It’s about six months following surgery for the rhegmatogenous retinal detachment of my left eye. The good news is that the retina has recovered very well; at four months an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan of my eye showed nominal recovery. I was somewhat relieved.
A complication of the surgery, which involves a vitrectomy – a draining of the vitreous fluid in the eye – is a subsequent development of a cataract, in about 80% of cases. This has begun for me, and the brief moment of improvement in my eyesight is now stalled. My central vision in the left eye was slowly returning, but is now partially obscured again. I can’t do anything about it until March, which is four months away.
I have also developed age-related presbyopia in my right eye, so I now require reading glasses. It’s not been a great year for my peepers.
Still, there’s much to be positive about. I am likely looking at a full recovery for the left eye, assuming the cataract surgery is straightforward. We will see.
I give it a very short amount of time before these are getting pushed over or vandalised by irate drivers. They’re all over the East End of the City, occupying car parking spaces. If you’ve travelled to London, Paris, Madrid or anywhere with a true multi-modal transport network you’d think this was absolutely absurd. Why don’t they use dedicated parking, or those nooks and crannies that so many cities have? Well, this is Pittsburgh.
Scoobi is a mobile application based on-demand mobility service for individuals in need of rides to their preferred destination by way of an electric scooter.
Translated, somebody has secured VC funding for a fleet of battery-powered scooters in a season-bound city that it is a textbook example of the primacy of the automobile.
I cannot think of a worse place to try this, apart from perhaps Antarctica. Somewhere with the cultural and legislative foundations like California, despite being worse for just about everything else, gets it right when it comes to two wheels. PA is still stuck in a time when two wheels means you’re either broke, a hooligan, or a dentist playing Easy Rider on a $30k Harley. Scoobi, for what it’s worth, is a great idea on paper. However, this progressive, environmentally friendly platform is in a city whose culture is heavily, but not totally (more on this later) dominated by the car. For example, here is an excerpt from the PA Driver’s Handbook:
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle with the same privileges as any vehicle on the roadway.
Yes, dear reader. You read that correctly. And yes, these are considered motorcycles. Just roll that around in your head for a moment; savour the utter madness.
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
This removes the inherent advantages of a powered bike at a stroke. You can’t filter or lane-split; you are limited precisely to the same freedom as a car well over four times your size. There is zero dedicated infrastructure around the city for scooters and motorcycles. What could be a burgeoning market for deliveries and efficient commuting is stymied by totally backward legislation. Instead you wait in traffic and park as if you are a car.
The result? Individual scooters and motorcycles using a full car parking space, which – if you are familiar with Pittsburgh drivers antipathy to anything that isn’t a car – is not going to have a happy ending. Why use one? What you are you gaining?
The Exception that is BikePGH
BikePGH are little short of amazing. They have done an amazing job in cycling advocacy, and it’s fair to say they’ve successfully challenged the dominance of the car, at least in the city limits. Pittsburgh now has some dedicated bike lanes, and a growing cycling culture. It’s helped by some unusual unspoken privileges granted to cyclists; namely filtering and being able to sensibly roll some intersections; consequently cyclists that have overcome the fierce topography of Pittsburgh can get around more efficiently than anything else.
Realistically, powered bikes need their own version of BikePGH, or the roads will never be opened up in a manner which makes them truly practical. I can’t help but think Scoobi has put the proverbial cart before the horse.
I’d had a great couple of weeks. I’d just got back from visiting my Dad in Spain, along with my sister and beautiful niece (whom I had never met).
Spain had really inspired me this visit, and I dreamed of being able to take a bike to some of those pristine roads in Andalucia. Maybe next time.
A couple of weeks back home had seen the unusually long winter finally give way to rising temperatures, and the longer day allowed riding with friends after work again. I met my friend Shane for a short ride out and meal afterwards to see in the new riding season. During the ride I became aware of something in my left eye; what looked like a large vitreous floater; the kind of ghostly web that one sees occasionally, but much larger. Later on, in the pub, it came and went. I recall thinking that in a certain light it looked as if someone dressed in black was standing in my periphal vision. Due to a sense of optimism and well-entrenched morbid fear of hospitals and doctors, I thought I’d sleep on it and see how it was the next day. I wasn’t especially worried at this point.
Well, you’ve got some blood in there.
I awoke the next morning, and as soon as I sat upright that ghostly floater had turned an inky, impenetrable black. If you imagine your vision simplified as a rectangle, the bottom left-hand quarter was completely gone, replaced by a shapeless dark void.
