Jun 30, 2014

#62 I Lied, So Sue Me

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

March through August (2006), I watched a string of DL650 V-Stroms vanish, selling for way beyond my eBay buy-limit. All summer, I'd hoped to find a great deal a long way from home; to justify buying the bike and taking a long trip. September 3rd was my drop-dead, go-back-to-work date. On the last week of August, I won an auction for exactly my top dollar. The bike was in Cincinnati and I had 3 days to work out pickup, transportation (to Ohio), and get my cash sorted out. I took the train to Cincinnati, to met my buyer at the train station and hit the road on my new bike.

"I've never done anything like this on your V- Strom."
Way back (June, 2001) in an early Geezer column, I promised that I'd never buy another bike from a "kid" (anyone younger than 40). I wrote "I've been here before and I will never do anything that dumb again." I lied, but the guy selling my DL650 was an upstanding, respectable, responsible motorcycle dealer. He even sent me a picture of him on his vintage rebuilt 1978 Goldwing with a note, "I've never done anything like this on your V-Strom." If that doesn't make you comfortable with traveling 1,000 miles by train to put your money down and ride off into the night, I don't know what would.

Billy is pointing at his 3rd nipple in the picture. He is a few years younger than 40. In defense of myself, there were a lot of things about Billy's communications that made me feel fairly comfortable with the purchase. He went way out of his way to accommodate my tight schedule. He went to a lot of effort to provide me with a lot of information about the bike, what he knew about its history, and himself. And he reminded me that nobody would buy a "geezer bike" like the DL650 to abuse it, which is probably true. I'm pretty sure there is an insult some where in that comment.

I straggled into Cincinnati's Amtrak station about two hours late. Billy had made it clear to me that he had to be somewhere at 7AM that morning and I didn't unload from the train until a few minutes before seven. He's asleep in the station's parking lot when I called to tell him I'd made it. By the time I collect my baggage and get to the front entrance, Billy has the bike unloaded and ready to ride. He loans me a plate, has the paperwork taken care of, and helps me figure out how to tie on my tank bag. Now, he's really late for his other appointment. Billy returned to his life, leaving me to empty my cardboard luggage into saddlebags, a stuffed duffle on the tail rack, a courier bag, and an overstuffed tank bag.

I brought camping gear, tools, a service manual, and even a patch kit and couple of tubes in case of tire trouble. I may be repeating a mistake, but I'm doing it carefully. Once I get loaded up, I take off for the station's large empty parking lot. Before I hit the road, I want to know something about this new bike. The DL650 has the same motor as my SV, but nothing else is the same. Especially with all the gear I've loaded on the bike, the DL feels more like a big tour bike than a sport bike. I've been on a sport bike for more than six years. It takes a little while in the parking lot before I feel comfortable on the V-Strom.

Once out of town, I checked in with my wife. For some reason, she sounded mildly irritated that I was not going to be home that night. That turned my meandering 2 1/2 day trip into an 800 mile blitz for home. Yeah, I'm whipped. I did get to buy the bike without any argument. More evidence that there is no free lunch.

Once I left Ohio, there wasn't much to see for the next 500 miles. Southern and central Indiana are pancake replicas of Kansas, so is a good bit of Illinois. I've seen Kansas, so, I stayed on the throttle and didn't leave the freeway until Rockford, IL. There, I deviated west toward Galena (one of my new, favorite motorcycle destinations). I took the quick tour of Galena and Grant's home town artifacts, headed toward East Dubuque, and jumped across the border into Wisconsin. I'd decided that I wanted to make it to Prairie du Chen before dark. I hit that mark and moved it out to La Crosse.

I don't usually ride at night, but when I rode out of La Crosse the visibility was excellent. I jumped the border into Minnesota and headed north on Hwy 14 before I realized it wasn't going to get dark as long as I was on the V-Strom. I was enjoying the best lighting I've ridden behind since the days when I strapped 5 Cebies to a 185 Suzuki Enduro for a 24-hour cross-country race. Not just the road, but the ditches and a bit of the countryside was illuminated by the V-Strom's dual lights.

With home in mind, I watched the ditches looking for Bambi and other varmints. Other than failing eyesight, the big reason I try not to be on the road at night is that I'd hate to kill Bambi; and break my neck doing it. Sure enough, about five miles out of Lake City, I spot a cute little deer looking like she wants to commit suicide and I take the opportunity to test the V-Strom's brakes. The road is wet and there is a light drizzle. It doesn't matter. The bike hauls to a stop with plenty of room to spare. I stop on the shoulder and take a moment to enjoy what wasn't even a close call. Bambi isn't satisfied with our uneventful encounter and decides to cross the road while I'm patting myself on the back.

A truck coming the other direction smacks into the deer and you'd be amazed at how much stuff blows out of the back end of a deer when it gets hit by a fast moving vehicle. I was amazed at how much of that crap ended up on me. At the first convenient convenience store, I stopped to hose off. I'd been wearing my rainsuit for the last few hundred miles, so I was mostly protected by the suit. The clerk was pretty upset when I came to the door, smelling and looking like something from a Quentin Tarrantio movie, but I convinced her to let me use a hose at the back of the station. While I was blasting off my suit, a cop showed up. There was quite a pile of deer poop in the blood and guts I'd washed into the lawn. He thought my story was pretty funny and let me go after emptying himself of a few jokes at my expense. He offered to piss on me to "wash" off a spot I'd missed on the back of my suit. Yuk, yuk.

801 miles from when I met Billy in Cincinnati, I made it home in good shape. Between the hose and getting rained on for the last 50 miles of the trip, I was mostly cleaned off; other than having soaked myself in sweat in the rain suit. I considered taking a trip to Duluth and back to rack up 1,000 miles in well under 24 hours, but I couldn't decide how to go about getting confirmation of my trip mileage for the Iron Butt application. So, I watched a movie with my wife and went to bed.

I learned two things on this trip. First, don't make promises you are too weak to keep. Second, don't stop to gloat when you sneak past a catastrophe. When I got home, my wife was surprised that I'd made it back so fast. I was served an angry lecture about trying to read anything from the "tone of my [her] voice" and discovered that I wasn't in trouble until I came home and got into trouble. Yeah, I know, that's three things. I'm pretty sure I'm going to forget one of them, so I'm only giving myself credit for two of the three.

MMM May 2007

Jun 28, 2014

It’s Real, I Hope

From everything I read, it sounds like Harley Davidson’s “Project Livewire” electric motorcycle is the real deal. To quote Vizzini from Princess Bride, “Inconceivable.”

harley electric That word must not mean what I think it means, because not only is The Company hyping the bike all over the corporate webpage, but they are shipping bikes around the country for test rides. Not just media hack test rides, but test rides with real people/riders in 30 cities. I am going to be seriously pissed if the Cities aren’t on the list. I might own a Harley Davidson again, for the second time in 50 years.

