Jul 25, 2014

You Are Who Resemble

musician2 biker1 I did my second, and last, gig as a musician last night (Saturday, July . I 19, 2014). If you missed it, good for you. Pretty much everyone I know lucked out. The good part was that we were mostly playing original Tim Gadban music and I love Tim’s songs. That was the reason I agreed to play . . . anywhere, after a 30 year hiatus from being a musician. The bad part was experiencing what passes for “sound reinforcement” in the 21st Century. The original concept is long lost and being subjected to unnecessary, mindless amplification of perfectly decent sounding acoustic instruments--simply because the crap PA is available, therefore, must be used—is nothing but painful. I think I can go another 30 years without doing it again. I don’t need, or receive, musical validation from an audience. I know I suck, I don’t need to provide a demonstration.

musician1 biker4 After I escaped the stage, it struck me how similar musicians and bikers are. First, they both have that "people who are so needy for attention they need to dress up and be as loud as possible are you guys and sixteen-year-old girls [and musicians]" mental failing. I really, really hate that aspect of playing modern music. For a few minutes, MTV seemed to be making my point with the Unplugged series. Artists such as Squeeze, Syd Straw, Elliot Easton, Paul McCartney, Dr. John and Joe Walsh, LL Cool J, MC Lyte (Cappucino), De La Soul (Ring Ring Ring), A Tribe Called Quest, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Pearl Jam, Queensrÿche, 10,000 Maniacs, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Stone Temple Pilots, and even Kiss took on the challenge of playing actual instruments without the crutch of overblown volume and general purpose distortion. MTV is still putting on Unplugged shows and they are typically considerably better than the performer’s usual tripe, pomp and circumstance, and sound and fury.

ZZ Top01 biker2 I’ve always sort of suspected that bikers were just untalented, frustrated rockers. Sometimes they’re the same characters. The noise, the exhibitionism, the general disrespect for the rights and privacy of everyone else on the planet, all sort of tie us together. My father used to say, “You are known by your friends.” You’re known by who it looks like your friends are, too.

Jul 23, 2014

She’s Real

The Cities’ Local entertainment rag, City Pages, did a pretty decent article on ear plugs back in June: “Can Minneapolis Make Ear Plugs Cool?”. A lot of the technical information in the article came from a friend of mine, Sarah Angerman, of the University of Minnesota’s Speech and Hearing Impairment Research Center. Sarah was my technical reference, a few years back, in my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Geezer column, “Hearing Damage and Motorcycling.”

One of my favorite crazy person responses to an MMM publication came from a loud pipes lunatic who hated every aspect of my hearing loss warning and doubted that “Sarah Angerman is a real person.” Now, he can be doubly pissed at City Pages and me, since we’ve both used this mythical expert (who is, even worse, a pointy headed PhD) to warn the general public about the fragility of their hearing mechanism.

The City Pages article is a little fluffy, due to R&R’ers love of deafening noise and a traditional fear of getting old and feeble. Mostly, it’s a good thing, though. A few years back, I read a technical paper that stated there are more hearing impaired 18-27 year old males, percentage-wise, than 60-75 year olds. Regardless of the numbers, it is a serious problem for today’s young music fans. Today, if you do a Google search on my article’s title, you will get 3.7 million hits. That ought to freak you out, if nothing else does.

That old piece of hate mail was preserved by my publisher, Victor Wanchena and you can read it and weep/laugh/agree/whatever right here: www.home.comcast.net/~twday60/images/Fan_mail_11_08.pdf.

Jul 22, 2014

Book Review: Hell on Wheels, An Illustrated History of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs

motto by Bill Hayes 2014

hell on wheels
This is the first in the “series” of book giveaway reviews. It’s also going to be a pretty brief, lame review. To be blunt, I have nothing in common with the subject matter. You could claim, like the author and his subjects, that this is a motorcycle and motorcyclists’ book, but it ain’t. This is a lifestyle promotion and I despise the lifestyle it is promoting. This book isn’t even in the territory of the wonderful AMC cable television series of the same name. Considering the cast of “characters,” there was never any hope for that.

Early in this mostly-picture-book, George Christie, ex-Hell’s Angel president of somewhere or another, is quoted, “As I got deeper and deeper into the enthusiasm of the motorcycle, I saw the possibility to fill the void that was left by the military by getting involved with the club.” Enough said. These little boy’s “clubs” are exactly what they look like, weird homophobic in-the-closet gangs of excess males who weren’t properly loved by the mommies and daddies. Christie (who has to be a near relative of New Jersey’s govenator, based on the lameness of his philosophy) continues, “I remember so clearly that the perception people had of me—even those who really knew me—immediately changed as I embraced that lifestyle.” What a surprise, when you dress and smell like a pirate who hasn’t seen land or a shower for months, people make assumptions about who you are. Worse, that old “biker lifestyle” bullshit covers up a lot of degenerate behavior (like the Angels’ monopoly on cocaine sales in the 80’s and their dominance of meth today) as if it were just a matter of appearances. There is a reason these assholes are generally despised and it has nothing to do with motorcycles. It has a lot to do with the reason the FBI categorizes these morons as “domestic terrorists” and racketeers.

The prose between pictures of fat old men in pirate outfits is along the lines of Louis L’Amour’s worst. A lame attempt to balance macho bullshit with god-awful country-western poetry decorates the bold and plain print. I guess you just have to be a fan.

So, who is this book for? If you are a fan of Sons of Anarchy, you might like Hell on Wheels. If you were offended by South Park’s “F-Word,” you might like Hell on Wheels. If you are the character Peter Mayer is singing about in “Brand New Harley,” you are almost certain to cherish Hell on Wheels.

Come Friday evening
I don't shower, I don't shave
And I put my little earring in
And it's time to misbehave
Yes I will clean your teeth on Monday
Or put braces in your mouth
But don't flash 'em at me Sunday, boy
Or I just might knock them out


Remember, the funniest (by my LOL calibration system) comment about this review gets the book.

Since Sliced Bread

Years ago, I watched Paul Streeter bleed a KLR’s brakes at one of the Twin Cities Dual Purpose Rider Tech Days. I was mostly drinking beer and talking to other folks, but I paid some attention. The bleeder tool, at that time, was about $70 and I figured for that kind of money I’d keep pumping the pedal and draining the lines slowly. Today, that same tool is $30 at Harbor Freight and I bought one last fall. In the rush to get out of Minnesota before the first snow, it hung on my shop wall untouched until this week.


Monday, I broke open the in-case-of-nuclear-war packaging and tried the tool on my WR250X. Ten minutes later, I drained and bled the V-Strom’s brakes. An hour later and I’d done both bikes and the RV in the time that I’d have usually struggled through getting the V-Strom’s front brakes bled. I’m convinced, this is a great tool and, finally, cheap enough for a geezer.


Jul 21, 2014

#65 Motorcycling; What Is It and Who Is It For?

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I recently read an article in an industry rag that described motorcycling as a "sport." I've called it that before, but I'm not sure it makes sense to describe what we do as "sport." Webster's defines sport as:

“1. An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.
“2. An active pastime; recreation. . .”

Ok, motorcycling is definitely an "active pastime" and it's part "recreation," part transportation. Racing is competitive and has rules and customs, but general purpose motorcycling only has rules specific to the activity if you're in a biker gang and have to maintain parade formation during a ride. Most motorcyclists ride to get away from rules and custom. I know I do. Being a fair-weather existentialist, I tend to think of the universe and, especially, society as being a hostile environment that is most interesting when I'm escaping, or breaking, rules and customs. I don't think I'd be interested in motorcycling if it weren't a physical sport that required skill, so it could be a sport.

