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.


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.

Jul 10, 2017

#150 Old Habits and New Fears

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

I retired in 2013 and my wife and I escaped our first Minnesota winter in 18 years in a used Winnebago RV. That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately, I discovered a whole lot about Volkswagen and that company's non-existent product support along the way (Ducati owners beware!). So, instead of a 13,000 mile trip to the southern California and up PCH to Portland, we spent the winter (all five months of it) in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico while I troubleshot our Eurovan's electronics and contemplated going back to some kind of work since "retirement" had turned into such a disaster.

Along the way, I met some really terrific people who also owned the same POS RV (Ours was a 2000 Winnebago Rialta.) and had a bunch of discussions about what kind of person makes a "good" RV traveler. Many of us came to the conclusion that the fact that I was perfectly happy traveling by myself, staying in cheap motels or sleeping in a hammock or on the ground probably meant I would never be a "real" RV sort of guy. Some of you might know that I generally don't like driving any sort of four-wheel vehicle and would rather take the train, bus, or hitchhike than be anyone's designated driver. Sometime during my early 20's I passed the million-mile mark in work vehicles, driving 100,000+ miles a year for almost a decade, and any love I might have had for cars or trucks vanished. I own a pickup because it can carry a lot of crap, including my motorcycles and because my wife hasn't given up on that damn RV dream. On my own, I'd rent a car when I need one. 

We bought the Rialta because it was supposed to be fairly easy to drive. As long as you didn't have to back it up with a motorcycle trailer in tow, it wasn't particularly painful to pilot. I ended up doing most of the driving because my wife freaked out about the motorcycle trailer, but she did at least 20% of the driving later in the trip and that made 20% of the RV traveling tolerable for me. Mostly, I wasted most of that first year's summer getting the RV ready to travel: new flooring, transmission cooler, overhauled the A/C, new entertainment center, and a full 75,000 mile point-by-VW-point service. 2,000 miles later, after being stranded in a snow and ice storm in Carlsbad National Park for a week, the many flaws in VW's wiring and electronics put the vehicle in "limp home mode" and we eventually limped into Truth or Consequences for the next five months. In April of 2014, we drove the VW/RV back home, cleaned it up, and sold it. End of story?

I wish.

habits_fearsLike I said, my wife had not given up on the RV dream but her new mantra became, "You want your house separate from your vehicle." Slowly, I got talked into thinking about trying the mobile life again. Too many of the VW's problems came from the poorly implemented electronics that controlled the automatic transmission, so I started looking for something with a manual transmission that could haul a motorcycle and pull a small trailer. Just in time for the move to Red Wing, I bought a Nissan Frontier in great shape with a manual transmission and cruise control; the Holy Grail of traveling vehicles. After some nagging and pleading, we stumbled on to a small camper that had the layout, weight, and price we'd decided on. We bought it last fall, knowing the chances that we'd go somewhere in it were slim due to other commitments for the winter. I'm writing this in mid-July and the camper hasn't moved an inch since the previous owners parked it in our yard. Like 90% of the campers purchased on this planet, it is serving as a yet-unused spare guest room.
"What's the problem?" You ask.
"General disinterest, marginal backing up skills, and practically no familiarity with towing anything other than a U-Haul trailer," would be the answer.
I'm perfectly happy with a tent and sleeping bag, and rolling down the highway on two wheels. I don't need to learn the new skills required to setup and drive a vehicle pulling a 3,000 pound trailer. My wife's interest in traveling by RV is still strong. She, on the other hand, is expecting me to find the motivation to not only do all of that crap but to teach her how to do it, too. We've been married almost 50 years and all of our worst moments have been when I was stuck being her coach or teacher. I am a professional teacher, but she is a life-long stubborn resistant-learner. She has absolutely no self-teaching skills, instincts, or motivation and I would rather hand feed an alligator tiny pieces of steak than be forced to teach my wife anything difficult.
And there is the problem.
My memories of our five months "camping" are mostly of me trying to sort out VW's well-hidden and inaccurate service information, crawling around under that damned Eurovan POS or disassembling the interior or engine wiring to find the three cobbled-together engine and transmission computers or worrying that I would be abandoning our $20,000 RV investment in New Mexico (the home of many abandoned retirement dreams). The "good moments" of that winter were mostly spent on my WR250 bombing around Elephant Butte Lake's dried up shores relearning how to ride in deep sand. I've been told that when fellow campers heard the bike fire up they'd drag lawn chairs to the lake-side of their campsites and place bets as to how long it would take before I endo'd into a pile of sand. I rarely disappointed them. Other fine camping moments were when I'd given up hope on the VW for the day and settled down with a few bottles of beer and my Martin Backpacker to sing Kink's songs to the coyotes. The best moments where when I'd given up on the VW entirely and loaded up my camping gear and headed into the Gila National Forest mountains for a couple nights of solo camping while my wife stayed with the camper and dog and our new friends at the hot springs in Truth or Consequences. 
Speaking of the dog, the obvious problem here is getting and old dog to learn new (not particularly desirable to the dog) tricks. The idea of driving a fairly large pickup with a camper in tow is just not inspiring. I am really nervous about the whole concept. It seems claustrophobic and dangerous and complicated and expensive. In fact, at the moment I'm a lot more inspired to start the process of convincing my wife that we'd be better off selling the camper and giving up on the whole idea of traveling together than I am to learn how to be a competent RV'er. When I see something like this moment appear in my motorcycle students, I do not encourage them to press on. Maybe pulling a camper isn't the same kind of risk as riding a motorcycle, but it does feel like the kind of thing that you shouldn't be doing if you can think of a better way to travel. I don't, honestly, have any faith that I'm going to be good at pulling a trailer and I have absolutely no motivation (other than making my wife happy) to learn how to pull a trailer safely. "Why me?" is the phrase that comes to mind every time I look at the thing parked in my yard.
Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, I'd have bulled through the fear and loathing and learned how to do this thing that I really don't want to do. At almost 70, not so much. The only good to come from this moment, so far, is that I have a lot more empathy for my motorcycle students who really don't want to be out on the range learning how to ride a motorcycle to please someone else.

POSTSCRIPT: As of this week (July 11, 2017), our R-Pod has only been used as an occasional office for me and my brother Larry stayed in it for a couple of weeks this month. After watching Larry and me wrestle with getting the pickup hooked up to the trailer and--after discovering the 7-pin electrical connector was wired wrong--drive off to practice backing up and parking the damn thing, my wife decided she wasn't as hip on the camping idea as she'd thought. Now, she wants to sell it and buy a mini-van.

Jul 8, 2017

Sound Familiar?

