Jul 11, 2018

The Market Had Its Say?

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (3)This week, I made the once-every-couple-of-months Twin Cities tour with my wife. Mostly, she had chores and errands to do, but when she stopped at Har Mar Mall to buy art supplies, I snuck out to peruse Barnes and Noble. I got stopped at the magazine rack looking at electric bicycle magazines and articles. After a bit of that, I decided to see what is left of the motorcycle glossy press.

It took a while to find either motorcycle or car magazines. The “Transportation” rack is as far from the entrance and traffic as possible and appears to be barely maintained. Several of the magazines were May and June issues. That was true for the car rags, also. On top of that neglect, a good number of motorcycle “magazines” were actually retrospective “special issues” that could have been sitting on the shelf for months; or years. Along the same lines, a Rolling Stone “special issue” was about Mick Jagger, if that gives you a clue as to the currency of that magazine format.

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (4)On the other hand, the bicycle section was featured under “Sports” and there were a lot of magazines and articles about electric bicycles in both magazines dedicated to electric bikes and the more mainstream mostly-manual powered bike magazines. The big thing here was that there are a lot of bicycle magazines and there is a lot of interest in electric bicycles; for transportation and sport. A couple of the magazines were almost as fun to read as the old Dirt Bike magazine; when it was edited by Super Hunky Rick Sieman. None of the last twenty years of dirt bike magazines have even come close to that high bar. As I suspected, the traditional motorcycle guys are putting a foot into this water, too. Electric Bike Action magazine had a big feature about Yamaha’s new electric bicycle series. To be sure, in true bicycle and bicyclist fashion, there was a lot of incredibly stupid stuff inside those magazines.

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (2)A line that particularly struck me as hilarious in the Electric Bike Action Yamaha article was, “At first we wondered if they were going to sell the bikes at their powersports dealerships. They only plan to incorporate those e-bikes into powersports dealers that already have a bike shop component, and those are few and far between. There’s a big difference between knowing how to work on a motorcycle and and knowing how to work on an electric bike.” That is true, kiddies. Anyone who can work on a fuel-injected, electronic ignition, fly-by-wire throttle-controlled, ABS’d, and state-of-the-art motorcycle will find electric bicycles to be too simple to be interesting. The customer base will lower that bar even further.

Times are changin’ and they are changin’ a lot faster than many expect. Powersports dealers are beginning to scramble for new revenue sources. It’s no stretch to imagine that a dealer who sells a few motorcycles, a few more ATVs, even more boats, and a buttload of golf carts will find a lot of reasons to become one of those “powersports dealers that already have a bike shop component.” A few bicycles on the showroom will cost a lot less than a few motorcycles that can’t be moved at any price. If that’s what it takes to get in on the electric bicycle boom, I suspect it won’t slow many dealers down.

Jul 9, 2018

Never Do That Again?

IMG_20180626_201217_646When my V-Strom rolled away on its new owner’s trailer and headed north to its new home, one of the first things I thought was “I’ll never do that again.” By “that,” I mean invest that much time and money in a motorcycle. Considering the years and miles, I didn’t have all that much money invested in the V-Strom: 12 years and not more than $5,000 not counting fuel. Still, I put a lot of time, thought, and even hope and love into that motorcycle.

Over the years with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly and the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center my V-Strom had been a test bed for all sorts of products; from air horns to auto-chain lube devices to excessive electrical experiments (everything short of a 120VAC inverter). I long-term tested an Elka shock that listed for about what I sold the motorcycle for. I even longer-term-tested the very first Sargent seat designed for the then-new V-Strom 650. I put hours of customizing (for touring, not for looks) into this motorcycle over the first decade I owned, especially the first 5 years. While I thought all of my modifications were to make the bike suit me, when the current owner sat on it and took it for a ride, he seemed to think it was perfect for him.

Fifty years ago, my brother brought his Harley Sprint 250 to my place, to hide it from our parents (mostly our father). It was there, what was I supposed to do? I started riding it . . . everywhere. I crashed a lot and things broke. I started taking unnecessary things off of the bike; like headlights, turn signals, the speedo, fenders, and I learned how to weld and braze so I could repair the frame pieces I snapped off of that bike. In a few years, I had my own two-stroke bikes and I really got into “customizing” my off-road race bikes: blue printing the engines, Preston Petty fenders, intake and exhaust mods, carburetor modifications, frame and suspension upgrades, and that went on for years. Every dirt bike and every street bike I’ve ever owned has become “mine.”

