Sep 30, 2009

Davida Moto Photo

Interesting photos from motorcycling's history (motly Euro-stuff): Davida MotoPhoto. Thanks, Denny.

Sep 29, 2009

Snell Loyalty

People are loyal to the oddest things. For a couple of decades scientists and testing engineers have questioned the Snell standards. A key part of Snell's standards is the dual impact (same location) test and the 300g internal impact allowance. Those two bits mean that the helmet must be harder (less able to spread impact) both on the shell and in the internal impact liner. A while back, Motorcyclist magazine did some of their own testing and cast some aspersions on the Snell standard. More recently, the New York Times published a piece called Sorting Out Differences in Helmet Standards.

I'm not here to argue the standards. I read the Motorcyclist article and was impressed with the authors' thoroughness. At the time, I'd traded my comfortable old (highly damaged) Shoei X11 (a Snell helmet) for a brand new non-Snell HJC CL-15. The new HJC was the first non-Shoei, non-Snell helmet I'd owned since the early 1980s. That first HJC was the first of three HJC helmets that I've owned since. While my Shoei's have saved my bean from several scrapes, nothing about the crashes I've experienced have tested Snell's extreme standards. I'm, apparently, inclined to get off at 20-50mph, on dirt trails and deep gravel or sand, and I have yet to land on top of my head. I have scraped the paint off of the side of my full-face helmets and gouged the snot out of the faceshields.

On a MN motorcycle chat site, the responses to the NYT article went like this:
  • "The advantage in my eyes to a Snell rating is that I know the helmet's been validated to the guideline. "
  • "Until the standards are re-written its just a holy war and I'll continue to wear my RF1000 helmet replete with 05 Snell standards. "
  • "My helemts [sic] (full face always) have always been snell rated, but I am an Arai loyalist and they don't make anything less than snell rated--and honestly--I wouldnt want it any other way."
  • "Usually the NYT limits its coverage to political and scientific thingsthat they don't understand. Now they've added international standards setting to the stew."
I think it's interesting that a testing lab can generate so much customer loyalty, even with other testing labs, scientists, and engineers disagree with those results. No, I don't know what that means. Yes, I'd love to hear your opinions.

Sep 25, 2009

What are Honda Engineers doing with Their Spare Time?

Now that Honda has abandoned the Honda Hoot, the V-10 NSX supercar, clean diesels, and the AMA Superbike and Formula 1 racing programs, what are Honda engineers going to do with all that spare time?

Sep 21, 2009

How Long Can You Do This?

This month marks the 10th anniversary for the Geezer concept. Who'd have thought that an idea based on irritating readers to generate letters to the editor would have lasted ten years? Not me.

The whole Geezer with a Grudge concept was born after I was introduced to Troy Johnson and Erin Hartman at a party for a long-dead music magazine. My oldest daughter wrote some music reviews and was an editor for that magazine. I'd written a couple of social commentary (really loosely defined as such) articles for the same rag and that earned me both an invitation to the party and the nickname "butt crack guy." Maybe I should have stuck with that name instead of the Geezer thing. My latest column for the music mag was about obscenity. My take on the concept was that if anything is obscene it's a fat guy standing in line at a Fleet Farm with half of his hairy ass exposed. Why anyone would object to pictures of naked beautiful women and not go totally ballistic over an ugly fat guy's butt crack exposed to the world and impressionable young children still baffles me.

Whatever. "Human logic" is the ultimate oxymoron.

With that introduction, Troy and Erin and I met at this same drunken backyard punk rock croquet bash and after they realized I wasn't another old fart on a Harley we engaged in a long conversation about motorcycles and writing and magazine publishing. They described a magazine that was going down the tubes due to a lack of advertising revenue and evidence of readership and I made them an offer they didn't refuse: to write a short article that would piss off a few dozen people and prove to advertisers that someone read MMM (Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly). It wouldn't pay much, but I wasn't doing it for the money. The whole idea was pretty much fueled by good European beer, my recent croquet defeats, and my macho (Spanish for "stupid") confidence that I had an indefatigable ability to piss people off enough to move them to action.