Bloomberg just published an essay titled, “The Motorcycle Industry Is Dying.” Not a new concept and much of their analysis has been seen here first, but it’s slightly comforting to see some one else get it. The article puts a lot of weight on the new Honda Rebel 500 and I have to admit that is entertaining. I rode the Rebel 250 for the first time in a MSF class a couple of weeks ago and it is awful. There is nothing about that motorcycle that would have enticed me to get into motorcycling.

“Honda’s Rebel is the latest entry in a parade of new bikes designed for first-time riders; almost every company in the motorcycle industry has scrambled to make one. They are smaller, lighter, and more affordable than most everything else at a dealership and probably wouldn’t look out of place in the 1960s—back when motorcycling was about the ride, not necessarily the bike. They are also bait for millennials, meant to lure them  into the easy-rider lifestyle. If all goes as planned, these little rigs will help companies like Harley-Davidson coast for another 50 years.” Good luck with that daydream.


I personally can’t imagine anything other than a hoard of electric bikes in the $5,000-territory that will turn the motorcycle economy around, but power to them for finally waking up and discovering Boomers are dying off. “A motorcycle is a picture of discretionary spending, and they can be tricky to finance even in a healthy credit market. Even now, with the stock market on a historic bull run and after the U.S. auto industry posted its best year on record, traffic in motorcycle stores has stayed slow. In 2016, U.S. customers rolled off with 371,403 new bikes, roughly half as many as a decade ago.”

Too little, too late has been my analysis for the last decade. This author sort of agrees, “The problem, however, with this sudden industry pivot to younger customers is that it may be coming too late. For years, it was too easy to just keep building bigger, more powerful bikes.“ It was easier and Boomers were dumb enough to buy into pretending that 60 was the age of midlife crisis. Ride down WI35 and look at all the Harleys out on the front lawns for sale. It’s over boys, now what are you going to do? One problem with a lot of these little motorcycles is that they aren’t as energy efficient as many cars. If anything makes motorcycles a purely recreational toy it is lousy fuel economy.

It could be a bigger trend than motorcycles, though. Driving, in general, has lost a lot of appeal to practically everyone.

Jul 3, 2017

#149 It's a Dirt Bike Habit


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

One of my least favorite excuses for poor street bike motorcycle skills is "it's a dirt bike habit," as if I'm too stupid or inexperienced to know what works off-road. Ok, I grant that I'm not that bright and there are a world of things I don't know about riding a dirt bike, but I'm pretty sure I know more and ride better on or off-road than an over-18 newbie who needs to take the MSF Basic Riding Course to get a motorcycle license. (A subject for a whole different GwAG rant.) Face it, if you were good you'd just ride down to the DMV, take their easy little test, and get your license. But that doesn't stop a certain portion of the folks who take the Basic Rider Course from explaining away all of their awful habits with "it's a dirt bike habit"; habits that have been formed from experiences as diverse as riding on the back of Dad's ATV to mountain biking.

The things that get blamed on dirt bike experience are 1) clinging to the front brake lever with one or more fingers as if it were a lifeline, 2) sticking a foot out any time the bike leans more than two degrees away from vertical, 3) superstition, ignorance, and terror of either the front or rear brake use, 4) staring at the front wheel as if it were about to fall off at any moment at the expense of having the remotest idea where the motorcycle is traveling, and 5) any number of weird and uncontrollable throttle hand positions. There are lots more dumb things that, supposedly, dirt bike riders "all do," but I'll leave the list at five for the purposes of keeping this short and minimally pissed-off. 

It is true that riding off-road and, especially, racing off-road is a different animal from street riding. There is no life-threatening situation in a motocross or enduro where you have to worry about maximum braking horsepower. That is one of many reasons why dirt bikes have wimpy little brakes that barely seem functional in street riding situations. Mostly due to my riding style, skill limitations, and attitude, when I raced off-road I was more inclined to lift the front wheel and ride over obstacles and downed riders and bikes than I was to hit the brakes or try to avoid those obstructions. That is simply not a survivable option on the street. On the road, in any given week of commuting, I would be surprised if I didn't seriously exercise my motorcycle's brakes at least twice out of necessity and I have a long-established habit of working on my stopping and avoidance skills every day. You have to be able to stop quickly or be ready to offer up the girlyman excuse, "I had to lay 'er down" when you explain why you are on crutches for a whole riding season. I hope it's obvious that four fingers are stronger than one or two. It might be less obvious that regularly practicing braking with all four fingers does not limit a rider to exclusively using four fingers every time the brakes are used. You can always consciously choose to only use one finger or two in appropriate braking situations or when hanging on to the bars in precarious (as it is in off-road situations). I always argue that it's better to have to think about using a less effective braking technique than it is to automatically select the low-power option in an emergency. I could be wrong about that, but it's still the argument I'd present to any new rider hoping to ride safely for a lot of years.

Clinging to the grips while you are also trying to use the throttle, clutch, or brake precisely is another "dirt bike habit" that is ineffective, unnecessary, and dangerous on the road. I am referring to those riders who are unable to use more than a couple of fingers for braking because they are afraid of losing their grip on the bars. Braking in particular puts a lot of force on the palm of your hand and you are not likely to be bumped loose when you're applying maximum braking forces. However, if you are really that insecure about loosening your grip on the bars, the chances are pretty good that you're going to crash sooner or later. When you do, those fingers you've allocated under the levers are likely to get crushed when the weight of the bike smashes the lever ends into the ground. 

A few moments on YouTube will demonstrate the difference between the riding techniques of great off-road racers and street racers (search for Valentino Rossi and James Stewart on-board camera views, for example). The road racer hand movements and throttle application looks almost in slow motion compared to the off-road racers. Steward, Dungey, and Carmichael drop the hammer on the throttle like they have no use for anything between full off and full on. Likewise, off-road one finger clutch and brake use is common because you are hanging on for dear life and taking a pounding, physically, for every inch of travel. The street is a different environment. Speeds are higher, traction is more predictable, acceleration and deceleration forces are dramatically higher as a result. Road racing is physical, but it is a substantially different sport. Rossi, Stoner, and Marquez are much more tentative in their use of all of their controls. It's not accurate to say the road racers are altogether smoother than the off-road pros, but their on-bike movements are considerably less sudden.

