Sep 8, 2017

Minnesota's Off-Road Gem

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

I'm out of my depth here. I specialize in criticism, picking apart the flaws I observe in products and services, and general purpose griping about stuff in general. So, after a long, hot July afternoon at the Spring Creek Motocross Park, I don't have a thing to complain about; at least as far as the park itself and the races are concerned.

Since we moved to Minnesota in 1996, my summers have been jammed with work, travel, and play; pretty much in that order. One of the events I have consistently missed because of overbooking and poor planning has been the Spring Creek AMA Pro National outdoor motocross round. This year, purely by luck, I had nothing planned for that weekend and I kept it empty, once I discovered that happy accident.

Millville 6Once I started planning to spend a day in Millville's main attraction, I realized that the last time I was at a real outdoor motocross was in the late 70's or early 80's. I was lucky enough to see a few of the 70's Trans-AMA rounds with Roger DeCoster and crew, the 1976 AMA season and Bob "Hurricane" Hannah's first national championship season, and a half-dozen AMA national races every year until I moved to California. The year Spring Creek MX Park opened, in 1983, I arrived in southern California just in time to read about the end of the great motocross parks: Saddleback, Elsinore Raceway, Carlsbad, Corona, El Toro, Hopetown, Indian Dunes, Ontario Speedway, and Orange County International; all absorbed by the vast urban and suburban California housing explosion of the 80's. There was still outdoor motocross to see in California, but it required a hundred-plus mile trek through the city and desert. At the same time, stadium-cross was gearing up and I got large doses of an extreme version of the sport at Anaheim Stadium and the Los Angeles Coliseum. Even better, I could convince friends to come with me to those places. Getting beach dwellers to drive to Riverside is harder than teaching a cat to swim. A decade or two later, Denver and Minneapolis stadium-cross was a big step down from the L.A. experience, so my motocross spectating interests dwindled away. After moving to Minnesota in 1996, every year when the Spring Creek pro national round came around, I thought, "I should go." This year, Saturday, July 22, 2017, I made it to Millville.

Millville 1Dirt Rider magazine provides a solid blow-by-blow wrap-up of the race results (Check out http://www.dirtrider.com/spring-creek-motocross-results-2017#page-4.) and I don't have anything to add to that. I didn't attend the races as "press," so my access was no different than yours. I paid my $10 parking and $45 general entry fee. I hauled a chair, a big umbrella, lots of water, and a backpack full of electronics and camera gear, so I drove my pickup to the races. Motorcycle parking is free and right by the entrance gate, just like you'd expect from a real motorcycle event organization. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a thousand motorcycles in that area. The "overflow parking" for cagers is about a half-mile from the park entrance and I was glad I dressed for a hiking experience. The park's camping area is another parking lot a little closer to the track and I have to say I was unimpressed with motocross fans' camping etiquette. Saturday afternoon, the campsite smelled like a bunch of the campers were dumping their black water tanks on the ground. Out in the overflow parking lot, a disappointing number of young men were dumping trash into piles and setting fire to their garbage between the parked cars. Apparently, if you can't be a motorcyclist the next best thing is to behave like a drunk and brainless hooligan.

Milville 5The Spring Creek track and spectator grounds are amazing. On Saturday, it was practically a small town in itself. The variety of food available during the national event was diet-busting. The event organization was totally professional. Even the security guards were friendly and helpful. The ticket area was organized and well-run and and if you wanted to get through the lines fast, you brought cash.

Going to these races was a lot like stepping back in time to the glory days of Southern California's CMC, except for the politically-correct Midwestern electric guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner and the weirdest pre-race Road Warrior-style prayer I've ever heard. If this were a CMC event, the between-race entertainment would be a Van Halen-style band (or the actual Van Halen band) and the motorcycles would provide respite from the sound system volume. The track's PA system is adequate for between race dialog, but is pretty much buried by the 4-stroke snarl of 40 race bikes. However, the track also has a simulcast on the 107.9MHz FM radio band and if you bring a radio and some in-ear phones you can follow the jocks' conversation during the races.

Millville 2There is no one spot from where you can see all of the action on the track: the course is just too long and convoluted for anything short of a hovering blimp for an overall view. However, there are dozens of great spots to setup a shade tent or large umbrella. Most the good spectating spots are within a reasonable hike to a beer garden, food, and a porta-can. Speaking of hiking, thanks to the giant culvert-underpasses, you can hike the entire perimeter of the course. There are stairs to assist those of us who aren't mountaineers up or down the cliff known as "Mount Martin."

The track itself is a little bit of everything; from deep sand to loamy only-in-Minnesota knee-deep topsoil to hard-packed whoops on the way to the finish line. Every stereotypical bit of motocross topology is there, too: killer whoops, even bigger jumps, ruts and berms deep enough stop non-super human riders, a giant hill climb (Mount Martin) and a banzai run back down the same hill with a hairpin at the bottom, more deep sand, and another steep hillclimb and downhill, before the whoop-filled drag race to the finish line.

I've been raving about the Millville park to anyone who will listen since I got back. At least one friend, who raced at Spring Creek back in the early 80's, and I are going back for the end of the regional Millville Super Series season. I can't say enough good things about my day at the park. I'm not familiar with the warm glow of satisfaction, but I could get used to it. The organization that puts on the Spring Creek national races could consult with every other motorcycle event group in the state and improve every one of them.

Sep 4, 2017

#156 Three Rules to Riding

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Back in the 80's, I went to a lot of L.A. Laker games, especially when Showtime wasn't playing someone in the championship hunt because I could get scalped tickets cheap; a few minutes after the game started. About half-time, the rich and famous folks would bail and I could filter down to the floor seats. In a game against Philly, Magic Johnson slipped a half-court pass through everyone to Vlade Divac, who was standing under the goal. The ball hit Divac in the chest, knocking him on his butt, and putting the ball in the bleachers. Without slowing down, Magic ran a loop around the opponent's end of the court, grabbed Divac by the jersey, yanked him up, hauled him down court, while saying (loudly), "Three rules to basketball, Vlade: Look, look, and look."
 
In the MSF rider education programs, we've sort of tried to instill the same religion. We spend a lot of time telling our students to "turn your head," because you can't look unless you're aiming your eyes at what you're supposed to be seeing. It's a good start, but it's just a start. The old school MSF program harped on the idea that "you go where you're looking." There is some reality to that claim, but outside of object-fixation you also have to steer where you're looking. Not all beginning or experienced riders know how to steer a motorcycle. Just looking at where you want to go isn't enough, but it's the first thing you have to do to get there.  
 
Changing directions is only part of the vision game on a motorcycle. You can't anticipate the next goofy move from a distracted driver unless you are looking for it. The more you look, the more you'll see. I don't mean just the broad overview of looking for vehicles on the road. I mean looking for details. It's nice that you're trying to take in all of the cars on the road, but you ought to be trying to get a good look at their drivers, too. I don't mean trying to catch the eye of the babe in the convertible. I mean get an idea of who everyone piloting a vehicle in your immediate vicinity really is: young, old, male, female, distracted, attentive, aggressive, happy, sad, mad, sane, and plain old crazy. 'Dis me for stereotyping people and doing that nasty profiling thing, but this is about survival. The worst thing that can happen to me for being over-cautious is that I keep rolling down the road jelly-side-up. 
 
Maybe even more important than doing a psychological profile of your highway competitors is making a judgement of the driving skill. For example, if a guy is turning left into an intersection while looking right or at a passenger in his car or down at his POS cell phone, that guy is a clueless moron who is a hazard to your life. Create distance between you and this idiot as quickly as possible. Try to get some other, much heavier, vehicle between you and Dumbo the Moron. Another example of a flashing warning sign is significant damage to the front end of the vehicle. This character is a tailgating bozo who imagines himself to be a NASCAR driver but who has the skills of a 3-year-old in a bumper car. 

