Jan 29, 2018

Bein' Lucky

I have no idea how I managed to attract readers and friends to this blog, but I am always grateful. In response to a fairly moronic "Facebook conversation" about loud pickup exhaust noise on a Nissan Frontier page, I did a search on this blog for "http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/search?q=loud+exhaust" and what I discovered was 15 years of brilliant comments from people who have happened on to this blog. 

You folks are clever, funny, insightful, and just blow me away on a regular basis.

Jan 21, 2018

Another Tipping Point

“According to the Department of Energy, there are now over 500,000 EVs driven in the U.S.” Xcel Energy is even noticing the speed of EV adoption, “State of the Electric Vehicle 2017: Adoption keeps accelerating.” Used EV’s are littered all over Craig’s List, many for less than $6k with insanely low miles. If I didn’t have a small garage already double-parked with two motorcycles and a bunch of motorcycle equipment, I’d be seriously looking at a used Nissan Leaf. The new Leaf 2.0 has a 150 mile range, more than enough for any typical day trip I’m likely to take. The ads for most of the older EVs are more like 70-90 miles at highway speeds, which isn’t much of a problem as long as we still have the pickup for long hauls and pulling the camper.

electric-cars-ukI think we’ve hit the official deadend for suck-bang-blow. From here out, I expect to see EV’s capabilities increase exponentially and IC sales sag. Even dinky little Red Wing Minnesota has a downtown refueling station. EVs are particularly suited for autonomous operation, especially because it will be so easy to include electrical auto-fueling over the safety hazards of gas or diesel. The pressure is on for motorcycles to either get on the bus or get out of the way.

Jan 16, 2018

Barbarians at the Gate

home-full-width-1-imagePaul Young sent me this link, "Will this electric bicycle disrupt the motorcycle industry?" from Revzilla. The Suru is made in Canada (Nova Scotia) and costs about $3k. The critical specs are listed in the website’s photo at right. The tires and wheels are more motorcycle than bicycle hardware, as is the suspension. Unlike a lot of electric bicycles, the bicycle part is single-speed and basic. The article quotes Suru designer, Michael Uhlarik, for a lot of its assumptions and the author, Clayton Christensen, is a Harvard prof and self-proclaimed manufacturing and techology historian. Some of their “manufacturing history” is not particularly well informed. Still their premise has been the same as my own for a while.

radroverI’m not convinced the Suru is the right direction, but I’m no fortune teller. My grandson’s RadRover is more in line with both the features and price point I think will attract people to electric two-wheelers. Everything about Wolf’s bike is similar to the Suru, except it is $1,500 cheaper and more versitile as a bicycle: “Intelligent 5 Level Pedal Assist with 12 Magnet Cadence Sensor” and a 7-speed derailier opposed to single-speed peddling, key-removable battery pack, full-coverage fenders, and less weight. My grandson has had his RadRover for about three months and is using it to commute 7-miles, one-way, throughout the Minneapolis winter. So far, he’s more than happy with his bike.

The article’s constant reference is to the 1966 Honda Cub which the author claims was “the last real disruption in the moto industry.” I’d say there have been quite a few disruptions in the last two decades, but often when you are trying to prove a point it’s easy to put the blinders on. Regardless, the electric bicycle and scooter movement is about to kick into high gear with everyone from botique dealerships to Walmart and Target offering products and services. BMW, Honda, Yamaha, and a collection of new comers are all making a variety of products available. Amazon has a showroom floor full of electric bikes and scooters with 36V models as cheap as $400. I think the tipping point has been passed.

Jan 13, 2018

Bicycle Insanity

Wait till the end to see how many times he had to do each stunt to get them right.

Jan 10, 2018

Ironic, Ain't It?

"There’s a new special license plate promoting motorcycle safety available starting today! ABATE of Minnesota designed and sponsored the new motorcycle awareness license plate. The plates cost $10 and there is an annual $10 contribution that will go toward motorcycle safety education and training programs.

Plates are available for purchase at deputy registrar offices: http://ow.ly/D0KB30huk1R"

That bastion of anti-helmet, anti-government, anti-anything that might make motorcycling safer and more responsible, ABATE, convinced the dimwitted Minnesota legislature to create a "Start Seeing Motorcycles" (and Unicorns) special license plate and the character on the plate could not look less like an ABATE member.

Jan 8, 2018

Start Seeing Unicorns

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Start-Seeing-UnicornsWe're turning over a new leaf in our family. I hate driving four-wheel vehicles and after a fairly miserable several months stuck as the sole driver of our winter excursion in an RV, I am giving up driving our family car as much as possible. My wife, on the other hand, gets car sick when she isn't driving, can't read a map, program a GPS, or provide useful directions as a passenger and claims to actually like driving. After 46 years of being the family primary driver, we're swapping roles. She is a perfectly fine driver with good skills, reasonably good vision, and decent judgment. I hate driving and am prone to zoning out after a few minutes behind the wheel.

So, we're on the way to visit our daughter's family in Dinkytown on a warm April evening. My designated driver is about to turn left on Hennepin Avenue across two opposite direction lanes after a barrage of vehicles finally created a slot. She's focused on the cars coming toward us, about 100 yards away. I saw a motorcyclist in the far lane and provided a slightly-over-the-top warning (not quite a shout) before she turned into his path. She stopped safely and the completely undressed kid on the black motorcycle, wearing black clothing (without a stitch of protective gear), and who'd cleverly disabled his daytime headlight shook his finger at us as some kind of warning. As usual, he hadn't made even the slightest effort to remove himself from any aspect of the near-crash: no braking, no evasive maneuver, no horn honking, headlight flashing, or even a shout. Just a limp finger-wagging. Loud pipes wouldn't have done him any good, since they're only good for warning people behind the motorcycle that a noisy asshole is in front of them. 

This is where the "Start Seeing Unicorns" comes in. Delusional motorcyclists and safety bureaucrats imagine that if enough propaganda and severe enough penalties are applied, motorcycles will magically become visible to drivers who have real threats to worry about. Not only do most motorcyclists dress to be invisible, but at 0.001-0.01% of total traffic on any given perfect-for-motorcycling day, we're about as common a sight as unicorns. Nobody but little girls who watch too much television looks for unicorns because they are a statistical unlikelihood. The same logic applies to motorcyclists, with only a minimally greater chance of a sighting. Asking other road-users to watch for us when we are rarely present and don't make the slightest effort to be seen or rescue ourselves is an exercise in hubris. Your mother may have told you that you are the center of the universe, but no one else on the road has heard of you and, worse, probably won't notice you until you are bouncing off of their vehicle or sliding down the highway on your bloody ass. 

Earlier that day, I met a guy who bragged that he'd crashed 18 times before he quit riding a few years ago. His last crash was into a house, after an uncontrolled wheelie and jumping a curb and tearing through a garden. He crashed into a house. He admitted that "all of my accidents were my fault, except one." Speeding, lousy cornering technique, poor judgment, and an irrational belief in his indestructibility all were to blame for all but one crash. The one that he claimed wasn't his fault was because a woman "pulled out in front of me." Based on his other experiences and my own later the same day, I suspect that blaming the one crash on someone else misses the point of that one experience. Like the rider who narrowly escaped becoming a hood ornament on our car, this ex-rider clearly needed some decent skills, a dose of common sense, and protective gear.

