May 26, 2014

#57 Another Good Guy Bites the Dust
All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

Jim was the first American to win a World Championship Motocross in 1973. Jim changed off-road riding world forever in 1973. In '73, he finished 10th in the US 250cc National Championship, even though he only rode 5 events in the 15-race series. He won the first indoor motocross in 1974. He was the first American to lead the Trans-AMA Championship in 1975. In 1975, Jim finished seventh in the World Championship series.

In '77, he finished 2nd in the AMA Supercross series and 3rd in the AMA 250cc National Outdoor Motocross Series. Jim was a dirt biker from the time when being a dirt biker meant you did everything: dirt track, hillclimbs, scrambles, and motocross. Way back in the early 1970's, Jim was the first guy I ever saw seriously cross-up a motorcycle, getting big air at a national Midwest event.

Jim mostly rode Bultacos throughout his career, with a short Honda stint. Remember Bultaco? I didn't think so. Bultaco went belly-up during the 1979 World Championship season, crushed by the Japanese competition and their own mismanagement, leaving Pomeroy stranded without a world-class ride. He finished the season on a Beta, but the bike wasn't fast or reliable enough to be seriously competitive.

Jim retired in 1980, but kept his hand in motocross through the Jim Pomeroy Motocross School and racing vintage and regional events. In 1999, Jim was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame. Jim's dad, Don, was also a dirt biker and owned Pomeroy Cycle Shop. Don died last year. Several of Jim's family have been involved in off-road motorcycling for . . .e ver. A friend, recently told the Yakima Herald "Jim wasn't the kind of guy who wanted the spotlight. He made no enemies in the motocross world." Everything I ever heard about Jim Pomeroy was positive in a time when lots of big-time riders wore big-time egos; not unlike today.

August 7, 2006 Jim Pomeroy died in a car accident. Jim ran his Jeep CJ5 off of the road and hit a telephone pole. He died at the scene and his 9-year old daughter received minor injuries. Police said the cause was "driver inattention." I don't think I could have ever imagined the word "inattention" and the name "Jim Pomeroy" in the same sentence. Somebody check. Maybe the world stopped spinning, maybe the planet actually is flat?

The world is definitely less complete with Jim gone. This has been a hard year on old guys. I've lost a couple of old friends, lost even more folks who have been some part of my life for decades have died, and Jim Pomeroy died this month. Just more evidence that the "good die young."

There are good and bad and awful things about getting old. There is a point where you get old enough that you know more people who have died than who are alive. The majority of humans are among the Greek "silent majority," the dead. On the plus side, you have old and precious friends. If you're lucky, you have kids and grandkids. If you are really lucky, you learn to truly appreciate the undeserved love, respect, and forgiveness you receive from the people you love. Your body begins to betray you, but you quit pretending you are indestructible and you betray your body a little less often. You realize that stuff is less valuable than relationships. (So much for "winning" life by owning the coolest toys.) You appreciate the sacrifices made by others before you, so that you are allowed to get to the point where you begin to know what's important in your life. As in every other period of life, there is good news and bad news.

Still, every time one of the really good people I've known, or wanted to know, dies, I feel something escaping from my own life. Fortunately, I am surrounded by younger people, creative people, energetic people. Something goes out, something else comes in. I'm hoping that I won't really be "old" until that balance shifts to where there is more of the good old stuff leaving than there is good new stuff arriving. The time will come. It does for everyone, if you live long enough.

Jim Pomeroy didn't even come close to getting that old. He had a young family and was surrounded by people who wanted to bask in the sun of his good nature, his energy, and his experience. Jim was one of the few who could probably have lived more than one hundred years before passing the point where he suffered the negative shift to true old age. Check out the picture on Look at that smile. He will be missed by everyone who knew him or knew about him. MMM September 2006

May 19, 2014

#56 Psychological Counseling
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

At least once a month, someone has to tell me the long story of their attempt to find a comfortable motorcycle helmet. It’s always a sad, painful tale with lots of good intentions and an unhappy ending. In fact, it’s always one of two stories with either rain or family as the motivating factor. I’ve tried to be sympathetic, but, when the tale is told, I’m not particularly impressed with the storyteller’s common sense or courage. In fact, I’m usually about one breath away from saying what I think, by the end of the tale of woe, and calling the woe-teller a “girly-man.”

