Feb 22, 2019

My Weird Audience

It has become discouragingly obvious that my life goal of having 1,000,000 views on this blog is going to take longer than I'm likely to live. A friend recently asked me, "How do you attract readers to a blog?"

My answer was obviously, "How the hell would I know? I've been writing three blogs since the beginning of this century. Cat videos on YouTube get more hits in a day or two than I've managed in almost two decades." Whine, whine, wimper, wimper, and so on.

Looking at the stats here, there are some surprises. I am amazed that my most visited review was the one of the Yamaha XT350 and #2 was the TU250X review. The XT350 hasn't been in production for years and Suzuki's TU250X was pretty much a bust, sales-wise. I'm really happy to have drawn almost 20,000 people to the Aerostich Darien review, because that is a product that I will always be glad I've owned and recommend the suit and the company to anyone who asks. The friendships that developed from my MMM and Aerostich experience are some of the best things that has come from living in Minnesota and 20 years of writing about motorcycles and the people involved in motorcycling.

61,402 Russian pageviews is either confusing or disturbing; mostly the 2nd. Am I getting hacked? Are there secret messages slipped into my blog convincing you to vote for Trump/Putin and buy a Harley? Everyone else, I'm glad you're here and thanks for reading my words. I am really grateful for the half-million views from my US friends.

About three years ago, I could see the handwriting on Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly's diminishing page count and wrote a piece that I thought sounded the end for the Geezer with A Grudge. Looking back at what I've written between then and now, I'm sort of amazed that I've kept on keeping on. The feedback I've had from you, the fearless readers and riders, keeps me in subject matter and I really appreciate that. I have essays scheduled out to, at least, early 2020 without me having to write another word. Three years ago, I figured that would be enough. "Surprise, surprise," as a goofy American TV character used to say (you're old if you know who).

Feb 18, 2019

Lots of Laughter from Me

A friend sent me a link to this article, “Why is Harley-Davidson not popular with Millennials?” The article, itself, is just ok. Mostly a lot of twenty-something whining and pontificating about stuff that has been said and written zillions of times before. The cool part of the link I almost missed (Because I am vacationing in the Caribbean and the cruise boat’s wifi is terrible and expensive, so fuck you very much record-cold-setting Minnesota winter.) For a change, the comments section is where the gold is. From Hardly defenders to realists and rational people, the comments are often funny, fun, occasionally enlightening, mind-bogglingly stupid, and entertaining as hell. Occasionally, they are even well-written. Here is a sample, but I recommend you read a few and entertain yourself:

Harleys rarely are disposable, you’ll find old Harleys still being ridden that are over a half century old. Now that longevity.” My all-time favorite bullshit Harley argument. Put 3,000 miles on a bike in 20 years and act amazed that it still gets ridden 5 miles to the local bar twice a year. Or actually ride it and put a half-dozen engines and a zillion dollars in factory-authorized-repairs into the hulk and pretend that is in some way similar to how real motorcycles work and real motorcyclists live.

I customize bikes on a part time basis, and while I do not focus on repairs, a lot of my calls ARE repairs, and most of those repairs ARE Harleys. And the things that go wrong just plain don't go wrong on other bikes; throttle cables snapping in random places, ignition switches burning out while driving, kickstands getting stuck or falling off, a myriad of electrical issues…

Harley owners HATE blacks, hispanics, and middle-eastern ragheads. Harley owners HATE fags, queers, homos, bisexuals, and transgendered. Harley owners HATE Muslims. Want to see a Harley owner completely lose his shit? Just put on your innocent face and ask: ‘No, really, why can’t somebody use the restroom they want to use?’ Then stand back.

Harley-Davidson’s brand is defined by racism, xenophobia and sexism and its riders are older, white and male. Not doing that well so far.”

I keep seeing posts on this question that say Harley is ‘Toxic’ to millenials, or that the brand represents ‘Misogyny.’ those are total bullshit arguments. We all see tons of diversity on the road. We see Black men on tricked out Harley’s as often as we see white men. We have several female riding groups that predominantly ride Harleys. We even have mixed race black/white and White/Hispanic 1% MC’s here. So no, we don’t think the brand itself is ‘Hostile’. Sure, a few old white pricks ride them around, but we don’t associate the bikes with the people who ride them.” Look in the mirror much, kiddo? All you have proven with your micro-analysis of the rare non-white, non-male Harley rarity is that you can always fool some of the people all of the time; no matter what you are selling, regardless of race, sex, creed, or even amount of education.

“. . . the bikes themselves. They are terrible in every way, and I mean that in an objective way. Power, speed, handling, comfort, reliability, price… it is really hard to come up with any category in which Harleys excel. The only thing they excel at is ‘Being American’ which really doesn’t mean anything at all. If the best thing you can say about a brand is where it is based, you are grasping at straws.

If the commenters would pull themselves away from Sons of Anarchy reruns long enough to view reality they would see that very few who ride motorcycles belong to a gang, want to look like they belong to a gang, or have any interest whatsoever in that group. Instead, they would likely see the numerous toy runs and other charity and community betterment events that motorcycle riders participate in - and the fact that the vast majority of the participants are riding Harleys. Yes, there are 3–4% riding Japanese and European bikes, but the motorcycles with the most or biggest toys strapped to them are usually Harleys.” Yep, that’s all it takes to tell yourself that you aren’t an asshole; big toys strapped to a motorcycle while you terrorize and disturb the peace of every town your pack of gangbangers “visit.”

You should read ‘em all. It’s pretty funny stuff and I didn’t even have to think about writing any of it.

Feb 11, 2019

Delayed Starts and Non-Starters

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

At 69, I’m at the point where lots of the things I’ve done all of my life are at the end of their track. My plan for a ride I took early last summer was that the day I left I’d be up at 5AM and out the door by 6AM on my way to Colorado. I’ve been “planning” that trip for about a month and, apparently, I’d put off anything resembling real planning for exactly that long.

One of the unintended side-effects of taking on a very light motorcycle safety class load has been that I’m barely riding at all summer. The less I ride, the less I think about my motorcycles. The less I think about my motorcycles, the less certain I am about their maintenance. The less certain I am of my motorcycles’ state-of-repair, the less I ride. And so it goes, sayeth Vonnegut.