The foot thing is just silly in pavement situations, especially on a dry parking lot at speeds that barely require shifting to second gear. At 150mph, Valentino Rossi might stick a leg out from behind his fairing's air-pocket to add a little drag before entering a high speed corner and James Stewart might plant a speedway-style boot in the apex of a tight corner, but you do not need to pretend you are in either of those situations in typical street conditions. Stick that basketball shoe into a warm chunk of asphalt and you may find your shin trying to occupy the same space as your thigh bone when you discover how much traction those Nikes can grab. More importantly, if you are sticking a foot out to help steer your street bike around a tight curve you are most likely putting your weight on the highside of the bike, which forces the motorcycle to lean further than necessary and a greater lean angle can mean you are working with a smaller tire contact patch and unnecessarily high side forces. And, of course, you look like a total douche to any experienced motorcyclists who may be watching.

Maneuverability is a motorcyclist's only weapon against the forces of four-wheel evil, four-hooved devils, and two-legged idiots. Stopping or slowing quickly is just one aspect of maneuverability, but if you can't do it you're pretty much a set of streamers dangling from your bike's handlebars. Regardless of what your father, boyfriend, goofy neighbor, or Rush Limbaugh told you, using either brake aggressively and with skill is not a dangerous activity. In fact, if you can't use your brakes, riding is dangerous.

MMM October 2016

Jun 30, 2017

Grom Idiocy

In case you EVER feel bad about yourself or your riding skills, bookmark this video and no matter who you are you’ll probably be reassured. These Honda Grom nitwits are a whole new level of incompetent.

Jun 28, 2017

The Death of DP?

Hard to know, but it’s harder to find people who think off-pavement riding is even interesting, let alone worth risking life, limb, and savings on this kind of adventure. All of the economic reasons listed are valid and likely contributors, but I think the biggest problem is the price of motorcycles vs. competitive means of transportation.

  • HONDA XR650L: $6690
  • KAWASAKI KLR650: $6599
  • SUZUKI DR650S: $6499
  • HUSQVARNA FE501S: $10,599
  • BETA 500RS : $9799
  • KTM 500EXC-F: $10,399
  • BETA 430RS: $9699
  • HUSQVARNA FE350S: 10,399
  • KTM 350EXC-F: $10,199
  • SUZUKI DR-Z400S: $6599
  • HONDA CRF250L: $4999
  • YAMAHA WR250R: $6690
  • YAMAHA XT250: $5190
  • SSR XF250: $2999
  • SUZUKI DR200S: $4499
  • YAMAHA TW200: $4590

Maybe these prices look reasonable to you, but for a kid looking for a recreational vehicle he/she might ride for 3-4 months a year, 3-4 times a week, this is nutty money.

Jun 26, 2017

#148 Creating A Baseline

caveman All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

In my Geezerdom, I'm always trying to find baselines for measuring my decline. My daughter is fully on-board with my concerns and she's recommended putting black throw rugs around the house because, apparently, old farts will mistake black carpets for bottomless pits and that is a tactic used to keep dementia patients in their rooms. Sooner or later, I'll end up trapped in the bathroom and that will be the winter my wife escorts me to the front door during a sub-zero blizzard and sends me on some sort of grocery store errand.

Like the Minnesota drivers' license "exam," the nation's motorcycle competency test is a low-bar baseline evaluation. While it is true that you don't need to be "perfect" to pass the license exam, you will need to be able to perform every one of those simple skills perfectly to stay alive on the highway and in traffic. Living in tourist town Red Wing provides me with plenty of evidence as to why motorcyclists are thousands of times more likely to die per mile travelled than cagers: most motorcyclists barely contribute more to the direction and speed of their vehicle than do handlebar streamers. It's a Village People clown show out there, folks! Nothing about being able to take a low speed left-hand turn and stop with the front tire in a box is demanding in any way to a competent motorcyclists, regardless of the bike. Nothing about weaving through some widely spaces cones and making a right hand turn should confuse or confound a half-decent motorcyclist. Making a moderately quick stop from 12mph in first gear is not complicated. A 12 mph "swerve" around a huge fake obstacle ought to be second nature. If anything on that test baffles you, either your motorcycle or your skills are totally out-of-whack.

This season was my "decompression and re-evaluate" year for my career as a motorcycle safety instructor. Since 2000, I've taught twelve to thirty basic and intermediate riding classes a year, but this year I signed up for only four and two cancelled. Other than a trip to the Rockies in July, I didn't do much riding this year, either. My usual 12,000 to 20,000 miles a year has withered down to about 3,000 so far this year. I'm retired, so commuting to work is no longer a habit. That accounts for about 6,000 miles a year gone from my Cities' routine. Leaving the 88dBSPL noise level of my old Little Canada/I35E home took away substantial motivation to "get away from the bullshit," too. Most summer mornings, I can sit on the back porch with a cup of coffee watching the hummingbirds and listening to mostly nature. There isn't much that I feel the need to get away from here. If the second half of this summer is much like the last couple of weeks, I might get in more bicycle than motorcycle miles in 2016.

I started this season out like I have every year for the last 15, with a couple hours of practice time on the class range at Southeast Tech. My spring habit since I started teaching safety classes has been to do the usual beginning of the season maintenance stuff, then ride to the range and go through the entire sequence of course exercises until I can do it all comfortably. In Red Wing, after that bit of practice I head south and drop off of the pavement for 100 miles or so of gravel roads and lightweight dirt bike practice and go home. This year, I went through that routine three times before my first Red Wing Basic Rider Class (BRC), which cancelled due to a lack of students, and once more before my first Intermediate Rider Class (IRC) in the Cities. We talked about that a bit in the discussion portion of the IRC and a couple of students said they'd consider adopting my springtime season-tune-up routine and at least one thought it was "way unnecessary."

On the way back home, I thought about the ambivalence or resistance many riders have toward any sort of competence evaluation (something that should be, but isn't, a part of the Intermediate Rider Course). About the time I got to Hastings and into some motorcycle traffic, it became fairly obvious why many motorcyclists would resist a serious competency test and regular skills evaluations. After watching my father's driving skills deteriorate from barely-competent in his prime to life-threatening by his eighties, I have become a firm believer in regular (every 3-5 years) re-licensing skills tests for over-60 drivers who want to cling to their driving privileges. I'd drop that number to 50 and up the testing interval to every two years for motorcyclists. Since motorcycle, car, and truck licensing is mostly about putting butts on seats (selling vehicles) and has little to do with actual highway safety, we all know that won't happen. That resistance to reality and health cost-containment has nothing to do with my life, though.

