May 20, 2019

Taking It Lying Down

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

One of the less sane things I wanted to do with my retirement spare time is bicycle. And by that, I mean do some serious distance. I have considered myself a bicyclist since I was about five years old. There have been years when I've done more miles by pedal-power than on either a motorcycle or a cage, but not lately. I hoped to change that before I'm so decrepit that I can't do much more than bitch about the kids trespassing on my lawn, if I ever have a lawn. I have had a fascination with recumbent bicycles since I first saw them in California 40 years ago. I've always wanted to try one, but, like many cool things, they have mostly been priced out of my income bracket. This winter, I kept my eye on a Burley recumbent that seemed to hold it's place in Craig's List without any sign of movement other than a slowly deteriorating price. After I finished wrestling with, hopefully, my last ever complicated state and federal income tax submission, I took the remains of my tax "return" and hunted down the Burley recumbent owner. We came to a price agreement, as the last snow storm of the long 2014 winter started to bury the roads and the seller's hope of convincing me to buy his bike after a test ride. A week later, the snow finally left the streets for "good" and I started learning how to ride my new toy.

By now, you're probably wondering what the hell this has to do with motorcycling. Hang in there, it's coming.

recumbent1After 500 miles of getting adjusted to a new riding position, I learned a few new things about a lot of two-wheeled stuff. First, the limitations of riding feet-forward have always put me off on motorcycles. The same position on a bicycle provides similar sorts of restrictions. In fact, the things I couldn't do on my first recumbent probably outnumbered what I got from this riding position by at least 10:1. Thirty years ago, I swapped my road bikes for mountain bikes and have never looked back, until now. Fat tires, a tough frame, and an upright riding position have let me go places I'd have had to walk on a normal bicycle. Many recumbent bikes are even more limited than road bikes. Curb-jumping? Nope. Dirt roads or single-track bike trails? Furgetaboutit. Quick turns, jumping curbs (in either direction), hill-climbing with anything resembling speed, fast starts, any sort of start on an uphill, or predictable transitions from one surface to another? Nope, on all counts. No more quick jumps on the bike, either. My Burley Limbo recumbent was a solid foot-and-a-half longer than my mountain bike and at least 20 pounds heavier. I didn't  just hop on that bike and go for a quick ride. Because of the length and awkwardness, getting a recumbent out of the garage takes some rearranging, strategic planning, and heavy lifting. A recumbent can be a very restrictive bicycle. Most of my friends were surprised I put up with it.  

If you have to give up all of that freedom and capability what do you get out of a recumbent? Speed on flat land, downhills, or mild uphill grades. That's it, but that is a lot. On relatively flat terrain, recumbent bikes are so superior to traditional bicycles that like all superior technology they have been banned from pretty much all forms of bicycle competition. Recumbents were first banned from UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) competition right after the first one was invented by Charles Mochet, in 1934. Oddly and symptomatically, the race organization's "reasoning" was that a recumbent wasn't a "bicycle." Bureaucrats have always had problems counting to two competently. In 2005, Tim Brummer won a US national championship on one of his own Lightening Cycles' recumbent bikes and the United States Cycling Federation outlawed them immediately afterwards. You have to love the regressive and conservative nature of racing organizations as they do everything they can to make sure race vehicles don't actually go particularly fast or progress into useful vehicles. Sort of reminds you of our own AMA Racing disorganization or the FIM, doesn't it? If racing bureaucrats don't like recumbents, there has to be something useful in the design. The useful part is lowered wind resistance and some improvement in the efficiency of the pedal stroke.

recumbent2The other advantage that finally pushed me over the edge of my normal buyer's resistance is comfort. Unlike a motorcycle cruiser, most recumbents have a lawn chair of a seat. No more tiny wedgie triangle cramming its way up my butt. Instead, I have a mesh sling seat that gives me full support from the seat to my upper back. The Burley's rear wheel is suspended, which removed any impact from road surface defects, but cost a lot in uphill pedal efficiency. I can ride my recumbent for hours without any discomfort other than getting tired. No more back or butt aches, no more numb hands. That is no small thing.