2016_delayed_starts_1So, a couple of days ago I went over the V-Strom with about as much enthusiasm as I might apply to prepping the lawnmower for winter storage. I have the routine down, after all these years, but I didn’t put a lot of thought or heart into it. I’m just going through the numbers by rote, which probably means I forgot a number or two.

If you’ve read much of my stuff, you know I don’t “love” my motorcycles. I really like my Yamaha WR250X and I’ve taken more adventures on the 650 V-Strom than any other motorcycle I’ve owned since my Honda CX500, but affection is probably the strongest feeling might be able to aim toward either bike. I don’t name my motorcycles and I think people who do such things are demented. I don’t have a huge investment, financially or emotionally, in my motorcycles; having bought both of them cheap, used, and out-of-season eight and eleven years ago. I don’t see myself replacing them when they or I are worn out, either.

At this point, several years post-hip replacement and post-first-heart attack, my best days on two wheels are behind me. I’m through racing, “Adventure touring” from here out probably means trips like the one I took to Colorado and New Mexico. The “adventure” will be hanging out with an old friend while we wallow in hot springs to see if I can regain some of the use of my arthritic hands. Gone are the “safe and reasonable” days of blasting across Wyoming, Montana, and assorted back roads with the throttle pinned and a short schedule to keep before I have to be back home and at work. I have a pickup and a small RV trailer and my wife wants to travel with me at least half of the places I go from here out. At best, 60mph will be our top speed while cruising in that rig. I didn't plan on doing big off-pavement miles on that trip. It was likely that US Route 20 across the top of Nebraska would be as rough as that trip would get. If I needed a tire along the way (and I did), I'd be going through at least a dozen decent sized towns and I would find a shop to replace it for me (and I did). I have a pump and a repair kit in my rig, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll be willing to give a pickup owner $100 to ferry me to a motel and bike shop where I’ll drink a beer and eat a steak while someone else wrestles the tire off of the bike. Worst case, I rent a U-Haul van and drive the bike and me back home, where I’ll put the V-Strom on Craig’s List for parts and be down to the one bike I ride most of the time anyway.

The WR250 fits nicely in the back of the pickup and it makes a terrific errand-running backup vehicle, so I don’t see a near end in sight for me and that bike, but the V-Strom only racked up about 700 miles in the summer of 2015 and I had to make a special effort to do that. The WR250, on the other hand, had about 10,000 more miles on its odometer from all of the Red Wing area explorations I took in our first year in our retirement home and trips to the Cities for last season’s fairly heavy MSF course load. At this point, it’s pretty obvious where my short-term motorcycle ownership and involvement is going. In fact, since I’m now living so close Theilman and the Upper Midwest Trials Association’s home ground, I’ve been looking for a cheap, used trials bike. So far, nothing even close to my budget has appeared, but with a pickup and a camper in our personal inventory that is likely going to be my next and, possibly, last motorcycle purchase. Since trials was my last gasp at off-road motorcycle racing more than 30 years ago, I’m sort of looking forward to closing some of my personal riding loop.

2016_delayed_starts_2Last summer, I ended up putting off the road trip for an extra day. I didn’t have a schedule to keep, so it’s not like I’d be keeping someone waiting or missing an important date. Scott wasn't going to be on the road for another 5-6 days, because he had family and work stuff delaying his start. I took a few moments to wrap up this essay and cram my side cases full of stuff I probably didn’t need. Somewhere in the house I’d find my sleeping bag. The tent and hammock were packed. The V-Strom is always stocked with tools and emergency stuff. In a couple of hours, the bike would be ready to go. That's about it for "planning" for my motorcycle travel from here out.

Jan 28, 2019

Connectors and Connections

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Anyone who has designed, repaired, or suffered the failure of any sort of modern electronic product knows that way too many product failures come from poorly designed, selected, or applied electrical connectors. My VW-based Winnebago Rialta was no exception, in fact it could be used to prove that rule. VW and Winnebago did some really dumb, cost-cutting, poorly thought-out amateur engineering moves with connectors on this van that contributed substantially to the vehicle and both companies’ poor reputations. In fact the connector applications alone would convince me that neither Volkswagen or Winnebago employs actual engineers.


Under the best conditions, selecting the right connector for simple products isn’t an easy task. It’s hard enough to pick connectors for products that won't be exposed to the elements or high and low temperatures, drawing high (or extremely low) currents, and applications where either end users will abuse the connector or there is a lot of movement and vibration. Engineers have to balance all of the important qualities of the connector with price and delivery (which means instant availability for a JIT manufacturer). Too many consumer product engineers push the price decision to top priority and hope for the best with the rest. That’s an easy decision to make, if you have never done anything other than take a few college engineering classes and played a few video games. It’s a coward’s move if you are pretending to be a real engineer. The real world is a brutal place for electrical and mechanical connectors.

My winter of 2013-2014 was all about troubleshooting the electronics on the VW portion of my Winnebago Rialta. Based on the decisions I’ve seen from Volkswagen’s “engineers” and a few other similar product experiences, I have to assume too many modern product designers are kids with an experience database that does not extend beyond academia. Not one thing that I learned about from 30 years of engineering was applied to either the connector selection or application knowledge in our VW Eurovan. Like a lot of what I learned about management from years of working in mid-sized and large corporations, owning a Volkswagen is a lesson in “how not to” engineer and manufacture a product that contains electronic components. That is not an experience I will go through twice.

One of the first considerations an engineer has to make in connector selection is matching the materials to the application. If the connector will be exposed to heat, humidity or water, vibration, corrosive elements, and/or customer handling, the connector choice gets complicated. Hardware is where the expense lies in most modern electrical/electronic equipment, so the old “price, delivery, and quality; pick two” rule comes into play fast and brutally. If you’ve never had to consider those compromises, you’re building military-industrial crap that doesn’t have to work and nobody cares what it costs. The rest of us have to compromise something and often quality gets the axe because low cost rules everything in consumer products.

