Feb 26, 2017

Myths and Technology

Feb 21, 2017

Riding Shotgun

shotgunRiding Shotgun is a book by a friend of mine, Paul Schaefer, who is also a motorcyclist, an anthropologist and college anthropology instructor, and a Wisconsin organic farmer. Regretfully, there is no motorcycle content, but since Paul is full of motorcycle content, I thought I’d pimp the book here in case you need something to read.

Riding Shotgun is a little bit Elmore Lenonard, in that there are multiple plot lines running in parallel and independently. The characters are well-developed and interesting and so it the story.

‘nough said. Go buy the book.

Feb 2, 2017

Why I Don’t Care What Financial Analysists Say

First, to be upfront and honest with you, my youngest daughter has been some kind of financial analysist for most of her career. She absolutely resents my belief that only rich people give advice worth listening to. Because her unemployed husband spends money faster than the Denver Mint can print it she will probably never have enough money to fit my model. Second, I’ve blown off the jabbering of most of that class of employable talking head beause their use of the English language is too imprecise for me to take them seriously. A couple of years before the last crash (they will be coming a lot quicker in the near future until we stay crashed) those nitwits often said, “Home ownership is at an all time high.” The only person I’d known who actually owned his home was my father. The rest of us just rent from banks instead of landlords.

s1.reutersmedia.netSo, now those geniuses are predicting a bad year for Hardly, “Harley-Davidson officials worry economic and political uncertainty globally lowers spending for their products. Plus, HD’s most ardent fans may be aging; young riders may not replace the older fans.” “May be aging?” Now shit, Sherlock. What planet do you yokels squat on? Hardly’s fans are not just aging, they are petrifying. Buying a Harley is the kind of thing a guy puts on his bucket list when the bucket is too fucked up to hold water, eggs, or sandwiches. Hardly and Indian are betting the farm on the oldest segment of an already ancient demographic. For years, the MIC has been pretending the average age of motorcyclists is holding steady at something between 48 and 60, depending on the study and the state and who the results benefit. If my own observations amount to anything, I’d bet the average new motorcycle buyer is closer to 60 than 40 and had a crap load of money (at least $85k annually, according to a couple of recent surveys).

For example, NHTSA says that the average age of motorcycle riders killed in crashes was 42 in 2014. Since you’d expect a good number of motorcycle deaths to be the clueless “youth death squad,” that means a boat load of that age offset must be coming from the way-over-50 crowd. That’s one way to thin the herd. From the experience of several hundred beginning motorcycle classes, I’ve often suspected that Hardly was a secret Republican plot to eliminate a lot of Social Security costs. Admit it, that’s not much different from the Republican healthcare plan, “Just die, will you?”

082415bottomOne thing I have always believed about predictions of all sorts is that nobody knows anything. I have given up trying to figure out what kind of idiot choices and fads humans will follow off of a cliff next and I wouldn’t put my money on shorting Harley Davidson. I wouldn’t buy a Harley, either.

Jan 31, 2017

Product Review: Giant Loop Kiger Tank Bag

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day


One of the most hostile reviews I've ever written and had published was of my frustrating experience with my Wolfman Enduro Bag. As much as I've hated that damn thing, I didn't find a suitable replacement for a V-Strom tank bag until Giant Loop came out with the Kiger. To sum up this review in one sentance, everything I had come to dislike about the Wolfman bag is a non-issue on the Kiger.

First, even with the rain cover, the Wolfman (and practically every other enduro-style tank bag) isn't particularly water-resistant. The first day I installed my Kiger I taught a Basic Rider Course at Century College where, about two hours from the end of the range-portion of the course, we were hit with a gully-washer. I had my V-Strom covered, but I had to pull the cover because the wind was so strong the bike was rocking hard enough I thought it might topple off of the centerstand. I hadn't double-protected my stuff with the Kiger's optional dry bag and the storm hit so quickly I didn't have time to latch one of the bag's buckles. 40mph-plus winds blew the rain parallel to the ground for a half-hour, blowing over half of our motorcycles, flooding the drains, and drenching everyone and everything; except the stuff inside of my Kiger tank bag. At least three inches of rain fell in that short cloudburst and none of it, not one drop, made it into my tank bag. First test, passed.


The Kiger and my V-Strom on an urban "adventure" during the Minneapolis Art-a-Whirl.

The next big issue I had with the Wolfman Enduro was stability. The Wolfman bag's "laminated foam sides" quickly turned to saggy pillows that took up space in the bag while providing ziltch for support. Initially, the Wolfman Enduro bag was the only substantial-sized bag I could find that was narrow enough to stay out of my way when steering, but when the foam sides failed so went the steering clearance. The Kiger's zipperless-clamshell design and materials make the bag almost rigid. The zipper-less, clamshell lid defines the top portion of the bag's structure and the foam-reinforced 22-ounce vinyl-coated polyester foundation holds the overall shape. The 4-point security system keeps it all exactly where I want it. The zipper attachment to the harness makes the bag easy to swing aside for a gas fill and the whole thing (except the harness) comes off easily so you take the bag with you. The Kiger is a 9 liter bag--rear 9.5″ tall, front 6″ tall, 8″ wide, 12″ long--which is large enough for a bike cover, gloves, boot covers, some tools, with space left over for stuff in the interior mesh pocket.

I'm still unclear on how this works, but it does. The clear vinyl map pocket is touchscreen-friendly; even when I'm wearing my Aerostich Deerskin gauntlets. This is a big deal, since I'm cheap and my Garmin GPS is a long ways from waterproof. There is a water-tight route for a power cord (USB on mine) into the map pocket, so running out of juice can be avoided.

Everything I wanted for this bit of travel storage was provided by Giant Loop's Kiger. It's a great bag and one that I fully expect to outlive my V-Strom and end up on whatever my next bike turns out to be. As always, the best place to buy Giant Loop products is directly from the company's website: https://giantloopmoto.com/.

Jan 28, 2017

The Dominoes Are Falling?

Erik-EBR-1900RXOnly a short while after Polaris announced the Victory Motorcycles are goners, Eric Buell Racing gives up, again. In their January 28 press release, the company said, “The company, which is the sequel to Buell Motorcycle Co. that Harley-Davidson Inc. owned for more than a decade before dropping the brand in 2009, says it will begin a wind down of production operations next week.” And “This difficult decision was based primarily on EBR facing significant headwinds with signing new dealers, which is key to sales and growth for a new company. In addition, EBR has had limited production in 2016 and 2017 that was under goal. The combination of slow sales and industry announcements of other major OEM brands closing or cutting production only magnified the challenges faced by EBR.”

Well, nuts. That is about it for US production of anything resembling a world class competition motorcycle.

Losing the Travel Thing

All my life, “getting away” has been a theme. I grew up in western Kansas and anyone with any sense at all wants to escape that hell hole as fast as possible. I got started with a lifetime of “camping” there when I snuck out Saturday nights with a canteen and a blanket or a Cub Scout’s sleeping bag to hide in the basement ruins of a Catholic college that had been wiped out by a tornado. If I made it out unseen, I could get out of 2-4 hours of Methodist sermons and Midwestern religious hymn-howling. My motivation for making my great escape was pretty great and getting away has been a theme of my life since.

For most of my adult life, my “career” was a collection of low-to-moderate income, high-pressure repair or engineering jobs with a fair amount of middle and upper management thrown in to extract any fun my job might have provided. Managing most people is about as entertaining as herding chickens and managing management is even more painful and unrewarding. Add to that a house full of girls and women, two daughters and a wife, and I regularly needed to “get away.” For a couple of decades my getaways were off-road motorcycle racing and backpacking into remote areas.