I have never considered my motorcycles to be an important part of my self-image. I don't name my bikes and I don't identify with any brand's lifestyle bullshit. My motorcycles are transportation first and last. If I'm not using my bikes to go places, I'm not keeping them. The only things I've ever hoarded have been tools and microphones. The microphones are mostly gone with the retirement move and downsizing and I re-evaluate my tool ownership with every declining aging phase. If I haven't used something in the last year, the next step is Craig's List or eBay or the garbage can. Ideally, when I die the only thing my kids will have to worry about in an estate sale is getting rid of a bed, a few dishes, towels, and an empty house. So, like that dementia-test black throwrug, I needed a go/no-go evaluation tool for when it's time to hang up the Aerostich. Lucky for me, I had one already laid out and it was totally familiar: the MSF's BRC course.

I've already said that I consider the BRC to be a lowest-bar standard for the skills needed for riding on the street. However, for my own self-evaluation I need it to be a little more demanding. Likewise, I already had a self-test routine established. I just need to write a scorecard for the test. The first day of the BRC is mostly about introducing a motorcycle to newbies, but exercises 6 (a small 2nd gear oval), 8 (offset weaves), & 9 (quick stop from 2nd gear) demonstrate actual riding skills. Likewise, all but the lane-change and obstacles exercise from the second day's BRC exercises 10-16 are useful evaluations. A more practical obstacle is a reasonably tall curb that I have to navigate from a 45-degree angle, so I added that to my spring warm-up. So, every March from here out I'm going to go through the old routine but after an hour or so of practice, I'm going to run through every one of the nine BRC exercises and the day I can't do all of them "perfectly" (no cones hit, no lines crossed, fast enough, and clean enough) the bike goes up for sale and I'll fill the space in the garage with a small convertible. I might buy a trials bike, but that will be the end of my street riding days.

Of course, your mileage will probably vary. In fact, I'd bet most of the riders I see in Red Wing couldn't pass the Minnesota license test in a dozen tries. If you think that has no correlation to your riding skill or survivability, you are statistically very likely to join the ranks of the "dead wrong."

MMM September 2016

Motorcycle Death Spiral

This is turning into a record year for me. I scheduled only five MSF/MMSC classes for the season and all but one (so far) have cancelled due to lack of student interest. My local motorcycle dealers are pretty much giving up on the sales season, too. Our Victory/Indian dealer is stuck with a bunch of Victory blimps and hasn’t committed to Victory in anything resembling the same financial resources as in past years. They are hoping Polaris sales of 4-wheel farm vehicles and snow machines will turn into a viable business. The local Honda/Suzuki/Yamaha dealer barely bothers with a show salesperson on the motorcycle floor. If you are there looking at a bike and ANYONE is out on the lot looking at boats or 4-wheelers, you’ll be abandoned faster than an empty beer can at a frat party.

The Boomer hippobike bubble is done. The only “hope” the blimp manufacturers (and dealers) bhave of clinging to a business model is through slippery finance games. Harley is fooling Wall Street with its floor planning scheme, but that will soon collapse like it did in 2008.  When Harley goes, so goes Polaris and Indian. Harley’s desperate attempt to get in on the Ducati sale will probably mean that HD will pay too much, if they win the bid, for the Italian brand and that will just add to the company’s downfall. (Remember, “we lose money on every sale but we’ll make up for it in quantity.”) The Big Japanese Four gave up on the US market as a serious motorcycle business in 2009. They have far bigger fish to fry in functional economies. where small motorcycles are still a viable means of transportation.

It feels like 1982 all over again, but this time there may not be a comeback.

Jun 24, 2017

Perspective Is Everything

A lot of motorcyclists apparently see this incident as being a justified action by the biker. I’m not convinced. It could be that the car driver intentionally attempted to hit the bike after the biker threw a temper tantrum and kicked the car when it crossed into the HOV lane. It could also be that the car driver simply panicked when his car was kicked and screwed up. Either way, the biker should be charged for hit and run and, probably, assult with a vehicle.

Jun 19, 2017

#147 Avoiding Nature

The Geezer with a Grudge Columns
(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day
If you didn't know me you might suspect the title of this essay is saying something about my dislike for good 'ole Mommy Nature. That's not the case, of course. I'm a certified/certifiable tree-hugging, semi-environmentally-conscious guy and one of the many reasons I continue to call Minnesota "home" is the spectacular abundance of live-and-in-color nature we have here. However, I would rather not impact more than fresh air, the occasional rainstorm, and the more frequent hoards of bugs while I'm riding my motorcycle.

deer hoovesOn top of my list of nature's gentle creations that I particularly try to avoid are deer ("hooved-rats" or whatever insulting nickname you've given these moving targets). Over the years and miles, I've developed a few tactics that I like to think have contributed to my survival while riding through some of the country's densest deer populations. I'm not claiming that luck hasn't played a terrific part in my avoiding death-by-fur-ball, but I do think some of the observations and statistical tactics I've collected, developed, and practiced have helped. I'm going to try to pass on a few of these in this article and I encourage our readers to object to, add to, or refine anything I have to say here.

First on my list is practicing braking and swerving skills on a regular basis so that I have the tools necessary when I need to make a major maneuver or apply my motorcycle's braking system near the limits of traction, braking horsepower, and stability. When I talk about this in my MSF courses, I suspect most of my students think I'm either joking or exaggerating . . . but I'm not. While all of my riding skills are far from perfect, I think I have pushed my ability to haul my motorcycles to a stop harder than anything else I know about riding. That would be, mostly, because it's easy to practice using the brakes well and often: at every stop light, stop sign, or any other time you need to bring your bike to a standstill. Use both brakes correctly and precisely and you'll be ready to do something with those skills when you need them.

Watching deer cross the road in front of my house, I've learned that deer travel in groups, predictably. I don't know if I've ever seen a single deer in our neighborhood. The most common group number appears to be four, but three through six has been the regular pattern in Red Wing. So, if you see one: assume three more and make your speed appropriate for threading several animals in the near future. Don't be a stupid as a deer, speeding up in the insane hope that going faster will reduce the chances of impact makes you into uncontrolled prey.

Now this tip is purely my own statistical analysis and personal observation. There is no real science, other than observation and experience, to this piece of advice. On two lane roads, travel near the middle of the road as often as is practical. In the MSF's BRC, we break a highway lane into three sections: left, right, and center. During the active time for deer (and at night) I believe that you can statistically improve your odds of either chasing the deer out from the edge of the road and into your path or give yourself a little more time to avoid deer coming from the near (right) side. By sacrificing a little margin from the left side of the road, you can create a little space and time for yourself hugging the centerline. If the road is crested, you even get a slight line-of-sight advantage into the ditches from this position. There is no science to this. I haven't read any studies that prove or disprove my theory, but the number of times I've had this tactic work for me is way into the hundreds, so it might work for you, too.

