Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Practice makes perfect... even in motorcycling.

Practice makes perfect… even in motorcycling.
by Rocky Marks

Okay, so it was early March and I just couldn't wait to get out on the road.  The streets were dry, the sun was out but it was only 9 degrees.  Dilemma.  What do you do?  The conditions on the road were safe... but the air temperature was rather cold.  Knowing that I could cover my head with a full face helmet and I had the proper gear, I decided to ride in to work.  

Some people cheered me on, some rolled their eyes, while others thought I was just absolutely crazy.  Yeah, maybe I was a little crazy, but I had to find out for myself what it's like to ride in temperatures well below freezing.  It's part of the biker in me.  It’s the thrill or the adventure of being that one person out there on a motorcycle among automobiles.  That's why I did it.  It was great to break out of the norm and leave the rest of the world behind.  After all, that’s why many riders saddle up.

My bike is a 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra.  It's made for colder riding weather because of the fairings and windshield.  When you combine that bike with the kind of gear I was wearing, the ride in was decent. While on the road, I did realize that my reaction time is much slower when it is cold outside.  I found myself making wider turns than normal.  I wasn't smooth on my starts and stops, and it was hard for me to stay on the inside of my lane.  These distractions could prove to be dangerous without a little practice.  

Do I recommend that you go out on one of the coldest days of the year and ride?  Not at all.  I would, however, recommend that you go out and practice for the conditions that you would normally encounter during your rides.

Practice makes perfect regardless of the sport you participate in.  Whether you view motorcycling as a hobby or sport, practice will help you become a better rider.  Practice will help you control your bike in emergency situations and it will help build your confidence when faced with obstacles in the road.  This will make for a much more enjoyable (and safer) ride.

According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Guide to Motorcycling Excellence, five minutes can save your life by practicing evasive motorcycle maneuvers in a safe area.

Stopping your motorcycle in the shortest possible distance is a skill that every rider needs.  To achieve it practice squeezing the front brake and the clutch levers and pressing the rear break while keeping the bike in a straight line.  

The definition of a swerve is two consecutive quick turns using counter steering.  The first turn would be to avoid an obstacle the second would be to return to the original direction of travel.  Counter steering involves pressing forward on one side of the handlebar (press the left hand grip to turn left) Practice while maintaining consistent throttle, without braking.

The guide to Motorcycling Excellence continues saying that the best technique for stopping in a curve requires enough room to get the motorcycle perpendicular to the road, standing the motorcycle upright (aka: "squaring the handlebars), then applying the maximum braking technique.  If conditions don't allow a straight line stop, brake smooth and gradual while leaned over.

As every biker knows, skids can sometimes occur during maximum braking situations.  Whether you're cruising along a parkway and you are forced to stop for a car that cuts in front of you or you are going down Carson Street and need to stop quickly because the driver forgot to put their turn signal on. Motorcycle riding courses teach riders to practice straight line rear wheel skids, helping riders to be comfortable should it occur during a ride.

Obstacles can be a hazard for even the most seasoned motorcycle rider.  Practice riding over a small obstacle (my wife had to ride over lumber in her safety course).  Ride over the obstacle by approaching it at a 90 degree angle, the bike upright.  Rise slightly off the seat, shift your weight rearward slightly keeping your knees bent and braced against the fuel tank.  This technique will also prove valuable should you encounter a pothole.

So whether you’re one who rides in colder weather, or if you want to be prepared when you encounter the day-to-day obstacles on the roads, the most important thing you can do is practice for whatever type of riding that you do.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of the radio talk show: “On the Road with Rocky” 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Planning a ride has never been easier..


Gone are the days of riding off into the sunset with a full tank of gas on your way to “wherever the road takes me.”  I haven’t been able to find that one on the map, however with today’s technology I can find just about any other location you’re looking for.

Many riders don’t always know where to turn (literally) when it comes to planning a ride outside of their comfort zone.  I was one of those riders.  Reading a folding map (and trying to fold it back exactly the right way) is difficult enough in a vehicle with a passenger acting as a navigator, but going solo on the seat of a motorcycle cruising at 55 mph down a major highway is a totally different story.