In fact, too many people supposedly involved in motorcycle safety issues argue the nutty fallacy that motorcyclists are pitiful victims. For example, a University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research study found, "that 60 percent of the time motorists in other vehicles are at fault when they collide with motorcycles." I'd love to see where that data came from, in detail. Since 34-50% of fatal motorcycle crashes are single vehicle events, it's pretty obvious that we can't even deal with the freakin' road, let alone traffic. What kind of fool would believe that a group of people who are totally responsible for killing themselves half of the time are innocent victims during the other half, when traffic is involved? Seriously? We can't ride well enough to keep from flinging ourselves into the trees on a solitary road but we suddenly become more competent in heavy traffic? I'm not buying that for a second. And my experience on motorcycles for nearly three-quarters-of-a-million miles totally contradicts that wishful thinking. Every one of the motorcycle fatalities I've seen were either completely the motorcyclists' fault or would have prevented with the tiniest bit of riding skill and reasonable protective gear.

Instead of wishing and hoping that drivers will start watching out for us and compensate for our invisibility and mediocre skills, I think giving up on that dream and getting on with learning how to ride competently would be a good start toward reducing motorcycle crashes. If a rider is serious about staying jelly side up, becoming as visible as possible, and  getting real about the slim chance that anyone will be looking out for us while they are worried about giant trucks, distracted bozos in oversized pickups and SUVs, and their own distractions is absolutely necessary. The whacked idea that people in cages are going to save us from ourselves is delusional, arrogant, and foolish. In 2013, motorcyclists accounted for 15% of national highway deaths. There is no justification on this planet for that massively disproportionate contribution the the estimated $228 BILLION in "societal cost of crashes." At some point, the country is going to decide to either make motorcyclists prove their competence before obtaining a license, wear reasonable protective gear, or get the hell off of the public's roads.

I'm not saying motorcyclists need to be paranoid and tell themselves "they're all out to get me." We aren't that important or interesting. They don't even know we are on the road because we are not a serious threat. You could drive most mid-sized 4-wheel drive pickups over the whole Minnesota contingent of biker gangsters' toys and still make it to the store for bread, milk, and cookies and back home before you worried about scraping the biker gunk off of your bumper. Not being a threat is much worse than being a potential enemy. You can sort of guess what someone who's out to get you might do next. If your opponent doesn't even recognize your existence, there are an infinite number of awful things they might do completely unaware of you and your motorcycle. If that doesn't make you want to gear up and put your riding skills and motorcycle in order, you do not belong on a motorcycle.

Jan 6, 2018

Re-Evaluating Myself

A couple of weeks ago, I began to have moments of double-vision. That was about mid-week. Later that week, on a Friday night, I was driving in the Cities in light late evening traffic and, suddenly, I was guessing as to which one of 3 exit lanes was the real one. Since then, I've learned a lot about various degenerative vision diseases and disabilities and I've begun to prepare myself not only for the end of my life on two wheels but driving altogether.

I'll be 70 this coming summer and I've been riding motorcycles since I was 14 or 15. A LONG time. If this is the end of that I won't be heartbroken, disappointed, but not heartbroken. The only bucket list item left for me would be the South American Pacific Highway and I'd pretty much taken that notch off of the prospective gun a couple of years ago. I'm too old, beat up, and tired to do 3,500 miles of hostile territory on a motorcycle, car, or most other transportation media.

I won't know until sometime in the next week or so how serious this is, but really serious is in my family genetics: myasthenia gravis blinded my father when he was about 66. Double-vision is a typical early symptom of that nerve and muscle breakdown. I have been half-blind for all of my life: when I was a kid, my left eye was 200:20 and it has steadily grown worse. My right eye was 20:20 until I was about 50 and he began the usual march into farsightedness then. Those muscles and nerves have been working overtime to coordinate my two dissimilar eyes for a long time. If they quit on me, it won't be out of laziness. You can only ask so much from your body for so long.

Luckily, so far my near-field vision is mostly fine. I can read, although for fewer consistent hours than in the past. An example of what my far-field vision is like was pretty neatly demonstrated when my wife was driving last night. At a stop sign, I saw six lights, one set that appeared to be about 6' from the street and another set about 12' higher. Of course, there were only 3 lights at the intersection, but you couldn't tell that inside my head. The "fix" for now is to wear a patch on one eye; which eye depends on what I'm doing.

Life sucks, then you die. Every significant aging-related (in my case) ailment I've suffered in the last five years has resulted in my learning that I have friends and acquaintances who have had the same or worse problems at a far younger age. Honestly, I have no serious complaints. I'm pretty close to my expected lifespan, for my income bracket. I've been doing the same stuff for the last 50-something years and not that many American men can say that.

Dec 19, 2017

Horsemeat for Bikers?

121317-Worst-Motorcycle-Trends-2017-image10Some local guys were jawing on-line about the NY Times article, “No easy ride: Motorcycle industry is in deep trouble and needs help fast, panel agrees.” Like the industry, they blamed the usual suspects for the death of their favorite noise-makers: “the bubble-wrapped Millennials,” “the ultra-liberal lefties,” “tree huggers,” blah, blah, etc. Mirrors are tough on old guys. We look in them, see an accurate reflection and desperate want something else. The problem is, pretty much, us. We’re old, we’re irrelevant, and most of two generations wants to have nothing to do with imitating us.

Mostly, I read the Times article as a pretty accurate accounting of the lazy and braindead folks who represent US motorcyclists and the industry. The AMA and ABATE are just fronts for the butt-pirates who have turned off every sentient person possible with their noise, totally overrepresented crash, mortality and morbidity statistics, and general hooliganism. Nobody represents motorcycle commuters, the only motorcycle group that isn't about conspicuous consumption. The AMA is almost proud of how few actual motorcyclists are regular riders and ABATE is just a drinking club that dabbles in politics and writes sympathy/love letters to gangbanging “brothers behind bars.”

no-motorcycles-sign-k-6938_thumbAs for off-road access, it's not "liberals" who are shutting down access to public land; it's ranchers, conservationists, residents near the parks, and the people who have to provide unfunded rescue services to the nitwits who go off trail, terrorize livestock, wreak property, and end up tangled in barbed wire somewhere it will take a helicopter to bail out mommy's special little douchebag who has no insurance, no money, and suddenly believes in national health insurance. I’ve run a couple of events and watched dozens of off-road facilities go down in idealistic flames when their customers do everything possible to piss off anyone in the vicinity of the event, park, or private property. Motorcycles attract anti-social types and it’s harder than hell to cope with all of the forces that aren’t interested in putting up with spoiled children. I suspect if everyone were being honest, that would turn out to be a big part of the reason trials got bumped from Spirit Mountain and trials is the least obnoxious of all motorcycle sports. I KNOW that was why there was only one Merrick County enduro.

I freakin' love the argument promoted in the Times article that, since the motorcycle companies don't know how to sell to anyone who isn't already a motorcyclist, it's the job of motorcyclists to keep their business alive. That pretty much wraps up my argument in a Trump-quality gold plated ribbon. The industry is so obsolete it doesn’t even know how to sell its own products. How dumb is that?

Motorcyclists owe the industry their time and energy? For what reason? It's just a vehicle or, worse, a rich kid’s toy. If no one wants to play with them, they should disappear. There is no good reason for motorcycles to be the noisiest, most polluting, most dangerous, least efficient vehicle on the road and not even have to pay their own way with motorcycle license taxes (You know they don't in Minnesota, right?). You gotta provide some social value or you are just a welfare deadbeat if you still expect the public to foot your bill. By now, motorcycles should be knocking out at least 100mpg, emitting puffs of exhaust water and nothing more, and be bicycle-quiet. Instead, the stuff we get is barely 1980's technology and most of it is from the 50’s.

