Apr 6, 2020

Assigning Blame, Taking Responsibility

A blast from my past called this weekend, wanting to talk about his summer’s misfortunes. We’ll call him “P” to protect his ego and our relationship. In early August (2019), P was sailing down a country two-lane, minding his own business, and assuming that Minnesota country roads are, somehow, safer than urban freeways and byways. (Statistics consistently demonstrate that this is a motorcyclists’ delusion. In 2018, for example,31 of 57 or 54% of the state’s motorcycle fatalities were in areas with populations under 10,000 and the majority, 22, were in rural, unpopulated areas. 913 motorcyclists were injured that year and 49% of that total were injured on those same low population roads.) 2 motorcyclists were killed and 102 were injured in the state’s over-250,000 cities; the Twin Cities, in fact. P, oblivious to the hazard of country roads, was riding somewhere between 55 and 65mph on a sparsely-populated stretch of the road, when a pickup pulled into his lane, partially shielded by a downed tree next to the driveway the pickup was exiting from. Mayhem resulted and P ended up with a multitudinous-fractured femur, a broken back, and a separated shoulder.

Fortunately for P, he was wearing actual motorcycle gear including a full-face helmet and armored jacket. As he said, “I didn’t spill a drop of blood.” Unfortunately for P, he has a long recovery ahead of him and he is not fond of physical therapy. He’s been here before. Several year ago, he was riding in fairly congested traffic and, bored with the pace of movement, he was occupied trying to read the call sign of a passing small airplane when he struck the stopped car in front of him. He flew over the car and, while he was airborne, he decided, “I don’t want to hear Tom lecturing me about not wearing a helmet while I recover from this” and he shielded his head with his arms just before tumbling into a ditch. The end result of that crash was a severely massacred pelvis from which he has yet to fully recover. To his credit, P took total responsibility for both that crash and his less-than-complete recovery. He also started wearing a full-face helmet and, at least, an armored jacket when he rode. A life-long Harley guy with a long history of spectacular crashes, the bike he crashed on the last two times was a big BMW touring bike.

I’ve ridden with P, maybe twice, but definitely once. We met at a small town a few miles from his place, for a Fourth of July fireworks show. Afterwards, for whatever reason, we decided to go back to his house before I headed back home. Both of our spouses were riding passenger on that trip. P immediately took off in the dark, on familiar country roads, putting some distance between us. I made a half-hearted effort to keep him in sight, but I do not ride fast, ever, with a passenger and since I knew where we were going I was not particularly upset to make most of the trip “unguided.” Since then, he’s often reminded me of that incident and of the fact that he was a “lot faster” than me on those mostly-gravel country roads. I do my racing, when I do it, on closed courses and I am never impressed with people who imagine racing on public roads is something to brag about. My wife would make short work of me if I ever play-raced with her on the bike.

Like many motorcyclists and bikers, P’s problem is that he imagines that he is seen, because he is a big guy riding a “big bike.”  While P’s BMW didn’t have loud pipes, P has ridden bikes with minimal muffling for most of his life and always deluded himself into thinking physics is his friend when it comes to sound and defensive riding, he suffers the false idea that people are looking for motorcycles. Even in a fairly motorcycle-friendly state like Minnesota, there aren’t enough motorcycles on the road any given day for a typical cager to have any reason to be watching for them. When we don’t amount to 0.001% of the total traffic on good days, asking drivers to “Start Looking for Motorcycles” is as silly as asking them to watch out for unicorns. Bicycles, pedestrians, old men on power wheelchairs, and kids on tricycles are far more likely things to be looking out for than motorcycles; especially motorcycles approaching a blind intersection (or driveway) at 60-65mph.

This is exactly the kind of situation where motorcyclists have to be watching out for everyone else. Even if, as in P’s case, the cager gets the blame for the crash, P might still be crippled-for-life or dead . . . but in the right. The price for being right is higher than I want to pay. To be clear, I am not afraid of being dead, but I practically terrified of being maimed and crippled. During the brief period when the MSF’s Basic Rider Course actually talked about risk management, I used to tell my motorcycle students that any crash short of a tree falling on you or a tornado blowing you to Kansas was the motorcyclist’s fault for not anticipating and avoiding the situation. If you think everyone else is looking out for, or responsible for, your safety, you will be disappointed and, probably, hurt or killed.

