Oct 20, 2014

#78 Crashing Cold

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

A friend, who wrote a book about motorcycle crashes and what the rest of us can learn from the mistakes of those who will admit to falling down, once asked a few riders to send him an accounting of their favorite trip to the hospital. Since I quit racing dirt bikes, I've been mostly without anything interesting to report. That doesn't mean that I've been especially cautious, competent, or any other c-word that implies something positive about my riding habits. It mostly means that I've been lucky. In my twenty-year street riding career, I've ridden while suffering hypo and hyperthermia, I've pushed on for hundreds of miles when I should have found a place to park and warm up or cool down, and I’ve risked life and limb with impaired riding skills due to temperature.

Mostly, it has been cold weather that caused me the most risk. I do not ride well when I’m cold. One of the keys to riding smoothly is to be relaxed at the bars. That becomes especially critical when your tires are cold, the road is unpredictably slick from rain or spots of frozen water, and when visibility is reduced. You can only shake out the tension so many times, to get some level of flexibility back into your arms and legs when you are freezing. Sooner, rather than later, you need to get warm or you risk crashing and getting hurt. Getting hurt when you are cold feels even worse than when you aren’t freezing your nuts off.

I used to play dirt biker year-round. When I lived in Texas and Nebraska, I raced all season and played racer all winter. A few years before that, in Kansas, I raced in the summer and commuted on the same bike (a 250cc Harley Sprint) six days a week to work and school. I moved from Nebraska to California by Honda CX500 in late March, 1983. My family followed, by train, a few months later. Sometimes it seems that I’ve ridden more miles cold than comfortable. The older I get, the less inclined I am to put in long, cold miles. I suck at it, so I’m learning not to do it.

Not long after I moved to California, a friend from Colorado wanted to do a tour of the Golden State. We planned to meet at an undetermined campground in Yosemite and start our adventure from there. As usual, I didn’t escape from work until dark. As usual, I hadn’t planned the trip any further than picking a spot and a general time when I was supposed to be at that destination. I rolled the CX into heavy traffic on I405 and headed north until I had to choose between going the fast route, I5, in boring commuter traffic and the scenic route, California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway along one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world. Even with my messed up “schedule,” I picked PCH and left the traffic. North of Santa Barbara you leave the L.A. atmosphere and California turns into “California.” The air is breathable, the natives are less restless, the scenery is incredible, and gas is expensive.

Without a thought in my head, beyond driving toward point B, I followed the highway with the setting sun supplying a reader’s light, falling just over my left shoulder. Until it got dark, just a few miles before I made it to San Luis Obispo, my trip was progressing better than I could have imagined. My usual travel habit is to create my schedule as I go. Somewhere along the road I’d decided that I needed to make it to Carmel that first day of travel. If you know the area, you’ll be noticing by now that my course wasn’t the short route from point A to B. In fact, I practically doubled the necessary miles by putting PCH and Carmel in the travel plan. “Logic be damned, full speed ahead” could be the title for a vacation planning book I might someday write.

Pushing on in the dark and rapidly dropping temperature, I made it to the edge of Big Sur and I was getting cold. The air was wet and cold and a strong wind was blowing from the ocean. I knew it was stupid to be riding through this incredible place in the dark, for scenic reasons, but I had set Carmel in my sights and I was going to make Carmel or die trying.

The Pacific coast had taken a severe weather beating that spring. Much of PCH had washed down the cliffs and I’d been redirected on several non-scenic detours around swept away sections earlier in the day. Big Sur doesn’t offer many options to the state's highway engineers, so quick patches are more practical than detours. Half-frozen, tired, and stupid, I whipped around a mountain curve to discover one of those quick repairs; an off-camber, gravel and broken asphalt section of road, bordered by a large pile of rocks on both sides. No way was I going to make this corner. I came into it way too hot, in poor position, and with limited skills. I was too cold to control the tension in my arms, so instead of pushing the bike as far into the corner as I could, I wasted my remaining strength pitting my left arm against my right arm. I headed for the pile of rocks furthest from the ocean, only partially intentionally.

