Jan 31, 2013

Speaking of People Who Should NOT Reproduce

This might be the dumbest, most public-image-destructive thing any group of motorcyclists have ever done:

I suppose it's terrible that I wish the cops had rounded up everyone of these assholes and shot them over one of our boarders or jettisoned them into the ocean from a giant clown cannon, but I do.

Jan 30, 2013

My Vehicle Ownership Costs

A while back, blog reader and old man abuser Andy Mckenzie, challenged me regarding my assumptions that motorcycle ownership isn't an economical transportation alternative, relative to cheap car ownership. The chart below describes the results of my careful accounting of my operational costs since I purchased these 3 vehicles. The actual odometer reading \on each vehicle is greater than that listed below, but the only significant variance in the "Miles" spec is on the Ford Escort Wagon which had about 100,000 miles on the odometer when I bought the car. The two bikes weren't even broken-in when I bought them from their original owners (less than 900 miles).

Economy Comparison
between My Cheap Car and My Motorcycles

Ford Escort Wagon
2008 Yamaha WR250X 2004
Suzuki 650 V-Strom
Costs/Mile $0.225 $0.290 $0.172
Cost/Year $1,865 $1,414 $1,114
Miles/Year 8,294 4,882 6,497
Years Owned 9.4 1.9 6.4
Miles 78,053 9,469 41,778
Average Fuel Economy (miles/gallon) 24.4 52.6 50.3
Vehicle Expense $2,700 $3,200 $3,400
Total Fuel Costs $9,437 $531 $2,450
Tires $280 $426 $1,540
Oil Changes $120 $39 $328
Major Repairs $3,572 $0 $0
Minor Repairs $84 $439 $1,056
Taxes and License Fees $517 $253 $310
Insurance $1,468 $410 $956
Farkles $275 $845 $627
Current Resale Value (estimate) $900 $3,400 $3,500
Total Lifetime Costs $17,553 $2,744 $7,166

This is not the data result I expected. For years, because of the cost of drive-line repairs (chains and sprockets) and tires, I've assumed that owning a motorcycle is inherently more expensive than driving a cheap car.  The comments I made on a past blog/rant more than implied that and Mr. Mckenzie called me on it. It's only luck that prevented me from putting money on this claim.This is a discussion and assumption I've shared with the publisher of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine, Victor Wanchena, and a disagreement that has continued with the owner/founder of Aerostich, Andy Goldfine, for years. I have, clearly, taken for-granted an erroneous assumption: motorcycles are not an economical transportation option.

The fact that the WR250X is, so far, the most expensive vehicle I currently own means nothing. The bike needed a lot of TLC in the form of returning it to stock after the original owner chopped it to bits in an effort to make his dick appear to be bigger (or whatever motivation it is that causes children and fools to ruin perfectly good engineering in an attempt at proving they're smart). All of the Minor Repair costs on that bike have been the expense of buying stock parts and one chain/sprocket replacement at about 1,200 miles (obviously, the previous owner didn't believe in lubrication). My first set of tires were actual SuperMoto tires and they were expensive and didn't live long. The current tires are dual purpose Korean cheapos and are wearing like iron. I also installed a 3.1 gallon tank, a new seat, a suspension-lowering link, and a rear rack which jacked up the Farkles costs considerably. As usual, I don't expect to get anything back from the Farkle "investment," but it is a one-time expense that will obviously be overwhelmed if the bike holds up and I'm able to put some serious miles on the 250 in the next few years.The more I've worked on the WR250X, the better the fuel economy has become, so it ought to show some serious "improvement" in cost/mile driven by next winter. Since I'm finished Farkle-ing the WR, now the fuel economy will start chipping away at the Cost/Mile figure.

The V-Strom ownership costs are artificially lower than they should be, due to my writing "business." The bike has a lot more Farkle-investment than $627, but I picked up most of those bits as evaluation "samples" so I don't have any money in my aftermarket luggage, chain-oiler, seat, and a bunch of other "improvements." I'm just working this out by what I have invested, not what the stuff might be worth. Most of the V-Strom's Minor Repairs costs have been in chain replacement. The bike has seen at least 12,000 miles of off-pavement travel and that chews up O-ring chains fast, even with an auto-oiler. In fact, if the Escort had seen the same kind of terrain, it might have not survived.

