May 24, 2017

Crash Analysis

Take a look at this video and measure yourself and your take on this crash against the incident and the opinions expressed in the comments section.

It’s probably more than a little obvious that I put more than a little blame on the biker (I hesitate to call him a “motorcyclist.”) because his “braking” attempt was so lame and his assumption that the job of everyone in the world was to be looking out for a speeding motorcyclist. I used to see this kind of oblivious-to-reality lane splitting in CA all the time and, like this guy, they were astounded and hysterically angry when ever their mindless riding tactics knocked them on their asses. I'm a little surprised that I don't see this kind of crash every day in Red Wing. Pretty much ever rider on this kind of lame-ass machine is incapable of the most basic evasive maneuvers.

May 23, 2017

Nicky Is Gone

And another really nice guy dies young. Nicky Hayden died from complications on May 22. He was struck by a car while riding a bicycle in Itally on May 17. Hayden has often been called the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.” The Kentucky Kid snatched the championship out of Valentino Rossi’s hands in 2006. Before that, the last time the red, white, and blue was on the podium was Kenny Robert Jr’s year, 2000. No American has been close since Hayden pulled off his winning season. The 80’s and early 90’s was prime time for the USA, with Roberts Sr, Lawson, Schwantz and Rainey swapping championships for a good part of two decades. Nicky Hayden was a surprise win on his Honda and it could be years before the world is surprised by an American again.

In the meantime, we’re going to miss the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.”

Backseat Driving

I just took what will probably be my last MSF instructor training session and got a little more insight into where motorcycle safety traing is going, in the process. The “new” (2014) classroom design is a giant step back from the MSF’s earlier attempt at “learner centered” or adult training. While I might suck at the delivery, I’ve always been a big fan of that concept because the alternative leaves me out in the cold as a student. The “education system” I grew up with is often called “the sage on the stage,” which would be one thing if the person on the stage was actually a sage (“a profoundly wise person; a person famed for wisdom. someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment, and experience”), but it will always be difficult to attract that kind of person to western Kansas (where I grew up and experienced my K-12 “education”). Most small-to-mid-sized towns have the same problems, from the intolerant majority segments of the Midwest and Southeast, and most of the country’s underfunded public education system.

For many years I was too often stuck listening to someone who had put about as much effort into their lecture topic as me, although that person was 20-30 years older and a whole lot lazier. If it hadn’t been for the years I spent in southern California’s university system, I’d have lived my whole life believing that teachers were nothing special. Lucky for me, that didn’t happen. Otherwise, I’d have been so bored with “education” that I’d have given it up after my first junior college semester in 1966.

Becoming one of those “lazier than me” lecturers has never been a goal of mine. In fact, for the first 40 years of my life I had absolutely no interest in being any kind of teacher, although I’d been roped into dealer, technician, and customer training with a couple of my employers for about ten years. I didn’t consider myself to be a teacher and if someone had called me one I’d have laughed at them. My father was a career high school teacher and I spent my first 15 years surrounded by adults who made their living “teaching.” Nothing about that experience provided any inspiration toward that career path.

Some motorcycle instructors claim they teach the MSF program to “give something back to motorcycling.” I don’t get that. Motorcycles are a transportation vehicle or a luxury toy. If their primary purpose is to be a “lifestyle” prop and noise-generating irritant, that’s nothing worth the “giving back” effort. After paying my vehicle license and fuel taxes, I don’t feel any compulsion to give back any of my time and energy to Wisconsin, Iowa, Detroit, Japan, or China. Honestly, for at least half of the years I’ve taught the MSF program my primary motivation has been self-preservation. While I do not believe the remedial training we provide or the license testing the state requires does anything significant toward making new or even experienced riders safer or more competent beyond a few weeks post-training, I know that thinking, talking, and demonstrating decent riding techniques make me a safer, smarter, and more competent rider. And I get paid to do it, which brings up my decision to wind down my motorcycle instructor career. This is something I haven’t done for the money for the last 16 years, but wouldn’t do without getting paid for it about 90% of the time.

Over the last five years, I’ve discarded all of the other things I’ve done to make a living that fall into that category. I used to repair professional audio equipment for $175/hour. I wound down that work and business starting in 2012 and by July 2013 all of my customers had been redirected to someone else. I did commercial acoustic consulting and audio forensics, which sometimes paid fantastically and always paid well. I did my last 911 call analysis in late 2011 and completed my last acoustic consulting contracts in early 2012. A decade ago, when someone asked me what I did for a living, I used to say, “I teach rock and roll.” (Nobody wants to hear about the repair or consulting stuff and most people don’t take self-employment seriously; including me.) For more than a decade, teaching music production and technology at MSCM felt exactly like that. After the last couple of uninspiring semesters, there was finally more money than fun in that job. After a minor heart attack in late 2012 I decided I had been there long enough. My last months of teaching came at the end of the spring 2013 semester. I pretty much knew I wasn’t going back, but decided for sure on my 65th birthday that summer. The only thing I do for pay, now, is teach “motorcycle safety” classes a few times a summer. (2015 was the last summer I taught something resembling a full load. Plus, I am still selling off stuff in hopes that we can downsize “bigly” one more time and hit the road full time. Come on by. See anything you like, make an offer!

The “fun” part of teaching motorcycle safety classes was working with and getting to know the students. Even during the Harley/Polaris/Star/hippobike boom days I still had occasional students who made the job worth doing. [For example, two near-retirement medical doctors from Stillwater who took the class, listened to my advice on their first motorcycles, bought a pair of Honda Nighthawk 250’s, and rode them to Alaska and back.] I assisted with my first range portion of the MSF course in 2001 and wrote about freezing my ass off in 2” of slush back then. I went through the training program in 2002 and became an official MSF instructor and taught a boat load of classes that first year of the MSF’s Basic Rider Course. I wrote about that experience in MMM, too. For the next dozen years, I filled most of my summers with basic and experienced rider classes and enjoyed a good bit of that. I got to work with some dedicated, talented, and entertaining instructors (and a few who weren’t any of that) and I met a lot of hopeful prospective motorcyclists.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of conversations about teaching techniques, read a few dozen books about adult education, and have thought and written about teaching everything from computer applications to motorcycle safety and expertise to music, audio recording, and electrical/electronic engineering. One of the many things I’ve learned about teaching is that, like everything, it only works if there is a corrective (negative) feedback loop to provide input that keeps the system on course to achieve the intended outcome(s). There is only one meaningful outcome in motorcycle safety training: reduced mortality/morbidity occurances among “trained motorcyclists.” That is not only something the MSF warns instructors and programs not to expect, it’s not being measured by anyone. Without that critical piece of the puzzle, it seems to me that the effort, time, and money spent on training is wasted. I don’t have a lot of time left, so I’d like to waste as little of it as possible.

May 22, 2017

#143 Outta My Cold, Dead Hands

cavemanThe Geezer with a Grudge Columns
(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.) 

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

There is a punk gangbanger group on Facebook called the Yamaha WR250X and WR250R Public Group. I joined this group about two years ago, because their intro FAQ is all about the useful (and not so useful) things that can be done to make the WR250X/R more fun and practical to ride. I left the group this week because the most outspoken members are consistently spoiled brats. Like a lot of bikers/gun nuts/spoiled children and the rest of the crowd who think their “right” to do any damn thing they please overrides public safety, an undisturbed peace, and their neighbor’s property rights, many of these kids consider themselves above the law and beyond reproach. They are classic examples of why motorcycles and motorcyclists are about as popular as used car salesmen in plaid suits or politicians from another state. Between the “I don’t need no stinkin’ endorsement” and the “why would I carry insurance, I’m just a motorcycle” and “why should I care if wheeling out of control freaks out cagers” attitudes, the group is a sad cartoon of why motorcycles are likely to be historical relics in a decade or less. There are some decent folks in the group, but their voices (like the voice of reasonable motorcyclists everywhere) are drowned out by the goons, brats, and gangbangers.

