Oct 18, 2017

#157 Who Is An Expert Rider?

geezer_squareAll Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All photos by Catten Ely

Originally published in MMM #187 September 2017

Oct 17, 2017

Mixed Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 11, 2017

Product Review – Gaerne Goretex Boots

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

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

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

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

Oct 8, 2017

A Recycling Suggestion

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

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

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

Oct 6, 2017

Wandering Down to Davenport

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Oct 4, 2017

Why I Don’t Do Reviews

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

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

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

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

Oct 2, 2017

Revolting, Revolving Roundabouts?

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 27, 2017

Riding (and falling through) the Rails

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

Sep 25, 2017

The Easy Way or My Way

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

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

That is when everything went to hell.

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

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

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

Sep 8, 2017

Minnesota's Off-Road Gem

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 4, 2017

#156 Three Rules to Riding

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Back in the 80's, I went to a lot of L.A. Laker games, especially when Showtime wasn't playing someone in the championship hunt because I could get scalped tickets cheap; a few minutes after the game started. About half-time, the rich and famous folks would bail and I could filter down to the floor seats. In a game against Philly, Magic Johnson slipped a half-court pass through everyone to Vlade Divac, who was standing under the goal. The ball hit Divac in the chest, knocking him on his butt, and putting the ball in the bleachers. Without slowing down, Magic ran a loop around the opponent's end of the court, grabbed Divac by the jersey, yanked him up, hauled him down court, while saying (loudly), "Three rules to basketball, Vlade: Look, look, and look."
 
In the MSF rider education programs, we've sort of tried to instill the same religion. We spend a lot of time telling our students to "turn your head," because you can't look unless you're aiming your eyes at what you're supposed to be seeing. It's a good start, but it's just a start. The old school MSF program harped on the idea that "you go where you're looking." There is some reality to that claim, but outside of object-fixation you also have to steer where you're looking. Not all beginning or experienced riders know how to steer a motorcycle. Just looking at where you want to go isn't enough, but it's the first thing you have to do to get there.  
 
Changing directions is only part of the vision game on a motorcycle. You can't anticipate the next goofy move from a distracted driver unless you are looking for it. The more you look, the more you'll see. I don't mean just the broad overview of looking for vehicles on the road. I mean looking for details. It's nice that you're trying to take in all of the cars on the road, but you ought to be trying to get a good look at their drivers, too. I don't mean trying to catch the eye of the babe in the convertible. I mean get an idea of who everyone piloting a vehicle in your immediate vicinity really is: young, old, male, female, distracted, attentive, aggressive, happy, sad, mad, sane, and plain old crazy. 'Dis me for stereotyping people and doing that nasty profiling thing, but this is about survival. The worst thing that can happen to me for being over-cautious is that I keep rolling down the road jelly-side-up. 
 
Maybe even more important than doing a psychological profile of your highway competitors is making a judgement of the driving skill. For example, if a guy is turning left into an intersection while looking right or at a passenger in his car or down at his POS cell phone, that guy is a clueless moron who is a hazard to your life. Create distance between you and this idiot as quickly as possible. Try to get some other, much heavier, vehicle between you and Dumbo the Moron. Another example of a flashing warning sign is significant damage to the front end of the vehicle. This character is a tailgating bozo who imagines himself to be a NASCAR driver but who has the skills of a 3-year-old in a bumper car. 

Once you've bought into the idea that you have to look where you want to go and look out for all of the crazy folks in cages and on foot and on and in every other kind of vehicle on the road, you have to start looking for escape routes. Everything from an empty lane to a drainage ditch to a flower bed is a legitimate escape route if you can get there safely. So, while you're scanning for crazy people you are also looking for ways to escape from crazy people. The only advantage a motorcycle has is agility. We can fit into spaces other vehicles can't go. We sometimes have suspensions and ground clearances that allow us to go where no other vehicle can travel. (If you don't have more suspension than a Honda Accord, maybe you should reconsider your motorcycle choice.)  We can turn faster, stop quicker, and accelerate more rapidly than 99% of the overpriced heavyweights on the road. The only way we can safely take advantage of those advantages is to be constantly scanning for escape routes. 
 
So, "Three rules to motorcycling, Vlade: Look, look, and look."

Originally published in MMM #186 August 2017


Aug 29, 2017

Review Extension: GIVI E36N Side Cases

IMG_7444Way back in 2007, I wrote a review of the GIVI E36N cases I installed on my 650 V-Strom. I revised it in 2012 and added a little to it, today.

