Jun 18, 2018

Boeing Wanted Jetpacks, but Got Motorcycles (sort of)

Boeing’s GoFly Contest is a “contest for inventors of personal aircraft that seemed to reinvigorate the decades-old hope of a contraption that could propel its wearer through the air.” Boeing’s design targets are “vehicles must measure fewer than 8.5 feet in any direction and travel 20 miles while carrying a single person. . . [and] run quieter than 87 decibels, as measured by sensors 50 feet away.’” Not just hard targets, but “impossible?” “’The GoFly prize is impossible,’ said Michael Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society, a technical society for people working on vertical takeoff and landing flight. ‘There is no way — based on conventional thinking — that someone can make a device that can meet the low noise, small size and long endurance requirements that it requires.’”

la-1529003364-kwq02l64y8-snap-imageYesterday’s “impossible” is today’s state-of-the-art and going for impossible is what created today’s quality standards, the internet economy, electric cars and motorcycles, and the computer I’m writing this essay on. I have high hopes for “impossible.”

la-1529003192-9hzkdpfrlf-snap-imageAt least a couple of these entries look more like motorcycles than jetpacks.

Jun 17, 2018

It's Never Too Late?

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

Keven Cameron's book, Top Dead Center, ends with the following paragraph: "People are clever creatures, but today in our world of specialists we tend to think we need lessons in order to tackle such activities as riding a pony, resetting a circuit breaker, or changing engine oil. This is unfortunate, because it gives people the idea that technology is magic, that there is nothing we non-wizards can discover or do about it. This puts a wall between people and the things they could otherwise understand and therefore enjoy more. The wall takes some climbing, and the ascent is easiest begun in childhood, but it's never too late to begin." There are some things that are only done well by the young or the specially skilled. I, for example, will never dunk a basketball on a regulation court. Being, literally, half-blind, my odds on the race track were limited by my inability to accurately judge distances. None of that kept me from flailing away on a basketball court or from holding down the middle-of-the-motocross-pack. 
Since 2001 I've coached MSF Basic and Experienced Rider classes. During the four decades before that, I was often employed to help a variety of people learn how to ride motorcycles, make or record music, write fiction and non-fiction, experiment in electronics and physics, use computers, manufacture electronic and mechanical equipment, and implant medical devices in surgical patients. Sometimes I knew what I was doing when I "taught" those things and sometimes I learned while I went, often just a step ahead of my "students." Regardless of the subject, I was informally schooled, often self-educated, in the subjects I taught. The fact is, the best teachers I've known in my life are rarely formally "educated" and have been driven by their desire to understand how things work rather than inspired by the education system, academic or industrial, to learn their subjects.

Both of my parents had formal education credentials and they both said their formal "Education" classes were the worst taught, most useless classes they took in their long academic careers. My father was a 50-year-veteran high school teacher who taught math and business until he was forced to retire at 73. My step-mother taught individual and group private piano lessons for 30 years and received her MA when she was 66. The skills they used to teach hundreds of students those complicated subjects are not found in any theoretical education textbooks.
A friend of mine, Scott Jarrett, is one of the most technically accomplished people I know. He deftly avoided the honor of a high school diploma and moved directly past "Go" into a career in music and recording engineering because he was driven to understand and excel at that career. For a while, he and I worked together as instructors at a private college. I learned more about teaching, music, and technology during that period than I had in all of the classes I suffered in my ludicrous 25-year pursuit of a college degree. In his late-fifties, Scott went after new knowledge as passionately as many of us did when we were teenagers. More recently, I watched Scott jump into figuring out how carburetors work, simply because he wanted to understand that part of his new motorcycle. Soon afterward, he became involved in the creation of an on-line education program with the same kind of fearless creativity I have come to expect from him. A few years ago, he designed a multi-faceted music and technology program for a college in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
not_too_lateIn 1991, I took a position with a medical device company. My new boss told me, "At your age, this is your last chance to make something of your career." Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the implantable pacemaker and the lithium-iodide battery among other things, began a research institute searching for a cure for AIDS when he was 80 years old. Ten years after my "last chance," when I was 54, Mr. Greatbatch told me, "If you are only working for the money, you are wasting your time." A few months later, I quit working for a company that only offered money as compensation for my time. I have not regretted that choice, once, since I abandoned Big Money to do work I didn't hate. Turns out, it wasn't too late for me to switch career directions.

One of the many cool things about an activity like motorcycling is that it is so complicated that you never stop learning about riding and working on these machines. Like lawyers and physicians, we are all "practicing motorcyclists." Only a few will actually ever become skilled in the art. As long as you are curious and interested, you can find something new to learn. I try to do some kind of experiment in every corner I turn, to either reinforce what I know or to see if I can learn something new. Every time I do some basic maintenance on one of my bikes, I read some odd part of the service manual to learn something more about the machine to which I trust my life. The fact that this activity requires some physical capacity inspires me to work on my conditioning, to stay flexible and strong so that I can keep doing it a few more years, is just topping on the cake.
Discouraging Boomers and older folks from taking up motorcycling seems like the logical thing to do. Riding is a moderate-to-high risk activity. Getting old means your bones become brittle, your reflexes slow, your eyes deteriorate, you lose strength, and your mind is addled. Positive values of all of those qualities are needed on a motorcycle. Still, you will never be younger than you are today. Life is brief and it should not be boring. I still want to fly a glider, jump out of an airplane, and travel the Pan American Highway to the southern tip of South America. I'm too old to do any of those things, but I hope to do them anyway. It's not too late until the day you die.

PS: June 17th would have been my father’s 100th birthday. He made it to 93, which is more of a longevity accomplishment than I hope to make.

Jun 15, 2018

Sellin’ It Myself

It has been a slow season for motorcycle sales, not just mine but everything I’m watching on Craig’s List and my local dealer’s sales. I’ve only had three bites on my V-Strom and I’m the cheapest V-Strom 650 on the Minnesota Craig’s List by more than a few dollars and with a whole lot more touring accessories and parts added than the competition. So far, all of the prospective buyers are clearly just looky-loos, but they’ve made it pretty clear that is the case. Two have show up to look it over and one of the two is “thinking about it.” Today, though, I got an email that read “I was wondering if I'd be able to come take a look at the bike and maybe take it for a test ride?”

tdmIt’s been a while since I’ve sold a motorcycle and a really long time since anyone asked to take a test ride. The last time I experienced that adventure was when I sold my 1992 Yamaha TDM 850. The buyer showed up in a nice new pickup, with his girlfriend, a nice set of gear, and he looked to be fairly competent and knowledgeable about the Yamaha TDM. LIke today, it had been a fair number of years between my last motorcycle sale and my chops were rusty. He wanted to take the bike for a test ride and like the Minnesota passive-aggressive dweeb I’ve become, I handed him the key.

The TDM is no beginner’s bike, as Victor Wanchena discovered when he test rode one for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly. My prospective buyer saddled up competently, found first gear without any problem, released the clutch and eased into the street, before he had the bike straightened out and lined up for the big curve in our street, he decided to nail the throttle; I’d guess he was showing off for me, his girlfriend, or both. What he did, instead, was drop the bike on its side so quickly that he didn’t even have a chance to get his leg out from under it. The girlfriend and I held our breath and I ran across the street to help him get out from under the bike. We stood him and the TDM back up, rolled the bike back to my driveway and surveyed the damage: two broken turn signals, one mangled mirror, one bend handlebar, and some scratches on the tank and side panels. To his credit and my great fortune, he paid my asking price without much comment. We loaded the bike up on his pickup, plus the spares and busted bits, and he drove off. I transferred the title immediately, on-line, and I never heard anything from him again. I was lucky.

