Sep 28, 2016

Deer Are Never Good News

My local paper led off with this good news today, “Minnesota drivers expected to hit more than 42,000 deer.” “Minnesota drivers have a 1-in-80 chance of hitting a deer this year, with Wisconsin drivers at 1-in-77, South Dakota drivers at 1-in-70 and North Dakota at 1-in-91.”

So, be careful out there.

Sep 26, 2016

#128 When Memories Lie

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Some friends were showing or selling stuff at the Viking Chapter AMCA National Vintage Bike Show and I had a few hours to kill before my kids stuffed me for Fathers Day, so I blew $5 and hung out with old timers looking at old bikes in better shape than when they (either the guys or the bikes) were new. There was a lot of stuff to see. The state fairground's Progress Center building was stuffed with motorcycles from my youth and beyond (Yes, Virginia. There were motorcycles before I was born.) and the campground to the north was manned by swap meeters plying their wares.
IMG_4640I've said this before, but there is still not a lot about owning and restoring old bikes that I get. I took a lot of pictures, talked to a bunch of people, and got asked "Do you know Victor?" in response to my MMM riding jacket. In all, I had fun, but wasn't much tempted . . . until I spotted a cheap, fairly sun-thrashed, 1984 Yamaha IT200 for "make offer."

I mostly know the 1984 IT 200 through it's older, smaller brother; the late 70's IT175D. Yamaha's 175 provided a permanent motorcycle memory. Through a Nebraska dealership where I'd spent some money over the years, I got a weekend test drive on the mid-sized IT and, pretty much by accident, I discovered I could wheelie the little blue bike at will. That may not sound like a deal to you, but I have never been a wheelie guy. I can a dirtbike's front wheel over a variety of obstacles, but just lofting it for fun had mostly escaped me. In fact, I've only been able to play Wheelie Guy on two bikes in 50 years, both were 175s. The other was a mid-70's Husky. I have never had a bank account that could foot a Husqvarna, so the Yamaha has always been in my sights. A few years back, I met a North Dakota Vincent collector who also had a weakness for the IT175s. While I barely comprehended his fascination for the Black Shadow of British motorcycling, I totally got the 175 thing. In fact, he insisted I take one of his Vincents for a test ride, but was totally unwilling to hand over the 175. I got that, too.

IMG_4641So, here was one I could afford. Not the bike I rode and loved, but pretty damn close and very accessible. The bits were mostly all there (the motor was busted, but fixable). The rod had snapped and punched a hole in one case. I could see from the parts box that most of the motor bits were reusable. The old bike had probably last been ridden in 2002 and had spent a good bit of the next 11 years leaning against the side of a Texas garage. The plastic was oxidized nearly gray, from the original Yamaha competition blue. The price was ridiculously right. It estimated at least $500 to get it running about another $1,000 to make it primo. A few hundred loving hours and I'd have a motorcycle that I lusted over when I was still mobile and reasonable athletic. I was tempted, but the temptation didn't last.

Mostly, it was all of the work putting the old bike together would require. I'm in the midst of about two dozen projects, several of which could dominate the rest of my summer. I don't need another project and that played pretty strongly in the decision.

Something else stuck in my craw, too. I have to wonder if this idea is what spawns those multi-garage motorcycle owning binges? What if I put all of those hours and all that labor into restoring this motorcycle that I remember so fondly and . . . it sucks? I realize that could be a double-edged sword. It might be that I suck on that great old motorcycle. Regardless, it's not only possible but it's pretty damn likely. Back when I discovered the joy of one-wheel-travel, I was also in my late twenties. The man I was then and the old man I am now bear damn little resemblance. That dumbass kid would kick my ass all over any competitive field I picked to die on. He was faster, stronger, braver, and had far less awareness of the consequences of falling on his butt. Hell, half of my butt isn't even real, but I know for a fact how much pain getting it fixed again will involve.

IMG_4639My daughter used to wear a t-shirt decorated with the words, "I only wish I could ride as fast as my dad remembers he did." I was in my 40's then. I have no doubt that another twenty years has made my younger self even faster. Hey! There is hardly anyone left alive to provide evidence to the contrary. I can say what I want and you're not going to find a counter-argument from a live person or YouTube, unless you can find some old silent movies that have been transferred to digital video. I was never good enough to warrant more being part of the background for someone who was doing something terrific.

In the end, I just mounted up on my WR250 and went on with my day, leaving the IT175/200 memories untarnished. I hope someone bought it. I hope they restore it to brand new perfection. I'm not sure I want to ride it when they are done, but I probably would if I got the chance. If it--or I--was disappointing, at least I wouldn't have money riding on the outcome.

Sep 19, 2016

#127 Dual Purpose Commuting


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Over a ten year period, I owned four different motorcycles while I lived in southern California: a 1979 Honda CX500, a 1982 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision, a 1986 Kawasaki KLR600, and a 1986 Yamaha XT350. Of the four bikes, the hands-down best daily California commuter was unquestionably the XT350. For four years, I rode my 350 to work from Huntington Beach to Costa Mesa every morning, three to four days a week, to school in Long Beach after every work day, and for 90% of my non-family-related transportation for a total of 68,000 miles. During my last years in California, if I wasn't on the XT, I was on a bicycle (I biked to work almost every day I didn't have college classes). My twenty mile work-to-school commute was via the Pacific Coast Highway, which was dramatically quicker than the 405, thanks to lane-splitting and filtering and no-thanks to the 405's 5mph average rush hour speed. The XT's narrow profile made efficient commuting even more practical as SUVs and other oversized single-passenger vehicles became more popular in the late 80's and the spaces between vehicles shrank considerably.

