Nov 30, 2009

Link to GabeUnchained

A totally cool look at the history of Buell Motorcycles. Keep an eye out for Kevin Cameron prowling the background. Many of your motorcycle journalist heroes were present for the Buell tour, which is probably a nostalgic moment for them today.

Nov 28, 2009

They're Back!

A blast from the 1970's past is back, Ossa is making trials bikes again. Everything on the site is in Spanish, so with the assistance of Babblefish, here's the word:

Certainly, project OSSA is very ambitious. That at time of crisis it leaves a new motorcycle with some concepts totally opposed to the habitual thing is a as dangerous adventure as brave. Those of Ossa have secured their intention with a revolutionary motorcycle.

The new TR280i has appeared today in the Hall Milán.El new equipment of OSSA Factory has chosen the Hall the Motorcycle of Milan (EICMA) to present/display its new and revolutionary TR 280i. It already was in this Hall, in 1965, where OSSA internationally presented/displayed the prototype on which first motorcycle of trial based his: a multipurpose denominated model Scrambler. Today, OSSA Factory returns to choose Milan to present/display the prototype of a motorcycle that it tries to contribute a blowing of fresh air to the sector. The new TR 280i raises an innovating and exclusive concept, a trial motorcycle that the spirit has inherited who characterized the past in the mark of the clover. After near two years of work, the TR 280i is a motorcycle technologically very outpost. With a motor of 2T with electronic injection, it breaks the established schemes and one appears like a quality alternative that, without a doubt, will conquer the fans.

This one is the first passage towards a future in which other projects and other modalities will conform the presence of OSSA Factory in the panorama of the industry international motorcyclist. The Renaissance of OSSA has been possible thanks to the effort of an equipment led by Jordi Cuxart, President of OSSA Factory, patron and defender of the project; Joan Gurt, Chief of a main directorate and impelling of the same; Alexander Laplaza, Financial Director and also patron, and by Joan Rome, Director of the Division of Motor and the person who has been able to reunite them thanks to an extraordinary vision of future. Josep Serra “Xiu” is the engineer and the soul of the new TR 280i, Director of the project and designer of the prototype. In his curriculum he emphasizes his Gas work Gas like person in charge of the development of an innovator and light motor of trial and its collaborations, through Xiu Research and Development SL. in different projects with Rieju, Dunax, Scorpa or in the Tramontana, an exclusive sport automobile of high benefits.

Marc Colomer, Champion of the World of trial in 1996 and five times Champion of Spain, is the one in charge to develop to the new TR 280i. “Very I am deluded with this project because I create firmly in its possibilities. We know that we have left work much ahead but I trust the equipment of OSSA Factory totally. We have already begun to work in some sections of the new TR 280i and the results are hopeful” has declared Colomer. Marc Colomer perfectly knows the capacity Josep Serra “Xiu” then both worked together in Gas Gas.

THE MOTORCYCLE OSSA has developed a motorcycle of trial with a new very innovating concept. Basically one has worked in the redistribution of the different elements of the motorcycle of logical form concerning the distribution of weights and other conditioners like the temperature of work of some from his components. Among others aspects the filter house in a very high position has been placed and readily accessible. Elements like the fuel tank, the box of the filter of the air or the radiator have been positioned thinking about the needs of a trial motorcycle. And one has become of rational form, with common sense and a clear objective: that new OSSA TR 280i is a reference within this specialty as were it at the time, the first SEA - Mike Andrews Replica of year 1972.

“The filter of the air in the low part of a motorcycle of trial and a high or located fuel tank next to the escape is concepts that from our point of view do not have logic” indicates Xiu responsible for the project. For this reason, the OSSA engineers considered new OSSA TR 280i placing the different elements from a motorcycle of trial on the table and with a folio in target they designed, them and they redistributed based on its needs.

