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.
until_you_can_ride
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.





Jan 29, 2018

Bein' Lucky

I have no idea how I managed to attract readers and friends to this blog, but I am always grateful. In response to a fairly moronic "Facebook conversation" about loud pickup exhaust noise on a Nissan Frontier page, I did a search on this blog for "http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/search?q=loud+exhaust" and what I discovered was 15 years of brilliant comments from people who have happened on to this blog. 

You folks are clever, funny, insightful, and just blow me away on a regular basis.

Jan 21, 2018

Another Tipping Point

“According to the Department of Energy, there are now over 500,000 EVs driven in the U.S.” Xcel Energy is even noticing the speed of EV adoption, “State of the Electric Vehicle 2017: Adoption keeps accelerating.” Used EV’s are littered all over Craig’s List, many for less than $6k with insanely low miles. If I didn’t have a small garage already double-parked with two motorcycles and a bunch of motorcycle equipment, I’d be seriously looking at a used Nissan Leaf. The new Leaf 2.0 has a 150 mile range, more than enough for any typical day trip I’m likely to take. The ads for most of the older EVs are more like 70-90 miles at highway speeds, which isn’t much of a problem as long as we still have the pickup for long hauls and pulling the camper.

electric-cars-ukI think we’ve hit the official deadend for suck-bang-blow. From here out, I expect to see EV’s capabilities increase exponentially and IC sales sag. Even dinky little Red Wing Minnesota has a downtown refueling station. EVs are particularly suited for autonomous operation, especially because it will be so easy to include electrical auto-fueling over the safety hazards of gas or diesel. The pressure is on for motorcycles to either get on the bus or get out of the way.

Jan 16, 2018

Barbarians at the Gate

home-full-width-1-imagePaul Young sent me this link, "Will this electric bicycle disrupt the motorcycle industry?" from Revzilla. The Suru is made in Canada (Nova Scotia) and costs about $3k. The critical specs are listed in the website’s photo at right. The tires and wheels are more motorcycle than bicycle hardware, as is the suspension. Unlike a lot of electric bicycles, the bicycle part is single-speed and basic. The article quotes Suru designer, Michael Uhlarik, for a lot of its assumptions and the author, Clayton Christensen, is a Harvard prof and self-proclaimed manufacturing and techology historian. Some of their “manufacturing history” is not particularly well informed. Still their premise has been the same as my own for a while.

radroverI’m not convinced the Suru is the right direction, but I’m no fortune teller. My grandson’s RadRover is more in line with both the features and price point I think will attract people to electric two-wheelers. Everything about Wolf’s bike is similar to the Suru, except it is $1,500 cheaper and more versitile as a bicycle: “Intelligent 5 Level Pedal Assist with 12 Magnet Cadence Sensor” and a 7-speed derailier opposed to single-speed peddling, key-removable battery pack, full-coverage fenders, and less weight. My grandson has had his RadRover for about three months and is using it to commute 7-miles, one-way, throughout the Minneapolis winter. So far, he’s more than happy with his bike.

The article’s constant reference is to the 1966 Honda Cub which the author claims was “the last real disruption in the moto industry.” I’d say there have been quite a few disruptions in the last two decades, but often when you are trying to prove a point it’s easy to put the blinders on. Regardless, the electric bicycle and scooter movement is about to kick into high gear with everyone from botique dealerships to Walmart and Target offering products and services. BMW, Honda, Yamaha, and a collection of new comers are all making a variety of products available. Amazon has a showroom floor full of electric bikes and scooters with 36V models as cheap as $400. I think the tipping point has been passed.

Jan 13, 2018

Bicycle Insanity


Wait till the end to see how many times he had to do each stunt to get them right.

Jan 10, 2018

Ironic, Ain't It?

"There’s a new special license plate promoting motorcycle safety available starting today! ABATE of Minnesota designed and sponsored the new motorcycle awareness license plate. The plates cost $10 and there is an annual $10 contribution that will go toward motorcycle safety education and training programs.

Plates are available for purchase at deputy registrar offices: http://ow.ly/D0KB30huk1R"

That bastion of anti-helmet, anti-government, anti-anything that might make motorcycling safer and more responsible, ABATE, convinced the dimwitted Minnesota legislature to create a "Start Seeing Motorcycles" (and Unicorns) special license plate and the character on the plate could not look less like an ABATE member.

