Apr 20, 2015

#105 You Can't Ride Forever

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

I have officially reached the point in life where I can look back at a lot more things I’ve done than I’m likely to do for the rest of my life. For me, the identifying factor in making that measure has been arthritis. Both of my hips are trashed, bone-on-bone and little chunks of debris spitting out the sides of both hips and an “osteoarthritis” diagnosis from both my regular doctor and an orthopedic surgeon.

For the last year, I’ve been avoiding the surgeon and trying to slip past that nasty bit of personal history with physical therapy. If the definition of “it’s working” is that I’m still mobile and working, it’s working. If the definition is being pain-free (or even mildly inconvenienced by pain) and able to be as active as I expect myself to be, it’s not working at all. So, I’m looking at a total hip replacement this winter, followed by weeks of pain and disability and months of rehab. If that isn’t a marker for being “old,” I don’t want to hear about the next step.

While wrestling with the surgery decision, I’ve been carefully comparing the best post-surgery case to my current physical status. There are things that I can do now that I may not be able to do after surgery. There are things that I can’t do now that I could do a year ago. Currently, I don’t do anything with my legs that doesn’t involve pain. So, while I’m arguing with myself my wife chips in, “If the big part of the decision is whether you can ride your motorcycle after surgery, you know you can’t ride forever.”

No, I don’t know that. Ok, I do. I understand that I'm not going to live forever; nothing and no one does. But I don't concede that I won't be able to ride for nearly all of my life. Not yet. I'm not even willing to concede that decision is in my near future.

I’ve taught Experienced Rider students who were seventy and even eighty-years-old. I’ve worked with MSF instructors who are almost a decade older than me. I plan to be one of those guys ten years from now. My father-in-law, Bob, is 93 and he gets around easier, faster, and more gracefully than me. If I’m going to have a chunk of bone (the femoral head) sawed off of my leg and a six-inch chunk of titanium inserted in the hole, I expect to be at least as mobile as a 93-year-old man as a result. If that’s too much to ask, I can live with the pain for a few more years. Like, until I’m 93.

Pain is a relative thing. You think you can’t stand any more until you get more. Then, your old reference is replaced with a new one. Literally, it is replaced. A few years back, I crashed and separated my left shoulder, cracked some ribs on my right side, and broke the metacarpal forefinger bone on the forefinger of my right hand. I’ve enjoyed at least two of those injuries in the past, individually, and thought they were almost beyond tolerating. When I broke several ribs in an off-road crash in 1978, I thought the world was ending. I was out of work for several weeks and hobbled for three months.

When I separated a shoulder and broke my collarbone in an off-road bicycle crash in 1988, I sold the family’s beloved VW camper because I couldn’t manage the unpowered steering or the shifter. When I jammed (and fractured) that very same finger on my left hand in a basketball game in 1991, I was unable to use my left hand for much of anything that required strength.

When I revisited all of those injuries together, I turned my bike around and rode it 400 miles back to Dawson and “fixed” everything in a boiling-hot bathtub, a ten yards of Ace bandages, and a bucket of Aspercream™. I didn’t know the ribs were damaged for several hundred miles until my shoulder pain dropped below the rib threshold. Other than not being able to hold a fork with my right hand, I barely noticed the hand injury for almost a week and 2,000 miles when I stopped at a clinic in Valdez for X-rays and discovered my hand was healing almost perfectly. What I learned from that is that big pain overwhelms less-big pain. I half-suspect that smashing my big toe would solve my hip problems for at least a couple of days.

If this column runs in the Winter issue, by the time you hear from me again we’ll all know if I’m right; or that my wife wins another argument. Or we’ll learn that I’m a total wimp and limped away from the surgeon’s knife like the gutless cowboy I am. I can always smash a toe every morning and distract attention from that damned hip.

MMM Winter 2011

Apr 13, 2015

#104 "You Are A Motorcycle Bigot"

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

For the hundredth time in our acquaintance-ship, the dude called me a "bigot" because of my general dislike of the cruiser class of motorcycles. I get this charge from a couple of folks and a fair number of readers. They think the accusation is a major blow to my credibility as a motorcyclist and a writer and a person. I think they are somewhere between goofy and overstuffed with themselves.

For starters, bigotry is no small thing. It's a word with meaning, history, and authority. Webster's defines a bigot as "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance." In respect to motorcycles, my first thought is, "Get over yourselves."

Nothing about disliking a particular type of machine is anywhere near as despicable as racial hatred or intolerance. An overweight, barely mobile, noisy, awkward, and gaudy motorcycle design is still merely a silly toy. I'm not even disliking a means of transportation, just a style. In general, I don't like bagpipes, banjos, women's basketball, hillbilly music, hip hop, uncomfortable shoes, liver and onions, cancer and heart disease, or the sociopathic institution of "incorporation." In specific, there are some instances of each of those (except cancer, heart disease, and corporations) that I can tolerate in small doses. Except for three exceptions, I don't hate any of that list.

However, taking the accusation half-seriously I thought about comparing the typical cruiser to the description of a person, using the word's definition. What I came up with is someone who is grossly overweight, stubby-legged, physically incapacitated to the point of presenting a hazard to himself and anyone nearby, wealthy (or expensive, if a dependent) and high maintenance, noisy and constantly trying to draw attention to himself, and who dresses like one of those characters at the Renaissance Festival. Shakespeare's Falstaff is exactly my mental image of a cruiser-as-a-person. Falstaff may be the kind of guy you want to hang out with in a bar, but he'd be a lousy choice of partner in a bar fight. If you don't need intellectual challenge, Falstaff might be an entertaining conversationalist, but not in a library or hospital corridor where his noise, bluster, and stupidity would piss off anyone with an IQ over moronic. As a whole, Falstaff is exactly the kind of person I try to avoid under all circumstances. You'll notice there is no color or ethnic component to my description. I don't buy that avoiding this character qualifies as bigotry. I'd call it "discretion."

However, cruisers are not animate objects and are unworthy of hatred; any more than banjos are truly despicable or heart disease and JPMorgan Chase deserve to survive into the next decade. I can't generate anything near hatred toward any kind of motorcycle. What I do dislike the most about the run-of-the-mill cruiser is that they violate my esthetic sense. Like Falstaff, they are not pretty. Since I'm stuck with a personality that requires form to follow function, the lack of function in cruiser-form is just ugly.

If you're honest, you'll have to admit that I'm not obstinate in my objection to the cruiser style. I've ridden a couple dozen of the genre over the last two decades and I'm always open to the hope that "this one is different." So far, I've been disappointed. The least disappointing of the bunch was the H-D Sportster Sport, but grinding the right-side pipe exiting the Denver dealer's parking lot as I merged into Colfax Avenue traffic didn't raise that bar very high.

Not being a roadracer, there have been a few sportbikes that disinterest me as much as cruisers. Since my mid-fifties, I can't twist myself into that riding position for more than a few minutes without permanent injury. The only cycle style I haven't tried out has been trikes and I gave them up when I graduated to bicycles in 1954. My Hoveround® days will arrive soon enough, I don't need to accelerate the decline.

I have always felt the only real defense I have in traffic on a motorcycle is maneuverability. That's it. If I am not able to change or split lanes quickly, stop or swerve, see over and around other vehicles, or abandon the lanes of traffic and head for a ditch or someone's lawn, I feel naked and exposed on a motorcycle. The only part of motorcycling on the street that approaches a "sport" is the part the motorcycle plays.

Cruisers don't have the ground clearance necessary to pretend to be athletic. Their weight and weight-distribution, width and length, silly handlebar shapes and irrational foot-peg placement, and parts placement are the antithesis of "athletic." That blubbering potato-potato noise sounds practically asthmatic. The louder it is, the more injured it sounds. My term for that design, "hippobike," comes from watching the things wallow through corners. It's almost painful to watch those crippled machines attempt to escape from a stop light before they are run over by the distracted or irritated SUV drivers behind them.