Personally, I'm inclined to think of motorcycling as more "activity" than sport. Webster's gives us these definitions for "activity":
“1. The state of being active. “
  2. Energetic action or movement; liveliness. “
  3. a. A specified pursuit in which a person partakes. b. An educational process or procedure intended to stimulate learning through actual experience. . . “

Some motorcyclists are "active." A fair number of us exhibit an ability for "energetic action" and some aspects of "liveliness." I especially like section "b" of the third definition of activity; "an educational process or procedure intended to stimulate learning through actual experience." All of the skilled riders I know are constantly in "learn mode." Riders who keep at the sport/activity for a long time not only spend time learning new things about motorcycling, they practice basic and advanced skills to maintain their abilities and to stay aware of how aging has effected those abilities. (Yes, Virginia, old people aren't as quick, strong, or alert as young people. Nature is not an aging motorcyclist's friend. Nature fully expected the majority of us to die a good bit before age 40 and put in considerable effort into making that happen. You can, in fact, fool Mother Nature, but she's not going to take that insult kindly.)

There are gradations of "sport" and "activity" that make this discussion more complicated than I'd like. If physical exertion is a criteria and more physical exertion means the activity is more of a sport, than basketball is more of a sport for me than it was for Michael Jordan, since I have to work a lot harder to do a lot less. On the other hand, he is capable of producing a lot more work than me, so he's probably still more your ideal sportsman. See what I mean about complications? As a motorcyclist, Roger DeCoster was probably the least sporty motocrosser of all the 20th Century world champs, since he rarely seemed to be doing much more than cruising the neighborhood while he was winning motos and whipping his more energy-inefficient competition. On the mechanical end, the Sportster Sport is probably the least sporting motorcycle ever built but you'd sure have to physically exert yourself if you wanted to put that bike on any sort of race track. Now I'm completely confused.

If motorcycling is a "sport" or an "energetic activity," is it a good thing that motorcycle manufacturers are catering an awful lot of their output to folks who are neither lively, energetic, capable of measurable physical exertion, or skill? Judging by the industry trends, I suspect that it's possible that a lot of non-sporting types are being hand-held through the most minimal, basic motorcycling skills, resulting in a lot of new motorcyclists who are not capable of meeting the physical and mental demands of a sport or an activity that requires "liveliness." The upside is that more people are buying and, possibly, riding motorcycles. The downside is we're attracting more attention as those activity-deficient folks are contributing to a disproportionate number of crashes and injuries. I suspect there is a minimum physical and mental capability requirement for motorcycling that is rarely considered when dealers are trying to peddle a hippo-bike to an short, overweight, desk jockey who can barely lift a coffee cup without groaning, hasn't seen his feet since grade school, and couldn't turn his head far enough to see the corner of his desk. In conversations with other MSF instructors, I've heard numbers as large as 2% and as small as 0.1% regarding the percentage of the population who have the mental and physical capacity to be competent motorcyclists. I tend toward the smaller number.

It bothers me that there are no physical recommendations being given to new riders. It always appeared obvious to me that a person should be a good tricycle rider before trying out bicycles. And that bicycles should come before motorcycles. I'm even of the opinion that off-road motorcycles ought to be experienced before a rider is tested by highway conditions. In fact, in my pre-MSF instructor, pre-sensitivity days, I used to tell prospective motorcyclists that I think they ought to be competent enough, off-road, to get out of the novice motocross class before even considering a street bike. That might be extreme, but it's still more my belief than the prevailing theory that anyone who can straddle an office chair should be able to ride a motorcycle. Motorcycling is not a rational activity for the timid, physically or mentally disabled, or folks who are easily distracted by pretty colored lights.

Of course, I don't think the requirements for cage piloting should be as minimal as they are, either. Drivers' licenses come in Cracker Jack boxes, these days, and that's a crime. I'm even radical enough to believe that cops and firefighters should be able to pass exactly the same physical tests at the end of their career that they had to suffer in the police and firefighter academies. While we're at it, I think politicians and civil servants should be subjected to lie detector tests every 3 months. This could go on for a whole lot more words than I am allowed in this column.

Neither of my daughters ride, possibly partly because I always insisted that they get really good on a bicycle before they try out dirt biking. Motorcycling wasn't that interesting to them and they both appear to be happy getting their two-wheeled kicks on self-powered vehicles. I'm ok with that. Motorcycling isn't for everyone. Motorcycling is a high risk sport/activity and you ought to be committed to accepting the risk and earning the skills when you take on this activity/sport. If you expect cagers and physics to compensate for your inabilities, you're bound to become a statistic.

For several years, the majority of motorcycle crashes and fatalities in Minnesota have involved only a single vehicle. My bet is that these riders discovered just how physically demanding this sport is just a few seconds before they contributed to this particular statistic. If you want to smell the flowers, see the sights, or daydream your way through the country side, walk, ride a bicycle, or travel by train. Motorcycling is about focus, road strategy, physical skills and, sometimes, instantaneous and life-threatening decision making. There is nothing sexy about hospital time, large patches of road rash, and permanent injury. I don't care what the motorcycle ads tell you, this is an adventure that comes with considerable risk. If you're ready for the adventure, you're going to keep yourself fit, well trained, and well protected. If you're not, stick with the office chair. It's boring, but so is any visit to a hospital.

MMM August 2007

Jul 18, 2014

Justifying the “Grudge”

I am a huge fan of “burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me.” Some people, like my old editor Sev Pearman, call that being “a hater.” When it comes to products and corporations, I have no problem with that tag. I am absolutely capable of permanently despising a wide range of corporate entities. I am a firm believer in Robert Pirsig’s “culture is a higher animal” analysis from Lila; An Inquiry into Morals. Businesses, neighborhoods, cities, states, nations, and humanity, in general, have personalities, habits and tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, and perversions that tend to stick once they are imprinted. I might give a bad supplier a 2nd chance, after watching their behavior for a few decades, but I never feel any sort of guilt for permanently acquiring an aversion to a particularly company’s products. Never. Just because I’m a “lower animal” doesn’t mean that I won’t pay attention to the qualities and character of a dominant species. I’m no different than a dog who knows who will pet it and who will kick it.

Sometimes, I pick up my corporate prejudices from other’s experiences. For example, I don’t need to own my own Ducati to know that I will never have the patience, expendable income, or limited driving range to tolerate those fragile, unserviceable, overpriced bits of Italian mechanical extravagance. I have heard enough from Ducati owners to last me what little is left of my lifetime. Oddly, I actually think many of Ducati’s motorcycles are flat out ugly (particularly the engine wiring and plumbing), so that the one big draw to the company’s products eludes me. (I don’t like wine, either. So, I am clearly not properly educated.) Fiat’s vehicles are at the other end of the cost-spectrum, but I’ve been around enough Fiat owners and ex-owners to know that’s not an option for me, either. While one of BMW’s bikes, the R80GS granddaddy adventure tourer, is on my favorite bike list, it’s not there due to my having owned one. Again, from owner horror stories I’ve never considered my income as being in the necessary bracket for BMW ownership. The company’s stuff costs too much, initially, and their maintenance costs would move me out of hobbyist and too close to professional expenses.

On my own time, I have born long-term experience-based grudges for MG, Triumph (cars and motorcycles and most Brit-made mechanical devices), Suzuki (thanks to my 1974 RL250 debacle and experience with the company while I was a racer’s mechanic during the 70’s RM-canted shocks years), Mazda (thanks to my RX3 station wagon disaster), Sony everything, Apple most things, Toshiba computers and hardware, and, most recently, Volkswagen. Due mostly to word-of-mouth recommendations, I overrode my Suzuki prejudice a couple of years after the introduction of the SV650 and discovered that Suzuki wasn’t all bad. That led to my current “big bike” ride, a 2004 DL-650 V-Strom. So far, I’m still liking Suzuki pretty well, although their dealer network has taken some serious hits in the last decade; a worrisome fact.

When I get taken to task for my disinterest in exploring some of my other corporate prejudices, my response is always “Why?” It’s not like any of these companies make products I can’t get anywhere else (unlike Suzuki in 1999 and 2004). If I can find a decent version of whatever it is I need from a company I have some faith in, why should I try the detested brands? Exactly what’s in it for me? So far, “nothing” has been the answer. Grudges, like stereotypes, are handy, practical, efficient, and sometimes accurate. When it comes to corporate stereotypes/prejudices, I do not believe I am harming a “person,” no matter what sort of insane drive is spouted on that subject by our currently deranged Extreme Court. Like Mr. Hightower said, “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” In fact, I sorta look forward to that moment, assuming the convicted corporation is Exxon, Halliburton, GE, Goldamn-Sacks or something of that ilk.