THE MOTOR The fact that the new TR 280i incorporates a system of electronic injection it has allowed his engineers to redistribute different elements without being in favor conditional of the position of the classic carburetor. “Sometimes the injection system has been placed in the same space in which it was the carburetor, with the fuel tank in the high part of the motorcycle, without considering the option to look for a new positioning. OSSA Factory has let start off to me of zero and this one has been a determining aspect at the time of initiating this project” points Xiu. The situation and ideal configuration of different elements have given like result a very small motor with the inclined cylinder backwards, the intention to be able to locate in the high part of the TR 280i the system of injection and the filter house. The same logic that other manufacturers apply in specialties like cross or enduro, in OSSA considers that it is perfectly valid for a specialty like the trial. The new motor, of 2T, is very compact, with the case of a single piece. The change is extracted straight from lateral and the crank by the opposite side. Considering that the case for of chassis, for the being has been leaving resistant from the set, has been able to make a block compact. Of this form the possibility is simplified of acceding to the change relations. Another important aspect is that the maintenance is economic since to manipulate the propellent is extremely simple. A conventional motor as far as geometries can be considered or thermodynamics but has obtained an extremely compact set like concept. It is of the smallest motors of the moment.

The fuel tank of three liters of capacity has been placed in the place where conventionally the trial motorcycles mount the radiator to improve the distribution of weights. The equipment of OSSA Factory considers that the more light it is a trial motorcycle, the more necessary turns out to have the advanced center of gravity.

When placing the radiator behind the deposit and the filter house, is avoided something so habitual in the specialty of trial because the radiator is covered with mud, with the consequent problems that entail the fact that the motor cannot work to the appropriate temperature. A motorcycle without movement (stopped) has to have the capacity to dissipate the heat of the motor and to mount a electroventilador like in the TR 280i. Therefore, although in a motorcycle of another specialty it would be necessary to apply fresh air canalizations, in a motorcycle of trial no. Since the own fuel tank protects the radiator, the new TR 280i can work to a constant temperature, without being conditional to the possible dirt of the radiator.

On the other hand, to invest the cylinder has allowed to practically mount the admission in vertical after the fuel tank, and so the air intake through filter is located more in one of the elevated points of the motorcycle. Therefore, the watertightness of the filter will be superior and the access to the own filter, very simple through a cover. In the interior, under this same cover, some elements of the injection system will be placed. In this location the components will be affected neither by the temperature of the own motor, nor by the humidity. In the distribution of the elements of the motorcycle one has considered very the temperature to which will work each of them. When having the inclined cylinder and mounting the escape backwards, from the back monoshock absorber can be defined the escape, whose volume is superior to the one of a conventional motorcycle.

CHASSIS Made in aluminum and steel to chromium conditional molybdenum and to the design of the motor, the fuel tank has gotten up in the front part of the motorcycle having formed resistant part of the set. In the zones where habitually in the chromium chassis molybdenum there is many welds and therefore weight, forged aluminum pieces have mounted. The pipe of direction, the treated aluminum deposit, the estriberas and the support of the rods are also in forged aluminum. The rest is of steel to chromium molybdenum, with a very simple and welded structure in TIG.

The suspensions have been developed jointly with Öhlins (back) and Marzocchi (front). The back suspension mounts an innovating system of rods that is prote'ge' very and integrated and it is united directly to the forged piece of the chassis. System TTX of Öhlins to the specialty of the trial has been adopted, a system by which the hydraulic valves of the piston and settings have been placed in the outside. This technology already has been used in motocross contributing to many advantages concerning settings as far as simplicity and accessibility. The front suspension is an inverted bracket Marzocchi, a type of suspension that for many years that it was not applied in the specialty of the trial. But unlike other experiences in which a suspension of cross or enduro has adapted, in the TR 280i and close collaboration with Marzocchi, has designed exclusive an inverted bracket for the specialty with aluminum bars.

OSSA Factory enters with own technology the specialty of the Trial and it does with a human equipment with experience and the competitive spirit who made prevail to the mark of the clover. The components of the new motor will be finished in the month of December and the completed motorcycle will begin to try in January. Its production is predicted for the month of 2010 July.

A Little Geometry Lesson

Observed trials has always been the artistic side of competitive motorcycling. Tonui Bou's workout on this odd collection of concrete forms and natural rock seems to defy gravity, traction, and common sense. However, it is always artistic and entertaining.

The coolest thing about the video is that many of Bou's stunts are rerun in slomo in the 2nd half of the show, which doesn't explain how he does them but it does give you a great look at how he shifts his weight to maintain balance and traction and momentum.

Click on the picture to find the link.

Thanks Martin!

