Apr 14, 2014

#51 Motorcycle Incompatibility

http://www.amazon.com/Geezer-with-A-Grudge/dp/B007RPQJ24
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

In my forty-something years of motorcycling, I’ve tried to combine just about everything with motorcycles. Some things work and more things don’t.

For instance, computers and motorcycles are mediocre traveling companions. Since 1988 or so, I’ve tried about two dozen combinations. Everything from “luggable” CRT based hardware to sub-notebooks have graced my backpacks, courier bags, and saddlebags. With one very limited exception, a very underpowered NEC MobilePro, every experiment has ended in destruction and disappointment. A few hundred hours rattling around on my bike and another hardware investment is down the tubes. The MobilePro has hung together for nearly nine years, to the point that the keyboard labeling has worn off. The little guy only provides 16 megabyte of RAM and no other storage capabilities. That was a minor limitation for my writing projects and scheduling requirements, but I’m doing a large number of PowerPoint presentations at work and I need serious storage capacity for those jobs.

The one thing I have not tried is a “ruggedized” laptop, one of those things that is supposed to withstand a direct atomic weapon hit. The reason for that is that I don’t have the carrying capacity for one of those underpowered, trailing-edge-technology behemoths. Or the budget. By the time a manufacturer gets through the standard military testing song and dance, technology has moved so far ahead that the machine is practically obsolete.

[Winter 2011 Follow-up: I have now tried two of Toshiba's Toughbooks and found them to be overweight, fragile, slow battery-hogs that are perfectly useless on a motorcycle trip. The "waterproof keyboards" are not only not water resistant but they are prone to jam up in a dusty environment. The hardware is pretty lame, in general. Both of my units sprung their screen hinge spring, allowing the screen to flop flat against the work surface. I have nothing positive to say about mil-spec computers, except that their resale is exceptionally and unrealistically good. I pretty much got my money back, even with all of the faults in the units.

On the other hand, I bought a pair of Dell Latitude D410 laptops that appear to be almost unbreakable. My writing machine (the one I'm working on right now) has more than 40,000 motorcycle miles and isn't any worse for the wear. I use the other one for work (teaching technology college classes) and it might have seen even more abuse. They are now six years old and Win7 incompatible, but I don't expect to care about that for a few more years.]

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks computers and motorcycles are incompatible. I recently pitched an article idea to a couple of motorcycle magazines that involved a few months of normal riding and writing and a couple of non-military-ruggedized computers. The magazines bought into the idea pretty quickly, but the computer companies balked. It’s one thing to have a PC magazine editor push your computer from a table on to a pile of feather pillows, it’s another to give a PC to a whacko who thinks Minnesota riding season extends to December and restarts in March. Maybe they went to my website and took a critical look at my bike, deciding that someone who washes a motorcycle that infrequently might be a poor hardware risk. Whatever, I have a customer for the article, but no suppliers. So, having to spend my own money, I bought a compromise computer (titanium case, shock-mounted drive and LCD, and water-resistant keyboard) and fully expected it to turn to dust in a year or so. It pretty much has. I still resort to the old MobilePro when I care about the text I’m writing and I’m going to be spending serious time on the motorcycle.

Music is an uneasy motorcycling companion. I rarely ride without a song in my head, but I’m unconvinced that carrying actual music on a motorcycle makes sense. I’ve tried phones on my helmet and while I could sort of hear the music, the wind noise wiped out any subtlety. I recently took a ride on a Goldwing with a serious sound system. Sound quality-wise, I’d rate the experience about equal to being in a small car with the windows down. A troubling aspect of trying to listen to music, communications, or anything else on a motorcycle is hearing damage. As a nation, we’re going deaf faster than we ride.

I usually ride with earplugs and any music accompanying the ride was in my head when I got on the bike or was inspired by being on the bike. I’ve ridden thousands of miles with Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” setting the pace. I’m not fast, but I’m frantic. Communication systems fall into the same category for the same reasons, plus a couple more, as music. To communicate, you have to hear and to hear you have to suffer excessive hearing damage on a bike. On top of that, you have the added advantage of having your concentration disrupted by needless conversation. How can you pass all that up?

For my money, passengers (and, possibly, marriage) are incompatible with motorcycling. For every great sex and drugs and spontaneous sexual combustion story I’ve heard there are ten “my wife made me sell the bike” stories. Unless the passenger is a motorcyclist, passengers are usually a handicap in every way you can consider. Even when the passenger is a biker, only a couple of disadvantages are semi-neutralized. You still have to wrestle with increased weight and lowered performance. Even on a hippo-bike with a gigantic platform for a guest butt, the reduced comfort level rarely (for me) recommends a passenger. I always suspect the competence of passengers, too. If you can ride, why would you want to be on the “bitch pad?” If you can’t, what criteria do you use for determining who is safe to ride with?

About once every five years, my wife and I take a bike trip. She (an ex-dirt biker) gets bored quickly. I get uncomfortable after a few hundred miles. We both become short-tempered and neither of us can remember why we thought this would be a good idea after so many experiences that established otherwise. In our memories, the trips are all good experiences, though. We usually have fun, see things we wouldn’t see in a cage, go places we wouldn’t go on four wheels, and eat less than we do on car trips.

So, five years from now, we’ll do it again.

MMM March 2006

Apr 13, 2014

The New Geezer Theme Song

About to Go Under the Microscope

Sev Pearman sent me a link to a recent New York Times article about motorcycle deaths and helmet disuse: Fewer Helmets, More Deaths. The gangbanger approach to scaring the shit out of timid conservative lawmakers (on the rare occasion that gutless crowd manages to come to work) is about to hit the fan, I suspect. If you scroll down the Times’ article watching the graphs shift from “Vehicle Fatalities in the United States” (going down) to “Motorcycle Fatalities” (slightly up) to “Motorcycle Fatalities As A Percentage of All Vehicle Deaths” (way up and rising) to the analysis of how rapidly motorcycle deaths have risen as helmet laws have been repealed, the handwriting is on the wall. We’re toast.

Even a slight shift from cowardly conservative legislators to more moderate, progressive, liberal legislators who aren’t afraid of big bad biker gangsters (or banker gangsters) saying “boo!” really loudly in the hallways of state houses will cause a solar winds change that might blow motorcycles off of the public roads in a generation. Honestly, I suspect that a basic helmet law might do the job. One reason motorcycle deaths are rising is because the lack of helmet laws attracts a certain generally-incompetent class of people to motorcycling. If those people are forced to wear helmets and obtain training (real training, not the minimalist crap we do currently), they’ll drop out of motorcycling and that Harley/Victory/Indian/Star market will vanish overnight. That shift in economics could be enough to knock out another 30-50% of US dealers, turning motorcycles into a microscopic economic force much easier to ban from public roads.

Real motorcyclists have a moment to grasp here. We can either take the initiative away from the gangbangers and start advocating protective gear, serious training, and laws that put teeth into violations like riding without a license or we can sit by and watch motorcycles become as vital and mainstream as horses and buggies. We’re Americans, so I fully expect us to sit on our hands and whine about change rather than grab it by the handlebars and make the changes ourselves, but I could be pleasantly surprised. I give it about 1,000:1 against.

It’s your move, though. I’m old. I don’t really care one way or another. Nothing will happen quickly enough to affect my behavior or hobbies.

Apr 7, 2014

#50 A Witless Battle

http://www.amazon.com/Geezer-with-A-Grudge/dp/B007RPQJ24
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I don’t just write Geezer rants. I write all kinds of crap; short stories, long stories, tech articles, personal letters, e-mail, and (regrettably) letters to editors. I stumbled into this gig with a letter to an editor, in fact. I write even when anyone with good sense would watch TV or play Monopoly. A while back, I was infected by an overwhelming desire to write to the editor of the Ride to Work News, Andy Goldfine.

