Oct 12, 2019

Fast Lane Biker Geezer Column (October)

Motorcycle Delusions

The video is funny, the comments on the YouTube page are even funnier.

Oct 10, 2019

Ya Missed It

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

25 Year Collection of 500 "Motorcycles."

Oct 4, 2019

For Sale: 2008 Yamaha WR250X Supermoto

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

2008 Yamaha WR250X Supermoto

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

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

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

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

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

What Are They Selling?

Somewhere in this ad, there is supposed to be a motorcycle.

Oct 1, 2019

Making Friends Wherever We Go

A little more than 20 years ago, my oldest daughter lived in Daytona Beach. My grandson was born there. When she first moved to that beleaguered city, she really loved the place. She lived easy walking or bicycling distance from the ocean, work was a short bike ride every morning, the weather was almost always perfect, her rent was cheap, and the hospital where her son was born (prematurely) was very competent. And then the first month of March rolled around and with it rolled in a half-million bikers and their noisemakers. Her last year in Daytona, 2000, was a record breaker (until 2006) with 15 motorcycle deaths highlighting the 10-day “event.” The noise and pollution from that many illegal motorcycles in a confined space with “law enforcement’ turning a blind eye to everything from burnouts on residential streets to guns fired at all times of the day and night to wannabe gangbangers hanging out anywhere there was something to slouch against convinced her that Florida was no place to raise a kid. It also made things a little tense between us for a while, when she was reminded of my daily motorcycle commute. 

My experience with biker events started long  before that. In 1974, my local (Nebraska) Suzuki dealer was looking to make a dent in the off-road racing sales and service and winning an event or two at the Black Hills Motor Classic was one of his marketing targets. I got tagged to help with his entries in the hill climb, the motocross, and the cross country races. I planned to ride a TM250 for the last two events and we both thought we’d take a shot at the hill on a TM400 Cyclone with big paddle-style tires. 1974 was the first year, I think, for vendors and he’d brought stuff to sell; dirt bike stuff. I think we knew we were in the wrong place with the wrong stuff the moment we drive into the pit area. The motocross event was so normal it was practically non-existent. There were only a few riders, mechanics, parents, and people who looked like they belonged at a motocross and a lot of people who looked like they came straight out of a Dennis Hopper-cast biker movie hanging around the vans, trailers, and any bike that wasn’t being watched closely. We immediately scrapped out plan to camp out in the pit area in tents and opted for waiting to see how things played out at the first races. 

Later that day, the kind of stuff for which Sturgis became infamous began to happen; fights, drunks staggering through the pits looking for fights, tools and bikes stolen, motorcyclists hassled by bikers, and it was really obvious that this wasn’t a motorcycle event. Sore loser performance art? I was pretty much stuck in South Dakota until my friend made up his mind. Since the only things I’d brought were my riding gear, I snagged a ride east with some folks who had also decided to give it up for lost and go back home. They dropped me off in Rapid City and I found a bar near a motel on the west end of town and a phone booth (remember those?). I called my wife to let her know she didn’t have to worry about me getting banged up on the motocross track. A few hours later, my Suzuki dealer/friend showed up; frustrated, bummed-out, and angry. Things back in Sturgis got worse after I left and he’d seen all he needed to see of bikers and the Black Hills Motor Classic. Almost 50 years later, I do not remember what his past experience had been with the event, but I am pretty sure he’d raced there at least a few times previously. We drove straight back home that evening. Back home, there was lots of bad press about the gangsters and hoodlums who had run wild in South Dakota. Being known as a motorcyclist wasn’t a good social move for a long while. 

The next motorcycle rally/event I intentionally experienced was the Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Weekend in Colorado that ran from 1981 to 1998. Steamboat ended, when the high-rent development in that once-really-cool-town ate up all of the rideable real estate and priced motorcycles out of town. I started going to Steamboat in 1992 and went every year from then to the end. It was a great motorcyclists’ event. For at least 5-6 years, the event was really popular with the local folks, too. That is UNUSUAL! Typically, the locals hate motorcycles, motorcyclists, and bikers by the time an event is over. I’ve spent a lot of miles prowling around South Dakota and if you aren’t on a Harley you will often get an earful of what the locals really think of bikers and the Sturgis train-wreak. For a surprising number of years, that was not the case for Steamboat Springs.

For one, the only noisy bikes at Steamboat were the race bikes--on the track --where noise and race bikes belong. For two, Steamboat wasn’t a gangbanger event, but a motorcycle event that was more about motorcycles and riders than any of the previous two described events could ever hope to be. Instead of partying like drunk circus bears, the late evenings in Steamboat were often folks sitting around a campfire telling adventure touring or racing stories. The motorcycles, both the competitors’ and the fans’ motorcycles, were unusual. No chrome and LED gunked-ujp hippobikes or suspension-mangled sportbikes, but lots of odd and interesting stuff I never saw before and haven’t seen since; outside of coffee table books. The thing to takeaway from Steamboat is that motorcyclists and motorcycles don’t have to be Public Enemy #1. as weird as it sounds, a motorcycle event could be about creating good will between the 99.999…% of the public who do not ride motorcycles and those of us who do. Otherwise, it’s safe to assume motorcycling’s days on public roads are numbered and we’re likely to end up as the same kind of history as horses and buggies and all of the other unlicensed recreational vehicles. Think about it.

