Oct 12, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1975-76 OSSA dirt bikes

ossa_logoossphantom For two years in the mid-70's, I ran a microscopic dirt bike shop out of my garage, code name "Dirt Shop." My wife hated the name because she was constantly receiving packages at our home addressed to the Dirt Shop.  She thought the UPS guy might think the name reflected on her housekeeping. I didn't see the problem. We had two insanely active little girls, a house full of toys (the kids' and mine), and my wife is a sculptor and artist. There was never a shortage of dirt in our household.

I, mostly, fixed other guy's bikes to earn enough extra cash to support my own habit. On occasion, I found a sucker/customer for a line of Spanish motorcycles, OSSA, for which I had a wholesale deal from the Kansas City distributor. Most of the likely OSSA riders lived in Omaha or Lincoln, where there was already an OSSA dealer, but most dealerships actually needed to make money to maintain inventory. I found a few customers out in the sticks who would take that inventory off of the big city dealers' hands.  I didn't expect much out of my "dealership." I just wanted to get to fool with cool, new bikes and spend as little money as possible for the privilege.

I snagged the two pictures above from the net. Sorry, I lost the original links and haven't been able to reproduce the search since, so I can't give proper credit for the pictures. These are the two bikes I sold and enjoyed the most. I sold a couple, each, of the 125 and 250 Phantom motocrossers, a pair of Mick Andrews Replica Plonker trials bikes, and one 250 Pioneer enduro. I really thought I was doing my customers a favor, at the time. There was still some residual anti-Japanese Euro-arrogance still left in dirt biking and OSSA's were good, general purpose dirt bikes. The Phantoms were moderate suspension technology (canted and moved slightly forward) and a great rider could still hang in with the front of the pack. The Plonkers were not so easy to sell. They were under-powered, heavy, and hard to maintain. The Amal carbs were a detriment to all of the OSSA bikes, but the Plonker suffered the most from that primitive and unreliable hardware.  And trials was a sport that never caught on in the States.  The Pioneer was a really pointless motorcycle.  It wasn't a competitive hard-core enduro bike and it was not reliable enough to be considered a useful dual purpose bike.  To this day, I don't know why anyone would buy one.  But someone did.

ossaplonker_small I rode almost every bike I sold, at least a few miles, before I found a buyer. Except for the 250 Phantoms, I usually had a bite before I placed my order but no money down. So, I got to play with the bikes like they were my own, because they were, until a buyer with cash appeared. I especially loved the Phantom 125, but never found the motivation to own one myself. The worst I ever did on an OSSA deal was break-even, including shipping, interest, and my setup labor. I thought that was as good as I could expect, considering the sloppy circumstances under which I operated.

I'm afraid that I probably left the Central Nebraska area and dirt biking about the time my customers were due to need serious dealer support. I moved about 120 miles from where my shop had been and, over the course of the next three months, sold my own dirt bikes and stopped attending events. I have no idea what became of the bikes I sold. I know that OSSA bit the dust not that many years later, leaving some resentment among the few riders who'd stuck it out over the years. I still see OSSA fanatics and bikes at the vintage events, so I guess they didn't all explode into Hollywood flames when I abandoned ship.  I don't think anyone buying a bike out of my one car garage, behind my obviously low-income house, could have seriously thought I was FDIC insured.  On the other hand, nobody ever went broke underestimating the American consumer. 

That was a weird period in motorcycle history. The Boomers were at their peak, physically and culturally. We were riding a lot of motorcycles back then, on and off-road. Unless you've been to a 1970s event, it's hard to imagine how popular, well-attended, and disorganized those events were. It was the beginning of the end for an aspect of individual freedom in the United States, mostly due to overpopulation. A half-dozen years later, the boom crashed. We quit buying, riding, and caring about motorcycles, especially off-road motorcycles in the quantities that manufacturers enjoyed during those years. The world shed itself of a dozen motorcycle manufacturers and Japan ended up owning what was left of the market.

Ossa was a crappy company with non-existent customer or dealer support, but their bikes were interesting, competitive, and distinctive. Parts were hard to come by, bikes were delivered in non-functional condition, but there was something cool about being a dealer, even at the marginal level I experienced. Uncrating a new motorcycle, with an expectant customer either calling every couple of hours or breathing down my neck, is a lot of fun.

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Little Terrors

Early last week, I was riding the WR to school in the morning (Yeah, I know that I’m old and should have managed to escape school by now.) and on the way up a long hill, into the sun, when the usual defogging-of-the-faceshield battle going on, a pickup rolled through a stop sign into my path. Thanks to the WR’s great brakes and maneuverability, I managed to get around the stopped pickup uneventfully and on my way undamaged. It didn’t seem odd to me that my heart rate stayed pretty much in it’s usual 70-89bpm territory of that I didn’t have the kind of delayed freaked out reaction that I might have experienced 50 years ago from the same kind of near-event.

At least not until I did experience a few moments of extreme tension an hour or so later. In the first hour of class, our instructor got himself tangled up in an electronics explanation and couldn’t escape from the series of questions his confusion inspired from the class. Eventually, he asked me to briefly explain passive high and low pass filters. I can do that fairly easily, but without drawing out a couple of circuits I can’t do it quickly. So, I mindlessly headed for the whiteboard and about half-way into my explanation I realized I was back at the front of a class. I am not a natural or comfortable performer. I taught college classes for 13 years, but led up to that slowly doing industry training mostly for small groups over my 40 year engineering career. The two year break between the end of my teaching career and that moment in front of 25 students had allowed me to return to my normal introverted, stage-shy self and by the time I was back at my seat my hands were shaking, my chest was pounding, and I was practically hyperventilating.

The conclusion is that I’d rather dodge pickups and SUVs and the rest of the brain-dead cager barrage than speak in public.

Oct 7, 2015

My Motorcycles: Pure Polaris Electric Scooter

And Now for Something Really Different

All Rights Reserved © 2001 Thomas W. Day

An absolutely valid rap "against" the bikes I usually ride is that nobody ever looks at my ride and I rarely hear "wow! what a cool looking bike."  If that bothered me, the Pure Polaris Electric Scooter would be the cure.  Polaris claims that this snazzy little unit will do up to 12 miles at speeds of 16-18mph.  I'll test that claim, later, by making the poor little Scooter lug my 200+ pound butt around town and country.

Early on, I thought I'd never find out what the average speed is over any distance beyond a couple hundred yards.  Take my first morning out, for example.  I made it two blocks when a semi driver passed me and stopped in the middle of the road so he could ask me how the Polaris was powered (electric motor) and what it's range was (how the hell would I know?) and what it weighed (59 pounds, without me).  Two blocks later, I almost passed two power-walking women before getting stopped to answer the same questions plus "where can we buy one? (see your nearest Polaris dealer or call the company in Medina).  Three blocks later, a guy in a Buick stopped me to ask about the range, the manufacturer, the cost, and to tell me he thought it would be a great vehicle to ride to his deer stand.  At the coffee shop, three blocks later, in a half hour I got to read two pages of my book while answering questions about the scooter from half of the people in the store.  The ride home was just as talkative.  A little more than six blocks, four stops, four conversations, and I should be getting a free Electric Scooter t-shirt from Polaris so that I can complete my rolling advertising campaign for the Electric Scooter.

Since you mostly know me as the Geezer and you know how naturally crotchety I am, here's where you should be expecting my long list of gripes on the Scooter.  I'd like to accommodate you, but so far I'm having too much fun with the damn thing.  So is my wife, and I guess I could complain about that.  When she's riding it, I'm not.  She's already imagining a business where she rents these things to companies for parades, as sort of a rolling signboard.  I suppose she'll expect me to wear a Shriner outfit and ride the Scooter to get the company . . . rolling.  I may not care about looking cool, but I'm definitely opposed to looking dorky.  Believe it or not, I have standards, they're just lower than average.

I first saw the Electric Scooter at a MN-Sportbike pre-event.  One of the sportbikers brought his Scooter along to get from one end of the track to the other without having to mess up his Nike's.  He offered a ride to anyone who wanted to play with it, but I was the only taker.  Now I know why.  Ride it and you gotta have one. 

