Hwy, which is nice.

Our coach is now at the dealer’s service department. We are getting the damage repaired that happened during the recent break-ins at our storage facility. We are also getting a couple of warranty fixes done. Our black tank drain valve is leaking a little bit, and the housing for our water filter is stuck so tight that I can’t get it off. So Curious George will be laid up for a couple of weeks.

Can’t wait to get her back, and go on another adventure!

Categories: Life on the Road | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dockweiler State Beach…..RV Trip #2

 

Dockweiler from the sand.

Dockweiler from the sand.

Our second trip is over, and I’m sitting here in my condo only about 7 miles away from the Dockweiler RV Park, wishing it was still going.

To get back into it, I would have to drive 66 miles inland to pick up our coach from the storage yard, and then drive about 70 miles in the coach to get back to Dockweiler. Compared to a 300 mile driving day, it’s not too bad, but it’s still more than a hop, skip, and jump. Guess I’ll just have to stay home for now.

Dockweiler has some features that are hard to love.

It’s very close to LAX, and depending on wind patterns and the time of day, you might have noisy jets taking off right over your heads every few minutes. It can get loud enough to stop conversation.

You can just see the jet taking off from LAX in the upper left hand corner of the picture

You can just see the jet taking off from LAX – middle left.

 

Across the road, and visible from the RV Park, is Hyperion – LA’s oldest and largest sewage treatment plant.

Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant

Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant

 

Off shore, oil tankers tie up and connect to pipes that take crude oil into the Standard Oil Refinery, which is a mile or so south.

Tanker sitting offshore, off loading crude to the Standard Oil Refinery

Tanker sitting offshore, off loading crude to the Standard Oil Refinery

Cost is high – $65 per night for the row closest to the sand, $60 per night for the middle row, and $55 per night for the back row.

The park isn’t lushly landscaped and attractive, either. At first glance, the park just looks like a parking lot with hookups. It is long and skinny, with three rows of spaces. It’s not a tiny park….there are 118 spaces.

 

You can see the three rows of spaces here. It goes pretty far back....118 spaces.

You can see the three rows of spaces here. It goes pretty far back….118 spaces.

This is a very popular park, especially in the summer. It fills up fast. Reservations are required. Why is that, with all of the problems?

Most of the bad features don’t actually impact you much. There is a breeze that normally blows from the ocean onto the shore. This usually insures that the smells from Hyperion, LAX, and Standard Oil don’t hang around in the RV park. The smells generally blow inland. You get nice clean ocean air.

The airplane noise can be bad, but it comes and goes, and after a while I don’t notice it very much. Laura doesn’t agree with me on this…..she thinks the noise is a really big problem.

The best part about this location is the bike path. Its about five steps from the first row of spaces at the park, separated by a low fence with openings about every 15 feet or so. This bike path is the famous “Strand”, which runs through Torrance Beach, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Porto, Playa Del Rey, Venice Beach, and Santa Monica Beach. The food, drink, and entertainment selection along the Strand is ENORMOUS. World class. Almost everybody I saw at this campground had bikes in order to take advantage of this.

The Strand. You can just see a bike entering the frame on the right.

The Strand. You can just see a bike entering the frame on the right.

The beach next to the RV Park is very nice also. If you like to body surf, it’s a very nice location. It’s also a good place to fish. There never seems to be many local surfers there. The location of the RV Park helps with that. Dockweiler is a very large beach. To the north of the guard shack is day parking ($6), and the “day use” part of the beach. That is where day visitors and surfers are. To the south of the guard shack is the RV park, but there is quite a bit of open ground between the day area and the RV area. Too far to lug surfboards and other beach equipment. The beach by the RV park isn’t legally restricted to RV’ers, but the topography keeps day users on the north side of the beach.

A nearly empty beach in SoCal...rare even in April.

A nearly empty beach in SoCal…rare even in April.

