CMG’s Days of Summer: Lessons learned

My assignment was essentially to infiltrate a gang. They were a hard-charging, fast-riding, loud-snoring bunch of veteran bikers. Road weary and wise, they’d travelled the world on two wheels and lived to tell the tale. And tales they did tell, late into the night. In fact, it was hard to get them to stop.

The group in question is the CMG staff. My job, as resident newbie — still with only a motorcycle learner’s licence — was to learn everything I could from these bikers: how they ride, how they think, why you shouldn’t tease the Harley rider too much, and the merits of an old-fashioned paper map.

It was my first motorcycle road trip. Hell, it was my first trip riding outside of the city. Here then, are the Very Important Lessons I learned from riding with the CMG gang.

Matt, every inch the bearded urban hipster, absorbs sage advice from Dean, at left, and Dustin, at right. And a pile of crap from them, too.
Wrong side down

Never put your helmet neck-side down on dirt. Bugs can crawl in, and, if they’re the stinging sort, can make your ride very unpleasant. Mark warned me about this one. No doubt he learned the hard way. [Yes, I did, with a bug running laps through my hair under the helmet. – Ed.]

Essential storage

You want to take snacks and other important supplies home from a grocery run, but you don’t have a backpack or luggage, and your pockets simply won’t do. The solution? Tuck everything into your jacket and zip it up. (This works as long as you’re not wearing a skin-tight leather jacket, like Jeff.) Do not, however, put any hard or pointy stuff in there. Think: bags of chips, beef jerky, or Fritos for Dustin.

Free paper towel

Grab some before filling up your bike, and use it to catch any drips so they don’t land on your tank, or worse, on the hot engine. This was another hot tip from Dean.

It’s important to take breaks from the ride, as Mark demonstrates in attempting to prove his munificence by walking on water. Good thing his boots are waterproof.
Important stops

Parts of me I never knew could be sore started to ache on my first moto trip. Other body parts that are not supposed to be totally numb went totally numb. The cure? Coffee stops. Fuel stops. Ice-cream stops. Roadside bathroom stops. Yoga stops. Whatever. Take regular, brief stops just to get off the saddle for a bit. The point of any road trip — especially one on a motorcycle — is the journey. So, stop and see the sights, even if it is just a local DQ, to regain feeling in your extremities.

The three-quarter rule

On average, believe only three-quarters of any story any member of the CMG gang tells late at night around a campfire. Remember, that’s an average. The later it gets, the more B.S. seeps into biker stories.

That backpack of Matt’s was really heavy. Good thing he wasn’t trying to get his knee down on the Ducati.
Never again, backpack

Everyone else showed up with waterproof tank bags, tail bags and saddle bags. Me? Not having any of those fancy storage devices, I crammed everything into a backpack. Now, backpacks have always been great for running quick errands on a motorcycle in the city. Turns out, however, that they become tiresome and restrictive on three-hour rides into the countryside. Note to self: buy fancy moto luggage so I can fit in with the CMG gang next time.

Go low-tech

Mark came through with this pearl of biker wisdom: “Look at a map beforehand and remember it. I also often carry a paper map (I know), and my phone has maps on it. A motorcyclist never, NEVER relies on a disembodied voice to talk him through directions. A motorcyclist is always ready to ditch the directions when a better-looking road appears.” Initially, I dismissed it as Mark being his curmudgeonly biker self. But, he was totally right. I ditched Google and was better for it. I only took one wrong turn. There was really no need to have a screen in front of my face constantly. Go old-school: you won’t regret it.

Is he dancing?

Mark, Dean, Jeff and Dustin would do all kinds of whacky dance moves on their bikes while I rode behind. They’d stick a leg out, raise an arm. It looked like the Hokey Pokey. Turns out they were trying to tell me things but I was too thick to understand. A leg out or a finger down points out a hazard on the road. A leg out could also mean a change of position in the lane. A tap on the tank means a fuel stop. A closed fist means we’re stopping.

Matt continues absorbing the wisdom of the ride. Too bad he hasn’t figured out how to mount his mirrors properly.
Watch and learn

Riding with this group of veteran CMG staffers, with aprox. 2,000 years of riding experience between them, proved a great chance to learn good habits. They look at their mirrors a lot. They commit to turns, and keep a steady speed. They pass slow-moving cars quickly, deliberately in one smooth motion. They signal, always. They all rode at their own comfortable pace. They always watched out for the rider behind and waited at turns if we lost anyone (usually me). If you’re a new rider, following some hardened veterans like these will help you pick up good riding habits.

Deb. Be nice to Deb.

Because she’s the one who brings you coffee at breakfast at Sir Sam’s Inn. In fact, you should probably be really nice to, and tip generously, anyone who brings you coffee. They can make or break your morning on a moto trip.

Cramping up, coach

When holding the throttle wide open all day to keep up with the CMG gang, your hand can cramp up. Especially when riding naked bikes, which force you to cling to the bars for dear life. Dean brought a nifty little plastic dongle called a Throttle Rocker that clips on to the bars and lets you rest your hand on the throttle while cruising.

Dustin demonstrates the maximum lean angle of the average Harley rider. Wouldn’t want to scuff those saddlebags, after all – might shake up the beer inside.
Don’t tease the Harley rider too much

While the others (okay, mainly Jeff) had fun teasing Dustin about his deep devotion to Harley-Davidson, they all inevitably tried to get back on Dustin’s good side sooner or later. You see, the Harley had something none of the other bikes did: saddlebags. Everyone came crawling back to ask Dustin nicely if they could stash their crap in the Harley’s saddlebags.

So, when’s the next trip?




  1. I think a tank bag with a paper map is a great way of storing lighter, need-access gear and help to keep track of where you’re going. Use your cell phone’s GPS to get your exact location, sure, but I am completely in agreement that we should chase those great-looking roads at every opportunity. ALL, without exception, of my best riding/driving experiences have come when I have literally been completely lost and just following the best roads.

    TL;DR — Tank bag w paper map and soft saddle bags, FTW. Chase interesting roads and be open to adventure.

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