Feb 26, 2010

A Bad Place for a High Side

Finally, a group-riding video that actually looks like fun. Where are all the 1%-ers on Harley's here? I guess there are 1%'ers and there are .00001%'ers.

Somewhere between these trails and a decent farm road is what I'd call perfect highway maintenance. Anything more than that is extravagant and a waste of good terrain.

Feb 24, 2010

Minnesota, Still Not the Place to Buy a Bike

Way back in 2005, I was hunting for a dual purpose commuter bike and I wrote about the weird Minnesota used bike seller's market. I'm not really in the hunt this winter, but I'm interested in a couple of possible upgrades to my garage candy. So, I've been watching Craig's List and that got me into a couple of email conversations with sellers. While the country is mired in what is likely to be called the New Great Depression, motorcycle prices are just as idiotic as always in Minnesota. As I write this it is 3 degrees outside and we're not likely to see anything dramatically warmer for at least a month. Why anyone would buy a motorcycle in Minnesota in February is a mystery that leads the investigator into the realm of insanity and irrational behavior.

The longest conversation I had with a seller this winter was with a guy who was selling a Suzuki 2006 DRZ400SM. The bike was a ways from my ideal, so I was mostly curious as to why he thought he could get $5000 for a used motorcycle that sells for $6300 list and is usually discounted another $500-1000 because dealers can't move them fast enough at list price. His explanation was that he was "underwater on the bike" and couldn't sell it for less without having to come up with cash to pay off the loan. He was also desperate for cash, since he was buying a home. Obviously, his banker didn't learn anything from the last year of sub-prime mortgage lending fiasco.

Like all certifiable Minnesota motorcyclists, this guy was convinced that he would get his price and that I was trying to cheat him by quoting the Kelly Blue Book price or any other reference. He was particularly incensed by my suggestion that his Two Brothers pipe, the carb kit, and the resultant "tuning" he'd done had devalued the bike below the Blue Book price. As if paying lots of money for wreaking the performance and multiplying the irritation factor of the bike makes it less valuable? What kind of crazy person would even suggest such a thing?


After 14 years in the frozen north, there are two things I firmly believe Minnesotans are incapable of accomplishing: any aspect of competent highway design and all areas of motorcycle tuning. I would pay extra for a used motorcycle that has had every adjustment factory sealed so there is evidence that not a single screw has been turned, a jet replaced, or a needle moved by a resident of this state. Every motorcycle I have purchased in Minnesota (and a couple of other places near here) that has been "tuned" by a past owner has required hours of repair to get the bike back to something resembling the original factory-issued performance. Bike after bike has been hacked, piped, and mangled until the poor things can barely get out of their own way. Which is what led the previous owners to give up and sell their precious motorcycles for the outrageous pittance that I'm willing to spend.

As to the pricing issue, I regularly remind myself of what motorcycles are actually worth by referring to Craig's List in Denver, San Diego, and Los Angeles; places where people actually ride motorcycles regularly and year-around. That used and abused 2006 DRZ400 would be priced from $1600 to $3400 in Denver, no more than $3000 in San Diego (with useful add-ons instead of noisy ones), and rarely more than $2500 in LA/Orange County. There are lots of bikes to choose from, too. The price will go up a little in Denver during the summer, but prices are year-around-constant in southern California. Even crazier, once you get to California or Colorado, you can find better deals than those on Craig's List or the city newspapers.

You could argue that driving from Minnesota to any of those places and riding back would wipe out any savings you might get. True. That doesn't explain the completely unrealistic Minnesota and Midwest prices, but that is true. On the other hand, since you're buying the bike to take a trip why not take a trip, buy a bike, and take another trip back home on the bike? I've done that, twice, in the last 10 years and both trips and bikes were well worth the train ride to the bike. I like train trips almost as much as motorcycle trips, so it has been a double-win. I have some friends in southern California I haven't seen for a couple of decades, maybe I need to plan a spring trip to the coast to buy a bike?

As usual, "just looking" is turning into something more focused. I don't need a new motorcycle. I don't even really want one. Ok, that's a lie but not much of one. If I could get the damn Sherpa to quit dribbling oil I'd be happy with it as my commuter bike. I am happy with the V-Strom and don't expect to replace it for years to come. I think looking at idiot Minnesota used bike prices challenges me to get a better deal, just to show that I can.

Economically, none of this (including my end of the deal) makes any sense. A smart guy would, at least, sell the bike for a Minnesota price and show some kind of profit. I still don't have the Minnesota hoarding gene. When I'm ready to sell, I look at the Blue Book trade-in price and advertise my bikes in that territory. I deal, too. Make me an offer anywhere near my asking price and I want the damn thing out of the garage to make room for whatever new thing I'm occupied with at the moment. That goes for everything I own, not just motorcycles. For 40 years, my idea of living right was to be able to pack everything I own into a VW bug. My motto was "when in doubt, throw it out." I'm old, settled, and married so that's been modified a bunch over the years, but it's still an ideal. If I don't "get my price," I'm as likely to give it away as I am to find a place to store stuff until I can sell it. I take "use it or lose it" seriously.