Of course, claustrophobia isn’t one of my personal phobias, so maybe I’m less than understanding. I can sleep and read upside down in a moving and cramped van full of family, musicians, or personal effects. I snorkel and scuba dive in caves and wreaks. I can wriggle around in basements, crawl-spaces, and closets installing plumbing or wiring (although I hate plumbing). I can work for years in an 8x6 cubicle without taking a shotgun to the execs who sacrificed my working conditions for their quarterly zillion-dollar bonus. Of all of those tight spaces, the cubicle was the worst. However, that was more because I was regularly asked to be a lying sack of canine excrement to protect those executive bonuses, which bothered me a lot more than the physical restriction. Cubes suck, though, and anyone who can tolerate that work environment but claims that a helmet is “too restrictive” needs consistency counseling. No question, though, I can wear a properly fitting, full-face helmet for hours, or days, without freaking out.

The usual tried-and-failed helmet story goes something like this, “I was on my way home from work when the sky fell. I was drenched and flying blind, so I stopped at a local Harley (or name your favorite store) shop and decided it was time to own a helmet with a face shield. I found the largest size on the shelf, so I knew it would fit. I put it on, and freaked out! I thought I was going to suffocate” Lots of quivering and eye-popping panic is demonstrated during the story telling, so I don’t have any problem believing the story. My first reaction is to say, “get over it.” Lots of things are a little difficult the first time, but if you really want to do something you have to get over your mental problems and get on with the task.

My father was so chronically shy that he hadn’t had the guts to ask for a date until he was in his mid-twenties. He was also really good at math, so he planned to spend his life as a retail store’s accountant until he discovered how miserable he was stuck in closet for ten hours a day, adding columns of numbers all by himself. He went back to college and became a high school teacher. He was scared shitless for about three years, until he gradually got over the fear that one of his students would know more about his subject than he did and learned to relax, a little, in the classroom. Sixty years later, he is still shy but he is also able to overcome it to do many of the things he wants to do.

I recommend the same tactic for helmet-phobia. A local women’s columnist, Kim Ode, has some useful suggestions to offer those of you who are anxiety-seized. For example, she says “fear may be our best source of power.” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds encouraging. Ode quotes Harriet Lerner, the author of Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, who says that, when we’re fear-driven, “decisions become based on emotions more than facts, or on who’s making us feel better at the moment.” Obviously, a lot of those paranoid folks who want to believe that helmets restrict vision, limit hearing, and accentuate hat-hair are listening to people who make them feel better about being timid, paranoid, and irrational.

Ode and Lerner suggest, “spreading the anxiety around to a variety of things that affect our lives, it eases the obsessive focus on one thing. Put in a more positive light, it’s not that we’re fearing more things as much as we’re paying attention to more things.” And so on.

For example, while you’re feeling nervous about your helmet, you might consider worrying about going deaf riding that noisy twin without hearing protection. You could consider the primitive condition of your cruiser’s brakes, frame geometry, and tires, all of which ought to make you want to wear every piece of safety gear ever invented. You could remove the front brake, so you’ll be without 70-90% of your braking horsepower. Put a pair of ape-hangers on the old bike, and then you can worry about not being able to maneuver the bike under the most benign traffic conditions. Add two feet of low-tensile fork tubing, so the bike can’t be turned in less than an airport runway. Ride wearing sandals, a t-shirt, and shorts. In that gear, you ought to be afraid of touching your own engine, let alone falling down at any speed. Now, you’re ready to try on that helmet again. With all that other stuff to worry about, you can be at peace with a little claustrophobia.

Ode also said, “some people are so afraid of feeling anxious that they start avoiding life. Maybe they refuse to fly, or let their kids go to the playground, or obsess about their jobs.” Or they don’t ride unless the weather is perfect and the long-range weather report claims it won’t rain for the next 30 days and the day-and-night temperatures will be exactly 75F +/-2F. Still quoting Ode, “In fact, the more we practice avoidance, the more our brains convince us that our fear is real.” Or you could find a helmet that fits, haul your garage candy into the sunlight, and go riding.

MMM August 2006

May 12, 2014

#55 Rolling Morons
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

A couple of weeks into the summer, I found myself stuck in a traffic lane waiting my turn at the freeway entrance light. From behind me, I heard a loud, gurgling engine note and thought, "come on light, change." But the drivers in front of me were busy yakking on the phone, checking themselves out in their rearview mirrors, and chasing their lattes from cup-holder to cup-holder. Soon, the noisemaker vehicle was beside me and I was surprised to find that it was a huge double-cab American pickup with pipes the size of Los Angeles solid waste vents and "Loud Pipes Save Lives" stenciled from the front to the rear bumper.

