May 18, 2024

Putting Putting Last Things First

In it’s usual half-assed, half-cocked way, the Minnesota legislature is considering motorcycle lane-sharing/splitting in an amendment tacked on to Minnesota Statutes 2022, section 169.974, subdivision 5. The new sections are 1) “Only if the operation of the motorcycle does not exceed 40 miles per hour and is operated at no more than 15 miles per hour over the speed of traffic, a person may operate a motorcycle (1) abreast of, overtake, or pass
another vehicle within the same traffic lane, or (2) between two parallel lanes of moving or stationary traffic headed in the same direction
. . . and 2) An operator of a motor vehicle that intentionally impedes or attempts to prevent any operator of a motorcycle from operating a motorcycle as permitted under paragraph (e) is guilty of a petty misdemeanor.”

I have no significant objection to the first article as it appears to be a reasonably competent copy of the California lane-splitting/sharing statutes that have been in place since the 80s. The second half is an extension of the entitled, cowardly Minnesota motorcycle attitude that it’s everyone else’s job to watch out for incompetent, reckless and careless motorcyclists. We’ve been here before in my column, many times in fact. Not only do motorcyclists imagine themselves to be free from having to bother with noise and emissions regulations, because of their incredible self-importance, they imagine that “right of way” traffic laws should always assume the motorcycle has the right of way. Lawyers are going to have a field day with this nonsense, but motorcyclists are risking everything putting this horse before the cart.

I love splitting lanes, even though I have rarely done it since I left California in 1991. I feel confident that I would be able to continue that practice, even in less-skilled and passive-aggressive Minnesota traffic. However, I have experienced the aftermath of following one of our many grossly illegal biker gangs in both Cities’ traffic and on rural roads. After those clowns have passed a few motorists (or the motorists have suffered the risk of passing them) most everyone on the road is in a mood to swat a motorcycle. Recently, a friend tried to justify this nonsense by claiming a weird relationship, “loud pipes, which many riders find naturally enjoyable, same as playing a musical instrument loudly, which many musicians naturally enjoy.” I suspect I might find it enjoyable to take potshots at noisy vehicles, but I suspect my enjoyment ends when the bullet hits the target? Who cares what 1% of 1% of the population “enjoys” if that impinges on the peace and quiet of the majority of the people in hearing distance? Not to mention the fact that it is illegal in Minnesota and most states to modify either the exhaust of intake of a modern vehicle. The fact that cops are too lazy and/or cowardly to mess with that crowd does not justify the noise or make that behavior legal. The idiotic “road captain” nonsense is making enemies for motorcyclists every time that privilege is exercised on top of the noise that always comes with that crowd.

learn to rideBut mixing pointless hearing-damaging noises and anti-social behavior with a driving tactic, that is as risky and depending on tolerant behavior as lane splitting, is gambling with lives (on both sides of the obvious crashes that are going to happen soon after this law goes into effect). I admit some of those lives are dirtbags, but too often the dirtbags bring down useful and decent people, which is where the “operator of a motor vehicle that intentionally impedes or attempts to prevent any operator of a motorcycle from operating a motorcycle as permitted under paragraph (e) is guilty of a petty misdemeanor” portion of this law is going to do damage in the best of cases. Since many traffic cops are going to default to assuming the cager caused the crash, even though statistics makes that pretty unlikely, ordinary drivers are going to punished for motorcyclists’ bad and/or incompetent behavior. After that happens a few hundred times, the majority of road users are going to object to being responsible for the irresponsible crowd.

Attracting the attention of the majority of road users and taxpayers is likely to backfire on those to imagine this law is going to be a good thing for Minnesota motorcycling. When taxpayers realize that absolutely nothing about allowing motorcycles on public highways can be economically justified, they will likely start considering the obvious and logical solution: relegating motorcycles to the “recreational vehicle” category and removing the damn things from public roads. And I am here to say “I told you so.” If we made the slightest effort to reduce the public nuisance aspects of motorcycles before introducing lane splitting, I think it might be possible to introduce the practice to Minnesota highway users. If whoever is driving this dumb idea ignores that fact, there will be blood.

Jan 28, 2024

Getting A License in 1992

After I left California in late 1991, I spent exactly one month in Indiana working for the dumbest company I’ve experienced in my long life. After I’d given up that experiment as a loss-leader, I flew a bunch of resumes in westwardly directions and landed my first medical devices job in Colorado. The company moved me and all I had to do was get my lazy unemployed ass from Elkhart, IN to Denver in 60 days, when I’d start my new job. I’d shipped my two motorcycles ahead with the moving van, outfitted my 1984 Toyota Van as a marginal camper, and I was starting my westward meander with a dinner in Chicago with an old friend. He and another of his friends spent a good bit of energy arguing out a safe place for two black guys and a goober from Kansas for a late night dinner. We settled on a pizza place in western Chicago and, mostly, that worked out well. I didn’t have to pay for anything and didn’t realize until I stopped in Springfield, MO and realized that someone had lifted my billfold in the restaurant’s hatcheck back in Chicago.

My step-brother lived in Springfield, which is why I’d taken that route, and I stayed with his family for a couple of days while I chased down credit card replacements and did the usual 1990’s routine for a stolen identity. The state of California and my insurance company were gracious enough to send me evidence that I was licensed and insured, but I did drive the rest of the way to Colorado without an actual driver’s license. Since I had no reason to be in a hurry, it took me almost a month to make it the 1,000 miles from Chicago to Denver. A few weeks after I arrived, I was living in a friend’s basement waiting for my new job to start. Not having an official license to drive meant that I had to take the whole Colorado driving test, including the driving part. After I had that, I had to take the motorcycle endorsement written and driving test at the DMV.

I had a 1983 Yamaha 550 Vision and a 1986 Yamaha XT350 to choose from for the test and I’d been spending most of my previous 5 years on the XT350 commuting in L.A. and riding offroad in the southern California and Baja deserts. I was as comfortable on my XT as any motorcycle I’ve ever owned and loved. So, it was a no-brainer; the XT350 it would be.

It was January 1992, but the weather was practically Californian and I wanted to be legal as soon as possible. The written test was easy and I’d lucked into being able to go immediately from paper to the DMV alley where the examiner gave the test. The rest range was pretty weird. Since there wasn’t much room to work with, parts of the “course” was overlaid on other parts; like the cone weave, the swerve, and the quick stop tests. The cop administering the test had to reset the course for each section of the test, moving cones as required. All of the exam was incredibly easy (as all US motorcycle endorsements tests have always been) on the XT and the last test was the quick stop. I’d never had to take any sort of test for my motorcycle endorsement, because when I got my first license in 1964 you didn’t have to do anything but ask for an “M” stamp on your cage license. I was feeling pretty cocky and sure of myself by that last portion of the test.

As I remember, the runup to the quick stop was about 50’; according to the examiner that was barely enough space for a lot of motorcyclists to get up to the required 15mph. He was a little irritated that day because he’d just flunked a couple of cruiser riders and a Denver cop for failing this part of the exam. I was having fun and didn’t take note of his mood (I’m notorious for that kind of obliviousness.) and I was absolutely convinced that getting my endorsement was a given. I squared up at the start line, gave the bike a little more gas than necessary and took off aggressively toward the stop-box. The examiner was obviously startled and as I went past him he seemed excited. A smarter guy might have played it safe, but at that moment in my life I felt more free to express myself and be me than ever before (or since). Worst case, I fail and have to come back in two weeks and do it again on the same test fee. The moment my front tire hit the stop-box line, I nailed the front and rear brakes, lifting the back tire about 2’ in a spiffy stoppie. The examiner had warned me about wheelies, but he did not mention stoppies.