Today, I’m less inclined to count on luck. Now, I offer the option of my delivering the bike to a mechanic for evaluation and appraisal or this form along with cash in advance:

For the consideration of $____________________ I, Thomas Day of my address(“Seller”), hereby sell, assign and transfer to _______________________________________________, of _______________________________________. ____________________ (“Buyer”), the following described motorcycle (“Vehicle”).

Make: Suzuki
Model: DL650 V-Strom
Year: 2004
VIN: ??????????????

Seller states that the mileage reading on the Odometer at time of sale is xxxxxxxx miles. Seller certifies that to the best of Seller’s knowledge, this reading reflects the actual mileage of the Vehicle. Further, the Vehicle’s odometer has not been altered, set back or disconnected while in Seller’s possession, nor does seller have knowledge of anyone else doing so.
Buyer acknowledges the above odometer statement:
___________________________________________________________________________________ (Buyer’s Acknowledgement)
Buyer Name
Seller warrants that the Vehicle is free and clear of any liens or encumbrances.
The Vehicle is being transferred on as “AS IS” basis, with not warranties, express or implied, as to the condition of the Vehicle.
Seller certifies the statements made in the Bill of Sale are true, to the best knowledge of the Seller.
TEST RIDE INFORMATION: If Buyer returns vehicle to Seller within 1 hour of purchase, in its original condition (save for additional mileage), Seller will fully refund the sale price and Seller will retain title to the vehicle.
________________________________________________________________________________________Start time of test ride:
_______________________________________________________________Buyer’s acknowledgement of test ride conditions
Buyer Name
_______________________________________________________________Seller’s acknowledgement of test ride conditions
Transfer of the Vehicle is effective 6/15/2018.
Thomas W. Day (Seller)
Seller Name

I’ve read that some buyers are highly offended by the suggestion that they may not be competent riders, decent human beings, or have the money to actually purchase the motorcycle in question. I apologize, in advance, to those people. You might as well assume you won’t be buying anything substantial from me. I am from Kansas, I am a hick, but I didn’t just get off of the turnip truck yesterday; it was at least a month ago.

Jun 13, 2018

Sellin' My Baby

My summer companion for the last 12 years is up for sale on Craig's List: https://minneapolis.craigslist.org/dak/mcy/d/2004-suzuki-strom-vstrom-650/6594488176.html. Outside of my wife of 50+ years, I don't think I've had a more loyal companion. We've been through some really thick and thin times. Regardless of how brainless I've been (see below), this motorcycle has just kept rolling and hauling my ass out of the fire. Events have proven that I'm too old and lame/crippled for a motorcycle this large; as of this year. I want it to go to someone who will ride the snot out of it for at least another 50k miles. That ain't me, babe. 

Possibly the dumbest possible way to load a motorcycle for a cross-Alaska tour. That idiotic pile of crap stacked at the back of my motorcycle turned into an excellent sail when we were hit with a 70mph crosswind on the Dempster Highway about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. I was sailing along at about 60mph enjoying the absolute crap "view" of what looked like Kansas with some hills in the background when, suddenly, I'm looking at where I just came from and just as suddenly I'm on my ass sliding down a road full of golfball-sized arrowheads; aka Dempster Highway surfacing. Thanks to Aerostich, I didn't lose any blood but I did break three ribs, separate my left shoulder, and bust a bone in my right hand. The truck driver watching me examine myself desperately wanted to use his satellite phone to call a $25k rescue helicopter. I just as desperately duct taped my bike and gear back together and took off for Dawson City and a hot bath tub.

My loyal V-Strom stopped sliding inches from toppling into the permafrost and sinking into oblivion. The right side of the fairing was scraped and broken, my GIVI E21 bag shattered, and bits of the fairing were cracked and dangling. I duct taped everything together as best I could with one poorly working hand and got the hell out of there before anyone could call a "rescue" to put an end to my one and only 30+ day summer vacation.

That was just one of the adventures I had with my V-Strom and not even the most memorable. The best moments were too amazing and went by too fast for me to photograph.

Jun 11, 2018

What it all Means

Ever think about that butcher's chart Icon plastered all over the Airframe Statistic? Your first thought should be how many first impacts occur to the areas of the head unprotected by all helmets that are NOT full face: 45%. Those ridiculous things I can only describe as “toilet bowl helmets” add another 12% of unprotected area over traditional 3/4 coverage helmets. I’m not kidding when I say, “That is not a helmet.” It is barely a hat.

Jun 6, 2018

Another Brick in the Crumbling Wall?

cycleworldCycle World Magazine, probably the most popular motorcycle rag in the USA went to a quarterly “coffee table format” as of the latest issue of the magazine. "To respond to the changes in consumer and advertiser media needs, Cycle World is moving to a captivating, quarterly, coffee-table sized journal focusing on the art of the motorcycle." A friend handed off the first issue from this format, with an expression of general disgust and disinterest in what the magazine might do next. He was clearly neither captivated or entertained by the magazine format. In an act of insane desperation and cluelessness, Peter Egan is back; no less. If the rag’s goal is to appeal to the over-70-crowd, they are nailing it.

CW’s readers are less than impressed on the magazine’s reader forum. One particularly not-too-bright “reader” wrote, “Look, there will always be motorcycles and there will always be motorcycle publications, whether Print or Digital. It's not THAT critical which, although I do like a paper magazine, personally.

“And despite whatever Twenty Sumpthings are doing or not doing... there will always be Thirty and Forty and Fifty Sumpthings who want to ride bikes and will pay Sumpthing for good moto journalism.. even that payment means just enduring a barrage of digital advertising.”

I have to suspect he is unclear on the meaning of the word “always.” Another far smarter reader said, “Younger people just stopped buying printed materials, the advertising dollars to support 130-page, content-rich magazines left, and our ‘Buggy Whips Monthly’ started evaporating.” Regardless of your take on where motorcycling and motorcycle journalism is going, this seems like a pretty big deal in the overall scheme of motorcycling’s future.

Jun 1, 2018

Because They Are Organized

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

At the 2015 International Motorcycle Show, I stopped at the DNR's booth to pick up the latest trail maps and while I was there I asked why there are so many trails accessible to ATVs and snowmachines and so few for motorcycles. The answer was pretty simple, "They are organized." It struck me that we motorcyclists are the equivalent to Will Rodger's politics, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." Likewise, I'm not a member of any organized motor vehicle group, I am a motorcyclist.

ATV owners have ATV Minnesota and a few dozen other political active groups.  There are about as many Minnesota snowmobile groups as there are Minnesotans. Snowmobiliers We have a group that battles against helmet laws, the almost perfectly useless AMA, and a hand full of gangbanger biker "clubs," and the Shriners. It's not really that bad, but when it comes to political action it sure seems like we're as unlikely to band together for a common cause as Democrats are to show up to vote more than once every two or four years. We are not an organized political force. Yeah, we have the AMA and Always Beer at the Event, but those two entities have different agendas: the AMA wants to put butts on seats for its manufacturers and ABATE fights helmet laws and sells beer. Neither of those agendas do anything useful for motorcyclists who actually ride their motorcycles; let alone doing something for commuters and people who who use their motorcycles for regular transportation.

Outside of pretending that helmet laws are freedumb-oppressing unreasonable regulations, responsible exhaust noise and pollution are anti-safety, and wasting money on ineffective "safety training" while opposing rational licensing laws, what has ABATE or the AMA done for motorcyclists? They've wasted our money, for one thing. I guess that's more like something they'd done to us, rather than for us.