Sep 16, 2019

Sharing the Load

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

When I'm home, which is most of the time these days, a character I've known for years used to regularly stop by the house with his motorcycle in some state of disrepair hoping that I'll drop whatever I'm doing and fix it for him. In my withering years, I'm disinclined to multi-task for anyone at any time and I ignored him until he went away. Along with the "fix this for me" chant, he regularly includes "Why don't we ever ride somewhere together?" 
We bought an RV a couple of years ago and I spent the summer fixing up the damn thing, getting it ready for what I'd hoped would be a 12,000 mile winter trip. By "we," I mean "me." My wife encouraged this purchase, provided the money from a normal inheritance she'd received from her father's estate, and nagged at me to find an RV until I put aside the stuff I wanted to be doing that year and researched RVs until I found something we could live in and that she might be willing to drive. The limitations were serious: has to be normal enough to feel like driving a car, costs under X-dollars, gets good mileage, can be parked in town, and has a collection of "must have" accommodations. Not many US-sold RVs met her requirements, so we ended up with a very low-mileage 2000 Winnebago Rialta. I flew to Portland and drove the damn thing back by myself because she decided, at the last minute, she didn't want to take that trip. Huge warning flags waving right then, but I am as perceptive as a sightless fish and as smart as a sightless worm. 
8,500 miles later and a good portion of the winter spent re-engineering Winnebago and Volkswagen's poor quality assembly attempts, and I know way more about "adaptive transmissions," VW's many quality problems, automotive computer systems, and being an RV owner. My wife, on the other hand, knows almost nothing about any aspect of our vehicle and its functions as a moblie home. I signed up for a couple of users' groups for this vehicle and a woman recently posted, "I had no idea what my husband did with our Rialta until he died last summer and I discovered I didn't know how any aspect of this motorhome worked. I had to spend nearly $2,000 doing the basic maintenance he did every spring for a few hundred dollars and a weekend of puttering around. I didn't even know how the stove worked until one of you showed me at the Nevada rally." I'm not saying my wife is incompetent. She gets around the kitchen pretty well and has sort of adapted to my "everything has a place and belongs in it" Captain Bligh routines, she took over most of the cabin-cleaning duties. I cook, she cleans up afterwards. She's a good driver and put on a few hundred miles behind the wheel on the first half of the trip and a few thousand on the way back. While she knows there is a setup and teardown checklist and can read it off to me, she would be helpless if the roles were reversed. Among our RV-aquaintances, my wife and other wives pretty much agree, "If he weren't with me, I'd sell this thing in a minute." Like motorcycling, RV-ownership appears to be a guy thing.
If I were to "go riding" with the wannabe co-rider about whom I started this rant, I'd be stuck in the same situation, but on a motorcycle. I have always tried to surround myself with people who are smarter than me; and that's not often a difficult task. When I go for distance on my motorcycle, I am exercising my Inner Hermit and I have no desire to babysit anyone. Since I turned thirty, my motto has been "Hermits don't have peer pressure." In fact, I'm going to have a t-shirt made with that on it; in big letters. There are some people with whom I have obligations and I'll set aside my better hermit judgment for them. There are a very few people with whom I would happily travel anywhere, anytime, for as long as they want to go. For everyone else, I'm not going there with you. I have enough problems taking care of myself. Adding you to my load is not on the menu. I've had my kids and you're not them.

Sep 3, 2019

Fast Lane Biker Column #2

At the least, this is curious. My title for this Fast Lane Biker column was "Making Friends Wherever we Go." I think they have decided my subtitle will be "It's Not What You Don't Know" for everything I write for them.

Sep 2, 2019

It’s Not What You Don’t Know

All Rights Reserved © 2019 Thomas W. Day1

Thanks to old age and bad genetics, I’m stuck on a bicycle so far this summer. Double-vision and myasthenia gravis have pretty much taken me off of the motorcycle for an undetermined period; maybe for the rest of my life. Luckily, my generous and adventurous grandson donated his beat up electric bicycle to my cause this winter and, after repairing all of the damage done to that vehicle that he and city salt in 1 1/2 winters of Minneapolis commuting, I started riding it around my current hometown in January and have put about 750 miles on it, as of July. My wife became interested when she saw how much fun I was having on the eBike and I bought her one for Mother’s Day. She’s almost put 250 miles on the eBike since then. Riding with her today was an experience that made me think of something that might fit the August issue’s editor request for “a women-related article that would fit in with our August women rider issue.”

It’s never fair or realistic to stereotype people for sex, race, formal education, or any other major category we humans use to jump to easy conclusions. However, in my experience there are often some significant differences in men and women, outside of biology, and my experience is all I have to go on.

For example, my wife, like every other woman I know seems to be completely uninterested in how things work. I know a few guys like that, but not many. I realize that my acquaintances and friends are self-selected and I don’t have much in common with men who are disinterested in how things work, but I also don’t run into a lot of men like that. Every woman in my life is exactly like that; “Don’t bother me with how it works, just show me how to use it.” Even something as simple as an electric bicycle, my wife is disinterested in how the Pedal Assist System (PAS), derailleur shifter, battery status, brakes, or even the basic handling characteristics of a bicycle that will easily go 20mph; more than fast enough to create some major road rash. She just wants to know the minimum to get the bike in motion and get on with it. No chance she will ever read the 20-page manual, regardless of what might go wrong or what she might learn about her eBike that would enhance her enjoyment and confidence in riding the thing. I have known exactly two women in my life and career who were significantly different from my wife and her and our women friends.

Not knowing how a motorcycle works is a really limiting deficiency. For one, you’re pretty much stuck going any decent distance with other people; probably men who can fix stuff for you. Motorcycles are solo vehicles, by design, regardless of what the pirate parade nitwits may tell you, and clinging to those rolling bowling pin processions is a formula for ending up dead or wounded. Dead is no big deal, but seriously wounded is freakin’ awful. Another flaw in having to rely on someone else to be your technical resource is that the odds on finding a competent person who will take that job are slim-to-none. For the last 40 years, I have always said that if I ever won the lottery, the first thing I would do would be to hire an IT person for my wife. Likewise, I have found a mechanic to mess with her cars, so I don’t have to look at the neglect and abuse those pitiful vehicles suffer.

When it comes to riding skills, tactics, and techniques, motorcycle brand and model choices, and especially the clothes you wear on a motorcycle, if you are not actively making those choices on your own or, worse, basing those decisions on peer pressure, you are not really a motorcyclist (However, you might be a “biker.”). Peer pressure is for high school kids or worse. Style-over-function in a transportation or life-support equipment decision is just dumb. In my years teaching the MSF Basic and Experienced Rider Courses, I was too often asked questions about these things by people who had already made up their minds from poor advice and ignorant observation. In my touristy hometown, for example, about one-out-of-every-two-dozen bikers are wearing helmets and way fewer are wearing decent protective gear or even boots and gloves. I can tell by their posing that they imagine themselves to be such great riders that crashing is just not going to happen. Having been stuck trying to teach a lot of those exact characters how to make evasive maneuvers, use both brakes, keep their eyes ahead looking for hazards and escape routes, safe distances, and arguing with them about “dangerous helmets” and loud pipes saving lives, I’m here to tell you that those folks suck as motorcyclists. (They are state-of-the-art “bikers,” though.)

So, my suggestion for women who want to become motorcyclists is learn how to ride, learn how to maintain your motorcycle (busted fingernails and all), wear motorcycle gear (not Village People costumes), and remember “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you do know that ain’t right.” (Will Rogers) The problem with what most of the people who want to give biker-advice is that almost everything they know is wrong.

1This was the first essay I have written for (of all places, Fast Lane Biker Magazine.Check it out. I am, currently, a contributor.

Aug 27, 2019

Get Real Guys

eBikes ought to be a solution to a lot of the world's carbon transportation problems, but too many of the manufacturers are treating the market as if it is only occupied by 1%'ers. Yamaha, for example, is hustling its new Wabash Gravel model for $3500 plus $330 for a rack and fenders. Eric Buell's eBike, the Fuell Fluid, is going for $4,000 or $4,400 with a 2nd battery. Harley has some eBikes in the works and it's safe to assume they'll be asking prime prices. BMW's attempt at high tech eBikes will be in the $3000 to $4000+ price range. Ducati, as you should assume, will be offering eBikes at full motorcycle prices.