Nov 24, 2009

Stupid Motos for Stupid Times

Hardly's new ad campaign spouts brilliant prose like:
  • "It's a free country, but have you felt like that lately?"
  • "There's a reason they call if revolutions per minute."
  • "Freedom ain't quiet. Raise your voice at"
At you can read brilliant and highway-friendly comments like,
  • "Quit staring and just get out of the way."
  • "Hello may fat lady may moon light in the dark I see you your sparks in may soul lov . . . you borm may live in hell of kisses."
  • "If it don't rumble like a Harley it probably ain't a Harley. . . "
  • "There's nothing like the rumble of a Harley beneath you and the peacefulness of the open road."
  • "I m free coutry beatutifull."
  • "Harley Davidson. Loud and Proud."
For a change, the above spelling errors and crazed grammar are not mine. I just wrote 'em as I read 'em. There are hundreds of similar and much crazier sentiments on the site. I'm not sure what Harley was intending, but what they provided was a boatload of justification for the general feeling that Harley owners are less-than-brilliant and somewhat unstable.

Buell's last ad was particularly sad and, unintentionally, informative: "Many people were happy Buell had a stellar AMA season. Then again, many poeple were disturbed by it." Apparently, some of the disturbed were the Harley executives who couldn't figure out how to market a motorcycle after years of selling life-style.

Buell, of course, is dead. Harley dumped the Troy, WI division in mid-November. On their way out, Buell's marketing department left an interesting mark on motorcycle etiquite with their "It’s ok not to wave back" ad from the company's 2009 October magazine campaign. Lots of motorcyclists took issue with the knee-dragging street rider who is too occupied with dangerously pretending to be a racer to acknowledge a fellow rider. To me, that raised hand might be a warning rather than a wave. As in, "Slow down, douchebag. The road is about to surprise your squidly dumb ass." The non-Buell rider is obviously armored up and at least as capable as the wannabe road racer.

I can't say I'm a 100%-waver. I often wave or nod my helmet at other riders. I usually ignore parades of motorcylces. I'm too busy trying to figure out where they are going so I can go somewhere else. I probably wouldn't wave much when I'm winding my way through two-lane Rocky Mountain roads or wrestling the V-Strom through deep gravel. Some places, motorcycles are common enough that waving gets out of hand. In Minnesota, that's rarely a problem. For me, it's a reflex more than some kind of social comment or statement of solidarity. When I started riding, I saw another bike on the road or trail about once every zillion miles. So, it just felt natural to acknowledge the existence of another nut on a motorcycle. I've been doing that for so long I don't even think about it at this ripe old age. Some motorcyclists are so far outside of the group I'd consider to be among my peers, such as the packs of gangster-posing, loud pipe, traffic-jamming parades or Buell's knee-dragging example, that it doesn't occur to me to bother waving. Folks who are risking my life or rights don't engender a feeling of solidarity.

Marketing is all about coming up with a glib one-liner that convinces the sheeple to part with their money. Sometimes glib and irresponsible are closely coupled. These days, I really miss Honda's old "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" tactic. I can't help but wonder if the boom in ridership that US motorcycling experienced during the 70's wasn't in some part assisted by the crazy idea that normal people might ride a motorcycle? In fact, a whole lot of very normal people got into motorcycling at that time and many of them are just now approaching the time in their lives where their physical abilities aren't up to the task. When those folks leave motorcycles for motorized wheelchairs, who is going to take their place?

If the industry is lucky, the kids on Suzuki's V-Strom, Kawasaki's Versys, and Honda's new NT700V sport-tourer are the future. (Yeah, and the no-dead Buell Ulysses almost fell into that bracket, the last US-manufactured motorcycle I ever considered owning. If Buell had lasted long enough to put a decent motor in the Ulysses, I'd have bought one to replace my V-Strom. I guess I'm lucky they died when they did rather than after I'd spent my money.) The future of motorcycling, I think, is in efficiency, versatility, and adventure. Look at the bikes the Big 4 are selling all over Asia and Europe and you'll see that big, fast, inefficient, and impractical are American-only engineering goals. The rest of the world wants motorcycles and scooters that are stingy fuel users, fun, quick (not powerful), practical, useful, and cool looking. We can only hope that something inspires young Americans to want something similar because, otherwise, motorcycles are going to be a thing of the past, industry-wise, here.