Every year, gangbangers wearing "colors" and pirate outfits show up at the state legislature in late January for the "ABATE of Minnesota’s Annual Bikerday at the Minnesota State Capitol." This is when they attempt to demonstrate that bikers are scary assholes and that our government and elected officials should be afraid of them. "Important" policy recommendations like "No Change to the Adult Motorcycle Helmet Law," "Oppose Changes to Motorcycle Insurance Requirements," "Curtail Profiling of Motorcyclists in Minnesota," and "Improve Motorcycle Training and Awareness" are their talking points. Look it up, they aren't shy about the bullshit they've been spouting for a couple of decades or embarrassed at the awful motorcycle safety statistics produced by their political "success." Like the gun lobby, it's more important to them that they "win" than that Americans and motorcyclists' quality of life is improved.

As for off-road motorcycle "organizations," it's even harder to find examples that anyone outside of the groups' clubhouses know about. In fact, the DNR guy I spoke with (and a friend who works for the National Forest Service)  didn't know there were off-road motorcycle groups in the state or nationally. That, to me, is more understandable than the lack of on-road motorcyclists organizations. Off-road riders are often independent, adventure-riding, solo types. That sort doesn't easily get drawn into organizations, meetings, or politics. Racers only belong to organizations like the AMA because it's a necessity for some events. Like me, lots of racers have tolerated all of the bullshit they can stand by the time they quit racing and remaining a member of the AMA and suffering more of that incompetent bureaucracy is not likely something they'll put up with when they don't need that membership card to go racing.

The on-road crowd seems like it would be a natural for effective politics: they often travel in groups, wear uniforms, go to meetings, and don't seem to have any sort of aversion to political rallies. Since 2007, the AMA has lost 28% of its already paltry membership (this link is to an excellent article by ex-AMA employee and Lifetime AMA Member, Lance Oliver, and you should read it). There are lots of reasons, all good. One would be that the AMA hired a failed politico wingnut asshole, Wayne Allard, to "represent" a group of people in an organization that is increasingly old, white, paranoid, uneducated, and timid/conservative. Meanwhile, the motorcycle population oddly includes women, minorities, and people under age 48 (the AMA member's average age). Another reason for the AMA's continued irrelevance would be it's failed "leadership." Since Rod Dingman took over in 2007, not only has the AMA steadily lost membership the organization (loosely defined) has been running in the red for several million dollars every year. Dingman, however, is still receiving a quarter-million dollar salary and getting big bonuses for his failures. He's turned the AMA into a dysfunctional and inbred bureaucracy, mostly staffed and mismanaged by non-riders. So far, nothing has come along to replace the AMA and that isn't a good sign for the future of motorcycling.

Organizations in general are not doing that well in the "age of information." People don't join trade or recreational groups the way we and our parents did. "Virtual participation" seems to be the way younger people want things to work, but it's not working very well for them, so far. The people who can make changes are the ones who show up. The lobbyists and politicians and bureaucrats who make and enforce the rules are always there at every city council, county commissioner, state legislature, and federal congressional meeting. They show up. They get what they want and the rest of us wonder why. You can have a million tweet readers and twice that many Facebook followers and still accomplish nothing until you show up in force.

That's why, as lame and unrepresentative as they are, ABATE gets its agenda on the calendar. They may not get bills passed, but they apparently get good ideas squashed or ignored. The rest of us don't even know there is a legislative event to attend and participate in, but ABATE's lobbyists and members were there on Minnesota's Bikerday at the Capitol to make their case and to make the rest of us look even more irrelevant in the process. It's not like anyone is fooled by a couple dozen pirates wandering around the state capitol building. We aren't even close to being 1% of 1% on the highways on the best of days. Everyone knows that, including the politicians. Until we actually have an organization that represents the best interests of actual motorcyclists, fewer people who matter will take us seriously until they decide to stop dealing with us altogether.

May 31, 2018

Signs of Life

This isn't the USA, but sometimes you have to take your encouragement from where ever it comes. Wait for it and you will be reminded that humans are not required to be assholes. Thanks Paul!

May 23, 2018

Where Is This Going?

Bloomberg Press just published an article claiming "Americans Are Prioritizing Phone Payments Over Car Loans." The article says, “As cars grow relatively less important, borrowers struggling to pay back their loans on time are increasingly prioritizing payments on the latest iPhone instead of making sure they hold on to their pickup or coupe.”

“So what?” You might say . . . and rightfully so.

The reason Bloomberg was interested in this phenomenon is investments. In particular, good old derivatives. Remember them? Those unsecured, gambling vehicles that were used to bankrupt the entire world economy in 2007? Yeah, that’s the way we’re going to look at the future of motorcycling, cars, and cell phones. “The shift is increasing the attractiveness of bonds generated from mobile-phone loans, a small but growing portion of the asset-backed securities market. While just $7.7 billion of bonds backed by phone purchases have been issued since 2016 -- and all by Verizon Communications Inc. -- the number may increase over coming years.”

So, not only are Americans more interested in staring at their tiny screens, tapping away with their thumbs at the speed of mentally deficient secretaries, and double-checking their “likes” while walking into traffic without a clue or a care in the world. And they are walking because their car has been repossessed and they probably didn’t even notice.

If that’s the direction we’re going, you damn well better get whatever you can get out of your vintage bikes while you can. In another generation, you’ll be selling those wheels for scrap metal prices.

How They Do It

Great Britan has a different take on motorcycle licensing. Until one of our friends, Paul Compton, sent me a link on the British motorcycle license history, I had no idea how different it is: http://www.motuk.com/Motorbike-MOT-history.asp. In comparision, I’m not sure what we have passes for the basic requirement of “a system.”

May 21, 2018

Weirdest Myth Yet

clip_image001I had a furnace maintenance this week and the young man who did the work turned out to be “bikecurious.” After talking about what he was thinking of buying, we took a look at my motorcycles. He was particularly interested in the WR250X, but said he’d been planning on saving up for a down payment on a Harley of some sort. I asked why someone under 60 would be looking at a Harley and his answer was, “I heard it was safer.” His uncle, apparently a pirate of some sort, had told him “90% of all crashes happen when you are riding alone” and the easiest way to find a group of people to ride with is to own a Harley.

I had to admit, that solo crashing thing has mostly been true for me; because I almost always ride alone. However, I also told him that I’d seen one group of Harley pirates crash in mass when they plowed into a bunch of bees. Every group ride I’ve ever been on has had at least one pretty serious crash, but that’s a poor sample because I’ve only been on a half-dozen or so group rides in my last million motorcycle miles. I wonder if racing is “group riding,” because I’ve sure seen a pile of motorcycles go down together in the first turn.

motorcycle-hand-signals-chart-1The whole idea that group riding is in some way safe, amazes me. On every level, the concept seems insane to me. When I taught the MSF classes, I got a constant taste of how true David Roth’s “Law of Crowd IQ” is more true than not (It’s math: the smartest guy in the crowd’s IQ divided by the number of people in the crowd.). People get stupid in crowds, just look at a Trump rally: the bigger his crowds got, the dumber they became. Hillary never had to worry about that because her crowds were always tiny. Motorcyclists are not only no different, we are naturally inclined to be hooligans and not that bright on our good days. So, put us in groups and it’s hard for the group IQ to beat 1.0. Probably the best illustration of this was when a Minnesota motorcycle instructor was on a group ride and dropped her bike trying to exit a light at an intersection and was killed when the nitwits following her ran over her repeatedly. If that event wasn’t a highlighted moment illuminating exactly how stupid groups of motorcyclists  are, we’re just too stupid as a nation to get irony.

Where do myths like this come from? How does shit like this get said out loud without being laughed into hiding from embarrassment?

May 20, 2018

The End of an Era

I put my V-Strom on Craig’s List today, after doing a pre-sale clean-up on the bike and a little bit of maintenance. I’ve had this bike for 12 years, the longest I’ve ever owned a motorcycle . . . ever. Sadly, I didn’t put that many miles on it, considering the time: about 54,000 miles. Since I bought my WR250X in 2009, the V-Strom has taken a second-fiddle position for everything but long distance rides and even some of those I did on the WR.