More differing characteristics than I've listed here are discussed in some detail are listed on this link: http://www.biketcba.org/TRICORR/compare.html. However, the stuff I have described all relate to the connection I've made to recumbents and cruisers. There is no real efficiency upside to cruisers, especially since their designers are inclined to build 700+ pound hippobikes with no real thought for fuel efficiency or lowered wind resistance. The only reason for picking a feet-forward, slouched-back cruiser riding position should be comfort. Since every handling quality is sacrificed for this riding position, you better need it. Like my recumbent bicycle, you are not going to turn quickly and confidently, potholes and other road defects are going to connect directly to your back since cruisers usually have laughable suspension designs, and the high bars pretty much eliminate confident braking. You'll be limited to riding on only the best roads (freeways), being a near-stationary target for every texting and coffee slurping distracted driver on the road, and being handicapped by poor visibility and a lousy sight-line thanks to the low seat height. To me, that all seemed like too many sacrifices for a marginal improvement in comfort.

As for my recumbent bicycle experiment, in the summer of 2016 I gave up on my Burley Limbo thinking I was done with recumbents. In early April of 2017, a friend who is an experienced recumbent touring bicyclist let me ride his bike and I discovered that many of the complaints I had with the Burley were due to the suspension and the steering linkage. I'm about 500 miles into this new bike and, so far, I'm a big fan. It still sucks on uphills but way less and the improvement in steering stability, especially on gravel roads, is dramatic. However, it appears to be a given that this riding position is limited to ideal road conditions and like cruisers not that practical in mixed traffic situations.

May 1, 2019

Show Stoppers

For the last month or so, my 71-year-old vision problems have multiplied into what appears to be a show stopper for what I had hoped might be my last years as a motorcyclist. Last year, about the same time, I had a sudden bout with double-vision that took me out of the driver’s seat until I ended up with a variation in my glasses prescription that involved prisms. (I have no idea how that works, but it did for about a year.) Early March, this year, it happened again, but way worse. Another visit to the optometrist and I learn that my eyes’ offset has flipped and that is an indication of something serious going wrong. So far, none of the various tests I’ve undergone have enlightened either me or the docs. 

I don’t know about you, but I am not inclined to be a one-eyed motorcyclist. I’ve put in a bunch of miles on the bicycle this spring, one-eyed, and it sucks. When I was young and even more foolish than now, I imagined that losing my hearing would be worse than losing my eyesight. I’ve been involved in music for my whole adult (and most of my youth) life and my hearing was once something I took some pride in. Old age, noise exposure, stupidity, and bad luck have taken a toll on my hearing. I’m at the age Sir George Martin was when he decided it was time to hang up his golden ears. I don’t think I ever had golden ears, but they were pretty damn good for a lot of years. Now, they aren’t. Following that realization comes the current problem with my eyes.

Luckily, my close vision hasn’t been much effected. Which is why I can write this without being driven nuts. All this likely means that I might be selling off my only motorcycle, my 2008 Yamana WR250X yet this spring. I sold my V-Strom last spring, after discovering that I no long had the strength or will to wrestle with a 400 pound motorcycle. If I were capable of loving a motorcycle, that amazing 2004 650 was as close as I will ever get. It just never let me down and was always a delight to ride. My WR is a close second, but I will likely never end up spending as much long-distance, day-after-day time on the WR unless I get a couple more years with some cure for this vision problem. If I sell the WR, I will likely be done as a motorcyclist.

I might also be done as a cage driver. My overall sight in my right eye (the good one) is pretty sad. My distance judgement was never great, even with glasses, but one-eyed it is non-existent. My father had similar probably at about my age and ended up having his license taken away after several rear end crashes that were all his fault. I am not going to do that. I have always believed that one crash in the back of another vehicle should disqualify someone from ever driving anything heavier than a bicycle. It means you are stupid or physically disabled enough to be incapable of safe driving. That applies to me, too.

Apr 17, 2019

The Perfect Harley Rider Party Tent


Impress your friend or your imaginary girl friend.

Apr 1, 2019

In It for Ourselves

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

I dropped off my grandson at school on a Thursday fall morning and headed back home, in my trusty, rusting Escort station wagon via I35E. About half-way home, I saw a fast-approaching orange hippomobile in my rear view mirror. The rider wasn't a small guy, either. Gear-wise, the rider was almost as naked as the day he was born; helmet-less and bald, glove-less, half-covered by a two-man tent-sized wind-whipped tee-shirt, loose butt-crack illuminating gangsta jeans, and low-top tennis shoes without socks. The rider was a one-man advertisement for the MSF's Basic Rider Course. Using his considerable weight to weave his 1,000 pound vehicle and flying along at 20mph over the posted speed in moderately heavy traffic, there was no way to avoid imagining how this dude's motorcycling career was going to end. His motorcycle motto was clearly, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." His bike had a lot in common with streetcars, too.

