Sep 17, 2018

Killing Money

There is a little revenue to be made on a blog when readers click on an ad, but the last couple of times I observed my own blog I was harassed with political ads. So, no ads until after November. If you were forced to look at the product of the Koch brothers' money on my blog, I apologize.

Things I Wish I Knew

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

A few years ago, I had picked up my wife at the Halifax, Nova Scotia airport. As we headed off toward our four day home base, about 90 miles east along the coast, the sun went down. 10 miles later, the sky fell and we rode into a waterfall. I haven't experienced such darkness since I was a kid in rural western Kansas. Joseph Lucas and his heirs would have been proud to see such an illumination void. Every village we passed was pitch dark; no street lights or signs, no open businesses, no lights in homes, no sign that anyone still lived in those places. To make things worse, about fifty miles of the road had been recently resurfaced and there were no centerline or shoulder markings. It was barely possible to see the edge of the road with my V-Strom's excellent headlights. There was a festival in Halifax and the Eagles were playing a reunion concert that night (seriously), so turning back to find closer accommodations was pointless and we were committed to making it to our destination. This was a test ride of almost everything I know about motorcycling. 
 
When I first started riding street bikes, I thought I was a good rider. I'd raced, off-road, for almost 15 years. I even taught a regional motocross program for a year or two. In the spring of 1983, I loaded up my 1979 CX500 Honda for the move from Nebraska to California and I was convinced I knew everything I needed to know to make that ride safely. I was a clueless moron. 
 
Leaving Omaha in late March that spring, I encountered strong winds that tossed my heavily-loaded Honda about like a small sailboat in high seas. Most of that instability was due to my lack of knowledge of how motorcycle steering actually works. From years of riding small bikes off-road and from a lifetime of misunderstanding two-wheel bicycle physics, I was used to applying a lot of body English to my steering corrections. By the time I made it to my parents' home in western Kansas, I'd wrestled my bike for 300-some miles and stressed my upper back muscles so badly that they are still a source of occasional pain. Today, I know that applying counter-steering pressure on the handlebars will achieve what fought to accomplish with all that wasted effort. Today, high winds bother me less on a heavily loaded 250cc dirt bike than I suffered on a road bike in 1983.

Less than predictable paved road surfaces used to baffle me; which might seem weird since I came from a riding background of completely unpredictable road surfaces. However, since traction was always in short supply off-road, I had never given predictable traction much thought. Dirt from hard-packed to freshly plowed, gravel lubricating the surface of a packed clay track or knee-deep desert sand, wet and slippery clay or slushy muck that sucks rider and motorcycle into the earth's sticky maw, my solution was always "go like hell until you crash." My cornering style was pretty much "throw the bike into a slide, bounce off of a berm, and hammer the throttle out of the corner." That is a pretty violent tactic on pavement, so I used a wimpy variation of brake-and-pivot for more than ten years before slowly including some reliance on good traction in my cornering style. When I began my MSF coach career in 2002, I began to look more seriously at my outlook on traction and adopted a more optimistic tactic for turning on pavement. That has given me more control of how I use the space available on the road and allows me to adapt to the more consistent surface variations provided by regular highway maintenance. The first step to being smooth is in having a plan for entering and exiting each and every corner you approach. Counting on luck and youthful reactions is not a practical or reliable long-term strategy.

Even after having broken a few bones and ripping apart muscles and tendons that were designed to remain attached, it took me most of my life to realize I am mortal and a lousy patient. I do not tolerate extended pain well. Staying shiny side up has become a bigger deal to me in old age. I take longer to heal; physically and mentally. That knowledge inspires me to work on basic riding skills, wear the best protective gear I can afford, to avoid hazardous situations, and to limit my risk-taking tendencies. In other words, I slow down, as a riding tactic, at least as often as I pin the throttle. For twenty years, my solution to almost every emergency situation was "drop the hammer and get one or two wheels into the air." That's plan is not as universally useful as I once thought it was.

The more luck I have experienced, the less I trust my fortunes to remain constant. As I look back on the bad things that didn't happen to me, I realize how close to the margin I have been. I have avoided close encounters with deer and other varmints, cagers and truckers, falling rocks and collapsing highways, and disaster caused by my own inattention. I do not trust good fortune any more than I trust good intentions. That is a lesson it has taken a lifetime to appreciate.

I have been a fan of preventative maintenance for most of my life, but I'm even more precautious in my geezerhood. I walk around my motorcycle, looking for loose hardware and worn out bits, habitually. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a saying that doesn't make a lick of sense to me. "If it ain't broke, it's about to be" seems to be a lot more realistic. I carry tools, spare parts, and double my fuel stop time with inspection habits. I have never liked surprises, even surprise birthday parties, and I like them even less the older I get. (Consider my opinion of cell phones for reference.) Maintenance prevents surprises.

With those lessons and more behind me, after 40-some years of riding my brave and long-suffering wife and I slogged through those 90 dark miles of torrential rain without incident. Because the road and conditions were so severe, I was running totally on habits and experience, concentrating on the edges of the road for deer and anything that might require even more attention than I was already using staying on pavement. It wasn't a quick trip, but we made it to the resort wet, exhausted, and safe. The next four days were warm, sunny, and we had one of the best vacations in our 44 years together exploring the highlights surrounding our temporary home.

Looking back, I can think of a thousand things I wish I knew when I started motorcycling. Some of those lessons required a smidgen of common sense, so they would have been unavailable to me until I turned fifty. The stuff that I could have figured out with a less limited attention span and minimal ability to listen to advice, could have come faster and easier. The fact is, I really did love jumping on my bike and flinging it around a race track without the slightest clue how I could get better. Maybe it all worked out for the best, but there were some hard lessons that could have been less painful.

Sep 10, 2018

Merge It or Park It

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

MotorcycleMergeA big cruiser (a full bagger with a reasonably geared-up rider) and a semi loaded with turf approach a T-intersection from opposite directions. The cruiser is making an easy right into the T while the semi has a turn lane and will be crossing lanes after coming to a near stop. The cruiser should reach the turn at least one-hundred feet before the semi begins to make his turn. How do you think this plays out?

Other than me following the semi through the intersection, there is no other traffic in sight. The semi approaches the turn and comes to a complete stop. The cruiser slows to a walking pace before entering the exit lane and, eying the semi, comes to a complete stop at the end of his merge lane. If he got off his hippobike and walked into the road he'd have beaten the semi through the intersection. He waits for the semi driver to signal that it's safe for him to leave the merge lane. This, of course, forced the semi to come to a complete, totally unnecessary, stop partially sticking into the incoming lane while the cruiser doofus waddles away. What should have been a mindlessly simple traffic situation turned into something not only ridiculously complicated but was one more demonstration why Minnesota (and the rest of the country) needs tiered licensing and a dramatically more difficult motorcycle license test for any two-wheel vehicle over 50cc. The motorcyclist in this situation was obviously incapable of handling his oversized toy and should have been ticketed for blocking traffic. If there had been actual traffic in the scenario he would have constituted a road hazard.

From my backseat perspective, the whole incident reminded me of a constant irritant that I do not miss from years of commuting in the Cities. Minnesotans do not know how to merge. Personally, I think stopping in an intersection or, worse, on a freeway entrance/exit ramp should be grounds for loss of license. I wouldn't even object to the police firing a couple of rounds into the driver/rider's head to get their attention. As my father used to say, "There is obviously no vital organ located in that skull." The idea that drivers need to have the "zipper merge" explained to them in remedial terms amazes and depresses me. How is that not obvious?