Turned out, he’d never seen a stoppie that resulted in a stop that didn’t also include a crash. Earlier that week, a couple of arrogant Denver cops (not motorcycle cops) had brought their Harleys in for the exam and both had not only sailed past the stop-box but had panicked so completely that they’d put themselves in the dumpster at the end of the alley. That was my examiner’s most recent experience with dumbasses overdoing the quick stop test. Turned out that I just made him laugh. I was so pumped up that I offered to do it again for both of our entertainment, but he’d had all the laughs he wanted for the day and I left with a Colorado motorcycle endorsement.

Since then, I’ve been renewing and transferring that same endorsement from Colorado to Minnesota for the past 30 years. In late 2000, I started on the path to becoming a Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Instructor and I’ve given something resembling that same test to several hundred wannabe motorcyclists. I’ve seen a couple of stoppies, usually accidental, during the course and the endorsement test. I might shake my finger at the student and offer a bullshit warning, but who am I to flunk someone for showing a little style?

Dec 2, 2023

Beware of Bowling

Warning: This story is only as accurate as the author's memory.

I have done a lot of moderately risky things in my life, but I will aways put bowling at the top of the list of scary, risky, painful, dangerous things that I will never do again. This is an old story and I’m sort of amazed that I haven’t told it before, but I did a thorough search of this and the Wordpress blog and didn’t find a single word about it. So, in the late stages of my life and whatever is left of my two-wheel “career,” I am going to explain my terror of all things related to bowling.

It all started when I was just a kid. My father was a pretty decent adult athlete, although I guess he wasn’t much as a kid. Into his late 60s, he played competitive tennis at the Kansas state championship level, bowled consistently in the 230-250 pins territory, had a decent golf handicap, and when he was in his 40s he played basketball well enough to be recruited for the Washington Generals when the Harlem Globetrotters were in town. He was also a high school basketball, football, and tennis coach until he was well into his 60s. From about 5-years-old on a good bit of my life revolved around sports. Usually, thanks to asthma and other physical limitations, sports that I didn’t play particularly well. I never managed to play any of my father’s favorite games well enough to impress him and a couple of them—golf and bowling—were sources of irritation for both of us. Still are. Much later in life, I had a spurt of playing beach basketball in California, but that was a world and a game totally outside of his experience.

Moving forward about a decade and I’m a twenty-something working-class husband and a father of two beautiful daughters, I worked a lot of 80-hour weeks, drove a worn-out 1969 Ford E100 panel van 100,000 miles a year across six Midwestern states without A/C or heat. I was employed by a con artist of a boss who generated a lot of angry and disappointed customers. My only escape from pressure, stress, and confusion was the occasional few hours I was able to spend on my dirt bike.

After a couple of years in small town Nebraska, Mrs. Day, on the other hand, was getting desperate for a social life outside of caring for our two little girls and visiting with other mothers of small children. So, she signed us up for a bowling league, partnering with the only young couple she knew who didn’t have kids. I managed to slither out of the first two league games, claiming (honestly) that I had to work at the other end of the state those evenings. The third match was unavoidable. I couldn’t get out of it because my slimeball boss caved in to my wife’s complaints about her missing-in-action husband and “gave” me the weekend off.

Other than rolling a couple of games with my father and brother during the occasional holiday break visiting my family in Kansas, I had managed to stay away from bowling alleys for a long time. By that point in my life, I had learned that “games of patience” do not play to my strengths. Anything that requires me to do the “zen focus” bullshit when I’m losing is only going to be frustrating. I played and loved basketball well into my 50s because catching up (or staying ahead) requires working harder. Same for racing motorcycles, to catch up or stay ahead you work harder and go faster. Golf and bowling require the player to concentrate on form and geometry and I suck at both. So, that evening at the bowling alley started poorly, with me tossing a couple of gutter balls and barely grazing the end pins in my first couple of frames. Mrs. Day wasn’t much better, but she wasn’t expected to be and our new friends were getting cranky only a few minutes into the evening, which promised to be long, boring, and pointless.

I am an alcohol-lightweight. I have been drunk twice in my life and neither of those episodes had yet occurred. I can easily nurse a portion of a beer or a mixed drink for several boring hours at a party and one drink is usually my limit. About two beers into the bowling evening and I was losing interest in the game and I decided to redefine the fundamentals of bowling. Just rolling the ball down the lane was an insufficient challenge and I started trying to see how far I could heave the ball before it struck wood. I wasn’t going for altitude, just distance, but the ball began to make a fair amount of noise when it landed after I’d suffered through the first game of the three we’d committed to playing. About the time I started to think I was getting the hang of this version of bowling, probably at about the 3-4 beer mark, the bowling alley proprietor asked me to leave. Mrs. Day and her friends were embarrassed. Our new social life came to a screeching end and I don’t think I ever saw the other couple again. In fact. I don’t remember being at all upset at being done with my moment in small town social life.

rickmn2After the bowling debacle, I still had a weekend off. I had planned the next day, Saturday, for some recreational practice time on the limited-access roads I loved about 20 miles north of our home. I’d loaded up the Rickman the previous evening, strapped a couple of five-gallon cans of premix to the trailer, loaded my privative 1975-style gear into the family station wagon, and headed north for some trail therapy. Sunday was race day and I’d signed up for my usual spot at the back end of the Nebraska State Intermediate class races. And I’d be wrenching for a friend who was actually competitive in the Expert class.

As you might suspect, I was slightly hungover that morning. Having never been even a little hungover, I was clueless as to what that might mean.  The place where I chose to make my stand was in the sandhills about five miles east of Palmer, Nebraska and about the same distance south of the Loup River. Back then, this area had well over 100 miles of limited-access roads tied together in a way that allowed me to ride for hours without ever crossing pavement. And that was my plan for the morning. My excuse for running out on my family on a beautiful Saturday summer morning was that I would be “practicing for Sunday” at the races in Genoa. That was sorta true, but mostly I was getting as much alone-time as possible anyway possible. But I was unwittingly impaired.

I unloaded the bike from the trailer, strapped on my gear, gassed up the bike, and took off heading north toward the Loup River. The first section of the route I’d planned was over some mild hills thoroughly coated with deep, fine dust bowl blow-out sand. I don’t know if I have ever ridden a motorcycle more suited to that kind of riding. The Rickman didn’t have much low-end torque, but once you spun it up over about 4,000 rpm it would sail across the sandhills like a prairie racing catamaran.

I had barely got the bike warmed up, less than a few miles from where I’d parked, when I let the bike slide down the side of a sandhill into a tractor rut. Normally, no big deal. Just haul back on the bars, give it some throttle, and sail back up the side of the hill. Hungover, I considered a brand new option: step off of the bike and bail out. I was doing about 50mph at the time and abandoning ship was a freakin’ stupid option. I discovered that immediately. The thing about the next few seconds that has stuck with me for 40 years was a sound I can only describe as “a pound of hamburger thrown hard against a refrigerator door.” Splat!

Some undetermined, but calculatable, period of time later, I awoke imbedded about a foot into soft, hot sand. While I was unconscious, I’d hallucinated that I’d been tossed out of an airplane without a parachute. When I woke up, the dent in the sand, the pain, and the near-desert surroundings fit nicely with that hallucination.

With some effort, the time I’d been unconscious could be mathematically be determined by the flow rate of fuel from my Rickman’s tank overflow hose. When I righted the bike, I discovered I needed to change the petcock to reserve to get the engine started. My guess was that I’d been unconscious for at least 20 minutes. Getting the bike upright was a challenge, I hurt everywhere, but mostly I couldn’t catch my breath. Getting turned around in that deep sand was another challenge. Getting the bike started and moving in the right direction was tough, but easier than the first two hurdles. By the time I made it back to the parking spot, I was having serious problems breathing. I absolutely failed to lift the Rickman’s actual 250+ pounds (216 pounds claimed weightAnimated Smileys Laughing - ClipArt Best) on to the trailer. In frustration, I climbed into the station wagon, reclined the seat, and decided to see if I might feel better after some rest. After a few minutes, I was so seized up and hurting that I couldn’t get back out of the reclined seat. And breathing was harder, not easier.

