Jan 31, 2014

News from the Truly Strange

I snagged this (thanks to Sev) from http://dangerousminds.net/comments/man_buried_riding_his_harley_davidson_motorcycle

84-year old Bill Standley of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, was buried in a plexiglass / wood coffin while “riding” his 1967 Harley-Davidson motorcycle while sporting a helmet, leather jacket and boots. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before.
According to Columbus Dispatch:
It was a funeral he started planning 18 years ago, well before he could have known about the lung cancer that killed him on Sunday at age 84.
“This was his dream,” said one of his daughters, Dorothy Brown. “He was a one-of-a-kind.”

Jan 29, 2014

Blogging vs. Getting Paid

One of the cool things about writing for money is . . . the money. I have always gotten a special joy out of getting paid to write for a variety of reasons, including the acknowledgement of value that comes with receiving a bit of cash for my work. On the other hand, my least favorite thing about writing for publication is the word limit. So, for every article I write I usually have a really long article that I start with and have to carve down to whatever column-size limit the editor has placed on the article. For example, the BMW 1200GS article was submitted to MMM at 900 words, but the original article (what I started with) was about 3X that length. Maybe more, I didn't bother to count the words until I'd hacked it under 1200 words. I have a pretty good feel for how small an article has to be before it will fit into a magazine's format.

It's fun to see my stuff in print, but it's almost as much fun (maybe as much or more, even) to see everything I wanted to write about a bike where anyone who's interested can read it. So, as usual, thanks for reading my blog and putting up with me and my crusted opinions. I truly appreciate you all.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Aerostich Elkskin Gauntlet Roper Gloves

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Stuff 008
This is what a  brand new, un-abused pair of Aerostich Elkskin Gauntlet Ropers looks like right out of the package.
For 75,000 miles and almost 5 years, my Aerostich Competition Ropers have been my go-to gloves for touring, all-weather commuting, and general road and track abuse. This past spring, I had a surgical nurse in one of my MSF Basic Rider Courses and she abused me of the idea that any glove that doesn't cover some critical areas of the wrist could be considered serious protection. I will admit to being slightly freaked out, but I decided to wait for the 2013 Very Boring Rally III for my upgrade.
After looking over all of the options, I went for a version my old favorites, the Ropers in the uninsulated gauntlet version. The price is more than right, considering the incredible protection and comfort; $97. In fact, they were $80-something at the Really Boring Rally.
A thing to know about the Ropers is that they are really, really tough. The upside to that is that they are great protection. The downside is that they take a while to break-in. The Gauntlets are no different. I wore them all through the last of the 2013 season and they were the gloves I picked to carry on our winter trip to the southwest.
This is what one Aerostich Competition Elkskin Roper Gauntlet looks like at 12,000 miles and six months. The twin is missing in action.
I put a lot of miles on these gloves and expected this "test" to last for a couple more years before the first report. However, another Aerostich product, my prototype AD1 jacket, ended the test prematurely. One of my few gripes about the Darien jacket is the side pockets. The Cordura material is slicker than snow and pretty much anything that gets stuffed into those pockets will squirt out at the worst possible time. In fact, when I replaced my 12 year old Darien pants, I went for the AD1 version because the pockets are Velcro closed. I have lost a fortune in pocket change and, at least once, my billfold to those slippery unsecured pockets.
This time, the similar pockets in the Darien jacket bit me in the ass. So, all I can say is the Roper Gauntlets are good protection, tough as expected, but short lived because I gotta wear two gloves. Fortunately, TorC has a fine western wear store and I replaced the Ropers with a great pair of cowboy gloves, also made out of elkskin for $30. They aren't gauntlets, but they'll do till I get back home and buy replacements.
Stuff 011

Jan 27, 2014

#41 Driving Impaired

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

July was the tenth anniversary of my last appointment with jury duty. I don't know if I've since been identified as a "hostile juror" and blacklisted or if my luck has simply improved, but it's an experience I don't miss. This week, however, I was reminded of my position at that court date and how radicalized I've become since then. Which is saying something, because the court appeared to think I was pretty radical at the time.

My position of driving impaired is, when someone is found to be incapable of maneuvering a vehicle precisely and quickly, the vehicle and the driver's license should be immediately confiscated. And not returned, ever. Car dealers would lose their businesses for selling a vehicle to an unlicensed customer. Individuals should be held responsible for privately selling a vehicle to an individual who does not hold a valid license and the seller should be liable for the sales price when the vehicle is impounded. That's the way we're fighting the "war on drugs," why shouldn't it apply to a war that's more win-able?

We all know the real reason that DUI, DWI, and the other doing-something-while-drunk acronyms don't carry much punishment. Most of our legislators, governors, and presidents have been, and are, drunks. They don't want to lose their "right" to wander from bar to men's club to alcohol-soaked fundraisers. Most of the ruling class is equally soused and they own the legislators, so we get wimpy, gutless, and mildly expensive penalties that bounce off of the skin of the rich and powerful like a mosquito on Superman's hand. That is exactly what I objected to when I was asked for my opinion in court.

It didn't help that, by 9:00AM , I'd already had a miserable day. The day before, a friend and I had gone riding in the hills south of Denver. About 75 miles into a 125 mile riding afternoon, we swapped bikes so he could see how my brand new Yamaha 850 TDM handled on a dirt road. He was blown away and left me eating dust on his Honda 650 Hawk for quite a few miles before he gave my bike back. I didn't mind, since I always loved riding the Hawk, even on a dirt road. What I did object to, I discovered later, was he'd had to switch to reserve and didn't think to mention it to me.

This friend never met a vehicle he couldn't run out of gas. He and his passengers have walked away from motorcycles, large and small cars, new and old cars, lawnmowers and snowblowers wondering how someone could not notice the arrow pointing at the large "E" in the middle of the dashboard. Apparently, it rarely occurred to him that running out of fuel would result in a disabled vehicle. Sort of a personality defect, I suppose.

The morning of my court appearance, I was about half way between my home and the small town south of Denver that served as the county seat for my county, when I discovered the bike was on reserve. Yeah, I know, I should have checked. The TDM has an electric fuel pump and there was no reason to turn off the petcock unless I was removing the tank. So, the petcock only served me as a fuel gauge. This morning it didn't do squat for me. I managed to nurse the bike downhill the last 4 of 5 miles before I ran out of fuel and downhill. I pushed the bike the last mile into Castle Rock and arrived slightly late for court, barely able to stand, drenched in sweat, and pissed off.

I suppose as punishment for being late, the prosecution lawyer called me first. "Do you support the state's laws on driving while intoxicated," he asked.

"I have a much stronger position on impaired drivers," I answered.

"So, you would be inclined to prosecute a driver who was found to have a blood alcohol level above the state's mandated 0.1%?"

"If there was evidence that his driving was impaired by anything, I would, yes."

That wasn't apparently the answer to the question the lawyer had asked. So he asked it again, "If our defendant was tested and found to be driving with more than 0.1% blood alcohol, would you convict him on the grounds of driving while impaired?"

"If there was evidence that his driving was impaired, yes I would." And I was dismissed. What I wanted as evidence was some sign that the driver had been stopped because his driving skills were obviously disabled and, after being stopped, he was found to be legally drunk. I read, a few days later, that wasn't the case. The driver was stopped after leaving a bar, not yet out of the bar's parking lot, and had not shown any evidence of impairment. The case was dismissed for another reason, but it made me think about how this badly designed law gets abused. And I've been thinking about it ever since.

I'm old enough to have been on the roads in the bad old days when people often drank and drove. I lived in Texas when you could wave a beer at the highway patrol and they'd simply wave back.  I've even ridden with some folks who would be well beyond our current legal limit and was not particularly concerned to do so. The fact is, some people are drunk on a single 3.2% beer and some people drive much better than average after downing killer amounts of grain alcohol. The law is supposed to treat us all equally, not assume we are all the same person with the same abilities.

