Sep 15, 2014

#73 A Good Beginner's Bike

All Rights Reserved © 2008
Thomas W. Day

One of the common things about being an MSF instructor is getting asked, "What's a good beginner's bike?" This is a question that every experienced rider has attempted to answer dozens of times.

Kids (people younger than 30) ask straight-forward questions, expecting straight-forward answers. When a kid asks me this bike question, I count off a list of mid-sized, practical motorcycles that I'd recommend for a beginner with a reasonable expectation that they will look into and consider some of the bikes on my list.

All questions asked by "adults" (people older than 30) are a double-edged, convoluted, culturally-loaded, context-sensitive questions. When I was a kid, you started riding a motorcycle when you were a kid. I didn't know anyone, in 1965, who decided to be a motorcyclist when he or she was approaching retirement age. Now that the English language has lost all sense of proportion, being "young enough" to take on a physical skill can apply to anyone. After all, we pretend that 50 is "middle aged," owing $200,000 to the bank is "home ownership," our prisons are part of a "corrections and rehabilitation" system, and some folks even think being called "conservative" is a complement. When an "older person" (people over 50) asks the bike question, I give them my usual answer, but I rarely expect them to consider the bikes I recommend. Old folks usually don't want answers to their questions, they want "affirmation."

In the current Baby Boomers in Decline climate, my generation is desperately seeking to restore a deluded self-image. They want to move insanely fast from being rank beginners to "experienced" and respected riders. What they are hoping for is knowledge and skill "transference," not training. In fact, older people starting a new physical or mental activity are at a disadvantage due to physical limitations and mental "stiffness." With that in mind, my small light beginner bike recommendations might be toned down to mopeds and scooters for adult newbies, but I know that's not what they want to hear. They see themselves in a completely illogical light and expect the rest of us to play along with their fantasy.

I'll use, for example, a guy (who we will call AC, as in "Advertising Consultant") who sent his wife to a Minnesota Basic Rider Course a few years back. Apparently, this dude is not from Minnesota because he was astounded and irritated at the fact that basic riding classes are held rain-or-shine; and it rained. She was lucky it didn't snow. In an attempt to impress me with his insight as a motorcyclist, AC bragged that he was the new owner of an "Anniversary Edition of the Heritage Soft Tail Classic" and had passed down his old Harley Sportster to his wife. I think he might as well toss her a hand grenade with the pin pulled. A 1200cc (even considering the Sportster's modest 50hp or the 883's timid 43hp), 500+ pound motorcycle is not a beginner's bike. The only beginner quality you could assign to the Sportster is the 29" seat height. Throw in the "stable" cruiser steering and you have a bike that will be easy to roll into traffic. Once she gets on the road, making emergency maneuvers is a different matter. AC and his wife see themselves as something other than beginners and their choice in motorcycles reflects that delusion.

This is typical of the kind of starter bike affirmation that old beginners want. Motorcycle Consumer News published a letter from a 60-year-old new rider who thought his MSF training "250cc bikes were ridiculously small." After struggling through the course, he had his "big Harley" delivered to his home because he knew he "wasn't prepared to take it into traffic." He terrorized his neighborhood for three weeks until he finally "hit 40mph in second gear." After three months of additional self-instruction, reading, and watching videos, he had convinced himself that he could "put the bike anywhere [he] wanted." I'd be surprised if he could pass a basic skills test on his big Harley. Of course, if that old beginner had the wisdom to to start off with a beginner's bike (instead of a motorcycle that many experienced riders would avoid), he might have had a positive and effective learning experience.

When you are 60 years old and are desperately looking for evidence that you're still a virile, active male, considering a real beginner's bike is a hard sell. A typical overweight American adult looks comical on, or in, anything short of a farm implement. (I'm feeling your pain. "Friends" say I look like an overstuffed, over-aged sausage on my bike and in my Roadcrafter.) Regardless, an identity crisis and peer pressure are poor justifications for buying exactly the wrong beginning motorcycle.

When I was a kid, 55-185cc bikes were as common as "custom" Harley's are today. Adults often rode Honda Trail 90s around town. A 305 was big enough to take on two-up long rides across the country and a 650cc bike was considered a large and powerful motorcycle. While the technology of those motorcycles was miles below all but the worst bike available today, the power and weight of the typical mid-sized bike was about right for a beginner motorcycle.

While that MSF-deriding 60-year-old newbie may think that a 250cc motorcycle is "ridiculously small," there are a passel of 250cc bikes that are more than capable of typical freeway speeds (and legal) and more than equal to beginning rider skills and needs. Several of the 125cc bikes used in the Minnesota program are more motorcycle than most of the new riders can handle. I, personally, often ride my 250cc Kawasaki Super Sherpa on the freeway and around town and it regularly hauls my 210 pounds and extra gear quickly and comfortably. I know a few experienced riders who own 400cc and smaller bikes and ride them long and often.

If you want my advice on a beginning bike, feel free to ask. If you want confirmation that your hippo-bike was a brilliant choice, ask someone else. I think beginners belong on beginner bikes, regardless of age.

July 2008

Sep 13, 2014

I Second that Motion

Noah Horak recently wrote “An Open Letter to the Motorcycle Industry” blasting the suits who decide we need bigger, heavier, less adventurous “adventuring touring” hippos instead of ride-able motorcycles that are actually capable of going places a Cadillac Escalade can’t go. Here are just a few of the right on things Horak had to say about the recent collection of bullshit two-wheel, Land Rover-clone, hippobikes disguised as off-road capable:

“Adventure is a word thrown around so freely in the motorcycle industry now, I am not sure you remember what a true adventure actually is.”

“If you can not pick up your bike fully loaded in any situation, it is not an adventure bike.”

“Most of the air cooled 650s are great bikes, but they are all in desperate need of a update. So there is basically the choice between DRZ400 and KTM 690.”

“The formula is easy: less then 150 kilos, good tune-able off-road suspension, around 50 hp, fuel injected, liquid cooled, and at least a 7500 km oil change interval. A 500 km fuel range would be icing on the cake.”

Suddenly, I don’t feel so much like the only guy saying, “This king is as naked as the last dumbass.”

Sep 12, 2014

Counting Bikers

The next-to-the-last of the season Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Council’s Rider Coach update had an interesting stat that caught my eye and triggered a Geezerly response. The comment was, “To date, we have fifteen fewer motorcycle crash fatalities than we did at this time last year (32 to date in 2014 versus 47 on Sept. 2, 2013).”

We saw the same kind of claim in 2008-10 and motorcycle safety “experts” claimed credit to training, improved traffic safety systems, toughened and enforced laws intended to “protect” motorcyclists from themselves, and other magical bullshit. Like the post-Great Recession days, I think the real “fix” for this year’s motorcycle death rate has nothing to do with any of that. Back then, motorcycle deaths went down because all of the pirate, hooligan, and up-scale newbies had their bikes repossessed. For three years, the roads were pretty much free of recreational motorcyclists. Harley needed TARP bailout money to stay alive. Suzuki lost about a third if its dealerships. Everybody else took major economic hits and ne motorcycle sales collapsed.

This year, the weather did a job on recreational motorcycling. Every Basic Rider Class I taught from late April until July got rained on and all of the other classes, since, have had at least a few hours of wet weather riding. This past week’s “Seasoned Rider Course” got rained on for 3 out of the 5 hour class. Once again, I tried to catch a few motorcyclists on video for RtWD this year and after leaving a 4 camera setup going for both rush periods on I35W, I35E, highway 36, and Rice Street, my small crew and I gave it up as hopeless. I hadn't done this since I quit producing Motorcycling Minnesota a few years back and it was a little discouraging to see how few people actually ride motorcycles on a near-perfect summer day. Apparently, the only way we’re ever going to cut down on motorcycle fatalities and injuries is to discourage motorcyclists from riding. It works, obviously.

One of the things about teaching a lot of BRC2's this year is getting to hear why people don't ride. While I don't think Minnesota riders exactly fit the California biker profile (, we're not far off in all respects. It does make me suspect that the future of motorcycling is going to be a lot different than the past. I absolutely believe that Minnesota motorcyclists don't even get close to the 0.001-0.01% of traffic contribution California motorcyclists contribute. Likewise, if there are 180,000 licensed "motorcyclists" in Minnesota, I'd be hard-pressed to believe that close to half that number actually ride more than 50 miles a year and I'd bet the real numbers are more like 20,000 actual riders exist in the state. In this case, my standard for “actual riders” is pretty low; 500 miles a year or more. Out of that tiny number, I imagine the average motorcyclist owns at least 3 motorcycles. I’m sub-average with two bikes.