Sometimes the old adage, “No good deed goes unpunished,” gets proved wrong in spades. Over the past year, I’d put a lot of effort into being friendly and useful to the area’s ranchers. I had helped chase cattle back through downed fences, ridden to the nearest ranch to tell the owners about damaged fences or escape cattle, and always stopped to talk (rather than run away like other dirt bikers usually did) when I met someone working the fence lines bordering the limited-access roads.

As I lay in the car imagining what the odds anyone would find me out on this remote road before I suffocated or starved to death, three actual cowboys rode up (on actual horses) and stopped to talk. I was barely able to say “howdy” and real conversation was beyond my capacity. After a bit, they figured out my predicament, pulled me from the vehicle, loaded up the bike and strapped it down, helped me pull off my boots and gear, turned the car around, and even offered to drive me back home if I couldn’t manage it. [That wasn’t the first or last time I’d be rescued by cowboys or horses.]

Because I was, and probably still am, an arrogant, macho/dumb male, I declined the designated driver offer, gritted my teeth, engaged the clutch, shifted into 2nd (to minimize having to repeat that painful movement), and took off for home. I had to pass through two small towns and about half of our hometown on my way home and braking or shifting quickly identified themselves as painful and impossible tasks. For the first and only time in my life, I desperately hoped a cop would stop me and arrest me, even shoot me and put me out of my misery. But I sailed through both towns and the north end of our hometown at 60mph without a glitch. I think I even blew through two stop signs on the way. The station wagon was a 1973 Mazda RX3 and it would easily do 60 in 2nd gear and start with a little clutch slippage, so I didn’t shift all the way home.

I pulled into our driveway, turned off the key and shuttered to a stop, but I couldn’t get myself out of the car. I blasted the horn until Mrs. Day and our little girls came out to see who and what was causing the racket. They helped me out of the vehicle, into the house, and on to the family room couch. After a bit, I thought a hot bath might help, so I went into our bathroom and ran a tub-full of near-boiling water. And I almost drowned when I discovered I couldn’t keep from sliding into the big old clawfoot tub and going down helplessly. I slept on the couch for the next few weeks because our bedroom was on the impossibly-distant second floor.

When I finally made it to the local doc’s office, an x-ray determined that all 12 of my left-side ribs were broken or cracked. The closest thing to sympathy or assistance I got from my doc was, “That’s what you get for riding a motorcycle.” The injuries put me out of work for more than a month and, thanks to the usual 1970’s small business total lack of any sort of disability or healthcare benefits, about destroyed our family’s economy, . However, I had more than enough vacation time, so at least I got paid for a 40-hour week while I was out of work. A few weeks after I was back to work, I ran into the doc limping around our grocery store, on crutches with his leg in a cast. I sympathized with him by saying, “That’s what you get for playing with those damn skis.”

The long-term effect of the crash, the pain, and the extended recovery time was that for years afterwards when I got into any kind of extreme situation on a motorcycle (a little air, going a bit sideways, skittering along a sandy section of road or track) I PTSD’d myself into going through the worst part of that desert crash and usually found myself parked on the edge of the trail or track sweating and panicking over another crash that had only happened in my mind. It was several years before I could really enjoy offroad riding at any sort of respectable speed and look what that got me.

Nov 19, 2023

A Two-Wheeled Life

That is a pretty arrogant title coming from someone as uninspiring as me. Mostly, my two-wheeled vehicles have been transportation, first, and recreational, second. For 18 years, there was also a vocational aspect to my motorcycling when I was an MSF instructor. I did have a brief, very low level regional (Texas and Nebraska) racing moment (about 10 years) with motocross, cross-country, enduros, and observed trials. That period of my two wheeled life was only partially recreational because to support that habit I ran a repair shop out of my tiny garage for six of those years and even sold Ossa dirt bikes for three of those years. Since I have been riding motorcycles since at least 1963 and the overwhelming majority of miles I’ve put on motorcycles has been commuting to work and school. My brother and I have mixed memories of when we started and which of us got the first motorcycle in the family. (He thinks I was first and I think he was.) We both remember how much our father hated motorcycles and how quickly shit could go badly when something he discovered one of his sons was doing something he disliked. (My “favorite” example was him tossing a loaned electric bass and bass amplifier down the basement stairs when he discovered I’d made more money playing in a band one summer than he made all year as a high school teacher.) Between bicycles and motorcycles, I have lived a lot of my life on two wheels.

Some people get to keep doing this sort of thing a really long time. Some of us die doing the thing we love. Most of us, get shoved off of two wheels due to old age and infirmity. I don’t know if I’m there yet, but the last few years and, especially, this fall have presented a lot of obstacles that seem ominous. In early 2019, I started to have bouts of double-vision that seemed to be untreatable until after I had been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis (MG) in June and medications (I love prednisone!) began to control the symptoms. By then, I’d sold my 2004 V-Strom both due to the vision issues and declining upper body strength that made my wonderful near-400 pound motorcycle impractical and, probably, dangerous. The next spring, at the beginning of the COVID shutdown, I sold my WR250X. At the time, I figured I was finished with motorcycling. I was 72 years old and looking at my father’s history and decline due to MG and fully expected to be in a wheelchair and trying to figure out what was happening on a big screen LCD television from a one-foot viewing-distance.

Did I mention I love Prednisone?

Thanks to terrific medical care from the Mayo Clinic’s Neurology Department and the perseverance of my doctor there, I got most of my function back by late 2020. My grandson had donated a beat-to-snot Rad Rover eBike in 2019 and I’d revived it and started riding it that winter, quickly discovering that me and ice still don’t mix. By the spring of 2020, I was on that bike for practically every local errand or half-assed-excuse to go somewhere by myself. As of this past summer, thanks to the incredibly generosity of an old friend, I have a Specialized electric mountain bike that has a suspension rivaling my WR250X. A collection of physical setbacks made riding a lot this past summer difficult, but I managed to put more than 1,000 miles on the old Rover and just short of 400 miles on the Specialized bike. That’s not impressive by any standard, I know. But it is what I managed this year.

I had some big, hopelessly optimistic goals for this past summer and I managed to achieve exactly none of them, except the bare minimum 1,000 mile goal for the Rad. Back in March of 2023, I weighed somewhere between 234 and 238 pounds. I only barely remember seeing those startling numbers on my bathroom scale and at the doc’s office, but those hefty values stuck with me. I gave myself a target to shoot for and a reward: under 200 pounds by the end of summer and a long motorcycle trip to . . . somewhere. Obviously, I didn’t make it. I’ve been stuck between 198 and 202 pounds since the end of September, which means no tour this year. My poor, setup to travel, barely-and-rarely-used 2012 Suzuki TU250X sits in the garage with far fewer miles than either of my bicycles on the odometer.

Mrs. Day is fond of saying, “It could always be worse.” Which is almost always undeniably true. About the middle of October, I woke up one morning to discover my right knee was almost useless. I couldn’t support myself on that leg at all. I think it would be safe to say this is the worst (and the first) “injury” I’ve ever experienced that wasn’t preceded by . . . something: a fall from a bike, stumbling down a cliff, landing wrong from a jump or a ladder, or some event that I could tie to why the hell my leg isn’t working. A month and a half later, it still isn’t wholly functioning, but it has cost me a good bit of the physical conditioning I’d built up during the summer. This is how old people end up in wheelchairs, they wake up after a good night’s sleep crippled. WTF!

Since I retired in 2013, I’ve had a few “this is it” scares. Sooner or later, one of ‘em will be the one that puts me into a cage for the rest of my life—maybe an ambulance, maybe a hearse, or just our Honda CRV—but a cage nonetheless. I used to tell my motorcycle safety students, “Always worry about people who are so incompetent they need 4-wheels to stay upright.” From where I wobble now, I think that was amazingly good advice.