To this day, they are one of my favorite things about my V-Strom. They are reliable, tough, water-tight, and easy to use. My only complaint is that the GIVI plastic is not that friendly to stickers. So, some of my favorite stickers have blown off during the 60,000+ miles I’ve traveled with GIVI cases. Lame complaint, I know.

I think the V-Strom and I are about at the end of our relationship. With the big miles I’ve put on that bike, it won’t be worth much used or in trade, but I really don’t enjoy riding it as much as I did when I was a decade younger. Someone who will use it more than once or twice a year should have it.

Aug 28, 2017

#155 Might As Well Ask for Perpetual Motion

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

To start off my morning, I unloaded the washing machine and dumped the wet clothes into the dryer. When I cleaned out the dryer filter, I noticed a lot of lint and dog hair had slipped by the filter into the airway leading to the condenser. So, I pulled the condenser and cleaned everything before I started up the dryer. It took about ten minutes to do the whole procedure. We've had this ventless dryer for about six months and it has needed a good cleaning no more than three times in that period. My wife, of course, has yet to read the dryer's manual and has no idea that the dryer needs anything more than loading and unloading. She is, apparently, like a lot of motorcyclists in that way. When I test rode the Honda VT1300CT Interstate for MMM a few years ago I wrote, "Honda skipped the usual crappy Japanese tool kit altogether. I'm not fond of this thinking, but their theory is probably that the kind of rider the VTX attracts will be unlikely to do his or her own maintenance." Or, for that matter, any maintenance until absolutely necessary. At that point, the work is no longer properly called "maintenance." It can often be emergency roadside repairs or a tow to a shop followed by expensive work that might even result in the rider having to abandon the bike and/or make plans to get back home on more than two wheels.

When I do a Basic Rider course for the state, I always stick a little basic maintenance instruction into the class. Safe riding requires a well-maintained motorcycle and pretending that motorcycles don't need maintenance is silly. Repair and maintenance is a sore subject for a lot of riders, drivers, and laundry machine owners. A lot of today's products are designed to be "maintenance free," which you should read to mean "designed to last no longer than the manufacturer's warranty." When Honda makes the decision to forego even the slightest tool expense because the company thinks we're too lazy to do anything to prevent a breakdown, that is a big, scary statement.

There is no such thing as a maintenance-free motorcycle; or any other mechanical device. Expecting a machine to labor indefinitely without cleaning, lubrication, and the occasional part replacement is foolish. You might as well hope for a perpetual motion machine while you're at it. High performance requires a lot of engineering sacrifices, including a conservative intolerance for contaminated lubrication, fasteners selected for lightness rather than redundancy, and lightweight vs. heavy-duty driveline parts. In fact, the more performance demanded from the machine, the closer every part will come to the engineering safety margins. That means more, not less, maintenance will be required if you want and expect something resembling reliability from the machine. If you don't want reliability from your machine, why the hell are you reading this column? I've been beating this dead horse, and a couple others, for almost two decades. Modern manufacturers have performed near-miracles with the products we enjoy, but they do expect us to make some sort of contribution especially if we're going to be riding on the outer edges of civilization. As Charlie and Ewan discovered, even BMWs break.

While manufacturers have been trying to convince consumers that modern products are supposed to have a two or three year lifetime, some consumers are taking a different path. "Hipsters" take a lot of unearned crap from old farts who are jealous of kids who can still fit into skinny jeans. However, I know a few kids you might call "hipsters" who have salvaged 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's iron and rebuilt those machines into motorcycles that any sensible person would be proud to ride. Not only are these kids unafraid of maintenance, they are practically throwbacks to an age when riders knew how to tear down a motor or transmission and how to field repair leaking fork seals, busted shifter and brake levers, and who actually ride their motorcycles places more remote than a Hudson bar. They haven't bought into the delusion that drive shafts, belt drives, electronic-everything, and unrepairable black-box design equals mindless reliability and I love them for that. They give me a smidge of hope that humans might survive our self-made "Sixth Extinction" and that Americans might continue to make stuff, fix stuff, and invent stuff in the future.

As for the rest of the motorcycle market, the growing crowd who don't want to get their hands dirty, learn anything more complicated than video game rules and mastering the next iDevice and who are happy being consumers in a throw-away society, I'd be lying if I wished you "good luck with that." I hope you go broke buying all that crap, burying yourself in credit card debt, and stuffing landfills with the remains of your poor decisions. You folks are lousy citizens, terrible neighbors, and you will be recognized as miserable ancestors by the generations who will get stuck with the job of bailing out our economy, cleaning up our environment, and rebuilding the world we carelessly trashed. You can't escape maintenance, you can only avoid it until something major breaks; something you could have avoided with routine maintenance.

