Nov 28, 2014
Nov 24, 2014
By the time this reaches publication, I will have completed my four-year term on the Minnesota Governor's Motorcycle Safety Advisory Committee (MMSAC). It was an interesting and educational opportunity: my first in government, my first attempt to labor under Robert's Rules since high school, and my first experience hanging out with a substantial group of motorcyclists for more than the few minutes it usually takes for me to fill up a gas tank. I'm not much of a social being. I'm well aware of the fact that people are the "most dangerous animal" and the older I get the less likely I am to put myself in harm's way. On top of that, I firmly believe in the proverb, "Meetings: all of us are dumber than any of us."
In the current segregated and polarized political climate, I didn't expect to get much done in this committee and I didn't disappoint myself. I hoped to represent the tiny minority of motorcyclists who don't wear patches, tattoo motorcycle brand names on their butts, belong to gangs or clubs or special interest groups, who regard motorcycles as a practical means of daily transportation, who care about the environment and our communities, and the even smaller group of bikers who try to teach motorcycle safety to new riders. I like math and science and I hoped to introduce a little of each into the suggestions that the committee made to the Governor and the Department of Public Safety. In the end, we managed some small accomplishments, chewed up a lot of time and energy, and I learned some things about motorcyclists as a "community."
The biggest thing I learned is that we aren't much of a community. Not many of us have similar opinions about motorcycles, transportation, safety, or government. In this small, hand-picked assembly of motorcyclists, I found fewer than three or four with whom I agreed; on practically any issue. For a change, I wasn't the only person in this boat. In conversations after meetings, it was common for each of us to feel that our viewpoints were under-represented in the committee.
Predictably, the ABATE crowd is well (or over) represented in this political arena and they are more uniform in their positions than were the rest of the members. There was a small contingent of motorcycle safety instructors (including me) who were mildly in agreement on a few issues. There is an even smaller sample of non-special-interested motorcyclists who were all over the place, depending on the issue at hand. I think everyone was well-intentioned and committed to promoting motorcycling and protecting motorcyclists. Politics is about compromise and motorcyclists may be less able to make compromises than most people. I suspect I am a particularly good example of that disability.
From my perspective, all of the fine ideas for promoting motorcycle safety are hampered by the microscopic contribution motorcycles make to traffic. It's hard to imagine a "Start Seeing Motorcycles" campaign having much effect when a motorcycle is spotted on our highways barely more often than unicorns or flying pigs. To me, the best thing that can be done to improve on motorcycle safety would be for more motorcycles to be on the road, generating attention, reducing congestion, and providing justification for our vehicle of choice. However, if we fill the roadways with unskilled riders, our crash statistics are going to go through the roof. To me, this makes a strong argument for tougher licensing standards and more training requirements. To the ABATE crowd, my conclusions sound like more "government interference." I'm probably more fond of the consequences of the Darwin Effect than most, but I'm convinced that most people don't tolerate high death rates as well as ZPG (Zero Population Growth) advocates like me.
I've heard rider complaints about my stance on helmets, motorcycle noise, and motorcyclists' testosterone-driven hooligan tendencies. Their argument is that we need to present a "unified front" in promoting motorcycling; that any negative statements about motorcycling from motorcyclists is motorcycling treason. I know where that tactical concept comes from, it has been a successful political strategy for at least one political party, but I don't think it will work with motorcyclists. There are as many of us who don't like parades as there are those who only ride in miles-long displays of garage candy. There are motorcyclists who believe that hooligan riding tactics, loud exhausts, and high death rates will damage the future (the near future) of motorcycling. There are riders who wouldn't ride if motorcycling meant that they had to be courteous, quiet, and prudent. Motorcyclists are a "community" that defies group-ness. Participation in the MMSAC made that clear to me.
I've said this before, but people who ask "why can't we all just get along" and demand that we "present a common front" are really asking everyone to line up behind them. I didn't run into any of that in the MMSAC group. No one demanded that the rest of us conform to their viewpoint or pretended that dire consequences would follow if we didn't step into line.
Among this small community of riders, there was an understanding that we are representing an insanely diverse population. What the garage candy crowd wants for motorcycling is almost diametrically opposed to what daily commuters want. The daily commuting crowd ranges from folks who oppose helmets and protective gear to folks who gear up, every morning, like they are heading off to the race track. Commuters ride bikes that vary from race-ready sport bikes to leather-and-chrome cruisers, from the latest and greatest bikes on the market to rat bikes that leak fluids that were never intended for use in internal combustion motors. Sport bikers don't see safety, licensing, and training issues in the same light as does the cruiser crowd. Touring bikers are a whole 'nother special motorcycling interest that has as many dissimilarities, among that narrow group, as similarities.
Our opinions on motorcycle noise sway from "loud pipes save lives" to "loud pipes cost rights." Our perspectives on the "value" of our vehicle spreads between vehicles that are economical, ecologically responsible, practical, and responsible (i.e. "tree-hugging") to bikes that are loud, emissions-spewing, recreational-use only, and more expensive than space travel (tree-hating?). Where is the middle ground between those opinions?