Specs are hard to come by, but GizMag got a statement from H-D: “The LiveWire is powered by 3-phase AC electric induction motor, which produces 74 hp (55 kW) and 8000 rpm. Peak torque is 52 lb.ft (70.5 Nm). The bike maxes out at 92 mph (148 km/h) and accelerates from 0-60 mph (100 km/h) in 4 seconds. A full recharge takes around 3.5 hours and its average range so far has been 53 miles (85 km).” Predictably, the Livewire is significantly technologically and performance-wise some distance behind Zero or Brammo bike performance standards. In fact it’s pretty much the bike those pioneers were building 4 years ago, but you have to wonder about where electric bike competition/price/availability will go if the Harley gains some traction. Got my fingers crossed.

Jun 25, 2014

Our Own Worst Enemies


World-wide, motorcycles are their own worst enemies. It’s almost impossible to find an example in this litany of crashes that can be blamed on the cagers. Most of the “victims” are so incompetent it’s hard to imagine them riding a bicycle safely. Again, I want to bring up some statistics the MSF/MIC (same organization, different label) promotes (2011 data): 1) (49%) of all fatal motorcycle crashes were the result of a bike colliding with another vehicle and 51% were single vehicle fatality crashes, 2) 6% of deaths in 2011 were due to a bike being hit from behind, 3) more than 42% (1,998) of motorcyclists were killed in two vehicle crashes,  38% (757) of these were the result of another vehicle turning left in front of the motorcycle that was either going straight, passing or overtaking another vehicle, 35% (1,614) were the direct result of the motorcycle rider speeding.

So, while motorcyclists and motorcycle-promoting organizations like to parade around bullshit “Start Seeing Motorcycles” based distractions, 51% of motorcycle crashes are purely caused by motorcyclist incompetence (and the rare actual unavoidable “accident”). Motorcyclists like to babble about the 49% which actually involves another vehicle, but if 51% of our fatalities are purely and absolutely caused by us, what percentage of the 49% do you really thing are caused by motorcyclists? Statistically, I’d say if more than 25% of the 49% are the cagers’ fault, I’d be amazed. Astounded, even. Disbelieving, even. Spending one tax-paid nickel on warning cagers to watch out for nutty and incompetent motorcyclists is a gross waste of resources as long as our licensing testing is so wimpy, penalties for riding without a license is so minimal (22% of fatal crashers are unlicensed), and motorcyclists’ general behavior is so self-destructive. It clearly makes more sense to simply ban motorcycles from public roads, worldwide. Think about that when you wear your pirate outfit to another Always Beer At the Event drunken brawl.

Jun 24, 2014

Movie Review – Penton: The John Penton Story

john penton
If the opportunity to see this film is as rare in your community as mine, you might have already missed your chance to see it on the big screen. As you can see from the picture, a lot of this film was financed from a Kickstarter.com campaign. A lot of my resistance to art-by-begging has been overcome because of this work. This one movie is so totally deserving of being seen by anyone who has ever put a pair of tires on dirt that I have completely revised my opinion of all things resembling artistic panhandling (which is what Kickerstarter is).
John Penton almost single-handedly drug the USA into off-road competition. The crap we were riding from US, Brits, and other Eurotrash manufacturers was pure pain and misery to ride. You just had to love being off-road to put up with the hardware. Penton’s “ready to race” motorcycles changed everything.
The Bob Hannah interview segments are worth the price of the whole movie. Bob was my second real motorcycle hero, Malcolm Smith was and always will be the first, and he might be the least well-interviewed man in sports history. Because he’s so contained, most dweeb interviewers piss him off and get nothing of value, interest, or entertainment from The Hurricane. The list of people interviewed for this movie is astounding. Literally, it is a who’s who of off-road motorcycling in the world. I am ashamed to admit that I too often thought, “I didn’t know he was still alive” as the cameo segments were introduced. (That included John Penton.) The greats from both sides of the Atlantic ganged up to praise and honor the man who put them all on wheels that went fast, far, and high.
The only negative criticisms I have of Penton The John Penton Story would be because of a bit of the audio editing and an overly-long, seriously silly KTM commercial tacked on to the end of the movie. Intermittently, at the theater I saw the movie, there was a 40-50Hz hum that appeared to randomly contaminate the overall sound. I suspect it was in the film’s audio track, but it could have been some sort of interference caused by the theater’s subwoofer system. Since it was clearly not 60Hz, my suspicion would lie with the film soundtrack.
I would be surprised if KTM didn’t kick in some financing for the movie; hence, the commercial bullshit. KTM isn’t known for being a classy organization (read Ed Youngblood’s -John Penton biography for the whole disgusting story) and this blatant redirection of the subject of the movie to an obvious promotion bit for the current KTM management regime was nothing short of self-promotion and really irritating if you know how badly KTM’s mismanagement treated the Pentons. The whole story of how KTM management turned its back on more than a decade of dedication and hand-holding from the Pentons out of corporate and management greed and arrogance is disgusting. The fact that KTM nearly went bankrupt on its own, afterwards, is pure justice. The Pentons, on the other hand, did just fine with their Hi-Point line (later sold to MSR) and Penton Racing Products businesses is just sweet revenge. The thing that is clear from both Youngblood’s book and the movie is that the KTM engineers and management have/had the same mental diseases that Volkswagen suffers from today; ignorance and arrogance. Their inability to listen to customer complaints and admit to design and manufacturing problems led to their downfall and were what caused the stress and unreasonable pressure Penton lived with while trying to drag KTM into the 20th Century.
Penton MovieSince doing real things with real people has gone out of fashion, movies about people who did those things with amazing people are rare and precious. And by “precious” I mean hard to find, hard to see, and hard to organize. The map at right demonstrates how seldom this movie is currently being scheduled to be shown. The odds are gigantic that it won’t be anywhere near your town. There is a fix, however. As Dirt Rider magazine said, “The movie is being distributed by GATHR Films which is different then most movies. Starting June 20, 2014, anyone can request the film to be screened at a theater in the GATHR network. Once the request is submitted with time, date and place a certain number of tickets must be purchased for the film to actually run. This is a great opportunity for motorcycle stores, dealerships, and companies to host screenings and tell all their clients and/or customers to get involved. For more info on screenings visit pentonmovie.com.” You too could host a Penton off-road extravaganza. It’s not even particularly expensive.

Jun 23, 2014

#61 What Loud Pipes Say

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

A teenage girl gets on my morning bus and treks to the back of the bus, loudly jabbering at the girl who got on the bus before her. Every other word is "Iwaslike." She is apparently convinced that the entire bus is interested in her problems with a high school teacher. Bus passengers are barraged with her high volume nonsense, until the bus driver tells her to "shut the hell up." On a train to Chicago, the train makes a stop and picks up a trio of wannabe-executives who find their way to seats, flip open their cell phones and begin loud, moronic "business conversations" with content equivalent to "where are you now" and "dude, I'm on my way but I'm gonna be late."

