Jun 26, 2017

#148 Creating A Baseline

caveman All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

In my Geezerdom, I'm always trying to find baselines for measuring my decline. My daughter is fully on-board with my concerns and she's recommended putting black throw rugs around the house because, apparently, old farts will mistake black carpets for bottomless pits and that is a tactic used to keep dementia patients in their rooms. Sooner or later, I'll end up trapped in the bathroom and that will be the winter my wife escorts me to the front door during a sub-zero blizzard and sends me on some sort of grocery store errand.

Like the Minnesota drivers' license "exam," the nation's motorcycle competency test is a low-bar baseline evaluation. While it is true that you don't need to be "perfect" to pass the license exam, you will need to be able to perform every one of those simple skills perfectly to stay alive on the highway and in traffic. Living in tourist town Red Wing provides me with plenty of evidence as to why motorcyclists are thousands of times more likely to die per mile travelled than cagers: most motorcyclists barely contribute more to the direction and speed of their vehicle than do handlebar streamers. It's a Village People clown show out there, folks! Nothing about being able to take a low speed left-hand turn and stop with the front tire in a box is demanding in any way to a competent motorcyclists, regardless of the bike. Nothing about weaving through some widely spaces cones and making a right hand turn should confuse or confound a half-decent motorcyclist. Making a moderately quick stop from 12mph in first gear is not complicated. A 12 mph "swerve" around a huge fake obstacle ought to be second nature. If anything on that test baffles you, either your motorcycle or your skills are totally out-of-whack.

This season was my "decompression and re-evaluate" year for my career as a motorcycle safety instructor. Since 2000, I've taught twelve to thirty basic and intermediate riding classes a year, but this year I signed up for only four and two cancelled. Other than a trip to the Rockies in July, I didn't do much riding this year, either. My usual 12,000 to 20,000 miles a year has withered down to about 3,000 so far this year. I'm retired, so commuting to work is no longer a habit. That accounts for about 6,000 miles a year gone from my Cities' routine. Leaving the 88dBSPL noise level of my old Little Canada/I35E home took away substantial motivation to "get away from the bullshit," too. Most summer mornings, I can sit on the back porch with a cup of coffee watching the hummingbirds and listening to mostly nature. There isn't much that I feel the need to get away from here. If the second half of this summer is much like the last couple of weeks, I might get in more bicycle than motorcycle miles in 2016.

I started this season out like I have every year for the last 15, with a couple hours of practice time on the class range at Southeast Tech. My spring habit since I started teaching safety classes has been to do the usual beginning of the season maintenance stuff, then ride to the range and go through the entire sequence of course exercises until I can do it all comfortably. In Red Wing, after that bit of practice I head south and drop off of the pavement for 100 miles or so of gravel roads and lightweight dirt bike practice and go home. This year, I went through that routine three times before my first Red Wing Basic Rider Class (BRC), which cancelled due to a lack of students, and once more before my first Intermediate Rider Class (IRC) in the Cities. We talked about that a bit in the discussion portion of the IRC and a couple of students said they'd consider adopting my springtime season-tune-up routine and at least one thought it was "way unnecessary."

On the way back home, I thought about the ambivalence or resistance many riders have toward any sort of competence evaluation (something that should be, but isn't, a part of the Intermediate Rider Course). About the time I got to Hastings and into some motorcycle traffic, it became fairly obvious why many motorcyclists would resist a serious competency test and regular skills evaluations. After watching my father's driving skills deteriorate from barely-competent in his prime to life-threatening by his eighties, I have become a firm believer in regular (every 3-5 years) re-licensing skills tests for over-60 drivers who want to cling to their driving privileges. I'd drop that number to 50 and up the testing interval to every two years for motorcyclists. Since motorcycle, car, and truck licensing is mostly about putting butts on seats (selling vehicles) and has little to do with actual highway safety, we all know that won't happen. That resistance to reality and health cost-containment has nothing to do with my life, though.

I have never considered my motorcycles to be an important part of my self-image. I don't name my bikes and I don't identify with any brand's lifestyle bullshit. My motorcycles are transportation first and last. If I'm not using my bikes to go places, I'm not keeping them. The only things I've ever hoarded have been tools and microphones. The microphones are mostly gone with the retirement move and downsizing and I re-evaluate my tool ownership with every declining aging phase. If I haven't used something in the last year, the next step is Craig's List or eBay or the garbage can. Ideally, when I die the only thing my kids will have to worry about in an estate sale is getting rid of a bed, a few dishes, towels, and an empty house. So, like that dementia-test black throwrug, I needed a go/no-go evaluation tool for when it's time to hang up the Aerostich. Lucky for me, I had one already laid out and it was totally familiar: the MSF's BRC course.

I've already said that I consider the BRC to be a lowest-bar standard for the skills needed for riding on the street. However, for my own self-evaluation I need it to be a little more demanding. Likewise, I already had a self-test routine established. I just need to write a scorecard for the test. The first day of the BRC is mostly about introducing a motorcycle to newbies, but exercises 6 (a small 2nd gear oval), 8 (offset weaves), & 9 (quick stop from 2nd gear) demonstrate actual riding skills. Likewise, all but the lane-change and obstacles exercise from the second day's BRC exercises 10-16 are useful evaluations. A more practical obstacle is a reasonably tall curb that I have to navigate from a 45-degree angle, so I added that to my spring warm-up. So, every March from here out I'm going to go through the old routine but after an hour or so of practice, I'm going to run through every one of the nine BRC exercises and the day I can't do all of them "perfectly" (no cones hit, no lines crossed, fast enough, and clean enough) the bike goes up for sale and I'll fill the space in the garage with a small convertible. I might buy a trials bike, but that will be the end of my street riding days.

Of course, your mileage will probably vary. In fact, I'd bet most of the riders I see in Red Wing couldn't pass the Minnesota license test in a dozen tries. If you think that has no correlation to your riding skill or survivability, you are statistically very likely to join the ranks of the "dead wrong."

MMM September 2016







Motorcycle Death Spiral

This is turning into a record year for me. I scheduled only five MSF/MMSC classes for the season and all but one (so far) have cancelled due to lack of student interest. My local motorcycle dealers are pretty much giving up on the sales season, too. Our Victory/Indian dealer is stuck with a bunch of Victory blimps and hasn’t committed to Victory in anything resembling the same financial resources as in past years. They are hoping Polaris sales of 4-wheel farm vehicles and snow machines will turn into a viable business. The local Honda/Suzuki/Yamaha dealer barely bothers with a show salesperson on the motorcycle floor. If you are there looking at a bike and ANYONE is out on the lot looking at boats or 4-wheelers, you’ll be abandoned faster than an empty beer can at a frat party.

The Boomer hippobike bubble is done. The only “hope” the blimp manufacturers (and dealers) bhave of clinging to a business model is through slippery finance games. Harley is fooling Wall Street with its floor planning scheme, but that will soon collapse like it did in 2008.  When Harley goes, so goes Polaris and Indian. Harley’s desperate attempt to get in on the Ducati sale will probably mean that HD will pay too much, if they win the bid, for the Italian brand and that will just add to the company’s downfall. (Remember, “we lose money on every sale but we’ll make up for it in quantity.”) The Big Japanese Four gave up on the US market as a serious motorcycle business in 2009. They have far bigger fish to fry in functional economies. where small motorcycles are still a viable means of transportation.

It feels like 1982 all over again, but this time there may not be a comeback.

Jun 24, 2017

Perspective Is Everything

A lot of motorcyclists apparently see this incident as being a justified action by the biker. I’m not convinced. It could be that the car driver intentionally attempted to hit the bike after the biker threw a temper tantrum and kicked the car when it crossed into the HOV lane. It could also be that the car driver simply panicked when his car was kicked and screwed up. Either way, the biker should be charged for hit and run and, probably, assult with a vehicle.

