Dec 9, 2016

A Room Full of Elephant

elephant_noisyWay back in 2008, I wrote an MMM article titled “Hearing Damage and Motorcycling.” Among other things, that article produced one of the looniest, most illiterate responses anything I’ve written for anyone has ever inspired. This month, Cycle World discovered that motorcyclists are among the world’s most deaf recreationalists. The article, aptly titled “Say What?” by John Stein, concludes that “Hearing damage is motorcycling’s elephant in the room.”
 
Now, we just have to convince ABATE, the AMA, and the cities and towns across the country who tolerate motorcycle noise pollution that these loug pipe idiots are disturbing the peace and doing harm. `

Dec 7, 2016

Bikes I've Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1971 Kawasaki Bighorn 350

Learn more about this bike
350bhornThe 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.



Dec 5, 2016

Bikes I've Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1963 Harley Davidson 250 Sprint

250sprintThis is what the bike, supposedly looked like when it was new:

 

 

 

Thdmailboxhis is the best use I've ever seen made of a Harley Sprint:

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.

fragile-sprint-bitsThis 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.

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.

Nov 28, 2016

#136 When You Need a Faster Bike


Add Your Data to the Geezer Mileage PollFor a bit of self-entertainment, I created a spreadsheet to collect data about how many miles a typical motorcyclist rides in a year. A few other riders and I grabbed sale ads from CraigsList all over the country and the spreadsheet takes that data and turns it into a look at who rides what how far in the good old US of A. The numbers are enlightening and a little depressing. The gross overwhelming majority of motorcycles get ridden less than 2500 miles a year. My observations and suspicions were confirmed, Americans are not really motorcyclists (Except, possibly, in Mexico; which is, after all Central America.). 


caveman(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

One point I was trying to make with gathering this data is that justifying a bike larger than 250cc is a pretty specious argument. Even those cheap Chinese bikes sold off of trailers at swap meets can survive a decade of 1000-2500 miles/year use and abuse. However, I know a lot of you can't maintain your self-image on a small motorcycle. So, In the interest of providing a public service for those of you who desperately want to imagine that you're different than the average biker, I've decided to come up with a short list of reasons why you might need a faster motorcycle.
  1. It's the end of the world as we know it. The best reason I know of for buying a liter bike (and I don't mean one of those girlyman big-twin dingleberrys, but a real liter bike like an R1 or a GSX-R or a CBRR) is that your doc has given you a couple of months to live and you have decided to get shot out of a cannon instead of squeezed through a medical system tube. There is no better way to splatter yourself all over a wall or launch yourself from a cliff than from a 200mph motorcycle.
  2. An alternative to the above scenario would be that NASA has confirmed that QE2 is going to collide with Momma Earth and we're all gonna die in a couple of weeks. Of that big Antarctic ice shelf is sliding into the ocean and life as we know it is about to get messy. Might was well grab that bull by the handlebars and let 'er rip for one great, last high-speed chase. Of course, the cops will be busy with other stuff so they might not want to play along. Still, you can do a lot of damage with a 200HP, 200MPH motorcycle while the rest of humanity is trying to tuck it's head between its legs.
  3. Everybody hates you, nobody loves you. It's either eat worms or buy a fast bike, put on a wife-beater, some flip-flops, baggy shorts, a snazzy biker mask, and go out and collect some serious road-rash scars.
  4. You've been evicted from Mom's basement and, with no place to go and no possible future, you've decided that prison is the only place to spend your "productive years." Rev up that R1 and take if for a ride down Highway 61. The cops clocked you at 160mph and you're on your way to jail for a good long time. Hope they still do Spanish Rice on Thursdays.
  5. Your girlfriend dumped you, your dog died, your pickup blew a piston, and you lost your job. Like #1 and #2, you have nothing to live for and need a fast, guaranteed way to end it all. Pick a mountain road and drop the hammer. They'll be picking up the pieces for years. That ought to teach that old girlfriend a lesson. (#3, #4, & #5 are suspiciously similar, but so are the usual justifications for buying more bike than you can ride competently.)
  6. You have a beautiful new house with an impeccable 4-car garage and nothing to put in two of the stalls. Like Jay Leno, money is pouring out of your orifices and you need someplace stupid to spend it. The smart thing to do would be to buy vintage guitars, diamonds or gold, or really large and ugly "art." The second dumbest thing you can do is to buy a liter crotch rocket and ride it. I recommend that you drain the fluids from however many bikes you choose to buy and treat them like artwork. Put them on stands and make the highlight of the garage portion of your house tour, "And this is my race bike collection. I'm waiting for the fuel systems to be remapped and new hand-wrapped race tires." The first dumbest thing you can do is to drag home a trophy wife.
  7. You and the wife push the industrial meat scale's needle toward 650 pounds and no small bike will haul or support all of that pork. A big twin with a pair of chaise lounges perched on top of a low-slung, noisy, underpowered motor will be barely enough to put you and your honey into motion. Stopping is a whole 'nother problem, but why worry when you're looking so cool? (Yeah, I realize this "reason" is justifying a "girlyman big-twin dingleberry," but some of you are going to buy them and not ride them. I might as well concede to reality.)
  8. You are a banker and you need something really heavy to hold down all of that fraudulent paper you've been generating since 1981. If the paperweight is big enough, you hope the IRS will never ask to look at it. I recommend a HumVee for this application. They are heavier, harder to move, and cheap as dirt. Next best thing, Kawasaki Voyager XIII, tipping in at 960 pounds wet.
  9. You want to build the world's fastest ski lift. You don't really care about the motorcycle for this application, just the power plant and gearbox. With 200HP and the capability of rev'ing to 12k, you can launch skiers into the sky like down-encrusted cannon balls. I say "Go for it."
  10. You are a real racer, not a poser. You have graduated from a couple of years on a 250, moved up to a 650 twin or 600 four, and you are ready to race with the big boys. Pull the lights, safety-wire the fasteners, pick a number, and get ready to spend all of that trust fund because you're going racing! (In case you're not paying attention, this is the only good reason to own a race-replica motorcycle.)
Of course, buying a smaller, easier-and-more-fun-to-ride, more fuel-efficient motorcycle would make a lot more sense under most conditions and for the majority of US riders, but when has recommending practicality been an American marketing tactic? I realize that most of my ten "reasons" are suicidal. With a firm grasp on 14% of total road fatalities, for a good number of us riding a motorcycle of any sort appears to be self-destructive. At the core, I'm serious about this. If you are one of the majority of riders, you have no need, business, or fashion justification for a race bike wannabe. It doesn't make you look cool, younger, skinnier, smarter, or richer. The riding and general public just assumes you're on the monthly installment plan and will probably turn the bike back to the loan company the first time you drop it in your driveway and skin up your unprotected knees. The best you can hope for is to be ignored until you go away.

POSTSCRIPT: Oddly, the next issue (#166, June 2015) Victor Wanchena, MMM's publisher, felt the need to "correct" me in a "The Geezer Gets A Response" column:

In response to Thomas Day's article from last month [MMM #165] I would like to offer the following rebuttal. Thomas has missed the point completely. While focusing on the point that only a small handful of riders can use a liter-class sportbike (or an overweight, overpowered, poor handling hippobike, TWD) to its fullest potential, he misses the salient point. The beauty of freedom of choice is just that, you can choose. If I wish to buy an epically fast sportbike and wobble around corners like a noob that's my preogative [SIC]. We are free to ride what we want. No one should dictate what to buy as long as you aren't riding in such a way that endangers others or impinges on their freedom. [How about their medical insurance costs? TWD] There is an inherent beauty in the freedom to make choces [good or bad] on your own. We, as riders, don't need to be save d from ourselves [NHTSA and insurance companies would disagree. TWD] 

Does anyone need a fast sport bike? No, but that's not the point. I resist any attempt to tell me what I do or don't need. If motorcycle swere restricted to what someone else thinks we "need" then we'd all be trundling around on 49cc mopeds. [Interesting analysis of what motorcyclists really need. TWD] 

I support Thomas's decision to not own one as much as I support anyone who decides to buy one. Viva la difference. I now plan to go ride laps around Thomas's house on my loud piped 950cc dirt bike. 