So, while you may call wanting to avoid a noisy, dangerous, cowardly, clumsy, fat man a prejudice, I don't buy it. You can tell yourself that my dislike for overweight, lumbering, badly designed, noisy motorcycles is bigoted, but the reaction you're going to get from me is a chuckle and a little more social distance. If you can't pick your friends any better than that, you are already used to disappointment. If those are the characteristics you look for in a motorcycle, you're "crusin' for a bruisin'."

MMM October 2011

Apr 6, 2015

#103 Magura Levers and Preston Petty Fenders

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

Every year that I have taught MSF classes I’ve spent a good portion of at least a few BRCs cobbling together a lever out of busted pieces of Japanese aluminum. Beginning riders crash, they break stuff, the stuff they break most often are brake and clutch levers.

For my own replacements, I try to never, ever buy a factory Japanese lever. They don’t bend, they break. Always.

Almost any kind of alternative lever will be more indestructible and more reusable than the aluminum-powder crap that the Big Four dumps on their customers. Twenty-five years ago, that was the rule for brake and clutch levers and shifters, regardless of where they came from; England, Japan, Italy, Germany, and the US. All crap. The slightest impact and the levers snapped like pencils. For that matter, so did the bars. Today, nothing has changed.

Back in the bad old days pretty much every brand of lever was as fragile as factory metal, except a Spanish company called Magura. Magura made slightly more expensive levers that could be bent, straightened, bent again, and straightened over and over. It wasn’t that they were easier to bend, either. They were tough and repairable. For some of us who had wrestled with the problem of carrying a half-dozen levers in the toolbox, Magura levers were freakin’ magic parts. Once Magura came out with a replacement lever for the bike of the season, that problem was solved indefinitely.

Sometime in the early-70s Magura upped the ante by introducing “dog-leg levers.” Today, practically every bike lever sold is a copy of those 70's Magura parts. However, the levers pawned off on ignorant consumers by the major manufacturers only copied the shape. The reliability and strength of the original design got lost on the drawing board or on the manufacturing floor. Magura still makes really cool bicycle and vintage motorcycle replacement parts. Our loss. My last trials bike had a pair of Magura bicycle levers in place of the junk Yamaha had installed. I crashed that TY350 a few hundred times and the levers were still in like-new shape when the new owner picked up the bike and trailered it away.

A common gripe among sportbikers is the expense of replacing fragile plastic. “Drop a sportbike, spend a few thousand,” is the sequence we’ve all experienced. Even a slow spill in the garage can cost a month’s wage in repair parts, most of them plastic. Forty years ago, all factory fenders were metal and they were fragile and often replaced. Europe started using fiberglass bodywork, but that was only a cosmetic “improvement.” Parts still broke easily and replacement parts were no better than the OEM bits.

A west coast desert racer, Preston Petty, designed a line of ABS plastic parts that was guaranteed to be “unbreakable” and, under most circumstances, they were close to indestructible. Petty branched out to fuel tanks and other body parts and, for a lot of years, you could find a Preston Petty parts section in most shops that catered to dirt bikers.

My experience with Petty’s fenders varied a little from the indestructible reputation. Every spring my one-man bike dealership would ship a box of fender pieces for warranty replacement. After three years of this routine, I got a call from the company asking what my customers were doing when they broke the fenders. When I told them we were motocrossing in near-zero-Fahrenheit weather, they weren’t amused. It’s the truth, though. We’d crash and the fenders would break like glass. On ice and snow, we crashed a lot and we broke a lot of fenders every winter. I never broke a one between March and November, though.

I’ve been a big fan of ABS plastic stuff ever since. Maybe not for Minnesota winters, but it’s great stuff the rest of the year. Rustproof, durable, light, when it’s scratched it doesn’t show because the color is injected into the plastic, and it’s even weld-able so you can repair it or modify it, it’s the perfect motorcycle body material. Apparently, ABS is expensive. The street bike parts from the major motorcycle manufacturers has little of the qualities that made Preston Petty’s fenders so durable, except for the rustproof-ness. The only reason I can imagine they use this crap plastic is because it is cheap. Obviously, it’s no skin off their noses if we have to cough up thousands for replacement parts as long as we have no alternative sources for the parts we buy.

Acerbis has taken up the slack for dirt bikes and their parts are tough. I haven’t raced or crashed on the ice in more than twenty-five years, so I don’t know if their parts hold up at low temperatures. I’m curious, though. I have used Acerbis tanks, fenders, lighting, and all of that stuff has survived my abuse. It looks good, too.

Whenever someone tries to tell me that the major manufacturers are doing me a favor by building great bikes, I remember Preston Petty and Magura. When the majors couldn’t figure out how to do a job right, someone does it for them, turns it into an industry, and forces the big guys to do their job. Without all of those pioneer privateer bike part designers, we’d still be riding bikes with crap suspensions, fragile body parts, boring cosmetics, and poor performance. I don’t feel any need to thank Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, or any other manufacturer for today’s motorcycles, but I do want to thank Preston Petty, Magura, and the other great designers and motorcycle fanatics for polishing the big company turds into the wonderful motorcycles we ride today.

MMM September 2011

Mar 30, 2015

#102 Turning Corners

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

Regardless of the manipulation of political hacks and word spinners, words have meaning with historic context and those meanings, thanks to dictionary publishers, don't change with the breeze. I'm a big fan of a couple of words that have been abused for the last 30 years; "conservative" and "liberal." I use them all the time and I try to remember the actual definitions of those words to remind my listeners, sympathetic and otherwise, that I'm sticking with the historic definitions regardless of what idiocy the media is farting at us this week.

If, for instance, I suggest that your cornering style is "conservative," I mean "one who is marked by moderation or caution . . .a cautious or discrete person."1 If I compliment your "liberal" application of throttle in a difficult section of road, I mean "generous." If you make up your facts from whole cloth without knowledge of history or human nature, you could be a pseudo-liberal or a pseudo-conservative and I'm completely uninterested in your opinions. And so on, as the "liberal" writer Kurt Vonnegut once ended many paragraphs in at least one book.

One of the advantages to getting old is that you are risking less every year that passes. The idea that aging and conservatism go together bugs the snot out of me. All of the 60's "liberals" I know who "turned conservative" in middle age were as disconnected and disengaged as kids as they are as geezers. They didn't change so much as continue on the same path to nowhere. I turned 63 in July. That's not ancient, I'll admit, but it's more than twice as long as I expected to live. In many ways, I feel more bulletproof today than I did when I was 30. About a decade ago, I turned a corner on having dependents who counted on me for their survival. My wife requires my existence less every passing year, since her dependant list has shrunk along with my own. I have never been afraid of dying, but I've always been worried about getting hurt. One "advantage" of getting old is that I hurt all the time so I'm becoming a lot less sensitive to pain as I decay. That is a surprise. I am, however, continuing on the same personal path as as I started.

A friend and constant source of insight into all things, Martin Belair, was explaining his theory on why motorcycling events are losing their audience and participants. Outside of "everything is economics," he ascribed much of the vanishing sport to a increasing American aversion to risk. "We don't take chances anymore. We're afraid to get hurt." Martin, an ex-US trials champ, described telling his daughter that she could forget about riding a scooter on the street. "Too much risk." That was an interesting limitation, considering the source.

Risk is part of any worthwhile activity and a necessary part of growth, cultural and personal. If you're so afraid of getting hurt that you never venture outside of your comfort zone, you'll find yourself living in a shrinking comfort zone. If you're not pushing against the walls, the walls will close in on you.

A while back, I got tangled up in a discussion with a kid about motocross. I raced, a long, long time ago, and he talked about racing as if he knew something about it, until he started talking about stunting during races. Pretty quickly, I realized that he was talking about playing a motocross video game and he had deluded himself into believing there was a connection between the real thing and twiddling your thumbs in front of a television. I extracted myself from the conversation and decided to never again talk about motorcycles with anyone under 21. Apparently, some of those squirrels can't tell virtual from real world experiences. Later, a young friend tried to equate Guitar Hero with playing a real guitar or other real games; like basketball or even non-virtual golf. Conversations like that make me fear for my grandson's generation's mental and physical health. Get this straight, wiggling a control bar and pushing five buttons is not playing guitar and twiddling your thumbs while watching interactive television is not racing a motorcycle. Those activities barely qualify as activities, let alone an interesting skill, and they are in no way "sport."