First Published in MMM #185 July 2017



Aug 27, 2017

Running from the Sun

The day before the total solar eclipse, I did what I like to do the most: I took a trip in the opposite direction of everyone else.

About a year ago, our plan was to drive to Broken Bow, Nebraska and camp there the night before the eclipse. Nebraska is expecting 500,000 visitors on Monday. People from all over the continent and world have been staking out campsites since last week. The total population of that state is 1,896,190 and 1.3 million of those folks are in the greater Omaha area and another 285,000 live in the greater Lincoln area. Lincoln is sort of in the path, at least at the 90-something-percent area, but the rest of the towns and villages along that route through the state are barely able to cope with their own shrinking and struggling populations. It ain’t gonna be fun getting into or out of that state on Monday. Nebraska’s roads, away from the Interstate, are poorly maintained and marginally safe at their best: due to unskilled and distracted local and truck traffic. I love US20 across the top of that state, especially as a route to the mountains. Kearney is a town that holds a fair number of fond memories for my family. But on the best, uncrowded weekday afternoon, you can not predict when a trucker will decide to cross the centerline and test your reflexes. Kearney, on it’s best day, could probably put up 500 visitors. Grand Island is long past it’s best days.

So, we (my wife, Elvy, and I) decided to do something different. She’s hot to see the sun go dark, so she is going to try to be where ever she has to be to have clear skies at 11:30AM on 8/21/2017. Not going for the perfect 100% eclipse, but just a good look at what she can get. If it’s clear that afternoon in Red Wing, she’s going to stay home. I’ve been trying to get a few days to myself in Canada for a breath of sanity all summer. I’m back in Guitar Repair and Construction school in another week, so this is my one and only chance at the trip north. So, that’s where I went: to Thunder Bay for a week.

My long-time rule about crowds is, “See where they are going and go somewhere else.”

Aug 24, 2017

HD Still Struggling with the Next Generation

The Journal Sentinal wrote this wide-eyed “analysis” of HD’s struggles with people who aren’t one foot in the grave, “Harley-Davidson unveils its largest-ever product development project.” As usual, there were bits I particularly liked (as in laughed at). For starters, “Harley-Davidson Inc. has unveiled its largest product development project ever: eight redesigned cruiser motorcycles for 2018, including bikes that have been a mainstay of the Milwaukee-based company for decades.” New paint? Sillier fenders? Easier to remove stock muffler, so the louder replacement can be snapped on?

“As part of the research, Harley-Davidson says it interviewed more than 3,000 riders for their views on cruisers — a versatile style of bike with a relaxed riding position, suitable for long-distance riding but more nimble than a big touring motorcycle.” Sounds like the same old crap in a new crappier package. “We were literally in people’s homes and garages, talking with them about their motorcycles,” said the guy with the goofiest job title yet, Paul James, product portfolio manager. WTF? Where else would you talk to motorcyclists about their bikes, in airports? Jones acts like he really discovered the marketing holy grail by chasing down actual customers. Of course, he should have been talking to people who bought the competitions’ bikes. Too hard? Sure, keep talking to grey hairs until they’re all dead.

“Four of the new Softails — Fat Bob, Fat Boy, Breakout and Heritage Classic — are available with a more powerful 114 cubic inch Milwaukee Eight.” Cubic inch? What is this, 1945?

“Up to 35 pounds lighter than 2017 models, Harley says all eight bikes have an improved power-to-weight ratio for quicker acceleration, better braking and handling.” Yep, “up to 35 pounds” will make a huge difference on an 800 pound hippobike.

Finally, “The company gave the bikes a healthy dose of classic cruiser looks — some of it vintage 1950s — while incorporating modern features such as anti-lock brakes, LED lighting, a digital instrument screen, keyless ignition, a USB charge port, mono-shock rear suspension and lockable saddlebags.” So, nothing changes except some badly implemented 1990’s ABS and a cobbled 1970’s suspension and a bunch of tacked-on Chinese electronics. Sounds really biggly to me.

Aug 22, 2017

Marketing BS

followyourheart

Of course, riding naked like this dweeb could incur a whole different set of costs: injury, death, and medical bankruptcy. Not to mention, going broke paying for a $20k piece of garage candy. The “Why We Ride” twits tweeted this one tonight and it caught me in a bad mood.

I used to work for a music school that adopted that “follow your heart’ bullshit in the last couple of years I was there. That whole “happy thought” line of crap is beginning to get on my nerves. I just spent a few hours with a collection of old guys who have followed their musical hearts for the last 40 years. Now, a couple of them live in their parent’s basements, one lives in the lead singer’s basement, and they are all scrambling to make their bills and child support payments by doing 5-8 gigs a week; averaging less than minimum wage in the process. It might look cool from a distance, but it’s depressing up close.