It clearly isn't, though. There are a couple of exercises in the old, 2007 MSF program that require simple merging skills and about one out of one-hundred classes actually manage to get through these exercises without one or seven or eleven backed-up traffic jams caused by merge-inability. The so-called "seasoned rider" courses are no exception to that statistic. People who have called themselves "riders" for decades simply come to a dead stop when faced with 5mph oncoming traffic (even when that traffic is another motorcycle in a parking lot exercise) and the resulting confusion is comical in a parking lot and suicidal on public roads. As I have asked thousands of times, if you can't merge competently what makes you think you are capable of safely drafting/tailgating?

A few years ago, a rider and fellow MMSC/MSF coach remarked that he'd seen me "aggressively" getting into northbound downtown I35E traffic, as if merging at the end of the entrance lane at traffic speed was impolite. The implication was that I had somehow committed a faux pas in "jumping the line" of traffic some distance above his stuck-in-traffic position. Talk about Minnesota passive-aggressive. Guilty as charged. When I merge, I want to be moving at the prevailing speed and as near to the end of the merge lane as I can get. Commuting is not about standing in line politely waiting for some moron to hang up his damn cell phone. It's about getting to work or home as quickly as possible. If you can't figure that out, you have no hope of comprehending filtering and lane sharing. The day a semi beats me into a T-intersection from the cross-traffic side, even on my 250 dual purpose bike, will be the day I hang up my helmet and buy a convertible. If you are not going to use your motorcycle's superior acceleration, braking, and maneuverability in a simple merge, what would make you think you can use those qualities in an actual emergency? Trust me, you can't and you won't. I've seen that kind of incompetence demonstrated on a regular basis and it amazes me that anyone that impaired would want to risk their life and limbs on a motorcycle.

Back in the 1970's, I visited Chicago from my home in Omaha, for a trade show. My business partner and I were driving a rented panel van, loaded with audio equipment, and we were both small town guys blown away with the Big City. At the first stop light we encountered in the city, when the light changed I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the vehicles started moving together. A couple of lights later, a distracted driver didn't hit the gas when the light changed and the vehicle behind him simply pushed the semi-conscious vehicle into the intersection until the driver assumed marginal control and caught up with traffic. Like most of the US, Chicago is dumbed-down and distracted, today. Vehicles leave intersections connected by invisible 100' ropes, as one of my readers described driver awareness, in every city I've visited. Autonomous vehicles are going to solve this problem for cagers, but motorcyclists are forever going to be on their own. It is hard to imagine how this is going to play out in some way that provides public road access for motorcycles. At least until we are forced into recreational vehicle status, we ought to be merging competently. If nothing else, out of wanting to exit the scene gracefully.

Sep 1, 2018

Drinking the MSF Kool-Aid

Every two years, the Minnesota MSF program requires instructors to attend a “Professional Development Workshop.” Yes, it is as painful as it sounds. Like a lot of the corporate educational fools in the US, the MSF is a big proponent of “scientific teaching” and that is demonstrated sadly and badly in their instructor “training.” So, in August of 2013, I slogged my way through another of these silly exercises in turning energy into random motion. Every time I go through this experience, I think “Maybe I’m too old for this shit.”

After a momentary period of educational creativity in the early BRC years, the MSF has settled back into its over-bearing, drill sergeant tactics. Instead of talking to students like an instructor, the MSF now tells us just to read the corporate material to our “students”: I suppose that is because we’re too dumb to be teachers and the students are too illiterate to read this crap by themselves? The justification for the “read the cards” harping pretends that the MSF has “scientifically audience tested” the pigeon English in their illiterate 1970’s-era technical writing and that those poorly-written phrases magically turn rookies into Valentino Rossi just by their pure scientific magical-ness. “Keep knees against tank,” “keep feet on ground, not on footrests,” and “at double cones, downshift to 2nd gear, easing out clutch while in straight path” are examples of that genius literature. If I could manage a half-decent Pakistani taxi driver accent, I could deliver their script more authentically. The best I can do is a lousy 1950’s-era Charlie Chan hack-job and that is more offensive than funny. Reading this drivel with a straight face is just embarrassing, so I’m working on the taxi driver bit. So far, I’m more inclined toward the “You talkin’ to me?” sort of taxi driver, though. Reading the cards, without editing on the fly, is awkward and embarrassing. Once you’re involved in trying to fill in the missing pronouns and articles, you might as well paraphrase the whole performance.

Even though we often have a dozen riders with a dozen different skills, temperaments, listening abilities, and mental impairments, the MSF pretends that it’s possible to keep all riders in sight at all times while providing individual instruction to anyone who needs it. “”Never have running motorcycles behind you,” is one of the MSF mantras spoken by those who have never taught a class, paid a lick of attention to struggling students, and possesses an infinite supply of energy. A collection of insane and useless coaching positions are pitched to us as having magical powers in that regard. The fact that most of us see with the eyes in front of our heads rather than our backs appears to be new information to the academic geeks who run the MSF. It is possible that those pencil necks can’t swivel far enough to increase their visual horizon more than a couple of degrees, but most of us can cover a lot of ground from one location just by turning our heads and staying mobile. Go figure.

The chief instructor/trainer-trainer’s catch-all rebuttal is “It’s safer.” Like the conservative’s “think of the children” chickenshit come-back, this is a tough-to-beat argument in a typical classroom situation. It’s not like you can effectively argue against safety. However, like several other sorts of irrational debate tactics, no evidence of that safety improvement is offered or proven. In fact, claiming a tactic is safer without proving that point with statistics is just noise intended to stop discussion. The safety of an instructor’s style, range position, and technique is directly related to how that instructor conducts the class. A “universally perfect position” is an impossibility imagined by someone trying to create a defensible position liability-wise.

Likewise, the argument “If the chief instructor does/says it, it must be right” is about as worthless. The basis for “selecting” chief instructors has turned into accepting anyone who is silly enough to pay to haul his ass to one of the MSF’s training locations and obtain that certification. With that as a basis for selection, it’s a credential no more credible than an inheritance. At one time, our chief instructor was one of the best riders and instructors in our system. Now, the three chief instructors are just three guys who paid more money than the rest of us to do this thing. This is just one more example of failing leadership in all things American. Contrary to popular belief, there is some value in having excellence at the top of an organization

Pulling back from the early days of allowing instructors to find their own style and methods is a mistake, but it’s a popular mistake in the US. Everything known about teachers and teaching has found that instructor autonomy is crucial. All positive education outcomes are derived from creative, inspired, empowered instructors who give a shit about their students. The “read the cards” mantra is a No Child’s Behind Left Untouched holdover that came from the Reagan years’ public education sabotage and it drives good instructors from the system while reinforcing mediocrity. If the reason for recitation instead of teaching is because the MSF is requiring conformity, I’d say that would be a powerful reason for abandoning the MSF program for a state-managed system like Oregon’s. If the reason is liability, I’d say the state needs better lawyers. Reading the cards is something the best instructors do when they are being monitored by our “newspeak chief instructors,” but hardly anyone who knows what they are doing has that habit in an actual course. The upside is that reading the damn things is easy enough to do when we’re pretending to believe in the MSF magic. The downside is that doing that reminds us that we’re supposed to be marionettes, not instructors.

The predictable end result of the MSF’s style of instruction was summed up by this report from someone who took the ERC on a military base, “I also passed the ERC this summer.  The card was good for an insurance discount, and some of the slow speed instruction was valuable.  Other than that, the way this course was taught by the instructors I had was very thin...they did what was in the MSF Rider Card booklets, and that's it.  Mediocre instructors teaching minimal curriculum.  Most of the attendees at my course were military active duty, military retirees, or contractors on military bases all needing the card for two-wheel base access.  It is too bad the military is drinking the MSF Kool-Aid.

