Oct 20, 2016

Reality vs. Delusions

Back in 2009, a friend was trying to run a recording studio in Hudson, WI. Hudson is one of the many cities in our area that poorly tries to balance the public peace and quiet with the demand from bars and restaurants to cater to the summer biker crowd. Scott tried to raise some awareness of how mentally ill the whole biker bullshit is with this essay, "Loud Pipes Risk Lives." While it has the stink of science, knowledge, and reality that so many Americans seem to have abandoned, if you can hold your nose and get past that bias, it's a pretty good analysis of psychoacoustics and sound from someone who has studied those fields extensively.

PS: Yeah, I know I've linked this article before, but good things often require repeating.

Oct 17, 2016

#131 Collecting Crap?

geezer (Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  
All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On top of our all of our negative image problems, motorcyclists are often hoarders. Yeah, I know, it's a "collection." In my experience, there are two polar-opposite examples of collectors who own (and sometimes ride) dozens of motorcycles. The most obvious is the rich collector/archivist. Over my six decades, I have bumped into a couple of types who collect expensive motorcycles. One of those was the type who owns a sterile showroom that is neatly lined with perfectly restored bits of artwork, polished and oil-free to keep the hardwood floor spotless. At the more sane end of this type is a friend who buys incredibly expensive motorcycles in mediocre-to-good shape, restores them to better-than-factory finish, hangs on to them hoping the bikes' prices will go stratospheric, and tries to sell them for a medium fortune. Once he has the cash from the last bike in the bank, he starts all over again. He always has a dozen bikes in the supply chain, but everything is for sale at any time. This is the speculator variation on the rich guy collector. Maybe he should be called a "wannabe rich guy?" When the economy tanks, this guy will be among the "get rich on real estate' goofballs who lived large until the sky fell and, now, will be forced to get rid of his overpriced crap for what it is worth; nearly nothing. So far, he's avoided that disaster pretty deftly, though.

That about wraps up the interesting portion of the personalities of rich guy motorcycle collectors. Like most rich people, they're mostly boring.

Motorcycle-Junk-Yard However, the more common and most interesting (as in "weird") collections I have seen are garages and sheds full of marginally-fixable motorcycles in various states of disrepair and disassembly. Most of these guys are of the "all of this stuff is junk but if I sold it I'd just have more money but no junk" hoarder variety. Instead of carving paths through the old newspapers and cereal boxes, these packrats stuff their garages and barns full of half-reassembled semi-vintage crap, scavenged parts that will "someday" end up reinstalled on the vintage crap, more parts that can't even be identified, and boxes and piles of old motorcycle magazines and service manuals.

If you foolishly express an interest in some motorcycle in the hoard, you will end up risking your life using rock-climbing techniques to scale the heaps of junk to get a dim glimpse of a small bit of one of those bikes buried under a moldering tarp in some far corner of Squirrel Hell. It's best to act as ignorant and neutral as possible and get the hell out while you can still walk. If the hoarder is a Minnesotan, he'll be convinced he has millions dollars "invested" in his vintage crap and he's just waiting for Leno or the "What's in the Barn" guys to show up and make him rich. The Minnesota hoard-mating call is "If I can't get my price, I'd rather keep it." We've been here before (see A Seller's Market, MMM Winter 2005). The seller is serious. He won't sell for anything resembling a reasonable, realistic price. This is exactly the kind of guy who thinks a beat-up 1972 Kawasaki Z900 is worth a few thousand. You are not going to get a good deal from this dude, but you could waste hours listening to his crazed economic theories. You will also need a tetanus shot after you get back from exploring his "collection."

I have to admit, most of the collector thing eludes me. I am a big fan of "when in doubt, throw it out" (or sell it if it's still worth money). A garage is a place to store tools and other stuff and, most importantly, a place to keep your car and motorcycles out of the sun and bad weather. When the garage is stuffed with junk motorcycles, you can't get to the tools and you can't park the cage indoors. In my neighborhood, that means the cage's gas tank will be siphoned-off and, most likely, I'll have to buy a new car stereo and a window or two every summer. (Not really, but I could live in that kind of neighborhood. After all, that is my socio-economic bracket even if my neighborhood is a decent place.) Plus, I have always aspired to be able to move all of my stuff in one mid-sized U-Haul and my dream life would be living in a 30' camper traveling from one state or national park campground to the next, always a month ahead of cold weather.

I can't help but suspect some motorcycle collections are another bit of evidence that some guys can't commit to anything. Outside of racing, you seriously can't find one or two motorcycles that do everything you want to do on two wheels? Not that you're trying to do anything with that pile of rotted seats, hoses, and tires and the stacks of half-disassembled motors. It's just a hoard and the purpose of a hoard is . . . something non-motorcycle-related.

Oct 10, 2016

#130 Sliding to A Stop

(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I was exploring some of the dirt roads between St. Paul and Taylors Falls on a Saturday morning this past fall, when I had the occasion to come to a couple of emergency stops. The first time was after a short series of 15mph turns on a paved farm road, I was barely out of one of the turns when a large deer wandered into the road and stopped to observe my on-coming motorcycle. He was in the middle of my lane and, since a truck was coming the other direction, the only evasive maneuver available to me was a quick stop. I've read several reviews of my WR250X that implied that the brakes are "weak" or "mushy." I beg to differ. Maybe for a racer's tastes those descriptions are apt, but for my weekend warrior playbike purposes the WR stops just fine.