Aug 21, 2017

#153 The Unexpected?

This MMM issue's article is a solid symptom of a problem I should not have: too much productivity. When you look at the copyright date on this essay, you're not seeing things. This is an article I wrote in the summer of 2012 and it just found its way into the magazine five years later. If you know anything about where I live, it's pretty obvious my description of the house is our old place in Little Canada, MN. Likewise, the descriptions of crashes and traffic violations early in the season are five years in the past. I gotta clean up my slush pile. 

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Out of some sort of cosmic coincidence, the last week has been a regular repeat of unexpected events, most of them bad; or they would have been bad if I were any kind of optimist. I'm not optimistic at all. I'm as brutally realistic as I can manage and I am always anticipating something weird to happen at the least convenient time. (Yeah, Murphy. Get over it. I'm on to you.) I scan the horizon aggressively for everything from drunk-or-cell-phone-disabled drivers to chunks of cars dislodging and bouncing down the highway at me. I assume every car owner is a moron and has a chimp's driving skills. I assume that anything on a truck was tied down by a thumb-less gorilla who was more interested in his next break than worrying about what tons of crap set loose on the freeway would destroy. In fact, driving heavily occupied roads usually reinforces my low opinion of the human species. (We're not quick or coordinated enough to be called "the human race.")

My wife thinks I'm paranoid. It's possible, but I'm comfortable with the thought that "you're not paranoid if they are really out to get you." Like most cagers, she often rolls through stop signs without looking in any direction but they one she is traveling. She often dives deep into corners at speed, realizing too late that she is carrying too much speed, and bails out on the gas and even brakes when either of those moves is exactly wrong. Like 90% of Minnesotans, she will leave a stop sign or light and, ten feet later, hit the brakes before making a left or right turn. Like almost all Minnesotans, she can't merge and has no idea what "tailgating" means in terms of speed and distance. If I were afraid of dying, I'd be cowering on the floor when she drives. I'm not, so I usually just ignore the threats and read while she's behind the wheel. I'd rather risk death than drive myself, so it's a fair tradeoff.

On the other hand, when I'm driving she things I'm way too cautious. I brake before most intersections if I see any sign that another car might not be slowing for a stop light or sign. I either hold back or hammer my way past semis on the freeway, because I wouldn't trust truck driver skills or their ability to see me with your life. If someone tailgates me, I slow down to force them past or back. I don't pay any attention to their hand signals they offer when they finally grow a pair and pass me. There is no chance in hell that I'm ever going to like or respect someone dumb enough to tailgate, so I don't care what they think of me.

The list of unexpected/expected stupid moves from other road users, just this past week, includes two high speed ignored stop lights, one wrong-way on a one-way SUV dimbulb, a half-dozen three lane sweeps from the left lane to an exit by clueless morons who were so infatuated with their cell phone WMD that they probably didn't hear the chorus of horns and screeching tires, and one cell phone idiot who failed to notice that traffic had stopped until he was less than thirty feet from my tail light. I treat my morning and evening commute like a sporting event or a gun fight where I am only armed with a knife. Being among fools and crazies is invigorating. A near miss reminds me that life is precious, short, and nobody gets out alive. A half-dozen near misses reminds me that when the next killer asteroid arrives humans will be long past due for extinction.

A dirt biking friend spent the last two years rehab'ing from major back injuries. No, he didn't crash on a motocross track. He was driving his family home from church when a brain-dead old fart failed to notice the red stop light or the stopped vehicle at the light and plowed into the back of my friend's minivan and put most of his family in the hospital. An acquaintance spent a couple of years recovering from being run over by a UPS truck that failed to measure a turn and hopped over the curb and hit a couple of pedestrians who were on the sidewalk. A few years back, a friend in California barely escaped getting killed in his own living room when a speeding moron hopped the curb and plowed into the front of the house. I have some big rocks and a guard rail decorating the front of my house in commemoration (and avoidance) of that event.

Supposedly, P.T. Barnum said, "No one every went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Political parties count on that fact, too. My take is that no motorcyclist was ever injured by assuming every cager on the highway is an idiot. There are exceptions, but they are rare enough that they won't mess with the general statistic. In other words, the exception proves the rule. It's silly to assume cagers are homicidal. Homicide requires intent and a small degree of cleverness. Most cagers are rarely involved in their driving enough to bother with planning or skill, but incompetence, carelessness, and inattention will kill you just as dead as murderous intent.