Once you've bought into the idea that you have to look where you want to go and look out for all of the crazy folks in cages and on foot and on and in every other kind of vehicle on the road, you have to start looking for escape routes. Everything from an empty lane to a drainage ditch to a flower bed is a legitimate escape route if you can get there safely. So, while you're scanning for crazy people you are also looking for ways to escape from crazy people. The only advantage a motorcycle has is agility. We can fit into spaces other vehicles can't go. We sometimes have suspensions and ground clearances that allow us to go where no other vehicle can travel. (If you don't have more suspension than a Honda Accord, maybe you should reconsider your motorcycle choice.)  We can turn faster, stop quicker, and accelerate more rapidly than 99% of the overpriced heavyweights on the road. The only way we can safely take advantage of those advantages is to be constantly scanning for escape routes. 
 
So, "Three rules to motorcycling, Vlade: Look, look, and look."

Originally published in MMM #186 August 2017


Aug 29, 2017

Review Extension: GIVI E36N Side Cases

IMG_7444Way back in 2007, I wrote a review of the GIVI E36N cases I installed on my 650 V-Strom. I revised it in 2012 and added a little to it, today.

To this day, they are one of my favorite things about my V-Strom. They are reliable, tough, water-tight, and easy to use. My only complaint is that the GIVI plastic is not that friendly to stickers. So, some of my favorite stickers have blown off during the 60,000+ miles I’ve traveled with GIVI cases. Lame complaint, I know.

I think the V-Strom and I are about at the end of our relationship. With the big miles I’ve put on that bike, it won’t be worth much used or in trade, but I really don’t enjoy riding it as much as I did when I was a decade younger. Someone who will use it more than once or twice a year should have it.

Aug 28, 2017

#155 Might As Well Ask for Perpetual Motion

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

To start off my morning, I unloaded the washing machine and dumped the wet clothes into the dryer. When I cleaned out the dryer filter, I noticed a lot of lint and dog hair had slipped by the filter into the airway leading to the condenser. So, I pulled the condenser and cleaned everything before I started up the dryer. It took about ten minutes to do the whole procedure. We've had this ventless dryer for about six months and it has needed a good cleaning no more than three times in that period. My wife, of course, has yet to read the dryer's manual and has no idea that the dryer needs anything more than loading and unloading. She is, apparently, like a lot of motorcyclists in that way. When I test rode the Honda VT1300CT Interstate for MMM a few years ago I wrote, "Honda skipped the usual crappy Japanese tool kit altogether. I'm not fond of this thinking, but their theory is probably that the kind of rider the VTX attracts will be unlikely to do his or her own maintenance." Or, for that matter, any maintenance until absolutely necessary. At that point, the work is no longer properly called "maintenance." It can often be emergency roadside repairs or a tow to a shop followed by expensive work that might even result in the rider having to abandon the bike and/or make plans to get back home on more than two wheels.

When I do a Basic Rider course for the state, I always stick a little basic maintenance instruction into the class. Safe riding requires a well-maintained motorcycle and pretending that motorcycles don't need maintenance is silly. Repair and maintenance is a sore subject for a lot of riders, drivers, and laundry machine owners. A lot of today's products are designed to be "maintenance free," which you should read to mean "designed to last no longer than the manufacturer's warranty." When Honda makes the decision to forego even the slightest tool expense because the company thinks we're too lazy to do anything to prevent a breakdown, that is a big, scary statement.

There is no such thing as a maintenance-free motorcycle; or any other mechanical device. Expecting a machine to labor indefinitely without cleaning, lubrication, and the occasional part replacement is foolish. You might as well hope for a perpetual motion machine while you're at it. High performance requires a lot of engineering sacrifices, including a conservative intolerance for contaminated lubrication, fasteners selected for lightness rather than redundancy, and lightweight vs. heavy-duty driveline parts. In fact, the more performance demanded from the machine, the closer every part will come to the engineering safety margins. That means more, not less, maintenance will be required if you want and expect something resembling reliability from the machine. If you don't want reliability from your machine, why the hell are you reading this column? I've been beating this dead horse, and a couple others, for almost two decades. Modern manufacturers have performed near-miracles with the products we enjoy, but they do expect us to make some sort of contribution especially if we're going to be riding on the outer edges of civilization. As Charlie and Ewan discovered, even BMWs break.

While manufacturers have been trying to convince consumers that modern products are supposed to have a two or three year lifetime, some consumers are taking a different path. "Hipsters" take a lot of unearned crap from old farts who are jealous of kids who can still fit into skinny jeans. However, I know a few kids you might call "hipsters" who have salvaged 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's iron and rebuilt those machines into motorcycles that any sensible person would be proud to ride. Not only are these kids unafraid of maintenance, they are practically throwbacks to an age when riders knew how to tear down a motor or transmission and how to field repair leaking fork seals, busted shifter and brake levers, and who actually ride their motorcycles places more remote than a Hudson bar. They haven't bought into the delusion that drive shafts, belt drives, electronic-everything, and unrepairable black-box design equals mindless reliability and I love them for that. They give me a smidge of hope that humans might survive our self-made "Sixth Extinction" and that Americans might continue to make stuff, fix stuff, and invent stuff in the future.

As for the rest of the motorcycle market, the growing crowd who don't want to get their hands dirty, learn anything more complicated than video game rules and mastering the next iDevice and who are happy being consumers in a throw-away society, I'd be lying if I wished you "good luck with that." I hope you go broke buying all that crap, burying yourself in credit card debt, and stuffing landfills with the remains of your poor decisions. You folks are lousy citizens, terrible neighbors, and you will be recognized as miserable ancestors by the generations who will get stuck with the job of bailing out our economy, cleaning up our environment, and rebuilding the world we carelessly trashed. You can't escape maintenance, you can only avoid it until something major breaks; something you could have avoided with routine maintenance.

First Published in MMM #185 July 2017



Aug 27, 2017

Running from the Sun

The day before the total solar eclipse, I did what I like to do the most: I took a trip in the opposite direction of everyone else.

About a year ago, our plan was to drive to Broken Bow, Nebraska and camp there the night before the eclipse. Nebraska is expecting 500,000 visitors on Monday. People from all over the continent and world have been staking out campsites since last week. The total population of that state is 1,896,190 and 1.3 million of those folks are in the greater Omaha area and another 285,000 live in the greater Lincoln area. Lincoln is sort of in the path, at least at the 90-something-percent area, but the rest of the towns and villages along that route through the state are barely able to cope with their own shrinking and struggling populations. It ain’t gonna be fun getting into or out of that state on Monday. Nebraska’s roads, away from the Interstate, are poorly maintained and marginally safe at their best: due to unskilled and distracted local and truck traffic. I love US20 across the top of that state, especially as a route to the mountains. Kearney is a town that holds a fair number of fond memories for my family. But on the best, uncrowded weekday afternoon, you can not predict when a trucker will decide to cross the centerline and test your reflexes. Kearney, on it’s best day, could probably put up 500 visitors. Grand Island is long past it’s best days.

So, we (my wife, Elvy, and I) decided to do something different. She’s hot to see the sun go dark, so she is going to try to be where ever she has to be to have clear skies at 11:30AM on 8/21/2017. Not going for the perfect 100% eclipse, but just a good look at what she can get. If it’s clear that afternoon in Red Wing, she’s going to stay home. I’ve been trying to get a few days to myself in Canada for a breath of sanity all summer. I’m back in Guitar Repair and Construction school in another week, so this is my one and only chance at the trip north. So, that’s where I went: to Thunder Bay for a week.

My long-time rule about crowds is, “See where they are going and go somewhere else.”

