Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 BMW GS Challenge recap

OK, so I went.  The end.


You want more?

Oh, OK.

a Big HELLLLLOOOOOOO!!!!!! to all 2 of my fans out there!

Life has been hectic and crazy.  I have neglected my blog for a bit and it needs some updates, so as they say at JetLife Stadium, heeeeeeerrre we go!

GS Riding

Captain USA has been set up and ready to ride in the dirt.  I took the Max BMW offroad class a few months ago, and did not get a chance to do anything meaningful with the new skills, until The Trophy Challenge.

Every two years, BMW bring sin riders from countries spanning the globe, to compete on spec bikes in some far flung exotic location.  On alternate years, they establish teams for each country participating at tryouts.  This year, the tryouts were in Greer, SC at teh BMW facility.  I had to take part.

I went into the event knowing full well I would not make the final team.  I don't have the skills needed yet, but I also knew the event would (should) be fun.  I also knew that any of the challenges put before us would be "doable" on the bikes we were riding.  So I looked at this outing as a chance to get out there, in a controlled environment, and test my skills on the GS.

My preparation entailed adding larger footpegs to Captain USA.  I felt that was adequate.  Others, namely those who made the team, actually practiced their skills and worked hard at getting ready.  Fools.

Heading Down

So I get on the bike and I ride like the wind, or more accurately, like a snail.  I was going along at a car's pace.  Keeping up with traffic, just doing my thing.  I figured that with a 700 mile trip in front of me, and plenty of time, I would smell the roses.

Left NJ at 1:00 AM.  It was 50 degrees.  NBD, I will just plug in my heated liner.  Except I had done some work on the bike and forget to hook the Gerbings connector back.  Sweet.  I had to get gas in the first 100 miles.  I really hate that.  I prefer to run along at least 200, but what are you gonna do?

Then, I got to DC and got some more gas.  I also filled up my auxiliary gas can thing.  And promptly over filled it.  And the overflow ended up on my helmet.  Awesome.

Riding along and I see a flash in front of me.  WTF was that?  Look down at the dash and see LAMPF!, which is German for "Your headlight just blew".  Luckily, I had recently installed Denali DX lights on the bike and I literally could not see a difference from before the headlight went out.  Those lights are BRIGHT and very directional, so I was in fine shape.

Around 8:00 AM, I was getting a bit tired, so I decided to take a nap.  Found a municipal building and Library with a little garden.  Conked out and grabbed a quick 30 minutes. 

Got up and motored on, until I was really feeling like breakfast, which was had, at a Dairy Queen.  I had not seen this before, but the DQ had full on breakfast menu, like a diner.  Pretty sweet.

I had Gerbing HQ on my route.  My liner had been burning me on occasion and I wanted them to check it out.  The facility was a lot larger than I thought it would be.  Stopped in, and they were nice enough to look at the liner and diagnose the problem.  It seem the male portion of the connector for the heatroller can get squished a bit, and that introduced resistance, and dumb riders like me get burned.  Quickly fixed and on my way.

Remember my "smell the roses" plan?  That held in place until NC.  I was on some highway, and a cager was sitting next to me texting and weaving.  Decided to get the hell out of there and put some space between us.  Aaaaand got a performance award.  Sweet.

Lunch time came around, and I ate at Hill Billy's BBQ.  OMG, so good.

I had planned on spooning on new rubber in SC, but the performance award negated that plan.  The TKC 80s I had on there were in good shape, so NBD.  Instead, I checked into the hotel, stripped the bike down for the event, ate some crappy grub and went to bed.

Day 1

I got prepared, which in my case means, eating breakfast and putting on my Captain USA outfit.

I followed some other riders to the performance center, which was about 3 miles form my hotel.  Checked in, got my swag and my rider number, 34.  I have some numerical superstitions, and 34 was right around mid pack, which is where I was hoping to end up, so I was encouraged.  Foolishly encouraged, it turns out.

I will make this comment once, so as not to bring down the tone of this posting, but the organization at the event was very un-German.  I will leave it at that.

