Sep 29, 2014

#75 Taking Chances on the Future

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

A lot of the things we know and love are going to change or vanish in the near future. A lot of the things I knew and loved when I was young have long since changed or vanished. In manufacturing and science, it is common knowledge that the "only constant is change," but the average person is uncomfortable with that. The discomfort of a few billion human beings has very little impact on nature, physics, and reality. The planet keeps spinning around a dying sun, water and oxygen continue to escape the earth's atmosphere, the more resources we use the fewer there will be for future generations, and the longer we go without experiencing an astrological disaster the more likely it becomes that such a disaster will occur.

Life is an experiment. Democracy, according to George Washington, is "a great experiment." Every day we get to continue experimenting with living should be an opportunity to learn something about human and physical nature. Any time you imagine yourself at a point where you know "enough" about any subject, you've most likely crested a peak in your ability to learn more and are about to experience a downhill slide into ignorance.

Such is the state of traffic laws and the use of motorcycles on public roads. In Minnesota, our traffic laws are as conservative as they are anywhere in the world. Motorcycles are treated exactly the same as vehicles that are ten times the length, width, and weight. In traffic, where less than half of the available pavement is being used for locomotion. Motorcycles are forced to contribute to the congestion rather than allowed to "filter" through the unused spaces between vehicles. Lane splitting and filtering are as common as pedestrians in much of the world, but (in the United States) only California has the courage and creativity to allow motorcycles rational use of congested roads. Of course, California roads are really congested, not just inconveniently crowded.

The prime argument for sticking with the old, inefficient rules of the road is that Minnesota drivers would be irritated (and violent) if motorcycles had an advantage in congested traffic. There are some valid and rational reasons for this expectation and there are some nutty and self-serving motivations.

Some of the folks who protect the status quo ignore the fact that motorcycle exhaust systems are making enemies out of almost everyone (on and off road). There are vested interests (money) to protect in aftermarket exhaust systems and following the money to the source of this argument takes us close to home (Wisconsin, for example?). Obviously, illegal exhaust systems and lane splitting are a poor combination. It's bad enough to have to share side-by-side lanes with a vehicle that might permanently cause hearing damage. It's a whole different issue if drivers are forced to share a lane with that kind of offensive behavior. So, motorcyclists need to fix this so that we can have useful rights to the highway as opposed to worthless offensive privileges that will lead to our demise.

It's possible that those who psychoanalyze Minnesota drivers as "passive aggressive" and "uncommonly poorly mannered" may have their pulse on the state's temper. I don't think so. I have seen nothing about the Minnesota temperament that convinces me that Minnesotans are less sophisticated than California drivers. The biggest difference in the two states is that Californians are more used to sharing the road with motorcycles and part of that is because motorcycles have advantages in California that create more reasons to ride regularly. I'm not talking about the weather. When you can efficiently filter through congested urban traffic, on or off of the freeway, you are more likely to take two wheels instead of four every day you commute. Once you get into the habit, you find fewer excuses to go back to the cage. When you are in the habit, you don't ride garage jewelry, you ride a practical bike. Before you know it, you are a motorcyclist instead of a poser and your neighbors see you on the road every day and they start anticipating motorcycles in the traffic flow.

The status quo isn't as static as you might hope. While it appears that transportation is heading in the same direction that it's been traveling for the last 100 years, it is not. Drivers are getting dumber, cars are getting smarter. Transportation engineering is looking ahead to when the average driver won't be able to compete with today's 5th graders and to a day when 100% of a driver's attention will be directed to coffee cup manipulation, cell phone conversations, and television viewing. One day, soon, what passes for roadways will be occupied by smart cars and idiotic passengers who still consider themselves "drivers."

If you don't think that motorcycling can die as part of traffic change, you're not paying attention. There is a lot of world-wide "smart roadway" planning taking place and hardly any of that planning considers motorcycles as part of the future's traffic systems. At best, those pastoral roads that today's timid motorcycle riders think are safer than freeways and urban roads (although those roads account for the majority of Minnesota motorcycle deaths) will be the only places that motorcycles are allowed.

If we can introduce traffic filtering and lane sharing into the highway culture, we have a chance of being considered part of highway traffic. If motorcyclists actually ride their motorcycles on a regular basis for non-recreational purposes and do it safely, we will be a force that can't be ignored. Smart motorcycles are probably as far into the future as smart bureaucrats and politicians, which means that smart cars will have to be programmed to account for human piloted motorcycles, bicycles (which aren't going away because of their regular contribution to transportation), and pedestrians.

The more reasons traffic engineering and laws can provide to ride regularly, the more regular riders we'll have on the road. I believe regular riders are not significant contributors to our poor crash and fatality statistics. In fact, I'd argue that, if more motorcyclists were commuting, our crash and death numbers would drop; because we'd be better riders and because we'd be seen more often and be less invisible. On that premise, I think we need to adopt traffic filtering and lane sharing laws as soon as possible. Sooner rather than later. Now!

September 2008

Sep 25, 2014

Real World Training

Crash StatsWhen I invited him to hang out at last year's ZARS customer appreciation event, a friend replied, “I think I need a class on how to go slower and stay out of the way more effectively. That's my thing; ride on empty roads. You won't find me in any ‘single vehicle accidents’.” That’s not an uncommon theory on safe riding. However, statistics in Minnesota don’t support that theory of accident prevention. 


Chart TwoThe chart that is most applicable to this discussion  is this one (at left).  The overwhelming majority of fatalities happened where the population of a city or township was “under 1,000.” The big cities accounted for damn few fatalities, crashes, or injuries, in fact. So much for being terrified of the big, bad freeway. The state used to track and report the sort of roadway that crashes occurred on, but the 2013 report didn’t seem to contain that information. Like city populations, the relationship between getting killed and being on a low traffic road was direct. For a variety of reasons (see the chart below), most of what gets motorcyclists killed is counter-intuitive. The hope that being on a lonely road out in the country or cruising through small towns is a crash preventative is wrong-headed. It just doesn’t work that way.

FactorsSunday, I did not one time receive any encouragement to “go faster” from any of my ZARS coaches. When I did something well, I was complemented, but not once did Joe, Brent, Debby, Karen, or Jessica say anything about how I might increase my speed. In fact, Brent consistently gave me exercises I could use at lower speeds to work on control, precision, and getting smoother in my cornering transitions. All of my coaches were way faster than me, but making me fast was never a goal of mine and, therefore, it wasn’t one of theirs.

If you look at the “contributing factors” in the chart at right, I hope you’ll see a whole lot of situations where better general handling skills would have saved a few dozen lives at any speed and on any kind of road.

Sep 23, 2014

#74 Selling Garage Candy

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

A lot of readers have told me that I could make a good Geezer rant out of the kind of garage candy that some want ads flaunt. So, one afternoon, out of curiosity and boredom, I scanned the Craig's List ads for a certain kind of motorcycle want ad. I was a little surprised to be so easily entertained. You know the kind of bike's I'm talking about. "Harley Davidson Sportster 1200: Pearl white, fuel injection, removable windshield, 86 actual miles, warranty, brand new bike."

or

"Harley Davidson Softail Custom: 2K miles. PM wheels, driveside brake, 240 Phatail kit, HD chrome covers, HD Deuce chrome lowers, Hi-flow intake, 9.6:1 comp, Crane Hi-4TC ignition, coil, 310-2 cams, and pushrods – over $38K invested."

or this entertaining piece of creative writing

"2005 30th Anniversary Goldwing: beautiful Black Cherry color, 1832 cc six cylinder, 5 speed, cruise control, adjustable windshield, great sound system and more. The bike has driver's backrest, highway pegs, drink holder, power outlet, wing foot boards, and low miles (7200) - this is the ultimate road bike - like new and ready to ride!!!"

or at the bottom end of the genre

"1980 Yamaha XS 850 Special with only 3,500 miles like new condition, it has been stored since 1982. It has been gone through from top to bottom so its ready to ride."

I could put together a whole column based ads for on unused, overpriced garage candy, but that would be lazy even by my low standards. The point is not these ads, but the stories behind the ads. What motivates someone to invest "$38k" in a motorcycle that he will ride about 400 miles per year? What motivates someone to invest $38k (or way more) in any motor vehicle, for that matter?

I have a close connection to such an "investor," but I've abused my brother a couple of times in this column. He has explained his $60,000 Harley adventure to me and I'm no closer to understanding his logic than I am to knowing why people listen to country music or "classic rock" radio stations. Human nature mystifies me, but it's also downright amusing.