Jan 8, 2018

Start Seeing Unicorns

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Start-Seeing-UnicornsWe're turning over a new leaf in our family. I hate driving four-wheel vehicles and after a fairly miserable several months stuck as the sole driver of our winter excursion in an RV, I am giving up driving our family car as much as possible. My wife, on the other hand, gets car sick when she isn't driving, can't read a map, program a GPS, or provide useful directions as a passenger and claims to actually like driving. After 46 years of being the family primary driver, we're swapping roles. She is a perfectly fine driver with good skills, reasonably good vision, and decent judgment. I hate driving and am prone to zoning out after a few minutes behind the wheel.

So, we're on the way to visit our daughter's family in Dinkytown on a warm April evening. My designated driver is about to turn left on Hennepin Avenue across two opposite direction lanes after a barrage of vehicles finally created a slot. She's focused on the cars coming toward us, about 100 yards away. I saw a motorcyclist in the far lane and provided a slightly-over-the-top warning (not quite a shout) before she turned into his path. She stopped safely and the completely undressed kid on the black motorcycle, wearing black clothing (without a stitch of protective gear), and who'd cleverly disabled his daytime headlight shook his finger at us as some kind of warning. As usual, he hadn't made even the slightest effort to remove himself from any aspect of the near-crash: no braking, no evasive maneuver, no horn honking, headlight flashing, or even a shout. Just a limp finger-wagging. Loud pipes wouldn't have done him any good, since they're only good for warning people behind the motorcycle that a noisy asshole is in front of them. 

This is where the "Start Seeing Unicorns" comes in. Delusional motorcyclists and safety bureaucrats imagine that if enough propaganda and severe enough penalties are applied, motorcycles will magically become visible to drivers who have real threats to worry about. Not only do most motorcyclists dress to be invisible, but at 0.001-0.01% of total traffic on any given perfect-for-motorcycling day, we're about as common a sight as unicorns. Nobody but little girls who watch too much television looks for unicorns because they are a statistical unlikelihood. The same logic applies to motorcyclists, with only a minimally greater chance of a sighting. Asking other road-users to watch for us when we are rarely present and don't make the slightest effort to be seen or rescue ourselves is an exercise in hubris. Your mother may have told you that you are the center of the universe, but no one else on the road has heard of you and, worse, probably won't notice you until you are bouncing off of their vehicle or sliding down the highway on your bloody ass. 

Earlier that day, I met a guy who bragged that he'd crashed 18 times before he quit riding a few years ago. His last crash was into a house, after an uncontrolled wheelie and jumping a curb and tearing through a garden. He crashed into a house. He admitted that "all of my accidents were my fault, except one." Speeding, lousy cornering technique, poor judgment, and an irrational belief in his indestructibility all were to blame for all but one crash. The one that he claimed wasn't his fault was because a woman "pulled out in front of me." Based on his other experiences and my own later the same day, I suspect that blaming the one crash on someone else misses the point of that one experience. Like the rider who narrowly escaped becoming a hood ornament on our car, this ex-rider clearly needed some decent skills, a dose of common sense, and protective gear.

In fact, too many people supposedly involved in motorcycle safety issues argue the nutty fallacy that motorcyclists are pitiful victims. For example, a University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research study found, "that 60 percent of the time motorists in other vehicles are at fault when they collide with motorcycles." I'd love to see where that data came from, in detail. Since 34-50% of fatal motorcycle crashes are single vehicle events, it's pretty obvious that we can't even deal with the freakin' road, let alone traffic. What kind of fool would believe that a group of people who are totally responsible for killing themselves half of the time are innocent victims during the other half, when traffic is involved? Seriously? We can't ride well enough to keep from flinging ourselves into the trees on a solitary road but we suddenly become more competent in heavy traffic? I'm not buying that for a second. And my experience on motorcycles for nearly three-quarters-of-a-million miles totally contradicts that wishful thinking. Every one of the motorcycle fatalities I've seen were either completely the motorcyclists' fault or would have prevented with the tiniest bit of riding skill and reasonable protective gear.

