Feb 26, 2015

We are a bit of a freak show here in Minnesota, aren’t we?

The top two store types in Minnesota are “motorcycle gear” and vinyl records, based on typical interest in those sorts of stores in other states. Battery stores goes without saying in the frozen north. And since we’re housebound for 6-8 months a year, it makes sense that we get knocked up about 250% more often than the rest of the country. And, of course, we aren’t home to the nation’s “Bike City” for nothing. Bicyclists in Minnesota spend a boatload of money trying to stay warm and upright on two frozen wheels.



  1. Motorcycle Gear -- 605 percent higher than national average.
  2. Vinyl Records -- 351 percent higher than national average.
  3. Battery Stores -- 327 percent higher than national average.
  4. Maternity Wear -- 255 percent higher than national average.
  5. Bikes -- 239 percent higher than national average.
  6. Used, Vintage & Consignment -- 239 percent higher than national average.
  7. Music & DVDs -- 235 percent higher than national average.
  8. Newspapers & Magazines -- 227 percent higher than national average.
  9. Thrift Stores -- 222 percent higher than national average.
  10. Hardware Stores -- 213 percent higher than national average.

Feb 23, 2015

#96 Back in the Day

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

When I was a kid, barely into my 20's, I moved to west Texas for one of the worst jobs anyone ever suffered. A pair of the few upsides to that miserable experience was that I discovered new ways to play with motorcycles in one of the biggest motorcycle playgrounds on this continent. And I met Karl.

[My kids were born in that awful place, so at least two other good things happened there. I thought I should mention that.]

Karl was a sixty-something machinist who was a Texas lifer; other than a 3-year aerospace stint as a Lockheed machinist in California during WWII. Karl and his brothers were west Texas motorcycling legends. When he was a kid, between the two world wars, Karl and his four brothers rode Indian Scout v-twins. Back then, there wasn't a decent road between Hereford, Texas and Amarillo, so the boys rode their Scouts cross country. As best they could, they rode straight from their parents' farm to where ever it was they wanted to go in "the big city" and, after doing whatever it was they wanted to do in Amarillo, they rode straight back home. Every day I worked with Karl was spiced with stories of west Texas at the end of the cowboy days; or his adventures in California during the war.

Karl was more than a machinist, as much as that talent is undervalued. He was an inventive mechanic who was as likely to make his own replacement parts as us what the manufacturer's provided. He had a decent, if old fashioned machine shop in his home and turned out all sorts of tools, parts, and marginally-artistic pornographic novelty bits. Working with him gave me practical skills and insight into design and fabrication that was, for a long time, key to my career.

In 1971, Karl still had one of the family Scouts in his "barn," along with a WWI twin-wing fighter plane turned crop-duster, a couple of old Ford coupe hotrods, two 1940's Ford-Ferguson tractors, assorted pieces of obsolete farm equipment, and a late 50's Cadillac Eldorado. Of those possessions, the only ones that were in any sort of usable shape were the airplane and the Indian Scout. I saw him fly the plane, once, after a party at his neighbor's house where he and my boss finished off a pint-and-a-half bottle of Everclear and got into a pissing match over who could do the dumbest thing at that very moment. My boss, Arnold, tore off in his company pickup, bragging that he would bust 100mph before he made it to the highway. Karl ran to the barn and fired up the plane, planning to strafe my boss before he made his destination. There was a gun on the old plane and the chances were pretty good that it still worked, but Karl probably didn't have ammunition for it so Arnold was relatively safe, although he ran the pickup into a ditch on the way back from the main road. Karl didn't manage to do much more than circle his house a few times before he put the plane down in the field behind his house. The next day, he towed the plane back into the garage and I suspect it never moved from that spot for the rest of Karl's life.

Karl's signature moment came after he had a heart attack. He dropped to the ground on a trip to the local hardware store. Paramedics arrived and began CPR. They got him to the hospital barely alive and the ER doc put the paddles on Karl and whacked him several times before his heart restarted. Karl told me that it hurt like hell and that he'd been pretty comfortable with dying before being rudely brought back to Texas and 1973. He told every doc in the hospital, "If you ever do that again, I'll shoot you between your beady little eyes." When he got out of the hospital, he bought a little .32 pistol and kept it in his pocket in case he ever woke up in a hospital again. It's hard to argue with a living will that is enforced by a loaded gun.

A fellow employee, Charlie, a kid who had been a pretty good local motocrosser before he was drafted into the Army in 1972 and went to Vietnam. Charlie came back pretty emotionally and physically damaged in 1974. The last story I head about Karl was he and Charlie had redesigned a Honda street bike that could run on diesel, naphtha, or practically anything that would burn and Charlie was riding all over the remaining open Texas fields and across the state smelling like French fries, an oil stove, or himself. From what I heard, Karl and Charlie had worked out a pretty effective rehabilitation plan.

By the late-70's, I'd lost track of the few Texas friends I wanted to keep. I'd moved my career across three industries in five years and the internet was about 20 years from becoming a useful resource. If he's alive, Karl would be a little over 100 and that seems unlikely. But if he's still around, I bet he is still packing that .32 and scaring the crap out of Texas doctors.

MMM March 2011

Feb 16, 2015

#95 Chasing Ghosts

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

[The whole "ghost" thing reappeared in a different form a few weeks ago. My youngest daughter lives in Texas and, like most Texans, the state has done some damage to her reasoning faculties. Must be the water. Should be the water, the stuff smells like someone pissed in it before it came out of the tap. Anyway, she and her husband are convinced that their 20-year-old house has a "haunted room." My son-in-law thinks of himself as a frustrated entrepreneur, with no actual evidence of the usual spirit for evidence. Oddly, he considers himself to be an atheist, too. (Hint: Atheists don't believe in ghosts or any other paranormal silliness.) When I suggested that he could make a fortune selling tickets to his "haunted room," he drew a blank. Oh well, can't say I didn't try.]

My grandson, Wolfgang, and I rode through 3800 miles of the Black Hills and the Rockies this summer. We took two weeks to travel that distance. We were far from Iron Butters and there was no plan to set any mileage records or work hard enough to impress anyone. We were traveling for the sake of seeing places, meeting people, and being on our own as much as possible. Whenever possible, we stepped off of the main roads and went ghost town hunting. In the Rockies, that's easy prey. There are ghost towns all over the place. If you aren't picky about a few live residents, there are a lot of near ghost towns in South Dakota, too.

We found ourselves on a dirt road on the west edge of the great state of Colorado approaching a husk of a town that I've discovered before, probably 18 years ago. This particular ruin stuck my fancy, way back then, because it had a beautiful stone bank. The back end of the bank was gone, crumbled away like it had been made from dust and the wind had blown it away artfully. The front, however, was almost in perfect shape. I could stand there, looking at that bank, imagining the people who came through those doors, feeling the life that was once in that place. I love ghost towns.

Back in the early 70's, my family lived in central Nebraska and we used and abused the amazing bounty of "limited access" roads north and west of where we lived. We had miles of those roads to explore and my wife and I and many of our friends spent hours and days riding those sandy trails, cut with deep ruts from the occasional tractor and regular erosion. Miles and miles of plains, grasslands, hills, and ranches and farms. Nebraska, like many Midwestern farm states, had a law that prevented farmers from bringing the fences together until a road had been unused for several years. I suspect there weren't a lot of years left for those roads 40 years ago. Twenty feet of farmland, hundreds of miles long, is a lot of profitable acreage and this modern world doesn't tolerate unused natural resources for long.

Before GPS, in a place that wasn't interesting enough for anyone to bother with detailed topological maps, we mostly navigated by asking for directions when we really strayed outside of our known boundaries. Otherwise, we just wandered around until we found some kind of identifiable landmark or highway and made it back to our cars and bike trailers. We got to know those roads well enough that we became pretty confident in our ability to find out way back home from practically anywhere in a 100 square mile area.

One early spring Sunday afternoon, east of Palmer, Nebraska, we found ourselves at the bottom of a steep hill with rain grooves cut so deeply into the road that we paddled out way up the last few feet, scraping the pegs and dragging the frame and engine cases on the edges of the ruts. At the top of the hill, we discovered a small village, abandoned not that long ago, in Hollywood movie set condition. There was a 1950's-looking Sinclair filling station, with the red clock-tower hand crank pumps, thermometer glass fuel inspection window, and white dome lights perched on top of the pump. My uncle ran a station like that back in the 1950's and it stood on the edge of his property until a railroad-caused fire burned down the neighborhood. There was a two-room post office, a small general store, a barber shop, and a half-dozen cottages in livable condition. The dirt road through the middle of town was severely deteriorated, but the structures looked like they'd been abandoned recently. The lawns were just starting to turn green, so they looked cared for. The wooden structures were mostly sound and painted, although the roofs wouldn't pass close inspection. No one had bothered to break the windows or trash the buildings. The little town looked habitable, but it was completely abandoned and had been for a while. The road in, was impassable for anything other than horses or motorcycles.