These incredibly complex messages are delivered, loudly, and over and over, for the next forty minutes until the train disgorges these geek-suited posers a little before we get to Chicago.

I wonder why it is that folks who have nothing interesting to say feel compelled to say that nothing so loudly?

A few summers ago I taught an MSF Basic Rider Course (the BRC); eight women and three men. Incidentally, about half of the bikes that came out of our MSF trailer had mildly-to-severely-damaged exhaust pipes, so several of our new riders had that "loud pipes save lives" thing going for them, right there on the practice range. I wore hearing protection whenever the students were in motion. When all eleven bikes were roaring around the course, the six loud bikes made about as much noise as a single Sportster with an aftermarket bozo-pipe.

In the BRC, we spend a lot of time trying to convince our students to lay off of the brakes in corners. For new riders, this isn't a natural or comfortable thing to do and it takes a lot of nagging to convince newbies to try it. In this particular class, we had six bikes that loudly announces their riders' throttle activities, so we had special "opportunities" to note when our riders were rolling off of the throttle. At the end of the class, one of those students mentioned that she felt picked upon because her bike was so noisy that every throttle-control mistake she made was loudly broadcast to her coaches. She suspected that if she'd have been riding one of the quieter bikes, she might not have received as much attention/criticism/nagging/assistance as she had with her blubbering noisemaker.

She was right. Nothing broadcasts poor technique like advertising it with noise. A while back a news show highlighted the noise motorcycles add to our general noise pollution din. They interviewed a gaggle of bikers and learned that a couple of seriously dorky guys thought that loud bikes "make me look tough." When Mr. Accountant rides through the neighborhood, he imagines that "everybody's lookin' to see who's on that bike." They're lookin' all right. They're lookin' and thinkin' that motorcycles ought to be banned from the planet and that motorcyclists are morons.

There's a different message loud pipes often convey to other motorcyclists. For example, I live on a sharp curve in St. Paul. At least a few dozen times a summer weekend, I get to experience the loud backfiring of poorly maintained big twins as they decelerate all the way through our turn, followed by the even louder potato-splatting of moderate horsepower crawling away from the scene of incompetence. I'm sure these dudes think all that noise implies "NASCAR driver" to local residents, but I happen to live on a block with a half-dozen fairly proficient motorcyclists. To all of us, what we hear is "Bozo hasn't crashed yet. Damn!"

For those of you out there who ride with the passive "protection" of loud pipes, here's something for you to think about. To the average Jill or Joe, you're announcing that you don't care about their hearing, peace of mind, or privacy. To some bikers, you're displaying your uncanny ability to max out your credit card and bury yourself in debt on frivolous purchases. Some folks love any symbol of excessive consumption and pipes and chrome as just another sign of a well-oiled economy doing the supply and demand thing and more proof that "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

I have a guard rail all along the front of my property to protect my home from the talents of people who drive without knowledge or skill. Every spring the crash rail gets used by bikers and cagers, when they discover the city's lackadaisical attitude toward sweeping up the post-winter barrels of sand and salt. Every summer, I get to pick up bits of chrome and plastic from vehicles that have discovered the flaws in their cornering technique. The first year we were here, I had to call 911 to come and remove a guy who had planted his leg in between the guard rail and one of the posts, which resulted in a knee that made crunching noises when he moved it.

When we were discussing a particularly awful rider's travels through our neighborhood, my wife described the loud pipe's message as "Look out for me! I'm not very good and I might fall down!" And I promptly fell down laughing. Maybe the noise message works. At least it might work when inanimate objects aren't involved; like curves and barriers, trees, obstacles in the road, and fat old guys lying in the yard.

When you are roaring down the road, scaring small children and making enemies for motorcyclists in general, you're also announcing something to a lot of motorcyclists. It's not "look at me, I'm a badass lawyer/accountant/dentist/burger-flipper." The message is "look out for me! I'm not very good and I might fall down!"

I suppose the rest of us should thank you for the warning. We'll do our bit to avoid you.

MMM April 2007

Jun 19, 2014

Russian Genius

I clearly need to learn more about this vehicle. However, the Russian Taurus 2×2 All-Terrain Motorcycle is pretty amazing. Here's what I "know" at this point:


Anticipated Price: "DIY kits" ("Anyone having the skills and drill grinder can build yourself ATV," per Google Translate) will be available, about US$1,000
Axels: 2x2
Max Speed: 60 km/hr (37mph)
Transmission: centrifugal clutch-transmission,  gears - 3
Engine: 4 cycle, 5-5.5 hp.
Brakes: brake disc on the intermediate shaft
Max Carrying Capacity: 180 kg. (397 pounds)
Tank Capacity: 3-5l  (0.8-1/3 gallons-US)
Fuel Consumption: 1.2-liters/hour (0.32 gallons/hour)
Wheels: 740 mm. width, 220 mm diameter (29.1", 8.8"?)
Tire Pressure: 0.13 kg/cm. (1.8psi)
Ground Clearance: 370 mm.(14.5")
Max Turning Angle (front fork): 55-degrees
Seat Height: 750 mm. (29.5")
Dry Weight: 47-50 kg. (~110 pounds)
Disassembly Time: 20 seconds to 4 min. (includes two bags in the trunk of the Oka)

Jun 17, 2014

Down, Down, Down

Dirt bike sales are down ~20% and there is little expectation of improvement. One reason is that new equipment is a shadow of the kind of product we used to expect. The industry blames it on rider/customers, “Joe Customer also doesn't fully understand how high-strung a modern four-stroke motor is. They still think it's their dad's old XR and treat it with similar (inadequate) maintenance schedules. For example, pistons need to be changed around 20 hours, but many guys still think they can still get 200 hours on their stock piston. They fail to realize it turns into a live grenade after too many hours in service, and then complain about how expensive it is to rebuild the entire motor when it blows.” Obviously, the number of people who are willing to dump that kind of cash into a toy motorcycle are dwindling as the American middle class disappears. The 1%’ers are busy buying up collector crap, over-priced vintage bikes that they pay a tiny collection of experts to restore and, then, those bikes are ferried around in luxury toy haulers. These people aren’t motorcyclists any more than a Hollywood actress is a diamond miner.

Motorcycle tire sales are down 12.7% in the 1st quarter of 2014. That probably seems like a non-issue, but it means bikes aren’t being ridden, which means the riding season is either shortened by bad weather or . . . there are fewer riders on the road for a ton of possible reasons. The loonies at the MIC wildly speculated that motorcycle miles were up 4.3% last year, 3,028, from the previous year’s 2,903. We know better, though. Any verifiable evidence of motorcycle mileage would produce numbers a lot closer to 50% of the hopeful, delusional cheerleaders from the MIC. These fools have done everything they can to prevent any positive press for motorcycling over the last 30 years. Now, they are reaping the rewards.

