Cars – 2019 Honda Civic Type-R

I was speaking to my mother this past weekend after I helped repair a broken fence in the yard, and started to talk about this series I’d been writing about all the cars I’ve gone through. Now growing up, I was always told I took after my grandfather who was also named Samuel. When she told me that he used to buy a new car every 2 years, it started to make sense.

A few years back when I picked up that Golf R, I wasn’t exactly ready for it. I wasn’t mature enough for it. It was the first real toy I’d had, a daily driver that could absolutely rip when I pushed it. The possibility of overestimating my abilities, overestimating the cars capabilities was real, and it scared me. After a confluence of events convinced me to get something more reasonable, I did. I needed a break.

I was never going to be the guy who had just a truck. I can tell you that GMC I had, when driven properly, took corners well enough to scare the snot out of anyone trying to keep up… but it wasn’t sporty. It wasn’t fun in the same way my old GTI was. Getting that Civic Si was testing the waters. Was I ready for a fast car again? Would I respect its capabilities and my abilities? The Si was fun, but reasonable fun.

After a year and a half of driving it, I felt like being a little unreasonable. I felt I was ready to have a little fun. Heck, I’m a bachelor in midlife crisis territory, I was almost obligated to push my limits again. The funny thing here is, as I think I stated in an earlier post, when these 8th generation Civics came out I thought they were completely ridiculous.

As it turns out, I was 100% correct.

Initially I’d considered a Tesla Model 3… but after hearing the various complaints of my peers about their higher end models – I decided to play it safe and wait it out. I don’t doubt at some point in the future I will have an electric car in my driveway, but not yet. I will admit, the 3 is a very well reviewed car, and it seems to have avoided much of what has plagued its older siblings… but I wasn’t ready to be a beta tester.

The thing with the Type-R, it’s a popular car. It’s in demand. As a result, dealerships added markups to them. One dealer in Sussex, NJ had a $5k markup. Middletown Honda had a $1k markup on the car. In the end – both dealers removed the markup to try and get my business. As I didn’t really like the gray, I bet on black, and took a ride up to Middletown on a Tuesday after work.

The black definitely made the car look more subdued…. still ridiculous, but it wasn’t quite as gaudy as the other color options which made all the various details (vents, spoilers, ground effects, etc…) stand out. Looking at it doesn’t do it justice. The moment I sat in that car the dopamine and serotonin spiked in my brain. All my caution went out the window. I flat out wanted this car. I wasn’t hitting my head on the roof, and there were actual BUTTONS on the infotainment screen. I don’t know why but I was really excited by the buttons.

Walk away, Sam. Walk away!

I got a quick quote on my trade-in, then told the salesperson I’d have a decision for them by Friday… and I walked away. In the mean time, as I cooled back down, I made sure I could afford the car. I decided what I would accept for my trade in. I reached out to my insurer to see what it would do to my rates. I planned, I mulled it over, and by the next day I was 83% sure of my decision.

Did I call the dealer? No. Did I rush in the moment I decided? No. I said Friday, and I meant it. The only out at this point was whether they’d give me what I wanted for my trade-in. I did the research, in the condition and with the mileage my car had – the dealership offered me $2k less than what it was worth. So when I came in to buy it, I made it clear that if they gave me what I wanted on my trade, I’d buy the Type-R right there.

So far I’d made sure I could afford the car. I got my OTD quote where they removed the markup and would sell it to me for MSRP plus tax/tags/registration. When I got overly excited at the thought of having it, I walked away. I went in to the dealer knowing exactly what I wanted and settled for nothing less. I negotiated my trade-in and held my ground. I rejected all the add-ons (in this case I made it clear before hand I wasn’t interested) – the only thing they tried was the service contract. Lastly, I made sure to get the best rate possible for financing. I followed each and every one of my rules, and I got my car.

Now there are some caviats to buying a performance car in the winter, in this case it was that the car came with 20″ wheels and high performance summer tires. In warm weather, without copious potholes, I’m sure that combination would be fantastic. Still, I’ve got at least 3 more months of unpredictable winter weather. Winter tires on the 20’s were out of the question. $495 a tire. That tiny sidewall on my roads? Forget it.

Ok, so I decided to go down a size. The last time I did this was on my GTI. I went 2 sizes down with Bridgestone Blizzaks. The soft, squishy sidewalls greatly contributed to me wrecking the thing. I did the research and saw that other Type-R owners ran 18’s, some ran 19’s… I was more comfortable with going down to 19. Prices on the snow tires I liked – Pirelli’s – were decent, but I also have a truck that’s great in the snow.

In the end, I chose 19″ wheels and tires with Continental DWS all seasons. What I lost in grip was gained in lessening the likelihood of ruining the wheels on my car with a pothole… not to mention the new wheel and tire combo was 10lbs less than stock, a performance increase. Of course, the day after I installed them, I nailed a pothole on the way to work and bent one of my brand new wheels.

The tire held pressure, there was no noticable impact on road feel or performance, so I didn’t actually see the bend until I took the car to the car wash. Once the weather warms up enough, and the potholes have been patched, I’ll reinstall my 20’s and get the 19″ wheel repaired. So, what about the car???

The owners manual recommended a 600 mile brake in period, no full throttle acceleration, no heavy braking. No problem. Where with the Golf R, I started having fun early, and even with the Si… I knew to respect the 306 HP here. I fully intend to keep this car for the long haul. I haven’t researched it, but it almost feels like this car was limited up until I hit 600 miles. I mean it was quick, but after the break in period? Ridiculous!

Handling is exquisite. I don’t know what the skid-pad numbers are, but I’m fairly certain this could literally run circles around the Golf R. Very sharp and firm handling, minimal body roll. The suspension firmness, throttle response, and steering / road feel is all adjustable by a switch near the gear shift. To be perfectly honest? Comfort mode is my favorite. How messed up is that?

In comfort mode, throttle response is reduced, suspension is softer, and steering is easy with a more subtle road feel. For general driving around, in comfort mode, this thing is as docile as your plain old ordinary Civic hatchback. By default, it’s in Sport mode which is the happy medium between Comfort and R mode. If I want the firmest suspension, the sharpest steering, and the quickest throttle response, one more flip of that magical switch to R mode, and this docile hatchback turns into an unrepentant beast of a car.

Now one of my favorite websites, Jalopnik.com, had an editor named Doug Demuro. He’s a car guy, does tons of reviews on Youtube. He’s a fairly quirky bloke whom after I viewed his scathing review of the Type-R, I refer to as the “Great Value Jay Leno.” His biggest complaints? The spoiler wobbled when the trunk is closed, and the exhaust had 3 tips. It went downhill from there, even his complements came off as back-handed. This was before I even pondered the idea of getting one of these.