We were broken out into teams of 15, I believe.  Each team was given a color.  We were purple.  GO TEAM BARNEY!  Looking around, there were a good spread of bikes, riders, equipment and skill.  And right there, behind me, is another rider wearing my helmet.  How dare he?

Day 1 Exercises

Slow race.  Easy peasy.  I practice this all the time.  Standing on the pegs.  We had to remain seated.  ZERO points.  Booo.

Figure 8
Just like it sounds, nothing crazy here.

Long Slalom
Even Easier.  

Trial Stop Slalom
Uphill, challenging, but straightforward.

Box 720
two complete turns, both directions, inside a box.  Tricky.  Made it, but lost points for hitting cones, etc.

Long straight slalom
How much easier could this get?  A straight slalom?  Come on.
Oh, what?  I managed 4 out of 12 cones?  Oops.

Board ride
Fast and easy.

Max points for a 35 MPH swerve.  I was probably around 30.  Ah well.

Here is the score sheet from Day 1.  See all that purple towards the bottom?  Yeah, we were not the top performers.

Had dinner and a beer with a new friend from NYC, who happens to ride a 2012 Rallye bought from Max.  Funny.


Team Purple didn't do great, but we did have fun.  A member of our crew went out and bought us all pony tails.

There was a LOT of this during this event

Day 2 AM Exercises

Hill U Turn
Climb a small hill, make a u turn, come down the hill.  Straightforward.

Steep hill climb, down, turn ABS
Climb a steepish hill, crest the top, down the other side, and make a turn at the end.  Pretty simple.  Except if you forget to turn off your ABS.  Then it goes something like this:
Climb the hill, crest the top, look down, ease over the top, start down the hill, grab some brakes AND WHOOAAAAAAA I AM NOT STOPPING!!!!!!!  Blew the turn at the end.

Good sized whoops, well separated, and easily done.

Slalom through a gravel trap.  I have never ridden in gravel before, so I did my best.  Touched downa couple times, but kept the rear wheel churning and made it through.

Big concrete culverts,  side by side, and you ride over them.  Intimidating looking, but not that hard in practice.

Dirt slow speed slalom, again, pretty straightforward.

Figure 8
In the dirt.  Managed to get through it with minimal loss of points.  I think I dabbed once or twice.

About 50 feet of large rocks.  Kept up momentum and made it through.

Fun Zone
We had the opportunity to play in the fun zone.  Bunch of exercises and dirt and whatnot.  I am not in the best of shape, so I took my opportunity to rest.  Good call, since afternoon was tough.

Day 2, PM

Slalom over logs
Tight slow slalom course, with logs at each gate, where we had to trial stop.  Definitely tough.

Slalom climb
Wet rocks, slalom course, up a pretty steep hill.  Made it, but it had my attention.

Off Camber 270
Finished the uphill climb, then continued on.  No one letting us know where the start gate was, so I continued on until a corner worker jumped out and told me to back up.  Downhill.  Off Camber.  On Wet rocks.  I managed to drop Captain USA on both sides. Well, to be fair, I dropped him on the left side.  When he started to tip over on the right side, I pushed him over.

After that excitement I managed to get through the exercise.

Trail Stop Decline
Steep downhill.  Wet Rocks.  Trial stop at each gate.  Or you can just blast down the hill and get no points.  I did not have the skills to do this exercise.  So down the hill I went.

Big old car teeter.  Nice and wide, so it was easy, but you had to get pretty far past the midway point for it to activate.  I stopped a little short and had to put my foot down, but managed to complete the exercise.

Water Crossing
I have never done a water crossing.  This was more of a "Ride the River" rather than cross the river.   The obstacle was about 18 inches deep and about 100 feet long.  There are rocks at the bottom, which you can't see through the muddy water.  I made it 95 feet, before I managed ot dump the bike.  Running.  Into the water.  Soooo yeah.

After clearing the spark plugs, pumping out the water and changing the oil, all was well.

 And here are the results after 2 days of riding.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

DVC Performance Firearms Training, Review


As some may or may not know, I am a competitive guy.  I know, I know, shocking.

That competitiveness carried over to shooting pistols.  I enjoy going to the range, but there is only so much fun to be had punching holes in paper.