I can’t help myself, the fact that Craig’s List doesn’t limit the wordcount is just freedom to go nuts for me. Too many years of editors telling me how many words I get to use for a subject.

2004 Suzuki V-Strom 650 DL650 - $2200 (Red Wing).

650 V-Strom (1)I bought my V-Strom used in August 2006, with 1,400 miles on the odometer, when the V-Strom was still a fairly new model and adventure touring motorcycles were very new to the US. I bought it from a “kid” in Cincinnati, sight unseen, on a salvage title. The original owner, an old guy, had bought the bike, ridden it for less than a season, dropped it in his driveway, and did enough damage to the plastic, bars, levers, and exhaust to cause his insurance company to total the bike. The guy I bought it from put new bars and a brake lever on the bike, got an Ohio salvage title, put more than half of the bike’s miles on the odometer, and sold it through eBay to me. Since then, I have ridden my V-Strom to the Arctic Circle and Alaska, to the West Coast and back a few times, to Nova Scotia and across much of the North East of the US and Canada, to Texas and New Mexico, on a North Dakota ghost town tour, to Colorado and the Rockies dozens of times, and up and down much of the length of the Mississippi River more times than I can remember. Last fall, I rode my V-Strom to Thunder Bay, Ontario for a week of back-road Canada exploring and when I came back home I did my last complete maintenance on the bike. After doing an oil change, chain adjust, fluids check, and the usual routine, I managed to drop the bike against a retaining wall in front of my garage and I needed help to get the bike back on two wheels. I realized, at 70, I am near the end of my 55 years of motorcycling.

650 V-Strom (3)It feels disrespectful to sell this motorcycle in this condition. I wouldn’t call it “put up wet,” it has definitely been ridden hard and I simply don’t have the energy to do one more thorough repair and rejuvenate maintenance pass. If you’ve read my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column, Geezer with A Grudge, you’ve heard a lot about my adventures on this motorcycle. The 12 years that I’ve owned this motorcycle has been the most adventurous, interesting, reliable and dependable, longest, and strangest period of motorcycling in my life. For 10 of those 12 years, my V-Strom maintenance and trip preparation routines were almost as much a part of my motorcycle life as the actual riding. Physically and mentally, this year has been rough and I’m just not up to pulling the plastic off, patching, repairing, and replacing the broken bits, and reassembling the bike. So, it’s for sale as is. Of the dozens of motorcycles I’ve owned and sold, I have never handed one off in less than “ready to ride across the country” shape, but my V-Strom will need some work before it is ready to pound big miles.

650 V-Strom (4)The 650 V-Strom review I did for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly (“Me and Wee”) in 2007, includes some of the accessories I’d added to my V-Strom. Beyond that, the bike has the best suspension addition I’ve ever seen, the Elka Street Motorcycle Series shock absorber ($1600 worth of shock absorber), a front fork brace, GIVI E36 touring cases, a beat-up pair of GIVI E21 cases, a Sergeant custom seat, a Giant Loop Kiger tankbag, a Scottoiler system, a Stebel Nautilus Air Horn, IMS serrated footpegs, Pat Walsh crashbars and bashplate, a Suzuki centerstand, hand guards, and a power distribution system that provides fuse protection for heated gear, and connections for USB or lighter power. I installed a new battery this spring. I have the stock shock, a GIVI rear case mount, assorted spare touring parts, and most of the stock parts that I’ve replaced with aftermarket bits.

650 V-Strom (8)The fairing and front fender took a beating when I was blown backwards on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon and that is my excuse for the decal decorated right side fairing. I broke the mounting for the right turn signal when I dropped the bike in the driveway last fall and some how the left turn signal wiring disconnected then, too. The rear tire is in good shape, but the front will probably need to be replaced in the next couple thousand miles. After sitting untouched all winter, the motor fired up instantly with the new battery this past month. The engine uses about a quart of oil every 3,000-5,000 miles and has since it was new. The valve clearances were last checked at 48,000 miles and they have never needed adjustment and I’ve checked them every 12,000 miles.

June 14 001The first picture in this ad is not what the bike looks like today, but it is my favorite picture of my V-Strom. It was taken in 2006, not that many miles after I was blown backwards on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Me and the V-Strom were bent and broken, but still moving and covering new ground. We’d done several 1,000+ mile days together and would do several more that trip and it was early in what was the most intense relationship I’ve ever had with a motorcycle.

May 17, 2018

Not Dead . . . Yet

So, today was the first day of this season that I actually fired up a bike and took it out for a short ride. Mostly, I rode to a friend’s house in Wisconsin to return some CD’s I’d borrowed a generation ago. I’ve been down with a flu for a couple of weeks and today was the first day since our warm-up two weeks ago I felt good enough to give the bike a try. Red Wing is an easy ride, so no challenges there. The V-Strom needed a new battery and a massive clean-up before I try to sell it this spring, so the WR250X it is.

Without having kept up my flexibility training for a couple of weeks, I almost assumed getting off and on the WR would be a catestrophe. It wasn’t. After dropping the CDs off and blowing smoke at each other for an hour or so, I headed for the old Southeast Tech training course, which I figured would be almost unreadable after two seasons of disuse. Worse, it was coated with a layer of dirt from a destruction project at the back of the school. So, my baseline was tested on several levels. Riding the course was the least of my problems. Finding it was the hardest part. I did just Ok on the figure-eight in the box. I did fine the first pass through on the 135 degree curve and my stopping distance is still excellent. I can’t decide how I did on the swerve. It was a bitch to see until I was right on top of it. I might need to bring some cones with me next time.

My goal was, “So, every March from here out I'm going to go through the old routine but after an hour or so of practice, I'm going to run through every one of the nine BRC exercises and the day I can't do all of them ‘perfectly’ (no cones hit, no lines crossed, fast enough, and clean enough) the bike goes up for sale and I'll fill the space in the garage with a small convertible. I might buy a trials bike, but that will be the end of my street riding days.” I was too wore out for the hour of practice. The flu really kicked the snot out of me and I’m still short of wind. Like I said, I did ok. I’m going to give it a few days and try again. I wasn’t perfect today, but I was good enough to pass the Ridercoach exam.

May 14, 2018

Can I Help You with that Oxygen Mask?

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

oxygen_maskA dozen years ago, Pat Hahn asked me to write a section on "passengers" for the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Council's webpage. I don't remember why I was picked for that assignment, but Pat had ambitious plans for the state's motorcycle safety program and he'd gathered a collection of riders to author the various sections of the planned website. At the time, I almost never had a passenger on my motorcycle and not much has changed since. In fact, Pat is one of a handful of riders I'd ride pillion behind. In fact, when I wrote the MMSC article, my list was "my brother and my best friend." Pat was added a couple of years later when we did a segment for my cable program, Motorcycling Minnesota, at DCTC (see photo at left). The list is significantly shorter now, since my best friend quit riding last year. 
The finished article was titled "Co-Rider Seminar" and, to be honest, Pat wrote a lot of it. What he wanted was an article that described the "co-rider's" responsibilities and clarified what the passenger's expectations should be. What he got was an article that mostly warned potential passengers to carefully evaluate the decision to ride passenger and to think twice about who they were handing the reins to their lives. The fact is, I think swinging a leg over a bike to take a backseat on a vehicle that has a grossly unsafe history is pretty damn dumb. As I wrote in that article for Pat, "The first thing you need to do, to be a motorcycle co-rider/passenger, is to choose your rider carefully." That was about all Pat kept of my rant against the whole idea of being a passenger on a motorcycle. He forced me to come up with a list of passenger suggestions, once he'd made it clear that a page with little more detail than "Don't do it! He's an idiot!" was insufficient. The only bit of Pat's editing that I really regretted was his cutting my comment that roughly said, "If you wouldn't trust this guy without your life support equipment, why would you ride with him?" I thought that line was accurate, direct and to the point. Pat, apparently, thought it was too confrontational. 
I was reminded of all this when our car died late during the summer of 2014 and we were "forced" to use my V-Strom for transportation for a couple of weeks. That probably doesn't sound like much of a sacrifice, but I don't like riding with a passenger and my wife doesn't like being a passenger. Two-up is something we usually do about once a year, getting reminded of why we don't do it often and calling that one experience "good enough" for the rest of the year. On top of everything else, we were buying a house in Red Wing and needed to make the trip from Little Canada to Red Wing often during that period. In a week and a half, we put on more miles together on my bike than we have since our 40th anniversary, seven years ago. For the most part, we got through the week comfortably and even had a little fun. Regardless, I was on edge every mile we traveled and the necessity of riding two-up added some urgency to finding a replacement cage.

