Jan 25, 2016

#123 Unnecessary Evil?

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

In a recent long, sometimes emotional, occasionally irrational discussion about the superiority/inferiority of belts, drive shafts, and chains, the comments from a few of the MMM regulars illustrated how much we humans dislike maintenance. It's messy, it takes time away from riding and other more exciting activities, and it is boring. At my age, maintenance is also painful. Getting down on my garage floor to inspect low-lying components like the chain, oil-drain and filter, wheels and tires, and practically everything below the height of the seat is a gamble. After every service interval, there is a good chance that I'll be squalling, "Help! I'm a turtle and I can't get up!"

I teach a class called "Studio Maintenance I." In the class introduction, I introduce the concept of maintenance to people who have often never touched a tool and describe how that practice effects a recording engineer's performance and economic success. That discussion breaks studio owners' maintenance attitudes into three basic categories:
  • Maintenance is something I only do when things break and I can’t get out of calling a tech.
  • Maintenance is something I do to prevent equipment from failing at critical moments.
  • Maintenance is what I do to add value to my studio’s sound quality and reputation.
I think you can apply those statements to motorcycle maintenance with a little modification.
Maybe it's because my life was permanently altered when I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Maybe it's because I worked as maintenance tech, manufacturing and design engineer, manufacturing manager, and tech services manager for more than half of my life. Maybe it's because I have a mental disability that prevents me from walking by broken stuff without feeling a compulsion to fix it (Unless it's plumbing. I hate plumbing.). Whatever the reason, I can't help but think something vital is missing in a culture (or cultures) that does not feel the need to do basic maintenance. 

One of the key consumer features of all modern products is the disposability of those products. Most electronic devices are completely impractical to repair under all conditions. Car dealer service techs regularly yank an in-warranty motor and replace it with a whole assembly rather than fool with complicated diagnostics and repairs. Years ago, I discovered that motorcycle manufacturers dump their inventory of critical spares as soon as those parts cost more to store than they make from sales. When I reviewed the Honda 2011 Honda VT1300CT Custom Interstate last fall, I was astounded to see that Honda had entirely scrapped the idea of a tool kit because they considered the entire motorcycle to be "not user serviceable." Because of the market that bike was intended to "serve," their other assumption was that those users would be too incompetent and lazy to perform the most basic maintenance.

That's a pretty strong statement Honda and others are making about us. If they are right, we're not far from losing our right to claim we are a "tool using" species. No Wilbur, tapping "whr r u" on your smart phone does not mean you are either a tool user or smart. There is a pretty good chance that Honda's bet will backfire on them, too. One of the activities that has formed and inspired the best young engineers and budding scientists is learning how to maintain machines or all sorts. If motorcycles become maintenance-free, in a few years the fools who mismanage the world's manufacturing companies may find there is no one who can actually build them. If we were to wait for an MBA to build something useful, we could be stationary for centuries. In fact, just before we all starve to death, it's possible that the world might discover that scientists and engineers are the primary "job creators" worldwide.

Knowing enough about our machines to recover from the average minor breakdown is an absolute necessity for anyone hoping to make use of an "adventure touring" bike. You aren't going to suddenly develop those skills after your bike tosses off bits of your "maintenance free" drive belt after the rear tire spits a small rock into a pulley. In fact, if you aren't already in the habit of doing fairly major maintenance, you won't have the necessary tools available to repair the simplest problems on the road. One nasty side-effect of doing your own maintenance is accumulating a collection of tools. Unlike the sometimes-small odds that you'll experience headaches, birth defects, insomnia, anxiety, and/or tremors with prescription medications, you will contract tools if you do maintenance. Owning tools isn't evidence that you are a tool user, but not owning them proves you aren't one. 

I can't disagree that cleaning and lubing a chain is sometimes an unrewarding task. Checking and adjusting modern bucket-and-shim valve lifters is about as exciting as homework. Balancing injectors or carbs is mundane and uninspiring. For some of us, just cleaning a bike is painful. Carefully looking over every fastener from the footpegs to the wheels to everything holding the motor together and to the frame is the kind of work many of you would assign to the step-child you want to leave home first.

You can argue that you can't have a major mechanical problem because you never ride more than fifty miles from home. There is some truth to that. You pick your poison and you live or die with the results. Lucky for me, most days fiddling on a bike in the garage by myself is the best part of the day. Rolling out of the tent early in the morning and going through my maintenance routine is part of how I figure out how the rest of the day is going to go. When I stop for food or fuel, I go through a similar checklist while the bike is warm and the tires are hot. At night, before I settle down for the evening I have a different schedule of things to check. When all of those processes are working right, I ride almost fearlessly. I feel closer to my motorcycle and more like we're in this together. When something screws with some or all of my routine maintenance, I am clinging to the bars worrying about what is likely to fall off or blow up until I stop and do the work.