This tip is useless for Iron Butt'ers, for for the rest of us it's just a minor sacrifice. When it comes to suddenly-appearing 100 pound animals with no traffic sense, your time to evaluate and execute road hazards is a fraction of a second. With that in mind, my advice is don't ride at night. Once you're riding on your lights and intuition, deer are unavoidable.  You just don't get enough warning from your headlights. Worse, the damn headlights often paralyze deer right in your path of travel. If you are stuck riding at night, stay on the biggest road you can find, well-lit freeways are best, stick with traffic as much as possible, and slow down. Trying to make up time when your sight-line is only a couple hundred feet is close to suicidal.

Implied in some of my other deer-avoidance advice is buying time and space and that almost always means modifying your speed. I'm going to repeat this last piece of advice, since I think it is the real key to surviving deer encounters. Speed kills, especially during deer prime-time and those long hours of poor-visibility. When your lights and line-of-sight are limited, you have to make practical accommodations for what you don't have and set your speed appropriately. It's impossible to make up time ridding in the back of an ambulance, so consider that possibility when you are hauling ass through tree tunnels at dusk.

Be realistic about your attention capacity. It's one thing being on a short ride through a few of Wisconsin's letter roads and another being at the tailend of a 12,000 mile, month-long trip. If you are daydreaming, you are not scanning the edge of the road for potential moving obstacles. The moment you stop watching for Bambi will be the split-second you needed to avoid her. If you are tired, bored, or distracted, you are a moving target. The idea is to be the shooter not the target. Motorcycling is not a spectator sport. You don't get to enjoy the scenery until you are stopped.

MMM July 2016

#146 Do You Suck?

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

In his HBO special ("Fully Functional") one of my favorite comedians, Australian Jim Jefferies, asked his audience to raise their hands if their kids were "stoopid." Obviously no one raised their hands and admitted to having spawned one of the many half-pint-half-wits who are overrepresented in our school systems . So, Jefferies reminded them that, statistically-speaking, it was impossible for a crowd as big as the one he was performing for not to have at least one stupid offspring. He went on to rant about Americans being a nation intent on breeding "stupid confident people . . . the worst employees in the fucking world." When I hear motorcyclist revolt against the obvious truth that there are two kinds of motorcyclists--those who have crashed and those who haven't yet crashed--I can't help but think motorcyclists might be among the stupidest human categories on the planet. It's even worse when the revolutionist admits he's already crashed a number of times and still believes motorcycles "can be safe."


Assuming the "average" rider's skills are average, the usual bell curve indicates that about 70% of riders are on either side of "average" and about 95% fall into the 2-sigma area.

In his New Yorker Magazine essay, "The Bell Curve: What happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are?" Dr. Atul Gawande reminds us that doctors are no different than any other category of human activity, "What you tend to find is a bell curve: a handful of teams with disturbingly poor outcomes for their patients, a handful with remarkably good results, and a great undistinguished middle." If that is true for doctors, a profession that prides itself in its selectivity, high performance standards, and rigorous education and training regime, why wouldn't it be true for the rest of us who just become who and what we are out of attrition, general indifference to how we do our jobs, poor management, and luck? Studies have found that And if career statistics are this dismal, how could it be possible that driving, an activity that has such low standards of performance as driving could be lucky enough to have half-decent expectations? Motorcycle licensing is no different, with a variety of routes available to obtaining a license with minimal skill, no serious safety equipment requirements, and lifetime licensing that allows riders who have merely maintained the "M" on their license for decades to swing a leg over a motorcycle without the merest hint of riding abilities.

Due to the constant downsizing of the motorcycling public over the last 30 years (peaking in 1980 and in decline since) and, especially in the last decade, the Motorcycle Industry Council (through its "training" lobby, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, MSF) has campaigned to keep licensing as simple and accessible as possible. Fighting progressive ideas such as graduated (or "stepped) licensing--an idea that has had substantial success in Japan, parts of Canada, England, and  some parts of the EU (likely soon to be all of the EU)--is a double-edged sword. On on hand, the MIC is ensuring itself the maximum number of customers by putting a motorcycle in every possible rider's hands. Likewise, the MIC has been barely on the fence about helmet laws with wishy-washy "freedom" arguments that hold exactly no water with the strapped-down-by-law cager public. There is some validity to the claim that if helmets are universally required, fewer people will ride motorcycles. On the other, our incredibly dismal mortality statistics are edging regulators closer to removing motorcycles from public roads, which will close the door on motorcycle sales forever. Damned if you do, double-damned if you don't. Something has to change soon, or something will change.


Using something more like a minimum acceptable "average" rider skill as the centerpoint, a left-skewed distribution curve would result with dramatically more riders in the "below average" category and a wide range of abilities in the "above average" group.

In pure population terms, it's pretty obvious that the "average" point in motorcycle skills is skewed data. If you plant yourself on any popular corner in most cities, you will observe cornering techniques that range from out-of-control to "not too bad," with a tiny portion of riders executing turns with decent technique and control. If we were to score lifesaving skills such as stopping quickly, swerving to avoid a hazard, turning precisely at a variety of street-legal speeds, quick combination maneuvers requiring these skills, and one or two low speed control skills on a scale of 1-to10, I think it would be safe to say that more than 70% of us would be substandard riders. That's probably being optimistic. In terms of your own survival, you need to be able to identify where you fall on this curve and, if you aren't where you want to be, find a way to upgrade your skills or admit that riding a motorcycle is either not for you or a high-priced suicide attempt.

I know that it's hard to be realistic about this. Studies have found that 80% of drivers think they are above average. More statistically impossible crap. It's one thing to be protected by crumple-zones, air bags, seat harnesses, and auto-piloting cars. It's another to be sitting on 200hp of two-wheeled instability in your wife-beater, flip flops, and pirate bandana. If you are one of the 70-90% of motorcyclists who suck, you should trade in your bike for a fancy lawn tractor and take the muffler off of that vehicle: just in case the lack of a loud pipe might cause one of your neighbors to run over you with his even fancier and larger lawn tractor.

On the other hand, if you suck and know it but have the patience, interest, capacity, and time to get better, work on it. Get some training. Spend a few days on a race track (on track days, not racing unless you really are one of the cool kids and decide to be a racer). Buy or borrow a few books on riding. Practice your riding skills at every stop light or sign, on every curve, and any other opportunity you may have where the results are not critical. And practice where you screw up you can just go back to the start point and do it again until you get it right. Do not be afraid to suck, but you should be damned nervous about being proud of sucking.

MMM August 2016

Jun 14, 2017

Genius on Two Wheels? Wait! On No Wheels.