Jun 19, 2017

#147 Avoiding Nature



The Geezer with a Grudge Columns
(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  

caveman




All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day
If you didn't know me you might suspect the title of this essay is saying something about my dislike for good 'ole Mommy Nature. That's not the case, of course. I'm a certified/certifiable tree-hugging, semi-environmentally-conscious guy and one of the many reasons I continue to call Minnesota "home" is the spectacular abundance of live-and-in-color nature we have here. However, I would rather not impact more than fresh air, the occasional rainstorm, and the more frequent hoards of bugs while I'm riding my motorcycle.

deer hoovesOn top of my list of nature's gentle creations that I particularly try to avoid are deer ("hooved-rats" or whatever insulting nickname you've given these moving targets). Over the years and miles, I've developed a few tactics that I like to think have contributed to my survival while riding through some of the country's densest deer populations. I'm not claiming that luck hasn't played a terrific part in my avoiding death-by-fur-ball, but I do think some of the observations and statistical tactics I've collected, developed, and practiced have helped. I'm going to try to pass on a few of these in this article and I encourage our readers to object to, add to, or refine anything I have to say here.

First on my list is practicing braking and swerving skills on a regular basis so that I have the tools necessary when I need to make a major maneuver or apply my motorcycle's braking system near the limits of traction, braking horsepower, and stability. When I talk about this in my MSF courses, I suspect most of my students think I'm either joking or exaggerating . . . but I'm not. While all of my riding skills are far from perfect, I think I have pushed my ability to haul my motorcycles to a stop harder than anything else I know about riding. That would be, mostly, because it's easy to practice using the brakes well and often: at every stop light, stop sign, or any other time you need to bring your bike to a standstill. Use both brakes correctly and precisely and you'll be ready to do something with those skills when you need them.

Watching deer cross the road in front of my house, I've learned that deer travel in groups, predictably. I don't know if I've ever seen a single deer in our neighborhood. The most common group number appears to be four, but three through six has been the regular pattern in Red Wing. So, if you see one: assume three more and make your speed appropriate for threading several animals in the near future. Don't be a stupid as a deer, speeding up in the insane hope that going faster will reduce the chances of impact makes you into uncontrolled prey.

Now this tip is purely my own statistical analysis and personal observation. There is no real science, other than observation and experience, to this piece of advice. On two lane roads, travel near the middle of the road as often as is practical. In the MSF's BRC, we break a highway lane into three sections: left, right, and center. During the active time for deer (and at night) I believe that you can statistically improve your odds of either chasing the deer out from the edge of the road and into your path or give yourself a little more time to avoid deer coming from the near (right) side. By sacrificing a little margin from the left side of the road, you can create a little space and time for yourself hugging the centerline. If the road is crested, you even get a slight line-of-sight advantage into the ditches from this position. There is no science to this. I haven't read any studies that prove or disprove my theory, but the number of times I've had this tactic work for me is way into the hundreds, so it might work for you, too.

This tip is useless for Iron Butt'ers, for for the rest of us it's just a minor sacrifice. When it comes to suddenly-appearing 100 pound animals with no traffic sense, your time to evaluate and execute road hazards is a fraction of a second. With that in mind, my advice is don't ride at night. Once you're riding on your lights and intuition, deer are unavoidable.  You just don't get enough warning from your headlights. Worse, the damn headlights often paralyze deer right in your path of travel. If you are stuck riding at night, stay on the biggest road you can find, well-lit freeways are best, stick with traffic as much as possible, and slow down. Trying to make up time when your sight-line is only a couple hundred feet is close to suicidal.

Implied in some of my other deer-avoidance advice is buying time and space and that almost always means modifying your speed. I'm going to repeat this last piece of advice, since I think it is the real key to surviving deer encounters. Speed kills, especially during deer prime-time and those long hours of poor-visibility. When your lights and line-of-sight are limited, you have to make practical accommodations for what you don't have and set your speed appropriately. It's impossible to make up time ridding in the back of an ambulance, so consider that possibility when you are hauling ass through tree tunnels at dusk.

Be realistic about your attention capacity. It's one thing being on a short ride through a few of Wisconsin's letter roads and another being at the tailend of a 12,000 mile, month-long trip. If you are daydreaming, you are not scanning the edge of the road for potential moving obstacles. The moment you stop watching for Bambi will be the split-second you needed to avoid her. If you are tired, bored, or distracted, you are a moving target. The idea is to be the shooter not the target. Motorcycling is not a spectator sport. You don't get to enjoy the scenery until you are stopped.

MMM July 2016








#146 Do You Suck?

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

In his HBO special ("Fully Functional") one of my favorite comedians, Australian Jim Jefferies, asked his audience to raise their hands if their kids were "stoopid." Obviously no one raised their hands and admitted to having spawned one of the many half-pint-half-wits who are overrepresented in our school systems . So, Jefferies reminded them that, statistically-speaking, it was impossible for a crowd as big as the one he was performing for not to have at least one stupid offspring. He went on to rant about Americans being a nation intent on breeding "stupid confident people . . . the worst employees in the fucking world." When I hear motorcyclist revolt against the obvious truth that there are two kinds of motorcyclists--those who have crashed and those who haven't yet crashed--I can't help but think motorcyclists might be among the stupidest human categories on the planet. It's even worse when the revolutionist admits he's already crashed a number of times and still believes motorcycles "can be safe."

do_you_suck

Assuming the "average" rider's skills are average, the usual bell curve indicates that about 70% of riders are on either side of "average" and about 95% fall into the 2-sigma area.

In his New Yorker Magazine essay, "The Bell Curve: What happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are?" Dr. Atul Gawande reminds us that doctors are no different than any other category of human activity, "What you tend to find is a bell curve: a handful of teams with disturbingly poor outcomes for their patients, a handful with remarkably good results, and a great undistinguished middle." If that is true for doctors, a profession that prides itself in its selectivity, high performance standards, and rigorous education and training regime, why wouldn't it be true for the rest of us who just become who and what we are out of attrition, general indifference to how we do our jobs, poor management, and luck? Studies have found that And if career statistics are this dismal, how could it be possible that driving, an activity that has such low standards of performance as driving could be lucky enough to have half-decent expectations? Motorcycle licensing is no different, with a variety of routes available to obtaining a license with minimal skill, no serious safety equipment requirements, and lifetime licensing that allows riders who have merely maintained the "M" on their license for decades to swing a leg over a motorcycle without the merest hint of riding abilities.

Due to the constant downsizing of the motorcycling public over the last 30 years (peaking in 1980 and in decline since) and, especially in the last decade, the Motorcycle Industry Council (through its "training" lobby, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, MSF) has campaigned to keep licensing as simple and accessible as possible. Fighting progressive ideas such as graduated (or "stepped) licensing--an idea that has had substantial success in Japan, parts of Canada, England, and  some parts of the EU (likely soon to be all of the EU)--is a double-edged sword. On on hand, the MIC is ensuring itself the maximum number of customers by putting a motorcycle in every possible rider's hands. Likewise, the MIC has been barely on the fence about helmet laws with wishy-washy "freedom" arguments that hold exactly no water with the strapped-down-by-law cager public. There is some validity to the claim that if helmets are universally required, fewer people will ride motorcycles. On the other, our incredibly dismal mortality statistics are edging regulators closer to removing motorcycles from public roads, which will close the door on motorcycle sales forever. Damned if you do, double-damned if you don't. Something has to change soon, or something will change.

do_you_suck_2

Using something more like a minimum acceptable "average" rider skill as the centerpoint, a left-skewed distribution curve would result with dramatically more riders in the "below average" category and a wide range of abilities in the "above average" group.

In pure population terms, it's pretty obvious that the "average" point in motorcycle skills is skewed data. If you plant yourself on any popular corner in most cities, you will observe cornering techniques that range from out-of-control to "not too bad," with a tiny portion of riders executing turns with decent technique and control. If we were to score lifesaving skills such as stopping quickly, swerving to avoid a hazard, turning precisely at a variety of street-legal speeds, quick combination maneuvers requiring these skills, and one or two low speed control skills on a scale of 1-to10, I think it would be safe to say that more than 70% of us would be substandard riders. That's probably being optimistic. In terms of your own survival, you need to be able to identify where you fall on this curve and, if you aren't where you want to be, find a way to upgrade your skills or admit that riding a motorcycle is either not for you or a high-priced suicide attempt.