The last “conversation” I had on the group was about how gangbanging is going to be tough in an autonomous vehicle world. One of the kids claimed “they’ll have to pry my steering wheel away from my cold, dead hands” and a half-dozen or more chimed in accordingly. I asked what they were driving now and got a list of fairly new, mostly-Japanese sedans and mid-sized pickups. I suggested that since all of these vehicles had automatic transmissions and were controlled by transmission and engine computers they weren’t really driving now. Add power steering, backup cameras, parking sensors, ABS brakes, adaptive cruise control and proximity warning systems and you are about 1/2 way to the fully autonomous vehicle. The difference between being a total passenger and a terrible driver in a smarter-than-humans car is immeasurably small. I think it is safe to assume that, based on their motorcycling attitudes, that these kids are awful cagers too.

As macho as the American driver pretends to be, it ain’t gonna take much to remove most of us from the steering wheel. The first and logical step is to crank the shit out of the price of car insurance for those who insist on driving themselves. That will pretty much do the job alone. Cops will be watching the self-piloted vehicles closely, since their business will pretty much dry up on the autonomous side of transportation. They are absolutely not going to be issuing tickets to the corporations that provide the multi-user leases to autonomous vehicle passengers. Not only are corporations “people” but they are people with super-special privileges not to be fucked with. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a cop going after any sort of big business, regardless of how vicious the corporation’s crimes may have been. So, the only ticketing game in town will be the “cold, dead hands” crowd and they will be feeling pretty picked on by the time they hand over the reins to their own autonomous car. I know, you’re thinking “The Geezer is still just pissed off about his damn Volkswagen automatic transmission experience.” True, I’m pissed off at Volkswagen over that nightmare, but I have always disliked automatic transmission cars. They feel patronizing, sort of like having someone pat me on the head, when they put me in an electric wheel chair and say, “Now you’re in charge old dude. The hallway is all yours.”

I think the most insulting vehicle I’ve ever driven was a Toyota rental car with “Sport Shift Mode” thumb shifters.  I guess some kid who grew up playing video games might be able to fool himself into believing that he’s “really driving a car” when he can select the gear with a flick of the thumb, but I don’t play video games. The little Corolla had more than enough power to get out of its own way, but the Sport Shift Mode was clunky, intolerant of any high RPM operation, and it felt like an attempt by Toyota’s engineers to convince me to go back to letting the car do the driving. Which I did after a couple of unsatisfactory experiments with the thumb shifters.

Unlike the obtuse kids, I don’t care about driving and I’d just as soon lease a portion of an autonomous car as own a whole car that I have to finance, insure, and drive myself. Cars are boring and I’m a lot happier as a distracted passenger than driving. I can read, sleep, watch the scenery, or write as a passenger. As a driver, I spend most of my energy trying to stay awake. Unlike these kids, if I’m going be stuck behind the wheel I want as much control as I can have, including getting to decide my vehicle’s gear, engine RPM, and the point in the powerband for the situation at hand. I’ve yet to see an automatic transmission or all-wheel drive vehicle do a half decent job on ice or in deep sand and I’ve sure as hell seen those vehicles do a pitiful job in those conditions. So, until I can get at least 95% of an autonomous car, I’m hanging on to my 4WD, manual transmission pickup.

There is nothing cold-dead-handish about this, though. I just don't like doing things half-assed. If I can get a computer to drive for me, I'm in. If the computer is just there to make me a more distracted, less competent driver, I don't need that kind of help. But back to the original point of this rant, in an autonomous car world (Coming soon to your town!) motorcycles morbidity/mortality statistics will become unjustifiably over-represented majority in traffic crashes and the ugly face motorcycling has proudly presented to the public will be something we're going to wish we'd have done something about when it would have helped.

MMM April 2016 (and, oddly, again in the March 2017 issue)

May 20, 2017

Refering to Myself

About a decade ago, I had the incredible pleasure of getting to interview Cycle World's Kevin Cameron for MMM. That started an email conversation and friendship that I still work to keep alive. If you didn't know this interview was on this blog, you have a pleasant read ahead of you. Not only is the original interview here, all 900 words of it, but I posted the entire conversation with Kevin's permission, "Kevin Cameron Interview Text: Complete Interview." The reason I brought it up, was that I spent this afternoon at the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant open house and that experience was enhanced by a wonderful conversation my wife and I had with a brilliant friend, Stuart Anderson, who is a physics professor at Augsburg College in St. Paul and one of the most talented and interesting teachers I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Without the background Stuart provided last week, I wouldn't have learned a fraction of what I picked up today. Likewise, Kevin has opened my eyes and mind to all kinds of areas over the years.

May 18, 2017

Necessary Parts

Following up on my plan to regularly verify my semi-competence (see “Creating A Baseline”), I headed for the Red Wing MSF training range yesterday. I invited a friend, but he wasn’t interested in testing himself or his new V-Strom in the rain. I invited a kid I went to school with this year; he couldn’t get his bike to start. Absolving myself of any sense of obligation to combine my self-analysis with some sort of service to my fellow man, I wrapped up my honey-do projects and loaded up for the afternoon ride and practice.

Rain was definitely in the weather prediction, so I suited up AGAT Aerostich. First, I had a few errands to run on the bike, so I filled it up for the first time this season and put about a dozen miles running errands from one end of the gigantic Red Wing metropolis to the other. It’s a rough life, but someone has to be enough of a screw-off to manage it. About the time I wrapped up the errands and started up the hill to Southeast Community Tech where the MSF range lives, it started to rain. Rain isn’t a big show-stopper for me, but the Red Wing range is poorly marked and pretty much a mess on a good day. Still, if I were teaching a class we’d be riding, so I might as well get on with it. As expected, the range was soaked and I had to ride around it a few times, noting visible markers as clues where my targets would, roughly, be.

I started off surprisingly well, considering my lousy day on the bicycle last week (where my new cleated clip-in pedals put me on my ass twice in about 20 miles). I aced the figure-8 box twice, which wasn’t expected because I’m stiff as a board after this lethargic winter and turning my head to look for my target points was a little painful and not particularly impressive, flexibility-wise. However, it went downhill from there, fairly quickly. I moved to Exercise 6, the small oval cornering exercise, next. I was Ok there, but not as confident as I should be as a coach or even as a half-decent rider. I kept at it for a couple dozen laps in each direction. I got better, but a little colder, too. Cold equals stiff and so does old. Next, I worked on the 270o timed corner. Ok, but not great again. No problem staying in the lines or going minimally quick enough, but I didn’t convince myself to push the bike hard enough to get a little slide out of the back tire (easy in the rain) or to approach touching a peg to the asphalt. Quick stops, emergency swerves, and the big offset cone exercises pretty much wrapped up the stuff I usually practice and after all that I’d blown about two hours on the range.

Then the sky opened up and dumped for a couple of hours. Between when I left and this morning, we got 5” of rain on Wednesday. 4” of that landed on me between the school and home that evening.

wrpartsWhen I bought my WR250X, I busted my “no bikes from kids” rule. Some of the stupid things that had been done to that bike were trendy nitwit stuff: like removing the “tail” of the rear fender, hacking up the tail pipe and the intake air box. In a rain storm like this one, the last thing I need is a shade tree butchering of Yamaha’s well-thought-out air box. Water and high compression do not mix, ever. Likewise, without that “ugly” tail fin on the rear fender, the back tire tosses crap from the top of my head to my ass. I know, I rode it a couple of times before I found a cheap used replacement fender. Since I replaced all of that stuff fairly quickly, I made it home in the rain without any mechanical problems.

DarienRanger1_smIMG_8182Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to my personal protection. I was properly geared up, so I should have been reasonably dry. However, there is a key move you have to make to stay dry in an Aerostich Darien: you have to zip up the jacket all the way and close the collar. I didn’t do either. Lucky it was a warm rain.

I’m still trying to decide if I passed this year’s riding benchmark. I absolutely decided that I’m not smart enough to take advantage of good riding gear and the protection it provides.