One of the jobs I had in my 30-year manufacturing career involved compensating for low-cost connectors. Long before anyone with engineering ability thought about the product, the marketing dweebs had set the price point and other gross product specs based on their many years of ignorance and arrogance. Once the price point was locked in, the design engineers specified low dollar connectors that often reacted poorly to pretty much every environmental component of the intended application. The connectors were contributing to a product failure rate that exceeded the design criteria. In one instance, when those products were returned for repair to my Tech Services department, the field failure rate for the same connectors dropped to zero. The difference was that our repair procedure for every returned product included cleaning all connectors with Caig Labratories’  Cramoline®  (now called DeOxit®). Since that treatment worked so well for the returned products, manufacturing started treating all of our new products' connectors with Caig's products on the assembly line and our connector problems vanished. Personally, I have used Caig Laboratories'  contact cleaner/protector/rejuvenator products for nearly 40 years as a post-design method of getting around non-ideal contact material selection. Spraying or scrubbing a little of those chemicals on to new and used connectors has prevented and resolved nearly a lifetime of connector problems. Likewise, locating and cleaning my Winnebago Rialta's plethora of crappy connectors with DeOxit® brought most of the vehicle's electronic systems back to life.


A drip loop, the way wiring should be routed to prevent water from draining into the connector.

Unfortunately, the prime culprit in our vehicle's disability was the obsolete-and-completely-unobtainable Transmission Control Module (TCM). In the Eurovan's design, VW engineers demonstrated a complete lack of understanding the most basic concepts of connector and wiring harness design. Water leaking in through their poorly-gasketed windshield had followed the wiring harness into the connector. A common and necessary connector design tactic is to make sure the connector wiring has a “drip loop” to prevent water from following the wiring into the connector body. While it should be obvious that leaving some slack in the wiring to prevent connectors is critical, it isn't obvious to many rookie engineers/techs that water follows wiring back to the source unless there is an easier path. Worse, allowing a few inches of extra wire in a multi-wire harness costs a few pennies. Amateur engineers, like the kiddies from VW, cut the harness as short as possible to save those pennies, sacrificing any hope that the TCM would be safe from any water intrusion. Not only was our vehicle exposed to the elements but the wires drained so much water into the connector that two pins corroded completely away. The only available solution to this problem turned out to be hard-wiring around the damaged pins.

One of the other issues buyers need to be aware of in any product involving connectors is that many products will incorporate one-off connectors, which effectively become unrepairable when the OEM stops providing support. For example, Germany requires auto manufacturers to provide service parts for seven years after the last unit of a model rolls off of the assembly line. For our Eurovan/Winnebago, that support time limit ran out sometime in 2012. Unlike some companies, Volkswagen does exactly what it is required to do and not one tiny bit more, so if our electronic control components completely failed our only option was to find used parts. I have to suspect that Ducati owners will be experiencing that dilemma now that VW owns that label.

Finally, connectors should be secured so they do not shake themselves to pieces when the vehicle is in motion. Since the connector will usually be the heaviest section in a portion of a wiring harness, the connector will tend to move with the vehicle motion causing stress on the points where the wire is secured to the connector. Because of that, it is important that connectors are secured to something solid so they can't move and fatigue the wire and terminal connections.

The sad fact is that, even if you do all of the things I've described in this article, the weak link in any wiring harness is always the connectors and the point where the wiring joins to the connectors. Because of that, whenever I'm troubleshooting vehicle electrical problems, the place I always look first is the connectors involved. I haven't kept track, but I'd bet at least 50% of the problems I've resolved began and ended with connectors.

Jan 21, 2019

Ancient History

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

My wife and I took a west coast driving vacation during the winter of 2012-13. We rented a car in Portland and drove it to San Francisco in a lazy week. Not much of a motorcycle story there, right? The fact is, my wife isn't much of a pillion fan and that trip was pretty much about her. Her father died a few months earlier and he'd wanted to have his ashes dumped in the Pacific Ocean, so a lot of our travel focus was about that ceremony and her memories of growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, family trips north, and other nostalgia. If we'd have wanted to rent a motorcycle, the nasty fact is you can rent a decent car for about 1/6 the price of a barely-half-decent motorcycle in Portland. The whole trip was going to be planned around PCH and 101, so it would have been an amazing motorcycle trip, but one of the things you do to stay married for 47 years is compromise and that means letting the wife travel the way she wants to travel. She does the same for me on my solo trips.

When we arrived in Portland, it was a perfect motorcycle day; 48oF and sunny. I saw exactly 2 motorcycles in the whole city during the 6 hours we toured Portland and both were parked. We left town on the early edge of the evening rush hour and didn't see a single motorcycle all the way to the coast. I guess that should have made me feel sort of justified in travelling by four wheels, but it mostly reinforced my suspicion that motorcycles are a vanishing form of transportation. For the next 920 miles, I logged every motorcycle and scooter I saw in Oregon and California and until we arrived in San Francisco it didn't take much more than my fingers to keep the tally. All but four of the motorcyclists were on 650 V-Stroms: for a total of a dozen people on bikes. One guy was on a KLR, one on a KTM, and the other two on unidentified cruisers. Add three scooters, all spotted in Arcada, CA, and that describes all of the two wheel action between two major cities on the best motorcycling highway in North America. On a positive note, everyone--including the scooter riders--was geared up, but maybe that was due to the "weather."

Once we were in range of San Francisco, the number of riders moved out of the statistical capacity of my digits; but not by much. In the home of lane-splitting, filtering, and sharing, motorcycles are still as rare as '57 Chevy station wagons and Ferraris. "One-in-a-million" might not be all that far from fact, considering that the estimated population of California is somewhere around 38,000,000 and the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area has almost 8 million residents. Berkeley was a minor scooter Mecca, especially around the UofC and there were a fair number of beater bikes chained to posts outside of the clam-like million dollar rowhouses near Golden Gate Park. Since it was 62oF and clear on our day in SF, I suspect most of those bikes were some kind of New Year's holiday decoration rather than actual transportation. If you're not going to ride on a perfect January in California, you're not really a motorcyclist.