Since the 80's, so-called "dual purpose" motorcycles have grown (in size and expense) along with the SUV market. It's hard to imagine calling a Super Ten or a BMW 1200GS a "dual purpose" bike, but if you can manage that sort of off-road ride, you probably agree with Emilio Scotto who rode a his "Black Princess," a 1980 Honda GL1100, 457,000 miles through practically every country in the world and claims the Goldwing is the perfect adventure touring bike. Personally, a 900 pound Goldwing would not be my off-road choice and it wouldn't be the bike I'd pick to commute on, either. In a pretty-good world, lane-splitting and filtering would be a common part of urban traffic management and we'd all be saving time, money, energy, and highway maintenance taxes. That's the world in which a real dual purpose bike excels at commuting. With our tall seat height, we can see over and around most other vehicles. The long-travel suspension and spoked wheels allow for almost unlimited escape routes during times of stress. Light weight and nimble handling, a real DP bike can go where panicked cagers fear to roll.

For example, by the early 90's, analog cell phones (as compact as a bunch of bananas) appeared and California drivers became even more distracted. The ability to slide between cars and jump curbs to escape multiple car pile-ups became lifesaving. I'd have been the gooey center in a car sandwich multiple times if I had been on a less nimble motorcycle. Regardless of Minnesota's primitive motorcycle laws, I still split lanes on the freeway when forced to come to an unexpected stop in heavy traffic. I don't even wait for the tire screeching warning that some dimbulb has discovered, too late, that his cell phone was not the most important task of the morning. I just put iron between me and the idiots behind me and merge back into the flow of traffic when it crawls back to life. If a cop wants to give me a ticket for a preventative lifesaving move, I'll spend the time in court defending my right to stay alive. Jumping a curb and hiding in a convenient flower bed is a whole different kind of maneuver, though. That move isn't even an option for sport bikes or cruisers because they don't have the wheels, suspension, or ground clearance. It's not a practical move for a 600 pound "dual purpose" bike, either.

Picture 025I abandoned real DP motorcycles when I moved to Colorado (No, that doesn't make a lick of sense.), but after a few years without a serious dual purpose motorcycle, I bought a 2000 Kawasaki Super Sherpa KL250 with the intention of commuting and touring on the bike. The touring part never happened, but I regularly commuted on the little bike, putting 8,000 miles on the bike in two seasons. It replaced my V-Strom as my regular ride; solely because of the fun factor and 70+mpg in-town efficiency. A couple of years ago, I replaced the Sherpa with my current favorite motorcycle, a Yamaha WR250X. It gets slightly worse mileage (about 60mpg), but it starts easily year-around; thanks to fuel injection. I have a little more than 10,000 miles on the WR and it has done double-duty as a regular commuter and an mid-range adventure touring bike. My old V-Strom is even more lonely than before. In fact, I have ridden it once this year, as of mid-August.

A survey I have been running over the last year found that the average motorcyclist (loosely defined) rides well under 2,000 miles a year. There is no positive correlation between engine size and miles-ridden, either. With that in mind, it's obvious that most of us need nothing more than a 250-500cc motorcycle and the most practical motorcycles every made are dual purpose. For all-around daily use, a motorcycle that can go anywhere, does it efficiently and reliably, and has a decent resale value is hard to beat. Aerostich's Andy Goldfine has a "small and simple equals fun" basic motorcycle rule. Add a versatile suspension, great handling, narrow profile, fuel economy, dependable resale, and a design intended to be treated roughly and you have the perfect commuting motorcycle. Maybe, the perfect universal motorcycle.

From: Andy Goldfine 
Sent: Friday, June 06, 2014 11:33 PM
To: Tom Day; Day Thomas
Subject: Lightweight touring
Tom - Wonderful MMM column this month.  Thanks for mentioning me.  I learned the "Small and simple equals fun." formulation from an old Steven L. Thompson editorial in Cycle World or Cycle Guide.  

His version was "L + S = MF" which stood for 'Light + Simple = More Fun'.  He deserves full origination credit for this idea as it relates to motorcycling.

I hope we will be able to get together in person some time this summer.


Sep 17, 2016

How Historic will this Make Motorcycles?

outbackranch2_(5)__hdNavigant now believes that by 2050, self-driving cars will be the norm in civilized societies. “The idea of getting behind the wheel (in 2050) and actually driving a car is likely to be more a curiosity, akin to going to a stable to climb on the back of a horse.” In this month’s Design News blog entry, “Which Will Capture the Market First -- Autonomous Cars or Electrics?” Charles Murray describes the parallel race between electrics and autonomous vehicles. While EV’s are still just 1% of world automotive production, that number is expected to move up quickly. By 2030, that number could be as high as 50%.

e793109d5c5907bc0adccbe3583ce8d1If people stop driving cages, how long will it be before they don’t pilot motorcycles? That “back of a horse” comment has been on my mind for about two decades.

Sep 13, 2016

A Last (?) Short Season

My 2016 MSF/MMSC training season appears to be pretty much indicative of the motorcycle training business in general. Due to a physical problem, last year’s fairly normal season got cut short around late July. Since 2001, I’ve been doing 15-25 Basic and (recently renamed) Intermediate classes a year along with the occasional Skills Retest and Maintenance class. Last year, I’d signed up for 16 classes and managed to teach a dozen before my right foot turned into a pain generator and I had to bail out of the last portion of my season. I hadn’t missed a class in 14 years before that season.

This year, I decided to downsize my participation to the minimum 4 classes.Honestly, I didn’t have much fun last season and have been wondering if I’m near the point where teaching anything to anyone has lost its appeal. I have been doing some sort of education function for almost 40 years; either as a corporate trainer or a college instructor. My father was a high school math and accounting teacher and I never imagined myself following in his career footsteps, but I did; sort of. My tolerance for fools has never been well developed, but it appears to be vanishing altogether in my cranky old age. I can put up with miles of inexperience, but I can’t move and inch to fix deliberate stupidity. When I first started training technicians, in the mid-70’s, I was ruthless when it came to putting up with a tech who wanted the planet to revolve in his direction. Several of my employers moved asshole employees into my departments because they didn’t have the balls or personal organization and disipline to fire them. I have always believed in saying (and documenting) what I am going to do and doing what I say I will do. If I say, “Screw up three times and you’re fired,” you should assume that when you’re at two strikes you better not swing at a bad pitch.