Oct 10, 2023

Noisy Kids Who Go Nowhere

I was sitting in my backyard, mostly enjoying the quiet country environment, but being intermittently blasted by various noise machines: motorcycles, jacked up pickups, sportscar-poser Honda Civics, totally illegal-for-street-use ATVs, and other noisy toys. After the umpteenth laughable Hardly yard implement passed by, I started thinking about the two motorcycles I've owned with aftermarket exhaust systems and the one with a hacked up stock pipe.

Back in 1993, I bought a like new 1992 Yamaha TDM from a doctor. I have no idea what he thought a TDM was, but he had spiffed it up with a custom Corbin seat, a Kerker pipe, and some nice luggage. By the time I got home, less than 20 miles later, I went to work replacing the Kerker with the stock pipe (which had been included in the sale). I found a victim for the Kerker with an ad at my local Yamaha shop and got $250 back from my sale price.

A few years later, I bought a barely used Suzuki SV650 from a kid in a Michigan suburb. A friend in Ohio picked up the bike and I took a train to his place to ride it home. The SV  had a Two Brothers pipe and by the time I had ridden the 800 miles back home I was ready to remove the Two Brothers pipe with a sledgehammer. Again, I found a dumbass in Minneapolis who sold me a stock SV pipe for $25 and another dumbass who paid me $250 for the Two Brothers.

My last loud pipe experience was with my Yamaha WR250X. That bike's original owner was a nitwit who took a hacksaw to the last 4 inches of the stock pipe. Having totally screwed up the fuel injection mapping, the bonehead also removed a chunk of the air box and the air filter in a failed attempt at regaining some kind of performance. Again, I found a dumbass on Craigslist who sold me a stock WR pipe for $25 and someone on Facebook who sold me the entire WR air intake system for another $25.

In all three of these instances—two carbureted motorcycles and one fuel injected—returning to stock not only quieted the motorcycle down it improved the performance. I'm not saying that an aftermarket pipe can't improve performance, but I'm saying most of the idiots who diddle with aftermarket pipes are too lame to do all of the dyno, rejetting, intake redesign, and fuel mapping work necessary to compensate for the reduced back pressure.

In the case of the WR250X, I even had the opportunity to drag race multiple times in multiple situations a substantially lighter Rider on a WR250X with an aftermarket pipe, a power commander, and a hacked up intake system. Mostly, we determined that the two bikes were not measurably different power-wise, but the noise difference convinced the other rider to start looking for stock parts. Even riding side-by-side near his bike made my ear-plugged-ears ring.

Now, back to today where I am listening to multiple mediocre-at-best motorcycles blubbering as loudly as a freight train, ridden (to use that word loosely) by total unskilled idiots disturbing the peace for no reason other than their obvious personal insecurities. This isn't a brand new thought, but it is one that has occurred to me repeatedly through this summer: I think it is a safe bet that damned few of the people with loud exhaust systems ever go anywhere on or in their vehicle.

I'd be willing to put some money on that, in fact.

From a bunch of years of accumulating odometer readings on motorcycles up for sale on Craigslist around the country, it's pretty obvious that the more crap someone piles onto a motorcycle the less likely they are to actually ride it. My late step-brother was an example. He poured more money into his Harley then I have invested in all of the cars and motorcycles I've owned in my life. Seriously. And for him, a trip from one end of Springfield, Missouri to the other was “a long ride.”

In the several hundred thousand miles I have ridden motorcycles in my life, I ran into all kinds of people on the road, riding all sorts of motorcycles, and almost universally the people who ride the most miles ride the quietest motorcycles. Even some of the big mile characters on vintage motorcycles, where a stock pipe is only available from salvage yards, do their damnedest to keep exhaust noise at a minimum.

There is nothing about the output from the exhaust pipe that tells you anything useful about the operation of the motor. In fact the less noise the exhaust makes, the more likely you are to be able to hear upcoming engine problems. More importantly, the pounding your ears take from excessive exhaust noise adds exponentially to the fatigue in a long day's ride. Obliterating what little information your ears can provide about hazards and traffic, doing permanent damage to your hearing, and adding to your distraction and fatigue is not conducive to putting in long (thousand mile) days.

And usually, when I've been forced to talk to these noisy pipe characters I hear that they think a hundred miles is an excessive day. And lots of them are really proud of themselves for riding 20 miles to a bar, spending the afternoon drinking and eating, and wobbling their way back home. So along with knowing that the loud pipe character is an asshole, it's pretty safe to assume he or she is a wimp.

Sep 6, 2023

Why I Think They Are Wrong

The constant reminder that the “Normalcy Bias” plagues motorcyclists into making fatal and foolish decisions is one of many reasons I decided my Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)/Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center(MMSC) instructor career was not worth continuing. Years ago (2006), I wrote one of my all-time favorite essays, “Panic Reactions,” where I described a phrase I came to use almost as often as “good job” in my motorcycle safety classes, "Every panic reaction you have on a motorcycle will be wrong." As part of my answer to every question a student might have had would be my constant hunt for “escape routes.” The latest version of the MSF’s Basic Rider Course (BRC) de-emphasizes risk to the point that instructors were reprimanded for talking about things like escape routes. There, of course, is a reason for that: 1) The MSF is owned by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) and their overwhelming incentive is to put butts on seats; 2) The MMSC is funded by motorcycle license endorsements and their overwhelming incentive is to make it easy for anyone in the state to obtain and retain an endorsement. Years ago, I was asked to present a “This I Believe” talk to the Unitarian Universalist society to which my wife and I belonged and what I believe in is that “Incentives Are Everything.” Sadly, I find absolutely no evidence that humans are anything more than a slightly evolved animal and that 99.99…% of human activity can be explained by self-interest and incentives.

I get why the MIC is uninterested in actual motorcycle safety. Like every corporation on the planet today, today’s profits over-ride any future self-interest; you gotta satisfy those “equity investors” first and everything else be damned. The MSF’s mission statement is pretty clear, “MSF is the country's leading safety resource and advocate for motorcyclists. We create world-class education and training systems for riders of every experience level. We raise public awareness of motorcycling to promote a safe riding environment.” “Public awareness” is not motorcycling’s main problem: incompetent motorcyclists is overwhelmingly the biggest problem, illegal noise is second, and a close third is the outright hostility toward the motorcycle gangs that largely represents motorcycling in the public eye. Neither of the two groups I was once associated with have a reason to care about those problems. The state’s civil servants are all old enough that they’ll be long retired before any change happens and the MIC’s executives will be long golden parachuted out when the economics behind US motorcycling finally drops the coffin lid on motorcycles and public roads.

In the past couple of months, I’ve had to listen to at least a dozen motorcyclists and ex-motorcyclists describe their “had to lay ‘er down” stories. Not a one of those fairy tales was even slightly believable. If you can’t competently use your brakes, you sure as hell can’t pull of that stuntman bit, but what you can do is panic, scream, and fall over and, then, make up some bullshit story about how you planned it all and it either worked out or didn’t. At least three of the goobers telling me their sob story were hobbled for life from their motorcycle episode. Even they imagined doing something other than simply and stupidly fucking up and falling down when they crashed and disabled themselves.

Back to the “normalcy bias,” one of my favorite books (and podcasts) is You Are Not So Smart and the chapter on normalcy bias describes people frozen in their seats as a crashed airliner catches fire and burns down around them, while their brains chant “this can’t be happening, everything is normal” until the air is sucked from their lungs and they are fried or blown to pieces. The only way to avoid being trapped by your disbelief is to prepare in advance, to consider the options in a disaster, to look for escape routes, and to think about the steps necessary if escape becomes necessary. Every place you go and everything you do should be accompanied by this process, especially in Crazyville, USA where the NRA has armed every nitwit, fanatic, and pissed-off momma’s-boy incel with enough weapons to empty an auditorium. On the highway, an intelligent motorcyclist knows that bicyclists and pedestrians are the only road users who present a lower threat than a motorcycle and, as such, we’re invisible. The only protection we have are escape routes and a vehicle capable of using them [sorry cruiser and trike guys, you’re likely dead since your invalid bike can barely manage asphalt].