CaliforniaMoveFor the move to California in 1983, running from the Reagan recession that pretty much wiped out non-military/industrial jobs in the Midwest, I bought my first street bike since I “borrowed” my brother’s Harley Sprint in 1963 and stripped it down for flattracking. The trip to California in late March of that spring was my first adventure tour, since I rode through 400 miles of sleet, snow, and ice storms to get to southwestern Texas where the winter weather finally let up. It was an adventure, for sure. I probably shouldn’t have survived that trip, since I knew practically nothing about safely riding a motorcycle on pavement. My CX500 was poorly setup, marginally ridden, and completely inappropriate for the places I forced it to go. That ride and that motorcycle started a whole chain of events in my motorcycle life, though. I didn’t really think of myself as a “motorcyclist” before that first 2,000+ mile long late-winter/early-spring slog.

At least 250,000 miles later, I’m beginning to lose that identity. This past summer, I rode my V-Strom to Colorado and back. For the first time in all of the years I’ve been touring, I did absolutely no prep work on the bike before I left. I didn’t even do a needed oil change. I have no excuse. I was looking forward to the trip, I think. I knew how long the trip would be. I’d done a fair amount of work on the bike the previous year and, then, barely rode it at all. So, I had some false sense of security that somewhere, sometime I’d already done the prep, but I knew better. I just didn’t come up with the motivation to crawl around the bike doing the things that needed doing. The end result was a fairly high-tension trip with the only real fun moments coming off of the bike when I was hanging out with a friend at various Colorado hot springs.

There was no “escape” in that trip. I had lots of work to do at home, none of which I dreaded or needed escape from. I’ve been everywhere I went on that ride and there was almost no adventure to the trip, except for the tire failure in Nebraska and that wasn’t particularly entertaining. I even avoided a short dirt road section in Colorado, opting for pavement to preserve my too-many-miles chain and sprockets, while my friend took the high and unpaved road. I skipped Pike’s Peak on the way back, something I never imagined I’d do. Other than doing long miles on the interstates, my ride to and from Colorado was totally atypical for me. It didn’t really qualify as an adventure and I didn’t at any time feel obligated to turn it into one. Honestly, most of the time I just looked forward to it being over and being back home working on my projects.

I suppose Trump should be inspiring some motivation to get away, but even he and his band of merry Brownshirts are not doing it for me. For the last three years, I have been talking to a company that specializes in South American motorcycle tours.I sort of had Peru on my bucket list, but even that just seems like more hassle than fun these days. I think might have lost the travel thing.

Jan 18, 2017

Things that Make Me Puke

If you were ever confused about how lame cruisers are, this ought to put the nails in the coffin for you. Nope. I haven't read it. It just appeared on my local library's "New Fiction Book" page and I had to chase down a jpg of the front cover just for you folks. 

This combines two things I despise more than almost anything else in literature: romance and western bullshit. "After years spent trying to remember her past, Mojo Sheepshanks just wants to put it behind her. She’s finally got the life she always wanted—sisters she loves, a career that keeps her on her toes and Tucker Darroch, the handsome cop who’s stuck by her against all odds. But for the people around her, moving on is hard to do. Tucker can’t seem to let go of his past, while Mojo’s sister Greer is being blackmailed for secrets in hers. And Mojo’s stuck in the middle again."

Is there anything about that story description that makes you want to read the book? If there is, 'splain it to me Ricky.

On the other hand, if you are interested in figuring out what makes your brain do really dumb shit, I can not recommend Michael Lewis' The Undoing Project strongly enough. I'll be thinking about the things I learned in this book for years. Some of the choices I've made as a motorcyclist, buying motorcycles, not buying motorcycles, and on an everyday basis are all up for review now. As always, Michael Lewis has kicked my ass.

Jan 9, 2017

Who’s Surprised?

Polaris dropped a big #2 on the cruiser market this week with their announcement that Victory is a has-been. “Polaris Industries Inc. (NYSE: PII) today announced it will immediately begin winding down its Victory Motorcycles brand and related operations. Polaris will assist dealers in liquidating existing inventories while continuing to supply parts for a period of 10 years, along with providing service and warranty coverage to Victory dealers and owners.”

Blowing a little smoke up their fans and vanishing customers’ asses, they followed that in the formal announcement with “Several factors influenced today’s announcement. Victory has struggled to establish the market share needed to succeed and be profitable. The competitive pressures of a challenging motorcycle market have increased the headwinds for the brand. Given the significant additional investments required for Victory to launch new global platforms that meet changing consumer preferences, and considering the strong performance and growth potential of Indian Motorcycle, the decision to more narrowly focus Polaris’ energy and investments became quite clear.” Don’t hold your breath for Indian to last long. Polaris has been hustling too little, too late, with almost no future market awareness for years. Me-too is not a business plan.
Their customers were buying a vintage image, now it’s a vintage product and brand. They ought to feel “special.”

Jan 5, 2017

Bikes I've Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1975-1980 Suzuki RM 125(s)


1976_RM125A_Aussales-1_1200Over the last 30 years I’ve tended to forget about the small collection of RM’s I owned, raced and rode, and maintained. Mostly, it has been because my “ownership” was often dubious. On my old Geezer with A Grudge webpage, I didn’t list my association with the RM125 at all. I simply forgot about the bike in context with anything other than being a racer’s mechanic for half a decade. Contrary to what you might have expected from me there was no ill-will involved. I didn’t hate the RM125, as I did the Kawasaki KLR600 or the Suzuki TL250. I just never thought of them as “mine.” Maybe they weren’t.

I was wrenching for a kid who worked for me at our day job and who was regularly in contention for the Nebraska 125 Expert (A) Class state championship. For about 3 years, we spent almost every weekend together; him racing A class 125 and me in B or Enduro class and working on his bikes. Mostly I raced my Rickman 125 because it was my regular ride and it was mine. Mike had a deal with a local Suzuki dealership for super cheap bikes and below dealer cost parts. He went through a lot of parts, including engines, frames, suspension bits, wheels, etc. In fact, I occasionally had enough spares to build a spare bike or two. A couple of those bikes ended up under me when I was a B Class rider. I’m not sure who, officially, owned them. I know I sold at least one of them when I cashed out of my off-road bikes in 1981.

My impression of the RM, especially after the Yamaha Monocross bikes showed up at local tracks, was that the bike was light, powerful, and grossly under-suspended and the frame was way too flexible to be stable. I still remember riding behind one of Yamaha’s guys at a moto in Genoa, NE watching the YZ track through the ruts and over the busted terrain almost like the track were paved while I was being slung from one side of the course to the other by every large and small obstacle because the RM’s frame and suspension practically worked against each other and me.

Also, unlike the YZ’s, Suzuki’s philosophy with the RM motor was that the engine parts should break in quickly rather than last a long time. I knew winning racers in Nebraska who went two seasons on a motor, piston, and rings. Our Suzukis needed new rings every 3 motos, new pistons every third ring replacements, and 2-4 cylinders every season. If money, time, or energy made us decide to put off a ring change, Mike would always lose power toward the end of that 4th race and either ride desperately to hang on to his position or not even have enough engine left to be able to ride desperately.

If it weren’t for most of the cost being someone else’s money, we’d have dumped the Suzukis after about 1976. None of the RM cost came out of my pocket. For a lot of that period, I was still selling Ossas out of my garage shop/dealership and if I could have afforded to race what I sold I would have. I loved the Ossa Phantom 125 and it kicked the RM’s ass every time Mike and I practiced with either one of us on the Phantom. I never took a Phantom to the track though and most of my customers were play racers and didn’t put the bikes to much of a test. So, I don’t really consider the RMs to be something I either owned or loved.