Since the Current Resale Value (estimate) is subtracted from the Total Lifetime Costs and Cost/Mile figures, if I get less than those estimates the numbers will, in the end, reflect that. I might be optimistic on the Escort and WR250X's resale, but from last summer's experience I don't anticipate getting less than $3,500 for the V-Strom whenever I sell it. Those numbers are just estimates, but I don't expect to be particularly surprised or depressed by the final values.

For most of my life, I suspected that car ownership is stupid. The cost of renting a brand new Kia in Portland and driving it to San Francisco this past January and the above data proves that point. I paid about $0.34/mile to lightly use that car for eight days. I would have paid 2/3 of that if I'd have returned the car to Portland. The "convenience" of car ownership is overwhelmed by the cost of the damn things and, since I hate driving them in the best of times, I will happily divest myself of at least one of my cars the day I retire.

Future "Bikers?"

Sorry, but I can't resist this one:

We can all see these boys in 10 years, right? Dressed exactly like they are in this picture plus some pirate accessories and a Glock strapped to their butts. Could be on a Harley/Victory or on a LED-geeked out sportbike, but they are the same goofball either way.

Yeah, I know. I didn't wear a helmet or shoes when I was a kid, either. My dad was a WWII veteran and would have no more thought carrying a sidearm was "protecting" his kids than he'd have bragged about his kids surviving childhood without his having had the sense to make us wear decent gear. In the '50's, bicycle helmets either didn't exist or they didn't filter their way to Kansas. I still wear a bike helmet intermittently and look how badly I turned out. It is, honestly, a miracle of some sort that I made it past 9 years old.

Some people should not consider parenthood. They are clearly unsuited for the responsibility.

Jan 28, 2013

Vintage Motorcycle Safety Flic

Gotta love that safety gear. Going AGAT back then meant you wore everyday clothes and a funny cap. If you're into sidecars, you're gonna love this.