August 2006 V-Strom trip (3)I bought my Suzuki V-Strom in 2006, when I was 58 years old. I bought that bike with an Alaska adventure in mind. Practically the day I rode my V-Strom home I started to get it ready for a 13,000 mile trip and seriously long mileage days. Since that first long trip in 2007, my V-Strom has taken me across the country a few times and across Canada once. We’ve driven at least two thousand miles of North Dakota dirt roads, across sections of Montana and Wyoming that I suspect few locals even know exist, and we explored some of the “minimum maintenance” roads I once rode on my 1973 Rickman back when I lived in rural Nebraska. So many qualities of that motorcycle were tweaked for my comfort and preferences that it seemed almost biological. I literally spent months working on that motorcycle, either modifying it or getting it ready for a long trip to somewhere I’d dreamed of traveling. I spent months on that motorcycle riding to places and seeing things nobody else as ever seen the same way. It was truly my “adventure bike” in every sense of the words. 

In 2009, I bought my Yamaha WR250X and the six modifications I’ve made to that bike are a seat cover, a larger fuel tank, a home-made tail rack mount for extra fuel storage, serrated pegs, a bolt-on windscreen, and heated vest wiring. The original owner did a bunch of stupid stuff to the bike and I returned all of that to bone stock. When I sold the V-Strom, I’d planned on buying a Sargent seat for the WR but so far I haven’t been motivated to do that. It still might happen, but it’s more likely won’t.

One thing I know for sure is that I will never put as much effort, thought, and hope into another motorcycle as I did the V-Strom. No motorcycle I will ever own will be as much my own as that bike was. I’ve made a couple of guitars in the last two years and they got that kind of effort. The house we' bought in Red Wing was a serious fixer-upper and it has become pretty personal looking. The time in my life when I will be making plans to cover a bit of the earth on a motorcycle that needs to be molded to fit my needs is over. I’m not mourning those days, even a little. I, literally, had a great ride and I’m grateful for the good fortune that put me, the Suzuki V-Strom, and the opportunity to take advantage of that freedom in the same place and time.

Jul 6, 2018

VBR4 2018

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Media Release: For immediate publication

Date: 06/11/18

Subject: Aerostich Very Boring Rally 4

clip_image002  2018 Very Boring Rally 4

You are cordially invited to help us celebrate 35 years of Aerostich at the VBR4, from Friday August 17th thru August 19th! All activities take place in and around our Duluth, Minnesota World Headquarters factory and facility: There will be great food, interesting presentations, loudish music, a collectable T-shirt and rally pin, factory tours and a souvenir booklet…Plus lots of in-store-only discounts, FREE SWAG and a chance to win dozens of great prizes!

The cost of the weekend event is $35 per person and pre-registration is available online at www.veryboringrally.com. Shelter and lodging options and connections are here.

Join the usual assortment of cycle bums, malcontents, hipsters (?), curmudgeons and road grimed astronauts for good-times, both planned and impromptu. Activities are scheduled all 3-Days of the event, including prizes and awards for motorcycle poetry readings, the oldest/youngest/farthest distance riders and much more. Even an award for the sorriest bike ridden to the party, and one for the most worn-out Aerostich suit. Top door prize is a $3000 Aerostich gear collection!

In addition to the VBR4, nearby pleasures include the world's biggest white sand freshwater swimming beach (six miles long), eight micro-breweries (including a great one just a block down the street. There are also plenty of great roads and interesting places to explore. Dry, sunny, warm weather guaranteed* (video).

For more information about the Very Boring Rally 4, and for advanced ticket sales, please visit www.veryboringrally.com or call 800-222-1994.

Thank you & good riding!

Web: www.veryboringrally.com

Media contact: Kyle Allen kallen@aerostich.com Lynn Wisneski <lwisneski@aerostich.com>

NOTE TO EDITORS: This text and artwork is also downloadable at: www.aerostich.com/pressroom/press.html

*We're from Minnesota, so we guarantee your definition of dry, sunny and warm is different than ours...

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© 2018 Aero Design, Inc

Jul 3, 2018

Memories on My Luggage

Turned out, the big thing I missed about my 12 year partner in travel, my 2004 DL650 V-Strom, was getting to see those place-marker stickers on the luggage and right side cover. The guy who bought the bike, Paul Purdes, generously took excellent pictures of the cases and stickers which my wife will make into a collage that I can hang on my office wall. In the meantime, I put his pictures and some of my favorite memories of that motorcycle into a video that I can enjoy right now. Hopefully, you find something entertaining in it also.