Like panic reactions, angry impulses, elective surgery, and sexual perversions, “overwhelming desires” should probably be resisted.

Ride to Work had published a collection of letters and articles about how persecuted motorcycles and motorcyclists are on the road and in court. We’re, apparently, a hobby populated by victims and most of the folks who wrote letters to RTW seemed to think motorcycles have been singled out for special neglect by the court system.

I wrote Andy that I didn’t think that was the case. My own experience led me to believe that cars and trucks, in general, are a specially protected “weapon,” regardless of who gets hurt: motorcyclists, pedestrians, bicyclists, non-mobile spectators, or other cagers. As most states’ motor vehicle manslaughter and homicide laws stand, the murder weapon of choice should always be a cage. Kill a kid with a semi-automatic weapon, go to jail for life or get fried. Kill the same kid (and a collection of his family members) with a Hummer or a Cadillac and you might get out of jail in six months. My feeling for the rationale behind these irrational laws is that the public keeps electing drunks and irresponsible/incompetent drivers to public office, There is no way that those characters are going to write laws that are likely to put themselves away for life. So my logic went.

Andy, in one of his articles, contended that motorcycles are a “clear social good” and that caught my attention. In doing my Motorcycling Minnesota cable show, I’ve been working on a series of short articles about motorcycles and motorcyclists’ public image. The put it bluntly, our image isn’t positive, no matter how many Rides for Kids or other benefits motorcyclists do. In fact, many of those benefit rides create as many enemies as friends (or, at least, acquaintances).

Andy’s contention is that motorcycles reduce traffic congestion, pollution, and parking space problems. He argues that motorcycles could reduce fuel consumption, natural resource depletion, and enhance urban transportation options. Mostly, I agree with him. The problem I have with the argument is that, today in the US of A, much of it isn’t true. A large collection of the bikes we choose to ride produce more air and noise pollution and use as much or more fuel than considerably larger cages. The first thing most motorcyclists do to their new bike is dump the EPA-approved exhaust and install a pipe that rattles windows for miles. In the Cities, available parking space isn’t a problem. There are graveyards that experience more traffic than downtown St. Paul and the city counts on parking ticket revenue to fund good bit of the police department.

The reduced congestion argument isn’t going to create a lot of interest with the powers that be in Minnesota urban areas. Minnesota hasn’t even decided if light rail is worth the effort. Reducing congestion is the exact opposite of the Metro Council’s plans. They’d like to transform the Cites and the burbs into a “New L.A.” If the developers and the state government has their way, we’ll be packed, standing-room-only, from the St. Croix to Brainerd.

I think, before any of the socially responsible arguments begin to receive a serious reception, we’re going to be living and driving elbow-to-elbow, buying $6/gallon gas, and breathing air that would choke a Californian. For some reason, Minnesota’s political heavyweights have decided that marketing Minnesota’s quality of life requires sacrificing our quality of life. In the meantime, doing smart things such as reducing pollution and congestion are so far from being on the front burner that they aren’t even being kept warm.

Regardless of which if us is sitting on the perfect side of this debate, Andy makes solidly the most persuasive, literate, and thoughtful presentation; which is what spawned the title of this rant. We passed a few e-mails back and forth and even when it appeared that he agreed with my position, he restated it in such an improved condition that it was no longer something to which I could claim ownership. You’ve heard the expression “a battle of wits against an unarmed man?” That was what I experienced and I realized I was unarmed even before I got into the battle.

MMM Winter 2005-2006

Apr 2, 2014

Iowa, the Place to Go to Make Noise

We cruised into Iowa on a seasonably warm late March afternoon. I have to give Iowa motorcyclists some credit, we’d just left Missouri after 5 motorcycle-free nearly perfect riding days. So, the fact that people do ride on a warm Sunday is worth something. Unfortunately, what they ride is predictable.

We pulled into a relatively isolated campsite a bit south of Des Moines and while the wind was blowing and there was a fair amount of noise from kids in the campground and playing in the park across the lake, the overwhelming noise in the -park was from the highway, 3.5 miles away; Hardly's and Hardly-sound-alikes. A constant roar, like being near a major city’s airport. Not being satisfied with indirectly bothering as many people as a simpleminded politician with a corrupt agenda, occasionally one or more of these douchebags would prowl through the campground decimating peace and quiet, conversations, and cranking out new enemies for real motorcyclists.

The self-image these characters cling to is pretty hilarious considering how they are really seen. They glance at the people they pass to see if they’re drawing attention, then they try to drag themselves back to the road satisfied that they’re being checked out. Clueless as Rick Santorum, they imagine that the folks they’ve interrupted, irritated, intimidated, and injured are admiring them and their blubbering machines. They are, more often than not, wrong. If they could focus well enough on their oversized, underpowered vibration testers, they’d see that most people are looking at them with irritation. Some are covering their ears or, if they are parents, they cover their kids’ ears. More than a few are quoting South Park and calling them “fags.” Pretty much nobody of consequences (or intellect) is admiring the fools and their miserable machines.

Me? I’m laughing at them. And I’m recording them. The first time a pair of these clowns paraded through the campground, I whipped out my camera in movie-mode and recorded them as they passed by our RV. That seems to make them nervous, so I pulled out a chair and recorded the next group of blubber-masters. And the next. Pointing the camera at the douchebags seemed to hurry them out of the park. I took a break and a pair of fruitcakes decided to park across from my RV. I fired up the camera and they got nervous and left. I’m beginning to think this might be the solution. Maybe putting douchebags on YouTube, along with a few comments from bystanders would shame enough of them into being quiet. Probably not, but wouldn’t it be nice?

Mar 31, 2014

#49 MOTORCYCLES AND ART


http://www.amazon.com/Geezer-with-A-Grudge/dp/B007RPQJ24
Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I have been married to an artist for almost 40 years and my wife and I disagree about the point where art ends and where worthless crap begins just as strongly as we did in 1968. My wife is an excellent painter, designer, sculptor, and teacher. She has created art works from jewelry to gallery pieces to full-size robotic dinosaurs to theme park rides, all very artistic and all easily respected by me and far more sophisticated folks. Still, after years of being drug to galleries, museums, sculpture gardens, and artist’s homes, my appreciation of most art is limited. In fact, I suspect that the Latin root for the word “art” can be translated to the phrase “sloppy workmanship” or, simply, "not good."

A 1950’s science fiction author, Theodore Sturgeon, once wrote, “90% of everything is crap.” I’ve always thought that Ted was a bleeding-heart optimist. The art world, for example, produces a crap quotient considerably higher than 90%. Music, visual art, plays and movies, the written word, dance, and the rest of the formal artistic world cranks out a ton of crap for every ounce of quality produced. In my opinion, more art than most any other human activity falls into the “not good” category.

If I’m given a choice between wandering through a fine art gallery or a crafts show, I’ll take the crafts show every time. At the gallery, I’ll search out the tiny sections of mosaics, architect’s building models, furniture, and weapons. I’ll be dutifully impressed by a few examples of representational art and a little of the stone and metal sculpture. What I won’t waste time on are the multitudes of scribbling that look like something a bored three-year-old child doodled. I don’t bother with sculpture that could have been dredged from a local landfill, after a year or two of festering in the mud. If there is any sign of splattered paint, tire treads, randomly pasted newspaper, or cans of commercial products piled into the shape of a pyramid, I’m outta there. I don’t pause to marvel at work where the materials, execution, and appearance scream, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m doing a lot of it!” I can scream for myself, I don’t need some academic dork’s help in “expressing my inner child.” I have a strong-willed inner-uber-brat who has no trouble finding his way to the surface where he can splash paint, bust stuff, and glue, solder, or weld unrelated items to unrecognizable junk.

