Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sir, May I see your license?

To this day it simply amazes me how many riders do not have a valid motorcycle license in the state of Pennsylvania. Motorcyclists often talk about the dangers of riding on the road and topping their list of concerns is "the other guy" on the road.

We get it. I understand and agree that you have to be a defensive rider. But before you practice defense, you have to learn how to play the game. In order to play the game, you must be a licensed rider. In the state of Pennsylvania that means that you must have a Class "M" certification.

I've heard all of the excuses before. Everything from "I'm too busy" to "I've been riding for 30 years! Why do I need one now?" Why? Because its the law. If not only for that reason, you'll be doing yourself, your family and everyone else on the road a favor by getting your skills tested.

I mean, if you have been riding for years, then you don't have anything to worry about, right? Or do you? Is that why you've been putting it off? I also understand the time issue. Time is a luxury that few people have these days.

That's why now would be a perfect time of the year to go and get that motorcycle license that you've been putting off. If you get the ball rolling now, you can easily be licensed by spring.

The process is quite simple, actually. It will only take about 20 minutes of time to get the ball rolling.

A Motorcycle Learner’s Permit Application (Form DL-5) will first need to be completed. You'll need to grab ten bucks and head to a PennDOT Driver License Center for processing. You will be given a vision screening and a motorcycle knowledge test on the spot.

The test is really easy. There is a book (more like a pamphlet) that contains all of the answers to the test and it can be found at the center or at most motorcycle dealerships. It’s called the “Motorcycle Operator Manual.” It’s a whopping 40 pages with illustrations and a sample test.

We're not talking the SAT's here. This is just a simple 20 question multiple choice test to get your permit. I will give you some advice though. Some questions have two answers that could be right. You’ll have to go through and pick the better answer. You don’t even need a perfect score to pass, so if you miss one or two, you’ll still pass.

Once you pass the knowledge test, the application will be processed and a motorcycle (Class M) learner’s permit issued. The learner’s permit allows you to practice safe operating skills and is valid for one year.

When you’re ready to take your skills test, you can either schedule an appointment at one of PennDOT’s Driver License Centers or schedule training through the motorcycle safety program. This can be done on-line by going to

I highly recommend the motorcycle safety program. They give you motorcycles to ride, it can be done on weekends, and you get your Class M endorsement right there on the spot upon completion of the program. It’s very simple.

Over the next few months, the weather isn’t going to be the best for riding anyway. So why don’t you do yourself, your family and fellow motorcyclists a favor and get started on getting your license!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Are you prepared for I.C.E. (Incase of Emergency)

Are you prepared for I.C.E. (Incase of Emergency)

Accidents, they happen. What happens if you are involved in an accident and aren’t able to speak. How will your loved ones be notified? How will you be able to communicate your allergies and the medications you take to the Paramedics? Who will pick up your bike? That’s why you have to be ready with “I.C.E.” (incase of emergency).

You never know when an emergency situation will pop up while you’re on the road, so you should always be prepared. Sounds simple, right? But are you really prepared for a true emergency while riding your motorcycle? There are some really simple things that you can do to help you get swift medical treatment with very little guessing.

I’m going to start with my wallet. I don’t wear a chained wallet because I think it looks cool, or because it’s a rebellious fashion statement. I wear it because it’s practical for a motorcyclist. I make sure my wallet is attached to my body so I know where it is at all times. My drivers license, debit card, credit card, medical cards, AAA card, and a few business cards easily fit into my full sized wallet.

The chained wallet also comes with a clip for my keys so they are handy and it has a pouch for loose change. I’m going to stop short of calling it a “man purse” but that’s pretty much what it is. Everything I need is within easy reach.

I carry my “ICE Card” in my wallet at all times. Emergency personnel often look for this abbreviation so that they can quickly notify family members of someone who has been involved in an accident. Most commonly, “I.C.E.” information is found in cell phone contact lists. I wanted to take it a step further just incase something happens to the phone during the spill.

The card is really simple. It’s a laminated florescent pink piece of paper that sticks our just beyond my drivers license. Rescue crews can learn just about everything they need to know to treat me safely. I have the medications that I take as well as my allergies to bees and penicillin listed right below the contact numbers for my wife and my mom. I even have a number to call to arrange for the pick up the motorcycle.

I carry two phones with me. One is a regular flip phone and the other is my beloved Blackberry. The Blackberry is great for sneaking a few e-mails into work when the wife isn’t looking. If you are lost you can look your location up on your mobile map to get you going in the right direction. I’ve also used the weather application to outrun the weather and successfully skirted quite a few storms.