I know that it's hard to be realistic about this. Studies have found that 80% of drivers think they are above average. More statistically impossible crap. It's one thing to be protected by crumple-zones, air bags, seat harnesses, and auto-piloting cars. It's another to be sitting on 200hp of two-wheeled instability in your wife-beater, flip flops, and pirate bandana. If you are one of the 70-90% of motorcyclists who suck, you should trade in your bike for a fancy lawn tractor and take the muffler off of that vehicle: just in case the lack of a loud pipe might cause one of your neighbors to run over you with his even fancier and larger lawn tractor.

On the other hand, if you suck and know it but have the patience, interest, capacity, and time to get better, work on it. Get some training. Spend a few days on a race track (on track days, not racing unless you really are one of the cool kids and decide to be a racer). Buy or borrow a few books on riding. Practice your riding skills at every stop light or sign, on every curve, and any other opportunity you may have where the results are not critical. And practice where you screw up you can just go back to the start point and do it again until you get it right. Do not be afraid to suck, but you should be damned nervous about being proud of sucking.

MMM August 2016

Jun 14, 2017

Genius on Two Wheels? Wait! On No Wheels.

We have some Grom geniuses/gangbangers in our neighborhood. I can totally see them doing all of this and more.


KR at Laguna

“You know he’ll go faster than he should otta go.”


Jun 5, 2017

#145 Back in My Day

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

When I was young enough to still have a little of that "magic and rubber" thing going for me, motorcycling was just about to hit its first economic snag (at least in my lifetime) in the early 1970's. As a Texas friend once told me, "Back then the moon wasn't born yet and the sun was a little tiny thing barely putting out enough light to read by on a summer afternoon." When I used this picture as my Facebook Profile Picture, I got more than a few inquiries asking "when, what, where, and how?"

Me 1980So, for the when I was 26 years old, father of two, sole support of my family, going AGAT for the time with armored denim overalls, a Fury open face helmet with a snap-on face shield and Scott goggles, Justin roper gloves, Malcom Smith/High Point ISDT enduro boots, and a kidney belt. Today, all that sounds a lot like riding naked, but it was geared-up for the day. I was as fearless then as I would ever be. I drove a 1970's Ford E100 Econoline van an average of 100,000 miles a year covering a service territory from North Dakota to Kansas and Iowa to Colorado. The truck housed a work bench and cabinets holding at least three-quarter-ton of equipment and parts. If I had ever come to a sudden stop, I'd have been instantly crushed by all of that crap tearing loose and shifting forward in a contained avalanche. I was always late to every appointment because my boss couldn't say "no" to anyone, so he promised me in at least three places at once, 100-500 miles apart. My average speed in that truck had to have been close to 80mph because I kept the throttle pegged anytime the coast was clear. Motorcycle racing seemed pretty tame compared to my work week.

The "what" was a 1973 Rickman 125 ISDT enduro. The Rickman was my first real off-road motorcycle, a 1971 Kawasaki Big Horn 350 being the first half-ass off-road motorcycle I'd owned before that. If I were ever to want to "go back" and restore a motorcycle I once owned and loved, this bike would be it. I just pounded the snot out of that little Zundapp two-stroke and it kept ticking like a legendary battery bunny. I raced it in a half-dozen 100+ mile cross-country events, in several years of the Nebraska state motocross series, in a few enduros, and trail rode that bike almost every weekend for three years. When I wasn't riding it, my wife was, until I bought her a brand new 1974 Yamaha MX100. Even then we sometimes argued over who'd get to ride the Rickman. I had tweeked, modified, and engineered that motorcycle for me to the point that it was recognizable at almost any distance. If you knew me, you probably knew my motorcycle. From the solid bars to the custom-canted rear Boge Mulholland long travel shocks to the blueprinted engine ports to the hand formed and welded exhaust, my Rickman 125 fit me like a glove. It was the toughest motorcycle I've ever owned.

"Where" was central Nebraska, probably a little northeast of Palmer, Nebraska. Weekends, I "lived" on limited-access roads between Palmer, Archer, and Fullerton, Nebraska. If I'd been on a bigger bike, I might have been single-handedly responsible for the 1970's gas crisis. As it was, I could ride pretty much all weekend on a tank-full of premixed premium and a spare three-gallon gas can. North of Highway 92 and south of Highway 22, there were hundreds of sandy abandoned roads between the fence lines of ranch land and a little farming. In 1975, some friends and I hosted a 125 mile cross-country race on those tractor-trails where about 40 riders experienced what we took for granted: miles of amazing trails, often crossing the Loop River, but never a single paved road. Two years later, I'd moved to Fremont for my first engineering job and my racing days were over. Once I left driving that truck, racing a motorcycle seemed a little crazy for a guy with a family to support.

"How" is a little confusing. Mostly, I just tossed on my gear and gassed up the bike and snuck out of town (illegally, since the Rickman was unlicensed) via farm roads until I crossed 92 into the trails. Sometimes, the whole family came along and we made it into a regular outing, even camping for a night or two a few hundred yards off of the official farm-to-market roads. I'd built a bike trailer out of angle-iron, expanded metal, and an old car axle, that could hold 3 bikes, two forward and one rear-facing. We'd load up the Rickman, my wife's Yamaha MX100, and my Suzuki RL250 trials bike and ride from early morning until the sun went down. The kids would play at the campsite with the children of friends who joined us and it was one big biker family party.

When I'd first moved to Nebraska, I was introduced to a kid, Mike, with a Suzuki TS250 Enduro by an employee and one of our neighbors, Randy, had a Kawasaki F6 125 Enduro. Those two, eventually, took us to their favorite trails, camping sites, and riding hangouts. When I first started riding with Mike, he'd panic and run when we found a rancher or farmer parked on one of the trails. Since I knew we weren't doing anything wrong, I rode up to there trucks and introduced myself. Mike would always hang back, expecting something awful to happen. Eventually, I got to know a lot of the ranchers who lived in the area. When we came on cattle loose or a busted fence line, I'd play cowboy on the bike and chase the cattle back into the pasture, put up the gate, cobble the fence back together, and stop at the ranch house to let the owners know their cattle had escaped, again. After a couple of years, we got to know the ranchers well enough that they helped with our one and only event.

We were all kids, then. Kids with kids, in fact. Now, we're all old. Some of us are dead. The fence lines have all been brought together and those limited-access roads are no more. Not only can you not go back, you can't even go where we went.

MMM June 2016

Postscript: I was wrong. On the way to Colorado in the summer of 2016, on Nebraska US Highway 20, I discovered there are still some amazing, rarely traveled, "unmaintained roads" that are absolutely worthy of exploration. They aren't on any state map or your GPS, but they are still out there and if you see 'em, you gotta ride 'em.






Jun 4, 2017

“A Nice Little Town,” Gone to Hell

A fairly desperate Harley Davidson promotion is hoping to turn a whole town, all 75 North Dakota folks, into motorcyclists. “We looked at the town and said, ‘Why don’t we turn Ryder (ND) into Riders?’ It sealed the deal when we saw their water tank,” said Anoop Prakash, Harley’s U.S. marketing director.

Ryder, N.D., residents gather in front of the town’sThe residents of this dinky village are, apparently, “game?” What do they have to lose? After the first new rider in Riders, North Dakota gets killed they’ll have the distinction of being the most dangerous town in America. Based on HD’s dismal Riders’ Edge program record, I’d expect at least two Riders residents to bite the dust by October and a half dozen to be hospitalized for serious injuries, assuming any of those folks are silly enough to actually buy and ride a motorcycle after their promotional “training” is complete.

It would be funny and appropriate if it turned out that Harley trains a small town, the small town residents realize that if you want to go anywhere for a reasonable price you have to buy Japanese, and the few people who do decide to be motorcyclists all buy dirt bikes.

It’s hard to imagine how unpleasant this place would be if it were actually populated with the kind of Village People who actually ride HDs. At the least, it would be noisier than downtown New York City. Put all of that crowd pictured above in pirate costumes and cover them with prison tats and you have the perfect place for the Walking Dead plague to ferment.