I was just out of tech school and my first boss was convinced that Everclear was the perfect drink because it was "so pure" that he never got a hangover from drinking the crap. Coming back from a job 100 miles from home, he drained about 1/4 of a bottle of the stuff while one-handedly managing a one-ton Chevy pickup full of equipment, traveling over poorly maintained dirt roads at high speeds. In fact, we made it home in slightly more than an hour. He four-wheel drifted his way around country curves and blasted down the road with at least as much skill as A.J. Foyt on an oval track. The booze didn't bother me, but the lousy roads and overtaxed pickup suspension sure did. This isn't an ad for drinking or driving. On a high intake week, I might down two glasses or beer. I'm not opposed to the stuff, I'm indifferent. I take it if it's free and I usually leave it if I have to pay for it. I’m also not campaigning for reducing the legal blood alcohol limit. I’m all for tightening it up, in fact.

Even more to the point, I’m for tightening up driving skills all around. Every day on my commute to work, I see, and try to avoid, drivers who are more impaired than my Everclear-guzzling,  four-wheel power-sliding ex-employer. I have a long list of driving impairments that I think are at least as critical as alcohol influence. Being stupid is at the top of that list.

Owning a cell phone and using it while driving is incredibly stupid. Rear-ending anyone in any driving situation is perfect and absolute evidence of driving stupidity.

Personally, I'd like to see a law put a limit on the number of rear-ending accidents a driver can have. Pass that number and that's it for driving; for life. Two would be an acceptable number for this brand of stupidity. Three is beyond stupid.

Single vehicle accidents fall into the same category of impairment. Maybe one or two accidents of this sort in a lifetime might be judged reasonable, assuming a lot of miles driven. Someone who, on a regular basis, crashes into barriers, runs off of the road, or is unable to avoid one of the sort of trees that jump in front of cars is permanently impaired and should not be driving anything more massive than a 25cc moped.

Obviously, other driving impairments should be taken as seriously as being stupid.

Being blind, for instance, ought to be taken more seriously. Being so physically incapacitated that a driver is unable to turn his head to check for blind spots should be a factor that removes a driving license. An addiction to coffee while driving might be cause for driving dismissal. Essentially, any activity or incapacity that drops a driver's skills below a minimum level should be grounds for license removal.

Now that’s the way to solve highway overcrowding, get rid of the incapacitated, foolish, marginally skilled drivers on the road. Based on recent experience, I’d say less than half of the current drivers would retain their licenses seventy-two hours past the moment this law went into effect.

If we decided to do it tomorrow we could have the technology to actually test for driving impairment instead of revenue-generating but marginally relevant issues like blood alcohol level. Setting random standards for driving ability is unreasonable, unfair, and disingenuous. Highway safety should be the goal. Driving (especially driving a large car, truck, or SUV) is a life-support, life-taking activity. Hell, Ford Explorers, Chevy Tahoe’s, and that Cadillac SUV monstrosity are weapons of mass destruction. Everyone should meet a minimum standard, regardless of recreational or occupational activities. If you can't drive well enough to be on the road, you shouldn't be on the road.

With minimal technology and a little hardware, the police could start putting drivers into driving simulators programmed with action-packed highway scenarios. These simulators would evaluate all aspects of impairment. The larger the vehicle the driver is mismanaging, the tougher the test he/she has to pass. Fail the test; lose the vehicle and the license. If your cell phone is turned on when you're stopped, you have to take the test while correctly answering automated questions on the phone. If a cup of hot coffee is found in a cup holder, you take the test sucking on hot coffee. Fail the test; take a cab or the bus home. And you get to look forward to calling your auto loan company in the morning to explain why their collateral now belongs to the state. Now there's a law with some teeth and a purpose. I look forward to your comments, especially those of you who think "going for a ride" means wobbling from bar to bar.

I'll be even more entertained if you are an elected official who resents my implications. Please write, I need a good laugh.

October 2004

Jan 24, 2014

Motorcycle Review: 2012 BMW R1200GS

Adventure Touring's Founding Father

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

I have no idea where this building was. I stumbled on it while wandering around the Minnesota River Valley.

BMW was the first manufacturer to take the whole "adventure touring" genre seriously, in 1980 with the R80G/S model. Since then, BMW has been hammering this market with a collection of excellent on/off-road motorcycles ready for an adventure when the right owner comes along. In its odd way, the BMW GS bikes carry a special kind of prestige among motorcyclists and the bike-curious. Famous people like Neal Pert, Harrison Ford, Orlando Bloom, and Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman have put the R1200GS in front of millions of television viewers and readers. The rest of us dream about hitting the right lottery numbers so we can be like Ewan and Charley. Two-and-a-half days on an R1200GS and I was almost ready to blow a couple of bucks on my own Power Ball delusion.

After being pleasantly surprised that I could swing a leg over our test bike, my next surprise was discovering that the boxer doesn't kick off instantly. You have to stick with the starter button long enough for all that mass to get swinging. When it first fires up, the motor tosses off an odd vibration and takes a few moments to settle into a comfortable low engine speed rumble. At low engine RPM's, the motor shakes the whole chassis in old fashioned twin style. The exhaust isn't loud, but it's not 2012 politically correct. It's noisy enough that you can blip the throttle to wake up a dozing cager at a stop light. Honestly, I liked the sound enough that popping the motor slightly just off-idle while I'm wasting time at a light was mildly entertaining. Cruising down the super-slab puts the motor at about 4krpm at 70mph. There is a lot of horsepower and torque left from that point to the bike's 8.5k redline. The EFI throttle mapping is aggressive and when you whack the throttle in gears 1-4, be ready to loft the front wheel. At BMW's estimated 42mpg, the 5-gallon tank could deliver a 200-mile range and while the EFI calculator claimed that I'd been getting 42-48mpg, my fuel receipts indicated that I got 32, 34, and 38mpg over almost 400 miles. Shifting is predictable, precise, and no unusual movement is required. Maybe to make the faithful feel comfortable with this radical modern concept, all of that great feel is accompanied with the historical Euro-primitive "clunk" sound on each shift, up or down. The rest of the power transmission is typically BMW.

The R1200GS handling is legendary for a reason. The bike instills confidence, on and off-pavement. The universal design of the GS is slightly slanted toward all sorts of civilized riding situations, the twistier the better. Still, the bike works better than 516 pounds should be expected to work off-road. The weight feels low and in most situations I barely noticed that it is a big bike. The BMW is a little scary in deep sand, but that's probably more me and $18k motorcycles than an actual deficiency. On the MSF course, the GS was maneuverable enough to handle all of the tight cornering exercises inside of the lines designed for our 250cc trainers.

The riding position with the low seat might be too constricted for taller riders, but BMW has several options with the stock seat that can lift the seated position another two inches. I was on the bike, almost non-stop for 200 miles, twice, and comfort was never an issue. In rough riding situations, standing on the pegs requires a little more rearward stance than I consider ideal, because of the big engine cases. It's not uncomfortable and it works, but it's a little restrictive. The skinny footpegs do not work for me. The little rubber insert is easily removed and should be tossed as far from the bike as possible at earliest convenience. Wider serrated pegs would be the first aftermarket piece I'd put on the GS. The bike's handling is predictable and only seems out of its element when you're not pushing it hard enough. Big semi divots in a dirt road are best taken hard and fast, while the usual Minnesota freeway engineering flaws are rougher than expected. The single-sided swingarm is, as always, maintenance-friendly, beautifully executed, and downright cool. The tubeless wheels and wire hubs are solidly trick.

With or without ABS, the GS has an integrated braking system that applies both brakes with front brake application. The rear brake is plenty powerful on its own. The BMW's ABS system is more aimed at on-road conditions. In loose gravel or sand, the rear brake pulsates and the front is too grabby for a balls-to-the-wall panic stop that relies on ABS for control. In fact, I'd be inclined to turn off ABS on a long off-road trip. On pavement, the BMW's brakes are firm, powerful, and predictable.

What's under the BMW's seat.