I wrote the article that night and emailed it to Troy and forgot about the whole thing.
A month later, Troy emailed me to say that the magazine had received more mail about my article than it had received in the entire history of the magazine. I wrote him back offering to try to do the same thing on a regular basis under the half-baked, tentative title of "Geezer with a Grudge." For some crazed reason, he took the bait and I'm about to enter my 2nd decade as a "motorcycle journalist" of sorts.

Of all the wacky, semi-profitable things I do to turn a buck these days, the Geezer column is by far the most fun. Thanks for the last decade and thanks for being my friends and advisers and, especially, for reading what I write.

Sep 17, 2009

Getting Cranky about Patriotism

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

In an extended email conversation with a reader about positions I've taken in this column over certain motorcycle brands, motorcycle styles, and motorcyclists, I found myself getting downright belligerent over some issues that I really don't care about at all. When that happens, you have to wonder "why"? I did the wondering, but it took me a while to figure out the why.

Our conversation had devolved into a question of patriotism vs. owning and riding motorcycles. His side of the discussion included a lot of terms like "Jap bikes" and "rice burners" and that always puts me on edge. In a way, those terms are childishly humorous and the users of the terms tell us a lot about themselves, unintentionally, when they are so relaxed about one set of derogatory terms and wouldn't think of calling another collection of motorcycles "Wop bikes" or "Kraut bikes" or even "Yankee bikes." In self-defense, I've taken to calling a certain group of motorcycles, "cheese burners."
After getting past that, we got into why he was so encouraged by my mechanical problems with my KL250 Kawasaki Super Sherpa. He was more than pleased to know that I was less than impressed with how Kawasaki (and lots of other manufacturers) retain the countershaft oil seal. Somehow, his several-thousand-dollar problems with his American-made motor were less irritating knowing that I was wrestling with a $5 oil seal.

All through this bit of our conversation, I found myself becoming more irritated than the subject warranted. The next morning, I awoke knowing why: I don't care if a product is "made in America," but what I do I want is American products that are made really well. I go out of my way to buy products like those made by Aerostich because they are made better than the equivalents produced elsewhere. It doesn't hurt that Aerostich is made in Duluth, but if the stuff was crap I wouldn't be a customer.

A couple of decades ago, I worked for a pro-audio company that proudly advertised their products were "Made in California." The legend on the box was intentionally printed to resemble the labels on foreign manufactured products. Every product was designed and assembled in California and we were kicking the snot out of Ramsa (Panasonic), Yamaha, and other imported products in our market. We used Texas Instruments and Motorola parts (many of which were manufactured in Singapore, even in 1983), Japanese passive components, and locally built chassis parts. It was a great company and we made terrific products. I left in 1991, because I'd had all of southern California that I could stand, but I still loved working for that company making those products. We were state-of-the-art in a mid-tech business with extremely demanding customers.

Today, that same company has all of its products fab'ed and assembled in China. I'm glad I'm not there to have been part of that transition. The sales and marketing bozos were always bragging that "we're a design and marketing company, not a manufacturing company." They are probably happy as pigs in crap that the company no longer has the skills to build its own products. Our designs were driven by customer requirements and our close connection to the manufacturing floor. Our marketing was embarrassing, at best, and if the products hadn't been exceptional most of our rock and rolling customers would have avoided our products so as to not be connected to our foolish advertising. You only have to be a brilliant marketer if you suck at design and manufacturing.

Now that the economy has caught up to the reality of our national unproductive output, a lot of people are complaining that Americans don't know how to build products that Americans or anyone else wants. American labor builds products just fine, but American management couldn't manage a lemonade stand without government assistance. Last year when the economic "experts" were claiming that the economy was solid because "home sales were strong," I thought these morons were on crack. How can an economy survive when it is based on people leveraging the places where they live for food, clothing, and transportation? I should have put more of my money where my mind was, because it's now obvious that national economies have to be supported by something real: manufacturing, farming, research and development, and services that actually produce wealth instead of just moving mythological wealth from bank to bank.