Your mileage may vary. Apparently, it likely does.

Jan 19, 2016

Toxic Shock Cure

Thirty years ago, I was a smart-assed, upper-management young man with an attitude and with no clue who I was or who I’d become. Purely by chance, “opportunity,” and bad luck, I’d ended up in a job with a few more than 100 employees, a two million dollar department budget, four bosses, and absolutely no interest in being in that position. It’s not like I had designs on the CEO or CFO’s jobs. I didn’t even want my own job. I was working 50-70 hours a week, desperately hanging on to my pipedream of getting a bachelor’s degree of some sort before I left California, the sole support of my 3-dependent family, running two garage music-services businesses of my own, and heading down the path of severe burnout at light speed.

One of my employees complained that all I and my manufacturing engineer ever did was bitch, but he was a 9-to-5 guy who arrived at work 3-4 hours after we’d begun our day and left when we were taking our first break of the day. When his day finally came and he took over Manufacturing from me, the first thing he did was begin to move all manufacturing processes to China where he could visit/vacation occasionally and pretend to be in charge while real manufacturing people did the nasty, day-to-day job of making products. Don’t get me started on bullshit Trump-lies about how Americans just won’t do manufacturing jobs or that equally idiotic anti-union crap. The problem is, and always has been, that American mismanagement is incompetent, lazy, and always takes the easiest way out of actual management. Me included.

Actually, I didn’t hate managing manufacturing, but I despised having to manage the people above me. Selling them on every idea or process improvement always meant convincing them that it was their idea. Something that took more time than it was worth and provided me with absolutely no value. And so, after five years of fighting this battle, I was done. Burned out. Ready to abandon ship and get the hell out of Dodge (or, in this case, our Huntington Beach, CA apartment and my job in Costa Mesa). I had interviews lined up, a fairly good job offer in the can, and was about ready to jump ship when the four upper management guys called me in and gave me an ultimatum: quit, get fired, or take a minimum of 10 days vacation before they and I decided what to do long term. They even gave me $3,000 to vacation with, if I left that week.

They even offered their own time-shares in Hawaii and Arizona, but I knew what I needed was some kind of “roughing it experience.” I spent the money on a 14-day Outward Bound mountaineering course in Yosemite National Park. I’d wanted to take on that park since I moved to California but work didn’t allow the time and my family of three poor-traveling women (especially my wife) made the whole “family vacation” concept impossible. Without asking permission from anyone, I was gone that Friday morning and by noon I was loaded up with a 60-p0und pack, my own camping gear and that of some of the smaller course members, and more than a fair share of the group’s food supply. Contrary to some of Outward Bound’s marketing literature, participants are not required to carry their own weight and gear. OB’s system is more along the lines of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

So, me and one other reasonably fit guy carried about 150% of what we needed so that some other campers, women, wouldn’t have to carry their full gear load. Naturally, he and I commiserated and ended up hiking together a good bit ahead of the group. One of the many rules the OB guides had laid on us was “do no share water, you’ll get sick.” So, we immediately passed our canteens back and forth in revolt for the overload we were shouldering. The next morning, I had one hell of a cold. Obviously, the OB guide had damn little sympathy. However, he did offer a “cure.” In case he ended up getting a cold on one of his courses, he packed a whole bulb of garlic. He recommended eating a whole, raw clove, twice a day. He broke one off for me and I hiked on for a while, gathering the courage to chew the damn thing into garlicky, bitter pulp and swallow it. The cold continued to get worse and, eventually, I couldn’t breath and was falling behind the group. So, I bit the garlic bullet and almost gagged. At the time, I wasn’t much of a spicy food fan, so this was serious desperation. Two days out of a 14 day trip and if something didn’t work I’d be straggling back on my own and I’d have wasted almost $2,500. I don’t remember much about the next few hours, but the fact that I continued on for the rest of the course is evidence that the garlic cure worked.

Travel forward to this week. I was sick for a week over the holiday break and two weeks later, it all came back last night. By 2AM this morning, I was so congested I could barely breathe through my mouth. My nose was totally non-functional. I gave up trying to sleep and wandered the house looking for a non-decongestant cure (can’t take ‘em). Finally, I bit the garlicky bullet and chomped down on a big old clove. Damn, it was as nasty as I remember. Heartburn and bad breath smoking away, I went back to bed. A few minutes later, I began to salivate so intensely I thought I was going to vomit and my stomach burned like I’d swallowed a pitcher of Tijuana water. Out of bed again and prowling the vicinity of our bathroom, I was almost drowning in my own spit and close to doubled up with stomach pain. It felt like the descriptions I’ve heard of drug overdoses. Then, suddenly, those symptoms went away and . . . I COULD BREATHE. I went back to sleep and got at least six more hours before I drug myself out of bed.

