Jan 27, 2015

What Do You Do?

This morning, my ex-editor, MSF-teaching buddy, good friend Sev Pearman sent me a link to this site: 50 Tips for Riding A Motorcycle Across America. For my purposes, I copied the whole text and stuck my own opinions at the top of the list. If it’s in italics, it came directly from the article. If it’s in italics and bold, I agreed with it. What’s your take? Here’s mine:

#4-8 I'm not that big on planning my routes at all. I like to flip a coin for direction and go where my interest at the moment lies.

Proves I'm a geek, I guess, but I love my GPS and only use maps for a rough idea of where I want to go. Mostly, I just tear out a page or ten from my Rand Road Atlas for maps and stop at "you are here" spots often. When I tell my Garmin "take me there the shortest distance" with freeways, toll roads, and major highways logged into the "avoid" category, I get some great rides. So, I'm not into #12.

I really need to dive harder into #11 since I'd rather ride my 250 than anything I've ever ridden. I'm starting to suspect I need to sell the V-Strom since it's such a touring crutch. It is almost old enough and used enough to call a "rat bike," though.

#15, fuck the smartphone. I don't even want to ride with someone who brings that shit along.

#20 is just silly. Buy a Darien and wear it all the time, douchebag. Wear the leather crap when you're at the bar with your Village People friends.

Can't do #28. I change my mind a lot.

Totally disagree with #32. I love my camping gear, especially the hammock.

Don't do #37, either. I put on 100-200 miles first thing, then stop for a monster breakfast and don't eat again until I'm digging into the trailmix after setting up camp.

#30, for sure. As my eyes fade, so does my riding time.

#34 I dumped my AAA membership after my fiasco with AAA last year. So far, Good Sam has been a far better service and I've never found a AAA "discount" at motels to amount to anything.

#41, this dude must be older than me. A lot of boring shit on that list. However, if he's doing #41 on the bike he might as well blow off #17 and it might explain some of the music selections.

#44, for sure. Early to bed, earlier to rise.

#47-49 is simple. Ride alone and don't pick up strangers.

  1. Stop putting it off, life is short! Don’t forestall joy – why not do it this year?
  2. America is a lot bigger than you thought, and it takes time to see and appreciate it. Don’t rush.
  3. Take at least two weeks to do the ride, ideally more (see #2). Unless you’re in the IBA (http://www.ironbutt.com), it’s not a race.
  4. Should you ride East to West, or West To East? Well, America “opens up” as you head East to West. West to East, it gets more congested and populated. Psychologically, East to West “feels” a bit better because of that.
  5. Which route should you take? Start by figuring out which destinations you want to visit, then connect the dots by choosing good roads between them. Michelin regional maps are best for this task.
  6. Route suggestion #1: Start in New York City. Head to the battlefield at Gettysburg, then to Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, then Chicago, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, Lake Tahoe, finish in San Francisco.
  7. Route suggestion #2: Start in Washington D.C. Head down the Blue Ridge Parkway into the Smokey Mountains, over to Nashville, then pick up Route 66 in St Louis and follow it to Los Angeles.
  8. Route suggestion #3: Start in Orlando, Florida, ride along Gulf Coast, see New Orleans, go inland to Austin, Texas, visit Big Bend National Park, Roswell, New Mexico, across Arizona to the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs, and finish in Los Angeles.
  9. Interstates = ZERO FUN. Boring to ride, and you don’t get quality time with people and places.
  10. A country is not just about the roads and the places, it’s about the people. Spend time talking to locals for a richer, more rewarding ride.
  11. When choosing a bike for the journey, bigger/more expensive does not always equal more fun. Rat bikes can be great cross-country mounts, as can small-displacement motorcycles, depending on the roads you take.
  12. Regarding accessories (GPS, satellite radio, random gadgets from the Aerostich catalog): more farkles equals more distractions and less fun. Map, smartphone, wallet, water, first aid kit and a change of underwear gets you 99% there.
  13. Make sure your tires can handle 3500-4500 miles of riding. Really sticky sportbike tires won’t.
  14. Give your bike an oil change before you go (not during the night before the ride!).
  15. Use GPS on your smartphone for emergencies, otherwise stick to maps. Maps look better with coffee spilt on them than a Zumo does.
  16. If you’re riding in summer, buy a cooling vest. You can ride comfortably for much greater distances in serious heat with a good cooling vest. I like these from Silver Eagle Outfitters.
  17. Bring earplugs and don’t be lazy about wearing them if you value your hearing.
  18. If you can take three weeks or longer for the trip, using your own bike makes sense financially versus renting. But remember that you have to get your bike back home once the ride is done, and after 4000 miles, you might not be too excited to ride back to wherever home is. Shipping can be expensive, and it may take several weeks to get your bike back.
  19. Best months to cross the U.S.A. on a motorcycle: mid May to late October (start a bit later and a finish earlier if you’re doing a northerly route.)
  20. If you bring your rain gear or heated clothing, fate and irony will ensure you won’t need it. If you leave home without them, you’re just begging for historic rain and low temperatures on the ride.
  21. People will be asking you to tell them about this trip for years, so:
  22. Start and end your trip in an interesting place (Note: your Uncle Morty’s house is NOT an interesting place).
  23. Take plenty of photographs and short video (smartphones are great for both, especially if you set them to embed GPS information automatically)
  24. Take time to document the places that resonate in you. Twenty years from now a grainy video clip you took at some hamburger joint will be absolute treasure.
  25. Blog about your trip while on the road so family and friends can ride along virtually.
  26. Consider riding for your fave charity. Learn about how to properly fundraise by contacting the charity (they often have instructions on their website).
  27. Plan for spotty to non-existent cell reception in some rural parts of the country.
  28. Post a brief “Flight Plan” every day before you ride, and check in with family/friends when you arrive at your final destination. This will ease the worry for people who love you and are understandably concerned for your safety.
  29. You’ll take your best photos around dawn and dusk – that’s when the light is best (“Golden Hour”). Think about that when you’re deciding where you’re going to be at those times.
  30. You’ll see countless smears of road kill while riding across America, and most of these creatures are hit at night by tractor trailers. Critters come out when the sun starts to go down. Your chance of encountering animals goes up exponentially at night, so be off the bike at or before sundown if you wish to avoid this.
  31. Weather band radio is very useful, especially during tornado season in the Midwest.
  32. Regarding camping: It’s a long ride, and you’ll be tired at day’s end. Motorcycle camping is for the young, the poor and/or the acutely adventurous.
  33. For everyone else, Best Western, Motel 6, Super 8 and their ilk are the better choice. A smartphone app that uses GPS to provide a list of lodging nearby can be indispensable (Trip Advisor, Priceline, etc.).
  34. Always call ahead for the best lodging price, and AAA membership always provides an additional discount. Get their best rate first, then mention your AAA membership.
  35. Sometimes you’re forced to stay in seedy, down in the mouth places on the road. In these types of places, always check the room before committing to stay, if only so you don’t get blamed for the dead hooker in the bathtub.
  36. Breakfast buffets at hotels and motels are almost always overpriced and underwhelming. Take some fruit and water for snacks later in the day, but eat breakfast at a local joint. Walk around a bit and you’ll find the right one.
  37. Eat a light breakfast, and a light lunch with healthy snacks as needed until dinner. And make sure you’re properly hydrated – keep a liter bottle of water in your saddlebag, protected from the heat of the sun.
  38. Be hungry for dinner. Save the heavier meals for nighttime. If you ask your body to digest a heavy meal while you’re riding, you’re going to get sleepy, which is dangerous on a bike. If you’re hungry, you won’t be sleepy.
  39. Do not drink any alcohol until after the bike is parked for the day.
  40. When you park your bike for the night, leave nothing of value on it or in it. Leave the empty saddlebags unlocked. Leave it in a well-lit place where people come and go, like the entrance of the motel. There’s less chance of the bike being stolen there. Lock the bike to something solid or at least to itself so it won’t roll.
  41. Music that goes well with a Cross U.S.A. ride: Robert Johnson, The Band, Dylan, Ryan Adams, Wilco, Willie Nelson, Daniel Lanois, Mark Knopfler, Freddie King, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Ry Cooder, The Grateful Dead without Mickey Hart and The Rolling Stones with Mick Taylor.
  42. The books you choose to bring are important. Books about traveling seem to read really well on long trips, especially if you’re riding alone.
  43. Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar” (or really almost anything he’s written); Ted Simon’s “Jupiter’s Travels” and “One Man Caravan” by Robert Edison Fulton Junior are worth the saddlebag space. Jack London and Raymond Chandler are good companions too. I often bring along some Pirsig for the times when I find myself in some gas station toilet stall that’s run out of paper.
  44. Go to bed early (by 10pm) and be on the road no later than 7:00am. It’s a treasure to watch the world wake up, as an observer, on a motorcycle.
  45. Stay focused at all times. You have to be ready for the unexpected every time you get on a motorcycle, and on a ride like this, where nothing is familiar, weather and traffic conditions changing daily, your head must be screwed on 100%. Do not allow yourself to get distracted.
  46. For some of us, riding long distance solo in lonely places can summon The Black Dog. If your mind drifts to negative thoughts, focus on gratitude. Most of the people you know, even hardcore riders, will never ride a motorcycle across America. You are truly fortunate to experience this journey. Believe this.
  47. On a trip like this, choose the people you ride with carefully. Being on a motorcycle for weeks at a time can be straining both physically and mentally, and everyone manages stress differently. You can make lifelong friends or lose them on a trip like this. Think farts are funny? After 21 days in small, shared motel rooms, they might not be. Some people like to ride early, some to sleep in. And even skinny guys can snore. Think about these things before you head out.
  48. We’ve all had a friend who likes to push it, who’ll take unnecessary risks for the thrill, the attention, or because they’re just wired that way. Do not do a cross-country ride with this person. This is an endurance ride, not a sprint race, not a stunt show. If you’re riding with someone and you don’t feel they’re being safe, have a word with them about it. If they don’t change, don’t ride with them. There’s no room for grab ass when you’re covering hundreds of miles a day.
  49. Build some rest days into your itinerary. Stay somewhere great for two days, see the sights, catch your breath. Your body and mind will need a break every 5-7 days, and it’s nice to break the cycle of pack/unpack every day. Plus, you can get a little crazy at night if you don’t need to ride the next day.
  50. The night before you start the ride, pack your bags completely. Then, unpack them, spread the contents out, and remove 25% of the stuff. YOU DON’T NEED IT. Bring a few pairs of washable quick dry underwear and socks. Bring a few pairs of old t-shirts with holes in them. Wear one until you can smell the stink when you’re riding, then throw it away and put on another. If you need more clothes on the way, buy a cool shirt at some dive bar, or stop by a Target if need be. When you’re done reading a book on the road, leave it where you finished it. The goal is to arrive on the opposite coast with as little as possible in your bags, but your head and heart filled. This might be the most important tip of all.

