Apr 6, 2020

Assigning Blame, Taking Responsibility

A blast from my past called this weekend, wanting to talk about his summer’s misfortunes. We’ll call him “P” to protect his ego and our relationship. In early August (2019), P was sailing down a country two-lane, minding his own business, and assuming that Minnesota country roads are, somehow, safer than urban freeways and byways. (Statistics consistently demonstrate that this is a motorcyclists’ delusion. In 2018, for example,31 of 57 or 54% of the state’s motorcycle fatalities were in areas with populations under 10,000 and the majority, 22, were in rural, unpopulated areas. 913 motorcyclists were injured that year and 49% of that total were injured on those same low population roads.) 2 motorcyclists were killed and 102 were injured in the state’s over-250,000 cities; the Twin Cities, in fact. P, oblivious to the hazard of country roads, was riding somewhere between 55 and 65mph on a sparsely-populated stretch of the road, when a pickup pulled into his lane, partially shielded by a downed tree next to the driveway the pickup was exiting from. Mayhem resulted and P ended up with a multitudinous-fractured femur, a broken back, and a separated shoulder.

Fortunately for P, he was wearing actual motorcycle gear including a full-face helmet and armored jacket. As he said, “I didn’t spill a drop of blood.” Unfortunately for P, he has a long recovery ahead of him and he is not fond of physical therapy. He’s been here before. Several year ago, he was riding in fairly congested traffic and, bored with the pace of movement, he was occupied trying to read the call sign of a passing small airplane when he struck the stopped car in front of him. He flew over the car and, while he was airborne, he decided, “I don’t want to hear Tom lecturing me about not wearing a helmet while I recover from this” and he shielded his head with his arms just before tumbling into a ditch. The end result of that crash was a severely massacred pelvis from which he has yet to fully recover. To his credit, P took total responsibility for both that crash and his less-than-complete recovery. He also started wearing a full-face helmet and, at least, an armored jacket when he rode. A life-long Harley guy with a long history of spectacular crashes, the bike he crashed on the last two times was a big BMW touring bike.

I’ve ridden with P, maybe twice, but definitely once. We met at a small town a few miles from his place, for a Fourth of July fireworks show. Afterwards, for whatever reason, we decided to go back to his house before I headed back home. Both of our spouses were riding passenger on that trip. P immediately took off in the dark, on familiar country roads, putting some distance between us. I made a half-hearted effort to keep him in sight, but I do not ride fast, ever, with a passenger and since I knew where we were going I was not particularly upset to make most of the trip “unguided.” Since then, he’s often reminded me of that incident and of the fact that he was a “lot faster” than me on those mostly-gravel country roads. I do my racing, when I do it, on closed courses and I am never impressed with people who imagine racing on public roads is something to brag about. My wife would make short work of me if I ever play-raced with her on the bike.

Like many motorcyclists and bikers, P’s problem is that he imagines that he is seen, because he is a big guy riding a “big bike.”  While P’s BMW didn’t have loud pipes, P has ridden bikes with minimal muffling for most of his life and always deluded himself into thinking physics is his friend when it comes to sound and defensive riding, he suffers the false idea that people are looking for motorcycles. Even in a fairly motorcycle-friendly state like Minnesota, there aren’t enough motorcycles on the road any given day for a typical cager to have any reason to be watching for them. When we don’t amount to 0.001% of the total traffic on good days, asking drivers to “Start Looking for Motorcycles” is as silly as asking them to watch out for unicorns. Bicycles, pedestrians, old men on power wheelchairs, and kids on tricycles are far more likely things to be looking out for than motorcycles; especially motorcycles approaching a blind intersection (or driveway) at 60-65mph.

This is exactly the kind of situation where motorcyclists have to be watching out for everyone else. Even if, as in P’s case, the cager gets the blame for the crash, P might still be crippled-for-life or dead . . . but in the right. The price for being right is higher than I want to pay. To be clear, I am not afraid of being dead, but I practically terrified of being maimed and crippled. During the brief period when the MSF’s Basic Rider Course actually talked about risk management, I used to tell my motorcycle students that any crash short of a tree falling on you or a tornado blowing you to Kansas was the motorcyclist’s fault for not anticipating and avoiding the situation. If you think everyone else is looking out for, or responsible for, your safety, you will be disappointed and, probably, hurt or killed.

Mar 15, 2020

March with Fast Lane Biker Magazine


Mar 10, 2020

Hardly Speed Limiting


Mar 9, 2020

Stereotypes and Typical Behavior

A few weeks ago, on a warm Saturday, my hometown was infested with the usual collection of bozos on bikes. Traffic on Old Main Street was jammed up and loud as a 1950’s drag strip. Driving through that section of town is usually miserable on a warm summer afternoon and if I didn’t have business there I would never venture down that street weekends. That day, I had business so I was stuck.

After I finished my Saturday transaction and tried to back out of my parking space, I discovered that another noisy pirate parade was in progress. Since the cops had conveniently found donut shops at the other end of town for their day-long break, the bikers were trawling the street making it almost impossible for anyone with a life to get on with it. After waiting for several minutes for an open space, I found one and backed into my lane. About the time I was straightened up and in forward gear, a pair of nitwits on hippobikes came wobbling down the street in the opposite direction and one of the crossed the center line about 20’ from the front of my pickup. Realizing that a solid object was in his random path of travel, the biker managed to weave back into his lane and barely missed both my left fender and the other half-wit who was no more skilled or in control of his geegaw-disabled vehicle. I caught the raised finger of the first nitwit in my rear view mirror.

Driving toward downtown on Highway 61 (Yeah, that “Highway 61.”), a large full dress ubiquitous black cruiser of some unknown brand passed me on the left. At first, I was impressed that the bike wasn’t obnoxiously loud and that the rider wasn’t dressed in pirate underwear. He was even wearing something resembling a helmet, open face, but not a total toilet bowl. However, he sped past me and the Suburban in front of me, swung into the right lane, and immediately came to a near stop in front of the Suburban before waddling into a filling station; bringing all of the right hand lane traffic to a near stop in the process. It was pure luck, on his part, that he wasn’t rear-ended by the Suburban. Of course, if he had been the SUV driver would have been blamed and more biker crash statistics would be skewed incorrectly away from faulting motorcyclists.

