Sep 30, 2013

#23 Guilding the Dandelion
All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

Just by purchasing a couple of bike parts on-line, you can find yourself on some seriously weird mailing lists. No, I don't mean sex toys and videos, although with luck you might get some of that stuff, too. I mean weird motorcycle stuff.

For instance, this week I received a catalog from Storz Performance. The catalog's cover should have told me enough to store the catalog in my circular file cabinet, but I’m slow. The cover was decorated with a picture of a dude struggling to turn a Sportster and look fast in the process. Most likely, the photographer had to slow his shutter to night photography speeds to get the Harley to blur. Since the cover told me I'd received a free $5 catalog, (a seriously confusing concept), I decided to see if Storz made anything I couldn't live without.

They don't.

The first 21 pages of the catalog are devoted to performance suspension parts for Harleys; and shiny accessories for those parts. That's interrupted with four pages of steering dampers for sport bikes and followed by a lot more Harley performance and racing parts. No kidding. Harley racing accessories. Harley and "racing" combine into a phrase that's as oxymoronic as "military intelligence" or "jumbo shrimp."

Stortz has positioned itself in the kind of market that engineers dream about, though. Storz charges as much as $2,945 for a dual caliper, inverted fork kit and $759 for rear suspension shocks. And I'm sure it's worth every penny, if you have a ton of pennies. Every engineer and machinist worth his weight in cutting oil dreams about being allowed to throw unlimited amounts of money at an easy to accomplish project. There aren't many products that allow for that kind of dedication, anal retentiveness, or whatever you like to call a fascination with machining and polishing and chrome plating. Outside of building toys for the military, or medicine, very few markets allow for this kind of extravagance. When you find one, you milk it until it caves in from dehydration. I certainly would if I ever found one.

Just finding the niche isn't enough, though. You either have to be a true believer or learn how to act like one. Most engineers don't have the "focus" to cater to this sort of customer. It takes a specially humorless kind of person to deal with consumers who desperately want to be believe that "you get what you pay for" and that you should always be willing to pay top dollar for the things you own. At some point in the sales pitch, most of us lose the straight face. Some of us will break down into hysterical, convulsive laughter that can only be terminated by pain or medication. When you're asking for $5,000 for $100 worth of stuff, you aren't allowed a smirk; let alone an evil grin or a gut busting, finger-pointing belly laugh.

Personally, I can't even keep a straight face past the obvious logic of "you get what you pay for." I mean, how does that phrase help me make a decision? Of course I got what I paid for. If you pay for a cow and you get a duck, you ought to be irritated. I paid for a motorcycle and, son-of-a-gun, that's what I got. What I want to know is what I got for the extra $10,000, if I'm going to spend extra.

And how the heck would I know if I got anything extra? When it comes to motorcycle performance enhancements, the racetrack is the only real test ground. Dyno bragging rights might be good bench racing fodder, but anyone who can strap a bike to a dyno can fudge the results to make a squid happy. For most bikers, an off-the-shelf bike of any make or style is probably designed beyond our abilities, so a seat-of-the-pants analysis isn't worth more than an opinion from the pants.

All of this gets us to the sort of "improvement" that most bikers install; stuff that makes the bike louder or stuff that makes it shiny. Noise makers or jewelry. Anyone who can sell you that crap with a straight face is either humorless or one of the world's great actors (probably posing as a con artist) or slightly (or largely) dumber than his customers. Set me straight here, why do you want to give your money to someone like that?

MMM October 2002

Sep 29, 2013

Getting Parked

I wrote this several years ago for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly and turned it into a video, mostly to have a fun project with my grandson. After letting the whole Motorcycling Minnesota television show dry up and die off due to too much work required from me and too little participation from my studio “assistance,” I let the whole Geezer with A Grudge YouTube page dry up and die off. I just discovered that in their effort to duplicate the invasive tactics of Facebook, YouTube/Google made all of my old videos “private” while they continued to insist that they NEED my personal information. Most likely, these pages will go “private” again, since I don’t pay much attention to YouTube as a video poster. Maybe, someday, I’ll return to the television world. Hard to imagine, but I suppose it’s possible.

In the meantime, you can watch this video to see (and hear) original words and music from me and if it suddenly turns out that people want the whole Geezer with A Grudge craziness on video, I might get back to it.

Sep 27, 2013

Cortech DSX Jacket

mmm jacket 002 All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

Every winter for the last six or seven years, I’ve gone to the Cycle World Motorcycle Show and every year I look at motorcycles I don’t want, buy something I don’t need,  and take a lot of pictures.  This year was no different than any other year.  OK, it was a little different.  Usually, I see five are six motorcycles that I do want but can’t afford.  This year, the only motorcycles I saw that I wanted I saw last year. In past years, I’ve gone to the show on Friday to get the lay of the land so when I show up on Saturday with a video camera I can work quickly and efficiently. This year, I went Friday night, saw that most of my 2003, 2004, and 2005 footage would be indistinguishable from any pictures I might take in 2006.

A real moto-journalist would take this dismal state of affairs as a challenge. I’m not real, I’m the Geezer. Where real writers see challenge, I see a good excuse to fool around in one of my other hobbies.

The new thing I got to do this year, was pretty cool. I got to take my grandson to the show. The little guy is now a pretty good sized guy. He’s big enough to make the 50cc bikes look small and just about right for the 70 to 90s. And so begins the point in my life when I can torment my daughter by inspiring bad behavior in her children.

Staying true to my usual trade show behavior, I could buy some stuff too. My buyers batting record is almost .500 at trade shows. I find one good deal and one stupid deal, consistently, every year. Using the last two years as an example, two years ago I bought the best pair of motorcycle boots I will ever wear and the worst wire stripper on the planet. Last year, I bought a nice pair of waterproof riding pants and a worthless pair of warm weather gloves.  The Cycle Show is a pretty stupid place to buy anything.  "Discounts" at this show amount to almost getting the price to list.  I suppose floor space is at a premium and the dealers want to make back their entire marketing investment on a single customer.  Every year I've been to the show, I've bought something.  Afterwards, I discover I could have bought that something locally for less.  So it went this year.  If I'm a sucker, at least I'm consistent about it.

dsx_ja1This year, my big purchase was the Cortech DSX Denim Jacket for to $99.00.  I know, it seems like a lot of money for a denim jacket that this is an extraordinary denim jacket .  It's a real motorcycle jacket disguised as something more casual .  It has a removable insulated liner, pre-curved sleeves, armor and an articulated back protector, sleeve and rear vents, foam-padded shoulder and back panels, and a nice selection of pockets. 

Basically, it's just a jean jacket, right?  It’s not windproof or waterproof. If I crash, the jacket's toast.  Ninety-nine bucks down the toilet.  But that's true for almost all street riding wear.  If you want to wear the same gear through multiple crashes, you buy leather.  If you want a jacket to break the wind or shed water, you wear nylon. If all you want is moderate road rash protection, a little insulation from the cold, and a comfortable jacket that doesn't look much like motorcycle gear when you are away from the bike, this might be the jacket for you. 

The reason I bought this jacket is simple; it’s comfortable.  Right off of the rack, it fit me and was more comfortable than the riding jacket I wore to the show, which was a Cordova nylon jacket I’ve worn for three years. The DSX Denim was my good buy for 2006.  It's not a great buy, but it wasn't a freakin' waste of garage shelf space like my second decision. 

My second 2006 purchase was a collection of chemicals called Zooke. Looking back, I can't imagine why. 

I admit it, I’m a sucker.  I’m not usually a sucker, I don’t impulse-buy many things.  But I’d just bought the jacket, my grandson and I were on the way out the door, and I got stopped by a guy who offered to clean my glasses. My glasses are always dirty. I can barely see out of the things most of the time. I spend more time cleaning my glasses than I do looking through them. In my old age, my eyesight and me are becoming less than friendly.

The Zooke guy polished up my specs with Zooke, handed them back to me.  Surprise, they were cleaner than when I'd handed them to him.  Amazing.  I almost wanted to try the jar of Zooke grease that he'd used to clean my glasses, but he kept putting off telling me what that would cost.  Each time I tried to get a price, he added some other Zooke formulation "for free" and kept going. 

My grandson was getting antsy.  We both wanted to leave the show and find food.  In the end, I bought $27 of the stuff in a variety of containers and viscosities. Don’t ask me why. Pretty much any time I take my glasses off and clean them the whole world is a brand new shiny place.  No, Zooke doesn't make my glasses scratch free, fog free, dust resistant, and they don’t stay clean any longer than they do when I clean them with spit.  I have no clue what the stuff is supposed to do, other than transfer $27 from me to some guy at the bike show. 