Jul 1, 2018

I Ride Too Good

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day
On the way back home through South Dakota on a smoking July afternoon a few years ago, I decided to count the number of times someone said, "It's awful hot to be wearing all that gear" or something equally clever and observant. By the time I made it home, it happened seven times.
My favorite incident was in Platte, South Dakota at a bar where I ate my last meal of the day, after finding a motel and shedding my bike luggage. As I'd come into town, I spotted a huge (tall and wide) woman on a big cruiser wobbling away from the curb into traffic, looking as uncomfortable and incompetent as anyone I've ever seen on a motorcycle. She had both feet on the ground, paddling along into moving traffic, hoping the universe was looking out for her. She was barely able to turn her head far enough to see her own hands on her ape-hangers, let alone the on-coming traffic. That same woman was sitting at one of the outside tables with six other women as I left the bar after dinner.
One of her friends remarked, "That's a lot of gear to be wearing on a hot day."
I repeated the response I have memorized for this silly statement, "It's not nearly enough when you're sliding down the road on your ass."
Another woman said, "He got you there."
The big cruiser rider said, "I ride too good for that to happen to me."
The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains how "persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is." This lady was a classic example of that human delusion and she had no idea how ridiculous her statement would sound to anyone who had seen her ride. I have to feel a little sorry for her, though. The motorcycle she rode was way more machine than she could ever handle. She was so overweight that any sane society would classify her as "handicapped" and so unskilled that same culture would refuse to issue her a license for anything more powerful than a 25cc moped. The Harley marketing machine had convinced her that she was a badass biker, but bad was all she could manage. If all she does with her motorcycle is wobble from her house to the bar in that tiny village, she might survive to tell stories about her "biker phase" when she's in the old folks home. If she ever puts that thing on an open road, the chances are good that she'll make a contribution to the single-vehicle crash and fatality statistics.
In my last basic motorcycle course of the 2017 season, we had one exceptionally marginal student, who was taking the class for the second time in a last gasp attempt at a license. As usual, that student was the most confident of the group. In a discussion about evaluating traffic hazards and escape routes, I described how easy it is to overestimate your skills and capabilities and how quickly a traffic situation can catastrophically point out your errors and limitations.
Our marginal student said, "That will never be me. I know what I'm doing."
I replied, "In my experience, all of the really good riders I've ever known are more aware of their shortcomings than confident in their skills."
She said, "Now you're just making things up."
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Yep, I made that up, too. 

The real benefit to taking additional and regular training is discovering how much distance there is between what you think you know and what you actually know. That goes for anything, not just motorcycle training. Humans are notoriously lousy self-evaluators, as individuals and as groups. One of the most hilarious anti-government delusions is the fantasy of "self-regulation." Literally, I can't think of a single area of human activity where any industry, organization, or community has done a decent job of self-regulation. Anytime humans are left to their own isolated devices they inbreed and become stupid and corrupt. It doesn't even take expert outside observers to provide useful advice; people mangle their intended purpose so completely and destructively that almost anyone with eyesight can provide useful corrective feedback. The South Dakota cruiser rider was a terrific example of that.
One of the things I will miss when I retire from teaching the state's motorcycle safety classes is the corrective feedback from the students and the coaches I worked with. In particular, the classes that used to be called "Experienced Rider" often exposed me to motorcyclists with far different experiences from my own. During the discussions I picked up all sorts of ideas about how other riders manage traffic, maintain their motorcycles, and plan cross country trips. Having to demonstrate the exercises for competent riders always added a little pressure to the otherwise simple activities and gave me a solid benchmark for knowing when it would be time for me to hang up my Aerostich for good.
At the other end of that spectrum, beginning and so-called "experienced" riders often discovered that their motorcycle talents were dramatically less impressive than they'd convinced themselves. Sadly, not everyone who miserably fails to cope with the course exercises is honest enough to realize how low a bar they failed to step over. Riders who drive straight through the offset weave exercises tell themselves their bike is the problem, ignoring the fact that other riders on similar or less maneuverable motorcycles are handling the course without difficulty. Riders who never learn to use and trust their front brake pretend that they'll avoid having to make an emergency stop by sticking to country roads and riding in a pack. One of the huge shortcomings of not having a tiered license system is that completely incompetent riders can end up on equally hard-to-ride motorcycles and won't discover why that is a problem until seconds before becoming a statistic.
One fairly reliable indicator of riding competence is the amount of gear a rider decides is enough. AGAT riders are consistently more competent than the shorts and flipflops or bandanna and pirate outfit crowd. It appears that the more you know about riding a motorcycle, the more aware you are of the risk. The opposite of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is something every good scientist, engineer, and technician knows, "The more you know, the more you know you don't know." So, if you are confident that your skills are good enough to allow you to ride helmetless and without decent gear, the odds are good that you are likely to be fatally wrong. 