While the Blackberry is perfect for taking care of business road side, it’s not as user friendly as a traditional cellular phone. I chose the flip phone because the screen and number pad is protected by the outer shell of the phone. This type of phone will come in handy in the event that it should go flying across the highway.

Under the contacts on that phone, I have my wife listed as _ICE-Wife and my mom is listed as _ICE-Mom. I choose to put the underscore before their name so that those two numbers are listed at the top of my contact list. When an emergency responder looks at my phone, there is no question as to who to call or to get a medical history from.

In addition to the wallet and two cell phones, I always make sure I have my Epi-Pen on board because of my bee allergies. I also carry a variety of bandages and alcohol wipes in a baggie. I’m a huge fan of sunscreen. I carry the spray on in my tour pack. It’s not as messy and seems to apply evenly.

Before you head out for a ride, whether it’s on the open road or around the block, you should always be prepared just in case of an emergency. It’s really simple to do. Start putting things together now so that by the time Spring rolls around, you’ll be ready to go!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bringing a Panhead (and youth) back to life

Bringing a Panhead (and youth) back to life
Thursday, December 03, 2009
By Rocky Marks

After years of restoration and rebuilding, Dan Decker is back on his Harley Panhead, the bike he rode in his youth, right.
My father-in-law, Dan Decker, used to ride his 1956 Harley-Davidson Panhead around the Cambria County town of Ebensburg in the '60s and '70s. He didn't do it because he thought he was "cool" or it was "the thing to do." He did it out of necessity. It was his only mode of transportation. It didn't matter if it was raining, sleeting or snowing, that was his ride.

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Not only did that old Harley take him to and from work, but it safely delivered him to and from trade school in Quincy, Ill., where he became a certified gemologist. When he married my mother-in-law, they were able to put enough money together to purchase a car. It was a green Volkswagen Beetle, which was pretty inexpensive at the time and allowed him to hang on to that old Panhead.

My in-laws moved back to the Johnstown area in the '70s and it served as a second vehicle up until the late '70s when their family began to expand. In 1981, he parked it, put it under a cover with a promise to one day bring it back to life again.

That day came in 1998 around the time his oldest daughter and I were about to get married. His thought was now that the kids were moving out of the house, getting married and starting their own families, it would be a good time to bring it out of storage and put it front and center in the garage to start the restoration.

He started dissembling the motorcycle piece by piece. He neatly labeled the parts and put the bolts in their own little baggies. As he moved from one area of the bike to the next he discovered two very important things. His eyes weren't what they used to be and neither was his patience.

Determined to get his bike back on the road, he enlisted a local bike builder and the project was on. That was 1998. Less than a month ago, the project was completed. What started out as a two-year project, turned into just shy of 11 years.

It wasn't because of laziness that the project took so long. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Dan and Tom, the bike builder, sat down and mapped out the entire project vowing to only use original parts. Everything was to be exactly how it would have rolled off the showroom floor in 1956.

Of course, they don't make original replacement parts for motorcycles that are more than 50 years old, so a lot of time and dedication was put into researching what needed to go on to the motorcycle and then trying to find the original pieces.

This project took them from the Internet, to swap meets, to old Harley dealerships trying to find the exact part they needed. If a part could not be located, it was fabricated, chromed and mounted onto the motorcycle.

Over that 10-year period, Dan and Tom got to know each other well. They were two enthusiasts, each on their own mission to restore not only a piece of history, but part of Dan's younger days.

My in-laws are regular riders. They have taken their Harley-Davidson Ultra to each corner of the United States on four separate trips. Each trip brought them closer together and restored their youth and enthusiasm for riding.

After this last trip to California, Dan received the news that he had been waiting for almost 11 years to hear. The bike was finally finished and it looked exactly like it did when he was almost 40 years younger. Dan wanted to be there when the bike came back to life, so the builder didn't start the bike until my father-in-law was present.

After a few minutes of getting the fluids through the engine and a couple swift kicks, the old Harley fired back to life along with the memories of Dan's youth. After a few adjustments of the carburetor, the old Panhead was on its way home.

Even though the bike was finished late in the riding season, Dan managed to get some miles on his bike before the snow started to fly. When I went home for Thanksgiving, he proudly unveiled his motorcycle and started it up for the family to enjoy.

It was very hard not to share in the excitement of the moment. The journey to restoration was long. The parts list and time involved added up, but the trip back to Dan's youth was priceless.

I can't wait for spring to get on the bike and feel firsthand what he experienced almost 40 years ago.

Rocky Marks is the operations manager for Hot Metal Harley-Davidson in West Mifflin and host of the weekly radio show "On the Road With Rocky" on 1250 AM WEAE.

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