232f82c6Follow-Up: In 2011, I modified the DSX with the MMM logo. Now it's not only functional, but advertising. The folks at EmbroidMe Roseville did the work and I'm totally impressed with how professional they were. I couldn't have asked for a better job if Cortech had done it at the factory. Working around the armor and the layers of inner lining was a real trial and they did it with style.

Sep 25, 2013

There are a couple of places where you can check out this site: and the Facebook page. Like it, share it, pass it around, and find out what we can do to get lane splitting and sharing spread out into the rest of the backwater states of the US. Remember, it's legal in California and that is one of many reasons Californians are infinitely hipper than the rest of us.

Sep 23, 2013

#22 Better Late than Never?
All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

Sometimes acting in your own best interest has a foundation in logic. Since humans pride themselves in being able to avoid logic in favor of superstition, politics, and habit, maybe I've answered my own question before I get around to ask it. Still, I admit that it amazes me that motorcyclists do so many things to try and purge motorcycles from the mainstream.

Maybe it's good old ole' American intolerance or maybe it's an example of the more modern universal desire to be accepted as a persecuted minority, maybe it’s the ever-popular tendency to try to figure out "who did this to us?" when we’ve done something stupid that causes us harm. For example, dirt bikers like to pretend they are innocent, law-abiding, salt-of-the-earth types who are being persecuted by evil agents of the government and tree-hugging environmentalists. Evil tree-huggers? That's the sort of flawed logic that gets bikers labeled as nutballs or idiots.

You can call an environmentalist "over-zealous" or "radically conservative" or "overly protective," but evil is not in the logical list. We're talking about people who believe the earth and its inhabitants aren't the indisputable property of a single generation of humans who want to rape and pillage the planet for entertainment and convenience. Get a grip, kids. This is simple logic and while it might put a damper on your fun, that's neither a crime or immoral. Most environmentalists agree there's a fine balance between protecting the environment and exposing the public to that environment so that all of us want to protect it even more. Yeah, there are radicals who think humans cover more than enough of the planet without being allowed to plow up or pave over what little is left. I can't imagine where they get that idea.

I recently stumbled into a piece of literature that practically demolished my faith in human stupidity. District 23's Amateur Riders Motorcycle Association (ARMCA) and the All-Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota (ATVAM) are distributing at "Trail Alert!" that has listed seven bad habits of dirt bikers that make us easy targets for elimination from public lands. Stuff like "riding off-trail" and "riding in wetlands" and "riding on private property." They even listed "riding with a loud exhaust" and didn't follow it with the ever-inane "loud pipes save lives" idio-babble. Maybe these guys aren't real bikers. Maybe it's an infiltration conspiracy double-agent tactic designed to turn us against ourselves?

Dirt biking either attracts a significant hooligan population or brings out the hooligan in all of us. On the track, hooliganism is a terrific attribute. The only thing that's more fun than watching a spectacular and vicious block-pass is doing one. Unfortunately, too many wannabe hooligans have turned out to be more hulla-hoop-ian than hooligan. Their allergy to taking personal responsibility for the risks in their hobbies has closed down most of the great tracks across the country. So they take their irresponsibility to public property. This same mindset has spread into all aspects of motorcycling and the financial risk for taxpayers allowing motorcyclists on public lands is completely unreasonable.

From what I can glean, this is a typical scenario: You're riding in a state park, probably off-trail, probably at high speeds, and a tree jumps in front of you. You simply can't escape the tree's quick movement and you slam into it. You sue the state for negligence, explaining that trees simply shouldn't be allowed to attack humans. At the risk of being liable for inciting violent action against folks who really deserve to be beaten to a pulp, I personally think these characters should have what's left of their bikes stuffed where the sun almost never shines.

Thirty years ago, I moved to Nebraska and discovered the state’s "limited access roads." Unused roads between fields that had to remain open until the farmers could prove that no traffic had existed for at least ten years. Dozens and hundreds of miles of untended trails that were free for the riding. I started riding with some locals and, immediately, learned that bikers cut and ran when they met farmers on these roads. I’m not fond of running from things that shouldn’t be dangerous. So, I stopped and talked to the land owners and discovered that the other guys ran because they had a habit of chasing cattle, tearing down fences, crashing into outbuildings, and general vandalism. I introduced myself, let the farmers know where I lived and who I worked for, and began a small tradition of doing a little good every time I went riding. When I found a broken fence, I fixed it. When cattle got out into the trails, I’d herd them back in (with my bike, which is almost as much fun as racing).

When I did crash into something and screw it up, I’d figure out whose property it was on and tell them about the accident.

Three years later, my friends and I put on a 150-mile cross-country race on those roads and the local farmers provided checkpoints, camping grounds, and general purpose support. Unfortunately, a fair number of the out-of-town riders acted like normal bikers and it took us about a month of hard work to reassemble the fences. The lesson we learned was that if we wanted to keep our riding area open, we had to keep it closed to most off-road bikers. Sound familiar?

MMM September 2002

Sep 22, 2013

This Bike

Here is my answer for the question I get most often from students in the MSF Basic Rider Course, "What bike should I buy?" This is the bike you should buy. It will serve you for years, get killer mileage, be more fun to ride than a $1,000 hooker, and, yes, it will make you look cool. Hell, it will make you BE cool.

Sep 20, 2013

#21 My Favorite Wreak
All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

Only a few weeks after I arrived in California, I was wandering the neighborhoods in Costa Mesa, looking for a home, a place to rent that would cost slightly less than my annual salary. About nine in the morning on a Sunday, I came upon a biker curled in a fetal position in the middle of a residential street. Twenty feet away, his ape-hung Harley lay crumpled against the curb with assorted bits scattered between the biker and the bike. Parked on the road, a few yards past the bike, sat a white Honda Accord containing a hysterical female driver.

I stopped and was practically assaulted by the driver, screaming for me to "do something." I parked my Honda between the fallen biker and traffic and attempted to check his vital signs. As soon as I touched him, he started crawling toward the curb. I tried to convince him that he might be hurting himself even more, but he was too intent on doing his inchworm imitation so I just tried to keep up with him.

About then, a distinguished looking guy in a suit and a white Mercedes showed up. He had a phone in his car and he was calling 911 when two bike cops arrived. The Mercedes had distracted the crawling biker and he'd diverted his path to the car. When he managed to get to the right front wheel, he curled around the tire like a kid with an oversized teddy bear. And returned to unconsciousness. This was a scrawny California Harley guy, about 1/3rd the size and weight of our well-fed Minnesota types, so he was able to twist himself up under the tire until it looked like he was bearing a good bit of the car's weight. For some reason, the cops instantly jumped to the conclusion that the biker had been squished by the Mercedes and got real intense with the car's owner.

The biker was a pitiful sight and California motorcycle cops are really sensitive, caring sorts of guys who instantly assume that an idiot in a cage caused every car-motorcycle accident. I can't blame them, there is an incredible surplus of caged idiots in California and quite a few of them appear to have a magnetic attraction to motorcycles. Life on one of those oversized, under-powered, un-maneuverable cop bikes has to be pretty tense.

While the Mercedes guy and I were trying to explain how the Harley guy got under the Mercedes, the Harley guy unwrapped himself from his comfy tire, stood up, and walked over to my bike and made himself comfortable there. He swatted my gloves off of the seat like they were a cockroach building a nest on a perfectly good sandwich. My helmet and jacket, resting on the mirrors, got the same treatment. The sound of my helmet hitting the asphalt attracted the attention of us all.

It took me about two seconds to remember that my keys were still in the ignition and another couple of seconds to fix that error. My sudden movements distracted the cops from the Mercedes and finished off any sense of comprehension that they might have felt earlier. Now, their squished victim had arisen from the dead and was sitting on a completely undamaged bike, obviously trying to get the thing started and leave the scene of his demise. I escorted the Harley doofus from my bike to the curb and led the cops to the lady who completed the crash equation. The Mercedes guy backed slowly away from all of us, to his car, and exited as quietly as possible; probably never again to consider rendering aid to a downed motorcyclist.

Now, the paramedics arrived and began looking for a victim. The victim was back on my bike, the cops were engaged in conversation with a totally hysterical female who appeared to be drifting into shock, and I was stuck explaining what had happened, for the third time, to the paramedics. They didn't believe me and tried pretty aggressively to administer some kind of first aid to me. After I threatened to stuff their blood pressure apparatus up their personal exhaust pipes, they reluctantly moved to the Harley guy.