What I don’t have is the unusual discipline to create much of the precise, scientifically rational, ascetically pleasing, utilitarian stuff that I see at a really good craft fair. Turned ceramic and wooden bowls with impossibly tiny openings, inlaid cabinets with seams so complicated and perfectly fitted that it looks like maple and walnut simply grew together, and comfortable furniture that looks cool are among the things that attract my attention. My wife calls the folks who build this stuff “artisans.” I think there is an insult implied in the name, but I just want to know “how’d they do that?” Any idiot can, apparently, create art, but this stuff is impossibly good.

Until fairly recently, motorcycles have been mostly immune to the seductive low-tech path of becoming art instead of reliable, functional technology. The movie, Easy Rider changed all that. Where before only a few goofy lunatics decorated their motorcycles with shiny baubles, tattoo parlor paint jobs, and Hollywood leather, that brainless movie convinced millions of people that motorcycles can be uselessly “artistic” and still be worth money. Since then, a fair segment of motorcycling has steadily gone downhill.

Art perforates the durability, performance, and practicality of motorcycling, at least in this country, to the point that thousands of motorcycles can be rightfully called . . . “garage candy.” Oh man, the shame of it! Some people stoop so low as to describe their own rides in the same terms that Nigel used to babble about his collectors’ guitars in Spinal Tap. (In case you didn’t get it, Spinal Tap is a comedy.) Back in the day, “garage candy” meant a bag of peanut M&Ms stashed in the garage where my wife would never look. Today, it's a market-segment.

Since we have given up on being able to manufacture precision technical products in this country, we’ve developed a good-sized industry specializing in primitive sheet metal, overweight and unstable replicas of 1940s motorcycle frames, and assorted artistic gadgets that a new owner can screw, glue, or dangle from his motorcycle. We even have prime-time, reality television shows that subject audiences to an evening with low-tech acetylene welders and their hysterical relatives creating this junk out of materials available to any blacksmith with a good hammer and a hillside laced with taconite. Sometimes I flip back and forth between the motorcycle builder show and PBS’s “Frontier House, Frontier Life” trying to determine which group is using the most archaic technology. Usually, it’s the motorcycle builders.

So motorcycles are sliding into the realm of art and I’m going to miss function following form, which is being replaced by unrecognizable function and downright silly forms. The upside is that these works of art don’t work well enough to be ridden more than a few dozen miles a year. Even if the bike could manage to burble down the road for a ways, no human could stand the discomfort of an artistic riding position for long.

Outside of a few Shriner parades, the only place I’m likely to suffer exposure to artistic motorcycles is when I’m passing by an open garage where one of the damn things is being polished. Does that mean the once-practical garage is devolving into an art gallery?

MMM October-November 2005

Mar 25, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now?

This report, Noisy Motorcycles – An Environmental Quality of Life Issue, is a pretty good picture of where we are today and how far motorcycle manufacturers are from grasping reality. Tom Austin, the MIC’s so-called “technical expert,” delivered an intellectually TKO with the claim that “OEMs support SAE J2825 as an alternative test for replacement systems because it offers direct economic benefits and increased floor traffic for their dealers who will be able to sell compliant aftermarket systems. He added that a more enforceable standard would have a positive effect on the public acceptance of motorcycles.” Yep, that’s what the public is concerned with, dealers’ ability to sell noisy exhaust systems as a legal upgrade. That’s exactly what I hear from my neighbors when they curse some bozo riding through our neighborhood on a blubber-machine that out-guns the Guard’s helicopters, noise-wise.

My takeaway from this paper is that motorcyclists’ disorganizations and the MIC have thrown up so many barriers to controlling motorcycle noise that the real “solution” will be to simply ban motorcycles from public roads. No part of the discussion has anything to do with protecting the public’s right to peace and quiet. As long as that is not the primary purpose of figuring out this huge (for motorcycling, while completely inconsequential for humanity and society) issue, we are heading down the drain without a floatation device.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,

Mar 24, 2014

#48 An Attempt at Understanding

http://www.amazon.com/Geezer-with-A-Grudge/dp/B007RPQJ24
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

A friend, who's girlfriend had just completed the MSF Basic Rider Class, was telling me about his experience at picking out a new motorcycle. The girlfriend really wanted a big cruiser, but the boyfriend was trying to convince her to try a mid-sized standard; like the SV650 or the EX500. Her cruiser rational was that she liked the look of the retro bike; the "classic" motorcycle look.

I admit it. I don't understand people. Not at all. Not ever.

For my 40-some years as a musician, I've wanted to understand why people listen to country music, especially city people. I started rock and rolling in the early 1960s and it seemed to me that country music was just old rock and roll with hillbilly vocals. The twang is going away in modern country and now most of what I hear on the country stations just sounds like early-1970s rock. Why anyone wants to listen to old folks' rock and roll sort of confuses me. It's not logical.

I live by the saying "form follows function." Not by choice, but by nature. A form that doesn't have a function is lost on me. Cathedral ceilings, backwards baseball caps, neckties, and tall-heeled shoes are just a few of the forms that seem functionless to me; and incomprehensible. I have no idea why anyone likes the look of chrome, especially chrome that has to be constantly polished and rust-protected.  I like leather on baseball gloves and boots, but I think heavy nylon makes a far better day-to-day riding, protective material. If I have to make a choice between waterproof and stylish, I'm repelling water every time. But I thought I'd take a stab at figuring out the "classic look," in terms that I might understand.

Horses, for instance, are similar to motorcycles in many ways. You have to balance yourself on a horse. There are practical and impractical reasons to own a horse. There are stylish and functional aspects of horse ownership. Cager personalities would ride in horse-drawn wagons and carriages, biker types would ride a horse. Right?  There are stylish and practical riders, owners, horse-persons, or whatever the politically correct term might be.

When I was younger, being a western Kansas boy and having cousins who ranched and rodeo'd, I went to a fair number of rodeos. The opening ceremonies were always led by a pack of geezers and bimbos on decked-out horses. The horses were loaded down with silver, fringe, and precious stones. The geezers and bimbos were just as well-dressed, usually wearing white (the good guy color) "western" shirts and pants littered with embroidery and glittery beadwork, tan, fringed leather jackets, high-heeled ostrich or alligator-skin boots, and huge white "cowboy" hats.

Many of the horses were over-stuffed and well-groomed and carried themselves (and their owners) with a fancy step for the couple hundred yards they suffered the parade ceremony. Some were downright ancient and looked about as lively as Roy Roger's horse, Trigger, after he'd been stuffed and mounted in the Roy Rogers Museum. A few, usually ridden by the bimbos, were young, mildly spirited, and out of control, usually prancing sideways across the rodeo grounds, bumping into other horses and riders, and generating lots of laughter from the crowd.

The parade horses were well groomed, with teased manes, braided tails, and flowers. They were all decorated with silver, fringe, and fancy, often white, leatherwork.  Even the horses' shoes would be polished and shiny. One old geezer had his horse shod with silver for these events. For the rest of the evening, the cowboys were the show. I have no idea where the geezers and bimbos went after the opening parade. Maybe they are put back into packing crates so they don't mess up their clothes.

After the geezers and bimbos paraded past, the cowboys made a circuit around the grounds. They always wore jeans, denim shirts, beat up Justin or Acme work boots, and ratty Stetsons or Jayhawk baseball caps. The cowboys' horses were all pretty much the same: five to ten years old, lean, muscled, alert, and looking like the ceremony bored them as much as it did the cowboys. Their gear was minimal: black or brown saddles (a lot of the tack is made from synthetic materials, these days), no fringe, no silver, and rubber or ordinary steel horse shoes. Not much to look at. The cowboys and their horses made you forget about how they looked, once the show started. Performance is everything, image is nothing.