Mar 15, 2020

March with Fast Lane Biker Magazine


Mar 10, 2020

Hardly Speed Limiting


Mar 9, 2020

Stereotypes and Typical Behavior

A few weeks ago, on a warm Saturday, my hometown was infested with the usual collection of bozos on bikes. Traffic on Old Main Street was jammed up and loud as a 1950’s drag strip. Driving through that section of town is usually miserable on a warm summer afternoon and if I didn’t have business there I would never venture down that street weekends. That day, I had business so I was stuck.

After I finished my Saturday transaction and tried to back out of my parking space, I discovered that another noisy pirate parade was in progress. Since the cops had conveniently found donut shops at the other end of town for their day-long break, the bikers were trawling the street making it almost impossible for anyone with a life to get on with it. After waiting for several minutes for an open space, I found one and backed into my lane. About the time I was straightened up and in forward gear, a pair of nitwits on hippobikes came wobbling down the street in the opposite direction and one of the crossed the center line about 20’ from the front of my pickup. Realizing that a solid object was in his random path of travel, the biker managed to weave back into his lane and barely missed both my left fender and the other half-wit who was no more skilled or in control of his geegaw-disabled vehicle. I caught the raised finger of the first nitwit in my rear view mirror.

Driving toward downtown on Highway 61 (Yeah, that “Highway 61.”), a large full dress ubiquitous black cruiser of some unknown brand passed me on the left. At first, I was impressed that the bike wasn’t obnoxiously loud and that the rider wasn’t dressed in pirate underwear. He was even wearing something resembling a helmet, open face, but not a total toilet bowl. However, he sped past me and the Suburban in front of me, swung into the right lane, and immediately came to a near stop in front of the Suburban before waddling into a filling station; bringing all of the right hand lane traffic to a near stop in the process. It was pure luck, on his part, that he wasn’t rear-ended by the Suburban. Of course, if he had been the SUV driver would have been blamed and more biker crash statistics would be skewed incorrectly away from faulting motorcyclists.

Yesterday, on my way back from the Cities near the UofM, I saw an AGAT biker on some sort of adventure touring bike. It was one of the many “bikes with a beak” and I can’t tell one from the other: coulda been a Triumph Tiger, a newer V-Strom 650 or 1000, a BMW F800GS, or some other wanna be I have yet to meet. The guy was wearing motorcycle gear and I was initially impressed. However, when we came to a stop light, he passed me and the two cars in front of me in the bicycle lane, and jumped the light gambling that no one in the opposite direction would be turning into his path. Again, pure luck that any number of things he couldn’t see or react to didn’t arrive in that intersection when he did.

Because I see so much cruiser/biker incompetence around my hometown, I tend to stereotype “idiot bikers” as characters on cruisers and other hippobikes, but mostly too many of the idiots riding two wheels appear to be mentally deficient with the riding skills of a kid who just came off of the training wheels or a tricycle; brand and species of motorcycle be damned..

The industry is hurting, again, these days. Dealerships are closing, dealers, importers, and manufacturers are reducing their motorcycle inventories. Rider training programs are shrinking to small fractions of their peak years, only a decade ago, and you see even fewer motorcycles on the road outside of occasional pirate parades and stacked up in front of bars. If there were a time when reducing motorcycle access to public roads would be easy, this is fast approaching that moment.

Motorcycle manufacturers, on average, aren’t doing much to slow the regression, either. The average motorcycle is less efficient, fuel-wise, than the average mid-sized car; even SUVs! Toyota’s 2019 RAV4 gets 40mpg, which is as good as all of the liter adventure touring bikes and better than all of the sportbikes over 600cc and as good as most of the 600cc sportbikes. Some cruisers get not-awful economy, but their owners “fix” that with aftermarket exhaust systems and lame attempts at performance enhancements that kill fuel economy and pointlessly multiply the exhaust emissions. Outside of that lame “image” bikers imagine they are sporting, practical reasons for riding a motorcycle are disappearing.