So it's come to this, even with 3 tons of iron and a football field of crumple-zone between the sole occupant of this hippo-mobile and whatever might pose a threat, this backwards-baseball cap boy still needed the mythical security of noise to "protect" him from stationary vehicles. Americans are passing from timid to fantastically wimpy. What loud pipes say is "I need passive protection from other drivers because I'm too unskilled to take care of myself. If mechanically screaming 'mayday (potato), mayday (potato), make way for a runaway vehicle (potato)' doesn't save my ass, my ass is toast."

Every moron, in every kind of vehicle, who possesses minimal driving skills and a total lack of common sense is protecting himself with a moving noisemaker, while civilized, competent citizens are suffering hearing damage to keep these idiots alive. What kind of sense does that make? At what point does law enforcement finally do its job and enforce the laws regulating the amount of noise a legal vehicle can emit?

In the 1950s, Cyril Kornbluth wrote a short SF story titled, “The Marching Morons.” The author’s premise was that our cradle-to-grave social net would allow humans to selectively breed into a species that will be "99.999% dumb." In that incredibly dull-witted future, what passed for personal trasportation vehicles had “swept-back lines, deep-drawn compound curves, kilograms of chrome” with an ignition sound effect “like lighting a blow-torch as big as a silo” making “a great voo-oo-ooom!” cruising note. They also moved at a depressingly slow, but safe, speed and were controlled by follow-the-wire guidance systems. Other fine features of Kornbluth’s future vehicles were cement-barrier-lined “freeways” that kept futuristic fools from careening into opposite traffic lanes (similar to I694 west of the Mississippi) and speedometers that indicated 250kph while the vehicle topped out at an actual 50kph (my SV's speedo registers 125 when radar clocks the bike at 110mph). Obvious aspects of current life predicted by Kornbluth were impossibly stupid politicians, sensationalist news programs that catered to dumb-as-a-post viewers, pandering and patronizing and incomprehensible "lifestyle" radio and television advertisements, and easy access to state-sponsored gambling contests.

Between Orwell’s 1984 and Kornbluth’s “Marching Morons,” I think we’ve seen the future and we are in it.

At any speed beyond a a few miles/hour, the majority of the noise is being projected behind the vehicle. The folks noisy pipes are warning off are the ones behind the vehicle. If your riding skills are so minimal that you'd risk the right to ride for that tiny piece of protection, you might want to consider exchanging your cruiser for a good collection of video games. You are clearly too dumb to ride (indicated as TDTR from this point until further notice).

A few years back, I could have pointed to one well-known motorcycle manufacturer for evidence that the species is in decline. Today, “swept-back lines, deep-drawn compound curves, kilograms of chrome” are predominant in every manufacturer’s product line. Instead of “a great voo-oo-ooom!” we have 100+ decibels of potato-potato noises, but how could a 1950’s science fiction writer have predicted that we’d have decided that two cylinders are better than sixteen? (Was Orwell hinting at that in Animal Farm?)

Last summer, I had the displeasure of conducting a riding course next to the final moments of a large motorcycle rally. The awards presentation ended with a huge daytime fireworks display that made the invasion of Iraq seem muted, but that was just the introduction to Big Noise. When several hundred motorcycles fired up, Minnesota’s California immigrants ran for the shelter of earthquake-proof structures and birds took flight all across the Midwest. I couldn’t find enough fingers to plug my ears.

It wasn’t just exhaust noise, either. The big bike touring crowd has added a second level of noise pollution to motorcycling; public address systems. It’s possible that what I heard were speaker phones connected to Gold Wing stereo systems, but it’s hard to understand why radio waves would be in the signal path of anything that noisy. Imagine seventy 125dB fairing-mounted stereos blasting “can you hear me now?” and you’ll be in the midst of that experience. The sounds made by an airplane crashing into a talking toy factory would be music compared to the racket made by this group of motorcyclists. I was subjected to a dozen inane conversations at a sound pressure level that would embarrass Led Zeppelin. One more reason to hate motorcycles, just what the world needs. TDTR.