I have competed in Static Steel, USPSA and Knockdown Steel.

Static Steel is what it sounds like.  You stay in one location, and shoot at X number of steel targets.  You are timed.  You reload between sets, so there is no reloading on the clock.  You get 5 runs at each set up (stage), and your best 4 count.  There are a number of stages in a match, somewhere between 4 and 6 or so.  Your aggregate time determines your standings at the end of a match.

Knockdown Steel is similar, except you get one run at each stage.  Normally there are 25-50 targets per stage, and besides just hitting them, you actually have to knock them down.  You do reload on the clock in this discipline.  Again, your aggregate time for all stages determines your standing at the end of the match.

Finally, USPSA is a shooting game that incorporates accuracy, speed and movement.  There will be X number of paper targets per stage, and you will have to reload, move between shooting positions, and figure out the best way to shoot a given stage.  Each target must be hit twice, and there are different point based on locations on the target.  There may also be steel targets, which would only have to be shot once.  The best way is the way that allows you to make the most accurate shots, in the least period of time.  Your score is based on points scored divided by time taken.

I do OK in these games.  Nothing great, nothing awful, but I do enjoy them.  My issue is that I was not improving very much from competition to competition.  My accuracy was improving, but my speeds were not really getting much better.

I am a big believer in training for any activity, especially any competitive activity.

Two weeks ago, or so, there was a thread on NJ Gun Forums, re: how to get better at these games.  The usual responses came back including:

  • Shoot faster. (No kidding, but how?)
  • Dry Fire. (OK, what specific tings should I practice in dry fire?)
  • Play the game more.  (Great way to spend a lot of time, money and ammo getting better at being bad)
  • Take a class with Aaron at DVC.  (ooooo.  Something useful.  A local guy who teaches specifically to the games I am competing in.  Sounds good.)

The Class

Signing up for the class was straightforward.  The website was easy to navigate, and asked for pertinent information.

My class was scheduled from 11:00 AM Sunday to 3:00 PM Sunday and was one on one training.  Aaron does not do group classes, so he can give each student individual attention.  He will instruct 2 or 3 people who want to train together, however.

Aaron showed up on time, and we got underway.  We spent some time going over the WRITTEN SYLLABUS  he had prepared.  He was well prepared and the syllabus was specifically geared towards me, from the Q&A on his site.

Aaron is a very good shooter.  He competes at high level events.  He is also very personable, and an EXCELLENT trainer.  The class was not a cookie cutter class.  For each portion of the class, he ascertained my ability level and taught to that level.  We spent more time on the areas I needed most help with and less time on areas where I was solid.  He did, however, have pointers, lessons and tips for each area related to these shooting games.

The first thing we did was set up a USPSA style shooting stage.  Aaron asked me to shoot the stage, and I did.  My time for the stage was 13.88 seconds.  I hit 13 Alphas (best shot you can make) and 3 Charlies (2nd best shot you can make).  I felt like I ran the stage well.  I did not mess it up in any way, so I was satisfied with how it went.

Aaron told me he has his students run a stage as the first thing, so he can ascertain their abilities, not just their accuracy.

We then went into the teaching portion.

We covered the following:
  • Basics (Grip, Stance, sight picture)
  • Draw
  • Calling Shots
  • Follow Up
  • Transitions
  • Shooting on the move
  • Stage Planning
During each portion of the training, he spent time asking me questions, observing my abilities, and then teaching me how to improve.

He taught me how to improve my speed while slowing down.  Crazy, right?  But choosing where to act quickly and where to act slowly can make dramatic improvements in overall times.  He actually sped up my times on some exercises by slowing down my shooting and my movement, but with an aggregate faster time.

The Results

At the end of the class, we went back and shot the stage from the beginning of the class, to see if the lessons helped.  This is where he imparted some last minute suggestions on how to run a stage for the fastest time.

