Jul 30, 2009

All the News that Didn't Fit

Race a Factory BuellFor only $39,995, you can buy a race-only 1125RR Buell racer, if you are a licensed professional racer who will be willing to compete in the AMA Pro Racing American Superbike class. The Helicon-powered, v-twin comes with a collection of race-ready parts if you are up for the price tag and the competition.

Boston Silences MotorcyclesThe Boston City Council fast-tracked Docket 0658 (An ordinance regulating the noise levels of motorcycles) in a reaction to community complaints of “excessive motorcycle exhaust sound.” The new ordinance requires OEM or US EPA certified exhaust systems on all street legal motorcycles built after December 31, 1982. Violations will result in a $300 fine.

California Won’t Test MotorcyclesThe sponsor, Senator Fran Pavley, of a California bill that would require emissions testing and exhaust system limits for all 2000-and-newer motorcycles has pulled the bill, thanks to the political clout of thousands of “concerned motorcyclists.”

The Killacycle Strikes AgainCummins Power Generation Inc. is sponsoring the world record, 7.89 second quarter-mile electric motorcycle Killacycle racing team. The Killacycle team uses a Cummins Onan Hybrid Quiet Diesel (HQD) generator system to charge the bike at events. The generator has been modified to operate on B20 Biodiesel.

Motorcycle Death at the Tour de FranceA 61-year-old woman was struck and killed by a police motorcycle at the Tour de France as she was crossing a street about 24 miles into the 123 mile 14th stage of the event. The smotorcycle, ridden by a member of the French Republican Guard, slid into the crowd and struck two other spectators, neither was seriously injured.

Motorcycles and Cambodia Don’t MixMotorcycles are the 2nd leading cause of death in Cambodia, right after AIDS. This statistic is somewhat speculative, although during the last 5 years traffic fatalities have doubled in Cambodia and motorcycles are the overwhelming majority of motorized vehicles in that country.

Motorcycle Exhibits CancelingThe 2009 Paris Mondial show was cancelled after major exhibitors let the show organizers know they wouldn’t be attending. Now, Honda and Yamaha have backed out of the Milan, Italy EICMA show. Last year, 1022 motorcycle-related companies participated in the EICMA show. If the two biggest motorcycle companies in the world aren’t going to be there, will the show still go on? The world economic depression took a while to affect motorcycling, but it’s getting to us now.

Zero Emissions Isle of ManThe first one-lap (37 miles) TTXGP, sponsored by Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, was won by Ron Barber riding for Team Agni with an average speed of 87mph (44mph slower than this year’s gas-powered Isle of Man winner) and a top speed of 97.8mph. The Agni X01 was a two-month woodshed project designed by Cedric Lynch and Arvind Rabadia. The Agni was built around the chassis of a 2007 Suzuki GSX-R600 packed with 63 lithium-polymer batteries, for a max capacity of 16 kilowatt-hours (the BTU equivalent of about half a gallon of gasoline). Lynch designed and built the Agni’s two high-efficiency motors.

The all electric motorcycle race winner was built from off-the-shelf parts, as opposed to some of the more well-financed entries. For example, San Francisco’s well-financed Mission Motors hyped their “fastest production electric motorcycle in the world [with] a top speed of 150 mph.” Their Mission One finished 4th with a 74mph average speed and a top speed of 88.3 mph.

Auction-ManiaThe multi-mirrored Lambretta scooter from the Who’s 1979 movie, Quadrophenia, sold for £36,000 ($51,000) at auction. Steve McQueen’s 1929 Scott Super Squirrel was bid up to $276,000 at the New York Antiquorum summer auction. Who says the economy is going bust?

Recent Area Motorcycle CrashesOn July 2, 5 motorcycle tourists were injured in a crash on I90 near Stoughton. 25 members of a Wisconsin motorcycling group (ARM, Association for Recovering Motorcyclists) were westbound and “traveling in excess of the speed limit and they were following way too closely” when traffic ahead of them slowed. Five of the motorcyclists were hospitalized, one was evacuated by Med-Flight. Several of the group ended up “going into the ditch” in their attempt to avoid crashing into the slowed vehicles ahead. According to authorities, “None of the cyclists had helmets on.”