Dec 25, 2016

Catching Up

Sometime this next year, 2017, I’m going to catch up with my own past. A few years back, I closed a website and moved all of my Geezer with a Grudge history to this blog, one article per week at a time. The next week’s article was published in MMM on July 2015, which means by sometime in 2017 I’ll be putting my current MMM article on this webpage about the time MMM puts it on their own webpage. At that point, it’s possible that my “output” will slow down considerably. The other possibility is that I’ll get a new burst of inspiration and start cranking out stuff way faster than MMM can choke it down and I'll end up posting it on the blog to keep from swamping my editor. Or Victor will fire me for pissing on loud pipes and oversized motorcycles and lousy riders and everything I do will end up here first.
Or some combination of the above.

Dec 19, 2016

Making A Dangerous Bed

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

(First Published in Rider’s Digest #189, June 2015)

Back in my Colorado days, I used to hang out with a trio of guys who had a variety of motorcycle skills. The leader of the pack was Brett, a guy who practically grew up on motorcycles and who is one of the nicest, most patient and loyal people I've ever known. I have considered Brett my best friend for two-thirds of my life, even though I haven't seen him more than a couple of times in the last ten years. David was a newbie to motorcycling, but he had taken an MSF course and had a pretty good grip on his skills and physical and mental limits. Richard was slightly less new to motorcycling than David, but had started off thinking motorcycling was going to come naturally to him and discovered it didn't. He'd crashed his bikes a couple of times, trying to keep up with Brett and me, and had moved from overly confident to massively paranoid. By that time, I'd been riding for twenty-five years and had way more confidence than skill. I'd moved to Colorado from California by myself and was wallowing in my independence and a relatively responsibility-free, semi-single-guy life. So, my moto-motto was "Shut up and ride." I even wore a t-shirt with that printed on the front and back.

One "feature" of this collection of diverse skills was an assortment of different start-up times for a ride to anywhere. If we were going to ride to downtown Denver for coffee, it would take anywhere from five minutes to an hour-and-a-half for the four of us to be ready to roll: five minutes for me and ninety minutes for Richard, for example.

One weekend, we decided Pikes Peak needed climbing one more time before the mountain riding season ended. Brett and I did most of the planning and we picked a filling station on the south end of Aurora for the rendezvous. Our start time was 7:00AM with some margin to accommodate the late risers and slow movers, but 8:00AM slipped by with one of the guys still "on the way." The first part of our route was going to be Parker Road (Colorado Highway 83) south to Colorado Springs. It's about 80 miles, via 83, to Colorado Springs and another 35 miles to Pikes Peak Park through some backroads around the Springs. Two-and-a-half hours on a slow day. Once you got into the park, the old road was 19 miles of beautifully unpaved twisty mining trail to the top. (This year, they finished widening and paving the whole thing and there is no more point in seeing the damage done than there is hoping that Newt Gingrich is married for life, this time. When the Peak was unpaved it was "America's Highway." Now, it's just a tourist path.) We had a breakfast plan for Colorado Springs, but with the late start Brett and I decided to move the meal to the café at the top of the peak. An hour after our start time, we had a mild disagreement about waiting or going.

Since I hadn't planned on plodding along at the pace the two newbies would be setting, I decided to meet them at the park. We'd done this a dozen times in the past and Brett and I sorted out where we'd be about when and agreed that if the pack didn't catch up to me at the base of the park by 11:00AM, we'd meet at the top. That settled, I hit the road. I'd loaded camping gear and a change of clothes, in case I decided to take the long way home after the Pikes Peak trip. I took a few deviations from the short route to the park, hoping that the guys would catch up or pass me. Still, I arrived at the base of the park on time and waited a half-hour in the tourist center before I bought a pass and headed up the mountain. We had some late season rain that year and the road was pretty torn up from traffic and erosion, so it was in perfect condition and I pretty much had the Peak to myself. I got to the top pretty quickly, for me, and figured I had an hour or two to myself before the pack arrived.

My bike, a 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM, was coated from the wet road and my chain was bone dry and caked in clay. I found some rags in the tourist trap's dumpster and filled a milk bottle with water to get started on some maintenance. I scrubbed off the muck from the chain and gave it a WD40 rinse before applying fresh chain oil. It didn't need it, but I went through the chain freeplay adjustment routine. After cleaning up the frame and engine, I made the rounds of all the fasteners, making sure everyone was in place and tight. I was parked right on the edge of the old tourist center's parking lot, so the workshop view was spectacular. I pulled the air filter, which was clean, and reapplied some fresh filter oil for no reason other than that I had it out and I had the oil with me. Short of checking valve clearances, I'd done everything I could think of to the bike.

So, I went back into the tourist center and had breakfast; a couple of donuts and a large cup of coffee. I walked out back and got into a conversation with a cog railroad conductor about the first and last train trip of the year, which often involved pushing a lot of unexpected show up or down the track and a lot of scared passengers. He went back to work and I was bored.

As long as you don't exit the park, you can ride up and down the mountain all you want for your park pass. So, I decided to ride down the mountain and meet the guys on their way up. I did that, twice, and, still, they weren't anywhere to be found. In 1992, none of us had cell phones so calling wasn't an option. I wasn't really worried, but closing time was approaching and I didn't want to be stuck on the mountain in the dark. Finally, just a few minutes before the visitor center closed, the three guys rolled into the lot. Brett looked pissed. I couldn't figure out the other two guys' expressions.

It turned out that, in spite of the late start, Richard and David insisted on stopping for breakfast, which burned an hour-and-a-half. After eating, they plodded along at a barely faster than walking pace until they got to the park. To "celebrate" riding the mountain, before they'd ridden the mountain, they stopped at the park store and bought "I Rode the Peak" patches for their jackets. Once they started up the mountain, the pace slowed even more. The switchbacks, the wheel ruts, the deep drainage ditch on one side and the steep drop-offs on the other combined to make the last few mile sheer terror for Richard and David. Brett stuck with them, dedicated friend that he is, and had about as much fun riding the mountain as he would have had in a dentist's chair; although the chair might have been a faster ride.

As they rolled into the lot, a park ranger was herding the straggling tourists to their cars so he could close the lot's gate. The guys didn't even have time to take off their gear before they were being hustled off of the summit and back down the mountain. That might have been a good thing, since riding downhill scared is much worse than riding uphill and they didn't have time to work up a good batch of fear before they were on their way down the mountain. The first few miles were the roughest, especially with the road in end-of-season condition and some pretty energetic bursts of wind near the top. They paddled around the sharpest of the corners and I took up the rear so that Brett could at least go down the mountain without herding sheep all the way. After we left the parking lot, I shut off my motor and coasted behind the guys, stopping every mile or two to let them get a ways ahead of me so that I could collect enough momentum to roll through corners without having to push. It took a good bit more than an hour to get to the park entrance. The gate was closed, the park was abandoned, but it was easy enough to get the bikes around the barrier. Just before the park road merged into Manitou Avenue, I saw Brett parked just off of the road. He was in much better humor, since he'd had time to find an ice cream shop and had drained a large milk shake while waiting for us to crawl down the mountain.

It was dark and riding back home via I25 was the only practical option, since Parker Road would be filled with deer and antelope for the next few hours and none of us was up for picking antlers out of our teeth. The guys settled for finding a cabin in Manitou Springs for the night. I was all for snagging a campsite in Garden of the Gods or just heading out Colorado 24 for Buena Vista and finding a campsite where ever one turned up. David and Richard convinced me that I wanted to hang with them for the night by insisting that they would cover the cost difference between a campsite (free, if I camped between Manitou and Buena Vista) and the cabin. Like an idiot, I became a follower.

They had a cabin site in mind and found it quickly. It was a two bedroom cabin with two fold-out beds in the huge living room. I took one of the living room beds. Our plan was to get the room sorted out and walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner. So, I was going about that when I dropped the damn bed on my left foot. I was pulling out the frame, expecting it to swing up before it lowered to the floor. Instead, the bed shot out about two feet and dropped like a spring-loaded anvil; right on my big toe. I'd pulled off my boots at the door, so there was nothing between my foot and that assassin's weapon and it almost amputated my toe.