They asked him what year it was.

He guessed, "1976." It was 1983, a perfectly natural mistake. They asked if he knew who was President.

He answered, "Nixon." Still, a question that might confuse a rational person, Nixon/Reagan, who can tell one LA Times President from the other? They asked him if he knew where he was.

He answered, "San Jose."

Instantly, we all knew he was screwed up big-time. Nothing about Costa Mesa could be confused for San Jose. San Jose is hip, rich, old California, and clean. Costa Mesa is . . . Orange County: conservative, an industrial slum, and as groady as a street bum's socks.

The cops joined the conversation and asked the Harley guy if he remembered what happened.

He didn't.

They asked what he'd had for breakfast. An odd question, it seemed to me. The Harley guy said, "A six-pack or two. I don't remember for sure." Now the question made sense.

At that point, I started pulling my gear together to make my own escape from the scene of weirdness. One of the cops told me that the lady driver had said she was just leaving her home, had barely entered the street when the biker shot out of his driveway and slammed into her car. The car's damage backed up her story. The bike had caved in the passenger-side door. I could hear the biker trying to convince the paramedics that he didn't need to go to the hospital, that he was fine, and just needed to get back to his bike and meet his friends at a bar for more breakfast. I really wanted to get on my way in case he was still confused about which bike was his. Just before I fired up, I heard him bawl "Aaw man! Look at my ride! Who the f... did this to my bike? I'm gonna kick somebody's butt." And so on. One of the cops was fingering his handcuffs and I took my leave.

I'm still trying to imagine downing a couple of six-packs for breakfast. I still consider this experience any time I hear about an accident where a biker claims that someone "pulled out in front of me." I always want to know what the biker had for breakfast.

MMM August 2002

Sep 16, 2013

#20 Starting A Revolution
All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

The only thing (other than a mythical clean ocean that I'm almost certain I experienced in 1983) that I miss about California is lane-splitting. On warm rush-hour mornings, trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I really miss lane splitting. So much that . . . but this is not the place for self-incriminating admissions.

There's a lot of hand-wringing going on in the Cities these days, about what we're going to do with the 600,000 people the area is supposed to attract in the next twenty years. How are they all going to fit on our skinny little freeway system? Will light rail really move Minnesotans from solo vehicles to mass transit? Is Brittany really a virgin? Stuff like that.

There won't be any easy, clean, honorable, or fair solutions. As in most cities, the developers and realtors have the money and the power to convert our moderate sized, higher-than-typical quality of life city into another Denver or LA. Follow the money and you'll end up standing in front of the power. So, there's probably nothing we can do about a congested, polluted, and expensive future. But we can get our kicks in the middle of it all.

When you think about it, it would be possible to relieve a dramatic portion of the freeway congestion by replacing every other car with a motorcycle. Since most of us are doing the single occupancy-commuting thing, we have no more need for the other four seats in our vehicle than we have for a second . . . lower posterior orifice. Currently, there's very little social or economic inducement to ride a motorcycle. Sure Harleys are babe magnets, but most of the magnetic quality revolves around the economics of the vehicle, not the actual vehicle? On that standard, a Porsche is a lot more magnetic and if you can afford a Harley you can probably afford a Porsche. Whatever, few of us appear to be commuting on hippo-bikes. The state tossed us a microscopic bone in including motorcycles in the multi-occupancy-bus lanes, but that's so insignificant that it barely counts as noticeable.

But lane-splitting would be a real inducement. Especially for me.

As I understand it, lane-splitting was a happy accident in California. The law simply failed to put a limit on how many vehicles could occupy a single lane. Most likely, someone split a lane, got a ticket, went to court and tested the law, and the rest is history. Later, seeing the utility of the traffic management loophole, the law was modified to state that a motorcycle could share a lane as long as the motorcycle didn't exceed the speed limit and didn't pass existing traffic at more than 15mph over the speed of traffic. That's how it was explained to me by a well informed police official and that's how I behaved for 9 years and almost 150,000 miles of California traffic. I was ticket-less and unfrustrated by California freeways, so the explanation must have been fairly accurate.

Personally, I think lane splitting has a lot to offer the Twin Cities. If a significant number of us did the drive-time commute on bikes a lot of the projected expense, hassle, and waste that's being planned for the Cities' freeways would be unnecessary. If bikes were allowed to travel between the margins, a lot more of us would be tempted to do the daily trip on two wheels. That would cut down on congestion, pollution, parking problems, and that bad attitude that bikers come to work with when they don't get to ride.

Supposedly, the downside is that Minnesota cagers don't have the experience, skill, or attitude(?) to deal with lane-splitting motorcycles. We'd freak out the yokels and get ourselves killed or become even less popular than we are now. The heart of the logic to this argument is that California drivers are either more skilled or more tolerant than Minnesota drivers. Give me a freakin' break! Most of the drivers in southern California took their driving classes in Tijuana (or the Santa Ana equivalent) and have the temperament of a pit bull with a mouthful of mail carrier. Road rage was invented in California and is still being perfected there.

If lane-splitting made cagers angry, that would have been especially obvious in California. If you obey the law, you mostly find that cagers will make room for you to split. The faster you get off of the road the faster they get where they are going and even Californians can figure that out. It won't take long for Minnesotans to figure it out either.

The Darwin aspect of lane-splitting is a double-edged sword, I suppose. Idiots tend to get culled from the genetic pool when they're offered an opportunity to act stupidly. If your kid is one of the idiots that is a truly sad thing. If your daughter's boyfriend is a moron (as they usually are), your grandchildren will be better for legal lane-splitting. Personally, I think laws should be designed to allow the maximum freedom to responsible citizens and the consequences for those who aren't responsible are a step in the path of evolution. If you're not comfortable with lane splitting, don't do it. If you're not good enough to split lanes in moving freeway traffic, you need to improve your riding skills: you're obviously not good enough to ride safely.

I think we should make getting lane-splitting legislation passed this year, this spring in fact. Call it an anti-freeway-congestion bill, call it a fun-factor bill, call it "Fred." Whatever it takes to open up the roads for two-wheeled traffic, I don't care how it gets done as long as I get to do it.

MMM July 2002

Sep 13, 2013

Hipsters? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Hipsters

However, this column, from, "Top 10 Hipster Motorcycles," appears to get how hilarious the new gen of semi-motorcyclists really are. "On pre-fab café racers they zip around, oblivious and/or indifferent. They race through parking lots, pass on the right, split lanes perilously and make rights on reds without envisioning a stop, all the while checking themselves out in rearview mirrors and storefront windows. Taunting their parents’ insurance deductibles is sport to these insufferable imps. It used to be that biker gangs gave motorcyclists a bad name. These days, it’s all we can do to keep from swatting at the maddening horde." Don't worry, dude. Biker gangs are still giving us a bad name.

I do wish this statement was true, though, "Hipsters love anything vintage. If someone’s grandpa wore it, read it, used it or rode it, a hipster’s gotta have it." I have a house full of "vintage" stuff that I'm trying to get rid of.

Sep 12, 2013

Another Brick in the Wall?

vw1_XL1 Fuel efficiency geeks have redefined the term “1 liter” car to mean “the amount of fuel needed to travel 100 kilometers.” If you know me, you know I love this definition. The VW folks are doing everything they can to make motorcycles seem as practical as fingernail extensions, buggy whips, and analog tape or vinyl. The newest, ready-for-production version of the VW hyper-efficient car, the XL1, knocks out 261 mpg with 0-60 “performance” of 11.5 seconds. With a 47-hp, 800-cc two-cylinder “power plant,” the XL1 is no muscle car, but it does have a top speed of 99mpg. You can read more about this state-of-automotive-engineering’s-art from Car and Driver Magazine here: Volkswagen XL1 Concept.

I want one. It’s hard to imagine a two-wheeled vehicle being able to compete in this sort of high-efficiency market, but it would be cool if it happened.

Sep 11, 2013

My $300 Rat Bike

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

[The difference between the CB450 and the 650 Hyosung is that I liked the Honda more at the end of the ride while I hated everything about the Hyosung after 140 miles.]

The other "competitors" got a big jump on me. I probably should have passed on being a competitor at all, since the contest deadline conflicted with my 2nd annual "big ride," this year to Nova Scotia. My ride plan put me on the road August 1 and got me back anywhere between August 20th and the 30th. Tight schedules are not my deal. July 4th, Victor announced the competitor list and, surprise, I was one. I spent most of  July getting my V-Strom ready for the trip and the rest of the month finishing up my work at school, my day-gig, for the semester. My mind was on the trip, though.