May 31, 2017

A Smart Helmet

The question is, would you wear a smart helmet? Another question might be would you buy one? But here’s an opportunity to go one step further and build your own:

Protect Your Smarts, Build a Smart Motorcycle Helmet

May 29, 2017

#144 Not Art

caveman

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

I don't know if Andy and Aerostich created this sticker for me, but they should have if they didn't. For most of my adult life, the word "art" has meant something different to me than, probably, to the rest of the world. I've even created my own etymological backstory for the origins of the word art: "a modernization and abbreviation of the French 'art brut,' or 'art done by prisoners, lunatics, etc.'" The natural adaptation of that word to modern applications would be "not good."

not_artA good bit of my opinion of art and artists comes from decades of seeing materials misused, adhesives and fasteners poorly applied, and welds so miserably executed that even extreme grinding can't hide the turkey-crap splatter. At one time, I was a fairly decent stick welder and moderately decent with wire-fed welding on steel. Today, those skills are long in my past but I can still recognize good work when I see it. I'm not a great carpenter or cabinetmaker, but I have done enough of that work to know when I'm looking at a piece I would have no chance in hell of building myself. I've been some kind of musician almost all of my adult life and I know what I could play and what I couldn't and I try to spend as little time listening to something I do myself. When it comes to musicianship, I am my own definition of "artistic."

Forty-some years ago, I took an architectural tour of famous Chicago buildings (mostly recording studios and live music venues). When the tour stopped at a Frank Lloyd Wright building I got separated from the group when I was distracted by a couple of guys working on an overhang at the back of the building. As they described the work they were doing and the fact that kind of work had been done all over the house, I commented that didn't sound like maintenance but something more like re-engineering. They agreed and went on to describe how generally poorly Wright's designs fit the materials he used and how much of this particular building had been gutted and redesigned with structural improvements.

NotArt6_0My wife, a visual artist, has the typical artist's distain for what she calls "artisans." I don't bother to look up that word or to invent my own definition of the word because we've had this discussion for fifty years. It's pretty obvious that the work of an artisan is something a "real artist" couldn't compete with in a million years. Those impossibly complicated wooden bowls with inlay work so fine and detailed that it seems only magical elves could have done the work receives the disdainful classification as "artsy-craftsy" or artisan-created. A lump of clay so poorly formed that it couldn't hold water if that water was frozen solid would be "artistic." A photo-realistic airbrushed painting of a zebra in full punk body piercings and Oakley shades is not "art" (the only airbrush/oil painting I have ever purchased in my 67 years) but a paint-globbed and tire-tracked, over-priced canvas is. And so it goes. A friend recently explained that I wouldn't get a particularly irritating piece of music because "it's art, Tom." He was right. It was awful. I didn't get it at all. Whether the performer was really good at pretending to be talentless or he was simply talentless makes no points with me. I try to never let other people scream for me. I can do a bad job all on my own. If I'm going to buy something, it will be something I absolutely can not do myself.

Likewise, I don't have a lot of use for arty motorcycles. I despise the whole concept of machines with NotArt"character" (unreliability and pointless weirdness). Chrome and blinking LEDs are fine for Xmas trees, but putting that crap on a motorcycle means you live for polishing metal and replacing control circuits. I buy motorcycles to go places I can't go in a cage. Mechanical devices are, and should be, functional first and when they are really functional their form simply becomes beautiful effortlessly. Saying "form follows function" should be obvious and when form replaces function, count me out. I'll find my "art" in things that work, do stuff, and have a purpose.

May 28, 2017

Missed Another One

As a wanna be journalist, I have a massive, insurmountable flaw: I almost never think to take a picture of some amazing thing I want to write about.

I know. You had your own list of my massive, insurmountable flaws, but this is the one I’m going with today.

Yesterday, my wife and I were in Hastings on our way to the Cities for some family crap. We stopped for breakfast and on our way out of the restaurant parking lot an old woman on a Harley wobbled her way into the lot, stalled the engine, almost fell over while she was fooling with the starter button, clutch, and shifter, and went through that whole cycle (on her cycle) three more times before paddling her way into a parking space. Clearly, she had way more motorcycle than she had skills; which isn’t saying much from either direction.

Normally, I have managed to slap on my “I don’t give a shit” goggles pretty quickly in these situations. There are more than enough Boomers, or every other generation, on the planet that losing a few million to motorcycle crashes isn’t that big a deal when there are approaching nine billion of us littering up the planet. Yeah, brainless boobs on motorcycles cost the rest of taxpayers billions of dollars, just in the US, but what can you do? People just gotta be stupid and everyone else is stuck paying the bill. Nope, that’s not the picture I missed.

The thing that made this nitwit stand out wasn’t that she was old, incompetent, uncoordinated, and (as you would expect on a Hardley) completely inappropriately undressed in shorts, a gross haltertop, low top tennis shoes, and (or course) no helmet. All of that is everyday idiocy. The stand out was that behind her on the suicide seat was a little girl wearing an adult’s helmet and otherwise dressed like the idiot I assume was her grandmother. The kid was probably about eight, didn’t even get close to being able to reach the passenger pegs, and had about as much chance of surviving that trip as a turtle on the freeway.

I repeat myself. I don’t care if adults remove themselves from the Republican voting roles, but I hate seeing kids splattered because the “adults” in their lives are too stupid to know how really stupid they are.

May 26, 2017

Losing Money on Every Unit?

osbornesplash2This story is awfully familiar: “The Electric Car’s Same Old Problem.” The quote that sums up the whole problem is from Fiat Chrysler’s Sergio Marchionne, “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000.” I keep hearing through unconfirmable sources that Zero has yet to sell a motorcycle for a profit. I hope it isn’t true, but I suspect it is. Things change, but often pioneers take it in the shorts in the early stages. I remember Adam Osborne’s Trump-like claim for how his company was going to make money selling computers, “I lose money on every unit, but make up for it in quantity.”

After the shake-up this week at Ford, mostly over EVs and autonomous vehicle sales, it will be interesting to see if ANYONE makes it to the goal post with an electric car.

May 24, 2017

Crash Analysis

Take a look at this video and measure yourself and your take on this crash against the incident and the opinions expressed in the comments section.

It’s probably more than a little obvious that I put more than a little blame on the biker (I hesitate to call him a “motorcyclist.”) because his “braking” attempt was so lame and his assumption that the job of everyone in the world was to be looking out for a speeding motorcyclist. I used to see this kind of oblivious-to-reality lane splitting in CA all the time and, like this guy, they were astounded and hysterically angry when ever their mindless riding tactics knocked them on their asses. I'm a little surprised that I don't see this kind of crash every day in Red Wing. Pretty much ever rider on this kind of lame-ass machine is incapable of the most basic evasive maneuvers.

May 23, 2017

Nicky Is Gone

And another really nice guy dies young. Nicky Hayden died from complications on May 22. He was struck by a car while riding a bicycle in Itally on May 17. Hayden has often been called the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.” The Kentucky Kid snatched the championship out of Valentino Rossi’s hands in 2006. Before that, the last time the red, white, and blue was on the podium was Kenny Robert Jr’s year, 2000. No American has been close since Hayden pulled off his winning season. The 80’s and early 90’s was prime time for the USA, with Roberts Sr, Lawson, Schwantz and Rainey swapping championships for a good part of two decades. Nicky Hayden was a surprise win on his Honda and it could be years before the world is surprised by an American again.

In the meantime, we’re going to miss the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.”

Backseat Driving

I just took what will probably be my last MSF instructor training session and got a little more insight into where motorcycle safety traing is going, in the process. The “new” (2014) classroom design is a giant step back from the MSF’s earlier attempt at “learner centered” or adult training. While I might suck at the delivery, I’ve always been a big fan of that concept because the alternative leaves me out in the cold as a student. The “education system” I grew up with is often called “the sage on the stage,” which would be one thing if the person on the stage was actually a sage (“a profoundly wise person; a person famed for wisdom. someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment, and experience”), but it will always be difficult to attract that kind of person to western Kansas (where I grew up and experienced my K-12 “education”). Most small-to-mid-sized towns have the same problems, from the intolerant majority segments of the Midwest and Southeast, and most of the country’s underfunded public education system.