A few weeks after the virtual-vs-reality conversations, I found myself at a cornering seminar at the Dakota County Technical College's drivers' range. A friend loaned me his DRZ400 Supermotard for a few laps and after a while my knees were coming close to the track in the tighter corners. In my last lap around the course, I managed to take one corner particularly well, for me, and I noticed that I could have touched the ground with a hand without much of a stretch. Spontaneously and totally out of context to anything I was thinking at the moment, I shouted "f--k video games" when the Suzuki popped out of the corner and lifted the front wheel a little on the exit.

I guess we've turned a corner, as a country. Coming across the ocean, or floating down a big river, to get to America was once a major risk. If you came willingly, out of necessity, or in slavery, you were at risk of losing everything, including your life. Now, immigrants expect to have welfare, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, health care, and public education benefits from the moment they cross the border. Some argue that immigration is the lifeblood of the "American spirit." I think a willingness to take risks is more important. If we become a conservative nation, we're not going to be very interesting and the Brave New World will happen, regardless of how cowardly we behave.

MMM August 2011 1 Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary

Mar 26, 2015

Motorcycle Responsibility

My column in the April issue of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine is about my take on what motorcyclists and motorcycle organizations need to do to get us to the level of acceptance where we might get some traffic preference and lane sharing/splitting. Oddly, this month’s Revzilla Common Threat column is on Washington state’s new lane splitting law and, prepare to be amazed, how screwed up it is.

The key phrase in the law is "The operator of a motorcycle shall not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken, except on the left-hand side of a vehicle traveling in the left-most lane of traffic on a numbered state highway identified in chapter 47.17 RCW that has two or more lanes of traffic in each direction if the operator of the motorcycle is traveling at a rate of speed no more than ten miles per hour over the speed of traffic flow and not more than twenty-five miles per hour."

Think about it.

Mar 23, 2015

#101 It's Not A #&^%#@ Wheelchair

All Rights Reserved © 2008-2011 Thomas W. Day

I'm Wisconsin's Highway 35, heading south, trapped behind a train of slow moving RUBs on overpriced garage jewelry. Usually, this experience is inspiration for a detour. I'd jump a curb and drive across an old lady's lawn to get away from listening to potato burps. This time, however, the parade was weirdly entertaining. 

The guy immediately in front of me had to weigh close to 500 pounds, was barely five feet tall, and stood on his tippy toes to touch the ground from his twenty-four-inch seat height. As Jabba the Hut's little brother wobbled off with the rest of the parade, I wondered about the logic behind calling motorcycling a "sport." As soon as I could see around the human obstacle, I passed him and the rest of his parade and rode on thinking about how the "sport of motorcycling" has changed in my lifetime. What kind of "sport" has sportsmen who couldn't lift anything heavier than a jar of mayonnaise, run faster than a one-legged hippo, or jump over a sliding dime?

Our “sport.”


For my 100th Geezer column and my 64th birthday, I found myself reminiscing about my weird-assed motorcycle history. When I was a kid, in the 1950's and 60's, I hardly ever saw anyone on a motorcycle who wasn't a kid. A rider in his 30's was an "old guy." The majority of riders were self-taught. The 70's were American motorcycling's boom years. Trials, motocross, enduros, speedway, cross country and desert racing, drag racing, and road racing were all flush with riders and spectators. There were more brands of motorcycles imported into the US than there are designer clothing labels today.

In the 80s, the motorcycle growth bubble burst loudly. Honda's "you meet the nicest people" marketing campaign dissolved into wishing and hoping for customers without providing them any realistic motivation to buy. Harley's yuppie "bad biker" image morphed into the only game in town and nothing much has changed since. Still, every long-term rider I knew took riding skills seriously and considered motorcycling to be something of a self-preservation-oriented competitive activity. Even thirty years ago, in southern California I rarely saw anything resembling gray beards or blue hair on a bike. It was still a mostly young man's sport.

In the 90s, I began to run into middle-aged men and women who, suddenly, decided they'd "always wanted to ride a motorcycle." I'll admit that I was hanging out with a dorkier class of people those years; I moved from California to Colorado and from the music industry to the medical industry. Again, my personal experience does not mirror the national demographics. I directed several of these mid-life-crisis critters to motorcycle training classes. I tried to help them learn to ride, but they weren't particularly athletic (to say the least) and my "go as fast as you can, until you fall down, then don't go quite that fast the next time" motocross instructor's advice didn't seem appropriate. Kids fall down, whine a little, get back up, and learn something from the experience. 40-year-old men and women fall down, bawl like babies, and sue someone.

However they learned, not one of the new riders I met during that period is still on two wheels. They bought a motorcycle, were disappointed that their new toy didn't make their butts look smaller, discovered it wasn't an efficient way to meet the opposite sex, and moved on to cosmetic surgery or religion. I lost contact with most of them when they left motorcycling.

For the last decade, I've been teaching MSF classes. As usual, I'm not recording accurate numbers or monitoring statistics, but it seems to me that the average age of the beginning motorcyclist has jumped another decade. It's not unusual to have six to ten fifty-five to seventy-five year old students in a Basic Rider Course. It's not unusual to hear that many of these wannabe riders have already bought exactly the wrong kind of first bike, are insanely proud of their new Village People outfits, and are sporting a bowl "helmet" that barely covers their bald spot. As the song says, "It's not unusual to wrong at anytime. . . "

Kids, with athleticism and durability on their side, will happily start out on a 200-350cc dual purpose bike or sport bike. The geriatric crowd seems to think they're going to make up for lost time by jumping on a bike that an experienced and talented rider would think twice about test riding on a closed course. The majority of younger new rider-students are considerably less arrogant about the skill of motorcycling. They are often better students, better listeners, more patient with themselves and the exercises, and more likely to be able to tolerate the physical demands of motorcycling (the "sporting" aspect).

A few of the learning-challenged not-young characters fail the license exam. However, most pass and they swagger-wobble out into the world imagining that they have the necessary skills to maneuver their 1000cc-plus, 800-pound-plus motorcycle in urban traffic. If the BRC was an 8-hours-per-day, five-day-a-week, six month program, it wouldn't be enough time to prepare many of these people for actual riding conditions. What they are asking from the program is the equivalent to taking a couple of afternoon lessons to become a competition snowboarder. Maybe not at the X-Game level, but at least at the level where they could quickly board down a hill, slip a rail, and make it over a couple of desk-sized jumps without falling. The insulting implication is that these newbies expect to obtain the hard-earned skill and judgment of their instructors in a couple of short sessions.

Most of my generation hasn't learned much in the last decade or more. They are sometimes capable of using their bank card at an ATM. If they are computer users at all, they rarely do more than prowl eBay and forward chain-letters. They don't read much. They only listen to music that was recorded thirty years ago. They don't exercise and they certainly don't play any sport (unless golf, bowling, or poker is a sport). They haven't been in a classroom for decades. The last time they "worked out" was shoveling snow from their sidewalk when the snowblower broke or the neighborhood kid was sick.

Most younger people have recently exercised all of the necessary mental and physical skills. Most important, as far as their motorcycling survivability is concerned, they haven't been polluted by whatever influence is making old people want to own 900 pound cruisers. When they are so infected, younger people might rethink that silly plan. A critical fault in aging is inflexibility. That's a fatal fault on a motorcycle. Like lawyers and doctors, we're all "practicing" motorcyclists. This isn't something you just get and keep, without exercising unnatural habits and complicated skills.