Let me set the scene:
  • I had been shooting and getting instruction for the last 4 hours (it was actually past 3PM at this point, Aaron was not rushing me to get done in the allotted time.)
  • I was concentrating on my mechanics, and thinking about what I was doing, as opposed to just doing.  I obviously had not yet incorporated all the training into my lizard brain yet.
  • I was tired and sweaty and had not yet eaten.
All of this should have resulted in a slower stage time.  None of this was conducive to "shooting faster".

I set up at the beginning of the stage.  Aaron gave the range commands and the buzzer went off.

I shot the stage using my new knowledge, mechanics and thought process.

After it was done, Aaron asked me how it felt.  I replied that it was probably slower than my morning shoot.


I had completed the stage in 10.89 Seconds with 16 Alphas (best hits).  Remember, I was concentrating on doing this correctly, and thinking about my mechanics.  Once the new mechanics and planning are in my lizard brain, this will be faster.

So my USPSA score would have been 5.3314 for the first run I did and the last run would have been a 7.3462.  As you can see, that is a dramatic improvement.

I can not say enough good things about the entire experience.  I am in training to be a motorcycle instructor, and I have taken lots of classes.  I appreciate a good instructor.  Aaron is one of the best I have encountered.  The pace was excellent, the instruction spot on and the improvements in my game were immediate.

So yeah, money WELL SPENT.

I will be going back after I have incorporated the training I have received into my game.  I feel that I am vastly improved.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2014 GS Challenge, Abandon all hope, ye who enter

Or, "You're doing WHAT now?"

As many people can attest I an an AWESOME off road rider.  BMW comes to me on a regular basis with questions on how to improve the GS line of bikes.  Other manufacturers reach out to me almost daily with questions on how to beat BMW at their own game.  This year, I will forgo entering into Paris - Dakar, just to give the other riders a chance to win, but I am still the odds on favorite to win.

It is a burden to be this talented.

These are the statements of a person who has a chance at competing in this year's qualifying event for the US in South Carolina.  These are not statements that refer to me.

I have owned a GS for about a year now.  Captain USA is well kitted out with farkles and such. 

I am well set up with some snazzy gear.

Picked up my Rallye edition from Max BMW.  Up until July of this year, I had no offroad skills at all.  I took the Max BMW Offroad class and learned a ton.  Really picked up my abilities and confidence.

BMW does the GS Challenge every other year.  They take teams from several countries, fly them to some exotic locale and the teams compete on identical GS motorcycles to see who is the best in the world.

This year, September 20-22 there is a qualifier at the BMW Facility in South Carolina.  I had such a good time learning how to ride my bike offroad, I signed up for this event.  While there is about a zero chance of me making the US Team, I KNOW I will have fun.

There are many crazy drills and challenges for GS riders.

Here are some I found:

So yeeaaahhhhhhhhh........

Anyway, part of the challenge will also be social media interactions.  This is where I hope to really shine, since my skills will probably be my weakest point.  It is not terribly important that skills are the most important part of the challenge.  Bah!  I will win with my word smithery! (smithing? smithness? smithitude?  WRITING!)

I will be heading down to SC Thursday the 19th.  Will be bringing a fresh set of tires with me, or getting them down there.  Once I get down there, I will strip Captain USA to the bone, for the competition.

I am really looking forward to the stupidity and fun.  If you could follow me on Twitter, Friend me on Facebook, or keep an eye on this page for updates, I would really appreciate it!

Wish me luck, I am gonna need it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hot Buttered Goat, or How I Learned to Stop Working and Love the Rally

The Hot Buttered Goat Rally, 2013

August 31, 2013 will remain a memorable day for me.  It was the day I learned how to have fun on a Rally, thanks to the ingenious and loveable Johnathan "Hammy" Tan.  I have been doing this thing for a little over a year.  I enjoy rallies tremendously.  But that enjoyment is the enjoyment of a job well done.  It may sound odd, but rallies, at least the riding, are not "fun" for me.

This rally had me having fun on the ride.  It was a traditional photo based rally.  There were a few wildcards in there, however, and these were what made the rally fun for me.

The Start, Stereotypes Ho!