Jan 26, 2015

#92 Biking into the Wild

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

On an early June morning in 2009, I found myself at the end of the road. I mean that literally. I'd mapped out a weird-assed route through North Dakota, following barely traveled two-lanes, dirt farm roads, and even paths that wouldn't pass for a decent hiking trail. I was on one of my infamous (to me and my friends) "ghost town tours." Usually, these trips mutate into something different than I'd expected. This trip was doing that earlier than usual.

Ever since I was a kid prowling away summers in my father's hometown, Allen, Kansas, I've had a fascination for abandoned buildings and, best of all, towns. Ghost towns. I love them. I can spend a day exploring an abandoned farm, enjoying both the old hand-built architecture and the decay. Yeah, the decay. I like to look at how things fail, how nature reclaims its property, how engineering of all sorts breaks and returns to the raw materials from which it came. The reason I started carrying a camera on my trips, 25 years ago, was to document the abandoned houses, farms, and towns I'd stumbled on.

I sort of like looking at the things left behind, too. The stuff that people once thought was important, but that turned out to be too cumbersome, too unimportant to carry away with them when they left their homes for good. I've bought a few of these 100-year-old homes, in my younger, more energetic editions, and I've always been amazed at the stuff I find in the attics, basements, or even closets of these places. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't been such a transient myself. Some of the things that I found, read and wondered about, and tossed away, might have been even more valuable to me today. But, like their original owners, I valued them for a moment and discarded them because I had to pare down for the next move across the country. Dust Bowl vagrants have nothing on me. I've bagged everything I cared about in a backpack, strapped it on the back of my motorcycle, said goodbye to my family, and headed west to California to see if I could reconstruct our lives and fortunes. John Steinbeck would have been proud, or dismayed, at how often Great Depression history has repeated itself in my life.

I know; trespassing. I should be shot. Maybe, some day I will be. It's obvious that these places--from the unkempt condition of the roads that lead to the places, by the fact that the windows are shot out, the roof is falling in, the floors are collapsing, and the well-established nests of raccoons throughout the houses and barns--are of no consequence to whoever owns them. The "no trespassing" signs are about liability, not stewardship. Nobody cares if I tear down the houses and barns and cart them away in my side cases. I'd probably be doing them a favor. They do care that I might fall in a well and sue them for my stupidity. I've been stupid my whole life and I've never sued anyone for my poor results. They don't know me, but I know me.

A that moment, I was sitting at the end of a road that once led to Leal, North Dakota, but now dead-ends after a creek washed away the bridge. And I do mean washed away, other than the pile foundations that once supported the bridge on each side of the road, there is no sign of this bridge ever existing. Sometime in the last year, kids have visited this site to fire off bottle rockets, Roman candles, Blistering Sky Fountains, Festival Balls, Proud Americans, and drink Miller Premium and smoke Marlboros. It looks like a happy battle ground, everywhere the creek didn't wash away the evidence. There is an abandoned, but solid and new-looking fiberglass Jacuzzi just downstream from the useta-be-a-bridge. I mean it looks right out of the showroom. Not a crack, waterline, or spot on it. An enterprising frontiersman might consider building a house on this spot, just because it already has a perfect Jacuzzi.

If it were later in the day, I'd be tempted to camp here. The place is as isolated as anywhere I've ever been. Break a leg here and somebody might find you a decade from now, unless the kids come back on the Fourth to party again. If you die a few yards off of the road, even the kids wouldn't find the remains. It's unnaturally quiet, except for the occasional fly-over airliner or fighter jet, the birds, bees, and frogs. Clap your hands, the birds and frogs go silent for a few moments and, on that still afternoon, its the most natural place I've been in years. The closest traffic is from two-lane farm roads 20 miles away in all directions. If the bike won't start, or I drop it into the ditch turning it around, it's a 20 mile hike to anything.

Except, of course, Leal. If I could get across the creek it's not much of a hike, maybe 10 miles, to what's left of Leal. But the creek is high and I'd rather walk 20 miles than drown out here.

It doesn't matter, I didn't have any problem getting turned around. In fact, to make it a challenge I did the U-turn on the pegs instead of simply Y-turning it on foot. The safe way seemed like cheating the opportunity to be isolated. A little adventurer risk is good for old people. If you survive, you deserve to live another day. If you don't, it's not like there is a shortage of old folks littering the earth. Think of it as taking that old Native American tradition of walking into a blizzard when the old one has lost his or her value to the tribe. Just like those abandoned belongings, people ought to have some value to themselves and to their tribe to justify taking up space. Us old guys have to work harder at providing that value, both to ourselves and to the group, than women. At least it feels like it. Since I turned 50, these trips began to feel a little like that kind of test.

When I was younger, I didn't feel or fear my mortality. I backpacked into the Texas desert, into the Grand Canyon, and across the New Mexico Rockies with absolute confidence that I would be back home and at my job on Monday. I fired up the dirt bike and rode to the starting gate for another race without worrying about pain or death. I hauled my family all over the country in a VW bug or bus and never considered the fact that our vehicle was no more crash-worthy than a paper sack on wheels. I kayaked the ocean and fast rivers, bungee-jumped out of a hot air balloon and off of a bridge, solo scuba hunted the reefs of Baja, flew out of a small town air field and landed in a Nebraska corn field with a old WWII Navy fighter pilot, and I've toured isolated parts of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Colorado, and Baja on a dirtbike.

Some of that seems almost impossibly crazy, today. When I did those things, I was bulletproof, invulnerable, young. I was confident that I could get myself and my family through any catastrophe. The catastrophes we did experience I managed to handle fairly well.

Today, I'm 62 and every morning I get reminded of how fragile life and mobility are. Getting out of bed is more painful than playing football was when I was a kid. Making a fist is a reminder of how many fingers I've jammed, sprained, and broken over the years. Hell, writing my name on a check is a sore reminder of all sorts of injuries. Bending to pick up a dropped glove fires up a string of aches from my neck to my knees. Once I exercised to make myself stronger. Now, I just do it to keep from turning into a fat, inflexible, useless blob.

Riding a motorcycle solo into the abandoned areas of this overpopulated country is my act of mortal defiance. Thinking about pain and disability and death will turn a man conservative. Avoiding adventure and risk is one way to hurry the end of living. In a wonderful, blast-of-life "Last Lecture," Professor Randy Pausch said, “It’s not how long you live, rather how well you live.”

For me, living well requires a little back-to-my-roots adventure. Crawling out of bed, going to work, coming home to dinner and the idiot box, and crawling back to bed is the kind of routine that feels, to me, like a premature grave. Riding all day without seeing anyone, sleeping in a tent on the side of an abandoned country road, boiling a little instant coffee in the morning while listening to the birds wake up feels like being as alive as I can get. Colin Fletcher, one of my life's heroes and the author of several of my favorite books, hiked and floated the entire length of the Colorado river when he was 67. Nothing I will ever do will approach his most accessible adventure, but he has encouraged me want to keep at it until I can no longer find joy in places of solitude. Then, I will truly be ready to take that walk into the blizzard.

"Even in these mercifully emancipated decades, many people still seem quite seriously alarmed at the prospect of sleeping away from officially consecrated campsites, with no more equipment than they can carry on their backs. When pressed, they babble about snakes or bears or even, by God, bandits. But the real barrier, I’m sure, is the unknown." Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker.