My generation seems to have created a lot of people who think the laws of physics can be influenced by money, the legal system, and by a heartfelt "I wanna." Velocity and acceleration (up or down) are ruthless. Gravity is insensitive to your brittle bones and inflexible joints. You don't get special consideration on the highway simply because traffic is moving “too fast” or you can't muster up the courage to make the bike stop or turn. Other highway users expect you to "drive it or park it." Being handicapped on a motorcycle is often fatal.

Years ago, a comedian friend of mine had a bit in his routine that asked, "Why are there fuckin' handicapped parking spaces at a racquetball court?" I'm trying to get him to add a routine that starts with "A motorcycle is not a fuckin' wheelchair, dumbshit."

MMM June  2011

Mar 16, 2015

#100 Defining "Retarded"

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

(NOTE: This rant was renamed "Defining Idiotic" with related editorial changes by my MMM Editor. I'm sticking with the original concept because it's more accurate.)

[Second NOTE: This rant marked the 100th time Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly published some of my crazy shit. This was not a rant I ever expected to see published. It was at the dead bottom of my slush pile of at least two dozen available essays. It fell into the category of "don't send anything you write while you're still pissed off." I can't guess why Bruce picked it.]

A few years back (June, 2001), I wrote a Geezer column called "Never Do That Again." The core of that rant was, "Over my 35 years of buying used vehicles, I've formed a collection of rules that, if I followed them, could prevent a lot of the usual used-bike/car misery. The first of those rules is 'never buy a motorcycle from a Kid.'" At the time, I defined "anyone under 40 is, more than likely, a Kid." It's a good rule. It should be followed relentlessly. Mercilessly. Without exception. 

Insurance companies use this logic when they price any sort of insurance coverage for the high risk, mostly-braindead, under-25 crowd. They never screw up because they never deviate from the knowledge that Kids are a poor risk. They never delude themselves into believing a kid might be able to connect two synapses to make a conscious thought. I, on the other hand, occasionally imagine Kids might be something other than sperm and body-part donors. Usually, something interferes with my normal analytic processes and sinks the ship that usually floats my rational mind.

Another rule I usually apply to buying anything more expensive than a $1 meal is "Never buy anything you want." The logic behind this rule is that if you want something (read "want," not need) you will over-pay for it. So, I reserve the wanting for after I get the best possible deal. Once I have it and get it for my price, I can be happy with it.

This winter was long, painful, boring, and got as close as any yet to driving me south or into the desert for a long deserved and desired retirement. About January, I was sick of snow, below-zero weather, no motorcycles, and listening to idiot opinions over the television and radio and, especially, in person. Even worse, I was sick with the third flu of the season and about to sink into four weeks of depressing, suffocating misery.

In the midst of all that, I wanted an excuse for getting rid of 40 pounds of lard I'd collected over the past couple of semi-sedentary years. Mostly out of boredom, I started watching Craig's List for a bike I'd dreamed about since first seeing it at the Cycle World Show in 2008. I wanted a WR250X and it was going to be my diet goal: "Get to 180 pounds and you get to buy a WR." Sounds like a hopeless dream, now that I see it in print, but it was an honest attempt at self-bribery at the time.

As I was sinking into the delirium of 2010's Great Influenza, I stumbled on to a reasonably priced, used 2008 WR250X in Forest Lake. I hadn't yet figured out that my congestion was due to the oncoming flu and not my usual allergies to my wife's indoor weed garden and I thought I'd take a look at the bike. It took a lot of schedule-wrestling to catch the owner and set a time to view the motorcycle and, by then, I was really heading downhill. Finally, my wife and I drive to Forest Lake to see the bike and it was one of the few above-absolute-zero days in the winter of 2010. I got really stupid and gathered up my gear, imagining that I'd take the bike for a test ride and maybe even buy it. It wasn't that warm and, by then, I'd begun to suspect that my creaking body, leaking sinuses, and general miserable condition wasn't really indoor weed allergies. But if I have any skill at anything, I am good at ignoring danger signs.

When I get to the owner's shop, I discover he has hack-sawed off the end of the exhaust pipe. He claims it was because a friend dropped the bike and bent up the pipe, but the cut was pretty clean and in exactly the spot a Kid would do damage in an attempt to camouflage lousy riding skills with lots of noise. Normally, that would have been enough to chase me away. Next, I discovered the Kid had deluded himself into thinking he was really tall and needed the suspension lifted artificially high. For me, it was unrideable in that condition. Normally, that would have been more than enough data to drive me back into the winter gloom. Finally, I discovered he didn't have the title on the bike and we'd have to meet 30 miles north where he'd use my money to pay off his loan. If any part of this deal sounds reasonable to you, you are either sicker than I was or dumber than I am. I put $250 down on the bike, got a hand-written sales receipt, and went home where I stumbled into the worst flu I've had in a decade. I even missed a day of work, something I hadn't done since 2001.

Eventually, we straightened up the paperwork, transferred the title, and he trucked the bike to my garage where it sat uninspected, unridden, and barely considered for a month and a half. Once the garage warmed up a little, I started looking over my brilliant purchase. When I got a good look at the mangled pipe, I knew I'd screwed up. A little further into the inspection, I discovered the rear fender extension and license plate bracket had been hacked "cosmetically." It always amazes me that idiot children imagine themselves to be superior engineers than the guys who designed and manufactured something as brilliant as a Yamaha WR250X, but human arrogance and stupidity are as common as hydrogen.

Finally, after finding a shade tree genius on eBay to supply me with a $50 replacement stock pipe and a "cosmetic expert" who provided a spare stock fender extension for even less, I had the bike almost back to working condition. After deciding to do a little of my own re-engineering with a larger fuel tank, I got into a full maintenance cycle on the cycle: oil change, chain tensioning and lubrication, packing the steering head and swing arm bearings, fork oil replacement, and eventually . . . checking the air filter.

Huh? The airbox is empty. No filter.

There are all kinds of stupid on this dying earth, but I had completely forgotten that there are people dumb enough to imagine a motorcycle doesn't need an air filter. I haven't met (until this winter) anyone that dumb since I was a Kid. I was 15 when I decided to pull the air filter from my father's 1954 Ford because it was so dirty the car wouldn't start with it installed. It didn't take long for that genius move to go wrong. It would have taken a lot less time for the WR motor go be chewed up by grit. I, obviously, don't know what the Kid did with my motorcycle sans air filter. I can only hope the motor is still mostly new. He only owned the bike for about a thousand miles and, maybe, he did this damage during the parked winter months. I can only hope.

There is a lesson here for me, though. It's a variation on "never buy a motorcycle from a Kid." The new edition of that rule is "Never, ever, under any conditions buy a motorcycle from a Kid." There is, literally, no such thing as a "good deal" when the seller is a Kid. If you buy a Kid's bike listed for $5,000 in the Blue Book for $500, you're going to lose money in the long run. At the least, you'll spend $6,000 in mental energy fixing all the dumb Kid crap. My definition of "retarded" is being an old guy who buys anything from a Kid. I am, clearly, retarded.

MMM July 2011

Mar 15, 2015

Splitting in the News

Here are a couple of decent articles about filtering and lane-splitting in the news, including one from the Wall Street Journal (thanks Paul):

Wall Street Journal WSJ.COM Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Could Move Beyond California

Bikewriter.com Lane-splitting in the mainstream? Here's a two-step program to get those laws passed

If you are in favor of splitting/filtering, prepare to be disappointed by the comments in the WSJ article. There are some really timid motorcyclists out there. The video on the WSJ article is absolutely worth watching. The article pitted a splitting rider vs. a non-splitting rider on a 1 hour (caged) commute while discussing the advantages and disagreements about splitting.

Being the conservative bastion that we’ve become, Minnesota is not part of the conversation. We should be, though.

Mar 13, 2015

Another Shitty Day in Paradise

IMG_0021Almost 70F again in Minnesota and I had to go into the Cities to meet an electrician about work that may (or may not) be necessary to sell our old home. I wish I could say this damn deal is nickel-and-dime’ing me to death, but it’s more like thousands of dollars that I have no reason to be spending other than having made a mediocre deal. That’s the shitty day part.