May 16, 2017

Millions and Almost A Million?

A while back, I semi-proudly noted that this blog had finally passed 500,000 hits. GWAG HitsI was pretty impressed with myself, since for the first several years of this blog’s existence it felt like I would never get to 1,000 hits, then 10,000 hits, and so on. Since noting that benchmark and imagining it wouldn’t be long before I got to 1,000,000, the reality of those numbers has been eye-opening. In a good way.

We hear numbers like millions and billions and, even, trillions tossed around by politicians and the media as if they are insignificant. Some of us are old enough to remember when having 64kb of RAM in a computer was a big deal. I remember paying $10,000 of my employer’s money for a 5M hard drive in the mid-80’s, for example. If I hadn’t known how to do it myself, it would have cost another $1,000 to have a Wang tech come to the office to install it! I just paid $9 for a 64GB USB stick, which ups my remote audio recorder’s capability to 600 minutes for six channels of 24 bit/96kHz WAV audio! Ten freakin’ hours of high definition audio for $9? Impossible.

So, while I once had high hopes for hitting 1,000,000 pageviews fairly quickly, mostly I have a new respect for just how much activity it takes to arrive at that kind of numbers.

May 15, 2017

One, Two, Three, or Four Fingers?

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

In the MSF program, instructors are infamous for requiring students to use their whole hand on either the throttle or the brake. Not just one, two, or three finger braking, but the whole collection of finger-like digits; "If you have 'em, use 'em." This is a position that generates a lot of controversy among "experienced riders" who have cultivated (politi-speak for "clung to beginner habits") a variety of tactics that involve various fingers applied at random times with an assortment of justifications with empirically inconsistent results. There are some strong justifications for the MSF position. Is this the best way to teach front brake use? Probably. Is it absolutely the only right way to use the front brake? Not necessarily.

Sometimes even more controversial, MSF instructors are not fond of the "covering the brake" habit. (The 2013 MSF program is less emphatic about the consequences of this tactic, which more reflects the MSF's milktoast character than actual safety considerations.) I believe this tactic mostly comes from a fevered need to feel "prepared," in case a piano falls out of the sky and scares the crap out of you. Newbies may want the security of nervously covering that apparatus in case they forget where the brake is, but "need" and "want" are not the same animal. In high tension situations, it is natural to want to be ready to stop. The problem is, more often than not, grabbing a handful of brake is exactly the wrong move. All of those "I had to lay 'er down" stories are examples of how poor braking tactics turn into a justification for doing something stupid. Rubber will out-stop metal and plastic any time. Besides, we all know you didn't "lay 'er down," you screamed, panicked, and fell down. One reason for breaking the brake-covering habit is to force a few moments of thought into the decision-making process. If your hand is already on the brake, you'll use it before thinking.

There are a lot of arguments on the web and in bars and every other place motorcyclists hang out about how many fingers are necessary or ideal for precise, safe rapid stops. I snagged a portion of this answer to a question from a newbie about his MSF BRC experience from a moto-discussion site; "Some use 2 fingers because you can keep them over the lever at all times. If your brakes are bled correctly and the lever is adjusted, you will not trap the other fingers. (Tell me how that works out for you if you drop the bike hard on the right bar. Ever see a busted lever, kid?) How many fingers you will need in a emergency is dependent on finger strength and brake caliper strength." Another of those kids claimed, "I convinced a friend to ride with two fingers always on the break[sic] and he said the habit saved his life." When that friend drops the bike in a corner because his "habit" caused him to grab the brake when he should have been no where near that control, I wonder if the kid with the "great advice" will take the blame?

I think habit explains why so many riders feel the need to rest their fingers on the brake. Safety or preparedness are pretty low on the list of logical justifications for this practice. Fear is a lot higher on the list, but most riders won't acknowledge that. They began hanging on to the grip when they first started riding and haven't re-evaluated the practice since. New riders are terrified of letting go of the grip and just as nervous about taking their fingers off of the brake. Terror does justify a habit.

Obviously, some brakes and some riders are able to get all the stopping power they need from one finger. YouTube and the Web are full of guys showing off their one finger stoppie power. That doesn't make one-finger braking a brilliant concept, or a safe riding habit. A stunt is not the same as an unplanned emergency stop. In a stunt, you not only aim for the best possible spot to make the stop, you shift your weight to maximize the pressure on the front wheel to prevent skidding, and if you screw it up it you'll probably survive to try again. In an emergency, you want to stop with as much control and power as possible. If you screw it up, you might be dead.

I'm a long ways from an MSF-fanatic, but I do think our training organization is right in teaching the four-fingered braking habit. Being the single-minded, single-task animal we humans are, learning how to use the front brake with power and confidence is life-saving. In fact, if you never learn how to use the rear brake, you're only giving up on 10-30% of your stopping power. Precise front brake operation is one of the most critical skills in motorcycling. One of the reasons for learning how to perform a skill absolutely correctly is, then, you can intentionally modify that technique when conditions change. If you never learn how to use your brakes correctly, you won't suddenly figure it out in an emergency.

First published in the Rider's Digest #171 Winter 2015-2016.

May 6, 2017

Product Review: Giant Loop Pronghorn Straps


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day
A Giant Loop-supplied picture of the alleged "unbreakable fasteners." (Photo supplied by Giant Loop, Harold Cecil)
Friends say I'm unrealistically biased positively toward Giant Loop Products. Could be. I own and love several of the company's fine products: the Giant Loop Coyote Saddlebag, Dry Bag, Diablo Tank Bag, Kiger Tank Bag, and the Great Basin Dry Bag. All of that gear is fiercely waterproof, tougher than rhino skin, and brilliantly designed for backwoods motorcycling. When I received a trio of Pronghorn Straps to test, I pretty much assumed this would be another brilliantly designed product that would become an indispensible part of my travel kit. Turned out, that was pretty much a no-brainer assumption.

The three Pronghorn Strap options (Photo supplied by Giant Loop, Harold Cecil)

The first thing I felt needed to be challenged was the claim that the fasteners are "unbreakable." As a retired reliability engineer, I am compelled to test any such claim because I absolutely do not believe such stuff. In the interests of truth and the American Way, I will admit that I received these straps as "media samples," so I had no money invested in the following abuse/tests. Likewise, earlier in my career--when I was paid to abuse/test industrial electronics, music equipment, professional audio equipment, medical devices, software, firmware, and hardware--I did not pay for that equipment, either. Fair is fair.
Practically speaking, what kind of abuse would something like these straps and their buckle expect to experience? First, serious abrasion and tension stress under a variety of temperatures. Second, impact damage from crashes within the same range of temperatures. (For example, 0oC to 40oC.) Finally, an outright attempt to find the breaking point of the strap or buckle, whichever comes first would be typical test engineering experiments. I decided that I would limit my tests to semi-destructive because I wanted to long-term test the straps on our RV excursion during the winter of 2013-14. First, I measured the strap's total pre-test length for a distortion/elasticity baseline (32.1cm).

So, I started with simple abuse. I clamped one of the red straps (the size I thought I was most unlikely to use) to my vise and whaled away with my 4 pound sledge at the buckle and strap for a bit. The buckle showed abrasion signs of abuse afterwards, but it didn't break. The strap looked a bit scratched up, but it didn't appear to be weakened, either. So, I froze (at -5oC) the same strap in my basement storage freezer for a few days while leaving it under tension with an expansion clamp extended far enough that the buckle distorted significantly. After leaving it frozen for a few days, I pulled it out and gave the clamp a few more squeezes which stretched the buckle and strap even more, but didn't break it. Next, I tossed the strap into my wife's food dehydrator (80oC) and left it for a week while she dried pears on the other three trays. (Yeah, I know. I probably poisoned us with the plastic out-gassing. At our age, poisons will have to be pretty aggressive to matter much.) Out of the dryer, I put the strap back into the clamp and stretched it to 125% of it's relaxed length and left it in the clamp for a day. That ended the bench testing phase of my procedure. After that abuse, the 20oC resting length of the strap was 32.23cm, 101% of it's original length. The buckle retained it's original shape, compared to my untested copies. The strap didn't even retain the clamped form and appeared to be returning to the packaged shape after a few days on the bench.