We spent a little while, looking through windows and testing doors and walking through the buildings that weren't locked up. After a bit, we got back on the bikes, went back down the hill, and continued our weekend exploration. That town has never left my memory. We never managed to figure out where it was, so we never found our way back to the place. No one I knew had any idea what dinky village we'd managed to stumble upon. A short while later, we moved to Omaha and never returned to that area on motorcycles. Every time I find myself in a vanishing village or a completely empty ghost town, I think of that empty village in Nebraska.

Like adventure touring, one of the ideas I love about history and ghost towns is, "You can't get there from here." My father's family all lived in dying Kansas towns. When I was a kid, I spent hundreds of hours exploring abandoned banks, stores, barbershops, newspapers, and homes. I walked, freely, among small crumbling civilizations and read the public news and personal letters of folks who had been gone from those places, from the world, before I was born. Those places are lost in time, slowing decaying back into the raw materials from which they came. The closest you can come to being there is to be there by yourself, imagining the lives and the place when they were fresh and vital. It's not time travel, but it's the closest I can come to it.

Riding a motorcycle to those places provides a connection to the past that could only be beaten on foot, bicycle, or on horseback. I'm too lazy to bike or walk and I'd rather bike or walk than ride a horse, so my motorcycle is the best time machine option. This summer, I was blessed to be able to share my passion with my grandson. Even better, he seemed to be as drawn to the experience as I was when I was his age.

Winter 2010

Feb 15, 2015

How to Know When You Have too Much Money

All you 1%'ers, it's time to put in your bid. Only $17,500 for one of Yamaha's more fragile designs (I had an unwanted side business replacing XT500 top-ends back in the 80's). Remember this little beauty sold for about $1500 when it was knew, unknown, and mildly competitive. So, my title probably should add "and too little sense" to be complete.

Feb 14, 2015

Self-Image vs. Reality

A great little video about the giant space between what motorcyclists thing their motorcyle does for them vs. what it really does.  Ok, that's not what the show as supposed to be about, but . . .

Feb 12, 2015

Motorcycles Are Deadly? Crap.

Motorcycle-Carrying-Cargo-177We’re on the world watch, like a disease: Death Rides a Moto. "The subtitle for this article, in case you didn’t follow the link, is “The world's most pressing public health crisis isn't AIDS or Ebola or malaria -- it's a soaring number of motorcycle fatalities. And it's costing developing countries billions.” In Cambodia, for example, motorcycle crashes represent 67 percent of all road deaths; in Thailand and Laos it has reached a staggering 74 percent." As we know, motorcycles are a tiny fraction of US traffic but a grossly overrepresented 12-20% of fatalities.

We’re at a weird time in world history. In the US, we have a whole generation that is abandoning motor vehicles, in general, not just motorcycles. Car sales are struggling, motorcycle sales are stagnate, about the only thing with wheels that seems to be gaining ground is bicycles. But in the rest of the world, “About 95 million motorcycles will be manufactured this year, compared to 80 million cars. China’s growing middle class accounts for nearly a quarter of the global car market — a breathtaking number — but motorcycles and scooters are rolling off assembly lines and out of showrooms at an even faster rate, with some industry analysts predicting sales of up to 135 million units in 2016.” No wonder Honda barely noticed when motorcycle sales in the US crashed at the beginning of the 2007 Great Recession.

Philippines-Motorcycle-OverShades of the US noise and air pollution problem (and solution), “a number of Chinese cities have banned the bikes from all or part their downtowns for a combination of environmental, traffic flow, and safety concerns.” Even where the public mostly likes motorcycles they are finding ways to force people off of two motorized wheels. Why? “According to World Bank estimates, road crashes are costing the economies of Southeast Asia between 2 and 3.5 percent in annual GPD. Loss of productivity due to death and long-term disability (the overwhelming majority of motorcycle fatalities are male breadwinners), the burden on the health care system and property damage are the main factors . . . road crashes cost the Cambodian economy $337 million last year.” That’s pretty similar to the number I’ve seen attributed to the cost of motorcycle crashes in the US.

There is nothing good for the future of motorcycling in this story. It seems to me that motorcycle manufacturers are a lot like gun manufacturers. They’re balanced on a razor thin edge between corporate profits and massive corporate liability. One smart country putting the blame where it belongs and the whole house of cards will come down.

Feb 9, 2015

#94 Maybe It's Not for You

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

"I put my SV up for sale. My wife and I had a scare on a country road and I decided I'd rather be around or, at least, not in a wheel chair when I have kids. And I realize I'm talking to a great example of the fact that riding can be safe, but it's the things beyond my control that scare me. I have someone stopping by tomorrow to look at it."

So ends the motorcycling adventure of a young man. I meet the 45-60 year old version of this guy in almost every motorcycle class I teach. The "born again" empty nester, recently divorced Baby Boomers who decided they missed something the first time around and, now, want to be a motorcyclist. Honestly, I think the younger guy's odds of survival are better than the older version. We talk about motorcycling being a skill of the eyes and mind, but the fact is it is more than a bit physical and both the eyes and the mind are sharper in youth. It's possible that the improved wisdom of age might compensate for decaying senses and strengths, but I suspect a person whose judgment has substantially improved with age wouldn't consider taking up motorcycling at 55.

As far as the bit about giving up motorcycling out of fear of "things beyond your control," practically everything in life is beyond control. "Safe" is a relative thing. I'm no "great example," either. In my 45 years on motorcycles and 50+ years on bicycles, I've been incompetent, skilled, lucky, paranoid, cautious, and careless. I've busted bones and torn muscles and ligaments on bicycles and motorcycles and basketball courts and working around my house. People break their necks in the shower or on their doorstep. When it ends, life is over in a moment.

There are things you can do to improve your odds, but if riding a motorcycle doesn't push your buttons strongly enough to want to go that route, it's probably not worth the effort. Motorcycling is not for everyone, as much as the motorcycle manufacturers would like you to think it is.

On a short Wisconsin vacation trip with my wife, I watched people on an elephant ride in Baraboo cling obediently to the safety rail of their saddle. "Sir, keep both hands on the safety rail at all times," lectured the girl on the megaphone as a forty-something dad sat, bored out of his skull, at the back of his clan while the elephant trudged down the fenced path. Insurance companies and our national avoidance of personal responsibility has reduced practically every activity to a Big Mommy-sheltered endeavor that would sedate Martha Stewart. Anyone who could fall out of a waddling elephant, fenced into a saddle and pinned by four other harnessed passengers, should not be allowed to reproduce. The gene pool should rejoice if such a person managed to crawl out of that entrapment and fall under the ponderous feet of an elephant.

Motorcycling isn't like that. You can armor up, take a safety course ten times a summer, plug along with traffic whizzing by you as if you were in a molasses-based dimension, and you can still get killed or maimed if your luck doesn't hold. Two wheels are unstable and motorcycles are as rare an occurrence in traffic as unicorns. A tire blows, a wheel bearing seizes, a cager is distracted by a life-changing text message, a tree falls in front of you, and down you go. The reason people ride motorcycles is to get away from the bitch telling us to hang on to the handrails.

Bertrand Russell said, "A life without adventure is likely to be unsatisfying, but a life in which adventure is allowed to take whatever form it will is sure to be short."

Not being bright enough to know that motorcycles are dangerous isn't an improvement from being swarmed in a web of caution. Get on a bicycle in your shorts and flip-flops and take a spill at 5mph, just to test the road rash worthiness of your skin. Crashing sucks and can kill you in full gear. In your birthday suit you're guaranteed to be hamburger. Personally, I've managed to find plenty of adventure inside my helmet and armored gear. You might as well shoot me now as drag me onto that damn elephant, though.

October 2010

Feb 5, 2015

Bike Sharing Anyone?

Here’s a press release I received from BlancFleet: Dear Editor,

We want to radically change how enthusiasts nationwide gain access to newer bikes in the market. Today, riders have two options, own a bike outright or rent one. Owning a bike offers freedoms renting cannot, but it also limits the number of bikes an enthusiast will enjoy on the road in his lifetime. Renting also has its problems, cash deposit requirements, mile limit requirements, insurance requirements, and in most cases, renters only have access to an older fleet of bikes.

We want to change this through sharing and crowdfunding. The latter allows bike enthusiasts to raise money for new bikes they want to experience on the road and then share them between the pool of buyers. We believe sharing + crowdfunding together is the future and Blancfleet is paving the road forward that will connect bike enthusiasts everywhere to make buying a new bike more cost effective and accessible to everyone. Blancfleet also wants to remove cash deposit requirements, mile limit and insurance requirements on each bike funded through our platform so buyers simply enjoy the fleet of bikes they helped fund.

We want to expand Blancfleet nationwide and in the future globally.

If you believe your readers would benefit from our bike sharing program, we invite you to write about us.

Charles Polanco
Founder and CEO of

I can see this as the wave of the future for auto-piloted cars. I don’t quite get it for motorcycles.

Feb 4, 2015

Start Learning How to Ride

Explain to me, one more time, how "Start Seeing Motorcycles" would change a single crash in this video? Before we expect the rest of the world to give a damn about us, we need to be at least reasonably responsible citizens. These crashes are all Russian, but the only upside to that is knowing that the Russians are downbreeding as fast as the US.

