Sep 30, 2011

GEICO vs Deer

GEICO has some advice about avoiding hoofed rats. It's not bad:

Bikes vs. Cars on MythBusters

MythBusters did a pretty thoughtful comparison between motorcycles and cages, on an economy, pollution, and practicality basis.  Like they said, the comparison "wasn't perfect," but it was a pretty fair comparison. Obviously, bikes are inefficient on multiple levels. Economically, motorcycles barely make any sense at all, particularly the way we ride and select our vehicles in the US. Hell, about the time the microscopic advantage in fuel economy starts to pay off we have to buy new tires.

I keep comparing my motorcycle transportation economy to my daughter's experience with her 1990 Geo Metro convertible. She gets 50-something miles per hour, sometimes pushing 60mpg. I get 50-something miles per hour. Her Geo has more than 100,000 miles on the odometer and has crossed the country a couple of times in the Geo. She replaces tires because they begin to crack before they wear out. Her car was low emissions in 1990. My first low emissions motorcycle (2004 DL-650) was manufactured in 2004. We have about the same luggage capacity, when all 3 of my cases are on the DL. We can both carry a passenger, but her passenger is more comfortable. I can go faster. She can go further on a tank of gas. She loves her Geo and maintains it with the care and detail worthy of any garage candy owner.

I thought about this a lot while my brother, Larry, and I were looping Lake Superior this summer. We were "riding together" on two motorcycles, both getting 55mpg, for 1600 miles. We passed dozens of biker clans of four to a dozen riders, some with passengers, all doing what we were doing. As this trip wore on, I began to question the purpose. Larry and I don't see each other much, maybe for five days out of every three years on average. We stopped for fuel and novelty on the trip, but we had 1600 miles to cover in four days. Traveling by motorcycle, even with a passenger, isn't about being with someone.

Motorcycling is a solo activity and only becomes silly when we try to pretend it's a community thing. One motorcyclist traveling unbeaten roads, traveling light and flexibly, makes some sense. Not a lot of sense, but at least it's not entirely irrational. Even traveling with one other rider is irrational under most conditions. I've been talking to a friend about doing the Pan American Highway in the next year or two. On the Lake Superior trip with Larry, I realized that trip would make more sense in a VW than by motorcycle. Even better, a VW-powered dune buggy setup for touring. Everything from fuel economy to security to camping to maintenance makes more sense in a VW Bug-based vehicle. Put a Baja-quality suspension on the Bug and even a dirt bike begins to seem silly.

So, we aren't efficient, we aren't low impact (unless the real advantage of off-road motorcycles were set loose), and we aren't communal. We better be good at something and we must be, because a whole lot of us ride motorcycles when better transportation is available all around us.

What Honda's Thinking

Bill Bassett from Motoprimo had his curiosity piqued by my comments about the CBR250R's tool kit. So, he called Honda to ask "What's up?" The response was funny enough he had to call me about it.

It turns out that Honda thinks motorcyclists are a lot lamer than most of you anticipated. And most of you anticipated that we're pretty incompetent, as a buying crowd. Honda's policy is to included only enough "tools" to allow the user to get to the battery. So, the CBR250R's kit includes one 5mm Allen wrench because you have to remove the seat to get to the battery. The Goldwing's battery can be accessed without any tools. So, guess what's in the Goldwing's "tool kit?"

Bill said Honda is, so far, alone in its low opinion of customer mechanical capacity. Yamaha and Kawasaki, for example, still include a reasonable collection of marginal quality tools with their bikes.

Sep 28, 2011

A Confused New World

I had the pleasure of riding a spanking new Honda CBR250R for 100 miles this past week. This is the epitome of modern motorcycle engineering--fuel injection, water cooled, single cylinder, long maintenance interval, high-tech electronics--in a small package. Exactly the sort of package that is selling in large quantities all over the newly-industrialized world.

Everything about this motorcycle is likable, except the tool kit. That's it, to the right. An Allen wrench and a helmet cable.

When I mentioned the undersized tool "selection" to Dean Cross, Motoprimo's Off-Road Product Manager (who is a cruiser-riding-only guy, which is another confusing topic altogether), he joked that the CBR didn't come with any tools but that they'd scavenged this tool bag from a Harley. After I failed to get the joke, he asked, "What would you do to this bike?"