And it did.

A few years back, I managed to execute a similar maneuver at night on a mostly-empty highway on my 650 V-Strom. For the most part, that incident had a happy ending, too, other than getting me gore-coated when an opposite-direction pickup splattered the deer all over his truck, emptying the contents of the deer's bowels all over me in the process.

One of the best things about being a motorcycle instructor is that I have to demonstrate quick stops a few times every week and think about braking technique often enough to be able to explain and do it half-well. Too bad there wasn't anyone around to see this demo. I squared the bike up and laid into the brakes right up to the front wheel's limit of traction. I might have slid the back tire a little bit, but not much. The deer wandered off of the road, after getting his day's entertainment out of my emergency, the truck roared past without making any sort of adjustment, and I got the hell out of there and went back to playing around on the back roads.

A few miles further from that encounter-of-the-hoofed-kind, this time on a gravel farm road, I crested a hill and discovered a freakin' herd of deer parading across the road; big ones, middle sized ones, and at least a half-dozen little bitty Hell spawn Bambis.  This time, I was moving a bit faster and hauling the bike down to stop took a bit more concentration. The road was slightly damp, covered with loose gravel and small rocks, and provided reasonable traction. No harm no foul or fawn.

After the four-hoofed crowd meandered from the road and I got back on the trail, I thought about how my two four-hoof experiences could have ended and how a police investigator might have evaluated the "evidence." When I read police reports of crashes, one of the bits of "evidence" they seem to use is the skid distance left by crashed vehicles. Supposedly, this is some sort of indication of how fast the vehicle was traveling. Using that useless data point, if I had hit the deer the cops would have claimed I "made no effort to stop." No skid marks, no braking? Seriously? I thought about this for a while after the last stop. On wet gravel just over a hill and no sliding and the bike came to a quick stop a good distance before any of the hoofed rats or me were in danger. So, no evidence left for the highway forensic "experts" to interpret and that would tell them what about my riding ability, attempt to avoid the collision, or anything else?

A while back, there was a news report about an off-duty cop who ran into a kid in a residential neighborhood  after "laying the bike down" in an attempt to avoid the collision. I see that kind of language in local police crash reports, too. We talk about this silly stuff in motorcycle safety classes all the time. Anyone who believes that sliding on polished metal provides a better coefficient of friction than rubber probably shouldn't be playing with motorcycles. The only time I have ever seen a sideways motorcycle stop more effectively than one still operated rubber-side-down has been in soft, deep sand or sloppy mud. Often, that tactic results in a spectacular flying machine stomping the crap out of the helpless rider. Stopping or slowing quickly in either one of those situations usually involves flying over the bars and some unpleasant impact activities, followed by a completely out-of-control motorcycle doing whatever physics and luck dictate. Pavement requires some kind of sticky material for traction. Conveniently, tires are made of sticky materials. Bodywork, chrome and painted bits are considerably less sticky. 

"Lay 'er down" logic ranks up there with the "Loud Pipes Save Lives" insanity. The argument defies logic, experience, reality, and statistical evidence. Riders know that dropping the bike is an out-of-control panic maneuver, usually due to inappropriate rear brake use. Good braking achieves maximum traction without sliding. When you're sliding, you're not stopping. It takes practice and the best time to do that is when you aren't trying to keep from getting killed on the highway. Even better, take a safety course and have someone analyze and help you improve your technique. It is, after all, a life-saving skill and one that we all have to work at so we have it when we need it.

Oct 9, 2016

The Times They Are A’Changin’

SuckSqueezeBangHere’s a headline you probably didn’t expect to see in your lifetime: "German Lawmakers Vote to Ban the Internal Combustion Engine." According to Gizmoto.com, “The modern internal combustion engine first came from Germany and now Germany wants to put a nail in its coffin. The Bundesrat has passed a resolution to ban the ICE beginning in 2030.” If you are a typical American, I’ll have to do the math for you; 14 years from now suck, sqeeze, bang, and blow is history.
Personally, I can’t wait. I am totally tired of exhaust noise. I live in a “destination city” for pirates, squids, and assorted 4-wheel noise maker nitwits. These overfed, pampered, uncoordinated, skill-less biker assholes are nothing but an income source for bars and a pain-in-the-ass for the rest of us. Make them wear helmets, force them to obtain motorcycle licenses, make the licensing test prove competency, and take away their noise makers and they’ll either become motorcyclists or go back to their couches.
This article concludes with, "While larger approvals will still need to go through the legislative process, the fact that the country with the fourth-largest auto industry in the world is spearheading such sweeping change is a big sign of where we’re headed. It’s a road paved with slow-moving politicians making incremental changes and hoping the industry will warm up to the idea of not killing us all." It's hard to imagine our sluggish, lazy legislative process doing anything, let alone something that might actually prolong the life of our species. Most likely, we'll be last to this party like the metric system, rational tax policies, decent education and healthcare, and pretty much anything that could be used to define a 1st world quality of life.
I never thought I’d live to say this, but “Go Germany!”