Jun 30, 2018

Good Roads and Bad Roads

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day


"Minimum Maintenance Roads," the spice of life.
This summer I took a trip out to Colorado, via northern Nebraska. It was my first trip using my new (to me) Garmin Nüvi 500 GPS and while I had pretty much figured out Garmin's trip planning software, BaseCamp, there were a few features on the actual GPS that threw me a curve or three. I had planned most of my route through Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska pretty tightly. I didn't have much of a schedule, but I had a few old stompin' grounds that I wanted to visit plus a couple of new favorite stops to make on the way to the mountains. 
 
good-roads-bad-roadsBack when I was a young man and my kids were kids, I spent a lot of my life either driving a Ford E150 Econoline Van all over Nebraska, Iowa, and eastern Colorado or riding a motorcycle on what used to be called "limited access roads" and are, apparently, now called "minimum maintenance roads." For the first year, my bike of choice was a Kawasaki 350 Big Horn, one of the worst "dual purpose" motorcycles ever cooked up. Not long after settling into our new home and my insanely risky job, I bought the first new motorcycle I'd ever owned, a 1974 Rickman 125 ISDT. That motorcycle introduced me to the early stage of my life's adventure touring. 
 
In the 70's, limited access roads were once farm-to-market roads that had lost their traffic. Nebraska kept the paths open in case some of that traffic returned for fifteen or so years, then the fences came together and the roads became part of the farm or grazing land on either side. I was lucky enough to have been there when there were still some really cool places to go by those unmaintained paths. On my most recent trip, I planned on putting in three to four thousand fairly hard miles so I didn't intend to start off by beating up my tires, chain, and body parts on unpaved Nebraska backroads. I was taking US20 out of nostalgia, but I wasn't so homesick as to want to end up in the middle of nowhere with a busted bike and 3,000 miles to go. My GPS, however, had different plans. Somewhere deep in the system settings, on a second page of options, there is a checkbox for "unpaved roads." I missed that option, so my GPS route was allowed to take me pretty much anywhere a piece of farm equipment might be able to travel. About 50 miles west of Souix City, my GPS did it's recalculating thing when a construction detour pulled me off of my original plan and sent me down about 70 miles of gravel roads in the general direction of Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park; my next destination. By the time I got back to fairly reliable asphalt, I was done for the day. I'd managed about 450 miles that day, including a fairly long stop at the National Music Instrument Museum in Vermillion, SD. 
good-roads-bad-roads-2 
When I'd stopped in Vermillion, I covered the bike and tossed my gear under the cover. When I came out the museum, there were a handfull of guys on the sidewalk looking at my bike, wondering about all of the fluid on the ground under the bike. As usual, my Camelback had leaked, but I went through the usual maintenance checks before I took off for Nebraska. When I left Vermillion, my Dunlop Trailmaster tires looked pretty much like you'd expect for tires with about 1,000 miles of wear. 100 miles later, after 70 miles of gravel, the rear tire was close to shot. The next morning, I headed back to Sioux City for a new rear tire and hit the road west about noon. This time, making up for lost ground, I let the GPS have it's head and take me to Ashfall by the shortest possible route. This time I was on gravel for about 100 miles and most of it was done pretty much WFO. There was even a stream crossing, when an irrigation system flooded a ditch and overflowed across the road. The time I spent getting reacquainted with deep sand in New Mexico paid off repeatedly.

After a quick hike around the park (Well worth your time if you are into fossils and natural disasters.), I hit the road for Valentine, NE. About midway to Valentine, I hit a section of US20 that had been recently "resurfaced," Nebraska-style. The construction folks had dumped some asphalt on the road, then coated it with a thick bed of gravel. Turning that into an actual paved road would be up to whatever traffic was available to pound the gravel into the asphalt. Considering where I'd been earlier that day, US20 looked pretty good. There was no other traffic on the road and the HPD don't like to get their cars dirty, so I owned the road for at least 100 miles.