In moments, the toe turned black. It was bleeding like a stuck pig, so I used up all of the stuff in my medical kit to medicate and bandage the bit toe to it's nearby partner. We went to dinner, me shoeless on my hobbled foot. I drained a bottle of some kind of painkiller to try to sleep that night and woke up to find that the toe nail had lifted off of the toe, in spite of my having drilled a neat pressure-letting hole in the nail and taped it tight before I went to bed. I could not get my left boot on, so I had to cut the boot and gaff-tape it together; once my foot was in it. Walking was miserable and awkward. Shifting was painful and had to be done with my whole foot or heel. Buena Vista was out of the question. Getting back home would be an achievement.

We had breakfast in Manitou Springs. I set out ahead of the guys under the assumption that they'd probably catch me and, if I ended up stuck on the side of the road unable to ride, we'd work out a plan to get my bike and me home. Once I hit the interstate, I was pretty sure I'd make it home and that didn't turn out to be a problem. The next day, my doc pulled the toe nail, stitched a patch over the exposed toe, and put my toe in a brace that would be my hobbling partner for about two weeks. The bone at the end of the toe (distal phalanges) was crushed.

For the next several months, I took a lot of crap about being the "big bad bike racer who was crippled by a hide-a-bed." Obviously, the real reason I ended up crippled was that I stayed back to be a nice guy and escort the slow guys down Pikes Peak. Not only do "nice guys finish last," but they might even get hurt for the effort. Screw being nice. "Shut up and ride."

Dec 18, 2016

My New Career

Chopper TomA friend and ex-student sent me this along with a note asking about my “new career” as a chopper rag model. I admit, it does look a lot like me, but I did NOT model for the drawing. Honest.

Dec 17, 2016

TurboBike, When You Know You’ll Never Grow Up

“Turbospoke is a complete exhaust system that fits to any bike and makes it look and sound just like a real dirt bike. Turbospoke is based on the old 'baseball-card-in-the-spokes' concept, brought right up to date. The realistic engine sounds are created using long lasting plastic cards, a clever sound chamber and an awesome megaphone exhaust pipe which really amplifies the sound.” Sounds more like a drawn-out fart than a motorcycle engine, but . . . I guess that’s a “real motorcycle sound” if a Harley is a real motorcycle.

Dec 14, 2016

Is This Like the Others?

During the parade season, there is never a shortage of noise makers in clip_image001Red Wing. However, as a motorcyclists’ location . . . not so much. I don’t know why that’s a fact, but it is. When I first moved here, I set out to distribute MMM to the various places I thought might attract motorcyclists (not necessarily bikers, but actual motorcyclists). I hit the college cafeteria, local restaurants, the library, and the bike shops. After a couple of months, I got the bike shops set up with their own supply of magazines, but I quickly noticed that there was no point in replenishing the other locations because the first set of issues were still there. Two years later, some of those first magazines are still waiting for readers.

Lucky for me, Red Wing has a decent Suzuki and Yamaha dealership, but I don’t know why. The dealership seems to retain the same collection of “new” and used bikes for at least a couple of seasons, probably until another dealer or wholesaler takes them off of their hands. If it weren’t for boats and ATVs and snow machines, I suspect we’d lose that dealer. The Polaris/Victory dealer never seems to have customers and I’d guess someone is burning up a trust fund with that venture. Likewise, the local community college offers a summer full of motorcycle safety classes, but 3 out of 4 of my last season’s MSF classes cancelled due to lack of interest, including an Intermediate Rider Course that wasn’t supposed to cancel under any conditions. On a typical work day, it’s rare to see more than one of two bikes on the road and most of those will be touring riders passing through town.

It’s a mystery. Red Wing and the surrounding territory is a massive riding resource. We have twisty roads and small towns with history and good food and recreation. You can’t beat the river valley for upper Midwest scenery; it’s the closest thing to mountains we have for 650 miles. As a mostly-dirt rider, I have more interesting country roads and marginally maintained back roads than I know what to do with. It is incredibly easy for me to burn up a tank of gas in an afternoon without doing more than crossing pavement every 50 miles. There is even a few sections of actual off-road riding from abandoned farm roads that haven’t yet been converted to farm land.

Outside of the summer pirate parades, it feels like motorcycling is on its last legs here. All of the riders I know are over-50 and most of them are on the edge of giving it up. The kids I meet who talk about buying a bike and learning how to ride just talk about it. It’s not a practical thing for them, for whatever reason. There is some off-road activity in Elsworth and I should get over there to check it out. But . . . it’s Wisconsin and a battlefield of starving small towns and bankrupt counties all overstaffed with highway patrol and sheriff’s deputies haunting the backroads to make their quotas. I cross the river only when I really need to.

Dec 12, 2016

#137 Foot Out, Rider Down

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

A friend sent me a note this week, complaining about the godawful scooter and bike skills he witnessed near the UofM. He said, "When I was instructing, a favorite thing to yell at students (and sometimes regular folks) was 'pick up your feet'. For some reason that horrible habit has re-entered the consciousness of people that think they know how to ride. A few days ago I watched a young guy on a scooter (wearing a helmet, with shorts and flip flops) stick his left foot out as he arced through the intersection. This evening I watched a young hipster (flannel shirt, rolled up jeans with lace up boots) on a Sportster leave an intersection making a left turn with his boot out like he was at the Springfield Mile. Just a few blocks later, I watched an overweight middle age guy on some bloated metric cruiser wobbling away from a stop sign with his feet down as he tried to gain momentum and stability. Unfortunately he too was wearing flip flops. At that point I was ready to stick my head out and yell."

I'm not sure what to say about this. His comment was inspired by a rant on the GeezerwithAGrudge.com site, after one of my weekend classes. I had a young man in the class who was convinced he was an experienced off-road motorcyclist. Every turn was accompanied by him sticking out his foot like he was planning on sliding it around a quarter-mile dirt track. There was nothing special about his speed and his steering input was more bicyclist tactic than dirt biker. I repeatedly told him that if he hooked a heel on the asphalt he might be looking at tearing up body parts from an ankle to a knee to a hip.

He kept saying, "it's a dirt biker habit."

I kept saying, "It's really just a bad habit."

So it went for the day. Apparently, so it is going for lots of riders everyday.

Honestly, like cager tailgating and throttle pumping I think it's a byproduct of kids who play video games deluding themselves into thinking they've done something real. When my wife sees someone flying through traffic, crawling up the ass of every car slowing down the fruitcake's progress, she says, "There goes another video game fool." What she means is that kids who grew up playing dumb crap like Grand Theft Auto or Forza Motorsport have been conned into thinking their "competence" in that moronic game translates to their ability as a car driver. Trust me, punk. It doesn't. Likewise, "success" with MXGP - The Official Motocross Video Game has no connection to actually riding a motorcycle off-road. Not one iota of a relationship. None. Nada. Here's where the real difference lives: if you crash your virtual cage or bike, you restart the game and try again. If you crash your real cage or, especially, bike, you might be dead or so mangled you'll wish you were dead. Video games are (wait for it) games. Racing is a sport. The difference is one is played by effortlessly twiddling your fingers while you stuff your face with Cheetos® and the other is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world.