Aug 24, 2017

HD Still Struggling with the Next Generation

The Journal Sentinal wrote this wide-eyed “analysis” of HD’s struggles with people who aren’t one foot in the grave, “Harley-Davidson unveils its largest-ever product development project.” As usual, there were bits I particularly liked (as in laughed at). For starters, “Harley-Davidson Inc. has unveiled its largest product development project ever: eight redesigned cruiser motorcycles for 2018, including bikes that have been a mainstay of the Milwaukee-based company for decades.” New paint? Sillier fenders? Easier to remove stock muffler, so the louder replacement can be snapped on?

“As part of the research, Harley-Davidson says it interviewed more than 3,000 riders for their views on cruisers — a versatile style of bike with a relaxed riding position, suitable for long-distance riding but more nimble than a big touring motorcycle.” Sounds like the same old crap in a new crappier package. “We were literally in people’s homes and garages, talking with them about their motorcycles,” said the guy with the goofiest job title yet, Paul James, product portfolio manager. WTF? Where else would you talk to motorcyclists about their bikes, in airports? Jones acts like he really discovered the marketing holy grail by chasing down actual customers. Of course, he should have been talking to people who bought the competitions’ bikes. Too hard? Sure, keep talking to grey hairs until they’re all dead.

“Four of the new Softails — Fat Bob, Fat Boy, Breakout and Heritage Classic — are available with a more powerful 114 cubic inch Milwaukee Eight.” Cubic inch? What is this, 1945?

“Up to 35 pounds lighter than 2017 models, Harley says all eight bikes have an improved power-to-weight ratio for quicker acceleration, better braking and handling.” Yep, “up to 35 pounds” will make a huge difference on an 800 pound hippobike.

Finally, “The company gave the bikes a healthy dose of classic cruiser looks — some of it vintage 1950s — while incorporating modern features such as anti-lock brakes, LED lighting, a digital instrument screen, keyless ignition, a USB charge port, mono-shock rear suspension and lockable saddlebags.” So, nothing changes except some badly implemented 1990’s ABS and a cobbled 1970’s suspension and a bunch of tacked-on Chinese electronics. Sounds really biggly to me.

Aug 22, 2017

Marketing BS

followyourheart

Of course, riding naked like this dweeb could incur a whole different set of costs: injury, death, and medical bankruptcy. Not to mention, going broke paying for a $20k piece of garage candy. The “Why We Ride” twits tweeted this one tonight and it caught me in a bad mood.

I used to work for a music school that adopted that “follow your heart’ bullshit in the last couple of years I was there. That whole “happy thought” line of crap is beginning to get on my nerves. I just spent a few hours with a collection of old guys who have followed their musical hearts for the last 40 years. Now, a couple of them live in their parent’s basements, one lives in the lead singer’s basement, and they are all scrambling to make their bills and child support payments by doing 5-8 gigs a week; averaging less than minimum wage in the process. It might look cool from a distance, but it’s depressing up close.


Aug 21, 2017

#153 The Unexpected?

This MMM issue's article is a solid symptom of a problem I should not have: too much productivity. When you look at the copyright date on this essay, you're not seeing things. This is an article I wrote in the summer of 2012 and it just found its way into the magazine five years later. If you know anything about where I live, it's pretty obvious my description of the house is our old place in Little Canada, MN. Likewise, the descriptions of crashes and traffic violations early in the season are five years in the past. I gotta clean up my slush pile. 

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Out of some sort of cosmic coincidence, the last week has been a regular repeat of unexpected events, most of them bad; or they would have been bad if I were any kind of optimist. I'm not optimistic at all. I'm as brutally realistic as I can manage and I am always anticipating something weird to happen at the least convenient time. (Yeah, Murphy. Get over it. I'm on to you.) I scan the horizon aggressively for everything from drunk-or-cell-phone-disabled drivers to chunks of cars dislodging and bouncing down the highway at me. I assume every car owner is a moron and has a chimp's driving skills. I assume that anything on a truck was tied down by a thumb-less gorilla who was more interested in his next break than worrying about what tons of crap set loose on the freeway would destroy. In fact, driving heavily occupied roads usually reinforces my low opinion of the human species. (We're not quick or coordinated enough to be called "the human race.")

My wife thinks I'm paranoid. It's possible, but I'm comfortable with the thought that "you're not paranoid if they are really out to get you." Like most cagers, she often rolls through stop signs without looking in any direction but they one she is traveling. She often dives deep into corners at speed, realizing too late that she is carrying too much speed, and bails out on the gas and even brakes when either of those moves is exactly wrong. Like 90% of Minnesotans, she will leave a stop sign or light and, ten feet later, hit the brakes before making a left or right turn. Like almost all Minnesotans, she can't merge and has no idea what "tailgating" means in terms of speed and distance. If I were afraid of dying, I'd be cowering on the floor when she drives. I'm not, so I usually just ignore the threats and read while she's behind the wheel. I'd rather risk death than drive myself, so it's a fair tradeoff.

On the other hand, when I'm driving she things I'm way too cautious. I brake before most intersections if I see any sign that another car might not be slowing for a stop light or sign. I either hold back or hammer my way past semis on the freeway, because I wouldn't trust truck driver skills or their ability to see me with your life. If someone tailgates me, I slow down to force them past or back. I don't pay any attention to their hand signals they offer when they finally grow a pair and pass me. There is no chance in hell that I'm ever going to like or respect someone dumb enough to tailgate, so I don't care what they think of me.

The list of unexpected/expected stupid moves from other road users, just this past week, includes two high speed ignored stop lights, one wrong-way on a one-way SUV dimbulb, a half-dozen three lane sweeps from the left lane to an exit by clueless morons who were so infatuated with their cell phone WMD that they probably didn't hear the chorus of horns and screeching tires, and one cell phone idiot who failed to notice that traffic had stopped until he was less than thirty feet from my tail light. I treat my morning and evening commute like a sporting event or a gun fight where I am only armed with a knife. Being among fools and crazies is invigorating. A near miss reminds me that life is precious, short, and nobody gets out alive. A half-dozen near misses reminds me that when the next killer asteroid arrives humans will be long past due for extinction.

A dirt biking friend spent the last two years rehab'ing from major back injuries. No, he didn't crash on a motocross track. He was driving his family home from church when a brain-dead old fart failed to notice the red stop light or the stopped vehicle at the light and plowed into the back of my friend's minivan and put most of his family in the hospital. An acquaintance spent a couple of years recovering from being run over by a UPS truck that failed to measure a turn and hopped over the curb and hit a couple of pedestrians who were on the sidewalk. A few years back, a friend in California barely escaped getting killed in his own living room when a speeding moron hopped the curb and plowed into the front of the house. I have some big rocks and a guard rail decorating the front of my house in commemoration (and avoidance) of that event.

Supposedly, P.T. Barnum said, "No one every went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Political parties count on that fact, too. My take is that no motorcyclist was ever injured by assuming every cager on the highway is an idiot. There are exceptions, but they are rare enough that they won't mess with the general statistic. In other words, the exception proves the rule. It's silly to assume cagers are homicidal. Homicide requires intent and a small degree of cleverness. Most cagers are rarely involved in their driving enough to bother with planning or skill, but incompetence, carelessness, and inattention will kill you just as dead as murderous intent.

Previously published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine #184, June 2017




Aug 18, 2017

Not That Nice, or Competent

Doing some research for an MMM Geezer column, I stumbled onto this generally terrific analysis of Minnesota drivers: “Too fast, too slow, too angry: A New Yorker's treatise on Minnesota drivers.” Talk about hitting the nail on the head, of course the absurdly hostile reactions of some of the drivers described could be from transplants, too. My experience with Red Wing drivers puts some sort of exponential value on statements like, “They stop when they don’t have a stop sign (Outdoorsy Zen). They rarely use their turn signals (Reckless Existentialist). They merge tentatively on the highway and drive too slowly in the left lane (Outdoorsy Zen). Or they drive too fast in the right, and entirely too fast on icy roads (Reckless Existentialist).” After nearly getting centerpunched by a skinhead exiting Walmart and blasting full speed into Menard’s parking lot while his turn signal was blinking a left, this statement really hits home, “. . . it’s crucial that you channel the anger, spread it out a bit, have confidence that it’s justified. Don’t put the beast in a kennel all day and then unleash it while you’re alone in the car.” Skinhead boy was so outraged that I couldn’t read his tiny mind I had to laugh at him. Like the cruiser pilots who are no more in control of their Harley than a pair of cheap bicycle streamers, this doofus was merely a passenger in the wrong seat.