I got to Valentine fairly late and lucked into a decent motel with a great bar and good food. As I was unpacking, two old guys (like me) pulled into the lot next to me; one on a CanAm Spyder and the other on a Goldwing. When they saw the crud on my bike, one of the said, "Did you come down 20?" When I confirmed their suspicions, they told me they had freaked out when they saw the gravel-coated asphalt and went 100 miles out of their way, well into South Dakota, to avoid it. The layer of dust and caked on mud from the "stream crossing" convinced them they had made the right decision. They'd left Fremont, Nebraska that morning and were pretty much done in for the day. I ate a steak, drank a couple of beers, listened to a decent guitar player do fairly awful country songs on the restaurant's patio, and did some basic bike maintenance before I called it a night.

I've thought about that brief conversation and the anxiety a bit of gravel caused those two riders more that a few times over the last 3,000 miles of that trip and the rest of the summer. I can't think of a good reason to own a motorcycle that is too precious or awkward to ride where ordinary cars and trucks travel. In places like Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado, and the Dakotas, lots of the most interesting places are only accessible by gravel road and every road short of the Interstates are likely to receive the surfacing we saw on US20. If your definition of a good road is one that is smoothly paved, you are going to miss out of some of the best things about being a motorcyclist.  

First published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly's website: May 2018








Jun 28, 2018

Enough Is Enough

IMG_9384That does it! I need to lose weight. Last year, my 20-year-old Lawson camping hammock let go and dumped me on my head while I was “camping” at the Davenport Fairgounds with Tim and Cal. Now, my swing chair bolt broke and dropped me on my ass.

I’m supposed to fast before a physical tomorrow. I’m not gonna eat anything all day and get back on my low carb and sugar diet tomorrow. This is ridiculous.

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Jun 26, 2018

It Just Rolled Out of My Life

John Wright gives me a lot of crap for my lack of sentimentality in regards to my stuff; especially motorcycles. For a few moments, after my 2004 V-Strom rolled away behind a pickup on its new owner's trailer, I felt a twinge of regret. For a lot of years, I got as close as I get to loving that motorcycle. It took me places I'd always dreamed of going and it did it flawlessly and without a complaint. Every incident I had on that motorcycle was due to my own incompetence or lack of attention. Even after all of those moments of stupidity or foolishness, my V-Strom pulled me back out of every situation and got me to my destination and back home again. I owned that bike for 12 years, which is longer by almost a decade than I'd owned any other motorcycle before.


If there is every a Geezer with a Grudge book, this picture will be on the cover. I took it during my North Dakota Ghost Town Tour. I'd just ridden about 100 miles down a county road that was supposed to get me to a barely hanging-on ghost town, but the bridge had washed out and most of the road was crumbli
ng away. Thanks to the 250 mile fuel range, it was no problem. That sort of thing happened regularly on my weird-assed trips on the V-Strom.

I think the things I will miss the most about that motorcycle will be the stickers on the luggage and right side panel that reminded me of where I'd traveled on this motorcycle. I often wished that I'd have bought aluminum cases because stickers attached better to that kind of case, but there were plenty of memories that stayed with the bike for years. I'll just have to try not to lose my mind any time soon.

One in particular was on the bashed up E21 GIVI case, "I Survived SASK 32!" That was an adventure.Sooner or later, I really need to write up that story.
If you ever needed evidence of cheap I am, the box of parts I had for the V-Strom was it. Not the extra sprockets, levers, oil filters, stock shock, scraped up Suzuki tall windshield, or the air filter. In the ad I wrote, "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 somehow the left turn signal wiring disconnected then, too." And blah, blah.

Turns out, one of the items in the bottom of that box was a brand new fairing piece intended to replace the broken section the turn signals mount to. I have probably had that available since a little while after I got back from Alaska in 2007, but since the glue job held I didn't have the motivation to replace it. All those folks who whined about how they couldn't find replacement plastic on eBay (you can and I did) really missed out because it was there waiting for them to snag the bike. The guy who bought the bike wasn't intimidated even a little by the cosmetic work needed and his reward for that was getting the necessary piece as part of the deal. I kinda love that.

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.
not_too_late 
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:

BILL OF SALE – MOTORCYCLE
6/15/2018
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.