Jun 16, 2014

The Geezer Personal Awareness Campaign

#60 Making Decisions and Taking Chances

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

We all make decisions. Some of us make life-changing, mission-critical decisions on the spur of the moment, others take months to plan minor events. Marketing folks would like us to be as spontaneous as possible. Every capitalist's favorite consumer is the "impulse buyer," a person who puts as much thought into going into debt for several years as he does when reaching for a roll of toilet paper. I suspect that motorcyclists who make decisions on impulse are "over-represented" in injury and fatality statistics.

One of the dumbest things I've ever heard is the statement that so many crash victims make when explaining why they weren't wearing any protective gear; "if I'd have known I was going to crash, I'd have worn my helmet." On days when I "know I'm going to crash" I don't ride. Some days I feel so accident-prone that I don't go outside at all. On really bad days, I avoid power tools, sharp kitchen implements, skydiving, high voltage, and walking tightropes. Those days are rare, though. I usually take my chances with power tools and electricity and I wear my helmet, gloves, and riding suit when I ride my motorcycle. Someday, I'd like to try skydiving, but I will never have the confidence for tightropes.

As we all know, shit happens and it happens to the nicest, best-prepared and most skilled people. I suppose you could argue that making a decision to put on protective gear is the first step in planning for a crash. Deciding what parts of your body you're going to protect, when your best planning and well-developed skills fail, is just common sense. Only a fool would impulsively make that sort of decision, but there is no shortage of fools on this planet. Mark Twain argued that humans "descended from the higher animals" and an awful lot of motorcyclists would be solid evidence for that argument. If you remove the ability to plan for the future, humans become a pitifully equipped animal.

Let's take two examples of opposite philosophic polarity, Pat the Paranoid and Billy the Brave, and see how their decision making systems work in similar situations. First, Pat starts his day off by checking his tire pressure and doing a quick inspection of his motorcycle's hardware before suiting up for a five mile morning commute to work. After convincing himself that the bike is fit to ride after overnight garage storage and yesterday's forty or fifty miles of commuting and recreational riding, Pat puts on his riding suit, helmet, and gloves. He left the house in riding boots. While he's suiting up, the bike is idling and warming up. Pat not only wears a quality full-face helmet, he wears ear plugs under the helmet to protect his hearing. I told you he was Pat the Paranoid, remember?

Billy the Brave is working off a mild hangover as he wobbles to the backyard, where he hopes he left the bike the last time he rode it home from a group tour of Wisconsin bars. He's in luck. The big twin is leaned against his neighbor's fence. Billy is wearing a tee-shirt, loose-fitting Wellington boots, ragged jeans, sunglasses, and an American flag bandana. A true patriot and a certifiable biker. He untangles the bike from the fence and fires it up. The bike gets as much warm up time as it takes Billy to light up a cigarette. He is on the road in a few seconds.

Billy is an unfortunate stereotype. He could be a Will, a William or, even, a Winifred or Willa. I could have parked Billy's bike in the garage, behind the snowblower and lawnmower. He might have kept it well protected by an old sheet (or an expensive bike tent) to keep off the dust. His bike could be a brand new liter-plus sportbike, or an Electro-Glide, an old beater Kawasaki KZ900, or even a Wing, but it will be larger than his skill warrants, whatever it is. He could be wearing a polo shirt, Dockers, and loafers; or a tank top, cargo shorts, and sandals. Regardless of his socio-economic status, he'd still cover his skull with some kind of kitchen rag, or nothing at all. Really silly fashion statements never go out of style. He might not be hung-over from cheap beer. He might be sweating out umbrella drinks from a late business meeting or designer beer from an after-work singles bar get-together. Pick your stereotype. Whatever Billy rides, he will spend more time cramming stuff into the saddlebags and checking himself out in the mirrors than he will put into safety inspecting his bike.

Pat is less of a stereotype. He commutes every day, which makes him part of an incredibly small minority. He wears motorcycle gear designed for motorcycling. He rides a relatively small displacement, lightweight bike that is maneuverable in traffic. He maintains his bike and has worked hard to develop competent riding skills, including the MSF's Experienced Rider Course and taking advantage of track days offered to street riders at local racing facilities.

Both riders are on similar highways, leaving a few seconds apart, going about the same speed in the same kind of traffic. Billy is taking in the scenery, checking out women in the cars that pass him, and enjoying the feel of wind in his hair. Sparks are flying from the cigarette and Billy is glad he wore the wrap-around glasses because ashes are beginning to build up on the lenses. Because it's cool this morning, Billy tailgates a van to avoid wind-chill. Billy's mirrors are vibrating like bumblebee wings, so he doesn't count on them for useful information. Billy claims that "loud pipes save lives," so he couldn't hear a 747 if it was flying up his butt. From a few years of this lifestyle, Billy is functionally hearing impaired. He is completely isolated in "potato-potato" sound effects when he's in motion. Billy only rides to work when his truck is broken, so he's as familiar with the terrain as any other cager. He hasn't planned on any excitement this morning, so he's not worried, or thinking, about crashing. To Billy, motorcycling is about looking cool and "feeling free."

Pat has practiced tossing his bike into a swerve a few times, when he'd created a little space for himself in the traffic flow, to get a feel for the morning traction and his own awareness and balance. He's tested the feel of his brakes, checked and double-checked the alignment of his mirrors, and never stops listening to the mechanical noises coming from the engine and chassis. Pat reads the traffic to see if there are any obvious crazies to avoid. Pat does what he can to create a little space, at least two seconds in front and behind, so that he can see and be seen and have a little maneuvering space in a crisis. It irritates the coffee-sucking, McFat-chewing, phone-babbling drones to see so much unused space on the road, but it's the least he can do to manage some control of his traveling environment, so he does it. Pat has checked out the exit routes, many times, on this trip. He's thought about the curb and how difficult it would be to jump and what kind of damage his alloy wheels would likely suffer. He's checked out the roadside drainage ditch and how deep and steep that path would be. He knows where the intersections are and works especially hard at building an extra safety margin when he approaches those intersections, knowing that intersections are where most motorcycle-car accidents occur. There is nothing unconscious about Pat's ride to work, but that's one of the things he loves about motorcycling. The combination of intense focus and the excitement of the knowledge of the limited risk he has exposed himself to is an adrenaline boost. To Pat, motorcycling is about controlling his environment and pushing the limits of his ability.

This morning, though, the environment is in control. In a turn, both riders suddenly lose their front tire. In a few microseconds, a peaceful ride to work is packed with a few too many thrills.