I think that is a huge mistake. Right now, Motorcycle dealers are ideally positioned to provide service for hundreds of thousands of eBikes of all brands, which would draw new customers to their showroom floors. Give the competition enough time and motivation and as motorcycle sales continue to tank that advantage will fade away. Bike dealers and mechanics are currently busy whining about having to cope with "complicated" eBike systems and hardware, but they too will either have to figure it out or vanish in the dust of business history. This, like all games, a zero-sum game; not everyone currently in the game will survive. eBike sales are cranking up all over the world and there will be big winners and lots of small losers.

Aug 19, 2019

Are You A Risk Taker or Just a Moron?

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

During an Experienced Rider class late in 2014, my group of smarter-than-typical riders seriously discussed motorcycle gear, riding fast on public streets, and taking risks. The only barely-competent guy in this normal group commented, "If you're not going fast you're not riding." His bike of choice was a classically overweight, underpowered, unmaneuverable hippobike, so I had to assume that his version of "going fast" would be less-than-impressive, outside of his noise output. Still his comment inspired one of the other riders to say, "Watching my kids bang around the house reminded me that I was no longer made out of magic and rubber and I gave up serious off-road racing when I turned 30." The "magic and rubber" comment really stuck with me. 
As my wife and I were near the end zone of getting our house in Little Canada emptied out and ready for sale, I took a walk around our old neighborhood. On the way back home, I flashed back to a decade ago when my grandson was in the early stages of learning how to ride a bicycle. One afternoon after riding to our neighborhood playground he was "racing" me back home when he target-fixated on a group of mailboxes and plowed into them pretty close to full speed. He was, of course, helmeted, gloved, and wearing a little protective padding. I wasn't far behind him and after I'd checked him over, determining that he had nothing more than a big scare and a few scratches, we rode the rest of the way home fairly subdued. While we were putting up the bikes and gear, we had another talk about where you look when you're riding a bicycle: "look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go." In what seemed to me like a few minutes, he'd gone from scared and crying to having forgotten about the crash altogether. The next time we rode to the park, he was back to racing me and every trip after that was uneventful. If I had that same crash I'd probably still be in a wheelchair and scarred for life; helmet or not.
Thinking about that crash reminded me of the series of horrific crashes Garry McCoy demonstrated for the movie "Faster." 

McCoy did not get away harmlessly when he crashed. Between 1998 and 2010, when McCoy finally retired from racing, Garry broke an ankle and a wrist and spent more time than any sane person flying through the air with pieces of his motorcycles scattering in the winds. When McCoy crashed, he crashed spectacularly. But he raced at a world championship level for 18 years and even when he didn't run with the fastest guys he was always fast and fun to watch. Racers know that old saying about motorcycling, "there are riders who have crashed and riders who will crash" is a fact. If they've been riding near their limits for any time at all, they've already joined the "riders who have crashed" group, more than once. 
Once you've done the "flying through the air" thing, you will become far more familiar with the risk involved in riding a motorcycle. Even if you're properly geared up, AGAT from head-to-toe, you'll most likely still be sore the next day and more aware of how slight the margin between seriously broken and almost broken can be. When my grandson crashed his bicycle all I could think about for a few hours was how easily his crash could have been something awful for him and our family. Some of that was due to my own familiarity with crash consequences. In various off-road racing incidents I've broken all of the toes on my left foot, all of my left side and several of the right side ribs, a couple of fingers, and both clavicles (one on a bicycle). Not one of the crashes that resulted in busted body parts was even close to being one of my most spectacular endos. Just a little bit of bad luck and/or poor timing turned what could have been nothing but a good story into a few months of painful recovery. 
When I see riders wobbling down public roads in their "biker underwear" (any outfit that doesn't qualify as AGAT), oblivious to the risk they are taking and the possible consequences of that risk, I'm reminded of my wife's observation, "They're having fun now." It's not difficult to imagine how quickly that fun can turn into disaster. I've seen what happens when skin meets asphalt at speed. It's ugly, painful, and a little disgusting. I've seen a skull turned into something more like a poorly shaped pillow that sagged weirdly into the road. I've crashed my bicycles at 2-25mph, wearing the usual bicycle "gear" and left a whole lot of myself on the road or trail. Even when the road rash barely breaks the skin, if there is enough of it it still hurts a lot and for a surprisingly long time. 
Motorcycling is risky. So, it's fair to say that every time we gear up and swing a leg over a motorcycle, we're assuming risk. With that assumption, it's also fair to say that every time we swing an unprotected leg over a motorcycle we're acting stupidly and pretending the road isn't hard and unforgiving, that mechanical parts don't fail unexpectedly, and that we're unlikely to make a stupid mistake that could result in a crash. There is also the less likely possibility that someone else will do something stupid and crash into us. So, motorcycling without taking the barely-reasonable precautions of going AGAT and being sure our skills are sufficient for the machine we've picked is clearly stupid. So, before you open the garage door and roll your machine into the driveway, I'd recommend asking yourself, "Am I a risk taker or just a moron?"

Aug 11, 2019

Assholes Everywhere

The comments on this page are hilarious.  My wife saw something like this silliness on EuroNews this morning and was convinced I'd be impressed. 

Putin rides like a conservative politician; terrified and awfully. He and his asshole biker buddies are exactly the kind of nitwits we have parading around the Mississippi River Valley every weekend. I'm tellin' you, the apocalypse can't come soon enough. Humans have clearly down-bred to the point of no return.

Aug 9, 2019

Back in Paper

This seems like one of those destined to fail marriages,but for now I'm writing a column (still called "Geezer with a Grudge" for Fast Lane Biker Magazine. This month's issue is the first for me. Like Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly 20-some years ago, Fast Lane is trying to get pissed off reader letters to justify their existence. So, I'm justifying my existence by pissing people off, again.