For many years I was too often stuck listening to someone who had put about as much effort into their lecture topic as me, although that person was 20-30 years older and a whole lot lazier. If it hadn’t been for the years I spent in southern California’s university system, I’d have lived my whole life believing that teachers were nothing special. Lucky for me, that didn’t happen. Otherwise, I’d have been so bored with “education” that I’d have given it up after my first junior college semester in 1966.

Becoming one of those “lazier than me” lecturers has never been a goal of mine. In fact, for the first 40 years of my life I had absolutely no interest in being any kind of teacher, although I’d been roped into dealer, technician, and customer training with a couple of my employers for about ten years. I didn’t consider myself to be a teacher and if someone had called me one I’d have laughed at them. My father was a career high school teacher and I spent my first 15 years surrounded by adults who made their living “teaching.” Nothing about that experience provided any inspiration toward that career path.

Some motorcycle instructors claim they teach the MSF program to “give something back to motorcycling.” I don’t get that. Motorcycles are a transportation vehicle or a luxury toy. If their primary purpose is to be a “lifestyle” prop and noise-generating irritant, that’s nothing worth the “giving back” effort. After paying my vehicle license and fuel taxes, I don’t feel any compulsion to give back any of my time and energy to Wisconsin, Iowa, Detroit, Japan, or China. Honestly, for at least half of the years I’ve taught the MSF program my primary motivation has been self-preservation. While I do not believe the remedial training we provide or the license testing the state requires does anything significant toward making new or even experienced riders safer or more competent beyond a few weeks post-training, I know that thinking, talking, and demonstrating decent riding techniques make me a safer, smarter, and more competent rider. And I get paid to do it, which brings up my decision to wind down my motorcycle instructor career. This is something I haven’t done for the money for the last 16 years, but wouldn’t do without getting paid for it about 90% of the time.

Over the last five years, I’ve discarded all of the other things I’ve done to make a living that fall into that category. I used to repair professional audio equipment for $175/hour. I wound down that work and business starting in 2012 and by July 2013 all of my customers had been redirected to someone else. I did commercial acoustic consulting and audio forensics, which sometimes paid fantastically and always paid well. I did my last 911 call analysis in late 2011 and completed my last acoustic consulting contracts in early 2012. A decade ago, when someone asked me what I did for a living, I used to say, “I teach rock and roll.” (Nobody wants to hear about the repair or consulting stuff and most people don’t take self-employment seriously; including me.) For more than a decade, teaching music production and technology at MSCM felt exactly like that. After the last couple of uninspiring semesters, there was finally more money than fun in that job. After a minor heart attack in late 2012 I decided I had been there long enough. My last months of teaching came at the end of the spring 2013 semester. I pretty much knew I wasn’t going back, but decided for sure on my 65th birthday that summer. The only thing I do for pay, now, is teach “motorcycle safety” classes a few times a summer. (2015 was the last summer I taught something resembling a full load. Plus, I am still selling off stuff in hopes that we can downsize “bigly” one more time and hit the road full time. Come on by. See anything you like, make an offer!

The “fun” part of teaching motorcycle safety classes was working with and getting to know the students. Even during the Harley/Polaris/Star/hippobike boom days I still had occasional students who made the job worth doing. [For example, two near-retirement medical doctors from Stillwater who took the class, listened to my advice on their first motorcycles, bought a pair of Honda Nighthawk 250’s, and rode them to Alaska and back.] I assisted with my first range portion of the MSF course in 2001 and wrote about freezing my ass off in 2” of slush back then. I went through the training program in 2002 and became an official MSF instructor and taught a boat load of classes that first year of the MSF’s Basic Rider Course. I wrote about that experience in MMM, too. For the next dozen years, I filled most of my summers with basic and experienced rider classes and enjoyed a good bit of that. I got to work with some dedicated, talented, and entertaining instructors (and a few who weren’t any of that) and I met a lot of hopeful prospective motorcyclists.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of conversations about teaching techniques, read a few dozen books about adult education, and have thought and written about teaching everything from computer applications to motorcycle safety and expertise to music, audio recording, and electrical/electronic engineering. One of the many things I’ve learned about teaching is that, like everything, it only works if there is a corrective (negative) feedback loop to provide input that keeps the system on course to achieve the intended outcome(s). There is only one meaningful outcome in motorcycle safety training: reduced mortality/morbidity occurances among “trained motorcyclists.” That is not only something the MSF warns instructors and programs not to expect, it’s not being measured by anyone. Without that critical piece of the puzzle, it seems to me that the effort, time, and money spent on training is wasted. I don’t have a lot of time left, so I’d like to waste as little of it as possible.

May 22, 2017

#143 Outta My Cold, Dead Hands


cavemanThe Geezer with a Grudge Columns
(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.) 

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

There is a punk gangbanger group on Facebook called the Yamaha WR250X and WR250R Public Group. I joined this group about two years ago, because their intro FAQ is all about the useful (and not so useful) things that can be done to make the WR250X/R more fun and practical to ride. I left the group this week because the most outspoken members are consistently spoiled brats. Like a lot of bikers/gun nuts/spoiled children and the rest of the crowd who think their “right” to do any damn thing they please overrides public safety, an undisturbed peace, and their neighbor’s property rights, many of these kids consider themselves above the law and beyond reproach. They are classic examples of why motorcycles and motorcyclists are about as popular as used car salesmen in plaid suits or politicians from another state. Between the “I don’t need no stinkin’ endorsement” and the “why would I carry insurance, I’m just a motorcycle” and “why should I care if wheeling out of control freaks out cagers” attitudes, the group is a sad cartoon of why motorcycles are likely to be historical relics in a decade or less. There are some decent folks in the group, but their voices (like the voice of reasonable motorcyclists everywhere) are drowned out by the goons, brats, and gangbangers.

The last “conversation” I had on the group was about how gangbanging is going to be tough in an autonomous vehicle world. One of the kids claimed “they’ll have to pry my steering wheel away from my cold, dead hands” and a half-dozen or more chimed in accordingly. I asked what they were driving now and got a list of fairly new, mostly-Japanese sedans and mid-sized pickups. I suggested that since all of these vehicles had automatic transmissions and were controlled by transmission and engine computers they weren’t really driving now. Add power steering, backup cameras, parking sensors, ABS brakes, adaptive cruise control and proximity warning systems and you are about 1/2 way to the fully autonomous vehicle. The difference between being a total passenger and a terrible driver in a smarter-than-humans car is immeasurably small. I think it is safe to assume that, based on their motorcycling attitudes, that these kids are awful cagers too.

As macho as the American driver pretends to be, it ain’t gonna take much to remove most of us from the steering wheel. The first and logical step is to crank the shit out of the price of car insurance for those who insist on driving themselves. That will pretty much do the job alone. Cops will be watching the self-piloted vehicles closely, since their business will pretty much dry up on the autonomous side of transportation. They are absolutely not going to be issuing tickets to the corporations that provide the multi-user leases to autonomous vehicle passengers. Not only are corporations “people” but they are people with super-special privileges not to be fucked with. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a cop going after any sort of big business, regardless of how vicious the corporation’s crimes may have been. So, the only ticketing game in town will be the “cold, dead hands” crowd and they will be feeling pretty picked on by the time they hand over the reins to their own autonomous car. I know, you’re thinking “The Geezer is still just pissed off about his damn Volkswagen automatic transmission experience.” True, I’m pissed off at Volkswagen over that nightmare, but I have always disliked automatic transmission cars. They feel patronizing, sort of like having someone pat me on the head, when they put me in an electric wheel chair and say, “Now you’re in charge old dude. The hallway is all yours.”

I think the most insulting vehicle I’ve ever driven was a Toyota rental car with “Sport Shift Mode” thumb shifters.  I guess some kid who grew up playing video games might be able to fool himself into believing that he’s “really driving a car” when he can select the gear with a flick of the thumb, but I don’t play video games. The little Corolla had more than enough power to get out of its own way, but the Sport Shift Mode was clunky, intolerant of any high RPM operation, and it felt like an attempt by Toyota’s engineers to convince me to go back to letting the car do the driving. Which I did after a couple of unsatisfactory experiments with the thumb shifters.

