Jun 7, 2020

Cycling Is Bad


Jun 1, 2020

Music and Motorcycles

Years ago, I sold my 1979 Honda CX500 to a good friend who used the bike to move from LA back home to Idaho. At the time, I thought I was doing him a favor because good old LA was killing him and he needed to cut free of all of the crap that held him in place. Moving by motorcycle is one of the best ways to give up crap that you don’t need. He made it to Idaho, restarted his music career there, cut some records, toured with some big name acts, and quit riding the motorcycle because he was afraid he’d fuck up and damage his hands. After one winter in storage, mice chewed through the bike’s wiring and started a fire that burned down his garage, turned the CX and a car into ashes and scrap metal, and convinced my friend that motorcycles were in his past. 

My wife saw James Taylor on Late Night with Seth Myers and we had an argument about Taylor’s age. (I thought he is my age. She thought he is 5-8 years older.) I looked up his stats on Wikipedia and I was right, he is three months older than me. However, while I was browsing his history, I hit this bit, “On July 20, he performed at the Newport Folk Festival as the last act and was cheered by thousands of fans who stayed in the rain to hear him. Shortly thereafter, he broke both hands and both feet in a motorcycle accident on Martha's Vineyard and was forced to stop playing for several months.” I did not know that Taylor lost six months of his career between his first Apple Records release and his first Warner Brothers record, Sweet Baby James


A more well-known motorcycle career alteration was Bob Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle crash that occurred the month Blonde on Blonde was released. When Dylan reappeared, he was dramatically lower energy, with the country-music-influenced John Westly Hardin in ‘67 and Nashville Skyline in ‘69. By all accounts, Dylan’s crash was more of an ego bruising than a serious injury, since he mostly moped around in a neck brace for a few weeks and was never hospitalized for injuries. Dylan was a notoriously awful motorcyclist. As Joan Baez recalled in her biography, “He used to hang on that thing like a sack of flour. I always had the feeling it was driving him, and if we were lucky we'd lean the right way and the motorcycle would turn the corner. If not, it would be the end of both of us.” Lucky for Bob and his Nobel Prize future, he quit riding motorcycles before they finished him. Although I recently read an interview with Mark Howard, a record producer, who claims to sell an occasional cobbled-up cruiser to Dylan. Hopefully, Bobby just collects them. 


Piano Man Billy Joel got whacked on his Harley in ‘82 by a cager running a red light and, for a time, had concerns that he might not play piano again. Billy still rides and even has a Leno-style collection of motorcycles. Mostly, he’s a Moto Guzzi fan, but he owns 70’s and modern Japanese bikes, Harley collector bikes, and some customs. He still rides, although not particularly well. 

Duane Allman famously ended his career and life crashing into a stopped flatbed truck hauling a crane; hardly a hard-to-see or avoid obstacle. Allman was, like Dylan, a notoriously mediocre rider and, worse, he had a fondness for disabled, strung-out choppers which played a prominent part in his demise. Berry Oakley, the Allman’s bass player, rode his Triumph into a bus 14 months later. The trajectory of that fabled rock and blues band was forever altered and mangled by the loss of those two key members. 


A more typical Rock and Roll motorcyclist even was Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler’s 1981 crash, mostly caused by his drugged-to-oblivion state of mind when a tree jumped in front of him. Lucky he crashed on the way to pick up his daughter from a babysitting gig, rather than afterwards with her on the bike. 

Billy Idol, a classic rock nitwit, wandered through a stop sign in 1990 and met a car at moderate hippobike speeds. He broke an arm and a leg badly enough doctors almost had to amputate. In 2010, Idol crashed again. Big surprise. 

Some of the rest of rock and roll’s biker mistakes are Dire Straights’ Mark Knopfler, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis and Chad Smith, Richard Fariña, and, of course, Bono managed to mangle himself (fractured shoulder blade, humerus, eye socket, (orbit), and pinky finger on a bicycle. Waiting in the wings is Justin Beiber. If you’ve seen him demonstrate his “skills” on YouTube, you know that goofball is going to tear up a bunch of tattoos any day now. 

