Sep 27, 2017

Riding (and falling through) the Rails

Funny, in a politically incorrect way. When I was a much younger man, 40+ years ago, “riding the rails” was a pretty popular way to get from one end of town to the off-road sections where we used to spend most of a weekend. When I lived in central Nebraska, back in the 70’s, getting across the Platte River via railroad bridges was an every weekend thing.

Sep 25, 2017

The Easy Way or My Way

IMG_8723The day started simple. I just need to replace the V-Strom’s front tire. Nothing to it, should be no more than 10 minutes of really hard work and 30 minutes of easy stuff, put the tools away and to back to screwing around for another day of simple retirement. Of course, I had to reorganize the back of the garage to make it so it would be easy to put everything back when the tire job was done. That took about 45 minutes, but now the back of the garage is organized.

IMG_8725As expected, pulling the old tire off was the hard part and it took about 10 minutes to break the beads and pop the tire free from the wheel. The new tire went on easily and quickly. The wheel balanced right up, with 4 weights (28grams) which is about twice what I’m used to needing. The tools went back hassle-free. I got the garage cleaned up and rode the bike back to the lower level garage.

That is when everything went to hell.

Trying to horse the bike into the garage, over the loose gravel driveway, I lost control of the bike and it dropped into the retaining wall. Total damage: one brake lever, one hand guard, and one turn signal. After wrestling the V-Strom back up, I started stripping off the body parts to get to the portion of the fairing where the turn signal piece lives. That didn’t go too well, so I disassembled the hand guard to evaluate that broken section.

I decided it was time for me to learn how to use my Harbor Freight plastic welding rig. I’d played with it before, but only with throw-away plastic bits. The hand guard break was clean and clamp-able, so I gave it a shot. It welded up pretty well. I wouldn’t call my weld “beautiful,” but it is strong and could be repainted to look fairly decent. The ABS weld material is white and the V-Strom parts are all black, so the weld will definately show unless I decide to paint it. Next is the fairing bit that holds the turn signal. This is a piece that I broke when I crashed in the Yukon in 2007 and cobbled back together with Gorilla Glue. Nothing on that fairing piece is cosemetic, so a big strong weld could be better than the original design. I also cracked the front fender in Alaska and have been ignoring that for a decade. That repair was next and it went badly. The fairing isn’t ABS, but some cheaper, crappier sort of plastic that refused to accept any of the plastic material that came with my rig. Just like 2007 in Alaska, I ended up gluing that piece back together. After that failure, most of the rest of the repairs were taken care of in a similar half-hearted manner.

However, the rest of the repairs went about as well as you could expect, knowing that my mood was dark and my patience expired. I’d turned a couple hours work into two days of fumbling around and my V-Strom looks a little more beat-up for the experience. The good news is that it all hung together for the 800 mile trip and so did I.

Sep 8, 2017

Minnesota's Off-Road Gem

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

I'm out of my depth here. I specialize in criticism, picking apart the flaws I observe in products and services, and general purpose griping about stuff in general. So, after a long, hot July afternoon at the Spring Creek Motocross Park, I don't have a thing to complain about; at least as far as the park itself and the races are concerned.

Since we moved to Minnesota in 1996, my summers have been jammed with work, travel, and play; pretty much in that order. One of the events I have consistently missed because of overbooking and poor planning has been the Spring Creek AMA Pro National outdoor motocross round. This year, purely by luck, I had nothing planned for that weekend and I kept it empty, once I discovered that happy accident.

Millville 6Once I started planning to spend a day in Millville's main attraction, I realized that the last time I was at a real outdoor motocross was in the late 70's or early 80's. I was lucky enough to see a few of the 70's Trans-AMA rounds with Roger DeCoster and crew, the 1976 AMA season and Bob "Hurricane" Hannah's first national championship season, and a half-dozen AMA national races every year until I moved to California. The year Spring Creek MX Park opened, in 1983, I arrived in southern California just in time to read about the end of the great motocross parks: Saddleback, Elsinore Raceway, Carlsbad, Corona, El Toro, Hopetown, Indian Dunes, Ontario Speedway, and Orange County International; all absorbed by the vast urban and suburban California housing explosion of the 80's. There was still outdoor motocross to see in California, but it required a hundred-plus mile trek through the city and desert. At the same time, stadium-cross was gearing up and I got large doses of an extreme version of the sport at Anaheim Stadium and the Los Angeles Coliseum. Even better, I could convince friends to come with me to those places. Getting beach dwellers to drive to Riverside is harder than teaching a cat to swim. A decade or two later, Denver and Minneapolis stadium-cross was a big step down from the L.A. experience, so my motocross spectating interests dwindled away. After moving to Minnesota in 1996, every year when the Spring Creek pro national round came around, I thought, "I should go." This year, Saturday, July 22, 2017, I made it to Millville.

Millville 1Dirt Rider magazine provides a solid blow-by-blow wrap-up of the race results (Check out and I don't have anything to add to that. I didn't attend the races as "press," so my access was no different than yours. I paid my $10 parking and $45 general entry fee. I hauled a chair, a big umbrella, lots of water, and a backpack full of electronics and camera gear, so I drove my pickup to the races. Motorcycle parking is free and right by the entrance gate, just like you'd expect from a real motorcycle event organization. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a thousand motorcycles in that area. The "overflow parking" for cagers is about a half-mile from the park entrance and I was glad I dressed for a hiking experience. The park's camping area is another parking lot a little closer to the track and I have to say I was unimpressed with motocross fans' camping etiquette. Saturday afternoon, the campsite smelled like a bunch of the campers were dumping their black water tanks on the ground. Out in the overflow parking lot, a disappointing number of young men were dumping trash into piles and setting fire to their garbage between the parked cars. Apparently, if you can't be a motorcyclist the next best thing is to behave like a drunk and brainless hooligan.