In fact, that segment of the motorcycle business is down more than 65% and outside of industry magazines, nobody cares. That's no formula for longevity.None of those manufacturers make anything resembling an efficient motorcycle. The closest thing to fun you can get riding a hippobike is found when you park it and step into the bar for beer. Adventure? Get serious. while it's an adventure trying to turn or stop one of these monsters, you'd never take one someplace that wasn't level, paved, and well-populated. All we're left with are companies that build huge 1950's styled and engineered monuments to the nation's past engineering skill and habits. If American car manufacturers stuck with that formula there wouldn't have been anything left to bail out. If HD, Victory, Indian, and Big Dog all went bust tomorrow, it wouldn't amount to a blip on the US economy.

(I wouldn't be surprised if I'm forgetting somebody. Since they all build the same bike, I'm probably forgetting several. I can't find the motivation to care.)

Riding Down the Tubes

This is just a depressed observation on the state of the motorcycle industry, media, and the economy that was inspired by this month's Cycle World. The first inkling that this might not be an issue I’d put in my archives came at the end of the gushing review of the $15,000 H-D Wide Glide. I skipped the article because I have no more interest in what anyone thinks of another Hardly hippobike than I have in the terrified whining wisdom of the ClusterFox characters. For some reason, I did skim over the “Editors’ Notes” and Edward’s comments reminded me of why I try not to read this stuff. The Wide Glide wasn’t noisy enough for him he wanted it to have “Louder pipes, too, though not obnoxiously so.”

Douche. Anything louder than legal is “obnoxiously so.” These damn things already get a welfare noise check from the EPA to keep them in business. If you need more noise than that, you’re suffering from 15-year-old girl insecurities. Rubrubrub, to you too dude.

CW followed that up with a “customizing” of the $14,000 Honda Fury that took a geek bike and turned it into a really noisy over-weight piece of crap that only a character like Dave Edwards would think is “cool.” This silly-assed customization job removed the license plate (completely, now you can only ride your bike in your own driveway), replaced the legal pipes with straight pipes, polished up the aluminum so that every weekend will need to be spent removing oxidation from the unprotected aluminum pieces, and shortened the fenders so that the bike will splatter crap all over the motor and rider. Of course, no one would ever consider riding something as silly as this in the rain, on a gravel road, or away from their manicured gated yuppie communities.

The only good thing about the article was the hilarious picture of Mr. Edwards posing on the Fury, looking as dorky as a stock broker on his way to the Hollywood Hard Rock Café for a designer beer and a plate full of Santa Fe spring rolls. All those shiny bits, including Dave’s half-helmet, reflecting Hollywood’s asphalt glory and the desiccated palm trees reminded me why I wanted out of California so badly. If I was dreading winter before, now I’m looking forward to the weather that “gets rid of the riffraff.” We don’t have a day mild enough to allow someone to ride a bike as useless as the Fury. As Dave says, "The $600 the polisher charges is us money well-spent." Holy crap. If that's well-spent money, I should be looking for the next Bernie Madoff to take care of my retirement funds.

Not that I like any part of the Fury, but the page 60 before-and-after picture left me with a little more respect for Honda's stylists. The finished "customized" Fury is a cluster of crap stuck together with lots of cash and Tijuana velvet painting taste. Another example of more money than sense.

It took me a lot longer than usual to read Kevin’s TDC column because of the ad for the Cycle World Vintage Memories Calendar on the adjacent page. I couldn’t get over the picture of the side-hack monkey with his chin a couple of inches off of the asphalt and his shoulder dragging on the ground. I’ve never seen anything like that. I’m not sure I’d want to see it as it happened. However, my eyes kept wandering to that picture as I tried to read about “twitchy monsters” and electronic throttle control circuitry. That is one sick picture.

Those were the good old days of motorcyclists and giant huevos (or little tiny brains). Today, the American motorcycle market is all about rich guys and their useless toys. If you aren't Jay Leno and don't want to own a barn full of bikes that you touch once a year, you aren't worth considering in this Timid New World. I guess this is all a prelude to turning motorcycles into dedicated recreational vehicles unfit for highway use and illegal on public roads outside of the occasional parade. It's hard for me to find a reason to be glad I'm old, but this gets close.

Nov 19, 2009

Are You Stupid?

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

Last January, outside my kitchen window, I watched three typically spoiled, unskilled, good ole' boys on ATVs bombing around our backyard lake. Normally, I'd be happy to see the lake in use, since it's barely considered a lake by the county and state and any attention is better than none. This wasn't normally.