We have some Grom geniuses/gangbangers in our neighborhood. I can totally see them doing all of this and more.

KR at Laguna

“You know he’ll go faster than he should otta go.”

Jun 5, 2017

#145 Back in My Day

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

When I was young enough to still have a little of that "magic and rubber" thing going for me, motorcycling was just about to hit its first economic snag (at least in my lifetime) in the early 1970's. As a Texas friend once told me, "Back then the moon wasn't born yet and the sun was a little tiny thing barely putting out enough light to read by on a summer afternoon." When I used this picture as my Facebook Profile Picture, I got more than a few inquiries asking "when, what, where, and how?"

Me 1980So, for the when I was 26 years old, father of two, sole support of my family, going AGAT for the time with armored denim overalls, a Fury open face helmet with a snap-on face shield and Scott goggles, Justin roper gloves, Malcom Smith/High Point ISDT enduro boots, and a kidney belt. Today, all that sounds a lot like riding naked, but it was geared-up for the day. I was as fearless then as I would ever be. I drove a 1970's Ford E100 Econoline van an average of 100,000 miles a year covering a service territory from North Dakota to Kansas and Iowa to Colorado. The truck housed a work bench and cabinets holding at least three-quarter-ton of equipment and parts. If I had ever come to a sudden stop, I'd have been instantly crushed by all of that crap tearing loose and shifting forward in a contained avalanche. I was always late to every appointment because my boss couldn't say "no" to anyone, so he promised me in at least three places at once, 100-500 miles apart. My average speed in that truck had to have been close to 80mph because I kept the throttle pegged anytime the coast was clear. Motorcycle racing seemed pretty tame compared to my work week.

The "what" was a 1973 Rickman 125 ISDT enduro. The Rickman was my first real off-road motorcycle, a 1971 Kawasaki Big Horn 350 being the first half-ass off-road motorcycle I'd owned before that. If I were ever to want to "go back" and restore a motorcycle I once owned and loved, this bike would be it. I just pounded the snot out of that little Zundapp two-stroke and it kept ticking like a legendary battery bunny. I raced it in a half-dozen 100+ mile cross-country events, in several years of the Nebraska state motocross series, in a few enduros, and trail rode that bike almost every weekend for three years. When I wasn't riding it, my wife was, until I bought her a brand new 1974 Yamaha MX100. Even then we sometimes argued over who'd get to ride the Rickman. I had tweeked, modified, and engineered that motorcycle for me to the point that it was recognizable at almost any distance. If you knew me, you probably knew my motorcycle. From the solid bars to the custom-canted rear Boge Mulholland long travel shocks to the blueprinted engine ports to the hand formed and welded exhaust, my Rickman 125 fit me like a glove. It was the toughest motorcycle I've ever owned.

"Where" was central Nebraska, probably a little northeast of Palmer, Nebraska. Weekends, I "lived" on limited-access roads between Palmer, Archer, and Fullerton, Nebraska. If I'd been on a bigger bike, I might have been single-handedly responsible for the 1970's gas crisis. As it was, I could ride pretty much all weekend on a tank-full of premixed premium and a spare three-gallon gas can. North of Highway 92 and south of Highway 22, there were hundreds of sandy abandoned roads between the fence lines of ranch land and a little farming. In 1975, some friends and I hosted a 125 mile cross-country race on those tractor-trails where about 40 riders experienced what we took for granted: miles of amazing trails, often crossing the Loop River, but never a single paved road. Two years later, I'd moved to Fremont for my first engineering job and my racing days were over. Once I left driving that truck, racing a motorcycle seemed a little crazy for a guy with a family to support.

"How" is a little confusing. Mostly, I just tossed on my gear and gassed up the bike and snuck out of town (illegally, since the Rickman was unlicensed) via farm roads until I crossed 92 into the trails. Sometimes, the whole family came along and we made it into a regular outing, even camping for a night or two a few hundred yards off of the official farm-to-market roads. I'd built a bike trailer out of angle-iron, expanded metal, and an old car axle, that could hold 3 bikes, two forward and one rear-facing. We'd load up the Rickman, my wife's Yamaha MX100, and my Suzuki RL250 trials bike and ride from early morning until the sun went down. The kids would play at the campsite with the children of friends who joined us and it was one big biker family party.

When I'd first moved to Nebraska, I was introduced to a kid, Mike, with a Suzuki TS250 Enduro by an employee and one of our neighbors, Randy, had a Kawasaki F6 125 Enduro. Those two, eventually, took us to their favorite trails, camping sites, and riding hangouts. When I first started riding with Mike, he'd panic and run when we found a rancher or farmer parked on one of the trails. Since I knew we weren't doing anything wrong, I rode up to there trucks and introduced myself. Mike would always hang back, expecting something awful to happen. Eventually, I got to know a lot of the ranchers who lived in the area. When we came on cattle loose or a busted fence line, I'd play cowboy on the bike and chase the cattle back into the pasture, put up the gate, cobble the fence back together, and stop at the ranch house to let the owners know their cattle had escaped, again. After a couple of years, we got to know the ranchers well enough that they helped with our one and only event.

We were all kids, then. Kids with kids, in fact. Now, we're all old. Some of us are dead. The fence lines have all been brought together and those limited-access roads are no more. Not only can you not go back, you can't even go where we went.

MMM June 2016

Postscript: I was wrong. On the way to Colorado in the summer of 2016, on Nebraska US Highway 20, I discovered there are still some amazing, rarely traveled, "unmaintained roads" that are absolutely worthy of exploration. They aren't on any state map or your GPS, but they are still out there and if you see 'em, you gotta ride 'em.

Jun 4, 2017

“A Nice Little Town,” Gone to Hell

A fairly desperate Harley Davidson promotion is hoping to turn a whole town, all 75 North Dakota folks, into motorcyclists. “We looked at the town and said, ‘Why don’t we turn Ryder (ND) into Riders?’ It sealed the deal when we saw their water tank,” said Anoop Prakash, Harley’s U.S. marketing director.

Ryder, N.D., residents gather in front of the town’sThe residents of this dinky village are, apparently, “game?” What do they have to lose? After the first new rider in Riders, North Dakota gets killed they’ll have the distinction of being the most dangerous town in America. Based on HD’s dismal Riders’ Edge program record, I’d expect at least two Riders residents to bite the dust by October and a half dozen to be hospitalized for serious injuries, assuming any of those folks are silly enough to actually buy and ride a motorcycle after their promotional “training” is complete.

It would be funny and appropriate if it turned out that Harley trains a small town, the small town residents realize that if you want to go anywhere for a reasonable price you have to buy Japanese, and the few people who do decide to be motorcyclists all buy dirt bikes.

