Story by Michael Marino
The 2021 riding season didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but this was year I got back on track with road riding.
Financial constraints, scheduling conflicts and, unfortunately, injuries cut into my riding time. Yet, I accomplished a bunch of goals I had outlined at the beginning of the year. I rode in my 30th different state, got to visit with friends I hadn’t seen since before COVID-19 and made progress on my Johnny Cash riding project.
I’d set a goal of logging 20,000 miles in 2021 to make up for the miles I lost to the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020 and to stay on track to have 500,000 miles by the time I’m old enough to retire. I ended the year well short of that, but the more than 11,000 miles I did get in marked a welcome return to the five figures of annual mileage.
My riding season’s kick off was delayed due to a late start on off-season maintenance on my Yamaha FJR1300 (named “Jadzia,” after the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character). My girlfriend took a new job in Cleveland, Ohio, in Nov. 2020, and we bought our house in Cleveland in mid-January 2021. With having to pack my tools when I would usually be starting my maintenance work — and prioritizing getting the house unpacked before I touched a box in the garage — I didn’t get out for my first motorcycle ride of 2021 until mid-April.
My first tour of the year — to MotoAmerica’s season-opener at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. — got cut short because of an unusual battery failure. I left home the morning of April 30 hoping to make it most of the way to Georgia. I didn’t make it out of Ohio. I made a fuel stop in Marietta, Ohio, and when I was ready to get back on the road, the bike wouldn’t start. I tried so hard to use a downhill gradient in the gas station’s parking lot to pop-start it, but I couldn’t get it to fire. I then tried taking the battery out – no small task on an FJR – and walked about a mile to an Autozone to buy a new battery. I walked back to the bike, only to discover the battery wasn’t the correct size.
The bright spot in an otherwise frustrating and depressing situation was a former co-worker of mine who lives in Marietta used her lunch hour to help me. She drove me to Autozone to return the battery, and her helping me push the bike down the parking lot’s incline was enough to finally get it started. I made it back to Cleveland without stopping and purchased a new battery the next day at Rick Rousch Motorsports in Medina, Ohio. The really odd thing was I tried starting the bike after I got home — and it started up seven times in my driveway. I’m guessing one or more of the battery’s cells were on the fritz.
Other than injuries that made me miss the MotoAmerica round at Road America in June and made the ride home from visiting friends in Albany very painful, the rest of the riding season was a blast.
The FJR ran smoothly on my next tour, which took me to the MotoAmerica round at VIRginia International Raceway in mid-May. The ride to Danville, Va., allowed me to revisit one of my favorite pieces of road (U.S. Route 58 from Interstate 77 to Martinsville, Va.), as well as stop twice at one of my favorite places on earth – the Lover’s Leap scenic overlook near Meadows of Dan, Va.
Some of my other rides in the early summer months included a daytrip to visit the picture exhibit at the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Midway South service plaza and a trek to western New York for a Johnny Cash stop (Panama, N.Y.). The latter also incorporated a visit to another favorite scenic vista – the Bemus Point rest area on the eastern shore of Lake Chautauqua.
I also tried riding a favorite loop route of mine in eastern Ohio (State Routes 164 and 212), but a road closure on SR 164 spoiled that ride. That ride also was one of the first times I tried using a GoPro (see header photo above). Though the GoPro is a very old model and the battery didn’t make it through the ride, it showed me that I’ve been missing out on a great way of capturing the motorcycling experience.
June featured a weekend tour to New Jersey and downstate New York that included three Johnny Cash stops. The riding conditions on the trip to New Jersey turned very soggy after I crossed into the Garden State. The downpours didn’t dilute the enjoyment of checking Hackensack, N.J., and Glen Rock, N.J., off my list. I made my way north the next morning and stopped in Haverstraw, N.Y., in more favorable conditions before heading back to Ohio. The trip home also included a brief stop at the curves of Hawks Nest near Port Jervis, N.Y.
The only hiccup during that trip was a retaining tab broke on my Arai Definant helmet that helps hold the face shield in place. It was a somewhat unnerving ride home, as I had to keep the face shield closed not matter what until I pulled into my driveway.
I got in two rides of significance in July. The first was an afternoon ride to Toronto, Ohio, for another Johnny Cash stop. Mid-July marked my annual ride to the Philadelphia/Allentown region to see friends I couldn’t visit in 2020. It was great grabbing coffee with fellow long-distance riding enthusiast Josh Giannini, catching up on what’s new in Limeport, Pa., with Michele Lewis-Buono and talking F1 and motorcycles with Mr. David Wadding.
I was off the bike for most of August due to prior commitments but had a great time Aug. 27-29 at the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association’s Mail Pouch Fly-By rally in Marietta, Ohio. The event was the first time in a long while that I got to ride with my good friend, fellow motojournalist and motorcycle touring mentor Roy Dyckman. Roy and I had a great time riding several of southeast Ohio’s finest motorcycling roads, including SR 26, SR 260, SR 800 and SR 255). The good times continued after Roy and I got back to the hotel Saturday evening. We had dinner with a stomach bug-stricken 2 Wheel Power Hour host Larry Ward. I also met another FJR1300 enthusiast – Jonathan Rader – while perusing the variety of motorcycles in the hotel parking lot, got a mini seminar in motorcycle GPS capabilities from MSTA VP Norm Kern and learned about my new home neighborhood from now-Columbus resident Howard Baumwell.
As I was getting ready to ride home from the Fly-By, I noticed my rear tire was down to the wear bar. That necessitated the first of two runs to Iron Pony Motorsports in a one-month span for new rubber. I got the new rear tire in time to get out on the bike on Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Labor Day weekend.
I got a lot of time in the saddle during September, thanks in large part to riding to the final two MotoAmerica rounds of 2021. I logged about 2,500 miles in those two weekends while getting to watch one of my Marino Communications clients win an AMA/MotoAmerica No. 1 plate and another fight for a title right to the last round.
After a weekend off the FJR, it was onto my first time attending the MSTA Fall Colors rally in Lewisburg, W.Va. Two weekends later was my last ride of 2021 – an about 1,100-mile tour to Albany, N.Y. to visit my good buddy and Yamaha Bolt owner John Robinson. Though my then-ongoing SI joint problems ended up cutting my riding season short, the season ended with a great time hanging out in New York’s Capital Region, as well as my first time riding in Vermont.
Even though I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to, the words of four-time AMA Superbike champion Josh Hayes I think ring true in these circumstances. I was interviewing Josh at the conclusion of a MotoAmerica event at New Jersey Motorsports Park, and somehow we ended up talking about goals. Though I don’t recall his exact quote, he said that if you accomplish every goal you set for yourself you’ve set the bar too low. And that’s how I look at my 2021 season: that I’d rather aim for the utmost and still be proud of what I did while coming up short than settle for something I know isn’t a hard-earned victory. Maybe I could’ve gotten some more miles in this year, but there’s plenty I did accomplish in 2021 that’s made it one of my favorite riding seasons so far.