In a life with a rapidly diminishing future, I’m perfectly happy to pick up any sort of efficiency available. I relive enough of my old unpleasant moments without searching out some of the sources of those bad times for a reenactment. Call it bias, prejudice, bigotry, or just a plain old fashioned grudge, but I don’t have enough time left to see if a bunch of bozos who screwed me once will screw me again. Let all of my mistakes be new ones.

Jul 15, 2014

A Disgusting Appeal for Attention

geezer  It’s true, I’m going into self-promotion mode and I’m doing it with my usual “style.” The blog is about to pass 750,000 lifetime hits and, at this pace, might hit 1,000,000 by the end of the year. I missed commemorating the 500,000 milestone late last year, so I’m compensating.

Since I’m retired, old, lazy, and desperate for attention and a little side income, I’ve decided to actually try to promote this website/blog. However, I am not willing to put actual money into this promotion; at least no noticeable ore regrettable amount of money. Even more disgusting, my promotion is going to be totally self-serving, unscientific, and as alienating as possible. I may not learn from actual smart people, but I figure if I take the tactics of huge, horribly managed, completely incompetent corporations (like Volkswagen and Chrysler and Bank of America) what can go wrong?

So, here’s the promotion.

Very soon, I’m going to start posting occasional book reviews. When the book review goes on line, I’m going to be watching your comments and the comment/commenter that/who makes me laugh the hardest is going to get a copy (the one I reviewed) of the book reviewed in the blog. Because I’m going to be motivated to keep the personal possessions pile small, the decision will come within a week or two (no pressure on me to meet a schedule) after I post the review so that I’m not tempted to put the book on a shelf. To keep this who promotion on the disgusting level with which I generally live and am comfortable, the first book “reviewed” will be a copout: Hell on Wheels: An Illustrated History of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs. It’s not going to be much of a review, as you might imagine my interest in the subject is . . . non-existent. Really non-existent. The best I could do was a single speed-reading scan of the “text” and brainless quotes and there is nothing in my opinions and observations that any magazine on earth would be willing to print. If I thought my blog were printed, I might not even submit these mindless words to my own blog.

imageRegardless, it’s a free book. I’m paying for the packaging and shipping and the publisher paid for the book. It will be in near-new condition, since I will have been the only person who read the book. The way, in the past or future, you’ll be able to tell that there is a free book involved will be that my brand new, stolen from a professional motto (at right) will be randomly included in the review. There will, I hope, be some other book reviews posted here that won’t include book giveaways because the author sent me a copy and they contain a personal note. So if the smartass “pissing everyone off is a piece of cake” stamp of disapproval is not included, either is the contest. For now, don’t worry about it. I have two more books in the mill that will be of interest to someone: Greg Frazier’s Down and Out in Patagonia, Kamchatka, and Timbuktu and Ian Falloon’s The Art of Ducati. Depending on who gives me what to review, there might be other sorts of products in this promotion in the near future, too.

Bring it on and feel free to be angry, disappointed, disgusted, and/or pissed off at my decisions.

Jul 14, 2014

More Electric News

From RideApart: "In a continuous effort to keep Police forces on the cutting edge of technology, the LAPD have recently turned to California based, Zero Cycles, to create a one-off LAPD electric patrol motorcycle.
The Zero MMX police/military motorcycle is a 100% electric cycle that meet all specific military and law enforcement demands. After an extensive and exhaustive testing session the bike performed beyond expectations. Not only for the officers but also for the community. The benefit of adding an all electric drivetrain to a motorcycle is a reduction in noise and maintenance. Not to mention an added benefit of little to no environmental impact.
“'There are major benefits to incorporating these environmentally friendly motorcycles. It costs less than 50 cents to charge compared to using gallons of gas, maintenance is simple, and the community appreciates how quiet they are,' reports Officer Steve Carbajal of the L.A.P.D. Off-Road Unit. 'Most importantly, our officers have an added tactical advantage while on patrol.'
'When you think of a raid on a meth lab or on a mob boss’ hideout, stealth can be your greatest advantage. Police loose the edge when the bad guys hear them coming miles away. A quite, all-terrain vehicle can ensure the baddies aren’t going anywhere fast, should they have a spontaneous need to flee the scene.'"

Yeah! Meth lab raids! I can see the movies spawning off of this in dozens of directions. "Roll Silent, Roll Fast," "Switch-Mode Cops," "They Just Keep on Coming," and . . . you get the picture.

#64 Creating the Wrong Impression

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

I had lunch, after a Basic Rider class, with a guy who'd been reading my column for a few years and took the class, partially, on the recommendation he'd found in one of my articles. He couldn't remember which column it was, but he was sure that I'd said something, sometime, about practicing basic skills being a worthwhile activity. Somehow, he ended up in one of my Basic Rider classes and felt the need to let me know about it as we were packing away the bikes at the end of the course. Better yet, he offered to buy me lunch.

While we were waiting for service at a particularly mediocre restaurant, he asked how I'd managed to avoid all of the motorcycling pitfalls I've described in my Geezer columns. Wow! Had he ever read me wrong! I haven't avoided ANYTHING, ever, except education and training before I needed it, experienced advice when I was inexperienced, and wisdom and judgment when it was desperately necessary. If I have any claim to positive personal value, it's that I try hard to make each mistake no more than once and that, somehow, I have lived through doing everything wrong at least once. I've repeated a few mistakes, but I work at keeping the count low.

Take any one of my favorite rant topics and you'll find that I have first hand experience on the other side of the fence. I've never been a member of any motorcycle group more vicious than the AMA, MWTA, or MN-Sportbike.org, but that's about the only motorcycling fault I've avoided. Yeah, I've produced excessive noise (two and four-stroke noise), ridden without a helmet (pre-1969 racing and recreational riding), pissed off landowners and neighbors, ignored and disobeyed laws and common courtesy, and I've even failed to recognize that motorcycles should be a part of daily commuter traffic.

The most embarrassing thing about getting old is recollections of how dumb you were when you were young.

I was an exceptionally dumb kid, with absolutely no adults of similar interests as mentors. When I swung a leg over my first motorcycle, the only people riding in my end of Podunk, western Kansas were my age or younger. In fact, I was lucky to be young near the beginning of the Motorcycle Age. Not at the beginning of motorcycling, because motorcycles arrived a couple of decades before my father was born. Not at the origin of the American motorcycle boom, either, because a tiny fraction of the Greatest Generation invented and financed the slow beginning of American motorcycles after WWII.

Motorcycling took off in the United States when Europe and Japan discovered the vast New World economic utopia in the early 1960s and I was part of that nirvana. My first ride (belonging to my brother) was a 1962 Italian 250, relabeled "Harley Davidson." My second was a 1965 Honda 175. Third was a 185 (or 175) Suzuki that lasted such a short moment that I can't even remember the model or displacement. Fourth, was a 1971 Kawasaki 350 Bighorn. And the list has gone on for almost half a century.

My father was so set against his kids riding motorcycles that he didn't know my brother and I had one until five years later, when I was back in Kansas, married, and beginning something that never quite coalesced into a career. He still disapproves of everything about me and motorcycles. My wife has never tried to convince me that I should consider a more conservative transportation, because she knows it would be a waste of time and energy. I don't react well to guilt tactics and it is, after all, my life; regardless of what the chicken hawks in Washington and St. Paul think. Most of the folks who disapprove of my motorcycling habit are too timid for their opinions to matter much to me, so I roll-on WFO unencumbered by common sense or rational fear. I'm not yet old enough to be conservative.