Jan 25, 2013

The Cell Phone Rule

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day
New road trip rule: Never travel with anyone who carries a multi-function touchscreen phones.
Case One: For a decade or two my brother, Larry, and I have talked about taking a motorcycle trip together. Larry suffers from the classic Kansas "I don't care, what do you want to do?" indecision syndrome and the trip has been on-again, off-again for at least three years; as has been his motorcycle ownership decision. Our 2007-2010 trips were cancelled due to family disasters. In 2011, after a summer of missed schedules and minor miscues we began to "organize" a trip around Lake Superior in July. 
Organize is a misused word when it comes to the two of us; or just me. When I bought my WR250X, I told Larry about my plan to circle Lake Superior this summer and he asked if he could go along on my V-Strom. So, instead of prepping one bike for a trip I laid out the riding and camping gear and did the work and paid the tab for tires, chain and sprockets, and general maintenance for two motorcycles and two riders. I gave him a range of departure dates and waited to hear something for a month. I tried for the 1st week in July, no answer. I could feel the trip slipping away. I tried, again, for the 3rd week. Still quiet. I picked a day and got ready for the trip, solo. Four days before my planned departure day, Larry says it's a go. I had a motorcycle class the weekend before we would leave, so I crammed finishing up the V-Strom chores into 2 days. Larry arrived on Saturday night. We did a brief ERC to refresh his skills on Monday. We were on the road Tuesday at 6AM.
After a good start, we stopped for breakfast and the cell phone routine begins. He checked his text messages and sent a few. Then, he called his girlfriend and that's how we spent breakfast. So it went for each meal and every night's stop for a few days. We quit before dusk every day and he was on the phone until 2AM the first night. I didn't ask about his 2nd night, but I knew it went past midnight. The third day out, he was tired, slow to get moving, took long disorganized and unannounced stops, and finally got lost on the only highway going our direction. I backtracked 50 miles, looking in all the ditches, and couldn't find him. Cell phones are useless in Ontario, outside of two cities, so both of our phones were a waste of radio waves for 150 miles.
About 7PM, three hours after he disappeared, Larry called my wife and they talked about where he was, where I was, and where we could meet. What I got out of that was that he was alive and still in Canada. My wife isn't good with message translation. Luckily, Larry and I tripped over each other in Thunder Bay and got back on the path again.
Case Two: I took a couple of short road trips with a friend a few years ago. He's a proud man who believes he is in charge of all of his habits. But every time his iPhone phone rang he had to stop whatever he was doing and answer the damn thing. If we were riding, he'd pull over, take off his gear, and yak on the phone for a few minutes. All while I was stuck waiting for the phone jones to subside so we could get back on the road. The best I've seen him do is to stop to look at his phone and decide the caller wasn't as important as the task at hand and put the call off for an hour or two. He deludes himself into thinking that is a major improvement. It pains me to see a man enslaved to a crappy piece of technology and the expectations of everyone who knows his phone number.
The last couple of times my friend wanted to go somewhere, I suggested we take my car because we might be able to get there and back in my lifetime by cage. I figured if he just talked on the phone all the way to and from our destination while I drove we could save some time and hassle. Since I'd rather walk than travel by cage when the weather is even half-decent, we quit travelling together during riding season.
As I get older and grumpier, I'm generating lists of "never do that again" items. I've always hated telephones, but cell phones and the constant connection addiction took that to a new level. After the incident with my brother, I tossed my cell phone into the street and I haven't decided if I want to replace it. I might give my residual pay-as-you-go minutes to my daughter and be rid of that infernal technology for the rest of my life. Six months later, I haven't been inspired to replace the thing. This could be significant.
Part of what I love about motorcycling is the solitude, the remoteness of being on a one-person vehicle out of touch with work, responsibility, and my usual life. A mobile phone can defeat all of that, if you're not willing to turn the damn thing off. It appears to me that the fancier the phone, but more addicting the thing becomes. Once you can do more than have an unpleasant conversation on your phone, I suspect smartphoners begin to think the phone is actually more entertaining than the places and people nearby. If I'm who you're with and where we are is some place that took some effort to get to, I admit to being insulted by that slight.
The telephone is one of my least favorite modern "conveniences." I have a simple pay-as-you-go cell phone, but it's only turned on when I want to call someone. I rarely want to fool with my phone. In fact, in 2011 I bought 500 annual minutes and carried over 400 into 2012. The clanging, squawking, beeping, or tinny musical reproduction announcing a telephone call is a rude interruption to the flow of the moment. I'm a huge fan of the "no news is good news" philosophy and I can't remember the last time a telephone call brought good news. Phones are like spoiled children, shrieking "Look at me! Now!" I can decide when to receive and respond to snail mail or email. A telephone call is insistent that I respond when someone else decides to interrupt my day. Carrying a portable telephone is like spending a day with an enemy, nothing good will come from it. If you add more distracting functions to the telephone, I will only dislike it more. There is nothing "smart" that ever comes from a telephone.
So, I'm adding smartphone owning motorcyclists to my list of things to avoid; along with motorcycles previously owned by kids, Falstaff-ian motorcycles and bikers, going into debt for toys, being guilted into taking a trip with someone I don't know well, budget motorcycle riding gear,  vintage motorcycles, scooters, and all motorcycles with "personality," distracted cagers, riding cold or dehydrated, marketing people, panic reactions, and motorcycle hoarders. That list might have missed one or two other irritants I've written about or am about to write about. Call it an unwarranted prejudice, if you like. However, since I would just as soon avoid hearing one end of a two-way conversation that is as entertaining as Dick Cheney's sense of humor, I don't have a dog in this fight. It's not a hard problem to solve, either. I'll keep moving while you settle those trivial problems that come to you by cell phone and we'll talk about the trip when we get home.

Jan 23, 2013

A Technological Dead End?

All Rights Reserved © 2008 (revised 2012) Thomas W. Day
I have a theory, born from personal experience and lightweight observation of history.  My theory is that as a technology approaches terminal, it gets really good.  Then it dies.  When a new technology is just finding its legs, the technology being replaced makes a wonderful collection of giant leaps; which will fail to stave off obsolescence, even for a moment.  But examining those last moments of declining technological health can be really enlightening.  