Unlike the obtuse kids, I don’t care about driving and I’d just as soon lease a portion of an autonomous car as own a whole car that I have to finance, insure, and drive myself. Cars are boring and I’m a lot happier as a distracted passenger than driving. I can read, sleep, watch the scenery, or write as a passenger. As a driver, I spend most of my energy trying to stay awake. Unlike these kids, if I’m going be stuck behind the wheel I want as much control as I can have, including getting to decide my vehicle’s gear, engine RPM, and the point in the powerband for the situation at hand. I’ve yet to see an automatic transmission or all-wheel drive vehicle do a half decent job on ice or in deep sand and I’ve sure as hell seen those vehicles do a pitiful job in those conditions. So, until I can get at least 95% of an autonomous car, I’m hanging on to my 4WD, manual transmission pickup.

There is nothing cold-dead-handish about this, though. I just don't like doing things half-assed. If I can get a computer to drive for me, I'm in. If the computer is just there to make me a more distracted, less competent driver, I don't need that kind of help. But back to the original point of this rant, in an autonomous car world (Coming soon to your town!) motorcycles morbidity/mortality statistics will become unjustifiably over-represented majority in traffic crashes and the ugly face motorcycling has proudly presented to the public will be something we're going to wish we'd have done something about when it would have helped.

MMM April 2016 (and, oddly, again in the March 2017 issue, #154)

May 20, 2017

Refering to Myself

About a decade ago, I had the incredible pleasure of getting to interview Cycle World's Kevin Cameron for MMM. That started an email conversation and friendship that I still work to keep alive. If you didn't know this interview was on this blog, you have a pleasant read ahead of you. Not only is the original interview here, all 900 words of it, but I posted the entire conversation with Kevin's permission, "Kevin Cameron Interview Text: Complete Interview." The reason I brought it up, was that I spent this afternoon at the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant open house and that experience was enhanced by a wonderful conversation my wife and I had with a brilliant friend, Stuart Anderson, who is a physics professor at Augsburg College in St. Paul and one of the most talented and interesting teachers I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Without the background Stuart provided last week, I wouldn't have learned a fraction of what I picked up today. Likewise, Kevin has opened my eyes and mind to all kinds of areas over the years.

May 18, 2017

Necessary Parts

Following up on my plan to regularly verify my semi-competence (see “Creating A Baseline”), I headed for the Red Wing MSF training range yesterday. I invited a friend, but he wasn’t interested in testing himself or his new V-Strom in the rain. I invited a kid I went to school with this year; he couldn’t get his bike to start. Absolving myself of any sense of obligation to combine my self-analysis with some sort of service to my fellow man, I wrapped up my honey-do projects and loaded up for the afternoon ride and practice.

Rain was definitely in the weather prediction, so I suited up AGAT Aerostich. First, I had a few errands to run on the bike, so I filled it up for the first time this season and put about a dozen miles running errands from one end of the gigantic Red Wing metropolis to the other. It’s a rough life, but someone has to be enough of a screw-off to manage it. About the time I wrapped up the errands and started up the hill to Southeast Community Tech where the MSF range lives, it started to rain. Rain isn’t a big show-stopper for me, but the Red Wing range is poorly marked and pretty much a mess on a good day. Still, if I were teaching a class we’d be riding, so I might as well get on with it. As expected, the range was soaked and I had to ride around it a few times, noting visible markers as clues where my targets would, roughly, be.

I started off surprisingly well, considering my lousy day on the bicycle last week (where my new cleated clip-in pedals put me on my ass twice in about 20 miles). I aced the figure-8 box twice, which wasn’t expected because I’m stiff as a board after this lethargic winter and turning my head to look for my target points was a little painful and not particularly impressive, flexibility-wise. However, it went downhill from there, fairly quickly. I moved to Exercise 6, the small oval cornering exercise, next. I was Ok there, but not as confident as I should be as a coach or even as a half-decent rider. I kept at it for a couple dozen laps in each direction. I got better, but a little colder, too. Cold equals stiff and so does old. Next, I worked on the 270o timed corner. Ok, but not great again. No problem staying in the lines or going minimally quick enough, but I didn’t convince myself to push the bike hard enough to get a little slide out of the back tire (easy in the rain) or to approach touching a peg to the asphalt. Quick stops, emergency swerves, and the big offset cone exercises pretty much wrapped up the stuff I usually practice and after all that I’d blown about two hours on the range.

Then the sky opened up and dumped for a couple of hours. Between when I left and this morning, we got 5” of rain on Wednesday. 4” of that landed on me between the school and home that evening.

wrpartsWhen I bought my WR250X, I busted my “no bikes from kids” rule. Some of the stupid things that had been done to that bike were trendy nitwit stuff: like removing the “tail” of the rear fender, hacking up the tail pipe and the intake air box. In a rain storm like this one, the last thing I need is a shade tree butchering of Yamaha’s well-thought-out air box. Water and high compression do not mix, ever. Likewise, without that “ugly” tail fin on the rear fender, the back tire tosses crap from the top of my head to my ass. I know, I rode it a couple of times before I found a cheap used replacement fender. Since I replaced all of that stuff fairly quickly, I made it home in the rain without any mechanical problems.

DarienRanger1_smIMG_8182Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to my personal protection. I was properly geared up, so I should have been reasonably dry. However, there is a key move you have to make to stay dry in an Aerostich Darien: you have to zip up the jacket all the way and close the collar. I didn’t do either. Lucky it was a warm rain.

I’m still trying to decide if I passed this year’s riding benchmark. I absolutely decided that I’m not smart enough to take advantage of good riding gear and the protection it provides.

May 16, 2017

Millions and Almost A Million?

A while back, I semi-proudly noted that this blog had finally passed 500,000 hits. GWAG HitsI was pretty impressed with myself, since for the first several years of this blog’s existence it felt like I would never get to 1,000 hits, then 10,000 hits, and so on. Since noting that benchmark and imagining it wouldn’t be long before I got to 1,000,000, the reality of those numbers has been eye-opening. In a good way.

We hear numbers like millions and billions and, even, trillions tossed around by politicians and the media as if they are insignificant. Some of us are old enough to remember when having 64kb of RAM in a computer was a big deal. I remember paying $10,000 of my employer’s money for a 5M hard drive in the mid-80’s, for example. If I hadn’t known how to do it myself, it would have cost another $1,000 to have a Wang tech come to the office to install it! I just paid $9 for a 64GB USB stick, which ups my remote audio recorder’s capability to 600 minutes for six channels of 24 bit/96kHz WAV audio! Ten freakin’ hours of high definition audio for $9? Impossible.

So, while I once had high hopes for hitting 1,000,000 pageviews fairly quickly, mostly I have a new respect for just how much activity it takes to arrive at that kind of numbers.

May 15, 2017

One, Two, Three, or Four Fingers?

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

In the MSF program, instructors are infamous for requiring students to use their whole hand on either the throttle or the brake. Not just one, two, or three finger braking, but the whole collection of finger-like digits; "If you have 'em, use 'em." This is a position that generates a lot of controversy among "experienced riders" who have cultivated (politi-speak for "clung to beginner habits") a variety of tactics that involve various fingers applied at random times with an assortment of justifications with empirically inconsistent results. There are some strong justifications for the MSF position. Is this the best way to teach front brake use? Probably. Is it absolutely the only right way to use the front brake? Not necessarily.

Sometimes even more controversial, MSF instructors are not fond of the "covering the brake" habit. (The 2013 MSF program is less emphatic about the consequences of this tactic, which more reflects the MSF's milktoast character than actual safety considerations.) I believe this tactic mostly comes from a fevered need to feel "prepared," in case a piano falls out of the sky and scares the crap out of you. Newbies may want the security of nervously covering that apparatus in case they forget where the brake is, but "need" and "want" are not the same animal. In high tension situations, it is natural to want to be ready to stop. The problem is, more often than not, grabbing a handful of brake is exactly the wrong move. All of those "I had to lay 'er down" stories are examples of how poor braking tactics turn into a justification for doing something stupid. Rubber will out-stop metal and plastic any time. Besides, we all know you didn't "lay 'er down," you screamed, panicked, and fell down. One reason for breaking the brake-covering habit is to force a few moments of thought into the decision-making process. If your hand is already on the brake, you'll use it before thinking.