Obviously this warranted a trip to the ER, which fortunately was just up the road. After handing over $100 (my ‘copay’) I was seen almost immediately. I described the symptoms and had to place a towel across my eyes, sit in the dark for ten minutes, and await the retinal scanner.
This machine, about the size of a coffee percolator, whirs and clicks as it locates your eye, then takes a picture. The ER doctor, a genial, middle-aged man looked at the images and said “Well, you’ve got some blood in there.” He suspected a ruptured blood vessel but was emphatic that he couldn’t say for sure. “We see about two per week. It’s common. Just not to you.” Fair enough, this was the ER, they were not going to be able to do much more. I needed to see a specialist at an eye centre as soon as possible, which as far as the ER were concerned meant the next day. There was no immediate urgency at this point; just a kind of calm hurry.
I called my local eye centre and was greeted by a receptionist with all the enthusiasm of someone that wished you were already dead. She told me they were full the next day, she’d have to ring around and would call me back (narrator: She didn’t call back). In the end I decided to call again and this time got someone useful that booked me in at a location the other side of town the next morning.
Sewickley, PA. 11th May, 1100hrs
Oh, that sounds like a retinal detachment. I hope not.
By this time, it had got worse. If I had to describe it in percentage terms, I’d estimate that around half the vision in the left eye was gone. I was scared, my family was scared, and I was starting to feel the onset of some panic. what could be wrong with me? Was it just my eye, or was something else happening?
The triage nurse was efficient, funny, and had a bedside manner that definitely needed a bit of work. She was also, as it turns out, right on the money. As I described my symptoms and she established what I could and couldn’t see by moving her hand around my field of vision, she casually uttered “Oh, that sounds like a retinal detachment. I hope not.” I could have lived without hearing the last sentence, but in hindsight (ho ho ho) I suspect she was referring to the fact this would not be a quick fix, rather than a gloomy prognosis. I was then left in the waiting room for an hour to ruminate (in an extremely anxious state, as you might expect) on what I’d been told. My eyes had some drops to dilate them, so I strained to read my phone (battery: 20%) to try and figure out just how much shit I was in, all the while sending nearly unintelligible text messages to my wife waiting outside with the kids.
When the wait was over and I saw the ophthalmologist, she was absolutely brilliant, warm-mannered and confident enough to greatly reassure me, and confirmed the triage nurse’s suspicions: It was a retinal detachment. I had three small tears at 9,11, and 2 o’clock, the most common form, known as rhegmatogenous detachment. Why? Age and plain bad luck (National Eye Institute, 2009). It would require an operation, and the Dr. told me she would be calling around to find a surgeon, and that I was not to eat anything as the operation might be that day. It was at this point I realised this was fairly serious, but the nurse and doctor confidently assured me I would be fine.
Word came I was to head to UPMC Mercy for surgery immediately. My wife, cool as a cucumber under what must have been enormously stressful conditions with two children to look after, took me there straight away.
UPMC Mercy, 1445hrs
You’re sitting there, minding your own business, and your retina just decides to go and detach itself.
I’d been lucky. I’d never had surgery. First stop was pre-surgery testing, which would typically involve obtaining blood for analysis, but actually turned out to be nothing but verifying paperwork in my case. No blood work required. Then I was admitted which was a matter of bagging my clothes and belongings, donning a gown and letting the scrubs-wearing ninjas get me ready. The surgeon and the fellow assisting him (both absolutely brilliant guys) came to see me, and he introduced himself with a jovial “You’re sitting there, minding your own business, and your retina just decides to go and detach itself.” They both examined my eye and told me the plan: A sclerical buckle, and probably a vitrectomy, due to the number of tear sites. A sclerical buckle is a small band that is fixed around the circumference of the eye like a belt (hence the name), the purpose of which is to apply pressure and help reattach the retina. Due to the offset of one of the tears, it probably would not be sufficient on its own, so a vitrectomy would be required. This involves draining the vitreous; the gel-like liquid inside the eye which maintains the spherical shape. Two precision techniques, laser and cryopexy are used to bond the torn areas of the retina to the wall of the eye. A gas is then used to form a bubble temporarily replacing the vitreous (National Eye Institute, 2009).
The surgeon marked his initials just above my left eyebrow. He described this was necessary to mitigate what is considered a ‘never event’. I’ll let you guess what…
I’d lost track of time at this point. My pupils were profoundly dilated. My watch had been removed and I could no longer read the clock above the nurse’s station. I was wheeled off to the anaesthesia area to prepare for the op. After a chat with the anaesthetist and a great deal of questions I was rolled into the operating room. An oxygen mask went on, the IV was started, and shortly after that, the lights went out.