I “retired” from the Minnesota motorcycle safety training program last year (2019), after I reviewed the new, grossly dumbed-down MSF program. It was pretty lame before, but it really became focused on putting butts on seats in the newest iteration. No more “adult education” tactics, now we’re just supposed to be hand-holding prospective motorcyclists through the test so there is practically no way they can fail to get an endorsement. In every class, for the past 18 years, there was always at least one “student” who slipped through the cracks, passed the overly-easy “test,” and got an undeserved and unexpected license. I’d caution them that driving on a closed-course at 15mph was nothing like riding in traffic and that they really needed to keep working on their skills if they were going to survive, but I know those words went in one ear and out the other.

In demonstrations like the ones I described in the first four paragraphs of this article, I see the results of our foolishly easy motorcycle licensing and the incredibly stupid fact that once you have a motorcycle endorsement you have it till you die. All it takes is a few bucks for the endorsement renewal fee every time you reup your license. You can even transfer a Minnesota motorcycle endorsement to a California endorsement for a little money. Crazy! If you think knowing how to wobble down a Minnesota or Wisconsin country road is in any way useful experience on the 405, you are delusional. So on we go, down the path of becoming a piece of motoring history; like horses and buggies and go-carts and street legal ATVs. Yeah, those were all things; long ago. And now they aren’t.

Feb 21, 2020

More Image Promotion?



Motorcyclists are on a serious downswing, image-wise. It would be nice if we weren't over-represented by gangbangers on Hardlys. But we are and this is one consequence of a continuing declining image. On the upside, Guy Pierce is one of my favorite actors, so I bet it is entertaining.

The End of . . . ?

With this sudden and unexpected (by the subscribers I know) announcement, Motorcycle Consumer News produced it's last issue in January of 2020. MCN has been around in its reader-sponsored format since 1982, So, 38 years of hard-hitting, unbiased reporting on an industry that has done pretty much everything possible to create a simpering, press-release duplicating news media; from print to YouTube drivel. 

I have to believe the industry and rider participation is shriveling toward becoming ancient history. In the US, we're down to two actual motorcycling magazines, Cycle World and Motorcyclist, and one those two has made a hard bet on eBikes over motorcycles with Cycle Volta. The residue of motorcycle "journalism" is a bunch of biker rags that are more about biker broad pictures and chrome crap than motorcycles and motorcycling.

MCN's Facebook page simply says “MCN is no more. Thanks for riding with us for the last 50 years! Visit MCNews.com for more info. Keep the shiny side up.“ All you will find at MCNews.com is the statement at the top of this blog entry. Not only is the magazine dead, but the MCN's  publication history is gone. That's pretty brutal. 

Feb 3, 2020

Book Review: A Craftsman’s Legacy

A Craftsman’s Legacy: Why Working with Our Hands Gives Us Meaning is one more book by someone who left the corporate world for the world of making expensive garage sale bait for the 1% and a few fools who want to “be like rich people.” Like Shop Class as Soulcraft and the rest of the raft of books by people who make incredibly expensive toys, furniture, and “art” for the idle rich, Legacy’s author, Detroit custom cruiser builder and reality television’s Eric Gorges from the show of the same name as the book, attempts to vilify the world we live in and glorify the world the average person never lived in; the Never-Neverland when people made beautiful things for money and ordinary people could afford them. There have been times when a few working people found enough spare time to make beautiful things for themselves, but usually working people just slaved away their days and lived in squalid tenements or on barely-sustenance farms and a few people made beautiful things for the ruling classes. The rest of the working classes lived with hand-me-downs and mass-produced products; just like today.  