Part of what convinced me to quit my college teaching gig was that my ability to make the classroom rules and enforce them had vanished. Probably the worst thing about activities like for-profit education, healthcare, resource management, and like things is that management can rarely remember the purpose of the organization, beyond providing large salaries to management, for any length of time. When the rules for an activity are changed to keep the income steady for mismanagement, the rules no long exist and neither does the purpose of the activity. And so it went for my college teaching career.

The rules for motorcycle safety instruction have never been designed toward improving motorcycle safety. The MSF is OWNED by the MIC, which is all about putting butts with credit or cash on motorcycle seats. “Safety” is just the smokescreen used to justify avoiding the sort of government regulations that motorcycling’s awful safety record would warrant. Any other activity that would cost the nation’s taxpayers a good bit over $16B per year while providing little-to-no valuable utility (except guns and “financial services”) would see the regulation hammer drop like a brick on an ant. Like most for-profit organizations, the MIC has no strong reason to care if its customers die shortly after handing over their cash or the dealers sell the loans to some TBTF bank. It’s not like motorcycling has a long future in sight for these folks or that their execs have a financial motivation to provide for the future of the companies they mismanage.

In fact, the MSF program carefully orders instructors and program managers not to make claims about the MSF’s training having any effect on motorcycle safety. And that’s because it doesn’t. Not only does the MSF know that training doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t appear to work anywhere. One of the attractions to teaching is the feedback an instructor gets when people learn a skill and begin on a path toward mastering it. Trust me, it’s not about the money. Take away the hope there was a reason for spending a hot summer weekend on a parking lot walking 11-miles-per-day putting down and picking up cones, avoiding and preventing injury from a runaway motorcycle and motorcyclist or ten, and listening to people whine when they manage to fail the grossly-easy “skills test” at the end and you kill a lot of instructor motivation. 

Teaching the “Intermediate Safety Course” (IRC) is often way less fun or advanced than the “Basic” course. Overcoming the myths and objections of so-called experienced riders is wearing. I’ve dealth with two-year-olds who were more informed than the majority of over-50 Harley riders; especially the “club” characters who are just making the motions toward motorcycle safety to justify their gang patches and pirate parades.

One of the main consumers of the IRC has been Polaris, with a requirement that employees must obtain a motorcycle license and take both the BRC and IRC before they can  “check out” bikes from the company’s reverse-engineering inventory and Indian/Victory loaners. To accomodate those wannabe “motorcyclists” who want to ride but don’t want to have to actually buy a motorcycle, we ran an experiment a couple of years ago with allowing IRC customers to use the BRC bikes along with taking the MSF’s IRC test at the end. The results were pretty good, but the outcome was that we’re now allowing IRC students to use the small bikes but we’re blowing off the test. If there was ever evidence that we are not serious about providing actual results from motorcycle training, it was this for me.

So, at the end of this season I’m going to be spending the winter contemplating my motorcycle safety training “career.” Like most teaching gigs in the US, I think the average length of a motorcycle trainer’s career is less than 3 years. You’d think getting to play with motorcycles for fun and profit would be a better gig, but it isn’t in most states. Again, it’s the feedback reinforcement that overcomes the downsides to teaching and they aren’t there.

Sep 12, 2016

#126 What Are You Afraid Of?


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

A while back, one of our contributors listed a few of the things he was afraid of. One of the things he listed was flying. Another was helmet claustrophobia. I think spiders, snakes, girls, and clowns probably made the list, too.

Psychologists argue that the absence of fear is mental illness. The other possibility is physical or genetic damage to the portion of the brain called the "amygdala," which is the section of the brain that generates the emotion we describe as fear. I have yet to meet a psychologist/psychiatrist who I would call "courageous," so I'm only sort of buying into this analysis and classification. These are the same characters who invented a disease (AADD) to explain a lack of focus and poor self-discipline and who can't convince 65% of the public that human beings have predictable animalistic responses to fight-or-flight situations or social pressures.

Personally, I despise all of my own phobias (and I have a list). While a fear factor might be a wonderful survival tactic, it is definitely a buzz-kill. Standing at the edge of a bridge strapped to a harness and 100' bungee cable is a disgusting time to start evaluating your entertainment options. As a Kizinti (the alien species George Lucas ripped off, renamed "Wookie," and domesticated in Star Bores) told Louis Wu, "All that is needed is to scream and leap." After all, that's how we invest in the stock market, housing, higher education, and it's definitely how we choose our political "leaders." Important stuff like that requires no more thought than we put into "would you like fries with that?" So, why do we hesitate to fling our bodies into the void, especially with a perfectly good motorcycle under us and well-maintained roads to travel? It's not like indecision is going to add anything valuable to your steering plans at the apex of a curve or when the motorcycle leaves the ground at the top of a whoop or a small hill. Do it. Scream and leap. Set your hair on fire and give it your best shot. These days, if you really screw it up you'll probably end up a YouTube superstar. A small price to pay for your 1.5 seconds of excitement and 15 minutes, dead minimum, of fame.

Seriously, I do believe that fears are meant to be overcome. Catering to phobias and cowardice  is what makes you old before your time. If you give in to that crap, the next thing you know you'll be voting Republican and jabbering nonsense about "job creators" and "Obama is a socialist" and all of your friends will have sub-100-point IQs and you'll delude yourself into believing that Leno and Letterman are funny and Fox actually does "news." Man up, dude, before it's too late. Accepting fear is a choice and you can either get it up and get over it or shrivel into a timid little person who never has a moment on YouTube to relish. [Yes, I have several, although "relish" is probably not the word that first comes to mind.]