On July 17, Mike Brown, a 66-year-old retired Long Lake fire chief, and four friends were ten minutes into their annual cross-country road trip, when Gary Arens, 51, attempted to pass a pickup and hit Brown head-on. Seconds after the crash, Brown was also struck by a car. Both riders died on site at the crash. The motorcycles struck so hard that one caught fire. Authorities said Arens’ relatives believed that he was probably “aggressively” commuting to work. Arens was reported to have been cited for drunken driving three times since 1999.

Mike Brown was a serious motorcycle enthusiast and an active motorcycle safety advocate. "He was a very cautious driver and he made people he rode with...talked them into wearing their helmets and making sure that everybody rode in a safe manner," said Long Lake fire chief James Van Eyll. The riders were in a well-spaced “staggered formation” at the time of the crash, according to the police report.

On July 19, Brian Elfving, 39, lost control of his Harley and crashed into the side of a Solway, MN house. Elfving was not wearing a helmet and died at the scene of the crash.

While highway fatalities have been dropping for other motor vehicles, motorcycle deaths are rising at an alarming rate (72, last year). These two crashes should make us all think seriously about how we ride and the risks we’re taking on the road.

Jul 29, 2009

Getting Clean

My editor recently sent a reply to my volunteering to review anything but another cruiser (after the Hyosung POS debacle, I don't think anyone wants more of my opinions of that sort of machine), "I may have to assign a cruiser, every other review, to all parties as that is 50% of what is sold and 50% of what we get to review. Want to to pay your m/c reviewer debt and be 'clean' for your next non-cruiser assignment?"

Help me out, folks. What does "getting clean" mean in this context? I suspect it means I have to write something nice about something I really dislike. This is the kind of "clean" that has put me off of practically every technical publication in every industry. The fear of irritating advertisers has made impotent every magazine from Cycle World to Mix Magazine to Physics Today. It seems like a lifetime ago, but I can barely remember editors like Rick Seiman with Dirt Bike and the old REP (Recording Engineering and Producer) Magazine from the 70s whose writers often trashed products when those designs didn't live up to expectations. There was a time when reading a product review actually provided some information about the product.

Not anymore. A "shoot out" among a wide range of products usually results in four winners and an also-ran.

A friend of mine writers for a live sound magazine, he's their technical editor. I once complained that I couldn't tell a quality difference between a Midas console and a Peavey console, based on his comments in reviews. His response was, "You have to read between the lines. The truth is in there, you just have to know how to look for it."

My response was, "Between the lines is white space. If that's the truth, why do I need to read your words?"

Success breeds contempt, I guess. Or success breeds fear of failure? When an industry is in the infant stage, competition is fierce, passions are high, and "the truth" is a valuable thing. Once an industry becomes mainstream, there is more to lose, less to gain, and the result is the definition of "conservative."

In my long, meandering life, I've managed to become something of a Jack of Many Trades. The downside to that is, I don't have anything resembling expertise in any area. The upside is I don't have all of my chips invested in any one game. So, I don't have much to gain from any of the many things I do for profit, entertainment, and employment and I don't have much to lose if one of those activities becomes impractical. My habits are modest. My interests are diverse. I get pissed off easily. I'm naturally solitary, so it doesn't bother me much if others are offended by my opinions. In fact, if 99.99...% of the population decided to move to another planet, that would be more reason for me to stay here. Top it all off, I'm old. I'm not "building a business," here. I have a business that I'd be happy to be rid of. I don't want another. The beauty of something as pointless as a blog is that I can say what I want to say without worrying about who I disappoint or offend.

All of that makes me cranky, opinionated, a little distant from the pack, and unlikely to collect a bunch of loyal advertisers on this blog. Weirdly, with all this attitude the blog site has attracted 1,400 visitors this month. I appreciate your interest, whoever you are. I'm going to keep adding product and motorcycle reviews to this site and I won't always be fond of the things I'm reviewing. That means I pay for what I review, or borrow it and return it in sad condition. The high price of being able to say what I think.

Jul 26, 2009

I Still Don't Like Cruisers

Holy crap! Yet another reason to dislike Harley's. I stumbled on this picture following a Google chase for something completely different. Once I got side-tracked into this subject, I found a couple of other goofy links.

For example, the creeps from Orange County Cycle donating one of their abortions to McCain and Palin at a rally: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUR4m3xh8zk. Those boys can really define and fabricate "ugly." You have to give them that.