Great Value Jay Leno at work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Jay Leno, I just throw on the Great Value title because IMHO, Demuro in this video comes off as the Walmart store brand of an actual car review. I get it, the design isn’t for everyone – heck, it wasn’t even for me when they first came out, but as much as I hated on it – this was just… Show us where the bad car touched you, Doug!

Back to the car. It is perfectly balanced. Any curve I throw this car into, it hunkers down and pulls me through it. If I need a little more kick, that accelerator is at the ready and the turbocharged 2.0l engine is dumping out peak torque between 2500 and 4500rpm, plant my foot and it will happily launch forward. The acceleration is taking some getting used to. I know how much gas I had to give in my Si to get onto the highway for instance. Same amount of gas in this car, and I’m in “car is going to the impound lot” territory. Respect the accelerator!

Without the moon roof, there’s plenty of headroom up front. No more smacking my head over small bumps. With the front seat set for my well-fed 6’1″ tall frame, I can easily sit in the back seat and have plenty of room. The trunk is massive, and the seats folding down only add to the cavernous amount of space. The seats themselves have more bolstering than the Si, and really hug me every time I get in.

Surfaces are plastic, carbon fiber (can’t tell if its real or plastic), alcantara (think synthetic suede that’s easy to clean), and cloth. Everything is very well put together, and the infotainment is leaps and bounds better than what was offered in 2018. Previously there was no volume knob. Simple climate control options required pressing a button to go to a custom menu. The interface was laggy. All of that has been corrected.

The lighting is fantastic, front and rear LED’s, including the fogs. In my Si, the halogens were simply inadequate for night driving even if the weather was perfectly clear. The LED’s used in this car apparently still get poor reviews from the IIHS, but IMHO – they’re more than adequate. I do miss the way the lamps turned with the steering in my Golf R, but that’s a nice to have more than a necessity.

What else… ah yes, no heated seats. This is the first car I’ve had since my GTI that has not had heated seats. Again – a nice to have, not a necessity. Also gone is the passenger side camera that would activate during right turns – I didn’t really depend on that to begin with. Overall though – this is the best Honda Civic that a driver can get. Docile in Comfort mode, rip snorting front wheel drive demon in R mode. Gas mileage has been between 27 and 29mpg so far which isn’t bad at all.

Every time I look at it, I smile. Even despite the scratches and swirls that I hope to resolve with a detail ones spring arrives. It’s fun to drive, whether I’m commuting, going to the supermarket, or paying my respects to the great driving roads in this area I’m blessed to live in. I’ve said it before – that I hope this will be the car I finally hold on to, and it checks off enough boxes that it just may be.

…and if it’s not, I can always blame my genetic predisposition to loving new cars. πŸ™‚

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Cars – 2008 Chevy Silverado 1500

I tend to repeat myself at times, so I’ve started this post with what I originally wrote back in September of 2019. Since then, this truck has served me well.

With the original repairs out of the way, I buckled down and started to fix the little things that were left to fall apart over its brief, but very busy life.

Door window switches, the turn signal stalk, the airbag sensors, cruise control, shorted headlights, license plate lights, the non functional tailgate latches, climate control, center console latch, door latch linkage… Until a couple weeks ago, the only remaining problems were the missing tire pressure sensors and a chip in the windshield.

Then while I headed over to my parents house for the holidays, the check engine light returned. I swung it around, brought it home, and did a quick diagnosis. Oil pressure sensor signal, and O2 sensor signal. On the chance there was an oil pressure issue I let the truck rest until I had time to take a closer look.

Oil pressure was fine, so all that’s left is the O2 sensor, otherwise it’s running fine. Once the weather gets into the 50’s I’ll swap out the defective sensor in my driveway. I still take it out at least once a week… old trucks need love too. But like I said, it has served me quite well the past several months.

Numerous round trips to Albany to help my friend move back to Warwick, it hummed along on the highway without complaint getting a respectable 20mpg. Not bad for near 200k miles. When another friend’s son needed medication to beat an illness, this truck got me to Warwick, to my friend, and back through one of the worst snow storms in years.

It’s paid off, it’s reliable, and should I need a 4×4, should I need a truck, it’s ready and waiting in my driveway. I’m looking forward to digging into and repairing its faults again when Spring arrives, turning a wrench – especially if its not on my daily driver – always brings both challenge and joy to my day. πŸ™‚

Of course, we’re nearing the end of this series, earlier this month I traded in my 2018 Honda Civic Si for it’s younger, bolder, meaner, beast of a sibling… my 2019 Honda Civic Type-R.

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Cars – 2018 Honda Civic Si

Just kidding. This is a 2015 model.

So my commute changed. I wanted something small and efficient, but fun. The contenders were the Volkswagen GTI, Subaru WRX, Ford Focus ST, or the Honda Civic Si. Now out of all those options, the first 3 were all very similar in size, efficiency, power, and refinement. The Si was my last option, the last to try. At 205 horsepower, the other cars seemed to offer more, and I wasn’t entirely certain i wanted to try a manual transmission again.

I test drove every car in the list. The GTI was great, but the price was a bit higher than I was comfortable spending. The WRX was also an excellent ride, but its automatic was a CVT. For the options I wanted? The price was too high. The Focus ST? Probably the strongest of the 3 as far as power and pricing, but Ford had just decided to discontinue all of its passenger cars in favor of trucks and SUV’s. That left the Si.

I visited Mahwah Honda and got an OTD quote. I also test drove the sedan model. When these 8th generation Civics came out, I openly mocked them. They all looked like what the boy racers drove, and I regularly trounced, when I was younger. Big fake plastic vents. Sharp angles. They looked silly to me. But on that rainy day in September, it really caught my eye. The shifts were smooth. Gating was tight. Power delivery was steady and smooth. Heated seats. Premium stereo. It was the first car in years that honestly reminded me of my old 2005 GTI.

I took the quote and left. I called a dealer closer to home and asked for an OTD cost on a silver coupe (Mahwah only had red sedans). OTD cost was the same, all the options were ticked. No dopamine this time around. No serotonin at play. I had saved enough to put a large down payment on the car so my payments were reasonable (important since I was also paying for the GMC). Middletown Honda hooked me up.

If I had any complaint about this car, it was that I was too tall for it. Unless I adjusted the seat just right, certain bumps would slam my head into the ceiling. Eventually I figured out exactly how to contort so that wasn’t an issue. Plenty of power here. Enough to chirp the tires in 1st and 2nd gear. Average mpg? 40. Heated seats. Plenty of thump from the factory stereo and sub-woofer. Actually one other complaint – the infotainment system was crap.

Both my Golf R and Sierra had a very responsive infotainment screen, volume and climate control knobs and buttons. The Civic Si had a laggy infotainment screen, climate control (besides temperature) was dependant on it, and required pressing a large CLIMATE button to open that screen. Controls on the steering wheel were adequate for audio, but the climate controls were near infuriating. Tack on not being able to disable turn-by-turn directions on the dashboard… that was all very annoying.