Concerned reader [and publisher]
Victor Wanchena 

Since I submit about 40 articles for every one that gets published by MMM, the "concerned" part is pretty funny. I put 'em out there and Victor's editor picks them out of a big old hat. What MMM doesn't use, Rider's Digest does, and what I can't petal to those magazines I try to hustle to Motorcyclist and other magazines receptive to freelance writers. What's left or what isn't long enough or politically-correct enough ends up on the blog first. The blog gets about 50% of my original ideas.

My point was that riders get a lot of this kind of bullshit from dealers, uninformed "friends," biker gangbangers, and pretty much every publishing source. "Don't bike a small (under 1,000ccs) bike because you'll outgrow it." Motorcyclists are the most likely to die folks on public roads. Nothing with a license plate is more dangerous than motorcycles and a good bit of that is because too many mediocre riders are dangling from big bikes like cheap plastic streamers.

People in some occupations should be the last people to lecture about the glories of "freedom," but I don't give a damn about any of that silliness. If toy manufacturers, consumer product manufacturers, drug and medical device companies, food producers and packagers, car companies, grocery chains, restaurants, bartenders, and most of the rest of the service and manufacturing industry have liabilities due to consumer misuse or design flaws, gun and motorcycle manufacturers ought to be subjected to the same rules and penalties. If you put a fat, crippled-up, old drunk on a liter bike and he rides out of your lot and gets killed, you own some of that responsibility. Delivering that bike to an irresponsible, untrained dealer's sales staff if part of the sequences of liability.

We can continue to pretend that ignoring all of this shit is going to slip by the attention of the other 99.999..% of the population, but since we're going to be taking up a larger and larger percentage of highway fatalities as cars, trucks, and buses continue to become safer and safer that tactic is going to blow up in "freedom's face."

Nov 21, 2016

#135 Another Brick in the Wall

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Australia's South Wales legalized "motorcycle filtering" in 2014. A friend, Paul Young, sent me a link to an article about the event in AsphaltandRubber.com, which was sort of news in itself. It's not often that any US media realizes the rest of the world exists, let alone Australia and, even more, South Wales. Paul's note, along with the link, said, "Never happen here in MN, we don't have enough folks riding in traffic to justify it." Not only is that true, but Minnesota doesn't really have the motorcycle traffic to justify the existence of motorcycles on public roads. Worse, we don't have that traffic anywhere in the US. As the AsphaltandRubber article indirectly said, US motorcyclists "have relegated their machine to purely recreational duties . . . " It's hard to imagine the mathematics necessary to prove good reason for allowing public road access for our noisy, polluting, unsafe, and antisocial vehicle of choice. But if we wanted to hang on to our on-road privileges, putting aside the old petty biker animosities and working together to get filtering and lane-sharing legalized all over the country would be a good place to start.

2061485331_183d17c23dAs usual, we motorcyclists are our own worst enemy. AsphaltandRubber's writer claims, "So, when ignorant bureaucrats eventually come to their senses about the realities and benefits of filtering, as riders we can congratulate our fellow riders while reluctantly patting the receding hairlines of those enlightened policy-makers." You wish. For one, the receding hairlines are those of aging motorcyclists, as our demographic rapidly resembles that of the Tea Party; old and uneducated (Except for California where we are old, rich, and married). What exactly would make "ignorant bureaucrats . . . come to their senses?" Our sterling reputation for citizenship? The love the rest of the country holds for the noisiest, most arrogant, least skilled, most expensive-per-mile-driven vehicles on the highway? Our safety record or our contribution to minimizing highway congestion? Again, you wish.

For two, what "realities and benefits of filtering?" I'm not arguing that filtering is a bad idea. The problem is filtering is only viable if there are enough responsible motorcyclists on the road to make the legislation worth the time and effort. The problem is, none of that is the case in the US. So, I am arguing that motorcycling's current demographic of hooligans and outlaws does not inspire confidence or warrant effort from "enlightened policy-makers." The country is swamped in problems of huge magnitude and we are a piddly little drop in the lake. Get real, kiddies. Honda had the right idea fifty years ago when they tried to convince the country that they would "meet the nicest people on motorcycles." If we want to get the kind of privileges the rest of the world's motorcyclists take for granted we're going to have to clean up our own act and at least become something better than the nastiest people on the road. One way to do that would be to crank up the requirements for obtaining a motorcycle license, drop the hammer on riding without a motorcycle license, and to start a new motorcyclists' organization that is directed at obtaining useful rights for motorcyclists (no more fighting helmet laws or exhaust noise ordinances). Obviously, ABATE and the AMA have to change or go. They are making about as many friends for the vanishing number of US motorcyclists as the NRA is for gun owners.

A the end of a long weekend of MSF classes, I had a fairly long conversation with a couple of "Seasoned Rider" students and my co-instructor about lane sharing, filtering, and riding in California. I was the lone rider who thought filtering and lane sharing are a necessity for motorcycles to be practical commuting vehicles and to make a worthwhile contribution to traffic congestion reduction. The two students were not only unaware that those two motorcycle options existed anywhere but were terrified of the concept. My co-instructor lived in San Francisco twenty or thirty years ago and "never tried it." You might know that I lived in southern California for a decade and filtered and split lanes ("shared" for the PC crowd) every day I rode on every road that I travelled. The college degree I finally earned was absolutely indebted to my "right" to split lanes and filter on the Pacific Coast Highway between Costa Mesa and Long Beach. My two recording studio-oriented businesses, especially studio maintenance, couldn't have survived without lane splitting on the 405, 5, and I10. I once hauled two highly-modified JBL 4311 studio monitors strapped to the back of my '82 Yamaha Vision from Huntington Beach to downtown Santa Monica Boulevard, LA, on a Friday afternoon, splitting lanes through 5mph freeway traffic to meet an otherwise impossible session date. The speakers ended up being rented for two months and several famous-name artist sessions. The rental fee pretty much took care of our overpriced apartment rent for most of a month.

To paraphrase a famously awful Minnesota motorcyclist, "You ask why I wanna lane share. Man, I don't believe you don't want it too."

Opinions on lane-splitting say a lot about individual motorcyclists. If you are afraid of splitting because you don't have the skills and confidence to do it, In my opinion, you don't have the skills or confidence to be safe in any highway traffic situation. If you hate the idea because your motorcycle is too wide, heavy, or awkward to split lanes, I think you and your bike should be confined to Shriner parades and closed-course clown-costumed demonstrations. You are part of the problem. Contrary to the loud pipe bullshit, the only worthwhile defense a motorcyclist has on the road is maneuverability. Gear and armor is fine, but if you are going to clash with a cage, bus, or truck the best you can hope for is that the gear will minimize your injuries. The best defense is a well-engineered motorcycle that can go places where no cage can travel. One of the best places to go is between stopped cars and as far from impending doom as possible putting as much inert iron between you and a distracted driver about to create a multi-vehicle pile-up.  Hoping for the best is not an crash avoidance tactic. A "safe" motorcyclists is always planning for the worst and doing everything possible to achieve that happy ending. One of the most basic tools available to us is an ability to split lanes in traffic and to filter to the head of a stopped line of traffic. How we earn the right to do that is a problem we're going to have to solve if we want to stay on the road.




Nov 15, 2016

A Motto for Our Times

IMG_7851

I’ve had this tag on my keychain for at least 25 years. It’s not something I carry because I feel superior, but because it’s a warning I need to remember every day I’m out in the public. The world is full of flat-earthers (nitwits who think the world’s resources are infinitite and that angels and fairies watch out for fools) and they depend on the luck of the moment, rather than actually paying attention to reality. All of that just got a lot worse, so be careful out there: the idiots are feeling really lucky.

Nov 14, 2016

Change Is Gonna Come

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

(Original published in Rider’s Digest, #188 Spring 2015)

My old MMM editor, Sev Pearman, sent a discussion group a link to an announcement from The Company about their prototype electric bike, Project Livewire. Expressing his Geezerly self better than me at my worst/best, Sev concluded, "I have zero interest in electric vehicles; pitiful range is but one of [my objections]."