Even though it is on the low end of the financial scale, the XS850 Yamaha ad isn't that different from the high-price-point ads. Owning and storing a 28 year old bike that has only been ridden 3,500 miles (an average of 125 miles per year) is a demonstration of conspicuous consumption and a serious inability to excise useless stuff from the garage. Asking almost $3,000 for that bike is another kind of mental illness. A reasonable person would realize that dust covered piece of Yamaha's embarrassing engineering past is taking up useful space and should be removed as quickly as possible. A nutcase would decide that he deserves a substantial premium for advertising his insanity. Just for laughs, I have a "Geezer with A Grudge Blog" site [And here came the beginning of this blog.]. If you have examples of nutty ads that you'd like to ad to my list, feel free to venture onto the web and add them to the list that I've started. Or if you can provide some insight into this form of investment madness, enlighten me with your financial analysis or social commentary. I may be old, but I can still learn new things if they are presented in simple language.

A few years back, a friend who had "collected" almost two dozen motorcycles in various operational states decided he wanted to use his garage to protect his new car instead. For ten years, the garage had been a packed storage space for unused motorcycles. At first, he tried to sell his collection as "vintage" or "restorable" vehicles. This marketing plan moved a couple of bikes, but it took a year to find buyers and his wife began to put pressure on him to "clean out" the garage quicker. Finally, he rented a truck and loaded up a half-dozen of the worst of the vintage bikes and hauled them to a motorcycle salvage yard. He was disappointed to discover that the salvage yard owned more than enough copies of his collection to supply the parts demand, so was lucky to get $500 for all six motorcycles. He made two more trips to the salvage yard and netted another $1,000 in paring the collection down to four ride-able, semi-modern, reasonably attractive motorcycles. He has, since, sold a couple of those to make garage space for his wife's car. I'm not sure that domestic tranquility was the result of all this asset divestment, but it didn't hurt.

The big realization he came to was: financially, old motorcycles are less like art objects and more like old junk.

He'd lived by the assumption that "vintage" meant valuable for so long that, when he tried to capitalize on that hypothesis, he suffered terrible disillusionment. For example, he'd stored most of a disassembled Norton Commando for thirty years under the delusion that, someday, he'd restore it and it would hold a valued place in his life's possessions. After advertising it everywhere such pieces of hardware are commonly sold (if such things actually sell), he was reduced to dropping off the basket of Norton bits at a Euro-bike salvage yard where his Commando was parted out to restore other, less dilapidated, Commandos. Presumably, those restored Nortons would actually have some value.

I think that kind of assumption is dangerous. It's possible that the advertisers of garage candy at the beginning of this rant found suckers/buyers for their bikes. It's just as possible that those bikes will still be up for sale when this column is published and for months and years afterwards.

Buyers of art are cautioned to "buy what you like," because the value of art holds no guarantee. So, you may as well buy the art you enjoy because that may be the only value the art retains. In the case of motorcycles, you might as well ride the damn thing because your $38,000 investment may only be worth a few thousand dollars when you try to sell it. If you aren't going to ride it and you are going to put a ton of money into pimping it out, you might want to consider draining the oil and fuel from the bike and hanging it on a wall in your living room. At least you can look at it and it won't waste valuable garage space. When you decide to sell it, be sure to list all of the chrome you've stuck on the bike and itemize how much it all cost. The ad is much funnier with the extra detail. Think of your entry as the Craig's List's Sunday comic pages and be sure to include lots of color photos of your brilliant investment.

August 2008

Footnote: All of the quoted ads have been edited for brevity, while attempting to retain their natural entertainment value.

Sep 22, 2014

Going Faster on Purpose

IMG_20140921_074705How do you know you’ve had a good day riding with folks at Zalusky Advanced Riding School (ZARS)? According to Jessica Zalusky and her professional instructors, your legs are worn out. So, what does it mean when all of you is worn out after an eight hour day riding and learning how to ride smoother, faster, and smarter? In my case, it means “You’re old, out-of-shape, and . . . old.”

One of the perks of being an instructor for the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center’s MSF program is connecting to the state’s other motorcycle training programs. This past Sunday, I was invited to participate in one of the ZARS cornering courses. So, from 8AM till 5PM, with breaks for recovery, “classroom” discussions, and lots of water (and coffee) I abused my WR250X and myself on the Dakota County Technical College Decision Driving Range. If you’ve ever watched me ride, you know I have more bad habits than good and the ZARS coach, Joe Mastain, assigned to me and one other rider had his work cut out for the day. Fortunately, the other guy was young and competent, so Joe only had to cope with one thick head.

IMG_20140921_074719 There is a lot about going faster on pavement that is uncomfortable to me. For almost 30 years, my basic riding  philosophy has been “if you’re not slidin’ you’re not ridin’.” That’s an easy, fairly non-threatening concept on dirt, but pretty much impossible (for me) to apply to pavement. For starters, sliding on pavement involves going a lot faster than I am willing to go. So, I have been in a never-ending battle with my off-road habits and what little understanding I have of traction, lean angle, steering mechanics, and body position. The more hours I get in the saddle, commuting and riding in ordinary situations, the more I revert to my old habits. After spending the winter bombing around New Mexico dirt roads and that state’s decrepit paved roads and playing on Elephant Butte Park’s massive beaches, returning to the predictable traction of the MSF class ranges and Minnesota’s almost-Scandinavian fixation for maintaining pavement was almost a shock. For most of my 2013 ntraining season, I had to pretend that I knew what I was doing with the MSF curriculum because I really wanted to stick a foot out and try to steer with my back tire, like I’d been doing for most of 7,000 miles the past winter. I’ve pretended to know what I’m doing for most of my life, so getting through basic motorcycle classes wasn’t a huge functional shift. The “Seasoned Rider” classes, on the other hand, sometimes felt disingenuous. While I was encouraging my students to keep their feet on the pegs and knees against the tank, I could empathize with their inclinations. I had ‘em, too.

IMG_20140921_074746 The ZARS program breaks rider skill into six categories: 1 through 6, in fact. I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing around at the DCTC course, but between the facts that I would be riding a 250 in a liter-plus-world and the more important facts that I’m old and slow and haven’t taken a ZARS course before, I signed up as a Level 1 student. If Level 1 turned out to be too remedial or slow for me, I could always ask to be upgraded to Level 2 or an instructor might suggest that I move up a grade.  At this late point in life, I don’t have a lot of ego invested in many things and being fast or looking cool are just not likely scenarios. The added advantage of starting as a beginner is that I took some pressure off of myself. “Keeping up” wouldn’t be nearly as difficult, I hoped, if I stuck with the beginners. Of course, there are no real “beginners” in a course like this. Riders who have enough confidence to put themselves in a situation where they have no chance of being the quickest people on the road are, by definition, experienced, competent motorcyclists.  Beginners are the clowns to show off on public roads without a clue how slow, out-of-control, and incompetent they really are until they are sliding down the asphalt and preparing to provide much needed organs to people who have been patiently waiting for a donor cycle to make a donation.

DCTC_map-1 The course material was no problem, but it was fun listening to someone else say many of the same things I say in an elevated training situation. The DCTC range has a fairly long back straight and a moderately long front straight and my unwillingness to flog my 250 to keep from getting passed on the straights pretty much confirmed the decision to stick with the intro class. I could hang with most of the folks in the corners and for the first couple of sessions the people who passed me on the straights were boring the crap out of me once we hit the turns. Once I had a pack in front of me, I resorted to practicing countersteering with one hand while I waited for them to rocked off on the straight sections. By the end of the morning sessions, that problem resolved itself. Everyone got a lot faster. The first afternoon session, I threw away my machine-friendly attitude and hammered my poor little bike on the long straights so that I could maintain some room to play in the corners. A WR250X being beaten into submission is not a pretty sound and, realizing that I’d be riding my “race bike” back home forced me to rethink that whole philosophy for the rest of the day. ZARS coaches, Brent and Debby Jass (the owners and trainers of the Ride Safe, Ride Smart MSF program) and old Minnesota Sportbike friends, gave me a few things to work on, instead of the one-handed tactic, and that helped a lot. By my fourth time out, I was using all of the track, sometimes exploring the fast line and sometimes pushing my bike into what could be passing lines if we were allowed to pass in the corners. Using their tactical suggestions and working on Joe’s many excellent criticisms of my “dirt bike” riding technique, I was able to put my bike pretty much anywhere I aimed it at cornering speeds that would have made me really uncomfortable earlier in the day.