Fortunately, for today’s rider there are many alternatives to what we’ve come to know and love as the folded map.  Many major motorcycle manufactures like Honda (http://hrca.honda.com) and Harley-Davidson (http://rideplanner.harley-davidson.com) have on-line ride planners where you can enter your starting location and click on your ending location by simply using the index finger of the mouse pointer.  In addition to zooming in and out of the U.S. map for your starting point and final destination, you can add as many stops as you want along the way. 

After your trip is planned, you can simply print out each leg of your journey (in the font size of your choice) and secure it in a plastic tank bag that sits on the dash of your motorcycle for easy reference. 

In addition to on-line ride planners, you can go with your favorite GPS device.  Many touring motorcycles come equipped with a cigarette lighter to give you the power you need to get you where you’re going.  Simply plug in your destination, choose the type of roads you’d like to ride on and you’re on your way. 

The average vehicle GPS is moderate at best when it comes to the vibration and the elements you will encounter on a motorcycle.  Most are made to be used inside the vehicle and aren’t designed to weather the elements.  That’s why I use a baggie, rubber band and zip strips.  Not exactly what Garmin, Tom-Tom, or Magellan recommends, but hey—it works!  There are companies that do make motorcycle-specific GPS devices, but the price tag is almost double that of a traditional GPS unit.

Whether you’re going across the state or across the country, having tools like the on-line ride planners or GPS devices have many advantages.  If you know how many MPG your motorcycle gets, you can plan for gas breaks along the way.  If you’re traveling more than 7 or 8 hours, not only can you plan for overnight accommodations, but you can plan for things to do in the specific town that you staying in for the night.

Not too long ago I was really hungry for an Outback Steak while staying in Lancaster.  If you’ve ever spent the night in that area you know that your selection for a meal after 9:00 P.M. is limited at best.  I punched in “Outback Steakhouse” into my GPS and found one within 7 miles of where I was staying.

Let’s face it, in today’s world many of us are too busy to “go where the road takes us.”  That’s why I suggest using an online ride planner or GPS to make the most of your ride—and your time away from work!

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin.  

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I know you’re excited to ride, but…

Remember that from when we are kids?  I know you want to, BUT…  I never liked that either, but (see there it is again,) this is something that you should review whether you’re new to the sport or have been riding for years.

As we creep into March, riding season isn't too far away.  Pretty soon everyone will be able to roll their two-wheeled friends out onto the driveway, zip up their chaps, and hit the area roadways. 

This is an exciting time of year for all riders.  I know what it's like to be pent up in the house during what seems like a never-ending winter.  I wanted so badly to get on my bike and just go, but I knew I couldn't do that without a few safety checks first.  Trust me, if there is something wrong with your motorcycle, you'll want to figure it out in your garage and not alongside the road somewhere without any tools.

Chances are, if you’re from this area, your bike has been sitting in the same spot for the last few months. You may want to do a pre-season safety check.  The first thing that you'll want to do is check the tires.  Look at the condition of the tread.  If the tread shows any considerable wear you will want to replace the tire before you get on the road.  If you are going out in the next month or two, chances are you may get caught in the rain and you want to have the best tread possible.  Don't wait for your next inspection, change the tire sooner rather than later.

After you examine the tread, check the tire pressure.  If your bike was idle for any length of time, there is a good chance that your air pressure has changed.  Even the slightest change in air pressure can make a big difference in the way your bike handles.

Check your oil and fluid levels.  You may have to dig out your owner’s manual to make sure you have the proper specs.  Look under the motorcycle for any signs of an oil or gas leak.  (Harley Davidsons haven't leaked on a regular basis since the mid-80's... so no jokes here, alright?)

Without a headlight, even in the daytime, you are setting yourself up for a bad scenario.  Make sure that it is working in both the high and low beam settings.  Check your brake light.  Grip the front brake and press on the rear break to make sure the light gets brighter when you apply pressure. 

