Sunday, April 26, 2009


Day Trips—Spotlight Johnstown, PA
by Rocky Marks
Ahhh, spring is finally here! I can see it in the trees, on the lawns, and on the faces of the guests that come into our shop. They are beaming with excitement about what is awaiting them while they stock up on do-it-yourself bolt-ons and cleaning supplies before taking to the roads.

Curiously I’ll ask “Where ‘ya headed?” to start up a conversation. The answers are as different as the riders themselves. I love hearing about the cross-country road trips and the “destination” locations, but I really love talking about local day-trip rides.

At this point in my life day trips are a quick-fix for getting a piece of the road. I don’t get a lot of time to ride with a newborn at home, so I squeeze in what I can when I can.

Fortunately, Western Pennsylvania is home to some of the most beautiful riding in the country. If you travel a few hours in any direction, you’ll find some relaxing winding roads, and discover the little towns of yesterday that made our region what it is today.

One of my favorite day trips is a ride east along Route 22 all the way out to 56 in Johnstown, which is very rich in history. For whatever reason, I wasn’t much of a history buff in high school or college. Now, as I get older, I’ve grown to really appreciate it.

I like to think of Johnstown as a mini-Pittsburgh. It is a tried and true steel mill and coal mining town that helped bring Pennsylvania into the industrial age and has survived some of the most amazing floods of the 20th century.

Johnstown has many museums, look-out points, quaint restaurants, and they own the bragging rights to the World’s steepest inclined plane with enough room to carry a full-sized automobile (or several motorcycles) up 896 feet of track to the top of the city at a 35 degree angle.

Johnstown also plays host to Pennsylvania’s largest motorcycle rally, Thunder in the Valley. This year, the event will take place June 25th-28th. According to their website:, the first rally took place in 1998. This event happened thanks to a twenty-one person committee that put the rally on with only six months to prepare. With over 5,000 bikers in attendance, the rally was deemed a success.

Ten years later, the rally is very much alive with 125 vendors and over 200,000 in attendance. It has been compared to a smaller version of Sturgis, Daytona or Laconia style atmosphere.

Johnstown also hosts Folk-Fest which is a free music event that takes place every Labor Day Weekend. Even though the festival showcases various musical acts, my favorite thing to do is to sample as much ethnic food as I can in a 3 day weekend. It’s hard to walk more than a block without being tempted by several food vendors.

This is a ride that I highly recommend. Whether you’re heading to Johnstown for an event, a rally, or something new to explore, it’s definitely worth a Saturday ride and it’s only just a few short hours from Pittsburgh.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of the radio show: “On the Road with Rocky” which airs Saturdays at 7AM on 1250 ESPN

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ESPN ARTICLE Before You Purchase Your Motorcycle, Make sure the dealership fits!

Before You Purchase Your Motorcycle, Make sure the Dealership Fits.
by Rocky Marks

Riding season is finally here and you want to purchase a motorcycle… That's great, but where do you start? There are so many manufacturers in the market place today and for each manufacturer there are several dealerships in the Pittsburgh Area that carry that specific brand of motorcycle. Shopping for a dealership can be almost as overwhelming as shopping for the motorcycle itself. Just like the motorcycle, it's important that the dealership you plan to do business with fits you as well as your helmet.

One of the first things you're going to want to do is find a friendly dealership that has a nice selection of motorcycles along with a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Though it may sound like a cliché and every dealer may claim to provide that, there are some dealerships that deliver, which is why it's really important that you do your research. Ask friends who ride where they've purchased before. Chances are they will be able to get you pointed in the right direction. Walk into dealerships and see how you're received. Observe the interaction of the sales people and other associates with current customers. Sit on the bikes and ask about their demo ride policy. Believe it or not there are still many dealerships that won't allow you to sit on bikes, let alone take a test ride on them. Personally, I think that is poor customer service. If you have a motorcycle license, and you have the proper gear, ask for a demo ride. How will you know if you like the way a bike feels and rides without taking a test ride on it first?

In addition to seeking referrals, look at dealership websites. That website is a 24 hour representation of that dealership. More involved dealers have a clean, modern frequently-updated website that contains their current inventory of both new and pre-owned motorcycles. You should be able to easily find information about each specific model, pictures of the models, as well as customer pictures and testimonials that tell a story of their buying experience of that dealership.