In the MMSAC, I met MSF instructors who believe that helmets do not contribute anything valuable to motorcycle safety and at least one fair-weather rider who wouldn't leave home without his lid. I worked with folks who are often derided as "safety pussies" because of their positions on helmets and riding gear and met a few of the folks who do the deriding. I continued and, hopefully, expanded my friendship with ABATE's mortal enemy, Pat Hahn, and the man who aids and abets Patrick as his boss, Bill Schaffer. My membership in the MMSAC presented opportunities for some spirited and interesting conversations with an ABATE officer who is always a source of insight and counter-opinions, who will remain unnamed to protect his good relationships inside his "crowd."
In all, I don't think I could find a wider collection of opinions, intellects, and skills in any portion of humanity than in the "motorcyclist community." However, I fail to recognize many symptoms of "community" or "group-think" in our group. Presenting a motorcycling unified front seems to me to be a pipedream. I think the best we can hope for is to do as little damage to our image with the majority of road users and trust that is enough to allow continued use of the highways.
Nov 23, 2014
Nov 17, 2014
I recently had the displeasure of test riding a Korean chopper clone. If you've read anything I've written in the past, you probably know that I have no idea why anyone would want a motorcycle that is designed and suited for riding short distances between bars. I can walk more comfortably than I can ride with my hands in the air and my feet sticking out like I'm sliding on my butt toward oblivion (or a gynecologist). It was an uncomfortable, boring, embarrassing experience (like every other time I've suffered that kind of motorcycle) and I said so in my review. In fact, I said I'd rather ride a mountain bike than put myself through the silliness of riding a cruiser.
That is, by the way, no exaggeration.
I like my bicycle. I usually put in at least five hundred miles a year on my mountain bike and when I was really pounding out the motorcycle miles I was also pedaling long distances almost every day. The Korean marketing rep thought he was banishing me to some terrible punishment by shrieking "Your tester states that he would rather ride a mountain bike than our GV or any other cruiser? I would just as soon see him do the same..permanently, it certainly would serve your readers better if he did." [The weird punctuation and grammar belongs to the genius marketeer. I just cut-and-pasted his more benign comments into this column.]
I'm not sure what being banned to a bicycle "permanently" would entail. It wouldn't be a terrible problem for me as long as I can fall back on the bus for Minnesota's really cold days and sneak a ride on my motorcycle when I cross the country. Bicycles are great transportation, wonderful exercise, and a little enforced motivation might generate the discipline I need to make me ride mine more often. Maybe Marketing Boy would like to sign on as my personal trainer?
Just like my choices in motorcycles, I have the same prejudices for the bicycles I ride. When I was a kid, all we had were Western Auto's Airline and our local bicycle shop's Schwinn coaster brake bikes. No 10-speeds, no BMX bikes, no stunt bikes, no mountain bikes, and nothing resembling observed trials bikes. From when I was 9 till age 12, I pedaled a 10 mile long paper route on a 40 pound, 26" steel-wheeled bike that today's bicycle dealers would call a "beach cruiser." Schwinn's Stingrays didn't appear in western Kansas until after I had graduated to motorcycles. When I was a teenager, a few cheap Schwinn 10-speed "racers" started appearing among the town's rich kids. I didn't own a multi-geared bicycle until I was almost 30 years old. My kids had bikes with gears before I did. When I moved to California, I commuted to work alternatively on my motorcycle and on the bicycle. I experimented with mountain bike racing along the coast, until I began to bang myself up as often on the bicycle as I had on my dirt bikes.
After bending up dozens of skinny 27" wheels, I saw an ad for a mountain bike in a sports magazine and I bought one. For the first two years I owned that bike, I wore out a pair of tires every few months. I hung on to my habit of hopping curbs and getting air on speed bumps, but mountain bike wheels and tires take that punishment without much damage. I'm on my 2nd mountain bike and my 4th bicycle odometer. I think this bike has collected almost 10,000 miles since it was new.
Contrary to cruiser and biker newbie fairy tales, bicycling and motorcycling require a lot of the same skills; especially off-road and high speed bicycling. Traction control and momentum shifts from simply twisting a throttle to pedal power and cornering speed judgment. If the concept of matching engine speed to the road speed is complicated on a motorcycle, that is magnified on a bicycle when the "engine" is you. Braking is exactly the same, without the advantage of large, sticky tires or a traction-smoothing suspension. I swap the traditional front/rear brake positions on my bicycles to the motorcycle configuration. Many of the best motocross, enduro, trials, and MotoGP competitors began racing on bicycles. Some of those world class motorcyclists still ride bicycles recreationally and competitively.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, riding a bicycle in urban traffic will reinforce your understanding of how incredibly incompetent and careless the majority of cagers really are. When you are whizzing along beside these fools at highway speeds, it's useful to know that many of them are unable to make a competent 2 mph turn from a standing start. They are so busy fooling with their makeup, cell phones, coffee cups, and other mentally-handicapping paraphernalia that the highway and other highway users are the furthest thing from their tiny minds. If you aren't constantly looking for escape routes, you are among the rolling dead.