All of this is just another example of the same mismanagement that has driven real work underground in the US. The only talent American management has consistently shown is an ability to make any kind of work as miserable as possible. The average teaching career in the US is eleven years, but even more important is the 25% of beginning teachers who leave the field after four years and the 50% of urban teachers who abandon their careers after five years. The kids aren’t the problem. Management is. About ten years ago (2003), Pat Hahn produced a list of Minnesota MSF instructors with their “length of service” information. I did some Excel sorting on that data and found that the average (mean) instructor career was about three years. There were some significant outliers (15-24 years) in the group, but the overwhelming majority were short-timers. I know more than a few ex-Minnesota MSF instructors and none of them regret quitting. At the time, I wondered how it was possible to make riding the state’s motorcycles for money unpleasant. Now I know.

I know in a couple of ways. For a dozen years, I taught recording engineering and applied acoustics at a lot private music college. For about eight years, that job was so much fun I would have done it for free. (In fact, I did do a lot of work for nothing other than the pleasure of working with the kids and the school’s great musicians and instructors.) Eventually, the school was overrun by academics and “professional school administrators” and the fun, creativity, and energy was thoroughly sucked from the program. At one time, I thought I would teach at that school until they tossed me out or I died. Now, I’d rather take a bullet than teach another semester. Flipping that kind of commitment takes talent and the one thing American mismanagement has is an incredible ability to make any job as miserable as possible.

I’m writing this in early August 2013 under the assumption that by the time it hits the blog, I’ll either be dead or long out of motorcycle safety training. If not, I’m sure the MSF and the MMSC will make sure that decision is made for me once they read this criticism. It’s hard to imagine that being a big loss. The real problem in motorcycle “safety training” and licensing is that it isn’t serious enough. It’s one thing that 25% of motorcycle fatalities were unlicensed, it’s another that licensing is so easy that people with no ability can fumble through it fairly easily. A real approach to reducing the completely-out-of-line motorcycle fatality and injury numbers would require much tougher motorcycle licensing and a hard-assed approach to unlicensed motorcyclists (confiscate the motorcycle and put the asshole on foot where he/she was stopped along with a big fine). Until that happens, all of this “safety training” malarkey is just part of the sales pitch that is the real MSF objective (after all, the MSF is owned by the Motorcycle Industry Council, a “national trade association representing manufacturers and distributors of motorcycles, scooters, motorcycle/ATV parts and accessories and members of allied trades.” When was the last time you remember a trade organization being restrained in its desire to sell stuff over the safety of its customers? Yeah, that’s what I thought. If it were up to the MIC, motorcycle fatalities would be 90% of total traffic deaths and they’d just suppress the news so that a whole new batch of victims/customers would dive into traffic unaware of the hazards. The MSF is just an attempt to pretend to civic-mindedness while cranking out as many licensed customers as possible. The fact that this organization has forced the states to accept its monopoly on motorcycle safety training is all the evidence anyone should need to know this is a fact.

Aug 24, 2018

Ancient History, Current Situation

Guido Ebert (ex-MMM editor, current freelance writer) wrote an article for Give A Shift titled, “Motorcycle Sales in the Slow Lane.”  That November, 2017 analysis concluded with “Ultimately, the way it looks right now, the U.S. Motorcycle market could – in a best-case scenario – remain largely flat in coming years. But, despite core enthusiast riders continuing to make desired purchases, a great percentage of the potential motorcycle-buying public will continue to feel impacted by economic stressors, the market will continue to experience an aging owner demographic, and no prominent influencer for major growth appears readily apparent.”

Damn, and Guido is an optimist.

New MC SalesI am inclined to suspect he is right, though. This chart, to be really useful, should include another decade back. In the early 80’s, motorcycle hit a collection of snags that made it seem like motorcycles were about to go the way of the dodo. In 1980, there were 112 fatal motorcycle crashes in Minnesota. That was the peak year for both fatalities and injuries (2,728). By 1982, dealers were folding, manufacturers were stuck with a couple of year’s production sitting on showroom floors, and the national economy was sluggish. All of that happened again in 1988 (Remember “It’s about the economy, stupid?”).

MC by NationMotorcycle sales aren’t just going down in the USA, though. Brazil was a little late to the runoff, but for the rest of the countries documented in this chart 2007 was the beginning of a fairly substantial downturn in motorcycle sales. Australia and the UK seem to be the only countries that have shown any sort of serious uptick in sales since the Great Recession. The US sales have continued to decline since the 2016 end of this chart and nobody seems to be predicting a comeback any time soon. The 90’s downturn was about a decade long, so this moment could also turn out to be temporary.

fotw915The reasons, or excuses, for motorcycle purchases are thinning out, though. In the 80’s and 90’s, for all but the most radical sportbikes and a few gas spewing cruiser models, we could always pretend we rode motorcycles to save money on fuel. When gas was $1.25/gallon in the 80’s that was a close argument. When gas was $3.50 in the 2000’s, it would have been a more winning argument but car economy really took major leaps about then keeping the operational costs close. Likewise, for most of the time I’ve been riding a new motorcycle was dramatically cheaper than a new car. In 1973, I paid $500 for a brand new 125ISDT Rickman, for example, but my new Mazda station wagon cost $3,000. Today, you have to look deep into manufacturer’s lineup to find anything that is even a little cheaper than a car. A not-legal-in-California Suzuki TU250X costs $4600 and a Nissan Versa S costs $12,000. The low-ball Versa S gets 39mpg (highway), comes with A/C, an entertainment center, decent storage and reasonable comfort, front wheel drive and manual transmission, and a 3-year warranty. Some dealers give you a Versa S just for buying a more upscale Nissan SUV or Titan pickup. If you are looking at a motorcycle with comparable road-worthiness, you’ll discover your purchase price and fuel economy is neck-and-neck with the Versa. So much for an economics argument.

If an economy argument won’t be a seller for potential future motorcyclists, what will? While “adventure” or “freedom” is something that most motorcyclists list as their motivation for riding, most riders are anything but adventurous and pirate parades are more likely demonstrations of human herding instinct than some kind of weird take on individual liberty. Sales of “adventure touring” bikes have been disappointing, with inventory of 2016-2018 Honda Africa Twins, Yamaha Super Teneres, and assorted KTM and BMW bikes stuck on the showroom floors. Cruisers are still selling, but not at all briskly. Small bikes that should be iintroducing a generation of kids to motorcycling are failing to attract any serious attention, regardless of vintage or modern styling. I’m not seeing a bump in interest from Millenials or whatever the next generation of kids is called at the moment. I think that is a problem.

Aug 22, 2018

VBR 4 and Beyond: Reflections on Now, Then, and the Future

IMG_9466What makes a guy who started the whole textile riding suit business tick? As you’d expect, it’s complicated. Andy Goldfine really only wanted to make Aerostich Roadcrafters; the company’s posterchild product intended to make daily commuting on a motorcycle practical, fun, comfortable, and safe. As he said during a talk at the Very Boring Rally (VBR4), he started the Riderwearhouse retail and mailorder business to be able to support the 3-4 Roadcrafters the company would make each month. Being a retail store businessman was a long ways from a dream Andy had for himself.

vbr4 crowd35 years later, Andy and his company are throwing a party for the people who kept the company alive after every other motorcycle clothing company in the world copied their designs, moved production to the 3rd world, undercut Aerostich’s prices and quality in equal percentages, and out-marketed Aerostich’s Whole Earth Catalog style to a couple of generations of riders who get most of their information from Google searches and make most of their major purchases from Amazon.com. “Word of mouth” has devolved into Yelp and Google reviews by strangers with undeclared motivations and relationships and minimal information of value. If you look closely at the audience for this VBR seminar, you’ll see a lot of bald and/or grey heads, which is pretty much what motorcycling in 2018 resembles: lots of geezers with grudges.

