by Denny Schmidt
Since I started scribbling the Mr. Thrifty stories, I’ve received thousands of, er….hundreds of, wait, no, I mean several, comments both positive and negative, regarding this series. They have arrived by e-mail, regular mail, phone calls and by the traditional paper-bag-burning-on-my-front-steps, accompanied by doorbell ringing, and a note printed in crayon.
If I were to sum up all the comments and state them in the form of a question it would sound like this: “Are you making fun of Goldwing riders, Harley riders, sportbike riders, non-helmeted riders, riders who wear helmets, people who wear do-rags, people from Iowa, BMW riders, Elvis fans, bikes with ape-hangers, duct tape salesmen and kids with loud stereos in their cars?” Well the answer is yes and no.
Okay class (insert sound of your ninth grade English teacher clapping her hands twice), today we will continue the theme of motorcycle touring on a budget and perhaps include some touring tips that may be valuable for beginners and experts alike. In previous issues we have covered fashion and food. This months rambling will focus on where to sleep cheap and where to find emergency shelter.
Staying alive and healthy on extended motorcycle tours depends greatly upon the rider remaining as alert as possible. Getting the proper amount of sleep is directly related to alertness. Even if you have one of those exotic headlights that will burn a hole through the back wall of your garage, riding at night is still dangerous. Therefore, before it gets dark, the well heeled motorcyclist (You know the type: helmet matches bike, no dead bugs in whiskers, etc.) starts looking for a nice motel. The thrifty motorcyclist looks for some place cheaper to bed down. A cheap place to sleep won’t be much of a problem if you bring along the proper equipment. This, of course, consists of a sleeping bag, air mattress, a small tent and a list of names and addresses of all your friends, relatives, classmates, and anyone who has ever sent you a Christmas card in the last ten years.
Here’s how it works. Show up on the front lawn of one of the aforementioned individuals. Tell them you’re just passing through, and ask if you can camp in the yard for the evening. Most of the time you won’t even have to set up the tent, because they’ll beg you to sleep on the couch or in the spare room or, at the very least, on the porch. If you’re lucky and manage to keep everyone entertained with your sparkling wit and brilliant conversation, you might even get a shower and breakfast out of the deal. But hey, if no other offers are forthcoming, be thankful for a warm place to sleep. Down the road there is always the truck stop where you can get a shower and two hot-dogs for a buck.
Riding in the rain is only a minor inconvenience for the hardy motorcycle tourer. However, if you should happen to run into one of those nasty storms where the rain is driven by high winds and appears to be horizontal to the ground accompanied by hail, you may want to locate shelter for both you and your bike. Shelter for you could be under someone’s front porch, or perhaps an appliance dealer that has some refrigerator boxes out back. Shelter for you and your bike can be a little more difficult. I’ve had good luck ducking into self-serve car washes till the storm blows over. If you make it to the car wash, and the storm lasts all night, then you might have to break out that sleeping bag after all. Try to camp by the change machine. The floor is usually drier there.
The frugal motorcyclist does much of his or her own maintenance. There are a few areas however where attempting to be too thrifty can turn around and bite you. Mail order batteries are items that can be tempting for the frugal bike owner. Mail order batteries are not shipped with acid and therefore not charged. Motorcycle batteries need to be slow charged with a low current charger for eight to ten hours. After receiving his or her battery, the typical mail order battery buyer will spend half of Saturday and bunch of auto fuel attempting to locate someone who will sell them a pint of battery acid. Upon arriving home, our battery buyer will proceed to fill the battery with acid while creating an acid burn or two in a pair of jeans or a shirt in the process. He or she will then slap the thing on a car battery charger and cook the snot out of it. The act of charging the battery at a higher than recommended charging rate will ensure that the battery will have a short service life. Keep in mind that batteries can and do fail during the warranty period. Think of the fun you’ll have dumping out the battery acid, sending it back and starting the process all over again. Mr. Thrifty recommends that you call your friendly dealer on the phone and ask him to fill and charge a battery for you to pick up. Even if it’s 20 bucks more than the mail order battery, it’s a bargain.