I checked out a few bikes before I left, but the best prospects disappeared before I could get to them. Most of the under-$300 ratters couldn't have been restored for anything less than an additional $300 in parts. My great, green hope was a KLR250 Kawasaki with a "new" motor still in the box. I really wanted a small single for my budget entry and this sounded perfect. When I saw the KLR, all hope died. The motor was in a box and had been stored under a picnic table for several years. It was rusted and seized. The rest of the bike had seen better days, although maybe not in my lifetime or in its current incarnation. Wiring dangled from the frame in almost every location. The tank was full of rust. Still, the KLR was still tempting, because I really like the 250 and have wanted one since they came out. If I had all summer to fix it up, maybe. But I'd have about two weeks, max, when I got back from Nova Scotia.

I left without a rat bike on line about on my trip east. Being saddled with traditional Midwestern Guilt, I thought about the Low Buck Challenge all the way around the Great Lakes and back. Having volunteered for this event, I didn't want to completely blow my side of the bargain. It would be one thing to find a bike, get it running, and have it die on the way to the contest starting line. It's another to not even have a bike to fail on. From Minnesota to the furthest eastern point on our continent, I thought about a solution to the missing rat bike. Thinking/worrying about problems you left at home is insanely unproductive and I have to admit that it wasn't the first thing on my mind each morning as I set out to explore the east coast.

As soon as I got back, on August 20, I started looking again.

Any married guy who has taken an extended motorcycle trip knows that there is payback to be settled when you get home. I would have loved to spend all of my time on the rat bike, but the evening of my first night back my wife said, "Let's get started on the the attic, so you can get your music crap out of my office." So, now I have two major projects; the rat bike and remodeling my attic. Maybe three projects, counting the beginning of school in my headlights and two new classes to plan for. Four, I still have to clean up and reorganize the garage before winter. I left it a mess when I headed east at the beginning of August. Now, it's a catastrophe. To get to the woodworking tools I need for the attic job, I need to shovel out the garage. Not being one to allow common sense to interfere with my over-commitments, I charged into looking for a project bike as soon as I got back from my trip. The attic, of course, got first priority. I'm may be a fool, but I'm not suicidal. I simply stumbled around the crap in the garage, putting that odyssey off for later.

I had a line on an 80's 700 Nighthawk. I hung on to that, hoping that it would work out. The Nighthawk is sort of the style of bike I like to ride. The deal hung on another guy who had been promised the bike, but hadn't touched it in months. I was never clear about the ownership of the bike, but why ask until it becomes available? "[The other guy]  is dug in for the long haul with the goal that it will be on the road in April. Sorry. I would have been yours if you'd done the first cast about 2 weeks earlier." I'm out of luck and back on the hunt. The beater KLR is looking better, even if still impossible.

Next, a KZ440 that had sat on Craig's List from before I left for Nova Scotia until I came back. I wrote the owner who said it was available, but the title was still in the mail from the state. No problem. I asked to see it. The next day he wrote back, "Sorry, Tom. It's sold." Oh for crap's sake! Is there a Minnesota-wide plot to defeat my rat bike hunt? I got my wife's Yamaha scooter, last year, for $300. I went out into the garage to start it up for the first time this year. It fired up after a moment on the charger. Maybe I should enter it? Cheating, I know. Still . . .

ratbike-001My last hope was a 70's CB450 or an '83 550 Kawasaki Spectre. A friend tipped me to the CB and a Craig's List spam ad picked up the specter of a Spectre.  Both bikes need lots of work and I'm in the last week of preparation. If these don't come through, I get to toss in my raggedy towel. "The other buyer wants to buy the bike still.  If things change You will be the first to know." I didn't know there was another buyer, but there goes the Spectre.

Mike Etlicher, one of the other contestants had a momentary change of heart, "Over the next day or so I'll think about whether or not the additional obligation of cash, time and storage space is worth this particular Pursuit Of Glory. So Tom, you still wanna buy a bike?" His XS400 was close enough to the kind of motorcycle I was looking for, so I wrote back to see if he was serious. Labor Day, Sev calls to be sure that I got his latest email joke and to see if I have a bike yet. I don't. He's bummed. He reminds me that Mike seemed interested in selling his rat bike. I've already replied to that offer, but haven't heard anything since. A few days later I learned that Sev applied his persuasive talents to Mike and he decided to stay in the competition. On the positive side, I managed to get all the attic sheetrock hung and finished most of the taping. The evil parts of the attic are all but finished. Is there a state-wide conspiracy forcing me to the CB450? Only my last call will decide. 

ratbike-007 I called Dana, the owner of the CB450, Wednesday night; three days before the event. Being a charter member of Minnesota Nice, Dana invited me over that night to look at the bike at his home in Bloomington; about 25 minutes south. It was truly in rat bike condition. The bike hadn't been ridden since Dana rode it from his parents' home to the shed in which it now resided, in 1987. On the upside, he said it mostly worked when he parked it. The tank had about an inch of stale fuel, but no rust. The engine had compression and turned over fairly normally. The forks obviously leaked and the boots were decomposing. The front brake demonstrated no signs of life. The tires were 20 years old and the rear was bald, while the front was just cracked and hard as bakelite. The odometer had logged 18,000 miles.

We settled on $200 for the bike, including Dana borrowing a trailer from a friend and towing the bike back to my house. After we got the bike unloaded and took care of the money changing and paperwork, he headed home and I started taking the bike apart. Figured out the seat latch, got the tank off, and took a walk around the bike looking for the problems I'd have to solve in the next two days. Dana had pulled the starter motor and the shaft had a fitting designed for another purpose. It took some torch work to get the fitting off. Once I removed the seat, I discovered (thankfully) the battery was gone and an electrical bit was missing. Late that evening, Dana called to say he'd forgotten to grab the starter solenoid. Later, I discovered the shift lever was missing.

Thursday, I set out to bring the motor to life. The first task was to pull and clean the carburetors and purge the tank of its varnish-like substance. As expected, the carbs were gummed to death. I soaked the pair in toxic carb cleaner chemicals for the morning and rinsed the tank out with kerosene followed by a few pints of fresh gas. My first expense of the project was new hoses for the fuel system, $7. Before reinstalling the tank, I pulled the petcock and discovered that it was clogged with about 2" of black fuzzy weirdness and the strainer was dissolved. So, I dumped the whole mess into the carb chemical tank for the evening. The front brake master cylinder was empty, so I filled it and tried to bleed the line. No luck. The garage will stink for weeks of carb chemicals and stale gas. I made a circle around the bike, identifying missing and loose bolts and replaced a bunch, including both front engine mount bolts. The rear mount was completely missing, so I'd have to hope the engine wouldn't shake itself free from the frame on the ride. I can't do anything about that today. I did a continuity check of the alternator and the charge selenium diode. All good, although the diode has a higher than expected forward drop. That might mean insufficient current flow to keep the battery topped when the lights are running. I'd love to do a top end check, valve clearances and such, but without a replacement gasket on hand, I'm going to chicken out.

I installed the starter, more for the necessary sealing than because I expected it to be useful as a starter. When I put juice to the starter, the big gear it drove just spun disconnected from the engine. I hit the internet and found a storehouse of useless information about the history of the undoubtedly important-to-mankind CB450. Eventually, I also found an owner's manual, which listed a collection of routines for starting the bike that all seemed odd. More searching and I found that the starter gear had a clutch, located behind the gear and the alternator. That clutch was the cause of a lot of Honda owner misery and explained my starter's lack of connection to the motor. It's nearly midnight and I'm done for the day.

Tomorrow, Friday, I'd have to take the master cylinder apart and see why it appears to be pressure-less. Dana said it was working when he parked the bike. Maybe I'll luck out. So far, my luck has been mediocre.

Friday, most things went well for me. I pulled the petcock from the stinking chemicals and found it to be good; and clean. Back on the tank it went. The tank went back on the bike. The new supply hoses were all strung and I checked the tank for flow and the carburetors for the rare instance of float jet and needle similarity. Both carbs held fuel and there were no signs of flow in the clear fuel lines once the bowls were full. Amazing, probably the first occurrence of this miracle in the history of Klein carbs.

I tried kicking it over, without a battery, and had no luck. I decided either the charging system was toast or the bike needed some assistance from the battery for spark juice. I'm due in Bloomington to pick up the shift lever and the starter solenoid and a receipt for the bike during Dana's short lunch break. I thing, from exposure to the garage chemicals, I'm slightly stoned because I have never felt so unfocused on the motorcycle. Traffic is heavy and that adds to the terror. How do people ride drunk? This trip has scared the crap out of me. Two hours later, I'm back to work. Installing the solenoid gets the bike almost ready to try to fire up. Before that, I have to flush the engine, install fresh oil, and clean the centripetal filter. That's done in another hour and it's time to try the motor.