He had pulled the seat off of his Scooter and was riding it skateboard style.  I, mostly, ride mine the same way.  My wife likes the seat.  I just feel slightly less like I'm posing as an invalid on a powered shopping cart when I'm standing.  (See what I mean about having standards?)  The seat is way too comfortable and it doesn't allow for drastic weight-shifting which makes getting over curb entrances, at top speed, a lot more interesting. 

The Polaris Scooter is suspended.  The suspension is slightly more elaborate than the typical kick scooter, but it's good enough to suck up sidewalk irregularities and sloped curb entrances.  I've been told that the Scooter works fairly well on dirt roads, too.  I haven't tried mine because I'm nearly over the weight limit just by wearing shoes.  Adding the resistance of dirt roads would probably trip the circuit breaker in a few minutes. 

The Scooter's brakes are more than adequate, a mountain bike V-brake on the front and a drum brake on the rear.  The rear brake is also connected to the engine cutoff, so you can't brake and throttle at the same time.  Sort of an idiot switch, I guess.  The controls are in a motorcycle layout, right side = front brake and left side = rear brake, so you won't have to waste time re-routing cables like you did with your mountain bike. 

Most of the Scooter's weight must be in the tires, batteries (and their bash-rail-protected steel case), and motor, since the frame is aluminum as are most of the other metal bits.  The unit folds into something that could be carried on to a bus or packed in the trunk of a Geo.  The seat and handlebar height are fully adjustable and the hardware is all high quality bicycle bits.  The throttle/battery capacity indicator is a thumb control dead-man switch control by the right-side grip. 

The battery easily charges overnight from near-dead and the manual claims that the battery will charge from 70% depleted to full in 6 hours.  The charger is a high-tech, light-weight unit that fits in a hiker's tailbag so you can carry it with you on longer trips (using your employer's AC to provide energy for the return trip, for example).  The connector is an XLR (standard audio connector) which is unusually durable and reliable for this purpose.  The connector on the battery-end of the charging connection has a cover which will provide a little protection from dirt but it's far from water-tight.

The owner's manual contains a bit of age discrimination, since Polaris states the bike is for "age 12 to 45" riders.  If I weren't old I wouldn't be the Geezer and I resent being told that I'm too ancient to play with a toy that is this much fun.  Repeal that limitation, Polaris Marketing/Legal department.  I'd sue, but I'll probably fall down and bust my hip between now and when I'd get to court and Polaris would get to use me for evidence that the manual's precautions are justified.

The other precaution that seems a little paranoid is their warning against riding the Scooter downhill.  Unless you are a Flat Earth'er, it's hard to imagine a place you can ride where you're not either going uphill or downhill.  I see two possibilities regarding this contraindication: 1) it's a legal butt-covering tactic, 2) downhill operation could over-charge the battery.  In Amerika it's always reasonable to assume that any idiot who finds a way to go over the bars and bust his empty skull will immediately locate a lawyer and claim "manufacturer negligence."  However, I'd appreciate knowing if this warning is legal gibberish or some sort of limit on the Scooter's capability.  I've noticed that even when the battery is off and the handlebar kill switch is off, the charge-condition LEDs light up when the bike is pushed.  If the battery is getting a recharge from the motor during downhill operation, that recharge might be unregulated and could damage the battery or other circuitry.  I'll wait by the phone for a response to this question.  I'm reasonably patient about these things.  Ten minutes and no one has called, I give up.  I'll keep riding it up and down hills and I'll let you know how that works out for me.

Polaris is, apparently, a little confused about how they want to support the Electric Scooter.  Their marketing handout and the Pure Polaris website (http://www.purepolaris.com/) states that the unit comes with "a year limited warranty."  The owner's manual revises this number to 90 days.  I'm guessing the warranty is somewhere between 90 and 365 days (note: Polaris confirmed the one year limited warranty). In the end, the company simply pretended the scooter never existed and, to this day, their misnamed "Customer Service" department pantomimes shuffling through pages of manuals and computer screens before saying "We never sold an electric scooter."

Riding the Scooter is about as simple as two-wheeled riding gets.  The electric motor provides bags of torque.  When the battery is freshly charged it's not that difficult to life the front wheel on full power takeoffs.  You simply press the thumb control and go.  The Scooter is up to max speed about the time your foot hits the floorboard.  The belt-driven, 350W rare-earth magnet motor is quiet and amazingly powerful for its size. 

The 12" wheels roll over minor road irregularities and the suspension sucks up the rest.  The bike moves fast enough that you'll need to use countersteering techniques to turn quickly.  Standing or seated, the Scooter is agile and responsive, although you do have to get used to applying power a few seconds before you want it, because of the time-delay between the thumb control and a reaction from the motor. 

So far, I've learned these simple rules for my Scooter: 1) turn the freakin' battery switch off if you want the charger to do its job, 2) watch the weather, unless you want to walk home in the rain (electric motors and rain don't mix), 3) try to avoid police attention because nobody is sure how the law applies to this sort of vehicle, 4) use lots of body english to take advantage of the limited-travel suspension.  I've make three 10 mile, round-trip excursions on my Scooter and have returned with power to spare.  I'm about to test the unit on a home-to-work commute, but I'm building up to it since I haven't found an efficient, limited-traffic route as yet.  My bicycle has wasted away (while my belly is doing quite well, thanks for asking) because the Scooter is a lot more fun than the bike.  Any trip from home, shorter than ten miles, gets made on the Scooter.  It's more fun than the bike, more efficient than either the car or the motorcycle, and I'm starting to enjoy the attention.

I always assumed I'd give this to my grandson when he turned 13 and was old enough to ride it on the street legally. However, he snapped off the throttle lever practicing wheelies and snuck the scooter back into the garage without telling me about the damage or saving the broken part. Now, it's nearly impossible to ride and Polaris is doing a wonderful Sergeant Schultz imitation ("I know nothing.") and Wolfegang's window of opportunity and interest has past. The last time a motorcycle company ruined my investment in one of their products (1974 Suzuki RL250), it was 25 years before I tried another of their products. I'm not going to ride or live long enough to give Polaris a second chance.

2010 Postscript: Polaris has continued to disavow any knowledge of this vehicle since around 2004. Because of this review, I get emails from all of the company's victims/customers wanting to know where to buy parts for this little scooter. Through direct conversation with the company, I have been told "we never mad/sold anything like that." They are, obviously, either liars or fools. This was a high-end attempt to get into the electric runabout business (at $1,000 MSRP) and Polaris isn't fooling anyone by pretending to be ignorant. They were probably too late to the market with too little support and their usual marketing stupidity and decided to cut and run from the model without a thought in their tiny little marketing/sales heads about the customers they were abandoning. Sorry, guys. I can't help you fix your electric scooter and I can't find parts for my own. I desperately need a new throttle mechanism, but I'm out of luck and the scooter is stuck in my shop until I find a substitute or give up and toss it in the dumpster.

2014 Postscript: Holy crap! I found a live person in Polaris' customer service and received this response:

Thank you for contacting Polaris. I apologize that you have had a poor experience with service parts for your electric scooter. Your model is called the EV Rider Xport SLX 707. This is a scooter with front and rear suspension and has the narrow tires. These scooters were made in the mid 2000’s and Polaris does not support these vehicles internally; however, service parts are available for the Polaris Electric Scooter directly from “Light Electric Vehicle Technologies.” They can be contacted at 1-888-743-3738 or levtservice@aol.com. [Talk to Shelly.]

Thank you for your inquiry,
Parts Resolution Specialist
Polaris Industries

I don't know about the rest of Polaris Industries "Parts Resolution Specialists," but Kyle kicks ass. It took about a week and $24 (including shipping) for the throttle lever to arrive, a minute to install it, and our Polaris Electric Scooter/EV Rider Xport SLX 707 is back on the road. Many of the other parts for this scooter are common, like the batteries and drive belt, and the less common stuff may be in stock with Light Electric Vehicle Technologies (602 S 1st Ave, Pocatello, ID 83201 208-232-5515).

Oct 5, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1974 Suzuki RL250 Trials

rl250 The Suzuki RL250 was one of the few bikes I've owned that was a constant disappointment and a complete competitive disaster. The RL was an awful trialer, with little torque, a poor suspension, too much height, and poor reliability. It was my first trials bike and my first Suzuki. After the Rickman 125 ISDT, the RL250 was the second new bike I ever owned, and the last.