Chase down the original article and read this clinically insane Minnesota driver comments. It’s worth your time to know what kind of fruitcakes find a driver’s license in a Cracker Jacks box.

Aug 14, 2017

Weird and Terrifying

In the always weird and terrifying Craig’s List world, this might be the weirdest yet, solidly belonging in the WTF? category.

https://minneapolis.craigslist.org/ank/mcy/6251902580.html

New Picture

electricGW

electricGW2

#152 The Little League Dad Society

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

We've all witnessed the "little league dad" syndrome and some of us have suffered that arrogant, egotistical, under-achieving fellow personally. Some of us have even been stuck with little league dads and moms. Way back in 2014 (I Hate Racing #155 April 2014), I made my personal take on watching little kids on motorcycles pretty clear, "When a stadium motocross is broken up (too often literally) with a bunch of 8-year-olds plodding around a motocross track, smashing into each other and the track obstacles, I have to be somewhere else. I can't watch." Even worse, when I end up following a dad on his bike and his kid dangling from the back--feet a few inches from reaching the passenger pegs, in minimal clothing, and an ill-fitting helmet--I have to find another route to where I'm going. I've seen dead and mangled adults and I don't like it much, but I can deal with it. I'd just as soon live my whole life without ever seeing a dead and/or mangled little kid. I'm afraid I'd never be able to get that image out of my mind. I saw a dirt bike foot-peg-gutted high school kid, 40 years ago, and I'm still stuck with that image as if it happened last week.

I wonder how many parents have digested the real message behind the Will Smith movie, Concussion, or the book it is based on, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru's League of Denial? As one of the doctors in the book said, "We're exposing more than 1 million kids to early-onset brain damage, and we don't know yet how to prevent it." Well, we know there are a lot more than "1 million kids" exposed to this because he's just talking about football. Between baseball, hockey, soccer, motorcycle racing, and a culture that tells kids they can knock each other around like punching bags without consequence, almost half of our kids are exposed to early-onset brain damage (resulting in chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE) on a regular basis. Another sports-related concussion researcher said, "If only 10 percent of mothers in American begin to conceive of football as a dangerous game, that is the end of football." Obviously, the possibility that 10% of American mothers don't "conceive of football as a dangerous game" pretty much proves that there are a lot of clueless mothers out there. Anyone who has played football for more than one afternoon knows it's a dangerous game. However, until recently we didn't know how dangerous. CTE has been found in the brains of 18 to 21 year old football players and the leading neurological researchers are now recommending that "kids under the age of 14 should not play collision sports as they are currently played. We believe they should not be playing tackle football." Likewise, it's pretty obvious that kids under the age of 14 should not be racing motorcycles. It's a well-known fact that when you're racing off road, "if you're not crashing you're not riding."

Peter Lenz, center, poses with mechanic Will Eikenberry, Dylan Code, Misti Hurst, and Keith Code. Lenz died at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Of course, this is an issue where following the money gets to core of the problem. Danger is why we like these high risk sports: football (394,350 injuries in 2012 with an average of 12 deaths per year for the past 25 years), soccer (172,470 injuries in 2012), baseball and softball (119,810 and 58,210 injuries in 2012), basketball (389,610 injuries in 2012), hockey, volleyball (43,190 injuries in 2012), wrestling (40,750 injuries in 2012), gymnastics (28,300 injuries in 2012), field and track (24,910 injuries in 2012), and motocross and road racing (for which there are no reliable statistics). Hell, we've even figured out how to make cheerleading dangerous (37,770 injuries in 2012). And there is a lot of money to be made (the NFL's 2014 revenue was $7.24B) exposing young athletes to death, disability, and damage to their long term mental health. However, we're just getting started with learning about brain damage and the fact that 76 or 79 studied NFL player brains found evidence of CTE hasn't sunk; especially NFL players and their families. Regardless, you would have to be delusional to imagine that motorcycle racing doesn't have these problems. The sad case of ex-NASCAR racer Fred Lorenzen is probably the first shot fired in motorsports and I suspect there is a lot of hidden damage out there in race cars, motorcycles, and every other contact sport. Now that (a few) doctors know what to look for, a lot more cases will be popping up.

The big sea change here isn't that we are surprised that long term consequences result from injuries. We expect knee, hand and arm, shoulder, and even internal injuries from motorcycle racing that will hamper the ex-racer later in life. Racing is dangerous, get over yourself, right? My hip replacement was due, according to my orthopedic surgeon, to "use and abuse" and genetic factors. Racing and riding off-road motorcycles would be major contributors to that use and abuse. I wasn't surprised and I haven't once looked back and wished I'd not ridden motorcycles when I was young and made out of "rubber and magic." The big change in attitude should come from the knowledge that "getting your bell rung" can have long term consequences to your mental health: resulting in CTE which is "essentially pugilistica dementia (boxer's dementia)" with side orders of memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, Parkinsonism, suicide, and progressive dementia. If you know your kid is being exposed to chemicals that could result in those symptoms would you keep him or her in that environment?

We use, semi-rationally, to justify risk is the associated reward. Those of us who chose to ride motorcycles, with some understanding of the risk we're accepting, have a collection of rewards that we believe makes the risk acceptable. The problem with this new knowledge is that the information is being aggressively repressed by the people who make the most money from these sports. In the case of football, the NFL has done everything possible (like Big Tobacco) to squash research and evidence that head trauma can lead to long-term cognitive problems. By "everything" I mean everything from creating bogus "research" to ridiculing researchers in public media to suing people for slander. I suppose murder hasn't been on the table, but you never know. Currently, their big argument has been that it's not "certain" that head banging is the cause of CTE. Since we're not absolutely positive that whacking on a kid's skull causes CTE, we don't have to stop it. Drug and chemical companies have used that bullshit argument for being able to continue polluting water, air, food, medicine, and the entire planet for a century. A more rational society would require the polluters to prove they aren't doing harm before they are allowed to do whatever godawful thing they want to do, but humans are mostly irrational. Maybe we're all brain damaged and it's too late to make any difference for the species?

In the meantime, I think parents should seriously reconsider the risk their children are taking for whatever weird cause they've used to justify putting a little kid on a motorcycle and putting that kid on a race track. Ten years ago, you could excuse this behavior with "it's not a problem, he'll shake it off and be ok tomorrow." Today, the evidence is good that not only will that headache and loss of memory stay around a while but it might become a whole lot worse in 30-40 years.

 MMM #183 May 2017

Aug 13, 2017

Kill the Wabbit, Please

Cal's Valkyrie[Should that be “Kill the Wabbit, Pweese?”]

A friend proudly put a picture of his Honda Valkyrie on Facebook the other day. We, in jest (I hope) had a few words about his opinion and mine regarding this chrome-laden hippo bike. When the Valkyrie first came out, in 1996,I thought it was the butt-uglist motorcycle ever produced by anyone, including the gods of ugly; Harley. It arrived in a variety of horrific paint schemes, all Harley-replica stuff, and every year until 2003 when Honda quit puking out these damn things it got uglier. I didn’t know, until recently, that the Valkyrie was a US-made Honda, from Marysville, OH. Figures. They probably coudn’t find any Japanese tasteless enough to work on it.

There is only one thought that comes into my mind when I see a Valkyrie, usually stationary with a “for sale” sign duct-taped to the windshield.

