Musings from one who writes, and rides....

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In Pursuit of the Next Electron: My Life with EV


This year, seeking to live a greener lifestyle—and save some green—I purchased an electric vehicle (EV). In addition to the obvious bragging rights associated with my new carbon-free lifestyle, it’s allowed me to drive disdainfully past gas stations and earn the delicious scorn of Silicon Valley warriors as I cruise past solo in the HOV lane.

But there’s more. It’s possible that I’ve joined a cult. I’m more than willing to bore anyone who will listen with chatter about lithium-ion batteries, regenerative braking, torque curves, Level 2 chargers and our woefully inadequate urban infrastructure. I follow EV-related Facebook pages and read EV forums. I’m even helping mount a campaign for chargers at my workplace.

My daughter thinks I’m a nerd, and indeed, I probably am. If you are one of the people who’s had to listen to me during this period, I’m sorry.

The fact is, I’ve become an annoying EV evangelist. And this is my story….


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Adventure 2.0: The Lazy Version


By Geoff Drake

In my younger days, motorcycle adventures involved unfurling a not-so-sweet-smelling sleeping bag  in the dunes, eating a UFO (Unidentified Food Object) from a rusty pot, and washing the dinnerware with river rocks. Cold hands were warmed on protruding cylinder heads. Showers were an imagined luxury, and  laundry time was crudely determined by the smell test.

Things are different now. On this recent trip through Vermont, Meredith and I, celebrating our 30th anniversary, stay in posh B&Bs, and are served breakfast  accompanied by a five-minute soliloquy on how the berries were sourced from a farm up the road and the eggs came from a chicken known to the chef by name. We are on a rented BMW K1600GTL, which means that Meredith, instead of squirming on some tiny bitch pad, sits atop something more closely resembling the throne of Queen Nefertiti. I keep expecting people to genuflect and throw flowers as we pass down main streets from Burlington to Brandon.

Evenings are spent drinking wine from actual stem glasses rather than a rusty Sierra cup with the detritus of yesterday’s meals in the bottom.  Dog-eared maps—how I love thee still!—have been supplanted by the utterly reliable monotone of the very small lady who apparently resides in the bowels of my GPS and speaks to me sternly but reliably through the Bluetooth device I have installed in my helmet. I don’t find her to be very friendly but she sure does know the way to the closest Starbucks.

In the continuum of motorcycle travel, we are surely at the decadent end. We will not be crossing the Darien Gap, prying leeches off each other, or eating a steaming bowl of gonad soup lovingly prepared by natives, who consider us to be travelers from the future.

Something has been lost. But, in this transition to comfort and complacency, something has certainly been gained….

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Carmel Valley: Of Young Men and Motorcycles


May your heart always be joyful and may your song always be sung. May you stay forever young. –Bob Dylan

In the early 1960s, Carmel, California, was sanctuary to a Bohemian assortment of singers and artists that would soon leave an indelible mark on American culture. The protest singer Joan Baez had taken up residence on a rocky outcropping overlooking the Pacific, in the Carmel Highlands. There, she was joined by her lover, a precocious young singer by the name of Bob Dylan. Nearby, her sister Mimi, enchantingly beautiful at just 17, had rented a cabin with her new husband:  singer, novelist and poet Richard Fariña.

It was a time of remarkable potential, the folk music scene just then unfolding like a chrysalis, taking an entire generation on its wings.

It’s not hard to imagine Dylan, the Baez sisters, and Fariña plying the roads of Carmel and the Big Sur coast, prior to the current tourist inundation, while laying the groundwork for 50 years of folk music in America (an epoch chronicled in David Hajdu’s  book, “Positively 4th Street”). In the spring of 1966, it seemed almost anything was possible.

They could have no way of knowing what the next few months would bring.

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Hospitality House


Our house is a very, very, very fine house. -Crosby, Stills and Nash & Young

In 1978 I arrived in Seattle on a Greyhound bus with a suitcase and a letter of admission to the University of Washington. It was my second-ever trip west from Connecticut, made in a great paroxysm of energy that was equal parts desire and flight. I have no idea why I went. I only knew I had to go.