Previously published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine #184, June 2017




Aug 18, 2017

Not That Nice, or Competent

Doing some research for an MMM Geezer column, I stumbled onto this generally terrific analysis of Minnesota drivers: “Too fast, too slow, too angry: A New Yorker's treatise on Minnesota drivers.” Talk about hitting the nail on the head, of course the absurdly hostile reactions of some of the drivers described could be from transplants, too. My experience with Red Wing drivers puts some sort of exponential value on statements like, “They stop when they don’t have a stop sign (Outdoorsy Zen). They rarely use their turn signals (Reckless Existentialist). They merge tentatively on the highway and drive too slowly in the left lane (Outdoorsy Zen). Or they drive too fast in the right, and entirely too fast on icy roads (Reckless Existentialist).” After nearly getting centerpunched by a skinhead exiting Walmart and blasting full speed into Menard’s parking lot while his turn signal was blinking a left, this statement really hits home, “. . . it’s crucial that you channel the anger, spread it out a bit, have confidence that it’s justified. Don’t put the beast in a kennel all day and then unleash it while you’re alone in the car.” Skinhead boy was so outraged that I couldn’t read his tiny mind I had to laugh at him. Like the cruiser pilots who are no more in control of their Harley than a pair of cheap bicycle streamers, this doofus was merely a passenger in the wrong seat.

Chase down the original article and read this clinically insane Minnesota driver comments. It’s worth your time to know what kind of fruitcakes find a driver’s license in a Cracker Jacks box.

Aug 14, 2017

Weird and Terrifying

In the always weird and terrifying Craig’s List world, this might be the weirdest yet, solidly belonging in the WTF? category.

https://minneapolis.craigslist.org/ank/mcy/6251902580.html

New Picture

electricGW

electricGW2

#152 The Little League Dad Society

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

We've all witnessed the "little league dad" syndrome and some of us have suffered that arrogant, egotistical, under-achieving fellow personally. Some of us have even been stuck with little league dads and moms. Way back in 2014 (I Hate Racing #155 April 2014), I made my personal take on watching little kids on motorcycles pretty clear, "When a stadium motocross is broken up (too often literally) with a bunch of 8-year-olds plodding around a motocross track, smashing into each other and the track obstacles, I have to be somewhere else. I can't watch." Even worse, when I end up following a dad on his bike and his kid dangling from the back--feet a few inches from reaching the passenger pegs, in minimal clothing, and an ill-fitting helmet--I have to find another route to where I'm going. I've seen dead and mangled adults and I don't like it much, but I can deal with it. I'd just as soon live my whole life without ever seeing a dead and/or mangled little kid. I'm afraid I'd never be able to get that image out of my mind. I saw a dirt bike foot-peg-gutted high school kid, 40 years ago, and I'm still stuck with that image as if it happened last week.

I wonder how many parents have digested the real message behind the Will Smith movie, Concussion, or the book it is based on, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru's League of Denial? As one of the doctors in the book said, "We're exposing more than 1 million kids to early-onset brain damage, and we don't know yet how to prevent it." Well, we know there are a lot more than "1 million kids" exposed to this because he's just talking about football. Between baseball, hockey, soccer, motorcycle racing, and a culture that tells kids they can knock each other around like punching bags without consequence, almost half of our kids are exposed to early-onset brain damage (resulting in chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE) on a regular basis. Another sports-related concussion researcher said, "If only 10 percent of mothers in American begin to conceive of football as a dangerous game, that is the end of football." Obviously, the possibility that 10% of American mothers don't "conceive of football as a dangerous game" pretty much proves that there are a lot of clueless mothers out there. Anyone who has played football for more than one afternoon knows it's a dangerous game. However, until recently we didn't know how dangerous. CTE has been found in the brains of 18 to 21 year old football players and the leading neurological researchers are now recommending that "kids under the age of 14 should not play collision sports as they are currently played. We believe they should not be playing tackle football." Likewise, it's pretty obvious that kids under the age of 14 should not be racing motorcycles. It's a well-known fact that when you're racing off road, "if you're not crashing you're not riding."