It’s hard to imagine how unpleasant this place would be if it were actually populated with the kind of Village People who actually ride HDs. At the least, it would be noisier than downtown New York City. Put all of that crowd pictured above in pirate costumes and cover them with prison tats and you have the perfect place for the Walking Dead plague to ferment.

May 31, 2017

A Smart Helmet

The question is, would you wear a smart helmet? Another question might be would you buy one? But here’s an opportunity to go one step further and build your own:

Protect Your Smarts, Build a Smart Motorcycle Helmet

May 29, 2017

#144 Not Art


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

I don't know if Andy and Aerostich created this sticker for me, but they should have if they didn't. For most of my adult life, the word "art" has meant something different to me than, probably, to the rest of the world. I've even created my own etymological backstory for the origins of the word art: "a modernization and abbreviation of the French 'art brut,' or 'art done by prisoners, lunatics, etc.'" The natural adaptation of that word to modern applications would be "not good."

not_artA good bit of my opinion of art and artists comes from decades of seeing materials misused, adhesives and fasteners poorly applied, and welds so miserably executed that even extreme grinding can't hide the turkey-crap splatter. At one time, I was a fairly decent stick welder and moderately decent with wire-fed welding on steel. Today, those skills are long in my past but I can still recognize good work when I see it. I'm not a great carpenter or cabinetmaker, but I have done enough of that work to know when I'm looking at a piece I would have no chance in hell of building myself. I've been some kind of musician almost all of my adult life and I know what I could play and what I couldn't and I try to spend as little time listening to something I do myself. When it comes to musicianship, I am my own definition of "artistic."

Forty-some years ago, I took an architectural tour of famous Chicago buildings (mostly recording studios and live music venues). When the tour stopped at a Frank Lloyd Wright building I got separated from the group when I was distracted by a couple of guys working on an overhang at the back of the building. As they described the work they were doing and the fact that kind of work had been done all over the house, I commented that didn't sound like maintenance but something more like re-engineering. They agreed and went on to describe how generally poorly Wright's designs fit the materials he used and how much of this particular building had been gutted and redesigned with structural improvements.

NotArt6_0My wife, a visual artist, has the typical artist's distain for what she calls "artisans." I don't bother to look up that word or to invent my own definition of the word because we've had this discussion for fifty years. It's pretty obvious that the work of an artisan is something a "real artist" couldn't compete with in a million years. Those impossibly complicated wooden bowls with inlay work so fine and detailed that it seems only magical elves could have done the work receives the disdainful classification as "artsy-craftsy" or artisan-created. A lump of clay so poorly formed that it couldn't hold water if that water was frozen solid would be "artistic." A photo-realistic airbrushed painting of a zebra in full punk body piercings and Oakley shades is not "art" (the only airbrush/oil painting I have ever purchased in my 67 years) but a paint-globbed and tire-tracked, over-priced canvas is. And so it goes. A friend recently explained that I wouldn't get a particularly irritating piece of music because "it's art, Tom." He was right. It was awful. I didn't get it at all. Whether the performer was really good at pretending to be talentless or he was simply talentless makes no points with me. I try to never let other people scream for me. I can do a bad job all on my own. If I'm going to buy something, it will be something I absolutely can not do myself.

Likewise, I don't have a lot of use for arty motorcycles. I despise the whole concept of machines with NotArt"character" (unreliability and pointless weirdness). Chrome and blinking LEDs are fine for Xmas trees, but putting that crap on a motorcycle means you live for polishing metal and replacing control circuits. I buy motorcycles to go places I can't go in a cage. Mechanical devices are, and should be, functional first and when they are really functional their form simply becomes beautiful effortlessly. Saying "form follows function" should be obvious and when form replaces function, count me out. I'll find my "art" in things that work, do stuff, and have a purpose.

May 28, 2017

Missed Another One

As a wanna be journalist, I have a massive, insurmountable flaw: I almost never think to take a picture of some amazing thing I want to write about.

I know. You had your own list of my massive, insurmountable flaws, but this is the one I’m going with today.

Yesterday, my wife and I were in Hastings on our way to the Cities for some family crap. We stopped for breakfast and on our way out of the restaurant parking lot an old woman on a Harley wobbled her way into the lot, stalled the engine, almost fell over while she was fooling with the starter button, clutch, and shifter, and went through that whole cycle (on her cycle) three more times before paddling her way into a parking space. Clearly, she had way more motorcycle than she had skills; which isn’t saying much from either direction.

Normally, I have managed to slap on my “I don’t give a shit” goggles pretty quickly in these situations. There are more than enough Boomers, or every other generation, on the planet that losing a few million to motorcycle crashes isn’t that big a deal when there are approaching nine billion of us littering up the planet. Yeah, brainless boobs on motorcycles cost the rest of taxpayers billions of dollars, just in the US, but what can you do? People just gotta be stupid and everyone else is stuck paying the bill. Nope, that’s not the picture I missed.

The thing that made this nitwit stand out wasn’t that she was old, incompetent, uncoordinated, and (as you would expect on a Hardley) completely inappropriately undressed in shorts, a gross haltertop, low top tennis shoes, and (or course) no helmet. All of that is everyday idiocy. The stand out was that behind her on the suicide seat was a little girl wearing an adult’s helmet and otherwise dressed like the idiot I assume was her grandmother. The kid was probably about eight, didn’t even get close to being able to reach the passenger pegs, and had about as much chance of surviving that trip as a turtle on the freeway.

I repeat myself. I don’t care if adults remove themselves from the Republican voting roles, but I hate seeing kids splattered because the “adults” in their lives are too stupid to know how really stupid they are.

May 26, 2017

Losing Money on Every Unit?

osbornesplash2This story is awfully familiar: “The Electric Car’s Same Old Problem.” The quote that sums up the whole problem is from Fiat Chrysler’s Sergio Marchionne, “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000.” I keep hearing through unconfirmable sources that Zero has yet to sell a motorcycle for a profit. I hope it isn’t true, but I suspect it is. Things change, but often pioneers take it in the shorts in the early stages. I remember Adam Osborne’s Trump-like claim for how his company was going to make money selling computers, “I lose money on every unit, but make up for it in quantity.”

After the shake-up this week at Ford, mostly over EVs and autonomous vehicle sales, it will be interesting to see if ANYONE makes it to the goal post with an electric car.

May 24, 2017

Crash Analysis

Take a look at this video and measure yourself and your take on this crash against the incident and the opinions expressed in the comments section.