This one is pretty good, too.

I wish I could claim this as an original thought, but the credit belongs to a friend, Brett Rihanek, who spontaneously made the connection the second he saw the first Valkyrie ad.

Regardless, the Honda Valkyrie is still the posterchild for all of the gross Boomer hippobike excess that led up to the Great Recession and the current motorcycle downturn. 720 pounds of blubbering, over-complicated (six 28mm carbs?), waddling incapacity. You can not go anywhere on this motorcycle you couldn’t travel more comfortably in every cage ever built. To put a cap on the grossness, Honda topped their ugly-fest with the Valkyrie Rune. This POS goes so far beyond ugly that I don’t have a category for it.

2004-honda-valkyrie-rune-34_600x0w

Aug 12, 2017

Licensed Non-Riders

One of the many ridiculous facts pertaining to our idiotic motorcycle licensing system in the “freedumb” USA is that once you obtain a motorcycle endorsement you can keep the damn thing forever without even riding a motorcycle once you receive the endorsement. Apparently, 8 million non-riders in the USA are in that category. 8 million bozos are ready and barely-able to swing a leg over a 110 cubic-inch Hardly simply because they once passed (even if they barely managed that on a 125cc training bike). Holy crap.

Even worse, Hardly wants to capitalize on that by convincing that marginally-abled crowd of “sleeping license-holders” to jump in front of a moving train after getting a second mortgage on their homes to buy a chrome-laden suicide machine. According to an article titled, "Millions of people have a motorcycle license but don't own a bike," ”Harley has a goal of attracting 2 million new U.S. riders over the next 10 years, a tall order considering it would represent a 25% increase in the total number of motorcycles registered in the nation.” You know me, I’m all for population reduction any way it can happen (as long as no innocent cats, dogs, hawks, eagles, crocodiles, or elephants are harmed in the filming of this catastrophe), but this is downright hilarious.

Stuff like this is why I believe motorcycle training is totally back-asswards. It’s pretty obvious that training beginning riders is a pointless, stupid idea from the perspective of a society trying to reduce the $22.6B in medical costs due to motorcycle crashes. Society has absolutely no reason to want to train beginning motorcyclists, with the obvious idea that the more butts put on motorcycle seats the more money it will cost society. However, once someone has decided to get licensed and buy a donor-cycle, society has every motivation to be sure that person is as unlikely as possible to contribute to that $22.6B. Which means that every time a motorcycle license comes due it should NOT be renewed without some evidence of recent (3-6 months, for example) advanced rider training. Not that silly MSF Intermediate Rider bullshit, either. I mean some kind of skill-demanding, road-speed advanced training like the MMSC/MSF “advanced” or “expert” rider courses.

Couple that training with a serious helmet law (no DOT head-pot bullshit, but full face, Snell-approved or nothing) and we’re beginning to talk about an actual attempt to drag US motorcycling into the 20th Century. Once we’ve made it that far, we might even head toward an actual 21st Century system of tiered licensing and a real inital rider’s test.

Aug 9, 2017

Training’s Value?

For the last 16 years, I’ve concluded every motorcycle safety class with a bit about the insurance companies that offer discounts for taking the classes. A couple of weekends ago, I took the MMSC’s MN Expert Rider Course and the lead instructor told us that GEICO, Progressive, and a few other companies offer a discount for every training course a rider takes. This morning, I called GEICO to update their records on me and ask for the additional discount.

What I learned was something completely different from what I’ve been saying for the last 16 years. Not only did I not recieve an additional discount for the Expert Rider Course, but I haven’t even been receiving a discount for being an instructor because I haven’t notified GEICO that my instructor certification had been re-upped in the last couple of years. It turns out that the ONLY people who get a discount credit for “training” are instructors. At least, that’s true with GEICO.

Now, I’m wondering if any insurance companies still give discounts for taking the class? As instructors, we don’t get much feedback on some of the things we’ve been taught to say during the classes. I’ve heard hints from students, especially Intermediate Rider Course students (used to be the “Experienced Rider Course”) that their insurance company didn’t give any sort of discount for the BRC. I’ve checked up on this over the years on the Web, but that information has been inconclusive and contradictory. So, now I’m even more confused than usual.

I did learn that a couple of companies have discontinued motorcycle insurance in various states that do not have helmet laws.

Aug 7, 2017

#151 Looks Cool, but It's Not


All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

Fashion is one of the many human ideas that is sometimes described as something you can identify with "common sense." One of my personal heroes, Bertrand Russell, called common sense "the metaphysics of savages" and fashion proves him right, repeatedly. Nothing about fashion follows the fundamental (and grossly oversimplified) concept of economic supply and demand, for example. For practically everything fashionable, there is no demand at all until some marketing wizard convinces a fair collection of fools that they desperately need some useless product that will pretend to enhance their lifestyle but will add nothing more than one more pile of crap to put in the hoard of useless crap. All you have to do is look around you at the clothes people are wearing, the cars they are driving, and the silly junk they think is essential to their survival and you'll know how idiotic fashion really is. 
 
The grossly misnamed "smart phones," for example, regularly costing $75-100 per month are one of the silliest products that anyone ever flushed cash into. Unless you have a business that requires constant communication with customers or employees (a dope dealer, for instance), a cell phone is a mindless distraction at least 99.999% of the time. A cell phone doubles as a low resolution camera, a fuzzy, shaky video camera with crap audio, a GPS loaded with distracting advertisements, and the easiest way to allow hackers access to your personal finances (next to stringing your life's savings into a belt and wearing it everywhere you go). Possessing a product this flawed is at least 30 IQ points below retarded. Paying a monthly rate for this "service" proves that "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public" or any other nation's marching morons.
 
looks_coolThere are a multitude of similarly idiotic products, but this rant is really about how fashion and engineering can not occupy the same space. An obvious example would be the waddle-inducing pants-on-the-ground hip hop costume fad. The geniuses who came up with this sales pitch must have had stock in for-profit-prisons. If you've ever seen a gangbanger try to run from the cops while trying to hold his pants up, you know what I'm talking about. Serious comedy. Look under "stupid" in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of some kid wearing his jeans wrapped around his knees.
 
[For that matter, what kind of macho rock and roller or R&B artist would get anywhere near something as lame sounding as "hip hop?" Is there a hip hop group called "Peter Rabbit" or "Easter Bunny?" Don't get me started.]

When I bought my WR250X, I didn't notice that the previous owner was one of the robot children who follows fashion wherever that pack of fools might lead. My wife spotted and commented on the droopy pants aspect of his appearance, but I was too occupied with the motorcycle to register that valuable piece of buyer-beware information. I did notice the hacked up exhaust pipe and priced the bike accordingly. I missed the butchered front and rear fenders. The baggy Cut me a break, I was sick and it was January. My reasons for wanting to own a WR250X was as close to totally functional as my limited mental resources allows: fuel injection so the bike will start under all weather and altitude conditions, fuel economy, light and maneuverable for city traffic, versatile, and long suspension for the future state of decay that our road maintenance promises. What the bike looked like was not in my buying equation. It should have been, but it wasn't.  
 
There can be a mathematical value system to judging products by their functional properties. You can apply quantitative measure to fuel efficiency, weight, height, suspension travel, and almost every performance-based value. You can add up the pluses and minuses and use some sort of logic to pit one motorcycle against another. In ever purchase, there is some emotion involved but if function is what is driving your purchase you can suppress those emotional misdirectors until the decision is made. 
 
Fashion is the polar opposite of the elegance of mathematical analysis. If you're buying a motorcycle on the low standards of fashion, you're using the kind of touchy-feely decision making process women use when they buy shoes that are unfit for walking. I would hesitate to say this if I gave a damn about political correctness, but if fashion is what drives you to a particular motorcycle it's not a "guy thing" that is putting you on two wheels. At best, you're making the same kind of statement on your motorcycle that you probably make with your golfing attire.

