Nov 30, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1992 Yamaha TDM 850

_reaso2 Learn (a lot) more about this bike
The TDM and I had a long and profitable love affair. The second picture [see below] is of my bike on the way back from Steamboat Springs, CO. Sorry the clarity is so mediocre. This photo shows every accessory I had on the bike. The picture at right is from when I got lost on a dirt "road" expedition at Flaming Gorge, Utah and picked up a cactus spike in the rear tire. I sort of thought that picture might be all that would remain of me when I ran out of water. A tire plug and 3 CO2 cartridges got me back on the road and I lived to screw up another day.

I bought my first TDM in March of 1994, in Denver, Colorado. I first rode a TDM during a Yamaha promotional tour, also in Colorado, in 1992. It was love at first sight and lust after that first ride. The TDM's cost about $9,000 out the door, in 1992. That was so far out of my price range that it might as well been a custom bike. But by 1994, Yamaha dealers were blowing out TDM's (along with a couple of other badly marketed flops) for as little as $4,000, new with full warranty. I bought mine, used with about 3,000 miles, at the beginning of the price reduction cycle for $4,200 with a set of Kerker pipes and a Corbin seat. It seemed like a good deal at the time, but the collapse of the TDM's dealer value put a bit of bite into my usual buyer's-remorse.

tdm I put fifty-some thousand miles on that bike in six years. Most of those miles came in the first two years. I did two extended trips on the TDM. Obviously, my days of using motorcycles as primary transportation were coming to an end. After moving to Minnesota, the "adventure touring" aspect of the TDM's design became less a part of my motorcycling activity. Between becoming a grandfather and the long Minnesota winters, most of my motorcycling was limited to commuting to work and short weekend morning trips into the country-side.

I bought my second TDM in the spring of 1999. It had less than 8,000 miles and I'd hoped to start over with a less "seasoned" TDM. The problem is that this bike had been whipped long and put up wet. It had been treated with considerably less than loving care and, by the time I'd gone through the bike fixing abuse and neglect, I was less confident of this bike than I was of my original TDM. I sold it in early spring, 2000, and had planned to stay with my original bike . . . until the SV distracted me. I sold my original TDM, yesterday (as of this writing, June 4, 2000).

Weird tale of karma. The guy who bought my old bike managed to dump it in the road in front of my house. He bought it, anyway, which saved us both a lot of hassle. The next day, I dumped my new SV650 on a turn that I've made a few dozen times, with no effort or stress. I think I broke my foot in that wreak, which makes me wonder what happened when the TDM went away. Did I catch that guy's karma or did mine infect us both when I let my old, dependable, bike go away? A ghost in the machine?

The "TDM List's Website" (the reference above the picture) was a great resource for prospective TDM users. They've hung on to an unabbreviated article I wrote (Steamboat Springs 1997) for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly (the short version), practically, since I wrote it. The list provided me with technical information, advice on repairs and parts, and friends. It must be one of the oldest motorcycling on-line groups around. The bike hasn't been imported into the US since 1993, but these guys keep the memory of Yamaha's great bike as alive as if Yamaha still thought Americans rode motorcycles for fun and practical transportation.

The TDM is a weird combination of a sport bike and a big bore dual-purpose motorcycle.  The bike has a much longer than typical suspension travel, both front and rear, a tall upright seating position, extremely stable handling, and a very narrow profile.  I rode my TDM down one of the sections of a Colorado regional observed trials and managed to get it between the rocks and trees with about as much trouble as some of the intermediate riders had with their trials bikes. That was one of my proudest moments on a motorcycle. The TDM gets fair mileage, about 46-50 mpg, and with it's big tank you can get very close to 300 miles per tank on a long, moderate speed ride. I think I made a terrible mistake selling my TDM.

Post-Mortem: Seven years later, I'm still sorry I sold my TDM. I own a 2004 Suzuki V-Strom DL650 now. The V-Strom is close to the TDM, but it is not a TDM. The Yamaha is still the best street bike I've ever owned. A friend recently bought a 1992 TDM and, after considerable wrangling with the carburetion due to the bike's having suffered improper long-term storage, is demonstrating what a great motorcycle the bike is/was. I'm jealous. The TDM is more fun to ride than the V-Strom. It's quicker, skinnier, has a better suspension, a lower seat height, more ground clearance, is easier to service, and is more stable on dirt roads.

The TDM had a reputation for being "weird looking." Today, dozens of motorcycles from Japan to Europe are imitating the look of the TDM. An extreme example of this is the 2008 Benelli Tre K which is an absolutely knockoff of the TDM's styling. Goes to show, what's cool now was "weird" yesterday.

TDM Modifications and Accessories
Five-Star Centerstand
One of the dumbest things that's happened to motorcycles in the last decade is the disappearance of centerstands. The Five-Star is/was made in Germany. Apparently, Europeans aren't any more interested in centerstands than Americans. Five-Star quit making this part in the late 90's and people have been digging for a substitute ever since. Some folks thought it lowered the ground clearance too much, especially on peg-dragging turns. I didn't ever have a problem with that, but I'm not that adventurous, either. My experience with a pair of these stands was good enough that I wouldn't be anywhere without one.