Oct 6, 2016

Revival: Part XXXXIIII????

If you get distracted by the pirate parades, gangbangers, crash data, squids terrorizing neighborhoods and freeways, and the usual biker culprits who make motorcyclists look like a pack of useless, irritating noise makers, it’s pretty easy to start thinking about hanging up the Aerostich and helmet and looking into a nice used convertible. Last year was insanely stressful, including a foot injury and a overly complicated move from the Cities to Red Wing, and I ended up doing almost nothing on my motorcycle for the year outside of MMSC classes. I commuted to school during the fall and spring semesters at Southeast Tech in Red Wing, explored a little of my new neighborhood, but I didn’t take a single 200+ mile trip anywhere for all of 2015.

This year started differently with the daily commuting thing booting up in late February and a trip to Colorado hot springs with an old friend in July. I still sort of felt played out. I am 68, so being played out is expected, but this felt a lot like the moment when I’ve decided that there is nothing left to learn from a job or a place and it’s time to move on. Obviously, I have plenty to learn about being a motorcyclist, but my motivation to keep at it is a little shaky.

mapThis time of the year is when I most appreciate owning a motorcycle. After following a farm tour last weekend and futzing with some political stuff early in the week, I needed a head-clearing. So, I piled on the gear and pointed the WR250 toward Welch, where my wife and I had been earlier in the week. Just west of the Highway 61 Treasure Island casino exit is a good place to start on an off-pavement Red Wing road trip: Welch Shortcut Road. The tangle of spots you’ll see at the top left of the map above barely touches on all of the scenic and mildly technical dirt roads that spin off of the Welch Shortcut. A direct route from my house to Welch would be about 13 miles of pavement. My route turned that easy trip into nearly 50 miles.

IMG_7811From there, I took County 7 Blvd to Vasa. Weirdly, after living less than 20 miles from this little village for two years, I’ve never been here. So, I explored it for a few minutes and found someone’s dream factory, studio, workshop, or home for sale. If I were 20 years younger, I’d buy that place just for the vent turbines and the smokestack.

IMG_7813Then I headed west toward Hay Creek. At 320th Street, I was back on gravel followed by a nice section of “minimum maintenance road.” I did not expect this part of the trip to be so scenic, but once I got past Hay Creek I was on another fairly technical minimum maintenance road with no other traffic, perfect weather, and my all time favorite motorcycle between my legs.

Because I was having too much fun, what should have been 30 miles to Wabasha turned into a lot more. The plan was to head for J&J BBQ in Nelson, WI, stuff down a rack of ribs and beat myself up a little north of Stockholm. Sadly, J&J was closed, as it has been every time I’ve tried to hit that place this fall. I’m starting to think the place iis closed indefinately but the sign said the place is now “also closed on Wednesday” along with Monday and Tuesday. I’m just lucky, I guess.

IMG_7814During the farm tour, we discovered a “rustic road” just off of WIAA with several water crossings, a “closed” section, and a decent variety of road surfaces and materials including deep sand, rocks, gravel, and lots of ruts. The first water crossing was slick, shallow, and fairly wide. The second caught me by overconfident surprise when I hit it at about 20 mph in 3rd and got drenched when the deepest spot turned out to be about 2 1/2 feet deep. It didn’t stop me, but it really slowed me down, so that I needed to shift to 1st to plow my way out of the stream. That doused my enthusiasm for speed for the next stream crossing, but it didn’t last. I hit the last one at 20 with my weight back and off of the seat and got a satisfying spray without getting much wetter than I was. This is a one-way traffic road and visibility isn’t that great. It wouldn’t take much overconfidence to discover a car or truck coming in the opposite direction with no options other than to drive off of the road into a swamp. If I were younger and dumber, there were lots of IMG_7814-2places on that road to catch air, but I didn’t.

Nothing will make you feel older than remembering how brainless you used to be and how much you miss being that innocent/stupid/reckless/brave. As much as I would have liked to hammer this road and take every blind corner sideways and on the throttle, I couldn’t work it up. Remember, my wife was driving our Nissan Frontier up this road just two days ago. It gets travelled, just not much.


Because it was so much fun, I went up and down this road twice before hooking up with the main farm-to-market road and heading back to WI35. From there, home. In all, I managed to put 140 miles on for the afternoon and absolutely remembered why I own motorcycles. Of course, the next day I was down with a cold or flu and could barely move out of my massage chair for the occasional bathroom dash.

Oct 5, 2016

Motorcyclist Gets It Right

Out of the tens of thousands of worthy motorcyclists in the country, Motorcyclist Magazine got it absolutely right this year in declaring Andy Goldfine "Motorcyclist of the Year." Andy and the amazing folks at Aerostich/RiderWearHouse have been making motorcycling safer, easier, more fun, and drier/warmer for 33 years (which means another Very Boring Rally is due in 2 years). Many of us would have been doing something else by now (if we were still alive) if it weren't for Aerostich gear.