None of this was what I'd expected or hoped to see on the west coast. The California I remembered was decorated with motorcycles on every sunny day. The only days I didn't motorcycle to work were days when I bicycled. But California is a different place than it was in the 80's. Back then, motorcyclists got ticketed for loud pipes and we had to suffer the annual emissions inspections where you'd get sent back to "fix it" if anything in the fuel or exhaust system path was not OEM. Today, loud pipes and gross emissions violations are tolerated by the CHP and local cops and motorcyclists are widely despised in the Golden State. Our minimal contribution to traffic flow has been nullified by our generally hooligan character.

The Minnesota "Start Seeing Motorcycles" campaign does not make it across the Rockies or the Sierras. The only sign I saw in the whole state that acknowledged motorcycles at all was a small billboard near Santa Clara that said, "Pray for Your Favorite Coffin Cheater," illustrated with a picture of a crashed motorcycle and the usual crowd of cops and EMTs surrounding what appeared to be a body bag next to the trashed motorcycle. There was a time when it seemed like California might be leading the rest of the country into accepting motorcycles as valid transportation, but that appears to be ancient history.  If California really does lead the nation's trends, these are interesting times for the future of motorcycles in the United States.

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.

Dec 27, 2018

To Whose Eyes?

Wired's catchy title for this article was "It Looks Like a Motorcycle, but Yes, It's an E-Bike." Nothing about this eBike looks like a motorcycle to my eyes. It mostly looks like a woman's bicycle. What am I missing?

"The minute you see an Elby bike, the difference between it and a standard bike is obvious. 'Is that even a bicycle?' my daughter’s preschool teacher asked, when I wheeled the Elby into the hallway. It looks more like a motorcycle.'" Now I get it, the great cataloger of all things engineered is a preschool teacher. We all know how educumacated preschool teachers are. At $3k, it better look like something hipper than a Walmart eBike.

 I suppose a preschool teacher and Wired writer probably think motorcycles still look like this.

Dec 26, 2018

Face-Planting Across the Ages

350bhornIt was spring 1971 and I was well on my way into parenthood at 23 years old, a trade school dropout, living in Hereford, Texas and working 80-90 hours a week at $3.25 an hour servicing the electronic scales on cattle feed trucks. What a life! One of my new friends at my new job turned me on to a deal on a 1970 Kawasaki F5 Bighorn 350. It didn’t take long and, if I wasn’t stuck behind the wheel of the company Chevy C10 pickup blasting my way from one feedlot to the next, I was on that motorcycle. It was my first 2-stroke and the first bike I seriously tried to prep for off-road racing. 28 raging horses with a rotary valve fueled motor, a 5-speed transmission, electronic ignition, aluminum wheels, Hatta forks (at least 3” of travel), lime green paint job, and . . . lights. I don’t think Kawasaki advertised the weight. Maybe metric weights and measures numbers don’t get that big. If it was less than 400 pounds, wet, I’d be astounded.

70s helmetMy last gasps of freedom before becoming a father and really needing to rack up overtime at work would be two races: the Canadian River Cross-Country Race and a state series motocross in Dalhart, Texas. The Canadian River race was first and I was “preparing” for that race by blasting across the Texas plains on some friend’s property every spare evening could get away from work. Helmets were optional at most Midwestern 60’s motorcycle events and I had one, a gold metal flake open face unit just like the one in the picture at left. But I often took it off when I got where I was going because riding off road was “so much safer than being on the highway.” Everybody knows that, right? It, honestly, wasn’t much of a helmet and the only reason I owned it was because the rancher who sold me the motorcycle included the helmet. When I arrived at the field where I often practiced riding fast, I would sometimes take off the helmet and stick it on a fence post to be picked up when I got back from playing racer.

One weekend afternoon, I snuck out of work and rode my Kawasaki to the practice field and for whatever reason I popped the gate loop, rode through the gate, reattached the loop, and headed into the field with my helmet still on my head. I rode around the field for a long while and after I tired of going fast, spinning around in dirt-bomb circles, and racing down the dry creek bed on the property, I decided to practice jumping big rocks. The Canadian River race was notorious for having rock piles that had to be either ridden over or you had to drag your bike across the rocks or take the long way up the river bank and back down, hoping you didn’t miss a check point in the process. Some of those river banks were a long trip up, around, and back down. If you could do it, hopping over the rocks trials-style was the way to go and I needed a lot of practice if I would be able to use that tactic in the race.

The Bighorn’s 350 motor was an unpredictable bitch. You never really knew what would happen when you opened up the throttle. Plus or minus a hundred rpm at 3,000 rpm would be the difference between flipping over backwards or charging full speed ahead without enough torque to clear a dime under the front wheel. Hopping logs and rocks on that bike required a lot of clutch and throttle work. I was having a pretty good day working on the technique when I suddenly wasn’t. I’d been working a fairly large pointy rock from several angles when I got the full speed ahead torque-less response and slammed my front tire solidly into the rock, launching me over the bars head-first into the rock, flipping over that and landing on my back in a pile of goatheads. I remember hearing something that sounded like gunshot just before the lights went out.

The day I wake up and can’t remember where I am or who I am will be sponsored by the many times I’ve been concussed in my life. This was one of those times.

I don’t know how long I lay on my back in the goatheads, but it was long enough that when I decided to rejoin the west Texas population of humanoids my shirt was covered in blood. I managed to get to my feet, pull the Bighorn upright and swing a leg over it, and sit there semi-balanced for a bit longer until I remembered where I was and how to get out of there. By that time, my lime green gas tank was blood red. I was really losing a lot of blood and I didn’t know where it was coming from. I rode back to the gate, did the unloop and relooping thing, and rode to my friends’ house. I think I was hoping for a hose to clean myself and the bike off and a bandage for my lip. By then, I had figured out that I’d punched a hose clamp bolt (from the toolbag on my crossbar) through my upper lip. I could feel the wind on my teeth while I rode, even though my mouth was closed. It didn’t hurt much, yet, but I suspect it would soon.

I got to their house and, luckily for me, they were home. I freaked them out a good bit; looking like someone had taken an axe to my face. One of the couple was a nurse and she quickly realized that my face needed stiches and she did them right there in their kitchen. Six stiches, I think. While she was stiching up my face, he took a hose to the bike and my gear. About the time the nurse was applying iodine to her handiwork, he came into the kitchen with my helmet in his hands. “Was this from today?”: He pointed to a triangular-shaped hole in the center of the very top of my helmet.