Since the bike sold so poorly, Suzuki dumped their inventory, in late 1974 for almost 1/3 what I paid for the bike. That left a taste in my mouth that has only recently mellowed, allowing me to buy my 1999 Suzuki SV650. My $1,100 investment was instantly devalued to something less than $400, the revised, devalued price of a new RL in 1975 & 1976 (it was still the 1974 model, but they dumped their mistake in Suzuki dealers for another two years).

The only reason I can think of for owning one of these things, today, would be as an example of 1970's crappy Japanese workmanship. The welds were embarrassing, a few weeks after buying the bike I re-welded a significant portion of the bike frame. There were spots where the welds actually missed the seam. It was probably one of the first Japanese production bikes with a chrome-moly frame and it showed their inexperience with their new welding equipment. Their faith in chrome-moly was dramatized by the spindly character of the RL250's frame. Several other RL250 sufferers discovered that hard riding of this bike would result in busted frame members and one co-Suzuki trialer managed to snap off the swingarm at its frame attachment point in a Nebraska event.

Since the bike was worthless as a trialer, I added a little padding to the seat and used it as a weird trail bike. It was more fun, with that intent, but still unreliable. If you dropped the bike on its left side, and the motor kept running, the main seal on the opposite side self-destructed. I've witnessed this a couple of times at recent "vintage" events and, apparently, there is still no fix for this sad design. The forks leaked constantly. The air box was far from water-tight. The suspension was awful, at best, for any purpose. The engine lacked torque and blew up if you tried to overcompensate with revs.

The only claim to fame Suzuki made for this bike was its inventory-dumping price. In mid-1975, I saw them, new, on showroom floors for $400. I believe it was only imported into the US in 1974, although it took dealers at least three years to unload the inventory.

I am amazed to see these things at vintage events, usually grossly overpriced and often in like-new condition. In competition, the rider will be an old geezer who decided to pretend a 1974 bike is a time machine he can use to recover some missing piece of his youth. Typically, the rider is stumbling through the course, missing corners, rolling over tape, hanging up on 6" logs, and sliding down hills heading for a painful high-side at the bottom. Anyone who can win a real trials event on the RL is, either, cherry-picking or an amazing rider. I've never seen anyone win on an RL, but some of the "vintage trials" events are so undemanding that I'm sure it's happened in the last few decades. 

The happy side of all this is that most of the current RL owners are retired executives or other idle rich characters. I couldn't wish a better bike on that class of scumbag.

Sep 29, 2015

Deja Vu All Over Again

This month's GWAG in MMM is titled "Ride Like the Killer Robots Are After You." We've had the discussion here before, so if you read the magazine it's going to sound familiar. Thanks to the insight from many of my friends on this blog, it's one of my all-time favorite rants.

Sep 28, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1963 Harley Davidson 250 Sprint


This is what the bike, supposedly looked like when it was new.

My brother bought this bike somewhere around 1968. Being the abusive big brother I was, I used the heck out of the bike, mostly, against Larry's wishes and knowledge. He has been trying to catch up with me, on the abuse and creepy-ness scale, ever since. Since he's a terminally nice guy, I'm destined to stay in the lead for the rest of our lives.

This was, simply, an awful motorcycle. Like most Harley's, the Aermacchi/Harley was poorly engineered, under-powered, overweight, and unreliable. I bashed it a good bit of the way to death on figure-eight "rough scrambles" tracks in Dodge City, Kansas, but it wasn't worth much before I stumbled into it. The suspension was awful, so we replaced it with a pair of chunks of steel plate in the rear and shimmed the springs to immobility in the front. The footpegs kept breaking off, whenever I rode over any kind of bump. I learned how to weld in the process of reinstalling them every week or so. The motor started life weak and ended up so anemic that you could kick start it by hand.

This is the best used I've ever seen made of a Harley Sprint.

The only good thing I can say about the bike is that it had two wheels and made more noise and was slightly faster than a bicycle with playing cards in the spokes. Kansas was an awful place to ride motorcycles in the 1960's. Folks you'd never met would go out of their way to run you off of the road. I became an "off road rider" because the ditches were where I spent all of my time, anyway. I figured that staying there was safer and faster than zigzagging from the road to the ditch every time a car passed me in either direction.

Sep 21, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1971 Kawasaki Bighorn 350

Learn more about this bike

350bhorn The Kawasaki Bighorn was my first real dirt bike. The link above tells you a lot about this history of this rotary-valved, 350cc two-stroke, 33-hp, 400+ lb. monster. It's important to remember, however, that these guys appear to like ancient motorcycles. What I remember most about my green machine was its unpredictability. The bike would do something different every time you applied the throttle, tried to turn, tried to stop, or tried to start it up in the morning. Occasionally, I felt like I knew what I was doing on this bike, when it went where I pointed it, as fast as I'd intended it to go. Usually, I felt like streamers dangling from the handlebars as the Big Horn rocketed into some obstacle that I'd intended to wheelie over, slid into a low-side because the motor busted the back wheel loose when I thought I had it loaded up enough to guarantee traction, or launched me into a high-side when the bike hooked up when I felt sure I could power through a turn steering with back wheel slip.

I'm pretty sure the Bighorn weighed more than my 1992 850 TDM street bike. It sure handled worse, on or off road. But it did start me off on a lot of years of fun and adventure. And it was a pretty cheap bike to get started on ($300 for a like-new 1971 F5 in 1972). Since I fell down and broke bits of it almost every time I went riding, it was helpful that parts were cheap, too..

The one and only competition I ever attempted with the Bighorn was the Canadian River (Texas) Cross Country Race, in (I think) 1972). I was one of four open class bikes to finish the race, about 30 started as I remember. Because so few finished, the promoter only trophied to third class. All of the other classes trophied to fifth. It was one of the few times I had a chance to leave a race with something more than bruises and stories to tell and I'm still pissed about missing out on that piece of chrome plated plastic. Later, I managed to earn a few ribbons and some tires or accessory parts racing motocross and such, but that race was the last event I rode that actually offered a trophy and the last time I was in a position to earn one.

I moved the Big Horn with me from Texas to Nebraska, but quickly ended up on a Rickman 125 ISDT and the Big Horn ended up in a neighborhood kid's garage after the kid pulled the air filter in a misdirected attempt to "get more power." He got a burst of power, just before the leaned out mixture seized the piston and never managed to find enough money to put it back together. When I moved, the bike was being chewed up by garage mice and I doubt that it ever ran again.

Sep 16, 2015

“I Messed Up.”

Three words most casual riders are incapable of saying, “I messed up.” It’s always “she pulled out in front of me” or “there was gravel on the road” or “I had to lay ‘er down.” Read “Kick Ass, Ass Kicked—it’s not not fate, it’s focus” for a racer’s take on what causes most crashes. It’s us. Nobody but us.

Sep 14, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1974 Rickman 125 ISDT

Learn more about this bike

rickmn3For me, the Rickman 125 was a turning point in motorcycling. It is, 26 years later, one of the two new bikes I've owned. Before and after 1974, I've always bought used. I paid $500 for the Rickman, right out of the box. I did the dealer assembly myself, as part of the price I'd negotiated. The bike was sold as a 1974 model, but I think it was a 1973 that was just relabeled when the '73 inventory carried over. Modern suspensions just started to appear in 1974 and the Rickman was almost instantly obsolete.

On one hand, it was a terrific motorcycle. The Rickman 125 ISDT (International Six Day Trials model) had strong, bulletproof motor and the bike was an artistic example of European design. The chrome-moly, nickel plated frame was an example of the finest workmanship. The quality and beauty of the welding was the best I've ever seen, anywhere.

While the radial head Zundapp motor was a nightmare of false neutrals and monster-Q powerband, the motor had a chrome-plated cylinder and rings. I think the Zundapp 125 would outlast any other motorcycle I've ever heard of, off-road. However, the powerband was so limited that it drove me to disassemble and reassemble the motor dozens of times, hoping to find some miracle that would put me in the front of the pack without having to spend hard-to-come-by money getting there.