The CX500 was my first street bike, since I’d stripped down a 1963 Harley Sprint to make it into a ¼ mile scrambler. I sucked on asphalt, but I had twenty years of off-road riding under my belt. Highways I didn’t know, rocks I did. When you are in a panic situation, conscious decisions get put away for better moments. Panic reactions are either controlled by practice or fight-or-flight. Without thinking about the kind of bike I was riding, I straightened up the bike, scrubbed off as much speed as I could before the front wheel hit the first rock, stood up on the pegs, got my weight as far back as my soft saddle bags and stubby legs would allow, and got back on the little twin's gas. A fraction of a second later, I was stopped at the end of the line of rocks, wondering what had happened and how I managed to be in that spot undamaged.

When I started back up, the bike was incredibly noisy and it handled weirdly. I rode for a mile or two until I spotted a grassy outcropping overlooking the ocean, pitched my tent, and crawled into my sleeping bag to shiver uncontrollably until I drifted into sleep. Five hours later, I struggled out of the tent and examined my bike. The exhaust headers were flattened and the mufflers were ripped from their clamps and pulled back about 2” from the end of the headers. My centerstand was busted to bits and the stand’s mount was smashed and ripped from the frame. The oil filter was dented, but not leaking. The bottom of the engine was scarred, but not busted. The front wheel was no longer round, the Comstar’s rim was intact, but one of the rivets that attached the hub to the wheel support was missing. The tire held air. The rear tire was gouged up, badly, but it appeared to be functional (that assessment would cause serious problems for me a thousand miles later). A couple of lower frame bolts were sheared off. Pretty much, the bottom side of the bike looked like it had been drug across a pile of rocks.

I removed the centerstand, cobbled the exhaust together with wire and snot, installed a new filter and oil (dirtbikers carry spares), and wobbled into Carmel, wounded and reprimanded. Carmel is too small to have a bike shop and too snooty to give a crap, so I kept riding until I got to Monterey. I found a Honda shop, bought some parts (including a new front wheel and centerstand from a recently rear-ended CX customer), and did my repair work in the shop’s driveway. The Honda mechanic even loaned me some tools and helped me straighten my exhaust headers enough to make a fair muffler seal with the new clamps. A welding shop cut off the old centerstand bits and installed a makeshift replacement. Six hours later, I was on my way to Yosemite.

I survived my first half-frozen street incident. I managed to learn next-to-nothing from the experience and put myself in similar situations several times in the next twenty years, but I’m beginning to realize that I am never going to be a good cold weather rider and I compensate, a little, for that disability. Now, when I can’t relax my arms, I take that as a sign that I’m too cold to ride and start looking for a motel or campground. It’s been too many years since I actually rode on rocks on purpose and I’m sure my panic reactions are less conditioned than they were on that trip. I don’t want to test myself, so we’ll just have to assume that is true.

March 2009

Oct 18, 2014

Hoping to be on the Move

Still wrestling with Wells Fargo Bank on our new house in Red Wing. With a memory about as long and clear as a mosquito’s, Americans tend to forget the incompetence with which US banks mismanaged property just 5 years ago. I’m getting another reminder this month. Wells Fargo appears to be unable to locate the title for the foreclosed house we’re buying. So, they’re putting off the closing until they get their shit together or can’t. We won’t know which it will be for at least another week. In the meantime, we’re bagging up our possessions, selling stuff, giving away stuff, throwing away stuff, and generally operating under the assumption that we’re going to be moving . . . somewhere yet this year.

Nissan Frontier w-bike (1)One bright light, so far this year, has been getting rid of the Winnebago and, last month, replacing it with a Nissan pickup. The proof is in the miles and we don’t have a lot yet, but so far so good. Nissan manages to get more torque and horsepower out of 4L than pretty much anyone. On top of that, Nissan is (was) the last Japanese manufacturer to put a manual transmission (a six-speed, yet) in a 4L six. You can still get a 5-speed in a little 4-cylinder, but the bigger the truck the less competent the manufacturers think the drivers are. So, we went for a low-mileage, 2008 4-door Kingcab. It cost more than I wanted to spend, but Nissan and Toyota trucks are like that. I hope we discover why.