But the shifting, oh the shifting. At this point I’d owned 3 manual cars which ranged from functional to absolute CRAP. None of them were joy. Shifting this car? Absolute, unadulterated, pure, blissful joy. Every gear selection was smooth and solid with a satisfying “kathunk” at the climax of each motion. I have never driven a car with a finer transmission. Ever.

The ride, steering, and throttle response could be sharpened by pressing the “sport” button near the shifter. Normally you had a firm – but smooth ride, with perfectly adequate acceleration and control. Put it into sport? The entire dash cluster would turn red. Shock dampers would firm up significantly (still not uncomfortable, but the road feel was glorious). Steering would stiffen. Throttle response increased drastically.

Throwing this car through corners was an absolute pleasure. Power was always on tap, the turbo lag was minimal, and the 1.5 l engine was eager for every single challenge. This car single-handedly restored my joy of driving for the pleasure of driving. Tack on the MPG? It was a perfectly balanced car.

However now that the truck was sold, I had some more options in regard to feeding my automotive demons. I wasn’t about to replace the Si, not yet at least. At this point I’d taken back every bad thing I’d ever said about Honda and the folks who drive them, and decided to start tuning the car. I recall seeing a video online of a guy getting upwards of 400hp out of this little 1.5l motor. I had zero desire to pull that much power out of it, but a little extra kick would be nice.

My first purchase? A Ktuner. The base tune added a significant power bump. The turbo spooled faster, the car launched quicker, the increase in power was undeniable and I hated it. Prior to the tune, it was a perfectly balanced car. After the tune, I just wasn’t enjoying it. I tried adjusting things, lowering the tune, but no – I simply didn’t like that car with a tune on it. It was fine as is… and not to mention, the mpg dropped from about 40 to around 32-34. The tune came off and I put the tuner on a shelf.

Maybe something more subtle. I went online and bought the K&N intake. Now I’d run K&N for years, never had any complaint (even when it revealed the engine issues on my 2000 Intrepid)… Apparently this intake + a tune was a bad combo, but bone stock I hadn’t heard any complaints. I ordered it on Amazon and had it in my greedy little hands the next day.

Yes – I know I forgot to add a strip of insulation to the intake box, I fixed that after I took this photo. After installing the intake, I could hear the turbo pulling air in, I could hear the PSSHT of the recirc valve when I lifted, and boy it woke up that little engine without ruining the balance of the car. My MPG dropped from 40mpg on average to 37mpg. Acceptable. It provided just that little bit of boost (pun intended) that I felt the car was lacking.

Up next, I had to fix one more thing on the car. My final complaint about the 8th gen Honda Civic. The headlights were absolute garbage. Dangerous garbage. My first time driving in the rain, I pulled over and waited for the deluge to clear. My previous two cars had HID headlamps. Bright. White. Illuminating. Going back to halogen was a massive downgrade. I did some research online and wound up replacing both the headlamps and foglamps with LED.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01H6NZ7D8/ – Headlights

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FVFS328/ – Foglights

Much better.

I’d heard that making this change would blind other drivers. I checked – the stock housings on this car were adequate for this simple mod. Nearly every night I pass at least one person who has installed LED bulbs in a headlamp not designed for them, it might look great for that driver, but I’m either blind or staring at the white line on the shoulder to avoid it. These worked great. Finally I was comfortable driving at night, in the rain, etc… The stock lights were the lowest rating possible from the IIHS, and they weren’t wrong.

Now I only owned this car a year and a half before I upgraded. It wasn’t a fault of the car, life just made things a little more interesting than I had expected. My friends had kids, my ex was back in the picture, and my folks would occasionally need rides. Where my GMC had plenty of room, side rails, and handles to easily haul people around – the Chevy I picked up (in my next post) wasn’t as multi-passenger friendly in less than ideal situations. Squeezing my parents (in their 80s) into the back of the Civic, or my friends and their kids… just didn’t work.

I started looking again. Subaru STI? Golf R with a DSG? Tesla Model 3? Nope, none cut it…. then I sat in a Civic Type R.

But first, I’ve gotta mention my rust bucket!

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Cars – 2017 GMC Sierra 1500

That’s how I remember this truck. Man it was great. Every single option box checked.

You’ll recall how the first new vehicle I ever wanted to buy was a Chevy S10 back in 1998. That truck was also fully loaded and $20k. Things have come a long way in 22 years. That same truck would probably run near $40k today. The price of trucks is ridiculous, isn’t it? These things are where the major automakers rake in the most profit after all. Trucks fund R&D. Trucks allow them to approach other market segments at tighter margins. Trucks allow them to build the efficient cars that lower their average fuel efficiency ratings and build bigger trucks. They market trucks as the American dream.

I’ve always liked trucks, I’ve always wanted a truck, and when I needed a break from the raw performance and horrendous transmission of my Golf R, there was only one route to take. What to pick though? I had absolutely zero brand loyalty. My only restriction? No Dodges. Ram’s looked great, but after my experiences with Dodge vehicles, and seeing enough of them rotting away out from under their owners… I took a hard pass on Dodge.

So I figured I would check Chevy and Ford first. I visited Leo Kaytes in Warwick (Yes, same dealer my Dad sued) and walked the lot for a good 45 minutes. I looked at every truck in my price range, noting the ones that met my requirements – 4×4, heated seats, premium stereo. After 45 minutes of going from truck to truck and not a single salesperson walked out to greet me – I left.

Next stop? Healey Chevrolet. After Country was forced to close (YAY!) it was my only local option. I’d always been partial to Chevy, so I was already leaning in that direction. Again – a solid 45 minutes in the lot. Spotted trucks with the colors and options I wanted, decided which I’d like to try out… Not a single salesperson could be bothered to come outside. Were they all busy making sales? Who knows.

By this point, I had nearly given up but there was one more American option – GMC. I took a ride down to Royal GMC in Sussex, NJ and walked the lot. Within 15 minutes, a salesman came out to offer his help. I test drove a Silverado (same model I have today), test drove a Sierra (not the one I bought), and while it wasn’t a color I was super kean on, I decided to head into the dealership to crunch numbers. I wanted the truck, but I didn’t WANT the truck yet.

We head inside, run some numbers, everything looks good. I head back out with the salesman to check something on it, then on my way back in I see this…

Now the truck I first looked at checked every box. Up until then, I was following my own advice. That truck even had a solid $10k in discounts applied to it. Then I saw this one. Silver. Oof. Dopamine and Serotonin flooded my brain. Halfway through our conversation on the black Sierra, “What about that silver one we just walked past?” Well, no discounts. Extra accessories. Price was $10k higher than the other one.