I came round with no pain, intense nausea, and a big old bandage over my left eye. I had my face in a horseshoe-shaped pillow; until my follow up appointment the next day it would be necessary to keep my head down so the vitreous gas bubble would maintain positive pressure against the retina (Retinadoctor, 2018). The nurses were fantastic; one of them put something in my IV to relieve the nausea and it stopped in a snap. I couldn’t quite read the clock so I wasn’t sure if it was 915pm or 245am. It was the former, thankfully. My wife and kids charged into the recovery room and I felt a lot better.
The nurses helped me into my clothes and I was on my way, almost 12 hours after the day had started.
As I write this, it’s one week later. The follow up appointments revealed the surgery had been successful, now it was a matter of waiting for everything to heal. I feel pretty fortunate, as I never had much pain and the swelling (which was profoundly unpleasant) reduced rapidly. The vitreous gas bubble has shrunk as it is slowly absorbed and replaced by vitreous fluid; I can clearly see its circular shape in my eye. My sight isn’t quite there, it’s rather fuzzy, but it is improving, and it is all there. Best of all I have my peripheral vision back on the left side; I can drive again and I don’t feel dizzy anymore. There is a possibility of developing a cataract as a result of the vitrectomy (NCBI, 2014), which will require further surgery, but I’ll deal with that down the line. It beats being blind.
Some things fall into perspective at a time like this. One of them is, if you have a problem with your eye, don’t fuck about. I should have got it looked at immediately. It may not have changed the outcome, but it could have made things easier, and the extent of sight loss would not have been so great. I’m also fortunate to have such a great wife. We have no help, it’s just us and one or two friends. My wife looked after everything.
Life is short. One moment I was out having fun with a friend, suddenly I’m looking down the barrel of sight loss. Isn’t it amusing how many of these metaphors involve sight? I can tell you my sense of humour has had quite a workout in the last week.
I’m not dying (well, no faster than anyone else), I didn’t go blind, I’ll probably ride my bike this week. I’m pretty lucky, all told.
I bought my stainless ‘ebay exhaust’ – the one everybody uses – months ago but never had the chance to get it fitted. These kits almost fit the TT250, but there’s one definite modification required; you have to widen or cut the flange as it’s not drilled wide enough for the 229cc engine’s exhaust port studs. My neighbour (actually the maintenance guy for place I live in) offered to help me cut the flanges with his grinder and vice. On friday night we did this with the accompanying (somewhat terrifying to the uninitiated) shower of sparks.
I was a bit worried about the studs and cap nuts, already haven taken the bike through winter. In fact they came off with just a light turn of a ring spanner; however the bottom stud unscrewed from the cylinder block rather than the cap nut. The threads were in good condition; but I couldn’t get the cap nut off so resolved to get a spare. Autozone and Advance Auto Parts didn’t have anything suitable – they sold M8 x 1.25 studs but they were too long. A local hardware store had a good selection so I armed myself with a couple of spares. I also bought a nut splitter and some small locking vise grips, placed the grips on the smooth part of the stud and was able to turn it off. My cleaning and scrubbing the nut while it was on the bike had let a lot of WD40 penetrate in and gum up the threads, but it was basically fine, so I put it back on the bike, screwing it in with my fingers. No problems. I bought new nuts and lock washers.
Next challenge was the gasket. I’d ordered a new one from ebay and it’s basically a little copper ring, but I couldn’t see the existing one; I then noticed the exhaust port appeared to have some weirdly machined interior edges. The ‘wet’ spots are some cleaner I had sprayed on earlier:
The photo revealed these were deformed at the top, and I realised I was looking at the existing gasket which had a squared cross section, and had been pretty well squashed. I grabbed it with some needle-nose pliers and it popped out. I put the new one in (I dabbed a little grease on it to make it stick as it kept dropping out and tried the new header for size, screwing the nuts on finger tight to get an idea of fit.
Some people have got lucky with the fit of these things. I knew straight away the clutch arm was going to be close, and I figured it would be a little clearer when it was all tightened up, but for now it made a little ‘tink’ every time I let the clutch lever out.
Secondly on fitting the mid pipe and muffler, it cleared the frame by about 5mm and easily passed under the airbox, but there was absolutely no way I could get it to meet the bolt eye under the seat where everyone usually fixes it. It had about an inch to spare:
I could not move it up as this would bring the pipe into contact with the frame; I could try and bend or dimple it, but it really didn’t have much motion available at all. So I knew I had to make some sort of bracket.