ClearShield Windshield
I bought the very first one of these ever built. I wrote it up in an article I did for Rider Magazine and I thought it did a good job for what it was intended. It provides decent weather protection from the neck down. However, it doesn't decrease the wind noise for the rider.

Kerker Exhaust System
This came with my first TDM. The pipes are light and noisy as hell. I, eventually, sold them and went back to stock. I got tired of the evil looks I was getting from my neighbors.

Supertrapp Exhaust System
This came with the second TDM I owned. The Supertrapps were a lot less irritating than the Kerkers and equally light. For what that's worth. Still, I'd rather have the stock pipes and be able to ride into my driveway with the motor on, late at night. I seriously doubt that any aftermarket company can improve a modern Japanese motorcycle manufacturer's performance. But the weight is a big deal, for racers. Either the Kerkers or Supertrapps probably weigh a fifth of the stock pipes.

Carburetor Modifications
I did both the shim correction and the Factory carb kit to the two TDM's I owned. Unfortunately, neither of the bikes were very similar when the job was done, so I can't give you a report of which was the best setup. The TDM is a miserably difficult bike to work on, in some ways. The fairing, side covers, tank, and aircleaner have to come off to get to the carbs. I wasted most of a winter doing the Factory setup on my second TDM and I'm not convinced I saw any improvement. The shim correction, on the other hand, is well worth doing. Replace the emulsion tubes while you're in there and you'll see an improvement in mileage and low end performance.  

Nov 24, 2015

Taking Me Seriously

There is a big difference between the columns I write for MMM or Rider’s Digest and the stuff I put on my blog. The main difference is proofreading. When I write for someone else’s publication, I try to round off the edges so that while I might intend to piss someone off I won’t do it accidentally (although some people misread anything written and you can’t help but wad up their panties with any sequence of words). For publication, I currently have about 20 articles in the que with another dozen almost finished but which will get a few more hours of rewriting before they are plopped on to the que. If my editors saw fit (and I’d love it if they did) and I died tomorrow, I could still be putting out “new” articles two years later.  As H.L. Menken said, “I write for the same reason cows give milk.” When I write for myself on this blog, I don’t worry about that stuff as much as I do trying to get out a point before it’s lost in my wrinkled grey matter. I have nothing in the que for this blog, other than the automatically logged stuff previously published that will end up here about a year or two after it’s in print. I give my publishers first publication rights, but I keep the right to self-publish here and on Wordpress.

While I would never encourage anyone to take me seriously anywhere you read my stuff, getting overwrought about an opinion you read here is an unnecessary strain on both your heart and credibility. I’ve said, for years, that I only believe about 1% of what I read, 10% of what I hear, and 50% of what I say. Your mileage may vary.

A couple of readers whose opinions and thoughts I respect considerably were really disappointed with my comments about Moto Guzzi’s M-something-or-other in a recent rant, Where We’re Going. To be clear, I don’t take much of anything from Europe, machine-wise, seriously. If Finland made a motorcycle, I’d be interested in looking at it, but I wouldn’t trust a bike from Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, or England any further than I could toss it. Been there, done that, thirty and fifty years ago and I’m still holding a grudge. It’s who I am.

More importantly, I wouldn’t invest more than 50% of what I am absolutely certain I could get out of a Euro-trash bike because I’d sell it as fast as I could find a buyer. That’s also who I am and you will have nothing, argument-wise, to beat that one back. It’s, honestly, not the machines with which I have a grudge, it’s the lousy European mismanagement and their complete inability to commit to building a dealer network. Now that VW owns Ducati, that brand is even further down my shitlist of undesirable machines than before: Germany times Italy equals the worst of everything humans do. If Saudi Arabia made a motorcycle, I wouldn’t expect it to be less interesting or more poorly supported. If you have a problem with that, talk amongst yourselves because I’m out of it. I will not live long enough to get over this grudge and wouldn’t want to. I plan to stay retired and don’t expect any new money to help with that.

However, the point of Where We’re Going would have been in the other 75% of that essay that speculated on the possibility that the frivolousness of American motorcycling may be pointing to the likelihood that motorcycles are on a short public road longevity leash. It should always be pretty obvious that the majority of the content in any sort of article is the actual point, but maybe not.

Thanks to the curse of my personality and past occupation (test and reliability engineering), I actually have a pretty good record of predicting bad shit. I’m retired because I accurately predicted four painful economic downturns and placed a strong bet against our bubble economy on three of them. (I only missed the 4th because my shithole Misfortune 500 job had beaten me down so far that I didn’t care if the world and my own bank account sank into the swamp. Hell, by the time I quit that POS job, I couldn’t even read headlines let alone place a sell order on my investments.) To be clear, I have no ability to spot the early leading edge of “irrational exuberance.” I got into Microsoft a little late and got out way early, likewise Marvel Corp, Disney, Genome, Texas Instruments, and a raft of alternative energy investments and commodities. Because I always expect the worst, I almost never get burned but I rarely strike gold. I do get a lot of silver, copper, tin, steel, and well-manufactured products, though. All of my past stockbrokers are either dead or still working for a living and doing it out of necessity. I ignored 99% of their “better jump on this stock” advice and all of their “hold till it gets better” advice and I’m retired and they are not. Most of them are a good bit older than me, too. A couple of them died underwater on investments and real estate. This is my analysis resume: I’m good at predicting when stuff will turn to shit. Four different industries paid me well to tell them when their products would belly-up over 30 years in industry. In one particularly evil industry, part of my job was to predict when our asshole execs should divest themselves of their stock options because the flaws in our product designs would sink the company and its stock value. You can read more about that in one of my other blogs, if you care.