That's not exactly true. I rode fairly liberally and fearlessly for a long time, until I started getting hurt. I always understood that broken bikes can be fixed, but a busted body might not repair as well and that saved me from a lot of injuries for a long time. About the time I turned 30, I began to get hurt worse than my bikes. I started by tearing a 3", 15-stitch gash in my leg, hooking it on a trials bike shock bolt on my way back down a pile of concrete. I followed that, a few weeks later, with a left foot full of broken toes. After a year of one tore-up thing after another, I broke a bunch of ribs and was out of work for three months. Afterwards, I was infected with a year of irrational fear and experienced a mild version of PTSD, which made me completely worthless on the race track. It didn't keep me off of motorcycles, but it kept me from being competitive or getting much air between my wheels and the ground. Think Will Farrell and NASCAR and you'll have an idea of what I looked like going around a motocross track. That ended my motorcycle racing phase.

Moto-politically, I have been marginally astute. I was in my early-20s when I figured out the link between motorcycle hooliganism and shrinking riding space. Before that, it seemed like we had an infinite area to ride and a right to be there. In Nebraska, for example, we had a thousand miles of "limited access roads" that tied together into an incredible, free, barely-occupied, and unadvertised motorcycle park. Kids on dirt bikes and ATVs managed to piss off the landowners and state park managers by tearing up fences and vandalizing unmonitored grassland until the people who made the rules changed them. Afterwards, the only way to play was to pay. When I moved to California in the early 1980's, I experienced how bad those restrictions could get.

I think it ought to be obvious that a tiny minority exists at the pleasure of the majority, but we humans are not that bright. We confuse rights with privileges and, when we lose our privileges, we whine like Paris Hilton when she pays taxes on her inheritance. It's easy to tell the difference between a privilege and a right, in case you're confused. A "right" is something that is necessary and a "privilege" is a luxury.

People often confuse the two; sort of like confusing "need" and "want." Freedom of expression, the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure, the right to a trial, the banishment of cruel and unusual punishment, civil rights, and the rest are critical to civilization, progress, and the pursuit of happiness. The privilege of owning and operating a single-passenger vehicle is dependent on resources, necessity, and cultural convenience. Nobody needs a motorcycle. Nobody needs an SUV. People survived for thousands of years without them and, soon, we may have to figure out how to live without them again. Our society, the world, will roll past this inconvenience as if it were a small bump in a historic road, if these privileges are lost. It's worth keeping that in mind when you stretch your "Loud and Proud" tee-shirt over your belly.

Highway riders are taking the same low road with loud pipes, poor highway manners, and our high accident fatality rates and, I expect, we'll receive the same reward on-road that we earned off-road. If you can't contribute something positive, most likely you'll end up being obsolete in a world of diminishing resources. Evolve or vanish, those are the only choices an individual, a business, a culture, or a species has.

I like to think I've evolved a lot, in my 40-some years of motorcycling. I had a long way to travel and a lot has changed since the 1960s. Oddly, I think I've changed more in the last five years than I had in the previous twenty. Looking back through more than sixty Geezer columns, I can see a lot of my attitudes have shifted since I started publicly writing about motorcycling. In my career, I've suffered the mismanagement and collapse of two substantial companies and as many small businesses. I've learned to identify the signs of impending corporate death. I've watched a lot of personal rights and privileges disappear in my lifetime; it's been a rough sixty years for justice and human rights. All you can do is try to learn from the experiences and, if you care enough, share what you think you've learned with like-minded people. There is nothing positive to be gained in repeating history. Contrary to popular belief, mistakes are not even funny in repetition.

Lunch with the ex-student/new-rider holding a lot less respect for my personal brilliance and a better understanding of how my experience might fool an unsuspecting victim into believing I possess some kind of wisdom. However, he paid for lunch and, in my book, letting someone else grab the bill is always a wise decision.

MMM July 2007

Jul 9, 2014

Your Opinion? Who Cares?

Eric-Bostrom Cycle World e-published a nice interview with Eric Bostrom, Brammo’s main road racing competitor. Eric is clearly sold on Electric Vehicle’s future and anyone who has a clue about world fuel resources would be on board with him. Like most Americans, the comments after this article demonstrates that at least Cycle World’s readers are clueless. I mean embarrassingly, brainlessly, humorously clueless. After reading these brain-farts I think I lost 10 points off of my IQ:

“I have challenged Cycle World a few times to take a real ride, from LA to San Diego and back for example, a ride that could easily happen to many riders in SoCal, and compare the meanest, best of the E-bikes against a 300cc Ninja. I know the price differential will be huge, but drive em side by side for a trip like that, and then report all the details of the experience--not the politically correct version. Just the truth please.

”I already know the result, and that's why Cycle World ignores such a suggestion.” (Wrong. They ignore you because you’re a moron and no one cares what you think.)

“Now, I would like to point out a few flaws in the author's logic. First, he stated that the electric bikes would be easier to ride, because you would not have to use the clutch or shift. Most experienced riders should be at the point where clutching and shifting is pretty much muscle memory, and happens almost instinctively. Yes, a new rider may find the electric somewhat easier, but not much when the rider still needs to learn throttle control, as well as how to brake smoothly, along with smooth steering and paying attention to what is goin on around him.” (You probably believe in multitasking, too. Wrong again, Bonzo. Eliminating the transmission management tasks allows precious mental resources to be retasked to more critical functions. The day a Cycle World reader can find a flaw in Eric Bostrom’s logic will be worth celebrating.)

“now all we have to do is make the battery cheaper, stronger, lighter, and need less charging all the time. something nobody has been able to do yet. simple.” (All engineering tasks are complicated. If we as a society put 1/100th of the effort we waste on extending the ICE lifetime into battery and capacitor development, I might live to see EV turn mainstream. It’s all about focus and resources, something the Koch brothers haven’t redirected the half of our political system that they own toward.)

“I think the choice of electric bikes is a welcome addition to motorcycling. But I don't think replacing ICE bikes with e-bikes is a worthy goal. I would rather stop riding than be forced to ride an e-bike.” (Most likely, the overwhelming majority of society could care less if you stopped breathing, let alone riding. However, the Peak Oil moment is well behind us and the day recreational use of that resource is coming sooner than you think. Get over your “Mommy never loved me” bullshit and imagine a world where motorcycles are not the noisiest thing on the road.)

“Shifting gears and managing a bike's powerband is part of riding technique.... if eliminating facets of riding technique is the goal, ride a train.” (Ever watch MotoGP? Fly by wire eliminated all sorts of riding technique facets. Think you can ride any competitive bike better than Eric Bostrom? Right. Sure you can. Why not go back to suicide clutches, if you think complicating riding is valuable? Bet you miss having to manually add oil to the top end on the fly, too.)

Every sign on the horizon indicates motorcycling is a vanishing activity. Average rider age keeps heading for oblivion. Public opinion is at an all time low. Dealers are dying and consolidating. The only hope two wheeled transportation has for the future is in electrics. If these attitudes are representative of the majority of riders, the MIC can start kissing its ass goodbye.

Jul 7, 2014

#63 Bikes That I Love and You (apparently) Hate

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

At the end a workday this summer, I was surprised to see a new bike in our tiny area reserved for motorcycle parking. Even more surprising was that the bike was a 1988 Honda Pacific Coast PC800, one of the most unloved motorcycles ever imported to the United States. Honda tried to hustle us with this bike, off-and-on, between 1988 and 1998. We weren't going for it. Too quiet, too practical, too comfortable, too durable. Too something.

As you have already probably figured out, I like the PC800. I hung out waiting to meet the PC owner for a while. Two other bikers came by while I waited. They both had one or two nasty things to say about the "plastic glob" in our parking lot. When the owner arrived, he was suited (Aerostich), helmeted, and had his keys in hand. He walked purposefully toward his bike, avoiding looking at me, leaning against my bike and evidently looking to make a comment on his ride. I said, "Nice bike." He flinched and quickly swung a leg over, fired up the bike, and rode off. Obviously, he'd had and earful of the kind of comments the other riders make about the PC.