MMM August 2010

Jan 25, 2015

A Universal Destination

One more reason to love Humbolt County.
My old Vincent-owning, North Dakota buddy, Denny Delzer, sent me a link to this place. What more can you ask for? A coffee shop in the best place in the country, Humbolt County, California, that specializes in motorcycle-named food, displays a cute collection of vintage motorcycles in their motorcycle clothing store, serves breakfast all day (the benchmark of a real motorcycle cafe), and hosts a motorcycle show based on motorcycle envy: "The Moto Envy Show was created so that a bunch of cool bikes could gather in the same place to let the moto enthusiasts drool with envy! Thus the name. Awards were given for most envied in the categories of Café, Vintage, Racer and Custom. And we included Overall Most Envied and People's Choice. Judging was based on most envied and that's it."

 As much as we loved our stay in southern New Mexico last year, a trip to Oregon and northern California in 2013 pretty much cemented my wife and my conviction that Humbolt County is the most desirable hip place in the world. So, I might have to make a long bike trip next August.

Jan 19, 2015

#91 Failure to Commit

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

On my 2009 summer tour of North Dakora, I had an amazing opportunity to ride a classic motorcycle, Denny Delzer's Dick Busby designed Egli-framed Vincent. Denny's Vincent is a forerunner to every race-based sportbike sold today. What I learned from the experience is that I have a guy-disease; a failure to commit.

The riding position of Denny's bike is totally race-face, knees bent, feet way behind your butt, a lot of your weight solidly on the bars, and it is difficult to do anything but go fast in this riding position. Add an aggressive steering damper to the equation and all maneuvers but high speed maneuvers are difficult. When you are in the seat of this Vincent, an R6 or R1, or a GSX-R or ZX anything, you are as able to focus on (or able to see) what's behind you as a lion hunting zebras. The Egli-Vincent is made for focused-forward aggressive riding. I'm not that aggressive.

Sportbikes are the polar opposite of the passive cruiser feet-forward-hands-in-the-air position that pretends that our universe is a friendly universe. Cruising is the motorcycling equivalent of riding a Lazyboy in full reclined position and those ergonomics assume that everyone on the highway is looking out for the rider because the rider is helpless to look out for himself. If you go to the extremes of this design, you'll have your hands dangling over your head on ape-hangers and your feet spread wide as if you are being wheeled into a gynecologist's exam. I'm not that passive. It's clear that I'm not happy in either of these extreme riding attitudes. Our species, homo erectus, has been designed to transport itself with feet squarely below the butt. (Yes, I said "homo" and "erectus." Get over yourself.)

Consistent with my design, I want my feet under my butt and my weight balanced between the footpegs, the seat, and the bars. I want to be able to see all around me, not just in front of me. I want to be able to use as much braking and acceleration as I'm capable of using, without falling off of the motorcycle. My capabilities, however, limit my need for 0-100mph quickness or wheel-lifting torque or stoppies. If I don't need to go that fast, I won't need to stop that quickly, either. I hope. I'm not willing to be so relaxed that I can't grab a handful of brakes without launching myself into the void. I'm not so easy going that I can just dangle from the bars like a set of bicycle streamers as I plod away from a stop light. If I need to get up on the pegs to reduce the shock of hitting some pothole or pile of junk in the road, I don't want to have to haul myself up as if I'm laboring on an some weird exercise machine. I just want to be able to stand, like a normal person might, and feel comfortable doing it.

Maybe these two extreme riding position designs are where the "sport" and the "everyman" aspect of motorcycling conflict are dramatically illustrated. Clearly, the sportbike riding position requires a more athletic rider, at least a more flexible rider with working knees. Cruisers, on the other hand, feel accessible to folks who otherwise might be inclined to use handicapped parking spaces. Feeling accessible and being capable are not mutually inclusive concepts. At the other end of the design spectrum, a bike that feels aggressive and capable does not transfer those abilities to the rider any more than a modern professional baseball mitt turns a beginner into a Golden Gloves fielder.

The majority of the military's motorcycle fatalities have been on sportbikes. These are athletic young men, full of the sporting attitude and often coming down from the thrill of a high-risk lifestyle, but short on the necessary skill to manage the capabilities of their motorcycle. The majority of fatalities for the rest of the riding public appears to be older riders on large cruiser or touring bikes. Like the military sportbikers, the skill set is probably well below the capability of the motorcycle but the second class of motorcycles are dramatically less maneuverable.

Maneuverability and versatility are characteristics that many highway and in-town emergency situations require. In fact, riding a cruiser or loaded touring bike with skill requires a lot more ability than that needed to operate a more conventional motorcycle in a demanding situation. At the sportbike end of the design equation, controlling the rocket ship's throttle, keeping all traffic obstacles in view, and compensating for the limitations of a racebike suspension is no simple task.

Riding Denny's Vincent made all of that evident to me, in a few blocks. I am clearly not skilled enough to deal with the damn-the-consequences commitment the Egli Vincent requires. My last test ride on a cruiser proved that I'm not trusting enough to put myself at the whim and mercy of the road, nature, and Emma's SUV and her cell phone addiction. I, simply, cannot buy into that kind of faith in either my own skill or the rest of the world's benevolence. I have the usual guy's fear of all sorts of commitments, but very little scares me more than a motorcycle that demands that I jump headfirst into the void or a rolling Lazyboy that asks me to close my eyes and hope for the best.

July 2010

Jan 15, 2015

Hands Up?

I don't believe I've ever felt sympathy for a motorcycle before. What kind of tires do they put on this thing to keep lardass from over-pressuring the poor things? Love the squashed suspension look. Obviously a police department in La La Land where no physical requirements are necessary and cops are nothing more than overpaid tax collectors. This guy couldn't chase a criminal around a lunch table.

Jan 13, 2015

Guest Article: Tips for Riding a Motorcycle in Winter

Riding a motorcycle is such an exhilarating and spirit-freeing activity that riders desire to do it during all times of the year. Many riders are reluctant to lock their bikes in the garage for the winter. In fact, a true motorcycle enthusiast will try to ride during rain, harsh winds and other less-than-desirable conditions. Riding a motorcycle in winter is not an impossible task. However, the rider will want to take certain precautions to ensure that he or she receives the highest level of safety. One must make some adjustments to ride a motorcycle in the wintertime safely, just as one would make adjustments in a four-wheeled vehicle. The following are some tips for traveling safely during the cold months:

Wear Layered Clothing

Wearing extra layers of clothing is the first step in protecting oneself from conditions such as hypothermia. A rider will experience temperatures that are much colder than the actual temperatures are because of the increased wind. Cold weather can cause a dangerous drop in blood circulation. Therefore, a winter rider will want to purchase protective layers of clothing. Thermal undergarments, thickly lined gloves and additional sweatshirts are good items to wear to keep the heat trapped and the body temperature up. [If you’re serious about cold weather riding, blow some cash on electric gear and you’ll never ride without it. Heated grips are luxury. Geezer]

Make Sure the Tires Are in Good Condition

Motorcycle riders have an increased risk for sliding and falling because of the loss of traction when the ground gets cold. A safe rider can protect himself or herself by purchasing specialized tires for the winter season. Manufacturers such as Midas, Dunlop and Pirelli have a line of winter studded tires for motorcycles. Alternatively, riders can perform tire warm-up exercise before riding to warm up the tread on the existing tires. Taking turns accelerating and decelerating at a fast pace can increase the amount of heat to the tires. [Unfortunately, a lot of US states are hillbilly-stupid about studs. Minnesota, for example, says, “169.72 TIRE SURFACE; METAL STUDS . . . (c) Except as provided in this section, no tire on a vehicle moved on a highway shall have on its periphery any block, stud, flange, cleat, or spike or any other protuberances of any material other than rubber which projects beyond the tread of the traction surface of the tire.” The road salt and rusted vehicle proponents own the Rust Belt and regardless of how well studs work and how much money allowing their use would save the state in salt and road clearing expense, this isn’t likely to change. G]

Increase the Following Distance

Increasing following distance in the wintertime is a smart move for motorcycle riders as well as automobile drivers. A biker will want to give himself or herself additional time to stop in an emergency. The harshest conditions require a safe following distance of approximately 20-25 seconds. Five car lengths is a good distance during poor weather conditions, as well. Additionally, motorcycle riders will want to decrease their speed during poor conditions. Being late is always better than getting into an accident is. Wintertime riders should take a deep breath and take their time getting to their destinations.

Know When to Wrap It Up

Riders have to recognize when it is time to go home. Snowfall is an indicator of such a time. Winds that are stronger than 20 MPH are not ideal for a motorcycle rider either. Continuing the fun in less-than-perfect weather conditions is acceptable, but a motorcycle rider will want to use common sense. When the snow starts to fall, it is time to go home. The rider can always go back out when the snow and ice melts a few days later.