When I'm teaching a Basic Rider Course (BRC) for the MSF, I always ask students if they ride a bicycle. If they don't, they will need special attention to even begin to grasp motorcycling concepts. Really good bicyclists catch on almost immediately and rip through the BRC program the way it was intended to be ripped. When folks fail the BRC, I recommend that they spend a week putting miles on a bicycle before they go back to testing their skills on a motorcycle. Often, I get a disgusted look and the suggestion is dismissed as if it were total insanity.
It wouldn't be the first time my ideas have been exposed to distain and disbelief. It won't be the last. I still think bicycling and motorcycling are similar skills. A motorcycle is a motorized bicycle, at the back (and safest to learn) end of two-wheeled technology and technique. If you aren't up to the demands of riding a bicycle, you probably aren't in good enough shape to be a skilled and safe motorcyclist. If none of that were true, I'd still miss my bicycle as much as my motorcycles, if I couldn't occasionally take to the road on petal power. Bicycles are fun, practical, efficient transportation and cops don't even give me a glance when I'm pretending to be a racer on my bicycle.
Nov 14, 2014
While I was waiting for Garceau's to finish prepping the bike, I walked around the shop and looked at the Hyosung (pronounced "Yo-sung" or "Why-oh-sung") models on their showroom floor. I knew I'd be reviewing the 650, but the bike that really attracted my attention was the GT250 Comet. The Hyosung models use a lot of common parts and the 250 models are not "little bikes," they just have small motors. However, when Jim Debilzan rolled out the 650 Avitar, my heart sunk. Unknown to me, Hyosung makes a cruiser and I would be testing it.
Years ago, a friend was visiting our home and my wife was trying to feed him. She'd made some guacamole dip and salsa and she was shoving it at him, assuming that everyone loved guacamole. He took a scoop and tasted it. Then he said, "I hate avocado, but this is pretty good for what it is." The Hyosung GV650/Avitar is my guacamole. No matter how well this bike was designed and assembled, there was no chance I would like it. I've ridden a bunch of cruisers. The best I can say about any of them is that they were equally unpleasant, "I don't like cruisers, but it's pretty good for a cruiser." I would, honestly, rather ride a mountain bike. With that in mind, off we go.
The electronic console contains a lot of information: speedo, odometer, two trip odometers, fuel and temperature bar gauges, and idiot lights. The "Select" and "Reset" buttons are small and hard to engage with gloves. The right-and-left turn indicators could be easy to ignore. The ignition key is on the right side of the tank and is almost guaranteed to be sheared off in a parking incident.
From the rear of the bike, the brake light (ten high intensity LEDs) is insanely visible. The small, close-in turn signals (front and rear) may be too subtle to be noticed. The single round headlamp provides old fashioned illumination with hot spots near the bike and diffuse light a couple dozen feet out.
For maintenance, the tank props up on an included stay, so air filter servicing can be done with the tank in place. The toolkit and owner’s manual are stored under the seat. The seat only requires the removal of a single screw at the back of the seat. The battery is under the seat along with the tank prop and owners' manual. Idle adjustment is easily accessible from the rider’s seated position. The oil change interval is 6,000km (about 3,700 miles) and Hyosung recommends the valve clearances be inspected at that same interval. The bike has an oil filter (on the right side case) and an oil strainer (near the drain plug).
The steel tube frame is rigid enough to provide a stable, confident ride on pavement. The seat and feet-forward position puts a lot of responsibility on the suspension, though. The 43mm upside-down forks have “H-to-S” damping adjustment, but the old-fashioned dual shock rear suspension only allows for spring loading adjustment. Both ends are short travel, which accounts for the low seat height and harsh ride. Vibration is moderate, especially considering the cruiser short-travel suspension. The fact that the mirrors provide a stable rearview image at all speeds proves that the bike is relatively vibration-free. The stock tires are Bridgestone Battleax BT54 radials. The double disk front, single disk rear brakes work, but you don't have to worry about using too much pressure because the brakes are far from aggressive. I couldn't apply enough front brake to approach breaking the front wheel loose.
Hyosung claims 71hp at the rear wheel and my ride gave me no reason to doubt it. The Avitar does not have a tach, so I don't really know where "bottom" is, but the motor pulls strongly from low-midband up. The dual 39mm Mikuni carbs provide enough fuel to the 81.5 x 62mm 647cc V-
2 to give the bike a solid 50mph 5th gear roll-on and plenty of passing power. The Avitar's mild but macho exhaust note, turns into a snarl when you get on the gas. People who appreciate that kind of thing commented that it "sounds cool." At 55, with a constant throttle, I noticed a bit of hesitation that almost felt like fuel starvation. That reappeared any time I was in that RPM range with steady throttle. In my 135 mile test ride, I averaged 40mpg; not great but not bad.
Ten miles from home my hands were tingling, my butt was sore, and I still can’t figure out why my feet are sticking out in front of the rest of me. Usually, I'm good for 100-150 miles between rest stops. Today, 20 miles and I'm ready to look at scenery, on foot. Those aren’t Hyosung complaints, those are cruiser complaints. At 70mph, the wind is trying to blow my feet from the pegs and me from the seat. I'm dangling from the bars. In this seating position, 55mph feels fast and 70 feels out of control. My friend on the Yamaha TDM thinks this is a great road. Every bump, crack, and ripple in the highway drives my tailbone into the middle of my spine. The historic twin-shock rear suspension, long wheelbase and sluggish steering turns some of my favorite letter-roads into work. At about 250 miles, the clutch began making a squawking noise on cold starts and it would grab and lunge forward. That reappeared once in slow moving traffic, when the bike was a little hot. The 5-speed transmission is predictable and well-spaced and shifting is as smooth as you'd expect from a long linkage mechanism. The “poly chain belt” drive, as usual for the genre, sucks up some transmission shock but it isn't elastic enough to disguise some transmission lash.