Yesterday, on my way back from the Cities near the UofM, I saw an AGAT biker on some sort of adventure touring bike. It was one of the many “bikes with a beak” and I can’t tell one from the other: coulda been a Triumph Tiger, a newer V-Strom 650 or 1000, a BMW F800GS, or some other wanna be I have yet to meet. The guy was wearing motorcycle gear and I was initially impressed. However, when we came to a stop light, he passed me and the two cars in front of me in the bicycle lane, and jumped the light gambling that no one in the opposite direction would be turning into his path. Again, pure luck that any number of things he couldn’t see or react to didn’t arrive in that intersection when he did.

Because I see so much cruiser/biker incompetence around my hometown, I tend to stereotype “idiot bikers” as characters on cruisers and other hippobikes, but mostly too many of the idiots riding two wheels appear to be mentally deficient with the riding skills of a kid who just came off of the training wheels or a tricycle; brand and species of motorcycle be damned..

The industry is hurting, again, these days. Dealerships are closing, dealers, importers, and manufacturers are reducing their motorcycle inventories. Rider training programs are shrinking to small fractions of their peak years, only a decade ago, and you see even fewer motorcycles on the road outside of occasional pirate parades and stacked up in front of bars. If there were a time when reducing motorcycle access to public roads would be easy, this is fast approaching that moment.

Motorcycle manufacturers, on average, aren’t doing much to slow the regression, either. The average motorcycle is less efficient, fuel-wise, than the average mid-sized car; even SUVs! Toyota’s 2019 RAV4 gets 40mpg, which is as good as all of the liter adventure touring bikes and better than all of the sportbikes over 600cc and as good as most of the 600cc sportbikes. Some cruisers get not-awful economy, but their owners “fix” that with aftermarket exhaust systems and lame attempts at performance enhancements that kill fuel economy and pointlessly multiply the exhaust emissions. Outside of that lame “image” bikers imagine they are sporting, practical reasons for riding a motorcycle are disappearing.

I “retired” from the Minnesota motorcycle safety training program last year (2019), after I reviewed the new, grossly dumbed-down MSF program. It was pretty lame before, but it really became focused on putting butts on seats in the newest iteration. No more “adult education” tactics, now we’re just supposed to be hand-holding prospective motorcyclists through the test so there is practically no way they can fail to get an endorsement. In every class, for the past 18 years, there was always at least one “student” who slipped through the cracks, passed the overly-easy “test,” and got an undeserved and unexpected license. I’d caution them that driving on a closed-course at 15mph was nothing like riding in traffic and that they really needed to keep working on their skills if they were going to survive, but I know those words went in one ear and out the other.

In demonstrations like the ones I described in the first four paragraphs of this article, I see the results of our foolishly easy motorcycle licensing and the incredibly stupid fact that once you have a motorcycle endorsement you have it till you die. All it takes is a few bucks for the endorsement renewal fee every time you reup your license. You can even transfer a Minnesota motorcycle endorsement to a California endorsement for a little money. Crazy! If you think knowing how to wobble down a Minnesota or Wisconsin country road is in any way useful experience on the 405, you are delusional. So on we go, down the path of becoming a piece of motoring history; like horses and buggies and go-carts and street legal ATVs. Yeah, those were all things; long ago. And now they aren’t.

Feb 21, 2020

More Image Promotion?



Motorcyclists are on a serious downswing, image-wise. It would be nice if we weren't over-represented by gangbangers on Hardlys. But we are and this is one consequence of a continuing declining image. On the upside, Guy Pierce is one of my favorite actors, so I bet it is entertaining.

The End of . . . ?

With this sudden and unexpected (by the subscribers I know) announcement, Motorcycle Consumer News produced it's last issue in January of 2020. MCN has been around in its reader-sponsored format since 1982, So, 38 years of hard-hitting, unbiased reporting on an industry that has done pretty much everything possible to create a simpering, press-release duplicating news media; from print to YouTube drivel. 

I have to believe the industry and rider participation is shriveling toward becoming ancient history. In the US, we're down to two actual motorcycling magazines, Cycle World and Motorcyclist, and one those two has made a hard bet on eBikes over motorcycles with Cycle Volta. The residue of motorcycle "journalism" is a bunch of biker rags that are more about biker broad pictures and chrome crap than motorcycles and motorcycling.

MCN's Facebook page simply says “MCN is no more. Thanks for riding with us for the last 50 years! Visit MCNews.com for more info. Keep the shiny side up.“ All you will find at MCNews.com is the statement at the top of this blog entry. Not only is the magazine dead, but the MCN's  publication history is gone. That's pretty brutal. 

Feb 3, 2020

Book Review: A Craftsman’s Legacy

A Craftsman’s Legacy: Why Working with Our Hands Gives Us Meaning is one more book by someone who left the corporate world for the world of making expensive garage sale bait for the 1% and a few fools who want to “be like rich people.” Like Shop Class as Soulcraft and the rest of the raft of books by people who make incredibly expensive toys, furniture, and “art” for the idle rich, Legacy’s author, Detroit custom cruiser builder and reality television’s Eric Gorges from the show of the same name as the book, attempts to vilify the world we live in and glorify the world the average person never lived in; the Never-Neverland when people made beautiful things for money and ordinary people could afford them. There have been times when a few working people found enough spare time to make beautiful things for themselves, but usually working people just slaved away their days and lived in squalid tenements or on barely-sustenance farms and a few people made beautiful things for the ruling classes. The rest of the working classes lived with hand-me-downs and mass-produced products; just like today.  

