Quabbin via Motorcycle


Around the start of the last century, water shortages in Greater Boston caused the state government to look to Western Massachusetts for supplies of clean drinking water. The Wachusett Reservoir was completed around 1908, and in the Twenties, the people of the Swift River valley lost their battle against eastern Massachusetts, and construction of the Quabbin Reservoir begun. The towns of Enfield, Greenwich, Prescott and Dana were disincorporated, their citizens evicted from their homes, and all structures in the way of the future reservoir razed. Construction took place during the thirties, and the reservoir filled during the forties, becoming the largest inland body of water within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Today, it supplies most of eastern Massachusetts with water. To protect the water, the area around it is a reservation. Yesterday, I took the motorcycle out for a ride around there. The roads around the reservoir are great for motorcycling — curvy, and not too crowded.

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…Hello FJR 1300

Under threatening skies, I took the Katana for my last ride, down to MOM South, the dealership in Foxboro I bought the new bike from. There were thunder showers prowling the area, so I didn’t take it for one last ride through the Blue Hills.  Heading south on I-95 through Walpole I got poured on momentarily, and then I was out of it.

After a short wait, I was called into the office to do the paperwork. It always seems like I’m signing a peace treaty when I buy a vehicle; there are so many things to sign. Finally, though, I’d turned over my down payment and signed off on the loan, I was the proud owner of a new Yamaha FJR 1300-ES and it was time to wait for the new registration to come through.

While I was waiting, the bike was waiting for me out front. I walked out, and took a look. It’s beautiful. It’s sleek and black, and big. Looking at it from the rear, I was looking at the built-in saddlebags, and started idly wondering if I’d be able to get it past the car in the driveway into the garage. The dashboard integrates into the fairing, and it’s big. It’s a sport touring bike, and I’d been thinking of it as a sport bike I can take touring, but it’s starting to come home to me that it’s a sporty touring bike.

As they were finishing up with the registration work, John Brooks gave me a very detailed rundown of the all the controls and features. It has a lot of amenities, and a lot of thoughtful touches. He very carefully walked me through them, but I’m looking forward to working my way through the owner’s manual.

Finally, the registration was transferred, and they moved the license plate from the Katana to the FJR. John recommended I rehearse a little in their large open parking lot, so I did – first one circle the width of the lot, then another half the width. With rain in the area, and needing to get back to work, I then headed back north on Route 1 towards home. As I left, I saw them putting the Katana away.

I was grinning most of the way back. This bike is so much more comfortable, and yet, is nearly as responsive as the Katana. It’s got power to spare. The only drawback is trying to move it at very very slow speeds, where I do feel its extra weight, and am cognizant that my feet barely reach the ground. But I’m already starting to get more comfortable with finessing it around.

I got to Route 128 around 3:30. If rush hour hadn’t already started, I would have taken it through the Blue Hills. Instead, I came home and got back to work. I put in a bunch of extra hours last night, and didn’t feel that I needed to make up time. Instead, I got what I was working to a break point, and tried out my new toy. I took it up through Chickatawbut Road, then back through town to Cobbs Corner, but had to cut my ride short due approaching thunderstorms.

Goodbye, Katana…

Tomorrow, shortly after noon, I’ll be taking my 2002 Suzuki Katana for my last ride, to the dealership to be traded in. I’ve had it for almost exactly 15 years.

Getting the paperwork together, I found that I bought it from the old South Shore MotorSports in Quincy July 1, 2002. I bought it to replace my first bike, a Kawasaki EX 500, which I’d damaged in an accident the previous fall. Even before the accident, the EX-500 had been getting unreliable, and once you’ve lost the trust in a bike, it’s hard to get it back. I saw no reason to spend hundreds of dollars replacing broken body work on it.

A big part of the reason I chose this model was because it was supposedly a more comfortable bike — less radical than Suzuki’s GSXR, less expensive than Honda’s CBRs. When I was looking at it in the showroom, I fell in love with it. It was bright yellow, and after the accident, that was reassuring — you’d have to be blind to not see it. My Aunt Dot once called it my “bumblebee”. On the ride home, I was impressed with how smooth the engine sounded. The EX-500 had been a parallel twin-engine; this was an inline four, and it sounded a lot smoother.

Suzuki Katana 600
Suzuki Katana 600

I was able to take some longish rides on it. I made it out to Quabbin Reservoir a couple of times. I made my longest trip, along the Mohawk Trail, during Labor Day Weekend of 2005. I took the masthead image from the top of Mount Greylock during that trip.  And I took it up to the White Mountains in 2006 and 2008.

Unfortunately, I found “comfortable” was a relative term. While it might have had a more relaxed riding position than a GSXR, the handlebars were a lot lower than the old EX-500, and it was correspondingly less comfortable. Especially at the beginning of the season, I was likely to develop a stabbing pain between my shoulder blades after riding a while.

It’s held up pretty well. I had a slow speed slip on a patch of wet leaves at the top of the street Halloween afternoon about four and a half years ago; I shattered the face of my iPhone, and scuffed up the side of the bike and helmet, and leaving a chain and lock bungeed to the back handle has added more scuff marks and black marks. But it still runs very well.

I started to think about replacing it a couple of years ago. I was starting to notice it was requiring more repairs more often. Nothing too serious, just time taking its toll. I was starting to trust it less. So I started thinking about what I wanted to replace it with. One the one hand, sport touring has appealed to me for a long time. On the other hand, Harleys are much more common around here than sport bikes. I’ve rented Harleys a number of times, and had a blast every time. I felt I was at a fork in the road.

Tomorrow I pick up the new bike. Shortly after the last video conference of the day, I’ll take the Katana on my last ride. I might take it through the Blue Hills one last time, then take it to the dealership. I hope they’re able to sell it to someone who enjoys it as I have.

Features vs Quality

Yesterday’s motorcycle ride reminded me once again that sometimes quality is better than a whole bunch of features, and that fit counts.

Late in the summer, I bought the Scorpion EXO 900 helmet. It’s a modular helmet that allows you to flip up the chin bar– in fact, you can even take it off, and use it as a three quarter helmet. I’ve been wanting a modular helmet since the last time I took the camera with me and had to take the helmet off every time I stopped to take a picture. In the store, I fell in love with the retractable sun shield, and allowed myself to be talked into a snugger fit, on the theory that it will only get looser, and you want a snug fit.

For me, though, it’s turned into one uncomfortable helmet. It’s heavy, and after a while, the weight gets to you. And the tightness around the ear pads gets to me after awhile. It just doesn’t feel good after awhile. It sort of reminds my of my first helmet, a Bell, that wasn’t very comfortable either.

This was borne home to me yesterday when I wore my old Shoei. It’s not modular, but it’s light, and comfortable, and it felt so good. I could have ridden even further if I hadn’t been anxious to get a bicycle ride in.

I’ll probably keep the Scorpion around for rides when I think I’ll need the modularity, but will stick to the Shoei or Arai for most of my riding.