The GV650 has lots of chrome: engine cases, monster pipe, fork bits, and all of the places cruiser owner's like chrome. The engine case chrome is a little heavy looking, like plastic model plating. The welds, paint, chrome, fit and finish all look up to modern standards, although the finish on the top side of the swingarm was a little crude. Generally, the Avitar looks well built for the price ($6,299 MSRP).
Competition in this style and engine size is fierce. The Avitar is priced $100 above Yamaha's V-Star Classic and $200 over the Custom and Suzuki's Boulevard. The Honda Shadow VLX is $400-800 less expensive than the GV650 and Kawasaki's Vulcan 500 LTD is $1100 cheaper. The Harley Sportster 883 is $400 above the asking price for the Hyosung. It will be hard to make a dent in this market without a substantial cost advantage over the more established competition.
Postscript: This review generated more flame-mail than anything I've done in the last decade. I must have been right, because some of the mail came from owners who claimed I'd devalued their "investment" by describing its faults and failures. In retrospect, I only wish I had been more blunt in my dislike for the Avitar. Even more, the overreaction by the manufacturer and dealer to my exposing the bike's terrible reliability and incompetent design demonstrates exactly how a consumer will be treated with similar complaints. It is, without question, a POS motorcycle that is overpriced, poorly designed and more miserably executed, and belongs in the "cheap Chinese shit" category of motorcycles.
Nov 12, 2014
In a classic case of misinterpreting data or dumbing it down to the point even Communications majors imagine they understand it, this idiot article completely misses the most important point about the boneheads who play with their cell phones while driving, “Survey finds people text and drive knowing dangers.” There are two major contradictory statements in this article:
I disagree with the claim that those delusional drivers that surveyed first statement are “aware” of anything. I watch those morons tailgate, wander across lane markers, panic at the slightest variation in road or traffic conditions, fail miserably at the most remedial attempts to merge in traffic, and generally display driving skills that would embarrass a dog. I do not, under any circumstances believe 98% of cell phone addicts are skilled enough to recognize any sort of danger until their vehicle is sliding over a precipice.
On the other hand, I totally agree with the second statement. I do believe these skidding down the highway of life morons absolutely believe “they can do several things at once, even while driving. The problem is that they do not do anything well. Ever. So their standards are sub-human.
Almost ironically, AT&T conducted this poll with the half-hearted side-goal of promoting their “free app that silences text message alerts and activates automatically when a person is moving 15 miles per hour or faster. (Passengers can turn it off.)” True to form, this too-big-to-fail corporation is masking their responsibility in this plague of distracted, deadly drivers with an easily bypassed app that requires the user to be sentient. We all know the solution is to force the telcoms to use existing technology to shut down all mobile communications when the phone is in motion. Fuck a lot off passengers. They can’t drink in a moving vehicle, why should they be calling anyone and distracting the driver with their inane chatter? Personally, I think the real solution is to make the telcoms partially responsible (as deep pockets) for any crash, injury, or fatality in which their service is involved. A few multi-million dollar lawsuits and they’ll suddenly do the right thing.
Nov 10, 2014
Earlier this year, the United States Census and the Department of Transportation released stats on urban commuting traffic. Motorcycles are an embarrassingly insignificant minority. Apparently, there are 80 million cars, trucks, SUVs; and minivans on the road every day while only 200,000 motorcycles and scooters occupy those same public roads. For the math-impaired, that amounts to a paltry 0.25% of the total commuting vehicles on the road being two-wheeled. I would be amazed if motorcycles are more than half of that. As I've often suspected, we're barely more than a pitiful two-tenths-of-a-percentage point.
"Ride free, but ride rarely," must be the US motorcycle crowd's motto.
Today was a beautiful, 80oF, cloudless June weekday with a mild breeze and the kind of clean, crisp summer feel that ought to irresistibly force motorcycles on to the highways. When I wake up to this kind of day, I gotta find some place to visit. Due to a management screw up, I ended up on the far west end of the Cities at the peak afternoon rush hour. I never travel these roads when other people are on them, but today I was out there in the human cattle drive. Man! Why are there so many people crammed into cages and wheeled coffins on days like this?
I rode forty-five rush hour miles, from the southwest end of the Cities, up 212 to 62 to I35W to I94 to I35E to home. You'd need a few hundred people assigned to counting particular colored cars or trucks or SUVs or minivans to be able to count the number of cars I passed on that trip. You barely need the fingers of two hands to count the motorcycles and scooters: seven motorcycles and two scooters. Forty-five miles and a zillion cages and seven freaking motorcycles. There is absolutely no chance that Minnesota holds up its end of that puny 0.25%. Just making a wild guess, I'd guess that every freeway mile I traveled held at least 600 cages and I did about 25 multi-lane miles: 15000 cages. The other twenty miles probably averaged about 175 cars per mile: 3500 cages. That makes us a grossly conservative estimated 0.038% of commuting traffic. I would buy someone a steak dinner for a thirty minute video of the trip I took this Monday, it would be a terrific documentary of how few Minnesotans actually use their motorcycles for anything practical.