Your mileage may vary, but what I get out of all this is a strong feeling that rider safety is a broken quality control system that pats itself on the back for anything resembling “success.” It makes sense, though. When the whole industry closes its eyes to the fact that motorcyclists are grossly, overwhelmingly overrepresented in highway mortality and morbidity statistics, world wide, we aren’t seriously doing anything to promote highway safety.

Sep 11, 2014

Product Review: Wolfman Enduro Tank Bag

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day


Stock Wolfman photo of the Enduro Tankbag mounted on a KTM's plastic tank.

I have almost owned a couple pieces of Wolfman luggage. For one reason or another, each previous shopping trip ended up with me deciding that something else was a better fit. Early spring, in 2007, I made the journey to Duluth and RiderWearHouse to see if I could find a tank bag that worked on my V-Strom. My faithful Chase Harper bags were either too wide (the 1150) or too unstable (Sport Trek Magnetic) thanks to all of the plastic surrounding the V-Strom's tank and the wide bars. For remote touring, the Sport Trek was also too small to hold my extra fuel bottles. After a few uncomfortable experiences, I lost patience with either of the bags hitting the horn or the kill switch every time I made a tight maneuver.

It turned out that finding a bag that would fit that bike was a lot harder than I'd expected. During a visit to Riderwearhouse, I tried out almost a dozen bags from various manufacturers, ranging from $60 to $200. They were all cool, but all but one provided no improvement over my Chase Harper problems. The coolest Wolfman bag, the Ranier, not only hit the V-Strom's bar controls but one of the side envelopes managed to tangle itself with my throttle lock. The only bag that worked better than what I had was the Wolfman Enduro Tank Bag.

Unfortunately, this is what a real Enduro Tankbag looks like after a couple of rain storms. Not nearly as perky.

A feature of the Enduro that I initially liked a lot was the "laminated foam sides, bottom, and rear," since the side reinforcement was what prevented the bag from sagging into my bar controls. Unfortunately, the laminated foam permanently loses its rigidity after exposure to rain and heat. On a June 2009 North Dakota tour, I was soaked for 8 straight days and the bag lost it's narrow vertical shape and buckled into the very controls I'd hoped to avoid. I still like the bag, but I'm back to honking my horn on tight left turns and hitting the starter button or kill switch when turning right.

The foam bottom means you can store items like tools, spare levers, and other hard items without banging up your gas tank. The rubber non-slip base adds a little more protection for your paint job, but you still have to keep the space between the bag and the tank clean, if you don't want to bag to turn into a sanding block. The attachment system, 4 plastic quick-connect buckles is reasonably stable but doesn’t provide easy access to the gas tank filler when the bag is full. Your choices are: 1) disconnect the bottom (near the seat) buckles and flip the bag up toward your console, 2) disconnect the top buckles and flip the bag down to the seat, 3) take the bag off altogether. Choice #1 is usually the easiest option, since those buckles are often hard to reattached, especially if you are wearing gloves. The downside is that the bag is less than stable in that position and might come down suddenly either knocking the gas nozzle out of the tank or, as happened to me on the Dempster Highway in the middle of nowhere, busting the ignition key off in the gas cap. #2 is a pain in the ass if you are wearing gloves, since those two buckles are somewhere between the tank and the steering head/console. #3 doubles the pain the ass of #2 and gives you the opportunity to forget reattaching the bag and leaving it at a filling station.

For the most part, the Enduro Tankbag has several redeeming features that keep it on my V-Strom. The large back pocket is really high on that list. The rear pocket conveniently holds camera gear, keys, wheel locks, gloves, or practically anything a motorcyclist is likely to need to get to quickly. The map pocket lies more-or-less flat to the world, thanks to the shape of the bag, making a map readable even for my geezer-decaying eyesight. Wolfman calls the mounting system "three point," which is a little tough to explain since there are four attachment points, but it is a fairly stable and very durable bag mounting system. The bag is constructed of heavy-duty nylon Cordura. The zippers are also nylon and equally heavy-duty. There is a reflective strip woven into the reinforcement webbing on the sides and back of the bag. Even the Wolfman logo patch is retro-reflective. Expanded to full height, the Enduro Tank Bag is large enough for quick grocery stops, including a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. However, stuffed all the way to the top with gear, the bag can become unstable, so you need to think about how you're going to pack it and where you're going with all that gear before the road gets rough and you get busy.

The Enduro bag costs $85 and, for another $17, waterproof it with a rain cover that retains the use of the map pocket. You can buy Wolfman products from our friends in Duluth,, or direct from the company ( Obviously, I can’t give this product an overwhelming endorsement. In comparison to the Giant Loop Diablo Tank Bag, for example, the Wolfman bag is downright lame.

Sep 10, 2014

Mind Control

We are a nation that likes to imagine itself with as little connection to reality as possible. The “American Dream” is as universally accepted here as Heaven/Nirvana/The Garden/Big Rock Candy Mountain/whatever. Just like those magical places, the Dream seems to be so different for each of us that it is hard to believe anyone can find a lick of commonality when they try to describe their Dream/Heaven to someone else. For example, my idea of Hell would be exactly the Midwestern Methodist white-bread singing, praying, and potluck dinner nightmare my Kansas family described as “Heaven.”

Two places where our national insanity rears its silly-assed head without a lick of shame are gun ownership and motorcycle “rights.” As far as guns are concerned, Jim Jefferies pretty much summed up my opinions of the issue. He’s said it all, just way funnier than I said it at the time. Or any time.

Likewise, we (as in the 0.01% of the public who actually ride motorcycles occasionally) believe that we should not be required to make even the slightest nod toward admitting that our vehicle of choice is exactly what medical professionals call it: a donorcycle or, if you believe the industry deserves some responsibility, murdercycles. We pretend that it is perfectly acceptable for motorcycles to contribute injuries at a rate that is thousands of times greater than motorcycles contribute to traffic. We believe that it’s reasonable for cagers to be required to strap in to their crumple-zone-protected, airbag padded, generally stable under all conditions cars while motorcyclists shouldn’t even have to wear a $50 helmet because it messes up our hair (for the rare motorcyclist who has hair). Boots, gloves, eye protection, armored riding gear? “Hell no! Um an ‘Merican. Ya caint make me wear dat dum stuff! Wudnt look cool. Ah gut ma raghts! Live free ur die.” Unless, of course, I get busted up instead of killed. Then I fully expect society to haul my brainless ass to a hospital, fix me up (for free, since I don’t have health insurance), blame the cager, bar, or imperfectly designed road for my injury and compensate me for “damages,” provide me with welfare since I can no longer work (if I ever did), and give me really good drugs so I won’t be depressed.

Our reason for all of this is exactly the same as gun owners’ reason for why their “2nd Amendment Rights” (as opposed to their Constitutional responsibilities) are sacred, “’cause I wanna.” No wonder the average cager or pedestrian has the same thought when a motorcycle blubbers through town or the neighborhood, “What a moron.”

Sep 8, 2014

#72 Statistics vs. Useful Information

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day

A while back, on Minnesota WCCO television's "Good Question" news segment, the question was ,"Drivers have to wear seat belts to stay safe. So why don't all motorcyclists have to wear helmets?" The program came up with two answers: "The motorcycle lobby in Minnesota is well organized and very vocal in its opposition to helmet laws. Since there are far fewer motorcycles on the road than cars, helmets are not considered a big public safety issue compared to seat belts." Accurate answers, but poor justification. The program also stated that "Last year, there were 70 motorcycle rider deaths in Minnesota, a 200 percent increase from a decade ago. Some of the increase is due to more riders." Any time you use the word "more," you're making a statistical claim. If you're out on the road observing traffic patterns, the "more riders" claim could be hard to prove.

Mark Twain had an opinion about statistics, "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." Not everyone who quotes statistical data is lying, but many are providing misleading information. A useful reference would be "miles driven." A really useful reference would be "miles driven and where."