Our lake boarders the freeway, so noise isn't much of an issue. We have a little mud island in the middle of the lake that's surrounded by Russian Loosestrife, an invasive weed, cattails, and snowmobilers usually plow it flat every winter in their search for a little uneven terrain to explore. That's no problem, either. When I bought the house, there was a collection of "No Snowmobiles" signs in the garage. My wife painted flowers over the signs and we used them as corner posts for our compost pit. I like owning a place that people can use as a path to recreation. I've told all of our neighbors that, if they own snowmobiles, our path is the route to the lake, no questions asked or permission needed. As of this morning I'm reconsidering all of that. Three morons on three and four wheel ATVs have almost changed my attitude about my property and recreational vehicles. These clowns, not content to bomb around a twenty acre lake, unimpeded and unnoticed,. decided it was more fun to add a few backyards, including mine, to their winter race track.

We've been cultivating cattails and native plants along our shoreline. The ATV'rs tore that up more effectively than I could have done with a John Deere diesel and a plow. My wife has built a wildflower garden on the hillside which, apparently, is a moron magnet, because one of the morons felt the need to rip up the hillside with his girlyman four-wheel lawn tractor. Yeah, I'm not impressed with Suzuki, Honda, or Yamaha's latest motorized wheelchairs. Let's face it, four wheels are not better than two. Four wheels are two too many wheels. Simple as that. In my opinion, ATVs are as interesting as unequipped, low-torque garden tractors.

The hill these goofballs tore up is a mild challenge for my 25-year-old Toro riding lawnmower. If that mound gets your rocks off, you'd be stimulated by the sound of a nylon zipper. As for ATVs, anyone who needs a freakin' stable platform to go off-road ought to consider bridge, canasta, or a seat in front of a Treasure Island slot machine, instead of a slow moving lawn tractor without a grass-cutting blade. Especially when that unbalanced doofus feels the urge to tear up my yard with the damn thing. Yeah, I'll admit that I'm generalizing. But I'm generalizing about a specific trio of overgrown kiddies on specific vehicles.

This is a question I often ask people who are doing unbelievably dumb things, "Are you stupid?" I really want to know the answer, so don't consider this a debate tactic or a rhetorical vehicle. If you're stupid, you have an excuse. If you're not, maybe you should consider a lobotomy so that you will have an excuse.

Any parent knows that the thing kids do is push against boundaries. Teenaged children are constantly shoving against anything resembling boundaries, and that's natural. Stupid, but natural. Sometimes, a wall is the only thing between you and a thousand foot drop. I guess my yard was a boundary and my wife's gardens were the walls.

Watching these guys pout, and shred the edge of my yard, as I ran them off of my property, I was reminded of all the vandals on vehicles I've known in my life. I'm talking about folks like the dirt bikers who couldn't be contained to ORV park trails. They waved their freedom flag high by tearing up all the private land and pristine public land possible and got the rest of us banned from hard-won ORV parks and most of the American Desert. I mean those loud pipe folks who are doing their part to get bikes banned from neighborhoods and public roads. I mean those rough-tough biker dudes who get together in gangs to torment "citizens" and rape and pillage like Viking stormtroupers, then, whine like little babies when the non-riding public stereotypes "bikers" as gangsters and works to outlaw motorcycles from society.

Most likely, all of this crowd is just starved for attention and love. Sons and daughters of distracted, workaholic parents and such. I suspect that all the terrain shredding, loud pipe, bad freeway mannered, rebels-without-a-clue types are all just overgrown teenagers looking for love. Sorry, I can't help you. If you're parents didn't like your sorry ass enough to pay attention when you tried to stand on your head, I'm absolutely the wrong shoulder for you to cry on. And if you don't get that damn ATV off of my yard, I'm going to litter the trail with shingle nails and wait for you at the top of the hill with a Sheriff's deputy. I don't like you any more than your daddy did.

Nov 15, 2009

All the News that Didn't Fit

AMA Trial des Nations Team Goes to Italy
This year's AMA team (Will Ibsen, Patrick Smage, Cody Webb and Keith Wineland) will be competing in Darfo Boario Terme, Italy on September 19-20. AMA Director of Racing Joe Bromley said, "The Trial des Nations represents the pinnacle of the sport and is a big part of our international racing effort. Team USA will face a world-class challenge in Italy this year, but we're sending a world-class team that will make America proud." Last year's team placed 7th in the event. Patrick Smage is an Elkhorn, Wisconsin native and is a three-time AMA/NATC National Trials Champion and the winner of the 2009 national title. This is his 3rd TdN, although he missed last year's event because of a back injury.