Andy has been a friend since I moved to Minnesota and started writing for MMM. Andy's gear has been protecting my body for a whole lot longer.
One of the last pictures of me wearing my ancient (1984) Roadcrafter was in the KLR MMM review way back in 2002. I bought this fine stylish assortment of nylon, zippers, snaps, and cotton bat padding when I first moved to California and discovered that California motorcyclists thought 50F was "too cold" for motorcycling. Since I'd just moved there by motorcycle from Nebraska, my opinion of Californians went down a few notches. Worse, none of the motorcycle shops within easy range of my new home, Huntington Beach, stocked any sort of wet weather riding gear. However, in the back of Cycle or Cycle News (I forget which) I found a picture of a rider in a full-length suit and the ad claimed the suit was "waterproof" or some such thing. Desperate for protection, I ordered the grey/red suit pictured above (the red turned to salmon sometime in the 80's) and I have to give that suit some credit for my Cal State Long Beach bachelor's degree and a ten year California career in professional audio equipment because without that suit, I'd have given up on California a few weeks after being forced to commute by cage.
I can't explain why, but this is my favorite picture of me in my
Darien suit circa 2007. It was taken with my old beater Canon
camera by a Montana ranger who told me the story of this
sabotaged dam.
In the late 90's, I met Andy and he immediately dubbed me and my Roadcrafter to be a pair resembling "an overstuffed sausage" (probably the reason the suit had spent the last decade at the bottom of my closet). He sold me a (considerably larger) Darien suit in 2006, before I left for Alaska and a few years later I bought a prototype AD1 jacket and AD1 pants for backup. I've written about both here more than a few times.
It's not like there weren't obstacles to overcome. In the Motorcyclist Magazine interview, Andy said, “At first only a handful of riders ‘got it,’ including motojournalists, who were on bikes every day. And even then we were made fun of.” I still get the "going into outerspace?" bullshit whenever I stop near the usual pirate crowd. Usually, when we compare our day's ride (100-150 for them, 400-1,000 for me) the conversation comes to a stuttering end.
Google "aerostich roadcrafter crash" and it is impossible to not be impressed by the stories of the skin, bones, and lives saved by Aerostich equipment. There are dozens of Aerostich imitators, but only one company makes gear that you can wear for most of your life and Andy Goldfine founded that company. Even the owners of the imitation gear owe Andy a debt because none of that cheap Chinese-made gear would be here today without Aerostich to copy.
Helmets off to you, Andy.

Oct 3, 2016

#129 Following Distance and Me

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

A couple of years ago, there was a young person who took the Basic Rider Course and debated every safety point in the course: helmets and other protective gear, speed, skill development, and traffic management and awareness. Everything we had to say was pointless “safety geek crap.” One morning, I read about that person's death on the highway; unprotected by any reasonable gear, tailgating, capped off by an inability to avoid an obstacle. I recognized the picture in the paper.
2014-03-31 IA (2)In April, on the road home from New Mexico, I got another reminder of how precarious life on a motorcycle can be; from the relative safety of our motorhome. Before we left our last campsite of the winter, after five months on the road, I did my usual equipment inspection, knocked off the items on the RV’s shutdown checklist, and we headed north toward Des Moines on I35. We stopped in Des Moines for fuel and breakfast and I checked the tires for heat (my lazy man’s tire pressure inspection) at the filling station and took a pressure measurement after breakfast. Less than 2 miles north of Des Moines, the RV started swerving and I heard the unmistakable sound of tire failure. Looking out the rear view mirror, I saw what looked like a fully inflated tire rolling down the center of the freeway behind us. I figured the bike trailer had fried a bearing and tossed a wheel. 250 miles from home, after an 8,500 mile winter. Great, we’re going to be spending a day waiting for AAA to find a repair shop willing to accept their highly “discounted service rates.”

When I got the RV semi-safely parked on the shoulder of the freeway and calmed my wife down, I discovered it wasn’t the trailer tire but the right rear RV tire that had failed. In 50 years of driving everything from heavily loaded band vans and buses to service vans and pickups to the usual assortment of family cars, I’ve never seen a tire failure like this one: the tread completely separated from the sidewalls. It just shucked itself off of the wheel and went on its merry way through heavy northbound freeway traffic. Luckily, it didn't hit anyone and no one hit it while it was in motion.
2014-03-31 tireThe part that spit off wasn’t heavy, maybe 20 pounds at most, but it was whole and would have made an incredibly difficult-to-absorb object for a motorcycle. Fortunately, it happened on a blustery late March Monday morning, so the usual crowd of Sunday “motorcyclists” were back in their cages and nobody else managed to get tangled up in the tire, either. I found a hole in the traffic and went to pull the shell of the tire from the middle of the road, when a semi clipped it and tossed it against the center island’s guard cables. A few feet higher and the tire would have ended up causing a freak-out in the southbound lane.

What if you had been on a motorcycle following an RV travelling at 60mph on a 70mph freeway? You’re impatient because you’re a typical occasional biker, so you follow closely because you think that will hurry the RV driver along. I, the RV driver, can’t see you at all so you are in no way part of my driving calculations. At 60mph, you are travelling 88 feet per second or, if you are impatient and running up behind me at 70mph you are zipping along at 102 feet per second. Let’s pretend you are a skilled rider, just not a smart skilled rider (a stretch, I know). You’re humping my RV and trailer at about 75 feet, it takes you a second to recognize the object flying your direction and you hit it at full speed. Whatever happens next is completely out of your control.