Billy freaks when he hears the tire explode and feels the front end wash out and begin sliding toward the ditch. He nails the rear brake, because that is the only brake he ever uses, and the bike instantly starts sliding sideways, he panics and releases the brake; and highsides. Billy's fashion glasses fly off along with one of his boots as he leaves the bike. He is suddenly flying toward the edge of the road and, in the next few thousandths of a second, he begins to "plan" his crash.

Pat's tire blows at the same spot and he, also, thinks about using the brakes. But he controls the panic reaction and puts his trust in his reflexes and training. In avoiding that mistake, he allows the bike to drift to the outside of the corner and slow naturally. Pat has never experienced a front tire failure on the highway, but he's thought about what he'd do if it happened. On it's own, the flat tire will do a pretty decent job of slowing the bike down. Applying the brakes will transfer a lot more weight to the already overloaded front end and reduce the bike's stability, so he gently slows the engine and lets engine compression and the flat tire slow the bike. While the bike is scrubbing off speed, Pat considers his options. Pat is well protected and has the presence of mind to start considering what parts of his body armor will be put into use in the next few seconds. The obvious choice is to try to land on his back and flatten out to increase surface area, reduce impact and speed. A logical choice; since that was the reason his suit designer installed a back protector and added extra abrasion resistance to the backside panels of the suit.

Billy's choices are limited. He's in the air, flying toward an unknown destination at 50mph (or 73 feet per second), and has to decide which part of his body he wants to sacrifice to save the other parts. Reflexively, he chooses his hands as the first point of impact. When his unprotected hands hit the asphalt, skin tears away, then the meat of his palm shreds in the first few feet and he (again, impulsively) reconsiders his decision. The hands contain very sensitive nerve endings, which transmit a lot of pain data in a very short period of time. Billy decides to withdraw his hands from the action. Leaving his unprotected face and torso to absorb the kinetic energy being translated into friction, Billy's shirt and jeans hold up better than his nose and chin, but after a couple of yards, Billy left a body-wide streak of gore on the road before he began to tumble.

The driver in the car behind Billy narrowly misses running over the flying biker, but he hadn't allowed enough of a margin for himself to avoid running over Billy's bike. Now there are two out-of-control vehicles on this section of the highway.

Billy struck his head repeatedly on the pavement during his free fall and deceleration. Before he comes to a stop, he is unconscious and bleeding from dozens of serious injuries. In a few moments, a motorist will use his cell phone to call 911 and several cars will stop to render assistance. Billy's chances for survival aren't good, though. He has sustained broken bones, considerable blood loss, internal injuries, and a concussion. It will be difficult for an ambulance to reach him, through jammed rush hour traffic, before his injuries become fatal.

Pat kept control, more or less, of his bike until it struck the curb at about 20mph. The impact cracked the front wheel and peeled away the tire, which immediately tangled itself between the fork legs and the wheel. Momentum is in control of the bike, since the tire has locked up the front wheel and steering is impossible. On the way down the drainage ditch, Pat decided to abandon ship and he pushed away from the bike. His well-considered three-point landing came unglued when his butt struck a clump of mowed weeds and he flipped face-first into the ditch. The top of his face shield collected about a pound of dirt and scooped it into the helmet. He came to a stop in several inches of ditch water and the dirt in his helmet turned to mud. When he sat up, the mud poured into the collar of his riding suit and made its way to his waist before he regained his senses. His first thought was that he wasn't going to meet the company dress code today.

He was testing his extremities for broken bones when a strong hand grabbed him by the arm and tried to lift him out of the mud. Pat shook off his rescuer and politely explained that believed he was uninjured, but was still in the process of verifying that condition. A few moments later, he struggled out of the ditch, with the unnecessary assistance of a Good Samaritan, and was looking over the damage to his motorcycle. As he peeled out of his riding gear, he provided comedy relief for passing motorists with his mud coated face and clothing. Other than a collection of Russian thistle barbs firmly imbedded in his butt, Pat was unhurt and looking forward to explaining why he was going to be late to work. He wasn't particularly looking forward to spending a weekend finding a replacement front wheel and a new tire.

Neither rider expected to crash that morning. Pat's somewhat paranoid riding routine and protective gear gave him options and control when the crash came. Billy's spontaneous riding style left him completely unprepared for anything outside of ideal conditions. We can argue who was enjoying the ride more, before the crash, but I think it's obvious to even the most radical fashion follower who will be enjoying the rest of the week and who would be struggling to survive the next few hours. Riding is a risk, but it doesn't have to be foolish. You make choices and you accept risk. An aware rider isn't "planning to crash." An aware rider is planning to ride, today and tomorrow.

MMM March 2007

Jun 15, 2014

Preparation Is Everything

Saturday, yesterday, I taught a BRCII (used to be the ERC, Experienced Rider Course). The weather report for Saturday, since last weekend, has been for rain and lower-than-normal temperatures. Friday, the national weather service, Weather.com, and even the local boneheads predicted a 70% chance of rain for Saturday morning. Due to geezer inability to sleep, regardless of exhaustion levels, I was up at 5AM and it was raining steadily, if only a moderate drizzle. By 7AM, when I left for the range, 5 miles away, it was raining slightly harder and the ground and roads were soaked. By 7:30AM, it was raining hard and clouds were rolling in fast. We had some lightening in the distance and the sky looked like the backdrop to “Twister.” I went to bed the night before, falling asleep to Tornado Rampage 2011, so I might have been slightly sensitized regarding crap coming from the sky. Regardless of my own sensitivity, there were no surprises Saturday morning for anyone in Minnesota with any sort of media connection. You had to know it would be wet.

About 1/2 of the class came in jeans, non-water resistant (even perforated) jackets, and fair weather foot and hand protection. (Two didn't show up at all.) At least three of them asked if we could reschedule their class. Of course, I said I didn't have that capacity and told them rescheduling would be up to the "office" and available classes. They all decided to stick it out. By the end, I think several of the group were suffering near-hypothermia. I banked on slightly warmer weather and, in retrospect, should have brought some insulation along with the GoreTex gear. I am not particularly sad that my afternoon class cancelled. When I got home, I spent about an hour in a hot shower trying to bring my core temperature up to normal.

I can not imagine what I’d have felt like if I’d have been dressed for a sunny afternoon. I’m old and all of the students in the course were nearly half my age or even younger. Maybe they rode home in the rain feeling like it had been a day in the park. I can’t help but hope a few of them reconsidered their toilet bowl helmets, their fishing rainsuits, jeans as riding gear, tennis shoes, and gardening gloves. None of that stuff is appropriate for 21st Century motorcycling. We’ve come a long, long ways in weather protection, armor, comfort, and flexibility. My favorite company, Aerostich, is responsible for a lot of that progress, but there are other contributors. 