There are a lot of arguments on the web and in bars and every other place motorcyclists hang out about how many fingers are necessary or ideal for precise, safe rapid stops. I snagged a portion of this answer to a question from a newbie about his MSF BRC experience from a moto-discussion site; "Some use 2 fingers because you can keep them over the lever at all times. If your brakes are bled correctly and the lever is adjusted, you will not trap the other fingers. (Tell me how that works out for you if you drop the bike hard on the right bar. Ever see a busted lever, kid?) How many fingers you will need in a emergency is dependent on finger strength and brake caliper strength." Another of those kids claimed, "I convinced a friend to ride with two fingers always on the break[sic] and he said the habit saved his life." When that friend drops the bike in a corner because his "habit" caused him to grab the brake when he should have been no where near that control, I wonder if the kid with the "great advice" will take the blame?

I think habit explains why so many riders feel the need to rest their fingers on the brake. Safety or preparedness are pretty low on the list of logical justifications for this practice. Fear is a lot higher on the list, but most riders won't acknowledge that. They began hanging on to the grip when they first started riding and haven't re-evaluated the practice since. New riders are terrified of letting go of the grip and just as nervous about taking their fingers off of the brake. Terror does justify a habit.

Obviously, some brakes and some riders are able to get all the stopping power they need from one finger. YouTube and the Web are full of guys showing off their one finger stoppie power. That doesn't make one-finger braking a brilliant concept, or a safe riding habit. A stunt is not the same as an unplanned emergency stop. In a stunt, you not only aim for the best possible spot to make the stop, you shift your weight to maximize the pressure on the front wheel to prevent skidding, and if you screw it up it you'll probably survive to try again. In an emergency, you want to stop with as much control and power as possible. If you screw it up, you might be dead.

I'm a long ways from an MSF-fanatic, but I do think our training organization is right in teaching the four-fingered braking habit. Being the single-minded, single-task animal we humans are, learning how to use the front brake with power and confidence is life-saving. In fact, if you never learn how to use the rear brake, you're only giving up on 10-30% of your stopping power. Precise front brake operation is one of the most critical skills in motorcycling. One of the reasons for learning how to perform a skill absolutely correctly is, then, you can intentionally modify that technique when conditions change. If you never learn how to use your brakes correctly, you won't suddenly figure it out in an emergency.

First published in the Rider's Digest #171 Winter 2015-2016.

May 6, 2017

Product Review: Giant Loop Pronghorn Straps

 

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day
PHS16-fastener
A Giant Loop-supplied picture of the alleged "unbreakable fasteners." (Photo supplied by Giant Loop, Harold Cecil)
Friends say I'm unrealistically biased positively toward Giant Loop Products. Could be. I own and love several of the company's fine products: the Giant Loop Coyote Saddlebag, Dry Bag, Diablo Tank Bag, Kiger Tank Bag, and the Great Basin Dry Bag. All of that gear is fiercely waterproof, tougher than rhino skin, and brilliantly designed for backwoods motorcycling. When I received a trio of Pronghorn Straps to test, I pretty much assumed this would be another brilliantly designed product that would become an indispensible part of my travel kit. Turned out, that was pretty much a no-brainer assumption.

PHS-pronghorn-straps-web
The three Pronghorn Strap options (Photo supplied by Giant Loop, Harold Cecil)

The first thing I felt needed to be challenged was the claim that the fasteners are "unbreakable." As a retired reliability engineer, I am compelled to test any such claim because I absolutely do not believe such stuff. In the interests of truth and the American Way, I will admit that I received these straps as "media samples," so I had no money invested in the following abuse/tests. Likewise, earlier in my career--when I was paid to abuse/test industrial electronics, music equipment, professional audio equipment, medical devices, software, firmware, and hardware--I did not pay for that equipment, either. Fair is fair.
Practically speaking, what kind of abuse would something like these straps and their buckle expect to experience? First, serious abrasion and tension stress under a variety of temperatures. Second, impact damage from crashes within the same range of temperatures. (For example, 0oC to 40oC.) Finally, an outright attempt to find the breaking point of the strap or buckle, whichever comes first would be typical test engineering experiments. I decided that I would limit my tests to semi-destructive because I wanted to long-term test the straps on our RV excursion during the winter of 2013-14. First, I measured the strap's total pre-test length for a distortion/elasticity baseline (32.1cm).

So, I started with simple abuse. I clamped one of the red straps (the size I thought I was most unlikely to use) to my vise and whaled away with my 4 pound sledge at the buckle and strap for a bit. The buckle showed abrasion signs of abuse afterwards, but it didn't break. The strap looked a bit scratched up, but it didn't appear to be weakened, either. So, I froze (at -5oC) the same strap in my basement storage freezer for a few days while leaving it under tension with an expansion clamp extended far enough that the buckle distorted significantly. After leaving it frozen for a few days, I pulled it out and gave the clamp a few more squeezes which stretched the buckle and strap even more, but didn't break it. Next, I tossed the strap into my wife's food dehydrator (80oC) and left it for a week while she dried pears on the other three trays. (Yeah, I know. I probably poisoned us with the plastic out-gassing. At our age, poisons will have to be pretty aggressive to matter much.) Out of the dryer, I put the strap back into the clamp and stretched it to 125% of it's relaxed length and left it in the clamp for a day. That ended the bench testing phase of my procedure. After that abuse, the 20oC resting length of the strap was 32.23cm, 101% of it's original length. The buckle retained it's original shape, compared to my untested copies. The strap didn't even retain the clamped form and appeared to be returning to the packaged shape after a few days on the bench.

A month later, I used two of the red straps to secure my Giant Loop Dry Bag to my WR250's tail rack for a camping trip along the St. Croix. (So much for my ability to guess which size strap I'd use most often.) One of the two straps was the one I'd abused in my earlier tests. I'd imagined that this trip would be pretty benign because the fall had been wet and I didn't plan on going off-road much between the Cities and Two Harbors, but once I got out of town I ended up letting my GPS guide me northward with the instruction that I waned to avoid freeways, major highways, toll roads with a high preference for dirt roads and "ferries" (in case I ever get a chance to cross the St. Croix on one). Pretty soon, I was bouncing along on a heavily farm-equipment-rutted road enjoying the hell out of my all-time favorite motorcycle. 350 miles later, I was still south of Duluth by 50 miles and looking for a place to hang my hammock for the night. As either a testament to my faith in Giant Loop products or my simplemindedness, I hadn't check my load once in the last 250 miles. It was all there, though. Ten minutes later, I was swinging between two trees reading my eBook with the sound of the river in the background, mosquitoes in the foreground, and birds and bats in between until the light failed and I fell asleep.

A few weeks later, I used five of the Pronghorns to secure bicycles,hardware, and the WR250X to my customized Harbor Freight trailer and we headed south for our first winter in retirement. Somewhere around 6,000 miles into the trip, weather, vibration, and metal fatigue caused one of the brackets I'd used to hold a bicycle in place snapped and a blue Pronghorn strap between the bike ramp and the bicycle's lower frame was all that kept my mountain bike from being abandoned on the highway in New Mexico. I didn't discover the failure until we stopped for the night.

I started collecting information for this review in 2013 and, somehow, the final article ended up sitting in my computer for three years after any formal "testing" ended. I regret that I didn't stay on this because the Pronghorn straps have more than exceeded my expectations and have lived up to their "unbreakable" claim, at least with any semi-normal use. I love 'em.

May 1, 2017

#142 Dumb Laws for Stupid Products

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On my usual mid-week trip to the library, I got stopped by a Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputy. As usual, he asked, "Do you know why I stopped you?" I did not.

"You crossed the white line to pass that van on the right." Fortunately for me, the deputy was a good guy (and a motorcyclist) and he let me go with a warning. All the way to the library and through the rest of my day's errands, I thought about what kind of goofy state has a dumbass law like that. Keeping in mind that I believe every state in the nation, except California, is barely sophisticated enough to bang the rocks together in a primitive attempt to communicate -- because of the national ban on filtering and lane sharing. Holding a motorcycle behind a stopped vehicle seems outrageously and unusually primitive.