This last April, she was again hanging with the Teutul freakshow. While it's true that "there is no accounting for taste," there must be some sort of retribution due for having no taste at all. No? Damn, that's some ugly motorcycle and the guy who is feeling up Palin is pretty creepy looking, too. I have to admit that I really like Palin's LA hooker shoes, though.

Last, but not least, one of this blog's readers sent me this picture, claiming that it was Palin's personal ride. Say it isn't so, Sarah. No one running for President of these United States should ever, ever be caught dead, alive, or in a zombie state on something as freakin' godawful ugly as a pink Harley. That is a national disgrace. There ought to be a law against subjecting the innocent public to viciously tasteless stuff like that bike.

Jul 23, 2009

Now this is a pretty funny story:
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Judge Rules on Boston's EPA Stamp Act "restraining order

Justice Riders who filed suit against the City of Boston's "EPA Stamp Tax"Ordinance received word late Tuesday afternoon the Superior Court denied theirrequest for a temporary restraining order for enforcement of the $300 findOrdinance.

Yet the riders cheered the Court's decision that places the City 'on notice'that it may be held responsible for reimbursing motorcyclists for any finesimposed, and their costs associated with defending the $300 citations, if theirComplaint to strike down the Ordinance is successful.

In her well reasoned five-page decision, Suffolk Superior Court JusticeGeraldine S. Hines, found the five Plaintiffs, Paul W. Cote, William E. Gannon,II, Michael D. Longtin, Vincent A. Silvia, and Lawrence Cahill, although notBoston residents, had "standing" to bring the action that would void theOrdinance. However, the plaintiffs did not meet the standing that "irreparableharm" would be caused to riders if enforcement took place, as none had beencited and fined yet.

Judge Hines, in her ruling, opened the door that the City of Boston, and it'staxpayers, may be responsible to reimburse cited riders for fines imposed and"costs" associated with defending those imposed fines, should the Court laterfind the Ordinance be struck down.

"This is still a partial victory for riders," claimed Plaintiff Cote ofAmesbury. "While we hoped the Judge would temporarily restrain the misguided EPA stampenforcement, this is better than what we hoped for."

The Justice Riders will co-host a EPA (Either Pay or Act) Citizen-Biker RallyMonday night from 7:00 until 9:00 p.m. at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston tocelebrate their Court Victory, give further legal direction for riders, andraise legal offense funds for the lawsuit by selling stickers reading "Don'tTread on Me - I refuse to be ruled by Boston City Councilors" for $2 each.

"I am glad the Judge gave us legal standing we hoped for in this case," saidPlaintiff Mike Longtin of Easton. "Today is a good day for New England area riders."

"If the City issues 100 repugnant citations that conflict with State Statutesand Regulations, those 100 riders may appeal spending at least $1,000 each inlegal fees contesting those $30,000 worth of citations. Then, should the Courtstrike down Boston's Ordinance, the City and its taxpayers lose that $30,000 andwill have to reimburse the contesting riders $100,000.00 in legal fees."

Plaintiff Vince Silvia of Haverhill was more blunt saying, "The City wants to cite me, I'll contest. I've had my bike sound tested 5 times, I will appeal and they can pay me whatever I spend when they lose."

Plaintiff Bill Gannon explained, "Generally, when you contest a citation, youbear the appeal fees and costs of proving yourself right and not wrong."

Gannon continued, "Judge Hines told the City of Boston in her decision that theyare exposed. If the five Plaintiffs successfully prove that that this Ordinanceis repugnant and in conflict with Federal Codes and State Statutes andRegulations, Boston must reimburse the harm (costs) riders incur."

On July 20, 2009, sets of Interrogatories (questions), admissions of fact, andrequest for documents were served on the 13 City of Councilors and Mayor Meninoto be answered under oath. Copies of those discovery requests can be viewed on www.BostonBiker.com and www.JusticeRider.com.

Stay Tuned to www.massmotorcycle.org for updates and action plans!

Justice Riders encourage riders with EPA stamps on their bike attend Mondaynight's Citizen Biker Rally at the Hard Rock Cafe to get updated information anddirection for further action.