10469671_10152674629555891_3014168720944376233_nOur group’s head coach Karen Eberhardt (also an MMSC MSF coach) and the ever-present and incredibly upbeat Jessica Zalusky provided a solid structure for “classroom” discussions between riding sessions and breaks. All of the coaches were available for discussions, criticism, and instruction any time a student was interested in extending a conversation beyond the course materials. I’m pretty sure Joe got about 15 minutes of break time for all of Sunday. (Sorry about that, Joe. Retired people are lousy time managers.) The whole organization is incredibly customer oriented. I don’t think I’ve been asked “Are you having fun?” so often any time in my life. I was, by the way. ZARS is a terrific organization and we are incredibly lucky to have a motorcycle training group like this in Minnesota. One more reason why we put up with Minnesota winters.

Next weekend, Sept 27-28, is ARS Appreciation Weekend Riding at DCTC. A day of closed-course riding costs only $50! It will be your last DCTC chance to experience this great group of dedicated motorcycle fanatics in 2013. Saturday’s event includes a free barbeque at the end of the day. Level 3-6 places were filled as of Sunday night, yesterday. There is no Level 1 for that event, but there were still Level 2 spaces available when ZARS closed up the company RV last night. The last ZARS event of the year will be at Brainerd International Raceway on October 3, 2013. If you want to find out how fast (or slow) you really are, this is the track to make that discovery.

Sep 17, 2014

Product Review: Aerostich Competition Elkskin Roper Gloves

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

competition_elkskin_roper 009
This is what a  brand new, un-abused pair of Aerostich Competition Elkskin Ropers looks like right out of the package.

Motorcyclists can't get enough of gloves. We lose them, crash and tear them up, wear them out, and, when they aren't comfortable, we just toss them in the gear box and buy another pair. Going through my gear box this fall, I discovered that I have exactly 6 pairs of motorcycle gloves, all different brands, styles, and in varying states of abuse. At least three pairs are practically useless, but I'm hanging on to them for the memories and yard work. My two sets of Goretex cold weather gloves are in storage because they are freakin' worthless. Of the six pairs, only one is still decent protection and comfortable enough to wear regularly. So, I backed up my current favorite gloves with Aerostich Competition Elkskin Ropers. As far as I can tell, the difference between Competition Ropers and the regular spread is the addition of padded knuckle protection.

Among distance riders, the Aerostich Ropers are legendary. Guys brag about wearing them so long that they are inclined to give them a formal burial ceremony when they finally wear out. Words like "old friends" and "companions" are included in their endorsements.

With that background, I decided to put a pair to the MMM test. It turned out to be a much harder, longer test than I'd expected. I wanted to use the gloves from new to worn-out, but I may not live long enough to end this test. So, here's my report after 6 years and 78,000 miles.I've worn these gloves to and from Alaska, Nova Scotia, the ghost towns of North Dakota, through most of the Rocky Mountains, across the western desert, in rain storms and snow, on days so hot I poured cold water all over the gloves at every stop to keep my hands from baking, and on grocery runs and weekend camping trips to Duluth. They now fit me so well that I suspect they wouldn't do for anyone but me.

_aeros1

This is what a  pair of Aerostich Competition Elkskin Ropers looks like at 78,000 miles and six years; including some yard work/break-in time.

Part of the long term relationship with these gloves is the break-in period. When I first pried my fingers into my Ropers, it took some effort to get them on and more time-and-use than usual to break them in. The leather is thick and tough and only heavy use will loosen them up. Aerostich's care recommendations took some self-conditioning, too. I tend to follow the manufacturer's instructions, so my Ropers are still untreated after their second season of use. Two years and 14,000 miles later and my Competition Ropers are comfortable, incredibly durable, and mostly broken-in. These are incredibly tough gloves and as such they take some wearing to mold to your hands.

It might have taken more than a whole season of riding to break in these gloves and I'm not that patient. Instead, I wore them on the bike and as work gloves on a couple of home construction projects and that accelerated the break-in period. Patience, my ass. I wanted to enjoy these things in my lifetime. They are great work gloves, way tougher than anything you can find at a lumberyard. On my 2009 North Dakota dirt road tour, the Ropers got a workout. I was rained on, sun-baked, blown across county lines, and I wrestled my V-Strom out of a few marginally-legal off road situations. Even though (per Aerostich instructions) I didn't waterproof the gloves, they did a pretty good job of keeping my hands dry in wet weather situations.

Being the clueless moron I am, I had to watch the Aerostich YouTube video to discover the built-in left thumb visor wiper. However, that design is so intuitive I'd been naturally using the wiper without knowing it was there. Now that is how an ergonomic design is supposed to work.

As of today, my relationship with my Competition Ropers is "mostly-love 'em." Above 70oF the choice is complicated, because I have several lighter, more flexible gloves to choose from. For a long trip, over 500 miles, I wear the Ropers regardless of temperature. Around town and for short trips, when the outside temperature is below 70oF and above 40oF, I always opt for the Ropers. Below 40oF I wear the Ropers and the Aerostich Triple Digit Raincovers or one of the several Goretex™ insulated gloves I've collected. After two years, I didn't really consider the Ropers "all the way broken-in." They were still a little stiff and it took more strength to close my hands than I'd like, which can be tiring after a long day. At seven years, they feel like they belong on my hands. For a short bit, I forsake my Ropers for the gauntlet version of the same glove. It didn’t take me long to lose one of the gauntlets, so I’m back to my old Ropers. When I can bring myself to cough up another $100 for gloves, it will be on the Roper Gauntlets.

Last year, an MSF coach I work with was complaining that he couldn't find "decent touring gloves." I showed him my Ropers and he claimed the security strap was insufficient. I put the gloves on and dared him to pull them off. He almost dislocated my elbow, but the glove stayed in place. My Ropers are the toughest gloves I've ever owned and I'd rather be wearing them in a high-speed crash than any glove I've ever owned. In the end, I think that means we are good friends, but maybe not lovers. I absolutely trust my Competition Ropers to protect my precious digits.

c93fc99c1bd174802116a24e6d049b2eceb1cf62

Sep 15, 2014

#73 A Good Beginner's Bike

All Rights Reserved © 2008
Thomas W. Day

One of the common things about being an MSF instructor is getting asked, "What's a good beginner's bike?" This is a question that every experienced rider has attempted to answer dozens of times.

Kids (people younger than 30) ask straight-forward questions, expecting straight-forward answers. When a kid asks me this bike question, I count off a list of mid-sized, practical motorcycles that I'd recommend for a beginner with a reasonable expectation that they will look into and consider some of the bikes on my list.

All questions asked by "adults" (people older than 30) are a double-edged, convoluted, culturally-loaded, context-sensitive questions. When I was a kid, you started riding a motorcycle when you were a kid. I didn't know anyone, in 1965, who decided to be a motorcyclist when he or she was approaching retirement age. Now that the English language has lost all sense of proportion, being "young enough" to take on a physical skill can apply to anyone. After all, we pretend that 50 is "middle aged," owing $200,000 to the bank is "home ownership," our prisons are part of a "corrections and rehabilitation" system, and some folks even think being called "conservative" is a complement. When an "older person" (people over 50) asks the bike question, I give them my usual answer, but I rarely expect them to consider the bikes I recommend. Old folks usually don't want answers to their questions, they want "affirmation."

In the current Baby Boomers in Decline climate, my generation is desperately seeking to restore a deluded self-image. They want to move insanely fast from being rank beginners to "experienced" and respected riders. What they are hoping for is knowledge and skill "transference," not training. In fact, older people starting a new physical or mental activity are at a disadvantage due to physical limitations and mental "stiffness." With that in mind, my small light beginner bike recommendations might be toned down to mopeds and scooters for adult newbies, but I know that's not what they want to hear. They see themselves in a completely illogical light and expect the rest of us to play along with their fantasy.

I'll use, for example, a guy (who we will call AC, as in "Advertising Consultant") who sent his wife to a Minnesota Basic Rider Course a few years back. Apparently, this dude is not from Minnesota because he was astounded and irritated at the fact that basic riding classes are held rain-or-shine; and it rained. She was lucky it didn't snow. In an attempt to impress me with his insight as a motorcyclist, AC bragged that he was the new owner of an "Anniversary Edition of the Heritage Soft Tail Classic" and had passed down his old Harley Sportster to his wife. I think he might as well toss her a hand grenade with the pin pulled. A 1200cc (even considering the Sportster's modest 50hp or the 883's timid 43hp), 500+ pound motorcycle is not a beginner's bike. The only beginner quality you could assign to the Sportster is the 29" seat height. Throw in the "stable" cruiser steering and you have a bike that will be easy to roll into traffic. Once she gets on the road, making emergency maneuvers is a different matter. AC and his wife see themselves as something other than beginners and their choice in motorcycles reflects that delusion.