Peter Lenz, center, poses with mechanic Will Eikenberry, Dylan Code, Misti Hurst, and Keith Code. Lenz died at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Of course, this is an issue where following the money gets to core of the problem. Danger is why we like these high risk sports: football (394,350 injuries in 2012 with an average of 12 deaths per year for the past 25 years), soccer (172,470 injuries in 2012), baseball and softball (119,810 and 58,210 injuries in 2012), basketball (389,610 injuries in 2012), hockey, volleyball (43,190 injuries in 2012), wrestling (40,750 injuries in 2012), gymnastics (28,300 injuries in 2012), field and track (24,910 injuries in 2012), and motocross and road racing (for which there are no reliable statistics). Hell, we've even figured out how to make cheerleading dangerous (37,770 injuries in 2012). And there is a lot of money to be made (the NFL's 2014 revenue was $7.24B) exposing young athletes to death, disability, and damage to their long term mental health. However, we're just getting started with learning about brain damage and the fact that 76 or 79 studied NFL player brains found evidence of CTE hasn't sunk; especially NFL players and their families. Regardless, you would have to be delusional to imagine that motorcycle racing doesn't have these problems. The sad case of ex-NASCAR racer Fred Lorenzen is probably the first shot fired in motorsports and I suspect there is a lot of hidden damage out there in race cars, motorcycles, and every other contact sport. Now that (a few) doctors know what to look for, a lot more cases will be popping up.

The big sea change here isn't that we are surprised that long term consequences result from injuries. We expect knee, hand and arm, shoulder, and even internal injuries from motorcycle racing that will hamper the ex-racer later in life. Racing is dangerous, get over yourself, right? My hip replacement was due, according to my orthopedic surgeon, to "use and abuse" and genetic factors. Racing and riding off-road motorcycles would be major contributors to that use and abuse. I wasn't surprised and I haven't once looked back and wished I'd not ridden motorcycles when I was young and made out of "rubber and magic." The big change in attitude should come from the knowledge that "getting your bell rung" can have long term consequences to your mental health: resulting in CTE which is "essentially pugilistica dementia (boxer's dementia)" with side orders of memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, Parkinsonism, suicide, and progressive dementia. If you know your kid is being exposed to chemicals that could result in those symptoms would you keep him or her in that environment?

We use, semi-rationally, to justify risk is the associated reward. Those of us who chose to ride motorcycles, with some understanding of the risk we're accepting, have a collection of rewards that we believe makes the risk acceptable. The problem with this new knowledge is that the information is being aggressively repressed by the people who make the most money from these sports. In the case of football, the NFL has done everything possible (like Big Tobacco) to squash research and evidence that head trauma can lead to long-term cognitive problems. By "everything" I mean everything from creating bogus "research" to ridiculing researchers in public media to suing people for slander. I suppose murder hasn't been on the table, but you never know. Currently, their big argument has been that it's not "certain" that head banging is the cause of CTE. Since we're not absolutely positive that whacking on a kid's skull causes CTE, we don't have to stop it. Drug and chemical companies have used that bullshit argument for being able to continue polluting water, air, food, medicine, and the entire planet for a century. A more rational society would require the polluters to prove they aren't doing harm before they are allowed to do whatever godawful thing they want to do, but humans are mostly irrational. Maybe we're all brain damaged and it's too late to make any difference for the species?

In the meantime, I think parents should seriously reconsider the risk their children are taking for whatever weird cause they've used to justify putting a little kid on a motorcycle and putting that kid on a race track. Ten years ago, you could excuse this behavior with "it's not a problem, he'll shake it off and be ok tomorrow." Today, the evidence is good that not only will that headache and loss of memory stay around a while but it might become a whole lot worse in 30-40 years.

 MMM #183 May 2017

Aug 13, 2017

Kill the Wabbit, Please

Cal's Valkyrie[Should that be “Kill the Wabbit, Pweese?”]

A friend proudly put a picture of his Honda Valkyrie on Facebook the other day. We, in jest (I hope) had a few words about his opinion and mine regarding this chrome-laden hippo bike. When the Valkyrie first came out, in 1996,I thought it was the butt-uglist motorcycle ever produced by anyone, including the gods of ugly; Harley. It arrived in a variety of horrific paint schemes, all Harley-replica stuff, and every year until 2003 when Honda quit puking out these damn things it got uglier. I didn’t know, until recently, that the Valkyrie was a US-made Honda, from Marysville, OH. Figures. They probably coudn’t find any Japanese tasteless enough to work on it.

There is only one thought that comes into my mind when I see a Valkyrie, usually stationary with a “for sale” sign duct-taped to the windshield.

This one is pretty good, too.

I wish I could claim this as an original thought, but the credit belongs to a friend, Brett Rihanek, who spontaneously made the connection the second he saw the first Valkyrie ad.

Regardless, the Honda Valkyrie is still the posterchild for all of the gross Boomer hippobike excess that led up to the Great Recession and the current motorcycle downturn. 720 pounds of blubbering, over-complicated (six 28mm carbs?), waddling incapacity. You can not go anywhere on this motorcycle you couldn’t travel more comfortably in every cage ever built. To put a cap on the grossness, Honda topped their ugly-fest with the Valkyrie Rune. This POS goes so far beyond ugly that I don’t have a category for it.