Our riding season in Minnesota is short enough without allowing moderate weather to trim off even more non-perfect days. One of the things I’d like these MSF courses for more experienced riders to do would be to extend the conversation from the safe territory of the MIC’s industry promotion into a moment of two to consider the future of motorcycling on public roads when the vehicle’s safety record is beyond abysmal. All that macho posing in pirate outfits on offensively loud, 1955 machinery is well-padded by the industry and rider organizations’ shrill complaint anytime society proposes that motorcyclists who don’t care about their own safety should be removed from the public’s responsibility. In other words, “If you don’t care about yourself, why should the rest of us care about you? You crash it unprotected, you come up with the cash to pay for your hospitalization or we’ll have an animal control officer pick up your remains and deposit them someplace cheap. If you want insurance, you can have it if you take reasonable precautions. Otherwise, back to the animal control guys.”

My 10-year-old granddaughter is in a similar stage right now. She’s kind of a rampaging bull in a china closet, flying around the house carelessly knocking things over, throwing temper tantrums and intentionally breaking furniture, appliances, and family valuables, either claiming “I didn’t do it” or “it was an accident” when she’s called on the damage done. Her parents are more forgiving than me, in all respects. Personally, “it was an accident” does nothing for me. You broke it, you own it. I don’t care how you ended up standing over a pile of busted glass, it’s now your problem. Likewise, claiming that life isn’t fair and blaming someone else for the results of your temper tantrum doesn’t go far with me. Again, you broke it, you own it.

Likewise, if motorcycles continue to contribute 14-20% of the nation’s highway fatalities while making a nearly non-existent practical transportation contribution, we broke it ourselves and we’re going to find our favorite vehicle relegated to hobby status any day now. If we are not even willing to think ahead long enough to pick reasonable gear appropriate to the expected weather, what chance do we have of making good decisions about how to improve motorcycle safety enough to justify our existence? If we insist on being identified as hooligans and bandits and outlaws, why would we be surprised to discover society has had all it can stand of our bullshit? Marking people argue that “perception is everything.” Engineers know that “preparation is everything”: plan on the worst, hope for the best. Motorcyclists appear to be incapable of even planning for the expected.

Jun 9, 2014

#59 If You Want "Safe," Ride the Bus

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

I had a conversation with a new motorcycle instructor a little while back that has been grating on my mind. Our disagreement--all of my conversations are mostly disagreements--was in the use of the word "safe" and "motorcycling" in the same sentence. I believe part of the attraction to motorcycles is risk. He thinks that is an irrational belief. It seems to me that we've got an irreconcilable viewpoint of human nature. He simply thinks I'm an idiot.

For most of my life a good portion of the people I know have thought of me as a "thrill junky" or simply "nuts." To a mild extent, I think that's true but I know how mildly I'm afflicted with this addiction because I know how radically others have it. I've done some a little climbing, but I've never had the balls to climb the face of El Capitan with or without lines. I've raced bicycles, but I don't imagine myself either able to blast down Pikes Peak without brakes or being surrounded by a pack of road cyclists in a high speed street turn, handlebars and body parts jostling for position at 35mph on tires too skinny to grip to the stickiest surface. I've raced dirt bikes, but Bob Hannah or Jeff Ward or Jeremy McGrath would be hard pressed to call any part of my experience "racing." Risk is a relative thing and my risks were relatively "safe" compared to real risk junkies.

I've just finished reading Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker, a book about investment banking and how money moves through the fingers of real investors. In a chapter called The Art of War, he says "Risk, I had learned was a commodity in itself. Risk could be canned and sold like tomatoes. Different investors place different prices on risk. If you were able, as it were, to buy risk from one investor cheaply and sell it to another investor dearly, you can make money without taking any risk yourself. And this is what we did." Lewis is talking about people who play games with hundreds of millions of dollars. Their own dollars and yours and my dollars. He, and many psychologists, think they do it for the thrill they get from the risk they take. I've got some money in the stock market, but the more money I have the less risk I take with it, completely unlike real investors. When I have a small pile of cash in the bank, I quit working and go riding.

Most of new riders I meet know the reason they want to master two-wheeled transportation is because others will see them as adventurous, skilled, or some such image they've been fed by, usually, Harley's marketing machine. They know this because that's the way they see motorcyclists. A very few, and only recently, want to save some money on fuel and have some fun doing it. A lot of these new riders want to get from Point A (non-riding) to Point Z (their image of an accomplished rider) without dealing with Points B through Y (obtaining the individual skills and dealing with the mental aspect of motorcycling). I think far too many of this group of people are terrified of the risk they are assuming and want to camouflage their terror with distractions; chrome, clothes, and clatter (exhaust noise). Personally, I think any motorcycle instructor who tells beginners that motorcycling is "safe" is doing us all a disservice.

I really don't think our activity is appropriate for everyone. While motorcycle manufacturers would like to sell everyone a motorcycle, I think that's a short-sighted perspective based on too many executive stock options and oversized golden parachutes. Folks inclined to panic under stress don't belong on motorcycles. Combining Attention Deficit Disorders and motorcycling is pretty dumb. Road rage and other personality defects mix poorly in traffic, but especially poorly on a motorcycle. Drug and alcohol consumption is an over-used and usually unsuccessful motorcycle-riding combination. While some argue that safe motorcycling is 90% mental, a considerable collection of physical limitations make motorcycling impractical. Putting a gaggle of poorly-prepared, skills-and-attitude-deficient riders on the road is a formula for tipping the liability-to-benefit ratio toward a point where the general public decides that the positive attributes of motorcycles do not outweigh the negative. If we attract that kind of attention, we're bound to lose the war for access to public roadways.

If you want safe, ride the bus. If you want safer, drive a cage. Because the speeds are lower and the roadway options are greater, bicycling is probably safer, mile per mile, than motorcycling. I'd think we'd all be embarrassed to know that bicyclists put on more miles in the US than do motorcyclists. Balancing on two wheels in the midst of heavy and unskilled traffic, on marginal surfaces, is incredibly risky for the average rider. That probably explains why so few licensed motorcycle riders actually ride motorcycles. One of our readers wrote that because "cagers cut them off and tailgate . . . secure parking is non-existent . . . a quality fuel-efficient bike is not cheap . . ." regular motorcycle transportation isn't worth the trouble; or the risk. I disagree, but motorcycling is an activity I think is worth assuming some risk. Those who chose to polish their garage candy might be excellent investment bankers.