This is typical of the kind of starter bike affirmation that old beginners want. Motorcycle Consumer News published a letter from a 60-year-old new rider who thought his MSF training "250cc bikes were ridiculously small." After struggling through the course, he had his "big Harley" delivered to his home because he knew he "wasn't prepared to take it into traffic." He terrorized his neighborhood for three weeks until he finally "hit 40mph in second gear." After three months of additional self-instruction, reading, and watching videos, he had convinced himself that he could "put the bike anywhere [he] wanted." I'd be surprised if he could pass a basic skills test on his big Harley. Of course, if that old beginner had the wisdom to to start off with a beginner's bike (instead of a motorcycle that many experienced riders would avoid), he might have had a positive and effective learning experience.

When you are 60 years old and are desperately looking for evidence that you're still a virile, active male, considering a real beginner's bike is a hard sell. A typical overweight American adult looks comical on, or in, anything short of a farm implement. (I'm feeling your pain. "Friends" say I look like an overstuffed, over-aged sausage on my bike and in my Roadcrafter.) Regardless, an identity crisis and peer pressure are poor justifications for buying exactly the wrong beginning motorcycle.

When I was a kid, 55-185cc bikes were as common as "custom" Harley's are today. Adults often rode Honda Trail 90s around town. A 305 was big enough to take on two-up long rides across the country and a 650cc bike was considered a large and powerful motorcycle. While the technology of those motorcycles was miles below all but the worst bike available today, the power and weight of the typical mid-sized bike was about right for a beginner motorcycle.

While that MSF-deriding 60-year-old newbie may think that a 250cc motorcycle is "ridiculously small," there are a passel of 250cc bikes that are more than capable of typical freeway speeds (and legal) and more than equal to beginning rider skills and needs. Several of the 125cc bikes used in the Minnesota program are more motorcycle than most of the new riders can handle. I, personally, often ride my 250cc Kawasaki Super Sherpa on the freeway and around town and it regularly hauls my 210 pounds and extra gear quickly and comfortably. I know a few experienced riders who own 400cc and smaller bikes and ride them long and often.

If you want my advice on a beginning bike, feel free to ask. If you want confirmation that your hippo-bike was a brilliant choice, ask someone else. I think beginners belong on beginner bikes, regardless of age.

July 2008

Sep 13, 2014

I Second that Motion

Noah Horak recently wrote “An Open Letter to the Motorcycle Industry” blasting the suits who decide we need bigger, heavier, less adventurous “adventuring touring” hippos instead of ride-able motorcycles that are actually capable of going places a Cadillac Escalade can’t go. Here are just a few of the right on things Horak had to say about the recent collection of bullshit two-wheel, Land Rover-clone, hippobikes disguised as off-road capable:

“Adventure is a word thrown around so freely in the motorcycle industry now, I am not sure you remember what a true adventure actually is.”

“If you can not pick up your bike fully loaded in any situation, it is not an adventure bike.”

“Most of the air cooled 650s are great bikes, but they are all in desperate need of a update. So there is basically the choice between DRZ400 and KTM 690.”

“The formula is easy: less then 150 kilos, good tune-able off-road suspension, around 50 hp, fuel injected, liquid cooled, and at least a 7500 km oil change interval. A 500 km fuel range would be icing on the cake.”

Suddenly, I don’t feel so much like the only guy saying, “This king is as naked as the last dumbass.”

Sep 12, 2014

Counting Bikers

The next-to-the-last of the season Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Council’s Rider Coach update had an interesting stat that caught my eye and triggered a Geezerly response. The comment was, “To date, we have fifteen fewer motorcycle crash fatalities than we did at this time last year (32 to date in 2014 versus 47 on Sept. 2, 2013).”

We saw the same kind of claim in 2008-10 and motorcycle safety “experts” claimed credit to training, improved traffic safety systems, toughened and enforced laws intended to “protect” motorcyclists from themselves, and other magical bullshit. Like the post-Great Recession days, I think the real “fix” for this year’s motorcycle death rate has nothing to do with any of that. Back then, motorcycle deaths went down because all of the pirate, hooligan, and up-scale newbies had their bikes repossessed. For three years, the roads were pretty much free of recreational motorcyclists. Harley needed TARP bailout money to stay alive. Suzuki lost about a third if its dealerships. Everybody else took major economic hits and ne motorcycle sales collapsed.

This year, the weather did a job on recreational motorcycling. Every Basic Rider Class I taught from late April until July got rained on and all of the other classes, since, have had at least a few hours of wet weather riding. This past week’s “Seasoned Rider Course” got rained on for 3 out of the 5 hour class. Once again, I tried to catch a few motorcyclists on video for RtWD this year and after leaving a 4 camera setup going for both rush periods on I35W, I35E, highway 36, and Rice Street, my small crew and I gave it up as hopeless. I hadn't done this since I quit producing Motorcycling Minnesota a few years back and it was a little discouraging to see how few people actually ride motorcycles on a near-perfect summer day. Apparently, the only way we’re ever going to cut down on motorcycle fatalities and injuries is to discourage motorcyclists from riding. It works, obviously.

One of the things about teaching a lot of BRC2's this year is getting to hear why people don't ride. While I don't think Minnesota riders exactly fit the California biker profile (http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/2014/08/a-fogged-mirror.html), we're not far off in all respects. It does make me suspect that the future of motorcycling is going to be a lot different than the past. I absolutely believe that Minnesota motorcyclists don't even get close to the 0.001-0.01% of traffic contribution California motorcyclists contribute. Likewise, if there are 180,000 licensed "motorcyclists" in Minnesota, I'd be hard-pressed to believe that close to half that number actually ride more than 50 miles a year and I'd bet the real numbers are more like 20,000 actual riders exist in the state. In this case, my standard for “actual riders” is pretty low; 500 miles a year or more. Out of that tiny number, I imagine the average motorcyclist owns at least 3 motorcycles. I’m sub-average with two bikes.

Your mileage may vary, but what I get out of all this is a strong feeling that rider safety is a broken quality control system that pats itself on the back for anything resembling “success.” It makes sense, though. When the whole industry closes its eyes to the fact that motorcyclists are grossly, overwhelmingly overrepresented in highway mortality and morbidity statistics, world wide, we aren’t seriously doing anything to promote highway safety.

Sep 11, 2014

Product Review: Wolfman Enduro Tank Bag

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

wolfma1

Stock Wolfman photo of the Enduro Tankbag mounted on a KTM's plastic tank.

I have almost owned a couple pieces of Wolfman luggage. For one reason or another, each previous shopping trip ended up with me deciding that something else was a better fit. Early spring, in 2007, I made the journey to Duluth and RiderWearHouse to see if I could find a tank bag that worked on my V-Strom. My faithful Chase Harper bags were either too wide (the 1150) or too unstable (Sport Trek Magnetic) thanks to all of the plastic surrounding the V-Strom's tank and the wide bars. For remote touring, the Sport Trek was also too small to hold my extra fuel bottles. After a few uncomfortable experiences, I lost patience with either of the bags hitting the horn or the kill switch every time I made a tight maneuver.

It turned out that finding a bag that would fit that bike was a lot harder than I'd expected. During a visit to Riderwearhouse, I tried out almost a dozen bags from various manufacturers, ranging from $60 to $200. They were all cool, but all but one provided no improvement over my Chase Harper problems. The coolest Wolfman bag, the Ranier, not only hit the V-Strom's bar controls but one of the side envelopes managed to tangle itself with my throttle lock. The only bag that worked better than what I had was the Wolfman Enduro Tank Bag.

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Unfortunately, this is what a real Enduro Tankbag looks like after a couple of rain storms. Not nearly as perky.

A feature of the Enduro that I initially liked a lot was the "laminated foam sides, bottom, and rear," since the side reinforcement was what prevented the bag from sagging into my bar controls. Unfortunately, the laminated foam permanently loses its rigidity after exposure to rain and heat. On a June 2009 North Dakota tour, I was soaked for 8 straight days and the bag lost it's narrow vertical shape and buckled into the very controls I'd hoped to avoid. I still like the bag, but I'm back to honking my horn on tight left turns and hitting the starter button or kill switch when turning right.