2004-honda-valkyrie-rune-34_600x0w

Aug 12, 2017

Licensed Non-Riders

One of the many ridiculous facts pertaining to our idiotic motorcycle licensing system in the “freedumb” USA is that once you obtain a motorcycle endorsement you can keep the damn thing forever without even riding a motorcycle once you receive the endorsement. Apparently, 8 million non-riders in the USA are in that category. 8 million bozos are ready and barely-able to swing a leg over a 110 cubic-inch Hardly simply because they once passed (even if they barely managed that on a 125cc training bike). Holy crap.

Even worse, Hardly wants to capitalize on that by convincing that marginally-abled crowd of “sleeping license-holders” to jump in front of a moving train after getting a second mortgage on their homes to buy a chrome-laden suicide machine. According to an article titled, "Millions of people have a motorcycle license but don't own a bike," ”Harley has a goal of attracting 2 million new U.S. riders over the next 10 years, a tall order considering it would represent a 25% increase in the total number of motorcycles registered in the nation.” You know me, I’m all for population reduction any way it can happen (as long as no innocent cats, dogs, hawks, eagles, crocodiles, or elephants are harmed in the filming of this catastrophe), but this is downright hilarious.

Stuff like this is why I believe motorcycle training is totally back-asswards. It’s pretty obvious that training beginning riders is a pointless, stupid idea from the perspective of a society trying to reduce the $22.6B in medical costs due to motorcycle crashes. Society has absolutely no reason to want to train beginning motorcyclists, with the obvious idea that the more butts put on motorcycle seats the more money it will cost society. However, once someone has decided to get licensed and buy a donor-cycle, society has every motivation to be sure that person is as unlikely as possible to contribute to that $22.6B. Which means that every time a motorcycle license comes due it should NOT be renewed without some evidence of recent (3-6 months, for example) advanced rider training. Not that silly MSF Intermediate Rider bullshit, either. I mean some kind of skill-demanding, road-speed advanced training like the MMSC/MSF “advanced” or “expert” rider courses.

Couple that training with a serious helmet law (no DOT head-pot bullshit, but full face, Snell-approved or nothing) and we’re beginning to talk about an actual attempt to drag US motorcycling into the 20th Century. Once we’ve made it that far, we might even head toward an actual 21st Century system of tiered licensing and a real inital rider’s test.

Aug 9, 2017

Training’s Value?

For the last 16 years, I’ve concluded every motorcycle safety class with a bit about the insurance companies that offer discounts for taking the classes. A couple of weekends ago, I took the MMSC’s MN Expert Rider Course and the lead instructor told us that GEICO, Progressive, and a few other companies offer a discount for every training course a rider takes. This morning, I called GEICO to update their records on me and ask for the additional discount.

What I learned was something completely different from what I’ve been saying for the last 16 years. Not only did I not recieve an additional discount for the Expert Rider Course, but I haven’t even been receiving a discount for being an instructor because I haven’t notified GEICO that my instructor certification had been re-upped in the last couple of years. It turns out that the ONLY people who get a discount credit for “training” are instructors. At least, that’s true with GEICO.

Now, I’m wondering if any insurance companies still give discounts for taking the class? As instructors, we don’t get much feedback on some of the things we’ve been taught to say during the classes. I’ve heard hints from students, especially Intermediate Rider Course students (used to be the “Experienced Rider Course”) that their insurance company didn’t give any sort of discount for the BRC. I’ve checked up on this over the years on the Web, but that information has been inconclusive and contradictory. So, now I’m even more confused than usual.

I did learn that a couple of companies have discontinued motorcycle insurance in various states that do not have helmet laws.

Aug 7, 2017

#151 Looks Cool, but It's Not


All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

Fashion is one of the many human ideas that is sometimes described as something you can identify with "common sense." One of my personal heroes, Bertrand Russell, called common sense "the metaphysics of savages" and fashion proves him right, repeatedly. Nothing about fashion follows the fundamental (and grossly oversimplified) concept of economic supply and demand, for example. For practically everything fashionable, there is no demand at all until some marketing wizard convinces a fair collection of fools that they desperately need some useless product that will pretend to enhance their lifestyle but will add nothing more than one more pile of crap to put in the hoard of useless crap. All you have to do is look around you at the clothes people are wearing, the cars they are driving, and the silly junk they think is essential to their survival and you'll know how idiotic fashion really is. 
 