Feb 2, 2015

#93 Appreciating Good Luck

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

At the end of my 2009 riding season, I moved my ailing, drooling dirt bike to the back of the garage and the V-Strom was parked between our cages; ready to ride on the last ice-free days of the year before and during the period when Minnesota drops us all into the deep frozen purgatory we call "winter." By late November, I am usually down to riding to work four out of five days and that ratio will drop rapidly until it's time to dump fuel preservative in the tank, hook up the battery tender, change the oil, and call it a year. Why, at this late date, I had an awareness provoking dream about motorcycling is baffling. If I needed some sort of wake-up call from my subconscious, you'd think I would have needed it at the beginning of the season when my skills are rusty and my body is creaking from hibernation disuse and I'm about to put on some serious motorcycling miles..

I dreamed I was in dense, slow-moving traffic and I'd been stuck in that groove for a long time. Finally, I broke out of the cager pack and got up to speed quickly. The road was flat, long, and a little boring. It felt a lot like west Texas or southwest Minnesota. In the dream, I was dreaming about something (an egg in an egg) other than being in the here-and-now and I found myself in a long declining radius curve at a speed above my comfort level and drifting into the center of the road, just crossing the center line. Suddenly, there was a pickup coming in the opposite direction. For a moment, I forgot what to do. I rolled off the gas and tried to steer harder back toward my lane. Obviously, that wasn't going to work. I woke up.

It was a dream, but a really life-like simulation of a real life scenario. The dream didn't include screeching tires, crunching noises, pain, butt-clenching fear, or any of the usual accommodations of this sort of event. It didn't need to. I awoke knowing exactly where it would have ended. A moment of poor concentration and bad timing and I'm facing several oncoming tons of iron at deadly speeds. After trying to regain the night for some actual rest, I gave up and crawled out of bed to think about what this dream was trying to tell me.

Motorcycling, skydiving, scuba diving, bicycling in traffic, and all of the things we do for adventure leave little room for daydreaming. You drift off for a moment, lost in the thought of something unrelated to the activity, and you could awake in time to see your life vanishing before your eyes. That's it. No chance to recover. No saving grace. No timeouts. You are literally here today, gone today. Smelling the flowers, feeling the wind between your ears, stargazing, listening to a favorite tune, and/or checking out who is checking you out and motorcycling do not go together. But everyone does it. If you ride often and long enough, you'll find yourself snapping back to reality and realizing that you've doped out for long enough to have caused a serious problem if your luck hadn't held.

At a family party, I listened to my son-in-law and his brother dismiss bicycle helmets because of their long list of bicycle crashes and their continuing existence. Their durability has been pretty impressive, but every one of their descriptions included a healthy dose of luck that kept them among the living and the mobile. An inch here or a pound there and they'd have been killed or disabled and a little protective gear goes a long ways when you need it. Every long life, and many short lives, are filled with moments where, without a bit of luck, a brain fart could have turned into a life-ending incident.

Luck is a grossly underrated commodity. I've been present at the beginning of a trio of businesses. One was very successful, one was a disaster, and one managed to sell itself to a sucker before the bottom fell out. Luck played a big part in all three end results. The right customer finding the company's products at the right time, and we were suddenly in the money. That same kind of customer finding the product the month after the company slid past its reserve funds and the momentum goes the other way; and no amount of talent, good intentions, or demand can stop the bankers from closing the doors.

Anyone who has ridden for a few dozen years and a few hundred thousand miles has experienced more than a reasonable share of luck. Those of us who have been less-than-brilliant in our riding habits or gear selection and can still walk, talk, and carry on a semi-intelligent conversation have been incredibly lucky. I can look back on my first decade of street riding and think of more than a dozen moments where a minor obstacle placed in an unlucky position would have ended my day, riding career, and most likely my life. Some people have survived because they were prepared for the worst-case scenario, because they had well-thought-out contingency plans that worked, and because they knew what risks they were taking and they knew what they were doing. Not me. When it comes to staying alive after doing something stupid, I have been as lucky as a trust fund brat. I may have turned luck into an art form. My Plan B is to keep driving at Plan A and hope for the best.

A friend tried to give me some credit by claiming "You make your own luck." I'm unconvinced. To an extent, I know he's right. On average, I'm pretty alert, pretty conscious of where I am, what my limits are, and what I can do with my bike. If I'm not an AGAT rider, I always ride reasonably well geared-up. If I give myself credit for being on top of my riding game for 99.9% of my time on the road, that means in my 400,000+ mile motorcycling career I've daydreamed away more than 400 miles. I can't give myself credit for 99.9% awareness and I don't want to make an accurate estimate of how many lucky miles I've traveled. The fact is, I owe good luck for a lot of my survivability and that's a little scary.

There is an old saying, "If you're not worried, you are not paying attention." Anytime you can't generate a little nervousness about being on the road, it might be worth considering how much luck you need to stay alive, just to keep your edge sharp. You can only make so much of your own luck and trusting luck for your survival is putting your fate to a test that you will probably fail. So, thank your lucky star or rabbit's foot or whatever charm you trust in, but pay attention, wear good gear, and stay nervous. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” That goes for bad luck, too.

September 2010

POSTSCRIPT: Who knows? I posted this to the blog on 5/28/2013. If I'm still alive when it arrives in your mailbox, good for me. However, it's time for me to be honest about what inspired this rant. When my grandson and I made our Rocky mountain Tour, I did a pretty good job of staying focused, riding sanely, and being responsible with that precious cargo on the passenger seat. I did, though, have one moment when I entered a Black Hills corner slightly faster than idea and we found a half-dozen elk in the road right in the middle of that blind corner. It was luck that prevented a tragedy. I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit that, but it's true. And that's why I wrote an essay "Appereciating Good Luck."

Jan 27, 2015

What Do You Do?

This morning, my ex-editor, MSF-teaching buddy, good friend Sev Pearman sent me a link to this site: 50 Tips for Riding A Motorcycle Across America. For my purposes, I copied the whole text and stuck my own opinions at the top of the list. If it’s in italics, it came directly from the article. If it’s in italics and bold, I agreed with it. What’s your take? Here’s mine:

#4-8 I'm not that big on planning my routes at all. I like to flip a coin for direction and go where my interest at the moment lies.

Proves I'm a geek, I guess, but I love my GPS and only use maps for a rough idea of where I want to go. Mostly, I just tear out a page or ten from my Rand Road Atlas for maps and stop at "you are here" spots often. When I tell my Garmin "take me there the shortest distance" with freeways, toll roads, and major highways logged into the "avoid" category, I get some great rides. So, I'm not into #12.

I really need to dive harder into #11 since I'd rather ride my 250 than anything I've ever ridden. I'm starting to suspect I need to sell the V-Strom since it's such a touring crutch. It is almost old enough and used enough to call a "rat bike," though.

#15, fuck the smartphone. I don't even want to ride with someone who brings that shit along.

#20 is just silly. Buy a Darien and wear it all the time, douchebag. Wear the leather crap when you're at the bar with your Village People friends.

Can't do #28. I change my mind a lot.

Totally disagree with #32. I love my camping gear, especially the hammock.

Don't do #37, either. I put on 100-200 miles first thing, then stop for a monster breakfast and don't eat again until I'm digging into the trailmix after setting up camp.

#30, for sure. As my eyes fade, so does my riding time.

#34 I dumped my AAA membership after my fiasco with AAA last year. So far, Good Sam has been a far better service and I've never found a AAA "discount" at motels to amount to anything.

#41, this dude must be older than me. A lot of boring shit on that list. However, if he's doing #41 on the bike he might as well blow off #17 and it might explain some of the music selections.

#44, for sure. Early to bed, earlier to rise.

#47-49 is simple. Ride alone and don't pick up strangers.

