Oct 15, 2018

What's Wrong with Motorcycle Safety Training

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I had a rare opportunity to talk with one of the big thinkers in national motorcycle training over the 2013 VBR3 weekend; David Hough. David has written about safe motorcycle riding tactics and skills for almost 25 years, both through his book collection (Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well, Street Strategies: A Survival Guide for Motorcyclists, More Proficient Motorcycling: Mastering the Ride, and The Good Rider) and his many magazine articles with the AMA's American Motorcyclist, Cycle World, Sound Rider, and Motorcycle Consumer News. He has also stepped out as a vocal critic of US motorcycle safety training in a series of articles almost a decade ago in Motorcycle Consumer News aggressively titled "The Fuss About Rider Training" and "Trouble in Rider Training." Oddly, he and I have been concerned about many of the same things: motorcycling's out-of-control fatality and injury rate, the lack of practical application for motorcycles, and the state of motorcycle safety training and licensing that contributes to our mortality and morbidity statistics. 
I've harped on the counter productivity of the AMA more than a few times, but David has an insider's view of that disorganization that is even more gloomy. Unlike me, David has a profound respect for Rod Dingman, the AMA chairman, and repeatedly called him "a brilliant man." From my distant outsider's view, I would have never guessed other than during that brief instance when Mr. Dingman was asked what issues most threaten motorcycling and he replied, "Noise, noise, and noise." Typically, the AMA promptly backed off of that moment of sanity and returned to the safer territory of representing the interests of motorcycle aftermarket vendors rather than motorcycle riders. Before that quick retreat, I almost joined the AMA for the first time since my racing years (30 years ago) when membership was required to be on the track. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has a similar problem because the heart of the organization is barely more than a lobbying tool of the motorcycle manufacturers disguised as a motorcycle training business. With that as a core purpose, motorcycle safety takes a back seat in the long, long bus full of constituents that both organizations try to serve. 
One of the places Mr. Hough and I totally agree is that motorcycling is dangerous business. So dangerous that in the late 1970's, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki began to diversify their business models so that, when liability problems from motorcycling's terrible mortality records overran the profits derived, they could simply quit the business and go elsewhere. Honda and Suzuki build cars. Kawasaki and Yamaha build everything else. Motorcycles are just one division of a huge manufacturing business that will not be allowed to drag down the whole. Only the lame (economically and flexibility-wise) but politically-connected Harley-Davidson constituency has protected the rest of the industry from obsolescence . . .  for a while. Our time appears to be coming, though.

David's perspective on our share of highway mortality is considerably different than the already-awful numbers with which we're familiar. His take comes from the independent Motorcycle Safety Training Institute where the data is more directly related to what we care about; driver mortality, since motorcycles are primarily a single-passenger vehicle. That data says we are 20% of the driver vehicle deaths, nation-wide. The other place David and I agreed was that "registered vehicles" is useless information. While it may be a source of pride to industry promoters that motorcycles are 3% of registered vehicles, anyone who sets up a video camera on most any freeway, highway, or residential street will discover we are rarely 0.01% of total traffic. (Optimistic motorcycle promoters might claim we're as much as 1% of total traffic, but no reasonable observation over time would substantiate that.) With those numbers in mind, it becomes obvious that motorcycles are substantially more dangerous than any other vehicle on the road; several hundred, or thousand, times more dangerous. 
That last bit is at the core of what's wrong with motorcycle safety training. The first thing that needs to be admitted and recognized is that your mother was right, motorcycles can kill you. That old motorcyclist saying that "there are motorcyclists who have crashed and those who haven't crashed yet" is absolutely true and if you aren't bright enough to recognize that, you aren't aware enough to ride a motorcycle. This should be the thing we talk about most in the early stages of motorcycle training classes. The 1960's "Mechanized Death" videos ought to be revived and revitalized with even gorier crash pictures and up-to-date statistics. Students should be forced to look at the carnage and mayhem from motorcycle crashes and be made well aware that they are entering into an activity that can be lethal, crippling, or mindlessly saddening when we are responsible for the injury or death of a loved one who trusted us with their life on a motorcycle.

Contrary to the industry's advertisements, riding a motorcycle is not a gleefully liberating activity: motorcycling is a life-threatening, dangerous, high-risk activity that requires all of our concentration, ability, and constant practice just to minimize the risk to "really, really dangerous." Beyond  and because of all that, the casual motorcycle "bike-curious" should be discouraged. Anyone not actively and irreconcilably drawn to motorcycling because of the many great things about taking your life in your own hands and tempting fate on a balanced pair of wheels is pretending that motorcycles are a "lifestyle" and has no business on a bike of any sort; powered or otherwise.

In fact, anyone who hasn't already put a few thousand miles on a bicycle isn't interested enough in this kind of machinery to be a motorcyclist. If you are going to take your life in your own hands, you ought to at least care a little bit about staying alive. If you don't, buy a gun and take yourself out in America's Favorite Method. Don't make our dismal statistics even worse because your daddy didn't appreciate you or your mother liked your sister better. I am dead serious about this. Riding a motorcycle is a commitment in time and money that requires concentration, study, practice, and the kind of attitude you might expect from skydivers or rock climbers. We can lightly remind beginning riders that motorcycling is a "skill of your mind and eyes," but that's just a fraction of the reality.

It is also a physical skill of the sort that you need to practice until muscle memory overcomes natural reactions. You won't get that kind of result from an occasional weekend ride. Muscle memory requires practice. Martial arts experts say it requires 3,000-5,000 repetitions to ingrain a exercise.1 For example, just practicing the single skill of emergency stopping could take you twenty or thirty hours of continuous practice. If you want to get to 25-30mph for your practice run, you'll need at least a 100 foot range for that attempt. Add 50 feet for the return loop and you have a 250 foot total practice loop. Five-thousand attempts later and you have traveled about 240 miles. If we assume you are stopping and returning to your start point quickly, you're still going to have a hard time managing a 10mph average. That would be 24 hours of continuous practice for a single skill.  Do you have that kind of dedication to becoming a good rider? If not, you are probably the wrong person to take on motorcycling.

1 Motor Learning and Performance,  by Dr. Richard Schmidt and Dr. Craig A. Wrisberg and Performance and Motor Control And Learning by Dr. Richard Schmidt and Dr. Timothy D. Lee

Oct 8, 2018

Can You Hear Me Out There?

When I taught the MSF program for MMSC, I’d get several questions per class along the lines of “what kind of first bike should I buy?” As you might know from following this blog, I have some strong opinions about that. (“No, you’re kidding?”) Most of the time when I’m giving this sort of advice, I feel like the deaf bluegrass banjo player whacking on a microphone saying, “Can anyone out there hear this thing?” (All bluegrass banjo players are deaf, I know.) It’s almost like teaching when the midterm or final exams get graded and you wonder if you were even in the room when those nitwits came to class. 

Mostly, I’d recommend something small, lightweight, that handles well and my ”students” would act like I’d insulted their intelligence, skill, or something and move on to the other instructor for more “manly advice.” As a habit, I recommend a bike around 250cc and one that weighs close to 300 pounds for daily riding. I’ve said this before in “A Good Beginner’s Bike” and I’ll say it again. And again.

2006_Honda_Nighthawk_250There have been a couple of times, though, when I almost felt like I existed. The first time was in the first couple of years I taught the BRC. Two near-retirement-age physicians took the class, asked the question, and when I suggested they consider the Honda Nighthawk 250’s they were riding in the class. The Honda air-cooled twin is a tough, reliable, lightweight motorcycle that can more than do the job for the kind of around town riding they expected to be doing. A few years later, I was having lunch with a friend in Stillwater when the two doctors came over to our table, reintroduced themselves, and thanked me for the advice. Then, they told me about the trip they’d just returned from to Alaska and British Columbia on their 250s. It was a great story and I wish I remembed it well enough to accurately repeat it here, but I don’t.