You could argue that riding while constantly worrying about being run over by a distracted, incompetent, and/or angry cager takes all the “fun” out of riding a motorcycle. You could delude yourself into imagining that riding rural highways minimizes those risks. The only real protections you have are your skills, your preparation, and luck. [Never discount luck.] An insurmountable obstacle for me to consider continuing my “safety instructor” career was the organizations’ discounting risk in favor of “more butts on seats.” I love motorcycling and motorcyclists (not bikers, they aren’t the same people) and my life was greatly enhanced by 60 years on a motorcycle, but filling the roster with untrained, unprepared, and unskilled riders is going to kill this form of transportation and I don’t want to be part of that.

The best guess is that motorcycle crashes cost the US economy $16B and the entire US motorcycle industry produces a gross income of about $5.6B in 2022. The damned industry and our idiot licensing systems and godawful training approach produces an income that is not-quite 1/3 of the cost of motorcycling to the nation. In comparison, the automotive industry produces $1.53T in gross income and the cost of automotive/truck crashes is about $340B, or one-fourth the national revenue from cars and trucks. Any half-rational nation would start purging motorcycles from public roads a few minutes after absorbing those numbers. We are closer to half-witted than half-rational, but that just means it will take longer to happen. But it will happen.

Jul 10, 2023

VBR 5 and Me

A while back, Andy Goldfine invited me to be a guest storyteller at the 5th Very Boring Rally (Aerostich’s 40th anniversary). I have had a long, enlightening, and valuable friendship, first with Aerostich, and, after I moved to MN in 1996, with Andy. I bought my first ‘Stich gear in 1983, after moving to California from Minnesota. I wore that suit until I replaced it with a Darien in 2008, not long before I rode my V-Strom to Alaska. Mostly from when I moved to Minnesota, my collection of ‘Stich gear has grown steadily and every product I purchased from the company exceeded my expectations along with the company’s legendary customer service.

I was the first speaker in the VBR5 series and I didn’t have high expectations for a turnout. Andy and his marketing team must have over-hyped me substantially; or the draw of a free lunch overcame a fair number of motorcyclists’ better judgement. We had a nice crowd of about 15 rider/spectators and nobody threw tomatoes or other produce at me. Some disagreements, especially on the AGAT propaganda, but I’m used to that.

The industry has changed a lot since my first experience with a Roadcrafter and US motorcycling is either in serious decline or at a moment of serious change. In 2022, Honda sold 17M+ and a peak of 22M unit/motorcycles in 2018 worldwide, but on 32,000 of those in 2022 were US sales (0.19% of total motorcycle sales). When the US motorcycle market crashed in 2007, the worst year of the US recession only amounted to about a 0.05% drop in world motorcycle sales. The average age of a US motorcyclist has increased nearly one year each year for the past couple of decades. When the Hardly/chopper Boomer boom ends, which will be damned soon, something is going to pop. With the insane public costs of motorcycle crashes “the GAO further found that motorcycle crashes’ total direct measurable costs were approximately $16 billion.” The fact that the total USA motorcycle market had an estimated 2022 revenue of $6.24b USD out to be a total wakeup call for the public who foot the bulk of that $10B in totally unjustified taxpayer expense. If you add up the drunk riders, the unlicensed riders, the reckless riders, the unprotected riders, and the uninsured (medical and/or vehicle) riders, you are looking at a responsibility-free recreational vehicle that is ripe for recreational vehicle status and a public road banishment.

There is, finally, the beginnings of a couple of responsible motorcyclist organizations; since the AMA vacated that for the marketing riches of being nothing more than an industry spokesbabbler. Stupid crap like this Rick Gray side-stepping shuffle-dance ( is typical of the AMA’s uselessness. However, both Andy’s Ride to Work Day campaign and SMARTER (Skilled Motorcyclist Association–Responsible, Trained, and Educated Riders) are trying to bring motorcycling as a reasonable transportation alternative, along with the responsibilities associated with that privilege, up front and personally. It might be too little, too late but it’s also better late than never time.

Feb 7, 2023

The Things We Get Used To

I am a lurker with a bunch of local motorcycle guys who pass on rumors and facts about motorcycles and motorcycling. The latest batch of bqack-and-forth was about Hardly’s LiveWire sales; or lack of sales (569 motorcycles last year). Yesterday’s conversation was punctuated with a quote, At highway speeds, no real motorcycle gets more than 100 miles of range.”

I figured that the scribbler must have been talking about EV “real motorcycles?” Motorcycle repeaters just seem to become dumber and less literate every decade. I know at least one Zero owner who would disagree with that claim. He commutes 140 miles from the mountain desert to San Clemency several times a week on a 2020 Zero somethingorother. (Don’t know the model.) That rider was pretty jazzed about fuel savings, and bragged about it often, until his electric bills went through the ceiling in the last year. You’d think everyone in southern California would be powering their homes/vehicles with solar, but I guess not.

At least from my fixed-income and old fart vantage point, the price of EV vehicles is still an overwhelming obstacle for most everyone but the idle rich. But that is kind of true for motorcycles over 650cc in general. For example, the 80hp LiveWire S2 at $15k is their “cheap” EV bike, while $30k for the LiveWire One was priced for Jay Leno and his buddies.

As a reference bike that I might consider (if I were a decade younger), at about $12k Suzuki’s 2023 V-Strom 800DE is packed with features, 85hp, a 280 mile range, a Quickshifter, ABS (switchable), three riding performance modes, four traction-control settings, and low RPM assist. Comparing that to the LiveWire S2 still seems like a no-brainer. In every important category, except carbon emissions, the ICE bike wins.

But that is not the point of this rant. To me, $12,000 seems like a LOT of money for a motorcycle. $30,000 is an insane amount of money to spend on a freakin’ toy. And, for 99.99…% of motorcyclists, a motorcycle it’s used so rarely it barely qualifies as a toy.

I’m still stuck where any motorcycle costing more than $3k is “too expensive.” Since 1982, all 10 of my street bikes have cost less than $3,000 (most were under $2k) and, while they were all “used,” most of the were barely broken in after 2-10 years with their original owners. Granted, my current motorcycle is a 2012 250cc “beginner’s bike” that had 700 of climate-controlled-garage-stored miles on the odometer after 10 years with the original owner and the TU250X wasn’t expensive new ($4,100). Before my street bike period, all of my dirt bikes cost less than $1100, with a brand new Suzuki RL250 being the most expensive of the bunch (at $1100 in 1974) and the rest costing less than $500, including a new 1974 Rickman ISDT125 and my wife’s new 1975 Yamaha MX100. Those were my first and only new motorcycles and I’d been riding for a decade before that.

My most expensive car, so far, as been $9000 (a used 1988 Nissan Pathfinder in 1994 and our current 2012 Honda CRV). Most of my cars have been under-$2500 beaters and lots of them were under-$500 60’s and 70’s VW Beatles. The most I’ve ever paid for a freakin’ house was $104k in 1997 and our current home cost $88k in 2015 (a repo bank sale by the dumbest bank in recent US history, Wells Fargo). Any vehicle that costs a significant percentage of a house is nuts. But a motorcycle? Not even if I had Keanu Reeve’s money or Leno’s.

Dec 14, 2022

My Favorite Boots

Way back in 1995, when I lived in Colorado and was just getting into watching national observed trials I bought a pair of expensive motorcycling touring boots from Ryan Young’s booth at a US National event near Colorado Springs. I’ve written about these boots before; Gaerne Goretex Boots. I’m not going to rehash the fantastic quality of Gaerne footwear. I’ve done that before. Nothing the company makes today is anything like my boots. When I finally got around to reviewing these boots in 2017, they were already long out of production.