So, just because your virtual "rider" sticks his foot out for every slight change of direction that does not mean real motorcyclists need their feet in the air to turn a motorcycle. That is what the handlebars are for. The tripod method of turning depends on poor traction (so your foot will slide and the rear wheel will spin) and great footwear so your foot and ankle will provide that third leg of stability. Some of the fastest off-road riders reserved sticking a foot out for extreme situations where it was absolutely necessary because of the injury risk involved. Getting a picture of Roger DeCoster sticking a foot out took patience and DeCoster won a Gold Medal at the 1964 International Six Days Trial, was the 1964 Belgian Observed Trials National champ, collected five 500cc Motocross World Championships, and won 36 500cc record-setting Grand Prix races. Putting an unprotected foot out in a low speed, poorly-executed city street turn is just a demonstration of sorry cornering skills.
Anyone dumb enough to stick a flip-flop-shod-foot out toward concrete or asphalt deserves to be fitted for a pegleg. I am not exaggerating. That is one of the world's dumbest moves, right along with wearing shorts and a tee-shirt on a motorcycle. Why not ride naked? You might as well. It's not like that teeshirt is going to be any sort of protection when you are sliding down the road. Remember, you're the idiot who needs to poke a foot out to turn a perfectly competent motorcycle at walking speeds. It's not like anyone smart is going to put money on your riding skills. The house odds are that you are going down, hard, sometime soon. When you do, there is going to be a lot of skin left on the road and you will be making some plastic surgeon very happy (and rich) for a very long time; if you live.

This is when someone who loves you should be suggesting you get some training. Most likely, it might be a good time to get your motorcycle license, too. Since 20% of Minnesota's motorcycle fatalities are unlicensed "riders," (If you're not skilled enough to get a license, you're barely a glorified passenger.) it's a safe assumption that lots of those foot-turners are unlicensed and uneducated riders. Even better, if you want to be the kind of rider who really needs to stick a foot out in corners, sell your scooter or street bike, buy a dirt bike, and go racing. Believe it or not, being on a race track is a hell of a lot safer than riding poorly in traffic.

Dec 10, 2016

Form over Function = Art

ktm-610-supermoto-hmc-redbull-factory-race-bike_3I take a fair amount of crap over my dislike for motorcycles with “personality” and intolerance for form over function (choppers and other non-functional toys). For starters, I’m not particularly visual: ask me what my favorite color is and the answer will be “Who cares?” There are a few colors I don’t like, a lot of colors that are acceptable, and a few that I prefer under particular conditions. Likewise, I tend to look at mechanical things as tools and tools are either useful or not. If they are really useful, I don’t care what they look like at all. Or, at least, I put the cosemetic aspect so far in the background I only think about it in really rare and slightly drunken moments.

clip_image002My wife is a visual artist. She is very visually oriented and wouldn’t recognize a function if one were staring her in the face. The function of plastic bags evades her, or (like me and colors) she doesn’t care about even basic functions. I buy large bags of bird seed for our outdoor feeders and if she beats me to being first to open a new bag, the bags look like a rabid squirrel chewed its way into the package. This might not seem like a thing to a more normal person, but I have a system for filling the feeders, mostly because I hate squirrels and spillage attracts squirrels. My system is fairly anal, I admit. I cleanly cut the top off of the bag, spread the bag so that it fills the can, stick the feeders all the way into the bag, and fill the feeders with a pitcher so that all of the excess falls back into the bag. She, on the other hand, disassembles the top foot of the bag, pours seed randomly in the container, around the container, and even some into the feeders. Squirrels love her. These bags were actually designed to be containers and a reasonably organized systems of distribution and art turns them into chaos.

So, for 49 years we’ve lived together with disparate interests and conflicting styles. Art, as I define it, comes from an old Greek (or Chinese or Abo) word meaning “not good.” If something is art, the execution will be amateur, the choice and use of materials will be juvenile, and purpose will be obscure or nonexistent. My wife and her artist friends are convinced that I’m too obsessed with purpose and artisanship (an insult, to the art crowd). I’m convinced that if the workmanship sucks, I don’t care about the rest. When I look at a piece of ironwork art, I look at the welds first. If they are amateur, poorly formed, or ground off to hide the poor workmanship, I don’t take the rest of the work seriously. Same for woodworking. I’m looking for a level of workmanship before I start considering the form. As a mediocre musician, I have always required music to be something more complicated than I can perform if I’m going to spend my money on it.  clip_image001

The fact that this motorcycle is unrideable except under the most restricted conditions defines it as art and not a functional vehicle, in my mind. I’m a big fan of engineering, like the KTM at the beginning of this essay and not much of a fan of cobbled and useless art, like this cruiser. I’m not bragging here. I realize that this function-over-form requirement limits my ability to appreciate purely form-based art. I don’t see anything but discomfort, impracticality, and unnecessary complication and expense when I see a bike like this cruiser. I don’t have a mechanism that allows me to appreciate it as art alone.

A designer/author named Don Norman sums up my problems with bad design (art) in his book, The Design of Everyday Things, “Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Motorcycles, for example, are dangerous, complicated, and non-intuitive (countersteering, for example). Good design would minimize that. Lousy design adds to all of the negatives without providing any value, other than chaos, to the rider. And if you’re not riding your motorcycle, you are not a motorcyclist but an owner of a piece of art.

As Norman said about Apple products in a FastDesign article a while back, “Apple is destroying design. Worse, it is revitalizing the old belief that design is only about making things look pretty. No, not so! Design is a way of thinking, of determining people’s true, underlying needs, and then delivering products and services that help them.” Likewise, motorcycles with a primary purpose of “looking pretty” are destroying motorcycling by convincing rube motorcyclists that looking cool (or clownish, depending on your perspective) is more important than going places safely and competently. These toys are so badly designed that they need to make as much noise as possible to compensate for the fact that the riders are helpless to defend themselves with the qualities a decently designed motorcycle and motorcyclist take for granted; agility.

Wow! If I were in a better mood, I’d go back and pare this down to one argument. I’m not in a good mood and probably won’t be for at least 4 years. The worship of ignorance, chaos, and corruption has become a national religion and I don’t expect to enjoy it any more than I like looking at a piece of badly executed “art.”

Dec 9, 2016

A Room Full of Elephant

elephant_noisyWay back in 2008, I wrote an MMM article titled “Hearing Damage and Motorcycling.” Among other things, that article produced one of the looniest, most illiterate responses anything I’ve written for anyone has ever inspired. This month, Cycle World discovered that motorcyclists are among the world’s most deaf recreationalists. The article, aptly titled “Say What?” by John Stein, concludes that “Hearing damage is motorcycling’s elephant in the room.”
Now, we just have to convince ABATE, the AMA, and the cities and towns across the country who tolerate motorcycle noise pollution that these loug pipe idiots are disturbing the peace and doing harm. `

Dec 7, 2016

Bikes I've Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1971 Kawasaki Bighorn 350

Learn more about this bike
350bhornThe Kawasaki Bighorn was my first real dirt bike. The link above tells you a lot about this history of this rotary-valved, 350cc two-stroke, 33-hp, 400+ lb. monster. It's important to remember, however, that these guys appear to like ancient motorcycles. What I remember most about my green machine was its unpredictability. The bike would do something different every time you applied the throttle, tried to turn, tried to stop, or tried to start it up in the morning. Occasionally, I felt like I knew what I was doing on this bike, when it went where I pointed it, as fast as I'd intended it to go. Usually, I felt like streamers dangling from the handlebars as the Big Horn rocketed into some obstacle that I'd intended to wheelie over, slid into a low-side because the motor busted the back wheel loose when I thought I had it loaded up enough to guarantee traction, or launched me into a high-side when the bike hooked up when I felt sure I could power through a turn steering with back wheel slip.

I'm pretty sure the Bighorn weighed more than my 1992 850 TDM street bike. It sure handled worse, on or off road. But it did start me off on a lot of years of fun and adventure. And it was a pretty cheap bike to get started on ($300 for a like-new 1971 F5 in 1972). Since I fell down and broke bits of it almost every time I went riding, it was helpful that parts were cheap, too..