Larry's BikeThe second time my advice didn’t die in a vacuum was when my brother asked for the same advice. I had been training on the Suzuki TU250X for a few years at the time and had the opportunity to “test” it on the police driving course at Dakota Technical College earlier that summer. The bike did everything a motorcycle needs to do, plus was fun to ride, gets great fuel economy, has a low seat height, and looks like a 1950’s British bike. Larry bought one and is driving it into the ground in Arizona as I write this. His one complaint was that it didn’t do all that well off-pavement, so I suggested a change in tires. As you can see in the picture above, he took that advice, too. He’s had it for a couple of years and 20,000 miles or so and will probably keep it until he rides it to death.

Likewise, I’m down to one motorcycle and taking my own advice it’s my Yamaha WR250X. Since I sold my V-Strom, I haven’t been riding much but I wasn’t riding much before I sold it. This fall or winter, I plan to rig up a relay so that I can run some electrical crap off of the WR’s battery without draining it when I forget to turn things off. I admit it, I’m addicted to my GPS, heated vest, heated gloves, and charging my computer while I ride on long trips. We’ll see if taking my own advice puts me back on the road and trail.

Oct 1, 2018

Why I Love Dawson City

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

dawson_cityI've written about this a couple of times, but on a vacation trip with my wife through Oregon during the winter of 2013 it struck me again how strong the good feelings I have about Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada have been for the last 8 years. Of course, what reminded me of that was the wonderful experience my wife and I had on the Oregon coast. Everywhere we went, everywhere we stopped, everyone we met on that trip was so friendly, so accommodating, so naturally nice that we were talking about moving to Oregon by the time we crossed the boarder into California. That doesn't happen much, since we've been pretty damn happy with Minnesota for the last 19 years.  
My benchmark for "nice" is not, however, Minnesota Nice. As friendly as many Minnesotans are, there isn't a consistent attitude that defines Minnesota residents. Especially on the freeway, Minnesotans are pretty much on par, niceness-wise, with most of the country north of the parallel that more-or-less defines the westward extension of the Mason-Dixon Line. My personal benchmark for nice was established when I rolled into Dawson City, Yukon in 2007 at 2AM in mid-June with a separated shoulder, three broken ribs, and a busted hand. I'd been riding almost non-stop for 22 hours and I was completely out of patience with life, humanity, western civilization, my riding partner, my motorcycle (from which dangled miscellaneous parts from a crash on the Dempster Highway), myself, and Planet Earth. 
dawson_city_2Three hundred miles earlier, I'd misjudged the power of a 70mph side-wind, deep gravel, and my own riding ability and ended up going backwards at 50mph (for a few fractions of a second) and landing on my butt. After taking inventory and deciding that I had no more business going on to Inuvik than I have putting on a suit and working for Bernie Madoff or Mitt Romney or Bank of America or Doctor Phil, I turned around and headed for a Dawson City hotel and a hot bath. I'd suffered all of those injuries before and I knew exactly how the crash, shock, busted bones, seized body sequence works and I knew where I needed to be when the last part happens. 
I rolled into Dawson in a foul mood. The shock was completely worn off and I hurt everywhere. Drunks were decorating the streets of Dawson at 2AM, getting ready for their epic summer solstice party or the Commissioner's Tea and Klondike Ball or whatever event it is that these party animals use to excuse staying awake for a solid week while the sun is out 24 hours a day. Some guy spotted my GPS as I was dismounting in agony and asked, "What's your max speed?" I had no idea what he was talking about and didn't have much patience with what seemed an irrelevant question and replied, "How the hell would I know?" He laughed and wandered off.  
Michael, the guy I'd been riding with to this point on the trip, and who had wanted to go on to Inuvik but couldn't convince himself that I was going to make it back to Dawson on my own, stayed outside to talk to the partiers. I plowed through the crowd to get to the hotel desk. The desk guy tried to tell me a bunch of stuff about the rooms available, but I kept saying "I need a room with a bathtub." After arguing about some hotel details that I wasn't interested in, he finally gave in and handed me the key to the only room in the hotel with a bathtub. Turned out the room had  a single bed and was right over the bar, where a band would be playing all night. I did not care, but Michael would be a little concerned. When I turned to go back to the bike to get my luggage, I discovered all of my stuff was by my feet at the desk. The drunks had noticed that I'd left my keys in the bike, so they pulled all of my stuff off for me and deposited it where I could find it when I quit being an asshole. The next morning, I'd discover they had put the bike up on the center stand and pushed some of the broken pieces back into place and piled the loose stuff on my seat. From the restaurant window I could see there was a lot of loose/broken stuff.  Our hotel served the best, most reasonably priced breakfast I can remember ever enjoying; and I've enjoyed a lot of great breakfasts in my six decades. 
Comfortably numbed by drugs and good food, I hobbled over to Dawson Home Hardware to shop for Gorilla Glue, duct tape, and JB Weld and from there to the General Store fdawson_city_3or a man-sized bucket of napoxen sodium, a couple rolls of ACE elastic bandages for my shoulder and ribs, and an assortment of pain-relieving/distracting sore-muscle ointments. When I got back, a couple of guys had rolled my bike away from the Hotel to a parking lot where they said, "It'll be easier to work on it here." I started to disassemble the fairing and spread the busted pieces on the ground, more-or-less in the vicinity of how they'd need to be reassembled. Mike gave me a hand, especially where my hand wasn't working well. Eventually, I was bandaged and drugged and the bike was reassembled with it's new polyurethane foam crust highlighting the cracks. Duct tape reinforced my busted GIVI cases where missing pieces weren't available for reassembly. 
I was, mostly, ready to go back to the hot bath and warm bed, but Mike talked me into heading for the Top of the World boarder crossing, the most northern international border crossing and one the most remote, least travelled but maintained boarders between the United States and Canada. Since 2014, that bit of adventure has been "fixed" and the US side is paved all the way to Chicken, AK and beyond. In 2007, both the Canadian and US sides of the "highway" were unpaved and the ride up from Canada and down into Alaska was wet, slick, unpredictable, and hazardous enough that we passed a fair number of bikes that had missed the road and ended up in the creeks, ditches, and worse. In fact, there was a wreaked Harley on a trailer at the boarder crossing whose owner had been rescued and flown to Anchorage a few hours before we arrived. I was in no condition to help anyone and stopping was a fairly complicated and painful process, so I didn't even slow down once after I negotiated the boarder crossing sans-passport: a whole different and strange story. 
When the ache of my separated shoulder began ease up a little, my busted ribs and cracked hand poked their warning notices through the fog of pain. When those two reminders backed off a little, or I got used to them, I regretted leaving Dawson City every morning and evening for the next week. Camping was out of the question, thanks to my complete inability to find a comfortable sleeping position on my thin insulated air mattress. So, for the next 3,000 miles I missed my Dawson City oasis. A few months after that great trip ended, I read a little about Dawson City and discovered I'd missed a lot: the Jack London Museum, the Goldbottom Mine tour, the Dawson City Museum, walking trails and tours, the Paddlewheel Graveyard, and at least a week of sightseeing stuff that I'm sorry I was too doped up and dazed to notice. We even missed White Stripes performing in the city's Winter Solstice party. So, I gotta go back. This time, the Dempster Highway will not be in my travel plans.

Sep 17, 2018

Killing Money

There is a little revenue to be made on a blog when readers click on an ad, but the last couple of times I observed my own blog I was harassed with political ads. So, no ads until after November. If you were forced to look at the product of the Koch brothers' money on my blog, I apologize.