The first trip that we took in the new Georgetown 328 was a shakedown, at an RV Park that was only about 4 miles from the dealership and the storage yard. It was a great trip, but there was very little driving involved. This time we had more of a drive…about 70 miles one way. The driving was almost all freeway driving….you go about a mile from the storage yard to get to I-10. Then it’s over to the 605 freeway, and finally the 105 freeway. The 105 turns into Imperial Hwy. That road literally ends at the guard shack for Dockweiler State Beach, about a mile or two after the 105 ends.

Guard shack up on the hill, on the left side of photo. Note Strand cruiser.

Guard shack up on the hill, on the left side of photo. Note Strand cruiser – if this were mid May or later, you would probably see at least 5 bikes in this shot

Our adventure started on a Thursday. Before we left the storage lot, I wanted to check and adjust the tire pressure. The sticker in the coach says that the tires should be set at 92 PSI. I checked the front tires and the rear inside tires. They were all set at 80 PSI. The rear wheels have wheel covers on them; those make it impossible to check the pressure on the outside rear tires. You have to remove the wheel covers to do that, but the little tool provided to undo the nuts that hold the wheel covers on didn’t provide enough leverage. Crap. I used my air compressor to set the front wheels to 92 PSI, and left the rears alone, not wanting to have the dual wheels set at different PSI levels.

The drive down to the beach was easy. The new rig handled great!  I-10 is an older freeway with a lot of big rig traffic, so it was the roughest ride. Even with that, I was able to drive the rig with one hand on the wheel most of the time, although due to the PSI issue on the rear wheels, I tried to keep my speed under about 60 MPH. The 605 freeway is a lot smoother than I-10, and was a breeze to drive on. The best was the 105 freeway, though. That one was built in the 1980s, and it is as smooth as silk.

Dockweiler has a lot of little rules, and one of them is that you have to pay an extra $17 bucks to go in before the 1:00pm check in time. We were in no danger of getting there early, though. I had spent more time than expected trying to deal with the tire pressure issue. There was also more traffic on the roads than expected in a couple of spots. We pulled into the park a little after 3:00 pm.  There were three rigs in line ahead of me when I pulled into the check-in processing area.

Our spot was about halfway down the first block, in the middle isle. The spaces are angled but not pull through. They are generous in size, and easy to pull in to. I was able to pull our 34 foot rig in far enough to allow our car to be parked behind it.

Already pulled into our spot.

Already pulled into our spot.

The spaces are full hookup, with 50 amp and 30 amp service, fresh water, and sewer inputs. There is a picnic table for each space, and a simple BBQ. A strip of grass about 8 feet wide separates the middle spaces from the back spaces….this is a perfect place to walk your dog, but there are also special areas for dogs with waste bag dispensers, and two dog runs, which are in the sand and only big enough for one dog at a time. There is no cable TV, and no WiFi. Cellular reception and 3G/4G/LTE worked well on AT&T.

Here's a shot of the other end of the space, with the BBQ and table.

Here’s a shot of the other end of the space, with the BBQ, table, and grass strip.

There are two bathroom/shower facilities for the RV Park, on either end, plus a public rest room to service travelers on the Strand. The RV Park facilities have a keypad entry. You get the code as part of the check-in process. The public restroom is always open, and not nearly as clean as the RV park restrooms.

Planting is pretty simple…..a few palm trees and shrubs, along with the grass. No shade trees.

Palm Trees on the grass between the middle and back rows.

Palm Trees on the grass between the middle and back rows.

After getting set up at the park, Laura and I were both pretty beat. Time to have a drink and relax. Then I spent a little time in the late afternoon trying my hand at surf fishing, but it was a tad too windy to get my bait out far enough. There was a family trying their hand at the time I was out there. Nobody was having much luck, but I’ve fished around here quite a bit over the years, and have had good luck many times in the past. The fish are there more often than not.

 

Fishing in the surf

Fishing in the surf

After a while, it was time to get back to the coach. I picked up my tackle and headed back in. The water is about 100 yards from the park at high tide.

Getting ready to head in for the evening.

Getting ready to head in for the evening.