My reply to that was, "The only thing that keeps me off of Zero's new bikes is the purchase price. Price per mile crushes internal combustion engines, but I don't have to worry about a motorcycle with a power train that could last 250000 miles. I won't live or ride that long. 150 miles is enough range for 90% of what I do and a 6 hour charge is fine. In a few years, capacitors should replace batteries, charge times will drop dramatically, weight and range will expand nearly exponentially for the size and weight, power and performance are already comparable to or superior to internal combustion, emissions will finally be as good as cars or better, and that fuckin' noise bullshit will be history. If you don't like maintenance, electric motors are the bomb. A bike you can tweek to your performance standards through a USB port is right on target with the current and last two generations of possible motorcyclists."

Sev's response was, "Blah blah blah No offense, Thomas, but this is the same 'in the very near future...' song that I have been hearing for 40 years. I distinctly remember reading this in both Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in the early 70's. Sorry, color me skeptical."

Obviously, I'm comfortable with skeptical. In fact, when it comes to the blathering of economists, southern politicians, the major media talking heads, and any so-called "authority figure," skeptical should be the default attitude. However, when scientists and engineers talk, I listen with a relatively open mind and some expectations. The fact is, no one writing for Popular Mechanics or Science was talking about semi-permeable molecular capacitors, lithium polymer batteries, lithium ion batteries, or even nickel-metal hydride batteries 40 years ago. Hell, sixty years ago Popular Mechanics and Science were babbling about flying cars and computers small enough to fit into a basketball gym and powerful enough to add really big numbers reasonably accurately. In 1989, some overly optimistic scientists claimed to have cracked the secret to cold fusion and the resulting inability of other researchers to replicate that experiment created enough psycho-babble from the media to convince the average schmoe that all science was fake and nuclear energy was at a dead end. Today, Westinghouse, GE, and a collection of foreign competitors are on the verge of making small liquid metal modular reactors available for applications from small electric engine power to portable electric generators and everything in-between. It could be a deal-breaker for the oil companies and revolutionary for electrical generation, but most people are fixated on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the false cold fusion story. Stay tuned, electrical generation could be the new cheap energy. Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian fuel cell manufacturer, is contracted with Volkswagen's fuel cell development program and a couple of large bus manufacturers with working prototypes in service, not to mention providing the power for Toyota's corporate offices in Torrance, CA. All kinds of science fiction stuff is happening right now and almost none of it was predicted or promised 40 years ago. About the only prediction that has been reasonable useful from the last 50 years has been Moore's Law. ("The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year. . .") Gordon Moore's succinct technology estimate has been reasonably accurate for at least 30 years and there is every likelihood that it will be revised upward with new technology.

If the USA was driven more by technologies than by idle and incompetent corporate back-stabbers and lazy and corrupt old technology billionaires, we'd be enjoying a whole new world of high efficiency transportation and putting a serious dent in the atmosphere's carbon content. A real war on the world's terrorists, begun back in 2001, would have crushed the oil cabal, launched the US into the 21st century with a vengeance, and revitalized our technology industries like nothing since the 1960's space race. Instead, we choked, took the easy way out and invaded Iraq hoping for a quick fix with that country's "oceans of oil" and blew two decades on militaristic decadence. Catching up is much harder than staying ahead, in any kind of race. Technology and change don't depend on American exceptionalism and all of those technologies we ignored are going ahead without us. Just ask the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and the struggling descendants of the world's great powers of the past: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Russia, and, even, China (only now crawling out of the ruins of its 4,000 year old civilization).

technology-growthSemiconductor density is not the only technology experiencing exponential change. You know that bullshit small print thing stockbrokers hope you don't read regarding the odds that the stock they just conned you into buying will produce a profit (for you)?  "Past performance does not necessarily predict future results." Look at the chart on the right, that's what an exponential curve looks like as it approaches infinite change. Ray Kurzweil called this the "Law of Accelerating Returns." The steps in that chart are 50 year intervals and the X-axis is linear, but the Y-axis is more exponential than linear. The technology development required between the printing press and the telescope (a 200 year interval) was insignificant compared to going from what existed at the start of the space race to our world of cell phones, personal computers, and the Internet (20 years). The same comparison will be made between the last days of hydrocarbon-based energy and whatever comes next. The technological growth rate of the last decade will look absolutely stagnant compared to the next ten years.

Back to electric motorcycles, the only thing that keeps me off of one is the cost. Certainly not the cost of operation, but the cost of ownership. At 66, I can't justify a $10,000 motorcycle of any sort. I don't expect to live long enough to consider that a rational expense, especially in Minnesota where half of the year is lost to rotating my battery tender from the V-Strom to the WR250X. $5,000 is a whole different game. Zero's 2015 battery pack is expected to live for 2,000 charge cycles (at least 200,000 miles) before it deteriorates to 80% of new capacity (probably the recommended replacement point) at 185 city miles or 94 highway miles per charge.  At the current 6-8 cents per kilowatt, Zero's 1.4kW charge requirement makes for pretty cost-effective transportation. You just have to have a 200,000 mile life expectancy to justify going electric. I do not. If you are a decade or three younger than me, you should start thinking about what your first electric motorcycle is going to be, because that's very likely going to be a big decision in every motorcyclist's life in less time than you expect.

Nov 8, 2016

Two Human Sized Motorcycles

The BMW G 310 GS

And the Honda CRF250L Rally

17_Honda_CRF250L_Rally_right_profile 

Postscript: As I was quickly informed by a couple of readers, I missed one great new bike: the Kawasaki Versys-X 300.
ABS, a slipper clutch, a 19" front wheel, decent suspension travel, with accessory center stand, crash rails, and luggage. What's not to like?

Nov 7, 2016

#134 Changing the Rules, Mixing My Emotions

caveman

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

On the last October weekend of the 2014 MMSC training season, I taught a “Seasoned Rider” class (aka Experienced Rider Course, ERC, BRC II, etc.) for a few Polaris company employees. Because the course had some experimental qualities (“There will be a test.”), the course was prepaid to the college regardless of the number of students. Saturday morning was right at freezing and no one was compelled (either by work or because they’d laid down $60) to be there, so only four students showed up. On top of that, due to the lateness in the season and the “test,” the Polaris employees were allowed to ride the course on the state’s 250-and-under motorcycles, instead of bringing their own rides. Due to those points, I was the only guy on the range who rode to the range. The first 3 1/2 hours were identical to the usual course, but it was pretty obvious that we all had a different kind of edge on due to the impending “evaluation” (PC for “test”). The students, because they were in a pass/fail situation and instructors because we’d never conducted a BRC II with a test at the end.

The big exception to this course was the students were offered the choice of riding their own bikes or the state’s. Because it was specially offered to Polaris employees by Polaris and some of them are beginning motorcycle owners and may or may not actually own a motorcycle, it made for an interesting experiment. By design and purpose, the BRC II is intended, I think, to be ridden on the students’ bikes. At least, that’s the way we’ve always done the course as long as I’ve known about it. And, of course, there has not been an evaluation at the end to determine what has been learned in the course during the time I’ve been an instructor. That has not always been the case, though.

I took my first prototype-ERC at Willow Springs Raceway, back in the late 1980’s. It wasn’t called the ERC, as I remember, but I don’t remember what it was called. There was a fair amount of lecture along with the usual emergency stop, obstacle avoidance, turning, and riding technique instruction. There was a short performance test at the end of the course and, as I remember, we were presented with a certificate that could be used for a drivers’ training discount with our insurance companies. The next time I took the course was in Denver, at Bandimere Speedway, the drag racing track. The “range” was a marked-up and coned section of the speedway where the cart racing is today. The course used the same kind of exercises, along with an opportunity to play panic-braking on their big training-wheeled 500 Nighthawk. You could wind up the bike to about 40-50mph and hammer the brakes and the skids kept the Nighthawk from falling over. I don’t think there was a test with that course. The last time I took the course as a student was in Minnesota on the Guidant parking lot in Arden Hills. The parking lot had been oiled earlier that week and employee cars had been sliding into each other at low speeds, morning and evening. I know because I worked there. I usually bicycled to work, so I missed out on the parking lot fun until Saturday at the ERC. The course continued the sliding and crashing the cars had demonstrated earlier in the week. Almost everyone in the class crashed at least once and a lot of chrome and plastic looked worse for the wear. I “anticipated” the emergency swerve exercise because I didn’t think my Yamaha TDM would look better coated in greasy black oil. The next week, another asphalt contractor cleaned and recoated the parking lot, this time with materials that didn’t come from the county oil recycling sludge pit. That’s the history of my student experience with the ERC and it’s ancestors and all of that was on my own motorcycles.