The one and only competition I ever attempted with the Bighorn was the Canadian River (Texas) Cross Country Race, in (I think) 1972). I was one of four open class bikes to finish the race, about 30 started as I remember. Because so few finished, the promoter only trophied to third class. All of the other classes trophied to fifth. It was one of the few times I had a chance to leave a race with something more than bruises and stories to tell and I'm still pissed about missing out on that piece of chrome plated plastic. Later, I managed to earn a few ribbons and some tires or accessory parts racing motocross and such, but that race was the last event I rode that actually offered a trophy and the last time I was in a position to earn one.

I moved the Big Horn with me from Texas to Nebraska, but quickly ended up on a Rickman 125 ISDT and the Big Horn ended up in a neighborhood kid's garage after the kid pulled the air filter in a misdirected attempt to "get more power." He got a burst of power, just before the leaned out mixture seized the piston and never managed to find enough money to put it back together. When I moved, the bike was being chewed up by garage mice and I doubt that it ever ran again.

Dec 5, 2016

Bikes I've Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1963 Harley Davidson 250 Sprint

250sprintThis is what the bike, supposedly looked like when it was new:




Thdmailboxhis is the best use I've ever seen made of a Harley Sprint:

My brother bought this bike somewhere around 1968. Being the abusive big brother I was, I used the heck out of the bike, mostly, against Larry's wishes and knowledge. He has been trying to catch up with me, on the abuse and creepy-ness scale, ever since. Since he's a terminally nice guy, I'm destined to stay in the lead for the rest of our lives.

fragile-sprint-bitsThis was, simply, an awful motorcycle. Like most Harley's, the Aermacchi/Harley was poorly engineered, under-powered, overweight, and unreliable. I bashed it a good bit of the way to death on figure-eight "rough scrambles" tracks in Dodge City, Kansas, but it wasn't worth much before I stumbled into it. The suspension was awful, so we replaced it with a pair of chunks of steel plate in the rear and shimmed the springs to immobility in the front. The footpegs kept breaking off, whenever I rode over any kind of bump. I learned how to weld in the process of reinstalling them every week or so. The motor started life weak and ended up so anemic that you could kick start it by hand.

The only good thing I can say about the bike is that it had two wheels and made more noise and was slightly faster than a bicycle with playing cards in the spokes. Kansas was an awful place to ride motorcycles in the 1960's. Folks you'd never met would go out of their way to run you off of the road. I became an "off road rider" because the ditches were where I spent all of my time, anyway. I figured that staying there was safer and faster than zigzagging from the road to the ditch every time a car passed me in either direction.

Nov 28, 2016

#136 When You Need a Faster Bike

Add Your Data to the Geezer Mileage PollFor a bit of self-entertainment, I created a spreadsheet to collect data about how many miles a typical motorcyclist rides in a year. A few other riders and I grabbed sale ads from CraigsList all over the country and the spreadsheet takes that data and turns it into a look at who rides what how far in the good old US of A. The numbers are enlightening and a little depressing. The gross overwhelming majority of motorcycles get ridden less than 2500 miles a year. My observations and suspicions were confirmed, Americans are not really motorcyclists (Except, possibly, in Mexico; which is, after all Central America.). 

caveman(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

One point I was trying to make with gathering this data is that justifying a bike larger than 250cc is a pretty specious argument. Even those cheap Chinese bikes sold off of trailers at swap meets can survive a decade of 1000-2500 miles/year use and abuse. However, I know a lot of you can't maintain your self-image on a small motorcycle. So, In the interest of providing a public service for those of you who desperately want to imagine that you're different than the average biker, I've decided to come up with a short list of reasons why you might need a faster motorcycle.
  1. It's the end of the world as we know it. The best reason I know of for buying a liter bike (and I don't mean one of those girlyman big-twin dingleberrys, but a real liter bike like an R1 or a GSX-R or a CBRR) is that your doc has given you a couple of months to live and you have decided to get shot out of a cannon instead of squeezed through a medical system tube. There is no better way to splatter yourself all over a wall or launch yourself from a cliff than from a 200mph motorcycle.
  2. An alternative to the above scenario would be that NASA has confirmed that QE2 is going to collide with Momma Earth and we're all gonna die in a couple of weeks. Of that big Antarctic ice shelf is sliding into the ocean and life as we know it is about to get messy. Might was well grab that bull by the handlebars and let 'er rip for one great, last high-speed chase. Of course, the cops will be busy with other stuff so they might not want to play along. Still, you can do a lot of damage with a 200HP, 200MPH motorcycle while the rest of humanity is trying to tuck it's head between its legs.
  3. Everybody hates you, nobody loves you. It's either eat worms or buy a fast bike, put on a wife-beater, some flip-flops, baggy shorts, a snazzy biker mask, and go out and collect some serious road-rash scars.
  4. You've been evicted from Mom's basement and, with no place to go and no possible future, you've decided that prison is the only place to spend your "productive years." Rev up that R1 and take if for a ride down Highway 61. The cops clocked you at 160mph and you're on your way to jail for a good long time. Hope they still do Spanish Rice on Thursdays.
  5. Your girlfriend dumped you, your dog died, your pickup blew a piston, and you lost your job. Like #1 and #2, you have nothing to live for and need a fast, guaranteed way to end it all. Pick a mountain road and drop the hammer. They'll be picking up the pieces for years. That ought to teach that old girlfriend a lesson. (#3, #4, & #5 are suspiciously similar, but so are the usual justifications for buying more bike than you can ride competently.)
  6. You have a beautiful new house with an impeccable 4-car garage and nothing to put in two of the stalls. Like Jay Leno, money is pouring out of your orifices and you need someplace stupid to spend it. The smart thing to do would be to buy vintage guitars, diamonds or gold, or really large and ugly "art." The second dumbest thing you can do is to buy a liter crotch rocket and ride it. I recommend that you drain the fluids from however many bikes you choose to buy and treat them like artwork. Put them on stands and make the highlight of the garage portion of your house tour, "And this is my race bike collection. I'm waiting for the fuel systems to be remapped and new hand-wrapped race tires." The first dumbest thing you can do is to drag home a trophy wife.
  7. You and the wife push the industrial meat scale's needle toward 650 pounds and no small bike will haul or support all of that pork. A big twin with a pair of chaise lounges perched on top of a low-slung, noisy, underpowered motor will be barely enough to put you and your honey into motion. Stopping is a whole 'nother problem, but why worry when you're looking so cool? (Yeah, I realize this "reason" is justifying a "girlyman big-twin dingleberry," but some of you are going to buy them and not ride them. I might as well concede to reality.)
  8. You are a banker and you need something really heavy to hold down all of that fraudulent paper you've been generating since 1981. If the paperweight is big enough, you hope the IRS will never ask to look at it. I recommend a HumVee for this application. They are heavier, harder to move, and cheap as dirt. Next best thing, Kawasaki Voyager XIII, tipping in at 960 pounds wet.
  9. You want to build the world's fastest ski lift. You don't really care about the motorcycle for this application, just the power plant and gearbox. With 200HP and the capability of rev'ing to 12k, you can launch skiers into the sky like down-encrusted cannon balls. I say "Go for it."
  10. You are a real racer, not a poser. You have graduated from a couple of years on a 250, moved up to a 650 twin or 600 four, and you are ready to race with the big boys. Pull the lights, safety-wire the fasteners, pick a number, and get ready to spend all of that trust fund because you're going racing! (In case you're not paying attention, this is the only good reason to own a race-replica motorcycle.)
Of course, buying a smaller, easier-and-more-fun-to-ride, more fuel-efficient motorcycle would make a lot more sense under most conditions and for the majority of US riders, but when has recommending practicality been an American marketing tactic? I realize that most of my ten "reasons" are suicidal. With a firm grasp on 14% of total road fatalities, for a good number of us riding a motorcycle of any sort appears to be self-destructive. At the core, I'm serious about this. If you are one of the majority of riders, you have no need, business, or fashion justification for a race bike wannabe. It doesn't make you look cool, younger, skinnier, smarter, or richer. The riding and general public just assumes you're on the monthly installment plan and will probably turn the bike back to the loan company the first time you drop it in your driveway and skin up your unprotected knees. The best you can hope for is to be ignored until you go away.