Like most kids, I used to clip Joe Pepitone and Mickey Mantle's rookie cards into my Schwinn’s spokes and roll down the sidewalk making putt-putt noises. When I took on my first paper route, the cards hit the trashcan. Fourteen daily miles of a bicycle paper route will make you look for ways to save energy, even if you can’t sound cool in the process.

When I first started racing motorcycles, I rode a 1963 Aermacchi/Harley Sprint with a straight pipe, no suspension, and enough unsprung mass to alter the earth’s spin. For a half-season, the Sprint was almost competitive, before the Spanish two-strokes appeared and dusted my ass into premature retirement. I wasted a few years getting used to the sound of two-strokes and return to riding competitively. Since then, a motorcycle’s noise output has been a non-existent component in my decision-making process. Not because I learned to love the ring-a-ding of a two-stroke (I did), but because the exhaust note is a pointless aspect of motorcycle performance unless it’s so obnoxious that it attracts negative attention.

A fair number of riders are l learning that loud pipes make enemies for motorcycling and are costing us the privileges of access. A while back, New Hampshire passed a noise bill that is being considered by other states A section of that bill states: "III. No person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in any manner [which will amplify or increase the noise emitted above that emitted by the original muffler installed in the vehicle and such original muffler shall comply with all the requirements of this section] so that the exhaust system emits noise in excess of 95 decibels as measured by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard J1169 (May 1998) . . ."

Albuquerque, New Mexico, enacted local regulations targeting motorcycle exhaust systems. It gets worse. This legislation also states that the allowable dB (decibel level) "applies to the total sound from a vehicle or a combination of vehicles and shall be construed as limited or precluding the enforcement of any other provision in this article relating to motor vehicle mufflers for noise control."  In other words, no combination of motorcycles riding together can exceed the maximum allowable EPA decibel rating of "one" motorcycle! Mayor Jim Baca stated publicly that this noise ordinance targets motorcycles and barking dogs, which lets us know how much of Albuquerque feels about motorcyclists.

Barbara Alvar, Chairperson of the New Mexico Motorcyclists Legislative Impact Committee wrote, "due to this legislation, Albuquerque can no longer be considered a biker friendly city." And who will that inconvenience? The majority of road users will be overjoyed to know that motorcycles can't collect in flocks and homeowners will see their roadway-proximity property values increase. Motorcyclists are the most arrogant mini-minority I know of and we've made a lot of enemies. This is our future and we have no right to act surprised.

Portland, Maine passed a law similar to Daytona Beach's noise abatement law that forbids the operation of “any noise-creating device in such a manner that the level of noise causes the public's attention to be drawn to the source of the noise.” The reason for aftermarket pipes is to "draw attention to the source of the noise." It's not as if performance is a issue on public roads. A well-tuned 125 is more motorcycle than most of the exhibitionist crowd can handle. Even our own mostly-worthless AMA is getting into the act, (check out They're adding a little momentum to their "Loud pipes risk rights" campaign, but it’s too little and, possibly, too late. I can't imagine how this hasn't been obvious for decades, even to the AMA.

The average person doesn't "wave at" passing motorcycles with all four fingers. Far too many people associate motorcycles and motorcyclists with obnoxious noise, poor manners, and law-breaking traffic behavior. If you don’t understand how minor a minority we are, spend a few rush hour minutes counting bikes and cars on any major road. If you come up with a ratio higher than one in one-thousand, you should count again. In Minnesota, we are a speck on the windshield of highway planning. If we want to be included in future traffic management systems, we’d better become better citizens of the road and neighborhoods. Cutting back on the noise would be a good start.

As a reference to how the average, non-motorcycling public views motorcycle noise, check out,1983,NPDN_14889_3685807_ARTICLE-DETAIL-PRINT,00.html. Motorcycle Consumer News has a Safety and Legislative Issues forum where motorcyclists discuss this particular issue: You might be amazed at how many experienced motorcyclists are becoming disenchanted with fellow noisy riders. Loud pipes are not just creating legislation for motorcycles, they are creating outright enemies for motorcycling and motorcyclists.

MMM July 2006

May 6, 2014

Donor Month?

motorcycle month

Seriously? I can’t decide if making May “Motorcycle Awareness Month” is cynical, comedy, or sincere. First, this is a NHTSA declared event, so nobody will notice or celebrate or whatever we’re supposed to do for Motorcycle Awareness Month. Second, and most important, among health care professionals May is the acknowledged peak transplant donor month.