As best I can tell, music and motorcycles are a bad mix. But motorcycles and most things don’t mix well, so that’s not news either.

May 27, 2020

Spam Magnet?

I admit, I don't know what the purpose of spam attached to blog comments could be. Call me "stupid," I'm used to it, but one rant I've written rises above all others as a spam magnet, "Start Seeing Corners and Road Signs." China, Russia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines spammers (in that order) are attracted to that one essay to the point that I once turned off "anonymous" comment access and, now, I automatically route anonymous comments to my spam holding pen. Typically, I will delete 50-75 anonymous comments due to their spammy nature every week. Often, every one of those comments will have been attached to that one rant. 

Maybe I should be flattered? I have a mirror, so that never works. I am entertained to the point that I have left a bunch of those comments in the blog as some sort of reminder that I'm shipping out my thoughts to a autonomous world of non-readers . . . or something. If I were more trusting (could I be less trusting?) I'd have let them all go and I could brag about having written something that received 1,000s of comments. I keep suspecting one of those "anonymous" comments will have an attachment that could do harm to actual readers, but most don't and I can't figure out what their purpose is. 

On another level, I am sort of proud of "Start Seeing Corners and Road Signs." It drew a little attention when it was published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly (even though the magazine didn't like it enough to post it on their website afterwards). "Attention," to my column always meant pissed off bikers posing as real motorcyclists. In that column, I wrote this, "A newbie rider, Harley-shopping guy, Roger Holmes, 59, said it all with his Trib article quote, 'It makes you feel good. It makes you feel younger.' Holy crap. One more sucker buying into the marketing bullshit. Dude, you need to have someone take a picture of you and your wife on your hippobike. Put it on your mirror and stare at it every day until you wise up and realize that you not only don't look younger, you look downright silly wallowing around the road on that porker. Exercise will make you feel younger. Eating smart, giving up smoking, drinking less (way less, for you cruiser characters), and reducing the stress in your lives by avoiding stupid impulse buying and idiotic debt will all make you feel younger (and look younger than your dumber Boomer friends)."It probably says a lot about me, but I am damn proud of that writing and I'll stick with the content until my bones are incinerated.

May 26, 2020

A Funny Documentary



Some of this is blatantly schmaltzy. Some is slow. Much of it, I suspect, is right. Harley the corporate welfare queen may be one of the big losers from the pandemic and Trump’s Recession. It is really hard to feel sorry for them.

May 10, 2020

Self-Delusion at Its Finest

I don’t know much about “Business Insider,” but this article “The rise and fall of Harley-Davidson" is flat-out entertaining. Mostly, it is a collection of nonsense masquerading as economic, social, and business commentary. Some of the biker and commentator quotes are hilarious, though:

  • Irene Kim: “You don't have to be a biker to know about Harley-Davidson. Harleys are big, loud, fast, and inherently American.”
  • Jake Holth: “You get some of that instant respect just riding one alone.”

Of course, motorcyclists know that a Harley Davidson is the last bike you want if you want to go fast. Hardlys are so slow they have to have their own brand-specific racing class to be “competitive.” In other words, “That’s a pretty fast bike for a Harley” is the best compliment a Harley owner can hope for.

“Respect” means fear to this crowd. It’s true that cops, citizens, and the government are terrified of the domestic terrorism that Harley’s demographic represents. You wouldn’t be far from being right in saying “nobody respects these assholes” though. You earn respect and all that the gangbanger crowd have earned is the regular “faggot” epithet muttered and shouted as they blubber their way through our towns and countryside. Bikers are the ONLY people who waste two seconds of thought of the news that one to a dozen bikers were killed on the highway. That is how much “respect” bikers and Harley have earned.