Things I Wish I Knew

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

A few years ago, I had picked up my wife at the Halifax, Nova Scotia airport. As we headed off toward our four day home base, about 90 miles east along the coast, the sun went down. 10 miles later, the sky fell and we rode into a waterfall. I haven't experienced such darkness since I was a kid in rural western Kansas. Joseph Lucas and his heirs would have been proud to see such an illumination void. Every village we passed was pitch dark; no street lights or signs, no open businesses, no lights in homes, no sign that anyone still lived in those places. To make things worse, about fifty miles of the road had been recently resurfaced and there were no centerline or shoulder markings. It was barely possible to see the edge of the road with my V-Strom's excellent headlights. There was a festival in Halifax and the Eagles were playing a reunion concert that night (seriously), so turning back to find closer accommodations was pointless and we were committed to making it to our destination. This was a test ride of almost everything I know about motorcycling. 
When I first started riding street bikes, I thought I was a good rider. I'd raced, off-road, for almost 15 years. I even taught a regional motocross program for a year or two. In the spring of 1983, I loaded up my 1979 CX500 Honda for the move from Nebraska to California and I was convinced I knew everything I needed to know to make that ride safely. I was a clueless moron. 
Leaving Omaha in late March that spring, I encountered strong winds that tossed my heavily-loaded Honda about like a small sailboat in high seas. Most of that instability was due to my lack of knowledge of how motorcycle steering actually works. From years of riding small bikes off-road and from a lifetime of misunderstanding two-wheel bicycle physics, I was used to applying a lot of body English to my steering corrections. By the time I made it to my parents' home in western Kansas, I'd wrestled my bike for 300-some miles and stressed my upper back muscles so badly that they are still a source of occasional pain. Today, I know that applying counter-steering pressure on the handlebars will achieve what fought to accomplish with all that wasted effort. Today, high winds bother me less on a heavily loaded 250cc dirt bike than I suffered on a road bike in 1983.

Less than predictable paved road surfaces used to baffle me; which might seem weird since I came from a riding background of completely unpredictable road surfaces. However, since traction was always in short supply off-road, I had never given predictable traction much thought. Dirt from hard-packed to freshly plowed, gravel lubricating the surface of a packed clay track or knee-deep desert sand, wet and slippery clay or slushy muck that sucks rider and motorcycle into the earth's sticky maw, my solution was always "go like hell until you crash." My cornering style was pretty much "throw the bike into a slide, bounce off of a berm, and hammer the throttle out of the corner." That is a pretty violent tactic on pavement, so I used a wimpy variation of brake-and-pivot for more than ten years before slowly including some reliance on good traction in my cornering style. When I began my MSF coach career in 2002, I began to look more seriously at my outlook on traction and adopted a more optimistic tactic for turning on pavement. That has given me more control of how I use the space available on the road and allows me to adapt to the more consistent surface variations provided by regular highway maintenance. The first step to being smooth is in having a plan for entering and exiting each and every corner you approach. Counting on luck and youthful reactions is not a practical or reliable long-term strategy.

Even after having broken a few bones and ripping apart muscles and tendons that were designed to remain attached, it took me most of my life to realize I am mortal and a lousy patient. I do not tolerate extended pain well. Staying shiny side up has become a bigger deal to me in old age. I take longer to heal; physically and mentally. That knowledge inspires me to work on basic riding skills, wear the best protective gear I can afford, to avoid hazardous situations, and to limit my risk-taking tendencies. In other words, I slow down, as a riding tactic, at least as often as I pin the throttle. For twenty years, my solution to almost every emergency situation was "drop the hammer and get one or two wheels into the air." That's plan is not as universally useful as I once thought it was.

The more luck I have experienced, the less I trust my fortunes to remain constant. As I look back on the bad things that didn't happen to me, I realize how close to the margin I have been. I have avoided close encounters with deer and other varmints, cagers and truckers, falling rocks and collapsing highways, and disaster caused by my own inattention. I do not trust good fortune any more than I trust good intentions. That is a lesson it has taken a lifetime to appreciate.

I have been a fan of preventative maintenance for most of my life, but I'm even more precautious in my geezerhood. I walk around my motorcycle, looking for loose hardware and worn out bits, habitually. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a saying that doesn't make a lick of sense to me. "If it ain't broke, it's about to be" seems to be a lot more realistic. I carry tools, spare parts, and double my fuel stop time with inspection habits. I have never liked surprises, even surprise birthday parties, and I like them even less the older I get. (Consider my opinion of cell phones for reference.) Maintenance prevents surprises.

With those lessons and more behind me, after 40-some years of riding my brave and long-suffering wife and I slogged through those 90 dark miles of torrential rain without incident. Because the road and conditions were so severe, I was running totally on habits and experience, concentrating on the edges of the road for deer and anything that might require even more attention than I was already using staying on pavement. It wasn't a quick trip, but we made it to the resort wet, exhausted, and safe. The next four days were warm, sunny, and we had one of the best vacations in our 44 years together exploring the highlights surrounding our temporary home.

Looking back, I can think of a thousand things I wish I knew when I started motorcycling. Some of those lessons required a smidgen of common sense, so they would have been unavailable to me until I turned fifty. The stuff that I could have figured out with a less limited attention span and minimal ability to listen to advice, could have come faster and easier. The fact is, I really did love jumping on my bike and flinging it around a race track without the slightest clue how I could get better. Maybe it all worked out for the best, but there were some hard lessons that could have been less painful.

Sep 10, 2018

Merge It or Park It

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

MotorcycleMergeA big cruiser (a full bagger with a reasonably geared-up rider) and a semi loaded with turf approach a T-intersection from opposite directions. The cruiser is making an easy right into the T while the semi has a turn lane and will be crossing lanes after coming to a near stop. The cruiser should reach the turn at least one-hundred feet before the semi begins to make his turn. How do you think this plays out?

Other than me following the semi through the intersection, there is no other traffic in sight. The semi approaches the turn and comes to a complete stop. The cruiser slows to a walking pace before entering the exit lane and, eying the semi, comes to a complete stop at the end of his merge lane. If he got off his hippobike and walked into the road he'd have beaten the semi through the intersection. He waits for the semi driver to signal that it's safe for him to leave the merge lane. This, of course, forced the semi to come to a complete, totally unnecessary, stop partially sticking into the incoming lane while the cruiser doofus waddles away. What should have been a mindlessly simple traffic situation turned into something not only ridiculously complicated but was one more demonstration why Minnesota (and the rest of the country) needs tiered licensing and a dramatically more difficult motorcycle license test for any two-wheel vehicle over 50cc. The motorcyclist in this situation was obviously incapable of handling his oversized toy and should have been ticketed for blocking traffic. If there had been actual traffic in the scenario he would have constituted a road hazard.

From my backseat perspective, the whole incident reminded me of a constant irritant that I do not miss from years of commuting in the Cities. Minnesotans do not know how to merge. Personally, I think stopping in an intersection or, worse, on a freeway entrance/exit ramp should be grounds for loss of license. I wouldn't even object to the police firing a couple of rounds into the driver/rider's head to get their attention. As my father used to say, "There is obviously no vital organ located in that skull." The idea that drivers need to have the "zipper merge" explained to them in remedial terms amazes and depresses me. How is that not obvious?

It clearly isn't, though. There are a couple of exercises in the old, 2007 MSF program that require simple merging skills and about one out of one-hundred classes actually manage to get through these exercises without one or seven or eleven backed-up traffic jams caused by merge-inability. The so-called "seasoned rider" courses are no exception to that statistic. People who have called themselves "riders" for decades simply come to a dead stop when faced with 5mph oncoming traffic (even when that traffic is another motorcycle in a parking lot exercise) and the resulting confusion is comical in a parking lot and suicidal on public roads. As I have asked thousands of times, if you can't merge competently what makes you think you are capable of safely drafting/tailgating?