So, with that as a background, try not to focus on how much I distrust Moto Guzzi’s dealer network, hipster styles, or pirate outfits. It was not my point. The original essay was inspired by the fact that motorcycle sales are down and sinking and dealerships are experiencing hard times even in a fairly up economy. Fishing for reenactment business seems very much like the endgame, like those small towns who have nothing but 2nd hand stores left. I've had a couple of private conversations with people in the gear and accessory industry who think they may not survive another year like this. You might be surprised who is thinking these thoughts. These are businesses that have been around a while.

Couple that with my own experience with a couple dozen "new riders," who got into motorcycling for that brief moment when it was hip to be a retro-biker (a trend that peaked about a year ago) and who have already moved on, and away from motorcycles, after a few months experience. That "current fad" is fading into the past quickly. So, what's wrong with it is not that I give a damn about the fad, am offended by the style, or have some sort of moral/engineering objection to the styles and fashions of motorcycles or motorcyclists. It's that it appears to be a quickly passing fad with no serious follow-up consumers.

Harley and Polaris have been counting on the dress-up market for a couple of decades. The people they sell to are old and are on the edge of moving on from their three-wheel wheelchairs to the real thing. Honda hoped the NC700/500 models might attract some practical riders, something resembling long term business, but those bikes are now getting blown out with major discounts. From V-Stroms of both sizes and all models, 250s and 300 sport bikes and dual purpose bikes, big and small sportbikes, cruisers, there doesn't seem to be a model group that is selling. All of that is true for the support business, too. At least from the folks I've talked to, it sounds like gear, accessories, tools, and aftermarket parts sales are down with a pretty poor long term outlook. I don't pay for insider industry information, like PowerSports, so I can't claim access to industry sales data. I’m old and at the tailend of my riding life, so I don’t care much, either. It's pretty widely known that Suzuki planned on closing about 20% of its dealerships in 2013, but more like 30% actually went away. Harley's dealership numbers are below what they were in 2000. Their sales are unreliably hyped by inventory shuffling and money sleight-of-hand games. Harley recently fired the marketing people who were responsible for attracting “under 35 year old consumers” to the brand. I see no evidence that they made the slightest dent into that consumer group. Triumph and Ducati dealers are closing or consolidating.

Here in Red Wing, our local Big Three dealer is dumping 2014 and 2015 bikes and, from what my neighbor (a friend of the owner) said, the dealer might be planning to replace the inventory with the dead minimum motorcycle buy for 2016 and dropping one or two brands. He has two other dealerships and, again from rumor, will be eliminating motorcycles from both of them in a year or so without some sort of change in the business. Boats, jet skis, ATVs, campers, farm equipment, and even snowmobiles are moving. Motorcycle sales are down and sinking. In the Cities, dealers vanish regularly and are either absorbed by other dealers or just disappear.

One well-considered reader/friend asked, “So if the current hipster fads of making old jap bikes into bobbers/cafe/brat style what-evers helps push the manufacturers into making what the kids want to see, what’s wrong with it?” “Wrong” is the wrong word. My feeling is that the existence of this sort of “market” is exactly what’s “wrong” with Midwestern cities lined with 2nd hand stores and no actual businesses. It’s a logical response to a dying industry. Hipsters spend a few weeks wrapping tape around a rusty exhaust pipe, buying flat bars at garage sales and dealer bankruptcy clearances, hacking fenders short, and they ride for a few weeks until they get scared by a near-miss and quit. The gangbangers are either pissing off the general public with their hooligan antics or scaring the shit out of them with their mobster tactics and they are old, fat, unhealthy, and steal their bikes and parts rather than buy them. The gangbanger wannabes are old and incompetent and contribute mostly to morbidity/mortality statistics. The 1% of riders who are on the road regularly, regardless of weather or trendiness, are (I think) a lot more common in other countries. Throughout the swings of the economy and trends, these are the riders are who preserve motorcycle rights/privileges and who the industry counts on to provide steady revenue and new product markets. If the whole number is shrinking, that 1% will eventually become too small to support anything other than hobby business. Again, look at small town economic disintegration to see a recent example of how that all works. 2nd hand stores are hobbies, not businesses.

Sadly, when Kevin Cameron said about my column and blog, “Nobody else does this emperor's clothes kind of thing!” This is the kind of thing he was talking about. There is no motorcycle magazine on the planet that would publish an “end of times” article. Advertisers would panic. I, on the other hand, don’t have any skin in this game. I could, also, be really wrong. I hope I am. What’s happening here is definitely different than much of the rest of the world.