I started listing the things I do with tools and motorcycles and he interrupted me by saying something about me being old, unusual, and out-of-touch with reality. Apparently, modern people don't work on their own motorcycles. I really wanted to argue with him, but I had nothing to work with. At the music school where I teach, many of our students are incapable of properly tightening a microphone stand's parts without accidentally disassembling something in the process. If that something actually falls off, they will stand fixated by the reflection of the dropped part like a deer trapped in headlights until I show them how the part is reattached. These are, mostly, not stupid kids, but they are mechanically clueless.

Some time ago, in an interview with Kevin Cameron, Kevin said "every new entering freshman class has better keyboard skills and more math, but they are less prepared to deal with the physical world. When those people become engineers etc. and go on the job, they have to go and do the playing that they would have done when they were 12 or 8 or 16. They do it on the job and some pretty ridiculous things come out of it. But in the end, the same function is performed, namely, the person gets squared away with physical reality." In my field, I don't see either the improved keyboard skills (unless illiterate texting counts) or improved math capacity, but I can only hope that is the case for engineering students.

In response, Honda created a small motorcycle with large maintenance intervals and assumed that even this fairly simple motorcycle would receive all of its service care at the dealership. Where those high quality dealership mechanics are going to come from appears to be an item of faith or wishful thinking.

I wish I could claim this idea for my own, but it belongs to Dean Cross. He suggested that all of modern experience comes from video games, so video games ought to provide some value to society by including technical demands with the mayhem. For example, before you can pillage an Iraqi village in Gears of War or Battlefield or Call of Duty you have to disassemble, clean, and reassemble your weapons (like basic training). Occasionally, your weapons will jam in the battle and you will have to fix them while ducking for cover. Motocross Mania, MotoGP, and the like are obvious candidates for a little maintenance reality check. Tires should be replaced between races at the dead minimum. Force players to actually figure out how to slip a door lock and hot wire a car to go anywhere in Grand Theft Auto. Make up your own list of games that need to reflect the physical world. If you play video games at all, I'm sure your list will overwhelm mine. I had to go to to find the names of any of this stuff. Hell, I might get interested in video games if the games actually required a little thought.

I don't, however, have a solution for stupid games like Guitar Hero. Just pick up a real guitar and learn to play music. Pushing buttons on beat is the definition of "lame."

Sep 27, 2011

Easy Fix, Never Happen

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

The news report read, "Hennepin County attorneys say that on the morning of Oct. 7, 2010, 20-year-old Amanda Elizabeth Manzanares was driving without insurance and under a restricted instructional permit when she drove her car across the centerline of Excelsior Boulevard in Minnetonka and struck a man riding a motorcycle. The man suffered severe injuries that have, to-date, required $500,000 in surgeries and other medical care. . .

"After retrieving Manzanares' cell phone at the scene, Minnetonka police investigators found a series of text message exchanges and calls on Manzanares' phone that were made and received in the minutes surrounding the collision.

"But, according to court documents, Manzanares denied using her phone at the time of the accident, telling Minnetonka police she had “blacked-out,” was tired, that she hadn't taken prescribed medication and that she was still getting comfortable as a driver."

This is what passes for "news" in modern America. Tainted, slanted "information" intended to inflame the unwashed, illiterate masses without providing any solutions, context, or depth. Back when he was funny, Dennis Miller defined television news as a series of unimportant but bad things we could all be glad didn't happen to us.

Don't get me wrong, Manzanares ought to prosecuted for nearly killing an innocent bystander with her miserable, incompetent (for whatever reason) driving. But by shining a bright light on this pitiful excuse for a human being, the law and the media are doing their damndest to distract the blame from the real criminals in this all-too-common sort of incident; cell phone providers. On one hand, television reminds us at every cop-show opportunity that any cell phone can be tracked if it is on. If it can be tracked, its trajectory and velocity can be determined. If all that is true, any communications attempted while the phone is in motion can be terminated. End of problem.