"This matter is not about noise," claimed Cote`, "It is about the City of Boston wrongfully imposing this standard that is improper."
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Cote's statement reminds me of all the southerners who claim that the civil war was fought over states' rights, not slavery. Of course, the only "right" the southern states were protecting was the right to own slaves. The only "standard" these characters are concerned with is their right to subject the general population to their unnecessary and excessive noise.

Jul 22, 2009

So, why did they?

Here is an interesting article on an issue that directlyaffects motorcycle safety: Why Did the Feds Bury Data on Cell-Phone Dangers? 3/4 of a year ago, several journalists reported that NHTSA had completed studies that found that "showed that all cell phone use is as hazardous as drinking and driving.” They determined this 6 years ago, but Bush's DOT cronies squashed the study results because their cell phone sponsors didn't want the information to affect sales and phone use. Screw the fact that thousands of lives (as many as 2600 per year since 2003) could have been saved, AT&T's execs needed their million dollar bonuses. It required the death of a 12-year-old boy and the dedication of his father to determine why the government decided to withhold this information and the legislation that the knowledge should have inspired.

As a motorcyclist, I put cell phone use near the top of the driver activites that inspire me to move as far from that vehicle as possible. Personally, I'd like to see a simple system that links a phone's GPS to the activation of the cell phone. If the phone is moving more than 10 mph, a small charge in the phone should ignite blowing the ear off of the phone user. That cosemetic damage could serve as a modern version of the "red 'S.'"

Economics Are Everything

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Before and at the Really Boring Rally II, last summer, I ended up in a trio of conversations that reminded me of how critical it is to have a basic understanding of economics and human conditioning. There is a political tactic that attempts to remove economics from every important and complicated discussion. Without economics as the basis for analysis, every argument is left without substance and its meaning can easily be diluted. This is the equivalent of a grifter pointing at some unimportant activity while slipping his hand into your pocket. Economics is everything; every single human pursuit is economically motivated.

The first recent economic motorcycle moment, for me, was when Kevin Cameron said in our interview last year, "It may be, as some propose, that motorcycling in the US was a one-time, non-recurring phenomenon." His argument is that motorcycling, possessing the two major faults of low utility (in our application) and high risk, saw a brief moment of interest in the 60's and 70's and has been in decline ever since. I don't know how anyone who has been involved in motorcycling can refute that description of US motorcycle history. It remains to be seen if $4-and-up gas revives motorcycles as a means of transportation. The other possibility, which Cameron has also proposed in his Cycle World column, is that motorcycling becomes a hobby of the idle rich while the rest of us ride the bus. Motor vehicles began as toys of the rich, Cameron and others suspect they may end the same way.

The second economic moment came at the US Observed Trials portion of the Very Boring Rally II as I joined (uninvited) in a conversation with Steve Ahlers and others associated with running the trials. First, they attracted my attention discussing a Beta trials bike with a list price of $12,000 and the associated logic that with a "cheap bike" priced at $5,000 and the Beta at the high end, trials was leaving the realm of working class motorcycle hobbies. I don't know about you, but, for me, a $12,000 230cc single-purpose bike is out of the question. What am I saying? $5,000 is more than I spent on my V-Strom road bike and my around-town KL250 Sherpa, combined. If a $12,000 motorcycle was the only biking choice available to me, I'd be through with motorcycles and back to riding a mountain bike for my 2-wheel yah-yahs.

For a while, we talked about the shortage of US professional competitors In past years, nearly 30 competitors were on hand for the US observed trials championship competition. Now, fewer that 10 were fighting for the title and one of those is a South American competitor. He is being subsidized by his home government, another economic fact, which enables him to compete in the US championship. Only a few years ago, the US trials championship consisted of a dozen events. This year, it was one two day event in Colorado and three days in Duluth. Steve pointed out that all local off-road events were "down 60%" from the previous year's participation; all off-road events, not just the obscure ones like observed trials. Two other people pointed out that equestrian events were just as hard hit by the current economy.

A little later, my grandson and I were joined at a trials section by Martin Belair (who I interviewed in 2002 for MMM). Martin used to be the US Montesa-Honda distributor and was a world-class trials rider in the 1970's heyday of the sport, when the US could brag about its one and only world champion, Bernie Schreiber. In 2007, Honda decided to quit bringing the Montesa-Honda motorcycles into the US because they were no longer economically viable, selling less than a half-dozen units a year at the end. That put an end to Martin's distribution business.