It’s easy to imagine the end of motorcycling. I do it all the time. However, when I was talking to another rider about my first Aerostich I was reminded of the fact that motorcycling looked pretty doomed in 1983 or 84 when I  bought that first Roadcrafter. The California dealers were vanishing. In 1984, there were loads of brand new 1980-1983 motorcycles still on showroom floors. In fact, in late 1983 I talked the owner of a 1982 Yamaha Vision 550 down from his once-reasonable $2200 asking price to $1,000 because the local Yamaha dealer was dumping 1982’s for $1400 and new 1983’s for $1800. Two years later, I bought a like-new 1983 Vision for $1,000 with the same argument. I sold that 2nd Vision in late 1991 in Colorado for $2200 to a guy who drove all the way from California to buy it.  By then, the industry was in yet another motorcycle recession and new Japanese bikes were stagnating on showrooms once again.

It’s easy to imagine the sad current state-of-affairs is a predictor of the future, just like when people imagine current inflated house prices are going to last forever. The only thing experience with the past has taught me is that I am pretty good at guessing when crashes will occur and I suck at predicting bull markets for anything.

People in the industry want to blame Millenials for the current crisis. In Eric Brandt’s article, “Analysts are Wrong about Why Millennials Aren't Buying Harleys,” he wrote, “This all reminds me of a fascinating story Bob Lutz told about the Chrysler Imperial in an interview with Popular Mechanics. ‘That was the source of one of the major arguments Lee Iacocca and I had,’ Lutz said of the Imperial. He said Iacocca showed him the car and asked what he thought. Lutz responded saying it looked ‘aesthetically, 10 years old the day it comes out’ and went on to criticize the vinyl roof, the fake wire wheels, and the opera windows. Shocked, Iacocca responded saying ‘you might not like it because you’re too young, but by the time you’re 65, you’ll like a car like that.’ What Lutz says next applied to the Imperial then and it applies to Harley-Davidson now. ‘I won’t because my generation admires high-end European cars. You like [the Imperial] because when you were 40-years-old, that’s what American luxury cars looked like.’” Harley isn’t the only company to cling to what worked 30 years ago, but there is going to be a hole in one or two generations’ knowledge of what motorcycles “looked like” and someone is going to fill it.

Aerostich’s riding products have changed substantially, while hanging on to the functional concepts that attracted me and thousands of riders to their gear. Their quality standards have only become more refined and stronger over their 35 years of production and invention. There is only one model of what motorcyclists look like and it is the variations on Aerostich’s Roadcrafter and Darien riding suits. In 30 years, if today’s younger riders are wanting to look like motorcyclists from their 20’s and 30’s, they are going to have to be wearing Aerostich gear. Every other brand is a cheap imitation, even if they aren’t cheap.

Here’s hoping Andy and Aerostich will keep doing what they do best as long as they want to be doing it.

Aug 21, 2018

Group Posing

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

An early June Sunday morning, my spouse decided we needed to take a drive to River Falls, via back, Wisconsin highway patrol-free roads. We have a leisurely route, after escaping WI 35 ticket-free, that will take us to our usual destination pretty stress-free most days. Not Sunday, however. That county road was cluttered with arrogant middle-of-the-road bicyclist obstacles and blasted with a half-dozen pirate parades and a couple smaller groups of lane-challenged sportbike pretenders. The drive, in either direction, was way too tense to be enjoyable.
As I watched one pack of pirate bikers waddle towards us, marginally in their opposite lane and demonstrating no signs of competence, I wondered, again, why people feel compelled to ride in groups. In an Experienced Rider MSF course, a few years back, one of the students described motorcycling as a "social activity," which about floored me. He was, obviously, right, but it had never occurred to me that anyone would pick a vehicle that is clearly designed for solo exploration, minimalist transportation, and general anti-social behavior (Yeah, I'm talkin' about you, Victor.) and imagine it to be the perfect platform for a group activity. A few years later and I'm no less baffled by that realization than I was when I first heard it. So, I kept thinking about it as I dodged the not-so-rare idiots on hippobikes wandering near my lane with their naked, bald heads shining and their wide open eyeballs target fixating on the front of my pickup. I came to a conclusion as to what all this silliness is about, but you probably aren't going to like it.
For most of my life, I've viewed groups of men and boys as being at once homophobic and homoerotic. The badass biker crowd with its freaky gangbanging activities, and attraction to outfits the Village People would have thought were too poncy in the heyday of disco, are clearly dealing with some sexual identity issues. It's not that different from the "gay for the stay" pretence men in prison use to justify their confusion, but it is slightly scarier since these maladjusted characters are out in the general population; at least until the next time they get caught and end up back inside. None of that is any different than frat hazing behavior or the military or rappers and their posse pals or those militia freakshows: guys congregate in packs to keep from having to think about which side of the street they want to walk. 
Obviously, I don't care, one way or another, if people are hetero or homosexual, but packs of stray men are never a good thing. Packs of physically inept, overweight, peer-pressure intimidated men (and equally confused women) on oversized motorcycles are much worse things. There are no statistics that I can locate that account for motorcycle crashes in group rides, but it's hard to find a group ride story that doesn't include at least one nitwit who overshot a corner or ran into the back of another motorcyclist or ended up in the wrong lane. Watching these folks try to hold their place in the "formation" while negotiating curves at speeds picked by the group leader and desperately trying to look "cool" is just a little sad.
And it's all because motorcycle parades are the socially-acceptable way for men to travel in groups on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Several years ago, my brother came to visit and to go with me on a "ride" around Lake Superior. We don't get to see each other much, mostly since he lives in Arizona and I can't think of any good reason to visit that state. So, we travelled on my two motorcycles for almost 2,000 miles. The two bikes get about 50mpg each, so we averaged somewhat less than 25mpg for the trip. He got lost a couple of times because I tend to try to keep 2-3 miles between me and other vehicles, whenever possible, and he has the family tendency to wander off on the nearest interesting looking dirt road to see where it ends up. Overall, it was a mediocre trip and we probably got to spend about 8 waking hours actually hanging out over five days. It would have been cheaper, more fun, and at least as adventurous to have taken my 1999 Ford Escort wagon and I'd have known something about his life since the last time we hung out.
In the early 90s, I was renting a basement room from a friend in Denver and financially and mentally recovering from ten expensive years in southern California, raising two daughters, and starting a new career at age 41. During some holiday break, three friends decided they wanted to drive to California to see the sights while I hung out with my family for a weekend. Part of the motivation was that one of the guys had just restored a 1960's Buick convertible and he wanted to try it out on a road trip. We made it from Denver to Idaho Springs, about 50 miles, before the Buick died. He had AAA tow the Buick back and he picked up my Toyota van and drove it back to Idaho Springs to collect the rest of the group. With nothing but time to waste, we all decided we'd stick with the roadtrip plan, even though the van only had two front seats because I'd hollowed out the back to serve as a cheap camper. If we got stopped, it was a safe bet that we'd be looking at seatbelt violations, at the least. If we crashed in the mountains or at any reasonable speed, missing seatbelts were the least of our problems inside that Toyota tin can.
We drove straight through, taking turns at the wheel, holding down shotgun duties, and sleeping in the back. About 1,000 miles and 18 hours later, we rolled into Huntington Beach, rested, relaxed, fed, entertained, and ready to split up into two groups: me with my family and the other three guys exploring California. They headed for L.A. and Universal Studios and I enjoyed a few days with my wife and daughters. That was one of the best road trips of my adult life and the only actual group ride I've ever enjoyed. Like many families, mine didn't travel together much and when we did it was usually for something miserable like a funeral or wedding. That California roadtrip was the closest thing I'd ever experienced to an actual family vacation.
The next-closest tolerable-to-decent group rides were all of a similar sort. The same three guys and one other were the only motorcyclists I knew while I lived in Denver. One of them, my landlord, was an experienced, talented rider and the other three hadn't (and wouldn't) put 1,000 miles on their used motorcycles or on themselves in their motorcycling "careers." All four of those guys were committed pavement motorcyclists while I was still trying to decide how I felt about asphalt and concrete. We often took Parker Road toward Colorado Springs after work or on weekends. If we were going all the way to the Springs, sometimes I'd take CO67 to Rampart Range Road and the military training road along the the eastern ridge into the Springs. We'd pick a destination and a meeting time and I'd cut out early and head for the mountains while the other guys took the shorter, quicker but less scenic route. Since they rarely hit the road before noon, even though my route was twice as long as theirs, I'd still end up at the end point a little early.
And that's what I'd call a decent "group ride."
However, when it comes to taking a trip on a motorcycle, it still makes more sense to me to do it solo. But then, I'm not worried about what anyone else's opinion of how I travel or who I am traveling with. 