Turn the seat lock toward the back of the bike and the passenger seat comes off, revealing extra storage rack space. Turn the key toward the front and the rider's seat can be removed without messing with the passenger seat and you can get at the battery, the "rider's manual" storage, the tool kit, and a helmet security loop. All of the electrical systems, except the auxiliary LED headlight circuit, are electronically fused, so resetting one of those systems after a fault only requires switching the ignition off and on. The rest of basic maintenance is pretty well considered, too. Removing the right side cover exposes the air filter and servicing that unit is as simple as it should be. Servicing the brakes, wheels and tires, suspension, and the usual electrical culprits (lights) has been designed to be simple and fairly tool-free. Early in the test, I discovered the oil level was a little low. Topping off the oil pointed out a little gripe I have with BMW's maintenance procedure. The oil fill is on the top of the right side cylinder and the inspection window is under the left size cylinder. 

All the available information from the "multifunction display; from the BMW rider's manual.

The "multifunction display" looks pretty unused, in its normal state. Typically, fuel status, water temperature, the gear indicator, turn signals, an ABS status light, the odometer or one of the two tripmeter options, and one of the on-board computer functions are all that is displayed. However, if all hell breaks loose on the bike, the data display could be pretty well jammed with fault information. The fault displays include warnings for tire pressure faults, a "needs service" indicator, battery charge fault, emergency engine operation mode, low oil pressure, low oil level, headlight failure, and a collection of alpha/numeric codes for troubleshooting purposes. The display is, in fact, a full-service troubleshooting tool with a collection of really cool hidden capabilities that service techs rely on in repairing electronics-heavy modern motorcycles.


The whole rider's information package.

From a rider's perspective, the whole console is functional and user-friendly. The analog tach and speedometer are easily interpreted, especially in the dark, and where you'd expect them to be. The speedo is large and the main item in the instrument cluster, just like it should be (140mph/230kph max). The tach is at the top with an 8.5krpm redline. Just below the tach is the very bright LED display and below that is the previously-discussed multifunction display. The instrument cluster is fortified by a serious looking crash bar and completely shielded by the windscreen.

Just a little of the stuff you can do with your left thumb.

The bike has a collection of switches near the left grip for the usual turn-signal, horn, and lights operation, plus switches to cycle the computer display function (INFO), a switch for disabling ABS and the Automatic Stability Control (ASC) functions, and a switch for controlling the Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) options. The INFO switch cycles the computer functions through a clock, two trip odometers, ambient temperature, average speed, fuel consumption, estimated remaining range, and oil level. Our bike did not have either of the ASC or ESA options.

Our test bike did come with about $1,600 of optional features, including a lowering setup, heated grips, hand guards, an on-board computer, and the super-sexy cross-spoke wheel package. Other options include electronic suspension adjustment (ESA), automatic stability (traction) control (ASC), and an anti-theft system. Going for every BMW GS option adds about $3,600 to the $16,150 base price.


A look at the ZTechnik accessories.

Because the R1200GS has been around for a while, Touratech, ADVDesigns, and lots of aftermarket suppliers have dozens of farkles and useful accessories for the R1200GS. You could almost double-down on your $16,500 base model investment from their catalogs. Our test bike came with a tall ZTechnik windscreen and that company's mirror extenders and an accessory shelf for power connectors and your GPS or radar detector. With the mirrors extended an extra 3", they provide a completely unobstructed view of where you have been. The very-adjustable windshield mount allows for considerable alteration of the shield's angle and height. I'm not usually convinced that I like tall shields and the ZTechnik was no exception. I suspect I'd like the stock shield and mirror positions better than that rig.

I'm not a fan of motorcycles with character, but the BMW's character is "competence." Lots of little things are done well. From a kickstand that never offers a moment of insecurity, even when you're putting it down in soft dirt, off-camber, when you're tired and distracted to a motor that just does what it's supposed to do. It's a stupid little thing, but one I appreciated every time I parked the bike. Even the BMW's key is beefed-up. Instead of having the key notches on the outside of the key, BMW has put the notches on the inside of the key slot, making the key stronger and the lock a lot harder to pick. If you add the anti-theft option to the bike, picking the lock won't help a thief ride away on your bike. The Electronic Immobilizer System (EWS) handshakes with your smart key to determine if you're using an authorized key. If you aren't, the bike stays immobilized. The ignition is disabled until it is deactivated by a remote control if or a special code is entered by way of switching the key off and on. Damn, that's tricky!  The auto-cancelling turn signals were a nice surprise. I haven't had that convenient feature since my '83 Yamaha Vision and I've missed it. The heated grips were completely new experience. Sev turned them on just before I rode away from his house and by the time I made it home, I was plotting heated grip installation on my V-Strom.

BMW1200GS17Monday night, I put the big BMW back on the freeway for the last time. Traffic was heavy and a little competitive. The big bike effortlessly puts me where I want to be, when I want to be there. In that environment, a gear indicator is useful. The GS pulls hard at any RPM above 1,000, so it's hard to feel the shift points surrounded by noisier vehicles. From my home to Leo's South, I have 27 miles of urban traffic to collect my last thoughts about this motorcycle. Owning a R1200GS is out of my socio-economic class, but I can almost imagine putting in a couple of evil years to change sides in the Class Wars, just to own a big GS. I am going to miss this motorcycle. It looks so good sitting next to my WR250X in the garage.

Thanks to the folks at Leo's South, Wayne and Randy Bedeaux, for making this terrific motorcycle available for review. This was an especially generous loan, since it was one of their personal bikes. If it were mine, I wouldn't let this babe out of my sight.

Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, March 2013.


R 1200 GS $16,150 MSRP

  • Engine
  • Type
  • Air/oil-cooled flat twin ('Boxer') 4-stroke engine, two camshafts and four radially aligned valves per cylinder, central balancer shaft
  • Bore x stroke
  • 101 mm x 73 mm
  • Capacity
  • 1,170 cc
  • Rated output
  • 110 hp (81 kW) at 7,750 rpm
  • Max. torque
  • 89 ft-lb (120 Nm) at 6,000 rpm
  • Compression ratio
  • 12.0 : 1
  • Mixture control / engine management
  • Electronic intake pipe injection / BMS-K+ digital engine management with overrun fuel cut-off, twin spark ignition
  • Emission control
  • Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-3
  • Performance / fuel consumption
  • Maximum speed
  • Over 125 mph (200 km/h)
  • Fuel consumption per 100 km at constant 90 km/h
  • 55 mpg, at a constant 55 mph
  • Fuel consumption per 100 km at constant 120 km/h
  • Fuel type
  • Unleaded super and premium.
  • Electrical system
  • Alternator
  • three-phase alternator 720 W
  • Battery
  • 12 V / 14 Ah, maintenance-free
  • Power transmission
  • Clutch
  • Single dry plate clutch, hydraulically operated
  • Gearbox
  • Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox with helical gear teeth
  • Drive
  • Shaft drive
  • Chassis / brakes
  • Frame
  • Two-section frame consisting of front and rear sections, load- bearing engine-gearbox unit
  • Front wheel location / suspension
  • BMW Motorrad Telelever; stanchion diameter 41 mm, central spring strut, spring preload with 5-position mechanical adjustment
  • Rear wheel location / suspension
  • Cast aluminum single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; WAD strut (travel-related damping), spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable
  • Suspension travel front / rear
  • 7.5/7.9 inches (190 mm/200 mm)
  • Wheelbase
  • 59.3 inches (1,507 mm)
  • Castor
  • 4 inches (101 mm)
  • Steering head angle
  • 64.3°
  • Wheels
  • Cast aluminum wheels
  • Rim, front
  • 2.50 x 19"
  • Rim, rear
  • 4.00 x 17"
  • Tyres, front
  • 110/80 R 19
  • Tyres, rear
  • 150/70 R 17
  • Brake, front
  • Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 305 mm, 4-piston fixed calipers
  • Brake, rear
  • Single disc brake, diameter 265 mm, double-piston floating caliper
  • ABS
  • BMW Motorrad Integral ABS (part-integral), can be switched off
  • Dimensions / weights
  • Length
  • 87 inches (2,210 mm)
  • Width (incl. mirrors)
  • 36 inches (915 mm)
  • Height (excl. mirrors)
  • 57 inches (1,450 mm)
  • Seat height, unladen weight
  • 33.5/34.3 inches (850/870 mm) low seat: 32.3 inches
    (820 mm), lowered suspension: 31.1 inches (790 mm)
  • Inner leg curve, unladen weight
  • Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled 1)
  • 516 lbs (229 kg)
  • Dry weight 2)
  • 461 lbs (209 kg)
  • Permitted total weight
  • 970 lbs (440 kg)

BMW's R1200GS Website





Jan 23, 2014

And Now for Something Useful

I could be sleezy (because I can) and post the YouTube links to these videos, but in the interest of journalistic fairness and general laziness (a redundancy, I know) I'm going to point you right to the Ride Apart page where a really cool article teaches knot tying, Become A Better Motorcyclist with A Piece of Rope. (Or go seriously crazy at the source, Animated Knots by Grog where you can play with hundreds of semi-useful to lifesaving knots.)