Choosing a horse is probably like choosing a motorcycle. You can buy a tired, old, worn out plug that won't run away with a poor rider or you can buy a young, fast, spirited horse that takes some skill and experience to manage.  If you pile enough equipment on the worn out plug and you curry it out with enough care, the plug will make a fine parade horse. Nothing you do to the plug will make it run fast or cut cattle or perform any useful task beyond making glue. The old nag will often be overweight, sway-backed, slow, and easy going. The worst habit you'll have to deal with is the tendency to return to the barn a whole lot faster than you left it.

There are some advantages to this sort of animal, as every young equestrian's parent knows. It's a lot easier to get on a sway-backed horse than to mount a tall, spirited straight-backed colt. For one, the old horse has a lower saddle height. Once you get on, the old nag isn't going to jump out from under you. That old glue-supply is going to stay motionless until something motivating convinces it to mosey along. A nag is, mostly, fairly safe; unless you need to get somewhere or move quickly.

That's not to say that some old horses can't give a good ride. I once had the pleasure of working with an ex-National champ cutting horse. She could out run, for a short distance, well-conditioned thoroughbreds. She could out-think me, and most riders, when it came to anticipating where cattle or other horses might turn or stop. I've never experienced a mode of transportation that was more exciting or more fun than that horse. She was eventually crippled by a rich old fat man and that pretty much ended my fascination with horses. I'm not a big fan of rich old fat men, either.

However, thinking of motorcycles in terms of horses still doesn't get me any closer to understanding why people want to ride a vehicle that has the characteristics of an over-dressed, over-polished 1940's motorcycle. Outside of museums, can't see the fascination with old technology. Do these same folks use Z80 CP/M or Altair computers out of nostalgia? Do they still cook and heat their homes with wood or coal stoves?

The whole nostalgia thing reeks of old folks pining for a youth they forgot to enjoy when they were young. One thing I can prove with absolute perfection is that you can't go back and you'll never be younger than you are right now. Being young and indestructible is a "use it or lose it" proposition. At the end of that proposition you get to mull over "if I'd have known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." Rocks and hard places, that's what life is all about.

A friend of mine recently purchased a Honda VTX 1800 hippo-bike. This guy's tastes run from the incredibly sophisticated to the ridiculously comical. His motorcycle collection ranges from a Honda NX650 Hawk to a Yamaha Venture to a collection of Yamaha XS650s, with a random half-dozen intermediate bikes thrown in for garage ballast. Now the VTX holds a special place in his purchase history; it's the first bike he's ever bought that caused buyer's remorse. One characteristic of this motorcycle that made a particular impression on me is his inability to read road signs when the VTX waddles slightly above the speed limit. The bike's vibration is so intense that even objects directly in the path of travel are blurred by the big Honda’s unbalanced engine; forget about using the mirrors for anything other than checking hair and makeup before firing up the motor.

In 1930, that sort of performance wouldn't have been a surprise. In 2003, it's more evidence that American motorcyclists are very strange. His purchase of this motorcycle is another piece of human activity that I will never understand. No function, weird and useless form, and he still bought it.

MMM September 2005

Mar 20, 2014

Thinking about Change

14793_hell_ride_screen_biker_gangEvery where we’ve been on this trip, motorcyclists are rare and, too often, obnoxious. The more I see of us, the less I think we’re a sustainable group. The only bright light in two-wheeled transportation is electric. Not that I’ve seen much in electric two-wheeled transport this winter, but there have been more than enough signs of coming electric vehicles to grab my attention. Obviously, the good old Toyota Prius is ever-present, even in surprisingly backwards, backwoods areas. People who work on cars are thinking about how their business is going to change as we move from internal combustion engines to electric motors. Smart guys (like my new New Mexico friend Victor Cano-Linson, owner of Big Victor’s Automotive), are studying and buying equipment for a new generation of vehicles. The old Sinclair dinosaur is turning into an ironic symbol for the Petroleum Age. There are public charging stations in the most unexpected places and more are popping up almost while most of us are pretending change isn’t coming.

Horse-BuggyBut it’s happening anyway. Regardless of how hard the Koch brothers and other scumbags try to stop it, the power grid is about to make a giant leap into the 21st Century. It’s probably too late and far too little will be done to stop the kind of climate disaster we’re just beginning to experience, but the fact that we’re scraping the bottom of the oil barrel in places like North Dakota’s Bakken “Reserves” [If we’re mining them today, they aren’t exactly being “reserved” for the future, are they?] is evidence that the century of prosperity the oil economy created is running out of gas; literally. The only question is, “Are we going to be part of the future or are motorcycles this century’s horse-and-buggy?” Along with, of course, all of the other industrial refuse from the Petroleum Age.

brammo-enertiaAt 65, it’s not my job to be part of the future and after my last two medical-problem-ridden-years I feel even less pressure to be futuristic. Still, it’s hard to ignore the kind of advances that have been made in electric vehicles. My hot buttons, for example, have been addressed and are on the way to being resolved: economy and reliability/longevity. Once I believed the Prius Achilles Heel would be battery longevity; electric motors are pretty well shaken out and it’s hard to imagine those motors squeezing much more than their current 99% efficiency from new technology. Turns out, Toyota not only pretty well sorted out the battery problem, they were smart enough to build the batteries in cells so “replacement” didn’t always mean replacing the whole battery pack. A few years back, I wrote about the tendency of technologies to get really good a few moments after they became obsolete (A Technological Dead End?). With battery life stepping up, efficiencies improving, competition and availability increasing, and energy production shifting (at least everywhere else in the industrialized world) from oil-based technologies to alternative energy, the writing is on the wall. One of the sad facts about being a conservative nation is that we are going to be among the last to accept change, but change comes regardless of human resistance; especially in a competitive world.

zerodsFor the last three years, I’ve been thinking hard about trying one of the electric motorcycles available in the US: Zero or Brammo. Zero makes a bike aimed very close to my heart (Zero DS) and Brammo does some cool stuff with battery replacement and performance. It’s a tough call, but I a seriously thinking about swapping a couple of 250’s for an electric bike this summer. The added advantage of knowing that my “fuel costs” will be included in the camping fees we’re charged at electric sites this coming winter is a small bonus. As I write this, I’m leaning strongly toward the Zero. I can be influenced, however. Who knows, if enough of us go electric maybe motorcyclists will stop being the most despised people on the road?

Mar 17, 2014

#48 Getting Old, It's Not All Bad


http://www.amazon.com/Geezer-with-A-Grudge/dp/B007RPQJ24
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

There are some advantages to getting old. The obvious upside is not dying young. Personally, I think a lot of folks overrate the value of living fast and dying young, but none of those folks are available to debate the subject. We'll just leave it at that and move on to more useful aspects of getting old. An upside of getting old is realizing that learning stuff today it's not much more painful than it was 40 years ago.

Last spring I was one of the lucky few dozen MN-Sportbike.org members who took advantage of the group's annual (sometimes semi-annual) technique training event at the Dakota Country Tech School’s driving range. After a period of resistance and ignorance, I found that I’m not too old to learn something new and useful about riding motorcycles. This group is blessed with the kind of membership that gives Minnesota Nice a second level of meaning. They put up with me, what more do you need to know? It did surprise me that I could pick up so much useful information in so short an event. The combination of closed course riding and excellent instruction is hard to beat.

In life and on the net, I’m mostly a lurker. If I’m not taking a nap, I’m usually reading, listening, or thinking and writing about the things I hear other people say about their lives. That's the source for most of the material from which I write. In my nearly-sixty years, I’ve had a varied career and personal life and I have a lot to compare to what younger and older folks say about where they are and where they hope they are going. It gives me something to do with my time and limited resources.