There were three lessons to be learned while being passed by this experiment in high velocity meat distribution: 1) the physics of sound and 2) the errors in common assumptions and 3) far too many motorcyclists are among the most self-centered people on earth.

Obviously, the hippomobile was exhaust silencer-free. In fact, the exhaust noise was so obnoxious that I could hear him when he was nearly out of sight. However, that same deafening blubber was non-existent until the bike was close to parallel with my cage. My windows were rolled up, the radio was on but not loud, and I saw the doofus at least 1/4 mile before I heard him. I listen for a living and I was paying particular attention to this goofball because he looked like a crash-waiting-to-happen from the moment I saw him. As he dodged between the cars around him, clinging desperately to the bars, heaving his belly from side-to-side pretending to be a real motorcyclist, he was violating the peace and quiet of thousands of fellow highway users and every neighborhood within a 1/2 mile of the freeway. However, all that noise was totally useless as a heads-up for anyone he was about to pass. As a life-saving device, his loud pipes only advertised his exit, not his approach.

I was at a friend's going-away party a couple of days earlier and when I was introduced as the author of this column, my new acquaintance said, "You probably hate superbikes, right?" After we talked for a while, he admitted to often "testing" his GSX-R 1100 on Dallas freeways at near top speed and to high speed lane-splitting in a state (like most) where any sort of lane-splitting is illegal. I suggested that a bike like his had no particular purpose in a 60mph world and that he might have more fun on a 250 or 500cc motorcycle on his daily commute. I suggested that, if he wanted to encourage lane-splitting in Texas, he might want to consider less ill-mannered tactics that the ones he'd been using.

He answered by telling me that it didn't matter. His bike had been dead in the garage for engine problems (one too many poorly engineered "upgrades" and the motor had fried). He said he was probably going to give up motorcycling when his first kid was born in a few months. With that change in the subject, I mentioned that my biggest complaint with his "superbike" and most of the hippobikes I bitch about is that they are useless toys, ridden aggressively and offensively until the owners either get hurt or quit riding before they get hurt. This leaves real motorcyclists with a bad reputation and a hostile voting majority looking to limit our access and rights. I don't hate the bikes, but I'm not fond of their stereotypical owners.

I'm not too impressed with people whose riding skills and common sense is so limited that they have to give up motorcycling because of a mild change in responsibilities, either. If you suck too much to ride and parent, I doubt that you were ever good enough to be licensed to ride on public roads. I'd suspect your capacity as a parent, too.

Where I live, I have the pleasure of hearing all sorts of un-silenced motorcycles blasting a boring, straight section of eight-lane freeway. All of those folks impress me with how lame and clueless they are. There is a common assumption among hippobikers that motorcycling's bad reputation mainly comes from crotch-rocketeers blasting through traffic and terrorizing cagers. The fact is that tactic is pretty common among all of the folks who don't care how many people they irritate; superbikers, hippobikers, and douchebags in clubcab pickups and wannabe sports cars. I'm beginning to suspect that if one set of manners is deficient, that deficiency may apply to that person's conduct in general.

Riding as if your parents were cannibalistic wolves and raised you in a cave with no human contact other than the Manson gang or Motley Crue is single-mindedly selfish. It demonstrates a distinct unconcerned attitude toward everyone but yourself. It says that you don't care about offending the general public. It says that you don't care about costing future motorcyclists their public road access. It says that you don't mind pissing off a cager so that the next motorcyclist may be put in danger.

South Park did a pretty decent job of describing what's actually being said after one of you noisemakers blasts past. (This is not a rare opinion. A friend, whose son is gay, seriously considered waving a "Fags go home" sign at the noisemakers who polluted her neighborhood at a recent rub-rub-rub rally in Hudson.) Loud pipes don't save lives, but they do something. Juvenile driving tactics don't save time, demonstrate your motorcycling skill, or impress the cage-driving peasants. Anti-social behavior just does one thing: it pisses people off. People who vote, write their government, complain to their local police, and write new laws limiting motorcycle access to public areas.

For most of my life, I've heard guys brag about how much attention they get on their loud, expensive toys. The only attention you're getting is negative. Nobody thinks you are cool, but a large number of people want you banned from public roads.

Mar 25, 2019

Got Soul?

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On the shake-down cruise for our new miniature motorhome back in the summer of 2013, I managed to do something dumb and my bicycle slipped off of the trailer and dragged along for a couple of blocks before a Good Samratian (Look it up, that is supposed to be an oxymoron.) took sympathy on me and flagged me down. This is a 25+-year old, no-name (SuperGo) mountain bike that has suffered all sorts of depredations, but was my only bicycle and I'd intended to ride it when we got to the campground. No such luck, though. The rear derailleur was trashed and there is no hope for an 18-gear bicycle without a rear shifter. The rest of the bike was in pretty decent shape, road-rashed but ride-able. If I had $20 worth of parts, I could have resurrected the bike and the bicycling portion of the week.