As for the Millennial bulllshit, you guys are just fuckin' old. You need to visit one of the boxing clubs, martial arts clubs, wall climbing clubs, bicycle racing clubs (off road, long distance, closed course, etc), and packing maker's groups. Those places are all about Millennials. Sure, there are lots of pampered Millennials. There are also lots of pampered, overpaid, underworked, barely-skilled X-gens and Boomers. My parent's’ generation paid a pittance for Social Security and jacked up the benefits until the system was almost broke before they elected Reagan who stripped that fund for his military-industrial buddies. Change just happens. Characters like Max Biaggi whined that all of that stuff crippled MotoGP riders while Rossi and the next generation just cranked ‘em up faster and leaned ‘em over further. Old people always complain about the next generation. “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise,” said Socrates. One of the fastest riders/coaches I know is just raving about Honda's auto-transmission. I love well-implemented ABS and throttle mapping, even though I don’t own a bike that has either.

Face it, 90% of everything humans do is always crap. You don't think millennials packed Washington with a bunch of superstitious, anti-science, spoiled trustfunders do you? If humans touch it, it will be screwed up. If humans deregulate something critial, it will be a disaster. Always. We’re just a braindead species desperately trying to fire off the 6th Extinction just to see which nutty death cult got it right.

That “wimp” label is nothing new, either. I have heard horse owners making the same “you are a bunch of wimps” arguments about motorcyclists since I was a kid. That is sort of valid, too. Keeping track of two empty skulls is twice as hard as managing one. That’s why I don’t ride horses. Your hippobike might seem “really big” compared to a dirt bike, but it is a twig compared to a 15-hand, 2,200 pound horse. Try laying one of those babies down in an intersection. On the other hand, try going faster than 20mph for more than a mile on a horse. Talk about limited range between extended fuel stops, horses are barely better tranportation than shoes.

Dec 9, 2017

What You Might Have Missed

The Progressive International Motorcycle Show is in Minneapolis over the weekend. I haven’t been to the show in a few years, mostly due to being somewhere warmer during the last few winters. This year’s show came about two months earlier than in past years. Who wasn’t there might have been as interesting as who was: Yamaha, for instance. Honda, BMW, Suzuki, Harley, and Indian all had fairly oversized displays of their usual suspects. Royal Enfield, oddly, was there, too. And that is IT. No Ducati, Triumph, KTM, Husquvarna, Aprilia, Vespa, Hyosung, Piaggio, Ural, Zero, Brammo, or any specialty sports manufacturers. Even the weird aftermarket and accessories vendors were mostly abscent.

I took a bunch of pictures and I’ll figure out how to post them here later, but mostly the crowd was blue-hairs and not many of those. I ran into one of my old students and when I complimented him on being the youngest non-sales person at the show, he burst my bubble by telling me he was with a television crew working on a show about aging motorcycle demographics and the decline of the motorcycle as a sport, recreational device, and/or transportation. The double-wow there was that this kid went through the hipster cafe racer fad about a decade ago and hasn’t owned a motorcycle since he managed to unload his hipster CX500 on an old guy.

Nov 30, 2017

MMM's Last Issue

Way back in 1999, I met a pair of "kids" at a party for a long-defunct music magazine that, lucky for me, employed my daughter, Holly, as a writer/editor. I was introduced to Dan and Erin Hartman as a "motorcyclist," by the music magazine's publisher and we eyed each other suspiciously during the introduction. I was wearing the remains of my work uniform, a dress shirt, a loosened tie, slacks, and cowboy boots and they probably thought I was the prototype for Peter Mayer's "Brand New Harley Davidson." They were wearing black leather and I figured they were yuppie Harley posers with a trust fund to burn. We were, I think, both wrong and after discussing what we rode we hit if off well enough that our conversation went into the late night. Their complaint was that MMM was dying because advertisers weren't convinced anyone read the free newspaper. Nobody bothered to write the editors to complain about or praise their articles, editorials, and, most of all, ads. I offered to write an article that would absolutely get a response if they'd promise to publish it. The article, "What Are We Riding For?," appeared in the October, 1999 issue and I've been a regular columnist in MMM since.

As of the 2018/2018 Winter Issue, Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly will cease publication. The magazine hopes to maintain a presence on the web, MNMotorcycle.com after this "final issue" of the print version, but don't hold your breath. My favorite Euro biker magazine, Rider's Digest, went from paper to PDF to web-only a few years back and died a slow, discouraging death in mid-2016. The last "issue" is still there, August 2016, but advertising revenue just didn't happen for the on-line magazine. The UK, like the US, isn't a world leader in internet coverage, speeds, or even reliability. Being big believers in the "magic of the market," a good bit of the UK (like the US) is stuck in the late-90's technology-wise. The UK is a more motorcycle-friendly transportation culture, though, but that didn't help RD. It's possible that advertisers and readers will move to the webpage "magazine" and I really hope they do, but "plan for the worst and hope for the best" has been my motto for about 50 years.

Whatever the future may bring for MMM, I clearly failed in my job over the last few years. Hardly any of you are pissed off enough at something I've written to let the publisher know. Trust me, Victor loves to publish letters from people who want to fry the Geezer. If there had been letters, you'd have seen them. I almost managed to get 20 years of my silly shit in print with MMM. A few years back, Victor sent the MMM writers a really neat note saying that the Minnesota History Center had begun archiving the magazine and that's a pretty cool thing to know about the work we did with the magazine. It has been a good, long ride with MMM. I wrote 158 essays/rants the magazine published over 18 years, plus a bunch of bike, gear, and equipment reviews and a few trip articles. Most of the things I've done over my 70 years on this planet have had highs and lows. That wasn't true for MMM. It was all highs and even highers. I haven't loved everything I've written for the magazine, being my own most severe and least tolerant critic, but I have loved the opportunity and the experiences. I'm going to keep submitting crazy shit for the on-line magazine and as long as they'll take my stuff I'll be there.

Thanks for . . . everything.

Nov 4, 2017

Training for Actual Motorcycling

David Hough recently posted an excellent article about the purpose of motorcycle training, “Situational Awareness.” I strongly recommend reading the article and the concepts he’s presenting.

Nov 1, 2017

#158 What Kind of Wolf Are You?

At the time this appeared in MMM, #188 October 2017, I didn't know this would be my last Geezer with A Grudge column for, at least, the print magazine. The next issue, #189 Winter 2017-2018, was the last ever print issue and my column didn't make that issue. Honestly, the issue was so skimpy that I glanced through it in a few moments and tossed it on the pile of stack of yet-to-be-filed MMM hard copy issues. Other than an essay from our publisher, Victor Wanchena, explaining why MMM was history and an odd Chinese motorcycle review and a rehash of the Aerostich Roadcrafter by the editor, Bruce Mike, the magazine went out with a whimper. 20-some years of publishing should have had a little more spunk than to fizzle out in four pages and "So, readers of MMM, thank you for the good run. We will see you on the digital side. Print is dead, long live print." But, that's how it happened. 

However, I'm not dead . . . yet. I have written (to this moment) 34 Geezer columns that were stacked up in my que waiting for MMM's publisher or for some other motorcycle magazine to pick them for publication. I had them scheduled to begin appearing in this blog starting in July 2018 and there are enough of them to run every week until March 2020. Worse, I have a backlog of more than 30 more columns scattered over three computers and I'll start wrapping those up and putting them in the que or jumping right to the moment as the whim strikes me. The big difference between appearing in MMM or here will be that I always returned to whatever article the MMM editor picked to be sure it was current. I'm not gonna be doing that anymore. So, if a new essay appears to have been written in 2008, it probably was. I am that far ahead of the magazine's publication schedule. 