One thing I, apparently, don’t have in common with many of you out there is money to spend. I am basing this statement on what many of you ride and what you pay to get on the road.  Spending $11,000 on a liter bike is miles out of my budget, but that’s just the down payment on a new high-buck bike. At the MN-Sportbike event, I heard guys talking about insurance payments that ranged anywhere from $3,000 to $6,500 a year.

Doing a little basic math on these numbers, for example the $11,000 bike and the $3,000 insurance payment over the five-year life of a typical loan at 6% interest, this two-wheeled hobby is an investment of  about $30,000 (not counting taxes and more taxes). All of these calculations are assuming you don’t ride the bike. If you ride the thing, maintenance and fuel costs just add more big numbers to the total. After five years, the bike is, hopefully, worth about $6,000 to $8,000, which brings the five-year expense down to only $24,000, give or take a few thousand (still assuming that you didn’t actually ride the bike).

In my declining years, I look at investments as something that must provide an equal return for my effort. That return can be financial, emotional, visceral, or some other “al” word, but there has to be a payback if I’m going to risk my current low maintenance lifestyle. If I don’t break even on the exchange, I don’t do it. Two or three years after you've moved on to another $30,000+inflation bike, I’ll be thinking about buying your old bike. And I'll buy it if it is cheap enough and I’m still interested and something better hasn’t come out that will reset my sights to move my new-bike-acquisition-target-date out another five to seven years. Then, because I don't have a lot invested in the bike, insurance costs me $200 a year. Most bikes don't depreciate much after the first five or six years, so my losses are mostly costs of operation.

The planning and anticipation are almost as entertaining as actually buying and owning a new bike. By “new,” I mean “new to me.” I didn’t used to be like this. When I was a kid and a wanna-be-racer, I “needed” the newest and fastest bike I could afford. I couldn't afford much, so my bikes haven't really changed currency all that much. When my bones started too regularly, the “need” turned into “want” and, later, into a fond memory of something that I could describe but was no longer a compelling argument.

Another thing that has changed for me in this aging deal is that the ride is more interesting than the destination. Sometimes, I don't bother to work out a destination before I take off for a few days. If I have to ride someplace on a schedule, I usually arrive late, get lost, or forget about the obligation altogether.

Much to the disappointment of folks who want my money, I have convinced myself that I know how much BS marketing really is. Cars, motorcycles, big screen TVs, or a zillion dollar house won't make up for a crappy job. You can’t change who you are by carefully selecting the stuff you own. The Mn-Sportbike event pointed this out more clearly than I could ever describe it. One experienced rider pounded the track as well on a mid-1980’s 650 Honda as did the rest of us “intermediate riders” on current, big-bore, bikes with modern tires. The fastest expert rider blasted the around the asphalt on his 250cc two-stroke, passing a collection of modern liter bikes and some very fast riders like they were objects in a parking lot. It’s not what you ride, it’s how you ride it.

One of the really cool things about having been wrapped up in frenzied activity when I was young is that I don’t feel driven to make up for lost time today. The “mid-life” crisis seems to most strongly effect people who took the traditional path to success when they were young. They studied, worked hard, got good jobs, lived in nice houses in expensive neighborhoods, bought a new car every two years, and contributed to the nation’s consumptive economy. All the while, envying people who did what they loved and scraped by on whatever money came from living for the moment. At about age 40, a life spent following the success path often turns ugly on the path follower. The middle-ager realizes he's lived half (or more) of his life and most of it has sucked. So, he buys a motorcycle, a protective bandana, some leather with fringe, and pretends to be one of those freaky dudes who scared the crap out of Hunter Thompson.  And it's not the same because it's too late; too old and fat and slow and timid.

I work in the audio and music business, read a lot of computer rags, occasionally thumb through a car magazine, and I'll read most anything moderately technical. Magazines, in general, have shifted their focus from pretending to be consumer advocates to being blatant extensions of corporate marketing departments. We're living in the ultimate "buyer beware" world and consumers are dumb and getting dumber while marketing departments are clever and getting more so with each psychological and subliminal advertising breakthrough. George Orwell would feel pretty damn prescient if he'd have lived this long.

But I don't really care about that. My kids are smart and practically immune to consumer-speak. We're doing fine, even if the rest of the country is buried in credit card and long term debt. A couple of old folks, beater bikes, a few nice guitars, a quart of Kentucky bourbon, and as little debt as I can maintain and you're looking at old age my style.

August 2005

Mar 12, 2014

The AMA Does Not Represent Me

We are becoming such a health plague that the freakin' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been asked to study why motorcycles are such death traps (In 2013, motorcycles were 16% the state's traffic deaths!). In an obvious move, a committee researched motorcycle crashes and deaths and came to the conclusion that motorcyclists should probably be wearing helmets. Duh. 
The reaction from the AMA was predictable and moronic (also predictable). The delusional biker gangbanger representative disorganization babbled that we'd all be better served if the world were padded and everyone one else on the road magically developed a sixth sense as to when some out-of-control motorcyclists might be in the area. (They would say all of this with some monkey-jabber about how government should focus on magical bullshit that would keep motorcycles from crashing.) In an equally chimpanzee-like (My apologizes to chimps.) add-on, the AMA wildly hopes that motorcycle crashes are a small dent in total health care costs.
Wayne Allard, the AMA vice president for government relations and a constant stream of foolish bullshit said, “The AMA continues to strongly encourage the use of personal protective equipment, including gloves, sturdy footwear and a properly fitted motorcycle helmet certified by its manufacturer to meet federal safety standards. But we also believe that adults should have the right to voluntarily choose to wear a helmet.”
Just like cagers get to decide if they like wearing seatbelts, being restrained by air bags, and being protected by crumple zones and reinforced automotive structures? On what planet do they find these idiots?

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

The headline reads, "Two killed, bus driver injured in crash; another cyclist saw it all happen." My first thought was, what kind of moron would run into a school bus? It’s not like school buses make quick moves. It’s not like a reasonably skilled rider would expect a school bus driver to be watching out for the 0.001% of traffic that motorcycles account for. It’s not like a school bus is hard to see, anticipate, or that busses aren’t well-known causes for dumbass motorcyclists’ deaths. When I read the comments to this article, I realized that most motorcyclists are not fit to be on two-wheeled anything:

  • Justin: “Bikes dnt just run into busses really not 2 bikers at same time bus must of pulled out in front of them”
  • Jane Jud-Almstedt, "AMEN brother!!!!"
  • Robbie Keeling, "Number one cause of death to riders is cars turning in front of them,,,not stunting..thay had a family and due to being able to hide behing a computer people put dumb comments…Karma to yall.."
  • Martha Turner, "There needs to be a more of a watched over the bus drivers in Missouri. There seems to be a problem with some of the bus drivers with an aditude of watch out for me I’m driving a school bus. People don’t pay attention to motorcycler. They have the same rights on the road as any other vehicle."
  • Jane Jud-Almstedt, again, "Please pay attention….We are everywhere. Don’t fault bikers for accidents, yes, there are some that aren’t safe out there, but majority of us are just fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, grandparents, that enjoy the beauty of a ride on a beautiful day. Bikers are employees, students, retirees and people to have around when you need assistance, to raise funds, and just to know. OPEN YOUR EYES!!!!!! May the Lord our God surround all those families involved and comfort them in the hours, days, weeks, months and years to come."
  • Livedtotell, "You can clearly seeby the damage to the left side of the bus that the driver made a left-hand turn directly in the path of the bikers. I walked away from an accident just like this that totaled my bike and luckily left me with only torn clothes and a (still) messed up shoulder."
  • Lory, "My heart breaks, I got my bike out due to the beautiful weather, wouldn’t start. My heart breaks for their families and loved ones."
  • cc, “The article states the accident happened around
    640am. The sun is not completely up at that time. It is obvious from the pictures that the bus pulled out in front of the bikes. If the bikes were side by side in their lane, their headlights may have appeared to be a car to the bus driver, and at times turn signals have to be manually cancelled on a bike. That said, it was clearly not safe for the bus to go, and 2 bikers have died. I agree with previous posters that say bus drivers drive like they own the road. Common sense could have prevented this tragedy.”