In those days, I was earning $3.60 an hour and supporting a family of four on that wage. My average work week was 80 hours and I'd saved spare change for a whole year to scrape up the $500 to buy this bike. Regardless of how unsuited it was for the purpose I intended, it was going to have to work because I had no other choice. I raced the Rickman in the last few cross-country events in the Midwest. I thrashed it through several thousand miles of motocross tracks across Nebraska and northern Kansas, including "the big show"; the Herman, NE track where the nationals and international racers visited on the AMA and and TransAM tour. (My bike actually touched the same dirt as Roger DeCoster, Bob Hannah, and a host of great riders of whom you've probably never heard. I ground the Rickman's gears through a half-dozen enduros, a 24-hour winter endurance race in South Dakota, and, once, an observed trials. I even taught my wife how to ride a motorcycle on the Rickman.

Me 1980 As you can see by the above scan of a nasty old Polaroid, motorcycling was a family sport for my family in those days. No, I didn't ride in that "outfit" (how about those Converse riding "boots"?), but I did a lot of tuning in an enclosed garage that probably could have smoked meat. My passenger is my beautiful daughter, Holly, when she was about three years old. Remembering that exhaust setup, the bike had to have been stone cold for us to be sitting in those positions. That homemade expansion chamber could fry a steak at 2".

rickmn1Don't ask me why I left the speedo on the bike in motocross form, but there it was. I probably had twice as much invested in the add-ons for this bike than I'd spent on the original motorcycle. I pounded out the exhaust myself, finishing it off with one of the original pie-pan SuperTrapp silencers. I'd "blueprinted the intake ports (which made the bike even peakier), tuned the crap out of the Bing carb, and attempted shimming the transmission (which reduced the number of false neutrals available between gears from 4,358 to 12), and invested a thousand hours in the suspension. All in vain. The Rickman was about 50 pounds too heavy, 10 hp too wimpy, and the wide-band ISDT transmission just didn't cut it on the motocross track. I did OK in the half dozen cross-country races I'd managed to locate, but cross-country racing was all but dead in 1974 and enduros bored me stiff.

Toward the end of my racing "career," all of the major damage I did to myself happened on the Rickman. More accurately, those things happened as I was being flung from the Rickman. Broken toes, fingers, ribs, collarbone, and all sorts of burns and road rashes. After 10 years of riding damage-free, I went through a six month period where I couldn't seem to keep the rubber-side down. At age 31, I quit racing while I could still stand mostly erect.

rickman I probably put several thousand hours on the Zundapp motor and, every winter when I tore it down, the rings and cylinder met like-new specs. I sold the bike in 1978, for $125. By then, it was absolutely useless on a race track. Long travel suspensions and watercooled motors had turned the Rickman and most of Europe's motorcycles into ancient history. It was still a beautiful piece of workmanship, though. It was almost like selling a member of the family. I have not been sentimental about selling a motorcycle since the Rickman rolled out of my garage belonging to someone else.


The left picture is of the Rickman in cross-country or enduro dress. Working (mostly) Bosch electrics, a Carl Shipman toolbag on the tank, and, otherwise, the same bike I raced on Nebraska motocross tracks. I'd gear the bike down about 6 teeth (rear sprocket) for motocross, because the top speed was 75mph over broken ground in stock form. The bike was so stable that a good (and light, less than 150 lbs.) rider could wick it up and hang on for miles, WFO.

The last cross-country race I did on the Rickman was in far western Sidney, Nebraska, about 30 miles from the Colorado border. I was blasting the 125 class when the race was called for the mother of all dust storms after the third lap. I looked like a filthy raccoon, when I pulled off my goggles and helmet and my eyes were so sandblasted that I could hardly open them the next day. The dust was so dense that it chewed through the master cylinder on my Mazda's hydraulic clutch on the way back home. We drove almost 400 miles, clutch-less, 100 of that through dust so thick that visibility was barely beyond the nose of our 1973 Mazda RX3 station wagon. The Rickman, however, was doing fine when the race ended.

It took a lazy Nebraskan, who thought air filters were for girly-men, to kill the Rickman. He put in a whole day of riding on the Platte River bed before the power vanished and he walked back home, leaving the Rickman to sink into the sandy river bottom. He even had the gall to call me and complain about the bike, two years after he bought it and 2,000 miles after I'd sold it to him. The bike's frame was a work of welding art. It should have enjoyed a much more honorable demise, but dirt bikes don't often die happily or attractively.

Sep 8, 2015

#121 It's Big or Nothing


All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

My two days on the Yamaha Super Ténéré were eye-opening. There is an incredible amount of technology in that bike, just like the list of technology inside Yamaha's R1/R6/FZ1/FZ6 bikes or Honda's VFR1200F or Kawasaki's ZX-14R or Suzuki's Hayabusa or Ducati's anything or BMW's top-line sportbikes. The downside is that I can not imagine myself needing any of those motorcycles for what I do with a motorcycle. I ride to work. I take one or two trips a summer to semi-remote places. I saddle up and do day trips on paved and unpaved public roads, trail ride, or single-track the boonies just for the fun of it. I do not race anyone, ever. I never need the capability of exceeding 90mph, ever. A motorcycle that can do 0-60mph in less than 3 seconds is interesting, but unnecessary. I can no more consider the price tag for one of these giant-killers (or Monsters) than I can afford an evening with a supermodel. Superbikes are for rich kids. I'm not rich or a kid.

My problem with all of this cool technology (fly-by-wire throttle control, traction control, variable fuel mapping, ABS and more sophisticated braking schemes, and the rest of the amazing electronic packages that come on the really amazing motorcycles) is that it is expensive and always comes with a substantial miles-per-gallon penalty. Once a manufacturer has made the decision to build a product with every trick they have learned on the race track incorporated into one hip-beyond-belief motorcycle, they have painted themselves into a liter-and-above corner. For example, I'm guessing that keeping the Super Ten's features, but downsizing the engine to a more fuel-conservative 600cc's (or smaller), would result in a MSRP price reduction of less than $2,000. I can not imagine anyone except Ducati or BMW convincing their Kool-Aid drinkers to fork over twelve-grand for a 600cc-or-smaller motorcycle. It has to be a non-starter for Yamaha, as perfect as that motorcycle would be for the 21st century.

Imagine a 60+ mpg motorcycle with comfortable and flexible ergonomics, ABS and linked braking, variable fuel mapping, traction control, and practical long distance touring features. The closest thing we have to that motorcycle is Suzuki's V-Strom 650 ABS, which has about 2/3 of the Ténéré's electronic and mechanical features (no fly-by-wire traction control, no selectable fuel-delivery mapping, no "unified" braking, non-cartridge fully-adjustable forks, and a substantially less adjustable shock). It's also about 60% of the Ténéré's list price, at $8,300 MSRP. It would be reasonable to assume that adding all of those features might get the V-Strom's price near the Super Ten's without even changing the motor size. In fact, the V-Strom 1000's price is $10,400 without ABS and with basic FI.

What I suspect this all means is that the choices are limited to "go mid-tech and small" (like the Honda CBR250R, Suzuiki TU250X, or .Yamaha's WR250R) or "go big and get it all." With entry level bike prices climbing into decent used car territories, the resistance to offering a rational-sized high-tech motorcycle is probably a good short-term tactic. Motorcycle company marketing departments have demonstrated little-to-no ability to drive the market and, therefore, all of the big companies are just selling "me too" products in the US. This is would be a place where taking a page from Apple's playbook could produce some big returns for the first player into this untapped market. Suzuki has maintained a tight grip on a good bit of the mid-sized (650 twin) sportbike and adventure touring business with Kawasaki and Honda bringing the Versys 650 and NC700X DCT both late to the market and long after Suzuki satisfied a a lot of the buyer pipeline. Only the Honda offers ABS and neither bike really qualifies as equivalent competition for the new V-Strom or comes close to the Super Ten's technology.

You'd think this would be a hot market in a high-price fuel, newly functionally oriented market. The big cruiser market is aging and dying. The low efficiency sportbike business has limited appeal from a comfort, practicality, and sensibility perspective. Standards and adventure touring bikes may be the future of motorcycling and the industry seems to be ignoring this customer base until somebody else cracks the barriers. Suzuki proved that the first one into the pool wins. So, who's going to be first to import a high-tech, sub-700cc all-around motorcycle?