Shortly after arriving I learned of a coop house in the University District, with a room for rent.  I was promptly interviewed by the six tenants, at the dining room table. Suddenly, they stood up and left, apparently to consider my candidacy. They never came back, which I could only interpret as a bad sign. But then, 10 minutes later, a tall, Gandalf-like figure emerged from his subterranean hiding place, walked quickly past, and muttered: “You’re in.”

And so began a joyous, maddening, and altogether amazing  stay at Hospitality House. The house was an egalitarian experiment, a study hall, a debating society, a crucible of intellectualism, a culinary exploration, a sanitary mess, an argument, a laugh, a tear, a joke, and perhaps most of all, a party.

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Workouts with Wife


Thirty-five years ago I went on a date with this cute hippie chick I met at school. It was (surprise!) a bicycle date. Within minutes, she had a flat tire. Of course, in those days, neither of us carried a tube or pump. So, in a remarkable act of youthful naiveté, we flagged down a Seattle city bus. Lucky for us, we looked sufficiently pitiful for the driver to allow us onboard.

That is what you call an inauspicious beginning.

I’m still riding with that same hippie chick, lo these many years. Only now, we both know a bit more about how to fix flats. (That’s a good thing, since we’ve had, by my rough estimate, about a thousand of them.) We rode away from our wedding on bicycles. We bought a custom tandem before we bought a car. In perhaps the ultimate expression of our insanity, our daughter logged over a thousand miles in the bicycle trailer before she was one year old (the whole thing was chronicled in an article in “Bicycling Magazine”).

We’ve raced, done triathlons, commuted, and toured in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland, Holland, and Switzerland (though I am probably missing a few). We still own that purple handbuilt tandem, and it’s carried us through two double centuries and innumerable breakfast rides. Nowadays, when people see the big bike, they say, “Nice vintage tandem!”  I guess that means we’re vintage, too.


She also traveled the world with me in my job as a cycling journalist, and was by my side when Greg LeMond won a stunning world championship in the rain, in France, in 1989. (My daughter learned to walk on that trip!)

It’s been an amazing ride.  For work and pleasure, we’ve traveled the world in pursuit of cycling. With apologies to SNL, the bicycle been berry berry good to me.

Of course, we’re a bit less proud of the damage done.  I’ve broken at least a dozen bones. She’s broken about half that many, and cracked three helmets. (Thank God for helmets.) In the ultimate romantic expression, we’ve even crashed together. Several times. We’re not proud of this. It just is. Ask anyone who’s been riding that long. Sometimes you fall down. But you get up.


Undoubtedly, things are creakier now. It takes a bit longer to get going in the morning. When I suggest that maybe we should do another double century on the tandem—just to prove our youthfulness—she  laughs. I’ve accepted that it’s not going to happen. And maybe it’s for the best. Rides these days are often punctuated with coffee, fatty foods, and a modicum of whining. You do what you have to do.

Despite these myriad obstacles, the whole process still strikes me as a small and certain miracle: You swing a leg over the top tube, push off, and pretty soon your feet are tracing tiny circles in the air. Yes!

In that moment, you’re riding. Come to think of it, we rode today. And you know what? It was as good as it’s ever been. And that’s pretty damn good.



Filed under bicycle cycling geoff drake

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Back to the Future


By Geoff Drake

This article was originally published in the BMW MOA Magazine.

The other day a big truck pulled up to my garage, and my 1969 Triumph went off to a new, unseen owner known only to me by his eBay handle: LOVE_OIL_LEAKS. Or something like that.

All told, in the last year or so, I’ve sold four motorcycles. For the first time in a decade, it’s possible to traverse the entire length of the garage without getting the wind knocked out of me by a handlebar end or stepping in the crankcase excrement of a vintage Triumph or Honda. When it’s time to ride, I no longer have to move motorcycles around like some supersized game of chess.  Perhaps best of all, insurance and registration renewal notices no longer arrive with all the annoyance of monthly utility bills.