Aug 20, 2018

Weird Things in the Queue

For the last 20 years that I've written for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine, the ideas have overflowed the magazine's interest by a long ways. I built a website with a queue of articles and stories for my editors to pick-and-choose from and the occasional outlier initially would see original life on this blog. Honestly, while the editors might have said those outliers were "ugly orphans" that didn't contain enough reader interest to see the light of publication, I always thought they were the closest to the "geezer with a grudge" concept: me being as pissed off as I often am in real life. So, in my mind, when I published something substantial here I figured it was too pissed off, too radical, too funny, or too weird for publication elsewhere. In other words, my best stuff.

Now that MMM is unofficially a dead letter (the last paper edition went out with the 2018/2018 Winter Issue), all of those unpublished orphans are getting moved up in the GWAG queue. More often than not, I've used the blog as a place to comment on things happening in motorcycling or Minnesota that didn't really warrant a whole GWAG column. A couple of months after MMM published an article, it would also show up here. As of today, I have shifted my backup schedule on this blog to a schedule that begins to empty that queue every week or two until it runs out (as of today, sometime in early 2020. (Yeah, I know. I should find a more productive hobby.)

I hate to see the end of MMM, but we had a damn good run together. We almost made it 20 years together. MMM published my first article for the magazine in October of 1999; "What Are We Riding For." It is still a question I asked myself every day I taught MSF "safety courses" and every time I see a pirate riding a 900 pound hippobike wearing a protective headband and his underwear (or "panties" as my wife calls it).

Aug 12, 2018

Who to Root For?

Harley HalfwitsAs a 60’s kinda guy, it’s weird to be hoping the FBI wins in the battle between our Russian –plant president and the rule of law and something midly resembling patriotism.

I suspect no one is surprised that the biker gangsters are all stacked up behind Trump, even when Trump is attacking the logo they have tattooed all over their grossly abused bodies. But this headline is really trying the bounds of my own biases, “Bikers back Trump in his rift over Harley-Davidson.” This is clearly one of those movies where there are no good guys. I hope they all dry up and blow back to Russia.

“Bikers have been among the groups most loyal to Trump, as motorcyclists in the United States tend to be predominantly working-class men older than 50 and veterans — demographics that comprise the bulk of the president’s base. Trump has embraced that allegiance, saying recently that ‘I guarantee you everybody that ever bought a Harley-Davidson voted for Trump.’” Of course, Trump is bullshitting, as usual. I know more than a few people who have bought HDs and who hate Trump and his Russian owners as much as does the average person with an above single-digit IQ. Still, the fact that this hasn’t drawn much fire just adds more weight to my already generally massive dislike for all things HD.

Jul 11, 2018

The Market Had Its Say?

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (3)This week, I made the once-every-couple-of-months Twin Cities tour with my wife. Mostly, she had chores and errands to do, but when she stopped at Har Mar Mall to buy art supplies, I snuck out to peruse Barnes and Noble. I got stopped at the magazine rack looking at electric bicycle magazines and articles. After a bit of that, I decided to see what is left of the motorcycle glossy press.

It took a while to find either motorcycle or car magazines. The “Transportation” rack is as far from the entrance and traffic as possible and appears to be barely maintained. Several of the magazines were May and June issues. That was true for the car rags, also. On top of that neglect, a good number of motorcycle “magazines” were actually retrospective “special issues” that could have been sitting on the shelf for months; or years. Along the same lines, a Rolling Stone “special issue” was about Mick Jagger, if that gives you a clue as to the currency of that magazine format.

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (4)On the other hand, the bicycle section was featured under “Sports” and there were a lot of magazines and articles about electric bicycles in both magazines dedicated to electric bikes and the more mainstream mostly-manual powered bike magazines. The big thing here was that there are a lot of bicycle magazines and there is a lot of interest in electric bicycles; for transportation and sport. A couple of the magazines were almost as fun to read as the old Dirt Bike magazine; when it was edited by Super Hunky Rick Sieman. None of the last twenty years of dirt bike magazines have even come close to that high bar. As I suspected, the traditional motorcycle guys are putting a foot into this water, too. Electric Bike Action magazine had a big feature about Yamaha’s new electric bicycle series. To be sure, in true bicycle and bicyclist fashion, there was a lot of incredibly stupid stuff inside those magazines.

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (2)A line that particularly struck me as hilarious in the Electric Bike Action Yamaha article was, “At first we wondered if they were going to sell the bikes at their powersports dealerships. They only plan to incorporate those e-bikes into powersports dealers that already have a bike shop component, and those are few and far between. There’s a big difference between knowing how to work on a motorcycle and and knowing how to work on an electric bike.” That is true, kiddies. Anyone who can work on a fuel-injected, electronic ignition, fly-by-wire throttle-controlled, ABS’d, and state-of-the-art motorcycle will find electric bicycles to be too simple to be interesting. The customer base will lower that bar even further.

Times are changin’ and they are changin’ a lot faster than many expect. Powersports dealers are beginning to scramble for new revenue sources. It’s no stretch to imagine that a dealer who sells a few motorcycles, a few more ATVs, even more boats, and a buttload of golf carts will find a lot of reasons to become one of those “powersports dealers that already have a bike shop component.” A few bicycles on the showroom will cost a lot less than a few motorcycles that can’t be moved at any price. If that’s what it takes to get in on the electric bicycle boom, I suspect it won’t slow many dealers down.

Jul 9, 2018

Never Do That Again?

IMG_20180626_201217_646When my V-Strom rolled away on its new owner’s trailer and headed north to its new home, one of the first things I thought was “I’ll never do that again.” By “that,” I mean invest that much time and money in a motorcycle. Considering the years and miles, I didn’t have all that much money invested in the V-Strom: 12 years and not more than $5,000 not counting fuel. Still, I put a lot of time, thought, and even hope and love into that motorcycle.

Over the years with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly and the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center my V-Strom had been a test bed for all sorts of products; from air horns to auto-chain lube devices to excessive electrical experiments (everything short of a 120VAC inverter). I long-term tested an Elka shock that listed for about what I sold the motorcycle for. I even longer-term-tested the very first Sargent seat designed for the then-new V-Strom 650. I put hours of customizing (for touring, not for looks) into this motorcycle over the first decade I owned, especially the first 5 years. While I thought all of my modifications were to make the bike suit me, when the current owner sat on it and took it for a ride, he seemed to think it was perfect for him.

Fifty years ago, my brother brought his Harley Sprint 250 to my place, to hide it from our parents (mostly our father). It was there, what was I supposed to do? I started riding it . . . everywhere. I crashed a lot and things broke. I started taking unnecessary things off of the bike; like headlights, turn signals, the speedo, fenders, and I learned how to weld and braze so I could repair the frame pieces I snapped off of that bike. In a few years, I had my own two-stroke bikes and I really got into “customizing” my off-road race bikes: blue printing the engines, Preston Petty fenders, intake and exhaust mods, carburetor modifications, frame and suspension upgrades, and that went on for years. Every dirt bike and every street bike I’ve ever owned has become “mine.”