The foam bottom means you can store items like tools, spare levers, and other hard items without banging up your gas tank. The rubber non-slip base adds a little more protection for your paint job, but you still have to keep the space between the bag and the tank clean, if you don't want to bag to turn into a sanding block. The attachment system, 4 plastic quick-connect buckles is reasonably stable but doesn’t provide easy access to the gas tank filler when the bag is full. Your choices are: 1) disconnect the bottom (near the seat) buckles and flip the bag up toward your console, 2) disconnect the top buckles and flip the bag down to the seat, 3) take the bag off altogether. Choice #1 is usually the easiest option, since those buckles are often hard to reattached, especially if you are wearing gloves. The downside is that the bag is less than stable in that position and might come down suddenly either knocking the gas nozzle out of the tank or, as happened to me on the Dempster Highway in the middle of nowhere, busting the ignition key off in the gas cap. #2 is a pain in the ass if you are wearing gloves, since those two buckles are somewhere between the tank and the steering head/console. #3 doubles the pain the ass of #2 and gives you the opportunity to forget reattaching the bag and leaving it at a filling station.

For the most part, the Enduro Tankbag has several redeeming features that keep it on my V-Strom. The large back pocket is really high on that list. The rear pocket conveniently holds camera gear, keys, wheel locks, gloves, or practically anything a motorcyclist is likely to need to get to quickly. The map pocket lies more-or-less flat to the world, thanks to the shape of the bag, making a map readable even for my geezer-decaying eyesight. Wolfman calls the mounting system "three point," which is a little tough to explain since there are four attachment points, but it is a fairly stable and very durable bag mounting system. The bag is constructed of heavy-duty nylon Cordura. The zippers are also nylon and equally heavy-duty. There is a reflective strip woven into the reinforcement webbing on the sides and back of the bag. Even the Wolfman logo patch is retro-reflective. Expanded to full height, the Enduro Tank Bag is large enough for quick grocery stops, including a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. However, stuffed all the way to the top with gear, the bag can become unstable, so you need to think about how you're going to pack it and where you're going with all that gear before the road gets rough and you get busy.

The Enduro bag costs $85 and, for another $17, waterproof it with a rain cover that retains the use of the map pocket. You can buy Wolfman products from our friends in Duluth, RiderWearHouse.com, or direct from the company (wolfmanluggage.com). Obviously, I can’t give this product an overwhelming endorsement. In comparison to the Giant Loop Diablo Tank Bag, for example, the Wolfman bag is downright lame.

Sep 10, 2014

Mind Control

We are a nation that likes to imagine itself with as little connection to reality as possible. The “American Dream” is as universally accepted here as Heaven/Nirvana/The Garden/Big Rock Candy Mountain/whatever. Just like those magical places, the Dream seems to be so different for each of us that it is hard to believe anyone can find a lick of commonality when they try to describe their Dream/Heaven to someone else. For example, my idea of Hell would be exactly the Midwestern Methodist white-bread singing, praying, and potluck dinner nightmare my Kansas family described as “Heaven.”

Two places where our national insanity rears its silly-assed head without a lick of shame are gun ownership and motorcycle “rights.” As far as guns are concerned, Jim Jefferies pretty much summed up my opinions of the issue. He’s said it all, just way funnier than I said it at the time. Or any time.

Likewise, we (as in the 0.01% of the public who actually ride motorcycles occasionally) believe that we should not be required to make even the slightest nod toward admitting that our vehicle of choice is exactly what medical professionals call it: a donorcycle or, if you believe the industry deserves some responsibility, murdercycles. We pretend that it is perfectly acceptable for motorcycles to contribute injuries at a rate that is thousands of times greater than motorcycles contribute to traffic. We believe that it’s reasonable for cagers to be required to strap in to their crumple-zone-protected, airbag padded, generally stable under all conditions cars while motorcyclists shouldn’t even have to wear a $50 helmet because it messes up our hair (for the rare motorcyclist who has hair). Boots, gloves, eye protection, armored riding gear? “Hell no! Um an ‘Merican. Ya caint make me wear dat dum stuff! Wudnt look cool. Ah gut ma raghts! Live free ur die.” Unless, of course, I get busted up instead of killed. Then I fully expect society to haul my brainless ass to a hospital, fix me up (for free, since I don’t have health insurance), blame the cager, bar, or imperfectly designed road for my injury and compensate me for “damages,” provide me with welfare since I can no longer work (if I ever did), and give me really good drugs so I won’t be depressed.

Our reason for all of this is exactly the same as gun owners’ reason for why their “2nd Amendment Rights” (as opposed to their Constitutional responsibilities) are sacred, “’cause I wanna.” No wonder the average cager or pedestrian has the same thought when a motorcycle blubbers through town or the neighborhood, “What a moron.”

Sep 8, 2014

#72 Statistics vs. Useful Information

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day

A while back, on Minnesota WCCO television's "Good Question" news segment, the question was ,"Drivers have to wear seat belts to stay safe. So why don't all motorcyclists have to wear helmets?" The program came up with two answers: "The motorcycle lobby in Minnesota is well organized and very vocal in its opposition to helmet laws. Since there are far fewer motorcycles on the road than cars, helmets are not considered a big public safety issue compared to seat belts." Accurate answers, but poor justification. The program also stated that "Last year, there were 70 motorcycle rider deaths in Minnesota, a 200 percent increase from a decade ago. Some of the increase is due to more riders." Any time you use the word "more," you're making a statistical claim. If you're out on the road observing traffic patterns, the "more riders" claim could be hard to prove.

Mark Twain had an opinion about statistics, "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." Not everyone who quotes statistical data is lying, but many are providing misleading information. A useful reference would be "miles driven." A really useful reference would be "miles driven and where."

Many motorcyclists are proud of the fact that they are unwilling to ride on freeways, commuter highways, or even venture out on the road on weekdays. These weekend garage candy bikers only ride rural roads; avoiding traffic, intersections, and any practical purpose for burning fuel . In 2005, over 20% of the motorcycle crash deaths occurred between noon and 9PM on Saturday! Comparing that kind of highway use to conventional highway users is distracting, at best, and total b......t in reality.

In the WCCO program, a DPS spoksperson provided the following statistical claim, "As you might imagine, seat belts are far more effective than helmets at preventing injuries and death . . . Drivers are 60 percent less likely to be killed in a crash if they're wearing a seat belt but bikers are only 35 percent less likely to die if they're wearing a helmet."

Really? Where did the data for that claim come from?

I don't know where that dubious "35 percent less likely to die if they're wearing a helmet" data comes from, but I'd be amazed if helmets don't prevent death and injury considerably more effectively than seatbelts. Watch a motorcycle race crash and make your own estimate of how many racers would have survived without helmets. Almost every crash I've ever experienced began with a mild or major face plant. Since buying my first full face helmet in 1982, face plants have been scary but bloodless events. We all know how that story changes when you remove the helmet.

I think the motorcycle injury statistics fall into the "incomplete" category and provide considerably less than useful information. If you crash your car, the chances may be pretty good that you'll be calling a tow truck and the crash may be reported, regardless of injury. I suspect that the majority of helmeted riders--who run their bike off of the road in a corner, drop the bike at a slick intersection, slide out on spring sand and salt on a freeway entrance or exit, and all of the other low-to-mid-speed crash scenarios--get back up, dust themselves off, and wobble back home, shaken but unharmed and unreported. I'd also bet crashing involving un-helmeted riders is a different story. If you run your bike off of the road, but you can wrestle it back to pavement and get back home where you can privately bandage your wounds, nobody recording data is going to hear about it. If you were wearing a real motorcycle helmet and protective gear, you probably don't have any wounds to bandage.

Which brings up another important aspect of helmet crash statistics: there are helmets and there are helmets. DOT will put a sticker on a Tupperware bowl held in place by a pair of shoestrings. Those stupid looking plastic yarmulkes that cruiser folks wear to cover their bald spots are barely more protection than Snoopy's aviator cap. Including those funny-looking hats on the "helmeted" side of a crash statistic is an insult to protective gear designers.

The one number we should all be able to agree on is the percentage of motorcyclists involved in deaths. Injuries may or may not be reported, but deaths rarely go unrecorded. In 2005, there were 559 Minnesota crash deaths, 59 (10.6%) were motorcycle/motor scooter related. In 2006, 70 motorcyclists were killed (14%) out of 494 total highway deaths. One thing is obvious about motorcycle deaths, there are too damn many.

The demographics of motorcycle deaths are also fairly reliable statistics. Minnesota men were 90% of the motorcycle fatalities, half of the women killed on motorcycles were passengers. Our two biggest age-group lumps in motorcycle deaths were ages 20-29 (19 deaths) and 40-49 (21 deaths) followed by 50-59 (12 deaths). 53 of 70 fatal crashes (76%) occurred in small towns (<25,000) and rural roads, which contradicts the argument that urban commuting is "too dangerous"; or the "safe" weekend ride is beyond the skills of many Minnesota riders.