Two weeks into ownership and I installed a Class III hitch, the electrical tow package, figured out a ramp system for the WR, and managed to disable the godawful Viper security system. The next project will be taking the damn thing out and returning the truck to stock Nissan wiring; or as close as I can get it to that. Unlike most of the used motorcycles I’ve bought, the only non-stock bullshit on the pickup is a grossly overpriced Pioneer GPS/Stereo/Bluetooth phone system and the Viper crap. 

I suppose the security system came after the previous owner bought a $1,000 stereo system. Someday, I’d like to sit quietly and listen to someone explain how a stereo system that does not provide one watt more power, the slightest improvement in frequency response, or any useful new feature over the stock system provides more value. Cars depreciate astoundingly quickly. In 5 years, this vehicle lost almost $18k in value; not counting the likely interest, additional insurance, and maintenance costs (to ensure factory warranty coverage). That’s nothing compared to the “entertainment system,” though. New price on this silly piece of electronics was a grand and, today, you can buy the same system new in the package for $250 and used for about $150. Pioneer, not exactly a leader in GPS technology, stopped making update disks (Yeah, the GPS disk has to be in the player for the system to work. It has no significant internal memory. Dumb, huh?) for this unit in 2012. Not that long ago, consumers realized that buying console home entertainment systems was a dumb bet. Putting a television, stereo system, tape deck, turntable, CD player, and speakers into one giant box was a fool’s way to buy electronic gear that had a variety of MTBF expectations. Car owners appear to have yet to learn that lesson.

Nissan Frontier w-bike (2) Now that the stereo system is practically worthless, the bug-factory security system is overkill. As a manual transmission vehicle, we already have a tiny bit of built-in theft insurance. At least the car will be near-impossible to drive away for joy-riding kids.

This sort of With all of the yap you hear about how auto-piloted cars are going to eliminate the “joy of driving,” it’s entertaining to learn that manual transmission sales have declined from 34.6% of car sales in 1980 to 3.8% in 2010. If you really want to be a driver, controlling the engine speed to road speed relationship is baseline. If using a clutch and shifting is more driving complexity than you like, you’re not really a driver. You’re a glorified passenger, probably distracted by silly electronic crap right up to the moment you run over a motorcyclist.

None of this is new territory. Way back on #90 (Too Dumb to Scoot), I came to the conclusion that I am too dumb to take scooters seriously. The automatic transmission is a big part of that. Reducing the riding requirement to hanging on to the handlebars and twisting the throttle pretty much turned riding into boredom for me. Maybe I should install an unpredictable security system on a scooter to see if that livens things up a bit? Maybe mount an entertainment center on the handlebars?

Oct 16, 2014

A Low Risk Generation?

There is a lot of talk about how the Gen-X, Gen-Y, etc kids are low risk takers. I have a different take on that. I think the human race is splitting, again, into haves and have-nots. We've decided, at least in the US, that we want a country with a tiny number of insanely rich people and a huge number of uneducated, underprivileged, mostly incarcerated poor people. The cost to the upper-middle and upper classes is that their spoiled brats are terrified of their own shadows and have about as much chance of survival in any sort of stressful conditions as cotton-candy in the rapids of the Colorado River. I doubt that the world is in any danger of losing risk-takers, they're just going to come from other places. Americans, on average, are conservative ("holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation"). If any part of that definition looks courageous to you, you're part of the problem. Don't worry, though. Survival requires risk (No, that doesn't mean an ability to carelessly gamble with other people's money, moron.) and the species will either take risks and survive or not. The planet and the universe will continue to evolve with or without us.

Here, for example, is a video about some asskicking risk takers.

the US, t

Oct 15, 2014

Good Advice from another Source

Imagine this, solid motorcycle advice from a website called WallStreetCheatSheet.com, "6 Motorcycles that Make 250cc Fun on the Cheap." Author Eric Schaal is dead on the money and a whole lot smarter than about 90% of the motorcycle press.

Oct 13, 2014

#77 On Being Alone

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

"I gotta hand it to you. I couldn't ride 6,000 miles across country by myself." I've heard that a few times, but I haven't been able to explain how untrue that assumption is. There isn't a place in the country where you can be alone for long. In fact, as Ted Simon said at the Very Boring Rally II this summer, "You aren't alone anywhere you go on this planet." There are people everywhere and they are, mostly, pretty friendly and helpful. Sometimes, they are a little too interested in what you are doing, where you are going, and why you are going those places and doing that stuff.