Many motorcyclists are proud of the fact that they are unwilling to ride on freeways, commuter highways, or even venture out on the road on weekdays. These weekend garage candy bikers only ride rural roads; avoiding traffic, intersections, and any practical purpose for burning fuel . In 2005, over 20% of the motorcycle crash deaths occurred between noon and 9PM on Saturday! Comparing that kind of highway use to conventional highway users is distracting, at best, and total b......t in reality.

In the WCCO program, a DPS spoksperson provided the following statistical claim, "As you might imagine, seat belts are far more effective than helmets at preventing injuries and death . . . Drivers are 60 percent less likely to be killed in a crash if they're wearing a seat belt but bikers are only 35 percent less likely to die if they're wearing a helmet."

Really? Where did the data for that claim come from?

I don't know where that dubious "35 percent less likely to die if they're wearing a helmet" data comes from, but I'd be amazed if helmets don't prevent death and injury considerably more effectively than seatbelts. Watch a motorcycle race crash and make your own estimate of how many racers would have survived without helmets. Almost every crash I've ever experienced began with a mild or major face plant. Since buying my first full face helmet in 1982, face plants have been scary but bloodless events. We all know how that story changes when you remove the helmet.

I think the motorcycle injury statistics fall into the "incomplete" category and provide considerably less than useful information. If you crash your car, the chances may be pretty good that you'll be calling a tow truck and the crash may be reported, regardless of injury. I suspect that the majority of helmeted riders--who run their bike off of the road in a corner, drop the bike at a slick intersection, slide out on spring sand and salt on a freeway entrance or exit, and all of the other low-to-mid-speed crash scenarios--get back up, dust themselves off, and wobble back home, shaken but unharmed and unreported. I'd also bet crashing involving un-helmeted riders is a different story. If you run your bike off of the road, but you can wrestle it back to pavement and get back home where you can privately bandage your wounds, nobody recording data is going to hear about it. If you were wearing a real motorcycle helmet and protective gear, you probably don't have any wounds to bandage.

Which brings up another important aspect of helmet crash statistics: there are helmets and there are helmets. DOT will put a sticker on a Tupperware bowl held in place by a pair of shoestrings. Those stupid looking plastic yarmulkes that cruiser folks wear to cover their bald spots are barely more protection than Snoopy's aviator cap. Including those funny-looking hats on the "helmeted" side of a crash statistic is an insult to protective gear designers.

The one number we should all be able to agree on is the percentage of motorcyclists involved in deaths. Injuries may or may not be reported, but deaths rarely go unrecorded. In 2005, there were 559 Minnesota crash deaths, 59 (10.6%) were motorcycle/motor scooter related. In 2006, 70 motorcyclists were killed (14%) out of 494 total highway deaths. One thing is obvious about motorcycle deaths, there are too damn many.

The demographics of motorcycle deaths are also fairly reliable statistics. Minnesota men were 90% of the motorcycle fatalities, half of the women killed on motorcycles were passengers. Our two biggest age-group lumps in motorcycle deaths were ages 20-29 (19 deaths) and 40-49 (21 deaths) followed by 50-59 (12 deaths). 53 of 70 fatal crashes (76%) occurred in small towns (<25,000) and rural roads, which contradicts the argument that urban commuting is "too dangerous"; or the "safe" weekend ride is beyond the skills of many Minnesota riders.

Attempting to correlate deaths--and reported injuries--to disparate and misleading numbers like motorcycle registrations or licenses issued is a waste of resources. I know guys who have a dozen registered bikes in their garage and, maybe, one of those vehicles is ridden a couple dozen miles in a given season. Supposedly, there are almost 200,000 motorcycle Minnesota licenses. Is there anyone vision-impaired enough to believe there are 200,000 motorcycles on our roads on any given day of the year?

The lack of useful data does not justify using worthless data to either defend or attack motorcycle training, motor vehicle safety, or even the continued access to public roads. For example if you're a stupid-statistics-user, you could conclude that November through March are the safest months to ride in Minnesota (no deaths during those months in 2006). What we need to defend motorcycling and improve motorcycle safety are good, useful numbers and the means to consistently obtain those numbers without the distraction of disingenuous statistics.

Any reasonable person will look at the high contribution motorcycling makes to traffic deaths and the nearly non-existent contribution our vehicle makes to traffic and wonder if there is a reason to allow motorcyclists access to public roads. The fact is motorcyclists die on the road at a much higher rate (per mile, per vehicle, per motorist, per accident, etc.) than other motorists. We need to do something about that if we hope to retain our highway privileges. If protective gear dramatically lowers that mortality rate, the motorcycle industry needs to admit that and do whatever it takes to put a helmet on every rider. If our current training and rider licensing system isn't working, riders, trainers, and the industry need to fix it. We are allowed on public roads by the permission of the larger society. If motorcycles don't provide a useful, safe alternative to conventional transportation, our vehicle will be banned from public roads as were the horse and buggy and the rest of the long list of no-longer-allowed equipment and vehicles. We must make motorcycling more practical and safer. There is no other option.

June 2008

A Familiar Face

I’m pretty sure I’ve had this monkey in an MSF class or two. Worse, this chimp nearly knocked me over once or twice on the California highway.

Sep 3, 2014

Product Review: Aerostich Lane Share Tool

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas

The Lane Share Tool in parking lot action on Canada's busy Highway 17.

Aerostich's Mr. Subjective once told me that laws only reflect what the majority of the public is already doing. I guess that explains the prevalence of helmet-less riders and modified exhaust systems. Those folks are trying to influence laws regulating motorcycle safety and noise, by risking their skulls and creating a public nuisance. Fair enough.

Some laws, however, don't make sense regardless of how prevalent common practice may be. Restricting two-wheel vehicles to lanes designed for 4-18 wheel vehicles is one among many such nonsensical laws. Lane splitting and traffic filtering are vital keys to making motorcycles into practical transportation. If any laws are ripe for motorcyclists' civil disobedience, it would be those that prevent motorcycles and scooters from reducing traffic congestion and optimizing the flexibility of our favorite vehicle. The Oregon Department of Transportation did  a detailed study of the available information and concluded that lane sharing appears to be a non-factor in motorcycle crashes and fatalities.

Aerostich has developed a product to assist riders in lane-splitting civil disobedience; the Lane Share Tool (catalog # 3305). This clever electro-mechanical farkle allows the motorcyclist to provide an educational message (instead of a reportable license plate number) with the touch of a button for cagers to contemplate as they are stuck in traffic. The stepper-motor actuated mechanism smoothly swings the license plate holder down and displays a subtle message to the cars you are passing. Momentarily pressing the unit's push button switch ("standard mode") opens the message display for 10 seconds, after which the display closes automatically. Or maybe you don't want to be subtle. Holding the button for 5 seconds puts the unit into "maintenance mode," which displays the message until you press the button again. Anytime the unit is displaying your message, an LED on the control module flashes to remind you that your license is not legally displayed. When the circuit is disengaged, the unit stops drawing power from your battery.

The Lane Share Tool has been designed for simple, painless installation. The harness includes a couple of connector points to assist in feeding the wires to their designated points. The activation button mounting hardware allows for at least two sensible attachment tactics. All of the hardware appears to be solidly designed and watertight. Installation took me about 30 minutes and I was idiotically anal about cable routing. Thanks to the connectors, I didn't have to remove the fairing or gas tank.

Remember, lane-splitting and loud pipes are a combination that demonstrates your poor manners and lack of social conscience. Do the rest of us a favor, if you are addicted to a 13-year-old girl's appetite for attention-grabbing, don't split lanes. For the rest of you who want to promote lane-splitting as a common, legal activity, the Lane Share Tool is an interesting public education device. Unfortunately, lane-splitting and filtering is legal in only one US state: California. So, if you use it be warned that you may pay a price beyond the Lane Share Tool's $157 price tag.

Dead Lane Share Tool
The Lane Share Tool, waiting for disposal after a life on the road.

POSTSCRIPT: 8/30/2014, after suffering the slings and arrows of mud, chain lube, rocks, and occasional use, my Lane Share Tool bit the dust today. Probably the most common use I've found for this device is demonstrating it after an MSF class when someone asks, "What's that?" Today, the demonstration resulted in a cool downward progression of the "One Less Car" sign, and a couple of hiccups on the upward passage before the motor quit altogether. "It's dead, Jim." And it is.