Increasing Defensive Driving Skills

Finally, increasing one's defensive riding skills is a good way to combat dangerous situations. A Compulsory Basic Training Course [the MSF Seasoned Rider Course, the Civilian Police Motorcycle Course, Lee Parks' Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic, etc. G] can provide a rider with the skills necessary to maneuver his or her bike accordingly. An experienced rider can benefit from the course, as well since there is always something additional that a person can learn. The CBT course teaches a rider about road rules, appropriate attire to wear for riding, confidence building, special motorcycle maneuvers and more. London CBT instructors can provide a wintertime rider with the skills necessary to last in the elements. Prospective riders can book their lessons using an easy online process or by making a direct call [True in the UK and the US. So, do it. G].

Author: Nida Jaffery

“At London Motorcycle Training we make learning to ride a motorcycle or scooter easy for you. We are fully authorised by the Driving Standard Agency to train you to ride and we provide full Motorcycle training and CBT courses in central London locations.

“Visit us at http://www.londoncbttraining.co.uk/ and book your CBT Course online today!”

Jan 12, 2015

#90 Too Dumb to Scoot

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

"For Sale: 1984 Yamaha Riva 180cc Scooter "This is an unusually well-preserved 25-year-old scooter. The original owner kept it in storage in his basement for 20 years before deciding he no longer needed it. He'd stored it on blocks, with the tank drained, and the battery removed. I bought it last year for my wife (who decided she didn't want it), cleaned up the carb a bit, installed a new battery, and it has sat in the back of my garage ever since. I've taken it out for short test rides, twice, since I rode it home. The scooter has only been ridden 458 miles in 25 years!

"The body has a few scratches, all from the previous owner hauling it up and down his basement stairs. It is roomy enough for two, including extremely comfortable passenger pegs and a large seat. Everything on the bike works. It's very cold-blooded and requires some careful throttle operation until it warms up. Once it's warm, it has loads of power. I weigh 200lbs and it will haul me along at 55mph without much effort. The tank is clean and rust-free. The tires look good, are unweather-checked, but old. It looks and runs like a bike that has barely been broken in."

That was my Craig's List ad from last fall. Two days after running the ad, the scooter was long gone and scooters were out of my life forever. There was nothing wrong with the scooter that a couple hours of loving care and carburetor cleaning wouldn't have fixed. After I worked on it at the end of the previous season, it ran like a champ after a couple of blocks warm-up. In fact, it probably ran too well for my limited mental capacity.

The problem is/was that I'm not bright enough to take scooters seriously. I take some consolation in the fact that I'm a long ways from alone, when it comes to scooter idiocy. Based on what I see on the road, nobody takes scooters seriously. When I visit my grandkids near Dinkytown and UofM, I see dozens of supposedly intelligent, supposedly-educated young scooterists blasting around town practically bare naked. Scooter protective gear appears to be a backwards baseball cap, flip-flops, shorts, a tee-shirt and a sweater tied around their waist, and a backpack stuffed with a Mac laptop and a bunch of college-kid-crap. On the rare instance when you see a helmet on a scooter pilot, even more of the rider's body will be exposed as if to apologize for the helmet.

The other day I saw a pair of kids on a scooter, both were wearing helmets. The guy was shirtless and his passenger's halter-top was so small and thin that I think I got flashed as they rode past. It was nice of her to give an old guy a peek, but I hate to think of what the paramedics are going to have to look at.

The last time I put the Yamaha scooter on the road, was early in the spring the year after I'd done a little carb work. When I finished the work the prevous fall, I started it up, blipped the throttle a couple of times and let it idle a while to run Stabil through the system, and put the scooter away for the winter. One Saturday afternoon the following spring, I was working on my bikes and decided I needed to make a parts run.

The scooter was there. It fired right up. I jumped on, wearing sunglasses and my garage mechanic outfit: you guessed it, sandals, shorts, and a tee-shirt. But I was only going a few blocks, right? I got the parts, came home, emptied the parts out of the scooter's tailpack, and decided to "test" my scooter repairs a little more by going out to grab lunch. As I was sailing around Gervais Lake, it occurred to me that, "I'm freakin' naked on this thing."

I could have turned back to gear up like a real motorcyclist, but I had absolutely no feeling that I was on anything but a toy and, therefore, had no need for real motorcycle gear. The 180 Riva will comfortably do 55mph. I can tell you from bicycle experience that falling on asphalt at 5mph will shuck your corn. Falling at 55mph, "protected" by your underwear, from a hippobike, any kind of motorcycle, a 180cc step-through scooter, or a bicycle will remove skin all the way down to the bone. Still, there is nothing in my experience that convinces me that a scooter--a vehicle that you sit on like a lawnchair, feet in front and resting on a platform, with a foot brake and an automatic transmission--is a "real motorcycle." I get the same not-a-real-motorcycle impression riding a cruiser with floorboards. That riding position feels so . . . goofy, that I can not take it seriously. If the little Riva could have done 90mph, I'd have felt the same about the hazard it presented.

So, I did the thing that any dumbass should do when said dumbass discovers he isn't bright enough to deal with reality, I decided to remove the temptation. Of course, I know scooters don't kill morons, morons kill morons. However, a moron with a scooter is damned likely to get killed.

I gave my wife 60 days to get her learner's permit, if she didn't put that much effort into wanting to ride the damn thing, I planned on selling it before it killed me. She had a zillion excuses for not getting the permit, but we both knew she didn't really want to ride the poor little Riva. The idea of it was cool, but the reality was scarier and more work than it was worth. The deadline passed, no permit. We talked it over, she didn't really want to ride the scooter on public roads.

The scooter went on Craig's List the day after my 61st birthday. It was my birthday present to myself. The way I looked at it, selling the scooter increased the chances that I'd see my 62nd birthday by a factor of some-really-big-number.

June 2010

Jan 7, 2015

Book Review: Motorcyclists Legal Handbook: How to handle legal situations from the mundane to the insane

by Pat Hahn, 2011
All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

mlh

    This was a particularly fun book for me to read and review because Pat is a good friend and someone who's opinion and research I trust, almost without question. The book arrived on a Monday and I came home about 9PM to discover it in my mailbox. On the way from the mailbox to the kitchen, I learned something from skimming through its pages. Did you know that the speed "limit" below yellow curve warnings are "advisory" and don't carry the weight of law? Yeah? Well I didn't and either did at least one cop who gave me a warning for blowing off those idiotic, overly-paranoid "suggestions' on an Idaho mountain road.
    Pat takes us through the laws and rules states and individual police apply to riders, most of which are actual laws and some of which are made up on the scene (the "one or both feet down" for a full stop rule, for instance). I'd recommend this as a reference manual for all you Iron Butt'ers.
    There are some statistical anomalies, such as "In the city, the ratio of drivers to law enforcement officers than it is in the sticks." He means in small towns vs. big cities, but when you are really "in the sticks" the ratio is a divide-by-zero equation. In a couple hundred thousand miles of off-pavement road travel, I have yet to see a single law enforcement vehicle doing anything. The "Staying Under the Radar" chapter has excellent information regarding required equipment from state-to-state. The list of things to do to avoid collecting officialdom's interest and things to do when you have attracted their attention is practical, concise, and entertaining. Pat takes us through the whole process of getting a ticket dismissed, reduced, or tossed out of court for a variety of technical and legal reasons. For a guy who has made a lot of his career in government service, Pat is very clear on the court's real purpose, to take your money. This section, "Fighting A Ticket," includes a terrific assortment of phrases and detailed arguments you might use with a cop, a prosecutor, or in court to save your money and driving record. This section, alone, justifies the book's $22 list price.
    The last 115 pages of this 237 page book contains a state-by-state detailed analysis of the states' motorcycle laws, the overall "rideability," and a comprehensive list of the pertinent motorcycle issues for the states (helmet laws, eye protection, insurance, traffic situation rules, etc.). A lot of useful state-specific data is contained in this concise and detailed section. If you consider wearing a head-napkin and ass-less chaps AGAT, it would be valuable to know which states are going to be less impressed with your pancake-lady impersonation. Some states have laws outlawing reasonable experienced motorcyclists' regular practices.
    The Legal Handbook book cleverly points out inconsistencies in state law and downright insanities (called "erratics") that are obvious things to watch out for as a visitor. Wisconsin law, for example, states that exhaust noise can not be louder than OEM equipment. Wisconsin does not honor state reciprocity, which means the state does not guarantee equal treatment of residents and non-residents. Anyone who has been to Wisconsin knows that the percentage of local riders with OEM-quiet exhaust systems is well-under 1%. If Wisconsin ever enforces the exhaust noise law, it will be enforced on non-residents. Colorado, Denver in particular, is downright hostile toward the loud pipes crowd. Colorado also has an assortment of laws punishing coasting (I didn't know that and I lived in Denver for 5 years.). The Legal Handbook gives you a head's up on who is who in the crazy motorcycle law department.
    The Motorcyclists Legal Handbook is a quick read. I went from cover-to-cover in a short afternoon, including reading all of the state analysis. It is both entertaining and enlightening, but it's real value is as a part of interstate travel planning. When you are crossing several state borders, a quick look through these 237 pages could save you time and money. If you happen to be tangled up in the legal system, Motorcyclists Legal Handbook could be the best investment you can make to untangle yourself.