For example, I was riding in the Yukon last summer with a friend when I managed to get blown backwards and crash on the Dempster Highway. My riding buddy was about 1/2 mile ahead of me and managing his own problems. So, by the time he discovered I wasn't inhaling his dust I had picked myself and my bike up, patched up the busted stuff, and was ready to struggle my way back to asphalt when he showed up. About the same time, a trucker stopped and offered to satellite phone for help. Of course, if I had slid off of the road into the permafrost nobody would have found me or the bike when we sunk into the muck.

My favorite example was in Montana on a dirt road to a microscopic place called Helmsville. The road to Helmsville is between a two-lane highway from nowhere to another two-lane to the grand village of Lincoln, MT. The road is paved for the first few hundred yards, turns to loosly packed clay punctuated with sections of deep gravel and sand. There were no signs that anyone had driven County Road 271 since the last wind or rain storm, not a track in the gravel. About 50 miles into this adventure, I needed to stop and relieve my bladder. I found an abandoned corral with an even more abandoned outhouse outside the gate. The outhouse floor was collapsed, so I chose to water the weeds by the door. About the time I got an unstoppable stream flowing, a flatbed full of high school girls drove by, waving and whooping, "Yooo-whooo!"

I'm pretty sure they'd have stopped to rescue me, if I'd have needed rescuing. As it was, they kept moving without asking about my well-being or vehicle status. I don't blame them. I wasn't even secure enough in my position to wave back.

Later that summer, my wife and I were on a 40th anniversary trip around the Iron Range and points surrounding that territory. We were on a dirt road detour around the construction on MN Highway 1 to Ely, when I discovered a cool two-track path to a hidden lake. We dirt biked our way down the path to where it dead-ended at a picture perfect lake. It was absolutely quiet; again, no signs of any other vehicle having been on the path. We enjoyed the lake and the privacy for a half-hour or so. Before we headed back to the main road, I decided to get rid of the morning's coffee. Once again, at the point of no return, a couple wrangled their pickup and boat trailer down the road and headed down the path to my watering hole.

I'm telling you, there is no such thing as a place to be alone on this continent. Anywhere you go, someone is there to share the planet with you. You might as well travel without food, tools, clothing, or shelter. While they are in your space, you might as well borrow something from them. At least ask for spare change. I know I can't go anywhere without someone asking me for money, why should you be any different? If you really get insecure, feeling alone in the world, whip it out and relieve yourself. If your luck is anything like mine, a truck full of high school girls will be along any minute.

On a motorcycle, you're pretty much by yourself as long as you are rolling. No matter how many folks there are in your "rolling bowling pin" traveling configuration, nobody but you is in control of your bike. Assuming you are in control, that is. Once you get off of the bike, though, it's harder to find privacy than it is to instigate an intelligent conversation in Missouri. 300 million citizens in the US amounts to about 85 people per square mile. Eliminate Alaska's 1.16 person per square mile ratio and that state's 572,000 square miles and the nation's grazing ratio is 101 people per square mile. That's a lot of people for every 640 acres; one of us for every 6.4 acres in fact.

Being "alone" is a relative thing. Simply being outside of your neighborhood is a long ways from alone. Not being able to hear the rumble of traffic doesn't mean you are out of the reach of civilization or humanity. A bonus that comes with traveling alone is that you are almost forced to make new acquaintances and friends. If you let yourself get into the traveler mode, you will meet people you'd have never known about if you had stayed home.

Being alone is probably scary. I wouldn't know, I've only been to places where I'm surrounded by other people; as few as 1.16 of them per mile2 in Alaska and as dense as more than 500 per square mile in the eastern states and way more than that in the cities. Since man is the "most dangerous animal," being alone is probably safer than being surrounded by people. Still, sometimes it's comforting to know that anywhere I go I have the opportunity to be part of a community, if only temporarily. Starting off by myself means that I get to chose where and when those opportunities happen. That's as alone as I can get.