We gotta fix this.
While we barely exist on the highway, we make a big mark in the morgues. A recent NPR report stated that Minnesota motorcyclists account for "10% of traffic accident deaths" and 1% of the vehicles on the road. Using the DOT's statistics, that means a two-wheeled motorized traveler is forty times as likely to get killed on the road as a cager, bare minimum. Using MnDOT's numbers, Minnesota motorcyclists mortality improves to ten times the cage rate. My seat-of-the-pants numbers make me suspect that we're about 10X more likely to get killed than MnDOT estimates.
We gotta fix this.
On the other hand, I have a chunk of the freeway in my backyard and a stretch of relatively popular residential road practically in my front yard. I can sit on my porch and listen to the whine of cage tires, semis-rumbling, and the beeping of construction equipment backing up and it all blends into an irritating background noise that is the reason I could afford this house in the first place. The only noises that stand out amid this cacophony of mechanical noises is the occasionally window-rattling "potato-potato" farm implement sound produced by a "big twin" or the shriek of a over-rev'd squid-piloted crotch rocket. So, while we don't contribute anything significant or worthwhile to traffic flow, we stand right out there as noise polluters.
Obviously, that has to be fixed.
So on June 15th this year, Ride to Work Day will be celebrated by the few, the valiant, the dedicated, the skilled, and the rest of you will drive your cage-lumps to work like all the other sheep on the highway. Or, you could join us. Put on a demonstration of how much we could contribute to traffic flow and safety, fuel economy, and how much better the world would be if more of us rode motorcycles to work everyday possible.
Nov 5, 2014
by David L. Hough, 2012
All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day
David Hough and, through his writing for Motorcycle Consumer News, Sound RIDER!, and BMW Owners News has been a strong advocate for motorcycle training and safety for most of his 75 years. Hough was inducted into the AMA's Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2009. As a motorcycle safety advocate, Hough has won the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Excellence in Motorcycle Journalism award twice, but he isn't one of the MSF's fans. In fact, in this 220 page book, the MSF is mentioned exactly three times and mostly in an unfavorable light. In 2004, through a short series of MCN articles ("Trouble in Rider Training 1 & 2") Hough championed the argument that the MSF is more committed to selling motorcycles than promoting motorcycle safety and crash and fatality reduction. In 2013, he obviously holds the same positions to be true. There are numerous references to rider training programs that Hough considers to be worthwhile, but the MSF is not among them. With that as a background, the newest edition of Mastering the Ride takes on many of the issues Hough believes are driving motorcycle fatality statistics into public discussion.
Hough has some excellent arguments regarding how we ride and how that relates to the frequency that we end up in hospitals and cemeteries. Marketing gurus say "perception is everything" and that goes for motorcycling, too. Several sections of Mastering the Ride are dedicated to discussions of safe following distance, scanning for hazards and escape routes, visibility, and evasive maneuvers. In many piloting, automotive, and motorcycle training programs, this translates to SIPDE (search, identify, predict, decide, and execute). This takes the MSF's SEE (search, evaluate, and execute) to a more functional and detailed level by forcing riders and drivers to think about all of the steps necessary in avoiding catastrophe on the road.
All of this stuff is about learning how to accurate gauge and react to typical situations with exceptional skill. Since Hough managed to overshoot his own limits at a ride in August 2012 and crashed Lee Park's Triumph in an emergency stopping maneuver, some people might take his advice with a small block of salt. However, most experienced riders know that there are only two kinds of motorcyclists: those who have crashed and those who haven't crashed yet. Hough isn't shy about illustrating this book with pictures of his own off-pavement misadventures and self-deprecating examples of moments when his mental state resulted in (or could have) his sliding down the road shiny-side-down. Crashing is just one possible result from riding a vehicle that doesn't balance itself. During Aerostich's VBR3, I had the pleasure of talking to David for an extended period about his post-crash take on "motorcycle safety" (a phrase he believes is an oxymoron) and his position on motorcycle training is even more controversial now than ever.
There are a lot of valuable, but subtle, riding tips that could be missed by a first pass through Mastering the Ride. As an example, in MSF classes, instructors always challenge riders to "look where you want to go," but Hough extends that further by saying "point your nose . . . in the direction you want to go." Using the fighter pilots' tactic of both looking in the intended target direction and keeping your eyes level to force a commitment to a direction change, this hint goes a long ways toward minimizing "target fixation." Just for this tip, I'm glad to have read the book.
Hough's take on preoccupied drivers is accurate and usually far more politically correct than my own. When he describes the reckless homicide rear end crash that took Anita Zaffke's life in 2009, he doesn't provide more than the first name of the victim or much of a condemnation of the homicidal fingernail-painting driver. In a similar fashion, he refrains from seriously criticizing modern driving skills or in-vehicle distractions. Hough is less politically correct when he describes most US highway law enforcement tactics as being "revenue generating" rather than safety-oriented. Having been hooked by speed traps in some pretty silly locations and even sillier law enforcement legal interpretations, I'm totally on board with Hough in this regard.