I'm not saying this as someone who has been on the leading edge of a technology shift.  In fact, as a mid-tech transient I've been trailing edge for most of my life.  In the mid-1980's, professional analog audio recording gear began to be displaced by digital recording systems.  The last generation of analog recorders were a huge improvement over anything previous technology.  But it was too late: the convenience, cost advantage, signal-to-noise improvement, and trendy-ness of digital wiped out those last moments of glory and hardly anyone even noticed that most of the problems usually associated with recording on analog tape had been minimized.  Today, professional analog recording systems are practically relics and even the simplest personal computer has more editing and playback horsepower than a multi-million-dollar studio from twenty years ago. In my lifetime, I've seen (or am seeing) electronic tubes, analog computers, magnetic data storage, photographic film, visual artist's tools, payphones, cathode ray tubes, analog television, vinyl records and turntables, carburetors, and dual-shock motorcycle suspensions quickly peak and begin the rapid transition from regular use to museums' shelves [2]

I was first turned on to this realization when I was a very young man.  When my kids were toddlers, one of our favorite weekend trips was to Minden, Nebraska to visit the Harold Warp Pioneer Village Museum.  The place is stuffed with all kinds of historic tools and toys, from Pony Express relics to railroad history to farm equipment to early internal combustion vehicles. The thing that tripped my trigger was getting a close look at horse-drawn carriages, especially the high-end, luxury models from the turn of the last century.  Just as the first internal combustion vehicles were making horse-drawn transportation obsolete, the last carriages were becoming efficient, comfortable, and sophisticated.  I studied suspension systems that we wouldn't see on cars until fifty years later.  Some of these vehicles had heating systems, evaporation interior cooling, clever convertible tops, interior and exterior lighting, safety equipment, and finish work that made the next half-century of car design look primitive.  Unfortunately, they also had horses providing the horsepower. 

The other sign of impending obsolescence is nostalgia.  This country is currently being decorated with monuments to the Golden Days of Oil.  To anyone with a sense of history, that ought to be a big, red, flashing sign that something is on the downhill slide.  Folks are paying idiotic prices for Gulf, Esso, Kerr-McGee, and Standard Oil memorabilia.  Oil Century Museums are popping up everywhere from California to Tex-ahoma to Florida to New Jersey.  Ohio is home to the "Society for Commercial Archaeology."  And, of course, we have wads of motorcycle museums littering the country side.  On my last long Midwestern bike trip, I counted ads for half-dozen Harley/Indian museums before they began to fade into the fast food, antique store, and hotel signs. The last couple of decades witnessed a giant blast of the past as Boomers tried to revive their youth with muscle cars and 1950s-styled big twins.  That fad won't last much longer, because Boomers are soon going to be looking for their next hipster thing in prosthetic hips (like mine) and electric wheelchairs. 

Watching what's going on in our culture makes me suspect that we're about to see our beloved internal combustion engine technology vanish.  I don't know if you've noticed, but internal combustion engines have become trailing-edge technology, almost overnight.  There are alternative transportation systems on our highways and all over the rest of the world.  At the same time the technology designed into internal combustion-powered cars and, especially, motorcycles has become absolutely incredible.  The performance, reliability, and even the sound of modern motorcycles has been tweaked to the nth degree.  The only thing that's been stubbornly ignored is energy efficiency and that's probably the only characteristic that really matters in the twenty-first century.

In end-or-year issue, the relatively conservative Motorcycle Consumer News published their "Performance Index" for the current generation of motorcycles. In a summary, they listed the following most important performance categories: ten best 1/4 mile times, ten best rear-wheel HP, ten best power-to-weight rations, ten best top speeds, ten best rear-wheel torque, and ten best 60-0 stops. All but one of those measurements are, essentially, the same sort of 1950's information; power.

Most likely, the only modern statistic included in the data provided would be "average fuel mileage." By this standard, the 2006 Kawasaki Ninja 650R was the winner at 65.3mpg (the 2007 version was 10mpg less fuel efficient), followed by the Ninja 500 (64mpg), and Honda's Rebel 250 (62.6mpg). The Victory 8-Ball at 29.8mpg was the fuel guzzling loser. My daughter's 1991 Geo got better mileage than more than half of the motorcycles MCN rated. From occasional long ride experiences with folks on liter sportbikes, my own calculations estimate that MCN was optimistic about the efficiency of most of the bikes they rated. I wouldn't be surprised at less than 20mpg performance from many of those street legal race bikes. (The new Honda NC700X has upped the game a bit, but I think it's too little, too late.)