Luckily, nothing bad happened. However, all of the really dire warnings about riding pillion turned into reality when a guy pulled out in front of us from a side road when we were west-bound on Highway 61, just outside of Red Wing. The good news was that he saw us half-way into the intersection and stopped in time to leave me with a whole escape lane. The bad news was that, when I applied the brakes, I had all kinds of unhappy epiphanies. I'm a little over 200 pounds and my wife is a little under that mark and the usually excellent V-Strom brakes were overtaxed and under-equipped for a sudden stop. I'd recently replaced the rear tire and installed new rear brake pads as part of the process, but the 450 pound addition (counting gear and baggage) to the bike's gross vehicle weight completely changed the handling characteristics and, especially, my stopping distance. Earlier on the trip, I'd done a few experiments with the brakes as stop lights and signs, but in an attempt to prevent passenger nervousness I hadn't really tested our stopping power. I know my V-Strom pretty well, after 70,000 miles, but riding solo and riding two-up are different experiences. In those seconds before the driver made a decision and provided me with an exit route, I realized I'd be using every bit of strength, skill, and nerve I possess to get stopped if he continued into the intersection. It was a "moment" and I don't think my passenger/spouse even noticed how close the call was. It took me most of the way home to settle down, decompress, and relax enough to enjoy the ride a bit.

Afterwards, I couldn't help but think about all of the motorcycle safety students, both "Basic" and "Seasoned,"  I've taught who were almost completely unfamiliar with their front brakes or how to maneuver their motorcycle in an emergency. Many of them happily tell stories about the trips they've taken, the near-crashes they've managed to avoid, and the wives, children, grandchildren, friends, and strangers they've loaded on to their motorcycles without a care in the world. These are people who can't perform simple parking lot exercises without all sorts of mental and physical errors, but they're willing to double up the risk of riding with people they love because they do not know how badly they ride and won't know until disaster strikes. Trust me, if you can't maneuver your motorcycle in a low-risk parking lot course, you won't be able to do any better at speed with traffic on both sides and behind you. When I first moved to Minnesota, one of the state's instructors demonstrated performing all of the Basic Rider skills on a Gold Wing, with his wife on back, pulling a trailer, and he didn't miss a line or hesitate on a single exercise. Neither the coach or his wife were lightweights. I couldn't do that to save our lives, but I should be able to if I want to carry a passenger competently.

May 12, 2018

Last One of the Year? Or Ever?

October 7 & 8, 2017, I taught my last MSF Basic Rider Course (I) of the year. This year, in July, I will be "officially 70" (officially, because I’ve called myself “70 years old” since I passed 68 1/2). I’m having a hard time imagining myself teaching kids and middle-aged students motorcycling at that age. 70 is REALLY OLD and I’m feelin’ it. After one of those half-day classes, I can barely move. Six years ago, I was regularly doing doubles but today I wouldn't touch a double with your legs. Guys a lot younger than me say that their day is finished after a morning or afternoon hiking around the BRC range. I’d still be up for the old 2PM to 7PM classes, but we don’t run those anymore: not enough students. Getting up at 5AM to get to a Cities’ range at 7AM isn’t my idea of a fun way to spend a weekend. Early in the season, driving or riding 50 miles in the dark when I'm exhausted and sore is far from my comfort zone.

Teaching motorcycle classes was a terrific income gap-filler when I first left the medical device industry in 2001; before my consulting and repair businesses took off and the college teaching gig became full-time. Yeah, I enjoyed teaching people about motorcycling and getting to ride the state’s motorcycles for money, but it was always close enough to “work” that I wouldn’t have done it without the money. It’s actually a lot of work. In the early years, 2002-2010 or so, I did 20-something courses a summer; pretty much every weekend of my whole summer for a lot of years.

From 2007 to 2011 I made space for at least one several week long trip every season: Alaska in 2007, Nova Scotia in 2008, the Rockies with my grandson in 2009,. North Dakota ghost towns in 2010, the Lake Superior loop with my brother in 2011. I decided on different excitement at the end of 2011: a hip replacement. I made another loop around Superior late that summer, but I put on a lot fewer miles than I usually rack up on that route. I followed that up with a heart attack and a surgery in late 2012. I retired my businesses and from my college instructor gig after the next spring school semester in 2013 and turned a simple RV retirement trip into an extended and miserable VW repair extravaganza. We moved to Red Wing later that year, sold our house in the Cities in early 2014, and . . . that’s about it. The only trip left on my bucket list would be a run down South America’s Pacific Coast Highway. That’s probably not gonna happen.

Since 2014, more than half of my classes scheduled at Red Wing’s site, Southeast Technical College, have cancelled. For the last decade, most of the classes I taught have been at Century College in White Bear, about 50 minutes from our home in Little Canada; but an hour from Red Wing. I have spent a lot of my life arranging my work and home to minimize commuting time and distance (in that order). I’m not going to stop now. I compulsively calculate my actual hourly rate, after 50 years of billing customers for work, and I’m making about $18/hour in real dollars, pre-tax, with the motorcycle classes. Not awful, but certainly not great.

That last 2017 October weekend, I worked with one of my favorite co-instructors: John Wright. If anything could convince me to put in another year or two at this gig, working with John would do it. As always, working with John was in no way like working. I went home sore, a little frustrated with the process and the fact that at least three of the students who "passed" had no business being on a motorcycle, and feeling like I have probably over-extended my use-by-date as an instructor. In early April this year, just like in my first experience with Pat Hahn and the old MSF program, I gave John a volunteer hand with a one-instructor class in Red Wing. After that part-time afternoon on the range, I was almost crippled for a day or so. One of the unexpected benefits of the motorcycle teaching gig has been the people I’ve taught with over the years. The list is long and memorable: motorcyclists and instructors who have not just taught me about motorcycling and teaching, but a whole list of subjects have been explored and appreciated. I feel incredibly lucky that the MMSC opportunity came along when it did; thanks to Pat Hahn and Bill Shaffer for encouraging me to battle through that first mostly-miserable year and the training program. I believe those two friends where hugely responsible for most of the good times that resulted from walking away from my lucrative but miserable medical devices career. If I tried to list all of the instructors I've enjoyed working with, this paragraph would be ridiculous. However, if I didn't mention Greg Pierce and Duane Delperdang, the two program managers who have run the best MNSCU/MMSC program in the state (Century College), I would be sorry for a long while. Not only is the Century program the poster child for a well-run training facility, but those two guys are also a pair of my favorite coaches to work with. Ben Goebel, Mike Jagielski, Jed Duncan, Sev Pearman, and Ken Pierce all make my list of favorite people with whom to spend a weekend standing on hot asphalt for a couple of ten hour day and in the 250+ courses I taught over the years, most of those days were spent with the guys listed in this paragraph.