The ride home was pretty boring, even if it was my 2nd ride of 2015. Just a little west of Red Wing I noticed a torn up clay road heading northeast. I circled around and headed into it and I don’t know how many miles later ended up at a dead end boat launch. On the way, I slogged through frozen slick clay sections (the source of that famous Red Wing pottery), a couple of flooded road crossings (paved underneath, so it wasn’t much of an adventure), some axle deep mud sections, and amazing scenery. That’s the paradise part.

PS: While I did gain some MN winter weight, there are two layers of insulation under that jacket. It was 32F when I left this morning.

Mar 12, 2015

Total Slacker Year

Last year, about this time, I'd put on so many winter motorcycle miles that I had burned up a 2nd set of tires since October. This winter, I'm an old Minnesotan. Today was (sigh) my first two wheeled adventure day since last Thanksgiving. We've had about a week of decent weather and there have been a parade of cool motorcycles going past our new Red Wing home, but I'm still trying to get my new garage functional. There is nothing wrong with the space, it's just a 380 square foot garage filled to the ceiling with stuff from my old 850 square foot garage. It's getting there, but it's not really a work space yet.

Today was too pretty to ignore, though. I'm slightly ahead of the runoff that pours from the yard and road into my lower level garage. Bills are paid, we're in limbo on the house we're selling in the Cities, and the bike garage is actually pretty organized. So, I wrapped myself up in Aerostich gear and hit the trails on the WR. This was my first motorcycle adventure as a Red Wing resident, so I picked the county road in front of my house, headed south, cut east on the first non-deadend dirt road and 90 miles later the WR is coated in a beautiful layer of clay and gravel and my legs are trashed.

What a great day! Maybe the best in months. Hills, valleys, stream crossings, slick wet corners, piles of recently graded sand and gravel in the various spots on the road, and even some frozen stuff disguised as wet clay. Not only was it all good, it was incredibly fun.

I'm signed up for a motorcycle class every weekend from the end of April until early October. Looks like there's gonna be some two-wheeling this summer.

Mar 9, 2015

#99 Why Do We Die So Often?

All Rights Reserved © revised 2011 (first written 2008) Thomas W. Day

Everyday, I get a little more insight into why motorcyclists die at such unreasonable rates: we are nationally more than 10% of highway fatalities and an incredibly small percentage (less than 0.01%) of the total traffic. This is a fact that threatens motorcycling as a transportation mode on public highways all over the world. Because motorcycling is mostly a recreational activity, our benefit-to-cost ratio is a small fraction of practically every other vehicle on the road. That is beginning to attract the attention of the folks who decide who gets to play where.

I was at a stop light, waiting for green, when I saw a big, black cruiser with a middle-aged rider (helmet-less, decked out in Village People leather, and practically invisible in the early evening light) approaching the signal from my right. He was concentrating on a cool-looking pose and he conveyed the bearing of a man traveling by motorized Lazyboy. From the other direction, a mid-sized SUV was about to make a left turn across the path of the cruiser. Since the light was yellow and the station wagon was already in the intersection, the cage clearly had the right of way. The bike wouldn't clear the entrance to the intersection until after the light had changed to red. At the last minute, the station wagon driver saw the bike approaching and nailed the brakes. The station wagon slid few feet into the on-coming lane and came to a noisy stop.

Whether by design, inability, or inattention, the cool cruiser guy didn't make the slightest move to avoid the oncoming cage. He didn't even cover the clutch, let alone the brake. He didn't swerve or slow down, he just stared at the cage as if he was Darth Vader and the cager was one of those Return of the Jedi teddy bear things. He just clung to the bars like a pair of streamers, glared at the cager as he rolled past, barely clearing the wagon's bumper.

I don't know if you've ever had a 50-year-old bald and bearded Village Person glare at you, but it's not particularly unnerving. I might have misinterpreted a look of panic for an angry glare, but it's hard to tell what expression is behind large dark sunglasses and a ZZ Top beard. If that's a typical motorcyclist's hazard avoidance maneuver, no wonder we're dying at a rate more than 100 times our highway presence. If the station wagoneer hadn't managed to get control of his vehicle, he'd have ended up with motorcycle and leather splattered all over the side of his spiffy new urban assault vehicle. Since the biker was totally unhampered by functional protective gear, the chances are pretty good that the biker would be dead or severely injured, adding another body to the statistical mountain of motorcycle crashes.

A few nights later, my wife and I were caging it on a one-way downtown Minneapolis street when two twenty-something dudes on liter bikes rolled up beside us in the far left lane. They parked side-by-side to pose for their imagined admiring minions and engaged in a heated discussion about something stupid. Their helmets were firmly strapped to the left side grab-bars. Their arms were bare to show off their toned biceps and lower halves were protected by leather sandals and baggy shorts. When the light changed, they blipped their non-stock exhausted motors, apparently to alert me and other traffic to the fact that they were on the move. I was in the left-turn-option lane and had been signaling a left turn. The two chicken-strippers paddled into the intersection, so I gave them some room to stabilize their bikes and was surprised to see that they ignored their lane's left-turn-only status and rode straight ahead and wobbled into my lane at the middle of the intersection.

Per the title of this rant, I have given you two examples of why we die so often. As Keanu Reeves' character once asked, "What would you do?" What would you do if a large station-wagon rolled out in front of you? Would you be stuck glaring at the approaching deathtrap, showing attitude and foolishness all the way to the last moment? Would you desperately hang on to the bars hoping your exhaust noise will magically move all obstacles from your path of travel? Would you apply some motorcycling skill to try and avoid that traffic obstacle? Do you have any motorcycling skills to apply?

If your skill doesn't get you past the cage or through the turn, do you have enough gear on your body to be able to survive a little impact? A motorcycle safety expert once said, "You crash in the gear you left home wearing." Someone a lot less brilliant said, "I'd wear my helmet if I knew I was going to crash."

If I knew I was going to crash, I'd take the bus. Why the hell would anyone get on a bike if they knew they were going to crash that day? Better yet, stay in bed. If you know the only hazard-avoidance move you have is a menacing glare or a loud exhaust note, staying in bed is always your best policy.

If this incident is in any way typical of the kind of brainless motorcycling that has generated such awful numbers for motorcycling, we need to change motorcycle licensing. An IQ test should be added to the usual exam. I'm convinced that the Powers That Be (society and society's bureaucratic employees) are only going to put up with motorcycling for as long as it takes to figure out how to lower the risk of this activity. I think we have a simple choice; we can reduce our fatalities or someone else will do it for us. The easiest way to eliminate motorcycle crash numbers is to remove motorcycles from public roads.

Since most motorcyclists are recreational riders--don't commute or ride for practical transportation--who would it inconvenience if motorcycles were banished from highways? Who did it inconvenience when horses and horse-drawn carriages were banned? Did anyone care when 2-stroke dirt bikes, snowmobiles, ATVs, and go-carts lost the privilege to travel the streets? How about when those same Powers decided that bicycles, small motorcycles and scooters, and other high efficiency vehicles would be banned from freeways? "No," is the correct answer. All these perfectly useful means of transportation have been eliminated from normal traffic because the Powers decided their risk was too great and the reward was too small.

I used to say that I thought you ought to be able to ride well enough to get out of the novice class in almost any racing format (off or on-road, except drag racing) before you get a motorcycle license. Today, I think something that dramatic might be required to save motorcycling. Guys who hope that a mean look or random noise is going to save them from catastrophe need to be educated. Riders who think looking cool is more important than staying alive, or those who aren't smart enough to know they are making that choice, need a massive dose of reality. We need to work toward zero tolerance for motorcycle fatalities. Fix it or lose it.

I'm telling you this out of personal experience. I have seen a civilization full of vehicles removed from public roads. Lucky for me, I'm old and the worst that will happen is that I won't spend the last couple years of my life on two wheels. You, on the other hand, may be telling your kids about the cool bikes you rode when you were young and how they were all swept from public roads so fast you didn't even have time to sell yours before they became Shriner parade items.