Turn on both right and left turn signals.  Look at the front and rear signals as well as the indicator on the dash.  The dash indicator is often overlooked, yet it's the only light the motorcyclist can see to make sure their signals are on.  This is a good time for you to make sure your four-way flashers work too.

Look over your controls.  Look for anything that is loose or out of place.  Make sure there are no leaks along the lines and make sure they are rust free.  Once you mount your motorcycle, check the clutch and throttle.  Make sure they work smoothly.  The throttle should snap back when you let go.  The clutch should feel tight and smooth.

Adjust your mirrors BEFORE you put your bike into motion.  It's not easy to ride down the road with one hand while trying to adjust a mirror with the other.  Adjust each mirror so you can see the lane behind and as much as possible of the lane next to you.  When properly adjusted, a mirror may show the edge of your arm or shoulder--but it's the road behind and to the side that's most important.

While mounted on your bike, try the front and rear brake levers one at a time.  Make sure each one feels firm and holds the motorcycle when the brake is fully applied.  You will also want to try the horn.  I was almost involved in an accident last year when a person on a cell phone came into my lane on the Parkway East and I couldn’t alert them because my horn filled up with water from riding in the rain the day before and wouldn’t sound.  (The water eventually worked its way out and the horn eventually got louder.)

In reality, these are the checks that should be performed each and every time you take your motorcycle out on to the road according to the Motorcycle Operator Manual provided by Penn DOT.  While it may seem unreasonable to expect every rider to perform a safety check on their bike every time they take a ride, a pre-season safety check shouldn't be out of the question.



Ahhh, the Holiday Season is finally over.  No more hustle and bustle and crowded stores.  The candy will soon be gone to make way for healthier choices so that we can begin our traditional New Year’s resolution that usually lasts for a few short weeks.

All over the region, chrome goodies that Santa brought are getting bolted on, batteries are getting plugged in to be trickle charged and on the occasional sunny day, guys and gals are rolling their bikes onto the driveway to tease their two wheeled pride and joy with a taste of the sun.

Although there are riders like myself that don’t have an end or beginning to the season, the vast majority of motorcyclists put their bikes away at the first sign of snow and get them out sometime after the April showers wash all of the salt off of the road.  Even though many bikes are in hibernation, it’s not too early to start thinking about the 2009 riding season.

As the year progresses, rides will start appearing in magazines and on the internet.  You can find everything from national rides and rallies to local poker runs and swap meets to everything in between.

The biggest start to the riding season nationally is Daytona Bike Week which kicks off on February 28th and lasts until March 7th.  Being that we are from the northeast, there is always the threat of snow.  Many riders choose to trailer their bikes down and get them out once they are out of Jack Frost’s icy reach.  To many in the riding community, this is one of the only times where it’s acceptable to trailer your bike.

Rolling Thunder is a ride that takes you to our Nation’s Capital and it’s a very emotional ride that happens over the Memorial Day weekend.   The premise of the ride is to call for the government’s recognition and protection of Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action.  Typically 400,000 veterans will roar across Washington DC on their motorcycles as a tribute to American war heroes.  You don’t have to be a veteran to ride in the parade, you just need to love the United States of America.

Locally, you can head over to Johnstown for Thunder in the Valley between June 25th and June 28th to take in some great bike rally activities.  Some like to make it a quick day trip while others like to spend at least one night in the flood city.  There you can experience test rides of the latest and greatest bikes from many manufactures, part and accessory vendors will be on hand, and sample food from many local businesses that support the motorcycling community.  

If you are looking for something longer than Johnstown but shorter than Washington DC, you can always take in Gettysburg Bike Week July 9th through July 11th.  I’ve been out that way many times in both a vehicle and on my bike.  I prefer riding my bike because you can take your time looking at the monuments and battlefields.  It’s much easier to park and maneuver around the tourists.  Not to mention the ride along route 30 is beautiful in July.  You can make a full weekend out of it and stop at the Flight 93 Memorial, go through Old Bedford Village and pull in to Gettysburg all in one day.