While those performance-based qualities are being fine-tuned, the world's oil consumption has rapidly passed world oil production.  Sometime in the last five years, oil demand whipped around oil production capacity and the world's economies will either shift away from burning petroleum or suffer the consequences.  Some experts claim that 2005 was the whipping point; the last year of "cheap oil" and that we're on the downhill slide where production will get further from meeting demand every year.[1]  In 1999, the uber-conservative, alternative-technology-spurning oilman Dick Cheney was one of those "experts" warning that the age of oil is about done.  Cheney told other oil execs, back then, that the reason oil companies weren't building new refining plants was that investment would be putting good money after bad.  We have more than enough oil processing equipment, we don't have much oil left to process.  Some folks estimate that in as little as two or three years, it may cost $100 to fill a compact car's tank.  Filling a bike's tank will be pretty close to half that and it's going to be more expensive every year afterwards.

Let's get real.  A 250hp, liter bike that burns 15-20 mpg is going to be a pretty worthless piece of history when gas costs four to ten times what it costs today.  Everything we use, do, and consume, will be incredibly more expensive when oil bumps against the predicted 2025 $400 per barrel.  If we humans are lucky and put some planning and a lot of resources into the next few years, we might be converting to hydrogen cell vehicles or some other petroleum-less fuel about the time the old technology becomes impractical.  I like to imagine that motorcycles, with their inherent energy efficiency and other advantages will be part of that change.  I'm sure horse lovers hoped horses would find a place in the modern transportation scheme, back in 1906.  Who knows, maybe horses will make a comeback?

Personally, I'm feeling a little nostalgic today, while the majority of Americans appear to be clueless about the future of our energy-dependent systems.  As an example, the dim-bulbs in St. Paul are widening freeways, planning communities that are further than ever from necessary services and employment, and designing government buildings that depend on energy systems that will be disappearing about the time those facilities are put into service.  My sentiments, inspired by that irresponsible bureaucratic inattention to reality, is considerably less upbeat.  Their behavior is more evidence that we always get the government we deserve, just like every other country in the world. 

While there appears to be a fair amount of thought going into replacing the power plant under the hoods of our cars, for a while it looked like that wouldn't be happening for two-wheeled vehicles.  Zero Motorcycles and Brammo have changed all that.  Zero Motorcycle's new Z-Forcetm power pack is pushing electric motorcycle technology fast into the new Green Age. With a 100 mile range, an 88mph top speed, and 3,000 charge cycles (a 300,000 mile battery life), Zero's bikes are beginning to warrant their price premium. Hayes' diesel-powered bike is another cool thing.  A hydrogen-powered turbo sportbike would be beyond hip.

Knowing that this oil barrel is more than half-empty with a rust hole in the bottom has forced me to suspect that the world I lived in is vanishing.  I'm trying not to sound like a reformed whore, but it's hard for me to pretend to any other pose.  I am from a generation that burned gas for almost nothing but recreational uses.  I can "brag" that I sometimes rode my Kawasaki Bighorn, Rickman 125 ISDT, or even the Harley Sprint to the racetrack, took off the street hardware, raced the bike, and, after reinstalling lights and crap, rode back home.  I guess that's something.  But I also trailered, trucked, and station-wagoned bikes to races, took long mind-altering rides in the country, and practiced racing on all sorts of surfaces.  Today, those leisurely rides through the country side feel a bit like immature, excessive exercises in selfishness; and I'm missing them before I've given up doing them.  I know that every drop of oil that I waste is coming out of my children and grandchildren's heritage and I'm becoming more than a little ashamed of the oil I wasted before I knew better.  The days of getting together with a few dozen friends to explore backroads and hang out in the twisties are fading.  I think sports like motocross, road racing, and all of the fun we have had aimlessly and recreationally burning fuel are also coming to a sooner-than-you-think end.  Between declining resources and world-wide pollution and global heating catastrophes, it appears that we have hung on to these carbon-burning handlebars a little too long.

I'm not celebrating this.  I'm not gloating or saying "I told you so" while I write this.  I lived in a gloriously ignorant, greedy, selfish time and it was an incredibly fun period in human history.  I wish I could pass it on to my children and, especially, my grandson.  If we're truly a civilization worth saving, we'll find a way to make a world our kids can enjoy.  If we don't, we deserve any misery we receive. 