It’s probably more than a little obvious that I put more than a little blame on the biker (I hesitate to call him a “motorcyclist.”) because his “braking” attempt was so lame and his assumption that the job of everyone in the world was to be looking out for a speeding motorcyclist. I used to see this kind of oblivious-to-reality lane splitting in CA all the time and, like this guy, they were astounded and hysterically angry when ever their mindless riding tactics knocked them on their asses. I'm a little surprised that I don't see this kind of crash every day in Red Wing. Pretty much ever rider on this kind of lame-ass machine is incapable of the most basic evasive maneuvers.

May 23, 2017

Nicky Is Gone

And another really nice guy dies young. Nicky Hayden died from complications on May 22. He was struck by a car while riding a bicycle in Itally on May 17. Hayden has often been called the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.” The Kentucky Kid snatched the championship out of Valentino Rossi’s hands in 2006. Before that, the last time the red, white, and blue was on the podium was Kenny Robert Jr’s year, 2000. No American has been close since Hayden pulled off his winning season. The 80’s and early 90’s was prime time for the USA, with Roberts Sr, Lawson, Schwantz and Rainey swapping championships for a good part of two decades. Nicky Hayden was a surprise win on his Honda and it could be years before the world is surprised by an American again.

In the meantime, we’re going to miss the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.”

Backseat Driving

I just took what will probably be my last MSF instructor training session and got a little more insight into where motorcycle safety traing is going, in the process. The “new” (2014) classroom design is a giant step back from the MSF’s earlier attempt at “learner centered” or adult training. While I might suck at the delivery, I’ve always been a big fan of that concept because the alternative leaves me out in the cold as a student. The “education system” I grew up with is often called “the sage on the stage,” which would be one thing if the person on the stage was actually a sage (“a profoundly wise person; a person famed for wisdom. someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment, and experience”), but it will always be difficult to attract that kind of person to western Kansas (where I grew up and experienced my K-12 “education”). Most small-to-mid-sized towns have the same problems, from the intolerant majority segments of the Midwest and Southeast, and most of the country’s underfunded public education system.

For many years I was too often stuck listening to someone who had put about as much effort into their lecture topic as me, although that person was 20-30 years older and a whole lot lazier. If it hadn’t been for the years I spent in southern California’s university system, I’d have lived my whole life believing that teachers were nothing special. Lucky for me, that didn’t happen. Otherwise, I’d have been so bored with “education” that I’d have given it up after my first junior college semester in 1966.

Becoming one of those “lazier than me” lecturers has never been a goal of mine. In fact, for the first 40 years of my life I had absolutely no interest in being any kind of teacher, although I’d been roped into dealer, technician, and customer training with a couple of my employers for about ten years. I didn’t consider myself to be a teacher and if someone had called me one I’d have laughed at them. My father was a career high school teacher and I spent my first 15 years surrounded by adults who made their living “teaching.” Nothing about that experience provided any inspiration toward that career path.

Some motorcycle instructors claim they teach the MSF program to “give something back to motorcycling.” I don’t get that. Motorcycles are a transportation vehicle or a luxury toy. If their primary purpose is to be a “lifestyle” prop and noise-generating irritant, that’s nothing worth the “giving back” effort. After paying my vehicle license and fuel taxes, I don’t feel any compulsion to give back any of my time and energy to Wisconsin, Iowa, Detroit, Japan, or China. Honestly, for at least half of the years I’ve taught the MSF program my primary motivation has been self-preservation. While I do not believe the remedial training we provide or the license testing the state requires does anything significant toward making new or even experienced riders safer or more competent beyond a few weeks post-training, I know that thinking, talking, and demonstrating decent riding techniques make me a safer, smarter, and more competent rider. And I get paid to do it, which brings up my decision to wind down my motorcycle instructor career. This is something I haven’t done for the money for the last 16 years, but wouldn’t do without getting paid for it about 90% of the time.

Over the last five years, I’ve discarded all of the other things I’ve done to make a living that fall into that category. I used to repair professional audio equipment for $175/hour. I wound down that work and business starting in 2012 and by July 2013 all of my customers had been redirected to someone else. I did commercial acoustic consulting and audio forensics, which sometimes paid fantastically and always paid well. I did my last 911 call analysis in late 2011 and completed my last acoustic consulting contracts in early 2012. A decade ago, when someone asked me what I did for a living, I used to say, “I teach rock and roll.” (Nobody wants to hear about the repair or consulting stuff and most people don’t take self-employment seriously; including me.) For more than a decade, teaching music production and technology at MSCM felt exactly like that. After the last couple of uninspiring semesters, there was finally more money than fun in that job. After a minor heart attack in late 2012 I decided I had been there long enough. My last months of teaching came at the end of the spring 2013 semester. I pretty much knew I wasn’t going back, but decided for sure on my 65th birthday that summer. The only thing I do for pay, now, is teach “motorcycle safety” classes a few times a summer. (2015 was the last summer I taught something resembling a full load. Plus, I am still selling off stuff in hopes that we can downsize “bigly” one more time and hit the road full time. Come on by. See anything you like, make an offer!

The “fun” part of teaching motorcycle safety classes was working with and getting to know the students. Even during the Harley/Polaris/Star/hippobike boom days I still had occasional students who made the job worth doing. [For example, two near-retirement medical doctors from Stillwater who took the class, listened to my advice on their first motorcycles, bought a pair of Honda Nighthawk 250’s, and rode them to Alaska and back.] I assisted with my first range portion of the MSF course in 2001 and wrote about freezing my ass off in 2” of slush back then. I went through the training program in 2002 and became an official MSF instructor and taught a boat load of classes that first year of the MSF’s Basic Rider Course. I wrote about that experience in MMM, too. For the next dozen years, I filled most of my summers with basic and experienced rider classes and enjoyed a good bit of that. I got to work with some dedicated, talented, and entertaining instructors (and a few who weren’t any of that) and I met a lot of hopeful prospective motorcyclists.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of conversations about teaching techniques, read a few dozen books about adult education, and have thought and written about teaching everything from computer applications to motorcycle safety and expertise to music, audio recording, and electrical/electronic engineering. One of the many things I’ve learned about teaching is that, like everything, it only works if there is a corrective (negative) feedback loop to provide input that keeps the system on course to achieve the intended outcome(s). There is only one meaningful outcome in motorcycle safety training: reduced mortality/morbidity occurances among “trained motorcyclists.” That is not only something the MSF warns instructors and programs not to expect, it’s not being measured by anyone. Without that critical piece of the puzzle, it seems to me that the effort, time, and money spent on training is wasted. I don’t have a lot of time left, so I’d like to waste as little of it as possible.