Winter 2006/2007

Jun 7, 2014

A Cruiser Guy Now

You, me, we never thought it would happen, but it did. I am officially a cruiser owner. I bought this bike a few days after we got back home from New Mexico. I’d kept my eye on the owner’s Craig’s List ad for a month before that, assuming that when the weather turned mild it would vanish before I had a chance to look at it. Turned out, the weather didn’t leave winterish until mid-May and the owner had become slightly desperate to sell. Not that he needed the cash, but cruiserhe hadn’t ridden the bike, ever, except as a weird stationary exercise machine and it was taking up room in his really cool office/mancave/studio/hideout. His kids had bought the bike for him, new, a decade earlier and he’d never felt comfortable enough on it to ride it anywhere but on the stationary rack. The tires were practically brand new. There were no scratches on the bike anywhere. It was dusty from disuse, but no part of the bike looked used. Since Burley quit making the Limbo in 2005, I did not expect to find an essentially new bicycle for a fraction of the original cost. Even so, I talked him down another $100 since I was the only person who’d expressed any interest in his bicycle after having the bike on the List for more than a month.

The day I picked it up, I sort of reconsidered the whole idea. I’ve wanted to try out a recumbent bicycle for years, but they’ve always been out of my price range and some of them are just too weird for me to consider. The handlebars under the seat idea, for example just didn’t make sense to me. Now that I’ve spent a few hundred miles in this riding position, I understand the handlebar dilemma better. In a feet-forward riding position, it’s a real compromise to find a position for the bars that doesn’t impede with peddling; mostly the peddler’s knees.

My Burley bike is no exception. By the time I’d come up with a workable compromise between a comfortable straight-line hand/arm position, my stubby legs, finding a reasonable location for tight turns, and the limitations of the bike’s bar adjustments, I’d about given up on the whole idea. Next was the seat position. The Burley bike has a really flexible seat setup, but that meant a lot of fooling around with several adjustments before I locked in on something that worked for me. Burley even offered a Corbin option, which mine has, so there is a cute level of SoCal hipness attached to my butt while the rest of me looks totally geek.

Finally, I had to deal with a pair of “designed by monkeys” issues: the terrible shifting setup (from the factory) and the crap rear fenders/lack of bag capacity. As you can see, I got the luggage rack thing figured out, thanks to the cool folks at my local bike shop, County Cycles in Roseville. A relaxing ride to Roseville and $6 later and I’m racked and ready to haul groceries, which I did on my way home last night. The shifting problem was messier. Burley had really screwed up the rear derailleur cabling and right at the cable adjustment barrel the cable made a hard turn because Burley had cut the cable housing about 6” too short. In the lowest gear (biggest sprocket) position, this meant the cable was in a bind and predictable shifting was non-existent. I think this partially explains why the previous owner had never been comfortable enough on the bike to ride it anywhere but on the stationary stand. He might not have ever shifted, even.

The bike is pretty much worked out, now. I’m still wrestling with getting a wireless speedo working on this chassis (the distance between the front wheel and the top of the bars is at the limits of wireless range and the small front wheel spins a good bit faster than some speedos can handle. Even with the screwed up speedo data, I’ve put more than 250 miles on the bike in the last month, 150 of those miles this past week, and I’m getting comfortable with the riding position. I can’t think of any reason why I’d want to have a motorized version of this frame layout, but cruising on a recumbent is sort of fun, fast, efficient, and a great experiment in aerodynamics.

Jun 4, 2014

Weird Two Wheel News

When I first read this headline, "Patriot bikers to protect Maya Angelou's funeral from Westboro Baptist protest," I was almost impressed. There are things to like about the "2 Million Bikers to DC," but their undying loyalty to war and warriors puts me off. Of course, there is nothing to like about the Topeka, Kansas Westboro Babtist Church, so everything in perspective the 2MBDC characters have managed to find a crowd in which they look good; sort of like a skinny girl with zits hanging out with a really fat girl with zits, a boil on her neck, and giant braces. (Or a pair of boys with the same qualities, depending on your own perspective.) For a few, brief moments, I hoped the biker gangsters were actually doing something cool. And they were, sort of.

However, to keep from being seen as being open-minded, intellectual, and/or less-than-war-mongering, the 2MBDC bunch made up for their moment of hipness by putting as much distance as possible between themselves and Maya Angelou. The 2MBDC spokeswoman wrote in the group's Facebook page, "[2 Million Bikers] are not riding in support of Angelou's beliefs. We are riding to protect her funeral from WBC. If we allow WBC to protest her funeral what will stop them from protesting one of our funerals?"

She went on to say, "No we do not agree with her beliefs, but we agree with her freedom to have & voice those beliefs. That is what freedom is about! If we attempt to shut up all those who disagree with us are we not doing the same thing as them?""

So, I'm left with ambivalence regarding 2MBDC. Maya Angelou's beliefs were well-founded, even-better-documented, rational, peaceful, honorable, and beautiful. If that's what this pack of noisy gangbangers on Harley's are distancing themselves from, my stereotypes remain intact.

Jun 2, 2014

#58 Fixing the Traffic and Safety Problem

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

I woke up this morning to the babble of politicians explaining why we needed a law that would allow cops to stop motorists for "seat belt violations." Nothing will put me in a bad mood faster than the sound of politicians pretending to care about their constituents (aka victims"). Their argument, as lame as it is, is that forcing us to wear seatbelts will save insurance companies and the medical system money. Absolutely no consideration is ever going to be given to the logic that says "if we're forced to give up something the insurance companies and medical system should give up something too." That last fantasy is an example of that "magic of the market" bull-crap that pretends that corporations and their execs operate on some sort of closed-loop supply and demand system that will "automatically" adjust to accommodate improvements in operating costs.

We all know any additional profits will simply end up in golden parachutes and even bigger executive bonuses. A few bucks will end up in politicians' pockets, but not a penny will find into the pockets of the folks who will experience the joy of being stopped, harassed, and robbed for seat belt "violations." Some of us suspect that wasting law enforcement resources on piddling revenue-generating "violations" is a way to avoid doing the dangerous and dirty work of real law enforcement; an effort that would be valuable to the community. Motorcyclists know that enforcing compulsory seatbelts is a micro-step away from a helmet law. A helmet law is a few steps from banning "dangerous activities" like motorcycling altogether. I worry that we're coming dangerously close to taking that cultural step.

However, listening to the political fruitcakes got me thinking about a solution for two critical national problems; traffic congestion and traffic safety. Back in the dark and primitive days when American companies actually manufactured things, manufacturing engineers discovered that it's impossible to "foolproof" complex systems. No matter how clever the system, a creative fool will find a way to screw it up. The only workable solution to complicated problems is to get the fools out of the system. Unfortunately for U.S. manufacturing engineers, that meant moving most of manufacturing out of the United States, but that's another issue.

Still, getting the fools out of the system will work for traffic problems. I've worked pretty hard over the years to stay out of the "Minnesotans are crap drivers" argument. Mostly, I think drivers all over the country are freakin' awful. However, a few trips outstate lately have convinced me that we exhibit a few really discouraging driving traits. I mean "discouraging" in exactly the sense of the word. We are a state of incredibly timid drivers.