“Nope. That’s something new.”

We loaded my bike into his pickup and drove out to where I was fooling around when I crashed into the rock and there was a lot of gold metal flake paint on the point of that rock. I must have been launched headfirst into the largest spearhead in Texas. It was a crappy helmet, but it wasn’t crappy enough to let that rock get through to my skull. That was the first time a helmet saved my life.

IMG_9575 Page forward to December 2018. I’m 70 and the only big moment in life I’m anticipating is my next bowel movement. No kids on the way and no demanding, unrewarding, dangerous as hell job to worry about. My grandson gave me his fairly worn-out eBike earlier this winter and I just got it back on the road.

I bought a new winter helmet, since my usual bicycle helmet is colder than wearing nothing and isn’t really much protection. When the mailman delivered the new helmet, I had a bunch of small errands to do and a bike ride on a 38oF December day seemed like the perfect excuse to go for a ride. I put on about 12 miles bombing around town and enjoying both the ride and my new much warmer gear (including some Bar Mitts I picked up at Red Wing Bicycle while I was downtown). Just to put some more miles on the battery and see what kind of range the bike had hauling my lard ass around town, I headed out the Cannon River Trail toward the Anderson Center at the west edge of town. I came to the gate that blocks all traffic except fat tire bikes (like mine), cross-country skiers, and hikers and scooted between the bars on to the trail.

IMG_9591I made it about 30’ on the partially melted slush and the front tire zipped out from under me and dumped me face-first into the road. The slush was soft and slippery, but didn’t provide any buffer between me and the asphalt path. If you look at the middle of the front of the helmet, you’ll see the nice new dent I put in my nice new helmet on its first day on my head. Once again, I was knocked punchy for a few moments, but not unconcious this time.

IMG_9589Once again, I punched a hole through my lip, but this time it was with a tooth. Once again, I coated my coat, pants, and bike with blood, but the hole was small and self-healed after a couple of hours. Weirdly, it leaked saliva all over my lip for a couple of days, but it didn’t swell up all that much and while it pretty much squashed any whistling I might have wanted to do it wasn’t that limiting otherwise. No serious kissing, please. I might have been able to whistle through the hole before it closed up, but I didn’t think to try. Too late now.

I wouldn’t have been out there on the snow if I hadn’t had the helmet, but I’d have been out there sometime this winter. You just have to ride snow sometime if you are going to live in Minnesota and be a biker. Once again, a helmet kept me from bashing my tiny brain out.

Dec 19, 2018

Helmet Testing in the Bicycle World

I just started riding a fat tire eBike this past week, after spending a month or so rejuvenating my grandson’s first eBike. The bike had suffered a couple of winters commuting regardless of the weather and needed a lot of going-over to be a dependable ride. Quickly, I discovered my regular bike helmet was worthless in cold weather. On the recommendation of a friend, I ordered a Lazer helmet a couple of days ago and just before I took off for a ride today it arrived. So, I took the time to adjust it and headed off to the bike trail.

IMG_9591I tend toward overconfidence (ask my wife) and on the way back from my safe and sane ride into town, I decided to take on a couple of miles of the unmaintained fat tire, cross country ski, and winter hiking trail. The trail was covered with about 2” of slushy snow and an ice base. I made it about 30 feet before the front tire slid out from under me and I slammed face-first into the slushy snow and pavement at, maybe, 10mph. Look at the dent in the front of the helmet, without the helmet that would have been my skull and I'd probably be dead. As it was, I really got my bell rung and punched a tooth most of the way through my lip.

The dealer, Wheel and Sprocket, didn't have to get the helmet to me before the 29th, but it arrived on the 19th and most likely saved my life. If I hadn't have tested the snow today, I'd have probably done it before the 29th. That's the kind of genius risk-taker I am.

IMG_9589What can you say about a product that absolutely saved your life? The last thing I ever want to do is to write a product test review of a helmet. It would be nice to get to talk about the features (excellent), the comfort and warmth (terrific), and the visibility (again, terrific). However, I decided to do an impact test. At the least, I tested the Lazer Snow Helmet and it passed. However, I might need a full face helmet if I keep doing stupid stuff like this. The picture, at left, is a selfie taken a few minutes after I got back home. Now, my lip is about 4X that thick and I have developed a cute little lisp, if you can get me to talk at all.

Dec 17, 2018

Thinking about Change

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

Every day and every place my wife and I traveled on our winter 2013-14 RV trip, motorcyclists were rare and, too often, obnoxious. The more I see of us, the less I think we’re a sustainable group. The only bright light in two-wheeled transportation is electric. Not that I’ve seen much in electric two-wheeled transport this winter, but there has been more than enough signs of coming electric vehicles to keep me interested. Obviously, the good old Toyota Prius is ever-present, even in surprisingly backwards, backwoods areas. Smart guys, like our Elephant Butte, New Mexico friend and VW-rescuer, Victor Cano-Linson (Big Victors Automotive), are thinking about how their repair business will change as we move from internal combustion engines to electric motors. All of a sudden, you find public charging stations in the most unlikely places and more are popping up almost while most of us are pretending change isn’t coming. 
But it’s happening anyway. Regardless of how hard the Koch brothers and other 1% scumbags try to stop it, the power grid is about to make a giant leap into the 21st Century. It’s probably too late and far too little to stop the kind of climate disaster we’re just beginning to experience, but the fact that we’re scraping the bottom of the oil barrel in places like North Dakota’s Baaken “Reserves” [If we’re mining them today, they aren’t exactly being “reserved” for the future, are they?] is evidence that the century of prosperity the oil economy created is running out of gas; literally. The only question is, “Are we going to be part of the future or are motorcycles this century’s horse-and-buggy?” 
At 70, it’s not my job to be part of the future and after my last eight medical-problem-ridden-years I feel even less pressure to be futuristic. Still, it’s hard to ignore the kind of advances that have been made in electric vehicles. My hot buttons, for example, have been addressed and resolved: economy and reliability/longevity. Once I believed the Prius Achilles Heel would be battery longevity; electric motors are pretty well shaken out and it’s hard to imagine those motors squeezing much more than their current 99% efficiency from new technology. Turns out, Toyota not only pretty well sorted out the battery problem, they were smart enough to build the batteries in cells so “replacement” didn’t always mean replacing the whole battery pack. I've met several Prius owners who are heading toward 300,000 trouble-free miles and their cars look barely used. A few years back, I wrote about the tendency of technologies to get really good a few moments after they became obsolete (A Technological Dead End?). Tesla's Powerwall/Powerpack have changed all sorts of games, regarding what batteries can do. With battery life stepping up, efficiencies improving, competition and availability increasing, and energy production shifting (at least everywhere else in the industrialized world) from oil-based technologies to alternative energy, the writing is on the wall. One of the sad facts about being a conservative nation is that we are going to be among the last to accept change, but change comes regardless of human resistance; especially in a competitive world. 
For the last three years, I’ve been thinking hard about owning one of the electric motorcycles available in the US: Zero or Brammo. Zero makes a model aimed very close to my heart and Brammo did some cool stuff with battery replacement and performance; before the geniuses at Polaris decided to kill the product line. It’s a tough call, but I may be swapping a couple of 250’s for an electric bike soon. The added advantage of knowing that my “fuel costs” will be included in the camping fees we’re charged at electric sites this coming winter is a small bonus. At this moment, I’m leaning toward the Zero, but I’m open to suggestions. This winter, while I put away my two carbon-pukin internal-combustion powered bikes, I'm thinking when spring comes there might be some changes made in my garage.