The grossly misnamed "smart phones," for example, regularly costing $75-100 per month are one of the silliest products that anyone ever flushed cash into. Unless you have a business that requires constant communication with customers or employees (a dope dealer, for instance), a cell phone is a mindless distraction at least 99.999% of the time. A cell phone doubles as a low resolution camera, a fuzzy, shaky video camera with crap audio, a GPS loaded with distracting advertisements, and the easiest way to allow hackers access to your personal finances (next to stringing your life's savings into a belt and wearing it everywhere you go). Possessing a product this flawed is at least 30 IQ points below retarded. Paying a monthly rate for this "service" proves that "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public" or any other nation's marching morons.
 
looks_coolThere are a multitude of similarly idiotic products, but this rant is really about how fashion and engineering can not occupy the same space. An obvious example would be the waddle-inducing pants-on-the-ground hip hop costume fad. The geniuses who came up with this sales pitch must have had stock in for-profit-prisons. If you've ever seen a gangbanger try to run from the cops while trying to hold his pants up, you know what I'm talking about. Serious comedy. Look under "stupid" in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of some kid wearing his jeans wrapped around his knees.
 
[For that matter, what kind of macho rock and roller or R&B artist would get anywhere near something as lame sounding as "hip hop?" Is there a hip hop group called "Peter Rabbit" or "Easter Bunny?" Don't get me started.]

When I bought my WR250X, I didn't notice that the previous owner was one of the robot children who follows fashion wherever that pack of fools might lead. My wife spotted and commented on the droopy pants aspect of his appearance, but I was too occupied with the motorcycle to register that valuable piece of buyer-beware information. I did notice the hacked up exhaust pipe and priced the bike accordingly. I missed the butchered front and rear fenders. The baggy Cut me a break, I was sick and it was January. My reasons for wanting to own a WR250X was as close to totally functional as my limited mental resources allows: fuel injection so the bike will start under all weather and altitude conditions, fuel economy, light and maneuverable for city traffic, versatile, and long suspension for the future state of decay that our road maintenance promises. What the bike looked like was not in my buying equation. It should have been, but it wasn't.  
 
There can be a mathematical value system to judging products by their functional properties. You can apply quantitative measure to fuel efficiency, weight, height, suspension travel, and almost every performance-based value. You can add up the pluses and minuses and use some sort of logic to pit one motorcycle against another. In ever purchase, there is some emotion involved but if function is what is driving your purchase you can suppress those emotional misdirectors until the decision is made. 
 
Fashion is the polar opposite of the elegance of mathematical analysis. If you're buying a motorcycle on the low standards of fashion, you're using the kind of touchy-feely decision making process women use when they buy shoes that are unfit for walking. I would hesitate to say this if I gave a damn about political correctness, but if fashion is what drives you to a particular motorcycle it's not a "guy thing" that is putting you on two wheels. At best, you're making the same kind of statement on your motorcycle that you probably make with your golfing attire.

In the United States, most motorcyclists and the rest of our fellow citizens regard motorcycles as recreational vehicles. We don't commute on our motorcycles. We don't use them for daily transportation. We don't even use the most mobile, quickest vehicles on the road for messenger delivery service. We're humiliated into toy status by bicycles, even in that obvious application.

As toys, motorcycles have a huge collection of disadvantages, culturally and practically. The most apparent is risk vs. reward. The risk of being a marginally-skilled hobby motorcyclist is huge, with our consistent overrepresentation in highway fatalities being a giant red flag waved to everyone involved in highway safety. The reward for the rider who puts on 100 to 1,000 miles a year is microscopic and grossly out of proportion to the risk.
looks_cool_2 
I have seriously suggested that the people I've known who ride that seldom that they pull the fluids from their bike and build a nice stand for it in their living room or den (if they are rich enough to have a den).

That sort of rider is exactly the kind of person who is likely to be influenced by fashion when selecting his motorcycle and exactly the kind of person who is likely to be killed by the many serious functional flaws in a fashionable motorcycle. For that matter, this category of rider is likely to select (or avoid) protective gear that is fashionable but useless, too. Literally, everything about fashionable motorcycling contributes to our crap safety statistics and heads us all down the path of becoming true recreational vehicles and illegal on public roads. And this is where I suggest to you that your silly-assed hippoboke or your shade-tree-mechanic-mangled modifications to a perfectly useful motorcycle only looks cool to the uninformed and incompetent. In other words, you think it looks cool, but it's not. The only good thing about fashion is that it is always temporary. Droopy pants may be cool today, but they are going to look a whole lot dumber than bell-bottoms tomorrow. Your gangster-wannabe buddies might think your 800 pound hippo-relic is cool today, but nobody is going to want that useless piece of crap tomorrow because it is functionless and as silly looking as droopy pants.

Published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly #182 April 2017