A few years ago, a rider and fellow MMSC/MSF coach remarked that he'd seen me "aggressively" getting into northbound downtown I35E traffic, as if merging at the end of the entrance lane at traffic speed was impolite. The implication was that I had somehow committed a faux pas in "jumping the line" of traffic some distance above his stuck-in-traffic position. Talk about Minnesota passive-aggressive. Guilty as charged. When I merge, I want to be moving at the prevailing speed and as near to the end of the merge lane as I can get. Commuting is not about standing in line politely waiting for some moron to hang up his damn cell phone. It's about getting to work or home as quickly as possible. If you can't figure that out, you have no hope of comprehending filtering and lane sharing. The day a semi beats me into a T-intersection from the cross-traffic side, even on my 250 dual purpose bike, will be the day I hang up my helmet and buy a convertible. If you are not going to use your motorcycle's superior acceleration, braking, and maneuverability in a simple merge, what would make you think you can use those qualities in an actual emergency? Trust me, you can't and you won't. I've seen that kind of incompetence demonstrated on a regular basis and it amazes me that anyone that impaired would want to risk their life and limbs on a motorcycle.

Back in the 1970's, I visited Chicago from my home in Omaha, for a trade show. My business partner and I were driving a rented panel van, loaded with audio equipment, and we were both small town guys blown away with the Big City. At the first stop light we encountered in the city, when the light changed I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the vehicles started moving together. A couple of lights later, a distracted driver didn't hit the gas when the light changed and the vehicle behind him simply pushed the semi-conscious vehicle into the intersection until the driver assumed marginal control and caught up with traffic. Like most of the US, Chicago is dumbed-down and distracted, today. Vehicles leave intersections connected by invisible 100' ropes, as one of my readers described driver awareness, in every city I've visited. Autonomous vehicles are going to solve this problem for cagers, but motorcyclists are forever going to be on their own. It is hard to imagine how this is going to play out in some way that provides public road access for motorcycles. At least until we are forced into recreational vehicle status, we ought to be merging competently. If nothing else, out of wanting to exit the scene gracefully.

Sep 1, 2018

Drinking the MSF Kool-Aid

Every two years, the Minnesota MSF program requires instructors to attend a “Professional Development Workshop.” Yes, it is as painful as it sounds. Like a lot of the corporate educational fools in the US, the MSF is a big proponent of “scientific teaching” and that is demonstrated sadly and badly in their instructor “training.” So, in August of 2013, I slogged my way through another of these silly exercises in turning energy into random motion. Every time I go through this experience, I think “Maybe I’m too old for this shit.”

After a momentary period of educational creativity in the early BRC years, the MSF has settled back into its over-bearing, drill sergeant tactics. Instead of talking to students like an instructor, the MSF now tells us just to read the corporate material to our “students”: I suppose that is because we’re too dumb to be teachers and the students are too illiterate to read this crap by themselves? The justification for the “read the cards” harping pretends that the MSF has “scientifically audience tested” the pigeon English in their illiterate 1970’s-era technical writing and that those poorly-written phrases magically turn rookies into Valentino Rossi just by their pure scientific magical-ness. “Keep knees against tank,” “keep feet on ground, not on footrests,” and “at double cones, downshift to 2nd gear, easing out clutch while in straight path” are examples of that genius literature. If I could manage a half-decent Pakistani taxi driver accent, I could deliver their script more authentically. The best I can do is a lousy 1950’s-era Charlie Chan hack-job and that is more offensive than funny. Reading this drivel with a straight face is just embarrassing, so I’m working on the taxi driver bit. So far, I’m more inclined toward the “You talkin’ to me?” sort of taxi driver, though. Reading the cards, without editing on the fly, is awkward and embarrassing. Once you’re involved in trying to fill in the missing pronouns and articles, you might as well paraphrase the whole performance.

Even though we often have a dozen riders with a dozen different skills, temperaments, listening abilities, and mental impairments, the MSF pretends that it’s possible to keep all riders in sight at all times while providing individual instruction to anyone who needs it. “”Never have running motorcycles behind you,” is one of the MSF mantras spoken by those who have never taught a class, paid a lick of attention to struggling students, and possesses an infinite supply of energy. A collection of insane and useless coaching positions are pitched to us as having magical powers in that regard. The fact that most of us see with the eyes in front of our heads rather than our backs appears to be new information to the academic geeks who run the MSF. It is possible that those pencil necks can’t swivel far enough to increase their visual horizon more than a couple of degrees, but most of us can cover a lot of ground from one location just by turning our heads and staying mobile. Go figure.

The chief instructor/trainer-trainer’s catch-all rebuttal is “It’s safer.” Like the conservative’s “think of the children” chickenshit come-back, this is a tough-to-beat argument in a typical classroom situation. It’s not like you can effectively argue against safety. However, like several other sorts of irrational debate tactics, no evidence of that safety improvement is offered or proven. In fact, claiming a tactic is safer without proving that point with statistics is just noise intended to stop discussion. The safety of an instructor’s style, range position, and technique is directly related to how that instructor conducts the class. A “universally perfect position” is an impossibility imagined by someone trying to create a defensible position liability-wise.

Likewise, the argument “If the chief instructor does/says it, it must be right” is about as worthless. The basis for “selecting” chief instructors has turned into accepting anyone who is silly enough to pay to haul his ass to one of the MSF’s training locations and obtain that certification. With that as a basis for selection, it’s a credential no more credible than an inheritance. At one time, our chief instructor was one of the best riders and instructors in our system. Now, the three chief instructors are just three guys who paid more money than the rest of us to do this thing. This is just one more example of failing leadership in all things American. Contrary to popular belief, there is some value in having excellence at the top of an organization

Pulling back from the early days of allowing instructors to find their own style and methods is a mistake, but it’s a popular mistake in the US. Everything known about teachers and teaching has found that instructor autonomy is crucial. All positive education outcomes are derived from creative, inspired, empowered instructors who give a shit about their students. The “read the cards” mantra is a No Child’s Behind Left Untouched holdover that came from the Reagan years’ public education sabotage and it drives good instructors from the system while reinforcing mediocrity. If the reason for recitation instead of teaching is because the MSF is requiring conformity, I’d say that would be a powerful reason for abandoning the MSF program for a state-managed system like Oregon’s. If the reason is liability, I’d say the state needs better lawyers. Reading the cards is something the best instructors do when they are being monitored by our “newspeak chief instructors,” but hardly anyone who knows what they are doing has that habit in an actual course. The upside is that reading the damn things is easy enough to do when we’re pretending to believe in the MSF magic. The downside is that doing that reminds us that we’re supposed to be marionettes, not instructors.

The predictable end result of the MSF’s style of instruction was summed up by this report from someone who took the ERC on a military base, “I also passed the ERC this summer.  The card was good for an insurance discount, and some of the slow speed instruction was valuable.  Other than that, the way this course was taught by the instructors I had was very thin...they did what was in the MSF Rider Card booklets, and that's it.  Mediocre instructors teaching minimal curriculum.  Most of the attendees at my course were military active duty, military retirees, or contractors on military bases all needing the card for two-wheel base access.  It is too bad the military is drinking the MSF Kool-Aid.

All of this is just another example of the same mismanagement that has driven real work underground in the US. The only talent American management has consistently shown is an ability to make any kind of work as miserable as possible. The average teaching career in the US is eleven years, but even more important is the 25% of beginning teachers who leave the field after four years and the 50% of urban teachers who abandon their careers after five years. The kids aren’t the problem. Management is. About ten years ago (2003), Pat Hahn produced a list of Minnesota MSF instructors with their “length of service” information. I did some Excel sorting on that data and found that the average (mean) instructor career was about three years. There were some significant outliers (15-24 years) in the group, but the overwhelming majority were short-timers. I know more than a few ex-Minnesota MSF instructors and none of them regret quitting. At the time, I wondered how it was possible to make riding the state’s motorcycles for money unpleasant. Now I know.

I know in a couple of ways. For a dozen years, I taught recording engineering and applied acoustics at a lot private music college. For about eight years, that job was so much fun I would have done it for free. (In fact, I did do a lot of work for nothing other than the pleasure of working with the kids and the school’s great musicians and instructors.) Eventually, the school was overrun by academics and “professional school administrators” and the fun, creativity, and energy was thoroughly sucked from the program. At one time, I thought I would teach at that school until they tossed me out or I died. Now, I’d rather take a bullet than teach another semester. Flipping that kind of commitment takes talent and the one thing American mismanagement has is an incredible ability to make any job as miserable as possible.