You know why don’t you? Come on, admit it. Yep, it’s us. The typical first day of the riding season is the day all of those transplant surgeons and patients are waiting for. I couldn’t find a statistical source for this, but three nurses in my last MSF BRC class all agreed, “If you can make it till May, you’re probably going to find a donor organ.” One of the nurses worked for several years in Florida and hospitals in that state practically worship the month of May for humanitarian and economic reasons. Maybe the real motto ought to be, “Get out there and ride. Someone is waiting for your spare parts.”

May 5, 2014

#54 Panic Reactions
All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

[I've written almost 150 of these things since I started the Geezer column in 1999. This is one of my personal favorites.]

I occasionally teach MSF Basic Rider classes. I used to do it a lot more than I do now, but I still enjoy the exercise, the opportunity to get paid for riding a small motorcycle on a closed course, and meeting new people who want to ride motorcycles badly enough that they'll pay money and spend a weekend freezing, soaking, or sweltering on a Minnesota parking lot for the privilege. Most of the riders I know take riding for granted, both the skill and the access to public roads, and it's revitalizing to be around folks who are excited about learning the skills and having the opportunity.

The main thing that detracts from the pleasure of teaching folks to ride motorcycles is watching panic reactions turn something that should be simple, fun, and exciting into accidents, pain, and outright terror. When I discuss the mental skills necessary for riding motorcycles, I try to convince my students that "every panic reaction you have on a motorcycle will be wrong." I sincerely believe that is true. When we are moving faster than humans can travel, naturally, we're traveling at a velocity for which a million years of evolution has poorly prepared us. At 70mph (or 102.7ft/sec), for example, typically inattentive motorists often travel 200-300 feet before they begin to react to a hazard. I've whipped on this dead horse before, in my rant about tailgating, but this is a different issue, mostly. After closing the hazard gap by 300 feet, the last thing we need to do is to react irrationally. Panic will inspire irrational reactions.

Sometimes I think the reason we do things like ride motorcycles, jump out of airplanes or from bridges, climb mountains, spelunk caves, scuba oceans, and get married and have children is so that we can practice controlling our panic reactions. If we never experienced stress at extreme levels, we wouldn't know how to react when we found ourselves in a real emergency. Practice makes perfect, if you believe that sort of thing. Extreme recreation invents panic situations so we can practice our reactions in unnaturally dangerous situations.

Motorcycle training on a small parking lot with low powered motorcycles in a controlled training environment, you would think, should be a place where panic can be easily controlled. You'd be thinking wrong. Even at speeds barely above a brisk walk, some new riders flip out over every aspect of riding. They fixate on the exact position of the front tire, following the wheel around the course like unguided robots. They desperately search for the hand or foot controls as if they were moving targets. They refuse to try skills like counter-steering or counter-weighting, sailing all over the range while they stubbornly cling to tactics that don't work. They clutch the bars with enough strength to squish the grips into barbell shapes and pump up their arms until they cramp. They absolutely refuse to test the front brake with any muscle because their dad or older brother told them that front brakes are barely disguised launching pad triggers. They fall over every time the motor makes a noise.

I'm beginning to think that going from a sedentary and secure lifestyle to a stress-induced (even if the stress is controlled and mild) activity is a poor plan. On the rare occasion that someone asks my opinion, I always recommend a few hundred miles of bicycling before taking on motorcycling. When I taught motocrossers, thirty years ago, I recommended off-road bicycling before off-road motorcycling. If you can't deal with the relatively mild and simple demands of bicycling, you shouldn't be on a motorcycle. Motorcycling is a physical skill, first, and a mental skill second. If you can't develop the physical skills, you won't be safe on a motorcycle.

Panic isn't something only connected to newbies, either. In Minnesota, we suffer from an embarrassing number of "single vehicle crashes." In non-political-ese, Minnesota riders panic and run off of the road like lemmings going swimming. Large numbers of experienced, but untalented, riders flip out when they are surprised by a hazard and let their panic do the driving until they come to an abrupt stop in a ditch, against a tree or guard rail, or plastered against someone's front bumper. These folks have not mastered the physical skills well enough to engage the mental skills. They are not doing motorcycling, the sport or activity, any favors with their participation in statistics generation, either. In fact, they're killing themselves, literally, and the rest of us, politically.