While we were hiking the area, we ran into a shop that specialized in tasteless Velvet Elvis tourist crap made by "local artisans," sodas and packaged ice cream, and a bicycle rental/repair shop. I half-hoped the bike shop might have a used replacement shifter for cheap, since they rented a butt-load of cheap bicycles to untalented and uncoordinated tourists. It didn't take long to realize that was a non-starter. The bike shop guy claimed that he could sell me the parts I needed for less money than in the Cities and that their repair job would be the best available. "We're a bike shop with a soul," he claimed.

Ever since Mathew Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work hit the bookstands, every breed of repair guy has been claiming to be specially soulful in his work. Since, for most of my life, I've been around musicians who are the original source of people with soul, I have a few bases for comparison. Like lots of trendy qualities, the rule for musicians is if a player claims to be a "Soul-man," he isn't and wouldn't be allowed to park any where near someone who is one. Mechanics and technicians, almost by definition, are the polar opposite of soulful. They might be spiritual, in one of the thousands of ways humans make claim to that status, but "being one with nature or machine" is usually not the attitude of the usual mechanic. It's true that a lot of small, independent bicycle shops are staffed by die-hard bikers who believe they are saving the world on human-powered machines and that is a damn soulful approach to life, but making claim to being specially soulful in that crowd is either clueless or arrogant or both. For a baseline, I looked up the word "soul" in Webster's little book, but the definitions are nearly useless: 1) the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life or 2) the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe or 3) a bunch of mindless crap that doesn't define an identifiable or useful characteristic. Ok, maybe the lake resort bike shop was a soulful place. It appears that anything that exists is. I had no idea the word "soul" was so useless in defining anything.

Apparently, being the "King of Soul" wasn't much of an accomplishment, no matter how much I thought it was? No, I'm not buying that. JB wrote the best national anthem in American history and that has to count for something. "Having soul" still accounts for something with me.

Not wanting to be suckered into dumping a bunch of money into a worn-out bicycle, even with all of the emotional attachments, I looked around a bit for signs of soulfulness. Almost immediately after I talked to the bike shop owner, he took off for the day and left the place in the hands of some teenage kids who looked about as soulful as Donny Osmond or that Bieber twerp. Not a good sign. I watched one of the kids "work" for about ten minutes and decided I could survive on foot for a few days. If there had been a case bolt on the bicycle the kid was working on, he would have used an eight pound sledge and a steel chisel to break it loose: a scene right out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance if I ever saw one. I saw no evidence the kid knew a pipe wrench from a bottom bracket tool. My bike was busted, but fixable. I decided to take it home and administer resuscitation myself. The If I really needed to go somewhere, I brought the dirt bike with me and managed to keep it on the trailer without incident. We put in a lot more walking miles than I'd planned and that was probably good for me, too.

Once we were settled back home, I pulled the shredded pieces off of the bicycle and found replacements. A local seriously soulful local bike shop sold me a decent replacement derailleur for about $30 and a couple of hours later, I took the repair bike for a post-destruction road trip. It is worse for the wear, but still rolling. Best of all, a bike repair man "with soul" did the work; me. This isn't a new lesson, but a reminder of an old fact. The only person who really cares about my stuff is me. I can't fix everything, but the things I can fix I need to do myself. It's a soulful thing.

Mar 19, 2019

Levels of Stupid


This snazzy advertisement from J&P Cycles appeared in my inbox this morning. One one level, I wanted to write something about how incredibly inappropriate it is to be loading up your hippobike with alcohol advertisements. On another level, I sort of hit the limits on my patience for human, especially American, stupidity. If you follow the link, you'll find all sorts of cheap chrome crap with which you can decorate your cheap chrome crap Harley or yourself.

Why decorating yourself with stuff like this wouldn't be justification for pulling over a rider for a blood alcohol test, any time of the day, beats me. I would even be good with "putting a couple of warning shots into the head, as a warning," as my father used to say.

Mar 12, 2019

Crashes and Deaths by State

How crazy are the drivers in your home state? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety does a nice job of providing data for you to decide. Unfortunately, my HTML/Google Blogger capabilities makes this harder than it should be to read. I apologize for that. Excel spreadsheets don't transfer smoothly to webpage tables and correcting the spacing and alignment is beyond my patience and interest. This is 2017 data, but I doubt ANYTHING has improved since then, since nothing else in this country is getting better.