The poor motor was coated in gritty chain lube from a long life lived behind my V-Strom's rear tire. It made it through 2,700 miles of North Dakota's backroads and 10,000 miles from here to Nova Scotia and back, plus a couple years of all-weather commuting, local adventure touring, camping, and the misery of being on the ass-end of a motorcycle belonging to me. So ends another product test. I'd done such a slick job of installing the little bugger it could have been a serious pain-in-the-ass to remove it. Luckily, the brilliant engineers at Aerostich put high quality connectors in-line at both ends of the cable harness, allowing me to cut the tiewraps, undo the harness clips, and pull the wiring without bike disassembly.

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Sep 1, 2014

#71 Low Cost Racing and other Oxymorons

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I spent a few of the idle hours a while back reading a friend's book, Kent Larson's Motorcycle Track Day Handbook. It's a good book. You should check it out. It will give you something to think about while the bike is stuffed into the back of your garage through the winter.

However, Kent and his co-writers generated a few magnificent errors in their assumptions about racing. Being a pain-in-the-ass, I have to point out a couple of such mistakes. In the early pages Kent wrote "most likely you are already pretty certain you want to get to the racetrack or you wouldn't have picked up this book." Kent gave me my copy, so maybe he's right if he was talking to a book buyer. As a comp'd reader, I have absolutely no intention of getting myself to a racetrack. I have done that, suffered defeat and injury at a relatively late point in life (by motorcycle racer standards), and I can still easily identify the bones I fractured anytime the barometer moves. Thanks, but I just read motorcycle racing literature purely for entertainment, education, and a little harmless gonzo titillation.

The second (by my standards), questionable statement was located beneath a photo of a Honda XR650R that had been modified for racing, "supermotard has been making a comeback and can be a cheap and fun way to get into the racing scene." When you start with a $6,000+ motorcycle, trick it out with another several thousand dollars in suspension, tires, brake, and frame parts, and take it racing where all of that investment could vanish in a single low speed corner miscalculation, we're not talking about any kind of "cheap" with which I am familiar.

Racing isn't cheap, unless "cheap" means "less than millions" to you. Kent lives on the side of the economy that would describe me as "dirt poor" or something less complimentary. His bike trailer has more accommodations than my house. He appears to spend as much on motorcycles and accessories as I spend on my whole lifestyle. You could describe me as "jealous." You could describe me as "miserly." I describe myself as "practical." Few would describe me as "rich."

I carefully ration out my income and savings with the constant balance between necessity, fun, and work. Necessity takes care of itself. You gotta do what you gotta do. However, the "need" word only gets applied to things I need. Food, weatherproof shelter, second-hand clothes, basic transportation, and beer all fall into the "I need this" bracket. Fun gets balanced against the time required to support the fun. I prefer at least a 1:1 ROI (return on investment) "fun-to-work ratio." At the minimum, I want an hour's fun in exchange for no more than an hour's work required to pay for the fun. Anytime the ROI drops below 1:1, I begin to make excuses about why I can't be bothered to do that thing and I find another way to spend my time. When the ROI is 2:1 or better, it's usually a no-brainer and I go have fun. I'm easily entertained, though, and I can always find something fun to do that doesn't cost any money at all. Sleep, for example.

Racing motorcycles is one of those things that has a grossly negative ROI, usually about a 1:2,000 (fun to work) time allotment. The reason for that is that racing, in all forms, is expensive if you even want to pretend you are going to be competitive. With entry level motorcycle racing, Kent says "the travel, tires, and track fees could run you $500 per outing." That's assuming you are racing a used small bike (500-650cc) and not including the cost of buying the bike, crashing the bike, fixing the bike, upgrading the bike, or (especially) the expense you'll suffer hanging out with medical practitioners. Kent seems to like doctors to a degree that makes me uncomfortable. In fact, if he admitted "I cut down trees, I skip and jump, I love to press wild flowers,"

I wouldn't be a lot less comfortable. I wouldn't trust a doctor with your body. I don't want a medic looking at, rearranging, or cutting into my body parts, unless I'm making a special appearance on CSI Minneapolis.

About a decade ago, I discovered remote-control, off-road electric buggy racing. I thought, "how expensive could toy car racing be?" I found a good used car chassis with a collection of accessory parts for a hundred bucks, bought a mid-line radio control rig for two hundred dollars, duct-taped together a car body out of busted pieces I found in the track's dumpster, and went racing. Starting as a Novice, I raced for a couple of weeks until I was moved up to Intermediate. A month later, I was racing Expert and competing for prizes; mostly race car parts and tire sets. Being the son of an accounting teacher, I habitually keep track of my expenses. After my first race, I created an account for RC racing and started watching the nickels flow outward. I didn't bother with mileage to-and-from races or to practice, but I entered every nickel directly spent on racing for about six months. At the six month mark, I did a ROI analysis on my RC racing habit. At the time, I was earning about $28/hour droning away at a god-awful cube-job, so the fun-to-work/misery ROI analysis was perfectly straight-forward. Racing was the fun time, work was not. I had spent about $400 a month on the RC habit and raced (practice track time included) about ten hours a month. I'd set up a small practice track in my backyard, which probably lowered my property value by several thousand dollars, but we won't argue that point. Without including the unaccounted-for places where RC racing cut into my income, provided minor expenses, and took time from higher ROI activities, racing at this minimal level produced a fractional return on my investment. Worse, I got bored with the illusion; going fast without putting life and limb at risk.

For the last ten years, my race car has been relegated to toy status, something my grandson plays with it in the driveway on warm Sunday afternoons. He's burned all of my prize-money knobbies into slicks and ground the graphite chassis into a pile of busted bits held together by Gorilla Glue and duct tape. My over-priced high-capacity batteries have all turned to empty promises from exposure to cold winters in the garage, age, and irregular use.

The point is "racing" is not "cheap." In fact, any sentence using the words "racing" and "cheap" is an irrational statement unless there is a logical negation adjective or adverb coupling the two ("never" or "not", for example). Motorcycle racing, at the local club level, is cheaper than auto racing, but it's still expensive and really expensive once you throw in medical expenses. Racing toy cars is cheaper than racing motorcycles, but, if you purely count the time racing against the time and money spent getting ready to race, $400 for a dozen five-minute motos is pretty damn expensive.

May 2008

Aug 31, 2014

Spam Laugh

Google's Anti-Spam feature is brutal. If you have a blog and you are not using it, you should. I can't even remember how I managed to turn it on, but I do have to delete about 250 spam "comments" a month (all done with a two-click procedure in a couple of seconds). I suppose, however, that I'm cheating my actual readers out of opportunities to buy knock-off watches, jeans, and designer crap and you wouldn't believe how many spammers are peddling Russian wives, porn (not all Russian, but most of it seems to be), and stolen credit card info. Just let me know if you are desperate for this "information" and I'll forward it to you before I delete it, next time.

Aug 30, 2014

Tested to Death

IMG_6332Several years ago, Andy Goldfine asked me to “test drive” his brand new Aerostich Lane Share Tool. I put it on the V-Strom and drove the hell out of it.  In 2011, Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly published my review of the tool. I’m sad to say, it died today. One of my students asked “What’s that.” I attempted to demonstrate it and it made the trip down, but didn’t make it back up. The stepper motor stepped its last step. And so it now sits orphaned and lonely in the garage.

We had a good run. We “flipped off” many a car when I demonstrated my California traffic management skills after concerts, fairs and festivals, and pretty much anywhere I thought I could get away with splitting lanes on non-public roads across the country. I think it made a convert or two and I’m pretty sure the message got across to most folks.

Aug 28, 2014

A Fogged Mirror

An entertaining and recent L.A. Times article about motorcycling demographics, “California biker profile? Old, married, and moneyed,” does two things: 1) it accurately portrays who motorcyclists are, not just in California, but across the country and 2) it accidentally demonstrates how clueless the industry “experts” are about motorcyclists and the future of the vehicle they make their living selling.

Seven years ago, I was so convinced that the US economy was brain-dead and delusional that I gave up trying to find a way to short the whole country and yanked my money from stocks and mutual funds and dumped it all into a spread of CDs and a couple of Canadian stocks. I didn’t get rich, but I didn’t go broke either. I should have had more confidence in the traditional economic recovery that follows an economic crash and the election of a Democratic President, but I figured the country hadn’t crashed far enough and expected something like the mid-term election disaster and a quick return to Republican borrow-and-spend tactics. Still, a smarter guy would have bet on Ford, Microsoft, Medtronic, and a couple other real companies that tanked like the fake ones but rebounded fast and hard. That braindead and delusional attitude, sometimes called “optimistic,” is a constant in the motorcycle press and industry.