I managed to catch him a few days later, in a better mood. He said he'd made it to the freeway before he realized I'd complimented his bike instead of insulted it. We had a short conversation about his experience with the Pacific Coast and he confirmed my expectations of reliability, mileage, convenience, and comfort. He even said the PC was "a lot of fun to ride, especially long rides." His wife even liked taking trips with him on the PC.

I can't figure the reasoning behind all kinds of human decisions, from politics to music to motorcycles and everything between and outside of those brackets, and I'm at a loss to understand why the average motorcycle commuter wouldn't love the PC800. Unlike most of you, I've wanted a Pacific Coast, as a second bike, from the moment I saw one. Unfortunately, I never seem to own two bikes for long enough to consider multiple motorcycle ownership a practical concept. I have had the opportunity to ride the Honda Pacific Coast a few times and I found a lot to like about the bike. About a decade ago, a friend asked me to transport a PC800 from northern Iowa to central Kansas; and I loved every mile of the trip. It's like a comfortable car without the extraneous wheels. Great storage, smooth and quiet engine, cushy suspension, and it feels much lighter on the highway than you might expect. What's not to like? All that plastic, probably. No noise? The damn comfortable seating and predictable handling? The built-in storage?

A while back, I really pissed off one of our readers and earned a long, heated, rambling, saliva-spraying complaint letter to the editor. (Like that never happened before. Right, Victor?) Most of the reader's complaints were expected and more than a little funny. One of his claims, however, struck on a pet peeve of mine. He claimed that he didn't ride a motorcycle regularly because "a quality, fuel-efficient bike is not cheap." It's probably a taste thing. That reader's tastes are similar to thieves' tastes, since he claimed that his bike "within a month it would certainly by [sic] stolen or vandalized" if he rode it to work. Maybe he works at the wrong kind of drinking establishment? Maybe all that chrome attracts the wrong kind of attention?

I'm obviously out-of-sync with the kind of bikes that scumbags love to steal. For example, in 1994, I bought a nearly-new 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM; reviewers hated that bike, called it "bug eyed" and "gawky." I rode a TDM at a Yamaha Round-Up in 1992 and fell in love. At least as close as I get to loving a bike, anyway. Ok, I fell in "like." As in, "I think I'd like you in my garage."

I cared for that big red bike like it was the coolest guitar I ever owned. I waxed it, put road bags on it, installed new bars, crash rails, hand guards, a tall windshield, and dinky LED turn signals. (That's as tricked out as any street bike I've ever owned. Pitiful, I know.) A few months after buying the bike, my wife and I rode to an Aerosmith concert in Denver. We parked the TDM in the midst of Harleys and other chrome-laden cruisers, in our usual state of turmoil. My wife is not a willing bike passenger and any ride longer than a few hundred feet often turns her into an angry motorcycle protestor. In that state of marital discord, I managed to walk away from the bike with the key not only in the ignition, but with the ignition still on and the headlights blazing and turn signals flashing. Aerosmith audiences are on the far fringes from politically incorrect and, after the concert, there was a rash of stolen stereos, keyed bike paint jobs, snapped antennas. In the motorcycle parking area, bikes were tipped over and a few Harleys had vanished from the lot. The key was still in the TDM's ignition, the battery was drained, but the bike was untouched. I push-started it, came back for my grumpy wife, suffered a little mockery from the rent-a-cops, and rode home. Obviously, my TDM was not on the vandals' or the thieves' radar. I think that's a good thing.

The fact is, there is a plethora of reasonably priced, low-mileage, high efficiency, comfortable, practical motorcycles available. (Yes, El Guappo, I do know what "plethora" means.) Personally, I think the trick is to avoid ownership of things that others covet. I, especially, try to avoid owning things that professional thieves go out of their way to steal. Here are a few of the machines that I think meet the high standard of "a quality, fuel-efficient bike" that are reasonably priced, if "not cheap": Back in the 80s, I owned both the 1982 and the 1983 versions of the Yamaha XTZ550 Vision. How can you not love a water-cooled, drive-shafted bike that gets nearly 60mpg and has a heating system (in the faired 1983 version)? Americans did not love this bike and it was another dealer-discounted bike that took almost three years for Yamaha to move from show rooms. Other than a couple of minor maintenance problems, I rode the hell out of my Visions and got most of my money back when I sold them.

  • I still like the 1988 Honda NT650 Hawk GT. A great experiment in a mid-sized high-tech motorcycle that failed miserably. Clubman racers learned to love the Hawk GT until it was made obsolete by the Suzuki SV in that class, but Honda practically gave them away as door prizes at the dealerships. In Denver, several Honda dealers were still trying to unload brand new 1988 Hawks in 1993. Since the Suzuki SV arrived, used Hawk prices have, again, fallen.

  • I have lusted after the 1988-to-today's Honda XRV 650/750 Africa Twin and the 1989-1996 Yamaha XTZ750 Super Ténéré since the moment they were announced. These beauties are a pair of super-sized dual purpose bikes that never came to the U.S., but I've seen them in bike shows and at the old Steamboat Springs Vintage Bike Days. Once I'd sat on the real thing, my US-wimp Ténéré replica (the TDM) seemed tame and incomplete.

  • 1986-today's Honda Transalp 600/650 versions, but the newest Transalp 650 is unbelievably cool. We don't get many cool bikes in the States, so this bike is just a dream that will probably go unfulfilled. It doesn't come here because Honda thinks we wouldn't buy it in sufficient numbers to justify the EPA qualification process. The 1983(US and the world)-2000(Europe and Japan only) Honda NX650. This bike just kept getting cooler, but we didn't get a second chance at it after the US market imploded and dumbed-down in the mid-80s. For a commuter, this bike is close to perfect: electric-start, extreme suspension, ultra-reliable single-cylinder engine, big enough to travel at highway speeds, small enough to easily find parking anywhere.

  • How can you not love the 1984 Yamaha RZ350 Kenny Roberts Replica? Bumblebee cool, quicker than snot, smells like teenage Castrol (at least what Castrol smelled like when I was young). Kenny was still playing with this little guy, to whip the bootie out of liter bikes and lesser riders on Spain's mountain roads, as recently as five years ago. The original Honda Reflex, the 1986 Honda Reflex, looked like a trials bike, rode like a twitchy dual-purpose bike, got about a zillion miles-per-gallon and could leap medium-sized culverts, climb mountains, and was as reliable as a brick. As usual, Honda couldn't give them away at the dealerships.

  • 1982-83 Honda 500/650 Silverwing, fully loaded with fairing and bags. Whenever some BRC student tells me he/she needs a hippo-bike because he/she might want to "tour," I let 'em know that I crossed the country a few times on my 1981 Honda CX500, which is the undeveloped version of the Silverwing. I froze my ass off, in March moving from Nebraska to California, and put more than 100,000 miles on the bike before I sold it to a friend. We're still friends, too. No surprise, Honda couldn't find many buyers for this bike either.

  • 1988-2005 Honda VTR250, especially the last European VTR250 version that looks like a mini-Ducati Monstro. Look it up, it's an incredibly cool bike, but we don't get it because we're . . . not that smart. The 1988 VTR was Ninja-like and a slow mover for dealers, so Honda quit bringing it here about the time they started getting the cosmetics right. I've owned the 1988 VTRs and I can't say anything bad about it. The mileage was incredible. Sold that one to my brother and he wore it out. Personally, I think the weirdest bike I love is the 1987 Kawasaki 250 Ninja with the white wheels and grasshopper-looking exposed suspension bits and the macho red seat and black body work. I don't like the look, feel, or seating position of the newer 250, but I was really jazzed about the original bike.

Now, I can guess what you're going to say about a lot of these picks of mine, "I'm a forty-year-old, five-foot-six, two-hundred-and-sixty-pound guy and I'd look stupid on any of those bikes." Trust me, with that physical description you'll look hilarious on anything smaller than an over-under-tranny White Industries farm tractor. I know because . . . I know.