  1. Stop putting it off, life is short! Don’t forestall joy – why not do it this year?
  2. America is a lot bigger than you thought, and it takes time to see and appreciate it. Don’t rush.
  3. Take at least two weeks to do the ride, ideally more (see #2). Unless you’re in the IBA (http://www.ironbutt.com), it’s not a race.
  4. Should you ride East to West, or West To East? Well, America “opens up” as you head East to West. West to East, it gets more congested and populated. Psychologically, East to West “feels” a bit better because of that.
  5. Which route should you take? Start by figuring out which destinations you want to visit, then connect the dots by choosing good roads between them. Michelin regional maps are best for this task.
  6. Route suggestion #1: Start in New York City. Head to the battlefield at Gettysburg, then to Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, then Chicago, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, Lake Tahoe, finish in San Francisco.
  7. Route suggestion #2: Start in Washington D.C. Head down the Blue Ridge Parkway into the Smokey Mountains, over to Nashville, then pick up Route 66 in St Louis and follow it to Los Angeles.
  8. Route suggestion #3: Start in Orlando, Florida, ride along Gulf Coast, see New Orleans, go inland to Austin, Texas, visit Big Bend National Park, Roswell, New Mexico, across Arizona to the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs, and finish in Los Angeles.
  9. Interstates = ZERO FUN. Boring to ride, and you don’t get quality time with people and places.
  10. A country is not just about the roads and the places, it’s about the people. Spend time talking to locals for a richer, more rewarding ride.
  11. When choosing a bike for the journey, bigger/more expensive does not always equal more fun. Rat bikes can be great cross-country mounts, as can small-displacement motorcycles, depending on the roads you take.
  12. Regarding accessories (GPS, satellite radio, random gadgets from the Aerostich catalog): more farkles equals more distractions and less fun. Map, smartphone, wallet, water, first aid kit and a change of underwear gets you 99% there.
  13. Make sure your tires can handle 3500-4500 miles of riding. Really sticky sportbike tires won’t.
  14. Give your bike an oil change before you go (not during the night before the ride!).
  15. Use GPS on your smartphone for emergencies, otherwise stick to maps. Maps look better with coffee spilt on them than a Zumo does.
  16. If you’re riding in summer, buy a cooling vest. You can ride comfortably for much greater distances in serious heat with a good cooling vest. I like these from Silver Eagle Outfitters.
  17. Bring earplugs and don’t be lazy about wearing them if you value your hearing.
  18. If you can take three weeks or longer for the trip, using your own bike makes sense financially versus renting. But remember that you have to get your bike back home once the ride is done, and after 4000 miles, you might not be too excited to ride back to wherever home is. Shipping can be expensive, and it may take several weeks to get your bike back.
  19. Best months to cross the U.S.A. on a motorcycle: mid May to late October (start a bit later and a finish earlier if you’re doing a northerly route.)
  20. If you bring your rain gear or heated clothing, fate and irony will ensure you won’t need it. If you leave home without them, you’re just begging for historic rain and low temperatures on the ride.
  21. People will be asking you to tell them about this trip for years, so:
  22. Start and end your trip in an interesting place (Note: your Uncle Morty’s house is NOT an interesting place).
  23. Take plenty of photographs and short video (smartphones are great for both, especially if you set them to embed GPS information automatically)
  24. Take time to document the places that resonate in you. Twenty years from now a grainy video clip you took at some hamburger joint will be absolute treasure.
  25. Blog about your trip while on the road so family and friends can ride along virtually.
  26. Consider riding for your fave charity. Learn about how to properly fundraise by contacting the charity (they often have instructions on their website).
  27. Plan for spotty to non-existent cell reception in some rural parts of the country.
  28. Post a brief “Flight Plan” every day before you ride, and check in with family/friends when you arrive at your final destination. This will ease the worry for people who love you and are understandably concerned for your safety.
  29. You’ll take your best photos around dawn and dusk – that’s when the light is best (“Golden Hour”). Think about that when you’re deciding where you’re going to be at those times.
  30. You’ll see countless smears of road kill while riding across America, and most of these creatures are hit at night by tractor trailers. Critters come out when the sun starts to go down. Your chance of encountering animals goes up exponentially at night, so be off the bike at or before sundown if you wish to avoid this.
  31. Weather band radio is very useful, especially during tornado season in the Midwest.
  32. Regarding camping: It’s a long ride, and you’ll be tired at day’s end. Motorcycle camping is for the young, the poor and/or the acutely adventurous.
  33. For everyone else, Best Western, Motel 6, Super 8 and their ilk are the better choice. A smartphone app that uses GPS to provide a list of lodging nearby can be indispensable (Trip Advisor, Priceline, etc.).
  34. Always call ahead for the best lodging price, and AAA membership always provides an additional discount. Get their best rate first, then mention your AAA membership.
  35. Sometimes you’re forced to stay in seedy, down in the mouth places on the road. In these types of places, always check the room before committing to stay, if only so you don’t get blamed for the dead hooker in the bathtub.
  36. Breakfast buffets at hotels and motels are almost always overpriced and underwhelming. Take some fruit and water for snacks later in the day, but eat breakfast at a local joint. Walk around a bit and you’ll find the right one.
  37. Eat a light breakfast, and a light lunch with healthy snacks as needed until dinner. And make sure you’re properly hydrated – keep a liter bottle of water in your saddlebag, protected from the heat of the sun.
  38. Be hungry for dinner. Save the heavier meals for nighttime. If you ask your body to digest a heavy meal while you’re riding, you’re going to get sleepy, which is dangerous on a bike. If you’re hungry, you won’t be sleepy.
  39. Do not drink any alcohol until after the bike is parked for the day.
  40. When you park your bike for the night, leave nothing of value on it or in it. Leave the empty saddlebags unlocked. Leave it in a well-lit place where people come and go, like the entrance of the motel. There’s less chance of the bike being stolen there. Lock the bike to something solid or at least to itself so it won’t roll.
  41. Music that goes well with a Cross U.S.A. ride: Robert Johnson, The Band, Dylan, Ryan Adams, Wilco, Willie Nelson, Daniel Lanois, Mark Knopfler, Freddie King, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Ry Cooder, The Grateful Dead without Mickey Hart and The Rolling Stones with Mick Taylor.
  42. The books you choose to bring are important. Books about traveling seem to read really well on long trips, especially if you’re riding alone.
  43. Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar” (or really almost anything he’s written); Ted Simon’s “Jupiter’s Travels” and “One Man Caravan” by Robert Edison Fulton Junior are worth the saddlebag space. Jack London and Raymond Chandler are good companions too. I often bring along some Pirsig for the times when I find myself in some gas station toilet stall that’s run out of paper.
  44. Go to bed early (by 10pm) and be on the road no later than 7:00am. It’s a treasure to watch the world wake up, as an observer, on a motorcycle.
  45. Stay focused at all times. You have to be ready for the unexpected every time you get on a motorcycle, and on a ride like this, where nothing is familiar, weather and traffic conditions changing daily, your head must be screwed on 100%. Do not allow yourself to get distracted.
  46. For some of us, riding long distance solo in lonely places can summon The Black Dog. If your mind drifts to negative thoughts, focus on gratitude. Most of the people you know, even hardcore riders, will never ride a motorcycle across America. You are truly fortunate to experience this journey. Believe this.
  47. On a trip like this, choose the people you ride with carefully. Being on a motorcycle for weeks at a time can be straining both physically and mentally, and everyone manages stress differently. You can make lifelong friends or lose them on a trip like this. Think farts are funny? After 21 days in small, shared motel rooms, they might not be. Some people like to ride early, some to sleep in. And even skinny guys can snore. Think about these things before you head out.
  48. We’ve all had a friend who likes to push it, who’ll take unnecessary risks for the thrill, the attention, or because they’re just wired that way. Do not do a cross-country ride with this person. This is an endurance ride, not a sprint race, not a stunt show. If you’re riding with someone and you don’t feel they’re being safe, have a word with them about it. If they don’t change, don’t ride with them. There’s no room for grab ass when you’re covering hundreds of miles a day.
  49. Build some rest days into your itinerary. Stay somewhere great for two days, see the sights, catch your breath. Your body and mind will need a break every 5-7 days, and it’s nice to break the cycle of pack/unpack every day. Plus, you can get a little crazy at night if you don’t need to ride the next day.
  50. The night before you start the ride, pack your bags completely. Then, unpack them, spread the contents out, and remove 25% of the stuff. YOU DON’T NEED IT. Bring a few pairs of washable quick dry underwear and socks. Bring a few pairs of old t-shirts with holes in them. Wear one until you can smell the stink when you’re riding, then throw it away and put on another. If you need more clothes on the way, buy a cool shirt at some dive bar, or stop by a Target if need be. When you’re done reading a book on the road, leave it where you finished it. The goal is to arrive on the opposite coast with as little as possible in your bags, but your head and heart filled. This might be the most important tip of all.

Jan 26, 2015

#92 Biking into the Wild

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

On an early June morning in 2009, I found myself at the end of the road. I mean that literally. I'd mapped out a weird-assed route through North Dakota, following barely traveled two-lanes, dirt farm roads, and even paths that wouldn't pass for a decent hiking trail. I was on one of my infamous (to me and my friends) "ghost town tours." Usually, these trips mutate into something different than I'd expected. This trip was doing that earlier than usual.

Ever since I was a kid prowling away summers in my father's hometown, Allen, Kansas, I've had a fascination for abandoned buildings and, best of all, towns. Ghost towns. I love them. I can spend a day exploring an abandoned farm, enjoying both the old hand-built architecture and the decay. Yeah, the decay. I like to look at how things fail, how nature reclaims its property, how engineering of all sorts breaks and returns to the raw materials from which it came. The reason I started carrying a camera on my trips, 25 years ago, was to document the abandoned houses, farms, and towns I'd stumbled on.

I sort of like looking at the things left behind, too. The stuff that people once thought was important, but that turned out to be too cumbersome, too unimportant to carry away with them when they left their homes for good. I've bought a few of these 100-year-old homes, in my younger, more energetic editions, and I've always been amazed at the stuff I find in the attics, basements, or even closets of these places. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't been such a transient myself. Some of the things that I found, read and wondered about, and tossed away, might have been even more valuable to me today. But, like their original owners, I valued them for a moment and discarded them because I had to pare down for the next move across the country. Dust Bowl vagrants have nothing on me. I've bagged everything I cared about in a backpack, strapped it on the back of my motorcycle, said goodbye to my family, and headed west to California to see if I could reconstruct our lives and fortunes. John Steinbeck would have been proud, or dismayed, at how often Great Depression history has repeated itself in my life.