Even more that in the past, my politically correct filters are off. Believe it or not, I used to worry about offending MMM's advertisers, at least a little bit. No more. From here out, it's just you and me and the World Wide Web. 

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

Supposedly, there are three kinds of wolves: alpha (leader), beta (follower), and solo or lone wolves. Most of my business career I spent as some kind of manager, which might make you suspect that I am an alpha-sort. There are some bits of evidence that would probably contradict that assessment. An experience in a recent motorcycle course with an actual alpha reminded me of how far from that guy I am.

In 30 years of management, I probably called no more than a half-dozen meetings because I have always believed that meetings are what lazy managers do instead of talking to people, individually, where you can get their honest, un-pressured opinions. Also, I hate meetings. I absolutely believe in Dave Roth's "crowd rule" that says you can divide the IQ of the smartest person in the room by the number of people in the room to get the crowd IQ. Why would I hire smart people, then force them to sit at a table and be stupid?

The same goes for packs or groups of motorcyclists. Individually, most of the people I know who ride a motorcycle are pretty interesting. Even the hippobike crowd has a fair number of members who do interesting things, can surprise you with their intelligence and insight, and tell great, funny stories. In a pack, they're about as funny and entertaining as a pack of rampaging Comancheros who just broke into a 55 gallon barrel of rotgut whiskey, but they can be actual human beings in small quantities.

As difficult as this might be to believe, I hate conflict. As a manager, I tried to enforce my own version of the "no assholes rule" and I fired people who violated that rule as quickly as I could identify them. Firing people sounds like conflict, but one bad hour is a lot less painful than months of disagreement, disappointment, and team dissolution. I look at a non-performing team member as someone who is dragging the rest of the team down and the good of the group overwhelms my inconvenience and discomfort. The hour I take firing someone pretty much screws up the rest of my day or week, but I get over it. If I don't do it, I'm screwing up everyone else's weeks until I bite the bullet.

The whole group ride thing begs for otherwise pretty decent people to show off their asshole sides. Either by pretending that maintaining the spacing is important and playing "formation enforcer" or by showing off real or imagined skill that puts other riders at risk, the alpha assholes in a group ride are encouraged to bark and howl.  I've tried a couple of these rides, on and off-pavement, and the magnetic pull of going somewhere else always takes control of my bike until I'm on my own on a road to nowhere anyone else is going. It only takes a couple of seconds of exposure to the group riding asshole to fire off my escape magnet. There must be some kind of reward for staying in the pack, but it escapes me and I'm perfectly happy to be escaping the pack.

You'd think that teaching would be an alpha dog kind of thing, but it doesn't have to be. Adult education is pretty much student-driven. Lectures are minimal, the assumption is that students have pre-read the materials that will be discussed and will have questions about what they didn't understand or would like to explore further. The "sage on the stage" routine is for teaching little kids and I'd rather explore extensive dental work than stand in front of a room full of kids. Bored or disinterested adults are even less inviting as a student audience and a big part of the reason I retired from what should have been the best teaching gig on the planet--teaching recording engineering, equipment maintenance, and acoustics/physics--was because 90% of my students were there because they didn't know where else to be. Unlike them, I never have a shortage of places I'd rather be than bored and disinterested, so I handed in my whip and chair and went somewhere else.

I got a reminder of all of this stuff when I taught a motorcycle class at a school where I haven't been for several years. Where I usually teach, we've been calling this place "the wild west," because pretty much all of the MSF guidelines and "best practices" had been tossed out the window for instructor convenience. Most of those rules/guidelines are designed to keep the training safe for both the students and instructors and the rest are to maximize the learning experience.  Blowing them off because they are inconvenient or boring or require a little extra work is an alpha dog kind of thing and deciding the other coach is going to go along with that decision without question is really alpha dog'ish. What I learned from the experience was that I'm not a willing follower and I'm not interested in being a leader and my preference when exposed to either option is to head out on my own.

Which, I guess, means I'm a lone wolf/dog/guy. No surprise, I suppose. I can't remember the last time I was on a ride with someone and at some time didn't wish I was somewhere else. In fact, I can't remember the last time I didn't end up somewhere else when I started the trip with another traveler. It's not that I mind the company, it's that I dislike the complications. The best trips I've had with a friend have involved a brief discussion of where we're going to end up/meet and a quick split-up immediately afterwards. Usually, we meet at the designated place at the assigned time, but if that didn't work out we're both adults and can manage our lives alone and we do that. No whining, no power plays, no aggravation, we just didn't end up at the same place for whatever reason and moved on from there. Motorcycles are, by design, a one-person vehicle and I think they are best experienced alone. Cars, buses, trains, and planes all have comfortable seating, are reasonably quiet spaces, and are nicely designed for conversation and socializing. If I want that, I'll leave the bike at home.

Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly
#188 October 2017

Oct 31, 2017

I’m Not Him, But . . .

A few years back, Sev Pearman and I took a trip toward Duluth for a day of off-road riding at Nemadji State Forest trails. I was pretty off-road rusty, from years of living in the Twin Cities and daily commuting and I was about six months away from having my left hip replaced. So, I wasn’t on my game and my left leg didn’t do me much good when I stuck it out in a corner. The day was close to perfect and the trails were wet and a little slick from recent rains and a fairly wet early summer. We spent a lot of the day sideways. I spent a moment lying in a puddle of mud with my WR spinning way a few feet, while I laughed at the miscalculation that had put me in the mud. Sev was concerned that the old fart had hurt himself and was impressively concerned for my health. Or he thought I’d had a heart attack and died. Either way, Sev proved himself to be a good friend and a solid person to ride with.

GoDecosterWhile I was righting myself and the bike, Sev commented on how much time I spent sideways and how rarely I bothered to stand on the bike. Today, I was listening to Adventure Rider Radio and a conversation/commercial for some brand of footpegs and the jock made a big deal out of how off-road riding means “never using the seat.” I’m too old for that silly shit. The fastest rider of my generation, Roger DeCoster spent at least as much time in the seat as he did on the pegs and RogerDeCosterRoger won five world championships and competed at the highest level from 1966 to 1980. I first saw DeCoster ride at the Herman, Nebraska TransAM in the 1970’s. The track at Herman was seriously rough and most of the US riders were on the pegs everywhere but in the sharpest corners. DeCoster looked like he was out for a Sunday ride around the neighborhood. There were a couple of monster hillclimbs terminating in even bigger jumps and Roger was on the pegs when he landed from those jumps. Otherwise, he was seated and on the gas hard enough that he lapped 3/4 of the pack by the end of the motos.

RogerDeCoster1977I’m not any fraction of the rider Roger DeCoster was or is, but I learned a lot from watching him ride. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time watching a worldclass athlete changed my tactics, style, or attitude. DeCoster absolutely changed how I thought about a 20 minute moto, though (although his races were 40 minutes +1 lap). I worked a lot harder at going a lot slower before I saw Roger DeCoster in person. Afterwards, I worked harder at being smoother and using less energy and, as a result, I was a good bit faster. One of the things I learned was that standing isn’t always the best riding position, even on rough terrain (even with a 1970’s suspension).