I'd love to buy an American-made motorcycle (although I'd probably have to buy it used to fit my own economic situation), but I want something designed for the 21st century, not some silly-assed replica of the overweight, underpowered crap street riders put up with in 1955. Yeah, I want an American-made motorcycle, but I want a great American-made motorcycle, not just a few decrepit frame parts that were welded around a collection of Asian electronics and an imported motor. My American motorcycle would have to be light, reasonably quick, able to negotiate dirt roads and poorly maintained two-lanes all day long , and reliable. I wouldn't be buying it for the image or out of some phony patriotism, but because I thought it would take me where I want to go the way I want to go there. Anything short of that would just be disappointing.

Sep 14, 2009

The Kind of Marketing the MSF Should Do

This ad is from the Norsk Motorcykkel Union. It's funny, professional, and makes the point. And to reinforce the point, my wife had to watch it twice to see the motorcyclists in the ad. I don't know what to say about that.

Thanks for sending me this, Andy and James!

Sep 13, 2009

2009 Vincent Rally

This weekend Minnesota (Cannon Falls) hosted the 2009 Vincent owners' rally. Because I still owe Denny Delzer some points for his generosity when I stumbled upon him in Bismark, ND and because I was interested in the sort of folks who would put up with all of the quirks and weirdness of a 60 year old (or older) Brit bike, I rode down to Cannon Falls (the longest, dumbest way possible) on Saturday. I shot about 200 pictures. 100 of them are in this blog entry.
Being the camera rookie I am, it took me most of the day to figure out how to get rid of the date marking feature in my new camera. Sorry about that. If you click on any of the photos in the slideshow or the "view all images" button, you'll get to my Photobucket page where the originals are stored. You can download and edit my pictures of Vincents and Vincent characters at your leisure.

Sep 8, 2009

Chasing New Technology

A friend sent me a link to this picture as a comment on something I'd said a while back. If you look closely, you'll see that the carbon fibre front wheel disintegrated and the tire stuffed itself between the front fender and the forks and what was left of the wheel. I have no idea where this happened and under what conditions, but it's a pretty interesting look at what pushing the edges of available technology can produce.

A lot of racers have sacrificed their bodies to provide giant steps in technology over the years. Sometimes, the failure of one technology produces a completely different modification in the state-of-the-art, as when Roger DeCoster's Suzuki semi-experimental forks let loose during a 1975 Trans-AMA motocross and DeCoster suffered serious injury from the resulting face-plant. When he came back from reconstruction surgery, he was wearing a full face helmet and started a revolution in personal protection for motocrossers.

One of the good reasons some riders are so hung up on vintage bikes is that the technology is "proven." A bad reason for the same decision is that the proven technology is so far behind the state of the art that the proven stuff is dangerous; drum brakes, for example. Ignition points might be another example of deeply flawed historic technology, based on modern ignition systems and their reliability.

This last week, my wife drug me to the state championship high school rodeo at the Minnesota State Fair. Having grown up on rodeos, I was surprised to see all of the protective gear some kids were wearing. I like the change, but it's a long way from the "traditional" cowboy look. Helmets, armor, high tech shoes, and ropes that hold a loop even when they are dangling from the saddle horn, all stuff my older rodeo-riding cousins would probably spit on.
Everything changes. Some changes are painful. Some are easy. Some make sense, some ideas that look spectacular on blueprints turn out to be freakin' idiotic in application. As for motorcycle wheels, I still like aluminum wheels with spokes. Ideally, the wheels would support tubeless tires, but I can live with tubes. Someday, I suppose, I'll end up on a bike with plastic wheels and I'll like it.

Sep 6, 2009

Who We're Up Against

In response to my Commuting, Again rant against the mediocrity of parking lot technology, Andy Goldfine sent me a copy of the National Parking Association's "newsletter." If this were a less screwed up world, their take on their weird little propaganda rag would be nothing short of hilarious: "PARKING Magazine is the oldest and most respected magazine in the parking industry. With its long-established standard for editorial excellence, PARKING is a dynamic publication that has continually grown over the last 50 years to meet the industry’s constantly changing needs."