I know; trespassing. I should be shot. Maybe, some day I will be. It's obvious that these places--from the unkempt condition of the roads that lead to the places, by the fact that the windows are shot out, the roof is falling in, the floors are collapsing, and the well-established nests of raccoons throughout the houses and barns--are of no consequence to whoever owns them. The "no trespassing" signs are about liability, not stewardship. Nobody cares if I tear down the houses and barns and cart them away in my side cases. I'd probably be doing them a favor. They do care that I might fall in a well and sue them for my stupidity. I've been stupid my whole life and I've never sued anyone for my poor results. They don't know me, but I know me.

A that moment, I was sitting at the end of a road that once led to Leal, North Dakota, but now dead-ends after a creek washed away the bridge. And I do mean washed away, other than the pile foundations that once supported the bridge on each side of the road, there is no sign of this bridge ever existing. Sometime in the last year, kids have visited this site to fire off bottle rockets, Roman candles, Blistering Sky Fountains, Festival Balls, Proud Americans, and drink Miller Premium and smoke Marlboros. It looks like a happy battle ground, everywhere the creek didn't wash away the evidence. There is an abandoned, but solid and new-looking fiberglass Jacuzzi just downstream from the useta-be-a-bridge. I mean it looks right out of the showroom. Not a crack, waterline, or spot on it. An enterprising frontiersman might consider building a house on this spot, just because it already has a perfect Jacuzzi.

If it were later in the day, I'd be tempted to camp here. The place is as isolated as anywhere I've ever been. Break a leg here and somebody might find you a decade from now, unless the kids come back on the Fourth to party again. If you die a few yards off of the road, even the kids wouldn't find the remains. It's unnaturally quiet, except for the occasional fly-over airliner or fighter jet, the birds, bees, and frogs. Clap your hands, the birds and frogs go silent for a few moments and, on that still afternoon, its the most natural place I've been in years. The closest traffic is from two-lane farm roads 20 miles away in all directions. If the bike won't start, or I drop it into the ditch turning it around, it's a 20 mile hike to anything.

Except, of course, Leal. If I could get across the creek it's not much of a hike, maybe 10 miles, to what's left of Leal. But the creek is high and I'd rather walk 20 miles than drown out here.

It doesn't matter, I didn't have any problem getting turned around. In fact, to make it a challenge I did the U-turn on the pegs instead of simply Y-turning it on foot. The safe way seemed like cheating the opportunity to be isolated. A little adventurer risk is good for old people. If you survive, you deserve to live another day. If you don't, it's not like there is a shortage of old folks littering the earth. Think of it as taking that old Native American tradition of walking into a blizzard when the old one has lost his or her value to the tribe. Just like those abandoned belongings, people ought to have some value to themselves and to their tribe to justify taking up space. Us old guys have to work harder at providing that value, both to ourselves and to the group, than women. At least it feels like it. Since I turned 50, these trips began to feel a little like that kind of test.

When I was younger, I didn't feel or fear my mortality. I backpacked into the Texas desert, into the Grand Canyon, and across the New Mexico Rockies with absolute confidence that I would be back home and at my job on Monday. I fired up the dirt bike and rode to the starting gate for another race without worrying about pain or death. I hauled my family all over the country in a VW bug or bus and never considered the fact that our vehicle was no more crash-worthy than a paper sack on wheels. I kayaked the ocean and fast rivers, bungee-jumped out of a hot air balloon and off of a bridge, solo scuba hunted the reefs of Baja, flew out of a small town air field and landed in a Nebraska corn field with a old WWII Navy fighter pilot, and I've toured isolated parts of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Colorado, and Baja on a dirtbike.

Some of that seems almost impossibly crazy, today. When I did those things, I was bulletproof, invulnerable, young. I was confident that I could get myself and my family through any catastrophe. The catastrophes we did experience I managed to handle fairly well.

Today, I'm 62 and every morning I get reminded of how fragile life and mobility are. Getting out of bed is more painful than playing football was when I was a kid. Making a fist is a reminder of how many fingers I've jammed, sprained, and broken over the years. Hell, writing my name on a check is a sore reminder of all sorts of injuries. Bending to pick up a dropped glove fires up a string of aches from my neck to my knees. Once I exercised to make myself stronger. Now, I just do it to keep from turning into a fat, inflexible, useless blob.

Riding a motorcycle solo into the abandoned areas of this overpopulated country is my act of mortal defiance. Thinking about pain and disability and death will turn a man conservative. Avoiding adventure and risk is one way to hurry the end of living. In a wonderful, blast-of-life "Last Lecture," Professor Randy Pausch said, “It’s not how long you live, rather how well you live.”

For me, living well requires a little back-to-my-roots adventure. Crawling out of bed, going to work, coming home to dinner and the idiot box, and crawling back to bed is the kind of routine that feels, to me, like a premature grave. Riding all day without seeing anyone, sleeping in a tent on the side of an abandoned country road, boiling a little instant coffee in the morning while listening to the birds wake up feels like being as alive as I can get. Colin Fletcher, one of my life's heroes and the author of several of my favorite books, hiked and floated the entire length of the Colorado river when he was 67. Nothing I will ever do will approach his most accessible adventure, but he has encouraged me want to keep at it until I can no longer find joy in places of solitude. Then, I will truly be ready to take that walk into the blizzard.

"Even in these mercifully emancipated decades, many people still seem quite seriously alarmed at the prospect of sleeping away from officially consecrated campsites, with no more equipment than they can carry on their backs. When pressed, they babble about snakes or bears or even, by God, bandits. But the real barrier, I’m sure, is the unknown." Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker.

MMM August 2010

Jan 25, 2015

A Universal Destination

One more reason to love Humbolt County.
My old Vincent-owning, North Dakota buddy, Denny Delzer, sent me a link to this place. What more can you ask for? A coffee shop in the best place in the country, Humbolt County, California, that specializes in motorcycle-named food, displays a cute collection of vintage motorcycles in their motorcycle clothing store, serves breakfast all day (the benchmark of a real motorcycle cafe), and hosts a motorcycle show based on motorcycle envy: "The Moto Envy Show was created so that a bunch of cool bikes could gather in the same place to let the moto enthusiasts drool with envy! Thus the name. Awards were given for most envied in the categories of Café, Vintage, Racer and Custom. And we included Overall Most Envied and People's Choice. Judging was based on most envied and that's it."

 As much as we loved our stay in southern New Mexico last year, a trip to Oregon and northern California in 2013 pretty much cemented my wife and my conviction that Humbolt County is the most desirable hip place in the world. So, I might have to make a long bike trip next August.

Jan 19, 2015

#91 Failure to Commit

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

On my 2009 summer tour of North Dakora, I had an amazing opportunity to ride a classic motorcycle, Denny Delzer's Dick Busby designed Egli-framed Vincent. Denny's Vincent is a forerunner to every race-based sportbike sold today. What I learned from the experience is that I have a guy-disease; a failure to commit.

The riding position of Denny's bike is totally race-face, knees bent, feet way behind your butt, a lot of your weight solidly on the bars, and it is difficult to do anything but go fast in this riding position. Add an aggressive steering damper to the equation and all maneuvers but high speed maneuvers are difficult. When you are in the seat of this Vincent, an R6 or R1, or a GSX-R or ZX anything, you are as able to focus on (or able to see) what's behind you as a lion hunting zebras. The Egli-Vincent is made for focused-forward aggressive riding. I'm not that aggressive.

Sportbikes are the polar opposite of the passive cruiser feet-forward-hands-in-the-air position that pretends that our universe is a friendly universe. Cruising is the motorcycling equivalent of riding a Lazyboy in full reclined position and those ergonomics assume that everyone on the highway is looking out for the rider because the rider is helpless to look out for himself. If you go to the extremes of this design, you'll have your hands dangling over your head on ape-hangers and your feet spread wide as if you are being wheeled into a gynecologist's exam. I'm not that passive. It's clear that I'm not happy in either of these extreme riding attitudes. Our species, homo erectus, has been designed to transport itself with feet squarely below the butt. (Yes, I said "homo" and "erectus." Get over yourself.)

Consistent with my design, I want my feet under my butt and my weight balanced between the footpegs, the seat, and the bars. I want to be able to see all around me, not just in front of me. I want to be able to use as much braking and acceleration as I'm capable of using, without falling off of the motorcycle. My capabilities, however, limit my need for 0-100mph quickness or wheel-lifting torque or stoppies. If I don't need to go that fast, I won't need to stop that quickly, either. I hope. I'm not willing to be so relaxed that I can't grab a handful of brakes without launching myself into the void. I'm not so easy going that I can just dangle from the bars like a set of bicycle streamers as I plod away from a stop light. If I need to get up on the pegs to reduce the shock of hitting some pothole or pile of junk in the road, I don't want to have to haul myself up as if I'm laboring on an some weird exercise machine. I just want to be able to stand, like a normal person might, and feel comfortable doing it.

Maybe these two extreme riding position designs are where the "sport" and the "everyman" aspect of motorcycling conflict are dramatically illustrated. Clearly, the sportbike riding position requires a more athletic rider, at least a more flexible rider with working knees. Cruisers, on the other hand, feel accessible to folks who otherwise might be inclined to use handicapped parking spaces. Feeling accessible and being capable are not mutually inclusive concepts. At the other end of the design spectrum, a bike that feels aggressive and capable does not transfer those abilities to the rider any more than a modern professional baseball mitt turns a beginner into a Golden Gloves fielder.