I guess that explains why I will never be a real Minnesotan.

Feb 14, 2010

NHTSA Crash Data for 2008

NHTSA has published two interesting bits of 2008 data: the Motorcycle Helmet Use and Head and Facial Injuries analysis and the 2008 Motorcycle Traffic Safety Facts data. Some of the more sobering facts from the Motorcycle Traffic Safety Facts analysis was "NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,829 motorcyclists’ lives in 2008, and that 823 more could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets" and "Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists are about 37 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a traffic crash." Motorcylists are more likely to die drunk than any other vehicle operator and the state with the highest percentage of drunk motorcyclists deaths is Deleware. New Mexico riders are the least likely to be wearing helmets, at 4%.

The Roar of the Marching Morons

This is a freaky funny video. Some of you may desperately want to own a SoundRacer V8. Some of you will recognize the juvenile symptom demonstrated in popular motorcycle magazines when editors and reviewers say "the bike needs a little boost from a less restricted pipe." Some of you will want to apply for a grant to study human perceptions and mental deficiencies demonstrated with the SoundRacer V8 and the usual "performance" gained by wasting money on loud pipes on slow bikes.

Whatever your reaction, it's obvious that this dude is actually deluded into believing his kidmobile can carry on like a sportscar because of the noise made by his car's stereo system. Louder is faster. Damn, humans are dumb. What kind of parent names their kid "Shonky?" Is that a merger of s**t and donkey?

Another Year, A Couple More Bikes

The 2010 Cycle World International Motorcycle Show has come and gone. Every year it feels like I spend less time circling the show looking for something new to care about. This year it's safe to say I'm not the only one. Wolfe and I planned a late day at the show to catch more than just the bikes. In the past, I have hit the show early on Saturday or as early as possible on Friday to avoid the crowds. That way I can get shots of the bikes without having to wrestle my way around bodies on the bikes. With a press pass I can slip in before the doors open on Saturday and have the run of the show with a camera or video. Last year was my last year for that approach.

Since 1998, I'd been doing the CWIMS as a segment of my cable access television show, Motorcycling Minnesota. But interest has been flagging in that segment. Not view interest, my interest. Lugging around a 25 pound video camera to get shots of the same bikes I shot last year in this year's colors just doesn't seem worth the effort. An advantage of being underpaid or unpaid is that I don't have to shill for anyone. I don't even have to do the show if I get bored with it. Last year, Wolfe and I did the early-Saturday bit and we ended up done in about 15 minutes. We went out for breakfast, came back, watched the bike watchers and talked to friends for a couple of hours and gave it up for a day back home building stuff out of his Electronic Projects for Evil Geniuses books.

This year, I knew there wouldn't be much new to look at so we timed our trip to hit the maximum crowd. As we arrived at the auditorium, I knew this year would be different. There were no crowds in the skywalk. Outside of the auditorium, no smokers in motorcycle jackets or patch-decorated jean vests. Unlike every other year, we instantly found parking on the streets for cheap. In the auditorium, there were no lines for tickets. No motorcycle accessory vendors outside of the hall. No free motorcycle magazines by the entryway. The upside was that I didn't have to stand in line for my press pass and there was no confusion about getting the pass.

Inside the show was more space than I've ever seen in that room. There was no waiting to sit on any bike you chose. I went out of my way to get shots of bikes that included people in the background, foreground, and on the bikes. I worried that those hyper motorcycle salespeople would be traumatized by loneliness. These are, indeed, hard times. Recreational items, like garage candy and overpriced toys get hit hard when people are just trying to hang on to their homes and jobs.

A couple of parts and accessory distributor reps were pretty depressed about the depression. One sales guy said he was taking on a line of non-motorcycle related clothing in hopes of finding enough income to keep his doors open. A couple of reps really wanted to drop samples on me for review and were disappointed when I didn't want to haul their stuff around the show, but opted to contact them later this month. The Zook guy remembered me from my review of his goo from a couple of years back. That didn't go down well. The state's MMSC booth folks looked lonely and bored. No Aerostich. Buell is dead. Observed trials is a thing of history. Still, I saw a few things that were cool. Outside of Jed Duncan's Rider Academy, there didn't seem to be much action around the small booths. Since Rider Academy is also doing the Total Control Advanced Rider Clinics, the downturn/depression hasn't affected his business as much as it has Harley's marketing/sales-based Rider's Edge program or the MSF's entry-level BRC course. This is one instance where targeting the high end of motorcycling (high end skills) may be a niche with a little staying power.