Sitting down? Monthly payment with my trade-in was $780. Folks, if you aren’t comfortable with the payment you have 2 options. Pay more down, or walk away. Unless you are brand faithful and want a new ride every 2-3 years, don’t lease it. I wanted the truck, I didn’t like the payment, so I leased it. 12k miles a year for a 36 month lease. Payment was now $580, a tick higher than the Golf R. Dopamine. I paid for GAP insurance. Serotonin. I agreed to pay $450 if I didn’t buy the truck or lease a new GMC at the end.

All in all, I could afford it, and planned on buying it at the end of the lease, but this is my 3rd vehicle in 3 years. My current commute involved a 10 minute drive to and from the park and ride, so mileage wasn’t an issue. The parking sensors made it a breeze to park anywhere. Gas mileage was about 23mpg on average. I could control it from my phone. It was great. Honestly, I have absolutely zero complaints about this truck. Had my commute not changed, I’d likely still have it. That’s what happened though. I got a new job, and my two main options were a public parking lot 45 minutes away, or a parking garage the same distance where it was a royal pain to park such a large vehicle.

I decided to get a commuter (that’ll be the next post) and just drive the truck on the weekends. But wait, there’s more. Instead of staying on the lease and getting a commuter, I terminated the lease, and bought the truck (because my mileage was increasing faster than my allotment). When I terminated the lease on my first VW, I called VW, they refinanced the car over the phone and I was good. When I did the same with the GMC, I got a crappy interest rate, paid for gap insurance AGAIN, and oh yeah – had to pay tax on it again. I should have just kept the lease and returned the truck.

Instead, I was now making double payments on the GMC, and driving a new Honda most of the time. I found myself paying upwards of $1500/m on the truck and only adding 300 miles to the odometer per month. Finally one day I had a moment of God given clarity and decided to sell it. Within a week it was gone to a new home, and I was only left with paying for my 2018 Civic Si.

Now while I made decisions I regretted in purchasing the truck, and leasing the truck, and breaking the lease on the truck – that thing was great. Comfortable, great mpg for a truck, plenty of power, plenty of utility – it wouldn’t be my last truck that’s for sure. I simply couldn’t justify spending what I was spending on something I didn’t use enough. I’m glad I made the mistakes I did though, because after 22 years of driving I finally saw the light.

I finally took my own advice… and I bought my first Honda (that didn’t have a cutting deck).

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Cars – 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

I’d mentioned earlier in this series how my favorite car to date was my 2005 Volkswagen GTI. The car was just plain fun, I had a lot of great memories with it, and of all the vehicles I’ve owned in the past 24 years, It stayed in my driveway the longest – 6 years.

My job situation changed. After fighting the idea of working in New York City for YEARS, I finally caved and took a great job in midtown with a great team of people. I was learning again, I was earning again, and for the first time in 6 years – I was completely and utterly debt free.

What ever was I to do?

Buy another Volkswagen, of course!

I absolutely loved this thing from the first moment I sat in it. As the glow of my Subaru’s check engine light began to fade, I sauntered into Jack Daniels Volkswagen. Originally, I had planned on a white Golf R with the DSG (dual-clutch automatic transmission) and a few other fancy features. Again – I ignored my own advice as I laid out in my post about car buying.

What I wound up with was the base model Golf R. All wheel drive, 292 HP, 6-speed manual, leather interior, heated seats, etc… etc… etc… The only options I didn’t have were the parking sensors, adjustable suspension, DSG, and premium stereo. Otherwise, it clicked off every box. Had I heeded my own advice though and walked away, or waited for another DSG model, I’d probably still be driving it.

I loved this thing. LOVED IT. I’d never driven anything with such handling, such power. It took everything I loved about my 2005 GTI and turned it up to 11. Heck, one of the coolest things about it was that turning the steering wheel turned the headlights. I’d never seen things like this before in a car.

Every curve I came to, I threw the car into it faster and faster. There was no end to the available grip and traction. Turns were flat and firm. Acceleration was explosive with minimal lag. Tack on it being a roomy 4-door that got decent gas mileage, this car was nothing but win.

The only problem the car had from my POV was a programming defect. It had a backup camera that intermittently worked. On cars that had the parking sensors, it worked every time, but without them – half the time I put the car in reverse it wouldn’t start. Not a huge deal, a minor annoyance really.

The thing is… I’d never driven anything like this before. My primitive teenage driver mind returned. Where I’d mellowed over years of driving that Subaru and Chrysler, a switch got flipped. Every corner? Full speed. Every red light challenge? Adios! I felt like a kid again. It was great…until.

I was headed to work one morning, and somebody came flying up the onramp. I went to give it some gas so they would have room to merge behind me… Not enough acceleration in 5th gear. I went to shift from 5th to 4th when it happened. I lifted the clutch, the transmission and the engine synced up, the RPM’s rapidly climbed, and the car began to rapidly slow.

I missed a shift.

I’ve never missed a shift before. I’d driven several manual transmission cars over the years and this literally never happened before. I quickly depressed the clutch and shifted back to a higher gear. No lights. No noises. No smoke. The car seemed OK. All day at work I feared getting back to my car and seeing a puddle of oil underneath it… yet I got back to the car and it was fine.

One thing I will say, something I noticed, is that the gating on this car’s transmission was sloppy. Compared to my ’05 GTI, compared to my ’01 Neon, compared to my father’s 94 Ranger. While the car was in gear, that shifter could move around quite a bit. Going from gear to gear, I was no longer sure that it would quietly slide into the correct gear.

On my way home, weeks later, I was behind a slow moving BMW. They were doing 35 in a 55. I pulled out to pass, downshifting to 3rd. After the pass, I went to upshift from 3rd to 4th. I went from 3rd to 2nd. RPM’s climbed. The car slowed. I corrected the missed shift, but it was too late. Lights were blinking. The engine was running, but the power was gone.

I got it home, turned it off, sat for a minute, then started it. It started right up but it sounded different. All the lights were blinking. Was it limp home mode? That’s when a car will shut down certain systems in order to avoid a bigger problem. I cleared the computer and started it back up, same thing. Same errors. Crap. The money shift.

The money shift is a term nobody wants to use. You miss a shift, and spend money to fix it. Worst case scenario here, $7k to install a new engine. Best case, through some miracle, warranty covers it. I call up the dealer, report the problem, and they send a flatbed. I kept my mouth shut about the shift. All I said was the lights came on while I was passing.

The guys on the VWVortex board were relentless. Maybe 1 or 2 members felt bad for me, the rest decided I simply didn’t know how to shift properly, or drive a manual. I kept the details minimal as there was no secret that dealers would watch this message board for guys proudly voiding their warranty. There was even a specific error in the VW computer system for what I did. “MECHANICAL OVERREV – WARRANTY VOID”

Service advisor calls. The engine appears ok, but the rocker arms for the intake valves on cylinders 1 and 4 were no longer on the valves. They were going to have to strip the engine down, replace the broken parts, verify everything was back to OEM spec. He asks me “any chance you missed a shift here?”