The majority of the military's motorcycle fatalities have been on sportbikes. These are athletic young men, full of the sporting attitude and often coming down from the thrill of a high-risk lifestyle, but short on the necessary skill to manage the capabilities of their motorcycle. The majority of fatalities for the rest of the riding public appears to be older riders on large cruiser or touring bikes. Like the military sportbikers, the skill set is probably well below the capability of the motorcycle but the second class of motorcycles are dramatically less maneuverable.

Maneuverability and versatility are characteristics that many highway and in-town emergency situations require. In fact, riding a cruiser or loaded touring bike with skill requires a lot more ability than that needed to operate a more conventional motorcycle in a demanding situation. At the sportbike end of the design equation, controlling the rocket ship's throttle, keeping all traffic obstacles in view, and compensating for the limitations of a racebike suspension is no simple task.

Riding Denny's Vincent made all of that evident to me, in a few blocks. I am clearly not skilled enough to deal with the damn-the-consequences commitment the Egli Vincent requires. My last test ride on a cruiser proved that I'm not trusting enough to put myself at the whim and mercy of the road, nature, and Emma's SUV and her cell phone addiction. I, simply, cannot buy into that kind of faith in either my own skill or the rest of the world's benevolence. I have the usual guy's fear of all sorts of commitments, but very little scares me more than a motorcycle that demands that I jump headfirst into the void or a rolling Lazyboy that asks me to close my eyes and hope for the best.

July 2010

Jan 15, 2015

Hands Up?

I don't believe I've ever felt sympathy for a motorcycle before. What kind of tires do they put on this thing to keep lardass from over-pressuring the poor things? Love the squashed suspension look. Obviously a police department in La La Land where no physical requirements are necessary and cops are nothing more than overpaid tax collectors. This guy couldn't chase a criminal around a lunch table.

Jan 13, 2015

Guest Article: Tips for Riding a Motorcycle in Winter

Riding a motorcycle is such an exhilarating and spirit-freeing activity that riders desire to do it during all times of the year. Many riders are reluctant to lock their bikes in the garage for the winter. In fact, a true motorcycle enthusiast will try to ride during rain, harsh winds and other less-than-desirable conditions. Riding a motorcycle in winter is not an impossible task. However, the rider will want to take certain precautions to ensure that he or she receives the highest level of safety. One must make some adjustments to ride a motorcycle in the wintertime safely, just as one would make adjustments in a four-wheeled vehicle. The following are some tips for traveling safely during the cold months:

Wear Layered Clothing

Wearing extra layers of clothing is the first step in protecting oneself from conditions such as hypothermia. A rider will experience temperatures that are much colder than the actual temperatures are because of the increased wind. Cold weather can cause a dangerous drop in blood circulation. Therefore, a winter rider will want to purchase protective layers of clothing. Thermal undergarments, thickly lined gloves and additional sweatshirts are good items to wear to keep the heat trapped and the body temperature up. [If you’re serious about cold weather riding, blow some cash on electric gear and you’ll never ride without it. Heated grips are luxury. Geezer]

Make Sure the Tires Are in Good Condition

Motorcycle riders have an increased risk for sliding and falling because of the loss of traction when the ground gets cold. A safe rider can protect himself or herself by purchasing specialized tires for the winter season. Manufacturers such as Midas, Dunlop and Pirelli have a line of winter studded tires for motorcycles. Alternatively, riders can perform tire warm-up exercise before riding to warm up the tread on the existing tires. Taking turns accelerating and decelerating at a fast pace can increase the amount of heat to the tires. [Unfortunately, a lot of US states are hillbilly-stupid about studs. Minnesota, for example, says, “169.72 TIRE SURFACE; METAL STUDS . . . (c) Except as provided in this section, no tire on a vehicle moved on a highway shall have on its periphery any block, stud, flange, cleat, or spike or any other protuberances of any material other than rubber which projects beyond the tread of the traction surface of the tire.” The road salt and rusted vehicle proponents own the Rust Belt and regardless of how well studs work and how much money allowing their use would save the state in salt and road clearing expense, this isn’t likely to change. G]

Increase the Following Distance

Increasing following distance in the wintertime is a smart move for motorcycle riders as well as automobile drivers. A biker will want to give himself or herself additional time to stop in an emergency. The harshest conditions require a safe following distance of approximately 20-25 seconds. Five car lengths is a good distance during poor weather conditions, as well. Additionally, motorcycle riders will want to decrease their speed during poor conditions. Being late is always better than getting into an accident is. Wintertime riders should take a deep breath and take their time getting to their destinations.

Know When to Wrap It Up

Riders have to recognize when it is time to go home. Snowfall is an indicator of such a time. Winds that are stronger than 20 MPH are not ideal for a motorcycle rider either. Continuing the fun in less-than-perfect weather conditions is acceptable, but a motorcycle rider will want to use common sense. When the snow starts to fall, it is time to go home. The rider can always go back out when the snow and ice melts a few days later.

Increasing Defensive Driving Skills

Finally, increasing one's defensive riding skills is a good way to combat dangerous situations. A Compulsory Basic Training Course [the MSF Seasoned Rider Course, the Civilian Police Motorcycle Course, Lee Parks' Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic, etc. G] can provide a rider with the skills necessary to maneuver his or her bike accordingly. An experienced rider can benefit from the course, as well since there is always something additional that a person can learn. The CBT course teaches a rider about road rules, appropriate attire to wear for riding, confidence building, special motorcycle maneuvers and more. London CBT instructors can provide a wintertime rider with the skills necessary to last in the elements. Prospective riders can book their lessons using an easy online process or by making a direct call [True in the UK and the US. So, do it. G].

Author: Nida Jaffery

“At London Motorcycle Training we make learning to ride a motorcycle or scooter easy for you. We are fully authorised by the Driving Standard Agency to train you to ride and we provide full Motorcycle training and CBT courses in central London locations.

“Visit us at http://www.londoncbttraining.co.uk/ and book your CBT Course online today!”

Jan 12, 2015

#90 Too Dumb to Scoot

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

"For Sale: 1984 Yamaha Riva 180cc Scooter "This is an unusually well-preserved 25-year-old scooter. The original owner kept it in storage in his basement for 20 years before deciding he no longer needed it. He'd stored it on blocks, with the tank drained, and the battery removed. I bought it last year for my wife (who decided she didn't want it), cleaned up the carb a bit, installed a new battery, and it has sat in the back of my garage ever since. I've taken it out for short test rides, twice, since I rode it home. The scooter has only been ridden 458 miles in 25 years!

"The body has a few scratches, all from the previous owner hauling it up and down his basement stairs. It is roomy enough for two, including extremely comfortable passenger pegs and a large seat. Everything on the bike works. It's very cold-blooded and requires some careful throttle operation until it warms up. Once it's warm, it has loads of power. I weigh 200lbs and it will haul me along at 55mph without much effort. The tank is clean and rust-free. The tires look good, are unweather-checked, but old. It looks and runs like a bike that has barely been broken in."

That was my Craig's List ad from last fall. Two days after running the ad, the scooter was long gone and scooters were out of my life forever. There was nothing wrong with the scooter that a couple hours of loving care and carburetor cleaning wouldn't have fixed. After I worked on it at the end of the previous season, it ran like a champ after a couple of blocks warm-up. In fact, it probably ran too well for my limited mental capacity.

The problem is/was that I'm not bright enough to take scooters seriously. I take some consolation in the fact that I'm a long ways from alone, when it comes to scooter idiocy. Based on what I see on the road, nobody takes scooters seriously. When I visit my grandkids near Dinkytown and UofM, I see dozens of supposedly intelligent, supposedly-educated young scooterists blasting around town practically bare naked. Scooter protective gear appears to be a backwards baseball cap, flip-flops, shorts, a tee-shirt and a sweater tied around their waist, and a backpack stuffed with a Mac laptop and a bunch of college-kid-crap. On the rare instance when you see a helmet on a scooter pilot, even more of the rider's body will be exposed as if to apologize for the helmet.

The other day I saw a pair of kids on a scooter, both were wearing helmets. The guy was shirtless and his passenger's halter-top was so small and thin that I think I got flashed as they rode past. It was nice of her to give an old guy a peek, but I hate to think of what the paramedics are going to have to look at.

The last time I put the Yamaha scooter on the road, was early in the spring the year after I'd done a little carb work. When I finished the work the prevous fall, I started it up, blipped the throttle a couple of times and let it idle a while to run Stabil through the system, and put the scooter away for the winter. One Saturday afternoon the following spring, I was working on my bikes and decided I needed to make a parts run.

The scooter was there. It fired right up. I jumped on, wearing sunglasses and my garage mechanic outfit: you guessed it, sandals, shorts, and a tee-shirt. But I was only going a few blocks, right? I got the parts, came home, emptied the parts out of the scooter's tailpack, and decided to "test" my scooter repairs a little more by going out to grab lunch. As I was sailing around Gervais Lake, it occurred to me that, "I'm freakin' naked on this thing."