Jul 29, 2019

The Difference Between Pros and the Rest of Us

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

A young woman wrote the following on a motorcycle list I occasionally follow, "I'm considered/called a 'pro artist' but I don't get paid for my work. Just because someone races and gets paid for it doesn't mean they actually know what they are doing." She was responding to a comment I'd made about how unimpressed I was with all of the "performance" farkle-jabber that went on among the wannabes and street bandits on that list (My exact comment was, "Actually, to be a professional at something you have to be good enough to get paid for it."). Another kid on the list responded with, "You also don't have to be a pro-rider on a race circuit to be considered 'pro.' It's all in experience."
First, let's get the semantics out of the way. Mr. Webster, if you please. 
Pro-fes-sion-al adj
1) a: of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession; b: engaged in one of the learned professions; c: (1) characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace  
2) a: participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs <a professional golfer> b: having a particular profession as a permanent career <a professional soldier> c: engaged in by persons receiving financial return <professional football>
3) following a line of conduct as though it were a profession <a professional patriot>
From the above definitions, I think it's safe to say that being a professional has something to do with getting paid to do the job. Someone "considered/called a 'pro artist'" who does art without compensation is a hobbyist or an amateur. That person might be an excellent artist, but not a professional artist. 
How long would any of the tens of thousands of competent high school or college football players survive an NFL game? In sports--and motorcycle racing is a sport--the difference between professionals and the rest of us is as dramatic as the intellectual space between Stephen Hawking and Bonzo the chimp. Being "courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike"--even adding the gold leaf of "conforming to the technical or ethical standards"--might cut it in the Misfortune 500, but it won't buy you one microsecond of cornering advantage on the race track. Being a pro-rider means you are better than all of the novice, intermediate, and expert amateurs. Getting a substantial investment from a race sponsor or a five-to-seven-figure salary from a manufacturer means you are among the best-of-the-best. Winning national and world championships means you are superhuman.  
When we watch a pro race, it's easy to imagine that kind of skill is normal because the race track is filled with people going fast and making it look easy. Michael Jordan made dunking a basketball look easy, too. Magic Johnson made bullet behind-the-back passes and half-court jump shots look natural and humanly possible. Kenny Roberts convinced a lot of fools that the Yamaha TZ750 was a real dirt track miler, not the deathtrap ("They don't pay me enough to ride this thing," sayeth Kenny) that it really was. NFL quarterbacks pinpoint 60 yard passes into the hands of the quickest runners in human history and we delude ourselves into believing that our cheering helped them perform those incredible feats. I know about this delusion, because I watched Bobby Hannah skip across the tops of chest-deep whoops in 1977 and I thought I could do that if I only had a factory bike. I suspect I couldn't ride a 1976 factory bike on my best day. Being a spectator is a deceiving experience. Hell, television even convinces some of us that science and invention is easy and glamorous. 
It's all bullshit, though. These aren't normal athletes. They aren't ordinary people. What they do is not normal human activity. They are professionals. 
We can argue about how much those talents are worth, financially, but arguing that "it's all in experience" is foolish and arrogant. I've been riding since 1963 and I have a butt-load of "experience." I get paid to teach MSF classes, so I am (in a weak sense) a professional motorcyclist. But I never had a fraction of the talent, dedication, physical ability, or focus to be a professional racer. I have written more than 250 articles for a variety of industry publications (including motorcycling) and that makes me a professional writer. A writer becomes an author when he publishes a book: I am not an author. Experience doesn't amount to squat until you get paid to do the thing, if you want to compare yourself to professionals. All you have to do to gain experience is to stay alive and observe the world around you. 
Professionals don't delude themselves with stupid fantasies. (They may be superstitious, though. I can't explain that.) Pro motorcyclists wear the best protection gear available. They ride motorcycles that have the very best maintenance and state-of-the-art technology. They study the race track, the other racers, their machine, and they integrate all of that information into a performance that produces results or results in early retirement. To be a professional you have to convince someone you are actually worth hard cash. On the race track, you do that by winning races. Nothing else matters.

Jul 22, 2019

Running from the Noise Makers

There are tourist towns and there are tourist towns. Red Wing, MN, (my hometown) seems to really want to spend a lot of taxpayer cash attracting out-of-town money, but only a particular type of money. Like Lost Wages in the 90's, Red Wing is pretty much a town full of geezers (mostly retired) who are terrified of change, young people, and bikers. Our cops, especially, follow the national mode of knowing these assholes are gangbangers and domestic terrorists and they keep a long distance. If there is such a thing as a biker who could pass a DWI test on a typical summer weekend, our cops have no idea what that would look like.

We had some friends visit for a weekend recently and when we went looking for an restaurant on one evening we ratcheted from Smokin’ Oak to Kelly’s to Bayside to downtown, finally settling on one of the downtown restaurants that wasn’t surrounded by bikers and loud drunks (not that the two are a different crowd) and their poorly maintained and highly-illegal cruisers. The fact is, you can’t have it both ways; you are either a family-friendly tourist town or a biker-friendly bar stop. The difference between most cruiser exhaust noise and year-round fireworks is usually that the fireworks are quieter and more entertaining. Concentrating on the biker money means that family entertainment money will go elsewhere.

Back in 2007 and, again, in 2013, Stillwater, MN made some political noise about cracking down on illegal motorcycle and 4-wheel exhaust noise and the biker gangbangers made some seriously threatening noise back. About the same time, Hudson, WI’s City Council, reacting to residents’ complaints, had a similar discussion, attracting a collection of Outlaw bikers to a city council meeting, which scared the local cops into hiding for the evening. That effectively caused Hudson to back down from their resident-friendly position. There is a group, Citizens for a Quieter Stillwater, that has tried to keep this issue upfront in Stillwater, but Stillwater police seem to have been terrorized into pretending this isn’t a policing problem. I get that, biker gangs are high on the FBI’s list of domestic terror groups. There are many good reasons to be afraid of them, but that is supposed to be why police get to carry guns and can (and should) arrest dangerous law-breaking people. (I know, if I am dumb enough believe that the characters who mostly want to wear badges and carry guns are willing to risk their 20-years-and-out retirement plan putting themselves at risk to protect and serve the public, you have a bridge and Thomas Jefferson's airplane you want to sell me.)

A few months back, in answering a question about vehicle noise and disturbing the peace, Red Wing’s Chief of Police made it clear that he is familiar with the state noise laws (https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/p-gen6-01.pdf) and how they should be enforced. The reasons those laws are not enforced are both economic and pragmatic. Local bars catering to bikers carry a disproportionate amount of political weight and they don’t care much who brings in money as long as there is lots of it. In Minnesota, motorcycle advocacy groups like ABATE (Always Beer at the Event) advocate against helmet laws, motorcycle safety and pollution inspections, mandatory rider training and licensing, and to whine about increasing penalties for right-of-way violators (unless they are bikers). The state legislator was coerced (or terrified) into passing the “Motorcycle Road Guard” law where a mildly-"trained" doofus is allowed to “stop and control traffic for motorcycle group riders”: one of the dumber ideas from our not-too-bright state legislature. Obviously, a smarter approach would have been to enforce rational pirate parades with police examining all of the vehicles in the parade for legal exhausts and fuel systems and breaking up the parade into normaler, traffic-manageable groups. ABATE does an “Annual Bikerday at the Capitol,” where all the group’s pirates dress up in gangsta outfits intended to scare the crap out of the pseudo-conservative lightweights in the capitol and to keep motorcycle legislation off-discussion. It, so far, has worked. 

The average age of US motorcyclists has been going up 2-3 years every year (>50 as of 2018) and the median income is considerably above the US average: $62,500 in 2018. Safety training programs across the country are reducing the number of classes they offer, for example by more than half in Minnesota from the peak 2003-07 period. Motorcycle dealerships are closing or diversifying into ATVs and boats. The number of licensed motorcyclists drastically exceeds the number of motorcycles with valid license tags, indicating that actual ridership is down substantially (and that a regular demonstration of competence should be part of motorcycle license renewal). That last fact is even more dramatic than it seems when you take into account the fact that many/most active motorcyclists own and ride more than one motorcycle. So, this noise and safety issue could be self-solving as bikers age out of the country’s demographic and motorcycle manufacturers price themselves out of existence.