Laura made some of her famous Melange for dinner….eggs, peppers, onions, potatoes, cheese, and sour cream, topped with a little hot sauce. Then we turned on the TV. There is good HD reception over the antenna for Channels 2 and 7, and also PBS and a few other stations. Thursday night is an ABC night for us, so using the antenna was perfect.

The next day (Friday) was busy. We came to a close RV Park for a couple of reasons. One reason was stocking…..being close to home and the stores that we frequent is helpful. We also wanted to have a small get together at the coach, to show it to the family. They all live within about ten miles of Dockweiler. The party was planned for Saturday. Friday was stocking day. We did some shopping at Walmart in Torrance, and also brought some items to the coach from home.

The weather was nice on Friday. I did some more fishing in the morning, and had better luck getting my bait out to where the fish should be. I got one good strike, but that was it. Skunked again.

Laura and I did have fun walking the dog around, and exploring the park. Here are a few pictures from our walks. You can see the clouds rolling in on some of these shots.

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Later in the day, Aaron, Jennie, and Elliot (my son, his wife, and daughter) paid us a visit, and we had a really nice time. While they were there, the wind started to pick up. About twenty minutes after they left, we got hit with a fairly heavy rainstorm that lasted the rest of the evening. The wind was strong enough to rock the coach all night, even through we had our leveling jacks down. This storm was a good test of our new rig….no leaks that we could find.

Come Saturday morning, the rain was gone, but the wind was not. It was blowing really hard…..way too hard to do any fishing, or even much walking. That was OK, because we needed to prepare for our party. The big job was getting the chili going in the crock pot.

Cutting the green peppers.

Cutting the green peppers.

Chili in the crock pot, cooking.

Chili in the crock pot, cooking.

The party was a success, even though it was too cold and windy to be outside of the coach. The family seemed to enjoy it quite a lot, and Elliot was a joy, giving plenty of attention to everybody there. We had four generations of the family all in the coach at the same time…..Great Grandparents, Grandparents, Parents, and child. Three of my four sons were there…..it was so nice to see everybody. Our dog was nervous, but she was well behaved most of the time. Laura’s friend Lani showed up too, and brought some Chocolate Wine.

After the party, Laura drove her mom and my parents home, and then we cleaned up the coach. We had a nice quiet night after that, except for some raucous partying going on here and there around the park. It was still windy and cold outside, but since there was no rain this night, people seemed to be making up for the rained-out parties of the prior night.

Sunday morning was beautiful. The wind was gone, and we had sunshine and clean air. Checkout time is noon, and we had a lot of work to get done, so it was a busy time.

Back to the wheel covers and tire pressure. I put some questions about my problem onto the Forest River Forum, Georgetown section. I got a lot of great responses. I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t get the retaining nuts loose with the special tool provided by Forest River. The suggestion was to use a breaker bar and socket with extension. I had those at home, and picked them up during one of our supply runs. That did the trick….I got the wheel covers off, and was able to check and adjust the PSI on the rear tires. Now all tires are set at 92 PSI.

We had the coach ready to go at about 11:58, and left for the long drive back to the Storage Yard. I was able to keep the speed up at 65-70 MPH during most of the trip, now that the tire pressure was correct. The increased PSI made for a harder ride, but handling was more positive. The drive went well, and it was easy to get the coach pulled back into our storage spot and buttoned up.

I think our second RV trip was a great success. The coach worked flawlessly. I keep wondering when all of the defects are going to show up. I haven’t run into anything yet that would require a trip back to the dealer for warranty service. There are a few small issues. The door is a little hard to close. Some screws on the handle were loose. I tightened those, which helped, but I think I need to adjust the door jamb to align better. I think the grey water tank valve leaks a little bit, too. When I removed the cap over the dump pipe, some grey water came out. Good thing I was wearing my rubber gloves! But that was it…..no other problems.

Can’t wait to get back out there. We are probably looking at mid-May for the next trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Life on the Road | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pre-Trip Jitters and Excitement

We are getting ready to embark on our second trip in the Georgetown……or Curious George as Laura has named it.