That behind me, I had a little built-in resistance to teaching the course to “experienced riders” on what most of those riders would consider to be “beginner bikes.” The fact is, a lot of experienced riding course students do not ride well enough to be called “experienced.” Maybe that’s the motivation for the recent renaming of those classes as “Basic Rider Course II” or “Seasoned Rider Course.” Another fact I have often expressed is that I think about 90% of Minnesota motorcyclists choose motorcycles that require skill levels far beyond the riders’ capabilities. Unlike ABATE, the AMA (the motorcycle group, not the doctors’ AMA), and the Industry, I believe tiered licensing is just common sense and that our current license testing is a joke. Not a funny joke, but a cruel, sarcastic, vicious joke that costs lives and billions of dollars in death and injury. From observing street riders over half-a-century and training them for a dozen years, I’d estimate about 50% of Minnesota riders should be limited to 250cc-and-under motorcycles, 90% should be limited to 650cc-and-under, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the 10% who are smart, competent, and safe enough to be on 650cc-and-above would probably choose to ride their big bikes on closed courses 90% of the time.

All that baggage under my belt, we started this course with a little apprehension. A lot of my doubts dissolved quickly, though. After the first couple of exercises it became clear that our students were riding a lot more aggressively and testing their skills more confidently than the typical BRC II class. Some of this was because this was a younger-than-typical class, but I have to give a substantial credit to the fact that we all ride small bikes more competently and confidently than large ones. We decided that I’d administer the test, since I’d studied the BRC II test procedure and had a couple of on-line conversations with California MSF instructors who’d done the test in the BRC II’s early years. The BRC II test is more like the DOT’s test. Which means all four sections of the test are performed by each student, more or less non-stop. More concentration is required, along with competence, memory, and attention, all qualities directly related to being safe on the road. Again, this was a small class filled with better-than-typical students, but at the end they all scored well enough to be qualified as MSF instructors.

I thought about this class for several days afterwards. There are some subversive reasons I am inclined to like the whole concept. The test is more important than I’d imagined. We often have old, unskilled, and/or arrogant riders who simply ride through the harder exercises on their abysmal hippobikes, imagining that there is no relationship between low speed closed course exercises and their delusional “real world.” The apehanger crowd that is overrepresented in mortality/morbidity statistics is typical of this character. Handing them a card that indicates successful completion of the course is particularly galling. Mostly what that group achieves is four hours of an out-of-control riding demonstration on an overweight, unmanageable motorcycle that has put the other riders and the instructors at risk. Most of that alcohol-demented bunch would totally blow the BRC II test because they’d forget half of it before they left the gate. If they were allowed to perform the test on a small bike or their own, the result would probably be the same; massive failure. Nearest and dearest to my heart, allowing these intermediate-level riders to do the course on our small motorcycles might encourage some of them to consider, or reconsider, their choice of motorcycle. A tiny percentage of riders might discover that “small is fun” and take that lesson to the street. If that, alone, happened, I’d be all for letting BRC II riders take the class on whatever motorcycle they chose.




Oct 31, 2016

#133 The Trouble with Being the Solution to A Big Problem

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Pretty much all of the major problems on today's highways are fairly obvious: according to NHTSA statistics 2012's Big Three causes for highway fatalities are 1) drunk driving 31%, 2) motorcycles, 14%, and distracted driving, 10%. Solve all three of those riddles and you have taken away 56% of US highway fatalities. What is the miracle cure for all three of these highway safety problems? You might think that's a stupid question.

"You'll never stop people from being drunks or from playing with electronic toys while they drive and nobody's ever gonna teach me how to ride or make me wear a helmet."

Actually, I know the solution to all three of those problems and so does NHTSA and DOT and all of the car manufacturers. How do you stop people from getting drunk, satisfying their cell phone addiction, playing with their makeup or shaving on the way to work, or keep them from crashing their motorcycles? Those are the wrong questions. The right questions are how do you get the first group out from behind the wheel and how do you get motorcycles off of the public's roads? Simple. You make cars that are smarter than the average driver.

That's not a particularly high bar to leap, if you think about it just a little bit. The average American driver imagines himself to be a NASCAR racer, drafting the car in front of him with less than a fraction of a second of safe margin at speeds that are best described as "terminal." From the vantage point of a motorcycle seat, where I get to see all sorts of clueless drivers, distracted to the point of unconsciousness behaviors, physics-disabled punks suffering from "the fast lane is mine" video game reality distortions, and motorcyclists and scooter pilots who have almost enough skill to get out of their own driveways uninjured but not nearly enough talent or intelligence to ride competently and safely. With typical reflexes, reacting to a hazard takes at least a second and, more likely, a couple of seconds before you've even decided what to do about a disaster unfolding in front of you at 70mph. At 70mph, you're traveling 108 feet/second. If you're tailgating at 50 feet when a wheel comes off of a truck in front of you or a blowout puts the car you were "drafting" into a spin, you are solidly entangled before you even think about applying the brakes. On a motorcycle, you're in the air wishing you'd worn a helmet before you can even touch the brake (probably the wrong one used poorly, if you do manage to slam on the brakes and toss your bike into a sliding "stop"). On average, there isn't enough driving talent on our highways to overwhelm the capabilities of a 1980's Z80 processor and a MS/DOS controlled text-based program. Mostly, the folks we're trusting our lives with on the freeways and country roads are unfit to pilot bicycles, if they could load their lard asses onto a bicycle seat without bursting the tires. With all of those facts in hand and with the motivation of "societal cost of crashes" estimated at $230 BILLION, there is more than enough incentive from all directions to do something about the solvable problems of the Big Three. The fact that the solution is likely to do some serious damage to the other 44% of highway deaths is just icing on the cake.

In TheKneeslider.com, Paul Crowe wrote an article titled "Riding Motorcycles Among the Robots - You're Going to Need A Transponder." He pipedreams, "The thought of blasting through that digital parade on your human controlled and non transponder equipped Electra Glide may no longer be an option." If only that were likely. Like most of the motorcycle industry, he avoids the question, "Why would highway planners make any accommodations for a vehicle that contributes less than 0.001% to commuter traffic but 15% of fatalities?" Do you seriously believe that Harley Davidson and Polaris have that kind of economic clout? Harley Davidson's whole product line amounted to $5.9B in 2013 sales. Polaris grossed about $4B in 2013 for all of their products combined and sold about $1B in Polaris and Indian motorcycles. Out of a $17 TRILLION GNP, that is pretty insignificant and if you include our 15% of the nation's "societal cost of crashes" that $5B is pretty overwhelmed by the $34B motorcycles crashes cost the country. Remind me, again, why should the 99% of society who don't ride motorcycles on a regular basis, or ever, care about our "right to the highway?" 

If you don't think motorcycling's awful public image, our overrepresentation in highway injury statistics, or our low tech tendencies are a long term problem, you are not paying attention. The freight train of Change is blasting down history's tracks at revolutionary speeds. We are about to go from travelling by poorly manually piloted vehicles to a managed transportation system that makes decisions on a macro level, reducing traffic congestion, optimizing resource use, providing dramatic improvements in travel safety and efficiency, and transforms society as dramatically as giving up the horse-and-buggy did about 100 years ago. The only way motorcycles are going to get to play in this new sandbox is if we provide some value to transportation. Otherwise, the industry and population of users will resemble the tiny demographic that has clung to horses and horse sports since those animals were shuffled off of public streets. The trouble with being part of the solution to one of society's big problems is that you get swept up in a whole lot of things that are a lot bigger than you (or your industry). In manufacturing a rule of thumb is "the best way to idiot-proof a system is get the idiots out of the system." We are pretty tightly aligned with many of the idiots on the highway and we're going to get swept up with the drunks and distracted drivers when our transportation system evolves. The only way I see to avoid that is for motorcycling to move away from being part of an obvious solution to highway deaths.