The most recent Parking Magazine issue was filled with important, nation-changing articles like:

1) This year's trade promotion to benefit the Parking Industry Institute will feature the following prizes:
1st - $15,000 cash
2nd - $5,000 cash
3rd - Free full registration to the 2009 NPA convention.

2) Sign Up to Play Golf!
Monday, Sept. 15, 2008
Royal Links Golf Club
Las Vegas, Nevada

3) That's it. No #3. Just golf and a raffle. However, if you go to Vegas for the Parking Industry Institute's convention, I'm sure there will be politicians to buy, idiot laws to lobby for, and pitiful excuses for technology to purchase. After all, it's business and business is all about money. Our money.

Obviously, the "the industry’s constantly changing needs" are pretty easily met. Gamble, play golf, buy crappy technology that can't detect 700 pound motorcycles and everyone is happy. I'm sure there will be plenty of seminars on how to get your local municipality to pay for parking garages and other corporate welfare crap at their Parking Industry party in Vegas, but I'm also sure they won't be solving any problems that matter to any working humans.

Since when did parking become an industry? I'll bite, does a parking lot qualify as "systematic labor especially for some useful purpose or the creation of something of value?" I guess, since banking gets the term industry in this secondary definition, "a distinct group of productive or profit-making enterprises," parking is an industry. I'll never use that word with the same respect again. Banking and parking are industries. The world has sunk to new disgusting lows of inactivity and "money for nothing."

Which came first, the lacking of parking access or the limited number of motorcycles as part of the traffic solution?

I found another motorcyclist with an opinion on the parking quandary, Motorcycle Parking in NYC. Among some really depressing detail, he said "Many parking garages, even the open-air lots, will refuse to accept motorcycles. Some parking lot attendants mumble about insurance, some mumble about damages, and some mumble about liability. Some just mumble. You may be able to park by slipping the attendant some cash ($10 is a good start) and putting your bike in some out-of-the-way corner." Yet another good reason to bypass NYC if you are on a motorcycle. When I was on my way back from Nova Scotia last year, passing through the city didn't even come across my radar. Between the security issues with my gear and the traffic hassle, I had no interest in the Big Apple. "The fine for an obscured license plate or registration is $35.00. Any type of cover that goes over your plate or registration sticker is technically obscuring it." If I'd have known that, it would have just been another reason not to visit NYC.

There is an online petition for reasonable motorcycle parking in the City of Dallas, Texas. Dallas is a notorious motorcycle theft zone, dedicated and secure parking is beyond a need and into a necessity for Texas motorcycle commuters. For a city that could see 12 month motorcycle commuting, Dallas is notably motorcycle-free. The last time I visited Dallas, two years ago, I counted exactly 5 motorcycles on the road in 4 days. I have to wonder if Dallas has any motorcycle dealers, based on the tiny number of visible riders?

On the other hand, Seattle is going in the other direction, "Recent changes to the City’s restricted parking zone (RPZ) program mean that motorcycle and scooter users no longer need to purchase a permit to park in an RPZ (effective Jan 1, 2010) . . . More than one motorcycle may occupy a parking space as long as there is sufficient space and all parking regulations are observed. The City has also designated more than 100 parking spaces around the city for the exclusive use of motorcycles and scooters."

Of course, motorcycle traffic in Seattle is substantially above the national norm. Again, which came first: the motorcyclists or the parking availability? As you might have guessed, I have an opinion. I think motorcyclists have to come first. We have to be on the road, in parking spaces, in front of city councils, and causing political trouble while creating improved traffic flow. When we are as much of the daily traffic as Dr. Frazier's picture (at left), we'll have a real say in who gets to park where. Until then, motorcycles in America are nothing more than toys for the wealthy and the Parking Institute will have no reason to consider us along with their raffles, golf games, and politician purchases.

Sep 3, 2009

Commuting, Again

I'm back to work, after a summer "off" from my regular job. I'd been to a couple of meetings before school began and one of the motorcycle riding instructors had mentioned that he'd received his first parking pass and hadn't been able to find a place to park in the lot. He mentioned a "no motorcycles" sign, but I blew that off as unlikely. I'd parked in that lot for more than 8 years. On the other hand, in a ten bike parking space over almost a decade, I'm almost always the only bike in the lot.