Attempting to correlate deaths--and reported injuries--to disparate and misleading numbers like motorcycle registrations or licenses issued is a waste of resources. I know guys who have a dozen registered bikes in their garage and, maybe, one of those vehicles is ridden a couple dozen miles in a given season. Supposedly, there are almost 200,000 motorcycle Minnesota licenses. Is there anyone vision-impaired enough to believe there are 200,000 motorcycles on our roads on any given day of the year?

The lack of useful data does not justify using worthless data to either defend or attack motorcycle training, motor vehicle safety, or even the continued access to public roads. For example if you're a stupid-statistics-user, you could conclude that November through March are the safest months to ride in Minnesota (no deaths during those months in 2006). What we need to defend motorcycling and improve motorcycle safety are good, useful numbers and the means to consistently obtain those numbers without the distraction of disingenuous statistics.

Any reasonable person will look at the high contribution motorcycling makes to traffic deaths and the nearly non-existent contribution our vehicle makes to traffic and wonder if there is a reason to allow motorcyclists access to public roads. The fact is motorcyclists die on the road at a much higher rate (per mile, per vehicle, per motorist, per accident, etc.) than other motorists. We need to do something about that if we hope to retain our highway privileges. If protective gear dramatically lowers that mortality rate, the motorcycle industry needs to admit that and do whatever it takes to put a helmet on every rider. If our current training and rider licensing system isn't working, riders, trainers, and the industry need to fix it. We are allowed on public roads by the permission of the larger society. If motorcycles don't provide a useful, safe alternative to conventional transportation, our vehicle will be banned from public roads as were the horse and buggy and the rest of the long list of no-longer-allowed equipment and vehicles. We must make motorcycling more practical and safer. There is no other option.

June 2008

A Familiar Face

I’m pretty sure I’ve had this monkey in an MSF class or two. Worse, this chimp nearly knocked me over once or twice on the California highway.

Sep 3, 2014

Product Review: Aerostich Lane Share Tool

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas

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The Lane Share Tool in parking lot action on Canada's busy Highway 17.

Aerostich's Mr. Subjective once told me that laws only reflect what the majority of the public is already doing. I guess that explains the prevalence of helmet-less riders and modified exhaust systems. Those folks are trying to influence laws regulating motorcycle safety and noise, by risking their skulls and creating a public nuisance. Fair enough.

Some laws, however, don't make sense regardless of how prevalent common practice may be. Restricting two-wheel vehicles to lanes designed for 4-18 wheel vehicles is one among many such nonsensical laws. Lane splitting and traffic filtering are vital keys to making motorcycles into practical transportation. If any laws are ripe for motorcyclists' civil disobedience, it would be those that prevent motorcycles and scooters from reducing traffic congestion and optimizing the flexibility of our favorite vehicle. The Oregon Department of Transportation did  a detailed study of the available information and concluded that lane sharing appears to be a non-factor in motorcycle crashes and fatalities.

Aerostich has developed a product to assist riders in lane-splitting civil disobedience; the Lane Share Tool (catalog # 3305). This clever electro-mechanical farkle allows the motorcyclist to provide an educational message (instead of a reportable license plate number) with the touch of a button for cagers to contemplate as they are stuck in traffic. The stepper-motor actuated mechanism smoothly swings the license plate holder down and displays a subtle message to the cars you are passing. Momentarily pressing the unit's push button switch ("standard mode") opens the message display for 10 seconds, after which the display closes automatically. Or maybe you don't want to be subtle. Holding the button for 5 seconds puts the unit into "maintenance mode," which displays the message until you press the button again. Anytime the unit is displaying your message, an LED on the control module flashes to remind you that your license is not legally displayed. When the circuit is disengaged, the unit stops drawing power from your battery.

The Lane Share Tool has been designed for simple, painless installation. The harness includes a couple of connector points to assist in feeding the wires to their designated points. The activation button mounting hardware allows for at least two sensible attachment tactics. All of the hardware appears to be solidly designed and watertight. Installation took me about 30 minutes and I was idiotically anal about cable routing. Thanks to the connectors, I didn't have to remove the fairing or gas tank.

Remember, lane-splitting and loud pipes are a combination that demonstrates your poor manners and lack of social conscience. Do the rest of us a favor, if you are addicted to a 13-year-old girl's appetite for attention-grabbing, don't split lanes. For the rest of you who want to promote lane-splitting as a common, legal activity, the Lane Share Tool is an interesting public education device. Unfortunately, lane-splitting and filtering is legal in only one US state: California. So, if you use it be warned that you may pay a price beyond the Lane Share Tool's $157 price tag.

Dead Lane Share Tool
The Lane Share Tool, waiting for disposal after a life on the road.

POSTSCRIPT: 8/30/2014, after suffering the slings and arrows of mud, chain lube, rocks, and occasional use, my Lane Share Tool bit the dust today. Probably the most common use I've found for this device is demonstrating it after an MSF class when someone asks, "What's that?" Today, the demonstration resulted in a cool downward progression of the "One Less Car" sign, and a couple of hiccups on the upward passage before the motor quit altogether. "It's dead, Jim." And it is.

The poor motor was coated in gritty chain lube from a long life lived behind my V-Strom's rear tire. It made it through 2,700 miles of North Dakota's backroads and 10,000 miles from here to Nova Scotia and back, plus a couple years of all-weather commuting, local adventure touring, camping, and the misery of being on the ass-end of a motorcycle belonging to me. So ends another product test. I'd done such a slick job of installing the little bugger it could have been a serious pain-in-the-ass to remove it. Luckily, the brilliant engineers at Aerostich put high quality connectors in-line at both ends of the cable harness, allowing me to cut the tiewraps, undo the harness clips, and pull the wiring without bike disassembly.

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Sep 1, 2014

#71 Low Cost Racing and other Oxymorons

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I spent a few of the idle hours a while back reading a friend's book, Kent Larson's Motorcycle Track Day Handbook. It's a good book. You should check it out. It will give you something to think about while the bike is stuffed into the back of your garage through the winter.

However, Kent and his co-writers generated a few magnificent errors in their assumptions about racing. Being a pain-in-the-ass, I have to point out a couple of such mistakes. In the early pages Kent wrote "most likely you are already pretty certain you want to get to the racetrack or you wouldn't have picked up this book." Kent gave me my copy, so maybe he's right if he was talking to a book buyer. As a comp'd reader, I have absolutely no intention of getting myself to a racetrack. I have done that, suffered defeat and injury at a relatively late point in life (by motorcycle racer standards), and I can still easily identify the bones I fractured anytime the barometer moves. Thanks, but I just read motorcycle racing literature purely for entertainment, education, and a little harmless gonzo titillation.

The second (by my standards), questionable statement was located beneath a photo of a Honda XR650R that had been modified for racing, "supermotard has been making a comeback and can be a cheap and fun way to get into the racing scene." When you start with a $6,000+ motorcycle, trick it out with another several thousand dollars in suspension, tires, brake, and frame parts, and take it racing where all of that investment could vanish in a single low speed corner miscalculation, we're not talking about any kind of "cheap" with which I am familiar.

Racing isn't cheap, unless "cheap" means "less than millions" to you. Kent lives on the side of the economy that would describe me as "dirt poor" or something less complimentary. His bike trailer has more accommodations than my house. He appears to spend as much on motorcycles and accessories as I spend on my whole lifestyle. You could describe me as "jealous." You could describe me as "miserly." I describe myself as "practical." Few would describe me as "rich."

I carefully ration out my income and savings with the constant balance between necessity, fun, and work. Necessity takes care of itself. You gotta do what you gotta do. However, the "need" word only gets applied to things I need. Food, weatherproof shelter, second-hand clothes, basic transportation, and beer all fall into the "I need this" bracket. Fun gets balanced against the time required to support the fun. I prefer at least a 1:1 ROI (return on investment) "fun-to-work ratio." At the minimum, I want an hour's fun in exchange for no more than an hour's work required to pay for the fun. Anytime the ROI drops below 1:1, I begin to make excuses about why I can't be bothered to do that thing and I find another way to spend my time. When the ROI is 2:1 or better, it's usually a no-brainer and I go have fun. I'm easily entertained, though, and I can always find something fun to do that doesn't cost any money at all. Sleep, for example.