NOTE: Sorry, this book doesn’t qualify for the Geezer Giveaway. I reviewed Pat’s book in 2012 and received an autographed copy with a particularly kind note and I’ll keep this one until I’m dust.









Frozen In

It is, officially, winter in Minnesota. This morning my outside thermometer squeaked out –13oF before signing off and heading for Jamaica. My lawyer is lounging on a cruise boat somewhere infinitely warmer than Minnesota. My old RV is hiding in Georgia or Florida. Even some of my test equipment, microphones, and two guitars have abandoned me for warmer places. Life is all about choices and the choice we made to buy a house in Red Wing vs. escaping Minnesota’s winter for the second time in 19 years is wearing on me a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like the house and Red Wing but I like winter less every year. Even our dog has decided she doesn’t like going outdoors anytime the temperature is below 20oF. This is a new thing for her. Two years ago, she’d ask to go outside all winter long and would stay in the backyard guarding the pear and apple trees from deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other predators for hours regardless of temperature. We’d watch her roll around to cool off in two feet of snow on a –20oF day and she didn’t seem to notice the cold at all. One winter in New Mexico and she’s done with it all. Yesterday, when the sun was out and the noon high crawled up to 10oF, I took her for a walk. She made it about two blocks away from the house and started doing her “carry me” routine; the one she developed in New Mexico when she’d stumble on to a patch of goatheads. Hopping along with one foot, then another, in the air she’d soldier on as if she thought she’d be letting me down if we turned back. We turned back and immediately she was happily plowing through the snow hauling on the leash as if I needed assistance. Once we were home, she went inside and curled up on our bed. I stayed outside a while shoveling the driveway and front porch and doing a little organizing in my new garage.

There is some kind of lesson here, I guess. Maybe “don’t skip a Minnesota winter or you’ll never be able to tolerate one again?”

Jan 5, 2015

#89 Something I Can Fix

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

The "Right-to-Repair Bill," House Bill 228 and Senate Bill 124, is all about requiring manufacturers to design and build products that can be serviced locally. If you have any interested in knowing what's going on inside and outside of your vehicle, you might want to encourage your representatives to endorse this bill. If we miss this moment, the chances are good that future generations of motorcycle enthusiasts will be clueless about the technology between their legs.

I'm regularly tagged for my dislike of the biker old-guy gangbanger crowd and I don't feel any great loss from my lack of empathy with that bunch. When I hung out with the Vincent owners biker gang, I got a taste of a different kind of old-guys-on-weird-motorcycles image. Many of the Vincent owners are guys who can fix anything that goes wrong with their strange motorcycle of choice. Anything. Some of these guys are so good with that era's technology that they can built an engine from a chunk of aluminum stock and enough iron to cast a set of pistons and valves. That kind of mechanical skill is a vanishing commodity in our culture.

My day job puts me in the midst of the disposable digital revolution. My business used to be driven by guys in white coats who not only knew how the equipment worked, but could build substantial pieces of necessary equipment when required. The great thing about digitalization of all things artistic is that the media for creativity is affordable for practically anyone with a moderate income. The not-so-great thing is that the technical skill required for basic understanding and maintenance of the tools of the trade is growing more unobtainable with every update in the technology.

At one time, it was all but impossible for someone to make a living as a recording engineer without also having considerable technical skills. You had to maintain a professional tape deck, for starters. The gear had a bunch of moving parts, was usually exposed to clouds of cigarette smoke and occasional floods of beer and the usual rock and roll stimulants, and it would all last for decades if it was well looked after. But you had to know something about the equipment to make it do anything useful.

Today, you buy a box, a computer, some software, and you're a recording studio. A Mac and Garageband can do more musical damage than most experts could manage with an orchestra and a million dollar studio. One problem with technology that has such a low entry price and a short learning curve is that it doesn't inspire as many users to become true experts in the field. However, the gear we use today will not last for decades and it can't be realistically maintained. Packing 25 pounds of crap into a 5 pound bag means that the bag will wear out a lot faster than previous, less tightly-packed, generations of bags.

The components that naturally degenerate are going to degenerate much faster than the same parts' deterioration rate in equipment of the past. It's not a big deal, because the stuff is so cheap and becomes obsolete so quickly that replacement is more practical than repair. The throw-away culture has taken root in all sorts of technologies. Last year's super computer is this year's landfill. Perfectly serviceable cars and trucks are called "junkers." Tools that once lasted for decades are all but rubble about the time we learn how to use them.

A lot of motorcycling old guys are hung up on the idea that they understand how the old bikes work and can repair them. That is an admirable goal and a worthwhile reason to hang on to the last century's technology. Ideally, we'd move on with the times and retain the ability to fix equipment built currently. That is an unusual trait in old guys. Most of us passed through our creative, educable prime when we were teenagers and in our early 20's. From then on, we clung to what we'd learned as if it would remain state-of-the art forever. Now we're old, stuck in our ways, pretending the old stuff is the good stuff and doing our best to ignore the last half-century's improvements in performance, quality, and reliability.

On the manufacturing end of things, companies appear to be doing their best to wipe out owner-serviceable products. If the old guys of the future are going to have anything to brag about, modern mechanics are going to have to figure out the newer, more complicated, precision gadgets and they are going to have to be able to fix them. Tomorrow's engineers are today's young mechanics and hotrodders. If they are deprived of access to the technology of their time, we might find ourselves in even worse technological shape than we are today.

Check out the Right to Repair Coalition at http://www.righttorepair.org/. If you care about retaining access to the guts of your motorcycle and other vehicles, now is the time to say something about it.

MMM May 2010

Jan 4, 2015

The World's Coolest Guy

Guy Martin and the Pikes Peak Challenge.
In my opinion, Guy Martin wins the "World's Coolest Guy" award (pun intended). This film is a great way to burn up an hour on a sub-zero January day in Minnesota (or where ever you're hanging out).

Dec 30, 2014

Going around, Coming Around

Last August, I wrote a bit about "following distance" (Following Distance and Me) that included a sad bit about an MSF student who disliked everything about our harping on the hazards of motorcycling. She hated helmets, riding gear, paying attention to other students on the range (and had to be pulled aside a couple of times and warned that "any more of that crap and you're outta here"), and pretty much anything that didn't have to do with making her look cool on a motorcycle. To my disgust, she squeaked through the license test at the end of the course with the dead (literally) minimum of riding skills and pretty much thumbed her nose at us as she swaggered away after getting her permit stamped and blowing off a warning that she was not even close to a good enough rider to survive on the road. It didn't take her long to prove the coaches right. For a few weeks she was big news since her mother tried to make her death someone else's fault in the press. When that failed, she shifted to blaming the hazards of motorcycling and tried to focus attention on how awful two wheels are, statistically. That's probably always going to be a popular tactic.

A couple of weeks ago, we were looking for quotes on windows for our new house and one of the salesmen turned out to be that kid's brother. It wasn't the experience you might have expected. Apparently, he helped pick out her Kawasaki 250R, hoping the superior brakes and mild engine might help keep her alive. She, of course, wanted a R6 or a 650, but he managed to damp that insanity at the dealership. He, however, absolutely disagreed with his mother that his sister had any business on a motorcycle. She was a train wreak in a car, on a bicycle, and on foot and was convinced that the laws of physics did not apply to her superior being. He, on the other hand, was on his way to Iraq and didn't have a lot of leverage.

It was a really uncomfortable conversation for me. My feeling for her family and for her created a sad mix of Darwinism and sympathy. Motorcycles, regardless of the stupid crap the MSF/MIC wildly hope, are not for everyone. It's one thing to buy one and a whole different thing to ride one well enough to survive traffic.

Dec 29, 2014

#88 Getting Back

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

Late in the summer of 2008, I rode to Nova Scotia. It was my first trip, on any vehicle, east. In 60 years as an American, other than some business flights to New York in the 70's that only allowed a view inside a factory, the only "east" I'd seen was Florida and Ohio; and the points in-between here and Ohio. On this trip, I looped the Great Lakes, out on the Canadian side and back on the US.

Altogether, I put on about 5900 miles in 20 days, including a 4 day semi-stationary interlude in Nova Scotia with my wife. I also hung out with friends in New York and friends in Cleveland for two days each. It wasn't a mile-pounding trip, like the previous year's trip to Alaska. Counting the days off, I averaged about 295 miles a day.

However, the days off were the days that meant the most in many of my memories of the trip. As time dillutes the memories of back-roads in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and the grand views of Nova Scotia's Cabot Trail, the stationary moments take on even more meaning. This is probably just me, your mileage differs, I expect.

It is the people I met, the places I savored, and the things I learned about the places I traveled that stick with me. The pure mile-covering fact that I rode somewhere, met some people, and burned their fuel will wither away into faint recollections. At one that summer, I almost canned the whole idea of riding across the northeastern portion of our continent on my 650 and replaced it with a North Dakota tour on my my 250. I hadn't yet worked out the 250's fuel capacity problems or the more "pressing" seat design, so that option never really gained traction. However, carrying minimal gear and really exploring a place foreign to me has an even stronger appeal after my second long tour. A year earlier, I did a bit more than 10,000 miles in 26 days. in 2008, 5900 in 20.