August 2006 V-Strom trip (3)I bought my Suzuki V-Strom in 2006, when I was 58 years old. I bought that bike with an Alaska adventure in mind. Practically the day I rode my V-Strom home I started to get it ready for a 13,000 mile trip and seriously long mileage days. Since that first long trip in 2007, my V-Strom has taken me across the country a few times and across Canada once. We’ve driven at least two thousand miles of North Dakota dirt roads, across sections of Montana and Wyoming that I suspect few locals even know exist, and we explored some of the “minimum maintenance” roads I once rode on my 1973 Rickman back when I lived in rural Nebraska. So many qualities of that motorcycle were tweaked for my comfort and preferences that it seemed almost biological. I literally spent months working on that motorcycle, either modifying it or getting it ready for a long trip to somewhere I’d dreamed of traveling. I spent months on that motorcycle riding to places and seeing things nobody else as ever seen the same way. It was truly my “adventure bike” in every sense of the words. 

In 2009, I bought my Yamaha WR250X and the six modifications I’ve made to that bike are a seat cover, a larger fuel tank, a home-made tail rack mount for extra fuel storage, serrated pegs, a bolt-on windscreen, and heated vest wiring. The original owner did a bunch of stupid stuff to the bike and I returned all of that to bone stock. When I sold the V-Strom, I’d planned on buying a Sargent seat for the WR but so far I haven’t been motivated to do that. It still might happen, but it’s more likely won’t.

One thing I know for sure is that I will never put as much effort, thought, and hope into another motorcycle as I did the V-Strom. No motorcycle I will ever own will be as much my own as that bike was. I’ve made a couple of guitars in the last two years and they got that kind of effort. The house we' bought in Red Wing was a serious fixer-upper and it has become pretty personal looking. The time in my life when I will be making plans to cover a bit of the earth on a motorcycle that needs to be molded to fit my needs is over. I’m not mourning those days, even a little. I, literally, had a great ride and I’m grateful for the good fortune that put me, the Suzuki V-Strom, and the opportunity to take advantage of that freedom in the same place and time.

Jul 6, 2018

VBR4 2018

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Media Release: For immediate publication

Date: 06/11/18

Subject: Aerostich Very Boring Rally 4

clip_image002  2018 Very Boring Rally 4

You are cordially invited to help us celebrate 35 years of Aerostich at the VBR4, from Friday August 17th thru August 19th! All activities take place in and around our Duluth, Minnesota World Headquarters factory and facility: There will be great food, interesting presentations, loudish music, a collectable T-shirt and rally pin, factory tours and a souvenir booklet…Plus lots of in-store-only discounts, FREE SWAG and a chance to win dozens of great prizes!

The cost of the weekend event is $35 per person and pre-registration is available online at www.veryboringrally.com. Shelter and lodging options and connections are here.

Join the usual assortment of cycle bums, malcontents, hipsters (?), curmudgeons and road grimed astronauts for good-times, both planned and impromptu. Activities are scheduled all 3-Days of the event, including prizes and awards for motorcycle poetry readings, the oldest/youngest/farthest distance riders and much more. Even an award for the sorriest bike ridden to the party, and one for the most worn-out Aerostich suit. Top door prize is a $3000 Aerostich gear collection!

In addition to the VBR4, nearby pleasures include the world's biggest white sand freshwater swimming beach (six miles long), eight micro-breweries (including a great one just a block down the street. There are also plenty of great roads and interesting places to explore. Dry, sunny, warm weather guaranteed* (video).

For more information about the Very Boring Rally 4, and for advanced ticket sales, please visit www.veryboringrally.com or call 800-222-1994.

Thank you & good riding!

Web: www.veryboringrally.com

Media contact: Kyle Allen kallen@aerostich.com Lynn Wisneski <lwisneski@aerostich.com>

NOTE TO EDITORS: This text and artwork is also downloadable at: www.aerostich.com/pressroom/press.html

*We're from Minnesota, so we guarantee your definition of dry, sunny and warm is different than ours...

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© 2018 Aero Design, Inc

Jul 3, 2018

Memories on My Luggage

Turned out, the big thing I missed about my 12 year partner in travel, my 2004 DL650 V-Strom, was getting to see those place-marker stickers on the luggage and right side cover. The guy who bought the bike, Paul Purdes, generously took excellent pictures of the cases and stickers which my wife will make into a collage that I can hang on my office wall. In the meantime, I put his pictures and some of my favorite memories of that motorcycle into a video that I can enjoy right now. Hopefully, you find something entertaining in it also.

Jul 1, 2018

I Ride Too Good

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day
On the way back home through South Dakota on a smoking July afternoon a few years ago, I decided to count the number of times someone said, "It's awful hot to be wearing all that gear" or something equally clever and observant. By the time I made it home, it happened seven times.
My favorite incident was in Platte, South Dakota at a bar where I ate my last meal of the day, after finding a motel and shedding my bike luggage. As I'd come into town, I spotted a huge (tall and wide) woman on a big cruiser wobbling away from the curb into traffic, looking as uncomfortable and incompetent as anyone I've ever seen on a motorcycle. She had both feet on the ground, paddling along into moving traffic, hoping the universe was looking out for her. She was barely able to turn her head far enough to see her own hands on her ape-hangers, let alone the on-coming traffic. That same woman was sitting at one of the outside tables with six other women as I left the bar after dinner.
One of her friends remarked, "That's a lot of gear to be wearing on a hot day."
I repeated the response I have memorized for this silly statement, "It's not nearly enough when you're sliding down the road on your ass."
Another woman said, "He got you there."
The big cruiser rider said, "I ride too good for that to happen to me."
The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains how "persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is." This lady was a classic example of that human delusion and she had no idea how ridiculous her statement would sound to anyone who had seen her ride. I have to feel a little sorry for her, though. The motorcycle she rode was way more machine than she could ever handle. She was so overweight that any sane society would classify her as "handicapped" and so unskilled that same culture would refuse to issue her a license for anything more powerful than a 25cc moped. The Harley marketing machine had convinced her that she was a badass biker, but bad was all she could manage. If all she does with her motorcycle is wobble from her house to the bar in that tiny village, she might survive to tell stories about her "biker phase" when she's in the old folks home. If she ever puts that thing on an open road, the chances are good that she'll make a contribution to the single-vehicle crash and fatality statistics.
In my last basic motorcycle course of the 2017 season, we had one exceptionally marginal student, who was taking the class for the second time in a last gasp attempt at a license. As usual, that student was the most confident of the group. In a discussion about evaluating traffic hazards and escape routes, I described how easy it is to overestimate your skills and capabilities and how quickly a traffic situation can catastrophically point out your errors and limitations.
Our marginal student said, "That will never be me. I know what I'm doing."
I replied, "In my experience, all of the really good riders I've ever known are more aware of their shortcomings than confident in their skills."
She said, "Now you're just making things up."
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Yep, I made that up, too. 