Racing motorcycles is one of those things that has a grossly negative ROI, usually about a 1:2,000 (fun to work) time allotment. The reason for that is that racing, in all forms, is expensive if you even want to pretend you are going to be competitive. With entry level motorcycle racing, Kent says "the travel, tires, and track fees could run you $500 per outing." That's assuming you are racing a used small bike (500-650cc) and not including the cost of buying the bike, crashing the bike, fixing the bike, upgrading the bike, or (especially) the expense you'll suffer hanging out with medical practitioners. Kent seems to like doctors to a degree that makes me uncomfortable. In fact, if he admitted "I cut down trees, I skip and jump, I love to press wild flowers,"

I wouldn't be a lot less comfortable. I wouldn't trust a doctor with your body. I don't want a medic looking at, rearranging, or cutting into my body parts, unless I'm making a special appearance on CSI Minneapolis.

About a decade ago, I discovered remote-control, off-road electric buggy racing. I thought, "how expensive could toy car racing be?" I found a good used car chassis with a collection of accessory parts for a hundred bucks, bought a mid-line radio control rig for two hundred dollars, duct-taped together a car body out of busted pieces I found in the track's dumpster, and went racing. Starting as a Novice, I raced for a couple of weeks until I was moved up to Intermediate. A month later, I was racing Expert and competing for prizes; mostly race car parts and tire sets. Being the son of an accounting teacher, I habitually keep track of my expenses. After my first race, I created an account for RC racing and started watching the nickels flow outward. I didn't bother with mileage to-and-from races or to practice, but I entered every nickel directly spent on racing for about six months. At the six month mark, I did a ROI analysis on my RC racing habit. At the time, I was earning about $28/hour droning away at a god-awful cube-job, so the fun-to-work/misery ROI analysis was perfectly straight-forward. Racing was the fun time, work was not. I had spent about $400 a month on the RC habit and raced (practice track time included) about ten hours a month. I'd set up a small practice track in my backyard, which probably lowered my property value by several thousand dollars, but we won't argue that point. Without including the unaccounted-for places where RC racing cut into my income, provided minor expenses, and took time from higher ROI activities, racing at this minimal level produced a fractional return on my investment. Worse, I got bored with the illusion; going fast without putting life and limb at risk.

For the last ten years, my race car has been relegated to toy status, something my grandson plays with it in the driveway on warm Sunday afternoons. He's burned all of my prize-money knobbies into slicks and ground the graphite chassis into a pile of busted bits held together by Gorilla Glue and duct tape. My over-priced high-capacity batteries have all turned to empty promises from exposure to cold winters in the garage, age, and irregular use.

The point is "racing" is not "cheap." In fact, any sentence using the words "racing" and "cheap" is an irrational statement unless there is a logical negation adjective or adverb coupling the two ("never" or "not", for example). Motorcycle racing, at the local club level, is cheaper than auto racing, but it's still expensive and really expensive once you throw in medical expenses. Racing toy cars is cheaper than racing motorcycles, but, if you purely count the time racing against the time and money spent getting ready to race, $400 for a dozen five-minute motos is pretty damn expensive.

May 2008

Aug 31, 2014

Spam Laugh

Google's Anti-Spam feature is brutal. If you have a blog and you are not using it, you should. I can't even remember how I managed to turn it on, but I do have to delete about 250 spam "comments" a month (all done with a two-click procedure in a couple of seconds). I suppose, however, that I'm cheating my actual readers out of opportunities to buy knock-off watches, jeans, and designer crap and you wouldn't believe how many spammers are peddling Russian wives, porn (not all Russian, but most of it seems to be), and stolen credit card info. Just let me know if you are desperate for this "information" and I'll forward it to you before I delete it, next time.

Aug 30, 2014

Tested to Death

IMG_6332Several years ago, Andy Goldfine asked me to “test drive” his brand new Aerostich Lane Share Tool. I put it on the V-Strom and drove the hell out of it.  In 2011, Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly published my review of the tool. I’m sad to say, it died today. One of my students asked “What’s that.” I attempted to demonstrate it and it made the trip down, but didn’t make it back up. The stepper motor stepped its last step. And so it now sits orphaned and lonely in the garage.

We had a good run. We “flipped off” many a car when I demonstrated my California traffic management skills after concerts, fairs and festivals, and pretty much anywhere I thought I could get away with splitting lanes on non-public roads across the country. I think it made a convert or two and I’m pretty sure the message got across to most folks.

Aug 28, 2014

A Fogged Mirror

An entertaining and recent L.A. Times article about motorcycling demographics, “California biker profile? Old, married, and moneyed,” does two things: 1) it accurately portrays who motorcyclists are, not just in California, but across the country and 2) it accidentally demonstrates how clueless the industry “experts” are about motorcyclists and the future of the vehicle they make their living selling.

Seven years ago, I was so convinced that the US economy was brain-dead and delusional that I gave up trying to find a way to short the whole country and yanked my money from stocks and mutual funds and dumped it all into a spread of CDs and a couple of Canadian stocks. I didn’t get rich, but I didn’t go broke either. I should have had more confidence in the traditional economic recovery that follows an economic crash and the election of a Democratic President, but I figured the country hadn’t crashed far enough and expected something like the mid-term election disaster and a quick return to Republican borrow-and-spend tactics. Still, a smarter guy would have bet on Ford, Microsoft, Medtronic, and a couple other real companies that tanked like the fake ones but rebounded fast and hard. That braindead and delusional attitude, sometimes called “optimistic,” is a constant in the motorcycle press and industry.

For example, “1.7 million Californians currently hold licenses to operate motorcycles. But there are only 847,937 motorycles [sic] currently registered in the state" encourages an industry goofball to say, “That's great! That means people want to ride, if we just make more motorcycles they want to own." The other possibility, and a more likely scenario, would be that half of the people still alive who have tried motorcycling found it to be too dangerous or impractical to continue. They knocked getting a license (maybe) and a bike (less likely) off of their bucket list and have moved on to their next Big Thing.

And I love this “analysis,” “Even without allowing for the fact that a lot of motorcyclists own more than one motorcycle, that means more than half the people licensed to ride motorcycles in California may not be riding at all.” First, most of us who own motorcycles own at least a couple of them. Second, 847,937 is easily half of 1.7 million and it would be reasonable to assume that way more than half of the registered motorcycles belong to people who have more than one bike. I would bet that most states would be similar in this regard. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that 250,000 riders own those 847k bikes (3.4 bikes/rider average). If that were true, about 14% of the licensed riders own motorcycles. It is absolutely true that well under that measly 250k are on the road out of 24M licensed California drivers (for an unlikely max of 1% of California’s contribution to traffic) are on the road on any given weekday.

An optimist would argue that this all gives motorcycling lots of room to “grow.” A realist might argue that motorcycles have been on the road longer than cars and the room for future expansion is slipping away fast. A pessimist would argue that US motorcycle demographics are aging about 2-3 years for every 5, the number of actual riders is vanishing and too many of those who do ride are accurately classified as either “hooligans” or “criminals.” I think there is a lot of work to be done if motorcycling is going to have a future in the US. So far, I don’t see the slightest indication that the motorcycle industry, in all of it’s parts, realizes there is a shit storm on the horizon and we’re going to be in the middle of it. From public relations to overrepresentation in injury and fatality statistics to a changing population, on-road motorcycling in the 1st world is at risk.

Aug 25, 2014

#70 Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

A long while back, I wrote a rant titled "Rolling Morons" which attracted a fair amount of attention. Believe it or now, your opinions were spread equally between agreement and angry outrage. You defended the magically traffic-shielding powers of loud exhaust pipes and expressed concern that obnoxious motorcycles might spell the end of street legal motorcycling. Both arguments were, sometimes, well defended. A couple of writers really entertained me with their "logic." One reader wrote that "luck" has as much to do with safe riding as does skill, training, or any other rider/motorcycle characteristic. He argued that his loud pipes increase his chances of staying lucky.

I don't want to disrespect luck. It wouldn't be lucky. Anyone who survived the trip from sperm to egg to birth is pretty lucky. Escaping the hospital undamaged, surviving youth, and becoming an adult without loss of limb, STDs, or jail time is exponentially lucky. If you're really lucky, not only will you have that kind of luck on your shoulder, you're kids and grandkids will be equally lucky. Being born in a semi-democratic moderately-industrialized country, amid a world of unlucky folks who will never experience that luxury, is an incredible luck of the draw. Knock on wood, toss salt over your shoulder, burn a candle or a goat to the gods of your choice, or do anything else that you believe increases your odds of maintaining your lucky streak. I have no problem understanding doing whatever needs to be done to show gratitude for that kind of good fortune.