Twenty years ago, a work acquaintance who was curious about my motorcycling transportation habit, told me that he used to be a motorcyclist, in the sixties. He'd ended his two-wheel career by sliding his bike under a semi trailer and spending two years in rehab. The bike, of course, was a "customized" Harley with no front brakes, a $3,000 paint job, a five-foot front fork, and a hard-tail "suspension." "The semi pulled out in front of me and I had to lay 'er down," was his story of motorcycle destruction. He thought it was a pretty macho tale of motorcycle woe. I thought it was a damn embarrassing story, sort of like admitting you thought J. Edgar Hoover looked cute in his print dress. In motorcyclist terms, that story says "I wasn't paying attention, I flipped out, panicked, did all of the wrong things, and fell over and got busted to pieces." Anyone who is surprised by the appearance of a sixty-foot semi and trailer in downtown L.A. traffic isn't paying attention to anything. I could understand missing the docking of the Mothership before I could comprehend not paying attention to a semi approaching an intersection. That's about as brilliant as seeing the ocean recede a mile or two and thinking "that looks like a golden opportunity to pick up sea shells and marooned fish."

Otherwise, this is an intelligent man. After a few years of watching me go everywhere on my bike, including lugging 60 pounds of scuba gear to his home in Dana Point and picking up industrial equipment (mostly computer gear) at his business in Santa Ana, he got the itch and bought a new Harley (naturally). The very afternoon he picked up the bike, we went for a ride and he scared the crap out of me a dozen times in fifty or so miles. We stopped, for a beer (naturally), in Silverado and I took the opportunity to mention that his riding technique could use some work. I think I said something diplomatic like "Are you freakin' stupid? Do you not know that we drive on the *(#^@$ right side of the road in this country?" And I went on in that vein for a few minutes before running out of wind and topics. He was a bit surprised, thinking that we were both good 'ole boys and reasonably friendly. After I calmed down, we had a talk about riding courses and I strongly encouraged him to take one. We parted company and I went north for a few hundred miles of solitary motorcycling and he went back home. We might have been less than close friends at that point.

However, he did look up riding courses and took one at a race course in San Diego the same month. Not a race class, but a predecessor to the MSF's ERC (Experienced Rider Course). The next time I saw him was, as usual, when I picked up some gear at his shop. His bike was parked outside. After the usual polite stuff, he mentioned the riding course and what he'd learned in the past couple of weeks. He apologized for scaring the crap out of me, talked my ear off about what he'd learned and how differently he now looked at traffic, maintenance, road conditions, and motorcycling in general after the course, and asked if I wanted to go for a ride that weekend.

We went riding. We had fun. We went riding, often, for the last couple of years I lived in L.A. We stayed friends for another fifteen years, when I lost contact with him after he and his new wife (his 4th or 7th, I lost count) launched their 1999 Goldwing into a Central and South American tour. He's retired, rich, and seeing the world by motorcycle, ferry boat, barge, and tow truck, last I heard. The Goldwing had touched highway in mainland Europe, England, Australia, New Zealand, North Africa, India, Alaska and Hawaii. The last time he wrote me, he described a panic situation on the motorcycle. He'd misplaced his passport in the Wing's storage caverns at a border crossing near a war zone in eastern Europe. I have no problem imagining freaking out in that situation.

Postscript: Out of the 150+ Geezer column's I've written, this is still one that I consider to be my "best." I use the concepts I've written about here in my MSF classes, constantly. I try to repress my own panic reactions anytime I notice their filthy heads popping up. I've heard from a fair number of MMM readers, over the years, that this article has connected to them and their riding situations, too. 

MMM June 2006

Helmet Demo

I did my first MSF BRC of the year this weekend. The class went well, everyone passed, a fair number of the students are likely to become actual motorcyclists. We had one real incident, though, and it was eye-opening for everyone around that moment.

suzuki-gz250-3_600x0wOne of our female students dismounted from her god-awful Suzuki GZ250 cruiser-boat, but forgot to put the sidestand down. The bike tipped over, just as her right foot hit the ground, and added its not-inconsequential weight to hers as she fell backwards. Because she was short, the bike put a good bit of weight right at her waist, so she was heading for the ground with mass and momentum. The back of her head struck the swingarm of the bike next to hers. You could hear the “crack!” of the impact all over the range, but close to her it was a little sickening, the sound was so organic. Her husband quickly pulled the bike off of her and she laughed at her mistake, not even noticing the rest of us were looking at her with concern and some shock.