State
Population
Vehicle miles traveled (millions)
Fatal crashes
Deaths
Deaths per 100,000 population
Deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled
South Carolina
5,024,369
54,859
924
988
19.7
1.8
Mississippi
2,984,100
41,387
614
690
23.1
1.67
Louisiana
4,684,333
48,094
696
760
16.2
1.58
Alaska
739,795
5,028
75
79
10.7
1.57
Kentucky
4,454,189
50,284
721
782
17.6
1.56
West Virginia
1,815,857
20,106
280
303
16.7
1.51
Arizona
7,016,270
67,821
919
1,000
14.3
1.47
Montana
1,050,493
12,738
169
186
17.7
1.46
Florida
20,984,400
215,810
2,922
3,112
14.8
1.44
Kansas
2,913,123
32,504
407
461
15.8
1.42
Texas
28,304,596
270,621
3,343
3,722
13.1
1.38
Arkansas
3,004,279
35,746
457
493
16.4
1.38
Idaho
1,716,943
17,676
223
244
14.2
1.38
South Dakota
869,666
9,341
111
129
14.8
1.38
Alabama
4,874,747
69,277
864
948
19.4
1.37
New Mexico
2,088,070
28,171
340
379
18.2
1.35
Oklahoma
3,930,864
49,228
611
655
16.7
1.33
Tennessee
6,715,984
80,128
959
1,040
15.5
1.3
Wyoming
579,315
9,492
105
123
21.2
1.3
Georgia
10,429,379
122,398
1,440
1,540
14.8
1.26
Missouri
6,113,532
74,005
863
930
15.2
1.26
Colorado
5,607,154
53,750
600
648
11.6
1.21
North Carolina
10,273,419
117,754
1,306
1,412
13.7
1.2
North Dakota
755,393
9,760
105
115
15.2
1.18
Oregon
4,142,776
37,528
400
437
10.5
1.16
Delaware
961,939
10,242
112
119
12.4
1.16
Indiana
6,666,818
80,282
836
914
13.7
1.14
Maine
1,335,907
15,063
163
172
12.9
1.14
Nevada
2,998,039
27,803
290
309
10.3
1.11
Pennsylvania
12,805,537
104,022
1,083
1,137
8.9
1.09
Nebraska
1,920,076
20,828
210
228
11.9
1.09
Rhode Island
1,059,639
7,997
76
83
7.8
1.04
California
39,536,653
353,868
3,304
3,602
9.1
1.02
Illinois
12,802,023
107,369
1,005
1,097
8.6
1.02
Hawaii
1,427,538
10,513
96
107
7.5
1.02
Ohio
11,658,609
117,194
1,094
1,179
10.1
1.01
Michigan
9,962,311
103,080
939
1,030
10.3
1
Virginia
8,470,020
85,335
783
839
9.9
0.98
Wisconsin
5,795,483
64,160
557
613
10.6
0.96
Iowa
3,145,711
34,241
301
330
10.5
0.96
Maryland
6,052,177
59,417
511
550
9.1
0.93
Vermont
623,657
7,436
63
69
11.1
0.93
Washington
7,405,743
61,569
536
565
7.6
0.92
Connecticut
3,588,184
32,126
260
278
7.7
0.87
District of Columbia
693,972
3,550
29
31
4.5
0.87
Utah
3,101,833
31,874
247
273
8.8
0.86
New Jersey
9,005,644
76,550
591
624
6.9
0.82
New York
19,849,399
129,146
933
999
5
0.77
New Hampshire
1,342,795
13,467
98
102
7.6
0.76
Minnesota
5,576,606
57,922
340
357
6.4
0.62
Massachusetts
6,859,819
60,560
336
350
5.1
0.58

For me, there were few surprises. I absolutely admit that I would assume that Red States have a higher percentage of pissed off assholes and the resulting sorts of highway deaths and mayhem.Texas is, as you'd expect if you've ever driven or (suicidal-ly ridden a motorcycle) in that nutbin of a state, Deathrace 2017 and Beyond: 10 million fewer people than California but 100 more people dead on the highways. The Southeast is consistently the most dangerous place to be on the road with only Virginia in the safest states at #14. Minnesota Nice appears to be reflected in our highway safety record. Traffic congestion seems to be less of a contributor to highway fatalities than you might think, since Massachusetts, New York, California, and many of the  states with significant urban traffic are under-represented in fatality numbers.