For example, “1.7 million Californians currently hold licenses to operate motorcycles. But there are only 847,937 motorycles [sic] currently registered in the state" encourages an industry goofball to say, “That's great! That means people want to ride, if we just make more motorcycles they want to own." The other possibility, and a more likely scenario, would be that half of the people still alive who have tried motorcycling found it to be too dangerous or impractical to continue. They knocked getting a license (maybe) and a bike (less likely) off of their bucket list and have moved on to their next Big Thing.

And I love this “analysis,” “Even without allowing for the fact that a lot of motorcyclists own more than one motorcycle, that means more than half the people licensed to ride motorcycles in California may not be riding at all.” First, most of us who own motorcycles own at least a couple of them. Second, 847,937 is easily half of 1.7 million and it would be reasonable to assume that way more than half of the registered motorcycles belong to people who have more than one bike. I would bet that most states would be similar in this regard. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that 250,000 riders own those 847k bikes (3.4 bikes/rider average). If that were true, about 14% of the licensed riders own motorcycles. It is absolutely true that well under that measly 250k are on the road out of 24M licensed California drivers (for an unlikely max of 1% of California’s contribution to traffic) are on the road on any given weekday.

An optimist would argue that this all gives motorcycling lots of room to “grow.” A realist might argue that motorcycles have been on the road longer than cars and the room for future expansion is slipping away fast. A pessimist would argue that US motorcycle demographics are aging about 2-3 years for every 5, the number of actual riders is vanishing and too many of those who do ride are accurately classified as either “hooligans” or “criminals.” I think there is a lot of work to be done if motorcycling is going to have a future in the US. So far, I don’t see the slightest indication that the motorcycle industry, in all of it’s parts, realizes there is a shit storm on the horizon and we’re going to be in the middle of it. From public relations to overrepresentation in injury and fatality statistics to a changing population, on-road motorcycling in the 1st world is at risk.

Aug 25, 2014

#70 Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

A long while back, I wrote a rant titled "Rolling Morons" which attracted a fair amount of attention. Believe it or now, your opinions were spread equally between agreement and angry outrage. You defended the magically traffic-shielding powers of loud exhaust pipes and expressed concern that obnoxious motorcycles might spell the end of street legal motorcycling. Both arguments were, sometimes, well defended. A couple of writers really entertained me with their "logic." One reader wrote that "luck" has as much to do with safe riding as does skill, training, or any other rider/motorcycle characteristic. He argued that his loud pipes increase his chances of staying lucky.

I don't want to disrespect luck. It wouldn't be lucky. Anyone who survived the trip from sperm to egg to birth is pretty lucky. Escaping the hospital undamaged, surviving youth, and becoming an adult without loss of limb, STDs, or jail time is exponentially lucky. If you're really lucky, not only will you have that kind of luck on your shoulder, you're kids and grandkids will be equally lucky. Being born in a semi-democratic moderately-industrialized country, amid a world of unlucky folks who will never experience that luxury, is an incredible luck of the draw. Knock on wood, toss salt over your shoulder, burn a candle or a goat to the gods of your choice, or do anything else that you believe increases your odds of maintaining your lucky streak. I have no problem understanding doing whatever needs to be done to show gratitude for that kind of good fortune.

Some things are less likely to produce increased luck and luck has limitations. You have to buy a lottery ticket before you have much chance of winning the lottery. You have to be in the right place at the right time for opportunity to strike: destiny won't wait for you to pry yourself away from the remote control and up from the couch. Survival depends on planning, practicing good habits, and execution of those habits when it counts. Every successful parent knows that. Most long-term, high-mileage motorcyclists are more likely to tell stories of how he or she avoided a catastrophe with skill or highway paranoia than by mindless luck.

I hear about this luck thing all the time from my MSF Basic Riding and Experienced Rider students. Many of them have all sorts of bad luck stories to tell. It must be part of our "victim" culture. Fate conspires against us and we're thoughtlessly tossed into the fires of misfortune. These are the kinds of tales of unlucky woe I've heard/witnessed/experienced:

  • A little old lady drives her Buick into an intersection and a biker is unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Showing off for his passenger girlfriend, a backwards-baseball-cap-boy overshoots a rural curve, swiping an oncoming bike, and suffering terrible injuries and a permanent lisp and disability. The passenger dies from her injuries before help arrives. A rider on a weekend cruise crests a hill to find a tractor towing a hay bailer taking up most of both lanes. The biker slams into the back of the bailer, barely having touched his brakes before inhaling his last breath.
  • A yuppie in a Beemer overtaxes his abilities sucking on Starbucks, babbling into a cell phone, and attempting to manage freeway traffic. He fails at the most important of his tasks and wanders into an adjacent lane, nearly side-swiping a biker. The "ride free" helmet-less, protective-gear-less motorcyclist is severely injured when he crashes in the median ditch during the attempt to avoid being hit by the Beemer bozo.
  • A new rider crashes in a curve when a brand new tire failed on her brand new bike. She slides, head-on, into oncoming traffic and is killed.
  • A rider slides to a barely-controlled stop when a front wheel bearing seizes, after recently performing a front-to-back bike inspection a couple of days earlier.
  • A rider is rear-ended by a following car when that cage-dwelling cell phone addict forgets her primary task in stop-and-go freeway traffic and starts a traffic chain-reaction. The biker is severely injured, being crushed between the cell-phoner and preceding vehicles.
  • A rider was squashed by a concrete bridge section that tipped off of a semi-trailer in heavy freeway traffic.

Some of you might describe all of these as bad luck events, right? Some of us would be skeptical. I think the events in the first four scenarios are no more than 10% bad luck and no less than 90% rider inattention and inability. A chunk of the second group, five through seven, are pretty close to pure bad luck but there are some aspects of those crashes the biker could have controlled or moderated. The eighth event is about as bad as luck gets.

I'm totally unconvinced that any passive good luck charm, like loud pipes, would have any effect on any of these scenarios or any other reasonable traffic situation. I am convinced, from personal experience and science, that those pipes could have the opposite, crash-inducing, effect. First, noise is fatiguing, it wears you down, it dilutes your attention, it even inhibits your ability to make decisions. Look it up, noise pollution has almost as many negative symptoms as air pollution. The only time I've ever had to take nap breaks on a long ride was when I brought my "new" SV home from Cleveland. As soon as I was able, I replaced the Two Brothers pipe with the stock unit and solved that problem. Of course, when your exhaust note is the only thing you can hear other hazards are obscured. I'm unconvinced that the minor attention you generate is worth the major inattention you create in yourself.

Noise is fatiguing. Noise irritates other road users and might make them tense, aggressive, or inattentive. Sudden noises can startle other drivers, causing them to participate in a panic reaction, which is always a bad thing. Unnecessary noise is, obviously, pointless urban and rural environmental pollution. Most of all, if loud pipes on a bike can be argued to make motorcyclists safer, what keeps small cage owners from using the same argument for their protection from larger vehicles? Following them will be SUVs and truckers wanting the same "protection?" Once you start that ball rolling, all you've done is make the highways a massive noise pollution source and a rational target for federal, state, and local regulation. Do you really want to be responsible for the kind of reaction that most likely will result in a lot of problems for all motorcyclists simply because you imagine that a loud exhaust makes you feel lucky?

April 2008

Aug 23, 2014

The RV Era Is Dead

2014-02-22 CoR (17) When we got back to Minnesota this spring, I put the RV up for sale on Craig’s List and dug into the business of getting our house ready to sell and eliminating three decades of accumulated stuff (or “shit” as George Carlin would describe it). The Craig’s List ad pulled in a few prospective buyers, but the asking price ($28,000) thinned the herd a lot. After getting our 2013 income taxes out of my hair, I went back through the Rialta and tweaked everything I could think of with the intention of hitting the road with the RV this winter. Electronics sorted out, new tires, fresh fluids all around, and a solid cleaning to get the New Mexico grit out of the vehicle, and we were fully vested in doing a similar trip this winter. I’d kept the “for sale” sign on the back window since January, sort of as a reminder and partially because a die-hard Rialta fan kept telling me “If you want to sell it, take it camping. Every campground I visit gets me a visit from someone who wants to buy my Rialta.” I wanted to test his theory with an actual attempt to sell our Rialta, but we didn’t attract a single buyer in 6,000 miles and a dozen different campgrounds. My wife, Elvy, on the other hand was convinced we needed a different kind of vehicle. “I want a truck,” has been her mantra for months. So, we kept the sign on the RV and renewed the Craig’s List ad every few weeks and kept on keeping on with our plans. Recently, those plans began to include the scary idea of buying a home in Red Wing before we unload our Little Canada mini-farm. That meant we needed to liquefy some cash.