Milville 5The Spring Creek track and spectator grounds are amazing. On Saturday, it was practically a small town in itself. The variety of food available during the national event was diet-busting. The event organization was totally professional. Even the security guards were friendly and helpful. The ticket area was organized and well-run and and if you wanted to get through the lines fast, you brought cash.

Going to these races was a lot like stepping back in time to the glory days of Southern California's CMC, except for the politically-correct Midwestern electric guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner and the weirdest pre-race Road Warrior-style prayer I've ever heard. If this were a CMC event, the between-race entertainment would be a Van Halen-style band (or the actual Van Halen band) and the motorcycles would provide respite from the sound system volume. The track's PA system is adequate for between race dialog, but is pretty much buried by the 4-stroke snarl of 40 race bikes. However, the track also has a simulcast on the 107.9MHz FM radio band and if you bring a radio and some in-ear phones you can follow the jocks' conversation during the races.

Millville 2There is no one spot from where you can see all of the action on the track: the course is just too long and convoluted for anything short of a hovering blimp for an overall view. However, there are dozens of great spots to setup a shade tent or large umbrella. Most the good spectating spots are within a reasonable hike to a beer garden, food, and a porta-can. Speaking of hiking, thanks to the giant culvert-underpasses, you can hike the entire perimeter of the course. There are stairs to assist those of us who aren't mountaineers up or down the cliff known as "Mount Martin."

The track itself is a little bit of everything; from deep sand to loamy only-in-Minnesota knee-deep topsoil to hard-packed whoops on the way to the finish line. Every stereotypical bit of motocross topology is there, too: killer whoops, even bigger jumps, ruts and berms deep enough stop non-super human riders, a giant hill climb (Mount Martin) and a banzai run back down the same hill with a hairpin at the bottom, more deep sand, and another steep hillclimb and downhill, before the whoop-filled drag race to the finish line.

I've been raving about the Millville park to anyone who will listen since I got back. At least one friend, who raced at Spring Creek back in the early 80's, and I are going back for the end of the regional Millville Super Series season. I can't say enough good things about my day at the park. I'm not familiar with the warm glow of satisfaction, but I could get used to it. The organization that puts on the Spring Creek national races could consult with every other motorcycle event group in the state and improve every one of them.

Sep 4, 2017

#156 Three Rules to Riding

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Back in the 80's, I went to a lot of L.A. Laker games, especially when Showtime wasn't playing someone in the championship hunt because I could get scalped tickets cheap; a few minutes after the game started. About half-time, the rich and famous folks would bail and I could filter down to the floor seats. In a game against Philly, Magic Johnson slipped a half-court pass through everyone to Vlade Divac, who was standing under the goal. The ball hit Divac in the chest, knocking him on his butt, and putting the ball in the bleachers. Without slowing down, Magic ran a loop around the opponent's end of the court, grabbed Divac by the jersey, yanked him up, hauled him down court, while saying (loudly), "Three rules to basketball, Vlade: Look, look, and look."
In the MSF rider education programs, we've sort of tried to instill the same religion. We spend a lot of time telling our students to "turn your head," because you can't look unless you're aiming your eyes at what you're supposed to be seeing. It's a good start, but it's just a start. The old school MSF program harped on the idea that "you go where you're looking." There is some reality to that claim, but outside of object-fixation you also have to steer where you're looking. Not all beginning or experienced riders know how to steer a motorcycle. Just looking at where you want to go isn't enough, but it's the first thing you have to do to get there.  
Changing directions is only part of the vision game on a motorcycle. You can't anticipate the next goofy move from a distracted driver unless you are looking for it. The more you look, the more you'll see. I don't mean just the broad overview of looking for vehicles on the road. I mean looking for details. It's nice that you're trying to take in all of the cars on the road, but you ought to be trying to get a good look at their drivers, too. I don't mean trying to catch the eye of the babe in the convertible. I mean get an idea of who everyone piloting a vehicle in your immediate vicinity really is: young, old, male, female, distracted, attentive, aggressive, happy, sad, mad, sane, and plain old crazy. 'Dis me for stereotyping people and doing that nasty profiling thing, but this is about survival. The worst thing that can happen to me for being over-cautious is that I keep rolling down the road jelly-side-up. 
Maybe even more important than doing a psychological profile of your highway competitors is making a judgement of the driving skill. For example, if a guy is turning left into an intersection while looking right or at a passenger in his car or down at his POS cell phone, that guy is a clueless moron who is a hazard to your life. Create distance between you and this idiot as quickly as possible. Try to get some other, much heavier, vehicle between you and Dumbo the Moron. Another example of a flashing warning sign is significant damage to the front end of the vehicle. This character is a tailgating bozo who imagines himself to be a NASCAR driver but who has the skills of a 3-year-old in a bumper car. 

Once you've bought into the idea that you have to look where you want to go and look out for all of the crazy folks in cages and on foot and on and in every other kind of vehicle on the road, you have to start looking for escape routes. Everything from an empty lane to a drainage ditch to a flower bed is a legitimate escape route if you can get there safely. So, while you're scanning for crazy people you are also looking for ways to escape from crazy people. The only advantage a motorcycle has is agility. We can fit into spaces other vehicles can't go. We sometimes have suspensions and ground clearances that allow us to go where no other vehicle can travel. (If you don't have more suspension than a Honda Accord, maybe you should reconsider your motorcycle choice.)  We can turn faster, stop quicker, and accelerate more rapidly than 99% of the overpriced heavyweights on the road. The only way we can safely take advantage of those advantages is to be constantly scanning for escape routes. 
So, "Three rules to motorcycling, Vlade: Look, look, and look."

Originally published in MMM #186 August 2017