Not long before we moved to Red Wing, I bought a pair of Merrill winter boots. Warm, insulated, waterproof with a rubber outer shell, and sort of fragile. They lasted a half-dozen winters, with occasional use mostly when I was shoveling the driveway. But they pretty much self-destructed in the closet and came to pieces when they finally died.

I’d forgotten that I was winter-bootless until the first snow storm of the season. We got about 6” of heavy wet snow in early December and I needed to clear the driveway that evening so I could get my wife to a doctor’s appointment early the next morning. It was about 10oF outside and still blowing snow. Everything in my closet is moderate-to-warm weather footwear, except my old Gaerne boots. They still fit, they’re still waterproof and relatively warm, and the Vibram soles grip the frozen ground just fine.

These boots are almost 30-years-old and in many ways as good as new. They fit me like an old, well-broken-in glove. I suspect they will be in my closet until my kids clear out our estate.

Nov 20, 2022

Did A Shoe Just Drop?

Rider's Digest logo

Way back in May of 2022 (which seems like years ago now only 6 months later) my friend, editor, and co-conspirator from England Dave Gurman, had the crazy idea that there might be a market for a 25th anniversary coffee table book version of the Rider’s Digest magazine. He sent out a call to many of the people who had written for the magazine for pictures, articles, and art. This is the essay I submitted. Dave was hoping for enough advance subscriptions to pay, in advance, for the book but it didn’t happen and the idea, like many brilliant ideas, died from lack of finances.

In early 2019, Ms. Day and I went on a cruise with some friends to check out the Panama Canal, a few of the Caribbean Islands, Costa Rica, and living like rich people with little-to-no responsibility and more food than we could ever hope to eat; but I gave it (the food) a good try. As it turned out, that was a high point or the tail-end of a long peak. Less than a month after we came home to –20oF Minnesota, a pickup with a frozen and dead battery, and several feet of snow in the driveway, old age landed on me like a Hulk-tossed bus. Driving through the Twin Cities to see a friend’s going-away concert, the world suddenly got really complicated when the single freeway exit lane drifted into two shifting lanes; one over the other, sometimes. I picked the right one, managed to get us off of the freeway, out of traffic and stopped, but that was the beginning of a year of instability and loss.

Over the next eight months, I went from being moderately optimistic about being able to carry on my usual physical activities to wondering how soon I’d end up like my father at the same age. At 75 he was trapped in his house, spending most of his days less than a foot from a big screen television, watching sports and trying to make out what was happening. That was the last 15 years of his life. After years of being an invalid, the culprit was found to be myasthenia gravis (MG), “ a chronic autoimmune, neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles,” according to Google and the Mayo Clinic. Supposedly, MG is not hereditary, but my father was diagnosed with MG at about the same age as me now and I’m suspicious of that theory since that’s my problem, too.

Just before the season began in 2019, when it became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to reliably perform many or most of the demonstrations for the MSF courses that I’d been teaching for 18 years, I resigned as a Minnesota state “motorcycle safety instructor.”  I put the instructor-bit in quotes, because the state/US training/testing/licensing is now so dumbed-down that it is pointless and exists solely to put butts on seats, regardless of skill or physical ability. It was a good time to quit, the money was good but the mission and purpose was nonexistent.

The previous summer, I sold my beloved and highly personalized 2004 650 V-Strom to a young man who was the perfect next owner. (Usually, I claim not to “love” any inanimate object, but my V-Strom was as close to a trusted friend as any “thing” in my long life.) Just before a 2018 trip to Canada, I’d discovered that my upper body strength was no longer up to the task of manhandling a 450 pound motorcycle. After installing new tires, I was backing the bike into my garage when I let the bike tip slightly away from me and it dropped hard against a retaining wall and the driveway. I was totally unable to slow the fall, let alone save it. I busted as much plastic (and confidence) in that no-speed incident as I did crashing at 60mph on Canada’s Dempster Highway in 2007.

It was a sad wake-up call, a reminder that, at 70, I was on the far end of the rapid downhill side of the “strength and muscle-mass loss with aging” curve. In 2018, I had some hope that I could cling to motorcycling on my 2008 Yamaha WR250X but, by early 2020, MG put an end to that. I didn’t have much faith, in the spring of 2020, that I would ever again be able to competently ride a motorcycle. Double-vision meant that there was no chance could I pass my “baseline” competency test. So, I sold the WR in April and I was motorcycle-less for the first time in 40-some years and remained without a motorcycle for the longest period in almost 60 years.

My substitute bike has been a Radpower Rover eBike that my grandson handed down to me in late 2018, after he pretty much trashed it riding through one long, road salt-saturated Minneapolis winter. Even that bike pushed my competency  in low-light situations or when I was tired. “Fortunately,” my MG symptoms are primarily ocular (my left eye involuntarily wanders and closes at inopportune times). The “fortunate” part is that my neurologist has, so far, been able to beat back the symptoms with prednisone and assorted immune system suppressants. But it took a while, more than a year in fact. As of today, I am sort-of-back and have been for a little less than a year.

[A perverted use of the word “fortunately” is something that I’ve heard a lot of in the past 3 years: “If you’re are going to suffer from myasthenia gravis, ocular symptoms are the easiest to treat” and “Fortunately, if you are going to have cancer at your age, thyroid cancer is the one to have” and so on.] late April, 2021, a Craig’s List search that I created six years earlier finally produced a hit: a 2012 TU250X for $2600 “practically brand new with 700 miles on it and not a scratch on it” and it was located less than 60 miles from my home. Just a few days earlier I had written a whining blog entry about selling my Aerostich and Giant Loop gear, assuming that I was not going to find a motorcycle to tempt me into testing the road and myself again. Turns out, Trump is right whining does get you what you want, at least, sometimes. I bought the bike, brought it home, immediately started farkeling it up and . . . it sat in the garage unridden for most of last summer. I put almost 2,000 miles on the eBike but barely managed to add another 700 miles to the TU’s odometer by the end of the season in 2021.

Motorcycling was all about transportation for me. I rode to work almost every day for most of 40 years, unless I was driving a company vehicle. There were a lot of Colorado and Minnesota winters where I rode most of the year, too. Fewer toward the end than in the middle, though. After I retired in 2013, I still taught a fair number of motorcycle safety classes and if you don’t ride to your own motorcycle safety classes you’re a fraud, at best. For the first 5 post-retirement years, I took advantage of my location to travel by bike, but the decline in the functional need for both my traveling and commuting started to cut into my motorcycle miles even before MG clobbered me.

Today, I’m 74, overweight but in otherwise fair physical condition, and the last three years feel more like a decade has past. Or more. If you’ve read anything from my blog, you know I’m hyper-critical of bikers and other marginally-skilled people wobbling through the world on two wheels. That applies to me, too. After this layoff, my physical problems (especially MG), and the fact that I am freakin’ ancient, I am critical and suspicious of my capabilities and skills. My wife is just getting used to me being around the house, after 55 years of marriage to a wandering workaholic, and she’s really not interested in caring for a crippled-up old man who busted himself to bits unnecessarily on a motorcycle. I’m not anxious to become that maimed idiot, either.

At the moment, I have a nice collection of mostly-healed busted bones, torn muscles and ligaments, and scars from head-to-toe and while they often remind me of impending weather changes they don’t keep me from doing stuff. My last significant injuries took a long while to heal and they still bother me more than way worse stuff that happened 20-40 years ago. For most of my life, my planned solution for any sort of fatal illness diagnosis, overwhelming mental illness, or any kind of lingering end-of-life boredom was “buy a faster motorcycle.” Turns out, the problem with that plan is that you need to be able to ride well enough and fast enough for that to be a confident solution. Today, I’m just trying to figure out how to get myself back on the saddle.