Like most of the folks who were inspired to quit their day jobs by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Gorges makes the ridiculous mistake of thinking that the goofier and less functional a product is, the more artistic it is. For example, the motorcycles he cobbles together are as non-functional and unridable as a three-legged horse. Unlike Persig’s ZaTAoMM reliable and practical Honda CB77 Super Hawk 305, nobody is going to cross the country on one of Gorges’ strung-out cruiser abortions (like the “One [2] One” bike pictured above). Most likely, whoever bought this ridiculous thing will trailer it anywhere this bike travels. Like the genre’s role model, the Captain America mess that recently sold for $1.2M and could barely be kept inside a highway lane for the filming of Easy Rider, this kind of art(?) does not qualify as a motorcycle. Even Fonda, who barely deserved being called a motorcyclist, admitted that his Captain America creation was so “squirrely” that the motorcycle scenes were simplified to mostly straight line riding. These weird collections of parts and artwork are not real motorcycles, but they are insanely expensive. They might be art, but they aren’t “craftsmanship.”

Too much of Gorges’ handwringing and the “woe  is all of us” bullshit spewed here is of the “nobody does real work anymore” variety. Gorges does not recognize modern engineers and product designers as craftsmen because what they do is so far above the metal-doodling he does that it would be as impossible for him to relate to modern engineering as it would be for Donald Trump to have an intelligent business conversation with Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. People who made swords, hammers, blew glass, and turned pots were the engineers of the 15th Century and back. Today, they are the struggling privatives trying to convince the rest of us that they are keeping skills alive. For what, the post-apocalypse? In the meantime, engineers have moved on for at least two centuries past Gorge’s technology and skill-set. 

A lot of Gorges’ “craftsman” stars and role models unintentionally make the point that almost everyone you know might be an unheralded craftsman/artist. While it is interesting to imagine that these artists who “gave up everything for their art” might be the finest examples of woodworkers, glassblowers, metalworkers, potters, engravers, and painters in the country, the fact is that almost every mid-sized-and-larger community has examples of those same skills in its midst. They might not ever be profiled on television or in a book, but they are out there. People do extraordinary things in their spare time, even people who do boring white or blue collar jobs during their working lives. More to the point, though, is that people make incredible products using their hands, technical skills, and tools Gorges couldn’t imagine. 

I admit that a big part of my lack of enthusiasm for Gorges’ book is his perspective on motorcycles. As far as he is concerned, there are 3 types of motorcycles: “choppers, which have a long front end and skinny wheel; bobbers, which have a short rear fender and stubby front end; and diggers, which are long and low.” I, of course, think any of those bike forms are hillbilly crap that do not deserve a “motorcycle” designation. There is an aspect of A Craftsman’s Legacy that disrespects function and mindlessly worships form. I have no use for that attitude. Some part of my own attitude comes from the fact that I spent a good bit of my life in manufacturing and I know how much actual craftsmanship is required to make reliable, functional products. 

There is a panhandling aspect to Gorges’ craftspeople that really puts me off; like the occupations that survive from begging for tips. Many of these people have chosen a lifestyle that depends on others feeling sorry for them and paying exorbitant prices for items they could find in a Dollar Store. Gorges asks us to “Support these people, this world, and this way of life. Turn your appreciation into some concrete (money).” Like cashiers who point to their tip jar as if they have done something special by pouring coffee into a cup. 

Finally, I firmly believe that everything that requires skill is improved by every generation. You may be one of those age-addled characters who imagines that “good music” stopped being made in 1960, 1970, 1980, or whenever, but you’re wrong. Likewise, most 1970’s era pro basketball players wouldn’t make the team for, even the freakin’ Clippers, today. Michael Jordan would have a hard time playing on a winning team today. It’s true that many people knew how to repair their cars and motorcycles in the 1950’s; because they needed to. A vehicle that lasted 25,000 miles without needing major work in 1950’s was a celebrated rarity. Today, we call any vehicle that fails before 200,000 miles a “lemon.” Modern electric cars are knocking down 300,000 miles without a major repair. 