Instead of wishing and hoping that drivers will start watching out for us and compensate for our invisibility and mediocre skills, I think giving up on that dream and getting on with learning how to ride competently would be a good start toward reducing motorcycle crashes. If a rider is serious about staying jelly side up, becoming as visible as possible, and  getting real about the slim chance that anyone will be looking out for us while they are worried about giant trucks, distracted bozos in oversized pickups and SUVs, and their own distractions is absolutely necessary. The whacked idea that people in cages are going to save us from ourselves is delusional, arrogant, and foolish. In 2013, motorcyclists accounted for 15% of national highway deaths. There is no justification on this planet for that massively disproportionate contribution the the estimated $228 BILLION in "societal cost of crashes." At some point, the country is going to decide to either make motorcyclists prove their competence before obtaining a license, wear reasonable protective gear, or get the hell off of the public's roads.

I'm not saying motorcyclists need to be paranoid and tell themselves "they're all out to get me." We aren't that important or interesting. They don't even know we are on the road because we are not a serious threat. You could drive most mid-sized 4-wheel drive pickups over the whole Minnesota contingent of biker gangsters' toys and still make it to the store for bread, milk, and cookies and back home before you worried about scraping the biker gunk off of your bumper. Not being a threat is much worse than being a potential enemy. You can sort of guess what someone who's out to get you might do next. If your opponent doesn't even recognize your existence, there are an infinite number of awful things they might do completely unaware of you and your motorcycle. If that doesn't make you want to gear up and put your riding skills and motorcycle in order, you do not belong on a motorcycle.

Jan 6, 2018

Re-Evaluating Myself

A couple of weeks ago, I began to have moments of double-vision. That was about mid-week. Later that week, on a Friday night, I was driving in the Cities in light late evening traffic and, suddenly, I was guessing as to which one of 3 exit lanes was the real one. Since then, I've learned a lot about various degenerative vision diseases and disabilities and I've begun to prepare myself not only for the end of my life on two wheels but driving altogether.

I'll be 70 this coming summer and I've been riding motorcycles since I was 14 or 15. A LONG time. If this is the end of that I won't be heartbroken, disappointed, but not heartbroken. The only bucket list item left for me would be the South American Pacific Highway and I'd pretty much taken that notch off of the prospective gun a couple of years ago. I'm too old, beat up, and tired to do 3,500 miles of hostile territory on a motorcycle, car, or most other transportation media.

I won't know until sometime in the next week or so how serious this is, but really serious is in my family genetics: myasthenia gravis blinded my father when he was about 66. Double-vision is a typical early symptom of that nerve and muscle breakdown. I have been half-blind for all of my life: when I was a kid, my left eye was 200:20 and it has steadily grown worse. My right eye was 20:20 until I was about 50 and he began the usual march into farsightedness then. Those muscles and nerves have been working overtime to coordinate my two dissimilar eyes for a long time. If they quit on me, it won't be out of laziness. You can only ask so much from your body for so long.

Luckily, so far my near-field vision is mostly fine. I can read, although for fewer consistent hours than in the past. An example of what my far-field vision is like was pretty neatly demonstrated when my wife was driving last night. At a stop sign, I saw six lights, one set that appeared to be about 6' from the street and another set about 12' higher. Of course, there were only 3 lights at the intersection, but you couldn't tell that inside my head. The "fix" for now is to wear a patch on one eye; which eye depends on what I'm doing.

Life sucks, then you die. Every significant aging-related (in my case) ailment I've suffered in the last five years has resulted in my learning that I have friends and acquaintances who have had the same or worse problems at a far younger age. Honestly, I have no serious complaints. I'm pretty close to my expected lifespan, for my income bracket. I've been doing the same stuff for the last 50-something years and not that many American men can say that.

Dec 19, 2017

Horsemeat for Bikers?

121317-Worst-Motorcycle-Trends-2017-image10Some local guys were jawing on-line about the NY Times article, “No easy ride: Motorcycle industry is in deep trouble and needs help fast, panel agrees.” Like the industry, they blamed the usual suspects for the death of their favorite noise-makers: “the bubble-wrapped Millennials,” “the ultra-liberal lefties,” “tree huggers,” blah, blah, etc. Mirrors are tough on old guys. We look in them, see an accurate reflection and desperate want something else. The problem is, pretty much, us. We’re old, we’re irrelevant, and most of two generations wants to have nothing to do with imitating us.