  • Matthew DeBord: “In decades, they could wind up just disappearing. We'll all still associate Harley-Davidson with being the greatest motorcycle brand in the world, but there won't be any motorcycles. You won't be able to buy one.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone clueless enough to consider “Harley-Davidson with being the greatest motorcycle brand in the world,” but if I remember there are people who don’t laugh when Trump claims to be the “greatest President in history” I guess it’s possible. It is also possible that someday in the not-so-distant future “there won’t be any motorcycles” on public roads; just like there aren’t any horses on those roads today. If that happens, Harley’s marketing and politics will deserve a large part of the blame. The company has defended rider incompetency, illegal motorcycle noise, hooliganism and gangsterism at the worst levels,

  • DeBord: “America is a very conservative place at the time, and a lot of guys came back from that, and they said: ‘Uh-uh, I'm not interested in that. I'm gonna get me a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and I'm gonna go live on the road. I'm gonna live my life on my terms with freedom, mobility, attitude.’"

As The Rolling Stones discovered at Altamont, nobody is more “conservative,” racist, violent, mindless, lawless, or less committed to the concept of freedom than bikers. These characters line up like cows heading back to the barn behind every fascist asshole who has appeared in American history since the 1940s. They were Vietnam cheerleaders, Afghanistan and Irag Invasion cheerleaders, and they are Trump’s brownshirts. They are certainly fans of chaos and lawless disorder, but that’s because they are too lazy to be useful.

  • Billy: “All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.”
  • George: “Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.”

No, all you represent is old men with ponytails and bald domes pretending to be something you’ll never be: decent Americans. Yeah, this half-witted shit pisses me off.

May 7, 2020

RIP: Marty Smith

At the tail end of what passed for a “motocross career,” I rode 125 support class at the Herman, NE track in 1978 or ‘79. As usual, I ended up in the middle of the pack. No bad luck, no bike failure (I was riding a friend’s RM125 that he and I had spent a week prepping), just not nearly enough talent to be anywhere else but in the middle of the pack. My friend’s one-year-newer RM125 put him in the top 5, not high enough to trophy, but high enough to make him feel good about himself. I was happy not to have crashed and to have managed to pass a couple of guys; and get passed by a few including getting lapped in a 20 minute moto by the winner.

A real upside to being there was getting to hang out in the pits for the main events. We amateurs were pretty much relegated to a section of the pits, to keep us out of the way for the pros, but we were close enough to talk to some of the racers and mechanics and watch the real guys do their jobs. One of those guys was “Mighty Mouse,” Marty Smith. Marty and his wife, Nancy, were killed in a dune buggy crash not far from their home in the California desert this past Monday. Marty was 63, which really makes me feel old because I remember him being a “kid” when I was in my late-20s and early-30s.

This picture is how I will always remember Marty. He was always a serious looking guy before the race and had a big grin on his face afterwards; even when he didn’t win. The year I saw him upclose was the year Bob Hannah started winning . . . everything. It was very much like the changing of the guard. Marty’s style was like the European TransAM guys we’d been seeing for the past decade, wiping up the US guys on our own tracks and hauling off the trophies and prize money. Bob changed all that and within a few years, the Euro-riders quit coming to the US because they were working for free.

May 4, 2020

Anger Issues

In a post on a Facebook motorcycle group (Yamaha WR250X & WR250R), a new owner’s asked what sorts of farkles and upgrades he should buy for his new bike and someone suggested, “If you add an exhaust, power commander, air filter, sprocket, and tires it's a whole new bike.”

And I agreed, “Yep, way louder and worth at least $1,000 less” and referred the original poster to my “Seat of the Pants Performance Comparisons” essay. Oddly, several of the wannabes and hooligans from the group commented that I must have some “anger issues,” apparently based on either the content of that Geezer article or the fact that doing all of that expensive crap to a decent motorcycle makes it worth less and that bit of reality pissed them off. 