If we repaint that scenario with you possessing a bit of common sense or good fortune, we'll assume you are 150 feet behind the trailer when the tire comes flying over the wheel well. You still use up that second figuring out what’s about to happen and you nail the brakes, wrapping the tire up between your front wheel and your bike’s frame. Again, whatever happens next is completely out of your control.

On the rare chance that you paid some attention in your last safety class, maybe you’re actually calculating your following distance based on your speed. You gave yourself the recommended four seconds, or 360 to 400 feet, of safe margin and after blowing that first second of reaction time, you have two to three seconds to decide what to do and to get it done. You resist the panic reaction to nail the brakes, make your best guess where the tire is going to go, and swerve to avoid it. Honestly, you could still be in trouble, but once you swerve away from the tire’s path you can still scrub off a lot of speed in the couple of seconds left before the tire arrives at your point of intersection. That could be the difference between getting killed or maimed and just needing to change your underwear.

So, the next time you get all carried away with yourself and feel uppity about your right to speed down the highway unimpeded, you might want to think about where that kind of attitude would put you in the scenario I just described. I know I’ll be thinking about it every time I’m anywhere near an RV or truck. There is a reason those vehicles need high-capacity, high pressure tires and that reason is why you see the carcasses of tires from those vehicles littered all over the highway. The MSF's four seconds of "immediate path" margin is cutting it pretty close when you have a sudden decision to make.

Sep 28, 2016

Deer Are Never Good News

My local paper led off with this good news today, “Minnesota drivers expected to hit more than 42,000 deer.” “Minnesota drivers have a 1-in-80 chance of hitting a deer this year, with Wisconsin drivers at 1-in-77, South Dakota drivers at 1-in-70 and North Dakota at 1-in-91.”

So, be careful out there.

Sep 26, 2016

#128 When Memories Lie

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Some friends were showing or selling stuff at the Viking Chapter AMCA National Vintage Bike Show and I had a few hours to kill before my kids stuffed me for Fathers Day, so I blew $5 and hung out with old timers looking at old bikes in better shape than when they (either the guys or the bikes) were new. There was a lot of stuff to see. The state fairground's Progress Center building was stuffed with motorcycles from my youth and beyond (Yes, Virginia. There were motorcycles before I was born.) and the campground to the north was manned by swap meeters plying their wares.
IMG_4640I've said this before, but there is still not a lot about owning and restoring old bikes that I get. I took a lot of pictures, talked to a bunch of people, and got asked "Do you know Victor?" in response to my MMM riding jacket. In all, I had fun, but wasn't much tempted . . . until I spotted a cheap, fairly sun-thrashed, 1984 Yamaha IT200 for "make offer."

I mostly know the 1984 IT 200 through it's older, smaller brother; the late 70's IT175D. Yamaha's 175 provided a permanent motorcycle memory. Through a Nebraska dealership where I'd spent some money over the years, I got a weekend test drive on the mid-sized IT and, pretty much by accident, I discovered I could wheelie the little blue bike at will. That may not sound like a deal to you, but I have never been a wheelie guy. I can a dirtbike's front wheel over a variety of obstacles, but just lofting it for fun had mostly escaped me. In fact, I've only been able to play Wheelie Guy on two bikes in 50 years, both were 175s. The other was a mid-70's Husky. I have never had a bank account that could foot a Husqvarna, so the Yamaha has always been in my sights. A few years back, I met a North Dakota Vincent collector who also had a weakness for the IT175s. While I barely comprehended his fascination for the Black Shadow of British motorcycling, I totally got the 175 thing. In fact, he insisted I take one of his Vincents for a test ride, but was totally unwilling to hand over the 175. I got that, too.

IMG_4641So, here was one I could afford. Not the bike I rode and loved, but pretty damn close and very accessible. The bits were mostly all there (the motor was busted, but fixable). The rod had snapped and punched a hole in one case. I could see from the parts box that most of the motor bits were reusable. The old bike had probably last been ridden in 2002 and had spent a good bit of the next 11 years leaning against the side of a Texas garage. The plastic was oxidized nearly gray, from the original Yamaha competition blue. The price was ridiculously right. It estimated at least $500 to get it running about another $1,000 to make it primo. A few hundred loving hours and I'd have a motorcycle that I lusted over when I was still mobile and reasonable athletic. I was tempted, but the temptation didn't last.

Mostly, it was all of the work putting the old bike together would require. I'm in the midst of about two dozen projects, several of which could dominate the rest of my summer. I don't need another project and that played pretty strongly in the decision.

Something else stuck in my craw, too. I have to wonder if this idea is what spawns those multi-garage motorcycle owning binges? What if I put all of those hours and all that labor into restoring this motorcycle that I remember so fondly and . . . it sucks? I realize that could be a double-edged sword. It might be that I suck on that great old motorcycle. Regardless, it's not only possible but it's pretty damn likely. Back when I discovered the joy of one-wheel-travel, I was also in my late twenties. The man I was then and the old man I am now bear damn little resemblance. That dumbass kid would kick my ass all over any competitive field I picked to die on. He was faster, stronger, braver, and had far less awareness of the consequences of falling on his butt. Hell, half of my butt isn't even real, but I know for a fact how much pain getting it fixed again will involve.