Before that, my longest motorcycle trips were 4,000 miles in ten days and a collection of 1,000-2,500 mile trips in five to ten days. It's a luxury to have 30 days to play around with. I'm lucky to have stumbled into this point in my life when I can gamble with security and time and still have some sort of employment to come home to at the end of the trip. I gave up a lot of money for this flexibility, but it was worth the tradeoff. In fact, I wouldn't consider returning to the corporate life for any amount of money.

Ok, that's sort of a lie. If I were offered the kind of cash that would require a short commitment to provide security for the rest of my life, I'd probably sell out, again. I am an American, after all.

All my life, I've known that "money is time," not the reverse. Before committing to my current life, it was only a theory that I desperately wanted to believe. Now I know that people who believe that "time is money" are boring types who desperately need a hobby or three. Anyone who thinks money has value outside of the time it can buy for adventures, time with friends and family, and time to relax and enjoy life is someone I don't want to waste my time on. A pile of money is a poor exchange for life. I have way too many hobbies and way too little time. Most likely I will never have much money, but I can always remember what I did with the time my money bought me. I have no good memories of actually earning that money.

Traveling at even the modest pace of 300 miles a day doesn't leave much time to meet people, learn about local history, see the important attractions, and absorb a little of the culture. If you're on the gas, averaging 50mph, you're barely slowing down to see the landmarks if you're on the road 6-8 hours a day. You aren't spending enough time anywhere to have a decent conversation, let alone get to know anyone. The difference between traveling by cage vs. a motorcycle is as dramatic as covering miles vs. taking time to get to know a place. I think there is a place for both. Before I'd taken my first trip west, I didn't have any idea what I might like out there. Once I'd made my first tour of the western states, I began to get an idea of what I wanted to see more of. The same went for traveling east. None of the eastern cities have any draw for me, but that's mostly true for cities as a group. Having traveled through a fair bit of the east, I found a lot to like about parts of New York and most of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Quebec, and all of Nova Scotia. So, I want to go back and see more of those places someday soon.

In 2009, I made my first trip "back" after the original exploration trip. To and from Alaska, I blasted through a good bit of North Dakota. I liked a lot of what I saw there and decided to do it again a lot slower. Friends told me, "You're gonna hate North Dakota." But they were wrong.

North Dakota is not Kansas, although a big chunk of the northeast section of the state is at least as boring and industrial. Industrial farming has not made a total conquest of North Dakota, owing to the rugged topology of the west and general lack of water resources to violate for the God of Corn. The southeastern corner of the state has its share of corporate farming, but it also has the Sheyenne River Valley. The collection of state roads that make up the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway are among the coolest, most interesting roads I've ever traveled. Due to technical problems with my intended ride on this trip, my 250 Kawasaki Super Sherpa, I didn't spend as much time on the Sheyenne trail as I'd intended. That gives me a wonderful excuse to go back and do it all again. I didn't cover nearly as much of the southwestern corner of North Dakota as I'd planned, which leaves me another opportunity. I can't imagine spending too much time in Teddy Roosevelt's namesake national park. I hit most of the historical sites in Bismarck, but that city has a music scene that I didn't slow down long enough to experience. I chose exploring the Canadian boarder over the North Dakota/Minnesota boarder, so I'm still a stranger to Grand Forks and I've barely skirted Fargo.

The parts of Alaska and Canada that I skipped over the first time, California and Oregon's northeastern mountain towns, and all of the southeastern portion of the United States are still on my list of places-to-go, but it's nice to have a collection of targets within easy reach. If you can't travel far, travel slow and near and poke a hole in your comfort zone the easy way. If I'd have listened to advice about North Dakota, I'd might never be able to say I have ridden a Vincent, enjoyed a three-hour pre-Columbian-to-Custer history lesson from Mandan historian, cruised a motorcycle through a herd of buffalo, or spent a night in the over-grown town park of a completely abandoned town. All stories that hold as much meaning to me as remembering the rides to Alaska and Nova Scotia.

April 2010

Dec 22, 2014

First Day of My Life

“Everyday is the first day of the rest of your life,” right? I’ve heard that phrase for so long I’m not sure when it first popped into popular culture. Being the glass-half-empty kind of guy I am, I’ve had more of an “everyday gets you one step closer to the end” perspective for most of my 66 years. But this could be the start of something really new and different.

IMG_6585For the first time in my life, I have an actual office with a door and a bit of acoustic isolation and enough privacy to think about writing a lot. In other words, all of my excuses for not writing are gone. It’s not a perfect world, because my wife is about 60% hearing impaired. So, unless I’m up and writing at 5AM I am cursed to need background music to mask the blaring sound of television coming through the floor and HVAC vents. That’s not much of a hardship, though. I have a large music collection and Pandora fills in the blank spaces. The office also houses the remainder of my recording studio gear, so the sound quality is excellent although the room acoustics aren’t up to my old studio’s standards. Still, I’m not complaining.

This morning, I knocked out two Geezer column submissions (for MMM and the new Rider’s Digest) and added 1500 words to a book I’ve been putting off for years. Today is the first day this new office was fully furnished, organized, cleaned up, and property lit. Could be the start of something brand new for me?

#87 Getting Parked

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

[When I was still looking for a "career," I made a couple of my Geezer rants into video productions. This was one of them and my brilliant grandson, Wolfgang, animated a short section of the video. It might still be out there in YouTube land.]

The weekend before this year's Ride to Work Day, I enjoyed lunch with Andy Goldfine on a beautiful spring day in Duluth. As usual, we got wrapped up in a discussion about motorcycles. In particular, motorcycle parking, inspired by stuffing three motorcycles into a single parking space near the restaurant. In most cities, putting more than one scrawny motorcycle in a metered space is a serious crime, regardless of the fact that a half-dozen bikes might reasonably fit in that space.

The parking meter turned 70 in 2005. As you might have guessed, it was invented by an evil Oklahoma "genius" named Carl Magee. (I would have guessed his name would be "Magoo," but I was wrong.) The constitutionality of parking meters has been challenged several times with several conflicting conclusions. The economic effect of meters has been successfully challenged by surburban malls all over the country and it is depressing that this evidence has been ignored for more than 50 years. A simple modification of the rules to reflect modern vehicles and to encourage downtown activity is long overdue.

For example, San Francisco and much of California have no bridge tolls for motorcycles during rush hour.  Motorcycle parking is permitted on sidewalks in many areas.  Multiple bikes in a metered space is permitted.  At municipal ramps, motorcycles pay a lower rate than cars. Of course, the state allows filtering and lane-splitting. San Francisco is a famous motorcycle destination and the city enjoys substantial income from motorcycle tourism.

The U.K.'s most congested city, London, is even more liberally inclined toward cycles and scooters. Two-wheeled vehicles are granted free parking city-wide, free access to bus lanes, and receive a pass on the access fee cagers pay to get into the city's center. When public transportation is on strike or downed by terrorists or power grid failures, cyclists of all sorts are the only people still able to freely move about to get the city's business done. In fact, cycles are a critical part of traffic planning in practically every major European and Asian city.

The motivation for parking space law is financial, since parking meters provide an obvious income source for the city. The more spaces they can meter, the more work they generate for themselves, the more "jobs" they create, and the more buildings they need to build to house themselves. With that limited worldview, parking meters make sense. A drive through downtown St. Paul (and most major city downtown areas) after 5PM or on any weekend will demonstrate the flaw in that argument. If you can find any sign of life in the city during those time periods, avoid it. It could be a zombie, vampire, panhandler, or a a lonely, pissed-off metermaid. The only "safe distance" is a long distance.

An alternative parking plan could be one that encourages social and economic activity in the city. All of those empty municipal parking lots and spaces could be used to park vehicles which could be used to transport people and their money near downtown businesses. The more vehicles, the more people and money. Crazy, right? Why would a city try to mimic the tactic that suburban businesses used to draw customers away from cities?

With motorcycles, if more than one vehicle is in a metered space the administrative problem is who gets the ticket when the parking meter expires? If this is the toughest decision a mayor and city manager have to deal with, why are these full-time positions?

The solution is simple. There are two alternatives:
  1. When several motorcycles are occupying a space with an expired meter, ticket them all. Any moron cheap and lazy enough to depend on "the kindness of strangers" to pay for his parking deserves a $25 parking ticket.
  2. Ticket the vehicle closest to the meter, equating proximity with responsibility. This would create opportunities for strategic parking tactics adding to the downtown adventure. Sort of like a mini-low-speed theme park attraction, with the participants trying to find ways to legally park within the boundaries of the space and furthest from the meter.

The other problem is limiting the number of vehicles in a space to allow for safe and uncomplicated access and exit of the space. I offer the following suggestions:
  1. A maximum of four (4) motorcycles, parked with the rear tire against the curb, in a parallel parking space.
  2. Two (2) motorcycles backed into the space and staggered with sufficient space from the parking lines to allow unrestricted clearance for adjacent vehicle doors and space for movement around the motorcycles for both riders.