I’m writing this in early August 2013 under the assumption that by the time it hits the blog, I’ll either be dead or long out of motorcycle safety training. If not, I’m sure the MSF and the MMSC will make sure that decision is made for me once they read this criticism. It’s hard to imagine that being a big loss. The real problem in motorcycle “safety training” and licensing is that it isn’t serious enough. It’s one thing that 25% of motorcycle fatalities were unlicensed, it’s another that licensing is so easy that people with no ability can fumble through it fairly easily. A real approach to reducing the completely-out-of-line motorcycle fatality and injury numbers would require much tougher motorcycle licensing and a hard-assed approach to unlicensed motorcyclists (confiscate the motorcycle and put the asshole on foot where he/she was stopped along with a big fine). Until that happens, all of this “safety training” malarkey is just part of the sales pitch that is the real MSF objective (after all, the MSF is owned by the Motorcycle Industry Council, a “national trade association representing manufacturers and distributors of motorcycles, scooters, motorcycle/ATV parts and accessories and members of allied trades.” When was the last time you remember a trade organization being restrained in its desire to sell stuff over the safety of its customers? Yeah, that’s what I thought. If it were up to the MIC, motorcycle fatalities would be 90% of total traffic deaths and they’d just suppress the news so that a whole new batch of victims/customers would dive into traffic unaware of the hazards. The MSF is just an attempt to pretend to civic-mindedness while cranking out as many licensed customers as possible. The fact that this organization has forced the states to accept its monopoly on motorcycle safety training is all the evidence anyone should need to know this is a fact.

Aug 24, 2018

Ancient History, Current Situation

Guido Ebert (ex-MMM editor, current freelance writer) wrote an article for Give A Shift titled, “Motorcycle Sales in the Slow Lane.”  That November, 2017 analysis concluded with “Ultimately, the way it looks right now, the U.S. Motorcycle market could – in a best-case scenario – remain largely flat in coming years. But, despite core enthusiast riders continuing to make desired purchases, a great percentage of the potential motorcycle-buying public will continue to feel impacted by economic stressors, the market will continue to experience an aging owner demographic, and no prominent influencer for major growth appears readily apparent.”

Damn, and Guido is an optimist.

New MC SalesI am inclined to suspect he is right, though. This chart, to be really useful, should include another decade back. In the early 80’s, motorcycle hit a collection of snags that made it seem like motorcycles were about to go the way of the dodo. In 1980, there were 112 fatal motorcycle crashes in Minnesota. That was the peak year for both fatalities and injuries (2,728). By 1982, dealers were folding, manufacturers were stuck with a couple of year’s production sitting on showroom floors, and the national economy was sluggish. All of that happened again in 1988 (Remember “It’s about the economy, stupid?”).

MC by NationMotorcycle sales aren’t just going down in the USA, though. Brazil was a little late to the runoff, but for the rest of the countries documented in this chart 2007 was the beginning of a fairly substantial downturn in motorcycle sales. Australia and the UK seem to be the only countries that have shown any sort of serious uptick in sales since the Great Recession. The US sales have continued to decline since the 2016 end of this chart and nobody seems to be predicting a comeback any time soon. The 90’s downturn was about a decade long, so this moment could also turn out to be temporary.

fotw915The reasons, or excuses, for motorcycle purchases are thinning out, though. In the 80’s and 90’s, for all but the most radical sportbikes and a few gas spewing cruiser models, we could always pretend we rode motorcycles to save money on fuel. When gas was $1.25/gallon in the 80’s that was a close argument. When gas was $3.50 in the 2000’s, it would have been a more winning argument but car economy really took major leaps about then keeping the operational costs close. Likewise, for most of the time I’ve been riding a new motorcycle was dramatically cheaper than a new car. In 1973, I paid $500 for a brand new 125ISDT Rickman, for example, but my new Mazda station wagon cost $3,000. Today, you have to look deep into manufacturer’s lineup to find anything that is even a little cheaper than a car. A not-legal-in-California Suzuki TU250X costs $4600 and a Nissan Versa S costs $12,000. The low-ball Versa S gets 39mpg (highway), comes with A/C, an entertainment center, decent storage and reasonable comfort, front wheel drive and manual transmission, and a 3-year warranty. Some dealers give you a Versa S just for buying a more upscale Nissan SUV or Titan pickup. If you are looking at a motorcycle with comparable road-worthiness, you’ll discover your purchase price and fuel economy is neck-and-neck with the Versa. So much for an economics argument.

If an economy argument won’t be a seller for potential future motorcyclists, what will? While “adventure” or “freedom” is something that most motorcyclists list as their motivation for riding, most riders are anything but adventurous and pirate parades are more likely demonstrations of human herding instinct than some kind of weird take on individual liberty. Sales of “adventure touring” bikes have been disappointing, with inventory of 2016-2018 Honda Africa Twins, Yamaha Super Teneres, and assorted KTM and BMW bikes stuck on the showroom floors. Cruisers are still selling, but not at all briskly. Small bikes that should be iintroducing a generation of kids to motorcycling are failing to attract any serious attention, regardless of vintage or modern styling. I’m not seeing a bump in interest from Millenials or whatever the next generation of kids is called at the moment. I think that is a problem.

Aug 22, 2018

VBR 4 and Beyond: Reflections on Now, Then, and the Future

IMG_9466What makes a guy who started the whole textile riding suit business tick? As you’d expect, it’s complicated. Andy Goldfine really only wanted to make Aerostich Roadcrafters; the company’s posterchild product intended to make daily commuting on a motorcycle practical, fun, comfortable, and safe. As he said during a talk at the Very Boring Rally (VBR4), he started the Riderwearhouse retail and mailorder business to be able to support the 3-4 Roadcrafters the company would make each month. Being a retail store businessman was a long ways from a dream Andy had for himself.

vbr4 crowd35 years later, Andy and his company are throwing a party for the people who kept the company alive after every other motorcycle clothing company in the world copied their designs, moved production to the 3rd world, undercut Aerostich’s prices and quality in equal percentages, and out-marketed Aerostich’s Whole Earth Catalog style to a couple of generations of riders who get most of their information from Google searches and make most of their major purchases from Amazon.com. “Word of mouth” has devolved into Yelp and Google reviews by strangers with undeclared motivations and relationships and minimal information of value. If you look closely at the audience for this VBR seminar, you’ll see a lot of bald and/or grey heads, which is pretty much what motorcycling in 2018 resembles: lots of geezers with grudges.

It’s easy to imagine the end of motorcycling. I do it all the time. However, when I was talking to another rider about my first Aerostich I was reminded of the fact that motorcycling looked pretty doomed in 1983 or 84 when I  bought that first Roadcrafter. The California dealers were vanishing. In 1984, there were loads of brand new 1980-1983 motorcycles still on showroom floors. In fact, in late 1983 I talked the owner of a 1982 Yamaha Vision 550 down from his once-reasonable $2200 asking price to $1,000 because the local Yamaha dealer was dumping 1982’s for $1400 and new 1983’s for $1800. Two years later, I bought a like-new 1983 Vision for $1,000 with the same argument. I sold that 2nd Vision in late 1991 in Colorado for $2200 to a guy who drove all the way from California to buy it.  By then, the industry was in yet another motorcycle recession and new Japanese bikes were stagnating on showrooms once again.

It’s easy to imagine the sad current state-of-affairs is a predictor of the future, just like when people imagine current inflated house prices are going to last forever. The only thing experience with the past has taught me is that I am pretty good at guessing when crashes will occur and I suck at predicting bull markets for anything.