Sep 1, 2015

Motorcycle Reviews and Me

I’ve bitched about product reviews from several industries, including motorcycles, for almost two decades. Now that 99% of magazines count on advertising revenues rather than subscriptions for their income, editors/writers are more worried about pissing off an advertiser than providing value to readers. One of the things that first attracted me to writing for MMM were the reviews I read in those late 90’s editions. Far from soft and fluffy, some of the reviewed bikes took a beating. My benchmark product magazine is and always will be the version of Dirt Bike Magazine the ultimate geezer (even when he was a kid) Rick Sieman (SuperHunky) edited. He’s still at it, a bit, with articles like “Worst Dirt Bikes of All Time” and better. For the rest of the written world, readers don’t amount to much in terms of attempts at value provided. In fact, we’re not really “readers” in modern magazine vocabulary, we’re “customers.” Just like the MSM when talking about American citizens, we’ve lost our citizenship and become “consumers.” For my money, if the printed word disappears from existence it won’t be missed if I never again find myself referred to as a consumer or customer.

15-hd-street-750-6-largeWhen I heard my friend and ex-editor Sev Pearman (oddly pseudo-named “Mark Descartes”) would be reviewing the new aimed-at-the-hipsters Harley 750 for MMM, I had moderate hopes. Sev can be both obscure and direct, depending on the subject and his mood. When he is obscure, I have no idea what he is talking about on any subject including those where I am more versed than he. This review was one of those times.

15-hd-street-750-3-largeInterestingly, Bruce Mike’s paired review of the same bike was pretty informative. The question I’d asked Sev, off-line on FB, about the odd combination of a 28” seat height, the "below your knee" peg placement, and ground clearance. The picture of Sev on the bike looked cramped. I speculated that, “There must be about 3" of ground clearance.” In fact, unloaded there is 5.7”. Couple that with the closest thing to suspension travel HD provides (“Seat Height, Laden 25.7”) and my 3” guess was pretty close. (Damn, I’m good.) Bruce described the seating position succinctly, “The ergonomics were not good. I’m a short guy and the pegs and seat made me feel like I was too tall.” And “I put close to 150 miles on this bike and with the stock seat, bars, and pegs, it was not without discomfort.” That’s about what I expected from the provided dimensions .

Here’s my real complaint about this kind of review, though. As I wrote to Sev, “Comparing the 750 to other Hardlys makes the bike look . . . better. It might have been useful (to new riders) to mention that the "more powerful" Hardly 750 makes 10hp less than, say, the V-Strom 650 and about the same torque and includes ABS for similar money.” His response was, “One cannot rail on H-D for doing the same-old same-old then curse them when they produce something (gasp) modern.” I can and will. While finally realizing that air cooling and carbs are for lawn tractors and museums is a nod toward “modern,” it’s a long, long way from 2015 technology and getting further every day.

It’s true that everyone’s cruiser offerings are pretty primitive, but review after review calls these “small” hippobikes “starter bikes.” Would you put your kid on a 60 pound, coaster brake, single-speed, 26” Schwinn cruiser as a starter bicycle?  Yeah, I know that’s what I started on and it’s a pure miracle I’m alive to talk about it. I crashed that POS bicycle into mailboxes, fire hydrants, buildings, and cars before I began to realize my father didn’t know shit about picking a bicycle for a kid. Apparently, the whole motorcycle publishing industry got it’s cue from my father: a high school business teacher who was baffled by a newspaper wrapping machine to the point that he’d hand-rubber-band 1,000 newspapers rather than try to unclog a string jam.

Aug 29, 2015

Piling on the Bullshit

Damn it, when I saw this title “THE PERFECT MOTORCYCLE: KNOW YOURSELF TO KNOW YOUR BIKE” on CycleWorld.com, I really hoped for something semi-intelligent.  When you flaunt around words like “perfect” the expectation is that you will actually put some effort into the discussion. Unless the discussion is being led by Kevin Cameron there isn’t much hope that my expectations will be even attempted on Cycle World. This article fell far below the already low bar set by the motorcycle rag industry.

Idiot advice like this is exactly why I wrote the “When You Need A Faster Bike” column for MMM, "Pick perfect power. From a safety standpoint, the amount of power you need depends on your riding. For my money, 800cc and up lets you beat city traffic, claim-jump any freeway lane anytime, and execute quick passes on the highway." What a load of bullshit. First, as RideApart.com said in their “11 Reasons Why You Don’t Want A Liter Bike” column, "Literbikes aren’t any faster than a 600." Who cares if your top speed is 200mph, if you are really trying to “execute quick passes on the highway?” A 600cc four will do 160mph and get there within a few fractions of a second as quickly as a liter bike and, most likely, exactly as quickly as a 750cc or the non-existent 800cc from Cycle World’s bullshit recommendation. Even better, 99% of American riders who are incapable of using any part of a liter bike’s throttle competently won’t end up sliding down the freeway on their ass when they wheelie-over their big bike pretending to be Rossi.

The half-assed effort put into justifying the advice, “Choose a bike whose skills match your own” was more than embarrassing. My advice for Cycle World, avoid the word “perfect” until you buy a dictionary and thesaurus. Stick with “half-assed” and “mediocre,” words you so aptly typify.

Aug 19, 2015

Standing on Two Feet on Two Wheels

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

IMG_2672 The local trials organization is the Upper Midwest Trials Association (UMTA, http://umta.org/), where you can find the year's schedule (6 two-day events for 2013, since the first one was cancelled due to snow), see this and past years' event results, find used trials bikes, locate local dealers and parts suppliers, and join forums to talk about trials bikes and riding. There are excellent pictures of local riders and events on the UMTA site, too.

UMTA 2008 champ 023 A lot of really knowledgeable people (including our publisher, "AKA the World’s Largest Trials Rider" and the UMTA's secretary) might argue that the ultimate off-road motorcycle sport is motorcycle trials, traditionally called "observed trials." While the fine-points of trials rules are sometimes as hard to fathom as golfing rules, the basic idea is you ride over ridiculously difficult obstacles without stopping or putting your feet on the ground or the obstacles. Do either and you collect unwanted points. If you manage to avoid collecting points, you win. If that sounds easy, you should try it.

The Winterers (Jim and Ben) are one constant in Minnesota trials is that you will unavoidably run into. Jim is a consistent Senior class competitor and Ben is a regular top-3 in the Champ class. Jim was gracious enough to introduce me to several wonderful sources and and he pretty much wrote the article for me in a couple of email responses. Mark Dittman, the UMTA treasurer said, "Ages in our club range from 7 years old to 70 years old. Our club members come from all over the state of Minnesota and some from Wisconsin . . . we have 9 different classes to compete in and there is a skill level for everyone.

IMG_2700 "The biggest misconception is that everyone hops the bike around. Ninety percent of our club riders do not hop the bike around. I think people feel a little intimidated by that. There are some expert class riders in our club that do not hop, but they can turn the bike on a dime and do some incredible things on a trials bike."

IMG_2695 In the US, participation in trials peaked in the mid--to-late-1970's. At that time, there were several world-class American riders, Martin Belaiir, Marland Whaley, Lane Leavitt,  and the one-and-only American World Champion, Bernie Schreiber (1979). In recent world events, US riders consistently fill out the tail-end of every US event (the Wagner Cup) and few Americans have made the effort to compete on the world stage. Outside of the US, trials has maintained a fair presence, especially in the indoor format (X-Trials), and world events draw large crowds in several countries.

Trials is the kind of sport that attracts riders of all ages. Due to typically low speeds, extraordinarily light motorcycles, and short sections with minders, helpers, and observers who sometimes morph into catchers as do the spectators, people compete well into their 60's and 70's at a variety of competitive levels. Minnesota and Wisconsin are specially blessed with a strong, if small, group of dedicated trials competitors and if you are interested in trying this sport out, you'll find it is a great group of friendly and helpful people.