Whether you’re a Harley-Davidson fan or a metric motorcycle fan, there is something to be said for the manufacturing of an American Icon.  I would strongly recommend making reservations for a tour of the factory in York, PA on your way out to Gettysburg.  During your visit, you can walk along catwalks strategically placed in the factory, walk through the factory itself in a guided tour through the various work stations, and end up at a museum at the very end of the tour. 

There are way too many rides and rallies to cover in one article.  The Pittsburgh Rides Website is a valuable resource for rides and rallies. It is updated often, so please check it out weekly.  I would also encourage you to go on-line or pick up a copy of a local bike magazine.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. 

The best part about motorcycle rallies is that you don’t have to be a motorcyclist to enjoy the events.  Bikers come in all forms, shapes, sizes, races, and backgrounds.  Riders welcome anyone and everyone to share in the events.  Whether you ride an American motorcycle or a foreign motorcycle, whether you have two, three or four wheels, the events are about brotherhood and sisterhood.   

Let’s face it, everyone has daily worries and things going on in their life that may be a little stressful.  During these events, you can’t help but set those thoughts aside even for just a few hours and be part of a community that truly embraces freedom and unity.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of “On the Road with Rocky” on 660 AM Thursdays @ 10AM.

Twas the Night before Christmas


This year I my son is old enough to get into the sport of motorcycling.  I’m really excited as I’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time. 


We are going about it smart and taking every safety precaution to ensure that he will be a safe and responsible.  Before he can jump on that gas powered 50 cc bike of his own, he needs to show me that he can pass his Spider Man bike with training wheels on to his little brother and handle the next size petal bike without any training wheels.


As you know, putting toys together on Christmas Eve is pretty much tradition for the majority of Americans.  Why we wait until last minute will forever be a mystery.  At the shop they say I’m mechanically challenged, so putting his new bike together will be an interesting experience. 


This was a very important night for me, because I knew that if I can get him onto a bigger bike, he’ll be riding a motorcycle with me in no time.  Here’s how things happened last night.


'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through my pad..
Everyone was sleeping except for me, a mechanically challenged dad.

Sure, the stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
I have that wrench on my workbench,  but not sure where.

My oldest was nestled all snug in his bed,
While I’m freezing my fingers off  out working in the shed.

This year’s going to be such a surprise,
It will all be worth it to see my son’s eyes.

In the back yard there arose such a clatter,
When I lost my grip the wrench flew and made the window shatter.

When my hand slipped my knuckles started to bleed..
Life would be so much easier if I would just get the directions and take time to read.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
It was my wife in curlers and all I could say was… “Uh… Hello Dear”.

After 11 years of marriage she could read me like a book,
She said “Where are the directions?” as she just gave me that look.

As usual she was very quick to tell me what I did wrong,
But with her here I knew this fix wouldn’t take long.

With her by my side and me holding the flashlight,
I knew it would quickly come together and be put together right.

A couple turns of the wrench here a screw driver there,
All that was left was to fill it with air.

It’s amazing how my wife can do things to perfection,
Maybe I could do the same if I’d just follow directions.

Now that it’s Christmas Morning, I hope that all of you mechanically-challenged dads made it through the night.  I’m very thankful that I have a wife that humors me by letting me go it alone.  Fortunately she knows when to step in before I really get myself in a bind.

From my family to yours we wish you a very Happy Holiday season!

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of “On the Road with Rocky” on 660 AM Thursdays @ 10AM.



Many people are starting to put their bike way for a long winter’s nap.

Many riders seem to have their own winter ritual.  Some practices are pretty ingenious, while others really aren’t necessary.  We actually have a customer that takes the “summer” air out of his tires and replaces it with “winter” air.  He swears that it works.  (There is no difference, but it is a good idea to check your tires in the spring as the air will escape if the bike is just sitting which is more or less what he’s doing, only he’s going the long way about it.)

So, if you are considering putting your bike away, you may want to take a look at some of these helpful tips that I picked up from Mike Bakos, Hot Metal Harley-Davidson's service manager that can save you both time and money.

At the parts counter, you can usually hear guys debate on when you should change your oil.  Do you do it before or after winter?  According to Mike and a recent shop memo from the Motor Company, you will want to do this before you put your bike away for the winter time.  It’s always best to have clean oil in your bike, especially if it’s going to sit idle for a few months.