Like most of the folks who were inspired to quit their day jobs by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Gorges makes the ridiculous mistake of thinking that the goofier and less functional a product is, the more artistic it is. For example, the motorcycles he cobbles together are as non-functional and unridable as a three-legged horse. Unlike Persig’s ZaTAoMM reliable and practical Honda CB77 Super Hawk 305, nobody is going to cross the country on one of Gorges’ strung-out cruiser abortions (like the “One [2] One” bike pictured above). Most likely, whoever bought this ridiculous thing will trailer it anywhere this bike travels. Like the genre’s role model, the Captain America mess that recently sold for $1.2M and could barely be kept inside a highway lane for the filming of Easy Rider, this kind of art(?) does not qualify as a motorcycle. Even Fonda, who barely deserved being called a motorcyclist, admitted that his Captain America creation was so “squirrely” that the motorcycle scenes were simplified to mostly straight line riding. These weird collections of parts and artwork are not real motorcycles, but they are insanely expensive. They might be art, but they aren’t “craftsmanship.”

Too much of Gorges’ handwringing and the “woe  is all of us” bullshit spewed here is of the “nobody does real work anymore” variety. Gorges does not recognize modern engineers and product designers as craftsmen because what they do is so far above the metal-doodling he does that it would be as impossible for him to relate to modern engineering as it would be for Donald Trump to have an intelligent business conversation with Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. People who made swords, hammers, blew glass, and turned pots were the engineers of the 15th Century and back. Today, they are the struggling privatives trying to convince the rest of us that they are keeping skills alive. For what, the post-apocalypse? In the meantime, engineers have moved on for at least two centuries past Gorge’s technology and skill-set. 

A lot of Gorges’ “craftsman” stars and role models unintentionally make the point that almost everyone you know might be an unheralded craftsman/artist. While it is interesting to imagine that these artists who “gave up everything for their art” might be the finest examples of woodworkers, glassblowers, metalworkers, potters, engravers, and painters in the country, the fact is that almost every mid-sized-and-larger community has examples of those same skills in its midst. They might not ever be profiled on television or in a book, but they are out there. People do extraordinary things in their spare time, even people who do boring white or blue collar jobs during their working lives. More to the point, though, is that people make incredible products using their hands, technical skills, and tools Gorges couldn’t imagine. 

I admit that a big part of my lack of enthusiasm for Gorges’ book is his perspective on motorcycles. As far as he is concerned, there are 3 types of motorcycles: “choppers, which have a long front end and skinny wheel; bobbers, which have a short rear fender and stubby front end; and diggers, which are long and low.” I, of course, think any of those bike forms are hillbilly crap that do not deserve a “motorcycle” designation. There is an aspect of A Craftsman’s Legacy that disrespects function and mindlessly worships form. I have no use for that attitude. Some part of my own attitude comes from the fact that I spent a good bit of my life in manufacturing and I know how much actual craftsmanship is required to make reliable, functional products. 

There is a panhandling aspect to Gorges’ craftspeople that really puts me off; like the occupations that survive from begging for tips. Many of these people have chosen a lifestyle that depends on others feeling sorry for them and paying exorbitant prices for items they could find in a Dollar Store. Gorges asks us to “Support these people, this world, and this way of life. Turn your appreciation into some concrete (money).” Like cashiers who point to their tip jar as if they have done something special by pouring coffee into a cup. 

Finally, I firmly believe that everything that requires skill is improved by every generation. You may be one of those age-addled characters who imagines that “good music” stopped being made in 1960, 1970, 1980, or whenever, but you’re wrong. Likewise, most 1970’s era pro basketball players wouldn’t make the team for, even the freakin’ Clippers, today. Michael Jordan would have a hard time playing on a winning team today. It’s true that many people knew how to repair their cars and motorcycles in the 1950’s; because they needed to. A vehicle that lasted 25,000 miles without needing major work in 1950’s was a celebrated rarity. Today, we call any vehicle that fails before 200,000 miles a “lemon.” Modern electric cars are knocking down 300,000 miles without a major repair. 

Today, if I had to go to battle with a 15th Century sword I’d just use it on myself to get it over with efficiently. Any modern weapon would do the job at a safe distance, regardless of how skilled the sword-wielder might be. Vintage “skills” are that because they are no longer state-of-the-art and, as such, are obsolete. If you think someone with a hammer and coal-fired forge can turn out a better steel tool than a modern factory, you’re only fooling yourself. If you don’t think a modern adventure touring motorcycle isn’t as well-crafted as one of Gorge’s hippomobiles, you don’t know what the word “craftsmanship” means. If you think someone cobbling out plodding, non-functional “choppers, bobbers, and diggers” could get a job on a modern factory motorcycle race team doing . . . anything, you are probably the ideal reader for A Craftsman’s Legacy.

Jan 6, 2020

How Stupid Do You Think I Am?

When a young man I know learned that I’m selling my motorcycle, he immediately said, “I’ll buy it. You’d have to finance it, but I’m good for it.” 

I immediately thought, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” 

This kid is a 20-something, wanna-be motorcyclist, who had an 80cc dirt bike when he was a pre-teenager, making him (in his mind) an “experienced motorcyclist.” To make up for his lack of a motorcycle license and riding skill/experience, he even asked me to give him a free MSF course; since I’m a retired Minnesota MSF instructor. 

I’m selling a $4000 motorcycle. I’m 71 and at the point in life where if I see a light at the end of the tunnel I’m pretty sure it’s the Grim Reaper’s train. What part of this transaction sounds intelligent from my side? Or even his side, for that matter? The risk in that loan is insane. When he crashes it and his wife tells him to get rid of it or hit the road, I’ll be stuck with a mangled motorcycle, little-to-no-money for my long-shot self-financing bet, and the scary possibility of assuming some liability in his crash(es). I would have to be stupid to take that bet. 

I’m not brilliant, but I’m not stupid. (As I often do, after writing that statement I check the heels of my boots to see if there is straw sticking out; since I obviously look like someone who just jumped out of a farm truck.)