In the OEM booths, Kawasaki has the KLX250SF 250 Supermoto, which they had in the catalog last year, but didn't show at the Minnesota CWIMS and didn't seem to exist as far as local dealers were concerned. It's not light (302 pounds dry) and (ouch!) it's not fuel injected and it's not cheap ($5300). Ducati's Hypermotard is, still cool if overpriced, but who would put a Ducati on the dirt? Honda's NT700V is new, only to the US, but it's cool and I could see owning one if I could make a little room in the garage for it. $11,000 for a 650 is a bit stiff, though. The Honda supermoto, the CRF230M, was also new last year but didn't put in much of a presence on dealer floors. At $5400, with a carb, and no great weight advantage (280 pounds), the Honda seems like the Kawasaki; too little and too late compared to Yamaha's much hipper WR250X. The Kymco Quannon 150 is interesting, although $3000 for a Chinese-made 150 with limited dealer support seems steep even by today's over-inflated prices. Suzuki's RMX 450 Z is an amazing DP bike, but two things -- the $8400 price tag and the 955mm (37.6") seat height -- put it out of my sights. I desperately wanted to swing a leg over that bike, but I had visions of lying under it and listening to my grandson laugh. So, I passed on the experience. If Yamaha brought anything new, I missed it. Several of the brands that might have had something new to show didn't show at all. BMW, for example, had a lot less of a display going, for a company that is bragging that the economy isn't hitting them as hard as the rest of the industry, than I've ever seen from them. In fact, I'm pretty sure the factory wasn't there at all, although I did see at least one farkled-out BMW at one farkle shop.

After a couple of hours, we'd exhausted our interest in laughing at cruisers, checking out the vintage bike displays, and looking at bikes we don't fit on but love. Wolfe still has hope. He's 14 and growing. It's only going to get worse for me.

Feb 6, 2010

Random Notes

It's winter in Minnesota . Not one of those winters of the recent past where we had blasts of warm air melt the snow and clear the roads so that I could roll out the bike and cover enough miles in December, January, February, and March to be able to honestly claim I'd ridden all 12 months. I don't ride the streets when they are ice-covered. I might ride the lake behind my house in the ice, but not this year.

The Super Sherpa refuses to start. I still haven't installed my spare wood stove in the garage, so working on metal is out of the question. The V-Strom will start at the touch of the starter-button, but I'm not man enough to roll that big dude out into the ice and snow. The bikes have sat for almost two months, untouched everywhere but the battery terminals.

I think I might have discovered an actual advantage to getting old. It's all about perspective, but perspective is another quality that gets fine-tuned with age. When I was a young guy, I played a lot of sports: baseball, wrestling, football, tennis, basketball, racquetball, and off-road motorcycle competition. For the first 30 years of my life, I'd have to really do some damage to wake up sore. A couple hours of football practice followed by an hour of lifting weights and I'd wake up the next morning pleasantly aching. A bicycle ride to work or school and that would be gone, replaced by the sterile good health of youth.

Skip ahead four decades and I don't have to do anything to wake up hurting. Both shoulders, maimed by several separated joints, busted clavicles, and yesterday's yoga routine, hurt before I make a test move out of bed. My left side, still creaking from the most recent bout (in 2007) of busted ribs, feels like someone confused me for a punching bag a couple of weeks ago. I think I have a kidney stone beginning its journey outward, too. My knees, of course, are ready to deliver their wake-up stab the moment I put a load on them. Oddly, the joints that gave me the most trouble for the first 30 years of life, my ankles, are pain-free in the morning. Or, maybe, everything else hurts enough to mask the usual minor ankle pain. So, I get all the benefit of exercise without actually exercising. How can you beat that?

While I write this, I'm listening to Robert Palmer's Some Guys Have All the Luck. Palmer had quite a bit of luck, but having died at 54 it's safe to say he didn't have all of the luck. Listen to practically anything Robert recorded right after hearing practically anything from Little Feat and it's pretty obvious where the Brit got his influences. He was definitely an advertisement for the "live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse" philosophy.

I, on the other hand, might as well live as long as I can because my corpse has had about the same sorry look since I turned 30.

Now Robert is singing "it takes every kind of people to make what life's about" and that's something I always have to remind myself when I venture out into the world. Another feature of age is congested arteries; physical and philosophical. I get "complementary" subscriptions, being the huge media figure I am, of several motorcycle magazines. One of the characteristics of motorcycling editors that always entertains is their arrogance. Catterson, for example, with Motorcyclist seems to be on the edge of cutting off all subscribers who disagree with him. It's painful to read his responses to letters to the editor. He reminds me of a kid who just became a cop and wants to show everyone who ever made fun of him that he, now, has a gun. With the vanishing use for paper forms of entertainment, you'd think his publisher would be a little shy of pissing off the remaining old folks who bother subscribing to a magazine that is late to the party with practically every piece of information; as is every printed news source today.

Cycle World Bike Show this weekend. Wolf and I are going to look at the new toys and, probably, consider how much of my future security will be wasted on today's pleasures. Another great thing about getting old is that I have almost everything I need; tools, toys, and friends and family. Nobody has ever been able to convince me that trinkets will change my lifestyle, so Madison Avenue and I have always had a distant relationship. The older I get, the more distant we become.