People in the industry want to blame Millenials for the current crisis. In Eric Brandt’s article, “Analysts are Wrong about Why Millennials Aren't Buying Harleys,” he wrote, “This all reminds me of a fascinating story Bob Lutz told about the Chrysler Imperial in an interview with Popular Mechanics. ‘That was the source of one of the major arguments Lee Iacocca and I had,’ Lutz said of the Imperial. He said Iacocca showed him the car and asked what he thought. Lutz responded saying it looked ‘aesthetically, 10 years old the day it comes out’ and went on to criticize the vinyl roof, the fake wire wheels, and the opera windows. Shocked, Iacocca responded saying ‘you might not like it because you’re too young, but by the time you’re 65, you’ll like a car like that.’ What Lutz says next applied to the Imperial then and it applies to Harley-Davidson now. ‘I won’t because my generation admires high-end European cars. You like [the Imperial] because when you were 40-years-old, that’s what American luxury cars looked like.’” Harley isn’t the only company to cling to what worked 30 years ago, but there is going to be a hole in one or two generations’ knowledge of what motorcycles “looked like” and someone is going to fill it.

Aerostich’s riding products have changed substantially, while hanging on to the functional concepts that attracted me and thousands of riders to their gear. Their quality standards have only become more refined and stronger over their 35 years of production and invention. There is only one model of what motorcyclists look like and it is the variations on Aerostich’s Roadcrafter and Darien riding suits. In 30 years, if today’s younger riders are wanting to look like motorcyclists from their 20’s and 30’s, they are going to have to be wearing Aerostich gear. Every other brand is a cheap imitation, even if they aren’t cheap.

Here’s hoping Andy and Aerostich will keep doing what they do best as long as they want to be doing it.

Aug 21, 2018

Group Posing

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

An early June Sunday morning, my spouse decided we needed to take a drive to River Falls, via back, Wisconsin highway patrol-free roads. We have a leisurely route, after escaping WI 35 ticket-free, that will take us to our usual destination pretty stress-free most days. Not Sunday, however. That county road was cluttered with arrogant middle-of-the-road bicyclist obstacles and blasted with a half-dozen pirate parades and a couple smaller groups of lane-challenged sportbike pretenders. The drive, in either direction, was way too tense to be enjoyable.
As I watched one pack of pirate bikers waddle towards us, marginally in their opposite lane and demonstrating no signs of competence, I wondered, again, why people feel compelled to ride in groups. In an Experienced Rider MSF course, a few years back, one of the students described motorcycling as a "social activity," which about floored me. He was, obviously, right, but it had never occurred to me that anyone would pick a vehicle that is clearly designed for solo exploration, minimalist transportation, and general anti-social behavior (Yeah, I'm talkin' about you, Victor.) and imagine it to be the perfect platform for a group activity. A few years later and I'm no less baffled by that realization than I was when I first heard it. So, I kept thinking about it as I dodged the not-so-rare idiots on hippobikes wandering near my lane with their naked, bald heads shining and their wide open eyeballs target fixating on the front of my pickup. I came to a conclusion as to what all this silliness is about, but you probably aren't going to like it.
For most of my life, I've viewed groups of men and boys as being at once homophobic and homoerotic. The badass biker crowd with its freaky gangbanging activities, and attraction to outfits the Village People would have thought were too poncy in the heyday of disco, are clearly dealing with some sexual identity issues. It's not that different from the "gay for the stay" pretence men in prison use to justify their confusion, but it is slightly scarier since these maladjusted characters are out in the general population; at least until the next time they get caught and end up back inside. None of that is any different than frat hazing behavior or the military or rappers and their posse pals or those militia freakshows: guys congregate in packs to keep from having to think about which side of the street they want to walk. 
Obviously, I don't care, one way or another, if people are hetero or homosexual, but packs of stray men are never a good thing. Packs of physically inept, overweight, peer-pressure intimidated men (and equally confused women) on oversized motorcycles are much worse things. There are no statistics that I can locate that account for motorcycle crashes in group rides, but it's hard to find a group ride story that doesn't include at least one nitwit who overshot a corner or ran into the back of another motorcyclist or ended up in the wrong lane. Watching these folks try to hold their place in the "formation" while negotiating curves at speeds picked by the group leader and desperately trying to look "cool" is just a little sad.
And it's all because motorcycle parades are the socially-acceptable way for men to travel in groups on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Several years ago, my brother came to visit and to go with me on a "ride" around Lake Superior. We don't get to see each other much, mostly since he lives in Arizona and I can't think of any good reason to visit that state. So, we travelled on my two motorcycles for almost 2,000 miles. The two bikes get about 50mpg each, so we averaged somewhat less than 25mpg for the trip. He got lost a couple of times because I tend to try to keep 2-3 miles between me and other vehicles, whenever possible, and he has the family tendency to wander off on the nearest interesting looking dirt road to see where it ends up. Overall, it was a mediocre trip and we probably got to spend about 8 waking hours actually hanging out over five days. It would have been cheaper, more fun, and at least as adventurous to have taken my 1999 Ford Escort wagon and I'd have known something about his life since the last time we hung out.
In the early 90s, I was renting a basement room from a friend in Denver and financially and mentally recovering from ten expensive years in southern California, raising two daughters, and starting a new career at age 41. During some holiday break, three friends decided they wanted to drive to California to see the sights while I hung out with my family for a weekend. Part of the motivation was that one of the guys had just restored a 1960's Buick convertible and he wanted to try it out on a road trip. We made it from Denver to Idaho Springs, about 50 miles, before the Buick died. He had AAA tow the Buick back and he picked up my Toyota van and drove it back to Idaho Springs to collect the rest of the group. With nothing but time to waste, we all decided we'd stick with the roadtrip plan, even though the van only had two front seats because I'd hollowed out the back to serve as a cheap camper. If we got stopped, it was a safe bet that we'd be looking at seatbelt violations, at the least. If we crashed in the mountains or at any reasonable speed, missing seatbelts were the least of our problems inside that Toyota tin can.
We drove straight through, taking turns at the wheel, holding down shotgun duties, and sleeping in the back. About 1,000 miles and 18 hours later, we rolled into Huntington Beach, rested, relaxed, fed, entertained, and ready to split up into two groups: me with my family and the other three guys exploring California. They headed for L.A. and Universal Studios and I enjoyed a few days with my wife and daughters. That was one of the best road trips of my adult life and the only actual group ride I've ever enjoyed. Like many families, mine didn't travel together much and when we did it was usually for something miserable like a funeral or wedding. That California roadtrip was the closest thing I'd ever experienced to an actual family vacation.
The next-closest tolerable-to-decent group rides were all of a similar sort. The same three guys and one other were the only motorcyclists I knew while I lived in Denver. One of them, my landlord, was an experienced, talented rider and the other three hadn't (and wouldn't) put 1,000 miles on their used motorcycles or on themselves in their motorcycling "careers." All four of those guys were committed pavement motorcyclists while I was still trying to decide how I felt about asphalt and concrete. We often took Parker Road toward Colorado Springs after work or on weekends. If we were going all the way to the Springs, sometimes I'd take CO67 to Rampart Range Road and the military training road along the the eastern ridge into the Springs. We'd pick a destination and a meeting time and I'd cut out early and head for the mountains while the other guys took the shorter, quicker but less scenic route. Since they rarely hit the road before noon, even though my route was twice as long as theirs, I'd still end up at the end point a little early.
And that's what I'd call a decent "group ride."
However, when it comes to taking a trip on a motorcycle, it still makes more sense to me to do it solo. But then, I'm not worried about what anyone else's opinion of how I travel or who I am traveling with. 

Aug 20, 2018

Weird Things in the Queue

For the last 20 years that I've written for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine, the ideas have overflowed the magazine's interest by a long ways. I built a website with a queue of articles and stories for my editors to pick-and-choose from and the occasional outlier initially would see original life on this blog. Honestly, while the editors might have said those outliers were "ugly orphans" that didn't contain enough reader interest to see the light of publication, I always thought they were the closest to the "geezer with a grudge" concept: me being as pissed off as I often am in real life. So, in my mind, when I published something substantial here I figured it was too pissed off, too radical, too funny, or too weird for publication elsewhere. In other words, my best stuff.