When and where I first started riding in the 60s, it was much worse than now. In Kansas, most people hated motorcycles and motorcyclists and I am not exaggerating when I say it was pretty common to have someone try to knock you off of the road. Truck, cars, and even cops would intentionally crowd me close enough to make contact. So, I just started riding in the ditches. Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are still places I wouldn't consider touring on the WR250 for that reason. I'd want at least a 650 for the power to keep some space between me and hostile cagers. I have always blamed the biker gangsters for this attitude. The gangbangers were pretty common sight on Harleys, BSAs, Nortons, and Triumphs making noise and being assholes back then. Americans are, I think, more timid, conservative, and afraid of most everything than most people, in my experience. We're not warlike because we're brave or give a shit about justice or freedom. We want to blow the shit out of everything because we're afraid of everything from different races, religions, economic systems, languages, to architecture. On motorcycles, too many riders are terrified of the risk and want someone else to “fix it” for them. All that “start seeing motorcycles” and asking for harsher punishment for “right of way” violations and insane expansions of motorcycle right of way claims are part of that.

A lot of the problem with motorcycling in the US is because we're afraid of risk, as a culture. That might be why our actual inventors, scientists, athletes, and entrepreneurs standout so dramatically in contrast. However, that’s a whole different rant.

A Little Encouraging

Century College is one of the biggest MSF/MMSC training centers in Minnesota and the Cities. The college had a down year in 2015, with a total of 542 students enrolling in the Century Motorcycle Safety Classes for the year (slightly over half of previous stronger years). Some of the demographic breakdown is interesting, though.

  • 15-19: 13%
  • 20-29: 37%
  • 30-45: 27%
  • 45-60: 19%
  • 60-up: 3%

There were years when more than half of our students were 60-up. Harley and Polaris’ golden years, I suppose. It is dramatically easier to teach physical and mental skills to people who are still in school or only recently left an environment where they were expected to learn something occasionally. More fun, too.

30% of our students were women. I don’t really have much of an opinion about that. Too often, women are taking the class because a spouse or boyfriend insists they “need to know how to ride.” That rarely works out well. It is a terrible motivation. And often leads to an often-dropped-motorcycle and tears.

About 85% of the students who enroll in a course pass it. You could blame that stat on good instructors, which Century has plenty of. I tend to believe that the course is far too easy. Many people who should not pass, do. Occasionally, someone who rides well screws up something simple and fails, but that’s rare and easily remedied with a “Skills Retest” card. The bigger problem is the much larger group who pass, barely, and on their only decent ride of the weekend. They have been marginally trained to ride a motorcycle slowly, in a free-from-traffic parking lot, with an instructor providing moment-by-moment instruction. Real world traffic will overwhelm them.

Nov 23, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1986 Yamaha TY350 Trials


For no good reason, I'd barely used this bike when I gave it up. (Ok, there was a pretty good reason. I’d bruised my right knee badly enough that the bone was beginning to atrophy. My orthopedic surgeon recommended that I buy a crutch and lay off of physical activity for at least a year to let the bone heal. If that didn’t work, I’d have bought a fake knee about 1998.)

I bought it in Colorado, when I thought I might take advantage of the nearby Ramparts Motorcycle Park. I didn't. I moved it to Minnesota, where I built a small trials course in our yard. I'd probably used the bike a total of 20 hours in the six years I've owned it. I sold it in 1998, after wreaking a knee in my backyard (doing yard work, not riding). In retrospect, this was another bike that I wish I'd have hung on to a while longer. At the time, I was told I wouldn't recover from the knee injury and would, probably, end up with a plastic knee. With careful exercise and Glucosamine, I discovered there was an alternative. Almost ten years later, my knees are fine; better than they were when I was 30, in fact. Now, I wish I had a trials bike.

If I'd have had a bike like the TY350 when I was young and actively riding trials, I'd have loved the sport much more. Since I had the RL250 at that time, I learned to love watching trials but sort of lost the drive to do it myself. After the knee injury, I let the TY sit in the garage, untouched for three years and, on a half dozen kicks, it fired up and ran like someone has been taking care of it all along. I bought a new rear fender and a pair of half-decent air filter elements, which brought all of the TY's pieces up to decent standards. When I sold it, the bike looked great, ran strong, and started on the 3rd kick on a 35F day, once again after being left unattended for months.

Its old fashioned drum brakes aren't up to doing modern trials tricks, but they worked well enough for a plugger like me. The TY350 seems to be indestructible, based on the abuse I'd given it, something I'm definitely not. I needed a time machine and 25 fewer years on my joints. The engine is obsolete, a throwback to the slow rev'ing, high torque days of trials engine design. The bike is way over-weight, by modern standards. The engine didn't rev instantly, launching the bike up a vertical incline like a wheeled cougar, but I could putt up my backyard pile of rocks with confidence. The brakes weren't 1-finger tight, but I could control the TY350 on a downhill slide into a creek bed.

The suspension is equally backwards. However, all of the parts worked together pretty well. I might never be able to hop a trials bike, but I could get over a 4' tall log. With all that, I might have been a half-decent novice rider on the TY if I'd have known I'd be getting my knees back.

