Jan 8, 2019

Who Wants to Ride in This?

20190108_122155It was 29oF this morning, with a 21mph average wind and gusts of up to 40mph for a windchill of between 10oF and 14oF, grey skies, and even colder weather in the forecast for later today and the rest of the week. No reason to ride—ANYWHERE—right? Wrong.

My Radrover has just enough ePower to overcome the wind and, in pure Andy Goldfine Aerostich fashion, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” My gear is pretty decent, not up to my brilliant grandson’s level of decent (see at left), but pretty good for this kind of winter weather. Plus, I’m just starting to feel the result of riding the bike about 90 miles in the last two Minnesota winter weeks. It might be too miserable for me to get out in the next few days, so with a pair of books, a CD, and a DVD that “needed” to go back to the downtown library, I’m off for a 7 mile round-trip ride.

As always, it was fun, inspiring, energizing, invigorating, and great exercise.

Jan 7, 2019

Airplanes and Motorcycles

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

I got this note from a friend who was, like me, suckered into that camper/disaster we both know as Winnebago's "Rialta."

"Here’s a question: when I was in the Air Farce, I worked on five different kinds of jet fighters, from the oldest to the newest: T-33s to F104s. Many of those planes were flown daily, and while of course things went wrong, mostly they did not, especially major stuff. Then I think about commercial liners and how infrequently they have serious problems. So why is that cars (and motorcycles), so much simpler by far, are so problematic in comparison? Different sets of standards for mfg and maintenance, I’m sure, but can’t the auto industry step up and take some lessons, or would it be too expensive?"

That's a pretty cool question and one I've thought a lot about over my years in manufacturing. Maintenance, of course, is huge. The FAA and airplane manufacturers specify replacement-before-failure intervals and obedience to those inspection and replacement periods are expected and required. Airplane maintenance schedules require more daily (if the plane is in use daily) maintenance than most cars get in their first five years of service. Engines, prop or jet, are required to be overhauled or replaced on fixed intervals, regardless of their functional status. Preventative maintenance is a given in airplanes and nobody serious argues that being allowed to fly an unsafe airplane is a right. Access to the nation's air way is absolutely considered to be a privilege that is well-regulated by the FAA. There is no slack allowed. Every few years, some White House idiot decides to dumb-down some of the airlines' regulations and we get a 9/11 (Remember Air Marshalls?) or an Air Florida Flight 90 or some other sort of disaster. Then, the old list of rules gets reinstated and a bunch of new ones come on-line.

However, most consumer-owned vehicles are incredibly reliable (excepting your and my experience with the VW Eurovan), especially considering the idiots who own the damn things. Getting 30k out of a 1950's car between major engine work was pretty amazing and 1960's Euro bike owners thought 5-8k from an engine was "big miles." There are (and were) exceptions, for sure, but we expect ridiculous service from vehicles we barely look at, let alone maintain. Toyota's Prius owners are expecting 200k-300k out of the batteries and power train. I'd say that is pretty stepped-up.

There are limits, though. Expecting 300k from an automatic transmission says more about the kind of fools who buy cars than the manufacturer's performance. I might not know anyone who realizes that automatic transmission fluid needs to be periodically changed. And you and I know from working on VW products that that company's engineers must be kids who shouldn't be designing LEGOs toys, let alone vehicles.

There is a different standard of expectation for airplane design and maintainability, too. Things like wiring drip loops, electronic component mechanical and environmental protection, connector quality, big safety design margins, and system redundancy are required in airplanes. Mostly, that stuff doesn't get a second thought in cars and motorcycles. The closest thing to a backup system in a passenger car is the fact that when the power brake assist system fails, you still have a basic hydraulic system that will, eventually, stop the car if you are strong enough. Commercial airplanes have actual backup engines capable of keeping the plane in the air and getting it safely back to the ground.

Performance vehicles, like Corvettes, should be expected to wear quickly. Race bikes get overhauls regularly, too. If you want big power from a small, lightweight package you're going to be doing repair work regularly. Pushing lubrication costs power, so those vehicles push as little oil as possible.

Design safety margins add weight and cost. Since the initial cost of an airplane, especially commercial airliners, is so high, the expected lifetime is 25-40 years. Reliability is included in the price of the vehicle. The average age of an American-owned car is currently about 11.5 years and new car owners hang on to their vehicles about 6.5 years (which is up about 2 years from 2006). I guess that is some kind of indication that modern vehicle reliability is improving.

I think the best we can hope for, given the price sensitivity of the personal vehicle market, is baby steps in car and motorcycle reliability. Unless we're willing to put up with maintenance regulations and high initial costs, we're getting at least what we're paying for.

Jan 6, 2019

Real Luxury

IMG_9599[1]For most of my semi-adult life, I’ve been more than a little jealous of people who have a heated, comfortable workspace. Two years ago, I put considerable effort into installing a “real door” between our basement and our lower garage. This was a big part of the reason for going through all the misery of disassembly 60 years of cobbled-together door frames. 3 layers of 2”x10” jack studs and headers tacked on top of each other as the water and rot ruinied the last layer the previous owners just shrunk up the door by 4” and ignored the basement garage. You can see the old hobbit door at the far right against the wall in this picture.