Martin commented on the poor exchange rate and increasing fuel costs and said, "it's all about economics." Martin commented that, at worst, it only costs $30-40 more to get to an event with today's fuel costs.

I replied, "$30-40 is a lot, if you aren't sure you'll have a job when you get back."

For economically-motivated reasons and personal reasons, Martin was planning to move back to California (which he has done), which is a big loss for Minnesota motorcycling and for me, personally. We talked about the high cost of keeping up with trial's technology for riders and the even greater cost of self-financing a run at the national championship. Corporate sponsorships have vanished. Transportation and maintenance costs are exponentially higher. Spectator attendance is down. It feels a little like the end of an era. It's all about economics.

Jul 13, 2009

All Dressed Up, Need Someplace to Go

When I was in Nova Scotia last summer, a card table full of old men at a campground were telling Hardly jokes (once they figured out I wasn't riding a Harley) to pass the time during a week-long rainstorm. The only one I remember was, "How are a Laborador dog and a Harley Davidson motorcycle alike? They both like to ride in the back of a 3/4 ton pickup truck and drool."

I have my Sherpa up and working again, after the countershaft seal catestrophe, but it now drools like a Hardly. I replaced the seal, twice, and the o-ring, once, and it's not leaking enough to be able to tell if it's the seal or the o-ring, but every morning there is a spot of oil below the countershaft sprocket. I can't see any sign that I'm losing oil at any dangerous rate, after 100 miles post repair, but I'm obviously losing oil, a drop at a time.

Yeah, I know, all the color-uncoordinated parts make the bike look like it just escaped from a salvage yard. More evidence that I will never develop a sense of style. You should be impressed that I even notice the color clashes at all. Two decades ago, I would have ignored any such comments as "gay eye for the straight guy" piffle. Now that I think about it, I don't feel much different today. I like the way the bike looks. It's obviously mine.

That aside, I'm really regretting not having been able to take the Sherpa to North Dakota. My new seat design is painless for at least a couple of hours on the road between breaks. The larger pegs make standing for extended periods much more comfortable. The luggage works and I can easily carry enough gear for a week camping trip. The 15 tooth sprocket makes crusing at two-lane speeds comfortable (freeway speeds are still a little hectic) and I can still get over logs and rocks without too much bar-yanking. The bike cruises comfortably at about 60-65mph, where the stock sprocket made the engine seem more strained at that speed. On the other hand, acceloration in 6th gear is pretty lame. The new Bridgestone DP tires work well on and off-road. The 3.2 gallon tank gets me at least 250 miles between filling stations. Changing the fork oil to a synthetic mixed for around 16 weight instead of 10 (mfg's recommendation) makes the compression damping rate a little stiff, but the rebound feels much better on really rough terrain, especially when I'm loaded with gear.

With all the luggage space, this is the cool way to travel around town. I can haul a pretty decent grocery trip in all three bags, even without expanding the MotoFizz. I never have to worry about finding a parking place. On a brief trip downtown to school last week, I hopped the curb, rode up the school's stairs, and parked next to the bicycles. If I'd have been there longer, someone would have complained, but I wasn't. Saved myself $0.75 and had fun doing it.

I gotta find someplace to go on the little guy to justify all that work this spring. I'll probably carry a seal and o-ring and a quart of oil with me, just in case. Once burned . . .

Jul 5, 2009

July: All the News that Didn't Fit

Beware of Germany and France
According to Aviva Insurance, crashing your bike in Germany can be an economic disaster. The average German motorcycle crash bill is about $4880US and the equivalent price tag in the rest of the EU is about $3180US. The data for this claim and some useful tips for traveling in Europe can be found at http://www.aviva.com/media/news/4977/.

Semper Ride
After suffering the most fatalities in 10 years of recording data, the Marine Corps is trying a collection of tactics to try to lower the corps’ motorcycle fatalities and injuries. One tactic is a motorcycle safety video called Semper Ride (http://www.mcieast.usmc.mil/semperride/) that was Marine-financed and heavily promoted on bases across the world. The Marines are also providing one-day Commanding Generals' comprehensive off-duty recreation and motorsports safety fairs at MCB Camp Lejeune, MCAS Cherry Point, MCAS New River, and MCAS Beaufort. Along with requiring full gear, training, and the usual advice, the Marines are strongly pushing dirt biking and road racing experience as the core to becoming an expert rider. This is not your mom’s kind of advice; this is practical advice from James Stewart, Keith Code, Ben Bostrom, and Teach McNeil.