[1] A depressing, but complete site for all sorts of links to information about the coming energy crisis is http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/.
[2] Paul Young added this note to my list of vanishing technologies from my own lifetime: "One of the guys I work with had his 11 year old son come up to him and ask 'Have you ever heard of something called a landline?' Something else to add to your list of disappearing technology. "

Jan 22, 2013

2013 Motorcycle Show

In case you didn't get to ogle the three or four honestly "new" motorcycles in this year's Progressive International Motorcycle Show, here's what I thought was cool, silly, entertaining, overpriced, hilarious, beautiful, gaudy, and/or interesting. Sorry it took me a week to get around to downloading the pictures.

My favorite bike of the show was the new Honda CB500X and the CBR500 came in an interesting 2nd. I was, obviously, sort of amazed that Yamaha brought a 2008 WR250R to the show. From what I've heard, they can't give 'em away and are still trying to unload five year old inventory. Great bike, no market for a practical urban dual purpose bike. Now that I write that, it sort of seems insane. The CB500-series is intended to be a collection of 70+mpg fuel misers with similar performance characteristics to last year's brilliant NC700 bikes. Honda claims this is "going back to our roots." I desperately hope this isn't too little, too late.

Otherwise, I didn't see a lot of interesting stuff at the show. I tried to get the magazine's "money's worth," but it was hard to find a couple hours worth of stuff to look at. Maybe I'm just old and jaded.

Jan 20, 2013

Lane-Splitting and Survivablity

Nah, I don't mean that lane-splitting is a particularly dangerous tactic. I loved splitting lanes for the decade I lived in LA and would do it in a second if it were legal anywhere I ride. The "survivability" portion of this rant is a comment on my anticipation that motorcycles won't be long for public roads, unless something in society changes dramatically.

I've been having a conversation with Andy Goldfine about this since I posted the excellent RideApart lane-splitting video about 10 days ago. He's an incurable optimist and his terrific organization, Ride to Work Day, does quite a bit to try to popularize motorcycle commuting and motorcycles as a "social good." I must have pissed him off, because in his last note he wrote "I disagree that the consumption of motorcycling in wealthy and advanced countries like the United States inevitably must decline and that MC's are a 'dying market'. That's your hubris talking."

I thought a bit about that comment and decided to look up a formal definition of "hubris." To put it simply and clearly, it means "exaggerated pride or self-confidence." I don't see it. I have nothing invested in the failure of motorcycling as a means of transportation. I ride my bike to work, grocery shopping, and for all-around transportation every day I can. I don't have a clue where the "self-confidence" bit would come from or relate to this discussion. I, simply, don't believe that motorcycling and motorcyclists have created enough value to society to exist much longer in public transportation. Like horsey-owners, recreational motorcycles might last into the next century, but I see us going the way of the horse-and-buggy and buggy whips.

Here's my argument, as put to Andy:

Huh? How in the hell could it be "extreme pride" that makes me see the vanishing practicality and use of motorcycles? I love motorcycles, but just don't see the world with that kind of tinted glasses. Although, I'll admit that my vanishing eyesight will, eventually and most likely, be the thing that takes me off of my motorcycles. Could be your self-interest and long dedicated service to everyday motorcycling is making you "optimistic." From a long life of depression, I know I don't have a lot of optimism and I'm inclined to see half-to-mostly-empty glasses everywhere I look, but modern psychology seems pretty clear on the concept that "pessimism is what an optimist calls realism." We might live long enough to see the result of all of this. I think the next 20 years will either see your revolution of motorcycle use or my expectation that motorcycling becomes as "practical" as owning horses.

I don't see motorcycles and bicycles in any part of the same transportation solution. Bicycles require barely any resources. Motorcycles demand the same or more regulations (policing, infrastructure, and environmental testing) as cars. Bicycle use is, and has been, on the increase for decades. Motorcycles are, and have been, in decline since the early 80's. Bicycles have huge popular approval while motorcycles (and their manufacturers) have created a gangster image that most parents reinforce.