All Rights Reserved © 2022 Thomas W. Day

Nov 9, 2022

Before #1: Geezers on Beemers: (AKA: Steamboat Springs 1997)


All Rights Reserved © 1997 Thomas W. Day

[For the last many years, I’ve said Geezer #1 "What Are We Riding For? (The original, from whence The Geezer came from October 1999" was the first thing I ever wrote for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine. I wasn’t lying, I was just wrong. I have been working on a Wikipedia entry for the magazine and as part of that I researched as much as I could find about the magazine’s history. In the process, I read through a bunch of old MMMs, sorted my own collection by date, and discovered that in the Winter 1997 M.M.M. #14 issue there was an “On the Road” article. . . by me. This article, in fact. While I absolutely remember the trip, sort of, I absolutely did not remember even knowing about MMM before 1999. Turns out, that was wrong, too. In September 1998, I contributed “Look Ma, No Feet!” an article about the 1998 US Observed Trials event in Duluth. So, now the story I’ve been telling myself and everyone else about my history with MMM is bullshit and I do NOT know what the truth is.

The version that follows is what I submitted. Unlike lots of the stuff I wrote for MMM, this article was edited quite a bit, but I’m too lazy to pick out what was different in the magazine’s version.]

Every year, since I moved out of Colorado, my expedition to the Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Week gets a little tougher. Last year, I flew to Denver, borrowed a friend’s Honda Hawk, and nearly missed my flight home when my luggage fell off of the Hawk in the middle of traffic on I-70, spreading my belongings and plane ticket all over Colorado. This year, I decided to ride the whole 2,400 miles. Next year, I may try walking.

My bike is a ’92 Yamaha TDM, which is a weird cross between a crotch rocket and a dirt bike. It’s probably the closest thing Japan will ever come to importing a Paris-Dakar style bike to the US. Out of some weird allegiance to my dirt biking past, I put dual-purpose tires on the bike this past winter. Because of that strange heritage and hardware, I actually hoped to do some real cross-country touring this trip. Some people do not get wiser as they get older.

Because I had a few days of vacation to burn up, I left for Denver early Sunday morning, September 7th. Steamboat’s Vintage Motorcycle Week was September 10 to the 14th. The start of my planned route was diagonally across Minnesota, via highways 169 and 60, to Sioux City. Early in the day I passed the Mennonite settlement of Mountain Lake, MN, where there is a "phone museum" and other exciting attractions. I’d always thought of Mennonites as hardworking, honest types, but this place had to be their equivalent of a Florida swamp real estate scam. There is no no mountain and no lake, as far as I could see, anywhere near Mountain Lake. I have a new sort of respect for Mennonites.

I stopped in Heron Lake for my first fuel stop. I discovered, by drenching my bike and feet in gas, that the fuel shutoff was defective. With the helmet and ear plugs in place, I nearly dumped two gallons of gas on the ground before I noticed I was creating a Super Fund site. From here out, I did my trip documentation after filling the tank. It didn’t surprise the lady at the counter though. She said, "that side don’t register, this side does," when I told her about the screwed up pump. I kept an eye on the mirror, as I left town, half hoping for a mushroom cloud to compensate me for the wasted fuel.

Just south of Worthington, I tailed a yuppie in a Range Rover who showed no fear of Iowa’s CHP. He got me through that mind-numbing state in record time. I stopped at an interstate rest stop in Iowa where an old lady with a highway department uniform told me "I used to be in the bidnez worl’, that’s why I’m workin’ here." I thought she meant the business world ruined her life, but she was just working for the exercise. Go figure. Just south of Sioux City, I hooked up to highway 77 and to some even less regularly maintained roads.

I used to live in north eastern Nebraska and I mistakenly thought that gave me some ability to pick my way across the state. I ended up on a newly graveled road, about 10 miles north of North Bend, that was terminated by a large crane and a missing section of road. When I stopped to look at the construction damage, my wheels sunk past the rims. My next short cut took me though about 5 miles of really deep gravel and sand. By the time I escaped that desert riding experience, my front fender had a 3" hole pecked into the back side and my chain picked up about an inch of slack.

After relocating asphalt, I picked up 30 at North Bend and headed west. I failed the "will to live" test and stopped for a hamburger in Columbus, NE (Actually, I figured that ought to be the safest place in the US for a beef-eater, after that city’s most recent 15 minutes of fame.) Making up for lost time, I stuck with 30 to Grand Island and jumped to I-80. By the time I got to Gothenburg, NE; 630 miles from home, I was wiped out. I stayed in a truckers’ motel that night and set the alarm for a 5:00AM takeoff.

Poor road maintenance almost bit me in the butt this morning. I had a low rear tire and thought I’d developed an oil leak when I stopped in Julesburg, CO. The tire was low, but OK. I washed the engine and discovered the oil leak was just chain lube that was heating up and dripping off of the engine cases. I promised my self I would watch my oil level and temp gauge carefully for the rest of that leg of the trip, just in case. I managed to hold to that promise all the way to Denver, about 120 miles. Later in the trip, my failure to extend this pledge to the whole journey would haunt me.

By noon Monday, 372 miles later, I was in Denver. You can’t see the mountains until you are about 55 miles from the city. Mountain cloud cover suddenly becomes mountains and the air seems cooler and fresher. The last 50 miles into Denver seem to go quickly and the horizon’s view is terrific.

When I stopped, my butt hurt. My kidneys were falling out in chunks. My bike needed about 10 hours of serious maintenance. Being the high tech, serious maintenance guy I am, I lubed and re-tensioned the chain, put duct tape over the hole in the fender, washed the bike, checked for loose hardware, washed my laundry, and hung out in a bar until Wednesday morning.

Six of us left my friend’s home for Steamboat Wednesday at about 8:30AM. We were probably the weirdest collection of motorcycles on the highway that morning: a Yamaha TDM (mine), two Honda new Magnas, a ’78 Kawasaki Scepter, and an ’83 Yamaha Venture. After a few miles, we strung out across the highway in a several mile long "touring pattern."

We intended to get to Steamboat by noon so we could catch a little of the dirt track speedway racing in Hayden that afternoon. We’ve made that plan five years in a row. Like the other years, this year we didn’t get to Steamboat until 1:30PM, our trip schedule was sabotaged by several coffee, fuel, and meal beaks. Some of the group, including me, thought the lodge’s hot tub looked more interesting than another 100 miles on the bikes. Those who stayed watched the clouds cruise the mountain tops and drank beer. Those who left got to Hayden just as the last of the racers were leaving and got caught in a short rain storm on the way back. I try to make each of my millions of mistakes only once.

The next day, I went to town by myself because none of my group was all that hip on the trials event. This is the sport with which I ended my 15 year off-road competition career. In fact, the years defined as the end of "vintage" were state-of-the-art just before I quit trying to luck into a trophy. Every once in a while, Steamboat makes me reconsider my constant fear of knee injuries and I think about buying a Bultaco Sherpa T or a Yamaha TY and doing a little cherry-picking. Steamboat’s vintage traps are almost all easy enough that a good rider could zero out on a street bike.

This is also the day where the "geezers on Beemers" sub-title for Steamboat really becomes appropriate. There seem to be an incredible number of retired executives, military officers, and other non-working class types doing the vintage-bike gypsy tour. They live in 40’ luxury campers and tow bike-trailer/work-shops that make my garage look puny and unequipped. A few of them even have trophy wives in tow. Since most of these guys are pretty near my age and I don’t have any of that stuff, I try not to make too many comparisons or I’ll get discouraged.

I really get a kick out of seeing how many ancient bikes have been modified for trials. I didn’t even know BSA or Greeves made a 125 or that anyone was riding trials pre-WWII before my first trip to Steamboat. This is like a dirty, live-action museum with some dirty, active museum caretakers riding the exhibits. It rained a little about 10:00AM, just enough to send me back to the bike for my jacket. As soon as I had two arms full of stuff to carry, the weather got hot and I spent the rest of the morning sweating and grinding dirt into all of my body parts. I don’t know who won, probably some geezer with a collection of Beemers and a Yamaha TY in like-new condition.