From that conversation, I started to think about a bank or anyone else financing a motorcycle. It wasn’t that long ago that Harley-Davidson had to be bailed out by taxpayers for its own inability to manage loan money; to the tune of $2.3B. If Harley, a company that rarely wastes precious cash on frivolous things like engineering and competent product development, can’t find safe buyers for its hippo bikes, who am I to gamble in that market? Pretty much anything a bank would get involved in would be a $6,000 to $40,000 loan to a person who is probably 15,000 times more likely get killed than, for instance, someone asking for a car loan. A company insuring a motorcycle and loan is about as dumb as the bank making the loan, too.
Bankers are not a group widely known for their brilliance, outside of their own closed and in-bred circles. If you’ve read All the Devils Are Here or The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, you know that what passes for financial skills in these declining years of the United States empire is pretty dismal. Bankers are notoriously financially foolish with even their own money. In fact, the people most of us trust to hang on to our cash are not that smart or good at their jobs. Bankers and other financial gamblers will pay $100 and more to “win” a twenty-dollar-bill in an auction, in a crowd of other supposedly money-wise nitwits. These are the people who will loan you money to buy a brand new $40,000 Harley Davidson; even knowing that the odds are good that you won’t live long enough to pay off the debt. Just as dumb, the insurance industry is betting that you won’t actually ride the damn thing (which is, actually, very likely) which will self-limit their risk to your death and the destruction of the item they are insuring. 

If you have any money squirreled away with a bank, the fact that institution would gamble on a loan for a motorcycle and that someone else (maybe in the same bank) is dumb enough to insure that motorcycle for comp and collision ought to scare the crap out of you. Seriously. How does that not bother anyone with cash in a bank? 

Back to my own situation, I have never loaned money to anyone in my life. If a friend or relative is hard up enough to ask me for money and I have it, I consider it a gift. If I get paid back, I consider that amazing. If not, I never expected repayment and won’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen. That old Shakespeare rule, "neither a borrower nor a lender be" has always made sense to me because of the line that follows, “for loan oft loses both itself and friend.”  As for loaning money for a motorcycle purchase, do not count on me to even be willing to make a gift toward that dumb idea.

Dec 30, 2019

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

I am a habitual reader, a speed reader, and I make up my mind about books fairly quickly in the early pages. Sometimes, when a book appears to have some value but the scene and character-building activity bores me, I kick it into high gear and blow through 50-100 pages almost as fast as I can turn the pages. If I start a book, I almost always finish it, but often more as a physical exercise than from a love of or interest in the literature. Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain started off with a bang, with a description of the main character’s canine limitations and impending death and the relationship between Enzo, the dog, and Denny, the dog’s partner in life and the human main character. By the third page you have the Big Picture of almost everything that is going to happen in the book, you just don’t have the details and everything is in the details.

Racing in the Rain is filled with reminders of my motorcycle safety training instructor career and some moments that made me recall my motocross days, too. Some of my favorite quotes follow:

  • “No race was ever won in the first corner but many have been lost there.” Denny Swift
  • “It’s not about a heavier foot. It’s about feel.” Denny
  • “In racing, your car goes where your eyes go.” Denny
  • “The great driver finds a way to keep racing.” Denny
  • “There’s no dishonor in losing a race. There is only dishonor when you don’t race because you’re afraid to lose.” Denny
  • 'The best drivers focus only on the present. Never dwelling on the past, never committing to the future. Reflection must come at a later time.' - Enzo (the dog)
  • 'When I'm in a race car, I'm the creator of my own destiny.” Denny

Eve: How come you go through the turns so much faster than the other cars?

Denny Swift: Well, most drivers are afraid of the rain, because it’s an unpredictable element. They’re forced to react to it. And if they’re reacting at speed, then they’re probably too late, so they should be afraid of it.

Eve: Well, I’m afraid just watching it.

Denny Swift: Yeah, but if you intentionally make the car do something, you don’t have to predict. You control the outcome.

Eve: So you skid the car before it skids itself?

Denny Swift: Yeah. Yeah. When I’m in a race car, I’m the creator of my own destiny. “That which you manifest is before you.” Create your own conditions, and rain is just rain.

  • Enzo: [voice over] In racing, your car goes where your eyes go. A driver who cannot tear his gaze from the wall will inevitably meet that wall. But the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free, that driver will maintain control of his car and his destiny. I realized this was what Denny had done. He had manifested a win because he knew we needed one. Enzo: [voice over] It turned out to be the 1989 Luxembourg Grand Prix in which the Irish driver, Kevin Finnerty York, finished victorious while driving the final twenty laps with only two gears. A true champion can accomplish things a normal person would consider impossible. Denny just needed to remember that. Know who you are on the track with”.

Dec 2, 2019

How the Cheap Bike Challenge Saved My Retirement

Remember the infamous Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Cheap Bike Challenge? Probably not. Back in the dark Great Recession days of 2009, the gist was, “Each entrant was to be given $300 and two months to find a bike and prep it for an event that would require the riders to ride an unspecified distance and complete special challenges. Like the International Six Days Trial, the event would test both man and machine.” Mostly, we spent a few weeks (or days, in my case) preparing a junk motorcycle to ride and, then, toss in the dumpster. My bike, a long-abandoned 70’s Honda CB-450, probably should have been left in that garage to finish returning to iron-oxide undisturbed.

There was a moment in my last-ditch attempt to find a motorcycle that had lasting effect on me. A Minnesota Sportbike group acquaintance emailed me that he had the perfect bike for the Challenge: a 1980’s KLR250 with a “new motor.” Turned out, the new motor had been “stored” in a cardboard box under a picnic table in the owner’s back yard for at least a decade. The motor was seized, the gas tank was full of smegma and rust, the wiring was rat-eaten, and the rest of the KLR was a mess. More to the point of this essay, the 6-or-8-car garage the KLR came from was jammed full of motorcycles in similar condition. I don’t think a single bike in that garage was salvageable without major money and time spent. Putting my clueless, rude foot in my mouth, I asked, “Why do you have all of this crap?”