My first year teaching the MSF program was not that much fun. For a while, that first year, I wouldn’t have bet much on my lasting another season. Since that first year, I’ve worked with several experienced coaches who are not only a lot of fun, but educational, interesting, skilled, and good people. Partially due to location convenience, I ended up teaching mostly at Century College where the program directors have also been coaches.  Working for someone who knows the job, the customers, and the challenges, makes the job a lot more predictable. Oddly, a guy who is no longer with the MMSC program as of a few years ago was the first decent, experienced instructor I worked with: Steve Lane. Steve taught, mostly, at Dakota County Technical College which is often referred to as “the Wild West” by instructors from other locations. Over the years, DCTC became the place for instructors who wanted to make up their own wacky rules and course "design." I quit teaching there more than a decade ago, with once-every-three-or-four-years experimental toe-dip just to see if anything had changed. It’s a little more controlled now, but not consistent enough for my personal liability comfort-levels.

Now, after 16 years, I’m in a similar place as that first year; except I don’t need the money. I don’t like the early morning travel; especially riding or driving in the dark. The work is physically hard on me and has been harder every summer for the last couple of years. I don’t like scheduling my spring and summer weekends seven to eight months in advance; instructor course sign-up occurs in November and December depending on the school where you work. I was in no hurry to make a decision about retiring, but I wanted to as fair as possible to the MMSC program and people who are counting on me. At least until the course sign-up meetings began last winter, I could put the decision off for a while. For that matter, I could just do fill-in work in 2018 and put off the decision until the new BRC 2 kicks in in late 2018. I could have done that, but after evaluating my lack of motorcycling, physical conditioning (especially eyesight), and lack of enthusiasm this spring, I decided to officially retire this month.

Throughout the 2018 season, instructors will be training for that "new" MSF program, the BRC 2, this spring and summer (2018). That is a long two-weekend commitment and I suspect it would be a make-or-break event for me; and lots of other trainers. The rumor was that about half of Wisconsin’s trainers quit during and after their 2015 BRC 2 training (Transitional RiderCoach Prep or TRCP). If history repeats itself, it could be hard to find a Minnesota motorcycle course next year. Finding new coaches is getting tougher because there aren't many younger skilled and experienced motorcyclists and even fewer of those riders are willing to donate the time to become a trainer and put in the work to become a decent coach. It takes a few years to become much of a teacher, if it is ever going to happen for you. Like most professions and human activities, "90% of everything is crap." Once you are a MMSC/MNSCU motorcycle trainer, the state pays something for the semi-annual training requirements, but you have to get past that first long and intense training hurdle on your dime.

Quitting was a tough decision, even with all of the reasons I've listed above. I retired from my college instructor gig 5 years ago and almost all of the friendships I made there have become distant memories. Even though I've continued to teach at Century during the last 4 years, most of my friends there are now only seen in passing and rarely even then. Absence does not "make the heart grow fonder," the more accurate saying is "out of sight, out of mind." But everything changes and so have I and so have you.

Stay safe everyone and thanks for all the fish.

May 1, 2018

What if We Really Cared?

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

There is a lot of talk, and little real action, about motorcycle safety improvements. Motorcycles are grossly over-represented in highway death and injury statistics and it will only get worse as cars continue to become safer and less dependent on human drivers. If we really did want to make a serious difference in those statistics and reduce the insanely high cost of all that blood and tears to the non-motorcycling public, what would we have to do?

A lot, I suspect.

After discussions about the possibilities with the Administrator of the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Program, the owner of an independent motorcycle safety program, and a few MSF instructors, I came to a few conclusions. First, the people involved in the politics of motorcycling (ABATE, the AMA, the MSF/MIC, manufacturers and dealers, safety trainers, DOT bureaucrats at the state and federal level, and motorcyclists themselves) are not incentivized to do ANYTHING that will noticeably improve motorcycle safety. There is more easy money in the status quo than in doing the right thing and in worrying about the future of motorcycling. All of these entities are primarily concerned with putting butts on seats and taking a chunk of money from licensing. In 2010, not a big year for motorcycling, the GAO estimated motorcycle crashes cost the general public about $16B. Not exactly chicken feed. The industry produces about $4.4B in revenue, annually. So, the cost of keeping motorcycles on public roads is about 4X the industry’s economic value to the country. At some point, someone might suggest this is a waste of taxpayer money. In fact, I’m suggesting it right now.
So, my list of things that have to be done to make motorcycling safer, significantly safer, enough safer that motorcycle might be allowed to use public roads in the future, is this:
  • National Helmet Law. I do not know how this isn’t obvious to everyone, but we have a national seat belt law for cars and we simple can’t excuse motorcyclists not taking the minimum safety precaution while we require cagers to belt-up, air-bag-in, and surround themselves in crush-zones and roll-cages. Helmets are a minimum nod to pretending to care about motorcycle safety.
  • National Protective Gear Law. Even more than helmets, I think insurance companies should be allowed to vacate health coverage for riders who have accidents and injuries wearing no reasonable protective gear. At the least, riders should be required to wear decent foot wear, protective jackets, long pants, gloves, eye protection, or self-insure. There is no reason the public needs to assume responsibility for the surgical costs of someone who chooses to ride in flip-flops and a wife-beater.
  • State Emissions and Safety Inspection. Back in the 80's, when I lived in California, every vehicle licensed to be on California's roads had to pass an annual emissions inspection. Part of the inspection was to determine that the intake and exhaust system was bone-stock or equivalent. Anyone who has been anywhere near the usual cruiser suspects knows that those blubbering farm implements drool out as much unburned fuel as they manage to heat up. All that noise and nothing useful to show for it. Loud pipes not only don't save lives, they make millions of enemies for motorcyclists and probably cost a life or two hundred in road rage encounters. Since the fact that motorcyclists are incapable of maintaining safe vehicles has been made apparent by the existence of ape-hangars, chicken strips, missing front brakes, micro-turn signals, and the usual lousy maintenance motorcyclists are often proud of, safety inspections need to be established. Also true for cars and trucks.
  • Mandatory Regular Training. Yeah, I know cagers don’t have to retake the license test every time they re-up their license, but car drivers are in a vehicle that is somewhere around 3,000 –20,000 times safer-per-mile than motorcycles. Even more, cars are consistently getting safer while motorcyclists are a growing portion of highway crashes and mortality. The fact that most states allow a license holder to pay a small premium to add the “M” endorsement to their driver’s license, without any evidence that the endorsee owns or can even ride a motorcycle is flat-out stupid. At the minimum, something like the MSF’s Intermediate Rider Course with a passing score on the test (There is a test? Yes, Georgia there is and it ought to be mandatory.) should be required for that M-endorsement. Of course, I think anyone over 50 should have to retake the written and driving exam for cars and trucks every 5 years or so, too.
  • Tiered Licensing. I’d go with the Eurozone’s 3-tier system, but I’d be really behind something like the Japanese tests and tiers. This is a no-brainer. After teaching beginning MSF classes for 16 years and watching the worst “students” in my classes mount up on the biggest, most cumbersome, hardest to ride cruisers or the most powerful sportbikes after barely passing our minimal “skills test” (or not), I’m convinced that new riders are the last people who should get to choose what they ride without guidance. Yeah, I know that there is a decent argument that requiring serious licensing testing curtails interest in motorcycling, but that's happening with or without. 
Those are my minimum recommendations for changing the direction of an activity and vehicle that appears to be destined to vanish from the transportation system. Otherwise, motorcyclists can look forward to a near future where motorcycles and horses have exactly the same access to public roads (closed street parade permits, only). Why should autonomous vehicles be forced to cope with vehicles and riders who can't manage their own safety? What value does motorcycling bring to a culture that is being asked to foot a $16B annual bill for mere recreational "lifestyle" bullshit? Fix it or lose it, dummies. I'm 70. It doesn't matter to me, either way. I've been on two-wheels since 1952 and with power since 1963 or so. I've had my fun. You, on the other hand, are looking at being forced off of the road in the next decade. Maybe sooner.