Oct 20, 2016

Reality vs. Delusions


Back in 2009, a friend was trying to run a recording studio in Hudson, WI. Hudson is one of the many cities in our area that poorly tries to balance the public peace and quiet with the demand from bars and restaurants to cater to the summer biker crowd. Scott tried to raise some awareness of how mentally ill the whole biker bullshit is with this essay, "Loud Pipes Risk Lives." While it has the stink of science, knowledge, and reality that so many Americans seem to have abandoned, if you can hold your nose and get past that bias, it's a pretty good analysis of psychoacoustics and sound from someone who has studied those fields extensively.

PS: Yeah, I know I've linked this article before, but good things often require repeating.

Oct 17, 2016

#131 Collecting Crap?

geezer (Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  
All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On top of our all of our negative image problems, motorcyclists are often hoarders. Yeah, I know, it's a "collection." In my experience, there are two polar-opposite examples of collectors who own (and sometimes ride) dozens of motorcycles. The most obvious is the rich collector/archivist. Over my six decades, I have bumped into a couple of types who collect expensive motorcycles. One of those was the type who owns a sterile showroom that is neatly lined with perfectly restored bits of artwork, polished and oil-free to keep the hardwood floor spotless. At the more sane end of this type is a friend who buys incredibly expensive motorcycles in mediocre-to-good shape, restores them to better-than-factory finish, hangs on to them hoping the bikes' prices will go stratospheric, and tries to sell them for a medium fortune. Once he has the cash from the last bike in the bank, he starts all over again. He always has a dozen bikes in the supply chain, but everything is for sale at any time. This is the speculator variation on the rich guy collector. Maybe he should be called a "wannabe rich guy?" When the economy tanks, this guy will be among the "get rich on real estate' goofballs who lived large until the sky fell and, now, will be forced to get rid of his overpriced crap for what it is worth; nearly nothing. So far, he's avoided that disaster pretty deftly, though.

That about wraps up the interesting portion of the personalities of rich guy motorcycle collectors. Like most rich people, they're mostly boring.

Motorcycle-Junk-Yard However, the more common and most interesting (as in "weird") collections I have seen are garages and sheds full of marginally-fixable motorcycles in various states of disrepair and disassembly. Most of these guys are of the "all of this stuff is junk but if I sold it I'd just have more money but no junk" hoarder variety. Instead of carving paths through the old newspapers and cereal boxes, these packrats stuff their garages and barns full of half-reassembled semi-vintage crap, scavenged parts that will "someday" end up reinstalled on the vintage crap, more parts that can't even be identified, and boxes and piles of old motorcycle magazines and service manuals.

If you foolishly express an interest in some motorcycle in the hoard, you will end up risking your life using rock-climbing techniques to scale the heaps of junk to get a dim glimpse of a small bit of one of those bikes buried under a moldering tarp in some far corner of Squirrel Hell. It's best to act as ignorant and neutral as possible and get the hell out while you can still walk. If the hoarder is a Minnesotan, he'll be convinced he has millions dollars "invested" in his vintage crap and he's just waiting for Leno or the "What's in the Barn" guys to show up and make him rich. The Minnesota hoard-mating call is "If I can't get my price, I'd rather keep it." We've been here before (see A Seller's Market, MMM Winter 2005). The seller is serious. He won't sell for anything resembling a reasonable, realistic price. This is exactly the kind of guy who thinks a beat-up 1972 Kawasaki Z900 is worth a few thousand. You are not going to get a good deal from this dude, but you could waste hours listening to his crazed economic theories. You will also need a tetanus shot after you get back from exploring his "collection."

I have to admit, most of the collector thing eludes me. I am a big fan of "when in doubt, throw it out" (or sell it if it's still worth money). A garage is a place to store tools and other stuff and, most importantly, a place to keep your car and motorcycles out of the sun and bad weather. When the garage is stuffed with junk motorcycles, you can't get to the tools and you can't park the cage indoors. In my neighborhood, that means the cage's gas tank will be siphoned-off and, most likely, I'll have to buy a new car stereo and a window or two every summer. (Not really, but I could live in that kind of neighborhood. After all, that is my socio-economic bracket even if my neighborhood is a decent place.) Plus, I have always aspired to be able to move all of my stuff in one mid-sized U-Haul and my dream life would be living in a 30' camper traveling from one state or national park campground to the next, always a month ahead of cold weather.

I can't help but suspect some motorcycle collections are another bit of evidence that some guys can't commit to anything. Outside of racing, you seriously can't find one or two motorcycles that do everything you want to do on two wheels? Not that you're trying to do anything with that pile of rotted seats, hoses, and tires and the stacks of half-disassembled motors. It's just a hoard and the purpose of a hoard is . . . something non-motorcycle-related.






Oct 10, 2016

#130 Sliding to A Stop

(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I was exploring some of the dirt roads between St. Paul and Taylors Falls on a Saturday morning this past fall, when I had the occasion to come to a couple of emergency stops. The first time was after a short series of 15mph turns on a paved farm road, I was barely out of one of the turns when a large deer wandered into the road and stopped to observe my on-coming motorcycle. He was in the middle of my lane and, since a truck was coming the other direction, the only evasive maneuver available to me was a quick stop. I've read several reviews of my WR250X that implied that the brakes are "weak" or "mushy." I beg to differ. Maybe for a racer's tastes those descriptions are apt, but for my weekend warrior playbike purposes the WR stops just fine.

And it did.

A few years back, I managed to execute a similar maneuver at night on a mostly-empty highway on my 650 V-Strom. For the most part, that incident had a happy ending, too, other than getting me gore-coated when an opposite-direction pickup splattered the deer all over his truck, emptying the contents of the deer's bowels all over me in the process.

One of the best things about being a motorcycle instructor is that I have to demonstrate quick stops a few times every week and think about braking technique often enough to be able to explain and do it half-well. Too bad there wasn't anyone around to see this demo. I squared the bike up and laid into the brakes right up to the front wheel's limit of traction. I might have slid the back tire a little bit, but not much. The deer wandered off of the road, after getting his day's entertainment out of my emergency, the truck roared past without making any sort of adjustment, and I got the hell out of there and went back to playing around on the back roads.

A few miles further from that encounter-of-the-hoofed-kind, this time on a gravel farm road, I crested a hill and discovered a freakin' herd of deer parading across the road; big ones, middle sized ones, and at least a half-dozen little bitty Hell spawn Bambis.  This time, I was moving a bit faster and hauling the bike down to stop took a bit more concentration. The road was slightly damp, covered with loose gravel and small rocks, and provided reasonable traction. No harm no foul or fawn.

After the four-hoofed crowd meandered from the road and I got back on the trail, I thought about how my two four-hoof experiences could have ended and how a police investigator might have evaluated the "evidence." When I read police reports of crashes, one of the bits of "evidence" they seem to use is the skid distance left by crashed vehicles. Supposedly, this is some sort of indication of how fast the vehicle was traveling. Using that useless data point, if I had hit the deer the cops would have claimed I "made no effort to stop." No skid marks, no braking? Seriously? I thought about this for a while after the last stop. On wet gravel just over a hill and no sliding and the bike came to a quick stop a good distance before any of the hoofed rats or me were in danger. So, no evidence left for the highway forensic "experts" to interpret and that would tell them what about my riding ability, attempt to avoid the collision, or anything else?