The owner’s answer was, “Tom, when I was a kid I realized that when I sold a motorcycle I spent the money and then I didn’t have a motorcycle or the money. So, I decided to keep every motorcycle I ever owned.” That answer scared the shit out of me. Not that I had a collection of junk motorcycles or ever wanted one, but I did have a similar hoarder fetish for fine and not-so-fine microphones. At the time, I owned at least 50 microphones and I could easily imagine myself owning ten-times that many.

But I wanted to retire and I knew to do that my wife and I would be downsizing considerably from our 2700 square foot 1800’s farm house with an 850 square foot garage and a normal recording studio in the attic and 2 1/2 acres of Twin Cities yard. So a few years later, I made a retirement/downsizing plan: I would sell all but a few microphones; to allow just enough toys for hobby recording projects. Outside of that normal remainder, I’d sell the rest of my collection and put the money directly into my house principle. My end goal was to own our home before I retired.

In the end, I didn’t quite reach that goal, but I did only have $14,000 to pay off from our original $106,000 home loan. I haven’t once wished that I’d have kept any of the equipment, the extra space (we downsized to 1100 square feet and could go normaler), or even the microphones I’d owned since I was a very young man.
Collectors all over the world are discovering that the market for their collections is shriveling. New stuff is consistently better in every way than old stuff and younger consumers are unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for products whose sole intrinsic value is "that it is old.” A couple of my friends are muscle car collectors and they’ve seen the value of their collections practically disappear in the last decade. Obviously, the Great Recession put a hit on a lot of that stuff, but so has a hard dose of reality. Vintage guitars and guitar amps, pro and home audio equipment, motorcycles, dishes and dolls, and all of the other crap that Boomers and their parents collected are ending up in the local land fill.

At least four of the microphones that helped me pay down my mortgage had more collector value than real value. Two were a prestigious Danish manufacturer’s 1970’s instrumentation microphones that I’d snagged in an estate sale for a pittance at least a decade earlier. Their selling price about took my breath away and really took a hit out of that home loan. Likewise, two big German tube mics brought an unrealistic price; especially compared to the price I’d paid for those instruments 40 years ago.

So, if it weren’t for the freak-out I suffered hunting down a ride for the Cheap Bike Challenge, I might not be comfortably retired today in a paid-for house with some cash in the bank. On more thing I have to thank Victor and my MMM editors for my 20 years with the magazine. Not only was it a great ride, but it still is.

Nov 28, 2019

Seat of the Pants Performance Comparisons

A few years ago, when I was still capable of riding half-quickly and competently off-road, I was riding with a group of Twin Cities Dual Purpose guys north of the Cities. The “route” was a convoluted collection of gravel and paved roads with the occasional single-track and deep sand trail tossed in to provide the illusion of a dual-purpose outing. It might have been one of the first opportunities I had to test my new-to-me WR250X somewhere outside of my daily 6 mile urban commute. It turned out, there was more than just a riding competency and bike capability test available on that ride. One of the other guys had recently bought a used WR250R that had been barely-used and farkled up with a loud “performance” pipe, a Power Commander fuel programmer, a hacked-up air box, and the original owner had removed the AIS and EXUP systems and the “flapper-valve.” Pretty much all of the “performance” weirdness every kid who ever bought a WR might do without any of the nasty riding crap actual motorcyclists would have done first. Both of our bikes had been owned by such children and the WR/R owner had yet to begin the long process of returning the bike to original status and peak overall performance. I got after that immediately and my bike was all the way back to bone stock the day of that ride.

After 30 or 40 miles of the group ride, we all stopped for lunch and the WR/R guy and I compared notes. He was pretty tired of the exhaust noise and wondered if any of the modifications had actually improved the bike’s performance. You might figure, I always assume any “improvements” made by shade tree goobers is a downward evolution. Having been an engineer for most of my career, my appreciation for amateurs is very limited-to-non-existent. We decided that, when the opportunity presented itself we’d “performance test” the bikes on every sort of terrain we’d be riding on for the rest of the day. In our case, “performance testing” mean drag racing the two bikes at every opportunity. Mostly, a drag race eliminates skill from the equation; the outcome is pretty much determined by the bike with the best powerband and peak horsepower. As an unintentional handicap, I was spotting the WR250R about 50 pounds, since that bike’s owner was at least that much lighter than me. He was also a decade younger and a much better, more aggressive rider, for whatever that is worth.

To cut to the chase, the end result was no surprise to me and disappointing to him. On pavement, my WR250X consistently held the advantage. We would start out neck-and-neck, but after 3rd gear my WR/X would begin to pull away until around 70mph when the WR/R began to fall into the distance. On gravel, the results were mixed; pretty much whoever got the best start would end up in front. In deep sand, I got my ass handed to me, mostly based on his skill and my cowardice and, probably, that 17” front wheel that tends to plow into the sand. I was year or two away from having my left hip replaced and, by then, anything that required a firm foot on the ground was out of the question.

So, our shade tree, seat-of-the-pants evaluation of the usual collection of silly “improvements” kids make to the WR/R/X Yamahas was that more is less. You’d hope that doing all of that crap would not have made a 250 slower with an additionally 50 pound load, but it did.

Some of those modifications are, and should be, highly illegal. Yamaha did several things to make the WR/R/X bikes emissions legal, for the US, EU, and Japan. Defeating emissions controls is a federal and state violation and I despise the fact that our states and cops are too lazy and incompetent to enforce emissions violations. In fact, I resent having to pay taxes for cops who don’t care about exhaust noise but pretend to be enforcing the peace (and quiet) of the communities that employ them. Imagining that a low tech sheet metal worker could out-engineer Yamaha is pretty hilarious, at best. The only “tuning” aftermarket pipe manufacturers do is “noise enhancement.” They know you imagine louder being faster and play to that market.