The real benefit to taking additional and regular training is discovering how much distance there is between what you think you know and what you actually know. That goes for anything, not just motorcycle training. Humans are notoriously lousy self-evaluators, as individuals and as groups. One of the most hilarious anti-government delusions is the fantasy of "self-regulation." Literally, I can't think of a single area of human activity where any industry, organization, or community has done a decent job of self-regulation. Anytime humans are left to their own isolated devices they inbreed and become stupid and corrupt. It doesn't even take expert outside observers to provide useful advice; people mangle their intended purpose so completely and destructively that almost anyone with eyesight can provide useful corrective feedback. The South Dakota cruiser rider was a terrific example of that.
One of the things I will miss when I retire from teaching the state's motorcycle safety classes is the corrective feedback from the students and the coaches I worked with. In particular, the classes that used to be called "Experienced Rider" often exposed me to motorcyclists with far different experiences from my own. During the discussions I picked up all sorts of ideas about how other riders manage traffic, maintain their motorcycles, and plan cross country trips. Having to demonstrate the exercises for competent riders always added a little pressure to the otherwise simple activities and gave me a solid benchmark for knowing when it would be time for me to hang up my Aerostich for good.
At the other end of that spectrum, beginning and so-called "experienced" riders often discovered that their motorcycle talents were dramatically less impressive than they'd convinced themselves. Sadly, not everyone who miserably fails to cope with the course exercises is honest enough to realize how low a bar they failed to step over. Riders who drive straight through the offset weave exercises tell themselves their bike is the problem, ignoring the fact that other riders on similar or less maneuverable motorcycles are handling the course without difficulty. Riders who never learn to use and trust their front brake pretend that they'll avoid having to make an emergency stop by sticking to country roads and riding in a pack. One of the huge shortcomings of not having a tiered license system is that completely incompetent riders can end up on equally hard-to-ride motorcycles and won't discover why that is a problem until seconds before becoming a statistic.
One fairly reliable indicator of riding competence is the amount of gear a rider decides is enough. AGAT riders are consistently more competent than the shorts and flipflops or bandanna and pirate outfit crowd. It appears that the more you know about riding a motorcycle, the more aware you are of the risk. The opposite of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is something every good scientist, engineer, and technician knows, "The more you know, the more you know you don't know." So, if you are confident that your skills are good enough to allow you to ride helmetless and without decent gear, the odds are good that you are likely to be fatally wrong. 



Jun 30, 2018

Good Roads and Bad Roads

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day


"Minimum Maintenance Roads," the spice of life.
This summer I took a trip out to Colorado, via northern Nebraska. It was my first trip using my new (to me) Garmin Nüvi 500 GPS and while I had pretty much figured out Garmin's trip planning software, BaseCamp, there were a few features on the actual GPS that threw me a curve or three. I had planned most of my route through Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska pretty tightly. I didn't have much of a schedule, but I had a few old stompin' grounds that I wanted to visit plus a couple of new favorite stops to make on the way to the mountains. 
 
good-roads-bad-roadsBack when I was a young man and my kids were kids, I spent a lot of my life either driving a Ford E150 Econoline Van all over Nebraska, Iowa, and eastern Colorado or riding a motorcycle on what used to be called "limited access roads" and are, apparently, now called "minimum maintenance roads." For the first year, my bike of choice was a Kawasaki 350 Big Horn, one of the worst "dual purpose" motorcycles ever cooked up. Not long after settling into our new home and my insanely risky job, I bought the first new motorcycle I'd ever owned, a 1974 Rickman 125 ISDT. That motorcycle introduced me to the early stage of my life's adventure touring. 
 
In the 70's, limited access roads were once farm-to-market roads that had lost their traffic. Nebraska kept the paths open in case some of that traffic returned for fifteen or so years, then the fences came together and the roads became part of the farm or grazing land on either side. I was lucky enough to have been there when there were still some really cool places to go by those unmaintained paths. On my most recent trip, I planned on putting in three to four thousand fairly hard miles so I didn't intend to start off by beating up my tires, chain, and body parts on unpaved Nebraska backroads. I was taking US20 out of nostalgia, but I wasn't so homesick as to want to end up in the middle of nowhere with a busted bike and 3,000 miles to go. My GPS, however, had different plans. Somewhere deep in the system settings, on a second page of options, there is a checkbox for "unpaved roads." I missed that option, so my GPS route was allowed to take me pretty much anywhere a piece of farm equipment might be able to travel. About 50 miles west of Souix City, my GPS did it's recalculating thing when a construction detour pulled me off of my original plan and sent me down about 70 miles of gravel roads in the general direction of Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park; my next destination. By the time I got back to fairly reliable asphalt, I was done for the day. I'd managed about 450 miles that day, including a fairly long stop at the National Music Instrument Museum in Vermillion, SD. 
good-roads-bad-roads-2 
When I'd stopped in Vermillion, I covered the bike and tossed my gear under the cover. When I came out the museum, there were a handfull of guys on the sidewalk looking at my bike, wondering about all of the fluid on the ground under the bike. As usual, my Camelback had leaked, but I went through the usual maintenance checks before I took off for Nebraska. When I left Vermillion, my Dunlop Trailmaster tires looked pretty much like you'd expect for tires with about 1,000 miles of wear. 100 miles later, after 70 miles of gravel, the rear tire was close to shot. The next morning, I headed back to Sioux City for a new rear tire and hit the road west about noon. This time, making up for lost ground, I let the GPS have it's head and take me to Ashfall by the shortest possible route. This time I was on gravel for about 100 miles and most of it was done pretty much WFO. There was even a stream crossing, when an irrigation system flooded a ditch and overflowed across the road. The time I spent getting reacquainted with deep sand in New Mexico paid off repeatedly.

After a quick hike around the park (Well worth your time if you are into fossils and natural disasters.), I hit the road for Valentine, NE. About midway to Valentine, I hit a section of US20 that had been recently "resurfaced," Nebraska-style. The construction folks had dumped some asphalt on the road, then coated it with a thick bed of gravel. Turning that into an actual paved road would be up to whatever traffic was available to pound the gravel into the asphalt. Considering where I'd been earlier that day, US20 looked pretty good. There was no other traffic on the road and the HPD don't like to get their cars dirty, so I owned the road for at least 100 miles.

I got to Valentine fairly late and lucked into a decent motel with a great bar and good food. As I was unpacking, two old guys (like me) pulled into the lot next to me; one on a CanAm Spyder and the other on a Goldwing. When they saw the crud on my bike, one of the said, "Did you come down 20?" When I confirmed their suspicions, they told me they had freaked out when they saw the gravel-coated asphalt and went 100 miles out of their way, well into South Dakota, to avoid it. The layer of dust and caked on mud from the "stream crossing" convinced them they had made the right decision. They'd left Fremont, Nebraska that morning and were pretty much done in for the day. I ate a steak, drank a couple of beers, listened to a decent guitar player do fairly awful country songs on the restaurant's patio, and did some basic bike maintenance before I called it a night.

I've thought about that brief conversation and the anxiety a bit of gravel caused those two riders more that a few times over the last 3,000 miles of that trip and the rest of the summer. I can't think of a good reason to own a motorcycle that is too precious or awkward to ride where ordinary cars and trucks travel. In places like Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado, and the Dakotas, lots of the most interesting places are only accessible by gravel road and every road short of the Interstates are likely to receive the surfacing we saw on US20. If your definition of a good road is one that is smoothly paved, you are going to miss out of some of the best things about being a motorcyclist.  

First published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly's website: May 2018








Jun 28, 2018

Enough Is Enough

IMG_9384That does it! I need to lose weight. Last year, my 20-year-old Lawson camping hammock let go and dumped me on my head while I was “camping” at the Davenport Fairgounds with Tim and Cal. Now, my swing chair bolt broke and dropped me on my ass.

I’m supposed to fast before a physical tomorrow. I’m not gonna eat anything all day and get back on my low carb and sugar diet tomorrow. This is ridiculous.

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Jun 26, 2018

It Just Rolled Out of My Life

John Wright gives me a lot of crap for my lack of sentimentality in regards to my stuff; especially motorcycles. For a few moments, after my 2004 V-Strom rolled away behind a pickup on its new owner's trailer, I felt a twinge of regret. For a lot of years, I got as close as I get to loving that motorcycle. It took me places I'd always dreamed of going and it did it flawlessly and without a complaint. Every incident I had on that motorcycle was due to my own incompetence or lack of attention. Even after all of those moments of stupidity or foolishness, my V-Strom pulled me back out of every situation and got me to my destination and back home again. I owned that bike for 12 years, which is longer by almost a decade than I'd owned any other motorcycle before.