A month later, I used two of the red straps to secure my Giant Loop Dry Bag to my WR250's tail rack for a camping trip along the St. Croix. (So much for my ability to guess which size strap I'd use most often.) One of the two straps was the one I'd abused in my earlier tests. I'd imagined that this trip would be pretty benign because the fall had been wet and I didn't plan on going off-road much between the Cities and Two Harbors, but once I got out of town I ended up letting my GPS guide me northward with the instruction that I waned to avoid freeways, major highways, toll roads with a high preference for dirt roads and "ferries" (in case I ever get a chance to cross the St. Croix on one). Pretty soon, I was bouncing along on a heavily farm-equipment-rutted road enjoying the hell out of my all-time favorite motorcycle. 350 miles later, I was still south of Duluth by 50 miles and looking for a place to hang my hammock for the night. As either a testament to my faith in Giant Loop products or my simplemindedness, I hadn't check my load once in the last 250 miles. It was all there, though. Ten minutes later, I was swinging between two trees reading my eBook with the sound of the river in the background, mosquitoes in the foreground, and birds and bats in between until the light failed and I fell asleep.

A few weeks later, I used five of the Pronghorns to secure bicycles,hardware, and the WR250X to my customized Harbor Freight trailer and we headed south for our first winter in retirement. Somewhere around 6,000 miles into the trip, weather, vibration, and metal fatigue caused one of the brackets I'd used to hold a bicycle in place snapped and a blue Pronghorn strap between the bike ramp and the bicycle's lower frame was all that kept my mountain bike from being abandoned on the highway in New Mexico. I didn't discover the failure until we stopped for the night.

I started collecting information for this review in 2013 and, somehow, the final article ended up sitting in my computer for three years after any formal "testing" ended. I regret that I didn't stay on this because the Pronghorn straps have more than exceeded my expectations and have lived up to their "unbreakable" claim, at least with any semi-normal use. I love 'em.

May 1, 2017

#142 Dumb Laws for Stupid Products

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On my usual mid-week trip to the library, I got stopped by a Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputy. As usual, he asked, "Do you know why I stopped you?" I did not.

"You crossed the white line to pass that van on the right." Fortunately for me, the deputy was a good guy (and a motorcyclist) and he let me go with a warning. All the way to the library and through the rest of my day's errands, I thought about what kind of goofy state has a dumbass law like that. Keeping in mind that I believe every state in the nation, except California, is barely sophisticated enough to bang the rocks together in a primitive attempt to communicate -- because of the national ban on filtering and lane sharing. Holding a motorcycle behind a stopped vehicle seems outrageously and unusually primitive.

I can just imagine our hillbilly state representatives creating this idiotic law and including all vehicles in it because one of their inbred offspring blasted by a stopped vehicle that suddenly turned right and tagged the passing vehicle. The obvious "solution" is to create another dumb law to regulate all of the stupid products (cages) and every other vehicle on the road because you never know when the next "special" child will take himself out of the gene pool.

It makes sense to hold cages to the no-passing-on-the-right rule because the damn things are too fat to fit in that small space, even on the freeway. But motorcycles and scooters? That's just stupid. If I'd have been on a bicycle, that would have been the lane I'm supposed to riding in. Does the law insist a bicycle stop in the same situation? The last place I want to be is stuck between a cage sandwich because some hillbilly lawmaker can't tell the difference between a motorcycle and a cage.

Like the ban on filtering and splitting, the fact that a rider can get a citation for saving his own life when one braindead cager slams into another on the freeway or any other place designed to stack up traffic irregularly, this is a dumb law. Aerostich's Mr. Subjective optimistically would like to believe that laws only reflect what the majority of the public is already doing, but anyone who observes traffic in neighborhoods where the "no left turn on red" or various misplaced stop signs have been randomly distributed without rhyme or reason knows that laws are self-perpetuating and lawmakers are a species unto themselves.

In case you're confused about this rant's title, the "stupid products" I'm referring to are cages, cars, single-passenger four-wheeled fuel-and-space-wasters. I have always believed the passenger car is one of the dumbest, most wasteful, most harmful inventions in human history. Anyone with rudimentary mathematics skills has to despair at seeing miles and miles of single-occupant, gas-guzzling cages stacked in congested parallel lines, draining our children's futures and destroying this version of the earth and current life forms for no good reason other than we all dislike each other and can't be bothered to use mass transit. Cars are for people who aren't competent on two wheels.

Likewise, the existence of handicapped parking is irrational. Everyone who drives a car is, obviously, handicapped. Those flags we hang from our windshield mirrors are just identifying those who are incredibly handicapped as opposed to those mostly handicapped. I know that from experience: for three months post-hip-surgery, I used one of those special parking permits because I couldn't get from the bedroom to the bathroom without a walker, crutch, or cane (in that order as my healing progressed). I was trapped in my cage, with my wife driving for most of two months, because I was incapable of riding a motorcycle. Now, I'm better and I don't need the damn car. If we had a civilized public transportation system, I wouldn't own one of the damn things. For those rare moments when I need to carry stuff larger than my side-cases, I'd rent a car or take a taxi. I hate being required to own a cage and am about 90% of the way convinced to move somewhere I won't need a car.

But what really twists my chain is being limited to the handicapped center-lane on a motorcycle because the dimbulbs who make the laws can't tell a handicapped vehicle from a motorcycle. Making the rules the same for all means of transportation is as stupid as punishing everyone for the sins of a few. It would be really nice to be a member of a society that makes laws to reflect what the public does, but I don't see that happening here or many places. A couple of years ago, a kid who was a wannabe cop asked me to list laws that I thought were irrational. I named about a dozen in the few minutes we had to talk. A day later, I emailed him another couple-hundred irrational laws that came to me after we'd talked. A few weeks later, my list had grown so large that I had to give up the whole project because it was taking over my life. Our legal system is downright depressing, when you take time to think about it. It long since has given up pretending to be a justice system and, now, just masquerades as a police state employment-bureau-for-the-mentally-handicapped while exercising its primary function as a tax collection system. 

When I move into my cave in Montana, you're going to hear the verse from one of my favorite Bobby Dylan songs coming from dim light that will be my gas lantern. "You ask why I don't live here? Man, I don't believe you don't leave." There will be only one law enforced from the entrance to my cave: "Get the hell out of my yard unless you want to be picking rock salt out of your lame ass!"

MMM Winter 2015

Apr 29, 2017

I Don’t Know What to Think

My first thought was, “What a pair of posers.” I’m still waiting for a second thought. However, here’s the press release and you can make up your own mind, then tell me what you think.

My primary, cynical-self thinks this is more anti-helmet, Harley-poser promoting bullshit.

Sens. Ernst & Peters Launch Motorcycle Caucus

Apr 04 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Gary Peters (D-MI) announced the formation of the first-ever Motorcycle Caucus in the United States Senate. The life-long motorcycle riding senators will serve as co-chairs of the caucus, and will advocate for a multitude of issues on behalf of both motorcycle riders and manufacturers.

“Some of my most cherished memories include motorcycles, from delivering messages as a young girl to my dad while he was working out in the fields, to riding through the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa with family and friends,” said Senator Ernst. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to encourage thoughtful discussion and solutions on behalf of motorcycle riders and manufacturers through my new role as co-chair of the Motorcycle Caucus. Throughout my 99 county tour of Iowa, I have heard from many of these folks about some of their priorities, including improving safety, infrastructure, and energy efficiency. These concerns are shared by folks across our great state and country, and I look forward to working with Senator Peters toward solutions.”