Winter 2008

Oct 12, 2014

Why I Hate Kids

MSF ERC: Is there a point?


yamirider's Avatar

yamirider Slowpoke: “My dad REALLY wants me to take it. Will it really help me? From what I've heard its nothing but low speed maneuvers. He wants me to do it in the name of keeping me alive.
”Of course better control of your motorcycle is only going to help, but I'm not that worried about breaking both my legs and getting paralyzed by a little 5mph incident.”

Followed by lots of good advice by some really smart people about how taking the course would make his father happy (Point 1), provide the little douchebag with a few basic skills that might save his pitiful life (Point 2), provide an opportunity to discover something useful about the motorcycle in a safe environment with experienced riders explaining motorcycle safety (Point 3), and if his father bought the bike the little moron is obligated to do whatever the hell Dad says if he wants to play with his massively inappropriate toy (a Suzuki SV650).

Brat boy’s response to this good advice was:

yamirider Slowpoke:

“First off, I paid for half of this bike.
”Now, here is the thing I'm worried about:
”I've ridden 2 miles on my SV...and that was during the test ride. My dad hasn't let me ride it 2 feet since I've gotten it home. I'm not used to it at all. I don't want to go take the MSF where I'm supposed to put my bike through its low-speed paces and possibly crash and rash it up. (it has ONE scratch on it right now)
”I mean, is that a legitimate concern?
”I've heard of people crashing before during MSF thats why I'm worried.”

Waaaaa!

The very first response to this spoiled douchebag’s bullshit was:

“If you're afraid you're gonna crash in an ERC, you've got no business being on the street.
”Think about what you posted. You think you're too good or too experienced to derive any benefit from the class, but you're afraid those simple maneuvers are going to make you crash?

“I too, have nothing of value to add to this thread...”

Me either, other than I’d put money on the odds that Slowpoke put that scratch on his bike dropping it in the garage or driveway. I bought my 1999 SV650 from a douchebag just like him, in 2000. The spoiled little creep’s mommy bought him the bike practically the day SV’s showed up in his local dealership. Smartass put a Two Brother’s asshole pipe on the bike and fucked with the air filter and air box, dropped the bike in his driveway, and bawled until Mommy bought him a new 4WD Toyota. He was selling the SV to get money for loud pipes on the Toyota. I paid $2,000 for a slightly-scratched 1999 SV with about 300 miles on the odometer. I was afraid to ask where the 300 miles came from, but the bike turned out to be like-new and lasted me a good long while before I sold it.

Luckily, most of the kids I see in motorcycle safety classes are not blatantly like yamirider Slowpoke. They might be that much of a jackass under their usual sullen teenager facade, but at least 90% of them make an effort to hide their assholyness. Of the 90%, a good bit more than 50% actually seem to enjoy the experience and are consistently the best riders I get to work with. Still, as a Geezer and a parent, I fuckin’ hate kids. Slowpoke reminds me why.

Now, back to researching the history of the ERC.

Oct 9, 2014

Hipster Biking

hipster biker2In the end-of-season letter to Minnesota motorcycle trainers, Bill Shaffer noted, “While the final numbers are not in, it looks like we’ll train fewer students than last year, and with the number of registered motorcycles falling last year for the first time since 1995, I think we’ll be training 5,000 to 6,000 students a year for a number of years to come. Also, a lot of the baby boomer generation is getting to that age where they may not start riding if they haven’t already done so, and a number of their kids, the ‘boomlet’ generation, are trading motorcycling in for mortgages and families. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I don’t think we’ll see the big number of students, that we did six to ten years ago, for some time.” I, sort of, hope Bill is right, since I need to find someone from the “boomlet” generation to buy my Little Canada house. Mostly, though, that generation is not buying much of anything but expensive coffee, lots of booze, video games, and cool clothing at over-priced second hand stores.

hipster biker

Very possibly the hippest guy I know. Mr. McNally on his hipped-out CX500.