I haven’t made anything out of metal…well, ever, really. I went to Home Depot and found a length of Aluminium ‘flat’ that was three feet long (lol) and two inches wide, and a mini hacksaw. It was .0125 thick, so plenty stiff. I reckoned that If I cut a simple rectangle 12cm x 5cm I could drill holes in it and make a bracket, so that’s what I did. Well, I sort of butchered the holes a bit (I didn’t measure well) but it fitted; you can see it here:
Exhaust clearance to the license plate holder is marginal (I used the included spacer and even bought some nylon ones from Home Depot in case I needed more room) but it’s fine. Lots of riding today, no melting:
I was still unhappy about the clutch clearance, so I Googled some advice about how to, er, ‘shape’ exhaust pipes and the most simple way appeard to be to whack it with a ball-peen hammer. So I got a regular ball peen hammer (6 bucks, Harbor Freight) and marked the spot with a sharpie where the clutch actuator was touching, and set about whacking my exhaust. A few blows made the material dimple enough to give about 2mm clearance (it actually increases when bike is hot) and it’s on the underside so not visible.
Last job was to take the carb off and fit the 115 main jet (already had a 27.5 pilot which I knew is a little rich so should be fine with a more open pipe) and put it all back together.
It sounds great, and the bike pulls strongly throughout the rev range. I was pretty pleased with the result.
Back in September I spent five days in Los Angeles at the 2017 Open Source Summit. I’d never been to California before. I wasn’t sure what I’d make of it. My wife thought I might hate the endless, dusty sprawl, but I had a certain fascination with the place through the same medium as most people: Entertainment. My perception of Los Angeles was formed through the lens of Michael Mann, James Cameron, and Kathryn Bigelow. Most of the metal bands I listened to in my youth were from California, and one – Megadeth – formed in Los Angeles. There is also something else that’s notable about LA, at least for the biker: California has the most sane motorcycle traffic laws in the United States. It remains the only state where ‘lane splitting’ – or filtering as it’s known at home – is not illegal. The wording is deliberately imprecise as it is not explicity forbidden, and the California Highway Patrol offered guidance but were obligated to withdraw it:
A petitioner complained to the Office of Administrative Law that there was no formal rulemaking process for the guidelines, and raised other objections. The CHP discussed the issue with the Office of Administrative Law and chose not to issue, use or enforce guidelines and thus removed them from the website.
Simply: No guidelines, because there’s no law.
Los Angeles, Sept 10 2017
I arrived after a painless if long flight from St. Louis (nothing direct from Pittsburgh, natch) and slowly worked through a busy terminal 1 at LAX, waited what felt like an interminable time for my luggage and walked out into a perfect southern California evening.
I knew beforehand I wouldn’t be able to secure a bike; there’s plenty of rental opportunities in LA but given I had to pay my travel, car, and hotel expenses up-front I had nothing left in the tank for such an indulgence. I’d been in touch with a couple of SoCal internet people I knew, but this came to nothing. A pity, because as I’ll touch on later, I would realise a motorcycle is the best way to get around LA. No sooner had I walked to the shuttle stop at LAX I’d seen a Triumph Daytona whistle past and wished it had been me riding it. A car would have to do.
The shuttle bus took about ten minutes to get to an enormous Enterprise lot near the airport, and I ended up being allocated a metallic grey Kia Soul. I placed my phone in the console cup holder and turned the GPS app up loud enough to hear, and started the 14 mile run to the hotel, which involved a simple route of two freeways and a single exit.
LA’s freeways are huge, and when they move, – which at 6pm on a Sunday they surely would – they move pretty fast. I didn’t get lost, which for anyone that knows me is a minor miracle.
Downtown LA is, perhaps, like downtown anywhere. People don’t really go there for fun; it’s a sterile showcase of glass and steel; work and function. There’s the occasional panhandler. In this sense it is barely distinguishable from London’s Square Mile, Manhattan’s financial district, or the relatively diminutive Pittsburgh Golden Triangle. Like NYC, there’s a strange familiarity with place names, because you’ve heard them before from books and film. South Figueroa, Sunset, Wilshire, South Union…
I was booked into the J.W. Marriott Live, which adjoins the much taller Ritz Carlton on the western edge of downtown LA. It also happened to be the conference venue.
I used the gym and swam 50 lengths in the pool I had a burger and a couple of pints for dinner ($50!!!) as part of my highly disciplined healthy lifestyle, took a couple of photos from my hotel window while tired and buzzed, and soaked in the atmosphere from the view below.