Now that MMM is unofficially a dead letter (the last paper edition went out with the 2018/2018 Winter Issue), all of those unpublished orphans are getting moved up in the GWAG queue. More often than not, I've used the blog as a place to comment on things happening in motorcycling or Minnesota that didn't really warrant a whole GWAG column. A couple of months after MMM published an article, it would also show up here. As of today, I have shifted my backup schedule on this blog to a schedule that begins to empty that queue every week or two until it runs out (as of today, sometime in early 2020. (Yeah, I know. I should find a more productive hobby.)

I hate to see the end of MMM, but we had a damn good run together. We almost made it 20 years together. MMM published my first article for the magazine in October of 1999; "What Are We Riding For." It is still a question I asked myself every day I taught MSF "safety courses" and every time I see a pirate riding a 900 pound hippobike wearing a protective headband and his underwear (or "panties" as my wife calls it).

Aug 12, 2018

Who to Root For?

Harley HalfwitsAs a 60’s kinda guy, it’s weird to be hoping the FBI wins in the battle between our Russian –plant president and the rule of law and something midly resembling patriotism.

I suspect no one is surprised that the biker gangsters are all stacked up behind Trump, even when Trump is attacking the logo they have tattooed all over their grossly abused bodies. But this headline is really trying the bounds of my own biases, “Bikers back Trump in his rift over Harley-Davidson.” This is clearly one of those movies where there are no good guys. I hope they all dry up and blow back to Russia.

“Bikers have been among the groups most loyal to Trump, as motorcyclists in the United States tend to be predominantly working-class men older than 50 and veterans — demographics that comprise the bulk of the president’s base. Trump has embraced that allegiance, saying recently that ‘I guarantee you everybody that ever bought a Harley-Davidson voted for Trump.’” Of course, Trump is bullshitting, as usual. I know more than a few people who have bought HDs and who hate Trump and his Russian owners as much as does the average person with an above single-digit IQ. Still, the fact that this hasn’t drawn much fire just adds more weight to my already generally massive dislike for all things HD.

Jul 11, 2018

The Market Had Its Say?

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (3)This week, I made the once-every-couple-of-months Twin Cities tour with my wife. Mostly, she had chores and errands to do, but when she stopped at Har Mar Mall to buy art supplies, I snuck out to peruse Barnes and Noble. I got stopped at the magazine rack looking at electric bicycle magazines and articles. After a bit of that, I decided to see what is left of the motorcycle glossy press.

It took a while to find either motorcycle or car magazines. The “Transportation” rack is as far from the entrance and traffic as possible and appears to be barely maintained. Several of the magazines were May and June issues. That was true for the car rags, also. On top of that neglect, a good number of motorcycle “magazines” were actually retrospective “special issues” that could have been sitting on the shelf for months; or years. Along the same lines, a Rolling Stone “special issue” was about Mick Jagger, if that gives you a clue as to the currency of that magazine format.

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (4)On the other hand, the bicycle section was featured under “Sports” and there were a lot of magazines and articles about electric bicycles in both magazines dedicated to electric bikes and the more mainstream mostly-manual powered bike magazines. The big thing here was that there are a lot of bicycle magazines and there is a lot of interest in electric bicycles; for transportation and sport. A couple of the magazines were almost as fun to read as the old Dirt Bike magazine; when it was edited by Super Hunky Rick Sieman. None of the last twenty years of dirt bike magazines have even come close to that high bar. As I suspected, the traditional motorcycle guys are putting a foot into this water, too. Electric Bike Action magazine had a big feature about Yamaha’s new electric bicycle series. To be sure, in true bicycle and bicyclist fashion, there was a lot of incredibly stupid stuff inside those magazines.

Bicycles vs Motorcycles (2)A line that particularly struck me as hilarious in the Electric Bike Action Yamaha article was, “At first we wondered if they were going to sell the bikes at their powersports dealerships. They only plan to incorporate those e-bikes into powersports dealers that already have a bike shop component, and those are few and far between. There’s a big difference between knowing how to work on a motorcycle and and knowing how to work on an electric bike.” That is true, kiddies. Anyone who can work on a fuel-injected, electronic ignition, fly-by-wire throttle-controlled, ABS’d, and state-of-the-art motorcycle will find electric bicycles to be too simple to be interesting. The customer base will lower that bar even further.

Times are changin’ and they are changin’ a lot faster than many expect. Powersports dealers are beginning to scramble for new revenue sources. It’s no stretch to imagine that a dealer who sells a few motorcycles, a few more ATVs, even more boats, and a buttload of golf carts will find a lot of reasons to become one of those “powersports dealers that already have a bike shop component.” A few bicycles on the showroom will cost a lot less than a few motorcycles that can’t be moved at any price. If that’s what it takes to get in on the electric bicycle boom, I suspect it won’t slow many dealers down.

Jul 9, 2018

Never Do That Again?

IMG_20180626_201217_646When my V-Strom rolled away on its new owner’s trailer and headed north to its new home, one of the first things I thought was “I’ll never do that again.” By “that,” I mean invest that much time and money in a motorcycle. Considering the years and miles, I didn’t have all that much money invested in the V-Strom: 12 years and not more than $5,000 not counting fuel. Still, I put a lot of time, thought, and even hope and love into that motorcycle.

Over the years with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly and the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center my V-Strom had been a test bed for all sorts of products; from air horns to auto-chain lube devices to excessive electrical experiments (everything short of a 120VAC inverter). I long-term tested an Elka shock that listed for about what I sold the motorcycle for. I even longer-term-tested the very first Sargent seat designed for the then-new V-Strom 650. I put hours of customizing (for touring, not for looks) into this motorcycle over the first decade I owned, especially the first 5 years. While I thought all of my modifications were to make the bike suit me, when the current owner sat on it and took it for a ride, he seemed to think it was perfect for him.

Fifty years ago, my brother brought his Harley Sprint 250 to my place, to hide it from our parents (mostly our father). It was there, what was I supposed to do? I started riding it . . . everywhere. I crashed a lot and things broke. I started taking unnecessary things off of the bike; like headlights, turn signals, the speedo, fenders, and I learned how to weld and braze so I could repair the frame pieces I snapped off of that bike. In a few years, I had my own two-stroke bikes and I really got into “customizing” my off-road race bikes: blue printing the engines, Preston Petty fenders, intake and exhaust mods, carburetor modifications, frame and suspension upgrades, and that went on for years. Every dirt bike and every street bike I’ve ever owned has become “mine.”

August 2006 V-Strom trip (3)I bought my Suzuki V-Strom in 2006, when I was 58 years old. I bought that bike with an Alaska adventure in mind. Practically the day I rode my V-Strom home I started to get it ready for a 13,000 mile trip and seriously long mileage days. Since that first long trip in 2007, my V-Strom has taken me across the country a few times and across Canada once. We’ve driven at least two thousand miles of North Dakota dirt roads, across sections of Montana and Wyoming that I suspect few locals even know exist, and we explored some of the “minimum maintenance” roads I once rode on my 1973 Rickman back when I lived in rural Nebraska. So many qualities of that motorcycle were tweaked for my comfort and preferences that it seemed almost biological. I literally spent months working on that motorcycle, either modifying it or getting it ready for a long trip to somewhere I’d dreamed of traveling. I spent months on that motorcycle riding to places and seeing things nobody else as ever seen the same way. It was truly my “adventure bike” in every sense of the words. 

In 2009, I bought my Yamaha WR250X and the six modifications I’ve made to that bike are a seat cover, a larger fuel tank, a home-made tail rack mount for extra fuel storage, serrated pegs, a bolt-on windscreen, and heated vest wiring. The original owner did a bunch of stupid stuff to the bike and I returned all of that to bone stock. When I sold the V-Strom, I’d planned on buying a Sargent seat for the WR but so far I haven’t been motivated to do that. It still might happen, but it’s more likely won’t.