Events are very important when selecting a dealership. Does that dealership have events for their customers to enhance their riding experience and meet new people or does that dealership exist for the sole purpose of selling motorcycles. The sale shouldn't end when you ride off of the lot with your bike and neither should the experience. I want to know that I'm important to that dealership. I think to myself… Do I expect a free hot dog every time I visit? Not at all. Do I want to break the ice and meet other riders just like me? Of course I do. And this is why it's important to look at the dealership's events calendar. Larger and upcoming events can typically be found on the front page.

A really effective new way to research is to use a social networking site like MySpace, facebook and Twitter. I've found so much information out on businesses, friends, and potential new hires thanks to these sites. If the dealership belongs and promotes their social networking site, perfect! That's just another avenue to get an independent referral. Send a message to some of the people you find on the dealership's networking site. More often than not they'll be able to give you an honest opinion of the dealership because they are involved with the dealership and the dealership is involved with them by having such a site in the first place.

Southwestern Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many great motorcycle dealerships. Pennsylvania has the fourth largest number of registered motorcycles behind Florida, California, and Texas. We really love our motorcycles. That's why it's important to make sure that the dealership fits before you purchase your motorcycle.


The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of the radio show: "On the Road with Rocky" which airs Saturdays at 7AM on 1250 ESPN

Friday, April 10, 2009

ESPN ARTICLE_4_11_09_Brain Function

Recently, I was reading an article about a Japanese neuroscientist named Ryuta Kawashima who believes that riding your motorcycle can help you improve your brain function.  He is best known for his "Brain Training" software.  His software can typically be found on Nintendo DS which is like a game boy, however many people use the DS for "Brain Training."  Some of the exercises include cross-word puzzles, memory games, and trivia.  
Kawashima got together with Yamaha Motors and did a little scientific study and found that riding motorcycles helps keep drivers young by invigorating their brains. "The driver's brain gets activated by riding motorbikes" in part because it requires heightened alertness, which he found after he conducted a string of experiments involving middle-aged men.  As I read this article, I thought to myself…  Do you really need to complete a study to find out if your brain gets activated by riding motorcycles?  Okay, I’ll bite, so I read on.
"In a convenient and easy environment, the human mind and body get used to setting the hurdle low," he warned. "Our final conclusion is that riding motorcycles can lead to smart ageing." 
A self-professed motorcycle fan, 49-year-old Kawashima cited a new study conducted jointly by Yamaha and Tohoku University, for which he works.
One experiment involved 22 men in their 40’s and 50’s who held motorcycle licenses but had not operated a cycle for at least a decade. They were randomly split into two groups, with one asked to resume riding motorcycles in everyday life for two months, and another that kept using bicycles or cars. Kawashima says research showed the motorcycle-riding team demonstrated improvements in memory, space recognition and other functions of the prefrontal area. This is the area that covers memory, information processing and concentration functions.
"The group that rode motorbikes posted higher marks in cognitive function tests," Kawashima said.  In a test requiring the men to remember a set of numbers in reverse order, the riders' scores jumped by more than 50 percent in two months, while the non-riders' marks deteriorated slightly, he said.
I have to admit, I’m not entirely surprised by the first set of men having a higher score, but I was really surprised to learn that the non-riders’ scores went down. 
The riders also said they made fewer mistakes at work and felt happier.  Of course they did!  Who wouldn’t feel happy riding their motorcycle to and from work every day?  I’ve often wrote in my Post-Gazette column about how commuting on my Harley charges me up for work and helps me wind down before I go home.
I have to be honest, for the longest time I thought the reason that I felt better riding on the bike was because I was getting fresh air thrust into my lungs while going 60 miles per hour on the Parkway North.  After reading this article, it seems that there may be more to it than my “fresh air” theory.
"Mental care is a very big issue in modern society," said Kawashima. "I think we made an interesting stir here as data showed you can improve your mental condition simply by using motorbikes to commute."
In 2003, Kawashima authored “Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain”. More recently, he teamed with Toyota to help develop intelligent cars designed to help seniors drive safely. 
Now if only Kawashima could help my wife pull into the garage without scraping her minivan on the front fender, he would be the man!