Driving while yapping on a cell phone use is clearly an example of driving while incapacitated. Every study that has examined the relationship between driving drunk and driving while asking "whut r u doin?" has found that cell phones are linked to driving mental retardation. One study (published in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society) found in simulated driving conditions that drunks (at least those with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level) are better drivers than cell phone yappers. None of the drunks crashed in that study, while three cell phone morons did.

Why it took a study to identify this character of cell phone abuse says more about academia, society, and capitalism than it tells us about the actual problem. Any half-conscious motorcyclist knows that you stay as far from a cell phone user as the road permits. They are erratic, marginally conscious, and as dangerous as gangbangers. I'm no less worried about riding near a cell phone user than I am about trying to get by someone who is tossing out the occasional empty beer can or has an Easy Rider rifle rack loaded with automatic weapons.

If you're brand new to this planet and these United States, you might ask, "Why is this tolerated if the solution is so simple?" The reason, dear alien life-form, is money. The slim splinter that remains of our democracy is dedicated to the idea that the profits of a few override the security, health, safety, and quality of life of the nation and its not-rich citizens. Those trust-funded, grossly overpaid and under-skilled corporate executives who are the only real beneficiaries of the death and destruction their products cause (not the cigarette executives, this time) are more important than the lives of every other person on public roads. Why that argument doesn't hold true for alcohol-pushing corporate executives is a little inconsistent, but I'd bet it's because the cell phone execs are richer.

Of course, my electronic trigger isn't the solution I'd recommend in an ideal world; too passive and forgiving. Personally, I'd rather see cell phone manufacturers forced to install a spring-loaded 4" spike in every cell phone that would be triggered by cell phone use at any velocity exceeding 10mph. At worst, the cell phone user would have some part of his/her anatomy skewered for violating rational cell phone laws. At best, one more idiot would be spiked from the gene pool.

Honestly, I don't expect either idea to take hold in my lifetime or before the next comet blasts an idiot wind across the planet and restarts the evolutionary cycle. The rapid degeneration of our species depends on the right of the dumbest and most corrupt evil spawn's access to every damn toy their idiot heart desires. So, my favorite solution is dead in its tracks. Second, the attention deficit disordered have grown to depend on knowing what their friends and family are doing at this very second and they are perfectly happy to kill anyone in their path to have that knowledge. What's the worst thing that can happen, being prosecuted for "felony texting and driving?" That sounds slightly more serious than unpaid parking tickets.

Sep 19, 2011

Collector's Wet Dream

Chicago's Lee Hartung died recently and all of the items in the Lee Hartung Barn Find Collection will go on auction in November.

This video and two others makes an effort to document the immensity of the collection. Crazy. There is an absolutely nutty amount of transportation-related items in this collection: cars, motorcycles, bicycles, oil cans, event posters, parts, medallions, stamps, books, clothing, etc. I am incapable of comprehending how or why someone would hoard this much stuff, but you might.

Sep 17, 2011

Gas Gas and Cigarettes

Like all things trials, this rocks:

Like all things marketing, I have no idea what it has to do with some dumbass brand of cigarettes. Anything to see someone ride spectacularly well, I always say.

Sep 10, 2011

They're Havin' Fun Now

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were westbound on I694 when we came upon a dude on a Harley towing a trailer. At least I think he was towing the trailer, he was riding so badly it's possible the trailer was pushing him. As the wind blew the bike-trailer-rig from one side of the lane to the other, he would lean way over to try to coerce the bike back into the middle of the lane. He clearly had no idea how to steer a motorcycle, but he was all duded up in his armored headband, wife-beater with the HD logo, raggedy but stylish jeans, and tennis shoes. I did not have a camera with me, but I'll never forget him.

I will also never forget what my wife said about the boy, "He's havin' fun now."

A couple of days later, my grandson and I were biking around the neighborhood on a summer Saturday afternoon and I decided to snag a few pictures of folks who were having fun at the moment, but would be in a world of hurt if anything (I mean ANYTHING) went wrong.

As my wife says, "They're havin' fun now." If they have to stop quickly, swerve to avoid a bug in the road, or make any sort of emergency maneuver the odds are they will "have to put 'er down" and then they won't be havin' much fun. There are a few helmets in the group, but they are mostly haircut bowls that won't do much for the riders or passengers when the face meets the pavement. No armor, few gloves, awful footwear, just a lot of people counting on luck to save their silly asses and havin' fun now.