MMM May 2011

Mar 7, 2015

Stereo Demographics

On the way back to Red Wing from the Cities today, my wife and I decided to stop off at the local casino, Treasure Island, just to see what the place looks like. I’m not a gambler, but I thought it might be nice to check out another of the area’s music venues. What a flashback. Smokers decorated every area of the casino, including the non-smoking areas. The average age had to have been at least 60. Lots of old guys with pony tails and old girls with piles of starched blue hair. It looked exactly like a crowd at a Harley Davidson event. Exactly. so exactly, in fact, that on the way out a group of old folks in biker vests and paraphernalia came lumbering into the casino.

Mar 5, 2015

If Only We Were A Civilization

A perfectly depressing article about why we could save billions with a little common motorcycle-sense. It’s Economics, Stupid! Why Motorcycle Lane Filtering is Becoming More Accepted. "Filtering" is really the more necessary right than "splitting." Filtering is the ability to move to the front of a stopped or super-slow-moving line of traffic. In general, I suspect Americans are not smart enough to cope with splitting at any sort of traffic speed. We've been downbreeding for a couple of centuries and, now, even the low art of video games is overtaxing our capabilities.

Mar 2, 2015

#98 The Tale of Two Opinions

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

At the beginning of the winter of 2010, Yamaha's Super Ténéré XT1200Z was making the rounds of the Cities' Yamaha dealers. A friend who temporarily back here over the holidays called and asked if I wanted to chase the Ténéré down and take a look. He is a current Yamaha 850 TDM owner (the bastard grandfather of the Ténéré) and I owned a couple of them not that many years ago. We both consider the TDM one of the best big dual purpose bikes ever imported to the US. Getting a look at the TDM's adventure touring spawn seemed like a worthwhile way to spend a winter afternoon, so we made plans to meet at the Hitching Post.

The Ténéré was worth a visit. Ténéré stock or as a Yamaha accessory, this bike has pretty much everything I think a motorcycle should have; long suspension, high ground clearance, shaft-drive, crash bars, bashplate, a decent fairing, big luggage capacity, a comfortable seat, comfortable riding position, a tough steel frame, large fuel capacity, and serious lighting. Buy it, ride it anywhere, farkel it up to taste but not out of necessity. Fourteen grand and the usual tax and insurance suspects and you're out the door with a GS-Beemer-buster for about one to three grand less than a new GS. What's not to love, right? Fourteen thousand dollars, that's what.

My friend posed for a picture on the Ténéré and stuck it on his Facebook page with a "my next bike" warning to his virtual and real friends. When some of our mutual friends heard that I took that picture, they asked if it would be my next bike, too.

Probably not.

For my tastes, the Ténéré is too much bike; two-to-five times too much bike. The TDM's 850cc's was the biggest motorcycle I've ever owned and, having done that once, I don't expect to own that much motorcycle again. To generate even more disgust from my friends, I admitted that the Ténéré is about four times the price I'd consider paying for a motorcycle. I bought my 2004 V-Strom in late 2006 for $3400 with less than 900 miles on the odometer and that was pushing the limits of my budget. My friend, on the other hand, was talking about financing and justifying the payments in the usual All-American ways.

In his 2010 New York Times interview, Ducati's ex-North American CEO said, "No one saves up to buy a motorcycle. They sign up for a credit loan." As usual, I'm either "No One" or "Nobody." The same kind of Nobody who read Tom Clancy's Executive Orders in 1996 and had no problem imagining that the country could be attacked with a commercial airplane. The same No One who wasn't surprised to hear that large numbers of 3rd worlders hate the United States with a passion. I read William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick's The Ugly American in 1960, when it was a junior high English book assignment. The same Nobody who argued that Afghanistan had been a quagmire for empire builders, at least since Alexander the Great, and had Vietnam déjà vu in 2003. The same No One who suspected that the economy was out of whack when my real estate agent and mortgage broker insisted I could afford a house that cost five times my annual salary. Ten years later, Las Vegas waitresses were buying half-million dollar mansions on credit with no money down and economists claimed that was a sign of a strong economy and claimed that "Nobody could argue that home ownership was a bad thing." Me. Mr. Nobody. Pretty much every time the media or the powers-that-be claims that "Nobody could have seen this coming," and I'm out there being Nobody and No One. I don't have any prescience when it comes to spotting good investments, but I can often see stupid when it begins to rear its empty head.

When it comes to gratuitous purchases like a new motorcycle, especially when my old one is perfectly serviceable, I always wait till I have cash. If I don't have the cash, I keep riding what I own. Worst case, I'll buy a rat bike and ride it while I save my money. I'm not happy about being in debt for my home, but that's all the debt I'm willing to take on. So, I'll just keep plugging along on my used 650 and my beater 250 until I can justify a replacement and pay for it with cash.

This might come as a surprise to you, but there are no good deals waiting for those who use credit. After taxes, fees, and interest over a 48 month loan, that $14,000 motorcycle will cost you (not me, you) just short of $18,000; not counting insurance, licensing, and the usual maintenance culprits. I am not man enough to pony up twenty grand for four years of motorcycle ownership, without even having gone anywhere. Hell, I'd be afraid to go anywhere I'm interested in going on a $20,000 motorcycle.

Dirt roads have a magnetic effect on me and that often means getting in over my head and the occasional low-to-moderate speed spill with the mandatory scratch, gouge, and/or mangled plastic bits. I've been known to Gorilla Glue, duct tape, bungee cord, and wire-wrap my bike back together and keep going leaving the real repairs for the end of the season. I have never reported my minor incidents to either the police or my insurance company. Why would I? They usually don't happen on publicly maintained roads.

The cops don't care about a "crash" I rode away from and what's the point in calling the insurance company about something I'm going to fix myself? If I need counseling, I'll ask my wife to lecture me on one of my many faults. At least she doesn't think I'm Nobody. I'm the idiot who keeps mangling himself on his motorcycle, in the garage or yard, and at work. At home, I'm Somebody.

April 2011

Feb 26, 2015

We are a bit of a freak show here in Minnesota, aren’t we?

The top two store types in Minnesota are “motorcycle gear” and vinyl records, based on typical interest in those sorts of stores in other states. Battery stores goes without saying in the frozen north. And since we’re housebound for 6-8 months a year, it makes sense that we get knocked up about 250% more often than the rest of the country. And, of course, we aren’t home to the nation’s “Bike City” for nothing. Bicyclists in Minnesota spend a boatload of money trying to stay warm and upright on two frozen wheels.



  1. Motorcycle Gear -- 605 percent higher than national average.
  2. Vinyl Records -- 351 percent higher than national average.
  3. Battery Stores -- 327 percent higher than national average.
  4. Maternity Wear -- 255 percent higher than national average.
  5. Bikes -- 239 percent higher than national average.
  6. Used, Vintage & Consignment -- 239 percent higher than national average.
  7. Music & DVDs -- 235 percent higher than national average.
  8. Newspapers & Magazines -- 227 percent higher than national average.
  9. Thrift Stores -- 222 percent higher than national average.
  10. Hardware Stores -- 213 percent higher than national average.

Feb 23, 2015

#96 Back in the Day

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

When I was a kid, barely into my 20's, I moved to west Texas for one of the worst jobs anyone ever suffered. A pair of the few upsides to that miserable experience was that I discovered new ways to play with motorcycles in one of the biggest motorcycle playgrounds on this continent. And I met Karl.

[My kids were born in that awful place, so at least two other good things happened there. I thought I should mention that.]

Karl was a sixty-something machinist who was a Texas lifer; other than a 3-year aerospace stint as a Lockheed machinist in California during WWII. Karl and his brothers were west Texas motorcycling legends. When he was a kid, between the two world wars, Karl and his four brothers rode Indian Scout v-twins. Back then, there wasn't a decent road between Hereford, Texas and Amarillo, so the boys rode their Scouts cross country. As best they could, they rode straight from their parents' farm to where ever it was they wanted to go in "the big city" and, after doing whatever it was they wanted to do in Amarillo, they rode straight back home. Every day I worked with Karl was spiced with stories of west Texas at the end of the cowboy days; or his adventures in California during the war.