Mostly, I read the Times article as a pretty accurate accounting of the lazy and braindead folks who represent US motorcyclists and the industry. The AMA and ABATE are just fronts for the butt-pirates who have turned off every sentient person possible with their noise, totally overrepresented crash, mortality and morbidity statistics, and general hooliganism. Nobody represents motorcycle commuters, the only motorcycle group that isn't about conspicuous consumption. The AMA is almost proud of how few actual motorcyclists are regular riders and ABATE is just a drinking club that dabbles in politics and writes sympathy/love letters to gangbanging “brothers behind bars.”

no-motorcycles-sign-k-6938_thumbAs for off-road access, it's not "liberals" who are shutting down access to public land; it's ranchers, conservationists, residents near the parks, and the people who have to provide unfunded rescue services to the nitwits who go off trail, terrorize livestock, wreak property, and end up tangled in barbed wire somewhere it will take a helicopter to bail out mommy's special little douchebag who has no insurance, no money, and suddenly believes in national health insurance. I’ve run a couple of events and watched dozens of off-road facilities go down in idealistic flames when their customers do everything possible to piss off anyone in the vicinity of the event, park, or private property. Motorcycles attract anti-social types and it’s harder than hell to cope with all of the forces that aren’t interested in putting up with spoiled children. I suspect if everyone were being honest, that would turn out to be a big part of the reason trials got bumped from Spirit Mountain and trials is the least obnoxious of all motorcycle sports. I KNOW that was why there was only one Merrick County enduro.

I freakin' love the argument promoted in the Times article that, since the motorcycle companies don't know how to sell to anyone who isn't already a motorcyclist, it's the job of motorcyclists to keep their business alive. That pretty much wraps up my argument in a Trump-quality gold plated ribbon. The industry is so obsolete it doesn’t even know how to sell its own products. How dumb is that?

Motorcyclists owe the industry their time and energy? For what reason? It's just a vehicle or, worse, a rich kid’s toy. If no one wants to play with them, they should disappear. There is no good reason for motorcycles to be the noisiest, most polluting, most dangerous, least efficient vehicle on the road and not even have to pay their own way with motorcycle license taxes (You know they don't in Minnesota, right?). You gotta provide some social value or you are just a welfare deadbeat if you still expect the public to foot your bill. By now, motorcycles should be knocking out at least 100mpg, emitting puffs of exhaust water and nothing more, and be bicycle-quiet. Instead, the stuff we get is barely 1980's technology and most of it is from the 50’s.

As for the Millennial bulllshit, you guys are just fuckin' old. You need to visit one of the boxing clubs, martial arts clubs, wall climbing clubs, bicycle racing clubs (off road, long distance, closed course, etc), and packing maker's groups. Those places are all about Millennials. Sure, there are lots of pampered Millennials. There are also lots of pampered, overpaid, underworked, barely-skilled X-gens and Boomers. My parent's’ generation paid a pittance for Social Security and jacked up the benefits until the system was almost broke before they elected Reagan who stripped that fund for his military-industrial buddies. Change just happens. Characters like Max Biaggi whined that all of that stuff crippled MotoGP riders while Rossi and the next generation just cranked ‘em up faster and leaned ‘em over further. Old people always complain about the next generation. “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise,” said Socrates. One of the fastest riders/coaches I know is just raving about Honda's auto-transmission. I love well-implemented ABS and throttle mapping, even though I don’t own a bike that has either.

Face it, 90% of everything humans do is always crap. You don't think millennials packed Washington with a bunch of superstitious, anti-science, spoiled trustfunders do you? If humans touch it, it will be screwed up. If humans deregulate something critial, it will be a disaster. Always. We’re just a braindead species desperately trying to fire off the 6th Extinction just to see which nutty death cult got it right.

That “wimp” label is nothing new, either. I have heard horse owners making the same “you are a bunch of wimps” arguments about motorcyclists since I was a kid. That is sort of valid, too. Keeping track of two empty skulls is twice as hard as managing one. That’s why I don’t ride horses. Your hippobike might seem “really big” compared to a dirt bike, but it is a twig compared to a 15-hand, 2,200 pound horse. Try laying one of those babies down in an intersection. On the other hand, try going faster than 20mph for more than a mile on a horse. Talk about limited range between extended fuel stops, horses are barely better tranportation than shoes.