And I’m confused. The whole point of putting a loud pipe on a motorcycle is to piss off as many people as possible, it is also obviously evidence of “anger issues.” While those noisy bikes are a cute expression of a passive aggressive personality disorder, it’s entertaining to hear the accusation of my anger issues when I point out their anger issues (an example of “gaslighting” if there ever was one) Psychology Today has some good stuff about identifying gaslighting and putting in its proper place; for example, “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting.” These days, we’re so used to hearing that kind of irrational argument on the nightly news that it almost sounds “normal.” Those comments did, however, start me to thinking about the many reasons motorcycling in the United States is becoming a vanishing act. 

It’s pretty obvious from the riding posts and comments these guys put up on this Facebook page, being a good rider, especially a racer, isn’t in the cards for them; regardless of their age. Their claim to riding fame is repeatedly straight line wheelies, usually in completely inappropriate places. I grant you the fact that doing a wheelie is a cool trick, but it’s even cooler (and harder) on a bicycle than a motorcycle and just as pointless a “skill,” unless you are getting that front wheel light in order to get over an obstacle. Mostly, though, street wheelies are a hooligan act of juvenile rebellion. Anger, in other words. 

And, if I sucked that bad I’d be pissed off, too. 

Years ago, I belonged to a sport bike group that, occasionally, rented a closed course and provided racing training. The guys who taught the classes were all intermediate-to-Expert local racers and some had serious skills. The “trainers” were all on liter bikes and when a retired pro racer from Wisconsin showed up with his bone stock 1980’s Honda 250 two-stroke race biker a bunch of the instructors decided to turn a few laps unencumbered by students, rookies, and novices. The 250 owner went out with them.
 
All of the liter bike guys had “exhaust, power commander, air filter, sprocket, and tires” and some had even spent dyno money trying to make all of that aftermarket crap work together. Regardless, they got their asses handed to them by the old pro. They could make lots of noise in the straights, but when they puttered (by his standards) through the many curves in the track he ate them alive. Often passing 4-5 bikes in a single tight corner. After lapping the whole pack one or two times, he came in followed by some of his victims. 

Before packing up and heading back home, he was generous enough to let a couple of the faster guys ride his 250 and they were foolish enough to loan him their liter bikes. Then he tore them up on the corners and the straights, lapping everyone on the track in less than three laps. With modern big horsepower and sticky tires under him, he spent most of the course sideways, playing with traction and front wheel levitation. At least one of the guys who’d loaned out his bike borrowed a friend’s pickup to haul his bike home because his street tires were melted down to the belts. 

There is a lesson here. The overwhelming bulk of characters wasting money on “exhaust, power commander, air filter, sprocket, and tires are people who would be better served signing up for a few dozen track days. When you watch those YouTube packs of street hooligans, you see a lot of no-talent nitwits flaunting the law, expressing their teenage anger issues. Mostly, the aftermarket industry is catering to suckers who hope some add-on part will be the magic bullet that will hide their inabilities. The problem is that it’s not the bike that slows you down, it is your skills. It’s not the bike that makes you fast. It’s being fast that makes you fast.

Apr 9, 2020

Motorcycle Bingo




 Here's the card, in case you want to play.

Some of these statements are really interesting; to me. The "Have more than 200,000 lifetime miles" question, for example. Several times in the last 20 years I've tried to add up my lifetime miles and mostly I come away baffled that someone would keep track of that. Fifty years ago, I worked with a salesman who quit his job and bought a Chevy dealership. He was probably 45-50 at the time (really old) and said he'd just past 200,000 lifetime driving miles and since the average American in the 70's drove ab out 100,000 miles between fatal accidents (according to him) he figured his days were numbered. So, he bought a car dealership and quit pounding the miles. About 5 years later, I passed 1,000.000 miles just from that job. Ten years of 100,000 miles per year and I still wasn't dead. Pure luck, I know. Around that same time, I estimated that I had somewhere around 100,000 off-road miles and I had tested my luck severely and it hadn't been all that great: a dozen  busted ribs, five broken toes, both clavicles broke, both shoulders separated, broken thumb and index finger, and enough other stuff to entertain every x-ray tech who has ever scanned my body. About then, I bought my first street bike and the rest has been mostly uneventful, but I really haven't kept track of the miles I've ridden, ever. Mostly, my count comes from recollections of the miles the bikes had on the odometer when I bought and sold them. With some bikes, that wasn't particularly accurate because the odometers either failed and were replaced or never existed. 
Here's my score, keeping in mind that some of these points came from a while ago, some a long while ago. The IBA stuff and the intercom system boxed me out of a couple lines. The IBA has always just seemed like conspicuous consumption to me and everything about an intercom system would ruin motorcycling for me.