Nov 19, 2015

Why We’re Everyone’s Favorite Asshole

California is still the only state in the US with actual legal lane-splitting/sharing. I’d love to believe that this great idea will spread to other states, but because motorcycles attract more assholes than humans, I suspect it never will (or won’t in my lifetime). This article from CBS Los Angeles, Road Rage Caught On Camera: Motorcyclist Smashes Auto Mirrors And Flees, is one of many reasons why. If you do a Google search on “motorcycle road rage video smashes mirrors youtube ” you’ll discover more of this crap than you’d imagine/hope.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen almost no evidence that self-regulation works in any industry or activity. Scuba diving and some of the high-liability air sports like skydiving and glider piloting are the exceptions. Personally, I think motorcyclists are going to have take motorcycle licensing and laws in hand and drop the hammer on assholes like this douche or we can wait to be banished from public roads with more than enough justification.

Then, of course, there is always the total asshole gangbanger crowd. I will never understand why, if cops are so anxious to blow holes in people, they don’t practice with these jackasses. There wouldn’t be 30 seconds of protest if this whole pack of dickwads were routed into a warehouse districted and shot to pieces. There might even be promotions and medals involved.

Nov 17, 2015

Where We’re Going

2013-MotoGuzzi-V7Stone3A friend sent me a link to his next dream bike: a Moto Guzzi V9. His comment was “I like the idea of bigger motor w/ more hp to replace the V7.” If you haven’t seen the V7, there’s a reason for that: it is a kinda silly Euro-trash product that can only be spotted in US major urban centers. At $10,000 for an underpowered, barely unsupported Sportster-style 750, you have to be a fairly committed hipster to even consider owning one of these things. As a motorcycle, it’s a fashion statement that totally evades me. When I mentioned it to a friend who is a daily rider, but who isn’t particularly connected to the motorcycle culture or a moto-journalism reader his comment was, “Is Moto Guzzi still around?” They are and the next obvious question is “Why?”

bikers-379983Of course, I’ve been asking that question about the myriad of US cruiser manufacturers and Japanese clones for the last three decades. More accurately, my question has been,“Why the hell are these people making these stupid bikes and why are people buying them?” Believe it or not, I think there is an answer. It’s not an answer I like, but it appears to be as close to the truth as a short essay can describe.

bikers1In an email conversation about the motorcycling economy (or lack of one) Andy Goldfine explained this stuff to me a couple of weeks ago in a way that makes demented sense. His take is that US motorcycling has become a “reenactment activity,” like Civil War reenactments or Renaissance Festivals. Like it or not, that explains the desperation from the biker bunch and their pitiful rebels without a cause group angst. It more than explains the cobbled-up Eurotrash-revival of hipster cafe racers and scramblers. It even goes a ways toward explaining the whole vintage Japan nuttiness. While riding for transportation appears to be a vanishing habit, dressing up like a 1910-55 motorcyclist is a "thing."

ww14-benoit-guerry-018-1024x682In his book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” Thomas Frank points to the abundance of secondhand stores as evidence of economic and cultural decay. After reading his book, you can’t help but see the incredible collection of junk stores in the smoking, dead hulk of what used to be the Midwestern “Mainstreet USA.” Likewise, sunny-day recreational riders dressing up like pirates or bankrobbers or 1960’s mods is evidence of the decay of motorcycling. All this posing means there is no real purpose for motorcycles. Like those abandoned Midwestern towns whose only purpose is to house the remaining seven ancient characters who don’t have the motivation, courage, or competence to move to a decent place, these people are saying the only reason to own a motorcycle is as an excuse to play dress-up. The unfortunate fact is that this opinion is the majority motorcycling attitude.

Leader of the Pack.They are, of course, wrong. I’m not going to list all of the should-be-obvious advantages two-wheel vehicles have over cages, but the fact is that we can fill the spaces in any sort of traffic; auto-piloted or otherwise. On a typical American urban street, more space is wasted than used. That is taxpayer money being foolishly spent out of tradition and if anything on this earth has proved to be useless it is tradition.

Nov 16, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1983 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision

Learn more about this bike

vision83 Like the '82, this Vision was a great bike. For some reason, the '83 Vision didn't sell at all in CA until 1985. Once they left the showroom floors, you couldn't find one, anywhere. I watched for an '83 right up till I found one in 1988. I bought the bike, rode it for my last three years in CA and took it with me to Colorado.

The '83 was an especially terrific Colorado touring bike, the fairing's heating system added about two months to my riding season in that state. While friends were hiding in their cages, I rode for all but about two months of the first two years I was in Colorado. The fairing provided great coverage, some storage, and the heating vents worked so well that I can't figure out why more bikes don't do it. The Vision was way ahead of its time. Too much vision?

The only downside to the bike was that the added weight of the fairing seemed to overwhelm the brakes, slightly. The '82 Vision had strong, positive feeling front brakes. The '83 brakes were slightly mushy and not nearly as powerful. Plus, the front end tended to sag under rough road riding. Still, it was a decent motorcycle and it served me well for more than 50,000 miles.

The Corbin seat (in the picture) was a custom design that I drew up on CAD and shipped to Corbin, along with the stock seat frame). It worked pretty well, but I got carried away with my attempt to lower the seat height and the Corbin slightly cramped the riding position with no advantage. For whatever that's worth, it was a fairly cool looking seat and really comfortable for a passenger.