One thing I know for sure is that I will never put as much effort, thought, and hope into another motorcycle as I did the V-Strom. No motorcycle I will ever own will be as much my own as that bike was. I’ve made a couple of guitars in the last two years and they got that kind of effort. The house we' bought in Red Wing was a serious fixer-upper and it has become pretty personal looking. The time in my life when I will be making plans to cover a bit of the earth on a motorcycle that needs to be molded to fit my needs is over. I’m not mourning those days, even a little. I, literally, had a great ride and I’m grateful for the good fortune that put me, the Suzuki V-Strom, and the opportunity to take advantage of that freedom in the same place and time.

Jul 6, 2018

VBR4 2018


Media Release: For immediate publication

Date: 06/11/18

Subject: Aerostich Very Boring Rally 4

clip_image002  2018 Very Boring Rally 4

You are cordially invited to help us celebrate 35 years of Aerostich at the VBR4, from Friday August 17th thru August 19th! All activities take place in and around our Duluth, Minnesota World Headquarters factory and facility: There will be great food, interesting presentations, loudish music, a collectable T-shirt and rally pin, factory tours and a souvenir booklet…Plus lots of in-store-only discounts, FREE SWAG and a chance to win dozens of great prizes!

The cost of the weekend event is $35 per person and pre-registration is available online at www.veryboringrally.com. Shelter and lodging options and connections are here.

Join the usual assortment of cycle bums, malcontents, hipsters (?), curmudgeons and road grimed astronauts for good-times, both planned and impromptu. Activities are scheduled all 3-Days of the event, including prizes and awards for motorcycle poetry readings, the oldest/youngest/farthest distance riders and much more. Even an award for the sorriest bike ridden to the party, and one for the most worn-out Aerostich suit. Top door prize is a $3000 Aerostich gear collection!

In addition to the VBR4, nearby pleasures include the world's biggest white sand freshwater swimming beach (six miles long), eight micro-breweries (including a great one just a block down the street. There are also plenty of great roads and interesting places to explore. Dry, sunny, warm weather guaranteed* (video).

For more information about the Very Boring Rally 4, and for advanced ticket sales, please visit www.veryboringrally.com or call 800-222-1994.

Thank you & good riding!

Web: www.veryboringrally.com

Media contact: Kyle Allen kallen@aerostich.com Lynn Wisneski <lwisneski@aerostich.com>

NOTE TO EDITORS: This text and artwork is also downloadable at: www.aerostich.com/pressroom/press.html

*We're from Minnesota, so we guarantee your definition of dry, sunny and warm is different than ours...


© 2018 Aero Design, Inc

Jul 3, 2018

Memories on My Luggage

Turned out, the big thing I missed about my 12 year partner in travel, my 2004 DL650 V-Strom, was getting to see those place-marker stickers on the luggage and right side cover. The guy who bought the bike, Paul Purdes, generously took excellent pictures of the cases and stickers which my wife will make into a collage that I can hang on my office wall. In the meantime, I put his pictures and some of my favorite memories of that motorcycle into a video that I can enjoy right now. Hopefully, you find something entertaining in it also.

Jul 1, 2018

I Ride Too Good

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day
On the way back home through South Dakota on a smoking July afternoon a few years ago, I decided to count the number of times someone said, "It's awful hot to be wearing all that gear" or something equally clever and observant. By the time I made it home, it happened seven times.
My favorite incident was in Platte, South Dakota at a bar where I ate my last meal of the day, after finding a motel and shedding my bike luggage. As I'd come into town, I spotted a huge (tall and wide) woman on a big cruiser wobbling away from the curb into traffic, looking as uncomfortable and incompetent as anyone I've ever seen on a motorcycle. She had both feet on the ground, paddling along into moving traffic, hoping the universe was looking out for her. She was barely able to turn her head far enough to see her own hands on her ape-hangers, let alone the on-coming traffic. That same woman was sitting at one of the outside tables with six other women as I left the bar after dinner.
One of her friends remarked, "That's a lot of gear to be wearing on a hot day."
I repeated the response I have memorized for this silly statement, "It's not nearly enough when you're sliding down the road on your ass."
Another woman said, "He got you there."
The big cruiser rider said, "I ride too good for that to happen to me."
The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains how "persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is." This lady was a classic example of that human delusion and she had no idea how ridiculous her statement would sound to anyone who had seen her ride. I have to feel a little sorry for her, though. The motorcycle she rode was way more machine than she could ever handle. She was so overweight that any sane society would classify her as "handicapped" and so unskilled that same culture would refuse to issue her a license for anything more powerful than a 25cc moped. The Harley marketing machine had convinced her that she was a badass biker, but bad was all she could manage. If all she does with her motorcycle is wobble from her house to the bar in that tiny village, she might survive to tell stories about her "biker phase" when she's in the old folks home. If she ever puts that thing on an open road, the chances are good that she'll make a contribution to the single-vehicle crash and fatality statistics.
In my last basic motorcycle course of the 2017 season, we had one exceptionally marginal student, who was taking the class for the second time in a last gasp attempt at a license. As usual, that student was the most confident of the group. In a discussion about evaluating traffic hazards and escape routes, I described how easy it is to overestimate your skills and capabilities and how quickly a traffic situation can catastrophically point out your errors and limitations.
Our marginal student said, "That will never be me. I know what I'm doing."
I replied, "In my experience, all of the really good riders I've ever known are more aware of their shortcomings than confident in their skills."
She said, "Now you're just making things up."
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Yep, I made that up, too. 

The real benefit to taking additional and regular training is discovering how much distance there is between what you think you know and what you actually know. That goes for anything, not just motorcycle training. Humans are notoriously lousy self-evaluators, as individuals and as groups. One of the most hilarious anti-government delusions is the fantasy of "self-regulation." Literally, I can't think of a single area of human activity where any industry, organization, or community has done a decent job of self-regulation. Anytime humans are left to their own isolated devices they inbreed and become stupid and corrupt. It doesn't even take expert outside observers to provide useful advice; people mangle their intended purpose so completely and destructively that almost anyone with eyesight can provide useful corrective feedback. The South Dakota cruiser rider was a terrific example of that.
One of the things I will miss when I retire from teaching the state's motorcycle safety classes is the corrective feedback from the students and the coaches I worked with. In particular, the classes that used to be called "Experienced Rider" often exposed me to motorcyclists with far different experiences from my own. During the discussions I picked up all sorts of ideas about how other riders manage traffic, maintain their motorcycles, and plan cross country trips. Having to demonstrate the exercises for competent riders always added a little pressure to the otherwise simple activities and gave me a solid benchmark for knowing when it would be time for me to hang up my Aerostich for good.
At the other end of that spectrum, beginning and so-called "experienced" riders often discovered that their motorcycle talents were dramatically less impressive than they'd convinced themselves. Sadly, not everyone who miserably fails to cope with the course exercises is honest enough to realize how low a bar they failed to step over. Riders who drive straight through the offset weave exercises tell themselves their bike is the problem, ignoring the fact that other riders on similar or less maneuverable motorcycles are handling the course without difficulty. Riders who never learn to use and trust their front brake pretend that they'll avoid having to make an emergency stop by sticking to country roads and riding in a pack. One of the huge shortcomings of not having a tiered license system is that completely incompetent riders can end up on equally hard-to-ride motorcycles and won't discover why that is a problem until seconds before becoming a statistic.
One fairly reliable indicator of riding competence is the amount of gear a rider decides is enough. AGAT riders are consistently more competent than the shorts and flipflops or bandanna and pirate outfit crowd. It appears that the more you know about riding a motorcycle, the more aware you are of the risk. The opposite of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is something every good scientist, engineer, and technician knows, "The more you know, the more you know you don't know." So, if you are confident that your skills are good enough to allow you to ride helmetless and without decent gear, the odds are good that you are likely to be fatally wrong.