In the United States, most motorcyclists and the rest of our fellow citizens regard motorcycles as recreational vehicles. We don't commute on our motorcycles. We don't use them for daily transportation. We don't even use the most mobile, quickest vehicles on the road for messenger delivery service. We're humiliated into toy status by bicycles, even in that obvious application.

As toys, motorcycles have a huge collection of disadvantages, culturally and practically. The most apparent is risk vs. reward. The risk of being a marginally-skilled hobby motorcyclist is huge, with our consistent overrepresentation in highway fatalities being a giant red flag waved to everyone involved in highway safety. The reward for the rider who puts on 100 to 1,000 miles a year is microscopic and grossly out of proportion to the risk.
looks_cool_2 
I have seriously suggested that the people I've known who ride that seldom that they pull the fluids from their bike and build a nice stand for it in their living room or den (if they are rich enough to have a den).

That sort of rider is exactly the kind of person who is likely to be influenced by fashion when selecting his motorcycle and exactly the kind of person who is likely to be killed by the many serious functional flaws in a fashionable motorcycle. For that matter, this category of rider is likely to select (or avoid) protective gear that is fashionable but useless, too. Literally, everything about fashionable motorcycling contributes to our crap safety statistics and heads us all down the path of becoming true recreational vehicles and illegal on public roads. And this is where I suggest to you that your silly-assed hippoboke or your shade-tree-mechanic-mangled modifications to a perfectly useful motorcycle only looks cool to the uninformed and incompetent. In other words, you think it looks cool, but it's not. The only good thing about fashion is that it is always temporary. Droopy pants may be cool today, but they are going to look a whole lot dumber than bell-bottoms tomorrow. Your gangster-wannabe buddies might think your 800 pound hippo-relic is cool today, but nobody is going to want that useless piece of crap tomorrow because it is functionless and as silly looking as droopy pants.

Published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly #182 April 2017 

Aug 6, 2017

Spring Creek National AMA MX Races

There might be an MMM article coming up about my visit to the Millville Spring Creek MX Park this year, but in the mean time, here are the pictures I took.

Aug 3, 2017

Foolish Motorcycle Stuff

The stock market gurus, the Motley Fool, had some foolish motorcycle statistics on their website in March. The title is a typically Wall Street puffed-up piece pretending to be a big surprise and delivering a little wisp of new information. It’s interesting to see some of what outsiders consider to be surprising, though.

https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/03/05/7-motorcycle-statistics-thatll-floor-you.aspx

12 Motorcycle Statistics That'll Floor You

The facts that explain the changing face of the motorcycle industry and those who support it. Motorcycles have come a long way since 1885, when Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach built the first one in Germany. Called the reitwagen, or riding car, its engine had 0.5 horsepower and a top speed of 11 kilometers per hour. Fourteen years later, the first production bike was made by Hildebrand and Wolfmuller featuring a two-cylinder engine that produced 2.5 horsepower and topped out at 45 kph.

Today's motorcycles are obviously more powerful iron horses. Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) recently unveiled its new Milwaukee-Eight engine that, on the 114 cubic inch high-end model model, has four valves per head and produces over 100 horsepower.

The industry has grown over the past 132 years serving a much more diverse crowd of riding enthusiasts. Although bike makers have struggled to recover from the financial-market meltdown a decade ago, here are 13 additional facts from the Motorcycle Industry Council that will blow you away.

1. Sales gains are fleeting. There were 573,000 new motorcycles sold in 2015, up slightly from the prior year, but sales are expected to have declined around 2.1% in 2016.

2. Harley is still hogging sales. Harley-Davidson accounted for 29.3% of all new motorcycle sales in the U.S. in 2015, followed by Honda Motors at 14%, and Yamaha at 13%. Polaris Industries (NYSE:PII) represented just 4.4% of total sales that year with its Indian and Victory brands. Yet Harley reported at the end of January, and 2016 U.S. sales fell 3.9% and were down globally 1.6%. Polaris, on the other hand, said its sales were up 1%, with Indian Motorcycle enjoying mid-20% growth.

3. Gang of eight. Eight manufacturers represented 81% of all U.S sales in 2015. In addition to the four manufacturers above, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki, and BMW round out the list.

4. Going back to Cali. California had the most new motorcycle sales, at 78,610, or 13.7% of the total. The next closest state was Florida, at 41,720, followed by Texas, with 41,420 new bikes sold. Despite being home to the annual motorcycle pilgrimage of Sturgis, South Dakota sold only 2,620 new bikes in 2015. Two motorcycle riders on wide open road IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

5. Wide open spaces. Even though California topped all states in new bike sales, because it is also the most populous state, its sales work out to just 2.9 bikes per 100, below the national average of 3.2 bikes per 100 people. Wyoming, with 7.0 motorcycles per 100 people, has the most. As a result, there are fewer bikes in the east, with 2.9 per 100, and most in the midwest, with 3.4.

6. Changing makeup of riders. Women represented 14% of all motorcycle owners in 2014, up from 6% in 1990 and 10% in 2009. It may be one of the most telling figures in why Harley is struggling; its core customer of middle-aged males has fallen from 94% of the motorcycle-owning population in 2009 to 86% in 2014. It's also part of the reason Harley introduced its Street 500 and 750 models, and Polaris came out with its Scout and Scout Sixty models to appeal to these riders newer to the market. However, IHS Automotive data says Harley-Davidson still has a 60.2% share of women riders.

7. A graying market. The median age of the typical motorcycle owner is 47, up from 32 in 1990 and 40 in 2009. And although its sales are slipping, Harley maintains a 55.1% share of the 35 and older male rider demographic. However, more troubling for the industry is the decline in riders under 18, which has fallen from 8% in 1990 to 2%, and those between 18 and 24 from 16% of the total down to 6%. Where will the new bike buyers come from if the industry is not attracting these younger people?

8. The great escape. Married riders comprise 61% of motorcycle owners, up from 57% in 1990.

9. Becoming a wealthy pursuit. Some 24% of motorcycle owner households earned between $50,000 and $74,999 in 2014, and as much as 65% earned $50,000 or more. The the median household income was $62,200.

10. And well-educated. 72% of motorcycle owners have received at least some college or post-graduate education, and almost as many (71%) were employed. Some 15% were retired.

11. Most weren't off-roading. Of all the new motorcycles sold in the U.S. in 2015, 74% were on-highway bikes, and the 8.4 million motorcycles that were registered in U.S. the year before was more than double the number in 1990. Motorcycles, in fact, represented 3% of total vehicle registrations.

12. Motorcycles do their part. The motorcycle industry contributed $24.1 billion in economic value in 2015 via sales, services, state taxes paid, and licensing fees, and it employed 81,567 people.

AUTHOR Rich Duprey Rich Duprey (TMFCop) Rich has been a Fool since 1998 and writing for the site since 2004. After 20 years of patrolling the mean streets of suburbia, he hung up his badge and gun to take up a pen full time.

Aug 1, 2017

Crashing and Talking About Crashing

Here’s where we are in Minnesota, as of the end of July (Some corrections to these numbers will probably surface in August, but it won’t get better. Not all counties and municipalities report crashes quickly.)

2017 Minnesota Rider Deaths Statistics

Helmet use

  • 4 riders killed were wearing a helmet.
  • 22 riders killed were not wearing a helmet.
  • It’s unknown if 4 riders were wearing a helmet or not.

Single-vehicle crashes vs. Multi-vehicle crashes

  • 12 of the crashes involved only the motorcycle
  • 16 of the crashes involved a motorcycle and another vehicle

Motorcycle vs. deer

  • 4 of the crashes involved a motorcycle colliding with a deer.