The Vision was so versatile that I only took my XT350 out of the Colorado garage one time, and ended up selling that bike a couple of months later. If the TDM hadn't come along, I might still be riding the '83 Vision. I can't say enough about what a great bike this was.

I put about 50,000 miles on the '83 before selling it to a guy who came all the way to Colorado from Southern California (in the winter) to pick it up. It was still in great shape and ran flawlessly. The guy didn't even want to test ride the Vision. I started it for him and we loaded it into his truck and away he went. I took this picture a couple of days before it left my life. I didn't want it to escape my memory the way the CX500 and others had. The new owner seemed more interested in the stock seat I'd kept in like-new condition, so maybe he was more of a collector than a rider or could see that the Corbin had some design problems.

Nov 9, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1986 Yamaha XT350 Enduro

Learn more here 1986-Yamaha-XT350-White-Red-5173-0

Again, a bike for which I've had to steal a picture. This pic is pretty much exactly what my XT looked like, dead stock. However, if I’d have found a 2000 XT it wouldn’t have mattered. Other than color changes the 2000 is not even a little bit different than the 1986.

I owned my XT for 6 years and loved it for most of that. The TDM and my old age finally eliminated my need for the bike and it sold for what I'd paid for it. XT's don't show up, often, for sale because they're such terrific bikes.

In California, I watched for one for two years, when I found it I got into a bidding war with three guys who hadn't even been out to see the bike yet. I was the winner because I was there with cash. When I sold mine in 1995, I was on the other end of the same situation in Colorado.

I used my XT, mostly, for commuting in Southern California, along PCH between Costa Mesa and Long Beach. Because California drivers are practically talentless and most are mental cases, I wanted a bike that could jump off-road without hesitation. The XT suspension could take a curb as well as most bikes can roll over smooth highway. I can't guess how many times I left the road and ran for the safety of someone's front yard, while commuting to school in Long Beach. I watched as two to a dozen cars, then, piled into each other, burying the spot I'd vacated a few moments earlier. Once, I decided the air must be too thin for the average Californian's pollution-damaged brain and I rode nearly five miles on the sidewalk paralleling PCH. The place is a nutbin, but the XT350 was my way to escape joining the wacko bloodbath.

The other great advantage was in parking. CSULB would let me park my XT by the bicycle racks. I could practically ride up to my classes and step off the bike into my classroom.

Being a lazy bonehead, I allowed a little tuning to get between me and using the XT regularly in Colorado. Moving the bike, which was perfectly tuned in California, to Denver resulted in major jetting problems. The XT always ran way too rich in Colorado and a trip to Ramparts highlighted how far away from prime the tuning was. I had a miserable weekend trying to keep the 350 running in the 8,000 foot altitude of the motorcycle park. I couldn't even keep the other guys in sight, while I fought stalling, loading-up, and the other symptoms of a super-rich fuel-air mixture. Locally, I got some terrible jetting advice from the Yamaha Aurora shop and the twin carburetor low/high rev system defeated me. Out of disgust (mostly with myself), I quit trying to figure out the bike and sold it. The moment my buyer loaded the XT on to his truck, I knew I'd made a mistake. 

For almost a decade, I watched for a replacement, even an exact replacement, for almost 15 years nobody appeared to be getting rid of their XT's.  I wish I'd have never sold the one I had.  Finally, the WR250X came along and wiped the memory of the XT’s brilliance from my mind.

Nov 5, 2015

2015 Motorcycle Riding Season Preliminary Statistics Summary

At this point there have been 60 motorcycle fatalities this riding season in 56 crashes. That compares to 44 rider deaths at this point last year.

There were 46 motorcycle fatalities in 2014.

2015 Rider Deaths Statistics
·       Helmet use: 37 riders killed were not wearing helmet; 16 were wearing a helmet.
o      It’s unknown if the remaining 7 riders were wearing helmets or not.
·       33 of the crashes were single-vehicle, involving only the motorcycle. 23 of the crashes involved a motorcycle and another vehicle.
·       6 of the crashes were motorcycle vs. deer.
·       8 passengers have died in motorcycle crashes.
·       26 of the crashes happened while motorcyclists were negotiating a curve. Only 2 of the 26 involved a second vehicle; 24 were single-vehicle crashes.
·       Rider Deaths by Age:
o      20’s: 9 riders
o      30’s: 9 riders
o      40’s: 12 riders
o      50’s: 18 riders
o      60’s: 10 riders
o      70’s: 2 riders
·       41 of the crashes happened in a rural area. 15 happened in an urban area.

The summer months (June, July, August) tend to be the time when there are the greater number of motorcycle fatalities.

The record for the most motorcycle fatalities was set in 1980, when 121 motorcyclists were killed in 112 crashes.

The data is followed by some of the usual advice such as "wear a helmet, get trained" and the ABATE party line about how drivers need to watch out for unskilled and poorly protected motorcyclists because we're too dumb to do it for ourselves. 

A Real Future


A friend who makes a living in the motorcycle accessory industry recently had some discouraging words to say about his perspective on the future of motorcycling. Obviously, I didn’t have much to offer in disagreement. However, outside of the historical “reenactment” cruiser characters who are nearly as ancient and obsolete as Civil War wannabes, there is a potential market for motorcycles in the under-70 generations that is almost completely untapped.