IMG_4652 Three weeks ago, Elvy took a couple of calls on the ad and decided Craig’s List mostly attracts flakes. She called an old friend, Perry, who owns Roseville Auto Repair and asked him if we could park the RV in front of his shop for a few days. Perry thought it was a great idea and we moved the RV to the corner of Hamline and County Road B2, right across from the Roseville Library. Within a few days, the quality of our calls rapidly improved. Perry must have handed the keys to a couple dozen customers who wanted to inspect the RV. We got four solid interested buyers in the second week. Monday, we sold the RV. We didn’t get the whole asking price, but what we did get meant owning our Rialta for a year-plus cost me $1.69 per day or $0.08 per mile or a total of $763 counting all repairs (not including my labor), fuel costs, maintenance, and upgrades and improvements. Considering the dire straits we were in seven months ago, not bad. The Rialta rolled out of our driveway with all systems working, sparkling clean, and having averaged 17.16mpg for 9713 miles. Our best was 22.91mpg and the worst was 13.41 when we were exclusively driving between Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences, a 5 mile one-way trip with lots of in-town driving.

As usual, I had mixed feelings. We took a great trip to North Dakota in July and it would be hard to replicate that experience with any other kind of RV. We were in all kinds of camping situations, from parked on a country road to a full service state park or being in the middle of a Fourth of July party in Bismarck. The van ran perfectly, the new fat tires might have cost a few mpg, but we still got about 17mpg for the trip. Everything about that trip was exactly why we’d bought the Rialta in the first place. Spontaneous, economical, flexible, and incredibly comfortable.  What the hell are we selling it for?

IMG_6324[1]Yesterday, I rode the V-Strom to Red Wing to meet a contractor to get a bid on repairs for one of the houses we’re considering. On the way back, I spotted a “Rialta” next to a rural farm building. I turned back to get a better look. It wasn’t a Rialta, it was a previous version called the “LeSharo.” This was Winnebago’s first attempt at a small, efficient camper with a Fiat (I know) power plant. Mostly, the vehicle was pretty awful because of the usual Winnebago problems and the obvious “Where do you get a Fiat serviced?” problems. The answer is, you don’t. The owner of this vehicle had pretty much given up on his RV ever moving again. The only practical fix is expensive, a total driveline replacement with Chrysler and custom bits. Like many of the RVs we saw abandoned in Truth or Consequences, this LeSharo will slowly turn into a storage shed for crap until it’s full and the whole mess gets hauled away for scrap.

2014-01-22 TorC (6)Most of my mixed feelings went away then. Other than the North Dakota trip, our RV sat in the driveway unused for most of the spring and summer. Camper trailers are more suited to long periods of disuse. Vehicles need to be driven. You can jack a trailer off of the tires and just use it as an office or spare bedroom. A motorized RV isn’t anywhere near that flexible. If you’re gonna have one, you gotta use it. If you can afford to let a $20k-100k investment deteriorate into a rusting shack, you can afford plane tickets and motel rooms. No motel will ever get away with dropping a surprise $8,000 repair bill on you, unless you are Keith Moon (and you shouldn’t have been surprised then). I think we learned this winter that we’re not ready to use an RV enough to justify owning one. That’s a little disappointing, but the lesson could have been a lot harder learned.

Aug 22, 2014

The Hi-Viz Horn Test

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Horn Tests 001[Sadly, I’m not enough of a code writer to pull off getting the audio samples to work on Google Blogger. It took me forever to get them to work on my old website. Maybe by the time this posts, I’ll have it figured out, but I’m not holding my breath and neither should you.]

A few years back, Pat Hahn took a little of the Minnesota DPS's money and he and I did some testing of sound and motorcycles and cages. The test subjects were: my Kawasaki KL250 with a small aftermarket car horn installed, Pat's Honda VFR with the stock horn, and my Suzuki V-Strom with a Stebel Nautilus Air Horn Kit.

Our first test was to calibrate my recording rig by activating each horn in my driveway and recording the various levels, referenced to the loudest of the three horns. The Stebel claims to produce "139dB of sound." That is a meaningless claim unless we know what the decibel reference is; usually acoustic output is measured as "Sound Pressure Level" (SPL) which is referenced to the threshold of human hearing (Horn Tests 0050dBSPL). I tried measuring the horn with my acoustic test equipment and found that the loudest output I could measure was a few inches from the horn, directly on axis with the horn's bell; 122dBSPL (unweighted). While the horn was connected to the bike's battery through a large relay, I considered the possibility that some voltage drop could be hindering the horn output. So, I directly connected it to a spare car batter; same measurements. I have no idea what calibration reference Stebel used. The Stebel horn has a dramatically more complicated (rich, more harmonics) signal than the other two traditional horns. That not only makes it appear to be louder, it creates a signal that can cut through more noise backgrounds than the other two samples.

Audio Samples of the Horn Tests

BD18249_This first sample is our "driveway calibration" test.  Our first test for the horn demonstration/evaluation was to calibrate my recording rig by activating each horn in my driveway and recording the various levels, referenced to the loudest of the three horns. The first (loudest) horn is the Stebel, the 2nd is the Kawasaki, and the last is the Honda:  (the audio sample will take you to an MP3 player page)

BD18249_[1]So far, so good. With our "calibration levels" set, I moved the audio gear inside my 1998 Ford Escort Station Wagon (positioned so the microphone was in precisely the same position as it was for the first measurement. When you hear this recording, most likely you won't hear the 2nd two horns unless you crank up your system volume. The Escort isn't known for its acoustic isolation, but it does a pretty good job of shutting out the motorcycle horns.

BD18249_[2]With the same calibration levels, I started the Escort's motor (no air conditioning, no radio) and Pat fired off the three horns one more time. The Escort does a fine job of preventing the driver from clearly hearing the two normal horns and the Stebel is barely audible. The recording replicates what I head in the car. Discouraging. We'd hoped for something more impressive from our "139dB" air horn. I began to wonder why I put so much effort into the Stebel's installation.

BD18249_[3]Horn Tests 015Our next planned test was to drive the car down a neighborhood frontage road and record Pat honking the horn about 25' behind the Escort while I recorded him. If you listen incredibly closely, you might barely hear the horn over the car's interior noise. You can see Pat's following distance in the picture at right. He was close enough to make me nervous as I drove the car and managed the recording equipment. I, honestly, did not know he was honking the horn until I edited the recordings later and found the Stebel buried in the car's noise.

After the more useful applications of a horn failed us, we decided to see if a motorcycle horn was of any use in the best of situations; when the bike was right next to the car. On a moderately busy suburban street, Pat rode right next to my passenger window and honked his horn(s).


Horn Tests 009This is the Honda (pictured) recording in the lane next to the Escort. The Escort's windows are shut, but there was no air conditioning/fan or radio to interfere with the horn's signal.


BD18249_[5]This is the Kawasaki KL250 recording in the lane next to the Escort. Again, the Escort's windows are shut, but there was no air conditioning/fan or radio to interfere with the horn's signal.


This is the V-Strom/Stebel recording in the lane next to the Escort. Again, the Escort's windows are shut, but there was no air conditioning/fan or radio to interfere with the horn's signal.

Everything about this test was disappointing. Not only did we conclude that horns are scarce protection in any kind of busy urban or highway situation, but this test made us particularly aware of how invisible we are, sonically.

The whole "loud pipes saves lives" silliness is particularly defeated if a mid-frequency signal, designed to be directional and audible above road and vehicle noise, is unnoticeable. Most exhaust noise is low frequency and omnidirectional, so it can not be easily localized under ideal conditions. As all car drivers know, motorcycle exhaust noise is a generally irritating signal with no particular directional information until the motorcycle is in front of the car where more of the mid-frequency content is directed at the vehicles behind the motorcycle.