Feeling the effects of dinner and a long day’s travel, I rolled into bed and settled into a fitful sleep.
Out And About
As it turned out, I would have two full afternoons to explore LA. I wanted to see the ocean; and I knew going west would take me through most of the urban sprawl, so I intentionally avoided the freeway. The city has a nearly total grid system (unlike Pittsburgh, which was designed by M.C. Esher) so you could pick up a half-dozen roads anywhere within a block of the hotel and follow them all the way to Santa Monica on the sea front. I chose Sunset Boulevard because I knew the name and thought it might be interesting. This route would take me through Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, and eventually Malibu, so I hoped to see a range of neighbourhoods, although this is still a small fraction of the total sprawl.
Most of what I visited outside of the moneyed areas is dusty and slightly shabby, which was as I expected. It reminded me of some mediterranean industrial towns: Shades of magnolia and grey, lots of low-lying concrete buildings and iron railings, mom & pop convenience stores, fast food outlets, automotive shops and wide, heavily-trafficked roads. None of it was particularly alien to my eyes, but entirely different to everywhere else that I had visited in the US. The heat and light gives it a distinct atmosphere from the East Coast. You’re in the entertainment capital of the world, but you wouldn’t know it in the midst of the sprawl. It feels like and industrial town.
Suddenly the sidewalks get cleaner, the grass is conspicuously lush and cultivated (remember that this area was only just in drought conditions) and you’re in Beverly Hills. In truth, from the road there’s not a lot to see. It’s all tidy sidewalks, gated entrances and whitewashed walls under the shade of palm trees. The cars get more expensive, but there’s little character to the place. Pacific Palisades is easier on the eye, and there’s some fantastic architecture at some of the properties (sadly I could not get pictures) and some elevation changes as it is at the foot of the mountains. This area reminded me a lot of the wealthier parts of Capetown, up in the hills. I kept thinking this would be a cool place to cruise about on a Harley.
I took a quick detour through Santa Monica. It is like any city pierside scene; chintzy, seedy stalls cheek by jowel with more moneyed joints. It didn’t feel a great deal different to Atlantic City in New Jersey. The colour palette gradually changes from industrial concrete to whitewashed apartment buildings and houses, and after a short run you pick up CA-1: The Pacific Coast Highway.
The PCH takes you through Topanga Beach, which feels a little run-down and shabby, but has a certain charm. In Malibu I stopped for lunch at a ‘Country Kitchen’ (a chain) and enjoyed my coke & fries and taking in the atmosphere, listening to the Spanish chatter from the larder compete with the radio. There was the road and some villas between me and the ocean, but I got a little sea air. It was terrific, and I could have stayed there all day.
I knew Mulholland Highway (‘The Snake’, of some notoriety to bikers) wasn’t too far up the road, and I really wanted to see some of the famous canyon twisties, but both days would see me pressed for time. I drove up one of the roads off the beach near Malibu and enjoyed the view:
Malibu itself is obviously wealthy, I recall thinking of my Dad because it all reminded me of Marbella in Southern Spain; whitewashed villas, immaculate lawns set above a bright blue ocean, and that is a place I have only been with him.
I decided to take the highway back. It was about 4pm. This would turn out to be very poor judgement. LA’s traffic has a reputation, and it is well deserved. It’s absolutely absurd, and the end result is that getting across town on highway 10 took me almost two hours.
This was the real evidence for me that bikes were of the utmost practicality. Time and again I would hear the rumble of a Harley, or the creamy, reedy vibe of an inline-four and watch helplessly as bike after bike whizzed past.
As for LA, I really enjoyed it, and developed a certain fondness for the place. I definitely want to see more of it, and as the last day rolled over I was determined that I would come back when I can. Would I live there? That’s a big if. Who knows what’s around the corner?
It had to happen sooner rather than later. The Ninja 300 has had a five year run, and now Kawasaki has thrown another 100CC at the formula (in what is apparently a new engine, not the re-sleeved ER-6 650cc that has been around for a while.)
33.4KW/45ps @ 10,000rpm
38nm/28 ft.lb @ 8000rpm
17.6lbs lighter than the Ninja 300
So it’s got quite a bit more poke, and weighs less, that’s quite something. The H2-derived styling isn’t bad, it’s a very consistent family look now; the 2017 Ninja 650 has these cues too, along with the handlebar and dash style.
That’s as much as anyone really knows. I look forward to the reviews. No doubt the demo truck will be doing the rounds in summer, I’ll try and get a ride in if there’s one close by.
I have to say though, I really wonder where this leaves the 650.