Due to the light US participation, manufacturers make a half-hearted attempt at importing bikes to the US. Currently, Sherco, Gas Gas, Beta, Ossa, and OSET (electric kids' bikes) are imported to the US. The US Montesa-Honda distributor was based in Minnetonka until Honda discontinued importing in 2005. On the upside, there are still a fair number of used 1970's to 2000's trials bikes for sale for reasonable prices. Many trials bikes are in pretty good shape even after a few decades of competition and will be more than serviceable for many years. The only motorcycle I've ever been sorry I sold was my 1986 Yamaha TY350.

Aug 17, 2015

#120 That Is Not A Helmet


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Everybody is getting on the "motorcyclists ought to be wearing helmets" bandwagon. MPR did a segment a few weeks about about the burst of motorcycle deaths in early 2013 and how few of the dead and buried were wearing "helmets." One of the local television noise generators repeated that theme and "moderated" the common sense recommendation by interviewing someone from ABATE spewing their tired "everyone just needs to look out for us" and "training is the answer" song and dance. For once,

ABATE and AAA were on the same page in that spring death-match propaganda blitz. They both quoted the same statistic that reported "wearing a helmet in a crash reduces the risk of death by 35 percent and the risk of brain injury by 67 percent." ABATE added the word "only" to each of those numbers, attempting to prove that helmets didn't really do much toward making motorcycles less suicidal. Sometimes, I'm not sure whose side those guys are on.

AAAhelmetAAA's front section AAAAdvice article ("Motorcycle Helmets Save Lives") included the picture at right. I see that as a failure to communicate. That silly looking lid is not a helmet. It barely qualifies as a hardhat. It's possible that useless baseball cap might provide some protection if a cup of crushed ice were dropped from a second story window and it landed squarely on top of the rider's head. Not likely, but possible. The chances that a pudding bowl helmet will save your life, your consciousness, or your pretty face is pretty predictable, though.

It should be pretty obvious that a beanie helmet is good for about 20% of the impact that will coming your way when you hit the asphalt. If we wanted to be overly-optimistic, we could add the 19.3% of the forehead hits to the protected area, but I do not feel that is realistic. For example, Mr. AAA Douchebag's helmet at left makes a special effort to show his shiny forehead so that his admiring fellow douchebags will know who he is. That exposed area and the edge of the helmet above it provides plenty of leverage for the sliding surface to pull the helmet up and, possibly, away from that critical and fragile area of the skull. At least Mr AAA Douchebag has a 3/4 helmet on his pointy head.

gayhelmetGay little biker beanies (Don't get your panties in a wad, girlymen. I mean "happy" or "festive.") like the thing at left are pretty much useless as protection 80% of time when a helmet hits the road. Unless you can figure out how to slide down the road on the top of your head (without grinding through the cheap plastic this sort of cheeseball helmet is made from), you might as well be wearing a bicycle helmet (another useless piece of mal-designed "protective gear"). This kind of hat is a designer statement, like high-heeled red shoes. It is not armor. Obviously, biker beanies automatically go with biker face (see douchebag at left, again) and there would be no point in spending all those hours in front of the mirror practicing your biker face if you were going to wear a real helmet and be a real motorcyclist. How would anyone know how serious you are if they can't see your scowl?

I have no idea what percentage of helmet wearers are wearing this kind of crap, but when I see the words "Harley Davidson," "motorcycle death," and "was wearing a helmet" in the same news report, I automatically assume this silly shit is what the cops included in their crash report as a "helmet." If I haven't made myself clear by now, I do not consider anything of the sort even close to a motorcycle helmet. The sound of blubbering, poorly-tuned tractor motors naturally ties to either no helmet or awful helmets and . . . death by motorcycle. On the rare occasion I see a hippobike rider wearing a real, full-face helmet, it always causes me to do a double, or triple, take. Exposing my natural prejudices to the air of honest admission, it also automatically forces me to re-evaluate all of my preconceived notions about Harley owners. "If the guy is wearing real gear, is it possible his bike is not garage candy? Probably. Can I imagine that he rides it to work and for general transportation? Probably. Damn. Now where do I pigeon-hole this dude?"

I realize that nobody dresses to impress me. I don't even try to impress me. But I suspect I'm not the only motorcyclist who has a similar check-list. Even more important, you should know that your designer hat is not a real helmet and it will more than likely be useless in a crash. You might imagine that you're not going to crash and won't need a real helmet, anyway. I suspect those dead folks the media clowns were talking about this spring didn't plan on dying, either. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

Aug 11, 2015

What’s the Motivation?

My first and last new car was a 1973 Mazda RX3. My only new motorcycles were 1974 Yamaha MX100 (my wife’s first and only motorcycle), a 1973 125 Rickman ISDT Replica, and a 1974 Suzuki RL250. The Yamaha and the Rickman were reasonably good buys, $500 each, and the Suzuki was a total bust (I paid $1100 pre-tax and Suzuki dropped the price to $700 in early 1975 to unload their unsold inventory and abandon the trials business, which totally devalued my purchase.). So, when I read an article like Motorcyclist’s 5 STEPS TO CLOSING THE DEAL | RETAIL CONFIDENTIAL, I have to admit I don’t get why anyone would buy a new motorcycle.

The article has lots of tips intended to keep the buyer from getting screwed or screwing himself, but the real ripoff is the fact that you will lose about 20-50% of the purchase price the moment you ride off of the lot. It’s nice that the magazine is offering a few ideas to minimize the financial disaster resulting from buying a new bike and I understand why they are not advising riders to buy used (lost advertising revenue). Still, I do not understand why people spend the money they spend on new cars and motorcycles and guitars and other items that depreciate so quickly and are perfectly functional after some other sucker has taken the new price hit. I’m ready to be educated, though.

Aug 10, 2015

Hell on Earth

It is impossible to describe how miserable this "event" would be to experience.

Subjects I Avoid

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I grew up with the advice, “Never mention politics or religion, in polite conversation.” I didn't follow that advice, but I heard it a lot. My father and I did a solidly poor job of even honoring the spirit; and our relationship pretty much proved how valid that guidance could have been. For most of my life, being who I am seems to reflexively cause that polite rule to be abused. Something about me appears to inspire the most degenerate, least informed, nosiest and noisiest, least sober, least credible evangelists into a doomed attempt to “spread the word” at the expense of my peace and quiet. (Trust me, I’ve heard the spiel—and have been hearing it since I was a child—and no matter who you are, who you represent, what god(s) you follow, what key you’re going to sing in, or what line you’re going to take, I’ve been there and heard it.)

June23086_thumb1So, today’s experience at the library was just one in a long line of related bad experiences that have made me want to move to my Montana retirement mansion (at right) and keep a loaded shotgun by the door for greeting all visitors. I do play to fire a couple of warning shots to the head to get your attention, so be ready to duck if you show up unannounced. On the way out the door and back to my bike, a guy ran me down to ask where I’d bought my official MMM jacket. You can’t get there from here, but I aimed him at Bob’s Cycle Supply for the next best thing. He argued that they didn’t carry it although I’d been there earlier in the week and they were still in stock at that time. Trying to politely escape (my first and often repeated mistake), I pulled off the jacket to show him the brand and model label and kept trying to get to the bike. I reminded him that the MMM portion of the jacket was custom and, probably, unavailable.

When I mentioned that the jacket’s denim cover is pretty worthless but that the armor in the jacket wasn’t bad, he said “Road rash is like military patches. It shows who you are and where you’ve been.”

I disagreed (compounding my above mistakes) by saying “Neither says much, since the military gives away that stuff in Cracker Jack boxes and you can buy impressive-looking patches and pins at most Army/Navy stores or pawn shops and bicycle, skateboard,  or falling-down-concrete-stairs scars look pretty much like motorcycle rash unless you’ve ground off a limb.”