A while back, there was a news report about an off-duty cop who ran into a kid in a residential neighborhood  after "laying the bike down" in an attempt to avoid the collision. I see that kind of language in local police crash reports, too. We talk about this silly stuff in motorcycle safety classes all the time. Anyone who believes that sliding on polished metal provides a better coefficient of friction than rubber probably shouldn't be playing with motorcycles. The only time I have ever seen a sideways motorcycle stop more effectively than one still operated rubber-side-down has been in soft, deep sand or sloppy mud. Often, that tactic results in a spectacular flying machine stomping the crap out of the helpless rider. Stopping or slowing quickly in either one of those situations usually involves flying over the bars and some unpleasant impact activities, followed by a completely out-of-control motorcycle doing whatever physics and luck dictate. Pavement requires some kind of sticky material for traction. Conveniently, tires are made of sticky materials. Bodywork, chrome and painted bits are considerably less sticky. 

"Lay 'er down" logic ranks up there with the "Loud Pipes Save Lives" insanity. The argument defies logic, experience, reality, and statistical evidence. Riders know that dropping the bike is an out-of-control panic maneuver, usually due to inappropriate rear brake use. Good braking achieves maximum traction without sliding. When you're sliding, you're not stopping. It takes practice and the best time to do that is when you aren't trying to keep from getting killed on the highway. Even better, take a safety course and have someone analyze and help you improve your technique. It is, after all, a life-saving skill and one that we all have to work at so we have it when we need it.

Oct 9, 2016

The Times They Are A’Changin’

SuckSqueezeBangHere’s a headline you probably didn’t expect to see in your lifetime: "German Lawmakers Vote to Ban the Internal Combustion Engine." According to Gizmoto.com, “The modern internal combustion engine first came from Germany and now Germany wants to put a nail in its coffin. The Bundesrat has passed a resolution to ban the ICE beginning in 2030.” If you are a typical American, I’ll have to do the math for you; 14 years from now suck, sqeeze, bang, and blow is history.
 
Personally, I can’t wait. I am totally tired of exhaust noise. I live in a “destination city” for pirates, squids, and assorted 4-wheel noise maker nitwits. These overfed, pampered, uncoordinated, skill-less biker assholes are nothing but an income source for bars and a pain-in-the-ass for the rest of us. Make them wear helmets, force them to obtain motorcycle licenses, make the licensing test prove competency, and take away their noise makers and they’ll either become motorcyclists or go back to their couches.
 
This article concludes with, "While larger approvals will still need to go through the legislative process, the fact that the country with the fourth-largest auto industry in the world is spearheading such sweeping change is a big sign of where we’re headed. It’s a road paved with slow-moving politicians making incremental changes and hoping the industry will warm up to the idea of not killing us all." It's hard to imagine our sluggish, lazy legislative process doing anything, let alone something that might actually prolong the life of our species. Most likely, we'll be last to this party like the metric system, rational tax policies, decent education and healthcare, and pretty much anything that could be used to define a 1st world quality of life.
 
I never thought I’d live to say this, but “Go Germany!”

Oct 6, 2016

Revival: Part XXXXIIII????

If you get distracted by the pirate parades, gangbangers, crash data, squids terrorizing neighborhoods and freeways, and the usual biker culprits who make motorcyclists look like a pack of useless, irritating noise makers, it’s pretty easy to start thinking about hanging up the Aerostich and helmet and looking into a nice used convertible. Last year was insanely stressful, including a foot injury and a overly complicated move from the Cities to Red Wing, and I ended up doing almost nothing on my motorcycle for the year outside of MMSC classes. I commuted to school during the fall and spring semesters at Southeast Tech in Red Wing, explored a little of my new neighborhood, but I didn’t take a single 200+ mile trip anywhere for all of 2015.

This year started differently with the daily commuting thing booting up in late February and a trip to Colorado hot springs with an old friend in July. I still sort of felt played out. I am 68, so being played out is expected, but this felt a lot like the moment when I’ve decided that there is nothing left to learn from a job or a place and it’s time to move on. Obviously, I have plenty to learn about being a motorcyclist, but my motivation to keep at it is a little shaky.

mapThis time of the year is when I most appreciate owning a motorcycle. After following a farm tour last weekend and futzing with some political stuff early in the week, I needed a head-clearing. So, I piled on the gear and pointed the WR250 toward Welch, where my wife and I had been earlier in the week. Just west of the Highway 61 Treasure Island casino exit is a good place to start on an off-pavement Red Wing road trip: Welch Shortcut Road. The tangle of spots you’ll see at the top left of the map above barely touches on all of the scenic and mildly technical dirt roads that spin off of the Welch Shortcut. A direct route from my house to Welch would be about 13 miles of pavement. My route turned that easy trip into nearly 50 miles.

IMG_7811From there, I took County 7 Blvd to Vasa. Weirdly, after living less than 20 miles from this little village for two years, I’ve never been here. So, I explored it for a few minutes and found someone’s dream factory, studio, workshop, or home for sale. If I were 20 years younger, I’d buy that place just for the vent turbines and the smokestack.

IMG_7813Then I headed west toward Hay Creek. At 320th Street, I was back on gravel followed by a nice section of “minimum maintenance road.” I did not expect this part of the trip to be so scenic, but once I got past Hay Creek I was on another fairly technical minimum maintenance road with no other traffic, perfect weather, and my all time favorite motorcycle between my legs.

Because I was having too much fun, what should have been 30 miles to Wabasha turned into a lot more. The plan was to head for J&J BBQ in Nelson, WI, stuff down a rack of ribs and beat myself up a little north of Stockholm. Sadly, J&J was closed, as it has been every time I’ve tried to hit that place this fall. I’m starting to think the place iis closed indefinately but the sign said the place is now “also closed on Wednesday” along with Monday and Tuesday. I’m just lucky, I guess.

IMG_7814During the farm tour, we discovered a “rustic road” just off of WIAA with several water crossings, a “closed” section, and a decent variety of road surfaces and materials including deep sand, rocks, gravel, and lots of ruts. The first water crossing was slick, shallow, and fairly wide. The second caught me by overconfident surprise when I hit it at about 20 mph in 3rd and got drenched when the deepest spot turned out to be about 2 1/2 feet deep. It didn’t stop me, but it really slowed me down, so that I needed to shift to 1st to plow my way out of the stream. That doused my enthusiasm for speed for the next stream crossing, but it didn’t last. I hit the last one at 20 with my weight back and off of the seat and got a satisfying spray without getting much wetter than I was. This is a one-way traffic road and visibility isn’t that great. It wouldn’t take much overconfidence to discover a car or truck coming in the opposite direction with no options other than to drive off of the road into a swamp. If I were younger and dumber, there were lots of IMG_7814-2places on that road to catch air, but I didn’t.

Nothing will make you feel older than remembering how brainless you used to be and how much you miss being that innocent/stupid/reckless/brave. As much as I would have liked to hammer this road and take every blind corner sideways and on the throttle, I couldn’t work it up. Remember, my wife was driving our Nissan Frontier up this road just two days ago. It gets travelled, just not much.

IMG_7812

Because it was so much fun, I went up and down this road twice before hooking up with the main farm-to-market road and heading back to WI35. From there, home. In all, I managed to put 140 miles on for the afternoon and absolutely remembered why I own motorcycles. Of course, the next day I was down with a cold or flu and could barely move out of my massage chair for the occasional bathroom dash.

Oct 5, 2016

Motorcyclist Gets It Right


Out of the tens of thousands of worthy motorcyclists in the country, Motorcyclist Magazine got it absolutely right this year in declaring Andy Goldfine "Motorcyclist of the Year." Andy and the amazing folks at Aerostich/RiderWearHouse have been making motorcycling safer, easier, more fun, and drier/warmer for 33 years (which means another Very Boring Rally is due in 2 years). Many of us would have been doing something else by now (if we were still alive) if it weren't for Aerostich gear.