I like the tactic of facing fears until they are beaten back into my subconscious. Heights, for example. I suspect that most of us are a little shy about stepping on to a 20' roof or out on to the Grand Canyon's Infinity Bridge. We all, however, know that with reasonable caution there is very little about either of those "adventures" that qualifies as dangerous. So, most of us get on with the job and it doesn't take long before altitude fades into the background. I used to do a little rock climbing and it always amazed me that on Day One I might find myself frozen 15' above flat ground and a few days later I will be walking along the edge of a 300' cliff without the slightest nervousness. Speed is another sensation we can adapt to fairly quickly. I'm not sure that is a good thing, but it is true. When I take off for a long trip, sticking with freeway traffic sometimes seems like walking a knife edge. Two weeks later and I'm impatient when someone is "parked" in front of me a few miles-per-hour above the speed limit. [Not that I would ever, ever exceed the federally mandated speed limits when everyone else is doing their best to do multiples of that velocity.]

Fear is like guilt. Sometimes those emotions can keep us from doing things other people disapprove, but neither emotion produces a positive result. I can be made to conform to society's low expectations, but I will resent it and that will come out in odd acts of rebellion that help me maintain a balance of control. Fear will tell me to chicken out at the worst possible time, when going forward is almost guaranteed to be the right decision.

My favorite motorcycling example is when I screw up and enter a corner too hot. Unless there is a lot of run-out room, there is no place for braking in that situation. Once the bike is in a slide, there are even fewer options available. On dirt or gravel, this is where the fun begins. I'm less comfortable sliding on concrete or asphalt, but that's due to cowardice and inexperience, not common sense. So that's the fear I'm working on this summer, fear of sliding on paved surfaces. I'll let you know how that works out, assuming I survive.

Sep 10, 2016

Holy Crap!

My wife and I made a run for Northfield on Friday in the pickup because we were planning on blowing a boatload of money on trees at Knecht’s Nursery. About five miles east of Northfield on Highway 19, a westbound pickup was turning right into a farm house driveway. A nutjob on a big cruiser pulling a trailer was tailgating the pickup and, apparently, didn’t see the turn signal or notice the pickup was slowing for the turn. We were about 100 yards behind a delivery truck in the eastbound lane.

The biker nutjob decided to split the space between the pickup in front of him and the delivery truck, with a foot of space on either side. I shit you not, the idiot was dragging his fucking FEET to slow down while he slithered between the two vehicles! He had to have been going at least 60 mph and didn’t make the slightest effort to even roll off the throttle. I know because we could hear his POS exhaust going full bore when he past us.

Sep 9, 2016

Motorcycle Head Count

Sometimes I like to generate my own statistics, just to see of the published data bears any resemblence to actual highway experience. This afternoon, I rode from Red Wing to Rosemount and back, mostly because I screwed up and didn’t see the email yesterday rescheduling the MMSC coaches’ night at DCTC to next week. Oh well. While I’m riding my overly nimble WR250X on relatively boring county and state roads, I like to count the number of cars between motorcycles. Today, the sequence went like this:

  • 125 (Red Wing to Hastings, where I spotted the first motorcycle of the day)
  • 800+ (Hastings to Aldis in Rosemount where I stopped and quit counting before buying groceries)
  • 146 (post-grocery shopping in Rosemount, a commuter)
  • 78 (between Rosemount and Hastings, another commuter)
  • 366 (a parked motorcycle at the Hastings dairy)
  • 571 (all the way home from Hastings to Red Wing, not a single bike on the road)

When I’m doing my numbers, I don’t count groups of motorcycles as anything more than one rider. If it’s a pack of slow-moving pirates, I don’t count them at all. That kind of riding is just conspicuous consumption and has nothing to do with transportation. However, on this trip I didn’t even see a pirate parade around Treasure Island. I suspect most of the biker crowd have put up their chrome toys for the season.

Let’s add ‘em up, four motorcycles over 2086 cages or about 0.2% of highway traffic on a perfect motorcycle day in September at and around rush hour. That is one seriously dismal statistic. It absolutely justifies my estimate (from Craig’s List motorcycle want ads) that the average motorcycle is ridden barely 1,000 miles per year.

Now, let’s look at last year’s crash stats. There were 61 motorcyclists killed in Minnesota last year and, oddly, 67 people were also killed in pickup crashes. Combining two types of cages, SUVs and vans, a total of 41 people died in those vehicles’ crashes. So, if you believe there is any legitimate comparison to be made between the miles travelled by pickups or SUVs and vans and motorcycles, I’m all ears. Make me laugh.

On my mid-summer’s trip to Colorado, I went into overload on a couple of long stretches where the count was in the several thousand vehicles per motorcycle. Around Ft. Collins, the stats were more encouraging, but a couple dozen miles west into the mountains and, once the racer boyz were on their way back to the dorm, motorcycles vanished and I didn’t see another bike until Steamboat.

We’re a vanishing breed folks.

Sep 3, 2016

Big Leaps vs. the Status Quo

For about 40 years, I had at least some of my fingers into some area of mid-to-high-tech every day. When I moved from engineering into academia, I was pretty much down to one finger on the edge of what was going on in technology. Retirement put an end to that connection in any practical sense. One of the few ways I have left to stay in touch with what is going on in the tech world is my subscription to “Design News.” This month, Design News had a few articles that should be interesting to a motorcyclist.