Hough mistakes bicycle habits or newbie fear for skill when he describes using two or three finger-braking as an advanced riding skill. If you watch the extras on the Faster DVD, you'll see that Valentino Rossi often uses all four fingers and I suspect Hough is rethinking his own braking skills after flipping Park's Triumph this past summer. There are times when two finger braking is more than enough, but making that a regular habit is a formula for reduced braking when you really need it and a busted finger or two when the bars slam to the ground in a right turn low-side. His take on advanced braking systems (ABS and linked) seems to be pretty "old guy biased," too.
Where this book shines is in the street riding strategies. Hough describes a roadway that is in constant flux and a high state of hazard; just like the roads we all ride. His tips for evaluating traffic, turn radii and camber, road surfaces, and other road risks are valuable and expert. There are two appendix entries that the majority of American riders should read: "The Aging Rider" and "Travel." Since the average age of American motorcyclists is moving right along with the Boomer generation, we're all heading toward that moment when we have to consider being too old to ride. Goofy "solutions" like trikes and sidecars aside, it is simply a matter of time for all of us. Hough is close to that point himself and discusses aging and declining skills honestly and factually. His admonition that we all need to ride somewhere on our motorcycles is just good sense. Ride someplace you've always dreamed of visiting.
The one and only problem I’ve had, so far, with my new-to-me Nissan Frontier pickup is the aftermarket (Viper) “security system.” From the start, the damn thing has been a glitch-factory. Why anyone would fuck up perfectly good remote control doors and a factory alarm system with some goofy crap that might or might not provide the basic functions totally loses me. Of course, I have the same mental block with aftermarket crap on motorcycles. Because only one of the Viper’s remote controls appeared to be sync’d with the system, I crawled around under the dash until I found the “valet” button and turned the system off. Once that was accomplished, the pickup seemed to be pretty normal.
After going over the pickup, cleaning, inspecting, and sorting out what a maintenance process might be, I noticed the Viper’s “siren” had been left dangling in the engine compartment. Not being a fan of loose ends, I found a place to ground the thing and bolt it solidly to the chassis and discovered the system re-initialized itself once the siren was grounded. I had errands to do, so I didn’t worry about it for the moment. On the highway, I discovered the door locks now randomly cycled with the vehicle’s speed. As I found when I first got the pickup, if I stalled the truck (still getting used to the manual transmission), I had to do a routine with the key to get the truck to restart. Back under the dash and once again with the “valet” bullshit. With the Viper crap out of the system, the pickup is back to normal.
I mentioned this to a friend who worked for a company that specialized in hotrodding electronics for diesel trucks and he said, “One of the techs for [his old employer] told me the first thing he always asks his customers when they complain about electronic problems is ‘Did you install a security system?’” If they did, his first suggestion was that they remove the damn security system, then try troubleshooting the truck if there was still a problem. Usually, he claimed that solved the electrical/electronic problems; everything from hard starting to fuel mapping to malfunctioning automatic transmission programming and the usual immobilizer and door lock problems.
Supposedly, it should be easy to pull this damn Viper system, but I’m between houses, garages, and test equipment and tools. I might have to live with no electronic door keys for a winter. It’s too cold to crawl around under the dash reconnecting wires and testing the results and my new garage will even be colder for a season. Once again, it proves my rule for everything from noisy exhaust systems to air-box modifications to Power Commanders: for every dollar spent on aftermarket crap I take two dollars off of my resale offer over what the stock motorcycle might be worth. You’re buying that crap on your own dime because I’m going to be pulling it off and tossing it or selling it. Shade tree mechanics are not nearly as often catastrophic as shade tree “engineers.” When some math-impaired fruitcake with a set of cheap wrenches thinks he can re-engineer a Yamaha, Husky, Honda, KTM, BMW, Suzuki, or Kawasaki to perform better than those companies’ engineers, I’m skeptical, at best. Harley, Polaris, Ducati, or Indian might be a different matter.
Nov 4, 2014
You tell me. I've done a few of these spill tactics in my younger years and pulled off a couple of them last winter on the WR in deep sand. This summer, I had a thirty-something guy in one of my ERC's explain how he'd quit off-roading a few years back because of his kids. I thought he meant the usual "now that I'm a dad I have to be responsible and play it safe" thing, but he explained his decision came from watching his kids. He described his toddlers as being "made of rubber and magic" and realized that if he took any one of the sorts of falls they experienced dozens of times a day he'd be in crutches and casts for months. Once he assessed his own deteriorating "rubber and magic" quotient, he decided going fast off-road was for younger guys.
Survival after some of the spills on this video can only be explained by "rubber and magic." At 66, my rubber components have oxidized into brittle cheap plastic and the magic has gone away. Regardless, I miss having the confidence, durability, and gumption to go fast off-road and envy these guys; even the ones who got hurt going balls out where smarter people would fear to fire up the bike.