This is a really fun thing to do with spare time while you are either waiting for winter to let go of your throat or waiting for some damn VW part to arrive at General Delivery in the middle of the desert.

Jan 20, 2014

#40 Riding Styles

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

I've already ranted about riders' fashion statements, so this month I thought I'd pick at what riders do once they leave the bar and swing a leg over the bike. If I was more inclined to believe in conspiracies, I'd suspect that many of you assemble Cirque du Soleil clown routines, just so I'll be consistently entertained and have material for a Geezer rant. If that's true, I'll try to justify your efforts. If it's just the natural human tendency to be the silliest animal in the gene pool, keep up the good work.

Take for instance, a friend of mine who has been riding, and crashing, bikes for a lot of years. He was a died-in-the-leather fan of the "protective headband" set who has spent a good bit of his riding miles in the company of dozens of other bikers who were equally well unprotected. Many of his favorite riding experiences involve close formation drills on the highways with extended stops at every bar along the way.

At the end of one of our heated motorcycling discussions, we agreed to disagree about the fundamental mindset in two wheeled motor transportation. His position was that a motorcycle is a great way to be part of the great outdoors. Smelling the flowers, enjoying the colors, feeling the wind in your hair and the bugs up your nose while flowing with the energy of the planet at the speed of most of its inhabitants.

Grinding my teeth down to a fraction past the base of the enamel, just from the new-agey-ness of that description, I countered with my belief that motorcycling is about getting the front wheel through every corner and around every obstacle as quickly, efficiently, and gracefully as possible. It was racing's total concentration mindset that originally brought me to motorcycling. I'm most in love with our mode of transportation when the terrain, or speed, requires me to focus completely on where the front wheel is headed and what's next on the road. If I want to count the leaves on a clover or look for farm animals in cloud formations, I'll park the bike and take a walk.

I hate the ride between here and Sturgis because there is nothing for me and my motorcycle to do for 300 miles. It's straight, far too well patrolled by bored, quota-motivated cops, and the only part of the tire that gets used is the center patch. I'd rather walk to Sturgis than ride my bike there. My biker friend likes the drive because he has time and space to observe the wheat growing and feel the wind blowing, and he can share the camaraderie of his fellow bikers. All those "individuals" in a two-mile long parade of plodding bikers might as well be on a train, in my opinion. Or in a tour bus. Or in a convoy of Airstream campers or Fed-X trucks.

Now, I have worn my teeth down to stubby little nubs suitable for carefully mashing warm applesauce.

And there is the alternative circus parade that usually makes a two-month appearance beginning in early July; the Biker Boyz. Sandal-strapped onto their Pokiemon green, orange, red, and purple crotch-rockets, often protected by muscle shirts and baggy shorts, these road-rash test fixtures demonstrate to the average Minnesotan why lane-splitting is such a bad idea. Blasting around and between cars with the skill and daring of testosterone pumped lemmings, these Boyz even make me want to squash a biker between an SUV and a Starbucks semi. (Mmmmm, coffee roasted pork cooked over an unleaded gas fire.)

The Boyz find ways to make twelve lane changes per mile, even if the road is empty. Some of them can even wheelie, which is no terrific talent on a 300lb, 160hp bike that can levitate the front wheel in all five gears. If tires tell the story, few of them can turn. When the center of their rear tire is completely bald and the injection nubs at the outer 80% are as untouched as the day the tire was made, you know the bike hasn't experienced a noticeable lean angle. Expensive sticky tires are a waste of technology on these dudes.

Boyz also seem to be pack animals. Usually the pack is smaller, four to ten bikes, than the slower and larger species I described earlier. Statistics are unavailable to support this theory, but I believe that members of this sub-group are short-lived or only ride as a passing post-adolescent fad. Some researchers suspect that the Boyz only ride for the sex appeal and, as soon as they actually have sex, they sell their motorcycles. Some experts have reported that, like the halibut, the Boyz mutate at maturity and become suit-wearing, Mercedes-leasing middle management types. However, the Boyz survival rate is low and their characteristics at maturity are difficult to verify.

Another favorite of mine is the adventure touring wannabes. Many of the folks who build an efficiency apartment around a two wheeled foundation are a marketing manager's wet dream. I've seen Givi bags that are as scratch-free as the typical yuppie's Dodge Ram pickup bed. The interiors are as perfect as the day they were molded. Often these bikes will be barricaded up with case guards, bash-plates, hand guards, windshields, GPS and radar detectors, map windows, and fully instrumented communication centers. I swear I saw one biker followed by an IS department, in case his computer network needed service between the office and home.

The favorite bike of the middle class adventure bunch is the KLR 650 or the BMW F650 GS. The KLR is cheap and there isn't an accessory you can dream of that hasn't been made for it. The F650 is more expensive and a little less utilitarian. The rich and powerful own the BMW R1150 GS. The big BMWs (like their nearest relative, the Range Rover) rarely touch dirt unless it's been carefully painted on by a detailing service. I think the theory is that the capability (the motorcycle's capability, not the rider's) is there if it's ever needed. I think the off-road capability of a 600 pound motorcycle is incredibly limited, but what do I know? Besides, we're living in a "perception is everything" world where actual performance is an extra-cost accessory. The KLR, on the other hand, is pretty competent on bad roads and lots of KLRs have seen serious cross-country abuse. Some more than others, and it’s impossible to tell the used from the wanna-look-used by the amount of off-road hardware bolted to the frame.

It's easy to confuse the posers in any of these three groups with the role models who created the style. I envy and admire the protective headband bikers who ride year-around in rain and cold and hot and dry weather. Nobody has bigger basketballs than road racers who touch knees to the road at supersonic speeds on a Wisconsin letter road. The adventure biker who has "four cornered" the world, carrying his belongings and a complete repair shop in three aluminum cases and a half-dozen soft bags strapped to the bike and his body, is a god among men and women. But, let's face it, as in all human activity "90% of everything is crap" and the majority of folks who've adopted a heroic style are more form than substance.

Finally, we come to the commuter biker. I'm one and there are at least five others in the Cities. This is a group (if a microscopic minority can bee called a "group") that merges daily into traffic which is completely unaware of the existence of two-wheeled vehicles. Rabbits raised in the lion cages at Como Zoo would have less developed self-preservation tactics than commuting motorcyclists. Brake light flashing, lane-position calculating, space preservation maneuvering, and as intent on making eye contact as Bill Clinton in the Playboy mansion, this is an entertaining riding style.

Visually, this assortment of bikers doesn’t share anything in common. Commuters wear everything from bad boy leather to business suits to coveralls to high tech racing suits. Helmets and helmet-less, new BMWs and rat bikes, road bikes, sport tourers, cruisers, crotch-rockets, dirt bikes, trikes, and sidecars; the only thing we all have in common is that we share the bumper sticker saying "a bad day on a motorcycle is better than the best day in a cage." "Ride to Work Day" is every day for many of these folks. I know one guy who travels by four wheels only when the snow stops him and it takes about a foot of the stuff to force him off of his Ural sidecar rig.

Following an experienced motorcycle commuter is like watching a psychotic cutting horse pick out a calf from the herd. If the consequences weren't so significant, all that hassle would seem hilarious. Just visualize the signals, lane positioning moves, and the strategic calculations made to get from point A (home) to point B (work) on a typical rush hour morning. Now put all that activity on an empty freeway. And that's good comedy.

Just thinking about the ride into St. Paul among the coffee sucking, cell-phone babbling caged hoard has worn my teeth to the gums and fitting a set of wooden dentures will now be much less complicated.