Some of the other “improvements” might actually do something useful, if the entire bike was re-tuned to compensate for the huge change in intake and exhaust pressure curves. However, most goobers are done with their project once they tack on the expensive crap and wouldn’t consider spending another $1,500 on dyno testing and tuning. So, like the 99% dumbasses in The Marching Morons, they mistake noise and an unpredictable and peaky power band for improvement and degrade the motorcycle while wasting money on junk that just irritates the general public, wastes fuel, adds more pollution to the environment, and devalues their motorcycle investment.

The fact is that you can pretty much assume that every dollar you “invest” in aftermarket performance modifications will result in a fifty-cent reduction in the resale value of the motorcycle. You might, occasionally, find a kid who will pay inflated money for a farkled-up mess, but you’ll have to be astoundingly lucky to stumble on to one of those characters who actually has money.

Nov 16, 2019

Hardly Riders and Laugh In

More Hardly riders doing the Laugh In tricycle bit. “I hit that [invisible] hole in the road,” sort of like “I had to put ‘er down.” It always means, “I screwed up and fell over totally out of incompetence.” These guys always remind me of the Laugh-In tricycle gag. How can you ride this badly and still take your badass biker posing seriously?

Nov 9, 2019

What Did You Think Was Gonna Happen?

Every weekend, I’m treated to parades of unskilled, noisy bikers wobbling through our small tourist town. Typically, 4-to-20-some bikers will ride, in staggered formation no more than 20’ apart, at 50+mph into town, often rolling through stop lights and signs because most of the riders are incapable of making basic traffic maneuvers: like stopping and starting competently. While the bikers, I’m sure, have images of the rest of us envying their “freedom” and bald domes shining (scroungy ponytails waving) in the sunlight, I am always reminded of herd animals grouping together under the flawed theory of “safety in numbers.”

There is a good evolutionary reason why antelope, gazelles, water buffalo, and cattle pack together in dangerous situations. The “good” part of the reason only applies to the young, fit, and quick. The predators will quickly identify the old and crippled and go for them, rather than waste their precious energy on the hard-to-catch young, fit, and fast. A pack of motorcycles all jammed together in an idiotic “rolling bowling pin” formation is, by default, a herd of old and crippled herbivores.

For decades, whenever we pass bikers in pirate underwear, my wife says, “They’re having fun now.”  What she means, of course, is that those characters are so unaware of how precarious their existence is that they are blissfully unaware of how close they are to death, dismemberment, and general purpose mangling. If “ignorance is bliss,” pirate parade participants are some of the happiest people on the planet.

In the August 2019 issue, ABATE’s Ed Berner wrote “I’m tired of my brothers and sisters dying on the road because drivers are distracted or just don’t give a crap about anyone else.” When 30-40% of fatal motorcycle crashes are single vehicle incidents, you have to question that analysis. Knowing that more than a quarter of motorcycle crash deaths are solely the fault of bikers, you’d be statistically clueless to imagine that the other 60-70% of fatal motorcycle crashes are primarily the fault of cagers.

Mostly, I believe motorcyclists are dying out of disability: drunken driving behavior and a fair amount of their own “distraction” while they wobble down the road. Bikers are pretty much willingly hopping onto suicide machines dulled with  learned helpless syndrome” created by loud exhaust noise that causes mental and physical fatigue, distraction from useless and dangerous pack-formation etiquette, loud sound systems, on-bike cellphone use (hands-free and otherwise), handicapped by the mostly functionally-disabled motorcycles bikers choose to ride, and the general-purpose resistance to obtaining decent riding and defensive driving skills. Complaining that the suicide machines are actually doing the job they were designed to do isn’t any sort of solution.

Until retiring this year, I had been an MSF/MMSC Motorcycle Safety Instructor since 2001. I have taught dozens of what we used to call the  “Experienced Rider Course” (ERC): now more-accurately relabeled the “Intermediate Rider Course” (IRC). Many of those classes were booked by biker clubs, often ABATE chapters. The hallmark of teaching those courses was too often excessive noise and general rider incompetence. Out of all of those courses, I only saw one rider on a big Harley who could actually handle that motorcycle competently and he was a retired motorcycle police officer with a stock exhaust and a mostly-stock motorcycle (He did have some Iron Butt farkles.). All of the other biker characters usually plowed through about half of the IRC exercises as if the cones were merely suggestions. Often, they would just park to the side of the range until the “impossible” exercises were finished.

At the opposite end of Berner’s death-and-destruction tale has been my 50-some-year association with motorcyclists (different folks than “bikers”). Counting the last two decades of hanging out with motorcycle safety instructors and the rest of my life with off-road racers, motorcycle journalists, adventure motorcyclists, motorcycle commuters, and Iron Butt riders, I have not personally known a single person who died riding a motorcycle. I have witnessed three motorcycle deaths in the last 50 years and two of the three were 100% the fault of the motorcyclist and the other was at least 50% due to the incompetence off the motorcyclist. I didn’t know any of those bikers. The riders I’ve worked and hung out with are, at best, entertained by the biker cult and, more likely, disgusted by the whole incompetent macho pirate-parade silliness. Among my friends, you won’t find a single  bike with ape hangers, straight pipes, disabled front brakes, gynecological-exam-position road pegs, handlebar stereo systems, paddle-boards, or useless chromed geegaws. No novelty helmets or bowls, no chaps, no vests, gangster patches, or bandanas. No trikes, either. Those people depend—first, second, and last—on their riding skills, the capabilities of their motorcycles, AGAT, and unwavering focused attention on the road and other road users for their safety; not idiotic and useless legislation, billboards and bumper-stickers, or self-defeating “advocacy groups.”

Like my favorite t-shirt says, “If loud pipes save lives, imagine what learning to ride that thing  could do.”

Nov 6, 2019

Are You Invisible?