I don’t like to lie. Ever. In my youth, my ability to lie well got me out of many tight situations. As an adult, lying requires that you remember the lie lest you be found out. Mark Twain apparently said it best: “If you tell truth you don’t have to remember anything.” I’ve done my best to live by those words.

I began to stutter. A split second before I admitted the truth, that miracle came through, as the service advisor said 2 words… “Say no.”

They had the car for a week. I didn’t bug them once. The repair was covered by the warranty. I went online and researched how to properly shift, how to avoid this. Aluminum shifter bushings. Check. Guide the shifter, don’t grip it and pull. Check.

When I got the car back, I babied it. It took a solid month before I chanced opening up the taps again. When I did, no missed shift. Everything worked. The relief washed over me like a flood… until two weeks later when even using my more relaxed and community approved shifting style, I missed the 3 to 4 shift again. This time I caught it RAPIDLY. The RPM’s never hit the danger zone, but something was definitely wrong.

I went back to babying it, and looked online for the shifter bushings… but by that time the joy of owning this car was gone. I was afraid that I’d either drive it off the road and kill myself with it, or that I’d money shift it again. One day I’m at the gas station, filling up, and checking the oil (which is a good habit to have in general, but these cars burn a quart every 2-3 thousand miles) when I saw it.

A slight glimmer of shiny metal on the dipstick. Sparkles are wonderful things. On a dipstick? Bad. On the dipstick of a car with 15k miles that you’ve money-shifted? Forget it. To this day I say it, had I taken my own advice and opted for the DSG, I’d still be driving that car. It was truly a feat of engineering and the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel.

I needed a break. I needed to take a step back from the speed demon in me and get something responsible. Something fun. A vehicle I was proud to own, proud to drive, and was most of all useful. That’s why I bought my 2017 GMC Sierra. It wasn’t my first choice though…

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Cars – 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Going to keep this short and sweet. Through a confluence of events I’ve hinted at through the ownership of my ’89 Chevy and ’09 Subaru… I wound up owning a 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser for a short time.

Don’t hate, you know you thought they were cool for 5 minutes like everyone else.

For all the grief this vehicle got, it was one of the best selling and most reliable Chrysler’s ever built. DaimlerChrysler milked this thing for all it was worth. It had plenty of storage space, adequate power, and handled like a Neon (read: not awful).

Even without regular maintenance until I took over caring for it, the thing started every time we turned the key. At around 120k, I installed a new timing belt, water pump, plugs, wires, valve cover gasket, etc… Oil changes, transmission services, regular maintenance the car just worked.

The only defects I hit towards the end of its life – the A/C condenser failed, the ABS failed due to some sort of ring falling off the CV joint, and one of the rear brake mounts snapped because someone (me) attempted a J-Turn.

More than once I found myself pulling all the seats out to stuff an obscene amount of cargo into it…. Would I have bought one on my own? Probably not. For a small family with limited funds though? You couldn’t ask for something better or more affordable at the time.

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Cars – 2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 900

After several years riding and fixing my Vulcan 500, I was venting about it online when a friend pointed out that financing a new bike would cost less than my cell phone bill. I started doing some research on what was out there, and decided on the Vulcan 900 Custom. The 2014’s were on sale at the time, so I took a run up to Middletown and visited Cycle Motion.

Now at this point, I believe the stator had burned out again on the 500, parts of its engine were scattered over my coffee table (not the first or last time I’ve taken a motor apart in my living room). I wasn’t drawn to anything America built (Harley made some great looking bikes, but I couldn’t afford them) so I stuck with what I knew. There were no 2014’s on the lot, but there was in fact a “brand new” 2012.

My bike the day I bought her back in 2014.

I was a fan of the cruiser style (blame my brother), this had more power, and to me just looked cool. I learned quickly that it didn’t handle as well as my old bike, it couldn’t lean over as far, and the seat was unbearable after 45 minutes of riding, but overall it was a good, comfortable ride and got 50mpg.

Now I mentioned the seat, and over the years I’ve tried different seats, seat beads, etc… I even invested in the factory Kawasaki gel seat. It looked great, but not only did my back hurt more, so did my legs as it placed me lower in the saddle. I may or may not invest $400 in a seat from Mustang (very highly rated) the jury is still out on that one.

Factory gel seat, a $240 mistake.

Like my previous bike, I performed some modifications on this one. Vance & Hines Exhaust, a K&N air filter, and I think it was called a “fuel pak” from V&H. A side effect of opening up the intake/exhaust on this bike is that the stock computer simply can’t compensate. As a result, the bike may run too lean, or it may run too rich and backfire excessively. This tool makes up for that failing.

All in all, the bolt ons took me an hour to install. The exhaust I will say – was deafening. After a half hour of riding, my ears would be ringing… I figured it would be a good idea to get the new silencers for it. They preserve the exhaust note, but bring it down from ear bleeding levels to something more manageable. I picked them up maybe… 5 years ago? Still on a shelf in my garage.

The installation video made it look so easy. Remove the old silencer (basically a formed pipe in the exhaust tube) by simply removing a screw and sliding it out. No, you need a slide hammer. Even then, it’s an effort to remove. Then installing the new one. Oh boy. The video from V&H? Slides right in like a knife through butter. In reality, the fiberglass insulation gets bunched up and the inserts won’t budge without magic.

Two things conspired against me 5 years ago that nearly put me off of riding altogether. When work brought me to NYC in 2015, the amount I rode my bike dropped drastically. Previously if the road was dry and the weather above 50, I’d commute on it. The idea of leaving it at a train station instead of an office 10 minutes away bugged me. Tack on the overall increase of my commute from 20 minutes round trip to over 4 hours round trip… the bike sat in my garage. Some summers, I took it out twice.

The other thing, summer of 2015. I had my first motorcycle accident. I fared MUCH better than most when they say “motorcycle accident.”

That’s what a 25mph rear end collision did.

I’d stopped at a crosswalk on Main Street in Warwick, NY to let some pedestrians cross… I glanced in my sideview as I always do and saw a red Ford Taurus coming up from behind. It didn’t stop.

The hit threw me forward, my rear fender and tire taking the brunt of it. The driver was a kid, probably messing with his phone instead of paying attention. He begged me not to call the police. This bike, I bought it to cheer myself up after my divorce. It was one of the few things in my life at that time which brought me any semblance of joy. He broke it by being careless, and expected mercy. No. Freaking. Way.

The repair cost about $500 and took a week or two, the parts came pre-painted from Kawasaki. Physically I was fine, but mentally – mentally I was scared to death of getting back on that bike. Any rides I took after that were short and not too far from home. I always considered myself a safe and observant rider. Didn’t help that 2 weeks prior apparently the town Police chief was hit at the same spot. I was done riding like I used to.