Andy has been a friend since I moved to Minnesota and started writing for MMM. Andy's gear has been protecting my body for a whole lot longer.
One of the last pictures of me wearing my ancient (1984) Roadcrafter was in the KLR MMM review way back in 2002. I bought this fine stylish assortment of nylon, zippers, snaps, and cotton bat padding when I first moved to California and discovered that California motorcyclists thought 50F was "too cold" for motorcycling. Since I'd just moved there by motorcycle from Nebraska, my opinion of Californians went down a few notches. Worse, none of the motorcycle shops within easy range of my new home, Huntington Beach, stocked any sort of wet weather riding gear. However, in the back of Cycle or Cycle News (I forget which) I found a picture of a rider in a full-length suit and the ad claimed the suit was "waterproof" or some such thing. Desperate for protection, I ordered the grey/red suit pictured above (the red turned to salmon sometime in the 80's) and I have to give that suit some credit for my Cal State Long Beach bachelor's degree and a ten year California career in professional audio equipment because without that suit, I'd have given up on California a few weeks after being forced to commute by cage.
 
I can't explain why, but this is my favorite picture of me in my
Darien suit circa 2007. It was taken with my old beater Canon
camera by a Montana ranger who told me the story of this
sabotaged dam.
In the late 90's, I met Andy and he immediately dubbed me and my Roadcrafter to be a pair resembling "an overstuffed sausage" (probably the reason the suit had spent the last decade at the bottom of my closet). He sold me a (considerably larger) Darien suit in 2006, before I left for Alaska and a few years later I bought a prototype AD1 jacket and AD1 pants for backup. I've written about both here more than a few times.
 
It's not like there weren't obstacles to overcome. In the Motorcyclist Magazine interview, Andy said, “At first only a handful of riders ‘got it,’ including motojournalists, who were on bikes every day. And even then we were made fun of.” I still get the "going into outerspace?" bullshit whenever I stop near the usual pirate crowd. Usually, when we compare our day's ride (100-150 for them, 400-1,000 for me) the conversation comes to a stuttering end.
 
Google "aerostich roadcrafter crash" and it is impossible to not be impressed by the stories of the skin, bones, and lives saved by Aerostich equipment. There are dozens of Aerostich imitators, but only one company makes gear that you can wear for most of your life and Andy Goldfine founded that company. Even the owners of the imitation gear owe Andy a debt because none of that cheap Chinese-made gear would be here today without Aerostich to copy.
 
Helmets off to you, Andy.

Oct 3, 2016

#129 Following Distance and Me

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

A couple of years ago, there was a young person who took the Basic Rider Course and debated every safety point in the course: helmets and other protective gear, speed, skill development, and traffic management and awareness. Everything we had to say was pointless “safety geek crap.” One morning, I read about that person's death on the highway; unprotected by any reasonable gear, tailgating, capped off by an inability to avoid an obstacle. I recognized the picture in the paper.
2014-03-31 IA (2)In April, on the road home from New Mexico, I got another reminder of how precarious life on a motorcycle can be; from the relative safety of our motorhome. Before we left our last campsite of the winter, after five months on the road, I did my usual equipment inspection, knocked off the items on the RV’s shutdown checklist, and we headed north toward Des Moines on I35. We stopped in Des Moines for fuel and breakfast and I checked the tires for heat (my lazy man’s tire pressure inspection) at the filling station and took a pressure measurement after breakfast. Less than 2 miles north of Des Moines, the RV started swerving and I heard the unmistakable sound of tire failure. Looking out the rear view mirror, I saw what looked like a fully inflated tire rolling down the center of the freeway behind us. I figured the bike trailer had fried a bearing and tossed a wheel. 250 miles from home, after an 8,500 mile winter. Great, we’re going to be spending a day waiting for AAA to find a repair shop willing to accept their highly “discounted service rates.”

When I got the RV semi-safely parked on the shoulder of the freeway and calmed my wife down, I discovered it wasn’t the trailer tire but the right rear RV tire that had failed. In 50 years of driving everything from heavily loaded band vans and buses to service vans and pickups to the usual assortment of family cars, I’ve never seen a tire failure like this one: the tread completely separated from the sidewalls. It just shucked itself off of the wheel and went on its merry way through heavy northbound freeway traffic. Luckily, it didn't hit anyone and no one hit it while it was in motion.
2014-03-31 tireThe part that spit off wasn’t heavy, maybe 20 pounds at most, but it was whole and would have made an incredibly difficult-to-absorb object for a motorcycle. Fortunately, it happened on a blustery late March Monday morning, so the usual crowd of Sunday “motorcyclists” were back in their cages and nobody else managed to get tangled up in the tire, either. I found a hole in the traffic and went to pull the shell of the tire from the middle of the road, when a semi clipped it and tossed it against the center island’s guard cables. A few feet higher and the tire would have ended up causing a freak-out in the southbound lane.

What if you had been on a motorcycle following an RV travelling at 60mph on a 70mph freeway? You’re impatient because you’re a typical occasional biker, so you follow closely because you think that will hurry the RV driver along. I, the RV driver, can’t see you at all so you are in no way part of my driving calculations. At 60mph, you are travelling 88 feet per second or, if you are impatient and running up behind me at 70mph you are zipping along at 102 feet per second. Let’s pretend you are a skilled rider, just not a smart skilled rider (a stretch, I know). You’re humping my RV and trailer at about 75 feet, it takes you a second to recognize the object flying your direction and you hit it at full speed. Whatever happens next is completely out of your control.

If we repaint that scenario with you possessing a bit of common sense or good fortune, we'll assume you are 150 feet behind the trailer when the tire comes flying over the wheel well. You still use up that second figuring out what’s about to happen and you nail the brakes, wrapping the tire up between your front wheel and your bike’s frame. Again, whatever happens next is completely out of your control.

On the rare chance that you paid some attention in your last safety class, maybe you’re actually calculating your following distance based on your speed. You gave yourself the recommended four seconds, or 360 to 400 feet, of safe margin and after blowing that first second of reaction time, you have two to three seconds to decide what to do and to get it done. You resist the panic reaction to nail the brakes, make your best guess where the tire is going to go, and swerve to avoid it. Honestly, you could still be in trouble, but once you swerve away from the tire’s path you can still scrub off a lot of speed in the couple of seconds left before the tire arrives at your point of intersection. That could be the difference between getting killed or maimed and just needing to change your underwear.

So, the next time you get all carried away with yourself and feel uppity about your right to speed down the highway unimpeded, you might want to think about where that kind of attitude would put you in the scenario I just described. I know I’ll be thinking about it every time I’m anywhere near an RV or truck. There is a reason those vehicles need high-capacity, high pressure tires and that reason is why you see the carcasses of tires from those vehicles littered all over the highway. The MSF's four seconds of "immediate path" margin is cutting it pretty close when you have a sudden decision to make.





Sep 28, 2016

Deer Are Never Good News

My local paper led off with this good news today, “Minnesota drivers expected to hit more than 42,000 deer.” “Minnesota drivers have a 1-in-80 chance of hitting a deer this year, with Wisconsin drivers at 1-in-77, South Dakota drivers at 1-in-70 and North Dakota at 1-in-91.”

So, be careful out there.

Sep 26, 2016

#128 When Memories Lie

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Some friends were showing or selling stuff at the Viking Chapter AMCA National Vintage Bike Show and I had a few hours to kill before my kids stuffed me for Fathers Day, so I blew $5 and hung out with old timers looking at old bikes in better shape than when they (either the guys or the bikes) were new. There was a lot of stuff to see. The state fairground's Progress Center building was stuffed with motorcycles from my youth and beyond (Yes, Virginia. There were motorcycles before I was born.) and the campground to the north was manned by swap meeters plying their wares.
IMG_4640I've said this before, but there is still not a lot about owning and restoring old bikes that I get. I took a lot of pictures, talked to a bunch of people, and got asked "Do you know Victor?" in response to my MMM riding jacket. In all, I had fun, but wasn't much tempted . . . until I spotted a cheap, fairly sun-thrashed, 1984 Yamaha IT200 for "make offer."