The back of the helmet, an HJC 3/4, was scuffed lightly back of where her right ear would be without the helmet. I can’t believe she would have survived that impact, without the helmet. Absolute minimum, there would have been a serious and scary ambulance run to an emergency room. I think she was the only person in the group who didn’t get the seriousness of her incident. She is a sort of happy-go-lucky kind of person and she made jokes about the fall for the rest of the day. The rest of us commented on how lucky she was that she was wearing a helmet, several times through out the day. I’m not sure a toilet-bowl helmet would have been enough protection for that fall. Some of that swingarm would have come terribly close to going under the edge of those clown hats.

The first motorcycle death I ever witnessed was a kid going about 5mph who struck a car, slid over the roof, and cracked his skull on a curb. This event would have topped that one for irony and disbelief.

May 3, 2014

New Rule

Yeah, I'm a little pissed. What's your point? In retrospect, I should "thank" VW for forcing me to become reasonably mechanical when I bought my first VW in 1969. After a few months of ownership, I could adjust valve lifters, pull a cylinder head, troubleshoot crappy Bosch electrics, clean a carb, repair drum brakes, and adjust the strange and lame VW suspension components. I didn't do nearly as much driving as I did wrenching on my first few VWs.

May 2, 2014

Shopping for Next Winter

We’ve been in Minnesota for exactly one month and . . . we’ve decided we’re not cut out to be home owners. I’m about 20% of the way through a room remodel, not yet started on resanding the kitchen floor, battling a leaky basement, already tired of gardening and haven’t even planted anything yet, and missing New Mexico and life in an RV like no home I’ve ever left.

165RBSo, we took an afternoon off and went camper shopping. No, we haven’t even started getting the Rialta ready for sale, but we know we want to go back on the road and we want to start looking at options for rolling homes early. The camper that has our eye for the moment is the Jay Feather Swift SLX 165RB, an “ultra-lite” model with all of the basic features in a weight class light enough to be towed with a small 6-cylinder pickup. It’s more roomy than our Rialta, has about the same (but more accessible) storage space, has a slightly better kitchen, and about the same sleeping comfort (along with a tent extension for those rare warm winter nights when bear, bozos, and bums are of no concern).

AR ONE 15RB EXTERIORAn alternative with almost exactly the same floor plan and features is the Starcraft AR-One 15RB. They are so much alike price will probably have more to do with our decision than features. Weight, interior, bathroom, kitchen, and all other features are similar enough to be called the same.

No big surprise here, but their list price is about $14k, the most common “sale price” is around $11k, and the best price I’ve found, so far, for a new version of either camper is about $9.5k. Used, they typically sell for $4-6.5k.

We’re in no hurry and there are a few other options to look at, plus we don’t have a pickup to haul it with, yet. It was nice to spend a day away from crawling around the office floor, vacuuming up water from the basement floor, and worrying about how we’re going to sell all of our shit before September.

May 1, 2014

One Stop in Iowa, then Home

The drive through northern Missouri into southern Iowa on Highway 63 is the definition of boring. Miles of industrial farm land occasionally decorated with litter and some of the trashiest towns outside of Mexico. Southern Iowegans do not pick up after themselves. Economically, it is one seriously depressed place and probably deserves to be.

The upside, sort of, was that as we approached Des Moines we began to see a few motorcycles. Granted, 90% or better were dangling-from-the-handlebars Hardly characters making mountains of noise while plodding along so clumsily that I passed a few of them in our camper rig. That was a first. For 8,500 miles the only people we’d passed were parked. Iowa cruiser riders are seriously slow moving and dangerously incompetent. There were a few real motorcyclists on the road, though; sport bikes, adventure tourers, dual purpose, and even a couple totally illegal-to-be-on-the-road outright motocross bikes near the small towns.

2014-03-30 Iowa (1)Our campsite was Lake Ahquabi State Park, a few miles south of Des Moines. This was, by far, the busiest campground we’d been in since November. There were lots of empty spaces, but at least one area was about half-full of giant camper trailers. Of course, the showers and water were shut off waiting for that magical May 1 bullshit. By now, we’d become pretty adept at sink showers, but I was really beginning to pine for working plumbing that didn’t have an 18 gallon limit or a 6 gallon grey water capacity. Robbye had simply gone numb from disappointment. We decided that “get used to disappointment” should be the theme of several state park systems we’d visited. There was, probably, good reason to shut the poorly designed water system down in the park, though. There was a little ice and snow on the ground, even though the day was in the near-70’s. By 3PM, it was all gone, but there was still a chill in the air and the local television weather report had nasty possible snow-showers in the late-Monday prediction. To be fair, most of the local weather reports we’d heard from October to the end of the trip were pretty screwed up. They rarely replicated the National Weather Service predictions and the NWS was right most of the time. was pretty useful, too, but we hadn’t seen WiFi since Pelican Bay. We weren’t going to see any of that high-tech shit in Iowa, either.