If there is every a Geezer with a Grudge book, this picture will be on the cover. I took it during my North Dakota Ghost Town Tour. I'd just ridden about 100 miles down a county road that was supposed to get me to a barely hanging-on ghost town, but the bridge had washed out and most of the road was crumbli
ng away. Thanks to the 250 mile fuel range, it was no problem. That sort of thing happened regularly on my weird-assed trips on the V-Strom.

I think the things I will miss the most about that motorcycle will be the stickers on the luggage and right side panel that reminded me of where I'd traveled on this motorcycle. I often wished that I'd have bought aluminum cases because stickers attached better to that kind of case, but there were plenty of memories that stayed with the bike for years. I'll just have to try not to lose my mind any time soon.

One in particular was on the bashed up E21 GIVI case, "I Survived SASK 32!" That was an adventure.Sooner or later, I really need to write up that story.
If you ever needed evidence of cheap I am, the box of parts I had for the V-Strom was it. Not the extra sprockets, levers, oil filters, stock shock, scraped up Suzuki tall windshield, or the air filter. In the ad I wrote, "The fairing and front fender took a beating when I was blown backwards on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon and that is my excuse for the decal-decorated right side fairing. I broke the mounting for the right turn signal when I dropped the bike in the driveway last fall and somehow the left turn signal wiring disconnected then, too." And blah, blah.

Turns out, one of the items in the bottom of that box was a brand new fairing piece intended to replace the broken section the turn signals mount to. I have probably had that available since a little while after I got back from Alaska in 2007, but since the glue job held I didn't have the motivation to replace it. All those folks who whined about how they couldn't find replacement plastic on eBay (you can and I did) really missed out because it was there waiting for them to snag the bike. The guy who bought the bike wasn't intimidated even a little by the cosmetic work needed and his reward for that was getting the necessary piece as part of the deal. I kinda love that.

Jun 18, 2018

Boeing Wanted Jetpacks, but Got Motorcycles (sort of)

Boeing’s GoFly Contest is a “contest for inventors of personal aircraft that seemed to reinvigorate the decades-old hope of a contraption that could propel its wearer through the air.” Boeing’s design targets are “vehicles must measure fewer than 8.5 feet in any direction and travel 20 miles while carrying a single person. . . [and] run quieter than 87 decibels, as measured by sensors 50 feet away.’” Not just hard targets, but “impossible?” “’The GoFly prize is impossible,’ said Michael Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society, a technical society for people working on vertical takeoff and landing flight. ‘There is no way — based on conventional thinking — that someone can make a device that can meet the low noise, small size and long endurance requirements that it requires.’”

la-1529003364-kwq02l64y8-snap-imageYesterday’s “impossible” is today’s state-of-the-art and going for impossible is what created today’s quality standards, the internet economy, electric cars and motorcycles, and the computer I’m writing this essay on. I have high hopes for “impossible.”

la-1529003192-9hzkdpfrlf-snap-imageAt least a couple of these entries look more like motorcycles than jetpacks.

Jun 17, 2018

It's Never Too Late?

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

Keven Cameron's book, Top Dead Center, ends with the following paragraph: "People are clever creatures, but today in our world of specialists we tend to think we need lessons in order to tackle such activities as riding a pony, resetting a circuit breaker, or changing engine oil. This is unfortunate, because it gives people the idea that technology is magic, that there is nothing we non-wizards can discover or do about it. This puts a wall between people and the things they could otherwise understand and therefore enjoy more. The wall takes some climbing, and the ascent is easiest begun in childhood, but it's never too late to begin." There are some things that are only done well by the young or the specially skilled. I, for example, will never dunk a basketball on a regulation court. Being, literally, half-blind, my odds on the race track were limited by my inability to accurately judge distances. None of that kept me from flailing away on a basketball court or from holding down the middle-of-the-motocross-pack. 
 
Since 2001 I've coached MSF Basic and Experienced Rider classes. During the four decades before that, I was often employed to help a variety of people learn how to ride motorcycles, make or record music, write fiction and non-fiction, experiment in electronics and physics, use computers, manufacture electronic and mechanical equipment, and implant medical devices in surgical patients. Sometimes I knew what I was doing when I "taught" those things and sometimes I learned while I went, often just a step ahead of my "students." Regardless of the subject, I was informally schooled, often self-educated, in the subjects I taught. The fact is, the best teachers I've known in my life are rarely formally "educated" and have been driven by their desire to understand how things work rather than inspired by the education system, academic or industrial, to learn their subjects.

Both of my parents had formal education credentials and they both said their formal "Education" classes were the worst taught, most useless classes they took in their long academic careers. My father was a 50-year-veteran high school teacher who taught math and business until he was forced to retire at 73. My step-mother taught individual and group private piano lessons for 30 years and received her MA when she was 66. The skills they used to teach hundreds of students those complicated subjects are not found in any theoretical education textbooks.
not_too_late 
A friend of mine, Scott Jarrett, is one of the most technically accomplished people I know. He deftly avoided the honor of a high school diploma and moved directly past "Go" into a career in music and recording engineering because he was driven to understand and excel at that career. For a while, he and I worked together as instructors at a private college. I learned more about teaching, music, and technology during that period than I had in all of the classes I suffered in my ludicrous 25-year pursuit of a college degree. In his late-fifties, Scott went after new knowledge as passionately as many of us did when we were teenagers. More recently, I watched Scott jump into figuring out how carburetors work, simply because he wanted to understand that part of his new motorcycle. Soon afterward, he became involved in the creation of an on-line education program with the same kind of fearless creativity I have come to expect from him. A few years ago, he designed a multi-faceted music and technology program for a college in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
 
not_too_lateIn 1991, I took a position with a medical device company. My new boss told me, "At your age, this is your last chance to make something of your career." Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the implantable pacemaker and the lithium-iodide battery among other things, began a research institute searching for a cure for AIDS when he was 80 years old. Ten years after my "last chance," when I was 54, Mr. Greatbatch told me, "If you are only working for the money, you are wasting your time." A few months later, I quit working for a company that only offered money as compensation for my time. I have not regretted that choice, once, since I abandoned Big Money to do work I didn't hate. Turns out, it wasn't too late for me to switch career directions.

One of the many cool things about an activity like motorcycling is that it is so complicated that you never stop learning about riding and working on these machines. Like lawyers and physicians, we are all "practicing motorcyclists." Only a few will actually ever become skilled in the art. As long as you are curious and interested, you can find something new to learn. I try to do some kind of experiment in every corner I turn, to either reinforce what I know or to see if I can learn something new. Every time I do some basic maintenance on one of my bikes, I read some odd part of the service manual to learn something more about the machine to which I trust my life. The fact that this activity requires some physical capacity inspires me to work on my conditioning, to stay flexible and strong so that I can keep doing it a few more years, is just topping on the cake.
 
Discouraging Boomers and older folks from taking up motorcycling seems like the logical thing to do. Riding is a moderate-to-high risk activity. Getting old means your bones become brittle, your reflexes slow, your eyes deteriorate, you lose strength, and your mind is addled. Positive values of all of those qualities are needed on a motorcycle. Still, you will never be younger than you are today. Life is brief and it should not be boring. I still want to fly a glider, jump out of an airplane, and travel the Pan American Highway to the southern tip of South America. I'm too old to do any of those things, but I hope to do them anyway. It's not too late until the day you die.

PS: June 17th would have been my father’s 100th birthday. He made it to 93, which is more of a longevity accomplishment than I hope to make.