Karl was more than a machinist, as much as that talent is undervalued. He was an inventive mechanic who was as likely to make his own replacement parts as us what the manufacturer's provided. He had a decent, if old fashioned machine shop in his home and turned out all sorts of tools, parts, and marginally-artistic pornographic novelty bits. Working with him gave me practical skills and insight into design and fabrication that was, for a long time, key to my career.

In 1971, Karl still had one of the family Scouts in his "barn," along with a WWI twin-wing fighter plane turned crop-duster, a couple of old Ford coupe hotrods, two 1940's Ford-Ferguson tractors, assorted pieces of obsolete farm equipment, and a late 50's Cadillac Eldorado. Of those possessions, the only ones that were in any sort of usable shape were the airplane and the Indian Scout. I saw him fly the plane, once, after a party at his neighbor's house where he and my boss finished off a pint-and-a-half bottle of Everclear and got into a pissing match over who could do the dumbest thing at that very moment. My boss, Arnold, tore off in his company pickup, bragging that he would bust 100mph before he made it to the highway. Karl ran to the barn and fired up the plane, planning to strafe my boss before he made his destination. There was a gun on the old plane and the chances were pretty good that it still worked, but Karl probably didn't have ammunition for it so Arnold was relatively safe, although he ran the pickup into a ditch on the way back from the main road. Karl didn't manage to do much more than circle his house a few times before he put the plane down in the field behind his house. The next day, he towed the plane back into the garage and I suspect it never moved from that spot for the rest of Karl's life.

Karl's signature moment came after he had a heart attack. He dropped to the ground on a trip to the local hardware store. Paramedics arrived and began CPR. They got him to the hospital barely alive and the ER doc put the paddles on Karl and whacked him several times before his heart restarted. Karl told me that it hurt like hell and that he'd been pretty comfortable with dying before being rudely brought back to Texas and 1973. He told every doc in the hospital, "If you ever do that again, I'll shoot you between your beady little eyes." When he got out of the hospital, he bought a little .32 pistol and kept it in his pocket in case he ever woke up in a hospital again. It's hard to argue with a living will that is enforced by a loaded gun.

A fellow employee, Charlie, a kid who had been a pretty good local motocrosser before he was drafted into the Army in 1972 and went to Vietnam. Charlie came back pretty emotionally and physically damaged in 1974. The last story I head about Karl was he and Charlie had redesigned a Honda street bike that could run on diesel, naphtha, or practically anything that would burn and Charlie was riding all over the remaining open Texas fields and across the state smelling like French fries, an oil stove, or himself. From what I heard, Karl and Charlie had worked out a pretty effective rehabilitation plan.

By the late-70's, I'd lost track of the few Texas friends I wanted to keep. I'd moved my career across three industries in five years and the internet was about 20 years from becoming a useful resource. If he's alive, Karl would be a little over 100 and that seems unlikely. But if he's still around, I bet he is still packing that .32 and scaring the crap out of Texas doctors.

MMM March 2011

Feb 16, 2015

#95 Chasing Ghosts

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

[The whole "ghost" thing reappeared in a different form a few weeks ago. My youngest daughter lives in Texas and, like most Texans, the state has done some damage to her reasoning faculties. Must be the water. Should be the water, the stuff smells like someone pissed in it before it came out of the tap. Anyway, she and her husband are convinced that their 20-year-old house has a "haunted room." My son-in-law thinks of himself as a frustrated entrepreneur, with no actual evidence of the usual spirit for evidence. Oddly, he considers himself to be an atheist, too. (Hint: Atheists don't believe in ghosts or any other paranormal silliness.) When I suggested that he could make a fortune selling tickets to his "haunted room," he drew a blank. Oh well, can't say I didn't try.]

My grandson, Wolfgang, and I rode through 3800 miles of the Black Hills and the Rockies this summer. We took two weeks to travel that distance. We were far from Iron Butters and there was no plan to set any mileage records or work hard enough to impress anyone. We were traveling for the sake of seeing places, meeting people, and being on our own as much as possible. Whenever possible, we stepped off of the main roads and went ghost town hunting. In the Rockies, that's easy prey. There are ghost towns all over the place. If you aren't picky about a few live residents, there are a lot of near ghost towns in South Dakota, too.

We found ourselves on a dirt road on the west edge of the great state of Colorado approaching a husk of a town that I've discovered before, probably 18 years ago. This particular ruin stuck my fancy, way back then, because it had a beautiful stone bank. The back end of the bank was gone, crumbled away like it had been made from dust and the wind had blown it away artfully. The front, however, was almost in perfect shape. I could stand there, looking at that bank, imagining the people who came through those doors, feeling the life that was once in that place. I love ghost towns.

Back in the early 70's, my family lived in central Nebraska and we used and abused the amazing bounty of "limited access" roads north and west of where we lived. We had miles of those roads to explore and my wife and I and many of our friends spent hours and days riding those sandy trails, cut with deep ruts from the occasional tractor and regular erosion. Miles and miles of plains, grasslands, hills, and ranches and farms. Nebraska, like many Midwestern farm states, had a law that prevented farmers from bringing the fences together until a road had been unused for several years. I suspect there weren't a lot of years left for those roads 40 years ago. Twenty feet of farmland, hundreds of miles long, is a lot of profitable acreage and this modern world doesn't tolerate unused natural resources for long.

Before GPS, in a place that wasn't interesting enough for anyone to bother with detailed topological maps, we mostly navigated by asking for directions when we really strayed outside of our known boundaries. Otherwise, we just wandered around until we found some kind of identifiable landmark or highway and made it back to our cars and bike trailers. We got to know those roads well enough that we became pretty confident in our ability to find out way back home from practically anywhere in a 100 square mile area.

One early spring Sunday afternoon, east of Palmer, Nebraska, we found ourselves at the bottom of a steep hill with rain grooves cut so deeply into the road that we paddled out way up the last few feet, scraping the pegs and dragging the frame and engine cases on the edges of the ruts. At the top of the hill, we discovered a small village, abandoned not that long ago, in Hollywood movie set condition. There was a 1950's-looking Sinclair filling station, with the red clock-tower hand crank pumps, thermometer glass fuel inspection window, and white dome lights perched on top of the pump. My uncle ran a station like that back in the 1950's and it stood on the edge of his property until a railroad-caused fire burned down the neighborhood. There was a two-room post office, a small general store, a barber shop, and a half-dozen cottages in livable condition. The dirt road through the middle of town was severely deteriorated, but the structures looked like they'd been abandoned recently. The lawns were just starting to turn green, so they looked cared for. The wooden structures were mostly sound and painted, although the roofs wouldn't pass close inspection. No one had bothered to break the windows or trash the buildings. The little town looked habitable, but it was completely abandoned and had been for a while. The road in, was impassable for anything other than horses or motorcycles.

We spent a little while, looking through windows and testing doors and walking through the buildings that weren't locked up. After a bit, we got back on the bikes, went back down the hill, and continued our weekend exploration. That town has never left my memory. We never managed to figure out where it was, so we never found our way back to the place. No one I knew had any idea what dinky village we'd managed to stumble upon. A short while later, we moved to Omaha and never returned to that area on motorcycles. Every time I find myself in a vanishing village or a completely empty ghost town, I think of that empty village in Nebraska.

Like adventure touring, one of the ideas I love about history and ghost towns is, "You can't get there from here." My father's family all lived in dying Kansas towns. When I was a kid, I spent hundreds of hours exploring abandoned banks, stores, barbershops, newspapers, and homes. I walked, freely, among small crumbling civilizations and read the public news and personal letters of folks who had been gone from those places, from the world, before I was born. Those places are lost in time, slowing decaying back into the raw materials from which they came. The closest you can come to being there is to be there by yourself, imagining the lives and the place when they were fresh and vital. It's not time travel, but it's the closest I can come to it.