I can just imagine our hillbilly state representatives creating this idiotic law and including all vehicles in it because one of their inbred offspring blasted by a stopped vehicle that suddenly turned right and tagged the passing vehicle. The obvious "solution" is to create another dumb law to regulate all of the stupid products (cages) and every other vehicle on the road because you never know when the next "special" child will take himself out of the gene pool.

It makes sense to hold cages to the no-passing-on-the-right rule because the damn things are too fat to fit in that small space, even on the freeway. But motorcycles and scooters? That's just stupid. If I'd have been on a bicycle, that would have been the lane I'm supposed to riding in. Does the law insist a bicycle stop in the same situation? The last place I want to be is stuck between a cage sandwich because some hillbilly lawmaker can't tell the difference between a motorcycle and a cage.

Like the ban on filtering and splitting, the fact that a rider can get a citation for saving his own life when one braindead cager slams into another on the freeway or any other place designed to stack up traffic irregularly, this is a dumb law. Aerostich's Mr. Subjective optimistically would like to believe that laws only reflect what the majority of the public is already doing, but anyone who observes traffic in neighborhoods where the "no left turn on red" or various misplaced stop signs have been randomly distributed without rhyme or reason knows that laws are self-perpetuating and lawmakers are a species unto themselves.

In case you're confused about this rant's title, the "stupid products" I'm referring to are cages, cars, single-passenger four-wheeled fuel-and-space-wasters. I have always believed the passenger car is one of the dumbest, most wasteful, most harmful inventions in human history. Anyone with rudimentary mathematics skills has to despair at seeing miles and miles of single-occupant, gas-guzzling cages stacked in congested parallel lines, draining our children's futures and destroying this version of the earth and current life forms for no good reason other than we all dislike each other and can't be bothered to use mass transit. Cars are for people who aren't competent on two wheels.

Likewise, the existence of handicapped parking is irrational. Everyone who drives a car is, obviously, handicapped. Those flags we hang from our windshield mirrors are just identifying those who are incredibly handicapped as opposed to those mostly handicapped. I know that from experience: for three months post-hip-surgery, I used one of those special parking permits because I couldn't get from the bedroom to the bathroom without a walker, crutch, or cane (in that order as my healing progressed). I was trapped in my cage, with my wife driving for most of two months, because I was incapable of riding a motorcycle. Now, I'm better and I don't need the damn car. If we had a civilized public transportation system, I wouldn't own one of the damn things. For those rare moments when I need to carry stuff larger than my side-cases, I'd rent a car or take a taxi. I hate being required to own a cage and am about 90% of the way convinced to move somewhere I won't need a car.

But what really twists my chain is being limited to the handicapped center-lane on a motorcycle because the dimbulbs who make the laws can't tell a handicapped vehicle from a motorcycle. Making the rules the same for all means of transportation is as stupid as punishing everyone for the sins of a few. It would be really nice to be a member of a society that makes laws to reflect what the public does, but I don't see that happening here or many places. A couple of years ago, a kid who was a wannabe cop asked me to list laws that I thought were irrational. I named about a dozen in the few minutes we had to talk. A day later, I emailed him another couple-hundred irrational laws that came to me after we'd talked. A few weeks later, my list had grown so large that I had to give up the whole project because it was taking over my life. Our legal system is downright depressing, when you take time to think about it. It long since has given up pretending to be a justice system and, now, just masquerades as a police state employment-bureau-for-the-mentally-handicapped while exercising its primary function as a tax collection system. 

When I move into my cave in Montana, you're going to hear the verse from one of my favorite Bobby Dylan songs coming from dim light that will be my gas lantern. "You ask why I don't live here? Man, I don't believe you don't leave." There will be only one law enforced from the entrance to my cave: "Get the hell out of my yard unless you want to be picking rock salt out of your lame ass!"

MMM Winter 2015

Apr 29, 2017

I Don’t Know What to Think

My first thought was, “What a pair of posers.” I’m still waiting for a second thought. However, here’s the press release and you can make up your own mind, then tell me what you think.

My primary, cynical-self thinks this is more anti-helmet, Harley-poser promoting bullshit.

Sens. Ernst & Peters Launch Motorcycle Caucus

Apr 04 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Gary Peters (D-MI) announced the formation of the first-ever Motorcycle Caucus in the United States Senate. The life-long motorcycle riding senators will serve as co-chairs of the caucus, and will advocate for a multitude of issues on behalf of both motorcycle riders and manufacturers.

“Some of my most cherished memories include motorcycles, from delivering messages as a young girl to my dad while he was working out in the fields, to riding through the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa with family and friends,” said Senator Ernst. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to encourage thoughtful discussion and solutions on behalf of motorcycle riders and manufacturers through my new role as co-chair of the Motorcycle Caucus. Throughout my 99 county tour of Iowa, I have heard from many of these folks about some of their priorities, including improving safety, infrastructure, and energy efficiency. These concerns are shared by folks across our great state and country, and I look forward to working with Senator Peters toward solutions.”

“I’ve loved motorcycles since I was a kid, and I started a newspaper route to buy my first motorcycle at age 11. To this day, I believe there is no better way to see Michigan’s beautiful scenery than by bike, whether I’m riding to meet with constituents and small businesses or taking my bike out on the weekend,” said Senator Peters. “Motorcyclists come from all walks of life, and I can’t think of a better way to bring together a diverse and dedicated group of advocates to discuss everything from safety concerns to manufacturing. I’m looking forward to working with Senator Ernst as co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Motorcycle Caucus to foster these important discussions and find common ground with motorcycle lovers across the country.”

Apr 28, 2017

Motorcycle Jokes

An old friend of mine is at end-stage of a long bout with cancer. We both decided, years ago, that we weren’t going to join any pity parties and, if we were going to stay friends to the end we were going to carry on as usual. Some days, I don’t have much to say, but I’ve been making an attempt to write something to her every day or two. Sooner or later, she’ll stop writing back. If I’m lucky, her son will eventually tell me it’s time to stop writing. I’m not looking forward to getting that notice but I haven’t heard from her in a while and that’s not a good sign. She’s in California and I’m in Minnesota and we don’t have many friends in common. She’s cut herself off from most of the people she knows because they can’t talk to her like she’s not already dead or like her dying is the worst thing that could happen to them. I haven’t seen her son since he was a baby and, as far as I know, he might not even know I exist. So, on the days when I don’t have something worth talking about, I send her jokes. Usually politically incorrect jokes. If nothing else, someday the email address will bounce back on me.

. . .

It was only when I bought a motorbike that I found out that adrenaline is brown.

. . .

Yesterday I got stuck behind a young girl riding a horse. No matter what I did, I just couldn't get past her. I was tooting my horn, and hanging out the window yelling at her. She still wouldn't let me past. There was a guy on a motorcycle behind me and he was waving too. The road rage was building to the point of gun violence.

I was getting so wound up and frustrated. "It's people like you who cause accidents!" I shouted.

Eventually, I just couldn't take any more so I looked around to make sure the coast was clear . . . and I jumped off of the carousel.

. . .

This little old lady decides one day that she wants to join a biker club, so she goes down to her local club and knocks on the door. The door is opened by a big hairy biker with a beard, who's covered in tattoos.

"I'd like to join your club," says the little old lady.

The biker is amused by this and decides to play along, telling her, "Ok, but you've got to meet the requirements first. Do you have a bike?"

The little old lady points to a Harley and says, "Yeah, that's my bike there."

The biker is surprised but says, "And do you smoke?"

The little old lady says, "Yeah, I smoke 20 cigarettes a day and when I'm shooting pool I'll smoke a few cigars too."

The biker is impressed and says, "And have you ever been picked up by the Fuzz?"

The little old lady says, "No, but I've been swung around by the nipples a few times."

. . .

I kept telling my brother to be careful while he was out riding his motorcycle, but he wouldn't listen. And of course, one day he fell off.

I went to visit him in the hospital and he said to me, "I... di...

“Did....

“Did... n... wu....

“I... din... war... yu..."

I interrupted, "You can't say ‘I didn't warn you?’"

. . .

Like that.

Life sucks, then you die. Goddamn it.