Movie Review: Murderball

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

A film by Dana Adam Shapiro, Jeffrey Mandel, and Henry-Alex Rubin

"Whether by car wreck, fist fight, gun shot, or rogue bacteria, these men were forced to live life sitting down. In their own version of the full-contact sport, they smash the hell out of each other in custom-made gladiator-like wheelchairs. And no, they don't wear helmets." After watching this movie, I shipped off a quick note to a friend recommending Murderball. His instant comeback was, "What the hell is Murderball?"

"Quadriplegic rugby."

Seconds later, his second question appeared at my Inbox, "Why the hell would I want to watch that?"

This review is all about my answer. I wish this could be a shorter answer, but the more I thought about my response the longer it became.

First, I couldn't help but feel that a mutual friend of ours had all but starred in Murderball. If Mark Zupan (the guy on the DVD's cover) isn't, our buddy, Tex's clone (or the reverse), I truly am getting better, not older. Mark Zupan is even a Texan. (Don't let that turn you off, Zupan is one of the weirdest inspirational characters ever committed to film or video tape. Our man, Tex, is a little unusual, too.) Zupan is balls-to-the-wall, mostly always pissed off, and afraid of nothing. His message seems to be "I've been through hell and hell is worse for the experience." Zupan and some of his Murderball buddies visited the Jackass boneheads and did some damage there, too. That Jackass episode is on the DVD and it's about as insane and funny as that moronic program has ever been. Both the movie and the Jackass scenes gave me flashbacks to Tex describing how he ground off his finger at the racetrack. Only one guy could make that story funny.

Familiarity aside, there is some motorcycle content, in case you think I forgot what venue I'm writing for. Late in the movie, we are introduced to Keith Cavill, a kid who became quadriplegic after a motocross accident. [You knew that was coming all along, didn't you?] What makes this a motorcyclists' movie is that no more is made of the motorcycle's involvement in the injury that any of the other causes that put these guys into their Mad Max wheelchairs: car crashes, childhood disease, random household accidents, or teenage mayhem. It's what they do after they become "disabled" that makes the film inspiring and compelling.

The story is about the guys playing for the Team USA Quad Rugby in the 2004 season. That's a little odd, since quad rugby was, originally, a Canadian sport. However, the movie's conflict is between ex-US-champion-turned-Team-Canada coach Joe Soares and Zupan (representing Team USA and that organization's political underbelly and passions). Zupan and Soares are such similar personalities that a lot of the comic relief comes from watching them pretend they have significant differences. Zupan thinks Soares is a "traitor" since he took his experience and knowledge to the competition instead of vanishing gracefully into sports history. Soares thinks Zupan is a loudmouth brat who ought to mind his own business.

Soares, first, is not ready to retire and, second, has good reason to believe that he has been treated disrespectfully by the US organization. Soares family moved to the US, from Portugal, when he was 11. Polio took away the use of his legs and a good bit of his upper body functions. After being cut from the US team and being "forcibly" retired as a player, he tried to find a way into the US program without success. His efforts created a lot of bad blood between him, the US players, and the US team management. So, he moved to Canada and took on that team's coaching job. The film describes how that worked out for the Canadians.

Zupan was an all-around Texas teenager, excelling in sports, debauchery, and drunkenness. After drinking himself into a coma and falling asleep in the bed of a friend's pickup, he awoke to find himself clinging to a branch in a Texas marsh after being thrown from the truck when it crashed into a fence. A half-day later, he was rescued. Suffering a broken neck, Zupan found himself in a hospital, quadriplegic and pissed off. Somehow, he focused that energy into Murderball and became the US team leader. Zupan is a seriously scary dude. He was recently in the Cities promoting his new book and he's even scarier in person.

The final game of the film, the 2004 Para-Olympics Quad Rugby quarter finals against Joe Soares' Canadian team, provides some of the best sporting event film editing I've ever seen. This is a complicate game, with strength, stamina, and punishment equal to anything you've ever seen; but it's all performed on wheelchairs. Turning that into a spectator perspective that is compelling, let alone exciting, is a technological achievement equal to anything you've seen on film. In the end, both teams were upset by New Zealand. In the first ever defeat of the US team in Quad Rugby, Canada got the silver medal, the US finished in bronze, and New Zealand, brought home the 2004 gold medal. If you're a nationalist homer, that's probably a letdown, but there are no bad guys in Murderball. Just guys who stopped worrying about what other folks think and tossed themselves into this insane sport as if it would be the last thing they would ever do that mattered.