IMG_4639My daughter used to wear a t-shirt decorated with the words, "I only wish I could ride as fast as my dad remembers he did." I was in my 40's then. I have no doubt that another twenty years has made my younger self even faster. Hey! There is hardly anyone left alive to provide evidence to the contrary. I can say what I want and you're not going to find a counter-argument from a live person or YouTube, unless you can find some old silent movies that have been transferred to digital video. I was never good enough to warrant more being part of the background for someone who was doing something terrific.

In the end, I just mounted up on my WR250 and went on with my day, leaving the IT175/200 memories untarnished. I hope someone bought it. I hope they restore it to brand new perfection. I'm not sure I want to ride it when they are done, but I probably would if I got the chance. If it--or I--was disappointing, at least I wouldn't have money riding on the outcome.

Sep 19, 2016

#127 Dual Purpose Commuting


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Over a ten year period, I owned four different motorcycles while I lived in southern California: a 1979 Honda CX500, a 1982 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision, a 1986 Kawasaki KLR600, and a 1986 Yamaha XT350. Of the four bikes, the hands-down best daily California commuter was unquestionably the XT350. For four years, I rode my 350 to work from Huntington Beach to Costa Mesa every morning, three to four days a week, to school in Long Beach after every work day, and for 90% of my non-family-related transportation for a total of 68,000 miles. During my last years in California, if I wasn't on the XT, I was on a bicycle (I biked to work almost every day I didn't have college classes). My twenty mile work-to-school commute was via the Pacific Coast Highway, which was dramatically quicker than the 405, thanks to lane-splitting and filtering and no-thanks to the 405's 5mph average rush hour speed. The XT's narrow profile made efficient commuting even more practical as SUVs and other oversized single-passenger vehicles became more popular in the late 80's and the spaces between vehicles shrank considerably.

Since the 80's, so-called "dual purpose" motorcycles have grown (in size and expense) along with the SUV market. It's hard to imagine calling a Super Ten or a BMW 1200GS a "dual purpose" bike, but if you can manage that sort of off-road ride, you probably agree with Emilio Scotto who rode a his "Black Princess," a 1980 Honda GL1100, 457,000 miles through practically every country in the world and claims the Goldwing is the perfect adventure touring bike. Personally, a 900 pound Goldwing would not be my off-road choice and it wouldn't be the bike I'd pick to commute on, either. In a pretty-good world, lane-splitting and filtering would be a common part of urban traffic management and we'd all be saving time, money, energy, and highway maintenance taxes. That's the world in which a real dual purpose bike excels at commuting. With our tall seat height, we can see over and around most other vehicles. The long-travel suspension and spoked wheels allow for almost unlimited escape routes during times of stress. Light weight and nimble handling, a real DP bike can go where panicked cagers fear to roll.

For example, by the early 90's, analog cell phones (as compact as a bunch of bananas) appeared and California drivers became even more distracted. The ability to slide between cars and jump curbs to escape multiple car pile-ups became lifesaving. I'd have been the gooey center in a car sandwich multiple times if I had been on a less nimble motorcycle. Regardless of Minnesota's primitive motorcycle laws, I still split lanes on the freeway when forced to come to an unexpected stop in heavy traffic. I don't even wait for the tire screeching warning that some dimbulb has discovered, too late, that his cell phone was not the most important task of the morning. I just put iron between me and the idiots behind me and merge back into the flow of traffic when it crawls back to life. If a cop wants to give me a ticket for a preventative lifesaving move, I'll spend the time in court defending my right to stay alive. Jumping a curb and hiding in a convenient flower bed is a whole different kind of maneuver, though. That move isn't even an option for sport bikes or cruisers because they don't have the wheels, suspension, or ground clearance. It's not a practical move for a 600 pound "dual purpose" bike, either.

Picture 025I abandoned real DP motorcycles when I moved to Colorado (No, that doesn't make a lick of sense.), but after a few years without a serious dual purpose motorcycle, I bought a 2000 Kawasaki Super Sherpa KL250 with the intention of commuting and touring on the bike. The touring part never happened, but I regularly commuted on the little bike, putting 8,000 miles on the bike in two seasons. It replaced my V-Strom as my regular ride; solely because of the fun factor and 70+mpg in-town efficiency. A couple of years ago, I replaced the Sherpa with my current favorite motorcycle, a Yamaha WR250X. It gets slightly worse mileage (about 60mpg), but it starts easily year-around; thanks to fuel injection. I have a little more than 10,000 miles on the WR and it has done double-duty as a regular commuter and an mid-range adventure touring bike. My old V-Strom is even more lonely than before. In fact, I have ridden it once this year, as of mid-August.

A survey I have been running over the last year found that the average motorcyclist (loosely defined) rides well under 2,000 miles a year. There is no positive correlation between engine size and miles-ridden, either. With that in mind, it's obvious that most of us need nothing more than a 250-500cc motorcycle and the most practical motorcycles every made are dual purpose. For all-around daily use, a motorcycle that can go anywhere, does it efficiently and reliably, and has a decent resale value is hard to beat. Aerostich's Andy Goldfine has a "small and simple equals fun" basic motorcycle rule. Add a versatile suspension, great handling, narrow profile, fuel economy, dependable resale, and a design intended to be treated roughly and you have the perfect commuting motorcycle. Maybe, the perfect universal motorcycle.