As for the “loud pipes save lives” hype, as a life-long motorcyclist who taught Minnesota motorcycle safety classes for 17 years, I recommend learning how to ride your motorcycle over passive noise makers. 30-to-40-something-percent of Minnesota fatal motorcycle crashes are single-vehicle incidents and common sense would indicate that at least that number of motorcycle crashes are at least in large part the fault of the motorcyclists. The state doesn’t keep any sort of statistics on loud pipes involved in crashes, but there are a LOT of Harley’s and other cruiser models involved in fatal crashes and the most “custom” Harley is one with no pointless modifications done to the exhaust system. So, the evidence appears to be pretty conclusive that the only reason for loud exhaust systems to flaunt disrespect for laws and authority and common decency and peace and quiet.

Jul 15, 2019

Only Mortal

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

In 2008, a few weeks before I took off on a month-long bike trip to eastern North America, I accidentally ran a test on my self-confidence. You'd think that a 60+ year old man would be pretty familiar with his body and his limits, but you'd be wrong. One of the characteristics of folks who take on risky activities like sky diving, scuba, and motorcycling is the need to operate on some level of conviction that "I won't get hurt." Crashing and getting maimed and dying is for other people. They have my sympathy, but I'm not one of those guys. I felt that way, especially, when I was young and raced off-road. Some days--those few when I get out of bed relatively painlessly--I still feel a bit indestructible. 
It's an illusion. A fantasy. A conceit. We're all not only mortal, but a little bit fragile. At speeds beyond a brisk walk, we're downright breakable. Even me.
So, one afternoon after work I was on my way home; taking residential roads, avoiding traffic congestion, and ugly freeways. As I approached a collection of apartment buildings, I saw a trio of kids with arm loads of water balloons. I was in my usual armor. It was a hot July afternoon. They were having fun. I didn't make any special effort to avoid them. As I passed, all three fired off a balloon in my direction. Two balloons harmlessly hit the pavement in front of my bike and splashed a little water on my boots. The third landed right in my lap. 
At first, I was shocked that getting hit by a water balloon wasn't as fun as I remembered it being. My grandson and I toss water balloons at each other all summer (I know, "You could put an eye out doing that.") and nobody ever gets hurt. 
I got hurt. I practically vomited it hurt so much. I've been hit by 200 pound guys in football gear and this was worse. I've hit the ground at 50mph in a dirtbike get-off, this wasn't that bad but it wasn't far off. The pain from the balloon impact was somewhere below crashing and breaking a rack of ribs and way above having a 10 year old grandkid jump on my stomach while I'm lying on the floor watching television. 
Nursing my bruised gut, I did a little research on risk, just to see if I could learn something. I have learned enough about pain, I didn't need any more of that sort of information. The Journal of Sport Behavior had some interesting things to say about risk: "Choosing risk for the sake of risk is not the goal. Rather, while being attracted to activities that offer novel or intense experiences, sensation seekers are willing to accept the potential risks involved."1 The same article considered the mindset of the risk taker, "risk is necessary for sensation seeking to occur but that risk itself is not necessarily the fully intended goal of a sensation seeker. Choosing risk for the sake of risk is not the goal. Rather, while being attracted to activities that offer novel or intense experiences, sensation seekers are willing to accept the potential risks involved."
I'll buy that. Honestly, risk isn't the reason I ride. The risk is the thing I try to avoid while I ride. Riding is certainly a "novel experience," though. Driving a car, riding a bus, pedaling a bicycle, walking, or any other means of transportation have very little in common with the motorcycling experience. Riding a motorcycle is more like flying an ultralight, if an ultralight could maneuver in dense traffic. 
In 1988, a researcher named Bogo found that "high-risk athletes were not fearless, but that they had learned how to handle fear. The climbers he interviewed viewed fear as an acceptable and potentially useful emotion in helping keep them safe." We who ride do that, sort of. I'm not convinced that I think, directly, about the risk of riding. I certainly look out for strange cager behavior (is there another kind of cager behavior?). Maybe I've been riding long enough that fear has morphed into something else; paranoia, for example. However, that balloon-induced dose of intense pain brought back an awareness of fear and mortality.
Getting hurt reminds us that we aren't immortal, bulletproof, infallible, or reliably lucky. Crashing, snagging a fingernail against the edge of a spinning tire, mangling a hand on a sheet metal edge, or getting nailed with a fast-moving water balloon reminds us that it can all be over in an instant. We're indestructible until we destruct. Then, we think about the risks we're taking. We re-evaluate the reward vs. the risk. We decide if the possible consequences of those "intense activities" override the joy we receive from the activity. 
When someone tells me they used to ride a bike, when they were kids, but crashed once and decided it wasn't worth the risk, I know what they are talking about. I've gone through the re-examination process several times; usually while nursing busted bones or some such aggravation. So far, I still feel that what I get from riding is worth what it takes from me. There will be a time where infirmity or risk-aversion makes me re-evaluate that position.

1 "A qualitative examination of risk among elite adventure racers, " Journal of Sport Behavior

Post-Script: As you can guess by the date on this rant, I wrote it more than a decade ago. Another piece the magazine, MMM, editors didn't pick for whatever reason. Having been busted up a few times since I wrote this, I do NOT feel that it is in any way an exaggeration.

Jul 8, 2019

Visible When It Counts

A "feature" of teaching is regular, frustrating failure: failure to communicate, failure to connect, failure to even be able to verify your own existence when you see the "results" of your students' test answers. If you are one of the many Americans who believe that teaching is a lucrative, rewarding, interesting job, I recommend you try it. Too often, it is just frustrating and doesn't even come close to compensating enough for the hassle. Many people who are teachers have the credentials to do something more financially and psychically rewarding and many do so after a very short stint in education. Teaching, as a calling, requires something that is rare to non-existent in modern life, "A good teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the way for others."  You can only do that or so long. If you are smart, not very long at all.

When I hear the usual whining bleat of people working menial jobs who don't think their tips are big enough, I think of all the jobs that don't get tipped at all that don't pay anywhere near enough to compensate for the crap they take from an ungrateful public. In fact, most jobs don't get tips, a decent or livable income, or respect or gratitude. Teachers are high on the list of people in that category. In fact, the well-educated and trained teacher this article featured, "Why a South Carolina teacher quit at 28 — and shared her resignation letter with the world," left teaching for a waiting job which pays better, requires fewer hours, and is way less unreasonably demanding. I'm not complaining about my stint, either as a college instructor or a motorcycle safety instructor. I was in pretty good financial shape when I started those jobs and, mostly, I did them to keep from dipping into my retirement savings before I actually retired and, for a long while, because they were fun jobs. Not having to take the administration of either of those establishments particularly seriously was a giant insulator between my sanity and their general purpose weirdness. If I had been a recently graduated instructor with no financial resources and the typical blob of college debt, my situation would have been drastically different.