After I gave up trying to be fast, I bought a trials bike and spent a few years plonking around rocks, creek beds, and logs. Standing is the status quo in trials and the seats on that style of motorcycle aren’t worth squat. Obviously, there aren’t a lot of places where sitting on a trials section makes sense and I spent a lot of hours on the pegs. It’s not like I don’t know how to ride standing up, I’m still considerably better at low speed maneuvers on the pegs than on the seat. I'm still inclined to think Mr. DeCoster’s off-road racing style makes more sense than the “always be on the pegs” philosophy.

Oct 27, 2017

Motorcycle Economics

Hitching Post Closed

If you are a Minnesota motorcyclist, this is a heartbreaking, eye-opening wake-up call. When I moved to Minnesota, in 1996, the Hitching Post stores were the place for practically every motorcycle brand I am likely to own. The Hitching Post offered group rides for the Big Four Japanese brands every year where a rider could actually put a few miles on a bike Their service department was, at one time, pretty good (that’s the best I can say for any dealer service department). Some of their sales people were motorcyclists. Mostly, the HP stores were distributed all over the Cities and represented the motorcycle economy in our area. Now, they are gone.

Lots of that sort of thing is going on all over the country. Early this year, Polaris decided “to focus on Indian and the Slingshot” and closed down the Victory brand. Personally, I suspect Polaris is just quickly downsizing their motorcycle operation by getting rid of the largest part first. Triumph is downsizing its dealership position all over the country. Apparently, that country overestimated the demand for Triumph products. Eric Buell (EBR) gave it up one more time early this year. In the midst of the Great Recession recovery, Suzuki took the slow down opportunity to pare its dealerships by 20%. More than a few groups that had acquired facilities and brands from smaller dealer organizations gave up recently, such as Ohio’s American Heritage Motorcycles. Yamaha’s fans seem to have a better inside picture of the industry’s struggles than I get from the industry promo rags. They don’t paint a pretty picture, though. A Google search on “motorcycle dealers closing” gets you about a half-million hits with pages and pages of stories about motorcycle dealers giving up the economic ghost.

Somewhere, I read a guesstimate that if motorcycle dealers are going to survive into the next decade, they’ll have to be picked up by big pocket car dealers. Since one of my own favorite dealers used to be associated with a local car dealership, I doubt that is going to be much of a solution.

Oct 18, 2017

#157 Who Is An Expert Rider?

geezer_squareAll Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

This August, I took advantage of a Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC) Rider Coach invitation to take the program's Expert Rider Course at Century College. Two of my favorite coaches from the Minnesota program, Rich Jackson and Ben Goebel, were the instructors for this class. It was pretty much a no-brainer that if I was going to demonstrate how far from "expert" my riding skills are, this would be the safest place. Both of those guys are so far outside of my skill-set I hesitate to call myself a "motorcyclist" in comparison. Sort of like when someone asks me if I'm a musician, my immediate point of reference is Jeff Beck and my response is, "Hell no." Also, lucky for me, it was a small class, so there wouldn't be many witnesses to tell tales of how many times I rode through an exercise without making the slightest attempt to demonstrate the skills being taught.

ExpertClass5The MMSC offers a variety of classes, beyond the Basic Rider Course (BRC) that many people use to obtain their motorcycle endorsement. For example, the MMSC offers Basic Motorcycle Maintenance, Intermediate Rider Course (IRC), Introduction to Motorcycling Course, Moped Rider Course, the Minnesota Advanced Rider Course and the Expert Rider Course. I've taught the IRC for about 15 years under a variety of names (ERC, BRC II, and the current acronym), but my previous summers' teaching schedules prevented me from taking either the Advanced or Expert courses. This summer, I had a light schedule and I lucked into an open weekend.

ExpertClass3The price ($75 for a one-day, eight-hour range, 9AM-5PM) for either the Advanced or Expert courses is a steal, but the classes aren't offered often and enrollment is limited. There is very little similarity between the IRC and either of these courses. Both the Advanced and Expert classes were designed by Rich Jackson, a Minneapolis Police Department motorcycle officer and MMSC Rider Coach; both courses have some similarities to the training a motorcycle officer receives. The cones are bigger, the exercises are harder, the speeds are higher, and the expectations are elevated. What passes for "a tight, low speed turn" in the other MMSC classes feels pretty roomy compared to the Expert Course obstacles. Likewise, an emergency stop or an offset-weave at 30-40mph is very different than from the 12-15mph BRC or IRC experience. Many of the exercise names are self-descriptive: "40-mph brake-and-escape, instantaneous stops, the Iron Cross, J-turn, slow and 30 mph offset weaves, tight and locked turns in confined spaces." 

The exercises are broken up by "breeze-outs," which are follow-the-leader trips around the college campus; in single-file, side-by-side, or staggered formation. The breeze-outs are an opportunity to experience group ride tactics, hand signals, and the three basic formations for group riding. When Rich introduced a few of the hand signals, mostly for my benefit, I demonstrated my one and only motorcycle group hand signal: a way bye-bye. No one was amused. Rich and Ben are excellent instructors and I wouldn't miss an opportunity to learn from their experiences, but I'm still unconvinced that group motorcycling is a clever idea. Even when the group is being led by actual experts (instead of the usual best-dressed pirate bozos), it still feels to me like rolling bowling pins. I have seen no evidence of safety in numbers when it comes to motorcycles. I'm glad I got the Expert group experience, but I'm still riding solo on my time.

ExpertClass10The breeze-outs are a terrific opportunity to cool off the motorcycles, reduce some of the performance pressure of the class exercises, and get a feel for close-quarters group exercises without the hazards of traffic. There is enough of a hooligan aspect to the breeze-outs to blow off a little steam, too. When else will you get to ride the sidewalks, basketball and tennis courts, and handicap ramps of a college campus without worrying about campus security? Those rides aren't aimless rambles through the park, though. Rich and Ben kept the pace quick enough to require serious lean from the big bikes in the group.

Most of the student and instructor bikes were pretty large, too. There is a 400cc minimum size requirement for either the Advanced or Expert classes and most of the participants in my group exceeded that engine-volume by a few multiples. Unexpectedly, I was really impressed with my fellow "students'" abilities. Of my group, I was clearly the least "expert" in the crowd, but I was the most experienced/oldest. For every rider who claims the DMV's riding test is "impossible" on a "real motorcycle," these guys consistently proved that the DMV's test is a cakewalk for an actual motorcyclist.

In my opinion, this course is really close to what I think should be required every four years to re-up a motorcycle endorsement. Currently, there are about 200,000 more licensed riders than registered motorcycles, just in Minnesota. Far too many people simply pay the extra $13 to add an M-endorsement to their license without being able to demonstrate even the most basic skills. Even better would be a tiered license system that required riders to take and pass a course like this to obtain a license for 500cc or larger motorcycles. If the goal is to reduce motorcycle morbidity and mortality, it's only common sense to require motorcyclists to make a minimal effort to be competent riders.

So, who is this course for? It should be obvious that anyone who intends to participate in group rides belongs in the Advanced Course; at the least. There are a lot of subtleties to riding in a group that most people participating in these rides do not know. Becoming familiar with hand signals, the tactics and complexity and importance of formation riding, and knowing how a group should come to a stop and take off from a parking spot are just the beginning. Doing all of that in a completely supportive and non-threatening situation should be a baseline requirement for anyone wanting to ride safely on public roads in a group. For riders like me who don't feel particularly tested with the IRC's basic exercises, the Advanced and Expert Courses up that game considerably and provide a dose of humility when you see your skills compared with other experienced riders. If the Basic or Intermediate course seemed difficult, this isn't a great fit for you. However, if you put in the time and effort to become comfortable with those fundamentalexercises, setting your sights on these two course for your near future is a practical aspiration. I strongly recommend this course and, particularly, with these two instructors. At the least, you'll spend a day playing around on a motorcycle refining your skills and hanging out with terrific people.