POSTSCRIPT: Oddly, the next issue (#166, June 2015) Victor Wanchena, MMM's publisher, felt the need to "correct" me in a "The Geezer Gets A Response" column:

In response to Thomas Day's article from last month [MMM #165] I would like to offer the following rebuttal. Thomas has missed the point completely. While focusing on the point that only a small handful of riders can use a liter-class sportbike (or an overweight, overpowered, poor handling hippobike, TWD) to its fullest potential, he misses the salient point. The beauty of freedom of choice is just that, you can choose. If I wish to buy an epically fast sportbike and wobble around corners like a noob that's my preogative [SIC]. We are free to ride what we want. No one should dictate what to buy as long as you aren't riding in such a way that endangers others or impinges on their freedom. [How about their medical insurance costs? TWD] There is an inherent beauty in the freedom to make choces [good or bad] on your own. We, as riders, don't need to be save d from ourselves [NHTSA and insurance companies would disagree. TWD] 

Does anyone need a fast sport bike? No, but that's not the point. I resist any attempt to tell me what I do or don't need. If motorcycle swere restricted to what someone else thinks we "need" then we'd all be trundling around on 49cc mopeds. [Interesting analysis of what motorcyclists really need. TWD] 

I support Thomas's decision to not own one as much as I support anyone who decides to buy one. Viva la difference. I now plan to go ride laps around Thomas's house on my loud piped 950cc dirt bike. 

Concerned reader [and publisher]
Victor Wanchena 

Since I submit about 40 articles for every one that gets published by MMM, the "concerned" part is pretty funny. I put 'em out there and Victor's editor picks them out of a big old hat. What MMM doesn't use, Rider's Digest does, and what I can't petal to those magazines I try to hustle to Motorcyclist and other magazines receptive to freelance writers. What's left or what isn't long enough or politically-correct enough ends up on the blog first. The blog gets about 50% of my original ideas.

My point was that riders get a lot of this kind of bullshit from dealers, uninformed "friends," biker gangbangers, and pretty much every publishing source. "Don't bike a small (under 1,000ccs) bike because you'll outgrow it." Motorcyclists are the most likely to die folks on public roads. Nothing with a license plate is more dangerous than motorcycles and a good bit of that is because too many mediocre riders are dangling from big bikes like cheap plastic streamers.

People in some occupations should be the last people to lecture about the glories of "freedom," but I don't give a damn about any of that silliness. If toy manufacturers, consumer product manufacturers, drug and medical device companies, food producers and packagers, car companies, grocery chains, restaurants, bartenders, and most of the rest of the service and manufacturing industry have liabilities due to consumer misuse or design flaws, gun and motorcycle manufacturers ought to be subjected to the same rules and penalties. If you put a fat, crippled-up, old drunk on a liter bike and he rides out of your lot and gets killed, you own some of that responsibility. Delivering that bike to an irresponsible, untrained dealer's sales staff if part of the sequences of liability.

We can continue to pretend that ignoring all of this shit is going to slip by the attention of the other 99.999..% of the population, but since we're going to be taking up a larger and larger percentage of highway fatalities as cars, trucks, and buses continue to become safer and safer that tactic is going to blow up in "freedom's face."

Nov 21, 2016

#135 Another Brick in the Wall

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Australia's South Wales legalized "motorcycle filtering" in 2014. A friend, Paul Young, sent me a link to an article about the event in AsphaltandRubber.com, which was sort of news in itself. It's not often that any US media realizes the rest of the world exists, let alone Australia and, even more, South Wales. Paul's note, along with the link, said, "Never happen here in MN, we don't have enough folks riding in traffic to justify it." Not only is that true, but Minnesota doesn't really have the motorcycle traffic to justify the existence of motorcycles on public roads. Worse, we don't have that traffic anywhere in the US. As the AsphaltandRubber article indirectly said, US motorcyclists "have relegated their machine to purely recreational duties . . . " It's hard to imagine the mathematics necessary to prove good reason for allowing public road access for our noisy, polluting, unsafe, and antisocial vehicle of choice. But if we wanted to hang on to our on-road privileges, putting aside the old petty biker animosities and working together to get filtering and lane-sharing legalized all over the country would be a good place to start.

2061485331_183d17c23dAs usual, we motorcyclists are our own worst enemy. AsphaltandRubber's writer claims, "So, when ignorant bureaucrats eventually come to their senses about the realities and benefits of filtering, as riders we can congratulate our fellow riders while reluctantly patting the receding hairlines of those enlightened policy-makers." You wish. For one, the receding hairlines are those of aging motorcyclists, as our demographic rapidly resembles that of the Tea Party; old and uneducated (Except for California where we are old, rich, and married). What exactly would make "ignorant bureaucrats . . . come to their senses?" Our sterling reputation for citizenship? The love the rest of the country holds for the noisiest, most arrogant, least skilled, most expensive-per-mile-driven vehicles on the highway? Our safety record or our contribution to minimizing highway congestion? Again, you wish.

For two, what "realities and benefits of filtering?" I'm not arguing that filtering is a bad idea. The problem is filtering is only viable if there are enough responsible motorcyclists on the road to make the legislation worth the time and effort. The problem is, none of that is the case in the US. So, I am arguing that motorcycling's current demographic of hooligans and outlaws does not inspire confidence or warrant effort from "enlightened policy-makers." The country is swamped in problems of huge magnitude and we are a piddly little drop in the lake. Get real, kiddies. Honda had the right idea fifty years ago when they tried to convince the country that they would "meet the nicest people on motorcycles." If we want to get the kind of privileges the rest of the world's motorcyclists take for granted we're going to have to clean up our own act and at least become something better than the nastiest people on the road. One way to do that would be to crank up the requirements for obtaining a motorcycle license, drop the hammer on riding without a motorcycle license, and to start a new motorcyclists' organization that is directed at obtaining useful rights for motorcyclists (no more fighting helmet laws or exhaust noise ordinances). Obviously, ABATE and the AMA have to change or go. They are making about as many friends for the vanishing number of US motorcyclists as the NRA is for gun owners.

A the end of a long weekend of MSF classes, I had a fairly long conversation with a couple of "Seasoned Rider" students and my co-instructor about lane sharing, filtering, and riding in California. I was the lone rider who thought filtering and lane sharing are a necessity for motorcycles to be practical commuting vehicles and to make a worthwhile contribution to traffic congestion reduction. The two students were not only unaware that those two motorcycle options existed anywhere but were terrified of the concept. My co-instructor lived in San Francisco twenty or thirty years ago and "never tried it." You might know that I lived in southern California for a decade and filtered and split lanes ("shared" for the PC crowd) every day I rode on every road that I travelled. The college degree I finally earned was absolutely indebted to my "right" to split lanes and filter on the Pacific Coast Highway between Costa Mesa and Long Beach. My two recording studio-oriented businesses, especially studio maintenance, couldn't have survived without lane splitting on the 405, 5, and I10. I once hauled two highly-modified JBL 4311 studio monitors strapped to the back of my '82 Yamaha Vision from Huntington Beach to downtown Santa Monica Boulevard, LA, on a Friday afternoon, splitting lanes through 5mph freeway traffic to meet an otherwise impossible session date. The speakers ended up being rented for two months and several famous-name artist sessions. The rental fee pretty much took care of our overpriced apartment rent for most of a month.