Come 2019, I decided to pay off the bike so I could sell it. My plan was to clean it up in the spring after a particularly wet and cold winter. Ever since the accident I really didn’t enjoy it anymore, and it was wasting away in my garage.

I cracked open my garage on that first warm day of Spring and she wouldn’t fire up. Then I noticed that corrosion had started to sprout up on the engine, the frame, the wheels. Guessing parking a snow blower next to it, letting the snow melt off, evaporate, etc… cranked up the humidity enough that nature started to take its course on the metal.

Off to Auto zone I went, picked up a new battery and some stuff to clean up the bike. Didn’t take long until she was purring again and looked as good as she ran. Funny thing happened. Bike was idling, so I went inside, grabbed my helmet, put on my gear, and took it out. For a few hours. First time I’d really ridden it in years and it was fantastic!

Part of me is still considering selling the bike once the weather warms up. Maybe gone for good, maybe get something else. Maybe I’ll fire it up on that first warm day of Spring and forget about my problems for a while, who knows.

That’s the thing with me and riding a motorcycle. When I’m out there on the road, one with the elements, the sound of the engine, the feel of the wind, the smell of the air… I’m at peace. I’m not thinking of anything other than right, left, or onward. Life is simpler. Life is slower. I can speak, shout, sing, or pray, and whatever is said is between God, myself, and my steel. I find peace on the road that I rarely find anywhere else in life.

Up next, my first real 4 wheeled adult toy… my 2016 Volkswagen Golf R.

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Cars – How to buy?

Easy, hand the seller money, and you will buy their car.

Of course, that’s how people end up with 10% interest rates and pile up car upon car to an ever expanding bank note that if they’re lucky they may live to pay off.

First I will tell you, like my father told me, that 99% of the time repairs cost less than payments. Unless your car just blew up in a parking lot, do you actually NEED a new car? If this is a WANT and not a NEED, that is to your advantage.

For sake of transparency, I paid MSRP for my current car. I also made a down payment equal to 1/4 of the sale, and did most of my negotiating on the value of my trade-in and fending off accessories, offers, and add-ons. I didn’t need my current car. I walked out of the dealership the first time I sat in it, and was ready to walk out again if my exact requirements were not met.

Here are my X steps for buying a car, it’s worked for me every time I’ve stuck to it.

  1. Before you even walk into the dealership you need to do two things. First? Make sure you can afford it. You may have cash on hand, you may be able to swing the payments, but you will also be cutting into your monthly net income for several years. Can you afford to be without that payment cash? There are dozens of good online calculators to work the numbers. Don’t forget an accurate interest rate, tax, tags, etc… when calculating.
  2. Get an out the door quote from the dealership. If they won’t provide one, walk. An out the door quote is the total price of the car you plan to buy including taxes, tags, registration, etc… and get it itemized. You’d be amazed what dealers can try to throw into the pot to sweeten the deal (for them). Don’t be afraid to say NO to add-ons at this point, if they’re smart they will save those for later.
  3. If when you see that car for the first time, the endorphines, dopamine, etc… will flood your brain. If you get that overwhelming desire to buy it right then and now, do yourself a a favor and LEAVE. It’s like when you go grocery shopping while hungry and buy a ton of food you don’t need… only this is a car and instead of a feeling of regret as you hit the bottom of that pint of Phish Food, you’ll have that regret every time you look in your driveway… for up to 72 months.
  4. Know exactly what you want when you walk into that dealership, and be fully prepared to get up and leave if you don’t get precisely what you want. With my most recent purchase, they tried to offer me about $180 worth of oil changes (3 years) in lieu of increasing the trade-in offer on my car by $1000. I didn’t bend, and I would have walked. I got my $1000. It might seem petty but the secret to any good negotiation is a fair redistribution of getting screwed between both parties. If they want to sell you that car, they’ll negotiate. If they don’t, they’ll kick you out.
  5. Keep the trade in and new car negotiations separate. Many dealerships still break out that 4 square sheet to illustrate costs, payments, etc… 99% of the time that is a tool to distract you from what you’re going to pay for your new car, and what they plan on giving you for your old car. Once you’re at a satisfactory price for the new car? Negotiate your trade in. The dealer may just give you book value, or more than you planned on getting (it happens). If they low-ball you, don’t be afraid to get what you want within reason. For my Civic Si, in its condition with its mileage, every single estimate I got was for $19,000 on the trade in. Dealer offered $17,000. This is when being reasonable comes into play. Could I get $19K? Sure. Did I honestly feel like investing myself into the process that much? No. I asked for $18k and after 3 back and forths, got my $18k.
  6. Addons and accessories. Just. Say. No. Don’t buy a 7 year, 80k mile service contract when you haven’t even put a mile on the car yet. Shop around. Regardless of what the finance manager tells you, most of these at point of sale will have at minimum 100% markup. See if there’s an enthusiast site for your car with forums, chances are they know who has the best deal on a manufacturer service contract and trust me – that business will be happy to sell you one at a very steep discount.
  7. Lastly, financing. I’ve always heard that the best thing to do is get quotes from your bank before walking in the door. That’s fine, but I prefer to make the dealership work for me. Usually they can get a few offers, or even the manufacturer might have some great deals. The key is to get the lowest interest rate possible. If you’re struggling to make payments, rethink your options here. In my case, I’ll happily sign up for 60 months with a much lower rate than 48, and I’ll likely pay it off in 48 or fewer months, and I’ll be paying less for that loan than had I gone for the shorter term I could afford but had a higher rate.

With my Civic Type-R, I was dealing with two dealerships. One wanted a $5000 markup, the other wanted a $1000 markup. Had either kept that markup, someone else would be driving my car right now. Both dropped the markup the sell the car (likely to help make room for the new models, but I digress). With both dealers offering to sell me at MSRP, I got OTD quotes from both, and I ended up buying from the dealer with lower fees (that I’d worked with previously) and also had the car in the color I wanted.

Previously – as was the case with my Golf R, they wanted $2k in markups. I got up and walked. What played out was so stereotypical it could have been scripted. I thanked the salesman for his time when he wouldn’t budge on the markeup, went out to my car (walking slower than normal, but not so slow it was obvious) and a mere second before my key touched the door lock… “Wait! No markup! Will you come back?” Yup. They also gave me KBB value for my trade in, which until that point in time was something I never thought possible.

With my GMC Sierra, I failed to take my own advice. I’d visited the dealer a few times before and decided on a specific truck. That truck came with $10k of discounts on it. The salesman walked me past a nearly identical truck that happened to be the color I wanted, other options I wanted, plus certain accessories which were great to have on a truck. Endorphins. Dopamine. “Hey, what about this silver one?” $10k in discounts out the window, but I drove that truck home an hour later… on a lease. I paid gap insurance… on a truck. I agreed to paying a $450 fee on the contract should the lease end and I not get another truck or pay it off. I made silly concessions because my own hormones betrayed me.