I could have turned back to gear up like a real motorcyclist, but I had absolutely no feeling that I was on anything but a toy and, therefore, had no need for real motorcycle gear. The 180 Riva will comfortably do 55mph. I can tell you from bicycle experience that falling on asphalt at 5mph will shuck your corn. Falling at 55mph, "protected" by your underwear, from a hippobike, any kind of motorcycle, a 180cc step-through scooter, or a bicycle will remove skin all the way down to the bone. Still, there is nothing in my experience that convinces me that a scooter--a vehicle that you sit on like a lawnchair, feet in front and resting on a platform, with a foot brake and an automatic transmission--is a "real motorcycle." I get the same not-a-real-motorcycle impression riding a cruiser with floorboards. That riding position feels so . . . goofy, that I can not take it seriously. If the little Riva could have done 90mph, I'd have felt the same about the hazard it presented.

So, I did the thing that any dumbass should do when said dumbass discovers he isn't bright enough to deal with reality, I decided to remove the temptation. Of course, I know scooters don't kill morons, morons kill morons. However, a moron with a scooter is damned likely to get killed.

I gave my wife 60 days to get her learner's permit, if she didn't put that much effort into wanting to ride the damn thing, I planned on selling it before it killed me. She had a zillion excuses for not getting the permit, but we both knew she didn't really want to ride the poor little Riva. The idea of it was cool, but the reality was scarier and more work than it was worth. The deadline passed, no permit. We talked it over, she didn't really want to ride the scooter on public roads.

The scooter went on Craig's List the day after my 61st birthday. It was my birthday present to myself. The way I looked at it, selling the scooter increased the chances that I'd see my 62nd birthday by a factor of some-really-big-number.

June 2010

Jan 7, 2015

Book Review: Motorcyclists Legal Handbook: How to handle legal situations from the mundane to the insane

by Pat Hahn, 2011
All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day


    This was a particularly fun book for me to read and review because Pat is a good friend and someone who's opinion and research I trust, almost without question. The book arrived on a Monday and I came home about 9PM to discover it in my mailbox. On the way from the mailbox to the kitchen, I learned something from skimming through its pages. Did you know that the speed "limit" below yellow curve warnings are "advisory" and don't carry the weight of law? Yeah? Well I didn't and either did at least one cop who gave me a warning for blowing off those idiotic, overly-paranoid "suggestions' on an Idaho mountain road.
    Pat takes us through the laws and rules states and individual police apply to riders, most of which are actual laws and some of which are made up on the scene (the "one or both feet down" for a full stop rule, for instance). I'd recommend this as a reference manual for all you Iron Butt'ers.
    There are some statistical anomalies, such as "In the city, the ratio of drivers to law enforcement officers than it is in the sticks." He means in small towns vs. big cities, but when you are really "in the sticks" the ratio is a divide-by-zero equation. In a couple hundred thousand miles of off-pavement road travel, I have yet to see a single law enforcement vehicle doing anything. The "Staying Under the Radar" chapter has excellent information regarding required equipment from state-to-state. The list of things to do to avoid collecting officialdom's interest and things to do when you have attracted their attention is practical, concise, and entertaining. Pat takes us through the whole process of getting a ticket dismissed, reduced, or tossed out of court for a variety of technical and legal reasons. For a guy who has made a lot of his career in government service, Pat is very clear on the court's real purpose, to take your money. This section, "Fighting A Ticket," includes a terrific assortment of phrases and detailed arguments you might use with a cop, a prosecutor, or in court to save your money and driving record. This section, alone, justifies the book's $22 list price.
    The last 115 pages of this 237 page book contains a state-by-state detailed analysis of the states' motorcycle laws, the overall "rideability," and a comprehensive list of the pertinent motorcycle issues for the states (helmet laws, eye protection, insurance, traffic situation rules, etc.). A lot of useful state-specific data is contained in this concise and detailed section. If you consider wearing a head-napkin and ass-less chaps AGAT, it would be valuable to know which states are going to be less impressed with your pancake-lady impersonation. Some states have laws outlawing reasonable experienced motorcyclists' regular practices.
    The Legal Handbook book cleverly points out inconsistencies in state law and downright insanities (called "erratics") that are obvious things to watch out for as a visitor. Wisconsin law, for example, states that exhaust noise can not be louder than OEM equipment. Wisconsin does not honor state reciprocity, which means the state does not guarantee equal treatment of residents and non-residents. Anyone who has been to Wisconsin knows that the percentage of local riders with OEM-quiet exhaust systems is well-under 1%. If Wisconsin ever enforces the exhaust noise law, it will be enforced on non-residents. Colorado, Denver in particular, is downright hostile toward the loud pipes crowd. Colorado also has an assortment of laws punishing coasting (I didn't know that and I lived in Denver for 5 years.). The Legal Handbook gives you a head's up on who is who in the crazy motorcycle law department.
    The Motorcyclists Legal Handbook is a quick read. I went from cover-to-cover in a short afternoon, including reading all of the state analysis. It is both entertaining and enlightening, but it's real value is as a part of interstate travel planning. When you are crossing several state borders, a quick look through these 237 pages could save you time and money. If you happen to be tangled up in the legal system, Motorcyclists Legal Handbook could be the best investment you can make to untangle yourself.

NOTE: Sorry, this book doesn’t qualify for the Geezer Giveaway. I reviewed Pat’s book in 2012 and received an autographed copy with a particularly kind note and I’ll keep this one until I’m dust.

Frozen In

It is, officially, winter in Minnesota. This morning my outside thermometer squeaked out –13oF before signing off and heading for Jamaica. My lawyer is lounging on a cruise boat somewhere infinitely warmer than Minnesota. My old RV is hiding in Georgia or Florida. Even some of my test equipment, microphones, and two guitars have abandoned me for warmer places. Life is all about choices and the choice we made to buy a house in Red Wing vs. escaping Minnesota’s winter for the second time in 19 years is wearing on me a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like the house and Red Wing but I like winter less every year. Even our dog has decided she doesn’t like going outdoors anytime the temperature is below 20oF. This is a new thing for her. Two years ago, she’d ask to go outside all winter long and would stay in the backyard guarding the pear and apple trees from deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other predators for hours regardless of temperature. We’d watch her roll around to cool off in two feet of snow on a –20oF day and she didn’t seem to notice the cold at all. One winter in New Mexico and she’s done with it all. Yesterday, when the sun was out and the noon high crawled up to 10oF, I took her for a walk. She made it about two blocks away from the house and started doing her “carry me” routine; the one she developed in New Mexico when she’d stumble on to a patch of goatheads. Hopping along with one foot, then another, in the air she’d soldier on as if she thought she’d be letting me down if we turned back. We turned back and immediately she was happily plowing through the snow hauling on the leash as if I needed assistance. Once we were home, she went inside and curled up on our bed. I stayed outside a while shoveling the driveway and front porch and doing a little organizing in my new garage.

There is some kind of lesson here, I guess. Maybe “don’t skip a Minnesota winter or you’ll never be able to tolerate one again?”

Jan 5, 2015

#89 Something I Can Fix

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

The "Right-to-Repair Bill," House Bill 228 and Senate Bill 124, is all about requiring manufacturers to design and build products that can be serviced locally. If you have any interested in knowing what's going on inside and outside of your vehicle, you might want to encourage your representatives to endorse this bill. If we miss this moment, the chances are good that future generations of motorcycle enthusiasts will be clueless about the technology between their legs.

I'm regularly tagged for my dislike of the biker old-guy gangbanger crowd and I don't feel any great loss from my lack of empathy with that bunch. When I hung out with the Vincent owners biker gang, I got a taste of a different kind of old-guys-on-weird-motorcycles image. Many of the Vincent owners are guys who can fix anything that goes wrong with their strange motorcycle of choice. Anything. Some of these guys are so good with that era's technology that they can built an engine from a chunk of aluminum stock and enough iron to cast a set of pistons and valves. That kind of mechanical skill is a vanishing commodity in our culture.

My day job puts me in the midst of the disposable digital revolution. My business used to be driven by guys in white coats who not only knew how the equipment worked, but could build substantial pieces of necessary equipment when required. The great thing about digitalization of all things artistic is that the media for creativity is affordable for practically anyone with a moderate income. The not-so-great thing is that the technical skill required for basic understanding and maintenance of the tools of the trade is growing more unobtainable with every update in the technology.

At one time, it was all but impossible for someone to make a living as a recording engineer without also having considerable technical skills. You had to maintain a professional tape deck, for starters. The gear had a bunch of moving parts, was usually exposed to clouds of cigarette smoke and occasional floods of beer and the usual rock and roll stimulants, and it would all last for decades if it was well looked after. But you had to know something about the equipment to make it do anything useful.

Today, you buy a box, a computer, some software, and you're a recording studio. A Mac and Garageband can do more musical damage than most experts could manage with an orchestra and a million dollar studio. One problem with technology that has such a low entry price and a short learning curve is that it doesn't inspire as many users to become true experts in the field. However, the gear we use today will not last for decades and it can't be realistically maintained. Packing 25 pounds of crap into a 5 pound bag means that the bag will wear out a lot faster than previous, less tightly-packed, generations of bags.