“I’ve loved motorcycles since I was a kid, and I started a newspaper route to buy my first motorcycle at age 11. To this day, I believe there is no better way to see Michigan’s beautiful scenery than by bike, whether I’m riding to meet with constituents and small businesses or taking my bike out on the weekend,” said Senator Peters. “Motorcyclists come from all walks of life, and I can’t think of a better way to bring together a diverse and dedicated group of advocates to discuss everything from safety concerns to manufacturing. I’m looking forward to working with Senator Ernst as co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Motorcycle Caucus to foster these important discussions and find common ground with motorcycle lovers across the country.”

Apr 28, 2017

Motorcycle Jokes

An old friend of mine is at end-stage of a long bout with cancer. We both decided, years ago, that we weren’t going to join any pity parties and, if we were going to stay friends to the end we were going to carry on as usual. Some days, I don’t have much to say, but I’ve been making an attempt to write something to her every day or two. Sooner or later, she’ll stop writing back. If I’m lucky, her son will eventually tell me it’s time to stop writing. I’m not looking forward to getting that notice but I haven’t heard from her in a while and that’s not a good sign. She’s in California and I’m in Minnesota and we don’t have many friends in common. She’s cut herself off from most of the people she knows because they can’t talk to her like she’s not already dead or like her dying is the worst thing that could happen to them. I haven’t seen her son since he was a baby and, as far as I know, he might not even know I exist. So, on the days when I don’t have something worth talking about, I send her jokes. Usually politically incorrect jokes. If nothing else, someday the email address will bounce back on me.

. . .

It was only when I bought a motorbike that I found out that adrenaline is brown.

. . .

Yesterday I got stuck behind a young girl riding a horse. No matter what I did, I just couldn't get past her. I was tooting my horn, and hanging out the window yelling at her. She still wouldn't let me past. There was a guy on a motorcycle behind me and he was waving too. The road rage was building to the point of gun violence.

I was getting so wound up and frustrated. "It's people like you who cause accidents!" I shouted.

Eventually, I just couldn't take any more so I looked around to make sure the coast was clear . . . and I jumped off of the carousel.

. . .

This little old lady decides one day that she wants to join a biker club, so she goes down to her local club and knocks on the door. The door is opened by a big hairy biker with a beard, who's covered in tattoos.

"I'd like to join your club," says the little old lady.

The biker is amused by this and decides to play along, telling her, "Ok, but you've got to meet the requirements first. Do you have a bike?"

The little old lady points to a Harley and says, "Yeah, that's my bike there."

The biker is surprised but says, "And do you smoke?"

The little old lady says, "Yeah, I smoke 20 cigarettes a day and when I'm shooting pool I'll smoke a few cigars too."

The biker is impressed and says, "And have you ever been picked up by the Fuzz?"

The little old lady says, "No, but I've been swung around by the nipples a few times."

. . .

I kept telling my brother to be careful while he was out riding his motorcycle, but he wouldn't listen. And of course, one day he fell off.

I went to visit him in the hospital and he said to me, "I... di...


“Did... n... wu....

“I... din... war... yu..."

I interrupted, "You can't say ‘I didn't warn you?’"

. . .

Like that.

Life sucks, then you die. Goddamn it.

Apr 25, 2017

Keeping up with the Japanese

I’m wrestling with an essay for MMM on motorcycle safety training. Mostly, writing about this subject is kicking my ass because there is so little actual information about the only thing that matters in motorcycle training: the outcome/effectiveness of training. It’s no secret that I believe motorcycles are a doomed mode of transportation and it shouldn’t be surprising that I believe the problem is that our favorite vehicle is primarily a hyper-dangerous toy and that licensing for the use of this vehicle on public roads is a joke. The fact that so many “riders” believe the DMV “test” is “impossible to pass on a real motorcycle” ought to be absolute proof that most of the characters on motorcycles are incompetent as riders and not all that bright as human beings.

As part of looking for inspiration for this article, I got involved in a discussion about why motorcycle sales have tanked (post-2008) and the recovery has been so weak. An old MNSportbike acquaintance who has been in the retail end of the business for the last decade thinks it’s because “the last two generations are pussies.” I can find no evidence to support his claim, but his argument is mostly that we’re following the Japanese model and that Japanese youth are “pussies.”

A long while back, Japan’s NHTSA equivalent decided to attack the constant over-representation of motorcycles in that nation’s mortality and morbidity statistics. The end result has been the only effective change in motorcycle safety in the world. Another result has been a dramatic drop in Japan’s motorcycle/scooter sales. Other than the industry itself, which generates almost as much expense as revenue, collapsing motorcycle sales isn’t much of a downside. The Japan Biker F.A.Q. created a page to explain the Japanese licensing system, “Motorcycle Classes and Vehicle Licensing.” The whole story is pretty much there in English and Japanese, explaining the tiered licensing system, insurance requirements, motorcyclists’ liability, laws and enforcement, and the rider costs of all of that. Honestly, I was surprised that the actual expense of compliance is so low. Insurance for the various classes isn’t out-of-line with US costs. Testing and licensing expense is reasonable. The real difference is what happens when you violate the laws: enforcement is expensive and harsh.

It’s obvious and true that if you had to be competent to obtain a motorcycle license and that getting caught riding without a license would result in serious costs and even jail time a large portion of the idiots on hippobikes would quit riding. Harley and Indian sales would disappear in a puff of logic, since obtaining that “Large Class” (400cc and over) license would require competence and riders would have to demonstrate that competence on the actual bike the plan to be riding.

Yesterday, on the way back from Alma, WI with my wife (she was driving), I got to see how far from being an actual motorcyclist the typical hippobike rider reality is. Two nitwits heading south on WI35 decided to make a U-turn on that relatively wide two-lane road with decent shoulders on both sides. The two stopped in the middle of their lane, stacked up a couple of cars behind them while they gathered their nerve to make the turn, paddled through the turn one-at-a-time, and the second of the two made his entrance into our lane about 100 yards in front of our vehicle. Being the obvious least competent of the two, he panicked when he finally noticed our vehicle (and the four behind us) bearing down on him, and he sped-up his paddling routine to get out of our way. Of course, he didn’t make the turn and paddled right into the ditch, which fortunately for him was only a few inches deep at that spot. On their best day, these two would barely deserve to posses Japan’s “Small Class: 50cc to 125cc” license. Here in Freedomville, USA, these idiots are on motorcycles 10X their capabilities.

Apr 24, 2017

#141 Ride Like the Killer Robots Are After You


All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

A friend, Scott Jarrett, who has had a storied and impressive career as a professional musician once told me, "If you can imagine making a living any way but through music, you should." For years, I took that as a semi-friendly put-down. It felt like he was telling me that, since I had regularly left the music world for a more predictable income from electronic engineering or education, I shouldn't consider myself committed to being "a musician." I have no excess of confidence regarding my musicianship, so I took that advice and when someone asks me if I play or if I'm a musician I always say, "sort of" or "no, but I own some music instruments."

Recently, Scott was explaining to me his current financial dilemma that is mostly forced by the serious competition he receives from his past and current music students. These kids have the advantage of having had him as a step-up into music and the music business, plus they have the motivation, energy, and commitment and the advantage of of being young, footloose and unencumbered by obligations. He simply said, "I can't keep up anymore. I can't do the practice time or put in the hours to keep these kids from getting the jobs I used to own." 

Scott described his situation as being similar to a scene in Douglas Adam's Life, the Universe and Everything, where Arthur Dent, Slartibartfast, and Ford Prefect were watching some robots destroy a planet. Ford was explaining why the robots would win and destroy the universe while the three of them stood idly by observing their own demise.

"We're not obsessed by anything, you see,'' insisted Ford. "And that's the deciding factor. We can't win against obsession. They care, we don't. They win.''

"I care about lots of things,'' said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.

"Such as?''

"Well,'' said the old man, "life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords.''

"Would you die for them?''

"Fjords?'' blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. "No.''

"Well then.''

"Wouldn't see the point, to be honest.''