My breath probably smells like the back end of an Italian cook, but I’ve downed two more cloves today and this damn cold appears to be dissipating. This spring, I’m taking a trip or five on the 250. Garlic cloves are going with me.

Jan 15, 2016

#122 Suddenly, He Gets It

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Since I started this column, I've asked a variety of questions about old guys and old bikes and bike collections. I wasn't being a hardass about this. I really didn't get it. I didn't understand why old guys who barely ride anywhere need a garage full of mostly useless motorcycles, either in primo shape or a hoarder's trash pile. I did not understand the fascination for stuff that was state of the art when I was state of the art. It all just evaded me. Until this week. Now, I get it.

My wife and I are imagining ourselves retired, footloose and on the road for a few years or more. We bought a motorhome and started looking at what it would take for us to be able to pull this off as effortlessly as possible. The poor choice is to keep the house (not quite paid off, yet) and treat the motorhome like an extended vacation. That option is expensive, complicated, and makes the whole "on the road" idea pretty much a part-time property management job (for me). My wife seems to be inclined toward this choice and I am dead set against it. We we still have a house full of crap in October, I might hand her the keys and say, "Have a great trip and don't forget to write." The second option is to sell off all of our crap, sell the house, store the little bit of stuff we "can't live without," bank the cash, and go on the road unencumbered. You can probably tell that this is clearly my choice.

This clear winner of a second choice has some drawbacks. We have to unload a lifetime of stuff and we need to do it in the next three or four months. The motorcycling aspect of this downsizing task is not a big deal. I have two bikes and I'll only be taking the WR250X on the road. I can store or sell the V-Strom without much agony. I'll probably sell it. Where I have too much in common with the guys I didn't get is in my music gear. I have a couple dozen microphones that I've lovingly collected, cared for, and used for the last ten to forty years. I have a guitar collection that has to go. I have a whole recording studio nicely stocked with gear I've carefully picked and setup that will have no place in our new mobile life. It all has to go. All of it.

Two things became apparent, right after I sold off the most valuable, hardest to find, easiest to sell microphones. One: when I let go of this stuff I'm telling myself this part of my life is over. All those years of wanting to make a perfect record, looking forward to firing up the gear to working on fine-tuning that perfect record, are in my past. Once this stuff goes, I will not have the time, motivation, or energy to recollect it. Two: I have more emotional attachment to this stuff than I realized. When I boxed up a couple of the first microphones I sold, I held them in my hands and remembered setting them up in front of a variety of musicians whose work I love and who I was sure my recording techniques would make popular with people who have still never heard them. It's a mess of emotions that I can barely contemplate, let alone explain. I don't love the microphones, but I loved what I could do with them. I have $14,000 more cash in the bank, but they are gone and I won't luck into a set of tools like that again in two lifetimes. 

Our situation is a little more drastic than most. We're eliminating a large household worth of stuff and memories in exchange for the hope that a whole new world will open up to us. Make no mistake, though, this is not an easy trade-off. We're comfortable with our stuff in its place, surrounding us with memories and opportunities. We're not doing squat with the stuff, for the most part, but we could be. Once it's gone, we can't turn that clock back.

I'm boxing up a dozen favorite microphones for sale this weekend. Next week, I'm calling a friend who wholesales "collector" guitars and I'm going to hand over at least four guitars that have been in my "family" for more than 30 years. I don't play enough to justify owning even one guitar, but I could if I really wanted to. Once they're gone, I'll never own anything like them again. Damn, this sucks. All of a sudden, I have a whole lot in common with collectors and hoarders and I'd always thought we were completely different animals.

Jan 13, 2016

The How, Why, Where, and What I Ride Survey

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

Way back in 2011, I stuck a survey up on Survey Monkey and asked my readers to take part in the silliness. I should be the last guy on the planet to administer a survey because I tend to disbelieve everything claimed in every survey in the history of humans. Still, I got a fair number of responses (more than my free Survey Monkey account would let me access, in fact) and I made an attempt at compiling the information. About half-way through the project, I was distracted by something bright and shiny (my Yamaha WR250X) and the whole project fell through the cracks. You, my brilliant friends and readers, are atypical as hell and I suspect nothing gleaned from this survey would have squat to do with the attitudes of the average motorcyclist.