The only "tips" I have received from my students have been calls and emails and the occasionally note thanking me for helping them find a career or ride a motorcycle safely. Those come few and far between, not much more than a dozen times in 20 years and thousands of students. Most people think they have paid for a teacher's time and they deserve whatever comes from that. The rare student knows that is not true.

So, with that whining background behind us, a few days ago my grandson, Wolf, called to thank me for all of my years of riding tips, safety harping, and encouragement after he had a near-miss traffic incident when a cager ran a stoplight and nearly clipped him from his eBike.  Of course, the driver was fumbling with a cell phone and "didn't see" either the light or the bicyclist. She also didn't slow down after mouthing "I'm sorry" and drove off without even checking to see if he or his bicycle were damaged. What else is new, right?

Wolf, has been commuting year-round in Minneapolis by eBike for two years, going on three, and we've had lots of conversations about counter-steering, swerving, braking, and relentless paranoia with the understanding that anyone needing 4-wheels to balance a vehicle is, by default, a moron. Unlike so many of the people who filtered through the so-called "motorcycle safety program," Wolf learned a lot of hard lessons on his bicycle on empty streets in the early-morning hours (he worked night shift for a year) where errors like braking in the corners, applying brakes suddenly, riding with fingers resting on the brakes, and slight lose of attention put him on the ground in the ice instantly, but without a lot of morbidity/mortality risk because he is an AGAT guy. (See the picture at right for a bit of his winter riding gear.) After two years of well-developed braking habits, that event we all hope will never happen did and his smooth, strong application of both brakes brought the bike to a complete stop just before hitting the cager-nitwit. She brushed against his front wheel with her back bumper and almost pulled the bars out of his hands, but the contact was so slight that he didn't go down.

I'm going to guess that I have made at least 750 people miserable in my MSF Basic Rider Courses (BRC) over the last 18 years. In all that time, I have probably had no more than a half-dozen people thank me for anything other than passing them at the end of the course. Many of the people who did pass shouldn't have because they didn't have the skills, attitude, or awareness to be safe on motorcycles in real traffic. The old BRC wasn't even close to a serious safety and skills program and the new one is simply a joke intended to put as many butts on seats as possible. My grandson suffered mightily under my nagging from when he first started to ride a 16" wheel bike almost 17 years ago until this past winter. In many ways, all of the good things I have learned about riding and teaching over the last 50 years all ended up in his lap. When he was 15, we took a Rocky Mountain tour and many bikers were convinced that he was being abused in having to wear full gear, all the time, regardless of the heat. We had a lot of conversations about motorcycle operation, maintenance (his job was the check the tires and do a visual examination at every fuel stop). He did a great job, including noticing a fork seal leak that became a serious problem a few miles outside of Laramie, WY. We lucked into a great Suzuki shop there with a mechanic who knew that there were a LOT of Suzuki seals that would fit in my V-Strom.

If there were anyone on the planet who I would like to have influenced, it would be Wolf. Getting that call was the best tip I could have ever hoped for.

It's A Brave New (Electric) World


The company that owns and publishes "Cycle World Magazine" is hedging its bets with an eBike on-line publication called Cycle Volta. This is no small commitment because, motorcycle rag fans will notice, most of the technical articles are written by Kevin Cameron. Kevin is the guy many of read Cycle World for and many of us will jump to Cycle Volta for the same hit of rational thinking and technical insight.

Add to that, the fact that Ducati, Yamaha, Honda, and hundreds of start-up eBike brands are in the early hunt for market dominance; or even a decent showing. Supposedly, 60% of all bicycles sold in the EU are eBikes and while US statistics are typically poor it's pretty obvious that our market is experiencing a sea change, too. Midwestern innovator of the century, Eric Buell, has caught the wave and he is going after the high-end eBike market with a 125 mile range eBike, "Fluid," with an assortment of options and a new electric race bike. His brand is called "Fuell" as a link to Eric's name and a nod to the Harley assholes who still claim ownership of the "Buell" brand name. I have no doubt that anything Eric does in this market will blow anything Harley does into history. It would be fun to see HD have to "buy" Eric's new venture just to stay in business.

Jul 3, 2019

Seven Dead in New Hampshire

A motorcycle group called "Jarheads MC" ended up in a group crash that killed seven members and injured several others. A friend called to ask for my take on the crash. I don't watch much news these days, the news is always depressing and increasingly stupid, so I just wander through the tail end of my life singing a Steely Dan song, "Any World I'm Welcome To." While we talked, I checked out the news on the web. I know I was supposed to be feeling compassion for "fellow motorcyclists," but the news report didn't generate much of that from me. I have phased from ambivalence-to-numb regarding the dumb stuff that happens to bikers decades ago. (Motorcyclists are different and I do still care about stuff that happens to them.)

One of my least favorite gigs when I was teaching "motorcycle safety" classes (which especially deserves the quote hint in this situation) was trying to run an Experienced Rider Course with a pack of bikers. There would typically be 11 bikers on 11 totally illegal hippobikes with, at best, one or two competent riders in the group and four or five totally incompetent bikers and the rest in-between but closer to incompetent than competent. And every one of those hippobikes made as much noise as a 1940's farm tractor without a muffler of any sort. The worse the rider, the louder the pipes. The level of entitlement and foolishness from the group would just reek, "I am a member of a gang and we're scary. I need loud pipes on my bike to warn you that an incompetent fool is sharing the road with you. Take care of me because I can't take care of myself." The worst-of-the-worst for this kind of course would be a gang of "law enforcement officers," who would not only be lousy riders on illegal bikes but the most arrogant, entitled folks on the planet. Nothing tops a cop who is also a military veteran for someone who believes the world owes him fear disguised as "respect." Regardless of the make-up of the group, they too often all brought their required helmets strapped to the bike seat or in a saddlebag, just to make sure the instructors knew they didn't believe in that shit. So, when I hear one of the many stories of biker gangs getting involved in one more multi-vehicle pile-up, I'm not surprised, shocked, outraged, or even particularly interested. These are the people who overwhelmingly make up the 30-40% of all motorcycle fatalities that are single vehicle crashes.

In one report of the crash, a relative of one of the dead bikers said of the truck driver, "As long as he pays a price. He has caused lot of harm to a lot of families. If has a problem, he shouldn't be on the road. If he is a bad actor, he doesn't belong on the street. He caused enough of a tragedy. Enough is enough." I wish that rule were applied to motorcyclists. "Enough is enough." It's time motorcyclists were required to take responsibility for their lousy driving habits and the total criminal irresponsibility of pirate parades.