Several of my friends say that, in my 25-year-old Aerostich one-piece, I look like a giant gray sausage with salmon trim. Salmon, the color, not the fish. There is no fix for being a hippo, except for getting rid of the hippo-ness. A fat guy on a hippo-bike doesn't look any skinnier than he would on a 50cc scooter. Bikes look cool because they are cool looking, because they have some dedication to function that drives their form to coolness. To my eye, the hippest bikes are so committed to their function that they blow off fashion and trends and charge after the function they've identified without getting tripped up on whatever foolishness the rest of the industry is pursuing.

Economically, it makes more sense for manufacturers to join the pack and follow fashion down the drain of human conformity. Technically, whatever is happening today is already past-tense. Many of the bikes listed above sell for more today than they did when they were on dealers' floors. Some were so far ahead of their time that their time hasn't, apparently, come yet. Or I'm as motorcycle fashion-sense-inhibited as I am devoid of any other fashion sense. Personally, I think the weird non-functional designer bikes are the motorcycling equivalent to the strange Vogue/GQ crap that clothing designers display in Paris. Jeans, loose cotton shirts, Goretex hiking boots, and motorcycles designed for a function are what trips my trigger. Your mileage, apparently, varies.

MMM June 2007

Jul 6, 2014

With the Weapons We Have

One of the telling moments of the second Iraq War was when Donald Rumsfeld was visiting a safe zone in Iraq, pretending to give a shit what the soldiers thought about how the war was going. One of the soldiers asked him something along the lines of “When will we get equipment that is appropriate to fighting this war.” Rumsfeld’s snide reply was, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” There were two ways to take that comment, both ways are uncomplimentary to the people doing the work; 1) “You guys are what we have to work with, as sorry a lot as you are” or 2) “You’re just going to have to work with the crappy armament we’ve provided because we’re doing this war regardless of the risk” (to you, not me).  Either way, Rumsfeld was basically saying, “Fuck you, kid. We’re here and you’re doing this with the overpriced, no-bid-contract crap Halliburton gives you to work with.”

History is jam-packed with moments like this. Consistently, the losers are usually on the side of Rumsfeld’s position. Sometimes it takes a while, but the imperialist position of “damn the torpedoes, we have more people and torpedoes where those came from” is expensive, inefficient, and eventually leads to a crumbling empire or sudden overthrow and defeat. The alternative view, best expressed by Sun Tzu in The Art of War, is, “One mark of a great soldier is that he fights on his own terms or fights not at all.” From an American perspective, you could say that , since the Revolutionary War, the overwhelming majority of the wars our country has staggered into have disobeyed this axiom and the result has been the decimation of the country’s treasure, thousands of wasted lives, and a steadily declining commitment to liberty and democracy. If you read much history, you’ll note that many great empires have followed this exact path into decline and collapse. It’s a scary scenario.

This, believe it or not, applies to riding a motorcycle. The only advantage a motorcycle has in traffic is flexibility and a kind of nimbleness that allows us to go where most of the traffic can not. Like it or not, the highway is a battleground. Freeways are all out war. Motorcyclists are too often the fools who get caught with a knife in their hand at a gunfight. All of those stories you’ve heard from the Biker Boyz and big bad biker gangbangers about scaring cagers with noise, the biker stare, booting a rear view mirror off, or kicking the snot out of a cager after the biker “had to put ‘er down” are mostly bullshit. A motorcycle is a lousy platform from which to start a fight. In traffic, a motorcycle is absolutely a knife in a gun fight. The only way to “win” is to bring the fight to your terms. Unfortunately, most motorcyclists don’t know enough about riding a motorcycle to know where a motorcycle and motorcyclist’s terms lie.

A quick look at motorcycling history in the 1st world would be useful. The people who mostly picked a motorcycle over a Model T were guys (almost always) who weren’t afraid of getting dirty. The opening moments of On Any Sunday were a montage of people riding their motorcycles where cars could not hope to follow. That is your first hint, if you didn't have a clue in the early stages of this essay. Motorcycles are in their own, best element off of the beaten or paved path. If you want to “defeat” a cell-phone distracted cager who seems hell-bent on squashing you flat, lead him off of the pavement into a ditch. At best, the brainless boob will be stuck there till the HPD and AAA comes to their rescue. At worst, the cager will experience the thrill of rolling his handicapped vehicle and you’ll have the satisfaction of seeing his vehicle disassemble itself in your rear view mirror. That’s called bringing the battle to our terms.

Too many motorcyclists have decided to give in to sloth and inertia and take the battle to their opponent’s field; concrete and asphalt. The most popular style of motorcycle in North America is the cruiser, a totally disabled, barely-street-worthy bike with minimal suspension, a crippled feet-forward riding position, poor handling long wheelbase, and a ground clearance that often high-centers on speed bumps and minor potholes. Defending the existence of these pitiful vehicles is the engineering equivalent of whining that “we fight wars with the army we have,” not an army that can actually defend itself. The lame “defense” these rolling two-wheelchairs offers is “loud pipes save lives.” How’s that working for you, since the majority of highway motorcycle deaths are cruisers and old guys?

Jun 30, 2014

#62 I Lied, So Sue Me

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

March through August (2006), I watched a string of DL650 V-Stroms vanish, selling for way beyond my eBay buy-limit. All summer, I'd hoped to find a great deal a long way from home; to justify buying the bike and taking a long trip. September 3rd was my drop-dead, go-back-to-work date. On the last week of August, I won an auction for exactly my top dollar. The bike was in Cincinnati and I had 3 days to work out pickup, transportation (to Ohio), and get my cash sorted out. I took the train to Cincinnati, to met my buyer at the train station and hit the road on my new bike.

"I've never done anything like this on your V- Strom."
Way back (June, 2001) in an early Geezer column, I promised that I'd never buy another bike from a "kid" (anyone younger than 40). I wrote "I've been here before and I will never do anything that dumb again." I lied, but the guy selling my DL650 was an upstanding, respectable, responsible motorcycle dealer. He even sent me a picture of him on his vintage rebuilt 1978 Goldwing with a note, "I've never done anything like this on your V-Strom." If that doesn't make you comfortable with traveling 1,000 miles by train to put your money down and ride off into the night, I don't know what would.

Billy is pointing at his 3rd nipple in the picture. He is a few years younger than 40. In defense of myself, there were a lot of things about Billy's communications that made me feel fairly comfortable with the purchase. He went way out of his way to accommodate my tight schedule. He went to a lot of effort to provide me with a lot of information about the bike, what he knew about its history, and himself. And he reminded me that nobody would buy a "geezer bike" like the DL650 to abuse it, which is probably true. I'm pretty sure there is an insult some where in that comment.

I straggled into Cincinnati's Amtrak station about two hours late. Billy had made it clear to me that he had to be somewhere at 7AM that morning and I didn't unload from the train until a few minutes before seven. He's asleep in the station's parking lot when I called to tell him I'd made it. By the time I collect my baggage and get to the front entrance, Billy has the bike unloaded and ready to ride. He loans me a plate, has the paperwork taken care of, and helps me figure out how to tie on my tank bag. Now, he's really late for his other appointment. Billy returned to his life, leaving me to empty my cardboard luggage into saddlebags, a stuffed duffle on the tail rack, a courier bag, and an overstuffed tank bag.

I brought camping gear, tools, a service manual, and even a patch kit and couple of tubes in case of tire trouble. I may be repeating a mistake, but I'm doing it carefully. Once I get loaded up, I take off for the station's large empty parking lot. Before I hit the road, I want to know something about this new bike. The DL650 has the same motor as my SV, but nothing else is the same. Especially with all the gear I've loaded on the bike, the DL feels more like a big tour bike than a sport bike. I've been on a sport bike for more than six years. It takes a little while in the parking lot before I feel comfortable on the V-Strom.

Once out of town, I checked in with my wife. For some reason, she sounded mildly irritated that I was not going to be home that night. That turned my meandering 2 1/2 day trip into an 800 mile blitz for home. Yeah, I'm whipped. I did get to buy the bike without any argument. More evidence that there is no free lunch.