All photos by Catten Ely

Originally published in MMM #187 September 2017

Oct 17, 2017

Mixed Emotions

Enoch Langford was riding his recently purchased motorcycle at high speed in fairly congested neighborhood traffic. Apparently, his “plan” was to blast through an intersection hoping the rest of the world was watching out for him. He was clearly moving multiples faster than the traffic around him when a pair of vehicles turned in front of him at the intersection. One made it through without incident, the second vehicle turned just in time to cause Langford to panic and “lay ‘er down.” KARE II’s reporter said, “It left Langford no choice but to lay the bike down and skid right into the car. . .”

For years, I’ve argued that it is irrational to believe (as ABATE apparently does) that the majority of multiple vehicle crashes involving motorcycles are the fault of everyone but motorcyclists. What left Langford with “no choice” was his approach to the intersection. It’s obvious that his speed was totally inappropriate for the situation and his skills were far below what he needed for the result. He didn’t “lay ‘er down,” he fell over due to poor braking skills and a total lack of escape route planning.

The part of the story that flips the blame is where the driver of the car clearly slowed after the impact, then sped away from the scene. “One witness told KARE 11 News the driver got out of his car for a second, but then got back in and drove several more blocks before ditching his car and running.” That statement makes me wonder, if that happened, why has it been so hard to identify the driver? If they have the car, doesn’t that give them a lead on the driver? Or is that statement just something silly the media latched on to? So far, all of the media reports have been totally devoid of anything resembling rational analysis of the crash itself.

Hit and run is a crime, but it’s one that police seem to prosecute randomly. There have been a couple of hit and run incidents in my family, where my daughters were the victims, and the police didn’t even bother to include the evasion information in their reports. In both incidents, the police didn’t bother to assign blame or include the hit and run information until they were forced to finish their job. A friend is currently waiting for the Minneapolis police to file a crash report where his wife’s car was sideswiped while stopped in traffic. She recorded and reported the license number, but the police haven’t even bothered to finish their initial report, let alone hunt down the driver. I agree that the driver of this car needs to be found, but I doubt the end result will be as dramatic and conclusive as the news report imagines.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear about the details of the police report. I’d like to know if Mr. Langford was a licensed motorcyclist. I’d like to know if the police crash scene analysis estimated his speed before he fell over. It would be nice to see some consistency in how crashes and hit and run situations are handled, but I’ve given up on hoping for that in our decaying society.

Oct 11, 2017

Product Review – Gaerne Goretex Boots

GaerneBoots (1)There is no point in my making a serious attempt at identifying these boots. Gaerne doesn’t make anything like them anymore. I bought them sometime around 1995 from Ryan Young’s booth at one of the US Observed Trials meets in Colorado. Mostly, Young’s gear was all about Observed Trials, but he had a fair line of Gaerne boots and a little street gear and these boots were in that lot.

GaerneBoots (3)To say the least, they have seen a lot of use. For starters, I liked them because of their extreme riding and walking comfort, replaceable soles, good (if not great) protection, and the look. I wore these boots under suit pants during my medical device career and never heard a word about their appearance. Of course, I did clean, wax, and polish them a lot more often back then. Since 2001, their only maintenance has been irrecular cleaning and an occasional dose of Nikwax leather treatment.

GaerneBoots (2)They weren’t cheap, around $200. I’ve worn out and replaced 3 1/2 sets of Vibram soles and the zippers were replaced about 15 years ago. You can see by the picture (above) that the Velcro alignment isn’t great since the zipper repair. No problem, they still don’t leak. I wore out the original insoles pretty quickly, hiking and riding off-pavement in Colorado. I can’t guess how many replacements I’ve burned up in that category.

There is really no good reason for this review, other than me wanting to recognize a great product that I have owned and used for almost a generation. I have two other pairs of motorcycle boots, but I don’t often wear them. In fact, the Gaernes are the only boots waiting downstair by the rest of my gear. I might was well admit I wasted money with the other boots and get rid of them. I’ve worn these boots back and forth from Colorado and Minnesota to California a half-dozen times, to Alaska in 24 days of almost constant rain, to Nova Scotia and the heaviest rain storm I’ve ever experienced under any conditions, all over North Dakota and most of the Midwest, and in wind, rain, and even snow around my homes in the Cities and Red Wing. I don’t think it is possible to wear them out. I won’t live that long.

Oct 8, 2017

A Recycling Suggestion

maxresdefaultA totally worthwhile side effect of my attending the Davenport, Iowa Motorcycle Swap Meet was a killer idea on how to get rid of a house full of crap. Look at this picture. This was one of the more organized piles of crap from the show. I’m not kidding. There were “displays” that contained car parts, household appliances, television sets (CRTs even), and every kind of junk pile you’ve ever seen in a garage sale.

Walking around the fairgrounds with my friends gave me a killer idea. There was no real “registration” at the swap meet. You just show up with your truck full of crap, pay some cash for a display site, drive to the site, unload your crap, set up a table and some chairs to hang out while you wait for suckers. People were going in and out of the show all weekend long without squat for security other than goofballs looking at the parking permits on windshields.

Say you have a house full of old junk that your local recycling center wants a few bucks to turn into compacted refuse or to burn up in the city incinerator: $35 for a CRT television, $20 each for old furniture, a pickup full of toys and gadgets might cost $100 or more. Instead, you pay $25 for a display booth location at one of these swap meets. You neatly unload all of your crap into rows, just like the crap pile in the picture above. You drive back home and never speak of that trip again.
Eventually, someone will wonder why no one was minding the crap pile. By then, you’re long gone and the problem belongs to someone else.

Oct 6, 2017

Wandering Down to Davenport

Back in early August, a friend wrote me, “Hey are you going to be back from Canada Labor Day weekend? I'm looking for a buddy to ride to Davenport Vintage Meet. Ride down Friday in time for the races, hang out Sat/swap meet, ride back Sunday with a ferry ride & a crazy Catholic church chicken dinner on the way.” Do not ask me why, but I said “Assuming no catastrophes or old age shit, I should be good for that.” And I put the ride on my calendar for the first weekend in September. I didn’t even look up the details about the “event” until a few days before we were set to go. I had delusions of seeing something like the old Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Week. Not a chance in hell.

After an auspicious beginning, “The Easy Way or My Way,” prep session, the actual trip was anticlimactic. The ride between Red Wing and Davenport was way cooler than I’d expected. I haven’t really explored much of southeast Minnesota, other than the ride back from Cincinnati when I bought my V-Strom in 2007. Cal did a masterful job as tour director. There were fewer than 75 boring miles (one-way) in the whole trip, most of which came at the end near Davenport. 

Davenport, on the other hand, is a typical Midwestern town with typically boring fairgrounds: home of the Mississippi Valley Fairgound also home of the Davenport Vintage thing. This would also be our “campground.” Over the years, I have camped in some really stupid places: ditches, corn and wheat fields, hanging from trees, shouldering my way on to rocks, on picnic tables and park benches, beside highways and freeways, and in KOAs and worse. This place was close to the worst. We ended up setting up camp in two places: 1) Cal and Tim in the middle of a parking lot where they both had sworn they would never camp again and 2) me next to a gazebo and some metal park benches where I could hang my hammock. Later, I discovered two things about my far more prime site than Cal and Tim’s, 1) I was surrounded by the loudest, scariest snoring sounds emitted by biological beings (assuming old men are biological beings) and 2) everywhere but where I entered the area my campsite was labeled “no campers here.” I decided, screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke and opted to pretend ignorance: forgiveness being easier to come by than permission. Besides, there were no other places in the damn fairgounds where my hammock could hang.