When I heard that, "If you can imagine making a living some way other than as a musician, you should" suddenly made sense to me, in a non-insulting way. Scott is not the kind of jackass you know me to be and I had always assumed that he meant this as a parable; unfortunately a parable that was simply beyond my comprehension. But I get it now. I was obsessed by music and, particularly, playing music on my guitar for about ten years of the fifty-plus years I pretended to be a musician. Not nearly enough to count for the kind of obsession required to be a professional musician.

In the United States, motorcycles account for 15% of highway deaths and an equally disproportionate number of serious injuries. If, as I've argued more than a few times, we amount to no more than 0.01% of highway traffic and, more likely, closer to 0.001%, the odds of dying in a motorcycle crash are somewhere around 1,500 to 15,000 times greater than in a cage. I know that traditional media claims the number is somewhere between 18 and 37 times more likely, but I think their math skills are suspect. 15% is 1.500 times greater than 0.01%. For motorcycling to be 37 times as dangerous as driving a car, we would have to drop our fatality contribution to 0.37% of total highway fatalities.

So, with those lousy odds in mind, how obsessed with riding a motorcycle are you? If you are absolutely convinced that magic and your biker stare are going to rescue you from lousy riding skills and your distain for motorcycle protective gear, you're an idiot and one of the many reasons we are so overrepresented in highway crash statistics.

Motorcycling requires a similar obsession to being a professional musician. A motorcyclist is someone who constantly works on all aspects of his riding skills. She keeps her motorcycle in excellent condition by regularly inspecting the machine and spending the necessary money to keep it all in order. He reads books and magazines about riding, maintenance, and takes regular skills refresher courses to stay sharp and on top of his game. She rides as soon as the ice is gone in the spring and doesn't put her bike away until the snow falls in the winter. He would rather ride his motorcycle than drive a car, ride a bicycle, walk, take the bus, or fly. She keeps herself in good physical condition so she has the strength, stamina, flexibility, and physical capacity to ride competently. He is obsessed with going places by motorcycle. When she rides, the only thing she is thinking about is riding a motorcycle safely, competently, and because it makes her feel more alive than any other thing she does.

Anything less than that is an unacceptable risk for minimal reward. If I thought it would help, I would repeat that sentence.

To paraphrase Mr. Jarrett, "If you can imagine going from point A to point B any way other than by motorcycle, you should." I do not encourage people to become motorcyclists. I train people who think they want to ride a motorcycle, but I don't give them a lot of encouragement. I am not a motorcycling cheerleader. I didn't try to put my wife, kids, or my grandkids on a motorcycle. When they asked about it, I told them to get really good on a bicycle and get back to me. Neither of my daughters or my grandson made it past being pretty fair on a bicycle. None of them tried BMX or even bicycle road racing. My wife tried off-road motorcycling for a few years, but never had any interest in street riding. They all had a few biking crashes, lost some skin, and decided that was fast and dangerous enough. I agree with that decision. If I didn't work at turning my kids into motorcyclists, I'm sure not going to try to convince a stranger or, even, a friend to take on riding. It is dangerous, expensive, complicated, and a lot of hassle. If you are not obsessed, you should take the bus, ride the train, drive your cage, bicycle, or walk. They are all much safer and cheaper than motorcycling. If you are obsessed, I will try to help you in any way I can to become a better, safer motorcyclist. If obsessed people were the only people on motorcycles, we would drive that 15% down to 0.37% and keep pushing it lower until we approach zero.

Published in MMM Issue #170 October 2015.

Apr 17, 2017

#140 Change Is Gonna Come



All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

My old MMM editor, Sev Pearman, sent a discussion group a link to an announcement from The Company about their prototype electric bike, Project Livewire. Expressing his Geezerly self better than me at my worst/best, Sev concluded, "I have zero interest in electric vehicles; pitiful range is but one of [my objections]."

My reply to that was, "The only thing that keeps me off of Zero's new bikes is the purchase price. Price per mile crushes internal combustion engines, but I don't have to worry about a motorcycle with a power train that could last 250000 miles. I won't live or ride that long. 150 miles is enough range for 90% of what I do and a 6 hour charge is fine. In a few years, capacitors should replace batteries, charge times will drop dramatically, weight and range will expand nearly exponentially for the size and weight, power and performance are already comparable to or superior to internal combustion, emissions will finally be as good as cars or better, and that fuckin' noise bullshit will be history. If you don't like maintenance, electric motors are the bomb. A bike you can tweek to your performance standards through a USB port is right on target with the current and last two generations of possible motorcyclists."

Sev's response was, "Blah blah blah No offense, Thomas, but this is the same 'in the very near future...' song that I have been hearing for 40 years. I distinctly remember reading this in both Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in the early 70's. Sorry, color me skeptical."

Obviously, I'm comfortable with skeptical. In fact, when it comes to the blathering of economists, southern politicians, the major media talking heads, and any so-called "authority figure," skeptical should be the default attitude. However, when scientists and engineers talk, I listen with a relatively open mind and some expectations. The fact is, no one writing for Popular Mechanics or Science was talking about semi-permeable molecular capacitors, lithium polymer batteries, lithium ion batteries, or even nickel-metal hydride batteries 40 years ago. Hell, sixty years ago Popular Mechanics and Science were babbling about flying cars and computers small enough to fit into a basketball gym and powerful enough to add really big numbers reasonably accurately. In 1989, some overly optimistic scientists claimed to have cracked the secret to cold fusion and the resulting inability of other researchers to replicate that experiment created enough psycho-babble from the media to convince the average schmoe that all science was fake and nuclear energy was at a dead end. Today, Westinghouse, GE, and a collection of foreign competitors are on the verge of making small liquid metal modular reactors available for applications from small electric engine power to portable electric generators and everything in-between. It could be a deal-breaker for the oil companies and revolutionary for electrical generation, but most people are fixated on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the false cold fusion story.

Stay tuned, electrical generation could be the new cheap energy. Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian fuel cell manufacturer, is contracted with Volkswagen's fuel cell development program and a couple of large bus manufacturers with working prototypes in service, not to mention providing the power for Toyota's corporate offices in Torrance, CA. All kinds of science fiction stuff is happening right now and almost none of it was predicted or promised 40 years ago. About the only prediction that has been reasonable useful from the last 50 years has been Moore's Law. ("The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year. . .") Gordon Moore's succinct technology estimate has been reasonably accurate for at least 30 years and there is every likelihood that it will be revised upward with new technology.

If the USA was driven more by technologies than by idle and incompetent corporate back-stabbers and lazy and corrupt old technology billionaires, we'd be enjoying a whole new world of high efficiency transportation and putting a serious dent in the atmosphere's carbon content. A real war on the world's terrorists, begun back in 2001, would have crushed the oil cabal, launched the US into the 21st century with a vengeance, and revitalized our technology industries like nothing since the 1960's space race. Instead, we choked, took the easy way out and invaded Iraq hoping for a quick fix with that country's "oceans of oil" and blew two decades on militaristic decadence. Catching up is much harder than staying ahead, in any kind of race. Technology and change don't depend on American exceptionalism and all of those technologies we ignored are going ahead without us. Just ask the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and the struggling descendants of the world's great powers of the past: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Russia, and, even, China (only now crawling out of the ruins of its 4,000 year old civilization).

technology-growthSemiconductor density is not the only technology experiencing exponential change. You know that bullshit small print thing stockbrokers hope you don't read regarding the odds that the stock they just conned you into buying will produce a profit (for you)?  "Past performance does not necessarily predict future results." Look at the chart on the right, that's what an exponential curve looks like as it approaches infinite change. Ray Kurzweil called this the "Law of Accelerating Returns." The steps in that chart are 50 year intervals and the X-axis is linear, but the Y-axis is more exponential than linear. The technology development required between the printing press and the telescope (a 200 year interval) was insignificant compared to going from what existed at the start of the space race to our world of cell phones, personal computers, and the Internet (20 years). The same comparison will be made between the last days of hydrocarbon-based energy and whatever comes next. The technological growth rate of the last decade will look absolutely stagnant compared to the next ten years.