Don’t get me wrong, that was a great truck, I loved that truck, but had I walked away the second I felt that rush of hormones and emotions… I might have bartered a much better deal in the end.

When my job changed, and my commute changed, my truck wasn’t the greatest commuter option so I started with step 1. I researched every car that had the options I wanted. I went to multiple dealerships to compare OTD pricing. In the end, I took my own advice, got 1.9% financing for 48 months and well, that’s a story for another post.

Good luck in your quest, my friends.

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Cars – 2009 Subaru Legacy

If there’s anything telling about the 5 years I owned a Subaru Legacy, it’s this:

My ’09 Subaru Legacy

That is the only photo I have of that car. It was a good looking car, handled great, couldn’t accelerate out of its own way… Leather interior, premium stereo, absolute tank in the winter. It was the whole wheat toast of cars. Healthy, safe, reliable, but almost completely forgettable once I’d decided to move on from it.

Maybe part of the reason I don’t think much about the car is that I replaced my favorite car – my ’05 GTI – with it because I now had a family and it was time to put away childish things. Originally, I wasn’t even looking at a Subaru. I first went to a local dealership with a crappy reputation that’s persisted since well before I began driving.

My first option was a Ford Fusion. AWD, V6. It had been sitting on the lot for 6 months, they were asking 15, I was offering 12 (mainly because I knew exactly how much they spent on it at auction and how much they spent to refresh it). They didn’t have any desire to haggle, so the owner abruptly asked me to leave. That’s right, I got kicked out of a dealership for attempting to haggle. Same dealership that sold a girl my ’89 Chevy Silverado with blown suspension and leaking exhaust… but I digress.

Subaru always had a great safety reputation, AWD made the winters in the northeast bearable, it was roomy and reliable. The handling was probably its best feature. Whether it was the AWD, the suspension, or the Continental DWS Extreme Contacts… that car could be absolutely hurtled into any corner and come out the other side unscathed. That being said, the 2.5l flat 4 was absolutely gutless. Not even manual shifting could redeem it.

Gas mileage was decent, while the salesman told me 35, reality was that they all lie, and the best I’d ever get (on roadtrips was around 30-32mpg). It was also the last car I ever took to get an oil change at the local car wash. Now I had plenty going on in my life at the time, a busy job, a failing marriage, so I didn’t really pay much attention to the oil stains on the driveway. In fact I think I mostly blamed the PT Cruiser (we’ll get there). All Chryslers leak.

In actuality, the car wash never actually tightened the oil filter. The weather warmed back up so I went to give it an oil change. The oil filter came off in my hand with zero effort. There was approximately 1/2 quart of oil in the oil pan. The only saving grace in this situation was Mobil 1 Synthetic. Any other oil, I’m pretty sure the engine would have been lost. I’m still wondering to this day how the oil light never came on.

I emailed the car wash, no response. Considering I had to destroy the oil filter on the PT Cruiser to remove it, I vowed to never again let that place change my oil. Seriously folks – if you have a driveway and a bucket, it’s not that difficult to do it yourself. I changed the oil, ran the car for a week, changed it again, had the cylinders scoped, engine was perfect. Seriously folks, Mobile 1. Worth every penny.

So since I bought the car before the marriage, I kept it after the marriage. I drove it for another 3 years after the divorce before my work situation changed, I got clear of all the debt I accrued before, during, and after the marriage, and finally had a chance to pay it off and be free of car payments for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after I paid that Subaru off? Check engine light.

Can’t make it up. It’s like it knew. I will say one thing about Japanese cars though, they hold their resale value, even with a check engine light and 90k on the odometer. Before I can get to the car that replaced it though, I need to give SOME props to the veritable Chrysler PT Cruiser, and my 2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 900… my post divorce, make myself feel better by buying something big, toy.

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Cars – 1995 Kawasaki Vulcan 500

But… that’s not a car! I know, right? But I would be remiss if I overlooked my motorcycles. I ask that you pardon the brief detour(s) here.

This is a horrible selfie, taken with a potato in the kitchen of my old apartment in Edenville. That was the day I learned to love riding a motorcycle. I had brought my bike up to Cycle Motion in Middletown, NY to get inspected. The weather was clear, no rain to be found, a good day for a ride… leaving the dealership, in the distance, I saw something like this:

Borrowed this from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_G2KRzha7o

That was between me and my home. The only way out was through, so I rode steady towards home when the rain and hail came down in torrents. All I was wearing at the time was blue jeans, work boots, a Carhardt denim jacket, dirt bike gloves and my helmet. Within seconds I was soaked, through and through. I took my time, the drivers behind me kept their distance, and the only time I came close to wiping out was when I let my rear tire cross the white painted line on the shoulder. Other than that, despite being completely saturated with water, pelted with heavy rain and hail, and on a motorcycle I had only owned for several weeks… I laughed my ass off. I was having FUN. That attitude stayed with me when it came to getting on two wheels.

My 1995 Kawasaki Vulcan 500

There she is, my first bike. Low mileage, enough power to get on a highway but not enough power to hurt myself (much) it was a good starter bike. Before I took my first ride though, I was taken for a ride by the original owner. I think I spent about $1500 on this bike. When I picked it up, I brought my brother along to check it out since he was already a licensed rider for many years.

When the owner tried to fire it up, the battery was dead… Conveniently, his mechanic showed up and did some magic to get it running. Red flags? What are those? My brother took it down the road and back and gave it a thumbs up. Into the bed of my Chevy it went. I was a motorcycle owner! Now all I needed to do was learn to ride it.

Before I could do that though, I came to discover that the bike’s alternator (called a stator) was shot. My brother and I would go out and ride, only for my bike to randomly shut down. Pop starting it didn’t work either. I’d jump the bike with a car, get enough charge on it to ride it, then it would die again. $800 later (from an excellent mechanic who has sadly retired) and all was well… for a few years at least.

My mechanic (Tony – from Get In Gear) – grew to hate that bike. The stator is basically a spoked wheel wrapped with copper. Around it spins a flywheel with magnets. That generates the electricity which keeps the battery charged and runs all the accessories including the ignition that keeps the bike running.

A typical motorcycle stator.

Well Kawasaki in their infinite wisdom, glued the magnets to the flywheel. One of these magnets came loose and proceeded to explode like a grenade in the crank case, causing the stator above to fail. Tony managed to clean it up as best as he could and get the bike going again. Later in its life I would replace that stator with another (in my warm living room, perks of bachelorhood and home ownership).