In this month’s review of the magazine’s past home gadget builder projects, “Gadget Freak Case #235: Ignition Control Unit for Harley Davidson Panhead Engine” described how one gearhead tried to resolve the problem of getting an old Harley to start reliably. There isn’t much follow-up in the article, so I don’t know (or care) how it all worked out. Reading the story of his analysis and design solution was interesting, though.

In case you are still suffering the delusion that autonomous cars are in the distant future, "Hope or Hype? Big Automakers Look to Autonomous Vehicles" should relieve you of that false hope. You might know how I think autonomous vehicles are going to affect street legal motorcycling, so read it and weep. "Ford president and CEO Mark Fields made it clear that the giant automaker is not settling for half-measures in its effort and is going straight to self-driving cars by 2021. ‘That means there’s going to be no steering wheel. There’s not going to be a gas pedal. There’s not going to be a brake pedal and, of course, a driver is not going to be required,’ he said."

As for the noise, pollution, energy inefficiency of internal combustion engines, "6 Automakers Will Lead the Way to EV Battery Growth" describes how “Six big automakers will carry the electric vehicle (EV) battery market to a five-fold sales increase by 2020, a new study says . . .Tesla, General Motors (GM), Renault-Nissan, Volkswagen, BMW, and BYD will account for 90% of the electric car battery sales during those five years, mostly on the strength of bigger battery packs.” By “bigger” the article is not talking about physicial size, later this year Chevy will be hyping a “60-kWh battery in the all-electric Chevy Bolt.” The number of electric cars on the road is going to change, too. Tesla is planning for “annual sales of 500,000 of the affordable Model 3 vehicles by 2018.” There is some debate over how much of the cage market electric vehicles will be in the next few years, but I think the end of the Age of Oil is in sight and if I were a younger motorcyclist I’d be really interested in how that will play out on two wheels.

Aug 29, 2016

#124 Safe Motorcycling?

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

safe adjective
  • not able or likely to be hurt or harmed in any way : not in danger
  • not able or likely to be lost, taken away, or given away
  • not involving or likely to involve danger, harm, or loss
dan·ger·ous adjective
  • involving possible injury, harm, or death : characterized by danger
  • able or likely to cause injury, pain, harm, etc.
The phrase "safe motorcycling" gets tossed around a lot in motorcycle books and training. Which of the two definitions above best describes motorcycling?
Be honest.
I think we all know the answer. With that answer in mind, what is going on in motorcycle safety training when we use the words "safe motorcycling?" Why even pretend there is such a thing when experienced riders believe there are only two kinds2 of motorcyclists? It's obvious  why the MSF/MIC does it. It never pays, in the short term, to scare off customers with reality. For the future of motorcycling--and for the scarce few of us who care about that--this is a suicidal approach. Our mortality-and-morbidity-per-mile statistics are the grossest evidence possible that motorcycling is as risky an activity as rock climbing, hang gliding, scuba diving or deep free-diving, X-games-everything, or being in a combat zone("Top safety chiefs across the military have identified motorcycles as the No. 1 safety concern off the battlefield." NPR Report, U.S. Military Combats Rising Motorcycle Fatalities, 2009)
The average age of motorcyclists is steadily climbing, which means a large generation of our population is not following in the Boomer's footsteps. That is apparent in all sorts of ways.  In 2011, the average age of US motorcyclists was 43 (the average age of Harley riders was 58 for that same year) compared to 1980's 23-year-old, 1998's 33-year-old, and 2003's 40-year-old averages. It's fair to speculate that the ordinary motorcycling participant will be very near 60 by 2020 and that might spell the end of motorcycling as a popular activity in the US. I have to wonder if at least some of this avoidance is because of the disconnect between reality and the attempted marketing of "motorcycle safety?" If we accept the fact that motorcycling is "dangerous" by any reasonable definition, training and licensing change dramatically. If we pick two obviously dangerous activities, scuba diving and skydiving, and compare their training requirements to motorcycle safety training, I think we'll see what kind if change is required.
For example, to qualify for solo skydiving a student spends a day in a classroom followed by 25 assisted jumps which qualifies you to test and apply for a USPA "A" License. To obtain a PADI Open Water scuba diving certification (a certification required to buy compressed air from a dive shop), a beginning diver spends a day or two in class (or 12-15 hours taking the on-line class) followed by five sessions in confined water and four open water diving sessions. The US's MSF BRC (Basic Rider Course) consists of five hours of classroom, including a written test, plus ten hours of range time, including the state motorcycle licensing test at the end of the second day. Any way you look at it, the time, skill, and financial commitment required to become a licensed motorcyclist isn't close to reasonable considering the risk or complication of the skills learned. Having been a PADI Dive Master, I can say with experience that scuba diving isn't even close to as complicated and hazardous an activity as riding a motorcycle on public streets.
Like skydiving and scuba, there is nothing natural about learning to ride a motorcycle. All of our built-in natural reactions and motor skills are next-to-useless. Learning to ride a motorcycle with any expectation of reasonable safety is a long, involved, strenuous process and a day-and-a-half of "training" is grossly insufficient. Even worse, motorcycling doesn't have the checks in place to prevent the untrained from smearing themselves all over the highway. If you don't have a scuba certification, you can't buy compressed air at a dive shop. If you don't have a USPA license, you can't get a ride on a plane to take a solo jump. All you have to do to get on a motorcycle is to buy or borrow one. Until this changes, motorcycling is on a collision course with public opinion and with the rest of our public image in the dumpster, that can't be good for the industry or our access to public roads.
1 Both definitions from the Merriam-Webster's On-Line Dictionary
2 "There are two types of motorcyclists - those who have had an accident and those who will."