Back to electric motorcycles, the only thing that keeps me off of one is the cost. Certainly not the cost of operation, but the cost of ownership. At 66, I can't justify a $10,000 motorcycle of any sort. I don't expect to live long enough to consider that a rational expense, especially in Minnesota where half of the year is lost to rotating my battery tender from the V-Strom to the WR250X. $5,000 is a whole different game. Zero's 2015 battery pack is expected to live for 2,000 charge cycles (at least 200,000 miles) before it deteriorates to 80% of new capacity (probably the recommended replacement point) at 185 city miles or 94 highway miles per charge.  At the current 6-8 cents per kilowatt, Zero's 1.4kW charge requirement makes for pretty cost-effective transportation. You just have to have a 200,000 mile life expectancy to justify going electric. I do not. If you are a decade or three younger than me, you should start thinking about what your first electric motorcycle is going to be, because that's very likely going to be a big decision in every motorcyclist's life in less time than you expect.

Published in MMM #140 September 2015

POSTSCRIPT: I'm hiding in New Mexico from MN's 2017 and the Trump bullshit and hanging with a mechanic friend who has a huge collection of battery powered tools. If anything demonstrates the rapid evolution of batteries, it might be powered hand tools. He has a selection of batteries from the last 10 years of impact tools that range from old Makita's 14V, 10W nicads to the most recent 14V, 40W lithium-ion batteries. The weight and size change is mind-boggling. The whole tool weighs less than the old battery used to weigh, by a long shot. Even recent technology batteries seem primitive in comparison to the new stuff.

Apr 12, 2017

Joining the Crowd

For most of my “adult life” riding either a bicycle or a motorcycle to work the instant weather permits has been a staple of my activities. “Weather permits” has meant any temperature above freezing and road conditions not including ice or snow. I don’t care about gravel in the corners. I did care, a little, about salt still remaining on the roads, but that usually just meant I washed off the bike more often than usual in the spring. It was a point of honor for me to not be among the “motorcycles are toys” crowd.

Not any more, apparently.

So far this year, I have ridden my motorcycle to school (I go twice a week.) exactly zero times. On a 55oF spring Sunday, of which we’ve had several to this point, I’ve ridden either of my motorcycles exactly once. Today, the wife needs the truck for yard work, so she’s driving me to school and I’m taking the bus back home. It’s 35oF outside this morning. With my heated Aerostich gear, that’s more than warm enough to justify riding to school. But I’m not going to.

I’m not sure what’s changed. I can’t help but suspect that my general attitude is tied to my disinterest/lethargy. “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.” All of the smart people I know have been pretty much running on empty for the last six months. The energy has gone out of a lot of people who are usually pretty pumped up and sources of hope and good will for me. I, on the other hand, have done pretty well betting on what I used to think were worst case scenarios—professionally and financially—and assuming the worst has always been more fallback position. You don’t become a test engineer or a reliability assurance engineer and do well at it assuming every design was divinely inspired. You assume everything has fatal flaws and begin your day looking to find that flaw before the damn thing becomes a product and when it fails it’s your fault.

My usual distrust of my fellow American’s competence has fallen to an all time low. We are living in the early (and last) years of The Marching Morons society and it’s just going to get worse and maybe never better. When I’m in a 4,000 pound pickup, that translates into assuming no one is stopping for stop signs or lights, idiots will occasionally drift into my lane from any possible direction, every fuckin’ idiot is packing a weapon, and expecting a couple of key or coin scratches on my truck anytime I leave it in a public place. On a motorcycle that translates into full-time terror. A ride into the country is a fine riding exercise, a fair amount of fun, and the best way to explore my surroundings, but it’s not utilitarian. In fact, I am now a motorcycle-toy owner, since I’m not using my motorcycle for transportation.

Apr 10, 2017

#139 Two Approaches to Aging


Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly #168 August 2015

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Coincidentally, I had two very different conversations about motorcycling in the same week from over-60 riders who had pretty strong opinions about their motorcycle future. This may seem like a pretty pointless subject, especially if you are under 40, but motorcycle demographics are rapidly aging and our mode of transportation and recreation is coming to some sort of turning point in the United States and a few other first world nations. The average age of US motorcyclists is increasing by 2-4 years every 5 years (depending on who's statistics you believe). In the last 15 years, the number of over-50 riders has increased more than 250%. Unfortunately, that group of 60-and-older riders is 250% more likely to end up with serious injuries than their 20-to-30-year-old counterparts. "Middle-aged" riders don't fare much better. 40-60 year-old riders, were 200% more likely to suffer serious injuries than the younger group.

There are a variety of suspected reasons for these dismal statistics, including deteriorating skills, vanishing physical capabilities, inexperience and overconfidence, and the fact that older riders too often pick motorcycles to enhance their fading self-image rather than for practical and realistic motivations. Regardless of "why," older motorcyclists are less safe for a variety of reasons than younger riders and there are a whole lot fewer young riders than in previous moments in motorcycling's history. That decision day is coming for us all and this past week made that uncomfortably clear to me.

First, one of my oldest friends called and started the conversation with, "Do you know anyone who wants to buy a Goldwing?" Thinking he was giving up on being a ship captain and had decided to return to a normal motorcycle, I made a joke about the question. His reply was, "No. I'm serious. I'm done." After more than 40 years on two wheels, he had made the decision to pack up his riding gear and move on to other pursuits. All of his reasons were sound: three years of shoulder surgeries had reduced his upper body strength and confidence below his comfort level, his wife no longer wanted to ride with him, he wasn't riding enough to maintain his skills, his local riding friends had all cashed in their Harley's for boats, planes, and RVs. Other than admitting that I would regret not having taken more advantage of our years of riding together, I had no valid counter-argument. I put feelers out for anyone who might be in the market for a well-maintained Goldwing and that is that.  

Another friend, who has been riding fewer years and tends to ride bikes that are more vintage than competent came by the house a few days later to show off his new, current-technology ride. On the way to my place, he'd had a couple of near-misses and was pretty agitated about the state of Minnesota driving skills. An ABATE member, he went on a rant about how right-of-way laws still needed to be more aggressive "to get the dumbasses off of the road." I expressed my dislike for the concept of prison sentences for unintentional acts, which suddenly put me with the enemies of motorcycling on the "other side." No problem, I have spent my whole life on the wrong side of every argument; depending on who I'm arguing with, I seem to be on every side of every argument humans have.  I am the most radical liberal-conservative-middle-of-the-road person most of my acquaintances know.

The rest of the conversation was one-sided. Lots of ranting about how "people need to pay attention to those 'Start Seeing Motorcycles'signs" and how loud pipes make up for driver distraction and incompetence. You might guess that I was pretty uninvolved in the whole "discussion" by that time and just wanted to get back to cleaning my garage and digging the New Mexico sand out of my WR's crevices and crannies.

The two schools of aging motorcycle thought appear to be "it's time to quit" and "the world needs to be a safer place for me." I totally sympathize with the first group and am amazed at the second. Oddly, the "safer for me" crowd often sees itself as being all-American, tough guy, independent individuals. They are brand-conscious, pirate-posing, anti-AGAT (or any real motorcycle gear), and group-riding characters whose self-image is practically the polar opposite of what the rest of the world sees when they lumber past, deafening anyone within a couple of miles of their parade. As best I can tell, their riding defense system consists of a whole lot of denial. Old people (me included) are famous for denial tactics, but reality has a nasty habit of putting a mirror to anything you try to ignore too long. Deteriorating riding skills, lost physical capability, and arrogance are a poor combination on the road.