I mostly know the 1984 IT 200 through it's older, smaller brother; the late 70's IT175D. Yamaha's 175 provided a permanent motorcycle memory. Through a Nebraska dealership where I'd spent some money over the years, I got a weekend test drive on the mid-sized IT and, pretty much by accident, I discovered I could wheelie the little blue bike at will. That may not sound like a deal to you, but I have never been a wheelie guy. I can a dirtbike's front wheel over a variety of obstacles, but just lofting it for fun had mostly escaped me. In fact, I've only been able to play Wheelie Guy on two bikes in 50 years, both were 175s. The other was a mid-70's Husky. I have never had a bank account that could foot a Husqvarna, so the Yamaha has always been in my sights. A few years back, I met a North Dakota Vincent collector who also had a weakness for the IT175s. While I barely comprehended his fascination for the Black Shadow of British motorcycling, I totally got the 175 thing. In fact, he insisted I take one of his Vincents for a test ride, but was totally unwilling to hand over the 175. I got that, too.

IMG_4641So, here was one I could afford. Not the bike I rode and loved, but pretty damn close and very accessible. The bits were mostly all there (the motor was busted, but fixable). The rod had snapped and punched a hole in one case. I could see from the parts box that most of the motor bits were reusable. The old bike had probably last been ridden in 2002 and had spent a good bit of the next 11 years leaning against the side of a Texas garage. The plastic was oxidized nearly gray, from the original Yamaha competition blue. The price was ridiculously right. It estimated at least $500 to get it running about another $1,000 to make it primo. A few hundred loving hours and I'd have a motorcycle that I lusted over when I was still mobile and reasonable athletic. I was tempted, but the temptation didn't last.

Mostly, it was all of the work putting the old bike together would require. I'm in the midst of about two dozen projects, several of which could dominate the rest of my summer. I don't need another project and that played pretty strongly in the decision.

Something else stuck in my craw, too. I have to wonder if this idea is what spawns those multi-garage motorcycle owning binges? What if I put all of those hours and all that labor into restoring this motorcycle that I remember so fondly and . . . it sucks? I realize that could be a double-edged sword. It might be that I suck on that great old motorcycle. Regardless, it's not only possible but it's pretty damn likely. Back when I discovered the joy of one-wheel-travel, I was also in my late twenties. The man I was then and the old man I am now bear damn little resemblance. That dumbass kid would kick my ass all over any competitive field I picked to die on. He was faster, stronger, braver, and had far less awareness of the consequences of falling on his butt. Hell, half of my butt isn't even real, but I know for a fact how much pain getting it fixed again will involve.

IMG_4639My daughter used to wear a t-shirt decorated with the words, "I only wish I could ride as fast as my dad remembers he did." I was in my 40's then. I have no doubt that another twenty years has made my younger self even faster. Hey! There is hardly anyone left alive to provide evidence to the contrary. I can say what I want and you're not going to find a counter-argument from a live person or YouTube, unless you can find some old silent movies that have been transferred to digital video. I was never good enough to warrant more being part of the background for someone who was doing something terrific.

In the end, I just mounted up on my WR250 and went on with my day, leaving the IT175/200 memories untarnished. I hope someone bought it. I hope they restore it to brand new perfection. I'm not sure I want to ride it when they are done, but I probably would if I got the chance. If it--or I--was disappointing, at least I wouldn't have money riding on the outcome.








Sep 19, 2016

#127 Dual Purpose Commuting

caveman

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Over a ten year period, I owned four different motorcycles while I lived in southern California: a 1979 Honda CX500, a 1982 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision, a 1986 Kawasaki KLR600, and a 1986 Yamaha XT350. Of the four bikes, the hands-down best daily California commuter was unquestionably the XT350. For four years, I rode my 350 to work from Huntington Beach to Costa Mesa every morning, three to four days a week, to school in Long Beach after every work day, and for 90% of my non-family-related transportation for a total of 68,000 miles. During my last years in California, if I wasn't on the XT, I was on a bicycle (I biked to work almost every day I didn't have college classes). My twenty mile work-to-school commute was via the Pacific Coast Highway, which was dramatically quicker than the 405, thanks to lane-splitting and filtering and no-thanks to the 405's 5mph average rush hour speed. The XT's narrow profile made efficient commuting even more practical as SUVs and other oversized single-passenger vehicles became more popular in the late 80's and the spaces between vehicles shrank considerably.

Since the 80's, so-called "dual purpose" motorcycles have grown (in size and expense) along with the SUV market. It's hard to imagine calling a Super Ten or a BMW 1200GS a "dual purpose" bike, but if you can manage that sort of off-road ride, you probably agree with Emilio Scotto who rode a his "Black Princess," a 1980 Honda GL1100, 457,000 miles through practically every country in the world and claims the Goldwing is the perfect adventure touring bike. Personally, a 900 pound Goldwing would not be my off-road choice and it wouldn't be the bike I'd pick to commute on, either. In a pretty-good world, lane-splitting and filtering would be a common part of urban traffic management and we'd all be saving time, money, energy, and highway maintenance taxes. That's the world in which a real dual purpose bike excels at commuting. With our tall seat height, we can see over and around most other vehicles. The long-travel suspension and spoked wheels allow for almost unlimited escape routes during times of stress. Light weight and nimble handling, a real DP bike can go where panicked cagers fear to roll.

For example, by the early 90's, analog cell phones (as compact as a bunch of bananas) appeared and California drivers became even more distracted. The ability to slide between cars and jump curbs to escape multiple car pile-ups became lifesaving. I'd have been the gooey center in a car sandwich multiple times if I had been on a less nimble motorcycle. Regardless of Minnesota's primitive motorcycle laws, I still split lanes on the freeway when forced to come to an unexpected stop in heavy traffic. I don't even wait for the tire screeching warning that some dimbulb has discovered, too late, that his cell phone was not the most important task of the morning. I just put iron between me and the idiots behind me and merge back into the flow of traffic when it crawls back to life. If a cop wants to give me a ticket for a preventative lifesaving move, I'll spend the time in court defending my right to stay alive. Jumping a curb and hiding in a convenient flower bed is a whole different kind of maneuver, though. That move isn't even an option for sport bikes or cruisers because they don't have the wheels, suspension, or ground clearance. It's not a practical move for a 600 pound "dual purpose" bike, either.

Picture 025I abandoned real DP motorcycles when I moved to Colorado (No, that doesn't make a lick of sense.), but after a few years without a serious dual purpose motorcycle, I bought a 2000 Kawasaki Super Sherpa KL250 with the intention of commuting and touring on the bike. The touring part never happened, but I regularly commuted on the little bike, putting 8,000 miles on the bike in two seasons. It replaced my V-Strom as my regular ride; solely because of the fun factor and 70+mpg in-town efficiency. A couple of years ago, I replaced the Sherpa with my current favorite motorcycle, a Yamaha WR250X. It gets slightly worse mileage (about 60mpg), but it starts easily year-around; thanks to fuel injection. I have a little more than 10,000 miles on the WR and it has done double-duty as a regular commuter and an mid-range adventure touring bike. My old V-Strom is even more lonely than before. In fact, I have ridden it once this year, as of mid-August.

A survey I have been running over the last year found that the average motorcyclist (loosely defined) rides well under 2,000 miles a year. There is no positive correlation between engine size and miles-ridden, either. With that in mind, it's obvious that most of us need nothing more than a 250-500cc motorcycle and the most practical motorcycles every made are dual purpose. For all-around daily use, a motorcycle that can go anywhere, does it efficiently and reliably, and has a decent resale value is hard to beat. Aerostich's Andy Goldfine has a "small and simple equals fun" basic motorcycle rule. Add a versatile suspension, great handling, narrow profile, fuel economy, dependable resale, and a design intended to be treated roughly and you have the perfect commuting motorcycle. Maybe, the perfect universal motorcycle.

Postscript: 
From: Andy Goldfine 
Sent: Friday, June 06, 2014 11:33 PM
To: Tom Day; Day Thomas
Subject: Lightweight touring
Tom - Wonderful MMM column this month.  Thanks for mentioning me.  I learned the "Small and simple equals fun." formulation from an old Steven L. Thompson editorial in Cycle World or Cycle Guide.  


His version was "L + S = MF" which stood for 'Light + Simple = More Fun'.  He deserves full origination credit for this idea as it relates to motorcycling.


I hope we will be able to get together in person some time this summer.













 Andy