Mostly, I managed to sleep about as well as usual, for a 70-year-old geezer in a hammock, after I plugged my ears to soften the snarl of snoring and choking and farting and old white man nightmares. Holy crap! I don’t think there was a guy near my part of the park who didn’t need a sleep apnea machine and an oxygen tank and a soundproof/vibration-proof booth to sleep in to prevent avalanches or earthquakes. A large pack of pissed-off lions would have been quieter. To top it all off, one end of my Lawson Hammock broke loose about 5AM and I gave up, packed up, and went looking for a place to eat breakfast in peace. For a farm town, Davenport is awfully urban. I couldn’t find a damn place for breakfast in the whole freakin’ town until 7AM. I didn’t come away with a positive impression of Davenport from that search.

However, breakfast was good if late and I wandered back to the fairgrounds to see what the guys had been up to. Mostly, it turned out, half of that group had an ok night and the other half was at least as miserable as me. They were walking the “display” booths, piles of junk with hilarious price tags, mostly. I walked with them, being an asshole and amazed at the same time. “Really? You guys have come back here for this for 20 years?” Stuff like that. I’d decided over breakfast that I wasn’t going to suffer another night among the shambling old guys and their giant kazoo noses and noises and I started bugging Cal about a half-way spot to meet on the way back home. I figured I could easily find a better campsite than the fairgrounds, a better breakfast place, and get some writing and reading time while Cal and Tim spent a day looking at piles of junk.

Turned out, Cal had a sudden personal reason to head for home on Saturday and Tim was more than ready to cut it short. My only requirement was that we get the hell out of Dodge quick enough to avoid much night riding. So, we made a quick loop of the junk piles, walked the restored vintage competition room, and headed out mid-morning Saturday.

The ride back wasn’t as scenic as the right down, because Cal was trying to cut off a few miles and minutes for the trip. I broke away just out of Rochester and took a deviated GPS-mapped route home up MN 42 through Millville to MN 11 to MN 60 to US61 and home. Sort of the scenic route and much of it was an incredibly fun road for the V-Strom. Would have been even more fun on the WR.
As you might know, I’m not much for group rides. This was about as good as they get for me, though. It probably would have been more fun to drive down and bullshit all the way, but it wasn’t bad. I’m NEVER “camping” in a fairground again, though.

Oct 4, 2017

Why I Don’t Do Reviews

You might have noticed, both in the blog and in MMM, I don’t do many reviews these days. When it comes to bike reviews, MMM got tired of defending my “right” not to be impressed with everything I swung a leg over. So did I. I don’t get the opportunity, on my own, to ride many motorcycles long enough to form an opinion. Mostly, the bikes I get offered are not interesting enough for me to write about and I’m pretty satisfied with the equipment I own. So, my motivation to risk life and limb to experience something different is vanishingly small. There are, in fact, about a half-dozen new motorcycles that I’m interested in riding and the rest just don’t hold much attraction.

For example, at the last (for 2017) MN MSF instructor bike night our host brought four bikes: a KTM, the Kawasaki 300 Ninja, the Honda CB300f, and a CB500f. I sorta wanted to test ride the CB500f, but couldn’t generate enough motivation to gear up and take it out. The other three are cool bikes, but not something I’m fired up about anymore. Ten years ago, absolutely. Today, not so much. I’m old, remember? The Versys 300? Now that’s a whole different ball of string. I’d love to test that bike. I might even trade in my WR250X on the right day.

As for gear, I’ll probably still find a thing or two to try out in the next couple of years, but I have a garage full of stuff I don’t use at all or rarely use. I don’t need anything more and I’m in the process of getting rid of a lot of unused gear. Interestingly, I get a lot more inquiries about doing product reviews with sales incentives. I’m really glad I don’t need the money (I can use it, I just done need it.), because some of these characters don’t even care if I’ve ever seen their products. They just want sales links and will pay for hits and sales.

So, bike and product reviews are mostly (or entirely) in my rearview mirror. I had fun with some of those motorcycle experiences and was flatout miserable on a couple. (Remember the Hyosung GV650 or the Honda VT1300CT?) I’m glad I had the experiences and I’m satisfied with having done as much of it as I wanted to do.

Oct 2, 2017

Revolting, Revolving Roundabouts?

Roundabout ProposalBecause I’m an idiot, I tossed my name into the hat last summer as a Red Wing City Council candidate. One of the things I learned about my fellow Red Wingnuts during the election cycle was that lots of them are terrified of roundabouts. Many more are terrified in general. However, we now have two roundabouts in town and while they seem to be doing the job of reducing traffic hangups and routing vehicles through intersections without much trouble, they are still unpopular with a fair number of drivers and bikers (Motorcyclists are fine with them.). The myths around the hazards of roundabouts are incredible: truck drivers hate ‘em, bus drivers hate ‘em, motorcyclists hate ‘em, they kill birds . . . wait that  last one is windmills, sorry.

Having taught MSF classes for the last 16 years, it’s not hard for me to imagine why roundabouts are scary: merging is not a Minnesota driving skill. In fact, Minnesotans are practically incapable of competently merging under any circumstances and roundabouts require . . . [gasp] merging compence.

There are several incredibly simple merging opportunities in the the MSF’s Basic Rider Course (BRC) and the Intermediate Rider Course (IRC). Watching students fumble their way through those merging moments is always painful and I almost kill my voice yelling, “don’t stop, keep moving” a few hundred times every class. Nothing I do will prevent Minnesota drivers from becoming overwhelmed by the idea of a moving merge, though. Every class provides me with a frustrating moment of watching one after another of my students come to a staggering stop, jamming up the exercise, and wreaking another teaching moment.

Likewise, watching Minnesota drivers try to merge on a freeway onramp is flat-out painful. For a goup of mediocre drivers who are totally confident in their ability to tailgate any sort of vehicle at any speed for any number of miles under all situations, figuring out a zipper merge appears to be impossible.

I like to tell my BRC students, “If you merge like that in Southern California, they will run over you, back up and empty their weapons into your body, and run over you again as they abandon your lifeless body. Honestly, I don’t know if that is true any more. It’s possible that the whole country has abandoned competency. Regardless, I’m here to say I love roundabouts because I despise stop signs and hate stop lights. The Mythbusters did a pretty cool test on the efficiency of roundabouts vs. our clown car 4-way stops. You guessed it, Europe wins again. Statistically, they are a dramatic improvement over 4-way stops: “The Minnesota Department of Transportation says that roundabouts are safer and produce better traffic flow. Roundabouts show an 89 percent decrease in fatal crashes, a 74 percent decrease in life-altering injury crashes, and a 39 percent decrease in all crashes.” I believe it.

Sep 27, 2017

Riding (and falling through) the Rails

Funny, in a politically incorrect way. When I was a much younger man, 40+ years ago, “riding the rails” was a pretty popular way to get from one end of town to the off-road sections where we used to spend most of a weekend. When I lived in central Nebraska, back in the 70’s, getting across the Platte River via railroad bridges was an every weekend thing.

Sep 25, 2017

The Easy Way or My Way

IMG_8723The day started simple. I just need to replace the V-Strom’s front tire. Nothing to it, should be no more than 10 minutes of really hard work and 30 minutes of easy stuff, put the tools away and to back to screwing around for another day of simple retirement. Of course, I had to reorganize the back of the garage to make it so it would be easy to put everything back when the tire job was done. That took about 45 minutes, but now the back of the garage is organized.