Passengers killed

  • 3 passenger have died in a motorcycle crash

Motorcycle License Endorsement

  • 25 of the operators had a valid motorcycle license endorsement or permit.
  • 2 of the operators did not have a valid motorcycle license endorsement or permit.
  • It’s unknown if one of the riders had valid motorcycle license endorsement or permit.

Negotiating a curve

  • 9 of the crashes happened while motorcyclists were negotiating a curve.

Rider deaths by age:

  • Under 20: 1
  • 20’s: 6
  • 30’s: 1
  • 40’s: 6
  • 50’s: 10
  • 60’s: 5
  • 70’s: 1
  • 80’s: -

Rural vs. urban area

  • 14 of the crashes happened in a rural area.
  • 12 of the crashes happened in an urban area.
  • 2 of the crashes is unknown.

Registered Motorcycles Drop

The number of registered motorcycles declined by 10,000 from 2015 to 2016 after being stagnate for the previous four years.

The Mostly Useless Motorcycle Safety Advisory Task Force

ST. PAUL — Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman has reappointed, Frank Ernst, Debra Heisick, Natonia Johnson, Mark Koon, Monte Ohlrogge, Dwight Smith, Bob Swenson, Tim Walker, David Weeres and Geoffrey Wyatt, and appointed new members, Tracey Lynne Armstrong, Jonathon Paul Fernholz, Bridget Karp, David Nei and Dean Nelson to the Motorcycle Safety Advisory Task Force.  Their appointments run through June 30, 2019.

There is no information listed as to whose interests these “representatives” represent. You’d think police, MNHP, dealers, MMSC coaches and the private training sector, daily commuters, MNDOT engineers, and actual representatives of Minnesota motorcyclists would be in this mix. However, it’s usually just the ABATE pirate crowd and their only input is “no helmet laws,” criminalize anyone who hits a motorcyclist in an intersection and ignore the majority of motorcycle crashes that are the fault of motorcyclists, and DO NOT EVER talk about motorcycle noise.

Supposedly, this group “will focus on three areas:  motorcycle rider training, motorcycle rider testing and licensing, and public information and media relations.” If history is any indicator, media relations will be a bigger topic than anything useful.

2017 Toward Zero Deaths Conference

This might be an opportunity for non-ABATE bar-hoppers to have some input into the state’s motorcycle safety. planning. The “Minnesota’s Toward Zero Deaths” traffic safety initiative. You can find a little more information about the conference at http://www.minnesotatzd.org/events/conference/2017/index.html. Registration is $95 for a two-day conference, “including breakfast, lunch, and a reception.” I scanned the website and can’t find any evidence that motorcycles are even discussed in the conference, but it’s possible we might come up since we accounted for 15% of 2015’s Minnesota traffic deaths (the latest data on MNDOT’s site).

Jul 21, 2017

Bait and Switch

A while back an acquaintance who has worked in motorcycling’s retail and marketing deadzone for the last decade or more tried to tell me that the industry had spent huge bucks and tons of effort trying to find motorcycles that Millennials might buy. I admit that I don’t monitor the industry the way I once did, but I have not seen any sort of serious attempt to either figure out what the next generation of American motorcyclists might buy or to sell that generation on motorcycling. Likewise, there hasn’t been much to attract my attention, either.

r3Today was supposed to be that sort of opportunity with their 2017 Yamaha Street Motorcycle Dealer Demo Event at River Valley Power & Sport. It was raining when I left, but there had been one pass of the bike test rides down my street, so I knew it was going on. I was interested in the R3, which was supposed to be one of the test bikes. I got there right after the first group returned. No R3. I asked one of the Yamaha guys if I’d just missed it and was told that quite a few people had asked about the R3, but Yamaha and the dealer had decided to load up Yamaha’s “new” edition of the classic hippobike, the Venture. 2018-yamaha-star-venture-motorcycle-preview-1Supposedly, there was a waiting list of buyers for this blimp, but I doubt that. There were some geezerly folks there to test ride the Venture, but there were always a few unridden spares, leaving one Venture behind would have freed up space that could have held at least two R3 bikes. Unfortunately for me, there was nothing else in the lineup that I wanted to ride.

Once again, the draw of the Boomer big buck buyer displaced new riders and riders who aren’t just looking for something to take up space at the back of the garage.

IMG_8411IMG_8412IMG_8413IMG_8414IMG_8415IMG_8416IMG_8417IMG_8418IMG_8419IMG_8420IMG_8421

Jul 18, 2017

Grand Assumptions

too-many_minds 4When I was a kid, growing up in western Kansas, I assumed that everybody knew how to ride a horse. I did, after all, and I was a “city kid” and most of the people I knew were city kids and all of them rode a horse at some time or another, I assumed. I had an uncle who had a large eastern Kansas ranch and who kept horses, a lot of horses. I started riding horses when I was about five and kept at it until I was in my mid-twenties. When I moved to Dallas, Texas in the late-60’s, I discovered practically no one in that city had ever seen a horse outside of television. I was practically considered a “cowboy” because of my hometown and the fact that I knew how to saddle and ride a horse.

2012-Nissan-Frontier-4X4-PRO4X-dash-viewNow, I take more than a little crap from the fact that I own a manual transmission pickup, one of the last made and sold in the US: a Nissan Frontier. “Nobody” drives a manual anymore.” It’s almost true. Fewer than 3% of cars and trucks sold in the US have manual transmissions. Ten years ago, half of the vehicles sold had manual transmissions, especially trucks. It won’t be long before the only people who know anything about shifting gears will be motorcyclists and even that could change quickly. Scooters have always been “automatic” shifters and some motorcycles are going that way, too. My wife tolerates our pickup, but she has decided she wants a mini-van with an automatic transmission and all of the extras. My driving days are numbered and I’m not complaining. Part of the deal we made with the pickup was that I’d keep driving as long as we had it. When we go back to an automatic transmission vehicle, I’m moving to passenger-only status. It’s not a punishment for her, but a reward for me after driving more than a million miles in my lifetime, I’m opting out.

Some people believe that possessing a driver’s license is an important thing. A rapidly increasing number of Americans disagree. “Among young adults, the declines are smaller but still significant—16.4 percent fewer 20-to-24-year-olds had licenses in 2014 than in 1983, 11 percent fewer 25-to-29-year-olds, 10.3 percent fewer 30-to-34-year-olds, and 7.4 percent fewer 35-to-39-year-olds. For people between 40 and 54, the declines were small, less than 5 percent.” Owning a car and driving are less important in urban areas and are becoming less important in small-to-mid-sized cities. Red Wing, for example, has a terrific bus service that will pick me up at my driveway. It’s only 3 miles to downtown from my near-edge-of-the-city home, so walking or bicycling makes a lot more sense than driving about 90% of the time to go downtown. Getting to the Cities is more complicated, but not impossible. Amtrak has a daily “shuttle run” to the Cities, even though the times are weirdly inconvenient. There is talk of a “Red Rock Corridor” rail that would connect Red Wing and other Mississippi Valley cities to the Twin Cities. If that happens, even these rural areas1 could see a drop in car ownership.

automated_carsIn 2017, it might seem impossible to imagine a future where most people don’t drive their own cars. In 1900 it was pretty impractical to imagine a future where most people didn’t own a horse. In 1960, it was difficult to imagine a future where most Americans didn’t own an American-made car. In 2030, it could be hard to believe that people once drove cars, rather than simply instructed their autonomous vehicle to take them to a destination while they relaxed, read, did homework or work-work, or yakked on the phone. By 2050, it is entirely possible that the only people who will “drive” their own vehicle will be the ultra-rich, since they will be the only people who can afford the liability insurance. Imagine that.


1 An unanticipated effect of this shift would likely be even more abandonment of the rural areas, fewer resources for small towns and disconnected areas of even high population states like California, and more electoral catestrophes like the 2016 election unless the Electoral College idiocy is addressed. Not all Future Shock stresses are desireable or healthy. They just happen and we react as if “nobody knew it would be this complicated.”