Once I left Ohio, there wasn't much to see for the next 500 miles. Southern and central Indiana are pancake replicas of Kansas, so is a good bit of Illinois. I've seen Kansas, so, I stayed on the throttle and didn't leave the freeway until Rockford, IL. There, I deviated west toward Galena (one of my new, favorite motorcycle destinations). I took the quick tour of Galena and Grant's home town artifacts, headed toward East Dubuque, and jumped across the border into Wisconsin. I'd decided that I wanted to make it to Prairie du Chen before dark. I hit that mark and moved it out to La Crosse.

I don't usually ride at night, but when I rode out of La Crosse the visibility was excellent. I jumped the border into Minnesota and headed north on Hwy 14 before I realized it wasn't going to get dark as long as I was on the V-Strom. I was enjoying the best lighting I've ridden behind since the days when I strapped 5 Cebies to a 185 Suzuki Enduro for a 24-hour cross-country race. Not just the road, but the ditches and a bit of the countryside was illuminated by the V-Strom's dual lights.

With home in mind, I watched the ditches looking for Bambi and other varmints. Other than failing eyesight, the big reason I try not to be on the road at night is that I'd hate to kill Bambi; and break my neck doing it. Sure enough, about five miles out of Lake City, I spot a cute little deer looking like she wants to commit suicide and I take the opportunity to test the V-Strom's brakes. The road is wet and there is a light drizzle. It doesn't matter. The bike hauls to a stop with plenty of room to spare. I stop on the shoulder and take a moment to enjoy what wasn't even a close call. Bambi isn't satisfied with our uneventful encounter and decides to cross the road while I'm patting myself on the back.

A truck coming the other direction smacks into the deer and you'd be amazed at how much stuff blows out of the back end of a deer when it gets hit by a fast moving vehicle. I was amazed at how much of that crap ended up on me. At the first convenient convenience store, I stopped to hose off. I'd been wearing my rainsuit for the last few hundred miles, so I was mostly protected by the suit. The clerk was pretty upset when I came to the door, smelling and looking like something from a Quentin Tarrantio movie, but I convinced her to let me use a hose at the back of the station. While I was blasting off my suit, a cop showed up. There was quite a pile of deer poop in the blood and guts I'd washed into the lawn. He thought my story was pretty funny and let me go after emptying himself of a few jokes at my expense. He offered to piss on me to "wash" off a spot I'd missed on the back of my suit. Yuk, yuk.

801 miles from when I met Billy in Cincinnati, I made it home in good shape. Between the hose and getting rained on for the last 50 miles of the trip, I was mostly cleaned off; other than having soaked myself in sweat in the rain suit. I considered taking a trip to Duluth and back to rack up 1,000 miles in well under 24 hours, but I couldn't decide how to go about getting confirmation of my trip mileage for the Iron Butt application. So, I watched a movie with my wife and went to bed.

I learned two things on this trip. First, don't make promises you are too weak to keep. Second, don't stop to gloat when you sneak past a catastrophe. When I got home, my wife was surprised that I'd made it back so fast. I was served an angry lecture about trying to read anything from the "tone of my [her] voice" and discovered that I wasn't in trouble until I came home and got into trouble. Yeah, I know, that's three things. I'm pretty sure I'm going to forget one of them, so I'm only giving myself credit for two of the three.

MMM May 2007

Jun 28, 2014

It’s Real, I Hope

From everything I read, it sounds like Harley Davidson’s “Project Livewire” electric motorcycle is the real deal. To quote Vizzini from Princess Bride, “Inconceivable.”

harley electric That word must not mean what I think it means, because not only is The Company hyping the bike all over the corporate webpage, but they are shipping bikes around the country for test rides. Not just media hack test rides, but test rides with real people/riders in 30 cities. I am going to be seriously pissed if the Cities aren’t on the list. I might own a Harley Davidson again, for the second time in 50 years.

Specs are hard to come by, but GizMag got a statement from H-D: “The LiveWire is powered by 3-phase AC electric induction motor, which produces 74 hp (55 kW) and 8000 rpm. Peak torque is 52 lb.ft (70.5 Nm). The bike maxes out at 92 mph (148 km/h) and accelerates from 0-60 mph (100 km/h) in 4 seconds. A full recharge takes around 3.5 hours and its average range so far has been 53 miles (85 km).” Predictably, the Livewire is significantly technologically and performance-wise some distance behind Zero or Brammo bike performance standards. In fact it’s pretty much the bike those pioneers were building 4 years ago, but you have to wonder about where electric bike competition/price/availability will go if the Harley gains some traction. Got my fingers crossed.

Jun 25, 2014

Our Own Worst Enemies


World-wide, motorcycles are their own worst enemies. It’s almost impossible to find an example in this litany of crashes that can be blamed on the cagers. Most of the “victims” are so incompetent it’s hard to imagine them riding a bicycle safely. Again, I want to bring up some statistics the MSF/MIC (same organization, different label) promotes (2011 data): 1) (49%) of all fatal motorcycle crashes were the result of a bike colliding with another vehicle and 51% were single vehicle fatality crashes, 2) 6% of deaths in 2011 were due to a bike being hit from behind, 3) more than 42% (1,998) of motorcyclists were killed in two vehicle crashes,  38% (757) of these were the result of another vehicle turning left in front of the motorcycle that was either going straight, passing or overtaking another vehicle, 35% (1,614) were the direct result of the motorcycle rider speeding.

So, while motorcyclists and motorcycle-promoting organizations like to parade around bullshit “Start Seeing Motorcycles” based distractions, 51% of motorcycle crashes are purely caused by motorcyclist incompetence (and the rare actual unavoidable “accident”). Motorcyclists like to babble about the 49% which actually involves another vehicle, but if 51% of our fatalities are purely and absolutely caused by us, what percentage of the 49% do you really thing are caused by motorcyclists? Statistically, I’d say if more than 25% of the 49% are the cagers’ fault, I’d be amazed. Astounded, even. Disbelieving, even. Spending one tax-paid nickel on warning cagers to watch out for nutty and incompetent motorcyclists is a gross waste of resources as long as our licensing testing is so wimpy, penalties for riding without a license is so minimal (22% of fatal crashers are unlicensed), and motorcyclists’ general behavior is so self-destructive. It clearly makes more sense to simply ban motorcycles from public roads, worldwide. Think about that when you wear your pirate outfit to another Always Beer At the Event drunken brawl.

Jun 24, 2014

Movie Review – Penton: The John Penton Story

john penton

If the opportunity to see this film is as rare in your community as mine, you might have already missed your chance to see it on the big screen. As you can see from the picture, a lot of this film was financed from a Kickstarter.com campaign. A lot of my resistance to art-by-begging has been overcome because of this work. This one movie is so totally deserving of being seen by anyone who has ever put a pair of tires on dirt that I have completely revised my opinion of all things resembling artistic panhandling (which is what Kickerstarter is).

John Penton almost single-handedly drug the USA into off-road competition. The crap we were riding from US, Brits, and other Eurotrash manufacturers was pure pain and misery to ride. You just had to love being off-road to put up with the hardware. Penton’s “ready to race” motorcycles changed everything.

The Bob Hannah interview segments are worth the price of the whole movie. Bob was my second real motorcycle hero, Malcolm Smith was and always will be the first, and he might be the least well-interviewed man in sports history. Because he’s so contained, most dweeb interviewers piss him off and get nothing of value, interest, or entertainment from The Hurricane. The list of people interviewed for this movie is astounding. Literally, it is a who’s who of off-road motorcycling in the world. I am ashamed to admit that I too often thought, “I didn’t know he was still alive” as the cameo segments were introduced. (That included John Penton.) The greats from both sides of the Atlantic ganged up to praise and honor the man who put them all on wheels that went fast, far, and high.