When I first got back from New Mexico I had a head-full of the stuff a fellow camper had told me about the motorcycle and vehicle industry. He is a semi-retired ex-Motorcyclist, Cycle World, Powersports, etc writer and editor. Like a lot of RV-ers, he never volunteered his name and, in kind, I never asked. Darwin Holmsted and I think we know who he is/was, but I suck at facial identification and pictures almost never tell me much. This retired writer and I spent a lot of mornings between the campground shower and our respective campers talking about where the industry/business/sport had been and where it was going. When we weren’t talking about that, he had a good time describing his perspective on my comedic deep sand riding experiences from the previous day. He had a DL1000 in tow behind his Class B camper, but I never saw it unhitched. I attempted one picture of his rig next to our at Elephant Butte and another camper rolled past right when I hit the digital shutter. I took another when he was “camped” in a neighborhood in TorC and I can’t find that one anywhere, now. His camper and trailer both had California plates. That’s all I have for identification.

Anyway, he was full of doom-and-gloom from the industry side of the rider/driver equation. None of it was stuff that he was ever allowed to write about because the industry thinks happy talk will sell vehicles. So far, it's not working.

cafe-racer-deus
To the majority of this crowd, the important thing about motorcycling getting a good picture of yourself “riding.” This is an excellent example of pretend-riding. I’m sure this kid’s riding career peaked at this moment.

To sum it up, there are at least a couple of current and upcoming generations that are about as interested in owning/driving/riding vehicles as they are in buying CDs or any kind of music, going to movie theaters, owning homes, playing musical instruments, doing manual labor, etc. A lot of things that previous generations took for granted as "necessary skills" are solidly untrendy. Motorcycling is one. Owning a car is another.

I know a few hipsters who proudly bought a 70's or 80's motorcycle, spray painted it black, got pictures of themselves on the bike in tight black pants, designer leather, and an 80's open face helmet and put the bike back in the garage indefinately. It's all about image. You don't have to actually ride to maintain the image, just repost your picture on Facebook occasionally. I’m sure I’ll hear the usual suspects whining about my disrespect of their lifestyle. When you’re right, you’re right. I do, in fact, have little damn respect, tolerance, or interest in the lifestyles of the chronically boring, wealthy, sullen, idle hipsters of any generation. Always have, always will.

Moto_Guzzi_V7_Racer-IMG_0673In an academic paper titled, “Marketing to the Generations,” the authors stated, “Baby Boomers are [were] a good market for travel, adventure vacations, expensive restaurant meals, second homes, recreational vehicles, maintenance-free homes, personal chefs, personal trainers, motorcycles, and financial advisors.” There were no such claims for “good market” of anything for either Gen-X or Gen-Y. In fact, the paper mostly discussed the media most likely to “reach” those two groups without any positive indication that once a marketer had found his target market they would be interested in or able to buy any significant products. It is legitimate to classify Boomers as a marketer’s wet dream. We are a bunch of silly suckers. I have a really hard time imagining aging X-gens populating smelly, noisy, ugly casinos.

Oct 6, 2014

#76 Hearing Damage and Motorcycling

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

It's tough to talk about technical things without technical language. So this article is going to be burdened with technical terms and other debris that can't be avoided. If thinking makes your head hurt, you may want to move on to another page.

A lot of motorcyclists suffer from tinnitus; "a noise in the ears such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, or clicking." My generation, the Boomers, is experiencing a higher rate of hearing damage than our parents suffer at their more advanced age and the generation following us is even worse hit by hearing loss. The reason is noise exposure.

You may wish to blame sinus infections, being dropped on your head as a baby, or bad luck for your tinnitus, but the real reason is probably your long term exposure to excessive noise. Even worse, your tinnitus was probably caused by exposure you could have prevented if you'd have cared about your hearing when you were younger. "If I'd have known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself," sayeth (said-eth?) vintage rocker Al Kooper.

Motorcycling is a particularly abusive activity, as far as your hearing is concerned. If you are one of the "loud pipes save lives" crowd, you are probably a charter member of the "what did you say" group. Even by OSHA's conservative, obsolete, and employer-friendly standards, the kinds of noise levels we expose ourselves to riding motorcycles is beyond the harmful levels and into the "are you crazy?" territory. Good old mommy OSHA only grants our employers a "maximum allowable duration per day" of 1/2 hour at 110dBSPL (Sound Pressure Level) before hearing protection is required. OSHA "weights" that noise level with an "A-filter," which reduces the measured low and high frequency content, which would be appropriate for low level signals (under 55dBSPL unweighted) but is an improper use of the filter for high level signals. The original 1940's source for the OSHA standards, NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), has continued evaluating this hazard and now says that "exposure for any duration" to sound pressure levels above 106dBSPL (unweighted) "may pose a serious health risk"