Dec 16, 2018

My New Ride


I’m still an eBike rookie, but I finally got all of the necessary pieces to put this baby on the trail and I went out for a 10 mile test ride today. With a “warm” (38F) Minnesota December day to enjoy, I hit the trail from our place to downtown Red Wing, about an 8 mile round trip. I averaged 16mph over snow and a little ice on the Cannon River Trail and had about as much fun as I’ve ever had on a bicycle.

The bike, a Rad Power Radrover, is a blimp; about 70 pounds with the fenders, heavy duty rear rack, and mirror added aftermarket. It doesn’t feel like that on flat land. Those 4” fat tires are surprisingly low resistance, even though I ran my first ride with 15 pounds in the tires in case the snow and ice was a problem. That was a surprise, because the tires look and feel like they ought to really produce some drag. I do not understand why they don’t. I’m a lard ass, at 220 pounds, and the bike’s max range, 40 miles, is probably not something I can count on, but today’s ride didn’t take much out of the battery capacity.

I mostly rode in Pedal Assist System (PAS) modes 2 (Eco) and mode 4 (Power). Lower mode numbers indicate less assistance from the motor. Max speed for an eBike is typically 20mph and the speedo indicated around 19.5-19.8mph for my Sunday ride. My GPS logged an average 18mph (moving) for the trip and there were a lot of spots where I slowed down for ice on the trail. I’d guess 90% of the ride was in mode 2, but I switched up to mode 4 when I crossed Highway 61 and for a couple of uphill bits downtown. Other than those quick getaways at lights and intersections, I pedaled the whole trip.

The exercise I got from this ride was surprising. When I swung off of the bike in my garage, my legs were downright rubbery. I was actually surprised to be tired because I didn’t notice it until I had to walk. While there isn’t as much pressure required to pedal the bike with the motor assistance, the cadence is way up from my usual 70-something rate.

I am absolutely happy with having an eBike to experiement with this winter. Now, I gotta buy a winter helmet and a better bike lock.

Dec 3, 2018

One Too Many Minds

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

too-many_minds 2In my early twenties, I decided that horseback riding and me were a bad fit. For most of you, that wouldn’t be a big decision. For me, it was an end to a fairly significant part of my personal history. I’d ridden horses since I was a little kid, since one of my uncles owned a large eastern Kansas ranch and always had a couple dozen working horses on his property. That uncle was enough of a role model that I still like digging post holes to this day, because he taught me how to use that tool. Growing up in Dodge City, Kansas loving western movies and real rodeos (and I still do), at one time I assumed I’d be riding off into the sunset on a horse. For at least 30 years, I had a horseback trip from Kansas to Alaska on my bucket list. Sometime between moving to California in the 80's and 2007 when I rode my V-Strom to Alaska, the horse and pack-mule plan disappeared from the list.
too-many_minds 3 
I didn’t quit liking horses. Horses and mules are terrific animals: dependable, brave, funny, loyal, and a smarter than a lot of humans. I just don’t like them well enough to maintain one and I’m not smart enough to cope with equine psychology. The phrase “eats like a horse” is no joke. A full grown horse eats about 20 pounds of food a day (or about $6/day and $2,000/year). A vet bill averages about $1,500/year and you can spend way more than that in a blink of a blink of a pink eye. Horses are intelligent enough to unlatch gates and disassemble fences and they definitely know how to get back to the barn where there is food and a roof over their heads, regardless of where I want them to go. Getting a horse to agree on a destination is not much different from preventing a corporate executive from destroying a business; it's practically impossible. It's also not worth the effort. You have to really love the relationship between a horse and a human to make that commitment and I'm not that guy. I like horses the same way I like giraffes, zebras, gazelles, and buffalo. I'm glad to share the planet with them, but I don't need a personal relationship.

I took a couple of trips this summer with friends. Mostly, I had a good time hanging out and nothing bad happened on either trip. However, both excursions left me wondering why people travel in packs of motorcycles. Not to beat a horse post-termination, but economically it makes no sense for 2-20 people to ride to the same destinations at the same speed on 2-20 vehicles that burn 25-50 gallons per mile each. Do the math. You'd always be better off renting a bus or driving your own vehicle with all seats stuffed. Motorcycles are awesome solo vehicles, especially small, versatile motorcycles that can go places cages can't and do it more efficiently. My Yamaha WR250X, even with it's mediocre 50-60mpg fuel consumption, is an amazing touring bike. It's hard to imagine a road that would be too difficult for even an old man like me to explore.