A few years back, I had a long and technical conversation with Kevin Cameron who has thought a lot about alternative motorcycle technologies and efficiency; what both of us believe is the future of transportation as we leave the Oil Century. Aerodynamics is a grossly limiting factor for traditional motorcycles and solving that problem creates a vehicle that is as fun to ride as a bus (enclosed, low profile, two-wheel streamliners). Electric motors are already in the 99-something-% efficiency territory, so we're desperately hoping for better battery technology to solve the electric motorcycle problem. Unfortunately, physics and nature are conspiring against us. If for no other reason, compacting more energy in smaller batteries creates considerably more volatile battery storage systems. Talk about having a tiger between your legs; this is a lot like having dynamite between your legs. This goofy "science writer" sort of knows what he's talking about (http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/01/boeing-787-batteries-same-as-those-in-electric-cars-umm-no.php), except for the fact that the chemistry he's claiming isn't and won't be used in electric cars is only true because we've been there and discovered how dangerous going for truly high-capacity lithium-ion is (in the pacemaker and ICD business, for example) and we can't do that or any other method of compacting large capacity cells in small spaces without creating large firebombs.

I love the Honda NC700 and NC700X, but it's the motorcycle that we should have had a decade ago. My wife and I rented a small Kia in Portland last week and drove it to San Francisco. It was my first experience with a modern, reasonably high efficiency car in years. The Kia got 52 mpg on two of the best tanks and the worst mileage we "suffered" was 48mpg. That was with two bodies and a fair amount of luggage, with comfort, entertainment, and a butt-load of safety equipment. If I squeeze efficiency, Best case, I get 55mpg out of my 650 V-Strom and most of the time I get 42-45mpg. My WR250X does no better, holding it under 60mph. Operation-cost-wise, we both know a motorcycle is a money-losing proposition. Fuel, maintenance and reliability, tires, chains and sprockets, and insurance are all in the same (or more expensive) territory than a cage. Hoping that kids riding beater 1970's standards rigged as cafe racers will save the transportation mode makes no sense. If that happens, the last of the manufacturers will go broke waiting for those kids to buy something new.

Maybe your mileage was different, but there aren't a lot of Gen-XYZ'ers who are poorer than I was in 1966-73. I worked two-three jobs for $1.60-3.20 an hour, for an average 70-something hours a week, through my young adult years and I rode and raced for most of that period and supported my family. I don't see that kind of work ethic, physicality, risk-taking, or a bunch of other characteristics that I thought were pretty common in 1966-73. I see a lot of kids. In fact, I've had 2400 of them in my classes over the last decade. Of that bunch, one woman was a rider (exactly the 1970's cafe racer you described). Outside of her, the closest thing to a rider I've met was a video game "motocrosser" who imagined that playing a video game was exactly the same as actually riding a motorcycle. Teaching MSF classes has given me the same expectations, too. Most "students" are just knocking off bucket list crap and damn few are intending to do anything practical on a motorcycle.

Say what you want, but the dearth of motorcyclists in Portland and San Francisco on beautiful weekdays doesn't seem encouraging to me.

Jan 14, 2013

Despicably Tempting

In the eternal search for the UM (Universal Motorcycle), the Yamaha WR250X is pretty damn close to perfect: decent (if not great) economy, great handling, decent (again, if not great) comfort and ergonomics, excellent suspension, great motor, and general all-around competence. Like all UM bikes, the WR250X is pretty good at everything and great at . . . commuting in heavy traffic, except for the mileage thing.

One thing the WR is not great at is deep sand, clearing trail obstacles, or rolling through sticky mud because the fat (110/70R17) 10" front tire doesn't roll over stuff it attempts to roll into obstacles. I know, I've had my ass kicked (yes, my titanium $50k ass) on deep sand a couple of times and playing trialer with the 17" wheel isn't great fun, either. (Ask my nuts. That plastic tank is harder than you'd think.). So, the solution is either give up on most of the dual purpose stuff that I love or admit I'm old and lame and buy a less capable street bike with better off-road capabilities or . . . spend some money.

I hate spending money, but a "COMPLETE FRONT WITH BILLET ALUMINUM HUB, STAINLESS STEEL SPOKES, 21"X1.60 BLACK RIM AND STOCK SIZE WR250X ROTOR" is pretty tempting.Is it $346 tempting? I still have 18 days and 6 hours to decide. It takes me about 15 minutes to take off the front wheel and reinstall it. Turning my supermoto into an enduro in 15 minutes is a pretty cool option.

The question afterwards would be, "When do I ride the stock 17" wheel and when do I swap to the 21"?" If, for example, I decide to ride the WR to Alaska, which wheel do I travel on?" Most of the trip will be on asphalt, but some of it (even 1/3 or it) will be on dirt roads and barely-improved surfaces. In Montana, there could even be some deep sand, since I experienced a few hundred miles of that on my V-Strom in 2007. I don't think there is a question about which wheel is best for around town, but touring is a whole 'nother world. At least, when I'm touring.