 I have at least 2/3 of a million miles in the saddle, probably closer to 3/4. I racked up 130,000 miles on my poor Honda CX500 before selling it to a friend. My 1st TDM also had 100k on the odometer when I sold it. I put 30k in a year on 3 bikes, the CX500 in 1983, a Yamaha 550 Vision in 1988 and '89, and my '92 Vision in 1993. I will be sorry for as long as I live that I didn't put that many miles on my V-Strom, my all time favorite road bike. Every bike I've owned since my first Yamaha Vision has had a custom seat, including my WR250X. It's cheating, I suspect, to have ridden 12 months a year in California, but I did for 10 years. I also rode 12 months a year in Denver for 5, and 3 or 4 times when I lived in the Twin Cities. I could almost claim "Don't own a car," because the car I did own was my wife's for 5 of the 10 years I lived in southern California. I all but forgot how to drive until I bought a 1973 Toyota Hilux for hauling my kayak. The other spaces are just boring "doesn't everybody do that?" stuff.

I'd hoped to tag all 50 states before I quit riding, but that may turn out to be a pipedream. There are just a few southeastern states in which I have not burned fuel: 6 plus Hawaii.

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 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.

Dec 30, 2019

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

I am a habitual reader, a speed reader, and I make up my mind about books fairly quickly in the early pages. Sometimes, when a book appears to have some value but the scene and character-building activity bores me, I kick it into high gear and blow through 50-100 pages almost as fast as I can turn the pages. If I start a book, I almost always finish it, but often more as a physical exercise than from a love of or interest in the literature. Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain started off with a bang, with a description of the main character’s canine limitations and impending death and the relationship between Enzo, the dog, and Denny, the dog’s partner in life and the human main character. By the third page you have the Big Picture of almost everything that is going to happen in the book, you just don’t have the details and everything is in the details.

Racing in the Rain is filled with reminders of my motorcycle safety training instructor career and some moments that made me recall my motocross days, too. Some of my favorite quotes follow:

  • “No race was ever won in the first corner but many have been lost there.” Denny Swift
  • “It’s not about a heavier foot. It’s about feel.” Denny
  • “In racing, your car goes where your eyes go.” Denny
  • “The great driver finds a way to keep racing.” Denny
  • “There’s no dishonor in losing a race. There is only dishonor when you don’t race because you’re afraid to lose.” Denny
  • 'The best drivers focus only on the present. Never dwelling on the past, never committing to the future. Reflection must come at a later time.' - Enzo (the dog)
  • 'When I'm in a race car, I'm the creator of my own destiny.” Denny

Eve: How come you go through the turns so much faster than the other cars?

Denny Swift: Well, most drivers are afraid of the rain, because it’s an unpredictable element. They’re forced to react to it. And if they’re reacting at speed, then they’re probably too late, so they should be afraid of it.

Eve: Well, I’m afraid just watching it.

Denny Swift: Yeah, but if you intentionally make the car do something, you don’t have to predict. You control the outcome.

Eve: So you skid the car before it skids itself?

Denny Swift: Yeah. Yeah. When I’m in a race car, I’m the creator of my own destiny. “That which you manifest is before you.” Create your own conditions, and rain is just rain.

  • Enzo: [voice over] In racing, your car goes where your eyes go. A driver who cannot tear his gaze from the wall will inevitably meet that wall. But the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free, that driver will maintain control of his car and his destiny. I realized this was what Denny had done. He had manifested a win because he knew we needed one. Enzo: [voice over] It turned out to be the 1989 Luxembourg Grand Prix in which the Irish driver, Kevin Finnerty York, finished victorious while driving the final twenty laps with only two gears. A true champion can accomplish things a normal person would consider impossible. Denny just needed to remember that. Know who you are on the track with”.