Riding in a group is way too much like riding a horse. Too many minds to keep track of at a point in my life (a point that has lasted for most of my life) when I can barely remember what I’m doing, let alone what someone else is about to do that will complicate my situation. Almost a decade ago, I started my Alaska trip with a friend who is a very competent rider and a spectacularly nice guy. At the time, riding more than 50 miles with someone else was a rare event for me. I had more than a half-million two-wheeled miles under my belt and I suspect less than 5,000 of that came in any sort of group riding situation. (For most purposes, I consider two people in any sort of closed space to be a "crowd" and any more than that to be a rampaging hoard of mindless savages. My tolerance for my fellow human expands considerably outdoors where I can deal with a half-dozen people before I want to slink into the woods.) While he was constantly trying to get me to "pair up," I was a lot more comfortable with about a mile between us. He almost never used his brakes to slow down and when he did it was because he'd overshot his intended turn and that often resulted in a full-panic stop for me. My reason for the trip was to sightsee and take my sweet time for thirty days in the first extended vacation of my 61 years of life. He had two weeks to get to Alaska, tick off a list of destinations, and get back to work. For about a week, we knocked off 800-1,000 mile days and I was having almost as much fun as being at work. After the Yukon's Dempster Highway bit me in the ass, we parted ways so he could get back to ticking off his targets and I could take a day off for a bush plane trip over Alaska's permafrost swamps with my son-in-law's cousin. Over the next two weeks, I put in a few 1,000 mile days because I was riding in 23 hours of daylight. But I stopped when I wanted, took pictures of all sorts of silly crap, ate when I was hungry, and camped when and where I felt like spending a night. The first week of the trip was closer to frustrating than fun and the last three weeks were life-changing. 

Any time I see a pack of pirates or squids cruising on US61 or WI35, it’s pretty obvious that many of the members of those groups are hanging on for dear life without any hope of being able to make an evasive maneuver if one is required. Working to preserve their "formation," they wander all over the road, come to wobbly and unstable stops, and transform curves into random motion demonstrations. The whole “safety in numbers” delusion gets proven grossly wrong multiple times every summer. Group rides are always a significant contributor to motorcycle crashes, injuries, and deaths. Not that many years ago, one of Minnesota's safety instructors was killed when she fell down in an intersection and the rest of the pack ran over her! I've seen one rider wander off of the road into a ditch, followed by three other riders who apparently figured the ditch was part of the route. It's very difficult-to-impossible to decouple your ride from the rest of the group and as dangerous as motorcycling is adding group psychology to the task adds a whole new dimension to the risk. Personally, I don't see the attraction, let alone find anything in a group ride that repays the return-on-risk-investment. Group riding proves David Roth's theory of crowd intelligence: divide the smartest person in the crowd's IQ by the number of people in the crowd for the group IQ. I don't know anyone smart enough to correct for my contribution to that equation.

Nov 29, 2018

Change Is Constant and Accelerating

Whacky Donnie is having a temper tantrum about GM’s decision to close a half-dozen plants and layoff 14,000 GM assembly, admin, and engineering employees, but GM is just trying to stay in the game. And the game is changing faster than practically anyone anticipated. A Star Tribune article, "Trump's threats won't change valid reasons for GM's decision to revamp" reads “GM needs to invest in its future, and that means focusing on electric and self-driving vehicles. Both are coming to a driveway near you — quicker than you think.”

Everytime there is some kind of change or crisis, someone stupid has to babble “nobody saw this coming.” The only way you can ever make that claim is to not know what “nobody” means and to be so unread you are practically illiterate. I saw it coming years ago, along with electric-vehicle conversion, and I’m not unhappy about being right.

Nov 19, 2018

Real World Training

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

real_world_trainingWhen I invited him to hang out at last year’s ZARS customer appreciation event at the Dakota County Technical School's driver training range, a friend replied, “I think I need a class on how to go slower and stay out of the way more effectively. That's my thing; ride on empty roads. You won't find me in any ‘single vehicle accidents.'” That’s not an uncommon theory on safe riding. However, statistics in Minnesota don’t support that philosophy of accident prevention. Motorcyclists, on average, get killed in the least intuitive ways and places. I'm unclear on how "going slower" can be a tactic for "staying out of the way," but it doesn't seem to be working for the people who are generating motorcycle mortality and morbidity statistics. Of course, if you're riding on "empty roads" and crash, the only possible statistic you are going to contribute to will be "single vehicle" crashes. 