I hooked up a car battery to the system and test the starter motor. It spins, but doesn't spin the motor. I tried kick starting the bike, about two dozen kicks worth, and only get an occasional burping for my money. However, I sort of discovered the routine for the starter. If I bump the starter button while slowly turning the engine with the kick-lever, the starter clutch will catch and spin the engine. Usually, it would catch for a second and let go, but once it caught and spun the engine several revolutions and the engine fired up. Now, I know I have spark and fuel. Not enough fuel, apparently, so I applied a little starter fluid to the carbs while doing my starter button and kick-lever balancing act. After a few tries, the bike fires and stays running. I let it run for a several minutes, to let the engine get to operating temperature, before shutting it down and checking for fluid leaks. The bottom of the motor is dry, the carb floats still seal, and seriously noxious fumes are coming from the exhaust. I'm not leaking oil, but I suspect I'm burning quite a bit.

No time for analysis, I'm off to Fleet Farm for a battery (after hitting up the usual suspects on the local MC web for a used battery for a day or two). An hour burned getting and filling the battery and the charging routine burns a couple of hours while I work on other problems.

My two biggest remaining problems are title and license documentation and the lack of a front brake. The title crap is the hardest of the two, so I'm off to the DMV. Two hours later, at 5PM on the dot, I have paperwork and am out $40-some bucks for my bucket of bolts. It's really hard to remember why I wanted to do this after spending time with government employees. They were specially jacked about the fact that this bike hadn't seen a license plate or taxman since 1985. I didn't know there were so many supervisors in Roseville, until my DMV'er started asking for advice.

Back at the garage, I attach my new plates and tear off the front brake and master cylinder. All are filled with a brown goop that resembles mud soaked in fish snot. I pulled the brake mechanism apart and cleaned and greased the bits. A can of brake cleaner and the fish snot is gone, replaced by DOT3 brake fluid and sixty-zillion hand pumps later I have front brakes.

The battery is charged and installed. The bike fires on the first kick, a half-dozen times in a row. I rode it to the local gas station at 11PM, filled it up and returned it to the garage. After an hour loading the converted Sears-saw-to-faux-GIVI tailbox with tools, gear, maps, and stuff, I went inside and loaded some data into my Garmin 2620 for the next morning's trip to MMM's headquarters. Totally stoned by chemical fumes, I fell into something a little like sleep and more like a neural-hemorrhaged coma.

4:30AM came no more than an hour after I actually experienced sleep. I think I was shutting off the alarm before I realized I was standing. All my gear was prepared and I suited up before eating breakfast. My wife was coming along to hang with Tammy and Victor, at least for the morning, so she was up and a lot more perky than me. Parts of my brain were just getting used to living beside the dead cells I'd destroyed in the previous two days. Maybe the live cells were digesting the chemically destroyed dead ones and later events would be explained by that poorly considered biological activity. I got the GPS installed in my wife's car, gave her a short demo on how to follow it, and headed for the garage.

With the car battery still hooked to the charger and jumpered to the bike battery, I gave the CB a kick and got . . . nothing. Not a burp. I tried my kick-lever-starter-button routine and the starter motor spun freely without making the slightest effort to turn the motor. I went back to futilely kicking the bike's lever for a few moments until the bike began to slip off of the centerstand. I moved it off of the centerstand to the sidestand and remembered that this bike had something that I haven't had to mess with on my own bikes for 15 years; an OFF position to the fuel petcock. I turned on the fuel, pumped the throttle, full-choked the carbs, and gave it a kick. The bike roared to life, then began to stall. I turned the choke off and the bike went back to a 4,000 rpm blast. I'd set the idle to about 2k out of concern for the rough sound of the lower idle action, but 4k was a lot more than I wanted to wrestle with on the road. Thinking about getting into my tool box and resetting the idle, I started to get off of the bike.

While this crap was going on, my wife was waiting in the car, watching her husband fool with a 37-year-old pile of junk, wondering why she had hauled herself out of bed at 4:30 for this "experience." I couldn't have explained it to her, if I had tried. Mostly, I'd promised Vic and Sev that I'd have a bike for this damned event and I was going to have one if it killed me or made me more stupid. Later, 290 miles later, I'd learn why the morning started off the way it did. At 5AM, in the headlight lit garage, I was only confused.

When I put my weight on my left foot, it slid out from under me and the whole mess -- bike, battery cables, and all -- came down on me. Mad as hell, I picked up the bike, rewired the battery connections, kicked it back to life, knocked off the jumper cables, slammed the seat down, and roared out into my neighborhood on my pre-EPA, pre-DOT noise-regulated little red Honda, fumbling with the light switch in the morning dark.

I'd told my wife that I wanted to start out heading east on County Road C, avoiding the freeway until I had the feel of the bike. So she took that route, ignoring the British-accented GPS voice chanting "off route, recalculating" every block or two.

The CB's headlight was pathetic. At best, it lit about 30' of road, dimly, in a pattern about as wide as the back of my wife's Taurus. If this event involved night riding, I'd be leaving the bike on the side of the road and hitchhiking back home. I avoid riding at night, with real headlights. With 1971 bike lights, there would be no question of my giving up the competition in exchange for another day of life.

After a few miles of slow speed travel, I had the feel of the CB450: slightly heavy steering with a constant right pull, a vicious headshake with any deceleration or steady throttle which slackened a bit with acceleration, reasonably predictable brakes, a motor that felt deceptively strong but ran out of steam long before redline and at about 62mph, a clunky transmission, and a seriously uncomfortable seat. While riding the CB, I was constantly reminded of the Hyosung cruiser I'd test-ridden a few months back. The same unfinished, almost-right feel of the Korean bike was there in that old Honda. I almost felt at tinge of sympathy for Hyosung engineers, knowing that in 2008 they were starting at almost exactly the same point where Honda was 37 years ago.

cheap_bike_challenge_1When I thought I knew the CB's handling problems, I told my wife "follow the GPS" to MMM's office.  Following driving instructions has never been  one of my wife's skills. We have shared 41 years of her being completely unable to follow simple driving direction, no matter how they are delivered. So, I immediately recognized the flaw in my plan. I hadn't been to the MMM office often or recently and it was too dark for me to be able to read the map on my tankbag. I was stuck following her, but she was making random turns, constantly looping back on herself, and turning the opposite from the direction that I knew the GPS was directing her. As I helplessly rode behind this random motion vehicle, all those years of "turn right in two blocks" followed by an instant lane-change to the left and the associated immediate left turn, began to deteriorate my sleep-deprived, chemically-damaged patience.

After an hour of thermal-noise motion, we were close to our destination but my wife kept hopping over the freeway and diving into deadend frontage roads. Finally, freaked-out, late, and driven almost nuts in frustration, I pulled in front of her and asked what the hell she was doing. "You said you didn't want to be on the freeway" was the response.

"I said, 'Follow the GPS,' didn't I?"

"Oh, yeah."

We, finally, hit the freeway for a few miles, turned off one exit past the one where I knew we should have exited, and turned . . .  the wrong way. More random motion and wrong direction turns followed. I could imagine the GPS constantly repeating "off route, recalculating" and, before the recalculation was done, more random motion would set the routine off again. I managed to direct her into a mall parking lot, got into the car, pointed out the pink line telling her where the GPS wanted her to go, reminded her that she has to listen to the whole instruction before turning randomly, etc. I was still wearing my earplugs. I was frustrated and worn out. And pretty loud. My wife just blows me off,. Somebody didn't and called the police. We didn't get out of the parking lot before getting pulled over. After explaining our situation, separately, the cops gave us really bad directions to our destination. I called Victor and got more directions, which I forgot almost instantly.

And we took off, sort of following the GPS again. After correcting her from several false turns, we ended up on the right road going in the right direction. I chose that moment to stop following her and, in the dawning light, I attempted to sort out where we were. She chose that moment to focus on the GPS instructions and headed straight to our destination. We'd been going in circles for so long that I was lost, even when I sort of knew where we were. In the meantime, she'd found the house, spotted the other bikers, and come back for me while I was still blindly wrestling with the squiggly lines of the map. Clearly, I wasn't operating at full capacity. I might have been there for another hour, staring at the meaningless squiggly lines on the map.

ratbike-012 We got to the start about 20 minutes late and frazzled. Lucky for me, Victor and Tammy are terrific hosts and were very patient with the bunch of us. Others were also late. After sign-in, photos, official voting on a variety of topics like "least likely to be resold" and "best accessorized," and a lot of BS'ing, we hit the road toward Appleton.