Aug 15, 2016

#130 Sliding to A Stop

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I was exploring some of the dirt roads between St. Paul and Taylors Falls on a Saturday morning this past fall, when I had the occasion to come to a couple of emergency stops. The first time was after a short series of 15mph turns on a paved farm road, I was barely out of one of the turns when a large deer wandered into the road and stopped to observe my on-coming motorcycle. He was in the middle of my lane and, since a truck was coming the other direction, the only evasive maneuver available to me was a quick stop. I've read several reviews of my WR250X that implied that the brakes are "weak" or "mushy." I beg to differ. Maybe for a racer's tastes those descriptions are apt, but for my weekend warrior playbike purposes the WR stops just fine.

And it did.

A few years back, I managed to execute a similar maneuver at night on a mostly-empty highway on my 650 V-Strom. For the most part, that incident had a happy ending, too, other than getting me gore-coated when an opposite-direction pickup splattered the deer all over his truck, emptying the contents of the deer's bowels all over me in the process. That incident taught me not to admire the luck and skill of an emergency braking maneuver for more than it takes to pick a safe path around the deer and get the hell out of there.

One of the best things about being a motorcycle instructor is that I have to demonstrate quick stops a few times every week and think about braking technique often enough to be able to explain and do it half-well. Too bad there wasn't anyone around to see this demo. I squared the bike up and laid into the brakes right up to the front wheel's limit of traction. I might have slid the back tire a little bit, but not much. The deer wandered off of the road, after getting his day's entertainment out of my emergency, the truck roared past without making any sort of adjustment, and I got the hell out of there and went back to playing around on the backroads.

A few miles further from that encounter-of-the-hoofed-kind, this time on a gravel farm road, I crested a hill and discovered a freakin' herd of deer parading across the road; big ones, middle sized ones, and at least a half-dozen little bitty Hell spawn Bambis.  This time, I was moving a bit faster and hauling the bike down to stop took a bit more concentration. The road was slightly damp, covered with loose gravel and small rocks, and provided reasonable traction. No harm no foul or fawn.

After the four-hoofed crowd meandered from the road and I got back on the trail, I thought about how my two four-hoof experiences could have ended and how a police investigator might have evaluated the "evidence." When I read police reports of crashes, one of the bits of "evidence" they seem to use is the skid distance left by crashed vehicles. Supposedly, this is some sort of indication of how fast the vehicle was traveling. Using that useless data point, if I had hit the deer the cops would have claimed I "made no effort to stop." No skid marks, no braking? Seriously? I thought about this for a while after the last stop. On wet gravel just over a hill and no sliding and the bike came to a quick stop a good distance before any of the hoofed rats or me were in danger. So, no evidence left for the highway forensic "experts" to interpret and that would tell them what about my riding ability, attempt to avoid the collision, or anything else?

A while back, there was a news report about an off-duty cop who ran into a kid in a residential neighborhood  after "laying the bike down" in an attempt to avoid the collision. I see that kind of language in local police crash reports, too. We talk about this silly stuff in motorcycle safety classes all the time. Anyone who believes that sliding on polished metal provides a better coefficient of friction than rubber probably shouldn't be playing with motorcycles. The only time I have ever seen a sideways motorcycle stop more effectively than one still operated rubber-side-down has been in soft, deep sand or sloppy mud. Often, that tactic results in a spectacular flying machine stomping the crap out of the helpless rider. Stopping or slowing quickly in either one of those situations usually involves flying over the bars and some unpleasant impact activities, followed by a completely out-of-control motorcycle doing whatever physics and luck dictate. Pavement requires some kind of sticky material for traction. Conveniently, tires are made of sticky materials. Bodywork, chrome and painted bits are considerably less sticky. 

"Lay 'er down" logic ranks up there with the "Loud Pipes Save Lives" insanity. The argument defies logic, physics, mechanical engineering, experience, reality, and statistical evidence. Motorcyclists know that dropping the bike is an out-of-control panic maneuver, usually due to inappropriate rear brake use. Bikers never get good enough to know the difference. If you don't know which kind of rider you are, you are not a motorcyclist.

Aug 13, 2016

The "Test?"

Not only is this the test that so many motorcyclists take the BRC to avoid failing, but this is a pretty typical "rider" who can pass this embarrassingly simple collection of skills and become a licensed motorcyclist.

Aug 10, 2016

Gangbanger Holiday

This past weekend, Friday through Sunday, was River City Days in Red Wing. More than usual, we had packs of loud, incompetent, badged and tatted pirates parading through town creating smog, noise, irritation, and entertainment. We made it to the downtown affair a couple of times and had an opportunity to view how motorcycles are seen by the general public in a fairly diverse crowd. It’s pretty much all negative.


If you think South Park was exaggerating, you’re delusional, clueless, and or an asshole. There are no other alternatives.

The experience got me to thinking about where years of negative stereotypes are taking the future of motorcycling. Combined with a 3,000 mile trip to the Rockies and back earlier this summer where I saw so few motorcycles doing anything other than being asshole gangbangers or asshole squids, this summer really put a point on the spear I’ve been anticipating for years. Other than a few Midwestern manufacturing jobs, who would it inconvenience if motorcycles were banned from public roads? Since motorcyclists are already classified as “terrorists” and gangsters by the FBI (and I mean all of us with a class “M” license, not just the actual gangbangers), the majority of the public considers motorcycles to be a menace (and not just in the US), and insurance companies and most motorcyclists consider their motorcycle to be purely a “recreational vehicle,” it’s pretty obvious that we’re treading on unsound territory here.

In the past (the mid-80’s), the motorcycle manufacturers have at least considered ending motorcycle imports to the US and other 1st world countries due to liability costs. If insurance companies (especially health insurance) were able to properly price their products regarding insurer risk, most of us wouldn’t be able to ride because we couldn’t afford health or life insurance. If the public could do simple math, the estimated $2/mile cost of motorcycle crashes (mostly paid by the general public, since only half of motorcyclists involved in crashes have health insurance) would drive more than a little legislative action. Economically, the only rational move any society has is to start moving toward getting motorcycles off of the public’s roads.