After getting my pass, my first day at work, I found the parking garage card reader seemed to ignore my presence. I swiped the card over the meter a few times, gave up and rode around the gate. I figured I would sort it out with the parking lot guy when I left. However, when I got to the exit my pass opened the gate and I left without having the conversation. That has worked for me for the last week. Since I'd been clued about the "no motorcycles" thing, I was looking for it and, finally, found it. There is a small sign on the gate mechanism that says, "Automobile Traffic Only NO Motorcycles, Bicycles, Pedestrians."

My employer pays quite a bit for my annual pass, and gives me the option of taking an annual bus pass instead, if I choose to go the public transportation route. So far, the parking mafia guys haven't seen fit to enforce the "no motorcycles" warning. If they do, I'll starting figuring out my bus route again. I drive the cage to work about two months a year and that's more than I want to be driving.

This is an example of the "respect" motorcycles get as a method of transportation in the United States. An entire parking garage, because of incompetently designed traffic management equipment, becomes a "no motorcycles" zone. Substantial space remains useless in the garage because cages can't fit into that space, but bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles could. Rather than welcome those customers and encourage additional business, firs the garage charges the same price for a vehicle that takes up 1/10th to 1/4th of the space. Later, the garage "updates" its crappy equipment and, now, motorcycles are banned altogether.

If you ever wondered why I think corporate America is mismanaged by complete idiots, this one be one of a million reasons. There is no Dummies' Guide or Complete Idiot's text written at a level low enough to reach this kind of moron. This is the kind of business that actively goes out of its way to alienate customers and, then, asks for government assistance when it goes broke.

Sep 2, 2009

A New Traffic Violation

On our trip north, my grandson had a lot of time to observe traffic and he came up with a new traffic offence category; DWBAD. Like DWI and DUI and the crazy list of drunk driving acronym's, we decided that DWBAD should have some serious consequences. Wolf is a beginning filmmaker and is always thinking scripts when he describes anything. Here was the first scenario we worked out together:

Sir, I need your license and insurance information, please.

What's the problem, officer?

License and insurance, please.

[Digs into his pants for his billfold and roots around in the glovebox for the insurance info, while complaining]
I don't know why you stopped me. I wasn't speeding. What else could I do on the freeway that would make you pull me out of the crowd?

[Looks at the license and paperwork]
Would you step out of the car, please?

[Now looking very worried, but getting out of his car.]
What's going on?

Step away from the vehicle, sir.

[As the driver moves away from his car, he notices another cop climbing out of the cop car, lugging a huge weapon. It looks, in fact, like a cannon of the sort you see in science fiction movies.]

What the . . . ?

[The second cop aims the cannon at the driver's car and, in an instant, vaporizes it on the spot.]

What the holy hell are you assholes doing? You freakin' destroyed my car? What did you do that for?

DWBAD, sir. I have you on camera, clearly DWBAD and I have authorization to prevent you from continuing to risk the safety of other drivers. Have a nice day, sir.
[The cop turns to leave. The second cop loads his cannon back into the car and climbs into the passenger's seat.]

What the f**k? What the hell is DWBD?

DWBAD, sir. Driving while being a douchebag. Two miles back, you cut off a motorcycle when you changed lanes for no good reason. A half-mile later, you were tailgating a station wagon full of kids so closely that they could count your nose hairs. In the last half-mile, you were so involved in your cell phone conversation that you took up three lanes and that still didn't give other drivers a safe margin. DWBAD, sir.

Where are you going with my license and insurance stuff? How the hell am I supposed to get home?

Sorry, sir. You can have the insurance card back. My mistake.
[The cop returns the insurance card.]
The license has been cancelled. You can apply for a new one in 2015.
As for getting home, I'd suggest you start walking. You're going to be doing a lot of that for the next six years.

And that's the story. My father used to have a saying, "fire a couple of warning shots to the head," when he described what cops ought to do to stupid drivers. The "driving while being a douchebag" concept is just an extension of that fairly radical suggestion from an incredibly non-radical man.

Look for the animated video of this on YouTube, any day now.