As usual, the cops are confused and irrational. “The pickup driver, Volodoymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, an employee of a Springfield, Massachusetts, trucking company, was not seriously hurt. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating, said he was interviewed at the scene by police and allowed to return to Massachusetts.” First they sent the truck driver home after taking his information, then they drove to his home and arrested him on a "fugitive from justice" charge, then released him again. Nothing like muddying the waters of an already dumbed-down American media machine and the Marching Moron public. Bikers are riled up and the tiny portion of the American public who can think are wondering what really happened and if anyone will ever know.

I think it's safe to assume the eye witness reports from the bikers will be useless. Most likely, they didn't have a view of what happened, due to their concentration on riding within reach of each other, so anything that happens seems like an unavoidable hole opening in the earth. A surviving rider said, “It was just an explosion . . . with parts and Al and everything flying through the air. He turned hard left into us and took out pretty much everyone behind me. The truck and trailer stayed attached and that is why it was so devastating . . . because the trailer was attached and it was such a big trailer, it was like a whip. It just cleaned us out.” If that’s true, it sounds like 1) the truck driver was passing after the first bike or two went by and plowed into the middle of the group or 2) turning at an intersection not realizing the oncoming traffic was moving so fast or 3) fooling with his cell phone or some other distraction and wandered into the opposite lane and panicked. In the picture above, the road is pretty clearly marked as a no-passing zone.

An uncle of one of the riders said, ‘‘The truck was coming in the opposite direction. It’s hard to figure how he could hit 10 motorcycles without getting out of the way.” Obviously, the bikers were following way too close for safety. What else would they be doing. That rolling bowling pin crap is one of many reasons to stay away from group rides, especially pirate parades. I hate to think the uncle was wondering how a truck pulling a trailer could have avoided 7 bikers. The real question is how did 7 motorcycles end up tangled together by one truck? Motorcycles only have one practical defense in all traffic situations; maneuverability. Hippobikes, of course, are not real motorcycles and are really just suicide machines looking for a place to happen. So, it's not hard to figure how 7+ motorcycles couldn't find a way to get out of the way. Their typical reaction is to scream, panic, and fall over (that's "I had to lay 'er down" translated to plain English).

There are some curious aspects to the biker group, though. Only one of the fatalities was over 60. That's depressing. I keep hoping that younger people will learn from my braindead generation's many mistakes and stay away from Hardlys and the incompetent biker crowd. There is nothing that I like about motorcycle packs, peaceful or otherwise. They are “rolling bowling pins” and this truck driver almost got a ten pin strike. I have had a strong opinion about lines and biker parades for all of my life. I want to feel more compassion for these folks, but it mostly affects me like reading about a group of climbers getting killed free-climbing Yosemite's El Capitan; except without the admiration for the climbers' courage and physical skills. I guess this is more like hearing a bunch of young fat people  whine about their diabetes, physical disabilities, and likely premature death while gorging themselves on McDonalds Fatty Meals: what did you think was going to happen?

Jul 1, 2019

Can't be on Time to Save My Life

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Considering it was supposed to be a day off, Wednesday was a catastrophe. The day started well, I kicked the morning off by meeting with a friend in downtown St. Paul for an extended discussion of the world's problems and lots of coffee. We went a little long, but we both had time to spare. That evening, I had an MSF classroom scheduled for 5:30 and that was my only deadline for the day. From downtown, I went to the UofM Hospital to visit a friend and deliver his mail. I hung out with him for a couple of hours before heading home to grab my class gear and relax a bit before that appointment. 
Around 4PM, I loaded up the bike and rode to White Bear to pick up a package for my hospitalized friend. Barely a half-mile from home, I found myself stuck on Rice Street behind a wandering oversized black club-cab pickup, probably my all-time least favorite vehicle in the world. The fool behind the wheel was deeply involved in a cell phone conversation and driving like a drunk, covering a lane-and-a-half while he jabbered into his phone. 
Not that many years ago, someone talking to themselves in their vehicle or walking down the street would be assumed insane. Today, jibbering chimps can hold a piece of plastic to their heads and pretend they aren't crazy because they're "having a conversation." I'm not buying it. A toy smartphone does not prove sanity. Humans are not a multitasking animal. Most of us suck at everything, let alone everything at the same time. Every clinical trial has found that drunks are better drivers than cell phone users, but there is more money in keeping driving-while-cell-phone-abusing legal so we're all condemned to share the highway with incompetent cell phone addicts. But I don't have to like it and I still think most of these people are talking to themselves and are crazier than a rabid goat.
Along with the irritation of being stuck behind big-assed-truck cell phone boy, our two-vehicle convoy caught up with a dude on a cruiser. Loud pipes, shorts, sandals, some kind of handkerchief or napkin covering the bald spot, a scraggly grey ponytail flapping in the wind, the usual tidbits of leather in useless places, and he's crawling along at 25mph in a 40mph zone. What am I, a "stupid magnet?" Good thing I left a half-hour early, at this rate it's going to take me 45 minutes to go 10 miles.
The frequency of the blubbering pipes suddenly drops and I hear a crunch before the tail lights on the truck come on. We all come to an abrupt stop. Cell phone boy is looking in his mirror, I think to see if anyone saw him hit the bike. So, I made a little show out of getting a pen out of my jacket and writing down his license plate number on the map in my tank bag. Then, I rode around him, on the right side to see what the damage was. The bike was a mess, about half-way under the pickup, and crumpled like a toy. The biker had, apparently, gone over the bars and landed on his face and shoulder. There was a lot of blood, but he was mostly coherent. A couple of cars in the opposite direction traffic had stopped and a woman who claimed to be a nurse took control of the medical scene. She had him lie down and wait for the cops and ambulance someone had already called. [Ok, there are some things cell phones are good for. One thing, in fact.]
Should I stay or should I go? I decided to stick around to tell the cops about the cell phone involvement in the crash. Fifteen minutes later, a Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputy is asking me "Did you see the accident?" 
"It was no accident. The douchebag in the pickup ran over the guy on the bike. He was too busy flapping his lips into his cell phone to be bothered with driving."
"He said he doesn't have a cell phone."
"He's a liar or he likes holding black pieces of plastic to his ear and pretending to be on a cell phone. Either way, he drives like a drunk. I bet you'll find a phone in his truck. I bet you can find a record of his using it up to a few minutes ago." I gave the cop my business card and, finally, got back on the road for my class. 
I made it about 15 minutes before the class was supposed to start and made a great impression with the other instructor, who got stuck doing all the prep work by himself. The only upside was that I had another motorcycle crash story to tell my class.

Jun 24, 2019

Buy Low, Sell High?

Last winter, when some friends helped me wedge my WR through the garage door into the basement shop, I had high hopes for this spring. In January, I wrote “For the first time since I left California in 1991, I have a warm, well-lit indoor space to work on my bike for the rest of the winter. This will be the most fun spring motorcycle prep in decades.”