Rather than belting, buckling, bagging, armor-surrounding, and speed-limiting fools semi-safely in their cars, SUVs, and mini-vans, the solution to all of these terrible deaths, injuries, and wounded psyches is to purge the fools from the traffic lanes. Get the fools out of their single-occupant vehicles and into cabs, mass transit, padded cells, or sensory deprivation chambers. If the bureaucrats and politicians really cared about this particular section of the helpless masses, they'd remind them that driving is a privilege and that a lack of skill revokes that privilege. In case "the powers that infest" are interested, I've compiled a short list of nine driving habits that demonstrate skill and mental capacity deficiencies that ought to result in lost driving privileges (as if you're surprised this was coming?):

  1. A driving tactic that seems to be ingrained in Minnesota culture is the attitude that whines "my lack of planning is everyone's problem." Since moving to Minnesota I've witnessed the origins of dozens of traffic jams. It's almost always some dumb-ass who discovers he's in the wrong lane and stops to make a lane change. Two out of three times it's been a middle-aged guy doing the jamming. Trust me, it's not that the Twin Cities are becoming too large for the existing freeway lanes. These guys are the reason our freeways have stopped moving. Someone who really was Minnesota-Nice would simply deal with the mistake and drive to the next exit to turn around and get back on track. Real drivers in every state make that sacrifice out of respect for the other occupants on the road. I think we all know what kind of person believes the rest of the world should stop revolving while he contemplates his next move.
  2. I believe this state is the first place I've witnessed this particular trait; people who have to pump the brakes in the middle of making a turn. While this is a dumb driving tactic, it's incredibly dumb when they're whacking on the brake petal a couple of feet after leaving a stop sign. How the hell can you be going too fast when you're barely moving? Driving is a skill that requires a bit of courage. If five miles an hour is moving too fast for your cornering skills, I suggest you buy some nice walking shoes and . . . freakin' walk you gutless wimp!
  3. Speaking of stopping to review navel fuzz, what's with the inability to deal with freeway entrance ramps? People who don't know the word "merge" do not belong behind the driver's seat. Here's a hint, merge does not mean "stop, wait for traffic to take pity on your dumb ass, and let you crawl into the flow of traffic at one-tenth of the prevailing speed."
  4. The other night I was coming home late, in the rain, and got caught behind a single-file line of morons on I35W. The pack of four-wheel dill-holes was crawling along at two mph, because three lanes had filtered down to one through some construction. Apparently, every one of the hopeless attention-deficit pinheads ahead of me was overwhelmed by some idiot compulsion to slow to a crawl to take in the construction excitement. Why is it that boneheads who can barely maneuver a car through an empty parking lot think they are so skilled that they don't have to look where they are going in heavy traffic? I have had a life-long aversion to people who think they drive well enough to look every direction but the one in which they're traveling. Here's a driving tip, unless you're going to stop and render assistance or pick up a shovel and lean on it like the rest of the construction crew, watch where you're going and keep moving. Think you can manage that, pinhead?
  5. I drove my motorcycles almost 200,000 miles on California freeways and roads wondering who was jamming up traffic and what kind of stupid move that moron had made to create such a mess. I spent my whole ten years in California hoping to meet one of these traffic obstacles and never even got close. I was in Minnesota exactly two weeks before I witnessed a driver stopping in the far left lane (of three) and waiting for traffic to "clear" so she could crawl across two lanes to make a right turn in rush hour traffic. If I'd been issued a bike-mounted photon torpedo, I'd have eliminated that traffic obstacle, permanently. However, my only weapon was my voice and she seemed to be oblivious to everything in her environment. Since then I've been present to witness dozens of similar stupid maneuvers and every one of the perpetrators is completely amazed that someone would take issue with their driving tactics. So much for cold weather Darwin'ing out the terminally stupid. What nature would destroy to improve the species a cradle-to-grave social net and way too much automotive safety equipment preserves for unknown purposes, I guess.
  6. I've harped about bumper-hugging tailgaters before, but I still think these folks grossly overestimate their skills. Probably the influence of too much NASCAR and too little common sense. I still think a rational vehicle licensing system would instantly and permanently void a driver's license after a single rear-ending accident. If you're stupid enough to slam into the back end of a vehicle, you're too stupid to drive.
  7. Poor reflexes and inattention ought to be a licensing criteria, too. Thirty-some years ago, I visited Chicago for the first time. I was waiting in a line of traffic behind a stop light, when the light changed the first three cars took off together, the fourth car's driver was not paying attention, and the fifth car simply pushed the fourth dim-bulb across the street until that driver decided to take control of his vehicle and got with the program. Nobody stopped to whine about minor bumper damage. Later, I learned that this was a common traffic maneuver in mid-1970's Chicago. If you're not capable of paying attention, someone else would do it for you, just to keep traffic moving smoothly.
  8. Today, we have the opposite kind of intersection activity. The slowest witted drivers in a shallow breeding pool miss their light change, so they waddle into the middle of the intersection, turn their wheels into the flow of traffic, and wait for the light to change so they can jam up traffic in the cross-direction while they crawl through the turn. That's assuming a cell phone call doesn't interrupt the turn, requiring the idiot to continue blocking the intersection for at least one more light change. In civilized states, "stopping in an intersection" is a traffic offense. In California, I used to love seeing flashing lights following some dimwit who'd misgauged a turn and ended up stopped in the middle of an intersection. This is just another example of uncivil behavior; the belief that your incompetence should be everyone else's inconvenience. If you can't make the turn, starting from the pedestrian line on your side of the intersection, you are either too late or too pitiful a driver to deal with traffic. Live with it.
  9. Cell phone users simply take every single tactic listed above and incorporate them into their everyday driving style. Personally, I'd rather be surrounded by drunk drivers than cell phone users. Cell phone users are more aggressive and arrogant and no more skilled than drunks. And, no, I can't hear you now. I'm sure anything you have to say will be less important to me than staying on the road and avoiding other nut cases like you. Last fall, I saw a biker, stuck in freeway traffic, take off his helmet and attach it to an elbow, whip out his cell phone, and start a conversation in the middle of rush hour traffic. The woman in the mini-van behind him was also jabbering at her phone. When traffic started moving, she took off without looking and ran into the biker who hadn't, apparently, found a convenient point to interrupt his conversation. When I left, they were both still dealing with their phones, but the bike was about half-way under the mini-van. If poetry and justice ever met, this would have been the moment. It's not uncommon to experience every one of these driving faults in a single driver making a single, simple traffic maneuver. Personally, I think any one of these offenses should result in permanent revocation of driving privileges. If we pared the traffic down to people who have the skills to drive, the capacity to know when to pay attention, and to those possessing simple common courtesy, 99% of the state's need for wider freeways would vanish. That would resolve the need to give up personal rights to protect the stupid.

MMM October/November 2006