Nov 3, 2014
Way back at the beginning of the information age, in about 1992, a biking, IS'ing friend of mine told me that he was beginning to hate the World Wide Web. Since we'd been working together to assemble a corporate website for our employer for the previous couple of months, I was a little surprised. His argument was that when the web really hit, "everyone" would be on the internet. When that happened, the Net would cease to be a resource for geeks and technoids and it would become as saturated with unskilled people and pointless crap as radio airwaves have been in the last fifty years. At that time, about the only way to even use e-mail was to be a moderately competent UNIX programmer and be able to assemble enough code to modify a text editor to suit your ISP's requirements. It was a pretty exclusive club. You had to be a geek, or be really nice to one, to accomplish anything on the Net.
He was right. Now, everybody is using the WWW and it's commercial, crass, packed full of time-wasting, resource hogging advertisements, porno and politics, and, in a few seconds of search engine manipulation, you can find the wrong answer to almost any question. The web is more fun and more useful, too, but if you didn't know how to use the old tools you probably don't get as much out of the newer, more powerful tools. Looking at national and Minnesota accident statistics, I'm beginning to think that my real gripe against hippo-cruisers is that they make motorcycling too damned easy for "everyone" to become motorcyclists. In particular, they make it easy for average, poorly trained, unskilled, "physically (and, sometimes, mentally) challenged" folks to ride a motorcycle. At least, they can ride it badly.
An Art Friedman Motorcyclist column noted that there has been a steady and significant increase in engine displacement that appears to be closely linked to a steady and significant increase in motorcycle crashes and motorcycle deaths. The writer cautioned that relationship could be related "to rider-training availability, to older riders, to faster sportbikes, to fewer helmet laws, to a reduction in recent rider experience, to the displacement march among popular cruisers. . . " And so on. How about a possible relationship between all these crashes and the fact that most of these older, untrained riders are buying butt-heavy big cruisers that any damn fool can get out of the driveway but nobody can actually safely maneuver on the road?
Look at the characteristics of the typical hippo-bike:
- Minimal horsepower, but lots of low rpm torque. So grandma or grandpa can let that nasty clutch lever fly, like a pinball machine flipper, without stalling the bike or wheeling down the driveway.
- A center of gravity so low that the bike stands by itself, requiring hardly any concentration from the rider in balancing the bike and putting it in motion.
- Fat and flat tires for more of that balance-free start-up action. 22" to 28" seat height so obese and inflexible American couch potatoes can wedge a knee over and mount up, even if they are so disabled that they are no more agile than a marble statue.
- Short seat heights and a low center of gravity forces designers to accept impractically low ground clearances. Yet another way to sacrifice one of motorcycles' safety advantages. If you can't even think about clearing a curb in a tight situation, you've trapped yourself to the asphalt where all the violence is going to be.
- To make up for years of cubicle paralysis, blimp owners want lots of sound and vibration to compensate for all that wasted time making the boss rich. I think Shakespeare called this "sound and fury signifying nothing," It's not nothing. It's a sensory generator for the the tactilely disabled. If you can't tell how fast a well tuned four is spinning by the buzz in the bars, ride a big-ass twin and your ribs bang together for a much more obvious sensation. Of course, you can't hear a 747 about to fly up your butt, but you can imagine all that noise moves people out of your unstable path of travel.
- Hippo-bikes are exercises in long-framed, super-stable geometry. So, once you get your hippo rolling, it doesn't do anything surprising, like turning. Some of these bikes won't change direction unless you really put your mind (and lots of body and handlebar pressure) to it. Trains are more maneuverable.
The list could go on for pages. Every aspect of these bikes is intended to make it easy for "anyone" to saddle up and roll forward. Unfortunately, rolling forward isn't all there is to motorcycling. You have to stop, sometimes you have to stop quickly; something that is made much more difficult when all that extra mass gets plugged into the momentum equation. Turning is a good thing, too. Sometimes being able to turn quickly is the difference between an exciting moment and a final moment. Turning these massive and infinitely-stable motorcycles feels like something you do after submitting a flight plan and requesting a stay on the laws of physics.
Here's a discouraging quote from Motorcyclist's 2003 review of BMW's F650CS, "to put the entry-level rider in the crosshairs, BMW has kept the engine full of torque and the injection purposely tuned to make the bike as docile as can be. With generous flywheel effect and a smooth clutch, edging out into traffic couldn't be easier." That's a positive spin on exactly what I'm talking about. I don't want to pick on the F650CS much, though, because I happen to think it is an ideal bike for riders of all skill levels (assuming those riders have at least a 36" inseam). This is a pretty good, general purpose bike, but it's obvious that BMW's designers are joining the mindless marketing rush to attract unskilled crowds to their motorcycles.
Don't get me wrong. I want lots of folks on motorcycles. I'd like to have dozens of models at my local dealership that tempt me to part with my money, if I had any. I'd like to have the highways, freeways, and side roads buzzing with motorcycles so that we have enough political and social clout to take advantage of motorcycles' advantages. I just want those riders to be competent enough that they don't all kill themselves in a lemming dive across the median.