Within a month, I began to experience double-vision problems that turned anything that requires vision into headache-inducing misery. The bike is still on the jackstand, exactly where I put it in January; untouched, except for being rolled around to get the shop-vac to all of the basement flooding we “enjoyed” this spring. The double-vision is an early symptom of myasthenia gravis,as Wikipedia puts it, “a long-term neuromuscular disease that leads to varying degrees of skeletal muscle weakness. The most commonly affected muscles are those of the eyes, face, and swallowing.” My father suffered from this disease in the last two decades of his life and it isn’t pretty. This isn’t just the end of my motorcycling life, but driving a cage, bicycling, walking, eating, drinking, and breathing are all up for grabs.

My eyes have never been anything special, as anyone who saw me on a motocross track could attest. I have been legally blind in my left eye since childhood and my right eye has been going far-sighted for more than a decade and both eyes are clouded by cataracts. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, though. Two mediocre eyes are better than one. Stereoscopic vision and binocular depth perception is greatly undervalued until you don’t have it. I can’t even reliably reach for a glass of water and expect a predictable result. I wear an eye patch most of the time, which mostly reinforces my low opinion of my crappy right eye.

A long-time rule of mine has been “when in doubt, throw it out.” I applied that rule, last spring, to my trusty 2004 V-Strom and sold it to someone who would use it as much and as seriously as I did. Off and on that summer, I missed the 650 and, occasionally, wished I still had it, but mostly I wished I wasn’t 70, worn-out, and lame. By June, 2018 I decided I had taught my last MSF class and “retired” from the Minnesota program. I had pipe-dreams of doing adventures on the WR, though: going places I would no longer have the gumption to take a bike as large and heavy as the V-Strom. Clearly, that isn’t in the cards.

What prompted this was my motorcycle insurance premium notice and 2019 ID cards just arrived in the mail. For the first time in 50-some years, I am not going to be putting out a few hundred dollars to insure my motorcycle(s). For the time being, I will put that envelope aside, on the desk, hoping that something changes and I get another year of riding; by some miracle. I am waffling, but I need to take the bike out of the garage, do some of the basic maintenance tasks to get the bike ready to sell, and write up an ad. But, for now, I’m going for a bicycle ride while I still can.

Jun 17, 2019

Why It's Not So Obvious

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

"Wear all the gear all the time." 
"Never go anywhere without full protection."

". . .  there is no doubt after the first time a young kid crashes his little motorcycle that the idea of what might happen, and that it can hurt, takes hold."1

"Approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death; a comparable figure for automobiles is about 20 percent."

You've heard it all. The politically correct choices are AGAT (All the Gear, All the Time) or Most of the Gear, All of the Time (MOGAT). Don't get me wrong. The intelligent choice is to gear up every time you ride. That idiot's claim, "If I think I'm going to do something risky, I'll put on the gear," makes about as much sense as saying "If I think I'm going to crash, I'll wear a helmet." Riding is risky. If you think you're going to crash, don't ride. Why that isn't obvious is lost on me. 
Those of us who started riding as kids probably have a better feeling for the disconnect between good gear advice and reality. My first (1964 or 65) racing gear was a pair of Converse high top canvas tennis shoes, a pair of Justin leather work gloves, Levis, a jean jacket, and sunglasses. I was racing either a left-turn only circle or on a modified figure "B" track with 4-6 equally well-dressed young men. None of us had ever seen a helmet outside of WWII movies. Nobody was shooting at us, so why would we need helmets? There was no AMA or any other rule-setting organization to interfere with our insanity. We just showed up at the track a couple of miles outside of town and rode 5-lap races until we got tired. A few months of that and we started putting a few dollars into a pile and awarding prize money. Someone set up a hotdog stand and sold drinks out of a cooler. Money changed hands and we kept racing in spite of the commerce. A few guys got hurt: broken arms, toes, fingers, and such. Most of us managed to get through a day of racing with no more than a few cuts and bruises.
Later, when I really got into off-road riding, I adopted a 3/4 helmet, gloves, lineman's boots, and lightly padded jeans and a nylon jersey. I crashed a lot, at races and in practice and goofing around. Between ages 20 and 28, I spent a fair amount of time flying over the bars, sliding down the road with the bike in front or behind me, flipping over backwards, and crumpled in a heap. All through that period, I managed to go uninjured. The lesson I took from all that good fortune was obvious: I am indestructible. I wasn't foolish enough to really believe that I couldn't be hurt. I got hurt often at work. I just managed to convince myself that on a motorcycle, I was "too good" to get busted up.
In early 1976, that all came to an end. Practicing for Sunday's motocross, I managed to crash and break all of the toes on my left foot. My brand new Hi-Point boots had to be cut off of my foot because the foot swelled up so quickly that I couldn't get the boot off myself. I might have cried when that happened, not from pain but from seeing my $150 boots ruined. $150 was a lot of money (for me) in 1976. A few months later, practicing again, I crashed and broke all the ribs on my left side. That event ended my period of invulnerability. I have rarely since thought of myself as being lucky, tough, or unbreakable. From then out, I was clear on how much pain I could tolerate and how quickly that point could be passed.
The difference between me and a real motorcycle racer was that new vulnerability added several seconds to my lap time and I never regained the confidence I needed to go WFO for extended periods. I kept riding and racing for the next four years, but I spent those years in the back of the pack. In 1982, I sold my dirt bikes and bought a used Honda CX500, upon which I moved myself to California in the early spring of 1983. My family followed a few months later by train. As insignificant as it was, my racing "career" was finished and I have never since lined up at a start gate with twenty testosterone-jacked young (or old) men. 
I have, however, put nearly a half-million miles on a collection of street bikes in several states and two non-US countries. Mostly, I've managed to stay rubber-side-down on my street bikes and the only breaks in that record have been on outback single-track trails or gravel roads. With that many hours on the road without mishap, it would be easy to start shedding gear.  I wear more equipment on my daily commute than I used to wear racing. What kind of sense does that make? Why not drop the armored pants? What could it hurt to ride in light-weight comfortable shoes occasionally? I'm just going to work, why bother with the helmet? Big Minnesota Mommy says I only need to wear eye protection and a speedo. If she doesn't think I need all that gear, what am I wearing it for? 
I've seen the results of naked biker crashes and it's not pretty. The lucky guys bust their heads open and die on the spot. The unluckiest guys end up sucking the meals out of a straw and staring at a hospital ceiling for the rest of their lives. In between, people spend their lives recovering from a fraction-of-a-second lapse. I'm not man enough to risk that for a little breeze blowing in my hair or the relief from a few degrees of discomfort. I like my skin where it is and my bones properly connected. I'll give it to you straight: I'm a coward. "I cover the stuff I want to keep."