Again, I ask “Who would that inconvenience?” Well under 1% of the public are being supported and tolerated by the 99%. If that sounds familiar, consider how much rage there is toward that other 1% group. Lucky for us and the other 1%, at least half of the country is so stupid that they will vote for a 1%’er to save themselves from sanity and they will pretend that motorcycles are some sort of “freedom” worth protecting. But they may not be stupid forever.

Aug 8, 2016

Finally, Something I Agree With

"As Americans, and due to many of the reasons identified here (but mostly the idiots), we've become incredibly biased against motorcycles. When we hear that word, we see squids attacking a Range Rover on the West Side Highway or pathetic old men vibrating their way down the highway in assless leather chaps. We don't see sensible personal transportation, an honest good time or someone saving all of us time on our commutes by taking active measures to bust congestion. And none of that creates a viable future for motorcycling in this country."

When You Know the End Is Near


BEHIND BARZ is a FAH-REE, full color, glossy magazine. It is distributed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. We also have subscribers in other parts of the country and all over the world! We showcase all types of motorcycles, domestic and import. We focus on local riders from a local rider's point of view - not from the outside looking in . . . BB was created as a service for the biker. We are not going to give you a one picture and a paragraph kind of deal. BEHIND BARZ is here for the biker, period! We might not have been the first magazine in the Carolinas and surounding areas but we set the standards that no other can emulate or imitate!

“All types,” particularly if they are loud, slow, heavy, and incompetently designed. If you are looking for lots of “biker face,” here’s the main source.

Aug 7, 2016

When You Know You Are Living with Marching Morons

Business Insider’s recent article about autopiloted cars, “Autopilot in cars is going to be a very tough sell,” proves that we’re well on our way to a society that is more emotional than rational and more stupid than sentient. The hysteria around one Tesla auto-piloted car crash seems particularly stupid from a motorcyclist’s perspective.

The half-witted article claims that the crash story and an included bit about Tesla’s auto-pilot saving one of the electric car manufacturer’s customer’s life, “provide at least a measure of anecdotal support for Tesla’s claims that its own data show autopilot—imperfect as it is—is already significantly safer than the average human driver.

“That’s going to be a tough sell, though, to the public and regulators alike. Brown’s death ignited a backlash that had been brewing since Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced autopilot in a heavily hyped, Steve Jobs–like launch event in October 2014. ”

A significant portion of the public is moronic enough to imagine that Donny Trump is bright enough to assume the office of President of the United States without doing what he does best; bankrupting the entire nation. Caring about what those people think is not among the qualities that any half-intelligent society would consider. It’s obvious from a few moments of highway driving that 90% of the current driving public would be better replaced with a 1980’s MS-DOS computer system.

Aug 5, 2016

Aug 3, 2016

Measuring Facts

“One of motorcycling’s few saving graces is the disconnect between how dangerous the activity is and how safe the practicioners feel. I’m not well-travelled, so I tend to believe this is an American (USA, not Canada or Mexico.) trait. It could be just a human thing, though. Generally, it’s safe to say that don’t get humans. One of the ways that people make those disconnects is by putting “belief” over facts. When confronted with the data that demonstrates riding (per mile travelled) in rural and small town areas is more dangerous than urban travel, especially freeway travel, riders will simply argue(?), “I don’t believe that.” While they are pretending to be skeptical, they are simply being foolish when the data doesn’t support their delusions.

I ran head-on into that argument a few days ago with my neighbor, a generally reasonably intelligent and creative guy who mostly hangs out with idiots because he works for an agricultural construction company. In a spectacular demonstration of the old saying, “lay down with dogs, wake up with fleas,” my neighbor was off on a rant about how nervous Donny Trump made him, but that he couldn’t vote for Clinton because “She’s gonna take away my guns.”

I suggested that I’d heard that bullshit argument for the last 40 years of national elections and Presidents JFK, Johnson, Carter, and Obama have not only not taken away anywhere near “all his guns” but Bush I was the one President to actually make a shot at anything resembling gun control, which Reagan supported. His response was, “I don’t believe that. Look at what Obama did to the price of ammo, right after his election.”

As much as I respect my neighbor’s intelligence, he isn’t a reader and doesn’t do much research on anything but construction projects. Like most people, he isn’t likely to be killed by curiousity. I suggested a couple of websites, The Truth about Guns "Why Is Ammunition So Expensive?" and an article I’d read in the Motley Fool’s investment blog, “The NRA Reveals Who's to Blame for Ammo Shortage: You.” The main reason ammo is in short supply and expensive is that gun nuts are buying and hoarding the supply. It’s actually one of the rare times that supply-and-demand is applicable. I ended with, “Even the NRA’s website conforms that.”

His response was a laugh and, “I still don’t believe that.” He followed with an argument that satistics “don’t prove anything” and that anyone can lie with numbers.

And so it goes.

We went back to talking about safe topics, but I went away wondering how many people quickly justify their prejudice, irrational economic decisions, and generally nutty behavior with “I don’t believe that.” I bet a lot.

MMM recently published one of my less-temperate rants, Safe Motorcycling? One of my points in that essay was, “Our mortality-and-morbidity-per-mile statistics are the grossest evidence possible that motorcycling is as risky an activity as rock climbing, hang gliding, scuba diving or deep free-diving, X-games-everything, or being in a combat zone (‘Top safety chiefs across the military have identified motorcycles as the No. 1 safety concern off the battlefield.’ NPR Report, U.S. Military Combats Rising Motorcycle Fatalities, 2009).” In case you’ve convinced youself that I’m the only one who thinks motorcycles are dangerous, a few years back AOL News published ”The 7 Deadly Hobbies: Pastimes Your Insurer Hates.” Motorcycling, for no rational reason, was #6 with overwhelmingly the most deaths over hang gliding, civilian pilot, mountain climbing, sky diving, recreational boating, and scuba diving. The military still ranks motorcycles and the #1 non-war-related cause of death for US service people. The only thing that seems to affect motorcycle mortality and morbidity numbers in a positive way is the decline in motorcycle popularity. Now that the Boomer mid-life-crisis rush is over, motorcycle sales in the US continue to be stagnant. Suzuki got rid of or lost about 20% of its dealers post-Great Recession and Hardly is still struggling to find non-bluehair customers. I would imagine the same goes for Polaris and the rest of the Japanese manufacturers.