Some people go out of their way to take their seat off and pull their battery out for the winter.  Taking the seat off can be a little cumbersome and having the battery on full charge all winter on your workbench is unhealthy and it will shorten the life of your battery.

The best remedy is to invest in a battery tender.  Most tenders cost less than $40.  You simply have to put pigtails on the battery leads and tuck the pigtail plug under your seat.  When it comes time to let your bike set whether it’s for winter storage or if you know you won’t be riding for a few weeks during season, you can simply un-tuck the tender and plug the other end into an outlet.  No more mess and it saves time and space.

Many people will work real hard at draining their fuel tank before putting the bike away.  There really isn’t a need.  If you are worried about your fuel going bad, simply add fuel stabilizer.  Again, it will save you time and prevent a mess.

Wax on or Wax Off?  It’s always a good idea to wax your bike before you put it away for the winter time, especially if you are keeping it in an unheated garage.  By applying a coat of wax, you are covering any unprotected metal which will lead to less rust if any at all.  Be sure to wipe the dry wax off of the bike when you are finished.

Another great way to keep your bike from rusting is by using WD-40.  It’s metal’s best friend and rust’s worst enemy.  You can spray WD-40 All over the bike.  Make sure you don’t get any on the seat or windshield though.  It will stain the seat and it’s very hard to get off of plastic.

Many dealerships offer winter storage as well and most will change the oil, add fuel stabilizer to your gas, put your bike on a tender and detail it while it is kept in a climate controlled secure location.

There are many ways to care for your bike before putting it away for winter storage.  Please feel free to e-mail me if you would like more tips or if you have questions on winterizing your motorcycle.  My e-mail address is rocky@hotmetalharley.com.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of “On the Road with Rocky” on 660 AM Thursdays @ 10AM.

Riding Season is Far from Over


It always happens around this time of year as we wind down the family vacations and get ready for back-to-school.  Many people get into the mindset that summer is just about over and therefore riding season must be finished as well.  What?  Please find that date for me on your calendar that says “end of riding season.”   In fact, there are approximately seven weeks of summer left so please don’t  make room in the garage for your two-wheeled piece of sanity just yet.

Riding season is far from over and the weather right now couldn’t be any better.  If we take a look back to the beginning of the year, we had a very damp start to say the least.  On more than one occasion I found myself coming through the back door with water running off of my rain suit onto the kitchen floor from what seemed to be a very long ride home in the rain. 

Once the rain moved out, the infamous fifty days of sun that Pittsburgh is granted each year settled in on the city and the hot temperatures made it difficult for even the most seasoned rider to stay put on Carson Street while waiting for the next light to turn green.

As we move into August and look towards the next three or four months of riding, we’ll see temperatures gradually getting cooler.  Riding will become much more comfortable.  Instead of a sweaty t-shirt and the sting of sunscreen in the eyes, we’ll have the option to dress in layers once again while we enjoy the rolling hills, the relaxing winding roads, and the beautiful fall foliage that Southwestern Pennsylvania has to offer. 

Some of my favorite daytrips include rides to Ohiopyle, the Laurel Mountains, Conneaut Lake, and Wheeling, West Virginia to name a few.  If you’re looking for just a night out, there are “bike night” events at many area bars and restaurants all over town.  In the south you can check out the Quaker Steak and Lube at Southland (Wednesday Nights) or you can head north to the Quaker Steak and Lube in Cranberry (Thursday Nights).  If you want to stay close to the city, you can always saddle up and head over to the Double Wide Grill on Carson Street (Sunday Nights).

In addition to the weather being perfect, August is the best time of year to get into the sport of motorcycling in my opinion.  By now most motorcycle manufacturers have their 2009 line-up unveiled and ready to roll onto the showroom floors of local retailers.  If you’re looking for the latest and greatest in what a specific manufacturer has to offer, you can be first-in-line with your deposit so that you can own a two-wheeled machine that has all of the options you could dream up in any color you could imagine.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for bargain, many area retailers are aggressively pricing their 2008 models to move so that they can clear their already picked-over showroom floors to make room for the 2009 model year bikes.