Jan 12, 2013

So Many Things Explained

Being the media moron I am, I drove to downtown Minneapolis this morning for the Progressive Motorcycle Show. It's easier to say I did it than to explain why. A lot about the motorcycle business depresses me rather than providing a winter perk-up. The average age of the PMS spectators must be close to 100. The average weight is a little scary, too. (I mean of the motorcycles, of course.)

I've been going to the annual motorcycle show for almost 25 years. My first then-Cycle World Motorcycle shows were in LA, followed by 5 years of Denver shows before I moved to Minnesota in 1996. Back in the 80's, there was a fair amount of excitement before the shows because the manufacturers didn't pre-promote their new bikes in the media for a year before we actually got to see them. Also, there were a fair number of actual new models every year from all of the manufacturers. Since the turn of the century, the show is mostly about the new colors on the old bikes. Every couple of years, one or two new models might appear but, mostly, the bike show is about paint jobs and chrome and a half-dozen companies selling eye glasses cleaner.

This year's trip downtown was the most "interesting" part of my day at the bike show. For starters, I hate driving in Minneapolis. The city was designed by a band of illiterate professional wrestlers who took advantage of a sale on one-way street signs and randomly decorated the city with their bargain signage. Between the city's planned disorder and a variety of closed-for-repair streets and the usual Minnesota inability to move more than 3 cars through a 2 minute stop light, it took me almost 50 minutes to drive 15 miles to the convention center, which put me in the parking lot about 10 minutes before a meeting at the center was supposed to begin.

Like most badly managed cities in the country, Minneapolis has farmed out parking meters to a private company (in exchange for a little up-front cash to pretend-balance a previous year's budget). The new meter system consists of numbered posts with central parking ATM where you can use a credit card or cash to buy time. The software in this system is typically user-hostile and about as cleverly designed as most of the state's websites.

With ten minutes to spare, I lucked out and found a space right next to the meter-ATM. However, there were four geezers in pirate outfits surrounding the meter and by the time I got out of the car, they were joined by three other geezers (all wearing Hardly gear). The scene resembled a pack of chimps surrounding a computer that smelled like bananas. Twenty minutes later, I'm freezing and not one of the Harley chimps has figured out how to pay for their parking. Two have given up and gone back to their cars for heat. I'm joined by a young guy dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt. He seems to think that his lack of planning should put him in front of me in the line of deranged monkeys, but he's disappointed. Twenty minutes later, the last of the Harley chimps either figures out how to pay for parking or leaves willing to accept a ticket, I don't care which.

I pay for my space and run to the convention center, arriving at the Victory booth 15 minutes late. No one is there and I didn't see anyone from the magazine in the 3 hours I spent prowling the displays and taking pictures. I did see more Harley chimps than I usually have to tolerate in a decade and relearned that those characters can't walk any better than they ride, drive, or decipher parking meters.

Jan 10, 2013

Another Lane Splitting Argument

Not gonna happen here, but it should:

While lane splitting is practical, necessary, economical, reasonable and safe, there aren't enough motorcycles on the road in the US (even CA or the rest of the west coast) to make legislation worthwhile. Like the foolish "Start Seeing Motorcycles" campaign, there needs to be a lot more motorcycles on the road before anyone will care about making motorcycle commuting more efficient. Who cares how easy and efficient it could be for people commuting on unicorns or Pegasus? There is no such thing, so passing laws to make life easier for imaginary transportation systems is silly. Likewise, with 0.001% of the traffic on the road being motorcycles, who cares if we get there faster?

I disagree with their position on riding with a finger or two on the front brake. Braking is the right response only occasionally and can be catastrophically the wrong move more often than not. Preparing yourself for the wrong move with poor technique is a dumb idea.

Jan 1, 2013

Spreadin' It Around

This is more of a New Year's entry than a motorcycle thing. However, Scott is a good friend and this is one of the many wonderful songs on his CD, The Gift of Thirst. It just seems appropriate for the day, the year, and these times. I hope you all have a good year and that the Mayan's were right and this is the beginning of a new era. The old one sucked.