2014-03-30 Iowa (2)Honestly, the day and night in Lake Ahquabi State Park was pretty disappointing, overall. The outhouse was a national embarrassment. I’ve experienced better maintained facilities in the middle of nowhere Montana. Seriously, on a dirt road between two tiny towns just off of the “Road to Nowhere” and that lonely outhouse beat the crap (literally) out of the Lake Ahquabi State Park. I wouldn’t use that room with your body. At least the park was relatively cheap; $11, I think. Supposedly, “Ahquabi is the Sauk and Fox native word meaning ‘resting place’.” Today, it appears to be the same thing except the people resting are the Iowa state park employees.

2014-03-30 Iowa (8)While the campground was slightly busy, we’d found a nicely isolated spot with no nearby neighbors and settled down for an afternoon of hiking and playing with the dog. About the time we’d set out the camp chairs and made ourselves comfortable, this bozo rolls in and tries to camp right behind us. With at least 30 empty sites to play with, this zombie practically backs into our RV trying to hook his 30’+ trailer into the closest site to us he can find. I pulled out the video camera and started filming his maneuvering. Face it, , after all of the pain and suffering this thing caused us, it wouldn’t break my heart if some maroon smashed into the Rialta and his insurance company had to cough up full replacement price. Robbye, on the other hand, went into full Pissed Off Old Lady mode. She was cranking herself up to go tell the bozo all about our desire for privacy and doing it pretty loudly, when he decided to go elsewhere. He really went elsewhere, too. I imagine he trucked up to the campground with all of the drive-through sites that we’d passed on earlier.

All the time we’d been in this campground, the roar and blubber of poorly tuned, underpowered, two-wheel noisemakers had been disturbing the peace. The main highway was 5-6 miles away, but you could hear each one of the state’s many assholes rattling windows on a regular basis. Occasionally, one of the doofuses would get lost or had a need to “show off” his POS Hardly and we’d get a parade of one-to-ten dumbshits blubbering through the campground. There were a couple of kids staying with a large family of campers at the other end of the campground. Around 5PM, they pulled a small scooter down from and started taking turns riding it around the campground road. With all of the Hardly noise in the background, you couldn’t really hear the scooter, even when it passed close by. The kids on the scooter were clearly newbies, but they rode about a 1000X better than any of the Hardly clowns we suffered that evening. Faster, too.

2014-03-31 IA (3)The next day we still hadn’t decided on a travel plan. The options were still 1) go all the way home or 2) find someplace between home and Iowa for one last night of camping. Misfortune made the decision for us. About 2 miles north of Des Moines, the right rear tire blew. Thanks to the pittance AAA pays roadside service companies, AAA was unable to find anyone who could change the tire for me. I had the gear to change any tire, but the right rear one; since the spare comes off from under the truck on that side and with the tire totally gone I couldn’t get the spare off and my backup jack out from under the frame. Good Sam Club was as useless as AAA, giving me a 2 1/2 hour “rescue time” while we were parked dangerously close to fast moving I35 traffic. An Iowa Highway Patrolman came to the rescue, found us a tire service company, and we were back on the road 40 minutes after he stopped to help.

2014-04-1 HomeWith the lost two hours behind us, we decided we’d had enough of abandoned campgrounds and pointed the RV home. We pulled into our driveway at about 6PM, unpacked the stuff we thought shouldn’t freeze, emptied the refrigerator, pulled the tarp over the Rialta (where it has been for almost three weeks now), and moved back into our gigantic house in Little Canada. Six months of living in 64 square feet was finished. We weren’t perfectly glad we’d made the decision to end the trip, even a few days later. With all of the problems, stress, and expense, we’d had a lot of fun on our first retirement adventure, made some wonderful new friends, and were pretty used to the life on the road. Robbye is officially an RV driver and that is huge if we’re going to do this again. And we are.