The CB450's steering was really unstable at any speed under 25mph and over 55mph. Sort of like a vicious radar monitor, the headshake kept me in a tight range of speeds and my hands are buzzing and numb. It takes a constant right hand pressure to keep the bike from making a long, slow right turn. Letting go of the bars with either hand will start up a tank-slapper that will end badly. This leg of the challenge was about 150 miles long. At the first gas stop, in Litchfield, my little Honda had lost about a quart of oil and the engine was too hot to touch. I pulled the oil filler cap with pliers. Just before that stop, the transmission began to stiffen up, making shifting unpredictable and I had trouble hitting 1st gear at several stops. I had a quart of oil in my box and added all of it to the engine to get it back to full.

cheap_bike_challenge_3 We headed out again, toward Murdock via US 12. At Murdock, I spotted a filling station and stopped to buy more oil, but Kevin, the following truck, and my wife blew by me and turned on a country road and headed south. I gave up on the oil and set out to catch them. My transmission was really stiff now and took careful positioning between gears to be able to shift up or down. We kept going, full tilt to Appleton. The bike was hotter than the first stop and both carbs were leaking, just like normal Kleins. In fact, before I got to the petcock, the right carb was pouring gas on the glowing hot engine. I bought two quarts of oil and a can of JB Oil Leak Stopper. Like the good American I am, I dumped the entire can of JB into the oil filler and 2/3 quarts of oil. For the first two gas stops, the Honda got 32 and 34mpg. From Appleton, we headed to the first Challenge event and a lunch break.

Lunch was fine, with occasional attempts at sabotage from various competitors. That effort was a waste of time, since we would find ways to sabotage ourselves. On the way to the first challenge, only a few yards away, Mike demonstrated his dirt bike skills, crashed on a little hillside loop and gave us a demo of how not to climb a hill with a KZ440. After disentangling himself from the hill, his bike, and such, we all proceeded to the Challenge start.

The ORV park had what Victor called "an enduro track." We were all supposed to make one practice and one timed lap around the track for Challenge 1. I watched a kid on a modern dirt bike do the track and got an idea of the track's difficult sections. My Honda wouldn't kickstart and I had to put the fuel petcock in reserve and bump start it rolling it down the hill toward the track. After Lee snapped off his custom footpegs on a jump and Mike crashed on the first jump, I took the first full lap around the track. My bike stalled on the first corner and took a dozen or so kicks to bring it back to life. It stalled, again, before a big jump near the end. Again, I kicked the snot out of the bike before it fired up. When I got to the end/start, I decided to go before anything else happened. So, I took the first timed trial.

cheap_bike_challenge_4 To keep the motor from stalling again, I stayed on the gas a lot harder than I'd planned. My plan was to avoid getting any air because I figured the frame would break in half, but the stall-avoidance plan overrode the frame conservation plan and I booked a little quicker on the first two jumps than my plan, but the bike stayed together. Plowing my way through the first turn, I was embarrassed that I didn't have the balls to do any damage to the berm. Pulling out of the curve, I lined up the the first whoop and hit it squarely. I heard a crunch when the back tire hit ground and expected to come to a crashing halt on the upside of the 2nd whoop. When that didn't happen, I realized that my Sears tailbox had popped open and dumped my gear on the track. The crunch was my gear and the box lid hitting the ground. So, I kept going the way I'd been going. I suspect nobody ever hopped the track's whoops any lamer, but I managed to clear each whoop and land as lightly as a CB450 lands on the upside of the next upslope.

Through the whoops, the track took me through a trio of nicely bermed curves, which I took sitting down and at a comfortable speed, steering with the rear wheel. The exit of the curves led to a long uphill and a bigger dropoff. Again, I tried to minimize my air time, but drifted all the way down the hill before both wheels touched ground, more or less together. Not much impact, but enough to bottom the suspension and shake up the bike pretty soundly. All I had left was a bumpy straight back to Sev.

When I finished the lap, I parked my bike and walked back to pick up my stuff. On the way to the whoops, I watched some of the local guys on real (modern) dirt bikes. They got a lot of air on the jumps, but practically stopped on the banked curve before the whoops. Two of the four avoided the whoops altogether and one of the two who did take my route didn't do the whoops much quicker than me. I felt better about my performance.

cheap_bike_challenge_6 As I was picking up my gear, I found three 10-12" 1/8" pieces of all-thread that had been stuck into the track. They were bent over in the track's direction of travel, so they had once, obviously, been placed like spikes to catch a tire or rider. A little pissed, I pulled them out of the track and tossed them into the grass outside of the riding area. Real dirt bikers walk the track before they ride it and this is a reminder of another reason why. I found my gear, piled it all in the box lid and hiked back to the Honda.

The other guys took their laps and we gathered at the top of the hill to hear our scores. I won. Lee came in second, Kevin was third, and Mike played it safe and came in last. Pretty cool, huh?

cheap_bike_challenge_2 From the first trial, we headed back into Appleton toward Granite Falls. Just outside of Granite Falls, shifting became really complicated and doing the balancing act between gears got harder and harder. About the time we passed Highway 23, the bike locked into 3rd and wouldn't shift. We turned onto Petes Point Road and for the next 40-some miles to Morton I was stuck in 3rd. I guess if you have to be stuck in a gear on a 1971 Honda CB450, 3rd is the one to be in. When I came to the stop sign in Morton, the bike sputtered and died. Sev and Gus were there, taking pictures of school girls or something, and they helped me push the bike on the sidewalk and out of traffic.

  I was pretty shot from 220 miles of the Challenge plus my mornings' 40 miles of wandering between my house and MMM headquarters. The constant wobble, handlebar buzz, and engine/transmission worries had about worn down my ancient stamina. It took me a few moments to get into troubleshooting mode. Eventually, I pulled out the DMM and discovered the battery had 7V of charge. Sev and my wife raced to get out their jumper cables and Elvy won. Sev appeared to be insulted and humiliated at the same time. Beaten by a girl, he was officially a cable wuss. We charged the bike from the car for a while. I checked the oil level and added another quart. Sev fiddled with the shifter, trying to see if the mechanism could be coaxed back to life. When I thought the battery was either charged or fried, I gave it a try and it started up on the first kick.

ratbike-010Thinking I might be able to ride some more of the route, I pushed off of the centerstand and rolled down the hill to make a U-turn and get back on the road. Turned out, Sev must have found a way to put the bike into neutral, permanently. We loaded the CB on the follow truck and Gus took a picture of me mounted and on the back of the truck. I pulled off my gear and tossed it into the back of our car. For the rest of the event, my wife and I enjoyed some wonderful Minnesota scenery from the comfort of our cage. 

The the 2nd Challenge leg ended at the Harkin Store. The event was a battery removal and reinstallation. About the time the guys started removing and installing their batteries, I discovered there was more sandwich stuff in the truck and cookies. While I was making a snack, it started raining.

ratbike-013For the next 100-some miles, it rained non-stop between really hard to a steady drizzle. The 3rd Challenge was about 80 miles later and everyone was wet and cold for the 1/4 mile drag race on a gravel road. I loaned Lee my Stitch's liner, since his sweatshirt was drenched. I tried to loan Gus my helmet, but he seemed so zoned and frozen that he looked through me like I was speaking French. When the race was done, everyone wrapped themselves up in gear and watched me crawl into the dry, warm car with looks that were less than friendly. Of course, Vic and Tammy were in a cage, too, but they are the bosses and can get away with stuff easier than a wimpy old fart. However, I quickly forgot about their bitter attitudes when my wife reached over to rub my sore neck as she drove. I leaned into her massage and cranked up the heater. I could have taken a nap, but I behaved responsibly and followed the route sheet to keep her on course. In the spirit of the event, I always smiled at the guys when we stopped for fuel or just out of misery.

ratbike-015 The last bit of the Challenge was miserable as the sun and the temperature went down as the remaining 3 competitors rode through Young America. Now, it was dark, cold, wet, and dangerous. Mike and Lee blasted ahead at their usual blistering pace and my wife and I tailed Kevin on his KLR250 and Sev and Gus on the Suzuki sidecar rig. They got to MMM's office about 9PM and everyone was wet, chilled, and worn out. I was in pretty good shape, although my hands and arms were still buzzing from the CB's fine ride. MMM fed us pizza and cookies and the winner, Lee, followed by runner-up Mike and 3rd place Kevin received paper versions of their trophies. I got a "should have spent more" award for my DNF.

ratbike-011 When I got back home, I discovered a neat little pool of oil and a long oily skid mark where my boot had slipped in the leak from the CB's shifter that morning. Sev delivered the dead CB the next morning and, now, I'm looking for someone to take it away and give it a better home. If I'd have had a couple more days to work on the 450, I could have mounted better tires. I might have found a better way to seal up the transmission leak, which might have saved the transmission. I definitely could have revived the charging circuit. In the end, though, I'd have DNF'd. I don't ride at night, especially in the rain and cold with miserable lights.