We are going to Dockweiler State Beach for a few days. This will be the first significant drive we will take….it’s about 60 miles one way from the storage facility. It’s only about 5 miles from our “sticks and bricks” house, so we can spend some time stocking, and also have the family over for a small get together. It’s close enough that we don’t have to ask one of the kids to feed the cats….we’ll just drop by home and do it ourselves.

All the jitters are there. Will the batteries be dead after the coach sat for almost a month? Will I run into problems checking tire pressure, oil, and other things before leaving? How will the drive be? Will anything go wrong? How will hosting a party out of the coach work?

Reading forums about the Georgetown line also gives me the jitters. I have read about problems with the awning, problems with the bedroom doors, problems with the steps in front of the door, and other issues. Is our coach going to fall victim to any of those problems? It seemed really solid on our first trip, but we didn’t create much wear and tear in such a short time.

There is also the excitement. Our first trip was only a couple of nights, and it was mainly a shakedown trip, although we had a good time talking to the nice folks there.This destination is more interesting than the first trip. We will be right on the beach, not in an industrial area next to a landfill in the Inland Empire. This trip will be three nights….not much longer than the first trip, but enough time to enjoy the beach, do a little surf fishing, do a little writing, and just exist in our new home away from home. I’m really excited about that. There will still be some shakedown involved, but that won’t be the main focus of the trip this time.

I’m a “check lists” person, and have already been working through items. This afternoon will be busy for both Laura and me. Packing, loading the car, grocery shopping, loading the ice chest, charging up electronics, precooking meat for chili. We’ll be tired by the end of the day, which will hopefully help us to get a good night’s sleep.

So Curious George gets its first outing with the new name. Wish us luck!

 

Categories: Life on the Road | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Boys and their toys

Bikes

See the bikes in the middle left side of the picture? They are barely visible. One is a recent sport bike. There is a covered bike just past it.

Boys will be boys, they say, and the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

My new toy is the Georgetown 328 sitting in front of the silver Honda in the picture above. But there was a time when the toys that I loved most had two wheels. I’m not so sure that I’ve gotten over that yet.

We recently took a short “shakedown” camping trip with our new motor home. Laura has already written an article about it….in that article she mentions that this was a “city” RV Park, with a mixture of full timers, roving temp workers, and people passing through from one place to another. It was not a “vacation destination” park. It was a great place for a shakedown trip, though.

We were enjoying our stay. We met a nice couple from Canada traveling in a 5th Wheel who were parked in the space facing the front of our rig. We didn’t meet the people on the passenger side of our rig. There was an older coach on the driver’s side. It looked like a full timer’s coach, because there was evidence that it hadn’t moved much in the recent past. There was nobody around, but I noticed a recent Kawasaki sport bike parked next to the coach, and in front of that was another bike. It was covered, but I knew it was an old timer, because it had old fashioned wire spoke wheels peeking out. I didn’t really give it much thought when I first saw it.

So later I’m sitting at the dinette in our coach…it’s approaching dusk, and I’m on my second beer. The first one was a 22 ounce IPA, so I’m buzzing a little. I’d been working on a writing project (fiction) on my laptop. I could see the coach with the bikes out the window. Then I see movement inside the coach….somebody got home. I went back to my writing, not paying too much attention. When I looked out the window again, there was an older man puttering around with the Kawasaki. He wasn’t much older than me, but he had lived a hard life….that was pretty obvious by his attire, and the way he walked with a slight limp. He had uncovered that other bike.

Holy Shit.

It’s a restored Yamaha RD 400 – the monster two stroke of the mid 1970s low end street bike scene. I haven’t seen one of those in years. They were legendary.

The Yamaha RD 400

The Yamaha RD 400

I watched this guy putter around a little more, while trying to continue writing. It was no use….now my mind was on motorcycles, and that’s sometimes really hard to shake. I want to go talk to this guy about his bike…..but I didn’t want to bother him, and I can be a little shy at times. Then I saw the man from Canada walk over to him, beer in hand. That clinched it. I got up and went outside.