Some things are less likely to produce increased luck and luck has limitations. You have to buy a lottery ticket before you have much chance of winning the lottery. You have to be in the right place at the right time for opportunity to strike: destiny won't wait for you to pry yourself away from the remote control and up from the couch. Survival depends on planning, practicing good habits, and execution of those habits when it counts. Every successful parent knows that. Most long-term, high-mileage motorcyclists are more likely to tell stories of how he or she avoided a catastrophe with skill or highway paranoia than by mindless luck.

I hear about this luck thing all the time from my MSF Basic Riding and Experienced Rider students. Many of them have all sorts of bad luck stories to tell. It must be part of our "victim" culture. Fate conspires against us and we're thoughtlessly tossed into the fires of misfortune. These are the kinds of tales of unlucky woe I've heard/witnessed/experienced:

  • A little old lady drives her Buick into an intersection and a biker is unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Showing off for his passenger girlfriend, a backwards-baseball-cap-boy overshoots a rural curve, swiping an oncoming bike, and suffering terrible injuries and a permanent lisp and disability. The passenger dies from her injuries before help arrives. A rider on a weekend cruise crests a hill to find a tractor towing a hay bailer taking up most of both lanes. The biker slams into the back of the bailer, barely having touched his brakes before inhaling his last breath.
  • A yuppie in a Beemer overtaxes his abilities sucking on Starbucks, babbling into a cell phone, and attempting to manage freeway traffic. He fails at the most important of his tasks and wanders into an adjacent lane, nearly side-swiping a biker. The "ride free" helmet-less, protective-gear-less motorcyclist is severely injured when he crashes in the median ditch during the attempt to avoid being hit by the Beemer bozo.
  • A new rider crashes in a curve when a brand new tire failed on her brand new bike. She slides, head-on, into oncoming traffic and is killed.
  • A rider slides to a barely-controlled stop when a front wheel bearing seizes, after recently performing a front-to-back bike inspection a couple of days earlier.
  • A rider is rear-ended by a following car when that cage-dwelling cell phone addict forgets her primary task in stop-and-go freeway traffic and starts a traffic chain-reaction. The biker is severely injured, being crushed between the cell-phoner and preceding vehicles.
  • A rider was squashed by a concrete bridge section that tipped off of a semi-trailer in heavy freeway traffic.

Some of you might describe all of these as bad luck events, right? Some of us would be skeptical. I think the events in the first four scenarios are no more than 10% bad luck and no less than 90% rider inattention and inability. A chunk of the second group, five through seven, are pretty close to pure bad luck but there are some aspects of those crashes the biker could have controlled or moderated. The eighth event is about as bad as luck gets.

I'm totally unconvinced that any passive good luck charm, like loud pipes, would have any effect on any of these scenarios or any other reasonable traffic situation. I am convinced, from personal experience and science, that those pipes could have the opposite, crash-inducing, effect. First, noise is fatiguing, it wears you down, it dilutes your attention, it even inhibits your ability to make decisions. Look it up, noise pollution has almost as many negative symptoms as air pollution. The only time I've ever had to take nap breaks on a long ride was when I brought my "new" SV home from Cleveland. As soon as I was able, I replaced the Two Brothers pipe with the stock unit and solved that problem. Of course, when your exhaust note is the only thing you can hear other hazards are obscured. I'm unconvinced that the minor attention you generate is worth the major inattention you create in yourself.

Noise is fatiguing. Noise irritates other road users and might make them tense, aggressive, or inattentive. Sudden noises can startle other drivers, causing them to participate in a panic reaction, which is always a bad thing. Unnecessary noise is, obviously, pointless urban and rural environmental pollution. Most of all, if loud pipes on a bike can be argued to make motorcyclists safer, what keeps small cage owners from using the same argument for their protection from larger vehicles? Following them will be SUVs and truckers wanting the same "protection?" Once you start that ball rolling, all you've done is make the highways a massive noise pollution source and a rational target for federal, state, and local regulation. Do you really want to be responsible for the kind of reaction that most likely will result in a lot of problems for all motorcyclists simply because you imagine that a loud exhaust makes you feel lucky?

April 2008

Aug 23, 2014

The RV Era Is Dead

2014-02-22 CoR (17) When we got back to Minnesota this spring, I put the RV up for sale on Craig’s List and dug into the business of getting our house ready to sell and eliminating three decades of accumulated stuff (or “shit” as George Carlin would describe it). The Craig’s List ad pulled in a few prospective buyers, but the asking price ($28,000) thinned the herd a lot. After getting our 2013 income taxes out of my hair, I went back through the Rialta and tweaked everything I could think of with the intention of hitting the road with the RV this winter. Electronics sorted out, new tires, fresh fluids all around, and a solid cleaning to get the New Mexico grit out of the vehicle, and we were fully vested in doing a similar trip this winter. I’d kept the “for sale” sign on the back window since January, sort of as a reminder and partially because a die-hard Rialta fan kept telling me “If you want to sell it, take it camping. Every campground I visit gets me a visit from someone who wants to buy my Rialta.” I wanted to test his theory with an actual attempt to sell our Rialta, but we didn’t attract a single buyer in 6,000 miles and a dozen different campgrounds. My wife, Elvy, on the other hand was convinced we needed a different kind of vehicle. “I want a truck,” has been her mantra for months. So, we kept the sign on the RV and renewed the Craig’s List ad every few weeks and kept on keeping on with our plans. Recently, those plans began to include the scary idea of buying a home in Red Wing before we unload our Little Canada mini-farm. That meant we needed to liquefy some cash.

IMG_4652 Three weeks ago, Elvy took a couple of calls on the ad and decided Craig’s List mostly attracts flakes. She called an old friend, Perry, who owns Roseville Auto Repair and asked him if we could park the RV in front of his shop for a few days. Perry thought it was a great idea and we moved the RV to the corner of Hamline and County Road B2, right across from the Roseville Library. Within a few days, the quality of our calls rapidly improved. Perry must have handed the keys to a couple dozen customers who wanted to inspect the RV. We got four solid interested buyers in the second week. Monday, we sold the RV. We didn’t get the whole asking price, but what we did get meant owning our Rialta for a year-plus cost me $1.69 per day or $0.08 per mile or a total of $763 counting all repairs (not including my labor), fuel costs, maintenance, and upgrades and improvements. Considering the dire straits we were in seven months ago, not bad. The Rialta rolled out of our driveway with all systems working, sparkling clean, and having averaged 17.16mpg for 9713 miles. Our best was 22.91mpg and the worst was 13.41 when we were exclusively driving between Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences, a 5 mile one-way trip with lots of in-town driving.

As usual, I had mixed feelings. We took a great trip to North Dakota in July and it would be hard to replicate that experience with any other kind of RV. We were in all kinds of camping situations, from parked on a country road to a full service state park or being in the middle of a Fourth of July party in Bismarck. The van ran perfectly, the new fat tires might have cost a few mpg, but we still got about 17mpg for the trip. Everything about that trip was exactly why we’d bought the Rialta in the first place. Spontaneous, economical, flexible, and incredibly comfortable.  What the hell are we selling it for?

IMG_6324[1]Yesterday, I rode the V-Strom to Red Wing to meet a contractor to get a bid on repairs for one of the houses we’re considering. On the way back, I spotted a “Rialta” next to a rural farm building. I turned back to get a better look. It wasn’t a Rialta, it was a previous version called the “LeSharo.” This was Winnebago’s first attempt at a small, efficient camper with a Fiat (I know) power plant. Mostly, the vehicle was pretty awful because of the usual Winnebago problems and the obvious “Where do you get a Fiat serviced?” problems. The answer is, you don’t. The owner of this vehicle had pretty much given up on his RV ever moving again. The only practical fix is expensive, a total driveline replacement with Chrysler and custom bits. Like many of the RVs we saw abandoned in Truth or Consequences, this LeSharo will slowly turn into a storage shed for crap until it’s full and the whole mess gets hauled away for scrap.

2014-01-22 TorC (6)Most of my mixed feelings went away then. Other than the North Dakota trip, our RV sat in the driveway unused for most of the spring and summer. Camper trailers are more suited to long periods of disuse. Vehicles need to be driven. You can jack a trailer off of the tires and just use it as an office or spare bedroom. A motorized RV isn’t anywhere near that flexible. If you’re gonna have one, you gotta use it. If you can afford to let a $20k-100k investment deteriorate into a rusting shack, you can afford plane tickets and motel rooms. No motel will ever get away with dropping a surprise $8,000 repair bill on you, unless you are Keith Moon (and you shouldn’t have been surprised then). I think we learned this winter that we’re not ready to use an RV enough to justify owning one. That’s a little disappointing, but the lesson could have been a lot harder learned.