Nov 3, 2015

Something to Think about Every Year You Ride

Peter Cheney’s article, “Why I quit riding motorcycles” in the Globe and Mail pretty much voiced what we all know to be true: motorcycling is dangerous and, someday, we’re all going to get killed or get hurt and quit or just quit while we’re ahead. There are no other options. I especially liked this paragraph, “Historian Jeremy Packer concluded that there are four basic approaches to motorcycle safety. The first is to quit riding. Then there’s Risk Flaunting (epitomized by riders who refuse to wear a helmet and wear T-shirts that read, “You only live once”). Then there is Risk Valorization, where risk is accepted as an unfortunate but controllable component of a desirable activity. Packer’s fourth approach is the one that used to be my mantra: Hyper-Reflective Self-Discipline (which I will refer to as HRSD).”

I think most of us consider ourselves to be among the HRSD crowd. As David Hough found out a couple of years ago, at a certain age you are fooling yourself if you believe you can “hyper” anything. Every day, the decision moment comes closer and at 67, I’m suspecting that I will regret pushing it too far.

Nov 2, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1986 Kawasaki KLR 600

If you're a glutton for punishment, you can learn more about the KLR600.

klr600 You might be able to tell from all the non-stock stuff on this bike that I really wanted the KLR to be my personal statement about motorcycling. I spent way too much on accessories and customizing the KLR600. When it was all said and spent, the brutal fact remained; this was the worst, least functional motorcycle I'd ever owned. The KLR600 couldn't get out of it's own way. It's only claim to fame was electric start. Otherwise, the bike was a monster loser in every way. In many ways, the KLR more resembled the first Kawasaki I'd ever owned (the 350 Bighorn), than any other bike I've had.

The suspension was soggy, made even more awful by the extra weight the 6 gallon Acerbis tank lent to already pitiful forks. The motor was anemic and easily overheated, even though it was watercooled. The handling was poor on pavement and awful on dirt. Rain grooves turned the KLR into something nightmarish. So did stream crossings. Mileage was a mediocre mid-30's, unless you babied the throttle like you were driving a GM Suburban. The seat height was too tall for comfort while the ground clearance was not much better than the '82 Yamaha Vision street bike it replaced. I could go on for pages. In short, the KLR 600 sucked.

I built the custom, stainless steel saddlebag racks, you see at the back of the bike (just below the "600" on the seat). The design allowed me to use a variety of bicycle panniers, saving a lot of money and adding a lot of options for in-town and touring luggage. It worked a lot better than the bike did.

Our relationship even ended badly. I sold the bike to a German tourist, in Southern California. The kid promptly killed the engine by riding it for several miles with the kickstarter half engaged, trapped behind his leg. When the starter gear seized, it took out a piece of the cases and he ignored that noise just as he'd ignored the grinding of the starter gear. After the engine oil was emptied out, the engine seized and that stopped him.

On discovering that he'd managed to turn his $1,600 investment into a pile of trash, he sued me in small claims court. Fortunately, he was stupid enough to explain what he'd done to the judge, while still expecting me to foot the bill for his stupidity, and the judge laughed him out of court, after giving him a short lecture on the word "used." Still, I wasted a morning of my life and several hours getting ready to present my case. For a while, I thought the KLR was never going to let me escape from its clutches. (pun intended)

Nov 1, 2015

MN Crash Stats

One feature of being an MMSC motorcycle instructor is that we get to look at the crash data, compiled into a spreadsheet, often and early. As usual, this year’s data is embarrassing. But a little interesting. For one, only four crashes involved non-liter or smaller motorcycles and all of those crashes involved another vehicle or a deer. Most of the crashes and fatalities were on rural roads. Not surprisingly, the majority of motorcycle crashes and fatalities were from Harley riders who ran into mailboxes, ditches, deer, sign posts, cable barriers, open fields, curbs, and other vehicles. Based on these statistics, you’d think ABATE would be doing everything they could to get bikers off of cruisers, on to smaller motorcycles, away from country roads, and out of bars. Don’t hold your breath.

PS: If you’d like to look at the preliminary spreadsheet, send me a note and I’ll email it to you.

Oct 26, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1982 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision

Learn more about this bike
82xtzvision The Yamaha Vision was a great bike, for me. The picture above isn't really of the bike I owned. I snagged this picture from the Yamaha Vision Users webpage, because I never, ever, took a picture of my own '82 Vision. I can't explain why. (There's no accounting for when and why I might use a camera, because I really disliked taking pictures at almost any time. In the digital world, that's changed, but the hassle of carefully handling film and delivering it to a store for developing just didn't interest me.) My own '82 Vision had a Rifle fairing, which made the bike extremely comfortable and provided decent protection from rain and weather. Otherwise, it looked exactly like this bike. Bone stock. The only other modification I made to my '82 was a tapered headstock bearing to calm the bike's tendency to shake at higher speeds.