From: Andy Goldfine 
Sent: Friday, June 06, 2014 11:33 PM
To: Tom Day; Day Thomas
Subject: Lightweight touring
Tom - Wonderful MMM column this month.  Thanks for mentioning me.  I learned the "Small and simple equals fun." formulation from an old Steven L. Thompson editorial in Cycle World or Cycle Guide.  

His version was "L + S = MF" which stood for 'Light + Simple = More Fun'.  He deserves full origination credit for this idea as it relates to motorcycling.

I hope we will be able to get together in person some time this summer.


Sep 17, 2016

How Historic will this Make Motorcycles?

outbackranch2_(5)__hdNavigant now believes that by 2050, self-driving cars will be the norm in civilized societies. “The idea of getting behind the wheel (in 2050) and actually driving a car is likely to be more a curiosity, akin to going to a stable to climb on the back of a horse.” In this month’s Design News blog entry, “Which Will Capture the Market First -- Autonomous Cars or Electrics?” Charles Murray describes the parallel race between electrics and autonomous vehicles. While EV’s are still just 1% of world automotive production, that number is expected to move up quickly. By 2030, that number could be as high as 50%.

e793109d5c5907bc0adccbe3583ce8d1If people stop driving cages, how long will it be before they don’t pilot motorcycles? That “back of a horse” comment has been on my mind for about two decades.

Sep 13, 2016

A Last (?) Short Season

My 2016 MSF/MMSC training season appears to be pretty much indicative of the motorcycle training business in general. Due to a physical problem, last year’s fairly normal season got cut short around late July. Since 2001, I’ve been doing 15-25 Basic and (recently renamed) Intermediate classes a year along with the occasional Skills Retest and Maintenance class. Last year, I’d signed up for 16 classes and managed to teach a dozen before my right foot turned into a pain generator and I had to bail out of the last portion of my season. I hadn’t missed a class in 14 years before that season.

This year, I decided to downsize my participation to the minimum 4 classes.Honestly, I didn’t have much fun last season and have been wondering if I’m near the point where teaching anything to anyone has lost its appeal. I have been doing some sort of education function for almost 40 years; either as a corporate trainer or a college instructor. My father was a high school math and accounting teacher and I never imagined myself following in his career footsteps, but I did; sort of. My tolerance for fools has never been well developed, but it appears to be vanishing altogether in my cranky old age. I can put up with miles of inexperience, but I can’t move and inch to fix deliberate stupidity. When I first started training technicians, in the mid-70’s, I was ruthless when it came to putting up with a tech who wanted the planet to revolve in his direction. Several of my employers moved asshole employees into my departments because they didn’t have the balls or personal organization and disipline to fire them. I have always believed in saying (and documenting) what I am going to do and doing what I say I will do. If I say, “Screw up three times and you’re fired,” you should assume that when you’re at two strikes you better not swing at a bad pitch.

Part of what convinced me to quit my college teaching gig was that my ability to make the classroom rules and enforce them had vanished. Probably the worst thing about activities like for-profit education, healthcare, resource management, and like things is that management can rarely remember the purpose of the organization, beyond providing large salaries to management, for any length of time. When the rules for an activity are changed to keep the income steady for mismanagement, the rules no long exist and neither does the purpose of the activity. And so it went for my college teaching career.

The rules for motorcycle safety instruction have never been designed toward improving motorcycle safety. The MSF is OWNED by the MIC, which is all about putting butts with credit or cash on motorcycle seats. “Safety” is just the smokescreen used to justify avoiding the sort of government regulations that motorcycling’s awful safety record would warrant. Any other activity that would cost the nation’s taxpayers a good bit over $16B per year while providing little-to-no valuable utility (except guns and “financial services”) would see the regulation hammer drop like a brick on an ant. Like most for-profit organizations, the MIC has no strong reason to care if its customers die shortly after handing over their cash or the dealers sell the loans to some TBTF bank. It’s not like motorcycling has a long future in sight for these folks or that their execs have a financial motivation to provide for the future of the companies they mismanage.

In fact, the MSF program carefully orders instructors and program managers not to make claims about the MSF’s training having any effect on motorcycle safety. And that’s because it doesn’t. Not only does the MSF know that training doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t appear to work anywhere. One of the attractions to teaching is the feedback an instructor gets when people learn a skill and begin on a path toward mastering it. Trust me, it’s not about the money. Take away the hope there was a reason for spending a hot summer weekend on a parking lot walking 11-miles-per-day putting down and picking up cones, avoiding and preventing injury from a runaway motorcycle and motorcyclist or ten, and listening to people whine when they manage to fail the grossly-easy “skills test” at the end and you kill a lot of instructor motivation. 

Teaching the “Intermediate Safety Course” (IRC) is often way less fun or advanced than the “Basic” course. Overcoming the myths and objections of so-called experienced riders is wearing. I’ve dealth with two-year-olds who were more informed than the majority of over-50 Harley riders; especially the “club” characters who are just making the motions toward motorcycle safety to justify their gang patches and pirate parades.