Buster's Hates Bikers
According to MMM's Kevin Kocor, Buster's on 28th is a fairly biker-hostile environment. According to Kevin, "Twice now they have refused our patronage. Once, they told us we could sit outside, but we had to order our drinks inside and we couldn't order food for the patio. It was early in the season, and cold - but not unreasonable.

"Tonight [8/26/09] - they kicked us off the patio and said that it was reserved seating after I had gone inside and verified that it was 'seat yourself' - it turns out that Buster's prefers money from their own Softball League and not Scooter people. Shortly after we got up - the team that Buster's sponsors replaced us."

Philadelphia Parking
The Philadelphia Parking Authority is creating motorcycle zones in the downtown business district. The spaces will cost $1/hour, half the car rate.

Nov 5, 2009

The Boys Have Done It Again

As with their brilliant analysis of several religions, terrorism, imigration, and other complex social issues that haunt our culture, the Boys of South Park have done it again with analysis of the loud pipe mentality: The F Word. The English dictionary has been revised to accurately utilize a word that has long been marginalized.

Fag {fág} n. 1. An extremely annoying, inconsiderate person most commonly associated with Harley riders. 2. A person who owns or frequently rides a Harley.

It's "Episode 1312: Everyone agrees they've had enough of the loud and obnoxious bikers that have arrived in South Park. The boys are taking on the Harley riders. They throw down the F word and the game is on."

I feel better about the state of the nation, the world, and the universe. Way to go Big Al. And a big "blubblubblubblubblubblub" to you Hardley riders.

The Price of Complexity

A young friend and I often get into an argument about 1960-1980 rock & roll bands. He's a Led Zep fanatic. I liked the Who and was bored with most of the Zep's output. Partially, it's a matter of taste. Partially, it's a matter of perspective. Mostly, it's something for us to talk about when we're bored. However, yesterday's argument about "kids' music" produced something new for me.

He really objected to the idea that R&R is kids' music because, according to him, a lot older people are getting into the music and sticking with it longer. Cute, don't you think? I don't know how any 20-something can claim his generation is sticking with R&R longer than his parents' generation who are, apparently, going to go to their graves listening to the same crap they listened to when they were 19. Even worse, we're going to go down the tubes making our kids listen to that crap. Try to find a radio station that isn't playing 30-year-old R&R. Good luck.

That's not the point of this rant, though. The point is that, about half-way into our usual routine, I realized that 25 (or 30) is the new 15-19. This morning, I realized why.

A significant portion of our culture is dedicated to convincing its children to stay children long past puberty, long past the normal age of separation, mating, and starting a family, and well beyond when any traditional human would be a good way into adulthood. No, it's not because we live so much longer.

Steve Wozniak was 26 and an accomplished, employed (by HP) engineer when he started Apple, Inc. with his 21-year-old friend (at the time) Steve Jobs (who was still living in his parent's home). Jobs was (and may still be) the posterboy for the youth culture, but Wozniak was a more traditional young adult. [As a side-note, Jobs engineering-background claim-to-fame came when he conned Wozniak into doing a design job he'd been hired to do for Atari, split the bonus with Wozniak, and claimed he was a "real engineer" for doing the job. Sales as design, I guess.] Bill Gates (15) and Paul Allen (17) started their first commercial computer programming venture writing code for traffic control systems and moved to New Mexico five years later to start Microsoft. Eric Buell was a full-time engineering student and motorcycle mechanic in his early 20's. Sure, this short list if overstuffed with non-typical successes, but the list of young adults making their way before they are middle-aged goes on for millions of Boomers. Go back another generation and you're looking at a majority of young men who were out their parent's door and on their own in their teens. Today, it appears to be rare to find a young person who can live independently before 30 (or 40).