In their place is a nearly new BMW R1200RT, with all the latest farkles: traction control, Bluetooth, cruise control, heated grips and seats, ABS, GPS and a host of other acronyms designed to impart careless motoring bliss.

It only took about a decade to come to this decision….

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The KLR Chronicles


One Person’s Life with a One-cylinder Motorcycle

By Geoff Drake

A version of this story was originally published in Cycle World magazine.

On a sunny Sunday, my friend Tom rides me to Los Gatos on the back of his KTM 950 Adventure. In my pocket is a fat wad of 30, $100 bills. The plan is to return with two motorcycles. It feels nice to have the cash pressing against my leg, an insistent reminder of good things ahead.

My plan is to buy a used Kawasaki KLR 650, located on the Internet. Lately I have begun to fancy going to the desert with Tom to explore the many hot springs and abandoned mining camps, and perhaps sample a little Patron while the campfire casts a blood-red glow on the dust-covered bikes.

But there are other reasons for the purchase. As a kid I’d spent seemingly endless, joyful hours on a succession of single-cylinder dirt bikes. Now, with the inevitable inertia that pulls us towards the things of our youth, I want to ride off-road again. It seems that those things that tugged at our emotions 40 years ago are, in fact, the same things that tug at us today. This applies to cars, motorcycles, women, and other scarcely suppressed passions. In any case, I needed a dirt bike.

I also have a simple need to broaden the ridable landscape. Here in Northern California we have some of the best paved motorcycle roads in the world—but we may just be exceeding our carrying capacity. I love the turbine smooth growl of my Honda VFR 800, and our Bay Area paved roads. Problem is, so does everyone else. Enter the KLR.

The goal is to re-enter riding at its core, with an elemental, single-cylinder motorcycle. And it has me wondering: what if I were restricted to the big single for every type of riding: touring, commuting, road riding, even two-up. Can one person survive on one bike?

Time to find out.


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The Saw’s Song


By Geoff Drake

Lake Florence is not large, maybe three miles around, and though there is no trail, you could complete the wobbly circle with one half day of steady walking and a strong case of poison oak, the thin line of boils a persistent reminder of your exploits. Don’t ask me how I know this.

It has been almost 25 years since I last visited here, in the summer of 1954, as a towheaded boy of 13. This strikes me as the age when one’s horizon begins to spread beyond the boundary of the one crystalline day you find yourself in at that moment. A flailing jump off the end of the dock in freshly laundered briefs is accompanied, perhaps in mid-air, by the thought of the swimsuit hanging from a nail in your closet, unused for three years, and your mother’s admonitions. The insults you so freely hurled at the girl in the next cabin are now clouded by the mild torment of her breasts, inexplicably enlarged since last summer and now constrained in articles of clothing wholly unfamiliar to you. A stick that you have carefully crafted into a knife takes on a dimension of killing.

Actions begin to have ramifications, and it is at this age when you begin to sense their horror, the effects of all those things you cannot see or guard against.

I came to the lake for five successive summers, three months each time, a span that could inscribe memory like tree rings in the mind of a boy. This could be measured in the precise feel of the weathered grain on a porch Newell post, or the location of the missing cork in the handle of a favorite fishing pole, or in the uprooted flagstone 100 yards down the path to the lake, which required an exuberant leap when taken at speed and with clear water ahead. It could be measured with a scientist’s precision, laying face-down on the end of the dock and peering into the cold blue water, every species known, the aquatic grasses waving back and forth and revealing each one in turn: tadpoles, minnows, large, slow-moving trout confident in their invincibility. A boy could know the world above and below the water equally, and hold them in the same esteem.

There is, in fact, no more precise or photographic memory than that of a boy set free in the woods for a long, hot summer.

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The Right Madness


This article was originally published in Rider magazine.

By Geoff Drake

I am a motorcycle commuter, and so carry the emblems of that profession: a somewhat tatty Aerostich suit, which fits neatly over my business clothes; well-worn, waterproof boots; messenger bag with laptop computer; and of course, an unerring eye for disaster.