Apr 21, 2018

Vanishing Slowly

This past few years has steadily seen Minnesota MSF class enrollment diminish, every year. The 2017 program had about 5700 Basic Rider Course (BRC) students enrolled and about 3900 passed, about the same as 2016. In 2012 MMSC trained 7,437 students and 6,754 in 2011, 7,580 in 2010, 8,240 in 2009, 9,543 in 2008, and 8,403 in 2007. The numbers don’t lie, new motorcyclists are in decline. Injuries and fatalities are doing pretty well, though. Seems like every year there is some early warning that fatalities and crashes are up.

Harley is doing some desperate things to attract under-70 buyers (Who cares if they are riders, too?), but there is a ton of used Harleys out there to compete with. Call it a generational shift, if that makes you feel better, but it’s more than that. For starters, the recovery from every recession in my lifetime has been weaker than the previous crash and 2007 was a huge economic hit for almost everyone. Motorcycles, in the USA, are almost purely recreational vehicles with little practical applicaton.

Women-MotorcyclistsWhat’s left of the US industry is targeting women, particularly stupid women, with their “lifestyle imaging” tactics. (It worked for Trump, but we’ll see for how long.) How well it will work for Harley and Polaris remains to be seen, also. It’s not like there is some kind of surge in women riders, taking over from the bucket-list men from a decade SkullKandySBCback. Sadly, many of the women I’ve taught in the MSF program are trying to regain their bar-hopping glory days when they could jump on the back of any Harley and get a “ride home” without much effort. The miles and years have taken their toll and, now, they’re forced to buy their own bike for that ride. I have to wonder if they are hoping a mechanic wants a ride home. Outside of electric bikes, motorcycles are far from low-maintenance transportation. I suspect that most new women riders will sour on the whole experience once their bit of garage candy needs tires, belts or chains, or even an oil change not to mention the high price of all that lost skin the first time they dump a bike at highway speeds. That whole “Sex in the City” thing takes a big hit when you grind off a chunk of your face, ass, or whoknowswhat.

The high fuel costs of the early 2000’s aren’t going to save motorcycling, either. Not only do many cars get better fuel economy than motorcycles, but the cost of EVs and used EVs is dropping fast. Nobody in their right mind would buy a $30,000 motorcycle claiming they are doing it for economy or the environment. The industry is going to have to get 1960's creative, if survival is in the cards. It’s not like motorcycles are going away any time soon, but they sure as hell could end up being as marginalized as horses and horse-drawn carriages. It won’t happen soon, but it might be sooner than you think. Cultural evolution happens inversely porportional with diminishing resources. The rate of human knowedge doubling is now once every 12 months and soon to be much faster. That may not be quick enough to save us from being the cause of the 6th extinction, but it will certainly change the way EVERYTHING works in a big hurry. Motorcycles included.

Apr 7, 2018

The Last Whining, Blubbering Motorcyclist on Earth

An email asking for support for this ridiculous "cause" made the rounds yesterday. The first time this silly panhandling link hit my email, I replied, "Funny, pretty much the whole movie appears to be about old guys riding older motorcycles. This e-panhandle is making the rounds. "Nobody thought it would happen this quickly," (other than me, but I'm used to being nobody). I've been predicting the end of motorcycles on public roads for two decades. Autonomous cars will accelerate the trend, but motorcycling's general hooliganism and the non-stop lousy safety states are the cause. It doesn't make much of a point that the lead character's motorcycle is barely a noisemaker. Bikers really resist the idea that South Park's "F-Word" is the opinion of motorcyclists by a whole lot of the public, but they're usually wrong and they're wrong again. I'm pretty sure the Constitution doesn't protect anyone's freedom to be a noisy, polluting asshole. I don't know why these old farts are worried, they'll be dead or in wheelchairs before it happens. I wonder if the horse and buggy characters whined this much when their toys were muscled off of the public roads?

"One thing is true. The next couple of generations are not going to be hoarders/collectors of anything substantial. All of the hoards are losing value like crazy; from motorcycles to muscle cars to electric and vintage acoustic guitars to art."

The third, fourth, fifth, and so on times I just hit "delete."

The dystopic future "The Last Motorcycle on Earth" wants to fix is described as, "Gasoline is $20 per gallon. Self-driving cars are everywhere. And motorcycles are outlawed. 

"This is the plot of our new dramatic TV series now in production and fundraising on IndieGogo. Starring bike builder and vintage motorcycle collector, Neil 'Morto' Olson and directed by Eric W. Ristau (of The Best Bar in America and Sit Stay Ride) the series asks the questions: 'What happens to motorcycles and vintage automobiles in a world dominated by self-driving cars?' and 'What happens to our motorcycles when petroleum is outlawed, as planned in Britain, Norway, and others?' We're currently raising funds to finish the series through an IndieGogo campaign. Take a look at the trailer and let us know what you think. Thanks for supporting independent motorcycle films!"

Your mileage will probably vary, but I'd just as soon see this project get aborted ASAP.

Mar 28, 2018

A Generation of . . . What?

26LONGMAN7-master675Not long ago, an acquaintance in the motorcycle business said that “Millennials are a bunch of coddled wimps and that’s why they don’t ride motorcycles. It’s too dangerous.” Of course, riding a motorcycle is insanely dangerous, but I see Millennials doing dangerous things all the time; on bicycles, skates and skateboards, skis, a variety of surfing toys, rocks and mountains, boats, and even motorcycles in the X-Games. I don’t think the danger is the issue. There is something else going on here.

boomersThat is a good thing, too, because my generation has gone bananas. Between the idiocy of handing billionaires billion-dollar sports stadiums paid with taxpayers money and stupid crap like universities handing out football scholarships to 9-year-olds, it’s clear that the “adults” in our society need to grow up. Obviously, the whole Boomers and Bikers silliness was not a sign that my generation had a lick of sense. They parade their senility through towns like Red Wing as if they imagine nobody would ever think about laughing at their pirate outfits and godawful motorcycling skills. But they are very, very wrong. I’ve been hanging out with under-30 kids everywhere from Red Wing to downtown St. Paul to Pacific Coast Highway and they consistently think these folks and the activity/sport they represent are comedic, at best, and despicable on average. For the last thirty years, Boomers and the industry has done their best to make motorcycling look as ridiculous as possible. The reward for all that silliness is the current non-cool status of motorcycling. Add to it the fact that most small cars are more fuel and cost efficient that motorcycles and you have a perfect storm of obsolescence.

An interesting parallel is the music business, at one end electric guitar sales and at the other the old fashioned record labels and music distribution. The Washington Post published an article titled “The Death of the Electric Guitar” that explained a lot of the reasons why the electric guitar may be an old guy’s instrument. This story should sound familiar, Richard Ash, the CEO of Sam Ash, the largest chain of family-owned music stores in the country, said, “Our customers are getting older, and they’re going to be gone soon.” Or how about this fact, “Over the past three years, Gibson’s annual revenue has fallen from $2.1 billion to $1.7 billion, according to data gathered by Music Trades magazine. The company’s 2014 purchase of Philips’s audio division for $135 million led to debt — how much, the company won’t say — and a Moody’s downgrading last year. Fender, which had to abandon a public offering in 2012, has fallen from $675 million in revenue to $545 million. It has cut its debt in recent years, but it remains at $100 million.” Fender’s weird defense of its business model includes the odd statement, “Ukulele sales are exploding.” Ukes were a brief fad, but not a meaningful shift in popular music. Scooter sales were doing pretty well, for a while, but that didn’t mean much for the motorcycle industry, either.