It should be obvious to any car fan that my Escort station wagon is close to one of the least acoustically isolated vehicles on the highway. We picked it for that reason. The Escort is lightweight, flimsy, and as far from air-tight as a basket. If horns were going to penetrate any vehicle, it should work on the Escort. We began the test in my wife's 2000 Ford Taurus station wagon, but even the Stebel was all but nonexistent in the driveway through the Taurus' bodywork.

Equipment Used in the Horn Test

  • Acoustical Measurements (SPL and spectrum analysis) were made with a Terrasonde/Sencore SP495 SoundPro Analyzer with the Audio Consultant software package.
  • The measurement and recording microphone was a B&K 4004 modified for 48VDC phantom power use, suspended on a Rode blimp shockmount and windscreen and mounted on a short boom stick strapped to the car's rear seat back.
  • The recordings were all made with a Fostex FR-2 High Def Professional Recorder set to 48k/24 bit. The recordings were down-sampled to 320bps MP3's for the webpage.
  • The samples were edited (trimmed for size and content, only) in Pro Tools HD v7.4 and no enhancement, including normalizing or EQ, was done to the finished audio files. The 0dBFS reference was set by the first levels established when the horns were recorded in the driveway in free air.

Aug 21, 2014

When the Lucky Get Going

The original reason for this post was a Russian video that showed a moron biker swerving between lanes and slamming into the back of a car changing lanes. The idiot lucked out and landed on the roof of the car. Something/someone called ViralHog LLC claimed "ownership" of the video and it was pulled from YouTube. Of course, the real message is there is no shortage of idiot motorcyclists and luck appears to be the only entity that saves their sorry asses from total annihilation. Skill appears to be a vanishing quantity.

Aug 20, 2014

A Tale of Degrading Service

The AAA Minnesota/Iowa branch has been a non-stop disappointment since we moved here from Colorado in 1996. By that time, I’d been a AAA member for almost 20 years and had pretty much assumed I’d hang on to that membership until I quit driving and riding a motorcycle. My experience with our local branch finally severed that relationship. When we were on the last leg of our trip home from New Mexico this March, our RV “zippered” a rear tire and left us stranded about two miles north of Downtown Des Moines. Calling the AAA Minnesota/Iowa “hot line” for roadside service has never been a pleasant experience, but the disorganization topped previous letdowns substantially that day. We sat on the shoulder of I35 in heavy traffic for two hours while AAA’s grossly misnamed “customer service” characters promised a rescue that, eventually, they decided wouldn’t be available for another two hours. Because our location was considerably less than safe, we were initially promised some priority and service in no less than 20 minutes. That would have turned into an undetermined and extended period if an Iowa Highway Patrolman hadn’t stopped, called a well-known local tire service, and provided us with visibility until the repair truck arrived.

All that was bad enough, but when I submitted a complaint and a membership resignation, the following email conversations cemented my impression of an organization gone useless:


ME: In November, I called New Mexico's AAA towing line to have my RV towed to an Albuquerque VW shop for repairs. I gave the dispatcher detailed information about our vehicle, including the model id, length, height, weight, and the fact that it needed to be carried not pulled in a flatbed truck and provided that person with an address and two return phone numbers. An hour later, a driver arrived with a tow truck and quickly realized that he would not be able to safely tow our vehicle. AAA had not given him any of the information I'd provided, except the RV model ID. He went back for the correct vehicle and I called AAA NM multiple times to verify that we'd still be getting delivery of the vehicle to Albuquerque in time for the VW shop to look at it and, possibly, make repairs.

After at least 5 calls, I got someone to stay on the line with me while they relayed all of the information to their dispatcher. About five minutes
later, I got a call from an irritated dispatcher telling me that they did not have a good phone number (!) for me and that the service truck was waiting outside and the RV was "locked." I ran around the house to find the driver in conversation with an other dispatcher who had just relayed our phone number to him. Finally, the vehicle arrived at the VW shop about 6 hours after my initial call and they were not able to fit it into the queue. That sequence of events cost me almost a week in obtaining competent service for the RV.

In late March, I called AAA for emergency roadside service when my RV blew a tire on I35 just north of Des Moines, IA. After being told, multiple times, service would arrive immediately (we were parked on the edge of the freeway near heavy traffic), I was eventually told service would not arrive in less than 2 1/2 hours. At that time, we had been waiting for service more nearly 2 hours. An Iowa highway patrolman stopped to help and called a service truck that showed up in 20 minutes, replaced the tire in 30 minutes, and got us on the road quickly and safely.

I'd like to express my disappointment with AAA and submit (attached) the $96 bill for that repair.

AAA: Thank you for your comments regarding your recent difficulty receiving roadside services.  AAA strives to provide the highest quality service and we regret when that goal is not achieved.

Briefly, AAA is a federation of independent club affiliates, each entity are held responsible for the provision of member service within its geographic region. I would like to discuss this matter further with you so I will be contact. My name is Kiesha and I'm a Product Specialist here in the Call Center.

ME: Seriously? That is your response? I was stranded in Albuquerque for two weeks because your service dumped me at a dealership too late for analysis after a 5 hour wait for service and another 5 hours on a busy freeway with a tire failure and all you have to say is "we're sorry?" For years, I've labored under the misunderstanding that we have some freedom to travel in our vehicles because we've been paying nearly $200/year for AAA travel insurance and now I discover when you screw up that insurance amounts to an apology. You have no idea how sorry I am at the moment.

AAA: I would like to discuss this matter further with you so I will be contact. My name is Kiesha and I'm a Product Specialist here in the Call Center. (The number she left for a call-back was only good for leaving messages that she never returned.)


Letter to:

Randy Williams - President
Customer Service
AAA Minnesota/Iowa
600 W. Travelers Trail
Burnsville, MN 55337-2518

This past winter, I had two critical occasions to use the AAA Roadside Emergency Service, once in New Mexico and once in Iowa. In both instances, the service failed to be useful. My wife and I have been members of AAA, non-stop, since 1983 and other than a brief period where I had a company car and business coverage for travel I have carried a AAA Plus RV membership since the early 1970s. Clearly, my patronage has been taken for granted and it’s time for me to look for other travel support options.

When I look at AAA’s salary distribution on, it’s pretty obvious why the customer service people I spoke with were uninterested in providing much help. Likewise, finding the name of our area “club’s” CEO is incredibly difficult. As anyone who has worked in a large organization knows, when the business leadership is functional and active they are easy to find. When management is overpaid and useless, or an obstruction, they hide behind a wall of anonymity. If I had learned that AAA’s customer service agents were paid $50,000 a year and they had provided such half-hearted service, I’d have been surprised and disappointed. At $9-12/hour, it’s a somewhat impressive that they bother to pick up the phone and it is completely understandable that they do as little as possible to earn that pittance.

From a customer standpoint, it doesn’t matter where the resources are wasted. The first service failure came when our RV broke down in New Mexico and it took a full six hours for AAA to deliver the right truck to haul our vehicle 30 miles into Albuquerque, costing us an entire lost weekend without our motor home and resulting in my having to travel by rental car to Albuquerque on Monday to re-organize our vehicle’s service. When I called and wrote to complain about the delay, the Minnesota/Iowa response was to blame the New Mexico AAA. I received a promise that someone from my club would look into the response, but nothing happened and even after a couple of inquiries on the AAA Minnesota/Iowa website, this failure was abandoned.

Months later, we had a tire blow-out on the north side of Des Moines on I35. We were able to get off of the freeway, but our vehicle was dangerously close to fast moving traffic. After promising an emergency response due to the precariousness of our location, the AAA Minnesota/Iowa customer service people failed to deliver a service truck. Two hours later, I was told a repair truck might show up in 1½ hours. Luckily, an Iowa Highway Patrol officer came to our rescue and found a service truck that responded in 20 minutes from when he called them.

After the New Mexico experience, I backed up our AAA membership with a Good Sam’s Club membership. It’s hard to imagine that Good Sam could do much worse than AAA, so I feel no need to continue my 20 year relationship with AAA.

AAA: Email from: Jason Ward

From: Ward, Jason []
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2014 2:57 PM
To: ''
Subject: Thank you for reaching out to me


Thank you for you correspondence.  On behalf of AAA please accept my apology for the breakdown in service you have experienced.  I understand this was a tremendously frustrating experience for you and your family.   Joanne Rhiger our Director of MN/IA Roadside Assistance has researched the two incidents that you mentioned and what caused the failures.  For what it is worth, we are using these examples to strengthen our process and provide additional staff training.  Clearly that won’t change the experience you had and I am sorry for that.   Joanne has made a few attempts to reach out to you as well.