The two men were talking about motorcycles…..the Kawasaki, from what I could tell. They both smiled and nodded at me as I approached.

“Is that really a RD?” I asked.

The old biker’s face lit up.

“Sure is,” he said.

We launched into a long discussion about 1970s motorcycles. All three of us were into bikes, but the guy who owned the RD was  really into them, and did a fair amount of racing back in the day. That’s why he looked so torn up….he had been injured badly a few times. He still liked to hang out at the tracks, and still did some racing, but not like the old days. He referred to his Kawasaki as his baby.

This guy was trying to sell the RD, and almost had it sold, but the deal fell through right at the last minute. He was working on finding another buyer. The bike was nicely restored…..it sure didn’t look like it was more than 40 years old. He laughed, and said he wasn’t up to starting that thing anymore. Kick start only, and sometimes it took quite a few stabs. I remember hearing that from people who owned them back in the day.

It was really fun talking to these guys about bikes. We had all grown up at about the same time, and we were interested in rival bike categories.

The old biker guy was from the “racer boy” part of the motorcycle world. I remember these guys. They loved these two strokes, and they knew how to ride better than most. Many of them were just plain nuts, and they always wanted to race you. I got challenged by them more than once.

The Canadian had the killer bike of the day….the bike that was the fastest out of the box for a few years. The bike that almost put Harley Davidson, Triumph, Norton, BSA, and others out of business. The bike that got stolen more than any other type too…..the Honda CB750.

Honda CB 750

Honda CB 750

This was the “every-man” bike of it’s time. Kind of like the Mustang or the Camaro.  Reliable, fast, easy to ride. It’s strength was stoplight to stoplight racing, and in a straight line, it could take anything but an occasional Norton 750 Combat Commando….at least until the Kawasaki 900 came out a few years later.

And my category? British bikes. I fell in love with the Triumph 650. This started when I was 14-15 years old, reading magazine articles about Steve McQueen and his Desert Sleds, and watching the Wide World of Sports coverage of the Baja 1000.

Steve McQueen loved these bikes, and did a lot of desert racing with them. He also used one in the movie “The Great Escape” to attempt a jump over some barbed wire (no, that was no BMW, folks…look at the engine).

The moment I remember on Wide World of Sports was a slow motion shot of a guy on a Triumph 650….he was going full bore over some really rough terrain, and at one point he was holding onto the handlebars, his whole body flying behind him, quite a ways above the seat! Wow.

I also got to be up close and personal with one of these bikes when I was about 14 or so. My cousin hired my brother and I to clean out her garage, and her husband of the time was into bikes. He had a desert sled….a real nice one. A Triumph 650 stripped down and punched out to 750cc. It needed a bath, so I got to push it around the corner to a coin operated steam clean place and wash it. I would done that for free. No, I wasn’t riding it, but just pushing it down the street for everyone to see was a thrill.

I never had a desert sled, but I did eventually end up with a Triumph 650 street bike – a TR6 Tiger – which was the single carb version.

My bike looked just like this one.

My bike looked just like this one.

Why did I find myself in this motorcycle category instead of in with the racer boys or the Honda 750 crowd? Mostly because of my early love of these British twins, but there were other factors.

I was about 20 when I bought the Triumph. I was a little beyond the flat out crazy part of my life by that time. That made the RDs less attractive to me. Most of the people I knew who owned RDs  were younger, more athletic, and crazier than I was. Plus, I found two cycle engines to be annoying. They were peaky and noisy with the ring ding ding sound, and you had to mix oil with the gas too, which could be a pain in the neck. They were cheap….I could have picked one up for less money than I spent on the Triumph.

And how about the Honda 750 category? Why didn’t I fit there? A few reasons.

First, the Honda 750s cost more money than I could afford at the time. New ones were way out of my price range. They were also a relatively new model, so there wasn’t a good stock of cheaper used specimens available.

Second, you had to be VERY careful where you left them, because they were getting ripped off left and right. My boss at Hughes Aircraft Company lost two of them from the company parking lot in about three months time (and in full view of the guard shack, I might add…..Hmmmmmm). My dad had a friend who got two of them ripped off, and his insurance company refused to cover a third one.