IFPI_global_fullAt the label end of the music music industry, the business has been so deformed from the gatekeeper format of the previous century that “Gotye created his song ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ in his parents' house near Melbourne, Australia. The self-produced track reached number one on more than 23 national charts and charted inside the top 10 in more than 30 countries around the world. By the end of 2012, the song became the best-selling song of that year with 11.8 million copies sold, ranking it among the best-selling digital singles of all time,” according to an Elite Daily article titled “How One Generation Was Single-Handedly Able to Kill the Music Industry.” Wimps don’t whip international corporations at their own game. These kids have totally changed the damn game. There has been some yip-yap about the music industry “recovery,” but that is a funny term for seven years of stable gross sales with dramatically changing income sources (see the chart above). Sales of physicial media are about a quarter of their 1999 peak while digital distribution, including direct sales, is growing exponentially.

5-Luxurious-Designer-Electric-Bicycles-Bicicletto-electric-bicycle-2-600x388How does all that relate to disappearing motorcycle sales and declining motorcycle use? I’m not sure, but I think there is a connection. The times and the tools are changin’. My grandson has repeatedly said he would get a motorcycle license before he’d be interested in a car. He would, also, rather have an electric motorcycle than a gas-burner. He’s not alone. Since electric motorcycles are barely making a dent in that market, electric bicycles have really stepped up and are crossing the line between bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles; filling every motorcycle niche from vintage to cafe racer to competitive sports with 50-100 mile ranges and 20-to-40-and more-mph top speeds. Like the early years of the motorcycle, there are dozens of electric bicycle brands and you can buy them everywhere from dedicted high-end botique stores like Pedago to low-end offerings from Walmart.

The music business didn’t die. It moved to streaming media, movie and television soundtracks, and on-line digital purchases. Motorcycles won’t die out, but they will change radically. The brand names we recognize today may be as obscure in 20 years as Whippet, Stutz, Red Bug, Nash and Rambler and Nash-Rambler, Packer, and Oldsmobile. At one time there were thousands of auto manufacturers and there have been at least half that many motorcycle brands in the not-so-ancient history. As this electric vehicle revolution plays out, it’s going to be a survival of the fittest environment and there appears to be little evidence that the current brand names are in any way fit; especially the two prominent suck-squeeze-bang-blow US brands. With some luck, minimal incompetence from both Zero’s managment and the US government, and a few changes to motorcycling’s image and purpose, the US could still be a world player in the future market.

Mar 26, 2018

Until You Can Ride, I Don't Care What You Think

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

This essay title is one of the crafty sayings on the GwAG tee-shirts. In fact, this is the phrase I picked for my personal prototype shirt, the first and possibly only GWAG shirt owned by anyone on the planet. When I debuted the shirt on my Facebook page, all sorts of folks took offense. Good. I'm not in this life to make fools feel good about themselves. In fact, the older I get the less I care what anyone thinks about anything I do, say, or think. One of my other favorite shirts says, "Hermits don't have peer pressure" (Steven Wright). I might have peers, but I don't often listen to anything they have to say and I pretty much never change my opinion or revise my lifestyle because they are uncomfortable or disapprove.
Designed by New Mexico artist, Jeff Ducatt, the tie-dye GWAG shirt sets a new standard for "HiViz."

 I went for a bicycle ride with my wife back in March, 2013 (while we were camping at Palo Duro Canyon, Texas). She hasn't put many miles on a bicycle for a long time and wasn't a particularly technical rider when she did ride. She "rides" a stationary bike some, but that's not real bicycling and not much of that exercise translates into bicycling competence. Shifting, for example, or balancing or watching for traffic or stopping or turning. On her stationary bike, she pedals continuously against a fixed resistance. On her mountain bike, she can not get a handle on matching her pedal speed and resistance to the road speed. She wants to randomly twist her Grip-Shifters and desperately hopes something good will come from that activity. What she does not want to do is think about how the front and back derailleur shifters work. Like the stereotypical man'splainer I am, I tried to help her figure out pedaling, shifting, and maintaining a constant load on her legs in the insane hope that she would learn to like bicycling. As you probably already guessed, what I got for my effort was a blast of feminine anger and a long, unpleasant ride with lots of stops, extended periods of silence punctuated with lots of what passes for cursing from the "gentler sex." If "helping" with shifting gets that kind of response, imagine how talking about watching for erratic drivers and road-hogging truckers and staying in her lane went.

One of the hardest things many teachers have to learn is to find a way to care about the opinions, as uninformed and foolish as they are, of their students. If you try to fake it, you'll just sound patronizing. You really need to care on some fairly honest level. Many students, of any subject, labor under the delusion that they actually know something that would be interesting or useful to their instructors. Trust me, kiddies, you do not know anything anyone ever wants to hear about. Nothing. Not one thing. When you are stumbling along, failing to maneuver the bicycle or motorcycle competently, the last thing the person who is trying to help you needs to hear is what you think may be wrong with the vehicle or the advice you are given.

A typical attempt to bypass that foolishness is when the instructor takes your vehicle to demonstrate the technique. If the student is reasonably sentient, that demonstration of vehicle competence should end the conversation. Usually, it has no effect whatsoever. If that doesn't work, what would? Oddly, disdain seems to have a powerful effect. Contrary to modern, touchy-feely "everyone is a winner" educational philosophy, I've found that a sarcastic response to stupid assertions is a pretty quick route to the unused portions of a student's brain. As politically incorrect as they may be, ridicule, silence, and pretending the noisy brat isn't there are all fairly functional tactics, when it comes to conducting a group learning environment. The problem with these tactics is that occasionally a brilliant student will correctly challenge an instructor and if those moments are wrongly interpreted, the whole classroom comes unglued. The line between being an edgy teacher and being burned out is tiny.

As I cruise on toward the big Seven-Oh, I can clearly see moments in my near future where I will begin to give up more stuff. For the past two years, I've been getting rid of all sorts of possessions that I once believed would be with me to the bitter end. Turns out the end isn't all that bitter and it came up on me a lot faster than I'd anticipated. I've sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of audio equipment and I'm still getting rid of stuff from that portion of my life's history. My wife and I have purged furniture, pictures, kitchen appliances and utensils, books, records and CDs, artwork, and about 2/3rds of a household worth of stuff and we still seem to have a house full of stuff. By the end of that discard-period, I expected us to be down to a pretty small possession pile and ready to move or hit the road, whichever came first. And we were. With mobility comes flexibility. With flexibility comes less dependence on external income and tolerating the bullshit that working for a living usually requires. I am beginning to suspect that the "cranky old people" reputation is mostly generated by this cycle. Now that I have no aspirations to get richer, own more stuff, or live larger, I also have less tolerance for stupidity.

Since the two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and human stupidity, I'm developing an appreciation for hydrogen. People, not so much. 

That growing intolerance clearly signals the end of my teaching career, unless you can suggest a less stubbornly stupid species in need of motorcycle, music, electronics, or English instruction? Oddly, being a teacher was once at the dead-bottom of my list of career aspirations; since my father was a high school math and business teacher and my step-mother taught piano and neither of their careers looked like any fun at all. In the past few years, my original perspective on teaching as a career choice has been making a comeback. After a 30+ year career that included industrial training of everyone from electronic assembly workers to cardiologists and a 13 year career as a college instructor in a music school, I decided to quit while I was ahead. After almost 20 years of putting butts on seats and pointing out the brakes, clutch, and handlebars to newbies on dirt and street bikes, I find myself completely uninterested in the judgment of rookies who have strong opinions about subjects they will never master. Regardless of what happens to my motorcycle instruction career, until you can ride, I don't care what you think about motorcycle brands, styles, or politics.