This is sort of like that Dancing Bear video, with a lot more science. Unfortunately, I think too much of the "message" is a deluded hope that car drivers will compensate for motorcyclists' fundamental problems.


Nov 5, 2019

Changing Gears, Sticking with the Old Transmission

Way back in the WinXP years, I started using Microsoft Live Writer as my primary blog editor. I moved to Open Live Writer when MS decided that blogs and reading/writing skills are a thing of the past and, thankfully, dumped Live Writer into the open source world. Unfortunately for me, Live Writer hasn't been updated since 2017 and Google has made a bunch of nonsensical changes to Blogger in the past 2-plus years. Those changes and incompatibilities have made it difficult-to-impossible to easily create blog entries in a normal editor (the junk that Google installed in Blogger for editing is very 1999). 

Wordpress, however, has made a special effort to link its blog capabilities to Live Writer. All that means is that I have to create two documents for every blog update. You might have noticed that I have commented on the bullshit I'm going through getting old this past summer: including eyesight issues, selling off my beloved WR250X and ending my active life as a motorcyclist, etc. Another offshoot of all that is that I have decided to switch my blog entry focus, first to the Wordpress site--Geezer with A Grudge - Wordpress --and second to this site: http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/. Also, you may not know that there is a direct path to the GWAG stuff, www.GeezerwithAGrudge.com, but there is. Previously, that link redirected you to the Blogger site, but as of today it will go, instead, to the Wordpress pages. 

My intention is to keep double-posting everything to both sites, but from here out I will be going to Wordpress first and Blogger second. In the past, occasionally that has meant that a few things didn't end up on the Wordpress site. It stands to reason that the opposite might be true now that my process has changed.

Nov 4, 2019

Fast Lane Biker Column (November)

https://www.fastlanebikerdelmarva.com/geezer-with-grudge/ 
 In  a ridiculous number of ways, my years with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly has been oddly rewarding. I was putting this one to bed when the magazine decided to call it quits. I'd have loved to see it in MMM, but I missed the window. You wouldn't think there would be anything educational or financially rewarding about wasting a few dozen hours on a beater '70s Honda street bike, but there was.

Oct 30, 2019

You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Gangsters and cops have similar problems; they both want to have the public’s fear and respect. Fear and respect are, however, not the same thing and you can’t have one and the other.

Fear is easy to generate. You just have to be willing to do things decent people would never do. Shoot a few unarmed minority kids in the back and you have successfully terrified a community. Dress up like Hell’s Angels, Banditos, or the Outlaws and make more noise than a freight train hauling 100 tanker cars while the cops pretend they don’t see or hear you and you’ve sent a pretty powerful message to the public, “Even the cops are scared of us.” That’s fear.
Respect is what cops get when they run toward an “active shooter” when everyone else is running away. Respect is what firemen earn when they go into burning buildings to rescue people. Nobody respects bikers, but bikers aren’t bright enough to know fear from respect or they don’t care as long as they can convince themselves that they’re getting respect from the people they’ve terrorized.

Recently, our city police chief was asked, on Facebook, to explain the law surrounding Minnesota’s idiotic “Road Guard” legislation. Obviously, the questioner was pissed off at being detained by some nitwit pirate waving a pile of even dumber gangbangers through a public intersection. Being at the tailend of my life, between myasthenia gravis and CHF, I’ve pretty much had it with political correctness and fear. So, I commented on how stupid I think that whole law and pirate/gangbanger biker parades are. The response was expected and predictable, including the hilarious claim that pirate parades raise money for charities; as if it is impossible to contribute money to charities without the noise and air pollution of motorcycle exhaust.


Honestly, I didn’t expect any sort of rational response from either the police chief or the bikers. The bikers are flat out fun to fire up because they are consistently a pack of clueless nitwits.I really do hate the "road guard" legislation and our simpering wimp legislature totally bend over and took it up the ass from ABATE and the biker/gangster crowd in passing this total joke of a law. Asking working people to wait while a parade of incompetent jerks on tractors pretends to be doing something important really highlights the decadence in our lawless, irrational Failing Empire. There is NOTHING about a biker parade that is worthwhile and, at the least, a rational society would relegate this sort of silliness to unpaved farm roads. 

And that is exactly what I think.  

Oct 14, 2019

I Remember Liking This, I Think

Believe it or not, in late August I finally pretty much got the WR back together. It took all day to do it. Nothing went well. Thanks to my last season of commuting on Minnesota roads, the rear axle was rusted to the inner spacing sleeve; probably the result of too many months of neglect during the commotion between the end of my work life and retirement and the move to Red Wing. I spent a solid two hours working that axle out of the wheel. It came out cleanly but damn that was exhausting. 

Then, I clearly forgot everything I ever knew about removing a tire, because I made that job a lot harder than it should have been (do NOT forget the soapy water, dumb ass!). After wrestling with getting the tire off for way too long, I soaked the tire in soapy water and it practically fell off of the wheel. How do you forget lessons like that, outside off the likely Alzheimer's onset? I have probably replaced at least 250 motorcycle tires in my lifetime and used a few hundred gallons of soapy water in the process. The end of that project left me feeling like the dumbest guy in Minnesota.

The bolts that hold the rear sprocket to the wheel were about half-seized and there went another hour, just removing six bolts.The damn screw that holds the chain guard in place was seized, too. Another long, painful half-hour there.That was good timing, though. That plastic guard protects both the top and bottom of the swingarm from the chain was worn but not so much that the wear allowed the chain to do damage to the swingarm. That long-travel suspension can cause the chain to tear up both sides of the swingarm, but none of that had occured. I've replaced that guard routinely with every sprocket change, each time before it was a problem. s

The chain should have been easy, but since I did a dozen or so projects (that didn't require decent eyesight) between when I hauled my tools down to the basement and some friends helped me move the bike into the basement, I managed to bury my rolling garden seat into a corner and pile crap on top of it; which is where my chain breaking tool was finally found. Another hour down, so I ended up resorting to a clip master link, because I forgot how to use the damn tool for the riveted link and I was running out of day and patience. Finally, ready to install the rear wheel and . . . the damn rear aftermarket (Sumo) brake pads are clearly too thick. Another miserable hour burned. At least those giant thick pads ought to last a while.