Of course, a lot of the state’s stats can be interpreted a lot of ways, for instance the chart at right. In 2013, Minnesota had 60 motorcycle fatalities (about half of the state’s worst year, 1980). Along with the 2013 fatalities, the state’s motorcyclists suffered 166 severe injuries, 533 moderate injuries, and 398 minor injuries. As a side note, 14% of Minnesota’s motorcycle fatalities were wearing helmets and 4.7 of every 100 reported crashes resulted in a fatality as opposed to 0.5% of all reported crashes resulting in fatalities. 55% of Minnesota’s fatal crashes were “single vehicle crashes” and 20% of the fatalities weren’t even real motorcyclists, since they did not possess the minimum motorcycle rider credential: a legal license. 
real_world_training_2The chart that is most applicable to this discussion, however, is this one (at left).  The overwhelming majority of fatalities happened where the population of a city or township was “under 1,000.” The big cities accounted for damn few fatalities, crashes, or injuries, in fact. So much for being terrified of the big, bad freeway. The state used to track and report the sort of roadway that crashes occurred on, but the 2013 report didn’t seem to contain that information. Like city populations, the relationship between getting killed and being on a low traffic road was direct. For a variety of reasons (see the chart below), most of what gets motorcyclists killed is counter-intuitive. The hope that being on a lonely road out in the country or cruising through small towns is a crash preventative is wrong-headed. It just doesn’t work that way. It's possible that the reason for crash over-representation on these roads is because so many uncertain and unskilled riders choose to ride in these places for "practice."  
So, with that in mind, what kind of training do motorcyclists need to stay alive and intact? Contrary to popular paranoia, training programs like the Zalusky Advanced Riding School, Keith Code’s Superbike School, Lee Park's Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic, and the rest of the long list of excellent riding schools are not all about going fast, sliding a knee or elbow, or putting your life and bike at risk. When you watch one of these courses from the sidelines, it probably looks like that is exactly what’s going on. The riders are going faster than your average street racer and doing it with a lot more style (present company excluded), but all of these schools encourage students to ride at roughly 70% of their capabilities where the maximum educational value is derived. Not all of us are smart enough to resist the urge to compete.  Still, we’re all adults and if peer pressure is enough to make us do stupid stuff on a closed course, it will do the same on public roads where the hazards are dramatically greater. 
real_world_training_3When I attended the ZARS program in September, I did not one time receive any encouragement to “go faster” from any of my ZARS coaches. When I did something well, I was complemented, but not once did Joe, Brent, Debby, Karen, or Jessica say anything about how I might increase my speed. In fact, Brent consistently gave me exercises I could use at lower speeds to work on control, precision, and getting smoother in my cornering transitions. All of my coaches were way faster than me, but making me fast was never one of my goals and, therefore, it wasn’t one of theirs. For the last several years, "smoother" has been the thing I've been concentrating on and if faster ever results from that it will be a happy accident. If you look at the “contributing factors” in the chart at right, I hope you’ll see a whole lot of situations where better general handling skills would have saved a few dozen lives. In fact, some of the "contributing factors" attributed to the motorcyclists are downright embarrassing. 
I would be willing to bet my own money that if a group of older riders on large, slow, poorly handling motorcycles signed up for a ZARS class and were intelligent enough to accept their limitations and work hard at being good students that group would learn more in one afternoon with Jessica's great group of coaches than they have in a lifetime of riding. I have seen Goldwings and Harley Super Glides whip through this course as fast as most sportbike riders can travel, proving that technique is everything. There are damn few riders who are able to push their motorcycle anywhere near it’s maximum capabilities. I’ve seen that demonstrated at DCTC, too. The real point in obtaining advance training is to stay out of charts like those in this article. 
real_world_training_4If what you want to learn how to do is “go slower and stay out of the way more effectively,” learning how to manipulate the space between the lines in curves is a huge part of that skill. We work on all of that, some, in the MSF “Seasoned Rider” course, but the difference between low speed exercises on a parking lot and road speed exercises on a closed course is massive. I’m not putting the MSF course down. fat_man_scubaOne of the regular ZARS riders reminded me that there is a whole different set of skills exercised in the MSF course and said he tries to do one of the experienced rider courses every year or two. I need to do a closed course corning seminar, like the ZARS program, every year for the same reason. You probably do, too. Real world motorcycle training involves speed, exposure to risk, and pushing your skills near the limits. The best place to do all of that is on a closed course under the direction of a skilled instructor, not on public roads--rural or urban.

Nov 12, 2018

Paradigm Shifts

Mini_0508Two years ago, my grandson got a job, moved into his own place, and bought a Rad Power e-bike for commuting to work; a daily 14 miles round trip. Tough kid. When he started this adventure, he bought the Rad Power Radrover; a fat tire full sized bike that is about as robust looking and riding as a small dirt bike. Two years in and a few dozen crashes on the ice and snow, he turned the Radrover over to me to repair and replaced it with the Radmini.

We spent the day hanging out with our grandson and just before we left the Cities for home, I took a test ride on his new e-bike. I am hooked. Everything about riding this not-even-a-little-bit-small-feeling electric bicycle was like the things I love the most about motorcycles. The fat tires are incredibly stable, resilient, and sticky even on a 28oF day with a little ice and snow on the ground. The power is instant, quiet, and predictable; although e-bikes are almost universally limited to 20mph getting there was as fast as it needed to be to get me moving in rush hour residential street traffic.

RadMini_FoldedWhen I lived in the Cities and commuted from Little Canada to downtown St. Paul (for 13 years) I probably would have rarely, if ever, rode a motorcycle or car to work if I’d owned a bicycle like this. I had a 5.5 mile one-way commute via freeway and a mile or so added to that by city streets and the Radmini has a 20 mile range at 20mph over the toughest terrain at 20mph. If you pedal or have a fair amount of relative flat and wind-free territory to travel over, that range approaches 40 miles. There were a few moments when I made it up to 30mph on the city street routes, either on the bike or in the cage, but the 20mph limit would have been more than offset by traveling on the rarely-used bicycle trail routes that were available to me. Downtown parking would have never been an issue and I could have taking my employer’s parking allowance and used that money somewhere else. Anywhere else.

RadMini_Black_AngleThe disc brakes are terrific, although the damn levers are bicycle-traditionally on the wrong side. The electronic controls are ergonomically laid-out and easy to see and use. The bike isn’t light, at about 64 pounds, and is almost exactly the same total length as my WR250X (67”) The “standover height is 28”, the max I can cope with without getting gelded on a quick getoff. The riding position is very dirtbike-like; comfortable, upright, relaxed, and well-balanced. The performance is just amazing. 0-20mph is about as quick as the tires can handle and you have to be slightly forward on the bars to keep from popping a wheelie on a full-throttle take-off. That surprised me, more than once. The frame geometry is excellent, at least as far as I could tell in a 2-3 mile test ride. U-turns are easily executed inside a single lane and high speed (remember, that means 20mph) handling is solid, predictable, and very stable feeling (probably thanks to the long wheelbase).

As far as security is concerned, I could have rolled the bike into my office, folded it up and stuffed it under my cube’s desk, charging the battery while I worked (5 hours from depleted to fully charged), and never once worried about theft or vandalism like I had to with both the cage and the motorcycle in the parking garage where both occurred fairly regularly.

Cost of operation is fairly well documented (with some noticeable miscalculations) on Rad Power’s website blog in the article EBike vs. Car: by the Numbers. I disagree with the exponential rise in cost the author applied to car maintenance expenses, but the bottom line is still going to be close to the same. I regularly encourage my grandson’s bike replacement expenses by showing him the spreadsheet I keep on my pickup; which is freakin’ terrifying and/’or depressing. I did a similar comparison with my cage vs. motorcycle costs a few years back, the numbers were a little surprising but nothing like EBike vs. cages; at least a factor of 10. You can get a bike, ride it, fix it, and beat it up for less than the cost of a year’s car insurance. The times are changing fast.