In my quest for moments of intense solitude occasionally relieved by burst of high comedy and intermittent terror, it's tough to beat the fifteen minute ride to and from work. Ride safe, ride fast, look where you're going, and try to do something funny to entertain the folks who might be watching. After all, it's a motorcycling tradition.

September 2004

Jan 18, 2014


homer – a pigeon trained to return home, someone who shows blind loyalty to a team or organization, typically ignoring any shortcomings or faults they have. (baseball) to hit a home run, a blind Greek poet and storyteller, Homer Simpson – voted the Greatest American of All Time.

The definition of “homer” I’m writing about would be the second one; “someone who shows blind loyalty to a team or organization, typically ignoring any shortcomings or faults they have.” I am not that guy. My loyalty to sports teams or organizations (outside of those in which I am personally involved) is zilch, zip, zero, nada, nothing. I do not cheer for corporations or products; and pro sports teams are both. My loyalty extends exactly as far as my arms can reach, when it comes to the stuff I own. Stuff, inanimate objects, do not deserve names or loyalty.

2004037cfullI really bumped heads on this when I started badmouthing VW and Winnebago, but I’ve been here before with Hardly Davidson, Suzuki, and Ducati. While it is true that all of these products are made by people (except, possibly, HD), those people are clearly no more invested in the stuff they make than bankers are loyal to the nations where their banks are housed. There would be no such thing as “Monday-Friday cars” if the assemblers, engineers, and inspectors gave a damn about the stuff they made. We know that’s not true, so why should I care about the same stuff? Charts like the one at the right are better indicators of who care about what and you do not want to be at the bottom of that list.

Brands generally do not deserve loyalty. Modern corporations have no loyalty to their customers and could care less if we live or die, as long as they can extract our cash. Products are even dumber. Inanimate objects do not deserve anything more than an expectation of some sort of usefulness. The moment a product no longer serves its purpose, it’s junk.

Jan 17, 2014

Looping Lake Superior

NOTE: This was an article I wrote for Lake Superior Magazine. The published version was pretty dramatically different than the article I wrote, but I was in a lot of post-surgery pain and I’m pretty happy with the published version, too.

In early-summer 2011, my brother, Larry, and I began to plan to make a weeklong loop around Lake Superior. I’d done the Superior loop a few times before, always by myself, always in hurry, and always taking the east-to-west section through Canada and short-circuiting the return from Sault Ste. Marie straight back to my home near St. Paul. If I take the shortest, quickest path possible, the whole circle amounts to less than 1300 miles and can be ridden in one hard day or a more relaxed day-and-a-half.

Larry wasn’t interested in participating in a marathon blast around the lake or sleeping on the ground, so I promised to behave myself and packed my 250cc dual-purpose bike for the trip. With Larry on my 650 road bike, he would set the pace and our trip would be more vacation than long distance (LD) competition.

Taking this approach meant we’d be taking advantage of a motorcycle’s best qualities, too. A motorcycle can go practically anywhere. Those narrow, rough, out-of-the-way country roads that are always awkward and often practically painful in a car, even an SUV, are perfect for motorcycles. Ian Ellis described motorcycle travel, ““For me, motorcycling is an adventure and it’s not convenient. I’m not trying to make it as easy as possible, but I am trying to make it as much of an adventure as possible. I’m sure if I took a ten-day trip and it didn’t rain at least once, I’d feel cheated.  

When you travel by motorcycle, you’re mostly by yourself, even if you are in a group. I see my brother once every two to five years, so using that time for a motorcycle adventure means that most of the trip we’re no more in contact with each other than if we were back home. However, we both love motorcycles. We’re both grumpy old guys, me more than Larry. Picking a destination and hanging out when we stop is a good compromise between togetherness and our hermit-ish natural selves. Travelling by motorcycle, we get the best of both worlds; at the end of the day and during breaks, we get to hang out with each other but during the bulk of the ride we get to be on our own.

For a motorcyclist, the Lake Superior Circle Tour (also known as the “Lake Superior Loop”) can represent almost any kind of trip you want it to be. On the highways around the greatest of Great Lakes, you will see any brand or style of motorcycle and any type of motorcyclist. There are comfortable routes that are no more demanding than freeway travel and there are roads and trails that will test hard-core adventure riders. You can camp in remote wilderness sites or you can stay in historic five-star hotels so luxurious and formal that they require a jacket and tie for dinner service.

Since 2007, crossing the US border from Canada has required a passport. In 2009, Canada required passports from US citizens. So, before you head for the border, get your paperwork sorted out. If your driving record is less than spectacular, Canada may not be an easy travel destination. If you have had a DWI, DUI, or other criminal conviction in the last 10 years, you will not be admitted into the country.[1] If you have a criminal record, entering the US from Canada can be complicated. The US does not prohibit visitors for a DUI/DWI, but if you have multiple convictions and/or other misdemeanors on your record, you may be denied entry.[2]

For those of you who like to feel the wind in your hair, part of this trip is going to require some adjustment. Minnesota and Wisconsin only require helmets for 18-and-under riders and passengers, but both states require eye protection. Michigan and all Canadian provinces require helmets for riders and passengers. There are a few other concerns to consider, too. For example, Minnesota and Wisconsin require daytime headlights and Canada prohibits radar detectors and in-helmet music.[3]

The two main Lake Superior border crossings are open 24-hours/day, but getting through the checkpoints can be time-consuming. The International Bridge that separates the two countries at Sault Ste. Marie is a busy location, with lots of larryonbridge truck and commuter traffic. It’s not unusual to spend an hour or two watching ships unload while parked on the bridge. On a hot summer weekend, that can get uncomfortable in riding gear and a helmet. I recommend carrying a fair amount of water to stay hydrated. Traffic moves slowly enough to push the bike over the bridge, but if you can’t do that be sure to fill up before you get into the border crossing traffic. There are no fuel stops between the two national checkpoints.

Motorcycle tourism is a big deal on the Ontario side of the lake. Paul Pepe, manager of the Tourism Thunder Bay Office, said, “The ‘Ride Lake Superior’ initiative (www.RideLakeSuperior.com) started last spring to capitalize on the growing popularity of motorcycle touring and capture what has already been a growing market for communities around the Lake.

“Lake Superior is simply an epic ride destination. At 1300 miles (2000 km) this coastal ride weaves through one province and three states. It’s a unique international ride right in the heart of the continent. The popularity of it is that its mainly two-lane blacktop that weaves along spectacular coastline that changes regularly. It’s also peppered with a plethora of unique, authentic, and eclectic communities, attractions, events, and some amazing pristine parks and protected areas.”

There are also resources to help you plan your trip around the lake from the US side. UP Cruising (http://www.UPCruising.com) produces a “free Motorcycle Guide to the U.P. of Michigan” that you can find at any of the Michigan Welcome Centers. The guide lists motorcycle-friendly businesses across the Michigan UP.

On the east end of the Wisconsin peninsula, Highway 13 takes you along the coastline, into historic fishing villages, and through some of the best views of Lake Superior from the Wisconsin side of the lake. For the dual-purpose rider, there are an assortment of dirt roads that take you into the forests and parks of the peninsula and for the rest of us, well-maintained two lane highways loop the area. Bayfield is a great stopping place, including a variety of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts. The Bayfield Ferry to the Apostle Islands is well worth a day trip. You can ferry your motorcycle across and explore Madeline Island and stay in the great campgrounds in Big Bay State Park.

The main road toward Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Highway 2, takes you through old mining, logging, industrial, and railroad towns, several of which are now casino towns with low cost lodging options. If you are more adventurous and can manage at least 150 miles between fuel stops, stick with the coastline following Wisconsin County Highway 519 into Porcupine Mountains State Park. This route sets you up nicely for a back roads route to the Great Sand Bay and some amazing scenery and isolated camping, cabin, or motel accommodations along Michigan’s Highway 26 right to the tip of the UP. The roads are good, but fuel and food stops can be hard to come by. One of the advantages to a motorcycle tour is that road condition is less important than when you are in a car (known as “cages” to motorcyclists). I worry about beating up my car and passengers, I look forward to an adventure on my motorcycle.