It won’t minimize what you have experienced but we will provide a complementary PLUS RV membership at your next renewal.  As a long tenured AAA member we appreciate your loyalty and hope to win back your trust.  Feel free to contact me if you ever have any other service issues.

Best regards,

Jason Ward
President AAA MN/IA

ME: Email to Jason Ward 7/17/2014:

Mr Ward,

Thanks for your response. I believe my membership expired in June. Someone called from AAA in late June, but didn't leave a valid phone number and I haven't heard from anyone from AAA since, either by phone or email.

AAA: Email from Jason Ward: 7/18/2014


Can you try to reach out to Mr. Day again and make sure you have his right contact information to get a hold of him?

Thank you

ME: Email to Jason Ward 8/1/2014:

Mr. Ward,

As of today, I have still not heard from anyone in your office or AAA Minnesota/Iowa. My membership has expired, which is obviously no inconvenience, and the general disconnect between your office and the rest of AAA Minnesota/Iowa appears to be as obvious as I suspected when I wrote my original letter.


All this silliness inspired me to check out a couple of alternatives to the overpriced “service” I’d been paying for from AAA, but not receiving. The Good Sam Roadside Assistance, for example, “Whether it's a car, motorcycle, RV or boat, Good Sam Roadside Assistance covers everything that moves you.” Their coverage extends to Mexico and Canada, too. I was in the process of my first call to Good Sam when the Iowa HP came to our rescue. Unlike the crabby AAA clerk, the Good Sam customer service tech really seemed anxious to help us and was disappointed when I told her we had it handled. GEICO’s Emergency Road Service is a cheap add-on to an auto policy ($21), but I have yet to try it out. I don’t think we are going to miss AAA.

Aug 19, 2014

No Motorcycle Content once in a while, I get an urge to revisit books and authors that I have loved for most of my life. This weekend was one of those times. Due to some karmac thing the universe does to me occasionally, a mail list I follow sent me a free link to for one of Pete Dexter's books, Paper Trails. Once again, I was sucked into Dexter's amazing worlds. The man writes with heart, head, courage, raw brutality, insight, and brilliance. Now, I'm digging back into my Pete Dexter collection and reading it all again, for I don't know which time. This will be, at least, my fifth time through Deadwood, one of the best western novels ever written.

Once I got on the Dexter kick, I found a terrific interview which listed a few of his author recommendations, "He likes Mike Connelly's stuff ('He knows what's he's doing'), and Scott Turow ('He always aims high. You can see him really trying'), and just about anything by Elmore Leonard.

"Among more traditional novelists, Dexter admires Padgett Powell, Thomas McGuane, Tom Wolfe, and Jim Harrison. But it is friend and author Richard Russo (Nobody's Fool, Mohawk, The Risk Pool, Straight Man, Empire Falls) who is Dexter's absolute favorite."

Now I have some new authors to chase down along with my old friends who I am re-reading. Like Mr. Dexter, I am a fan of "anything by Elmore Leonard," so we have, at least, that in common.

Aug 18, 2014

#69 Legislation vs. Freedom of Choice

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day

The AMA (the motorcycle AMA, not the medical AMA) and ABATE have taken on an interesting job. They appear to be motorcycling's watchdogs, protecting the rest of us from helmet laws and insurance carrier oppression. I sympathize with their task, but sometimes I don't understand their logic. I think their legislative action goals are supposed to be directed toward building rider education systems that provide information from a variety of, ideally, unbiased sources. With rider's educated and riding safely, legislation (like helmet laws) isn't "necessary" to save us poor dumb motorcyclists from ourselves. At least, that's the direction their literature has led me to look for their activities.

Maybe it's just the irrational nature of politics, but sometimes I can't figure out what anyone is doing in the vicinity of our state or national capitols. For example, a few years ago Pat Hahn and the Minnesota DPS ran a mini-experimental test of voluntary helmet-use education; brilliantly code-named the "Helmet Challenge." With financial assistance from RiderWearhouse and the ever-benevolent Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, Pat and friends recruited a small group of non-helmet-wearing rookie and experienced riders and provided them with a reasonably nice full-face helmet for a section of the 2004 riding season.

The stated purpose of this test was to "educate riders about the comfort of motorcycle helmets, and as a result, change riders’ attitudes and increase voluntary helmet use." The volunteers had to promise to ride with their borrowed helmets on their heads for 21 days in a row during the test. The riders received some professional assistance in fitting the helmets but told that their helmets would be donated to the rider training program after the test. So, they had no financial motivation to learn to love their borrowed helmet during the test period.

In the end, two riders said they changed their opinions about helmets and had decided that they'd ride protected all of the time. One rider said he'd wear his helmet "often." Two said they would only wear their helmet occasionally, when the weather was cold or wet or on long trips. It seemed to me that the goal of educating riders was met for this collection of five riders. All of the riders had their "attitudes changed" a little and some changed a lot.

Apparently, a few "rider rights" honchos hated this test and hated the results even more. Pat has taken a good bit of abuse from a few of the organization leaders and the general riding public hasn't heard much about the test because the DPS hasn't done anything with the test results. Herein lies my confusion. If rider education is the goal of the motorcycling groups, it seems to me that this test was a pretty decent beginning. However, the motorcycle group leaders appear to think that, when anyone learns to tolerate a helmet, all of us are heading down some weird "slippery slope" towards legislation. Logically, if we all wore helmets and other protective gear, there wouldn't be any reason for a helmet law. However, I'm not foolish enough to expect logical action from government or human beings. We've met that enemy and he is us. Motorcycle organizations want "education," but they want that education to be limited to areas that don't gore their sacred cows. As the United States discovered in the late 1950's, when you open the educational dam, the water flows everywhere. You can't limit exploration to tiny areas of human curiosity, no matter how conservative and powerful the powers that be may be. Developing a real education system requires research, experimentation, and painful testing of limits. Sometimes you don't get what you want, but you'll probably get what you need. Humans are famous in their dislike for being told what they need when it conflicts with something they want.

As I probably misunderstand the issue, the motorcyclist organizations are really big on "personal choice." I think they're arguing that a person's decision to exit from the gene pool or participate in a risky activity should be a personal choice. They are inconsistent in this argument. In 1886, one of the dumbest editions of the U.S. Supreme Court in a spectacular demonstration of incompetence and corruption allowed a court reporter to grant corporations 14th Amendment rights of "personhood" (with literally none of the personal responsibilities). Regardless of economics and politics, under current law, if you're arguing for individual rights you're also arguing for corporate rights. One of the rights a particular type of corporation wants is the right to allow or disallow individual insurance coverage based on individual risks. Outside of group medical insurance policies, insurance companies can do this in a many areas and are restricted from doing it in a very few. For some reason that is unclear to me, motorcyclists are one of the restricted areas. If a "person" is allowed to accept or avoid risk based on "personal choice," it seems to me that corporate "persons" should be allowed the same "personal choice" freedom in avoiding the risk of insuring risky behaviors. Currently, we (and all of the risky recreational activities) are getting a free lunch, but you know the rule about free lunches.

In 1998, the federal DOT polled the driving public in general and found overwhelming evidence that most cagers think we ought to be wearing helmets . . . by law. Maybe they're just pissed because they have to wear seatbelts or maybe (as other data from that poll found) they think accidents involving unprotected motorcyclists carry excessive and unnecessary costs. As a group, we're not fondly looked upon by a large percentage of the general public and it's not due to our "outlaw" self-image.

We're simply too damn expensive for the minimal benefits we provide to society. I think that's a fix-able problem, but we're going to have to get to fixing it before we run out of time and public patience. In my experience, "self-regulation" is a fantasy. I can't find any historic examples of organizations, industries, or segments of society that have successfully self-regulated. Eventually, humans and their organizations are forced to submit to legal limits of behavior from a larger, outside cultural power. I'm less worried about EPA regulation, helmet laws, and local noise ordinances than I am about motorcycles being banned from public roads. I think the folks in motorcycle rights organizations are too tightly focused on the ball when they ought to be worried about maintaining access to the ball field.

March 2008