The other big repair was a result of the bike dying on my way to work. I was at a stoplight in Florida, NY when the engine simply died. I tried everything I could to diagnose it there, but had zero luck. In the end I got it towed back to Tonys, it turned out that the timing key on the crankshaft sheared off and failed, the timing jumped, and the engine was done. He fixed it again, advised me to sell it quickly, and thankfully up until the stator failed again, worked very well.

For anyone interested in learning to ride a motorcycle, I highly recommend spending a couple hundred dollars and taking one of those safety and riding courses. Not only does it teach you everything you’d ever want to know about operating a motorcycle, it also provides real training and tries to prepare you for as much as they can. Plus, you get a waiver for your road test (at least here in NY).

Once I had a permit and my course completion, I completely IGNORED my instructors advice and started riding. I quickly learned just how oblivious other motorists are to motorcycles (note: I’m including automobiles, trucks, AND motorcycles here). It doesn’t really matter what you wear, what colors you cover yourself with, how loud your bike is, people simply do not see you. Most of the time it’s not even their fault, humans are stupid.

I will say that people on motorcycles, in my experience, are generally worse than cars. Riders accept that drivers are predictably idiotic… we don’t really feel the same about other riders until enough instances when they nearly run us off the road in the name of showing off or simply being impatient. Back when I was still learning, I was doing 40mph on a 40mph road, my brother behind me in his Jeep. Then a sportbike with open pipes shot past me doing at least 80mph. I almost jumped off my ride right there.

For it being my first bike, and despite having a handful of close calls, I never put it down. The closest I ever came was on Route 17A entering Florida, NY. It’s a 55mph road with homes and businesses dotting the roadway. Just before town, a “courteous” idiot came to a dead stop in this 55mph zone to let a UPS delivery truck leave the parking lot they were trying to enter. Nobody was expecting this. The car behind them slammed on the brakes, HARD. The car in front of me then slammed on the brakes, HARD.

I was riding closer than I should have (blame it on being a n00b), and I slammed on the brakes, HARD. Now a motorcycle when stopped properly without locking up the wheels, will come to a stop drastically faster than just about any car. I had already aimed towards the shoulder with this emergency stop… I check my side view and see the car behind me not coming to a stop fast enough. Fearing that I may get hit from behind, I go straight for the grass at about 35mph. Did I mention the grass was wet?

My focus at this point is staying vertical and not wiping out as the rear wheel proceeded to dance over the grassy hill I was now riding down nearly out of control. I make it to the asphalt driveway and stop safely, turn back at the car, still stopped as the UPS truck finally pulls out, flip them off (of course), then in my fury overrev and drop the clutch. First and last time I’d ever popped a wheelie on ANYTHING in my life. I proceed to rip down towards the athletic club so I can head out the other exit…. A bystander (obviously clueless to the entire chain of events here) looks at me and puts their arms up in a “what the hell” sort of gesture… Don’t worry, I flipped them off too.

There was a brief period in time (which I’ll get to later) during the winter, where I really didn’t want to drive my car. Thankfully it was a relatively snow-free winter, albeit the temperatures never really went above 25F. That winter nearly every day, I rode the half hour round trip to and from work on my bike. Bundled up with Long Johns, a fleece balaclava, winter riding gloves, heavy winter boots, etc… The looks I got as I slowly froze…

I will say one of my favorite times to ride is when it is cold, and at night. You know those clear, crisp, starry nights in late autumn / early winter? Nights like that it always felt like I was flying above the road like some sort of sputtering wraith. I’d also ridden in very hot weather, which is fine and good until you stop moving. Then all the heat from that engine starts to rise…

Somewhere in Virginia I think… 2012

Back in 2012, my marriage was on the rocks. A lot of my dreams were heading towards an inevitable ending that I could not avoid, and to be honest – didn’t really care enough to anymore. That’s the thing when you get hurt badly enough, it’s actually pretty easy to throw your hands up in the air and give up. Now up until this point, my family would head down to the outer banks in North Carolina every summer.

This year, I made up an excuse not to go. Part of me really didn’t see the point in continuing to try and fix something beyond repair. What I planned to do was take a few days to myself to marinate some ideas… and then I decided that I was going. I wasn’t about to drive though, no. I loaded up enough provisions for 3 or 4 days at the condo, strapped them to my bike at 6pm on a Tuesday night, and ride the 600 miles to my family.

There was my little 500CC bike that I’d managed to shoehorn a set of Screaming Eagle exhaust pipes from a Harley Davidson Sportster onto… A small amount of luggage bungee corded to the sissy bar… and a solid 12 hour ride south. A couple of high points? Middle of nowhere, surrounded by black with nothing around me and nothing before me but the asphalt and white lines. Going through the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel at full throttle at 2am. Pulling up to the house and seeing my stepkids faces light up as I walked in the door.

Now normally, that bike with its 2.9 gallon tank was good for about 50mpg. At highway speeds though? That quickly dropped to around 36mpg. Every 90 miles I’d have to find another gas station. Most of the time I could plan ahead, but at one point on I believe it was I-95 south around Delaware… there I was, far left lane doing 90mph in a large pack of traffic doing 90mph when the engine starts to cut out.

This bike was pre-fuel injection, it had two carburetors, a tank with a reserve, and a small petcock (valve) that I could turn to switch to the reserve tank that held maybe a half gallon of fuel. So here I am, 90mph, bike rapidly slowing, me moving right, all the while trying to switch to my reserve. At about 50mph in the right lane, the engine sputtered back to life and I continued to the nearest rest stop for a 20oz can of Arizona and a full tank of gas.

Waiting for the Ferry

A few more stops like that and I was in North Carolina, waiting for the ferry. I must have looked silly at some points because to say the seat on that bike was uncomfortable would be like saying fire has manners. As the tailbone pain kicked in, I found myself regularly putting my feet on my rear pegs and leaning across the tank like a sport bike. Looked silly, but it worked.

Eventually I made landfall in Ocracoke, and after a few days decided to head back north and avoid possible storms. Remember what I said about riding in the heat? I think temps that day were around 102F on the way back up. Every stop, I would grab one of those 20oz Arizona’s that were half tea / half lemonade. I didn’t stop to take a leak once. What really added to the experience though was that my bike simply refused to start on its own.

At my first fuel break, I went to start the bike, and nothing. Here I am, several hundred miles from my home and my mechanic, nothing worked. Eventually I figured out it was the safety switch on the clutch handle that prevented the bike from starting if the clutch wasn’t depressed… at that point though, I tried bypassing both that and the kickstand safety with no luck. In the end, every time I stopped, I simply pop-started the bike.

When I finally got home I parked the bike in the garage, and did not go near it again until the following summer. I was almost afraid that I’d never ride again, but that’s a story for another day. I made it there and back safely, got yelled at by my brother for riding that far alone, so all in all it was a success. That little bike held its own up until I replaced in in 2014, eventually giving it to my mechanic’s nephew for his first bike. Who knows where it is now.

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