The components that naturally degenerate are going to degenerate much faster than the same parts' deterioration rate in equipment of the past. It's not a big deal, because the stuff is so cheap and becomes obsolete so quickly that replacement is more practical than repair. The throw-away culture has taken root in all sorts of technologies. Last year's super computer is this year's landfill. Perfectly serviceable cars and trucks are called "junkers." Tools that once lasted for decades are all but rubble about the time we learn how to use them.

A lot of motorcycling old guys are hung up on the idea that they understand how the old bikes work and can repair them. That is an admirable goal and a worthwhile reason to hang on to the last century's technology. Ideally, we'd move on with the times and retain the ability to fix equipment built currently. That is an unusual trait in old guys. Most of us passed through our creative, educable prime when we were teenagers and in our early 20's. From then on, we clung to what we'd learned as if it would remain state-of-the art forever. Now we're old, stuck in our ways, pretending the old stuff is the good stuff and doing our best to ignore the last half-century's improvements in performance, quality, and reliability.

On the manufacturing end of things, companies appear to be doing their best to wipe out owner-serviceable products. If the old guys of the future are going to have anything to brag about, modern mechanics are going to have to figure out the newer, more complicated, precision gadgets and they are going to have to be able to fix them. Tomorrow's engineers are today's young mechanics and hotrodders. If they are deprived of access to the technology of their time, we might find ourselves in even worse technological shape than we are today.

Check out the Right to Repair Coalition at http://www.righttorepair.org/. If you care about retaining access to the guts of your motorcycle and other vehicles, now is the time to say something about it.

MMM May 2010

Jan 4, 2015

The World's Coolest Guy

Guy Martin and the Pikes Peak Challenge.
In my opinion, Guy Martin wins the "World's Coolest Guy" award (pun intended). This film is a great way to burn up an hour on a sub-zero January day in Minnesota (or where ever you're hanging out).

Dec 30, 2014

Going around, Coming Around

Last August, I wrote a bit about "following distance" (Following Distance and Me) that included a sad bit about an MSF student who disliked everything about our harping on the hazards of motorcycling. She hated helmets, riding gear, paying attention to other students on the range (and had to be pulled aside a couple of times and warned that "any more of that crap and you're outta here"), and pretty much anything that didn't have to do with making her look cool on a motorcycle. To my disgust, she squeaked through the license test at the end of the course with the dead (literally) minimum of riding skills and pretty much thumbed her nose at us as she swaggered away after getting her permit stamped and blowing off a warning that she was not even close to a good enough rider to survive on the road. It didn't take her long to prove the coaches right. For a few weeks she was big news since her mother tried to make her death someone else's fault in the press. When that failed, she shifted to blaming the hazards of motorcycling and tried to focus attention on how awful two wheels are, statistically. That's probably always going to be a popular tactic.

A couple of weeks ago, we were looking for quotes on windows for our new house and one of the salesmen turned out to be that kid's brother. It wasn't the experience you might have expected. Apparently, he helped pick out her Kawasaki 250R, hoping the superior brakes and mild engine might help keep her alive. She, of course, wanted a R6 or a 650, but he managed to damp that insanity at the dealership. He, however, absolutely disagreed with his mother that his sister had any business on a motorcycle. She was a train wreak in a car, on a bicycle, and on foot and was convinced that the laws of physics did not apply to her superior being. He, on the other hand, was on his way to Iraq and didn't have a lot of leverage.

It was a really uncomfortable conversation for me. My feeling for her family and for her created a sad mix of Darwinism and sympathy. Motorcycles, regardless of the stupid crap the MSF/MIC wildly hope, are not for everyone. It's one thing to buy one and a whole different thing to ride one well enough to survive traffic.

Dec 29, 2014

#88 Getting Back

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

Late in the summer of 2008, I rode to Nova Scotia. It was my first trip, on any vehicle, east. In 60 years as an American, other than some business flights to New York in the 70's that only allowed a view inside a factory, the only "east" I'd seen was Florida and Ohio; and the points in-between here and Ohio. On this trip, I looped the Great Lakes, out on the Canadian side and back on the US.

Altogether, I put on about 5900 miles in 20 days, including a 4 day semi-stationary interlude in Nova Scotia with my wife. I also hung out with friends in New York and friends in Cleveland for two days each. It wasn't a mile-pounding trip, like the previous year's trip to Alaska. Counting the days off, I averaged about 295 miles a day.

However, the days off were the days that meant the most in many of my memories of the trip. As time dillutes the memories of back-roads in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and the grand views of Nova Scotia's Cabot Trail, the stationary moments take on even more meaning. This is probably just me, your mileage differs, I expect.

It is the people I met, the places I savored, and the things I learned about the places I traveled that stick with me. The pure mile-covering fact that I rode somewhere, met some people, and burned their fuel will wither away into faint recollections. At one that summer, I almost canned the whole idea of riding across the northeastern portion of our continent on my 650 and replaced it with a North Dakota tour on my my 250. I hadn't yet worked out the 250's fuel capacity problems or the more "pressing" seat design, so that option never really gained traction. However, carrying minimal gear and really exploring a place foreign to me has an even stronger appeal after my second long tour. A year earlier, I did a bit more than 10,000 miles in 26 days. in 2008, 5900 in 20.

Before that, my longest motorcycle trips were 4,000 miles in ten days and a collection of 1,000-2,500 mile trips in five to ten days. It's a luxury to have 30 days to play around with. I'm lucky to have stumbled into this point in my life when I can gamble with security and time and still have some sort of employment to come home to at the end of the trip. I gave up a lot of money for this flexibility, but it was worth the tradeoff. In fact, I wouldn't consider returning to the corporate life for any amount of money.

Ok, that's sort of a lie. If I were offered the kind of cash that would require a short commitment to provide security for the rest of my life, I'd probably sell out, again. I am an American, after all.

All my life, I've known that "money is time," not the reverse. Before committing to my current life, it was only a theory that I desperately wanted to believe. Now I know that people who believe that "time is money" are boring types who desperately need a hobby or three. Anyone who thinks money has value outside of the time it can buy for adventures, time with friends and family, and time to relax and enjoy life is someone I don't want to waste my time on. A pile of money is a poor exchange for life. I have way too many hobbies and way too little time. Most likely I will never have much money, but I can always remember what I did with the time my money bought me. I have no good memories of actually earning that money.

Traveling at even the modest pace of 300 miles a day doesn't leave much time to meet people, learn about local history, see the important attractions, and absorb a little of the culture. If you're on the gas, averaging 50mph, you're barely slowing down to see the landmarks if you're on the road 6-8 hours a day. You aren't spending enough time anywhere to have a decent conversation, let alone get to know anyone. The difference between traveling by cage vs. a motorcycle is as dramatic as covering miles vs. taking time to get to know a place. I think there is a place for both. Before I'd taken my first trip west, I didn't have any idea what I might like out there. Once I'd made my first tour of the western states, I began to get an idea of what I wanted to see more of. The same went for traveling east. None of the eastern cities have any draw for me, but that's mostly true for cities as a group. Having traveled through a fair bit of the east, I found a lot to like about parts of New York and most of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Quebec, and all of Nova Scotia. So, I want to go back and see more of those places someday soon.

In 2009, I made my first trip "back" after the original exploration trip. To and from Alaska, I blasted through a good bit of North Dakota. I liked a lot of what I saw there and decided to do it again a lot slower. Friends told me, "You're gonna hate North Dakota." But they were wrong.

North Dakota is not Kansas, although a big chunk of the northeast section of the state is at least as boring and industrial. Industrial farming has not made a total conquest of North Dakota, owing to the rugged topology of the west and general lack of water resources to violate for the God of Corn. The southeastern corner of the state has its share of corporate farming, but it also has the Sheyenne River Valley. The collection of state roads that make up the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway are among the coolest, most interesting roads I've ever traveled. Due to technical problems with my intended ride on this trip, my 250 Kawasaki Super Sherpa, I didn't spend as much time on the Sheyenne trail as I'd intended. That gives me a wonderful excuse to go back and do it all again. I didn't cover nearly as much of the southwestern corner of North Dakota as I'd planned, which leaves me another opportunity. I can't imagine spending too much time in Teddy Roosevelt's namesake national park. I hit most of the historical sites in Bismarck, but that city has a music scene that I didn't slow down long enough to experience. I chose exploring the Canadian boarder over the North Dakota/Minnesota boarder, so I'm still a stranger to Grand Forks and I've barely skirted Fargo.

The parts of Alaska and Canada that I skipped over the first time, California and Oregon's northeastern mountain towns, and all of the southeastern portion of the United States are still on my list of places-to-go, but it's nice to have a collection of targets within easy reach. If you can't travel far, travel slow and near and poke a hole in your comfort zone the easy way. If I'd have listened to advice about North Dakota, I'd might never be able to say I have ridden a Vincent, enjoyed a three-hour pre-Columbian-to-Custer history lesson from Mandan historian, cruised a motorcycle through a herd of buffalo, or spent a night in the over-grown town park of a completely abandoned town. All stories that hold as much meaning to me as remembering the rides to Alaska and Nova Scotia.

April 2010