Even though the calendar sites September 21st as the official last day of summer, the best riding is still to come all the way through October and even into November.  Here’s hoping to see you on the open road!

The writer is Sales Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin.  



The sun was shining, the temperature was 70-something and It was just my dad and I cruising down the road without a care in the world.  That was June.  It’s now November, the temperature is 30-something and it’s downright gloomy.  Even though the weather doesn’t stop me from riding, my riding buddy thinks otherwise.  Dad just put his bike away for a long winter’s nap.  I’m going to miss tooling around town with him until spring. 

Even though we both have a Harley, we are very different in many ways.  He’s a blue collar steel worker and I’m not into manual labor at all.  He just upgraded to a CD player and I’m on my third iPod.  He grew up on Coca-Cola and I’m from the Pepsi Generation.  He doesn’t wear a helmet and I have three.  You get the point.  We are from two different places in time yet we both share something in common.  We love to ride our motorcycles.

It has taken our friendship to a new level.  Riding a motorcycle is so much more than transportation.  It’s recreation.  It’s a hobby.  It’s therapy.

Dad and I will go out for hours at a time and ‘get lost.’  Sometimes he’ll take me to where he grew up, show me where he used to ride and sometimes we’ll pull off and just talk.  I’ve learned so much about my father’s past and he’s learned so much about me because our little day trips.  

We make it a point to do a specific run every year.  We like to do the Dog Run in Windber PA.  We’ve literally watched the run grow from 100 motorcycles to thousands of motorcycles.  The run has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over more than 20 years for my hometown of Windber, PA.  It doesn’t matter what else comes up on that particular weekend, we go to the run.

Not only has it brought my dad and I together, my mom tags along too.  My wife and in-laws join us along with about a dozen friends that we’ve assembled over the years.  It’s a fun weekend where there are no social boundaries.  Everyone is equal. 

I recently watched a “King of the Hill” episode where Hank and Peggy went out and purchased a Harley to bring them closer together.  I had to laugh, because it works.  I know this first-hand.

My parents act as if they are dating now that my dad has a bigger bike.  He and mom go everywhere together.  It’s like they are giddy high-school sweethearts all over again living in 1968.  It has done wonders for their relationship.  My in-laws recently upgraded their bike and they rode to Washington State and back on what turned out to be a 3-week second honeymoon.

Even though Dad is my riding buddy, my wife is my riding partner.  When we can get a babysitter, we give the kids a kiss and hit the road.  It allows us to focus on each other without the distraction of kids bickering over toys in the back of the mini-van.  My wife and I are physically close on the bike with our bodies pressed up against each other.  When she wants to talk to me she has to lean forward and talk into my ear.  Her arms are wrapped around me and it feels like a hug that lasts for miles. 

I guess my point is to show that a motorcycle is much more than a form of transportation.  It has brought me closer to the important people in my life.  It has taught me more about my Dad.  It brought my parents closer together and it strengthened my marriage and reminded me why my wife is my best friend.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin.  

Not your Typical Morning Commute


Yeah, I may be a little crazy for using my bike as a way to commute to and from work as the weather turns colder.  You can call me a silly goose for dressing up like Ralphie’s brother in “A Christmas Story” to keep me nice and toasty on my way into work.  I’m different.  Motorcyclists are different.  We’re not your “typical commuter.”

In fact I see the “typical commuter” every day on my ride in.  Maybe you are one of them.  It seems commuters do more than just ‘drive’ in to work these days.  A majority of commuters are “multi-taskers.”  Normally when you’re at work or at home multi-tasking is a good thing, when you’re behind the wheel of a car the phrase takes on a whole new meaning.

Some people love to chat away on their phones while others prefer to give their thumbs a workout by tapping out text messages.  Businessmen are reading the paper while they creep along with the flow of traffic and on occasion I can see a woman putting the finishing touches on her makeup in the rearview mirror.  I also can’t help but notice those talented drivers that show off their skills with a coffee in one hand, a breakfast sandwich in the other while steering with their knees.