I'd have quit about Young America, if nothing had failed on the CB. Call me gutless. Call me a wimp. Call me a quitter. Call me alive. My eyes suck. My depth perception vanishes when the sun goes down. Add rain on the face shield and I might as well ride blindfolded. The CB probably died at exactly the right moment.

ratbike-014 As for my experience with a street bike from my own era, I learned a thing or two about "vintage." In 1971, I was as interested in street bikes as I am in seeing the "Sex in the City" movie. I rode a Kawi KZ500 triple about six blocks about that time and it scared the crap out of me. I didn't get on a street bike again until I bought my CX500 in 1981. The CB450 kind of grew on me in the 275-or-so miles I rode and worked on it. The difference between the CB450 and the 650 Hyosung is that I liked the Honda more at the end of the ride while I hated everything about the Hyosung after 140 miles. Honda was on the way to getting it right in 1971. Hyosung's long-term status is still questionable. Other than the problems previous owners had provided for me to locate and fix, the CB was rideable, had decent power, and could be made comfortable with a few modifications to the seat. If I were inclined toward messing with "vintage" machines (a distasteful term, since "vintage" means a product from my youth), the Honda CB450 would be a worthy project.

Once the CB was back in my garage, the "challenge" stuck with me. Immediately, I called the kid at Kath Brothers to see if he really wanted a project bike. He hasn't returned my call, as of mid-October. I put the bike on Craig's List: Getting rid of the Honda was as traumatic as buying it. At first, I came up with a snappy Craig's list ad, thanks to some cool pictures from Gus taken during the Challenge.

1971 Honda CB450

This old girl is in need of serious TLC. I bought it for an event, which you will be able to read about in the Winter issue of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine. Suffice to say, she did not survive the trip. The bike, initially nicknamed "The Bitch," had been in storage since 1985. It was in sad shape when I pushed it into my garage, but -- working under a limited budget and with even more limited skills -- I managed to coax the bike back to life. After scrubbing the twin carbs, flushing and replacing all of the fluids, repairing the front brake, and ignoring the terrible condition of the tires, the bike came to life and seemed to be ready to ride a reasonable distance.
In fact, I managed to squeeze almost 250 miles out of the old, abused bike before the transmission decided to stick in 3rd. I have to admit, JB Stop Leak was tried and failed. After stopping to recharge the battery (the electric system appears to be short on the energy necessary to charge the battery when the lights are on) and to try to convince the transmission to give me more gears to play with, we managed to stick the bike in neutral and that was all she wrote. The transmission leaked oil at the shifter lever and, due to the demands of the event, I wasn't able to constantly replenish the oil level. I think that is what caused the transmission to die. The motor was running strong, even after the transmission quit working.
The brakes are surprisingly strong, for the period. The CB450 was one of the first production bikes to receive a disk front brake. The paint is what you'd expect from a 37-year old bike that hasn't always been garage stored (although it was in a garage for 23 years). There is rust on the chrome, but the exhaust pipes are in pretty decent shape. The frame is also in good condition and I didn't have any unusual complaints about the suspension. In fact, I had more fun riding the old Honda than I did when I test rode a Hyosung 650 a few months back. For sure, it needs work but if you are a vintage Japanese bike fan it would probably be worth the effort.
Don't bother to ask about a test ride, it will start but it won't go anywhere. If you want it, you'll have to have a way to transport it. I'm asking $250 for the CB, but that's negotiable. There are some serious fans of the Honda CB450 and there are lots of resources for restoring the bike. I could probably part it out on eBay for a lot more cash, but I'm old and lazy. I just want the space in my garage back.

The ad got me a lot of email replies, but practically no one actually came to look at the bike. I suspect that pictures of me jumping the old girl off of a motocross cliff didn't do much for my case. Mostly, I gave half-hearted replies to inquires because the State of Minnesota had failed to expedite my title I paid for the service, they just didn't provide any service for the payment. In fact, selling my rat bike turned out to be as big a hassle as buying it was. When Victor and the other judges gave me and the old Honda the "most likely to rot in the garage" award, I thought they were nuts. After a month, I was re-evaluating who was nuts in that transaction.

In early November, I found a buyer who was not overly concerned with the title and just wanted the bike for parts for two other CB450s he was rebuilding. He hauled it away and I cleaned up the oil spill in my garage. After he got it home, he wrote to tell me how surprised he was that the old girl would actually start. I wasn't surprised at all.

I can't say I suffered much seller's remorse. I'm back to riding my modern bikes and appreciate them all the more because of the Challenge experience. If I can avoid it, the bikes I own from here out will be the oldest bikes I will ever own. I didn't like 1970's street bikes in 1970, why would I like them now? Two months after I sold the rust bucket, MMM ran another ad "for me" along with the publishing of the Challenge results in the winter issue. This time, I got a few more emails and several calls about the bike. It, of course, was long gone. Thanks Sev.

There is still an oil stain where the Honda was parked for a month. It will probably wash out with the salt and winter muck this spring. Other than that stain, I have only this article and the money I was paid for being part of the Challenge to remind me of the Honda experience. The money and the bike are gone. Good riddance.


Remember the category my Honda won at the MMM inspection, "least likely to be resold"? Yeah, thanks for the curse guys.

The first buyer of the CB450 was willing to take the bike away before the official title arrived. A couple of weeks later, the title showed up and I mailed it to the address he had provided. A month later, I got a call from the buyer claiming he'd never received the title. I don't know about you, but I don't have much trouble with the USPO and always doubt folks who claim "the check is in the mail" or "it must have gotten lost." However, he was trying to sell the bike and wanted me to help with getting a new title. Since we're talking about a $250, 38 year old dead bike, I wasn't particularly motivated to put much time into that project. I offered to meet him at the Roseville DMV if he ever managed to make it to our area.

In February, another guy called claiming to be the current owner of the CB and hot on the rebuild project. I made him the same offer. In April, yet another new owner of the POS called with the same story.

You know the "6-degrees of separation" theory of how we are all connected? I figure by the end of 2009, I will be connected to every person on this planet through that POS Honda.

Sep 10, 2013

Chew on This

MNDOT Press Release:

Motorcyclist Deaths Continue to Rise

Three of the eight weekend deaths were motorcyclists. To-date in 2013, there have been 53 rider deaths, putting the state on pace for 68 deaths for 2013, up from 55 rider deaths in 2012. The highest number of motorcyclist deaths on record is 1980 when 121 were killed.

DPS officials say there’s no clear indicator for the increase in deaths, but common crash factors are playing a role including rider error and motorist failure to yield the right-of-way.

“It’s time motorcyclists and drivers step up and take action to reduce these tragedies,” says Bill Shaffer of the DPS Motorcycle Safety Center. “Unfortunately preventable mistakes are leading to the spiking death count.”

Key Findings in 2013 Motorcycle Fatal Crashes
  • Age: 64 percent of the motorcyclists killed were over the age of 45; 19 percent were under 30. Young riders (30 and under) represent a mere one percent of the total driving population, older riders (45 and up) are only seven percent of the total driving population — together these riders represent 20 percent of the total traffic deaths to-date.
  • Contributing Factors: There have been 50 fatal crashes resulting in the 53 rider deaths. More than half of the fatal crashes involved only the motorcycle; failure to negotiate a curve was cited 19 times. The remaining crashes involved another vehicle, of which failure to yield the right-of-way was cited nine times.
  • Deer: Six of the fatal crashes involved a collision with a deer, matching 2007, the highest number of deer deaths on record. Fatalities resulting from a collision with a deer are an immerging trend within the last decade. During 2002-2012, 43 motorcyclists have been killed in a crash with a deer, four times more than between 1991-2000 (10 deaths). This year is on pace to be the deadliest with deer and we are just bridging the autumn deer season.
  • Helmet Use: Helmet use is known in 42 of the 53 rider deaths, of those, 31 were not wearing a helmet; only 12 riders were wearing a helmet.
  • Location: More than 60 percent of the crashes occurred in a rural area; 28 percent of the crashes occurred in the 7-county metro area. The top six deadliest counties include: Hennepin (6); Goodhue and St. Louis (4 each); Crow Wing, Dakota and Olmsted (3 each).
In case you have a reading and/or math disability, let's analyze some of the critical data. 50 fatal crashes minus 19 "failure to negotiate a curve" solo crashes and at least another 6 single vehicle crashes = something less than 50% of crashes to be blamed on someone other than the dead motorcyclists. Failure to yield the right-of-way was "cited" in 9 deaths, or no more than 18% of motorcycle deaths. Does anyone else see the problem in ABATE and MNDOT's "Start Seeing Motorcyclists" program? Why would we focus on the minority contribution to motorcycle deaths when incompetent riders are the overwhelming cause? This kind of thinking is what caused the US auto industry to nearly disappear from the earth in the 1970s.