In this rally, we could start anywhere we wanted to.  We just had to get a start receipt after 7:50 AM.  My initial plan had me gassing up for a receipt in Stockton, NJ, about 3 miles from a bonus.  On my way to Stockton, I passed through Sergeantsville, which had 2 little stores that were open, and was only a mile from my first bonus.  PERFECT!

Except, it wasn't.  The first store I waled into had all the trappings of a small rural store.  4 bearded, bespectacled overall wearing gents sat out front, sipping coffee and nibbling.  Walked into the store, and it is what is to be expected, some food items, a small grill, and the owners sitting behind the counter.  This is where reality diverged from expectations.

The owners of this small general store were Asian.  Very Asian.  Literally, "wha you wan?".  I mean, straight out of central casting.  I walked into the store and saw a receipt hanging out of the register.

Here is the exchange, literally, I am not making any racist jokes here.

Me: "Can I see that receipt?"
Shop Owner: "Wha you wan?"
Me: "The receipt.  I just want to look at it."
S O: "Why you wan my receipt?  Buy something, get receipt."
Me: "If the receipt has what I need on it, I will buy something."
S O: "You buy or you go!"
Me: "OK, please let me see the receipt, I just want to see if it as the time on it"
S O: "Crock is on wall!  There time! Why you need my receipt?"
Me: "I just need to know the receipt has a time on it, please"
S O: "OK, OK, OK, you can have receipt."
Me: "Thank you" and then I look at the receipt.  It says 5:05 PM, August 30th.
Me: "Is this receipt fro yesterday or today?"
S O: "Receipt from today.  Crock on legister messed up"

Hory Clap.  (OK, that was a racist joke).

I thanked him and went over to the next store.  Pretty much the same set up, minus the Asian store owners.  This store was owned by some cast members from Deliverance.  At least this is what I expected, although a little cliche, to be honest.

Me: "May I see a receipt?"
Cletus: "Whut you want that fer?"
Me: "I just need to see what info it has on it."
Cletus: "It is just a receipt"
Me: I grab a mallet and start pounding my nuts flat.  That was much less painful.  "Thanks for the mallet.  Now, can I see a receipt, please?"
Cletus: "Here ya go."  Receipt has nothing useful on it.
Me: "Thanks again, now do you have ice to put on my smashed nuts?"

So I wander back to my bike, about 10 minutes behind, and head over to Stockton, my initial plan.  Get there and the gas station I was going to use was closed.  Grrrr.....  I knew there was another a few blocks away, and I headed for that.  Luckily it was open and I got a good starting receipt.  JT was also there.  We spoke briefly and figured out we had the same starting route.

Off we go!

First stop, Sergeantsville Bridge.  Had to get the bridge and the roadway.  We had no rally flag, so we were required to have a mascot in all our pictures.  Kate had purchased a little Oscar the Grouch for me, so he was my mascot.  He was not even mad I kept calling him the Grinch at scoring.

Next stop was Northlandz, a train display / museum kind of deal.  I got there several hours before opening, so I just snapped my pic and moved on.  As I was heading South from this bonus, I saw JT coming North.  He was about 3 minutes behind me the whole first half of the rally, I would guess.
 There are several observatories in NJ.  This one is off of route 31, near Clinton, in Voorhees State Park. 
 Hot Dog Johnny's.  A NJ Staple.  They paved since the last time I stopped in.
After  bit of a highway grind, I got to Bill's Old Bike Barn. This is a super cool museum of motorcycles and some other moto related stuff.  This is where the fun part of the rally started for me.  There were major bonus points (50) for enjoying a tour of any of the bonii that had tours.  Bill's did.

Of course I could not pass on easy points.  But I was a few minutes ahead of schedule and decided to actually walk around a bit, instead of just paying the $5, walking in, taking a pic and leaving.
 I am so glad I took that time.  In the 10 minutes I was in there, I saw 100 bikes that were each cooler than the last.  This is defintely on my to do list when I can spare half a day.

Here is how Oscar feels about the museum.
 Nest stop, Knoebels.  Knoebels is an amusement park in central PA.  Family owned and operated, it is a cool spot to bring the family.  The ferris wheel was our photo target, worth 20 points, but there was even more fun (there is that word again) to be had!
 Hammy wanted us to enjoy ourselves on this rally.  To that end, he had Knoebels and Hershey Park on the bonii list.  Additionally, you could ride a roller coaster for 50 bonus points, and you could do this twice, but it had to be different coasters.