Finally, the bike is all back together, except for some piddly stuff I can deal with later. And the freaking bike jack won't release. Patience gone, I pretty much ripped the bike off of the stand, wrestled it out of the basement and into the garage, and I'm done for the day. Tomorrow, I'll pick up the tool pile and haul it all up to the garage, sweep up the mess, install the new battery and front sprocket cover, and, maybe, have time for a short test ride. I sorta remember enjoying working on my motorcycles, but after today those memories might have been replaced with something else. I have really been enjoying the simplicity of working on my eBike and it might be a long stretch for me to get back to hassling with all of the unnecessary crap that comes with a full size motorcycle.

And that was my August "spring maintenance" day.

Oct 10, 2019

Ya Missed It

Because I managed to lose the email with the link to this auction, I didn't get the message to you all that this Sale of the Century was going on last week.

25 Year Collection of 500 "Motorcycles."


Oct 4, 2019

For Sale: 2008 Yamaha WR250X Supermoto

After a lot of anguish, changing-of-the-mind, and reminiscing, I have put my Yamaha WR250X up for sale on Craig's List. Mostly, due to health reasons, it's become more clear every day that I'm not going to be doing any big miles on a motorcycle from here out. I wish it weren't true, but it is.

2008 Yamaha WR250X Supermoto


I have ridden my WR250X for 8 of the last 9 years commuting to work in St. Paul (10 miles round trip), over most of New Mexico and Colorado, and around even more of Minnesota and Ontario.  I am at the end of my 55 years of motorcycling. I love riding this motorcycle and it is the best all-around two-wheeled transportation I have ever owned. It really hurts to be selling it, but I haven't ridden it for a year and a half and I don't see that changing.

If you've read my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column, "Geezer with A Grudge," you've heard a lot about my experience with my WR250X. During the 9 years that I've owned this motorcycle it has been adventurous, economical (at least 55mpg under all conditions), interesting, versatile, reliable, dependable transportation. Thanks to Yamaha's terrific fuel injection system, the WR250X starts in any kind of weather, including -25F Minnesota winters. For all but the last year, my spring maintenance and trip preparation routines were almost as much a part of my motorcycle life as the actual riding. I replaced the chain, sprockets, rear tire, fluids, brakes, battery, and engine oil this past September (2019). The front tire has less than 500 miles of use.

YAMAHA SPECIFICATIONS
Engine and Transmission
Displacement: 250.00 ccm (15.26 cubic inches)
Engine type: Twin, four-stroke
Power: 30.31 HP (22.1 kW)) @ 10000 RPM
Torque: 23.70 Nm (2.4 kgf-m or 17.5 ft.lbs) @ 8000 RPM
Compression: 11.8:1
Bore x stroke: 77.0 x 53.6 mm (3.0 x 2.1 inches)
Valves per cylinder: 4
Fuel system: Injection
Fuel control: Double Overhead Cams/Twin Cam (DOHC)
Ignition: TCI
Cooling system: Liquid
Gearbox: 6-speed
Transmission type, final drive: Chain
Fuel consumption: 3.31 litres/100 km (30.2 km/l or 71.06 mpg)
Chassis, Suspension, Brakes and Wheels
Rake (fork angle): 25.0°
Trail: 76 mm (3.0 inches)
Front suspension: Inverted fork
Front wheel travel: 269 mm (10.6 inches)
Rear suspension: Single shock
Rear wheel travel: 264 mm (10.4 inches)
Front tyre: 110/70-17
Rear tyre: 140/70-17
Front brakes: Single disc. Hydraulic disc. Hydraulic disc.
Front brakes diameter: 298 mm (11.7 inches)
Rear brakes: Single disc
Rear brakes diameter: 230 mm (9.1 inches)
Physical Measures and Capacities
Weight incl. oil, gas, etc: 136.0 kg (299.8 pounds)
Seat height: 894 mm (35.2 inches) If adjustable, lowest setting.
Overall height: 1,191 mm (46.9 inches)
Overall length: 2,115 mm (83.3 inches)
Overall width: 810 mm (31.9 inches)
Ground clearance: 259 mm (10.2 inches)
Wheelbase: 1,425 mm (56.1 inches)
Fuel capacity: 7.57 litres (2.00 gallons)
Oil capacity: 1.50 litres (0.10 quarts)
Accessories and Improvements
* IMS 3 Gallon durable, cross-linked Polyethylene Tank
* K&N Air Filter
* 14-54 Sprocket set (new) with Case Saver Kit
* Acerbis Handguards
* YamaLink WR250X Lowering Link
* Flatland Engine Case Bashplate
* easily removed Spitfire windscreeen
* RotoPax 1 Gallon Fuel Pack and mounting plate
I have the stock shock link, fuel tank, seat, luggage rack cover, and most of the stock parts that I've replaced with aftermarket bits.

I have always garaged this motorcycle (except when I bought it into my basement for maintenance) and I always do a complete maintenance before putting it away for the winter. After sitting untouched all winter, the motor fired up instantly with the new battery this spring, just like every other year. The engine does not use oil and my oil change interval has always been 3,000 miles. I always use Valvoline or Mobile One synthetic motorcycle oil. The valve clearances were last checked at 12,000 miles and they did not need adjustment. This motorcycle and I have done several 600+ mile days together and I wouldn't hesitate to take this motorcycle on cross-country mile trip in its current condition. If I only could, there is no chance I would be selling it today.

If this ad is still up, the motorcycle is still available. I terminate my Craig's List ads within an hour of sale. If you are looking for a test ride, be sure you bring a copy of your motorcycle endorsement, insurance evidence, at least a helmet and preferably real motorcycle gear, and a deposit.