Dec 2, 2019

How the Cheap Bike Challenge Saved My Retirement

Remember the infamous Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Cheap Bike Challenge? Probably not. Back in the dark Great Recession days of 2009, the gist was, “Each entrant was to be given $300 and two months to find a bike and prep it for an event that would require the riders to ride an unspecified distance and complete special challenges. Like the International Six Days Trial, the event would test both man and machine.” Mostly, we spent a few weeks (or days, in my case) preparing a junk motorcycle to ride and, then, toss in the dumpster. My bike, a long-abandoned 70’s Honda CB-450, probably should have been left in that garage to finish returning to iron-oxide undisturbed.

There was a moment in my last-ditch attempt to find a motorcycle that had lasting effect on me. A Minnesota Sportbike group acquaintance emailed me that he had the perfect bike for the Challenge: a 1980’s KLR250 with a “new motor.” Turned out, the new motor had been “stored” in a cardboard box under a picnic table in the owner’s back yard for at least a decade. The motor was seized, the gas tank was full of smegma and rust, the wiring was rat-eaten, and the rest of the KLR was a mess. More to the point of this essay, the 6-or-8-car garage the KLR came from was jammed full of motorcycles in similar condition. I don’t think a single bike in that garage was salvageable without major money and time spent. Putting my clueless, rude foot in my mouth, I asked, “Why do you have all of this crap?”

The owner’s answer was, “Tom, when I was a kid I realized that when I sold a motorcycle I spent the money and then I didn’t have a motorcycle or the money. So, I decided to keep every motorcycle I ever owned.” That answer scared the shit out of me. Not that I had a collection of junk motorcycles or ever wanted one, but I did have a similar hoarder fetish for fine and not-so-fine microphones. At the time, I owned at least 50 microphones and I could easily imagine myself owning ten-times that many.

But I wanted to retire and I knew to do that my wife and I would be downsizing considerably from our 2700 square foot 1800’s farm house with an 850 square foot garage and a normal recording studio in the attic and 2 1/2 acres of Twin Cities yard. So a few years later, I made a retirement/downsizing plan: I would sell all but a few microphones; to allow just enough toys for hobby recording projects. Outside of that normal remainder, I’d sell the rest of my collection and put the money directly into my house principle. My end goal was to own our home before I retired.

In the end, I didn’t quite reach that goal, but I did only have $14,000 to pay off from our original $106,000 home loan. I haven’t once wished that I’d have kept any of the equipment, the extra space (we downsized to 1100 square feet and could go normaler), or even the microphones I’d owned since I was a very young man.
Collectors all over the world are discovering that the market for their collections is shriveling. New stuff is consistently better in every way than old stuff and younger consumers are unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for products whose sole intrinsic value is "that it is old.” A couple of my friends are muscle car collectors and they’ve seen the value of their collections practically disappear in the last decade. Obviously, the Great Recession put a hit on a lot of that stuff, but so has a hard dose of reality. Vintage guitars and guitar amps, pro and home audio equipment, motorcycles, dishes and dolls, and all of the other crap that Boomers and their parents collected are ending up in the local land fill.

At least four of the microphones that helped me pay down my mortgage had more collector value than real value. Two were a prestigious Danish manufacturer’s 1970’s instrumentation microphones that I’d snagged in an estate sale for a pittance at least a decade earlier. Their selling price about took my breath away and really took a hit out of that home loan. Likewise, two big German tube mics brought an unrealistic price; especially compared to the price I’d paid for those instruments 40 years ago.

So, if it weren’t for the freak-out I suffered hunting down a ride for the Cheap Bike Challenge, I might not be comfortably retired today in a paid-for house with some cash in the bank. On more thing I have to thank Victor and my MMM editors for my 20 years with the magazine. Not only was it a great ride, but it still is.