Inside a full face helmet, behind a moderate windshield, at 70mph, my noise measurement equipment says that I'm exposed to about 110dBSPL (C-weighted or mostly-unfiltered, for the technically inclined). These numbers have been confirmed by other test and measurement sources, but you're welcome to test your own gear. I'll even help if you don't mind riding your motorcycle for a few miles with small microphones stuck in your ears. Riding without a helmet and without hearing protection exposes your ears to sound pressure variations very near the levels of the loudest rock and roll concert you've ever attended; add loud pipes to that and you are probably venturing into uncharted territory.

The folks with the biggest noise exposure problem are probably those who ride big twins. After stripping off the manufacturer's already noisy pipes, these riders often add chrome exhaust farkles that boost the bike's low frequency (LF) noise output substantially. This, supposedly, compensates for the lack of actual power with the illusion of power; more noise. The problem with low frequency (below 150Hz) signals is that they pass through most acoustic obstacles (including your head) relatively unattenuated. Those LF signals cause all sorts of hearing mechanism damage. If this wave motion is strong enough (the signal is loud enough), it rips the cilia (hair-like structures inside the cochlea) from the inner lining causing loss of sensing at the frequency band previously measured by that cilia. Maybe more often, the noise just "flattens" those sensors so that they are less sensitive. This loss of sensing results in a neurological feedback loop that causes tinnitus. If enough cilia are damaged, you may hear a constant roaring or multiple ringing tones. Pete Townshend (songwriter and guitarist for The Who) described his tinnitus as having progressed into sounding like a constant "loud metallic waterfall." Your tinnitus may not be that bad, but it could get worse.

If you're looking to blame someone else for your tinnitus, you are a true American. However, you're probably stuck with either your parents to blame or yourself. The overwhelming majority of hearing defects are noise-related, but some of us have inherited our hearing sensitivity or defects. A life of sinus infections is probably not the cause of tinnitus, but the allergy medications you've taken could be. Other medications can also cause hearing damage and tinnitus.

Lots of us suffered hearing loss from 1960-70s pre-OSHA industrial noise exposure and some of us added to that with motorcycles and music and other bad habits. The problem with trying to overwhelm your tinnitus with more noise is that you are causing more hearing damage and even more tinnitus. I sympathize with that maddening noise you’re hearing, but trying to kill it with noise is self-defeating. If that constant noise bothers you during a distracting activity like riding, how do you sleep? If you move that constant noise from background to the loudest thing in the room won’t that be much worse? Eventually, you'd think that we might begin to pay attention to Al Kooper's warning about taking better care of ourselves in case we have to deal with the consequences later.

In the last decade, there have been a lot of studies on noise and biological noise effects. I don’t think this is something we should take lightly. We (as motorcyclists) are on the leading edge of a coming noise pollution reduction movement. In many urban areas, motorcycles are one of the most identifiable and prominent noises. Noise is making us, as a country and species, dumber and less civilized. Lots of countries are realizing this and attacking noise sources with science and legislation. Sometimes I suspect that in the US we may be too damaged to make much progress on this front, but that isn’t a good thing for our future.

On a personal level, I think you should consider wearing hearing protection when you ride (regardless of your exhaust output) and I would be very cautious about the noise levels you are suffering when you listen to music while you ride. If you wouldn't listen to music at that volume in your living room, you shouldn't be putting up with it while you ride. My wife's argument is "if it hurts to hear, it hurts your ears." Like most of our critical organs, the sensitive parts of your hearing are not repairable. If you overuse it, you will lose it. That is true for political clout, too.

October 2008

All of the stuff that is technical correct in this article was thoughtfully edited and amended by Sarah Angerman of the University of Minnesota's Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Department. All of the errors are my own.

Oct 4, 2014

Another Geezer or Just Another Rider with A Grudge?