Clearly, this crap is from the “Loud Pipes Save Unskilled and Disabled Lives” crowd.  There are, in fact, a few motorcyclists’ comments that implied any competent motorcyclist should have been able to anticipate and avoid a freakin’ school bus. The overwhelming majority appears to believe the world owes them the constant attention they were deprived of as small children (and probably aren’t getting as large children, either). I have advocated dramatically tougher motorcycle licensing testing for most of my life. Now, I’m convinced that an IQ test should be the first thing a motorcyclist needs to “pass.”

Mar 11, 2014

For the Well-Dressed Motorcyclist

ZazzleI’ve had a line of stuff available on Zazzle.com for several years and I appreciate the business many of you have sent my way through that company. I have a couple of Geezer shirts and I wear them, often, to piss off as many people as possible, whenever possible. However, as spiffy as the Zazzle stuff is, I have never thought it accurately reflected the real “Geezer attitude.” So, while I have had a good time creating this line of “irritating-wear,” I’ve kept my eyes open for something more appropriate to the intent, purpose, and style of an old guy who desperate wants to be a motorcycle hermit.

In Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, I met a kindred spirit; Jeff Ducatt. Jeff is a crazy-assed hippy artist who has colorized most of southern New Mexico with his tie-dye art, signs, and art (Believe me, without Jeff most of New Mexico would be nothing but large swathes of tan and brown with tiny spots and squiggles of blue and green.)

The shirt in the pictures is a prototype. Fortunately, every shirt Jeff makes will also be a prototype. I have to cough up some setup money for the Geezer logo, but he’s willing and planning on making every shirt an original piece of artwork (That’s bad if you want one exactly like mine, but cool if you want an original.) The text and logo on the front will be exactly like mine. The quote on the back can be any snippet of the multitudes of idiotic things I’ve said in print. For example:

  • If you can’t ride, I don’t care what you think [per prototype]
  • Go Places, Meet People, Burn Their Fuel
  • Motorcycles. Until you can ride, I don’t care what you think.
  • Some Guys Will Whine about Anything
  • Yes, I Am A Motorcycle Bigot
  • A Hermit Has No Peer Pressure
  • Loud pipes don’t save nearly as many lives as not being drunk and knowing how to ride.

Anything else you’d like printed on the back is fair game. Jeff prints the shirts in two passes, so while the front is going to be replicated, the back can say anything you like. And I mean “anything.” As for colors, you can certainly give Jeff some general directions, requests, and beg for your favorite colors, but the man is an artist and he definitely marches to the sound of his own drummer. For example, I wanted a black, brown, and grey tie-died shirt full of New Mexico petroglyph symbols. There is some black, a bit of grey, and probably some brown somewhere on that shirt, but . . .

If there is enough interest in the shirts to warrant paying for the setup charges, I’ll get back to any of you who write me with a more precise price tag. For now, I think it’s safe to assume the shirts will be around $30 shipped. The more I can order, they cheaper they will be. Price breaks come at quantities of a dozen.

Mar 10, 2014

#47 Riding to Work 2005

http://www.amazon.com/Geezer-with-A-Grudge/dp/B007RPQJ24
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

This year, Ride to Work Day (RTWD, for those of you who live and die with acronyms) happens on July 20. In October of 2003, the AMA adopted and endorsed Ride to Work Day and, maybe, that will light a fire under mainstream motorcyclists to make this an event. I'm not holding my breath, but it could happen.

Other than to try and encourage other motorcyclists to ride that day, I don't usually do anything special on Ride to Work Day. I ride to work almost every day, rain or shine, regardless of dress code, social standards, or common sense. As soon as the ice is off of the roads, I'm riding to work and I'll keep riding until the roads are coated with frozen water; usually late October or early November. Just to be able to say I've done it, for the last four years I've ridden to work at least once every month of the year. However, the last two years I chickened out. In both years, I didn't ride once in January and my February "ride" was a symbolic event without much practical value. A friend told me that my lack of dedication was due to "old man's syndrome." I wanted to argue the point, but couldn't find a logical position from which to defend myself, so I settled for "no, it's not." I can be a pretty damn sophisticated debater when I'm cornered.

I’ve ridden in Texas monsoon gully washers, hail and ice storms, blizzards, tornados, and roasting and dehydrating weather. I do my grocery shopping on the bike, since I can carry several frozen pizza boxes in my saddlebags. I do business trips (ones that don't require carrying test equipment), local and distant errands, and vacations on the bike. The older I get, the harder it is to restart the motorcycling habit in the spring (which began in early March this year), but once I’m back on the bike I tend to stay there until the snow flies. I’m not doing this as a self-sacrificing motorcycle evangelist.

I ride because I’d rather be on the bike than in a cage, almost always.

Riding to work is a big part of what gets me through the day. Not that I hate my job or have an unusually discouraging life, but riding to work is a big part of my lifestyle and has been for 40-some years. Even if the only riding I do is the morning and evening commute to St. Paul, that little bit of motorcycling goes a long way toward making my day enjoyable.

If I were one of those bikers who only rides when he can join a Shriner parade, I'd be really out of my element in the commuter rush, though. Part of why I ride is for the solitude and I get all of that that I need on the freeway most mornings. On the average weekday, motorcyclists are not a measurable part of the Twin Cities' traffic flow. I've often gone for a week without seeing a handful of other bikers on 35E or downtown St. Paul. If we want to be included in Minnesota's traffic management plans, we have to be part of the traffic. Otherwise, we're going to be designated as "recreational vehicles" and be left out of consideration in parking, traffic flow, and road condition planning. Maybe it's due to soaring gas prices, but this year I've seen a slight increase in motorcycle commuter traffic. I think that's a good thing.

Motorcycles can be more than just recreational vehicles. In many countries, two wheeled motor vehicles provide the majority of privately owned transportation. Many European cities are motorcycle-friendly, providing protected parking, traffic law exemptions (filtering and splitting), and active local government participation in motorcycle events. As opposed to much of the Twin Cities which appears to be downright hostile to motorcycles (St. Paul, especially). A typical US transportation planner's attitude toward motorcycles was expressed by Vukan Vuchic in Transportation for Livable Cities " . . . one would reach the absurd conclusion that motorcycles are superior to all other modes of urban passenger transportation. They are cheaper and faster than cars, while their great inferiority in safety and comfort are not considered . . ."  Planners are right to discount motorcycles as long as motorcyclists barely exist in the flow of traffic. On the other hand, planners are government contractors so their opinions are not often useful in complex problem solving.

Ride to Work Day is all about making our presence felt. Being seen in the traffic flow and illustrating that there are more than a microscopically small number of motorcyclists in the state. Minnesota DPS's Pat Hahn tells me that there are almost 200,000 registered motorcyclists in Minnesota. I have no idea where they are all hiding, but RTWD would be a good time for a significant number of those invisible bikers to show their wheels. The more of us seen on the road, the more clout we'll have in the legislature, the better it will be for us to be on the road.

Yeah, I know, I've turned motorcycling into politics. Somebody wrote something like, "Everything is politics." It's true, though. In a democracy, every decision, every direction we take, is because of politics. It's also true that "all politics are based on the indifference of the majority," because only a minority participates in making decisions. The rest of us are trying to make sense of Reality Television. Motorcyclists are a tiny blip in the transportation picture, especially in Minnesota. But if we make the effort to be seen on Ride to Work Day, we can use the "indifference of the majority" to start making changes in our transportation system.