I always end up with a stupidly large “dead pool” is article ideas that will never see the light of day anywhere; blog or MMM column. Regardless, here is what I ended up with, statistics-wise:

In the dead of a past winter (2011), I was suffering cabin fever and my bike was practically encased in ice. Outside temperatures were in the negative numbers and the usual distractions failed me. The only break in the winter national television monotony came in mid-January when Ryan Villopoto beat James Stewart at the first ever Dodger Stadium Supercross. No fun like that for us here in Minnesota this year, thanks to the Metrodome's dome failure. So, I came up with a brilliant plan to piss off as many people as possible with a motorcycle survey called "The How, Why, Where, and What I Ride Survey." Ten questions, all designed to elicit as much animosity as possible.I promoted the thing on Cycle World and MMM's Facebook sites, on the MN-Sportbike and MN-Dualpurpose maillist, and got about  500 responses over the last 20 months.

1. The reason I own a motorcycle is (select all that apply)




for daily transportation (weather and season permitting)



for recreation.



for social events (group rides, poker runs, charity runs, etc.).



off-road racing.



road racing.



Ok, I can absolutely believe this set of numbers. In retrospect, I should have made this a "pick one" question because I think the answers overstate the number of us who use motorcycles for daily transportation. The 90% recreational figure is absolutely believeable, though.

2. I own (select all that apply)

adventure touring bike



a sport bike



a dirt bike



a dual-purpose bike



a cruiser



a sport touring bike


a standard


a touring bike



Good enough. I'm a little surprised at the two 0% categories, though.

3. My primary ride is

an adventure touring bike



a sport bike



a dirt bike



a dual-purpose bike



a cruiser



a touring bike



Seems consistent with #2.

4. If I were only able to own one motorcycle, it would be

a 250cc or smaller sportbike


a 250cc or smaller standard


a 250cc or smaller cruiser


a 250cc or smaller dirt bike


a 250cc or smaller dual-purpose



a 251cc-750cc sportbike



a 251cc-750cc standard



a 251cc-750cc cruiser



a 251cc-750cc dirt bike


a 251cc-750cc dual-purpose (adventure touring)



a 251cc-750cc tourer



a 751cc-1200cc sportbike



a 751cc-1200cc standard



a 751cc-1200cc cruiser



a 751cc-1200cc dirt bike



a 751cc-1200cc dual-purpose (adventure touring)



a 751cc-1200cc tourer



a 1201cc-and-up sportbike



a 1201cc-and-up standard


a 1201cc-and-up cruiser


a 1201cc-and-up dirt bike


a 1201cc and up dual-purpose (adventure touring)


a 1201cc-and-up tourer



Again, this seems consistent.

5. I own the following pieces of motorcycle gear (select all that apply)

a shorty helmet



a 3/4 helmet



a full-face helmet



an off-road 3/4 helmet



an off-road full-face helmet



off-road armor (vest or full-body)



armored riding jacket



armored riding pants



armored motorcycle boots



motorcycle gloves



weather-proof riding gear



eye protection (other than a helmet's face shield)



heated vest, gloves, and/or suit layer



Wow! Who would have guess that 99% of any group of riders would own a full-face helmet?

6. I always wear the following gear everytime I ride (select all that apply)

a shorty helmet



a 3/4 helmet



a full-face helmet



armored riding jacket



armored riding pants



armored motorcycle boots



motorcycle gloves



weather-proof riding gear



eye protection (other than a helmet's face shield)



heated vest, gloves, and/or suit layer



none of the above



Ok, this was my first piece of evidence that my self-selecting group of riders was not typical. We all know that 94% of us do not always wear a full-face helmet.

7. I will not ride (select all that apply)

when the temperature is below 0F



when the temperature is below 32F



when the temperature is below 50F



when the temperature is above 80F


when the temperature is above 90F



when the temperature is above 100F



when it is raining



when there is a possibility of ice on the road



after consuming enough alcohol to suggest that I might be under the influence



A surprising amount of honesty here; especially in the alcohol consumption question.

8. I have taken at least one 2,000 mile solo motorcycle trip







This is pretty honest appearing, too.

9. Over the last 5 years, my average miles-per-year have been

0-500 miles



501-2,000 miles



2,001-5,000 miles



5,001-10,000 miles



10,001-20,000 miles



20,001 or more miles



Contrast this with the Craig's List sales data and we know either my group is self-deluding, non-typical, or lying.

10. I have lied (exaggerating is lying) on at least one question in this survey







At least 14% of the group knows itself well.