I work for a school that jammed with 20-something kids who are no closer to being self-supporting than they were when they were 10. They are "pursuing their dream" of collecting student loans and parental rent payments without a clue as to how they are going to begin life as an adult. Daniel Quinn, in his book Ishmael, described our child-adult extended education system as a glorified babysitting service that exists to keep the young out of the workplace as long as possible, because they are unnecessary. There are more than enough unemployed and underemployed adults in the que, without adding to that waiting list by releasing young adults into the workplace competition at the time in their lives when they are more than capable of competing for jobs. So, we convince kids they need a college education so they will be able to manage a coffee shop or a big box store department of 10 menial-labor employees, sell cars or stocks, or even do entry-level work as an engineer. Hell, Wozniak got his EECU degree from UC Berkeley in 1986, more than 10 years after he founded Apple, Inc. His biggest academic difficulty was refraining himself from correcting his professors when what they taught was either wrong or obsolete.

Finally, to the point of this rant, one reason that kids stay kids well beyond reasonable expectations is that our culture has become over-complicated. No 20-year-old is likely to start a computer company today, even if 20-year-olds are able to understand the hardware or software as thoroughly as did Wozniak or Jobs. Computer systems are so much more complex than they were in 1976 that building them from a garage is a ridiculous proposition. John Britten and Eric Buell's early success as motorcycle builders suggests that driven and radically talented young men can do some astounding things in this area. Buell's recent situation may pour a little water on that fire, though. Areas where a young person can feel like there is new ground to be broken and where the necessary tools and technology are not overwhelming are few and, for me, unimaginably far between. Maybe that's always been true, but I doubt it.

Maybe the real problem is that our education system is pointing itself too high on the cultural totem pole. Since the purpose in education is to prepare kids to become adults, our system is working hard to produce employees for jobs that probably won't exist by the time a kid is ready to find work. To quote Daniel Quinn's proposed evaluation of one portion of our 3 R's education system, "Two classes of 30 kids, taught identically and given the identical text materials throughout their school experience, but one class is given no instruction in reading at all and the other is given the usual instruction. Call it the Quinn Conjecture: both classes will test the same on reading skills at the end of twelve years. I feel safe in making this conjecture because ultimately kids learn to read the same way they learn to speak, by hanging around people who read and by wanting to be able to do what these people do."

That is a self-defeating purpose for a system that pretends to be useful. If kids are going to learn to read and write and use mathematics on their own, or not, because it is a useful and necessary tool, teaching these things is bound to be frustrating and disappointing. And it is.

Not being satisfied to criticise, but stuck with an irritating tendency to look for a solution, Quinn continued his speculation with, "It occurred to me at this time to ask this question: Instead of spending two or three years teaching children things they will inevitably learn anyway, why not teach them some things they will not inevitably learn and that they would actually enjoy learning at this age? How to navigate by the stars, for example. How to tan a hide. How to distinguish edible foods from inedible foods. How to build a shelter from scratch. How to make tools from scratch. How to make a canoe. How to track animals--all the forgotten but still valuable skills that our civilization is actually built on."

Even more to the point, K-12 school classes that include tool building and use would be equally valuable. Those shop or auto mechanics classes that we Boomers often ridiculed as being "trade school" education values are exactly the kinds of skills that modern kids lack. They are also the source of inspiration and competence for anyone who is inclined to want to build something. Those of us who suffered the tradesman's discipline in shop class also learned to respect tools and the things they can accomplish, even if we sucked at using the tools as apprentice/students. One or two generations earlier than my own, an apprentice might be whipped for breaking a valuable tool, we got off easy with a few swats from a well-designed paddle. The paddle my shop instructor threatened to use was made from local maple and was drilled to reduce wind resistance. I don't remember seeing it used, but it is still in my mind's eye hanging from the instructor's office wall. If I ever need one, I know how to build it.

My first technical jobs were nothing more than apprentice positions that only paid a living wage if I was willing to work 70-80 hours a week. My later engineering classes were a poor substitute for the education I received in my first 4 years as a working technician. Disconnected theory is way less useful than practically applied reason and experience. My first technical employer was a god of reason and experience and self-education. He expected the same from me.

Motorcycles are a terrific opportunity for the kind of cultural education that Quinn is talking about. They incorporate practically everything in modern technology--electronics, mechanics, green tech, transportation--and they are small, reasonably cost effective, and accessible. Maybe we ought to be encouraging our schools to dump their basketball and football programs and take up motocross and road racing? Yeah, the risk is high but so is the education value. Plus, there is no shortage of people on the planet so the risk has a positive secondary effect. Those who survive will be useful?