Bob Lujiano, probably the most physically affected player in the film, sums up the whole message in a short, mid-film conversation with a group of grade school kids, "I'm alright. That's all that matters. I'm alive. I use everything that I have to get through life. That's what we all have to do, use everything we have." He puts every limitation, every self-imposed boundary that we allow ourselves to use as excuses for not doing what we love or what we need to do, into perspective. Use everything you have to get through your life. Ride safe, fast, and long and play a little Murderball when you get the chance.

Jul 3, 2009

David Halberstam and Me

In an email conversation with a friend, I was reminded of my limited autograph collection. No, this is not much of a motorcycling topic, but it is something I want to write about while I'm still able to remember the story. Since this blog is now offending a lot more readers than my other outlets, I figured this story best deserved to be a Geezer rant. Your opinion may vary.

My name collection includes the members of the 1964-era Ventures on a Ventures album, Dizzy Gillespie's sign (or something) on an LP, Larry Niven's elegant script on an SF paperback, Kurt Vonnegutt and Elmore Leonard's scrawls on hardbacks, and a short note signed, "your friend" on the inside page of a first edition of The Amateurs by David Halberstam. I once had Bobby Hannah's autograph on a baseball cap, but I wore it so often playing California beach basketball that the signature and the hat faded into obscurity. I had some pretty cool ballplayer autographs on 1950's baseball cards from when my father took my brother and I to see Dad's beloved Yankees crush the local version of the Globetrotter's foil opponent; the Kansas City Athletics. All the cards were trashed as my parents moved to their new home, when I was 20-something and had been long gone from their old home.


Each of my current name collection comes with a story, but when I met David Halberstam he was my ideal of an American writer. He looked very much like the photo at left, including the smile. It was 1997 and he was promoting the only book he wrote that I dislike, Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made, at a local college/bookstore book-signing promotion. I wanted to hear why he though Michael Jordan was interesting and to tell him how much The Amateurs had meant to my family.

A few years earlier, my youngest daughter had wrapped her Toyota pickup around a Ford F250, head-on, and in the hospital she picked up The Amateurs to help fuel her massive physical rehabilitation effort. Halberstam's scullers inspired her to migrate her doctor's evaluations from "she'll never walk again" to "don't run anything longer than 5k, at least for two years."

My father, more recently, had been felled by a heart attack that destroyed 70% of his cardiac capacity. I gave him a Book on Tape of The Amateurs to consider while he went from bed-ridden to having survived another 30 years, post-infarction.

I loved the book for itself and for what it have provided my family. "Nobody beats us" was a mantra I chanted everytime I hit the basketball court for all those years on the beach in California.

After failing to find the courage to talk to Mr. Halberstam during the Q&A period, I slunk into the line to wait for his autograph. When he accepted the book for signing, he mentioned, "Of all my books, this is my wife's favorite."

I gave him a brief rundown as to why I'd brought it, rather than any of the dozen other Halberstam books I owned. We had a long, friendly discussion as he signed copies of the Jordan book for everyone in the line behind me. He gave me late-term-wannabe-a-writer advice that has put me in print often in the last decade. He asked about my daughter and my father and was particularly interested in the details of my daughter's physical rehab and therapy. We talked about Jordan and Magic, my favorite, and how they were different and similar. He had played enough basketball to know what makes that sport special and left me no insider knowledge with which to defend my position; other than my opinion, which he respected and understood and disagreed with strenuously.

This afternoon, I'm reading Everything They Had, a collection of Halberstam's of sports columns written between 1955 and 2005, and I'm savoring my moment with that spectacularly insightful, rational, sincere man.

The friend who inspired this deviation from my usual topics of motorcycling and burning fuel pointlessly has a lot of Halberstam's style in his own work. I hadn't realized that until I had this most recent collection for comparison. It is obvious as I read David Halberstam's insight on sports and athletes and my friend's insightful comments on some brainless thing I had written.

Some people leave nothing but good memories.