Riding a motorcycle to those places provides a connection to the past that could only be beaten on foot, bicycle, or on horseback. I'm too lazy to bike or walk and I'd rather bike or walk than ride a horse, so my motorcycle is the best time machine option. This summer, I was blessed to be able to share my passion with my grandson. Even better, he seemed to be as drawn to the experience as I was when I was his age.

Winter 2010

Feb 15, 2015

How to Know When You Have too Much Money

All you 1%'ers, it's time to put in your bid. Only $17,500 for one of Yamaha's more fragile designs (I had an unwanted side business replacing XT500 top-ends back in the 80's). Remember this little beauty sold for about $1500 when it was knew, unknown, and mildly competitive. So, my title probably should add "and too little sense" to be complete.

Feb 14, 2015

Self-Image vs. Reality

A great little video about the giant space between what motorcyclists thing their motorcyle does for them vs. what it really does.  Ok, that's not what the show as supposed to be about, but . . .

Feb 12, 2015

Motorcycles Are Deadly? Crap.

Motorcycle-Carrying-Cargo-177We’re on the world watch, like a disease: Death Rides a Moto. "The subtitle for this article, in case you didn’t follow the link, is “The world's most pressing public health crisis isn't AIDS or Ebola or malaria -- it's a soaring number of motorcycle fatalities. And it's costing developing countries billions.” In Cambodia, for example, motorcycle crashes represent 67 percent of all road deaths; in Thailand and Laos it has reached a staggering 74 percent." As we know, motorcycles are a tiny fraction of US traffic but a grossly overrepresented 12-20% of fatalities.

We’re at a weird time in world history. In the US, we have a whole generation that is abandoning motor vehicles, in general, not just motorcycles. Car sales are struggling, motorcycle sales are stagnate, about the only thing with wheels that seems to be gaining ground is bicycles. But in the rest of the world, “About 95 million motorcycles will be manufactured this year, compared to 80 million cars. China’s growing middle class accounts for nearly a quarter of the global car market — a breathtaking number — but motorcycles and scooters are rolling off assembly lines and out of showrooms at an even faster rate, with some industry analysts predicting sales of up to 135 million units in 2016.” No wonder Honda barely noticed when motorcycle sales in the US crashed at the beginning of the 2007 Great Recession.

Philippines-Motorcycle-OverShades of the US noise and air pollution problem (and solution), “a number of Chinese cities have banned the bikes from all or part their downtowns for a combination of environmental, traffic flow, and safety concerns.” Even where the public mostly likes motorcycles they are finding ways to force people off of two motorized wheels. Why? “According to World Bank estimates, road crashes are costing the economies of Southeast Asia between 2 and 3.5 percent in annual GPD. Loss of productivity due to death and long-term disability (the overwhelming majority of motorcycle fatalities are male breadwinners), the burden on the health care system and property damage are the main factors . . . road crashes cost the Cambodian economy $337 million last year.” That’s pretty similar to the number I’ve seen attributed to the cost of motorcycle crashes in the US.

There is nothing good for the future of motorcycling in this story. It seems to me that motorcycle manufacturers are a lot like gun manufacturers. They’re balanced on a razor thin edge between corporate profits and massive corporate liability. One smart country putting the blame where it belongs and the whole house of cards will come down.

Feb 9, 2015

#94 Maybe It's Not for You

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

"I put my SV up for sale. My wife and I had a scare on a country road and I decided I'd rather be around or, at least, not in a wheel chair when I have kids. And I realize I'm talking to a great example of the fact that riding can be safe, but it's the things beyond my control that scare me. I have someone stopping by tomorrow to look at it."

So ends the motorcycling adventure of a young man. I meet the 45-60 year old version of this guy in almost every motorcycle class I teach. The "born again" empty nester, recently divorced Baby Boomers who decided they missed something the first time around and, now, want to be a motorcyclist. Honestly, I think the younger guy's odds of survival are better than the older version. We talk about motorcycling being a skill of the eyes and mind, but the fact is it is more than a bit physical and both the eyes and the mind are sharper in youth. It's possible that the improved wisdom of age might compensate for decaying senses and strengths, but I suspect a person whose judgment has substantially improved with age wouldn't consider taking up motorcycling at 55.

As far as the bit about giving up motorcycling out of fear of "things beyond your control," practically everything in life is beyond control. "Safe" is a relative thing. I'm no "great example," either. In my 45 years on motorcycles and 50+ years on bicycles, I've been incompetent, skilled, lucky, paranoid, cautious, and careless. I've busted bones and torn muscles and ligaments on bicycles and motorcycles and basketball courts and working around my house. People break their necks in the shower or on their doorstep. When it ends, life is over in a moment.

There are things you can do to improve your odds, but if riding a motorcycle doesn't push your buttons strongly enough to want to go that route, it's probably not worth the effort. Motorcycling is not for everyone, as much as the motorcycle manufacturers would like you to think it is.

On a short Wisconsin vacation trip with my wife, I watched people on an elephant ride in Baraboo cling obediently to the safety rail of their saddle. "Sir, keep both hands on the safety rail at all times," lectured the girl on the megaphone as a forty-something dad sat, bored out of his skull, at the back of his clan while the elephant trudged down the fenced path. Insurance companies and our national avoidance of personal responsibility has reduced practically every activity to a Big Mommy-sheltered endeavor that would sedate Martha Stewart. Anyone who could fall out of a waddling elephant, fenced into a saddle and pinned by four other harnessed passengers, should not be allowed to reproduce. The gene pool should rejoice if such a person managed to crawl out of that entrapment and fall under the ponderous feet of an elephant.

Motorcycling isn't like that. You can armor up, take a safety course ten times a summer, plug along with traffic whizzing by you as if you were in a molasses-based dimension, and you can still get killed or maimed if your luck doesn't hold. Two wheels are unstable and motorcycles are as rare an occurrence in traffic as unicorns. A tire blows, a wheel bearing seizes, a cager is distracted by a life-changing text message, a tree falls in front of you, and down you go. The reason people ride motorcycles is to get away from the bitch telling us to hang on to the handrails.

Bertrand Russell said, "A life without adventure is likely to be unsatisfying, but a life in which adventure is allowed to take whatever form it will is sure to be short."

Not being bright enough to know that motorcycles are dangerous isn't an improvement from being swarmed in a web of caution. Get on a bicycle in your shorts and flip-flops and take a spill at 5mph, just to test the road rash worthiness of your skin. Crashing sucks and can kill you in full gear. In your birthday suit you're guaranteed to be hamburger. Personally, I've managed to find plenty of adventure inside my helmet and armored gear. You might as well shoot me now as drag me onto that damn elephant, though.

October 2010

Feb 5, 2015

Bike Sharing Anyone?

Here’s a press release I received from BlancFleet: Dear Editor,

We want to radically change how enthusiasts nationwide gain access to newer bikes in the market. Today, riders have two options, own a bike outright or rent one. Owning a bike offers freedoms renting cannot, but it also limits the number of bikes an enthusiast will enjoy on the road in his lifetime. Renting also has its problems, cash deposit requirements, mile limit requirements, insurance requirements, and in most cases, renters only have access to an older fleet of bikes.

We want to change this through sharing and crowdfunding. The latter allows bike enthusiasts to raise money for new bikes they want to experience on the road and then share them between the pool of buyers. We believe sharing + crowdfunding together is the future and Blancfleet is paving the road forward that will connect bike enthusiasts everywhere to make buying a new bike more cost effective and accessible to everyone. Blancfleet also wants to remove cash deposit requirements, mile limit and insurance requirements on each bike funded through our platform so buyers simply enjoy the fleet of bikes they helped fund.

We want to expand Blancfleet nationwide and in the future globally.

If you believe your readers would benefit from our bike sharing program, we invite you to write about us.

Charles Polanco
Founder and CEO of

I can see this as the wave of the future for auto-piloted cars. I don’t quite get it for motorcycles.