Finally, while the CB 750s were really fast in a straight line, they didn’t handle very well. My favorite part of riding was going up to PV Drive East or other twisty mountain roads. The Triumph, with it’s low weight, low end torque, and good steering geometry, excelled for that kind of riding, challenged only by smaller bikes like the RDs and other British bikes – most notably the best handler of them all…….the Norton Commando. Ducati put out bikes that would handle as well, but they were rare, pricey, and even more unreliable than Brit bikes – due to their unusual Desmo valve drive assemblies.

I picked a side, and bought the Triumph. And while I loved that bike, it was far from perfect.

Brit bikes used Lucas electrical components. An old biker joke….why do Brits like warm beer? Because they all have Lucas refrigerators. Hahaha. I have a friend who used to be a motorcycle mechanic….he used to say “Lucas, Prince of Darkness” quite a bit. Lucas stuff was junk….I got rid of most of it early on, replaced with cheaper and better components from Japan.

Then there were the oil leaks. I was working at a small company called Testo at the time I bought the Triumph, and my supervisor there already had a nice 1971 Norton Commando. Even the owner was into Brit bikes…he had a basket case Norton Atlas that he was planning to put together. One of the owner’s best friends was a Ducati fan, and he had a nice one from the early 70s. I’ll never forget when he walked into the place and saw my Triumph sitting next to my friend’s Norton. “Look, two puddles!” We all got a good laugh out of that.

The rivalry was there back in the 70s, but it was mostly all in good fun. That came out a little bit in the conversation at the campground, but in a very gentle way. Much more apparent than the old rivalry was the comfortable feeling of diving into this lost world…it was like putting on an old pair of worn-in shoes. That conversation was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

What about today. Do I still love motorcycles?

Yes, but I haven’t ridden in about 12 years. I still have a bike. No, not the Triumph. I sold that in about 1981 for $100 more than I paid for it in 1975. The bike I have now is a 1985 Honda 700cc Interceptor. I bought it for $250 and restored it. A friend of mine’s son in law had crashed it on the freeway. He walked away, but the bike looked like a pretzel.

This Honda was a lucky find for me. The bike got backed into by a UPS truck when it was almost brand new. UPS bought all new plastic fairings for the original owner. He kept the very lightly scratched original pieces for spares, and I got all of them. I had to get one new wheel, tires, a new chain, and various other parts, most of which I found at the junk yard. Total cost of the restoration was about $1500, but a big chunk of that was back-registration. It took me about three months to get this bike back into working order. I rode it a lot between about 1992 and 2002. It is now sitting in the garage, mothballed.

The Interceptor is a much better bike than the Triumph was in most ways. It handles better, it has more than twice the horsepower, and only weighs about 120 pounds more than the Triumph did. I was living out in Canyon Country when I got this bike, and it was great to blast around the winding roads out there. It was only a so-so commuter. If I could keep it moving, it did pretty well, but it would get hot sitting in traffic for very long, with it’s high performance V-4. The biggest problem with commuting was the riding stance. While it is less radical than a modern sport bike, it still has low bars and high pegs, and it forces a lot of strain on your wrists. You don’t notice it while leaning through mountain roads, but you really notice it when grinding down long straight boulevards or stretches of freeway.

Eventually I found myself with a case of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. It wasn’t just due to the motorcycle. I was on the computer all day long at work, and using a mouse all the time really took it’s toll. I also play cello. You bow with your right arm, which of course was the arm that I was having a problem with. Riding that Interceptor just made the problem a lot worse. I had to give up something. I couldn’t stop working. I wouldn’t stop playing cello. I reluctantly gave up riding the bike. That, along with some physical therapy, solved my Carpel Tunnel problem.

I still haven’t lost the bug, though. When I see a nice bike, I always have to check it out, and it get’s my heart a fluttering. Someday I’ll start riding again, I think to myself, but only for a moment. It’s a nice moment.

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