I am festooned with so much illumination and reflective gear that I can easily be mistaken for the beginning of a presidential motorcade. This includes a reflective band on my helmet, adhesives on the bike front and rear, headlight modulator, and rear flashing LEDs that illuminate  during braking. This is capped off by my bright yellow ‘stich suit. I am part man, part Christmas tree.

I arrive at work, do my Superman-in-a-phone booth routine to get rid of the ‘stich, and drag a comb through my hair in a vain attempt to banish helmet hand. My helmet occupies a prominent place on my office shelf—my statement of individuality (or derangement)….

When I was employed in the Silicon Valley, I commuted on my BMW R1100R almost every day from my home on the ocean. While the teeming masses lament this drive as one of the worst in the state, I viewed it as a form of compensation that’s better than stock options. Half this ride is over serpentine roads through the redwoods—the very roads the local knee-puck lads ply on weekend sport rides—and I did it as part of my daily regimen. Unlike my colleagues, I arrived at work wearing a broad, stupid grin that endured well into the morning. In contrast, they arrived at work looking like they’re ready to kick the dog, having spent the last hour banging the steering wheel. Now I have a nicer commute along the ocean to Monterey. But the effects are the same; If I am a peaceable influence in the first meeting of the day, thank the motorcycle.

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The Power of Aww


What drives social media at the Monterey Bay Aquarium?  There are plenty of things—like our animals, exhibits, events, and conservation efforts.

But more than anything else, it’s the power of Aww.

What’s Aww? It’s nothing less than the universal currency of social media. You know:  kids under sedation after a dentist visit. Talking dogs. And yes, like it or not, cat videos. All of them, unmistakably, elicit the amazing power of Aww.

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we’re blessed with an abundance of Aww:  

Usually, Aww is just those three simple-but-powerful letters. On Twitter, it’s the hashtag: #Aww. Sometimes, we see the superlative form: Awww. Or, in extreme cases, we’ll garner the ultimate social media accolade: Awwwww.

What nonprofit wouldn’t avail itself of the emotional power at its disposal, whether it’s great art or cute animals? Aww is our palette, our repertoire. We pull the Aww lever almost every day, without shame.

The fact is, Aww is pretty awesome.

What is Aww?

Your organization may differ, but based on our metrics (comments, shares, Likes), these four categories peg the Aww meter every time:  

There is Artistry in Aww

Is Aww the end of journalism as we know it? Hardly. Producing Aww-inspiring content is not as easy as posting a cute photo. “The distinction between Web ephemera like baby videos and traditional journalism has all but disappeared,” said a recent article about BuzzFeed founder Ben Smith in the “New York Times.”

More important, words—and hard work—still matter. “’Thirty-three Animals Who Are Disappointed in You’ is a work of literature,” Smith says, referring to hugely popular post, adding that the author “spent like 15 hours finding images of animals that would express the particular palette of human emotion he was going for and wrote really witty captions for them. And that in some ways is harder and more competitive than, say, political reporting.”

As a print journalist, I couldn’t agree more. Who knew that 10 words and a photo could be so impactful? The Aquarium’s social media presence would be nothing without great photos. But the photos would go nowhere without artfully crafted captions. It’s like writing a daily haiku.

Aww is not Awful

Great things are carried along on the power of Aww. In the case of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium, this means ticket sales, donations, and memberships. It also means enlisting people in our mission, which is to inspire conservation of the oceans. It’s all largely impelled by the power of Aww.

Is it wrong to pursue Aww so unashamedly? I doubt many people would accuse us of outright exploitation of Aww.  What works for us is analogous to what’s worked for 25 years on the floor of the Monterey Bay Aquarium itself—the creative use of iconic animals and exhibits as a means to captivate our audience—and to enable us to communicate our critical conservation message.

Aww does not preclude earnestness, or social good. In our case, it augments it. It is, quite simply, the fuel that grows our followers, our influence—and social good.

Aww creates the opening—the willingness to accept the message. You could say that Aww makes it all possible.

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