2011 Lake Superior Trip 147 The 1940’s and 50’s were the economic boom years for many of the towns on the Circle Tour. A lot of the motels reflect the years when Americans first hit the road in the family station wagon, in that great tradition called “the family vacation.” Experienced motorcyclists value the added security of being able to park the bike close to the room, which is one sign of a “motorcycle friendly” motel.

Highway US 41/WI 28 across the UP toward Sault Ste. Marie is a scenic route past the Hiawatha National Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Newberry State Forest, and the Sault Ste. Marie State Forest areas. Every one of those amazing parks is connected to the main highway through side roads that offer adventure and camping. There are more fun side trips on this route than you will have time to explore, but don’t let that stop you from going off the main road and into the parks and small communities.

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is a motorcyclists’ hometown. The city is home to Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Harley Davidson dealers. There is no shortage of motorcycle service shops, either. The motorcycle-friendly attitude of the city’s commercial and state-owned facility employees make it possible to leave fully-loaded motorcycles and explore the parks and businesses.

SNC10653 As much as there is to see in Sault Ste. Marie, one of the reasons for circling the Big Lake is the road out of town; King’s Highway 17. Just north of the city, the Trans-Canada highway hugs the lake and provides some of the best views of the trip. The cities along the coast of Pancake Bay Provincial Park are picturesque and inviting. One of the many highlights of the Loop is Lake Superior Provincial Park. From either direction, the park is an exceptional experience. This section of Highway 17 provides an excellent combination of mountain-like riding with a coastline on the south shoulder of the road. Every rest stop and every scenic view turnoff is an opportunity for spectacular views and accessible adventure.

The road pulls away from the lake near Wawa, Ontario, but that doesn’t diminish the ride or the scenery. There are hundreds of lakes, marshes, and wetlands along this section and you want to keep your eyes open for wildlife. There are 80 mammal species, 400 varieties of birds, and numerous reptiles, amphibians, insects, and all sorts of specialized plants along this section. If you are riding at dawn or dusk, keep your eyes open for wildlife on the road. Meeting a Woodland Caribou, moose, or Timber Wolf at speed could be a catastrophic end to your vacation plans.

There are an easy half-dozen off-highway excursions worth exploring between Rossport and Nipigon, including the amazing Ruby Lake just east of Nipigon; and that many again between Nipigon and Thunder Bay. Minnesota rider, Tony Kellen, recommends a “stop at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park. You ride uphill a short distance on a twisty road and park in the lot. You can walk a short distance to view the falls from multiple positions.” Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is high on that list and the road to the well-named Silver Islet is an off-the-beaten-path gem. Silver Islet was home to one of Ontario’s first silver mines and today it is a cross between a ghost town and private summer cottages.

Thunder Bay is another motorcycle-friendly Canadian city. It’s early in the "Ride Lake Superior" promotion, but there are already several businesses sporting "Ride Lake Superior motorcycle parking only" spots and many places had marked motorcycle spaces from before this promotion began. The city is home to several motorcycle dealerships, including Moto Guzzi, KTM, Kawasaki, Harley Davidson, and Yamaha.

Finally, no real motorcyclist making the Superior Loop can avoid stopping at RiderWearhouse in Duluth; the home of Aerostich, the original all-weather motorcyclist gear. Stop in, meet Mr. Subjective (Andy Goldfine), and tell him “the Geezer sent me.” Andy is one of two motorcyclists to have crossed frozen Lake Superior from Minnesota to Wisconsin and he and his company are motorcycling legends.

Once you’ve done the Loop, it becomes a regular destination. After circling the lake three times, I still find places I missed and that just means I have a good excuse to do it all again.

Additional Information:

Some other motorcyclists have contributed their favorite Lake Superior Loop goalposts and I can’t ignore their excellent advice:

Chris Hughes (KTM Adventure)

Mike Etlicher (Honda ST110A)

Ian Ellis (Aprilia Futura with his son on a Suzuki SV650)

  • · I absolutely love coming down the hill into Lake Superior Provincial Park and the park itself!

Brad Kopp (Moto Guzzi California 1100ie)

Molly Gilbert (Yamaha FZ1)

  • · Mackinac Island is (or should be) your destination—voted one of the best island destinations in America and featured in November's Vanity Fair—this island is also accessible only by boat or plane. Its 600 year-round residents get around by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriages. One of the main attractions here is the magnificent Grand Hotel; boasting 385 rooms & built by the The Michigan Central Railroad, Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, and Detroit and Cleveland Steamship Navigation Company. The Grand Hotel was named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as One of a Dozen Distinctive Destinations.

Loop Experience Interviews:

Thomas Day “I have never made a trip around the circle without a guide. At least once every trip, I’ve had an eagle or hawk swoop down in front of the bike no more than twenty feet above me. They always lead me down the highway for several hundred feet before they fly off. I don’t feel a trip around the lake is even started until I have found my flying escort.”

Liz Young (Brad Kopp’s wife), when talking about their trip around the lake, “What a fabulous trip! Brad takes me to places that are so exquisite. The ride was so wonderful because it wasn’t just the lake, we weren’t always close to the lake. It was all the hills and the trees. The sunrises were beautiful. The sunsets were beautiful. I have seen a lot of places. I have lived in a lot of places; I’ve lived in Colorado, California, the Caribbean. I have never seen a sunset like what we saw over Lake Superior. Brad and I went to school in Duluth. We had known Lake Superior for a long time. For both of us, it has been a great place to vacation, but together on the motorcycle, it was even better.”

The advantage of seeing the lake by motorcycle, over car travel is “I can feel it. Even as a passenger, you can smell it, you can hear it. It’s so tactile. It’s so in your face. It’s almost exhausting. When we stop, we can’t even talk for a while because we’ve taken in so much. Then, we compare. We say ‘Oh, did you see that? Did you see this?’ I get goosebumps. Sorry.”

Her memory of their trip was that “It was so perfect. The bike was so comfortable. It held everything we needed it to hold. It never broke down. We’ve ridden to Seattle, Colorado. I’ve seen a lot of the country that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t been on a ‘Guzzi.”

Ian Ellis has done the Lake Circle with his son, Nathan, as a passenger and with his son on his own motorcycle. His favorite memory of the Circle comes from Superior Provincial Park, “When you come down that hill and you first see that massive Old Woman Rock, it’s just an amazing view from a motorcycle. I love that park for the waterfalls, geology, and white sand beach.”

“For me, motorcycling is an adventure and it’s not convenient. I’m not trying to make it as easy as possible, but I am trying to make it as much of an adventure as possible. I’m sure if I took a ten-day trip and it didn’t rain at least once, I’d feel cheated. My son, Nathan, wrote a successful college entrance essay about getting wet on the motorcycle and how he turned what could have been a miserable day into a fun adventure.”

“Another thing that happens for me on the bike that doesn’t happen in the car is that I see stuff and I go exploring. One of the years that Nathan and I were in Ontario, we went to the amethyst mines and the road was washed out. I was on a Ducati ST2 loaded down with our luggage and Nathan was on the back. It was really cool to be able to make it up there and it was something to feel a sense of accomplishment about. Where as if I went up there in a car I might have turned around or though ‘I got the car dirty and didn’t enjoy that.’ When I sold that bike it still had that Ontario clay baked onto it.”

“I stop more spontaneously on a bike than in a car. Whether it’s a photograph, or a bite to eat at a bakery, it just seems more like it’s meant to happen that way. The Nanboujou Lodge, for example. It’s a hotel from the 1920’s and the interior is amazing. It is a time capsule. We saw the place and thought, ‘Let’s go there for lunch.’ A couple of years later, I took my wife there.”

“We probably would not have explored Superior Provincial Park in a car. We probably would have just got out, taken a couple of pictures, and we wouldn’t have walked all the way down to that gorgeous beach.”

“You sleep better having done it on the bike. Whether it is because you’re cold and wet or you had a really good day.”