I just smile as I sit there on my bike.  I am so glad that my options are limited at best when it comes to doing anything other than operating my motorcycle.  It seems that many morning commuters forgot all about the gory driver-ed films that showed what happens when you are careless behind the wheel.

I love riding my Harley to work.  For the half-hour it takes me to commute from Bellevue to West Mifflin, it’s nothing but me, the bike and the road.  For 15 miles, I get to clear my head, relax and put my day together in my mind so that I’m mentally prepared to hit the ground running when my kickstand hits the parking lot at the shop.

We just completed a class at work on Dr. Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” In this book, he writes about how important it is to “sharpen the saw.”  That’s one of the habits where you have to set aside time to recharge yourself physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.  Riding my bike accomplishes all of those tasks at once.  It allows me to show up fresh and awake for work so that I can get more accomplished during the day and it gives me time at the end of the day to unwind and give 100% to my family.

Another thing I enjoy about riding in to work is getting a chance to experience a panoramic view of the roads I take.  In a car you basically have the windshield, your two side windows and if you’re lucky a sunroof above your head.  On a bike everything is wide-open.  The changing leaves seem more vivid as they pop out of the hillsides.  Sitting at a red light, it’s easy to look up and gaze at the rich history in the architecture of many downtown buildings.  Sometimes I like to take the long-way to work and ride through the Southside just to sample the smells of the breakfast diners and delis that are getting ready for the day.  On the way home, those smells are even better!

How many people can actually say they truly enjoy their daily commute to and from work?  I know I can thanks to my Harley.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin.  



Ugh, the ‘chance’ for more snow.  When will it let up?  Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean after all, this is winter in Western Pennsylvania in January.   The cold doesn’t really bother me, but you really can’t take chances riding your bike with snow on the ground.  Besides getting the salt off all of the chrome is like a race against time to avoid rust and pitting.

What I wouldn’t give for a few days of riding where I didn’t have to study the forecast as if it were a final college exam.  I mean really, 3 days of sunshine and salt-free roads—that’s all I’m asking for.   Too bad we couldn’t rent the sun from our neighbors to the south.  Or maybe we can..

I’m thinking a weekend get-away to Florida to rent a bike would take care of my winter blues.   Renting a bike is actually a good idea.

Sometimes when I go out of town and if it’s a tourist destination, I will rent a bike.  For me this makes sense as I get to try different models, learn what I like and don’t like, and a two day rental is a fraction of a monthly bike payment.  Not only that, I don’t have to clean the bike when I return it, it’s all taken care of.

There are many places you can go to pick out the bike of your choice.  In my opinion, the best place to rent a motorcycle is through an authorized dealership of a specific motorcycle manufacturer. 

For example, Harley-Davidson has a rental program primarily in dealerships located in the states where you can ride year round.  You can rent just about every model Harley-Davidson makes.  In most cases, there are only a few requirements to jump in the saddle.  You have to have a valid motorcycle license, a major credit card, and you have to wear a helmet which comes with the bike rental—(unless you really want to go through airport security with your own helmet and tell the person with the wand that it’s “just in case.”) 

If the brand of motorcycle that you prefer doesn’t have a rental program, there are places that carry all of the big names with locations all over the United States.  One of the most reputable rental companies for the motorcycle industry is Eagle Rider Motorcycle Rentals.  They carry late model Harley Davidson, Suzuki, Yamaha, BMW, and Honda motorcycles.  

To the traditionalist, yes, I know…  you’re riding someone else’s bike and it may not be your baby that you have in the sun… but it’s two wheels, the weather is warm, and it’s just you and the open road.  In my book, that’s not a bad thing since it will be a few more months until the threat of snow is totally out of the satellite picture.