Nov 4, 2009

It's Our Turn

Tonight, Comedy Central airs "The F Word," South Park's take on motorcycle bozos. The story synopsis is "The boys fight back against the loud and obnoxious Motorcycle Riders that are disrupting everyone in South Park." In a couple of days, you'll be able to see it here:

Eric Cartman is my all time favorite comedy character and I am really looking forward to seeing my little buddy take on the Hardley crowd.

Nov 1, 2009

Product Review: Added Insurance

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Thirty-nine years ago, I began my collection of protective gear. I started with a helmet, which promptly proved its value when I did an unintentional headstand on a large pyramid-shaped rock. A while later, I started wearing calf-high linemans' boots instead of hiking boots or sneakers. I followed that brilliant triumph with denim coveralls (no kidding!) with factory-installed knee and hip pads. Later, I moved up to tear-off goggles, hockey-style shoulder pads, real motocross gloves, High Point racing boots, early Malcolm Smith racing pants and armored jacket, and racing gloves.

The thing that I discovered about real riding gear is that the more of it I owned, the more experimental I became on the track and trail. That might sound like I was only taking extra risks, but I was also experimenting with my riding style, control techniques, and exploring the connection between myself and my motorcycle and doing it with less fear. Fear is not a useful component of a learning environment. The more we are afraid, the more conservative we become, the fewer options we have when exposed to hazards, and the less we learn from riding experiences. My protective gear allowed me the luxury of feeling confident in moments where I'd previously felt exposed to danger. On the practical side, when those "educational moments" turned into a crash, the gear did its job and protected me from serious injury. If today's chest protection had been around in the 1970s, I'd have probably managed to avoid broken ribs and busted collarbones.

All this brings me to a new kind of protection I used on a trip to Alaska in 2007. While studying what others had experienced in Alaska and on adventure tours, I stumbled on an article about a serious deficiency in medical insurance. Mainly, most US medical insurance providers only cover basic doctor visits in the 50 states and rarely pay for medical evacuation from remote areas. Most policies don't reimburse you for emergency medical expenses outside of the US. Since evacuation can cost as much as $50,000 and there appears to be no upper limit to hospital bills, an adventure tour could be a lot more of a financial adventure than most of us can stand. The more I learned about the crap we call "medical insurance," the more I realized I needed additional protection from a bankrupting accident and visit to a hospital; US or Canadian. That comforting Canadian national medical system doesn't apply to non-taxpaying, non-residents. Everyone else has to pay for a visit to a Canadian hospital and those unprotected visits aren't much cheaper in Canada than they are in the US.

There is a type of insurance that appears to be designed for adventure touring; it is called "Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance," also known as "Supplemental Medical Coverage for Travelers." This kind of policy can provide coverage for emergency evacuation to the nearest medical facility. It will pay your "reasonable travel" expenses for a spouse or caregiver who may need to come to where you are hospitalized until you can travel home. When you are ready to travel again, the insurance will pay for the cost of returning home.

I ended up going with MEDEX (, but there are several companies providing various levels of coverage for a variety of costs. Some other possibilities are:
In 2007, I paid about $300 for 30 days of coverage. When I crashed 100 miles north of the Artic Circle on the Dempster Highway, one option available to me was to ask a truck driver who stopped to provide assistance to radio in a helicopter to fly me to a hospital. I was on the 9th day of a 30 tour and I was pretty sure, in my crashing past, I'd suffered through each of the injuries caused by the Dempster crash. Over the years, I've become a rehab semi-expert and while I was testing my limbs and bodily functions I was figuring out what I'd need to do to get better fast. When I made the decision to turn around, keep riding, and head for the semi-civilization of Dawson City and a hot bath, I had the security of knowing that if I was wrong needed medical attention, I could call it in at any time. My Emergency Medical Insurance was like a piece of gear that added confidence and security. Without it, fear would have had more control on my decision and I might have missed out on the next 20 days of the adventure of my life.

The next year, when I rode from home to the tip of Nova Scotia, I bought another 30 day policy for that trip. The price wasn't much different than it had been the previous year. To the surprise of everyone who knows me, I didn't have a single moment of excitement on that trip. There aren't a lot of interesting dirt roads out east, though.

When friends and family tell you that you are crazy for riding your bike from Timbuktu to Bolivia, you might have to concede that point. But you don't have to be stupid. You can armor up to minimize the damage when things go wrong and you can be prepared to deal with all sorts of disasters and distractions. "Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance" is one more way you can put some padding between yourself and catastrophe.