Of course, there are motorcycle dealers and riders who will say, “I don’t believe that.” They’ll argue that anyone can make up sales and miles-ridden statistics and that the motorcycle world and future is rich and rosy. Denying the risk, the economics, and the other factors that are making motorcycles and motorcycling a vanishing activity probably won’t be a great defense for the industry.

Jul 28, 2016

Riding to Get to Keep Riding

NOTE: This one snuck up on me.  This was a response letter I wrote to an MMM reader 3 years ago and it never ended up getting sent because spent too long composing it. I have no idea how it ended up on the blog, but a couple of years ago I probably decided I'd dump it before I couldn't. 

You probably got at least one thing right [The reader claimed motorcycling on freeways was particularly unsafe.]. You'd be pretty hard pressed to find a traffic situation where motorcycling is "safe" by any definition of the word (Webster's uses "secure," "protected", "out of harm's way," "harmless" and such words as synonyms). I'm unconvinced that an average rider can ever be as "safe" as an average car driver in normal traffic situations. I don't think most of us ride because we think it's safe; part of the deal is the risk. If you want to be safe, take the bus.

Apparently, it's very possible that "training" as we define it may be an fantasy attempt to create "safer" riders, since motorcycle insurance companies are (according to what we heard last week at the MMSAC) are dropping discounts for riders who have received "training." The MSF honchos, two years ago, cautioned us against trying to correlate training with safer riding. It appears that something is not as it appears in the training world. Rider Magazine has been talking about this for a couple of years. It's not new news.

I think we always get the government we deserve, so if government has let us down "we have met the enemy and he is us." I don't know where you got that, but it was an interesting leap in something. However, regardless of your paranoia, it's (I think) logical that, if we (motorcyclists) don't manage to get a grip on the fact that we are a microscopic fraction of traffic and a substantial (10% I heard this summer) component of fatalities, we're likely to lose the tolerance of those with whom we share the road. Do you see a lot of snowmobiles on the road today? How about dirt bikes, horses, carriages, tractors, or lawn tractors? The way society and democracies work, if you don't have a social value to offer, you lose clout and privleges (it appears to be less than common knowledge that driving on public roads is a privledge, not a right). Currently, it's hard to estabilish how motorcycles provide any more transportation value than any of the historic vehicles I listed above, all of which can no longer use public roads (outside of incredibly restricted application for farm implements). I commuted about 40 miles today, starting at a little before 8AM and returning at 5PM, pretty much rush hour, and saw one other bike on the road. Who would it inconvenience if the two of us were banished from the highway? There was a lot of smoke and bullshit said when one dinky US manufacturer who can't meet EPA or safety standards in the US, let alone the rest of the world. It's not like many would notice if one of the US bike manufacturers vanished, let alone a tiny one. We've tossed more and better paying jobs into India in the last year than Harley will generate in the next decade.

As a dirt biker, I saw once practically unlimited access to public land and undeveloped land vanish to today's state of practically no off-road availability; in a portion of my lifetime. Motorcyclists get a good share of the blame for that loss, since motorcyclists (including me) abused practically every land use privilege we once had. You still see that biker hooligan attitude often on private land and the resulting enforcement of tightening riding space. We have no one to blame but ourselves for what we've lost.

Only a math-phobe would imagine that our current society has any foresight, so I'd probably agree with some of your rant on that subject. We're in debt. We're the world's worst polluter. We're chewing up natural and human resources as if we don't even know there will be generations after our own, let alone care about them. You could call that shortsighted, I'd be hard pressed to credit us with any vision capacity. I think humans are pefect evidence that there is no such thing as intelligent design in genetics. We're dumber than ants, as a species.

As for US corporate execs, they clearly don't care about their companies' futures and have no reason to do so. They pay themselves for non-performance and doing fatal damage to their corporations and the public invests in their worthless stocks to let them know we're too dumb to know better. We've been here before, at least a couple of times in the last century. They aren't smart enough to conspire toward any long term goal.

Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha were all but out of the motorcycle business in the 80s because of declining profits and inclining liability. Darwin could probably remind us of why that didn't happen, I can't remember. Probably a "feature" of being old. Honda and Suzuki got into cages. Yamaha broadened its products into everything else, but has had a steadily declining income for almost a decade. Kawasaki builds ships and construction equipment. They've all hedged their bets on motorcycling and, based on the fraction of their product line that they import into the US, I'd say they're not putting a lot of effort into our market's future.

One of the concepts/goals that was introduced into the MMSAC last week was "zero tolerance" for motorcycle highway deaths as a possible goal for the state. That sounds radical, but it might be the kind of approach we need to take to remove ourselves from the sights of outside regulation. Personally, I'm unconvinced that self-regulation ever happens in society, but it would be cool if it did with motorcycling. If we set out, as a class of folks who participate in this activity, to eliminate all motorcycle traffic deaths and did everything we can, as a group, to achieve that goal it seems to me that there could be all kinds of positive results from removing ourselves from the traffic death equation.

One might be more folks would consider riding "safe" and ride occasionally. The more of us there are on the road, regularly, the more of a share in traffic management we can claim.

That's my take, any way.