Here are a few tips on getting the best out of your rental experience:

  • Pick a place that you’ve always wanted to visit that doesn’t get a lot of rain.  Chances are you’ll enjoy that destination more on two wheels than four.
  • Look for a dealership or a rental company that carries the brand of motorcycle that you are used to.  Riding a totally different bike in unfamiliar surroundings may take some of the fun out of your trip.
  • Go to a website that will allow you to shop for a better price on your airline ticket or one that alerts you via e-mail when a special rate opens up to your destination. 
  • When making your hotel reservations, chances are you’ll be spending very little time in your room.  Go economy.

For about $650, you can have a nice little two-wheeled getaway and leave the snow and salt behind.  All it takes is a couple phone calls or clicks of the mouse and you’re on your way to a renting a weekend of fun in the sun.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of “On the Road with Rocky” on 660 AM Thursdays @ 10AM.

I’ll take the rain over snow…


by Rocky Marks

Rain Rain go away come again anoth… actually, I’ll take it!”  Yep you heard right, I’ll take rain this time of year!  Rain means warmer temperatures and no snow on the road!  My bike has been cooped up in the garage far too long to let a little rain stand between me and the feeling that cruising to work on two wheels gives me.  For many, it’s time to get out and ride—even if it’s just for a few days.

This is also a time of year when many accidents happen.  While it may be true that you never forget how to ride a bike, it is also true that we all forget many of the safety tips we learned when we first got our permit.  I would recommend picking up a safety manual at one of your local motorcycle dealerships or going on-line to brush up before you roll out into the hazards and debris on the road that await motorcyclists this time of year.

Just riding in to work over the last few days reminded me of how much I forgot.  Here are of some of the things that I encountered in just two days of riding in the rain.  

Be conscious of the surface area where you are riding your bike.  Painted lines like crosswalks and stop lines at red lights can be slippery.  Slow down and make the turn straight up rather than leaning the bike.

Straight and slow also holds true for many of the older roads in and around the Pittsburgh Area.  Most of the roads in my neighborhood are brick or cobblestone.  I know there are a few intersections in downtown Pittsburgh that sport the same 1890’s technology.

Be on the lookout for steel as you ride along in the rain.  Some of the trickiest riding can be over the steel joints on any one of the hundreds of bridges in Western Pennsylvania.  I know for many people bridges are taboo even on a dry day in an automobile, but If you want to get anywhere in Pittsburgh, you’re going to have to eventually go over a bridge—and maybe even through a tunnel. 

For me, the Ft. Duquesne Bridge is the trickiest bridge on my way home.  The steel that joins the concrete together are not only on the straight part of the bridge but they are also in the turns leading up to and coming off of the bridge.  Speed can be your enemy, slow down.

From day one, we’ve been told to avoid riding in the center of the road because grease droppings from cars and trucks and can and will produce an oil slick on the road.  I couldn’t agree more.  The manual says instead to ride in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you.  There is a little problem with that safety tip.  It would almost work if we didn’t live in the pothole capital of the world. 

This is a tricky one.  Oil covered pavement or potholes?  It is a tough choice.  When it rains, water ponds and fills up potholes to give the illusion that the road is even.  If hitting a pothole in a car can do serious damage to a vehicle, can you imagine what the end result of hitting a deep one on a motorcycle would be?  I’ve seen everything from severely bent rims to wrecked bikes.  My advice would be to watch the vehicle in front of you.  Watch the way the water splashes from its rear tire.  A simple (and obvious) rule of thumb is bigger the splash, the bigger the hazard is in front of you.   Try to safely move over to where you can actually see the road’s surface.  

Some motorcycle manufacturers like Harley-Davidson and Honda give the consumer an option to purchase a bike with or without ABS.  In our ‘neck of the woods’ it’s probably a safer bet to choose a motorcycle with ABS.  I have one with ABS and I won’t ride anything else.  When it comes to stopping, I can do so on a dime regardless of my speed without sliding or having the bike kick out from underneath me.  Go to your dealership and ask for a demo ride on a bike with ABS, you will be glad you did.

I know ‘ol Phil saw his shadow, so that means we’ll probably get a little more snow between now and the “official” start of riding season, but I can’t begin to tell you how great it was to get a couple of days of riding in.. even if it was in the rain.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of “On the Road with Rocky” on 660 AM Thursdays @ 1:00 PM