That inspired a long, boring story of his career in the Air Force (my least favorite of a list of least favorite government agencies) [My father-in-law was a Korea Air Farce "warrior" and what I mostly learned from him was that if you are married to an Air Farcer you should avoid as much physical contact as possible. They get the clap more often than squirrels get nuts.] and his simultaneous experience in some sort of military biker gang. From there, he slid into a story of hitting a deer and surviving mostly unscratched. His “armor” in that incident was having spent a few moments praying over his motorcycle before leaving the bar for home. The deer hit his bike (a big Yamaha V-Star of some sort), bent some fender bits, and left some fur on a side case but he and the deer survived without serious injury. Therefore, praying worked. I should have kept moving, but I had to tell him that my more-pious-than-anyone-I-know brother had a similar dust-up with a deer and he ended up with a busted up ankle that has plagued him for the last five years (the deer didn’t survive). Knowing my brother, there was plenty of praying going on before he left my parents’ house for home and even if the praying wasn’t done over his motorcycle, it was done as well as that ritual can be performed. I remain unconvinced that the library dude added anything meaningful beyond what my parents and brother could do. The idea that his angel was more focused than my brother’s is simply ludicrous. That inspired a lecture about believing vs. something I couldn't identify, probably due to my heretical nature.

Still trying to get to my bike, strap my gear on, and escape without more comment than necessary. He made some comment about all the gear I was wearing (not that close to AGAT, but a lot closer than his street clothes). I let that one pass, but did make a less-than-respectful comment about pudding bowl helmets. Surprise! That was the only kind of helmet he owns. More conversation to ignore as I plugged my ears and pulled on my helmet. Before the ear plugs sealed up, he expressed surprise that it took me so little effort to put on the helmet.

"It's just a hat, dude."

As best I could tell, the one-sided conversation swung from ranting about helmet laws to being pissed off about the "safety Nazis," but I had the sense to ignore that bait and fired up the WR. As I struggled to back the bike out of the parking space while he attempted to strategically position himself in my way, I caught snippets of unwanted information about his engineering career, his plan to dominate the three-string guitar market (He was not a player, but had read something about cheap guitars getting trendy.), and an offer to co-write something about something. I escaped cleanly, without have exchanged names or other useful information.

marktwainwithpipe1_thumbWhen I got home and told my wife about the experience, she marveled at how hard it is for me to get away from salespeople and talkative drunks. "Must be genetic," I replied. I always had way too much trouble getting away from my family and the same sort of conversations.

"No," she said. "I think you're just dumb."

Possibly. When pressed against this kind of wall, I usually look to my hero, Mark Twain, for an explanation. The best I could find was, “I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.” Pretty much the same thing my wife said.

Aug 3, 2015

#119 Dark Side, Bright Side


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Some of you might know I had a heart attack right after Thanksgiving (Ironic, I know.) in 2012. You'd think there is no upside to that story, but you might be wrong. There was plenty of downside, for sure. I experienced the joy of the world's most expensive, least efficient, "health care" system and will be paying off my debt to that industry until I die. That is a definite downside. There was a brief moment in my 4 days of hospitalization where I was operated on by an incredibly efficient, upbeat and motivated surgical crew who epitomized the tiny core of the best our retroactive medical system has produced. Outside of that 20 minutes, what "cared for" me was a bureaucracy that is obsessed with drug and device sales, expense and income management, procedural and legal paranoia, and obedience to years of poor science and misinterpreted data.
So, a hip replacement (Classic "old guy" surgery.) in 2011 and a heart attack in 2012 has made for two depressing years and overwhelming evidence that I have earned the "geezer" title. No motorcycle content here, at all, I know.

As much as I realize I should be a motorcycling homer, I tend to read only two motorcycle magazines semi-cover-to-cover, MMM and Motorcycle Consumer News. Even in those favorite rags, there are things I just don't care about and can't find the motivation to read: cruiser reviews, road race bike reviews, rich guy custom bike articles, and farkle previews for those sorts of machines. I'm old, I only have so much time left and I don't waste it on crap I don't care about; that includes most of the television shows my wife watches in the morning. (I soundproofed my "man cave" attic studio to be able to avoid the slightest bit of noise from that stuff.) Two of the MCN semi-motorcycle related columns I read religiously are Mark Barnes' "Mental Motorcycling" and Dr. John Alevizos' "Medical Motorcycling." The reason for that focus is that unlike the majority of the medical practitioners, these two guys are unrelentingly scientific. Because of that, their data is credible and their opinions are unconventional.

In other words, they are never boring. Not boring is a big deal. If I could manage it, I would.
So, with that in mind, this GWAG is about something other than old guys stories or wildly unpopular political opinions. It's about a classic old American guy thing; getting fat and being pissed off about it. Post-surgery, I read everything I could find on cardiac and respiratory disease. What I learned was that if you have enough time you can find a book that will justify any damn opinion you might have about diet, exercise, drugs and surgery, and all related subjects. In otherwords, hardly anyone agrees with hardly anyone else.

Taubes why we get fat[4]In my first follow-up with my cardiologist, I got a collection of drugs added to my already mile-long collection of prescribed poisons, some 1960's dietary advice, a book recommendation (How We Get Fat by Gary Taubes), and an odd comment: "About 40 years ago, American doctors and European doctors got into a war about diet and the Americans won. And we were wrong." He added,"Everything we know about diet is in Taubes' book." I went from the cardiologist's office to the library. 

I've read How We Get Fat three times in the last two months. I'll probably read it again. I might even buy a copy, since the library seems to have a constant demand for the book. The thing that I'm having a hard time coming to grips with is the fact that physics and biology are only loosely connected. My old "calories are calories" belief in diet and weight management is pretty much the American medicine mantra, but the fact is there are "good calories" and "bad calories" and my diet has consisted of way too many "bad" calories for 65 years.

Close to the end of Taubes' relentless argument that we've been fed a steady diet of bad information, he says, "We are told to eat less fat and more carbohydrates, and rather than avoid heart disease and get thinner, as the authorities had hoped we would, we've had as much heart disease as ever, and dramatic increases in obesity and diabetes . . . A more insidious problem is that all involved--the researchers, the physicians, the public-health authorities, the health associations--commit themselves to a belief early in the evolution of the science, arguably at the stage at which they know the least about it, and then they become so invested in their belief that no amount of evidence to the contrary can convince them that they're wrong."

Even the ones who know they are wrong can't change directions. My doctor aimed me in one direction, but his clinic tried to send me in another. Unfortunately, I don't take direction well. I may not know much, but I do know old information when I hear it. My memory is still pretty good. So, I went the low carb, no sugar, no drugs, "if it's not leafy and green or protein don't eat it" route and I have lost 20 pounds since January and 34 since the previous January. More importantly, I have gone down 4" in belt size. The doc and I are still arguing about which numbers I'm supposed to care about; HDL, LDL, triglycerides, cholesterol in general, blood sugar, and a variety of things I think he should be measuring but isn't and the usual list of stuff the clinic monitors that doesn't mean crap. Lucky for me, it's my life we're gambling with and if anyone gets to decide how that die is tossed it's going to be me. If I have to start carrying a .32 in my pocket like my old cowboy hero, Karl, I will.

For now, the goal is 180 pounds by August and I'd like to be able to do at least a dozen pull-ups. I'm still working on the theory that being shot out of a cannon is better than being squeezed from a tube.

Garage Life

2015-07-27 Porch & Garage (3)The garage I’ve been working on all summer is back in business. It’s whole reason for existing is to store motorcycles and motorcycle gear and it is doing that beautifully.

A secondary feature is once the lower garage was refilled, the upper garage got organized, the basement shops are on their way to being functional, and the whole house is a lot less cluttered. All good things.


2015-07-27 Porch & Garage (4)2015-07-27 Porch & Garage (5)2015-07-16 Garage

Aug 2, 2015

Put all the Idiots on Motorcycles

Against my better judgment, we spent a couple of days in the Cities this weekend. No place on earth, except possibly Seattle, is more in need of autonomous cars than Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The average driver IQ has to be well below 100 and the closer you get to the UofM, the dumber the drivers get. Watching the bumper car crowd tailgate each other like lemmings on the way to the cliff, my first thought was that there should be a special class of cage for idiots with minimal protection and harmless mass so that when these morons crash their survival rate and the damage they do to others on the road approaches zero. As soon as I said that out loud my wife replied, "There is, motorcycles. "

Almost immediately we were passed by some helmetless, bald fucktard on a sportbike in his shorts and wife beater and sandals. As he locked on to the bumper of the car in front of him, he took both hands off of the bars and gave the disinterested traffic behind him an “Awe-nold” muscle-head pose. Yep, we are, more often than not, prime Darwin Award winners deserving of absolutely no sympathy at all. To be honest, if the cage in front of this display of incompetence and cluelessness put on its brakes and tossed the biker into the air, I’m hard pressed to be able to say I would stop to render anything other than being a witness to the cager’s innocence. If the about-to-be-skinned-alive biker’s body bits flew into the path of my vehicle, I can tell you for certain that I would absolutely not put myself, my wife, or my vehicle in any jeopardy making evasive maneuvers in his behalf.

he_is_usFor the most part, I have to say driving east to west across the city on Saturday and in the reverse direction Sunday provided overwhelming evidence that the whole “Start Seeing Motorcycles” promotion is wrong-headed, statistically clueless, and probably creates more pissed off drivers than careful ones. This weekend, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Jul 30, 2015

Sturgis Stories

Some of the MMM folks were swapping Sturgis stories today. So, I plugged in a couple of my own.