One of the main consumers of the IRC has been Polaris, with a requirement that employees must obtain a motorcycle license and take both the BRC and IRC before they can  “check out” bikes from the company’s reverse-engineering inventory and Indian/Victory loaners. To accomodate those wannabe “motorcyclists” who want to ride but don’t want to have to actually buy a motorcycle, we ran an experiment a couple of years ago with allowing IRC customers to use the BRC bikes along with taking the MSF’s IRC test at the end. The results were pretty good, but the outcome was that we’re now allowing IRC students to use the small bikes but we’re blowing off the test. If there was ever evidence that we are not serious about providing actual results from motorcycle training, it was this for me.

So, at the end of this season I’m going to be spending the winter contemplating my motorcycle safety training “career.” Like most teaching gigs in the US, I think the average length of a motorcycle trainer’s career is less than 3 years. You’d think getting to play with motorcycles for fun and profit would be a better gig, but it isn’t in most states. Again, it’s the feedback reinforcement that overcomes the downsides to teaching and they aren’t there.

Sep 12, 2016

#126 What Are You Afraid Of?


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

A while back, one of our contributors listed a few of the things he was afraid of. One of the things he listed was flying. Another was helmet claustrophobia. I think spiders, snakes, girls, and clowns probably made the list, too.

Psychologists argue that the absence of fear is mental illness. The other possibility is physical or genetic damage to the portion of the brain called the "amygdala," which is the section of the brain that generates the emotion we describe as fear. I have yet to meet a psychologist/psychiatrist who I would call "courageous," so I'm only sort of buying into this analysis and classification. These are the same characters who invented a disease (AADD) to explain a lack of focus and poor self-discipline and who can't convince 65% of the public that human beings have predictable animalistic responses to fight-or-flight situations or social pressures.

Personally, I despise all of my own phobias (and I have a list). While a fear factor might be a wonderful survival tactic, it is definitely a buzz-kill. Standing at the edge of a bridge strapped to a harness and 100' bungee cable is a disgusting time to start evaluating your entertainment options. As a Kizinti (the alien species George Lucas ripped off, renamed "Wookie," and domesticated in Star Bores) told Louis Wu, "All that is needed is to scream and leap." After all, that's how we invest in the stock market, housing, higher education, and it's definitely how we choose our political "leaders." Important stuff like that requires no more thought than we put into "would you like fries with that?" So, why do we hesitate to fling our bodies into the void, especially with a perfectly good motorcycle under us and well-maintained roads to travel? It's not like indecision is going to add anything valuable to your steering plans at the apex of a curve or when the motorcycle leaves the ground at the top of a whoop or a small hill. Do it. Scream and leap. Set your hair on fire and give it your best shot. These days, if you really screw it up you'll probably end up a YouTube superstar. A small price to pay for your 1.5 seconds of excitement and 15 minutes, dead minimum, of fame.

Seriously, I do believe that fears are meant to be overcome. Catering to phobias and cowardice  is what makes you old before your time. If you give in to that crap, the next thing you know you'll be voting Republican and jabbering nonsense about "job creators" and "Obama is a socialist" and all of your friends will have sub-100-point IQs and you'll delude yourself into believing that Leno and Letterman are funny and Fox actually does "news." Man up, dude, before it's too late. Accepting fear is a choice and you can either get it up and get over it or shrivel into a timid little person who never has a moment on YouTube to relish. [Yes, I have several, although "relish" is probably not the word that first comes to mind.]

I like the tactic of facing fears until they are beaten back into my subconscious. Heights, for example. I suspect that most of us are a little shy about stepping on to a 20' roof or out on to the Grand Canyon's Infinity Bridge. We all, however, know that with reasonable caution there is very little about either of those "adventures" that qualifies as dangerous. So, most of us get on with the job and it doesn't take long before altitude fades into the background. I used to do a little rock climbing and it always amazed me that on Day One I might find myself frozen 15' above flat ground and a few days later I will be walking along the edge of a 300' cliff without the slightest nervousness. Speed is another sensation we can adapt to fairly quickly. I'm not sure that is a good thing, but it is true. When I take off for a long trip, sticking with freeway traffic sometimes seems like walking a knife edge. Two weeks later and I'm impatient when someone is "parked" in front of me a few miles-per-hour above the speed limit. [Not that I would ever, ever exceed the federally mandated speed limits when everyone else is doing their best to do multiples of that velocity.]

Fear is like guilt. Sometimes those emotions can keep us from doing things other people disapprove, but neither emotion produces a positive result. I can be made to conform to society's low expectations, but I will resent it and that will come out in odd acts of rebellion that help me maintain a balance of control. Fear will tell me to chicken out at the worst possible time, when going forward is almost guaranteed to be the right decision.

My favorite motorcycling example is when I screw up and enter a corner too hot. Unless there is a lot of run-out room, there is no place for braking in that situation. Once the bike is in a slide, there are even fewer options available. On dirt or gravel, this is where the fun begins. I'm less comfortable sliding on concrete or asphalt, but that's due to cowardice and inexperience, not common sense. So that's the fear I'm working on this summer, fear of sliding on paved surfaces. I'll let you know how that works out, assuming I survive.