I can feel that "No. I'm serious. I'm done" moment creeping up on me at accelerating speeds. I have been riding since the mid-1960s and I have nothing left to prove as a motorcyclist to myself or anyone else. I have no delusions about where my skills are going or where my physical capabilities have gone. I past the "it's all downhill from here" moment about twenty years ago, optimistically, or thirty-five years ago, practically. I can't remember when I last believed that I could "do anything I want to do." I'm pretty much at the point of being happy just to be able to do an occasional thing more-or-less the way I wanted to do it. Things like brushing my teeth or putting on laced boots or lowering myself into a chair without falling the last few inches are on that list. I do not have any delusions that my presence on the highway creates an obligation for the rest of the world. They aren't out to get me. They don't even acknowledge I exist. The weaker, fatter, slower, dumber, blinder, and shorter I get, the more clearly I can anticipate hanging up the helmet and going shopping for a Miata convertible. I hope to not repeat my father's model and stay on the road until someone has to take responsibility for me and forcibly revoke my driver's license. I hope I'm as smart as my friend and start purging the motorcycle collection and equipment before I wind up in a hospital bed. I'll keep you posted on how that all works out. 

Apr 3, 2017

# 138: Tires Make the Man


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I am officially retired as of this summer. "No more pencils, no more books, no more rules, no more teacher's dirty looks." Ok, the dirty looks came from me, but I'm done with that too. The next time I hear some kid complaining about how hard school is, I'm just going to laugh at the pampered little cell-phone addict. I, officially, do not have to care any longer. One of the best things about being retired is giving up on all pretense of concern for dress codes. "What are you going to do, fire me?" The people who mismanage America's businesses solidly buy into the old adage that "clothes make the man." Since the only skills required for modern American managers are dressing themselves and pulling credit towards themselves while shuffling blame off on their underlings, that's understandable. It's hard to see the pulling and shuffling stuff, but even a CEO can identify a nice suit. I have spent most of my career ignoring dress codes or pushing their boundaries closer to my own comfort zone. Starting this summer, my comfort zone will creep closer to full nudity. Avert your eyes or don't sneak into my backyard uninvited.

street-motorcycle-tiresIn the motorcycle world, our suits are on the wheels. Your tires say a lot about what there is to know about you as a rider. Your bike could be a cluster-fuck of vintage bits cobbled together with gaff tape and pipe clamps, but if your tires are good you're officially well dressed. On the other (and more typical) hand, your bike may be a shining example of everything Cruiser Magazine says is "all the rage" (clearly a gay biker magazine) or a plastic-fantastic full-race liter bike that Cycle World calls "all pimped out," but if your tires are bald you are undressed. If a motorcyclist looks at your tires and mutters "chicken strips," you've been outed as a poser and a the kind of rider who crawls through corners and blasts down the block as if he were being chased by Barney Fife (look him up, youngsters). On the other hand, some tires say nothing but good things about your sterling character.

Sportbikers have a tendency to be proud of balled up bits of rubber clinging to the outer edges of their tires. If you are a racer, that's just expected. You can't successfully race anything on two wheels without pushing the boundaries of traction at all possible angles. If you are a street biker, you are a goofball who likes to push traction to the limits' edge and are probably about as fun to ride with as a wasp trapped in the helmet. There aren't a lot of places on the street where leaning a bike over far enough to touch a knee to the ground can be called anything but "reckless." The sad fact is that almost every sportbike sold is over designed for any practical street application and that probably explains why so many of those motorcycles fall into the "less than 1,500 miles per year" category. Off of the race track, they are just rich kid toys with no more practical use than a plastic Star Wars laser sword. The tires tell that story repeatedly. 

Cruiser owners generally have more concern with the polish of their white sidewalls than traction or lean angle. In fact, cruiser lean angle is about topped out where the sidestand puts the bike when it's parked in front of the usual bar. You can't blame these guys for chicken strips, since straight-up is about the only way to ride a cruiser. However, a lack of concern when the tire wears down the inevitable center says a lot about the owner of an already-disabled vehicle. Motorcycles with marginal suspension, cumbersome maneuverability, and as much mass as a Prius can't afford an on-the-road tire failure. When you've given away every advantage a motorcycle has in the road warrior battles, you can't blow off swapping out that bald rear tire because it's a hassle. Tires are the only real clothing a cruiser has.

At the other end of the style spectrum, dual purpose riders sometimes make a big deal out of their off-road worthiness. Seeing a KLR parked in front of a coffee shop shod in full non-DOT knobbies with narry a scuff on the side knob sprue nubs and the soft middle of the tire worn down to a bump is always good for a laugh. You might as well paint "dirt" onto the bike as imagine that other motorcyclists are going to be impressed with your tales of off-roading. Any trials rider knows that a pretty mild tire pattern can carry the average motorcycle through some seriously rugged stuff. Pretty much anything will haul a Lampkin straight up a wall. You don't need knobbies for the occasional dirt road. But you'd know that if you ever rode that thing away from pavement.

The guys who almost never pose as anything but themselves are real touring riders. With 100,000 miles on the odometer, they know the only thing they can't scrimp on is their tires. A Goldwing will putter along with watered-down Canadian gas with an occasional ping or two, but a flat tire in Butt Fuck, Wyoming is downright life-threatening. These guys will tape a $1-store cupholder to their handlebars, but the only money they save on tires comes when they install the skins themselves. There is nothing funny about getting stuck in Whitehorse with a wreaked tire. You won't make it back out of town for less than $600 and you might spend twice that again on a motel bill while you wait for the shop to get around to installing your tire. Don't even think about asking the Honda dealer if you can just buy the tire and install it yourself. Being "well dressed" on a 10,000 mile tour means having brand new tires on the bike and a second set wrapped and ready to drop-ship in the garage; postage pre-paid so your wife or best friend can just fill out the shipping label and drop the tires off with UPS.

I might be naked in the backyard, but my bike is always well dressed and there are two complete sets of replacements in the back of the garage waiting for the next big motoring social event. You never know when you might be invited to go somewhere and do something cool. Wouldn't want to violate the only dress code I've ever honored.

Mar 31, 2017

Donny and Me

Donald Trump is, possibly, looking at becoming the first US President in the history of the country to actually be impeached. His connections to Russia are likely to be the reason why. It's not in me to feel sorry for Donny, but we do have a weird connection. The Geezer with a Grudge blog also seems to attract more Russian attention than I'd expect. Check it out:

Google Blogger Monthly History

United States
United Kingdom

I wonder what they see in a weird old guy babbling about motorcycles?

Mar 30, 2017

Safety Training and Us

About a year ago, David Hough wrote a LinkedIn article about the California motorcycle training experiment and the MSF’s repsonse: “Changes in CA training.” It’s a pretty good read and some of the comments were as thought stimulating. A lot of MSF instructors are beginning to reconsider the purpose of training, especially in light of the newest MSF new rider program that appears to be taking an even more simplistic approach to putting butts on motorcycle seats.

Mar 28, 2017

A Brush with Reality

As part of an article I’m writing on safety training, I landed on Wikipedia’s page on “motorcycle safety.” Here is a grim reminder of what we regularly face experiencing in a motorcycle crash:

Consequences of accidents:

Once the collision has occurred, or the rider has lost control through some other mishap, several common types of injury occur when the bike falls:

  • Collision with less forgiving protective barriers or roadside "furniture" (lampposts, signs, fences, etc...). Note that when one falls off a motorcycle in the middle of a curve, lamps and signs become impossible to negotiate around.
  • Concussion and brain damage, as the head violently contacts other vehicles or objects. Riders wearing an approved helmet reduce the risk of death by 37 percent.
  • Breakage of joints (elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and wrists), fingers, spine and neck, for the same reason. The most common breakages are the shoulder and the pelvis.
  • Soft tissue (skin and muscle) damage (road rash) as the body slides across the surface. This can be prevented entirely with the proper use of motorcycle-specific protective apparel such as a leather jacket or reinforced denim and textile pants.
  • There is also a condition known as biker's arm, where the nerves in the upper arm are damaged during the fall, causing a permanent paralysis of arm movement.
  • Facial disfigurement, if in the absence of a full-face helmet, the unprotected face slides across the ground or smashes into an object. Thirty-five percent of all crashes show major impact on the chin-bar area.

Honestly, the whole Wikipedia section is worth reading.