To paraphrase a famously awful Minnesota motorcyclist, "You ask why I wanna lane share. Man, I don't believe you don't want it too."

Opinions on lane-splitting say a lot about individual motorcyclists. If you are afraid of splitting because you don't have the skills and confidence to do it, In my opinion, you don't have the skills or confidence to be safe in any highway traffic situation. If you hate the idea because your motorcycle is too wide, heavy, or awkward to split lanes, I think you and your bike should be confined to Shriner parades and closed-course clown-costumed demonstrations. You are part of the problem. Contrary to the loud pipe bullshit, the only worthwhile defense a motorcyclist has on the road is maneuverability. Gear and armor is fine, but if you are going to clash with a cage, bus, or truck the best you can hope for is that the gear will minimize your injuries. The best defense is a well-engineered motorcycle that can go places where no cage can travel. One of the best places to go is between stopped cars and as far from impending doom as possible putting as much inert iron between you and a distracted driver about to create a multi-vehicle pile-up.  Hoping for the best is not an crash avoidance tactic. A "safe" motorcyclists is always planning for the worst and doing everything possible to achieve that happy ending. One of the most basic tools available to us is an ability to split lanes in traffic and to filter to the head of a stopped line of traffic. How we earn the right to do that is a problem we're going to have to solve if we want to stay on the road.

Nov 15, 2016

A Motto for Our Times


I’ve had this tag on my keychain for at least 25 years. It’s not something I carry because I feel superior, but because it’s a warning I need to remember every day I’m out in the public. The world is full of flat-earthers (nitwits who think the world’s resources are infinitite and that angels and fairies watch out for fools) and they depend on the luck of the moment, rather than actually paying attention to reality. All of that just got a lot worse, so be careful out there: the idiots are feeling really lucky.

Nov 14, 2016

Change Is Gonna Come

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

(Original published in Rider’s Digest, #188 Spring 2015)

My old MMM editor, Sev Pearman, sent a discussion group a link to an announcement from The Company about their prototype electric bike, Project Livewire. Expressing his Geezerly self better than me at my worst/best, Sev concluded, "I have zero interest in electric vehicles; pitiful range is but one of [my objections]."

My reply to that was, "The only thing that keeps me off of Zero's new bikes is the purchase price. Price per mile crushes internal combustion engines, but I don't have to worry about a motorcycle with a power train that could last 250000 miles. I won't live or ride that long. 150 miles is enough range for 90% of what I do and a 6 hour charge is fine. In a few years, capacitors should replace batteries, charge times will drop dramatically, weight and range will expand nearly exponentially for the size and weight, power and performance are already comparable to or superior to internal combustion, emissions will finally be as good as cars or better, and that fuckin' noise bullshit will be history. If you don't like maintenance, electric motors are the bomb. A bike you can tweek to your performance standards through a USB port is right on target with the current and last two generations of possible motorcyclists."

Sev's response was, "Blah blah blah No offense, Thomas, but this is the same 'in the very near future...' song that I have been hearing for 40 years. I distinctly remember reading this in both Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in the early 70's. Sorry, color me skeptical."

Obviously, I'm comfortable with skeptical. In fact, when it comes to the blathering of economists, southern politicians, the major media talking heads, and any so-called "authority figure," skeptical should be the default attitude. However, when scientists and engineers talk, I listen with a relatively open mind and some expectations. The fact is, no one writing for Popular Mechanics or Science was talking about semi-permeable molecular capacitors, lithium polymer batteries, lithium ion batteries, or even nickel-metal hydride batteries 40 years ago. Hell, sixty years ago Popular Mechanics and Science were babbling about flying cars and computers small enough to fit into a basketball gym and powerful enough to add really big numbers reasonably accurately. In 1989, some overly optimistic scientists claimed to have cracked the secret to cold fusion and the resulting inability of other researchers to replicate that experiment created enough psycho-babble from the media to convince the average schmoe that all science was fake and nuclear energy was at a dead end. Today, Westinghouse, GE, and a collection of foreign competitors are on the verge of making small liquid metal modular reactors available for applications from small electric engine power to portable electric generators and everything in-between. It could be a deal-breaker for the oil companies and revolutionary for electrical generation, but most people are fixated on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the false cold fusion story. Stay tuned, electrical generation could be the new cheap energy. Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian fuel cell manufacturer, is contracted with Volkswagen's fuel cell development program and a couple of large bus manufacturers with working prototypes in service, not to mention providing the power for Toyota's corporate offices in Torrance, CA. All kinds of science fiction stuff is happening right now and almost none of it was predicted or promised 40 years ago. About the only prediction that has been reasonable useful from the last 50 years has been Moore's Law. ("The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year. . .") Gordon Moore's succinct technology estimate has been reasonably accurate for at least 30 years and there is every likelihood that it will be revised upward with new technology.

If the USA was driven more by technologies than by idle and incompetent corporate back-stabbers and lazy and corrupt old technology billionaires, we'd be enjoying a whole new world of high efficiency transportation and putting a serious dent in the atmosphere's carbon content. A real war on the world's terrorists, begun back in 2001, would have crushed the oil cabal, launched the US into the 21st century with a vengeance, and revitalized our technology industries like nothing since the 1960's space race. Instead, we choked, took the easy way out and invaded Iraq hoping for a quick fix with that country's "oceans of oil" and blew two decades on militaristic decadence. Catching up is much harder than staying ahead, in any kind of race. Technology and change don't depend on American exceptionalism and all of those technologies we ignored are going ahead without us. Just ask the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and the struggling descendants of the world's great powers of the past: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Russia, and, even, China (only now crawling out of the ruins of its 4,000 year old civilization).

technology-growthSemiconductor density is not the only technology experiencing exponential change. You know that bullshit small print thing stockbrokers hope you don't read regarding the odds that the stock they just conned you into buying will produce a profit (for you)?  "Past performance does not necessarily predict future results." Look at the chart on the right, that's what an exponential curve looks like as it approaches infinite change. Ray Kurzweil called this the "Law of Accelerating Returns." The steps in that chart are 50 year intervals and the X-axis is linear, but the Y-axis is more exponential than linear. The technology development required between the printing press and the telescope (a 200 year interval) was insignificant compared to going from what existed at the start of the space race to our world of cell phones, personal computers, and the Internet (20 years). The same comparison will be made between the last days of hydrocarbon-based energy and whatever comes next. The technological growth rate of the last decade will look absolutely stagnant compared to the next ten years.

Back to electric motorcycles, the only thing that keeps me off of one is the cost. Certainly not the cost of operation, but the cost of ownership. At 66, I can't justify a $10,000 motorcycle of any sort. I don't expect to live long enough to consider that a rational expense, especially in Minnesota where half of the year is lost to rotating my battery tender from the V-Strom to the WR250X. $5,000 is a whole different game. Zero's 2015 battery pack is expected to live for 2,000 charge cycles (at least 200,000 miles) before it deteriorates to 80% of new capacity (probably the recommended replacement point) at 185 city miles or 94 highway miles per charge.  At the current 6-8 cents per kilowatt, Zero's 1.4kW charge requirement makes for pretty cost-effective transportation. You just have to have a 200,000 mile life expectancy to justify going electric. I do not. If you are a decade or three younger than me, you should start thinking about what your first electric motorcycle is going to be, because that's very likely going to be a big decision in every motorcyclist's life in less time than you expect.

Nov 8, 2016

Two Human Sized Motorcycles

The BMW G 310 GS

And the Honda CRF250L Rally


Postscript: As I was quickly informed by a couple of readers, I missed one great new bike: the Kawasaki Versys-X 300.
ABS, a slipper clutch, a 19" front wheel, decent suspension travel, with accessory center stand, crash rails, and luggage. What's not to like?