Even further back in ancient history, my ancient history, I was taking a cross-country bus tour and ended up sitting next to a comedian heading back to L.A. after making an unsuccessful run at New York. We started sharing jokes and stories and he hit me with "why is there handicapped parking at tennis courts?" Thirty years later, I still can't explain handicapped parking at tennis courts, but I've been watching ever since and I never see those spaces filled.
Motorcycling is somewhere between a physical activity and a sport. I don't think people who might park their cars in handicapped spaces belong on motorcycles. There have been a few times in my own riding history when I began to think that I either needed to become more fit or quit. The thought of leaving two-wheeled transportation is always an exercise motivator for me. If you don't have the coordination to deal with the controls, you don't belong on two wheels. If you can't turn your head far enough to check blind spots, you shouldn't be at the wheel of a car or riding a motorcycle. If your judgment is impaired, temporarily or permanently, two wheels are less safe (for you) than four and you should avoid self-piloting altogether. There are folks that some MSF instructors classify as TDTR (too dumb to ride). It may not be a full-fledged sport, but motorcycling is a lot more physically and mentally demanding than driving a car or riding the bus. A clue to your motorcycling future might be "if you suck on a bicycle, you will most likely suck on a motorcycle."
I don't think motorcycling is well served by the "universal vehicle tactic." Building bikes that allow new riders on the road with next-to-no-skills or capacity for riding is the easy, dangerous way to attract customers. It's easy because it avoids the responsibility of getting across the critical point that motorcycling is a high risk activity, unless you have the skills to reduce the risk. Without bodywork to act as armor, motorcyclists don't do well in multi-vehicle collisions. It's dangerous because, when these baby-rider-sitting-bikes put a large quantity of riders on the road whose lack of skills and physical incapacity gets them killed or injured in ways that attracts the insurance industry's attention, we could be in for some nasty regulation from Big Momma Government.
We'll be seeing even more regulations like road and traffic access restrictions, helmet laws, health and life insurance penalties for motorcyclists, equipment inspections, and even more limitations on motorcycles that can be imported and receive EPA and DOT approvals. That, particularly, bothers me because the bikes I like the best are the bikes that provide the lowest profit margins for manufacturers. Those bikes will be the first to go when the boom falls. High tech, leading edge, small caliber bikes are only profitable if they sell in big numbers. Without those profits, even the big companies will try to imitate the boutique bike manufacturers to attract the discretionary dollars of the idle rich, because that's where the big bucks for minimal engineering and manufacturing investment lies.
I can clearly remember a lot of great bikes rotting on the showroom floors in the early and mid-80s. Depressing times and the bikes that followed were almost as depressing. Today's big bikes are the residue of that economic lesson. A lesson not well learned by the motorcycling business. Motorcycling is not the kind of activity that survives well in a vacuum. We have to stick together, as a sport and a mode of transportation, or we all vanish. I don't think the World Wide Web model will work for motorcycling. If we put enough incompetent people on the road, insurance companies and government will start to take notice. That won't be a good thing.
Nov 1, 2014
Hi there. I'd just send you an email, but I can't find one, so I hope you don't mind if I ask my question here in the comments.
I'm new to riding so I know almost nothing. After buying a helmet (full face, bright green Icon Alliance. Maybe you remember it from when from when I took your course in September) I started wondering if it actually fit me properly. See, it locks down tightly around the my skull, so that I can't wedge my fingers between under the front and my forehead. However, there's a bit of play between my cheek and the cheek pads so that they lose contact when I wobble the helmet back and forth. I've heard that is an indication of a problem with the fit. I have almost no fat in my cheeks, so maybe that's a factor. In short, it seems to fit my skull perfectly, but not my face.
My question is this: would you, in your opinion, consider the above problem enough of a safety issue to justify getting an entirely new helmet, or is the fact that it fits very snugly around the skull the most important factor? Any input you might have would be appreciated.
Sorry about the lost “contact” button on the blog. I don’t know where it went, but I’ll try to get that fixed this week.
I have almost no visual skills, so I might be misinterpreting the helmet fit you’ve described. If so, someone else on this list may get it better. Helmet fit is a really personal thing and several manufacturers make a decent effort to shape helmets differently in size gradations. Arai, for example, narrows their helmet form with smaller sizes. The HelmetCheck.org website has a pretty good description of one method of inspecting the fit of a helmet: http://www.helmetcheck.org/thefit.aspx. Their list of inspection points are:
From your description, it sounds to me like your helmet is a pretty good fit. I guess it depends on how much force you are using when you “wobble the helmet back and forth,” though. The real question, in my mind, would be does it feel like the helmet would come off on impact due to the lack of contact on the side of your face? If not and it’s comfortable, it’s probably fine. If you can rotate the helmet enough to slip it over your head with the strap adjusted normally, it’s too loose. Remember, the helmet will loosen up with use. I always buy a helmet that is slightly uncomfortably tight (everywhere) and, 5,000 miles later, it will be perfect.
One piece of gear I’d never recommend buying untried is a helmet. That said, I’ve done it before and been unhappy with the results. The reason stores like Bob’s in Little Canada have lots of helmets is because they know fit is everything. I think this YouTube video is about as good a presentation on helmet fit as I’ve ever seen. I especially like the concentration on visibility and fit.