The only negative criticisms I have of Penton The John Penton Story would be because of a bit of the audio editing and an overly-long, seriously silly KTM commercial tacked on to the end of the movie. Intermittently, at the theater I saw the movie, there was a 40-50Hz hum that appeared to randomly contaminate the overall sound. I suspect it was in the film’s audio track, but it could have been some sort of interference caused by the theater’s subwoofer system. Since it was clearly not 60Hz, my suspicion would lie with the film soundtrack.

I would be surprised if KTM didn’t kick in some financing for the movie; hence, the commercial bullshit. KTM isn’t known for being a classy organization (read Ed Youngblood’s -John Penton biography for the whole disgusting story) and this blatant redirection of the subject of the movie to an obvious promotion bit for the current KTM management regime was nothing short of self-promotion and really irritating if you know how badly KTM’s mismanagement treated the Pentons. The whole story of how KTM management turned its back on more than a decade of dedication and hand-holding from the Pentons out of corporate and management greed and arrogance is disgusting. The fact that KTM nearly went bankrupt on its own, afterwards, is pure justice. The Pentons, on the other hand, did just fine with their Hi-Point line (later sold to MSR) and Penton Racing Products businesses is just sweet revenge. The thing that is clear from both Youngblood’s book and the movie is that the KTM engineers and management have/had the same mental diseases that Volkswagen suffers from today; ignorance and arrogance. Their inability to listen to customer complaints and admit to design and manufacturing problems led to their downfall and were what caused the stress and unreasonable pressure Penton lived with while trying to drag KTM into the 20th Century.

Penton MovieSince doing real things with real people has gone out of fashion, movies about people who did those things with amazing people are rare and precious. And by “precious” I mean hard to find, hard to see, and hard to organize. The map at right demonstrates how seldom this movie is currently being scheduled to be shown. The odds are gigantic that it won’t be anywhere near your town. There is a fix, however. As Dirt Rider magazine said, “The movie is being distributed by GATHR Films which is different then most movies. Starting June 20, 2014, anyone can request the film to be screened at a theater in the GATHR network. Once the request is submitted with time, date and place a certain number of tickets must be purchased for the film to actually run. This is a great opportunity for motorcycle stores, dealerships, and companies to host screenings and tell all their clients and/or customers to get involved. For more info on screenings visit pentonmovie.com.” You too could host a Penton off-road extravaganza. It’s not even particularly expensive.

Jun 23, 2014

#61 What Loud Pipes Say

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

A teenage girl gets on my morning bus and treks to the back of the bus, loudly jabbering at the girl who got on the bus before her. Every other word is "Iwaslike." She is apparently convinced that the entire bus is interested in her problems with a high school teacher. Bus passengers are barraged with her high volume nonsense, until the bus driver tells her to "shut the hell up." On a train to Chicago, the train makes a stop and picks up a trio of wannabe-executives who find their way to seats, flip open their cell phones and begin loud, moronic "business conversations" with content equivalent to "where are you now" and "dude, I'm on my way but I'm gonna be late."

These incredibly complex messages are delivered, loudly, and over and over, for the next forty minutes until the train disgorges these geek-suited posers a little before we get to Chicago.

I wonder why it is that folks who have nothing interesting to say feel compelled to say that nothing so loudly?

A few summers ago I taught an MSF Basic Rider Course (the BRC); eight women and three men. Incidentally, about half of the bikes that came out of our MSF trailer had mildly-to-severely-damaged exhaust pipes, so several of our new riders had that "loud pipes save lives" thing going for them, right there on the practice range. I wore hearing protection whenever the students were in motion. When all eleven bikes were roaring around the course, the six loud bikes made about as much noise as a single Sportster with an aftermarket bozo-pipe.

In the BRC, we spend a lot of time trying to convince our students to lay off of the brakes in corners. For new riders, this isn't a natural or comfortable thing to do and it takes a lot of nagging to convince newbies to try it. In this particular class, we had six bikes that loudly announces their riders' throttle activities, so we had special "opportunities" to note when our riders were rolling off of the throttle. At the end of the class, one of those students mentioned that she felt picked upon because her bike was so noisy that every throttle-control mistake she made was loudly broadcast to her coaches. She suspected that if she'd have been riding one of the quieter bikes, she might not have received as much attention/criticism/nagging/assistance as she had with her blubbering noisemaker.

She was right. Nothing broadcasts poor technique like advertising it with noise. A while back a news show highlighted the noise motorcycles add to our general noise pollution din. They interviewed a gaggle of bikers and learned that a couple of seriously dorky guys thought that loud bikes "make me look tough." When Mr. Accountant rides through the neighborhood, he imagines that "everybody's lookin' to see who's on that bike." They're lookin' all right. They're lookin' and thinkin' that motorcycles ought to be banned from the planet and that motorcyclists are morons.

There's a different message loud pipes often convey to other motorcyclists. For example, I live on a sharp curve in St. Paul. At least a few dozen times a summer weekend, I get to experience the loud backfiring of poorly maintained big twins as they decelerate all the way through our turn, followed by the even louder potato-splatting of moderate horsepower crawling away from the scene of incompetence. I'm sure these dudes think all that noise implies "NASCAR driver" to local residents, but I happen to live on a block with a half-dozen fairly proficient motorcyclists. To all of us, what we hear is "Bozo hasn't crashed yet. Damn!"

For those of you out there who ride with the passive "protection" of loud pipes, here's something for you to think about. To the average Jill or Joe, you're announcing that you don't care about their hearing, peace of mind, or privacy. To some bikers, you're displaying your uncanny ability to max out your credit card and bury yourself in debt on frivolous purchases. Some folks love any symbol of excessive consumption and pipes and chrome as just another sign of a well-oiled economy doing the supply and demand thing and more proof that "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

I have a guard rail all along the front of my property to protect my home from the talents of people who drive without knowledge or skill. Every spring the crash rail gets used by bikers and cagers, when they discover the city's lackadaisical attitude toward sweeping up the post-winter barrels of sand and salt. Every summer, I get to pick up bits of chrome and plastic from vehicles that have discovered the flaws in their cornering technique. The first year we were here, I had to call 911 to come and remove a guy who had planted his leg in between the guard rail and one of the posts, which resulted in a knee that made crunching noises when he moved it.

When we were discussing a particularly awful rider's travels through our neighborhood, my wife described the loud pipe's message as "Look out for me! I'm not very good and I might fall down!" And I promptly fell down laughing. Maybe the noise message works. At least it might work when inanimate objects aren't involved; like curves and barriers, trees, obstacles in the road, and fat old guys lying in the yard.

When you are roaring down the road, scaring small children and making enemies for motorcyclists in general, you're also announcing something to a lot of motorcyclists. It's not "look at me, I'm a badass lawyer/accountant/dentist/burger-flipper." The message is "look out for me! I'm not very good and I might fall down!"

I suppose the rest of us should thank you for the warning. We'll do our bit to avoid you.

MMM April 2007

Jun 19, 2014

Russian Genius

I clearly need to learn more about this vehicle. However, the Russian Taurus 2×2 All-Terrain Motorcycle is pretty amazing. Here's what I "know" at this point:


Anticipated Price: "DIY kits" ("Anyone having the skills and drill grinder can build yourself ATV," per Google Translate) will be available, about US$1,000
Axels: 2x2
Max Speed: 60 km/hr (37mph)
Transmission: centrifugal clutch-transmission,  gears - 3
Engine: 4 cycle, 5-5.5 hp.
Brakes: brake disc on the intermediate shaft
Max Carrying Capacity: 180 kg. (397 pounds)
Tank Capacity: 3-5l  (0.8-1/3 gallons-US)
Fuel Consumption: 1.2-liters/hour (0.32 gallons/hour)
Wheels: 740 mm. width, 220 mm diameter (29.1", 8.8"?)
Tire Pressure: 0.13 kg/cm. (1.8psi)
Ground Clearance: 370 mm.(14.5")
Max Turning Angle (front fork): 55-degrees
Seat Height: 750 mm. (29.5")
Dry Weight: 47-50 kg. (~110 pounds)
Disassembly Time: 20 seconds to 4 min. (includes two bags in the trunk of the Oka)