I think I love this guy, Damon Lavrinc, and this article, "Why No One Will Sell You The Bike You Want" is so dead-on it hurts, "This isn't intended to be negative or anything, it's just stating the great unstated caveat when it comes to the American motorcycle industry."
  • Combine that with our overwhelming need to overcompensate and you create a market that sees motorcycles as toys. 
  • The Harley idiots (pictured) are all drunk, all the time and refuse to wear helmets.
  • The sport bike tools think their chin strap beards and bright white sneakers endow them with a professional athlete's riding ability and buy those GSX-Rs as first bikes, then quite predictably run them into the first tree off the dealer lot.
  • If you owned a small general contracting firm and a nice man at the bank suddenly told you you could buy any motorcycle you wanted, would you want a nice little runabout or the HOG with the most tassles ever squeezed on two wheels?
  • Where, in most of the rest of the world, governments have imposed tiered licensing for motorcyclists, requiring them to work their way up to riding the big, dangerous bikes, America has always been a total free for all. Here, a 16 year old can perform a couple U-turns in a parking lot on a scooter, hitch a ride from Mom to the local Suzuki dealer and walk out the same day with a Hayabusa.
  • All of a sudden, sportbikes don't sell and, try as they might, Harley's success can't be emulated by the Japanese. Kawasaki logo's just never looked as good on a bandana.
  • . . . the parent companies can't be bothered making the bikes newly-impoverished Americans might be interested in buying. Why would you, when this country only accounts for .66% of your sales?
  • Will you ever ride a motorcycle? Well, it's one of the most life-affirming, time-saving, downright awesomest things you can do, but the people trying to sell you motorcycles would never tell you that, which is a shame. 

Those are just a few of what I considered to be core nuggets in Lavrinc's argument, but you should read the whole article and get a load of how a real marketing guy thinks. (I'd pretty much forgotten that there are marketing guys who DO think.) (Thanks Paul!)

Oct 1, 2014

Now for Something Not All that Different

http://www.bennetts.co.uk/bikesocial/news-and-views/news/2012/2014/september/111000-for-unknown-french-motorcycle/#.VCm2DxYauQK
The Midual Type 1 (that thing on the right) is the latest toy designed for the world's 1%. There are lots of them (toys, that is) so you have to watch closely to see what POS those goofballs are storing in the garages, closets, and warehouses this week. A french company, headed by Oliver Midy, has cobbled together this Ducati-look-alike and is asking a mere 140,000 Euros or £111,790 pounds or $177,628.50 each for the 35 copies of this bike. I'm sure those of you with a couple hundred grand wasting away are going to charge out and gobble up this 106bhp longitudinally-mounted, 1036cc monster (Monstro?) because . . . you can.

The things you get for $200k?
  • 78ft-lb of torque at 5300rpm
  • an aluminium monocoque which, Buell-like, contains the fuel tank 
  • 239kg of pure overpriced sex appeal
  • custom colored and finished leather seat
  • a wooden dash and custom frame finish
  • one-off switch gear, displays, gauges, signal indicators, footrests, brackets and mudguards so when Midy goes bankrupt you'll never have to worry about riding this thing anywhere, since you won't be able to buy replacement parts
  • Brembo calipers 
  • 43mm Ohlins forks
  • a TTX36 Ohlins rear shock
  • adjustable steering head angle
Of course, you could get all of that stuff for a 10th of the price with a Ducati, BMW, MG, or several other bikes. But there would be more than 35 of them and that defeats the purpose, doesn't it? 

Sep 29, 2014

#75 Taking Chances on the Future

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 2008

Sep 25, 2014

Real World Training

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


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

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

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

Sep 23, 2014

#74 Selling Garage Candy

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

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

or

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

or this entertaining piece of creative writing

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

or at the bottom end of the genre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2008

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

Sep 22, 2014

Going Faster on Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 17, 2014

Product Review: Aerostich Competition Elkskin Roper Gloves

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

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

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

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

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

_aeros1

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

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

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

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

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

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

c93fc99c1bd174802116a24e6d049b2eceb1cf62

Sep 15, 2014

#73 A Good Beginner's Bike

All Rights Reserved © 2008
Thomas W. Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2008

Sep 13, 2014

I Second that Motion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 12, 2014

Counting Bikers

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 11, 2014

Product Review: Wolfman Enduro Tank Bag

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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