A couple of the incredibly generous and cool guys from the Red Wing Iron Works Motorbike Club showed up this morning to help me wrestle the bike from the garage into the basement. It went as easily as I could have hoped (still not a one-man job, especially when the one man is an old fart). For the first time since I left California in 1991, I have a warm, well-lit indoor space to work on my bike for the rest of the winter. This will be the most fun spring motorcycle prep in decades.

I have a bunch of new parts (chain and sprockets, back tire, oil and fluids) to swap out and a couple cool mods to make and the WR will be ready to go somewhere when it warms up.

Jan 1, 2019

Subjects I Avoid

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I grew up with the advice, “Never mention politics or religion, in polite conversation.” I didn't follow that advice, but I heard it a lot. My father and I did a solidly poor job of even honoring the spirit; and our relationship pretty much proved how valid that guidance could have been. For most of my life, being who I am seems to reflexively cause that polite rule to be abused. Something about me appears to inspire the most degenerate, least informed, nosiest and noisiest, least sober, least credible evangelists into a doomed attempt to “spread the word” at the expense of my peace and quiet. (Trust me, I’ve heard the spiel—and have been hearing it since I was a child—and no matter who you are, who you represent, what god(s) you follow, what key you’re going to sing in, or what line you’re going to take, I’ve been there and heard it.)
subjects_i_avoidSo, this week’s experience at the library was just one in a long line of related bad experiences that have made me want to move to my Montana retirement mansion (at right) and keep a loaded shotgun by the door for greeting all visitors. I do plan to fire a couple of warning shots to the head to get your attention, so be ready to duck if you show up unannounced. 
On the way out the door and back to my bike, a guy ran me down to ask where I’d bought my official MMM jacket. You can’t get there from here, but I aimed him at Bob’s Cycle Supply for the next best thing. He argued that they didn’t carry it although I’d been there earlier in the week and they were still in stock at that time. Trying to politely escape (my first and often repeated mistake), I pulled off the jacket to show him the brand and model label and kept trying to get to the bike. I reminded him that the MMM portion of the jacket was custom and, probably, unavailable.
When I mentioned that the jacket’s denim cover is pretty worthless but that the armor in the jacket wasn’t bad, he said “Road rash is like military patches. It shows who you are and where you’ve been.” 
I disagreed (compounding my above mistakes) by saying “Neither says much, since the military gives away that stuff in Cracker Jack boxes and you can buy impressive-looking patches and pins at most Army/Navy stores or pawn shops and bicycle, skateboard,  or falling-down-concrete-stairs scars look pretty much like motorcycle rash unless you’ve ground off a limb.”
That inspired a long, boring story of his career in the Air Force (my least favorite of a list of least favorite government agencies) and his simultaneous experience in some sort of military biker gang. From there, he slid into a story of hitting a deer and surviving mostly unscratched. His “armor” in that incident was having spent a few moments praying over his motorcycle before leaving the bar for home. The deer hit his bike (a big Yamaha V-Star of some sort), bent some fender bits, and left some fur on a side case but he and the deer survived without serious injury. Therefore, praying worked. I should have kept moving, but I had to tell him that my more-pious-than-anyone-I-know brother had a similar dust-up with a deer and he ended up with a busted up ankle that has plagued him for the last five years (the deer didn’t survive). Knowing my brother, there was plenty of praying going on before he left my parents’ house for home.
Even if the praying wasn’t done over his motorcycle, it was done as well as that ritual can be performed. I remain unconvinced that the library dude added anything meaningful beyond what my parents and brother could do. The idea that his angel was more focused than my brother’s is simply ludicrous. Saying that inspired a lecture from this evangelist about believing vs. something I couldn't identify, probably due to my heretical nature.

Still trying to get to my bike, strap my gear on, and escape without more comment than necessary. He made some comment about all the gear I was wearing (not that close to AGAT, but a lot closer than his street clothes). I let that one pass, but did make a less-than-respectful comment about pudding bowl helmets. Surprise! That was the only kind of helmet he owns. More conversation to ignore as I plugged my ears and pulled on my helmet. Before the ear plugs sealed up, he expressed surprise that it took me so little effort to put on the helmet.

"It's just a hat, dude."

As best I could tell, the one-sided conversation swung from ranting about helmet laws to being pissed off about the "safety Nazis," but I had the sense to ignore that bait and fired up the WR. As I struggled to back the bike out of the parking space while he attempted to strategically position himself in my way, I caught snippets of unwanted information about his engineering career, his plan to dominate the three-string guitar market (He was not a player, but had read something about cheap guitars getting trendy.), and an offer to co-write something about something. I escaped cleanly, without exchanging names or other useless information.
When I got home and told my wife about the experience, she marveled at how hard it is for me to get away from salespeople and talkative drunks. "Must be genetic," I replied. I had way too much trouble getting away from my family and the same sort of conversations. 
"No," she said. "I think you're just dumb." 
Possibly. When pressed against this kind of wall, I usually look to my hero, Mark Twain, for an explanation. The best I could find was, “I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.” Pretty much the same thing my wife said.