“Traveling with a child is absolute torture for one of the two of you, while you’re in the car. On a bike, it’s an absolute joy. I don’t know how you explain that to someone who’s experience is only in a car, but it’s intended to be a silent, parallel pursuit while you are riding. And then you stop and talk about all the cool things you’ve seen. By the way, I do not like communication units. You end up with the same experience as in a car. I prefer to try and make mental notes, ‘I want to remember this’ and a few days later you remember ‘Oh, I forgot to mention this. Did you see it?’”

“When my son and I talk motorcycles or travel together we don’t argue. If we were to travel in a car, that probably wouldn’t be the case.”

Mike Etlicher “You see a lot more of the country that you’re driving through than when you’re in a car. Your head is on a gimbal. You can look up and see the gulls above you. While a a convertible can almost do the same thing, sitting on a couple hundred pounds of steel is way different than being  surrounded by several thousand pounds of steel. You’re literally and figuratively more part of your surroundings.”

Mike has done the Circle three times, “four times, if you include the Team Strange [long distance events] rides.” He explains, “It’s a different experience every time. It’s like reading a book. You experience something different every time you read a book, even though you’ve read it several times over your lifetime. I experience things differently, depending on who I’m with. I’m sure I’ll do it again, someday. ”

One trip was with some friends, who left before he could get away. “They were leaving on Wednesday, from the Cities to Duluth and doing the trip clockwise. I couldn’t leave until mid-afternoon on Friday. Since I move more quickly than that group and cover more ground in a day, I joined them in Wawa the next morning.

On the way to catching up to the guys, I was riding along in rain and fog in really crappy night time riding weather. My [Honda] Pacific Coast didn’t have the best headlights. Every once in a while, I’d barely miss a moose. I didn’t see it until it went past my elbow. Unless you really have a good reason to be out there, it’s probably not a good idea to be riding at night.”

“I have a ride that I organize every fall. We go to Grand Marais for Friday night, have dinner, and hang out in the pub. Saturday morning we go to the trail center and have breakfast. Every year in the past ten, I hear people say they’ve seen a moose on the Gunflint Trail. I’ve never seen a moose there. Going across Superior through Canada, I’ve never not seen one.”

“Cars are Point A to Point B devices, while motorcycles are certainly that but are fantastic for meandering. I’m more apt to explore on a bike than I am in a car.”

One trip, the day after a day of riding in perfect fall weather, “I woke to 3 ½ inches of slushy snow covering the bike and the road. My cell phone didn’t work up there and I was nervous about being able to get back to work on time. So, I felt motivated to keep moving. Riding in slushy snow in the middle of the Canadian wild between Marathon and Wawa was an experience. I stopped in a café in Marathon and I was never so happy to have something warm to eat and drink.”

“Up near Bayfield, a lot of the filling stations are no longer open. Some of the areas up north, fuel is pretty scarce.”

Molly Gilbert has been around the circle as a passenger, a long distance competitor, and as a solo rider. She rides the Circle because, “It’s the largest body of water in Minnesota.  It allows you to feel as though you’re riding next to the ocean. You have the smells, the sights, and the sounds of that. You also have people participating in events like the Minnesota 1000 [a long distance riding event]. I’ve done a few of the Minnesota 1000’s and the Great Lakes Rally, that was all five great lakes in a few days. Mark Kiecker got me into it with two-ups (rider and passenger) and we won second place in the Team Strange Great Lakes Challenge.”

“Riding gives you the hyper-awareness that you don’t need in a car. The extreme alertness that you need on a motorbike allows you not only to feel the wind in your hair, but against your body. Nature is coming at you from all directions and you’re not protected by a big metal cage. You’re out in the open and that’s about as exposed as you can get. Most people have to fly to California and ride the Pacific Coast Highway to get the kind of feeling you get riding around Lake Superior.”

“On the way back, on my own on my very first bike, an R65 BMW, I decided ‘I don’t want to do the usual route’ and I ended up going off the main road and got lost. I ended up deep in some forest at dusk, worrying about deer, and I’m all alone, not an experienced rider. I have never felt such fear in my life.” She explained why that experience made her want to go back, “I went back during the day and planned it out well. But that story describes how important the elements are when you’re on a bike. You don’t have to think about how dark it’s getting in a car, or how cold, or if it’s raining, or it conditions are about to change. You have to be so in tune with nature. Nature is a big draw to the lake and that area and it’s what draws a lot of us to motorcycles. You have to watch the skies, the patterns, the clouds, and the wind direction. Who does that? No one does that in a car. All of a sudden you’re altering your route because you’re seeing a very large front come through and you’ll alter your route by a couple hundred miles to avoid that.”

Molly has taken the roads less travelled, often, but “I can’t tell you where they were or what roads they were. I just go until I get lost. I have no sense of direction. I should have a GPS, but I’ve never owned one.”

“I’ve done the Circle both directions, but I prefer going up on the Michigan side and coming back the Minnesota side. Most of us go to Duluth, first, because Aerostich is such a huge draw for all us that we go that way so we can get there.”

Larry Day rode the Circle for the first time this summer. His strongest memories of our ride was the North Shore, “It was more mountainous, hilly, and it feels like riding in the Rockies with an ocean on one side. There was a lot to see in that area. It was so overwhelming that it’s hard to pick out a highlight.”

“I think you’re more likely to take off-roads because you’re out in the elements and you see a lot better. You should probably see them the same, but you don’t. It’s easier to take off on a whim and go down that road and look around. You’re more adventurous on a motorcycle. I know I am.”

Larry’s strongest memory was when he pulled off of the road near Gravel River Provincial Nature Preserve. “I went up on a road, way up high. There was a parking space and a bench at a scenic view. I sat on top of the hillside waiting for you for a while. It was a great view in both directions.”

[1] It is possible to be “rehabilitated,” as little as 5 years after you’ve served your sentence. You can apply this waiver through the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration offices, but allow 6-8 weeks for the paperwork. http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/applications/rehabil.asp

[2] The U.S. Customs and Border  Protection website provides information about applying for non-immigrant temporary entry. http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/indamiss_can_info.xml

[3] For a quick review of other motorcycle-specific regulations, check out http://www.calsci.com/motorcycleinfo/PrintLaws.html.

Jan 16, 2014

Too Old for That

New Picture (1)Cycle World just published an article titled “Ten New Motorcycles We’re Dying to Ride in 2014.” (Yeah, I know there are only 9 in the screen print at left.) After I scanned the article and found only one motorcycle of the bunch that I’m even a little interested in, the new Harley Davidson Street 500 water-cooled twin, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my ex-editor, Sev Pearman, just before he left his position with MMM. Sev was lamenting the fact that he had hit a moment in his life where “stuff” was losing its luster. In fact, he didn’t really care about whatever new gear, motorcycles, or other trendy hip thing might appear at the next International Motorcycle Show or even stuff that might arrive in the mail.

When I said “I feel your pain, brother.” He was surprised that I was still writing about motorcycles if I didn’t care about the latest industry news.

The fact is, I have never cared much about the industry. I haven’t lusted after a new model since I quit racing in  the early 1980’s. I have had several new-to-me motorcycles between then and now, but I didn’t “need” to have a new bike so badly that I could stomach the 30-60% financial ass-kicking a new bike delivers. I have been happy to let others bite off on that new bike smell and expense and wait for them to put the usual 500-1,500 miles on their new bike before they sell it to me, sometime between September and March, for less than half of the original cost. Twice, out of the last four motorcycles I’ve bought, the original owner had to cough up some cash to make up the difference between what I paid and what he still owed on the bike.

It’s not the motorcycle stuff that I care about, it’s the motorcycling.

It’s true that as I age and get less flexible, weaker, more timid, less interested in messing with bikes and more interested in going places, and grumpier, I have developed some standards for motorcycles I’m willing to put up with: fuel injection, water-cooled, decent suspension, reasonably lightweight, comfortable seat, upright riding position, and decent fuel economy. That’s my list. Nothing else matters. It’s a well-known fact that no motorcycle will make me younger, faster, hipper, better looking, smarter, or richer. Until someone makes a product that fulfills those requirements, I’m probably on the down side of consumerism.