If I see one more "Start Seeing Motorcycles" sticker on an SUV, I'm gonna puke. I want to see some actual motorcycles!

July 2005

Mar 9, 2014

The Geezer Key Chain

A few years ago, 2007, I wrote about a luggage tag that REI made that I made into an incredibly useful key case. Since I liked it so well, REI eliminated it from their product line almost immediately. I’ve tried a collection of key cases, rings, and other crap that mostly sucked in the last six years. Nothing even got close to being useful, dependable, safe for my non-ignition keys under extreme off-road conditions, non-abrasive on my bike’s console and ignition switch housing, or even slightly cool looking.

When my wife made me stop at a leather shop to look for belts, I was impressed by the owner’s attitude and his work. She didn’t buy a custom belt, but I went back the next day with my current key case and we talked about what I wanted in a case. A couple of days later, he called me with the news that it was done and ready to pick up. It is a work of art. After seeing it, my wife forced me to take her back to the shop to have a custom belt designed.

The case has two pouches for insurance, registration, identification, roadside assistance membership cards, or pretty much any business card-sized information you like to carry. There are two ring loops; one for the ignition key and one for your other keys and a snap-secured pouch to keep those keys from getting lost or escaping the case and gouging up your motorcycle’s console or ignition switch. As delivered, it has two metal loop rings for the keys, but I’m going to change out those parts with a pair of flexible aircraft cable loops with knob-and-socket locks.

Even cooler, I negotiated a deal with the shop to make more cases for what I think is  pretty reasonable price: $25 delivered. Considering that REI’s old nylon case cost about $10 shipped (if they weren’t stocking it in the store), this soft leather, custom case is a trip. If you want one, let me know and I’ll put together an order or two. I’d like to order them in, at least, lots of five, but I won’t hold anyone’s money for more than a week before placing the orders with the leather shop.

In my usual clever, dedicated, intense test engineering style, I crash tested the case a couple of times last week on the sand in Elephant Butte. No lost keys, no damaged ignition switch, a slightly bruised ego and right shoulder, and a bit of lost fuel while I wrestled the bike upright in foot deep sand. Turns out, I still can’t judge sand well enough to know when it’s deep and when it’s moderately hard-packed.

Mar 7, 2014

Two Wheels Are Still Better than Four

2014-03-06 RockinAss (8)

Wednesday, I did something I haven’t done in almost 40 years; I went horseback riding. To be precise, we were on donkeys. My wife is an avid horsey fan, but I’ve stayed off of the things since we were in our 20’s; forty-some years. Bill Mills, the owner of Rockin Ass Ranch in Palomas Canyon, New Mexico, is the real deal; a working cowboy with the kind of feel and skill with animals that you usually only get to read about. Plus, he’s a really cool guy with a minimal amount of bullshit in his personality. Bill has been a “large animal specialist” for the movies, for San Diego County, and is one of those guys who usually end up with a show on cable television.

Forty years ago, we rented a Dallas, Texas apartment from a guy who owned a wig company, an import business, and a horse stable. I grew up with horses in easy proximity, from friends in Dodge and an uncle in eastern Kansas who raised quarter horses and trained cutting horses. My wife is a wannabe horsey person who hasn’t had much experience on horses, but who has always imagined herself as a horse owner. I guess that’s pretty much every little girl’s dream. When our landlord asked us if we wanted to drive out to his ranch and see his horses, we went. We were poor and a little bored and we didn’t have much to do most weekends, so the decision was pretty much a no-brainer.

Mostly, the horses he had were brain-dead thoroughbreds who were about as much fun to ride as a Hayabusa with the steering locked and the throttle stuck on WFO. Bill would argue that I’m wrong, but I think thoroughbreds are brainless, fragile running machines. He’s probably right, but my experience tells me otherwise. I believe all animals, including humans, are capable of being bred for stupid and purebreds and thoroughbreds of all sorts are exactly those animals.

One weekend, we loaded up the trailer and his hired hand and I went off to pickup a couple of horses the local SPCA had asked our landlord to confiscate and care for. The hired hand was a real cowboy, a couple of years older than me, who didn’t have much to say but was a good guy to work with. The horses were a mare and her yearling colt who had been abandoned in a field for about a year, living on grass and weeds. They were wormy, half-starved, weak and the colt was downright wild. Our only saving grace was that he was still nursing, since there wasn’t enough nourishment available in the field for him to live without his mother’s milk, so he sort of followed her into the trailer with a little encouragement from a cowboy’s rope and me pushing from behind. She was close to collapse, so we had to support her with ropes and an inverted harness strapped to the trailer rails to keep her from falling on the trip back to the stable.

After the two horses had settled into their stalls, a vet examined them and prescribed a deworming regime, antibiotics for assorted sores and infections, and a really nasty ointment that we had to administer daily for a week or so to kill the worms when they broke through the hides. A combination of the worms, a reaction to the medications, humidity-caused skin infections, and general misuse caused the horses to lose their hair as we brushed them out. By a day or two, both horses were bald and we were “combing” worms out of their hides. It was creepy enough that an experienced cowboy closed his eyes when it was his turn to work with these two horses. When we learned that the mare had been a state champion cutting horse, I took over working on her as much as possible. She fell a few times in the first weeks we had her and she had to be hauled back on her feet with harnesses and pulleys to keep from suffocating. After a month of critical care, she began to gain weight and strength. I walked her every day, even when “exercise” for her was a couple of slow laps around the fenced track. When the vet said she could be ridden, I saddled her up and we started walking around the track with the saddle on or bareback. She regained strength incredibly quickly and started to look like a real horse in a few months.

One afternoon, the day clouded up fast and it started to rain. The thoroughbreds all clumped together under a stand of trees and appeared to be trying to create a biological lightening rod. We usually brought them in with a pickup and a couple of us walking the outside of the herd to keep them grouped, but I decided to ride the mare out and see if some of that cutting horse sense could do the job. Everyone else stayed in the barn to see if I could bring them in by myself. I didn’t bother to saddle her up, we’d been riding bareback with just a rope halter for a while and I planned on walking her up and back. When she realized that I intended to let her do the herding work, she took care of the whole process, pushing the thoroughbreds into a tight group and getting them moving toward the barn. A bolt of lightening hit the trees about the time we were halfway down the path and the thoroughbreds panicked and took off in the general direction of the barn. The mare jumped to the lead and the dumb purebreds went into follower mode. I hung on and started yelling, “Open the barn door!,” which turned to “Get the fuckin’ door open, now!” as we got closer to the stable. The doors started to slowly open when we were less than one hundred yards away but a lot more energy was applied to the work when the hired hand saw a stampede headed his way. The mare pulled up short of the stable, stopping the herd in its tracks, and she led the bunch into the stable as orderly as if it were a planned excursion returning home. My contribution to the outing was purely coincidental. She could have done the work by herself, probably quicker, without my dead weight on her back.

After that episode, I rode her every opportunity I got. We explored the ranch, fixed fences, herded horses in and out of the stable, and I learned more about horses and animals than I had in 20 years of passive exposure. The hired hand rode her a lot, too. We were a pair of skinny kids (imagine that) and she was turning back into a powerful horse with more horse sense than either of us possessed.

The landlord had a fat assed brother who was mostly a drunken asshole who bragged about being a horseman, but none of us had ever seen him ride. One afternoon, when we were somewhere else, he had the hired hand saddle her up and he went for a ride. Supposedly, he tried to get her to jump a stream on the ranch. He’d seen me and the hired hand make that maneuver and wanted to show off his expertise. She jumped, but landed wrong and broke her right front leg so badly that she had to be put down.