Today, if I had to go to battle with a 15th Century sword I’d just use it on myself to get it over with efficiently. Any modern weapon would do the job at a safe distance, regardless of how skilled the sword-wielder might be. Vintage “skills” are that because they are no longer state-of-the-art and, as such, are obsolete. If you think someone with a hammer and coal-fired forge can turn out a better steel tool than a modern factory, you’re only fooling yourself. If you don’t think a modern adventure touring motorcycle isn’t as well-crafted as one of Gorge’s hippomobiles, you don’t know what the word “craftsmanship” means. If you think someone cobbling out plodding, non-functional “choppers, bobbers, and diggers” could get a job on a modern factory motorcycle race team doing . . . anything, you are probably the ideal reader for A Craftsman’s Legacy.

Jan 6, 2020

How Stupid Do You Think I Am?

When a young man I know learned that I’m selling my motorcycle, he immediately said, “I’ll buy it. You’d have to finance it, but I’m good for it.” 

I immediately thought, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” 

This kid is a 20-something, wanna-be motorcyclist, who had an 80cc dirt bike when he was a pre-teenager, making him (in his mind) an “experienced motorcyclist.” To make up for his lack of a motorcycle license and riding skill/experience, he even asked me to give him a free MSF course; since I’m a retired Minnesota MSF instructor. 

I’m selling a $4000 motorcycle. I’m 71 and at the point in life where if I see a light at the end of the tunnel I’m pretty sure it’s the Grim Reaper’s train. What part of this transaction sounds intelligent from my side? Or even his side, for that matter? The risk in that loan is insane. When he crashes it and his wife tells him to get rid of it or hit the road, I’ll be stuck with a mangled motorcycle, little-to-no-money for my long-shot self-financing bet, and the scary possibility of assuming some liability in his crash(es). I would have to be stupid to take that bet. 

I’m not brilliant, but I’m not stupid. (As I often do, after writing that statement I check the heels of my boots to see if there is straw sticking out; since I obviously look like someone who just jumped out of a farm truck.)

From that conversation, I started to think about a bank or anyone else financing a motorcycle. It wasn’t that long ago that Harley-Davidson had to be bailed out by taxpayers for its own inability to manage loan money; to the tune of $2.3B. If Harley, a company that rarely wastes precious cash on frivolous things like engineering and competent product development, can’t find safe buyers for its hippo bikes, who am I to gamble in that market? Pretty much anything a bank would get involved in would be a $6,000 to $40,000 loan to a person who is probably 15,000 times more likely get killed than, for instance, someone asking for a car loan. A company insuring a motorcycle and loan is about as dumb as the bank making the loan, too.
Bankers are not a group widely known for their brilliance, outside of their own closed and in-bred circles. If you’ve read All the Devils Are Here or The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, you know that what passes for financial skills in these declining years of the United States empire is pretty dismal. Bankers are notoriously financially foolish with even their own money. In fact, the people most of us trust to hang on to our cash are not that smart or good at their jobs. Bankers and other financial gamblers will pay $100 and more to “win” a twenty-dollar-bill in an auction, in a crowd of other supposedly money-wise nitwits. These are the people who will loan you money to buy a brand new $40,000 Harley Davidson; even knowing that the odds are good that you won’t live long enough to pay off the debt. Just as dumb, the insurance industry is betting that you won’t actually ride the damn thing (which is, actually, very likely) which will self-limit their risk to your death and the destruction of the item they are insuring. 

If you have any money squirreled away with a bank, the fact that institution would gamble on a loan for a motorcycle and that someone else (maybe in the same bank) is dumb enough to insure that motorcycle for comp and collision ought to scare the crap out of you. Seriously. How does that not bother anyone with cash in a bank? 

Back to my own situation, I have never loaned money to anyone in my life. If a friend or relative is hard up enough to ask me for money and I have it, I consider it a gift. If I get paid back, I consider that amazing. If not, I never expected repayment and won’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen. That old Shakespeare rule, "neither a borrower nor a lender be" has always made sense to me because of the line that follows, “for loan oft loses both itself and friend.”  As for loaning money for a motorcycle purchase, do not count on me to even be willing to make a gift toward that dumb idea.