At Knoebels, there is no parking fee nor a gate fee.  You just buy tickets or all day passes to ride rides.  Each coaster was $2.50, so Oscar and I bought $5 worth of tickets and got lost in the park.
 I am a huge coaster fan.  Oscar, not so much, but he put on a brave face while in line.

Going up the first rise on Phoenix!  Wooden Coasters are really the most fun.  There is a visceral, elemental feel to them.

 Next up, Twister, and was it ever.  I was having a full on fun fest.

Of course this was tempered by the fact that I was wearing full riding gear, with my stretchy under garment and carrying a small stuffed Oscar.  All this while going up to rides and asking kids if they were riding alone (so I could get a seat).  Luckily, I got out of there before someone thought I was a pedophile with a Codura fetish.

 Next stop on our tour, a statue of Whistler's Mother.  The thing is, this statue is smack dab in the middle of a town that was completely closed for a parade.  Luckily, I found a road that paralleled the main street.  I got down to the center of town, parked the bike, hiked up a block, and snapped the pic.

On my way out of town, I realized I was the only person on the entire road, except the people lining the sidewalks to watch the parade.  So I hit the switch and turned on the party lights on my bike.

 Pink Pig.  Pretty self explanatory.
 Here is the biggie.  1,000 points to get a picture of the leaping goat at Cabelas.  Whatever you do, you don't want to blow the goat, or you could go from a potential 3rd to last.
 Giant, and creepy, Amish couple at Roadside America
 This is where more fun came in.  There is an entire miniature village at this location.  Went in very briefly, after paying for my tour, as I was slightly behind schedule at this point.  Very cool stuff.  Grabbed the extra 50 points and was on my way.
 The MidAtlantic Air Museum.  I had already taken teh two tours I was allowed, but this one tugs at my heart strings, as I am a glider pilot.

Da Bears

 Boylestown, PA is home to Bears.  Decorated Bears.  They were sooooo cute and sooooo worth the points.  Each bear was only worth 1 point, but you could grab up to 30 of them.  I snatched up 31, just to have some insurance.  This was fun, but I am still me, so I had a solid plan and map in my tank bag.

 Hard to see, but this is be Lincoln Bear

 Firefighter Bear

I'm Open!
 This one was inside a Library

 Inside a car dealership.  It was hard to walk away from the air conditioning.
 This one is covered in mirror shards.  Disco ball Bear!

 Right out front of a Rita's Italian Ice.  I wish I had time to stop for some.
 Bear, in a glass case of emotion.

 Butter Valley, another must do.
 Homemade peanut butter?  Yes please.

Philadelphia, the anti time sink

Traditionally, I prefer to avoid major cities during rallies, especially during a holiday weekend.  The "optimal" route, as laid out by Streets and Trips, had me stopping the the lighthouse, then going through downtown Philly to Johnny Hots, then more downtown to U Bastard.

I knew this was a losing strategy.  I also knew Philly was a must do, as there were a total of 75 points there.  So I played with the order of stops a bit, and came up with a solution that almost all highway.  The new order was Johnny Hots, U Bastard and then the Lighthouse.  Worked out perfectly.  I was in and out of Philly in about 20-25 minutes.

Johnny Hots, not be be confused with Hot Dog Johnny's.
 Welcome to Philly, You Bastard!
 Final stop.

Wrap it up!

I took some pride in my arrival at Rally HQ.  I finished within 2 miles and 2 minutes of my plan.  This is the type of enjoyment I normally get from a rally, but the fun I had hunting bears, riding roller coasters and taking tours was not to be forgotten.

I was also pleasantly surprised that my Kate was there.  She had bailed in the AM on riding the rally because she was not feeling well, but she decided to ride out and help Hammy.

I managed to squeak out a win against JT, but it was oh so close.  He was all over me, and any mistake would have put him in first.  Well done JT.

Here are pics of the rally staff and riders.