Jan 13, 2014

#39 Dumping on Ourselves

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

I'm just exiting I694 on to Century Avenue in White Bear when I see a big-butt cruiser wobbling north on Century, just passing a local bus. As the bike goes by the bus, the passenger turns around and gives the bus the fickle finger. The bike attempts to make a powerful exit, aiming straight-pipe blasts at the victims behind, but the light changes and the biker nails the brakes, practically losing the passenger, barely avoiding a car that had to stop to avoid the light-running bike, and fumbling to a really uncoordinated stop in the the first few feet of the intersection. Sitting in the midst of jammed up traffic, trying to look cool and macho, the biker struggles with his shifter while the passenger is applying the fickle finger in all directions. The stalled traffic appears to be honking at the two (to watch them flinch and wobble a few feet before stalling again) mostly for the entertainment. It's pretty funny stuff. It takes them nearly a minute, the whole light change, to get across the intersection. Just another motorcycling lifestyle advertisement.

Moments later, another cruiser passes me in the opposite direction. The driver is, as you'd expect, as unprotected as the day he was born. In the passenger seat, holding on for dear life, is a small child wearing shorts, a sleeveless shirt, sandals, and an adult's grossly oversized helmet. This is just a couple of days after a child was killed on a motorcycle when a poorly-fitted adult-sized helmet flew off in a low speed accident and the kid died from head injuries sustained on the second and subsequent bounces. I'm not the only one scowling at this motorcyclist. He's oblivious, marginally in control of his bike, and happily risking a child's life. If a Century Avenue vote could have been taken that moment, I suspect there would have been a 90%+ mandate to ban motorcycles from public highways and to prohibit motorcyclists from procreating.

And it strikes me that these incidents are symbolic of why motorcyclists are so unpopular and get so little respect. Few things make me feel as old and crotchety as watching motorcyclists make new enemies for me. While showing absolutely no understanding of, or concern for, how we are perceived by non-motorcyclists, bikers stagger and blast their way through our culture making opponents and creating an image as a group of clowns and vandals. If nature and politics didn't naturally create enough underdogs, humans would find a way to make a few.

The first two black leather cross-dressers probably managed to piss off at least a dozen motorists and irritate a bus load of passengers in a single intersection. Their entertainment value wore out when the light changed. The other guy convinced a pack of observers that motorcyclists are negligent and incompetent parents.

The loud pipes crowd burns motorcycling bridges in huge quantities for each traveled mile. Every time they fire up their noisemakers, they make new enemies for two wheeled transportation. Ignoring the "closed course use only" stamps on their straight pipes, these spoiled children proudly violate laws and common sense at the expense of every responsible motorcyclist in the country.

Too many off-road motorcyclists tear up private and public property (and eliminate access to terrain) with the kind of political sensitivity that made so many New Yorkers consider Afghanistan and Iraq a great place to test modern American weapons. While competitive dirt bikers fight to hang on to a little patch of Mother Earth to practice real riding skills, the vandals are out making enemies every chance they get. Like having a violent, retarded older brother who has booby trapped the way into high school for his siblings, the idiots have pushed real riders into shrinking territory that threatens to eliminate the sport altogether.

Interminably long and wide cruiser parades/funeral processions piss off other motorists (who are actually trying to get from point A to point B in less than an elephant's lifetime), homeowners, roadside vegetable vendors, bicyclists, pedestrians, and Wal-Mart investors by hogging roadways or blocking intersections and driveways until the scowling, wannabe-mean-looking bandana-protected riders manage to wrestle their blimps-on-wheels into bar-front parking spaces. The impression the world has of these Village People bozos is that they are either jamming up the highway more pointlessly than the state's "men leaning on shovels" or drinking themselves stupid before jamming up the road.

And we wonder why it's so hard to obtain a small concession like lane splitting or filtering from the majority's representatives in the state legislature. It's more a wonder that we aren't regulated off of the roads altogether.

Libertarians claim that "self-regulation" is more effective than government regulation. I'm still waiting to see a practical example of that, but it seems that motorcyclists could be a good test case. In my early racing years, we were occasionally plagued by a species of biking rodent we called "pit racers." These morons usually didn't actually race anything, but they often tagged along with a friend who did and ended up sneaking a bike in the pits, a place they considered prime for showing off. After a few races and the anarchy that follows when riders get tired, the dirt spends more time hanging in the air than lying on the ground, and what little order that existed early in the day begins to disintegrate. That's when the pit races decide to showcase their pitiful talents. Blasting back and forth through the pits, demonstrating their one or two worn out techniques, usually an embarrassingly out-of-control wheelie or a dust spitting rooster, the pit racers took our life and peace-of-mind in their foolish hands.

Usually, a mechanic, or a really macho racer who could still stand upright after a 20-minute-moto, would step up and ask Pit-Boy to "park it or get lost." Sometimes that would be all it took. Sometimes it wasn't. One of my all-time favorite moments was when a mechanic decided conversation was a waste of effort. He stepped out with a long 2x2 in his hands and stuffed it in between the spokes and the front forks of a passing pit racer. Pit-Boy exited the pits flapping his arms like he hoped to take wing, which was a good tactic because he was sure as hell airborne; for a second or two. Losing a bit of skin and what little dignity he had inherited from his parents, Pit-Boy was escorted from the pits, whining all the way. The bike was loaded on to someone's trailer and probably spent the rest of its life in a barn somewhere in central Nebraska.

Now that is how real Americans self-regulate.

Today, Pit-Boy would be back with Pit-Boy's mom's lawyer. The track, the mechanic, the mechanic's racer, their sponsor, and the trophy girl would all find themselves named in a lawsuit. Thirty years ago, even Pit-Boy had more self-respect than to think "lawyer" every time he busted a fingernail or got caught acting like a moron. Today, self-respect is, apparently, synonymous with "sucker." If you aren't suing someone, you aren't trying to get ahead.

These days there appears to be no such thing as a frivolous lawsuit. Or all lawsuits are, by definition and intent, "frivolous" and we're proud of the fact. Self-regulation is only going to work the day we follow the advice of the Butcher character in Henry VI and decide "the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."1 Shakespeare didn't get it done and we probably won't either. Civil law has turned into an endless loop of idiocy, and is happy to remain so. Since nature loves chaos and nobody is more chaotic than Americans, I don't expect to see self-regulation in my lifetime in my country.

Still, it's a wonderful dream, isn't it? I can still clearly see that perfect moment of self-regulation-time and it was one of the great historic examples of justice. Now we just have to figure out how to send brain-dead dad flying without doing harm to his kid. Most likely the two fickle-fingered bozos will self-regulate and naturally de-select themselves, based on the riding skills I observed.

MMM August 2004 This misused Shakespearian quote resulted in a passel of letters from lawyers. Some of which were simpleminded, whining pleas for me to quit advocating the murder of poor, innocent lawyers. Some of the notes were well thought out, lawyerly questions regarding my sanity and fairness to their profession. The general theme of the best considered letters was that lawyers protect the rights of the individual and are necessary to the existence of a just society. I can almost imagine that. The fact is that most (far more than 50%) lawyers protect the power and finances of the elite. In any given lawsuit between a corporation and a human, there will be hundreds of lawyers on the side of the corporation and rarely more than one lawyer on the side of humanity. The same will be true in a criminal prosecution of a rich person or a corporation vs. the well-being and security of society; the rich scum will employ a barrage of lawyers, society will be represented by a few.

Lawyers, by and large, represent the interests of the status quo. The status quo almost always works against the interests of the individual. Hence, lawyers work against the interests of humanity and are, on average, a bad thing. That is what I think Shakespeare was arguing, too. Shakespeare wrote that line to get a laugh from his lawyer and law student audience, but it had other intent, too.

Shakespeare's character was planning a social revolution and he knew that lawyers stood in the way of change, for good or bad. Back then, lawyers knew what they were. Today, they apparently don't know or don't want to think about it.

MMM August 2004

2014 Postscript: My favorite response from this rant was from several pissed-off-whining lawyers who argued that "losing a case" wasn't the same thing as being a loser. I got the same claim from a dude in jail, who still thought his lawyer was a "winner." Anything I write that can piss off lawyers, judges, cops, or any other participant in our 1%-defending "legal system" makes me deliriously happy.