IMG_8725As expected, pulling the old tire off was the hard part and it took about 10 minutes to break the beads and pop the tire free from the wheel. The new tire went on easily and quickly. The wheel balanced right up, with 4 weights (28grams) which is about twice what I’m used to needing. The tools went back hassle-free. I got the garage cleaned up and rode the bike back to the lower level garage.

That is when everything went to hell.

Trying to horse the bike into the garage, over the loose gravel driveway, I lost control of the bike and it dropped into the retaining wall. Total damage: one brake lever, one hand guard, and one turn signal. After wrestling the V-Strom back up, I started stripping off the body parts to get to the portion of the fairing where the turn signal piece lives. That didn’t go too well, so I disassembled the hand guard to evaluate that broken section.

I decided it was time for me to learn how to use my Harbor Freight plastic welding rig. I’d played with it before, but only with throw-away plastic bits. The hand guard break was clean and clamp-able, so I gave it a shot. It welded up pretty well. I wouldn’t call my weld “beautiful,” but it is strong and could be repainted to look fairly decent. The ABS weld material is white and the V-Strom parts are all black, so the weld will definately show unless I decide to paint it. Next is the fairing bit that holds the turn signal. This is a piece that I broke when I crashed in the Yukon in 2007 and cobbled back together with Gorilla Glue. Nothing on that fairing piece is cosemetic, so a big strong weld could be better than the original design. I also cracked the front fender in Alaska and have been ignoring that for a decade. That repair was next and it went badly. The fairing isn’t ABS, but some cheaper, crappier sort of plastic that refused to accept any of the plastic material that came with my rig. Just like 2007 in Alaska, I ended up gluing that piece back together. After that failure, most of the rest of the repairs were taken care of in a similar half-hearted manner.

However, the rest of the repairs went about as well as you could expect, knowing that my mood was dark and my patience expired. I’d turned a couple hours work into two days of fumbling around and my V-Strom looks a little more beat-up for the experience. The good news is that it all hung together for the 800 mile trip and so did I.

Sep 8, 2017

Minnesota's Off-Road Gem

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

I'm out of my depth here. I specialize in criticism, picking apart the flaws I observe in products and services, and general purpose griping about stuff in general. So, after a long, hot July afternoon at the Spring Creek Motocross Park, I don't have a thing to complain about; at least as far as the park itself and the races are concerned.

Since we moved to Minnesota in 1996, my summers have been jammed with work, travel, and play; pretty much in that order. One of the events I have consistently missed because of overbooking and poor planning has been the Spring Creek AMA Pro National outdoor motocross round. This year, purely by luck, I had nothing planned for that weekend and I kept it empty, once I discovered that happy accident.

Millville 6Once I started planning to spend a day in Millville's main attraction, I realized that the last time I was at a real outdoor motocross was in the late 70's or early 80's. I was lucky enough to see a few of the 70's Trans-AMA rounds with Roger DeCoster and crew, the 1976 AMA season and Bob "Hurricane" Hannah's first national championship season, and a half-dozen AMA national races every year until I moved to California. The year Spring Creek MX Park opened, in 1983, I arrived in southern California just in time to read about the end of the great motocross parks: Saddleback, Elsinore Raceway, Carlsbad, Corona, El Toro, Hopetown, Indian Dunes, Ontario Speedway, and Orange County International; all absorbed by the vast urban and suburban California housing explosion of the 80's. There was still outdoor motocross to see in California, but it required a hundred-plus mile trek through the city and desert. At the same time, stadium-cross was gearing up and I got large doses of an extreme version of the sport at Anaheim Stadium and the Los Angeles Coliseum. Even better, I could convince friends to come with me to those places. Getting beach dwellers to drive to Riverside is harder than teaching a cat to swim. A decade or two later, Denver and Minneapolis stadium-cross was a big step down from the L.A. experience, so my motocross spectating interests dwindled away. After moving to Minnesota in 1996, every year when the Spring Creek pro national round came around, I thought, "I should go." This year, Saturday, July 22, 2017, I made it to Millville.

Millville 1Dirt Rider magazine provides a solid blow-by-blow wrap-up of the race results (Check out http://www.dirtrider.com/spring-creek-motocross-results-2017#page-4.) and I don't have anything to add to that. I didn't attend the races as "press," so my access was no different than yours. I paid my $10 parking and $45 general entry fee. I hauled a chair, a big umbrella, lots of water, and a backpack full of electronics and camera gear, so I drove my pickup to the races. Motorcycle parking is free and right by the entrance gate, just like you'd expect from a real motorcycle event organization. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a thousand motorcycles in that area. The "overflow parking" for cagers is about a half-mile from the park entrance and I was glad I dressed for a hiking experience. The park's camping area is another parking lot a little closer to the track and I have to say I was unimpressed with motocross fans' camping etiquette. Saturday afternoon, the campsite smelled like a bunch of the campers were dumping their black water tanks on the ground. Out in the overflow parking lot, a disappointing number of young men were dumping trash into piles and setting fire to their garbage between the parked cars. Apparently, if you can't be a motorcyclist the next best thing is to behave like a drunk and brainless hooligan.

Milville 5The Spring Creek track and spectator grounds are amazing. On Saturday, it was practically a small town in itself. The variety of food available during the national event was diet-busting. The event organization was totally professional. Even the security guards were friendly and helpful. The ticket area was organized and well-run and and if you wanted to get through the lines fast, you brought cash.

Going to these races was a lot like stepping back in time to the glory days of Southern California's CMC, except for the politically-correct Midwestern electric guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner and the weirdest pre-race Road Warrior-style prayer I've ever heard. If this were a CMC event, the between-race entertainment would be a Van Halen-style band (or the actual Van Halen band) and the motorcycles would provide respite from the sound system volume. The track's PA system is adequate for between race dialog, but is pretty much buried by the 4-stroke snarl of 40 race bikes. However, the track also has a simulcast on the 107.9MHz FM radio band and if you bring a radio and some in-ear phones you can follow the jocks' conversation during the races.

Millville 2There is no one spot from where you can see all of the action on the track: the course is just too long and convoluted for anything short of a hovering blimp for an overall view. However, there are dozens of great spots to setup a shade tent or large umbrella. Most the good spectating spots are within a reasonable hike to a beer garden, food, and a porta-can. Speaking of hiking, thanks to the giant culvert-underpasses, you can hike the entire perimeter of the course. There are stairs to assist those of us who aren't mountaineers up or down the cliff known as "Mount Martin."

The track itself is a little bit of everything; from deep sand to loamy only-in-Minnesota knee-deep topsoil to hard-packed whoops on the way to the finish line. Every stereotypical bit of motocross topology is there, too: killer whoops, even bigger jumps, ruts and berms deep enough stop non-super human riders, a giant hill climb (Mount Martin) and a banzai run back down the same hill with a hairpin at the bottom, more deep sand, and another steep hillclimb and downhill, before the whoop-filled drag race to the finish line.

I've been raving about the Millville park to anyone who will listen since I got back. At least one friend, who raced at Spring Creek back in the early 80's, and I are going back for the end of the regional Millville Super Series season. I can't say enough good things about my day at the park. I'm not familiar with the warm glow of satisfaction, but I could get used to it. The organization that puts on the Spring Creek national races could consult with every other motorcycle event group in the state and improve every one of them.