While we're at it, I can't think of a good reason why a pair of Smart cars, Suzuki Altos, or Kia Souls can't share a parallel parking space with the same rules that might apply to motorcycles. If they can provide each other with enough room to exit the space, why not? Encouraging efficient small cars would be a benefit to the city and the world. Obviously, a smarter option is to absolve cycles of parking meter obligations altogether. Encouraging the low energy, low real estate usage, high mobility characteristics of two-wheel vehicles is the smart, modern tactic for any city trying to solve congestion and economic problems.

March 2010

Dec 15, 2014

#86 My Kind of Market

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

About 30 years ago, I worked for a small "acquire and mangle" company in Omaha (Sort of a mini-Bain Capital run by three min-Mitt Romneys.). The business plan was to buy companies that made decent products, "turn them around" so that the acquisition company's managers could milk the maximum profit in the minimum time, and sell what was left to the next set of suckers before the cooked books could no longer hide the damage done. One of the companies we bought was owned by a semi-retired engineer who told me "the secret of a successful retirement." He said the trick is to find a product or business that had past its prime, but still had customers with money to spend. For an engineer, the perfect market would be some sort of technology that was approaching obsolescence but still had a core of affluent customers. In that market, a business will have a predictable cash flow and minimal competition and a reasonable business lifetime.

For example, the business my employer bought from this engineer made high voltage coil testing equipment. That product was, and probably still is, in steady demand from transformer and electric motor and generator manufacturers and high-end users, like power plants and heavy machinery. However, building and testing that kind of equipment required manufacturing exposure to extremely dangerous voltage and current. Larger companies tend to shy away from products that occasionally fry assembly workers and customers. So, those constraints resulted in no competition and an exorbitant profit margin. His product was so consistently profitable that even the characters I worked for couldn't screw up the business--and these were some seriously talented MBA-types who normally had no problem busting bowling balls in padded rooms. Two years after I left, they sold that one division to a much larger company for a reasonable profit.

Since that career moment, I've kept my eye open for that kind of product or business. The older I get, the more interested I become in self-employment (especially if I can ever figure out how to avoid doctors and hospitals). I've identified a few of this sort of business opportunity in thirty years since I met that insightful engineer.

One of the first examples that I spotted was practically anything related to high-end bicycles. On a trip to the old Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Week, I stumbled on a custom bike builder brazing together a titanium frame road bike for a wealthy, overweight (saw his picture), middle-aged wanna-imagine-myself-a-bicycle-racer. This custom bike was going to cost the rich customer $10,000! Yeah, it had top-of-the-line components. True, the paint job was really cool. More importantly, the builder got to spend two months working on one bike and he made a good living doing it.

I picked up a bicycling magazine in that shop and read a three page article about how to blow snot while bicycling; how to use a "farmer's Kleenex" without getting it on your expensive Lycra. I realized that any customer-base dumb enough to need that kind of assistance with what ought to be an animal response is my kind of customers. I've kept bicycle crap in mind, ever since.

If you don't believe me, check out a high end bicycle shop. Look at the $2,000-10,000 bicycles and explain to me how a 22 pound bicycle can cost as much as a liter sportsbike. Better yet, look at bicycle helmets. Those things are as low-tech as a motorcycle faceshield and, yet, a "decent" bicycle helmet can easily set you back $100-250. There is no way a bicycle helmet has even a fraction of the manufacturing/liability costs of a motorcycle helmet, but even with a much larger customer base bicycle helmets' retail price is in the same ballpark. Bicyclists are clearly a total sucker market, but that is so obvious that everybody wants a piece of it and bicycles are unlikely to "approach obsolescence."

More directly in my line of sight has been audiophile products. A company like Mapleshade will give you an idea of how many crazy, over-priced products are possible in that realm. This guy sells a 15" x12" block of maple for $300 and it is intended to be a stand for a power amplifier! Now we're talking about a business aimed at complete whackos. Whackos with $300 to spend on $30 worth of wood. There are so many crazy products in the Mapleshade catalog that I wouldn't know where to begin creating competition for this dude. That's not a bad problem to be stuck with.

Two years ago, at least a couple of sections of the motorcycling market were ripe for this kind of marketeering. The guys who sold $100 billet aluminum foot pegs for cheese-burners, for example. Why do you need a lighter foot peg on an underpowered 800+ pound motorcycle? How many things are wrong with a foot peg shaped like a spike? How about the characters peddling stick-on faux $350 "works" carbon fiber tank covers? Sure, the real "works" riders glue crap to their steel tanks to make them lighter. For the yuppie "adventurer tourist," at least a couple of companies sell spray-on dirt products, one of which is "a bottle of real Shropshire mud" for the owners of dual-purpose bikes that see the same adventurous use as 99.99% of the world's SUVs. You can spray this crap on your $80,000 Range Rover or $125,000 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, too. Obviously, no sane person would ever take one of those finicky rattletraps off-road. Whether a sane person would buy a Range Rover is another question.

In today's wreaked economy, I'm questioning the viability of some of those products. When 15% of us are out of work and 360,000 of our homes are in foreclosure and 20% of the properties listed for sale are bank-listed, I suspect that hippo-lightening and fake mud is not at the forefront of many consumer's minds. Fluffy, pointless products don't sell in times of depression. So, I'm back to scanning the mid-tech business world for something practical with limited competition, moderate setup-costs, and wealthy customers.

Bummer.

It's just as well, though. I've always suspected that I needed a cool Italian last name or upper-crust British accent to sell audiophile gear. Not many rich guys are silly enough to buy a racing bicycle from a fat guy who clearly couldn't out-petal a Hoveround. There is still the motorcycle market, but I wonder if I could sell that stuff without laughing? It takes a lot of self-control to take advantage of P.T. Barnum's marketing advice, "There's a sucker born every minute" or H.L. Menken's observation, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." Just ask any banker. There's a reason that bankers live with a perpetual scowl, though. You have to make an effort to keep from laughing in the faces of your intended victims.

Winter 2009

Dec 12, 2014

The Price of Being Bought

I recently stumbled into and out of a classic senile geezer situation, a high pressure, in-my-home sales pitch that, eventually, overwhelmed my resistance and stuck me, temporarily, with a lousy deal. Lucky for me, Minnesota has a 3-day cooling off period that allows consumers to bail out of bad deals after they’ve had a chance to review it. The thing that tripped my investigation trigger was something the salesman said about his company late in his pitch. He mentioned that his employer had been “was the 74th largest remodeling company in the nation and had been selected as one of the top 500 by Qualified Remodeler Magazine.” Having written for a variety of magazines in a variety of industries for 50 years, early the next morning I decided to check out that recommendation. As you might expect, Qualified Remodeler Magazine is an ad-rag containing no actual useful information, no critical reviews, and that magazine’s “recommendations” are purely for hire.

The whole world of media reviews is equally screwed up and, as a result, has about as much credibility as 1950’s used car salesmen. My daughter recently discovered that a book review magazine/website, Kirkus Reviews, charges over $400 to “review” a book. The book reviewing “process” is pretty disgusting and about as cynical as a current Supreme Court decision, “Standard (7-9 weeks) $425.00, Express (4-6 weeks) $575.00.” Once you have the review in hand, “If you choose to publish your review on our website, we will distribute it to our licensees, including Google, BN.com, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and more. On top of that, our editors will consider it for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, which is read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. Your review may also be selected to be featured in our email newsletter, which is distributed to more than 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.” That’s how book reviews work in the Brave New World of “opinions for hire.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise. At least five members of the highest court in the land made it clear they don’t believe that money and power corrupt. Of course, their personal levels of corruption makes a pretty good argument against that opinion. The Sticky-Fingered Five never met a conflict of interest they couldn’t profit from. Judge Kennedy summed up that level of crazy with his statement,”We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Not only is justice blind, she’s become pretty stupid and really corrupt.

If everything you read is a paid political/commercial announcement, where do you get information you can trust? That’s a tough call, but word-of-mouth is gaining a whole new level of clout. The Better Business Bureau was the first real information I got on my home improvement characters. Since they weren’t BBB “accredited,” there were limits to the information available by that route, but what was there was bad. Organizations like Angie’s List are where lots of consumers go for opinions from their neighbors. So far, the low fee ($10/year) for Angie’s List membership seems like a deal. There are pseudo-sites, like HomeAdvisor, that pretend to be a free version of Angie’s List but they are just paid referral services. In fact, HomeAdvisor.com is how I got hooked up with my latest snake oil salesmen. I’m not sure how much research goes into ensuring that their rules are obeyed, but when you submit a review you do have to pledge, “I confirm that the information contained in this Service Evaluation Form (i) is true and accurate and (ii) represents my actual first-hand experience, or experience which I am authorized to discuss.  I acknowledge and understand my responsibilities under the Angie's List Membership Agreement, and that Angie's List is relying upon the accuracy of the information in order to serve other members.  I confirm that I do not work for, am not in competition with, and am not in any way related to the service provider in this review.” That, of course, wouldn’t keep a “reviewer for hire” from writing a glowing review of a lousy service, but it would be expensive to try to overwhelm real reviews with that tactic. Likewise, a lot of products are well-covered in Amazon.com’s customer reviews. In fact, a lot of manufacturers, publishers, record labels, and importers use Amazon.com’s reviews as the bulk of their marketing. This pair of customer reviews for the WR250X skid plate from Moose Pro is pretty typical: short, sweet, and informative.