I never went back to the ranch. We moved out of the apartment and out of Texas not long afterwards. Our plan was to move to my wife’s grandfather’s eastern Colorado ranch and I’d be his hired hand for a year or two, but her relatives thought we were making a play for his ranch and squashed that. I probably rode rental horses a half-dozen times in the next five years, but it wasn’t much fun and I decided managing one dumb animal was easier than two. I’ve been on two wheels, exclusively, since.

As you can see by the picture, we didn’t exactly go riding in the ordinary sort of place. On the banks of the Rio Grande River, in a pretty remote place with nothing but the sound of the river, birds, our donkeys, and the breeze as an accompaniment. Bill is an entertaining character and his animals are his friends. He doesn’t take just anyone for a ride, regardless of how much money you might wave at him. I don’t see this as a huge change in my outlook on horses vs. motorcycles, but I am glad I re-experienced riding with Bill in such a fine environment. I wouldn’t argue four legs being better than four wheels. I don’t have any sentimental or emotional attachment to motorcycles, though. If I bust up a motorcycle, it’s just time and money. Screwing up an animal that might be smarter than 9/10ths of the human population is something I’m not equipped to do.

Mar 6, 2014

Retro All Over again?



This is one of the dumbest "ads" I've ever seen. However, the new for 2014 SR400 is a kick-starting retro motorcycle that is pretty much exactly what a lot of kids who want a cheap (MSRP of $5990 sort of misses cheap), easily modified/customized bike with the convenience of fuel-injection. Look out Suzuki (TU250X) there is a new kid on the block.

Mar 3, 2014

#46 Tailgating in the Fast Lane

http://www.amazon.com/Geezer-with-A-Grudge/dp/B007RPQJ24
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

Let's discuss this "fast lane" of which many of you speak, and some of you rant hysterically. Where in the state does it exist?

I've been a few places where something sort of resembling a fast lane is observed, non-rush hour moments in Southern California, for example. Denver has a fairly quick fast lane on the urban freeways, too. Las Vegas freeways are pretty quick moving and the far left lane is consistently flowing faster than the speed limits. Phoenix whips along at near-Mach speeds in the left lane and you can plot turns in the road and required lane changes in geological time. Something those places have in common is a moderately strict adherence to multi-lane roadway exit consistency. Chicago and Houston, on the other hand make the Twin Cities look orderly. Boston multi-lane roads are right out of the New York Times crossword puzzle. Urban Minnesota has a freeway system that was designed (to loosely and abusively use the word "design") by drunken professional wrestlers. The Cities were old and well established before the multi-lane roads came into existence (except along the I494 and western I694 mazes, where the disorder is inexplicable), the highway "planners" were politically well-connected, but technically challenged, and the disorder in the highway layout is the result.

The locations of exits on the freeways and Interstate bypasses in both of the Cities and Duluth are about as predictable as Minnesota spring weather. Right side, left side, in the middle, who knows what's next? If they could find a way to do it, Minnesota highway designers would make us exit the freeway in five dimensions. So you go-fasters wonder why people who don't know the local roads well don't hang out on the right lane? They might be expecting a road change and they're anticipating yet another wacky highway split. Those "slow" moving vehicles might know the roads well and be expecting road repair to appear in the middle of the freeway, with 250 feet of notice, jamming all traffic into the far left lane. Or, maybe, they are drivers simply traveling at the legal limit with a rational expectation that they have a right to the lane at that speed. The fact is, legally, "the fast lane" is the lane doing no more than the speed limit with a reasonable expectation that the lane will remain traveling in the direction the current highway designation indicates.

Your pressing need to travel faster than the posted limit is pretty much your problem. Your lack of planning, aggressive driving habits, or general personality disorders do not constitute a reason for other drivers to modify their lane position.

But that doesn't keep the aggressive types from behaving like dope-frenzied whackos. It might even make them a little more irrationally aggressive. You can read about their frustration every where Minnesotans find a place to write to, and about, each other. When sport bikers get together, virtually on the internet or in reality at local bars, the lack of "fast lane etiquette" is as common a topic as the long Minnesota winter and depressing lack of places to race. Etiquette is something I'd like to see more of on our roads.

Towards the end, maybe past the end, of this last riding season, I was moving fairly quickly west on I94 coming back from Wisconsin on a late November evening. The temperature had fallen a lot faster than I expected and I was doing my best to get home quickly and safely before my tires and I froze. Exiting north on I694, I picked up a tailgating hitchhiker. A big, black club-cab pickup practically parked in my tail light and stuck there through the entrance ramp. I was moving fairly quickly, but he made a solid attempt at staying within reach of my bike for the next mile. I tried slowing down to let him pass, that apparently irritated him and he moved close enough that I considered the possibility that he was trying to kill me. So, I took advantage of the limited horsepower available in my 650 and put a few hundred yards between us in the next mile or two. I guess that didn't sit well either because when I slowed back to normal speeds, he was right back on my tail light. I left the freeway at the next exit and lost my 6,000 pound luggage rack. Lane position wasn't the issue. I was in the right lane and he was incapable of changing lanes on a six lane freeway and wanted me to adjust my road position to accommodate his inability.

Maybe 70mph doesn't seem like real speed. Since most of us travel from point A to Z, five to seven days a week, at approximately 70mph, that velocity probably feels pretty tame. Evolution hasn't yet redesigned humans to cope with that kind of speed. The fastest humans run at about 25 feet per second. The quickest horse can't manage much more than triple that speed and can only maintain that momentum for a portion of a mile. Only a little more than 100 years ago, a 50 mile day was considered "breakneck speed," although you can break your neck at a lot lower speeds. 70mph translates to about 103 feet per second, in human comprehension time. Most of us take about a second to realize there is a hazard to avoid, we blow another second in deciding to apply the brakes or considering the option of steering around a hazard, and, finally, we make our correction and our abilities and our vehicle contributes their bit to the reaction time. Assuming a fairly mild reaction is needed to avoid the hazard, almost every one of us will have traveled a minimum of 300 feet in the process. A major correction, like coming to a complete stop could use up a 1,000 feet, assuming you manage to stay shiny side up.

Tailgating is a fool's delusion. If you imagine you are in control of your vehicle while traveling anywhere closer than a two second safety margin in perfect driving conditions, you're delusional. Any blip in the terrain, the momentum of the vehicle we're tailgating, or our own vehicle's stability will turn tailgating into a near-instant disaster. Tailgating does not, consistently, convince the person in the lead vehicle to speed up or change lanes. Irrational behavior does not, necessarily, inspire rational behavior.

Here in Minnesota, we're close enough to being "East Coast" to be stuck with the associated political corruption and historically poor planning that plagues the "old coast." Since the state politburo has decided that uncontrolled, irrational growth provides some magical, indefinable benefit to someone/somewhere/somehow, our mess of roads are going to become more crowded, more poorly organized, slower moving, less scenic, more packed with unskilled hostile commuters, and a lot less friendly to motorcycles. You might as well get used to it. If you want to ride the fast lane, consider moving to a place where there is a fast lane. Minnesota isn't one of those places.

June 2005

POSTSCRIPT: In the relentlessly informative and technical, The Upper Half of the Motorcycle, author Bernt Spiegel explains how a line of four cars travelling at 100kph and following with a typical 15m spacing requires approximately 5m more stopping distance for each vehicle in the line: meaning the 2nd vehicle needs 5m more than the first, the 3rd needs 10m more than the first, and the last needs 15m (the exactly following distance) more than the first. With the kind of tact I'm familiar with, he begins this analysis by saying "the completely clueless tend to follow much more closely." The more I hear from the "fastlane" characters, the less sympathy I have for them. As my wife accurately notes, "They drive like they think they are in a video game." More evidence that drivers' licenses are handed out in Cracker Jack boxes and all of the blather about highway safety is just a smoke screen for creating rolling taxation in the guise of policing.