I owned this bike in Southern California, where it was an excellent compromise between road-worthiness and maneuverability. The Vision is reasonably light, moderately quick, powerful enough to carry two comfortably, a fuel miser (>55mpg for an easy 200 mile range), and has a narrow engine and transmission that is ideal for California's lane-splitting tactic. The motor was exceptional smooth and reliable and the riding position is a slightly aggressive mostly-upright neutral standard posture. The Vision was a terrific commuter bike.

A lot of the bad rap on the Vision was unearned. Some folks complained that the stator was under-designed and burned up easily. I put a lot of miles on two of these bikes and never had that problem. However, I am a believer in engineering specs and the standard text on lead-acid batteries gives them a two-year expected lifetime (regardless of warranty BS). I was religious about abandoning batteries on my Visions, as regularly as possible, every two years.

Another "flaw" was the starter O-ring. When you overfill the oil (even microscopically), this O-ring wouldn't stand up to the minor change in pressure and oil would flow into the starter motor. This happened on both of my Visions and I had the starter rebuilt each time.  After rebuilding the starter, I replaced the Yamaha O-ring with a comparable, but slightly heavier/thicker, part found at a local auto parts store and never had the problem again on either bike.

The final glitch in my Vision ownership was head-shake at medium speeds. It took a while to get decent advice on this, for the '82. A great mechanic, who was the head guy for Beach Yamaha in Huntington Beach, CA, recommended changing out the head bearings with tapered bearings. He did the work, on both bikes, and that permanently solved the problem.

I put about 60,000 miles on the '82 before selling it to a friend of a friend. It was still in great shape and ran flawlessly. The new owner promptly smashed the Rifle fairing with his garage door. He, mostly owned motorcycles for the pleasure of having possessions, so, for him, the bike was ruined. I doubt that it ever left his garage until he sold it. Weird.

Oct 19, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1980 Honda CX500

More stuff about this bike

cx500 It really irritates me that I don't have a picture of my burgundy CX500 Deluxe. It was my first street bike, since the 1963 Harley Sprint, and I put over 120,000 miles on the bike. The above picture is the right year, color, model, with the same luggage rack, and a Windjammer fairing that weighs almost as much as my current bike. So it will serve as my reminder of this great motorcycle. For what it's worth, I took the picture of this bike in June, 2000 in Minnesota (at Bob's Cycle Parts). The owner had about 70,000 miles on the bike and it was still going strong. If you can't tell from the picture, this CX500 was in beautiful shape.

I bought my 1980 CX500 for $800, cash, from a guy who was suffering the after-effects of divorce and needed the cash in the middle of winter, in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1982. You can imagine that he was desperate. I was the only prospective buyer he'd had in two months, so I got a great deal. He'd equipped the bike with an extra 200 pounds of chrome crap, which I immediately removed and replaced with the stock stuff. I sold the pile of chrome for $400 to a guy who was building a mini-Goldwing. When I first put the bike on the road, it had less than 1,500 miles on the odometer.

I rode the CX from Omaha to Orange County, California, for my first street bike trip. First, ever, of any length on pavement. In fact, I moved myself from Nebraska to California with what I could carry on that bike. And I carried a lot of stuff in saddlebags, a big Gerry backpack, and a duffle strapped over the tank. On that trip, I rode through fifty mile-an-hour crosswinds and four hundred miles of ice and snow in Kansas and Oklahoma. The fairing kept a little of the snow and ice off of me, although before I turned south in Kansas, I had a 1/2" layer of ice on the north facing (right) side of my rain gear.

Once I got below Lubbock, Texas, the going was a lot easier. On the ride to California, I rode through a thousand miles of plus-110-degree Arizona and western New Mexico heat. The CX's temperature gauge didn't register any of that heat, at all. On the way from New Mexico to San Diego, I picked up two different Harley riders and lost them, as they had to stop for temperature related heat problems. I locked the throttle and cruised up the high desert like it was the easiest thing in the world to do on a motorcycle. It was years afterwards before I really understood how impressive that motorcycle really was.

For the next three years, I rode my CX everywhere, up and down the coast between central Baja Mexico and Oregon. Our bliss was interrupted by a timing chain tensioner failure, which I had repaired and redid myself. Once that was out of the way, every 8-10,000 miles the bike got new tires. Every 3,000 miles I changed the oil and checked the valve clearances. And I'd have trusted my life to the CX under any conditions.

This being my first street bike and my first real experience on pavement, I owned the CX for a while before taking on passengers. After 30,000 or so miles, my wife and I began to explore southern California on the CX. We rode that little bike, together, from Baja to central California. My daughters joined the adventure a few thousand miles later. When my brother came out from Kansas for a visit, he and I loaded our 390-combined pounds on to the 500 and took the bike to places we'd only seen in movies.

At 126,000 miles, I sold it to a friend who moved himself to Idaho on the bike. He'd have put a few more tens of thousands of miles on it, but he let it sit, unattended, in his garage for a winter and mice turned the wiring into nests. So the bike died an ignoble death at the paws and teeth of vermin.

Oct 12, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1975-76 OSSA dirt bikes

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. My day job was servicing mobile electronic scales in cattle feedlots and grain mills. There was never a shortage of dirt in our household.

ossa_logo  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.

ossphantom 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.

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 ( 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 [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

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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.