Motorcycle Advice: Harley Davidson Rider Gives a New Biker Some Tips

How to be cool, from the mouth of someone who can almost spell "cool." It's pretty much all here:

Thanks Sev.

Sep 1, 2011

Readjusting to Smallness

When I finished my test ride of the Honda Custom Interstate, I was hurting, tired, and frustrated. All of this misery was not because of anything specific to the VT1300, but generally due to all of the flaws in the design philosophy of a cruiser. The weight, length, awkwardness, and anti-ergonomic design of that style of motorcycle contains none of the things that I love about motorcycles. I've said this before, if this was the only sort of motorcycle I owned I'd probably ride fewer than four or five times a year. If that sounds familiar to you, maybe you own the wrong motorcycle.

In response to the often-screeched complaint that I'm a "motorcycle bigot," I have to say "fuck you." I also have a personal "no assholes rule," if that applies to you, deal with it. This isn't about religion or race, it's about bad design. I am too old, too beat up, and have too little time to tolerate assholes in my life and, likewise, I'm not particularly interested in lousy engineering.

That is the real problem, for me, with the cruiser style; it's all about fashion not transportation. Unlike those gaywad old fat guys who imagine that an expensive motorcycle actually changes who they are or how silly they look, I know that no motorcycle is going to make me young, rich, smart, fast, or sexy.

Like the guy with the undersized dick who was asked by a hooker, "Who's that going to satisfy?" All I have to please is "me." And there is nothing about riding toward a eternal gynecologist appointment that makes me happy. Sitting on my tailbone in an unrelenting fixed position would drive me to stop at every "biker friendly" bar if I were inclined toward addiction or using alcohol for pain relief. Riding straddle-legged is something I gave up when I quit riding horses, sometime in the early 1970's. Even more, sacrificing personal safety for fashion with no aspect of enjoyment involved is totally out of my interest or capacity.

Hippobikes are freakin' terrifying. They can't turn, can't stop, can't go off-road, and are so freakin' close to the ground that the rider can't see over or around anything taller than a go-cart. What idiot thought that made sense? We're not talking engineering here, this is "design" at the lowest level. Motorcycles as women's shoes.

Riding the big Honda so put me off that, after I ended the test ride last Friday afternoon, I didn't get back on my own motorcycle until the next Thursday. It effected me so strongly that I didn't get comfortable on my beloved WR250X until I'd been on the bike for more than an hour. It took me that long to regain confidence that what I was riding could stop, turn, and competently be maneuvered in traffic. No wonder so many hippobike owners whine about how "unsafe" the freeway is. If I had to ride the crap they ride I'd be afraid of my own neighborhood.

A while back, I wrote an article called It's Not a #&^%#@ Wheelchair. Turns out, I was wrong. This kind of motorcycle is barely up to the standards of wheelchairs. Check out the comparison at right. All three bikes were backed up to the garage door, to make dimensional comparisons easy. In every measure, except length and mass, the VT1300 is a kid's bike. The incredible extra length is nothing but a detriment to maneuverability. The weight is to provide something for the owners' $14,000.

After my cruiser experiences, I sort of have sympathy for the guy I described in Why We Die So Often, "Whether by design, inability, or inattention, the cool cruiser guy didn't make the slightest move to avoid the oncoming cage. He didn't even cover the clutch, let alone the brake. He didn't swerve or slow down, he just stared at the cage as if he was Darth Vader and the cager was one of those Return of the Jedi teddy bear things. He just clung to the bars like a pair of streamers, glared at the cager as he rolled past, barely clearing the wagon's bumper." That's exactly how I felt in heavy traffic on the VT1300; almost as helpless as a passenger or a bumper sticker. The fact is, you can't do much when you are hanging on to 1000 pounds of lumbering iron. That sympathy is no different that my feelings toward squirrels crossing the road in traffic, though. There was nothing wrong with the damn tree they were in before they decided to test the asphalt. Likewise, only an idiot would pick a motorcycle that isn't road-worthy. There are too many squirrels and idiots in the world and this is how nature sorts 'em out.