In short, consumers are all in this together, since the forces of media, power, money, and influence are against us. However, we have the numbers, the information outlets, and they won’t be rich if we don’t buy their shit.

Dec 11, 2014

Confluence or About Time?

Once again my MMM editor, Guido Ebert, picked an article from my slush pile, “The Trouble with Being the Solution to A Big Problem” for the 2014-2015 Winter issue that I never expected to see in print. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on the stands at your local motorcycle dealer or parts house in the Cities and elsewhere this week. The article explores the answer to the question, "Why would highway planners make any accommodations for a vehicle that contributes less than 0.001% to commuter traffic but 15% of fatalities?" The answer is, even to motorcycle manufacturers, obvious but painful and beyond the average MBA’s ability to find an easy, non-functional, answer. (So far in my meager 66 years I’ve yet to see an MBA provide a useful answer to question. The only people I put lower on my totem pole of respect are politicians and marketing morons.) My editor is a pretty serious motorcycling true believer, so selecting this article from a collection of considerably less agitating essays was a statement. Before one of the guys who subscribes to this list, Paul Young, sent me this article about the catastrophic hit the MSF took in California this month (Is A Sea Change Coming to New-Rider Motorcycle Training?), I was a little confused about Guido’s motivation.

The breaking news is “Total Control Training will take over the CSMP from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) starting January 1, 2015. The class is administered by the California Highway Patrol, and is a major gateway for new riders in the Golden State — roughly 65,000 new motorcyclists take the CSMP each year, at 120 sites.” As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation?

On the closer-to-home front, Wisconsin is diving head-first into the new MSF BRC program and the unintended (I suspect) consequences has been a fair amount of instructor dropout (8 of 12 “passed” the instructor training in a recent class and “several” opted to quit teaching after looking at the course preparation material). A surprising (to me) number of instructors decided the hassle and lack of value-added to learning and teaching the new curriculum was not worth their time and effort. The CHP, apparently, agreed that the MSF program was not providing the impact on motorcycle fatalities expected for the money being spent and has decided to try Lee Park’s Total Control version of the BRC. The world is watching.

Dec 9, 2014

Another One Splits Lanes and We Still Can’t

In Road and Track on-line, Chris Cantle wrote about his California experiences splitting lanes, “Lane splitting will change your life, not end it.” He writes, “It's good for everyone: For those comfortable in their cars, the lane splitting motorcycle cruising past is one less vehicle between the front bumper and their destination. You can fit two motorcycles in the footprint of one small car. It's easy math. For the rider, the reward is being nearly impervious to congestion. My fellow lane-splitting riders in Los Angeles and San Francisco will back this up, as they regularly and safely trim hours off of long distance commutes.”

I agree. I miss lane splitting a lot and constantly have to squash the inclination to filter to the front of a line of cars while we’re all waiting for a light to change. It is, in fact, almost the only thing I miss about California. The article uses a UC Berkeley study to remind us “We've long suspected that riding between cars was safer than rolling along in a column at the mercy of the fickle attention span of commuting traffic—that's inherently unsafe, from the perspective of a rider boxed in by heavy, potentially deadly cars and trucks. I'd take my chances clipping a rearview mirror because of my lack of skill over being rear-ended because of someone else's lack of caffeine any day.” If anyone really represented regular motorcyclists, like ABATE or the AMA or RTWD, the big issue would be lane splitting not bullshitting NHTSA about helmet laws or pampering hillbilly sheet metal workers by claiming that loud pipes are anything but noise makers loved by unloved overage brats whose mommies didn’t breast feed.

Dec 8, 2014

#85 What Are We Riding For? (Revisited)

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

In late 1998, I wrote a letter to MMM titled "What are We Riding For?," which morphed into this column. In 1999. I wrote a column titled "What Are We RiI had a lot to say ten years ago, a lot of pent up vitriol that I'd only expressed to riding friends. Since then, practically every foolish motorcycle-related thought that has popped into my head has appeared in this column. Still, the motivation to write the Geezer rants comes from the same place; the reason I still ride to work, take extended trips on two wheels, and spend time in my garage playing with my two bikes pretending to be a mechanic. I write about motorcycles and motorcycling because it's an activity that inspires some passion in my old, creaking bones. Some days, fooling with a motorcycle is the only thing I do that I really look forward to doing.

On mornings when I dread all of the things I have to get done before I can fall back into bed, I always anticipate the ride to work, the awareness that I'm doing something slightly dicey, something that requires more-than-typical concentration. Of course, there is also the opportunity for adventure that every moment on a motorcycle provides. Even the little duels that unaware cagers provide as they wander into my traffic lane or attempt to compete for my space on the road intensifies my attentiveness to what might, otherwise, be a boring day in the life. Anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Maybe, but if those moments don't kill or maim they will definitely wake you up.

The majority of motorcyclists would be insanely bored or appalled by the bike I usually ride to work; a 250cc dual purpose Kawasaki. It's not fast, it's certainly not powerful, it's not pretty, it is quiet, and it gets stupid mileage; never less than 60mpg. I bought it used and spent a fair amount of energy and time bringing it up to ride-able condition. I have almost as much fun working on the little air-cooled single as I have riding it. This past winter I planned on spending a lot of cold weekends in the garage turning it into a mini-adventure tourer. The seat needs a total redesign and the 1.7 gallon tank is about half the capacity that I want for this summer's adventure. This winter, I disappointed myself. I came down with a flu on Xmas eve and hadn't recovered from that bout with mortality coming into spring. Every time I ventured into the sub-freezing garage, I ended up a little sicker and, finally, I gave up on getting the bike work done until summer.

The cool thing about a bike like my little 250 is that it fits between my two cages in the garage, so getting it out for a late fall or winter ride isn't a major hassle. When the cages come inside for the winter, the V-Strom is too damn big to keep at the front of the garage. So it goes into the back parking area and the only way to put the big bike on the road is to get my wife's Taurus out of the way, wrestle the bike out from between her scooter and the bike a friend stores in my garage through the winter, and over the woodworking crap that always builds up during the winter months. The 250 is always ready for a ride to work or an errand run or a quick trip down the backyard hill and a few laps around the frozen lake in our backyard. I only managed a half-dozen ice laps this winter, but it was worth the effort.

There is something satisfying about parking an ugly little bike between layers of garage jewelry at motorcycle events. It's the same kind of smug satisfaction I get when I tail some rich guy's zillion dollar sports car through mountain roads, knowing that he's pushing his ego investment as hard as his skill allows while I've got a pass lined up on practically every wide spot in the road and my beat-up $3,000 "dispose-a-bike" is barely working to keep up. Passing the rich dude would take all of the fun out of watching him squirm to stay ahead. Being cheap has all sorts of rewards and being cheap and reasonably quick has even more. I can't afford to be cool, but I keep myself entertained and that's all I really care about.

One of my favorite jokes is about a guy who hires a hooker and when he drops his pants is asked, "Who are you going to satisfy with that little thing?"

He says, "Me."

That's me and my motorcycles and a good bit of my life. I don't need to or have the resources to impress you with what I ride. I'm too old and too worn out to win races, beauty contests, or make fashion statements. I don't know style from ugly, or care. To me, describing a product that is supposed to have a function as "art" would seem like an insult. I think motorcycles should be vehicles that can go places faster, cheaper, and with more versatility than any other form of transportation. Violate any one of those attributes and I lose interest.

This picture of me and my Yamaha TDM from a 1994 trip west is pretty typical of my favorite motorcycling moments. At that moment, I was lost on a trail that vanished into the desert on the western edge of Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area. I'd just managed to plug a cactus-punctured tire and decided to take a self-portrait before I picked a direction and headed off with barely enough fuel in the tank to start a decent campfire. As usual, it turned out that I was only a few miles from a fire road that led me back to the main highway and into Vernal, Utah running on fumes. At the time I took the picture, I half-assumed that someone would find me, the bike, and the pictures in my camera 20 years after I died of exposure in the Utah desert.

There is a liberation that comes from knowing that nothing but your resources and luck are between you and disaster. Commuting by motorcycle even gives a little of that sensation, as you are surrounded by cagers distracted by cell phones and boredom. Loading up a bike with gear for a few days on the road, flipping a coin to pick the direction I'll travel, and heading off toward unknown places at an unpredictable pace is the kind of experience that can't be imitated in the confines of a air-bagged, environmentally controlled, entertainment-centered cage. A trip on a motorcycle is a different kind of experience from any other form or transportation. Even when you are in a pack of motorcycles, you are alone. I figure I might as well go the whole way and be as alone as I can be, because that's a big part of the reason I ride. .

October 2009