Jul 13, 2017

The Cycle of Life

_grandloopSo, a few years ago, this was the only camping vehicle I needed or wanted. I could go anywhere I wanted, any time I got the time to go somewhere, without worrying about anything from someone else’s schedules to what the roads are like where I wanted to go. The WR with my Giant Loop gear was the perfect touring vehicle at the time.

20140704_142353Then, I retired. We bought an RV. Ok, I bought an RV, but I did it because my wife wanted a few adventures now that I wasn’t working a bizillion hours a week. I mean this was a serious months long nag that finally convinced me to look for an RV that would hold both of us, that my wife might drive (since I still hate driving four-wheel anythings), and that could tow a trailer for bicycles and the WR. Being the dumbass I am, I picked the Winnebago Rialta you see at right. I wrote a whole series of rants about how awful that played out.

2016-02-16 Blizzard & RVSo, we sold the Rialta and decided to downsize and move to someplace less noisy than Little Canada and our beloved I35E backyard noise generator. We moved to Red Wing, downsized about 1600 square feet, from 2700 to 1100, lost about 35dB of average noise, Still with a jones for traveling, she decided we needed to “seperate our camping house from our vehicle,” so we bought a pickup with towing capability and a camper trailer. And there it sat, wind, rain, snow, heat, and rince and repeat for two years. This week, we finally got the damn thing out on the road, mostly to practice backing it up and parking it. She wanted nothing to do with any part of the process and decided the whole camper experiment had been a mistake. I concur.

_grandloopSo, we’re going to put the camper up for sale. Maybe, buy a minivan for short haul camping trips (that we’ll probably never take), and we haven’t decided if we’re keeping the pickup. Since I sold the bike trailer, we might hang on to the pickup and ramps. In the meantime, I’m back to my original camping rig and other than all of the hassle involved between then and now, I’m ok with that.

Feelin’ Lucky, Punk?

Lots of terrific things have happened to me as a result of my association with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, but getting to know Kevin Cameron ranks really high on the list. I’ve saved much of the last seven years of correspondence with Keven because, like his Cycle World column, it has been brilliant.

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Jul 11, 2017

Social Engineering & Motorcycling

One of my favorite things about Mount Rushmore is the statements the Park Service selected from each of those Presidents. George Washington’s words are, probably, my favorite, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” Life and democracy are just a series of experiments, some successful and some not so much. Anyone who has ever worked in a lab of any sort knows that you just move on when an experiment fails.

So, with that background in mind, I think the MIC has been clueless in its sudden approach to find new customers. I’ve been saying, for almost 20 years, that new riders will not be the same people as the old riders. The Hardly/biker/gangbanger crowd are old, clip_image002white, poor, and stupid. They are, literally, on the way out; and good riddance. Their redneck replacements will be even more poor, dumber, and will satisfy themselves with the old stock easily found on practically every block in the country. Harley stock-piled bikes in warehouses, dealers’ lots, and in the garages of wanna-be yuppies who are so underwater on their chrome toys that they’ll never see dry land again. In the meantime, those “nicest people” Honda once convinced to buy motorcycles have moved on to other things. In Sound Familiar?, my last post, I ridiculed the traditional approach the MIC is taking to try to cling to the biker business in spite of the fact that bikers are about as trendy and hip as Disco Dan. A local Red Wing motorcyclists’ Google group I sometimes follow was on a similar subject, based on that Bloomberg article and the fact that internal combustion powered vehicles are losing ground faster than expected.

One member seemed to think electric motorcycles are a joke and that my suggestion that motorcycling advocates try to seperate motorcycle licensing from cage licenses was ridiculous. “I'm envisioning an electric moped running the ironbutt rally. Pulling a trailer full of batteries. Picking up fresh batteries every 100 miles.

“Not to mention that a driver's license is much more than a license to drive, but also establishes residency, personal identification and even implied nationality. 

“In my opinion, it makes sense to learn to drive in a car. Protected by a cage, one can learn traffic patterns etc without the undue risk associated with a bad/inexperienced decision on an MC.”

Since the Iron Butt is probably the ultimate motorcycling conspicuous consumption event, 1000 miles a day for no reason other than to burn fuel and attempt suicide-by-deer, I don't think many motorcyclists or motorcycle manufacturers take it into account in their product planning. I suspect there are more motorcyclists who don't know about the IBR than who do. I'd never heard of it until I moved to MN in 1996 and I'd been on two wheels for 40 years at that point. People who might commute by motorcycle are, or should be, a far bigger concern of the industry than the 12 guys who spend as small fortune on their once-a-year IBR extravaganza and the rest of the year recovering from that crippling event.

However, you might envision the ass-kicking suck-pow-blow bikes are getting at Pike’s Peak. Like horse-and-buggy owners at the turn of the last century, electric vehicles are coming on a lot faster than the old guard thinks and the speed of that change is only going to get quicker.

clip_image004In fact, a drivers’ licenses is exactly nothing “more than a license to drive.” There are identification cards that serve the identity purpose of a drivers' license and you get them at the same DMV office or, in civilized states, at the post office or your local library. Red state voter suppression politicos try to make ID cards as difficult and expensive to obtain as cage licenses, but those folks are fighting a losing battle. Demographics and economics are going to be driving this bus and no matter how much voter repression goes on in the red states, those two things will be driven by forces outside of political control.

That last argument is what I think of as the ultimate helicopter parent whine, “I’m gonna put my half-witted offspring in the largest SUV possible, in case little Douchebag gets distracted by his cell phone, video game, and in-dash movies and loses control of his vehicle and kills your kid; who was responsibly walking, bicycling, or motorcycling.” If you think young drivers are learning traffic patterns, you haven’t been on the road in any sort of state of consciousness. You don’t learn patterns or good habits from being inside a well-protected, smarter-than-you vehicle. You learn by immersing yourself in the environment where you will sink or swim. That’s why walking, bicycling, and motorcycling are better educators than cages, but it’s also why we’ve become a nation of pampered, lazy, uneducated spoiled brats who are non-competitive, trailing-edge, and have traded democracy for idiocracy.

hondaad2I’m not convinced motorcycles have a future in the industrialized world. When the only people who can afford the average motorcycle are the 1%, the market has shrivelled to unsustainable. There was a reason Henry Ford paid his workers enough that they could buy the products they built. There was an even better reason Honda tried to market their 1960’s motorcycles to “the nicest people.” Today, a reasonably practical new motorcycle costs at least $5,000 and that same money will buy a decent used car that will get the same or better fuel mileage, last longer with less maintenance, and be useable year-around.

I really believe it’s time to experiment with the whole motorcycle paradigm. I know of more than a few young people who could be tempted to obtain a motorcycle license before they mess with a car license. They might not ever bother with the car license, given mass transportation access and automous cars. While some people imagine that “drivers’ education courses” in high school or privately provides some level of competence, that would just be more of that silly idealizing-high-school crap. Drivers’ Ed courses are notoriously taught by the guy who couldn’t clear the lowest bar in teachers’ education, worse than phys-ed, and the classes are barely a joke, academically or practically. Currently, all licensing testing is designed to put butts in seats as efficiently as possible. Safety and competence isn’t any significant part of either drivers or motorcyclists training. That could and should be changed. Completely decoupling the cage license from motorcycle licensing could provide an opportunity to enhance all aspects of motorcycle training, which would make both motorcycle and car licensing more productive. Obviously, tiered licensing only makes sense. I can’t think of a single good reason to put a new motorcyclist on a liter bike; or a new driver in a 2,400 kilo SUV.

Electric motorcycles might make even more sense than electric cars, given the fact that most motorcycles don’t travel more than 1,500 miles a year and the advantage motorcycles could have in parking, lane-sharing, and storage. An electric motorcycle with a 150 mile range would more than do the transportation job for most people and a $0.06 fillup would just be icing on the cake.