I don't have much for Sturgis stories. Back in the mid-70's, before the gangbangers took over (one year before, in fact), I rode in a two-man team cross-country race at Sturgis. There were flat track, motocross, scrambles, and, probably, road racing events. The following year, I was out due to broken ribs and missed the cross-country. My teammate found another guy and went. They barely escaped with their bodies unbroken and bikes unstolen when the Texas and Oklahoma Harley gangbangers showed up and trashed the races and racers. Before that, I competed in quite a few South Dakota cross country races, including some 24 hour events, but that was my last year for all of that. By the time the ribs healed, I was on my way to my first engineering job and racing turned to a couple years of riding Midwest trials around the Omaha area and a lot of non-competitive off-road stuff along the Elkhorn River valley.

My last year in Denver, one of the sleazier pacemaker salescritters and two of the absolute worst cardiologists I ever watched botch surgeries decided to play "motorcyclists." Being rich assholes and more into pretending than doing, they bought new Harleys and had the dealer deliver the bikes to a custom shop for repainting, loud pipes, and a few thousand bucks worth of other stupid shit. Then, the bikes were shipped to Rapid City where another shop "prepped the bikes for the Black Hills." The pack of make-believe bandits bought fake pony tails and beards and hired a makeup artist in Rapid City to make them look "real." I have no idea how that all played out, since I went to the Steamboat Vintage Bike Week and moved to another department (managing massive product recalls) when I came back.

When I first moved here in '97 I still had the habit of riding to Denver to hang out with friends at the Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Week. Steamboat ended about the time the Sturgis thing began, so for a couple of years I had the pleasure of riding back home through clouds of the dredges of society on Harleys or, more likely, pulling Harleys on trailers. The last year of the Steamboat event, I got caught up in the cloud of dumbasses between Rabbit Ears Pass and Laramie and by the time I stopped for lunch in Laramie I'd decided to dirt road the rest of the way through Wyoming. At the time, pretty much all of the roads between Laramie and Chugwater were gravel or farm-to-market roads and that put me out of the path of the pirate parade for about 80 miles. I stuck with the county roads all the way to Edgemont, SD, which was pretty cool except for the fact that the chain on my Suzuki SV was pretty much wreaked from 300 miles of gravel.

The chain wasn't in great shape when I'd left home 3,000 miles earlier, but now it was running hot and making clunking noises unless I stopped and dumped oil on it every hundred miles or so. Just past the SD border, I was pouring cheap oil on the chain when I noticed a small puddle of oil forming at the front of the engine. It took a bit to find the source, since the whole bike was coated in a coarse layer of dust, dried clay, and chunks from occasional strips of freshly oiled or tarred gravel. I found the leak, which was pretty disappointing. The SV's front tire had been tossing bits of rock at the oil filter for 300 miles and had drilled a hole right into the top of the filter. I had a spare filter with me, but not nearly enough oil for a change. I wrapped the filter in duct tape and limped into Edgemont. A few quarts of automotive oil and a really messy spot on the side of the road a few miles out of town and I was back on the road. For the rest of the ride, I stuck with pavement and kept up the 100 mile chain lube interval all the way home. You might not think a centerstand on a 1999 Suzuki SV 650 would be a hit accessory, but I was pretty happy having one on that trip.

The pirate crowd was still heading in the opposite direction all the way through Sioux Falls and the weather behind me was dark, windy, and hot. Good thing they all had air conditioned follow trucks to hide in, because it was a nasty day to be crossing SD.

Jul 27, 2015

Being Stupid Is Not the Same Thing as Having an Adventure


All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

(First Published in Rider's Digest December 2014)

"An adventure is only an inconvenience, rightly considered." G. K. Chesterton

"Adventures are what you have when you screw up." Virgil Flowers (John Sanford, Shock Wave)

On the way through Montana a couple of years ago, I found myself at a service station surrounded by a dozen Harleys and a slightly larger number of middle-aged folks all duded up in biker outfits. One of the women asked if I was hot in my gear and my usual reply is, "Not as long as I'm moving." It was a hot day, closer to 100oF than 90. The pack was through for the day. The bump in the road where we'd met had an air conditioned bar and a small motel and, by early afternoon, they had had enough of riding for the day. I still had a few hundred miles left to cover before looking for a campsite.

Nosing eastward into the nearly abandoned two-lane, I couldn't help reflect on the fact that there wasn't a stitch of motorcycle gear among that group; no helmets, no armored or weatherproof riding gear, no decent boots or full-fingered gloves. Just patches of Village People leather and yards of road-rash waiting to happen in a place where there won't be any emergency assistance in less than an hour. My wife's comment on this behavior is, "Being stupid is not the same thing as having an adventure."  

The line between an adventure and a pointless risk that may be so fine that it is only recognizable from an external perspective. My father was convinced that everything I have done in my life was filled with pointless risk; from leaving my first "secure" job to whatever adventures I have had; and all actions between. Everything is relative and most of my Midwestern relatives would argue that adventures of any sort are excessive risks. I come from a long line of farmers and, supposedly, English sea captains and sailors who drowned at sea. I lean more toward my waterlogged relatives than the salt-of-the-earth crowd. However, I suspect that the sailing bunch didn't just jump into a leaky boat and charge into hurricanes. That would be stupid. 

An adventurer heading into uncharted territory takes reasonable precautions based on what can happen. Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies or yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Riding a motorcycle is a lot like going to battle. The universe is not on your side. The "enemies" are the road, the laws of physics, other highway users, fate and chance, and every varmint with working legs and an inclination to wander on to the highway. No one is looking for you and nothing is looking out for you. It's war out there and you better come prepared.

A life without adventure is good enough for most humans. A few can't deal with a single day that isn't filled with adrenaline-generating risk. I'm somewhere between the two. Someone clever said, "Live passionately, even if it kills you, because something is going to kill you anyway." I'm good with that philosophy, but there is no sense in looking to get killed.

learn to ride
A recent safety promotion used the slogan, "If loud pipes save lives, imagine what learning to ride that thing could do." That's the first step in motorcycling self-awareness. Training and exercising riding skills goes a long way toward learning about the boundaries of control and performance. By "performance," I don't mean 0-100 mph gibberish, I mean braking, turning, knowing your bike's suspension capabilities, traction, and being ready for imperfect surface handling characteristics. Regularly practicing basic and advanced skills is the best way to learn about yourself and your motorcycle. 

Knowing your enemies involves understanding momentum, velocity, acceleration (and deceleration), mass, stress, friction, shear and tear and abrasion strength, elasticity, and some basic biology. Once you have a slight grip on those concepts, all of the anti-helmet and anti-AGAT arguments appear as unobservant and half-baked as neoclassical economics. When you know that enemy, you will equip yourself accordingly. Putting on a bandana and a pair of leather chaps and heading into heavy traffic is not an adventure. Ignorance and stupidity are the same character in this situation. 

Knowing your enemies means being ready for what the enemy can do. Cagers can do any damn thing you can imagine. Rarely, they are homicidal. Usually, they are incompetent, distracted, and unpredictable. Either way, you have to pay attention to where they are looking, what they are doing, and you have to be constantly mapping out your escape routes. Every foot of the road you travel has to be part of your survival strategy. In my opinion, you are having an adventure when you plan your route and make a backup plan and pull it off as cleanly as possible. If you think a "start seeing motorcycles" sticker and a noisy exhaust is going to get you anywhere, you are just being stupid.