I suggest reviewing a commonly-known phenomena for solving problems:

Sep 9, 2013

Too Tough? Not by 1/100th

I take some crap about insisting that current US motorcycle licensing is so damn easy that I could get a chimp through the MSF "celebration of knowledge." Even a dumb chimp. But don't take that wrong. I have a lot of respect for chimpanzees; it's people I disrespect. This goofy Hollywood bimbo tried to squash herself and her kid on a scooter and it was only the talent and awareness of a school bus driver that saved her:

Apparently, all that unscarred skin bothers her and she picked a scooter to perform the surgery. I'm all for as many people as possible leaving the planet unlittered by their existence. But I think kids ought to have a say in the decision.

#19 Minnesota Drivers
All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

I lurk on a couple of Minnesota-based mail lists and I still prowl the Internet newsgroups, hoping to find a 1988 650 Honda Hawk or a 1986 Kawasaki 250 Ninja for pocket change. One of the most common discussion threads on all of those sites is some kind of rant about "awful Minnesota drivers." Being the old crab that I am, you'd think this would be something I'd automatically agree with. I do, sort of.

The average driver in Minnesota, especially in the cities, is pretty awful. That said, I usually end up defending Minnesota drivers as better than average. Except for the mostly brain-dead zone in Minneapolis near the U and the completely brain-dead zone near the Capital building in St. Paul, I've found Minnesota drivers to be fairly predictable. "Predictable" is as kind a compliment as I'm capable of giving folks in four-wheeled cages. I mean that in a good way.

Unlike lots of the people who start the "Minnesota drivers are idiots" rants, I don't have a home-base bias. Most of these folks have moved here from some place they call "home" and they base their opinion on, what appears to me to be, an idealized memory of how much better the drivers are "back home." I moved away from my home state, Kansas, thirty-five years ago and have lived in seven states and more than a dozen different cities since I escaped. On leaving the state, every expatriate Kansan is issued a set of red slippers, in case we need to come home fast. I tossed mine into a rest stop dumpster at the Oklahoma border. In my limited experience, only Texas has worse drivers than Kansas. Texas licenses nutballs who have less skill or common sense than drunken Tijuana taxi drivers.

Outside of Texas, the perspective that really baffles me the most is the one from Southern California. I lived in SoCal for nine formative years. It was an experienced that changed the way I drive my cars and my motorcycles. I moved from Nebraska to Huntington Beach on my first street bike, a 1981 Honda CX500 Deluxe. By the time I had driven the 1,800 weather-evading miles from Omaha to the Pacific, I was suffering from the illusion that I had graduated from lowly dirt biker status to that of a real street biker. I was wrong. The next nine years taught me thousands of lessons about evading unskilled, irrational, hostile, pistol-packing quad-wheelers.

It has taken nearly ten years to unlearn some of those survival habits. These days, I signal my turns and lane changes, at least half of the time. When other drivers wave at me, I don't look to see if they are aiming a weapon. I'm not constantly looking for an emergency escape route in case a riot breaks out when rush hour freeway traffic jams up. And I don't panic when it rains. Rain is a terrifying experience for California motorcyclists because of the overwhelming number of oil-dripping junk heaps that lube the highway so effectively that the Anaheim Ducks reschedule hockey practice to the Santa Monica Freeway during the rainy season.

None of that matters, though. The real problem isn't a geographic issue. My favorite driving city used to be Chicago, but I spent a few months there in the 90s and discovered Chicago is as well-stocked with incompetent drivers as anywhere else. And Indianapolis . . . don't get me started on Indianapolis. The home of the Indy 500 is also home to a million folks who make the highways as organized as a chicken pen the moment the chickens figure out the key ingredient in chicken soup.

Wherever you go, there they are . . . miserable, awful, incompetent, mindless drivers. Why is that?

For starters, it's practically impossible to flunk the driving exam. The state DMVs still tell us that driving on the nation's highways is a "privilege," but in the last twenty years it's become a privilege that has all the appearances of a right. In many states, you won't be allowed to flunk the driving exam simply because you can't speak English, aren't physically capable of handling a vehicle, aren't coordinated enough to chew gum and push a brake pedal at the same time, or are simply stupid. The right to buy a car, especially an SUV, appears to have been slipped into the Constitution while we were all watching Super Bowl commercials.

Personally, I think it's part of that governmental mindset that believes "as goes GM, so goes the rest of the nation." It's historically flawed thinking, but that's the only kind of thinking the government does, on the rare occasion anyone in government thinks about anything beyond preserving the pension checks.

If I'm right, the plan is to put anyone who can collect a down payment into as expensive a car as possible. The first step to that plot is to give everyone a driving license. I'm pretty sure licenses come in Cracker Jack boxes in many states. The closest evidence we have that our government cares about the safety of those of us not in cages is the fact that it's actually somewhat difficult to obtain a motorcycle license. Not that significant skill is required, but most states don't hand out motorcycle licenses simply because the applicant has a pulse. If the regular drivers' license was as difficult to obtain, at least 25,000 of the 50,000 people who die on the highways would still be going to work on Mondays. Maybe there's an aspect of population control in all of this?

So keep all this in mind as you travel public roads. The guy in the next lane, randomly steering his 4,000 pound coffee bar on wheels while carrying on an animated conversation over his cell phone (complete with hand gestures and arm waving), drives like an idiot because he probably is an idiot. Assume the worst and you'll probably be underestimating the hazard, but you're on the right track. When you cross state lines, don't be expecting better behavior or skills than you're used to in Minnesota. Drivers are idiots everywhere you go and, if you remember that, you might survive your ride to work on Monday.

MMM June 2002

Sep 8, 2013

Step One, Limit Speed

The EU is taking a first step toward introducing auto-piloted vehicles, apparently without much comprehension from the "driver" crowd. The folks in Brussels are looking at fitting cameras to older vehicles and requiring that technology to new vehicles to read speed limit signs and limit vehicles to those max speeds. Regulating traffic speed is a necessary function for auto-piloted vehicles, so it makes sense to include this move in an early step toward implementing that technology.

The folks who think that driving up someone's tailpipe increases their own speed or the average commuting rate of travel will be outraged, as if anyone cares about the opinion of a tailgating NASCAR wannabe or the mindless whining of the clown-car-driving, lane-changing, cellphone-yapping douchebags who imagine themselves in some kind of race to the bottom of the gene pool every rush hour.

If you open your eyes to the people who are "driving" 99% of the vehicles on the road, you'll see that damn few humans actually like driving cars as a primary activity. If they did, they'd be paying some attention to the activity. I predict that the moment auto-piloted cars are available, 90% of the people on the road will make that jump in less than 5 years. That 90% will immediately force the other 10% off of public roads faster than cable televisions went from claiming "No commercials!" to conning viewers to pay for cable service and tolerate commercials at the same time.

There are too many practical advantages to auto-piloted cars to avoid. For one, the reason to own one of these vehicles vs. "sharing" ownership are overwhelming. Services like Zipcar are the perfect outlet for auto-piloted vehicles. A little workplace office hour staggering and one car does the job for ten families. When gas finally hits $10/gallon (and it has every where but where gas is subsidized with taxpayer welfare for drivers, like the US) , the price of owning a car is going to be a small portion of the cost of driving.

So, whine about the "nanny state" until your brain shrivels up to the Fox News standard issue micro-pinhead-size, but this technology is coming and it's coming faster than you think. Personally, I'm all for it. I'd rather read on my way to anywhere than drive a damn car. The bad news is that I won't be able to ride my motorcycle on the super-boring roads designed for auto-piloted vehicles because there is no way motorcycles will contribute anything useful enough to traffic to make it worth asking traffic system designers to include us.