Friday is vintage motocross day. Another of my favorite events. Again, I was up and out before the rest of the group. I spent the early morning walking through the pits, taking pictures, listening to experts talk about the history of various, long-dead motorcycle manufacturers. It’s still hard for me to reconcile Rickman, Bultaco, Ossa, Norton, BSA, and the rest of the deceased as being not only dead, but long dead. Seeing these bikes back in their prime, sometimes much better than prime, is a lot of retrospective fun.

Speaking of dead-ends, three other TDM’ers showed up for Steamboat. We belong to an Internet mail-list for our bike and some of us have been writing each other for a couple of years without ever putting faces to names. I recognized a couple of the guys by their bikes. Yamaha orphaned the TDM after importing it to the U.S. for two years (1992-93). Most of us have done a lot of little things to personalize our bikes and it was fun getting to see the mods I’d been reading about. Everyone got a good laugh of the state of my front fender and the general condition of my bike compared to those whose owners, intelligently, avoid dirt roads. We experienced our "fifteen minutes of fame" when another biker recognized us as "those guys who met on the Internet." We took pictures, talked for a couple hours, and headed in four directions for the rest of the weekend.

The actual races are almost anticlimactic. It’s always a kick watching Dick Mann win. He was a Baja hero of mine when I was a kid. He’s still heroic at sixty-something. Dave Lindeman, a Denver fireman, put on a good show in the Open Twin Expert class, dueling and beating Rick Doughty’s zillion dollar Rickman/BSA on a cobbled up Yamaha XL650.

But lots of the actual races are pretty boring. There are wads of timid, over-forty wannabes who barely turn their bikes on in the straights and come to a lethargic near-stop at every corner. The race to the first turn is often more humorous than exciting. Everyone is so concerned with avoiding contact and a crash-and-burn that they barely make it to the turn, let alone work for a decent position on the other side. In the bulk of the races, there is rarely more than two half-decent racers. The other two dozen geriatric cases are nothing more than track obstacles when the fast guys start lapping them. The upside, for me, is that I regularly get pumped about buying an Elsinore and stealing a trophy. The downside is after making a couple of deep knee squats, I remember why the majority of the riders are going so slow. Getting old is hell. The body can’t even remember how to do what the brain told it to do.

Fairly late in the afternoon, the races are over. We cruise the streets of Steamboat, looking at bikes we will never own. This really is a BMW convention. I doubt there is a bike BMW ever made that isn’t represented here. Seems like there are more Harleys this year, too. Maybe that’s why the local paper doesn’t have a single word about the events. In years past, I could read about what I’d seen the previous day in the local rag. Not this year. There must be several thousand bikers in town and the only mention of motorcycles was when a local biker got smacked by local cager. It’s not like this is a pack of Outlaws, tearing up the bars and defiling local women. A pair of women, climbing out of a Jeep Cherokee on their way to lunch, asked one of my buddies if we were a "biker gang." He told them, "Yeah, after our nap, we’re gonna take this town apart!" That’s about the speed of everyone at Steamboat. Sedate. Old. Mostly intent on finding a good restaurant and a decent hotel. I guess we still found a way to scare them.

I didn’t cruise much Friday night. We really did find a great place to stay and I headed back, well before dark, to sit in the hot tub and watch the clouds and the mountains flare and fade in a crimson tinted sundown lightshow. Beer, a good book, a hot tub, and tired, old aching joints really go well together. If a local female stripped herself and jumped into my hot tub, I might have defiled her but I’d have more likely been pissed that she got my book wet. I bought my beer at the Clark Store, so I didn’t even have a chance to think about trashing a bar. I’m a pretty poor excuse for a biker, I guess.

Saturday is vintage road racing and the first opportunity we have to look at the concourse. We buy pit passes, which are $20, and head for the pits. I’m not much of a connoisseur of street bikes. In fact, I never paid any attention to street bikes at all until I’d been riding and racing for almost 15 years. I still don’t really know one cruiser or crotch-rocket from another. I don’t much care about cars either. But there are some really neat, loud noises coming from the pits and one of my friends has a great time describing all the bikes to me. I lecture on the dirt bike days, he does the street day.

About two hours into Saturday, I got bored. This is a terrible thing for a "reporter" to admit, but I’d have rather been riding than watching. When I fell asleep and lost track of where the rest of my group had gone, I decided it was time for me to hit the road. I’d planned on leaving that day, anyway, and it seemed like the time to do it. I wandered around the course for another hour, trying to find everyone, with no luck. I stuck a note on a friend’s seat and started getting ready for the long ride back to Minnesota.

Sunday is the modern road race. I have been going to Steamboat for 6 years and I’ve never stayed for the modern road race. My justification for leaving early is that I can watch modern crotch rocketing any weekend during the summer and I never do. Why blow a good day of riding watching someone else have a good day of riding? Like all the years past, I left on Saturday and missed the really fast guys. They’d just discourage me, anyway.

The real reason I wanted to leave early was that I wanted the extra riding time so I could go back the long way, through Wyoming and South Dakota. I retraced my trip into Steamboat back over Rabbit Ears Pass. About 30 miles east of Steamboat, I turned north on Colorado 14. This is one of the prettiest roads I’ve traveled in Colorado. It’s a neat combination of mountain plains and ranch land. The road isn’t particularly twisty, but it does curve its way through a beautiful section of the Rockies. The road is well maintained and completely unoccupied by cage or cop. I made good time to Walden, where I picked up 127 and continued north to Laramie, WY.

The scenery doesn’t stop when you leave Colorado. Good roads and great views all the way to Laramie, where I copped out and took the freeway (I80). After 300 miles of awesome two lanes, I80 was a complete bummer. But I stuck to it to Cheyenne, where I swapped freeways and took I25 north to Wheatland. I spent the night in Wheatland, at another truck stop. Leaving Steamboat early allowed me to knock off 250 unproductive (destination-wise) miles before I seriously head for home.

The actual route I took from Wheatland to Deadwood is up for discussion. I know I stayed on I25 for a few more miles to Wyoming 160. I know I swapped off of 160 to 270, because I had breakfast in Lusk, WY. I’m not sure I stuck with 270 all the way to Lusk, though. A good portion of that trip was on dirt roads. I mostly used the sun as a compass and tried to keep going north at every intersection. I popped out of the last section of dirt road on highway 85, just a few miles south of Lusk. I had been on reserve for about 30 miles when I filled up in Lusk. I’d like to tell you 270 to Lusk is a terrific road, well worth traveling, because it is. I’d like to tell you that I strongly recommend this route for the scenery and adventure, because I really enjoyed that aspect of the trip. The fact is, this is a route that requires a great suspension. The road (the real road, not the dirt road) is heavily traveled by farm equipment and is pretty rough. The TDM ate it up, but a crotch rocket or cruiser would deliver a severe pounding. You decide.

Leaving Lusk, I forgot to reinsert my ear plugs. Good thing. I heard several nasty noises and pulled over for a maintenance stop. You’ll probably notice that I haven’t mentioned maintenance since just before I pulled into Denver. I hadn’t done much since then. Another brain fart. The older you get, the more of them you’ll have. I discovered the front fender had a new hole, this one on the front, from poor tire-to-fender clearance and flung gravel. I pealed away pieces that were touching the tire and "fixed" that problem. I also discovered my chain was really wearing out fast, probably due to the off-road portions of the trip. It was actually hanging up at spots as they passed over the countershaft sprocket. I bought a can of WD40 and thoroughly cleaned the chain. I lubricated the chain and made some more promises to myself regarding maintenance.

The next section of the trip was sort of frightening, considering the condition of my bike. There is next to nothing between Lusk and Deadwood, 140 miles of nothing. There are some towns listed on the map, but they are barely bumps in the road. Some of them aren’t even that. But I took this route because I was bored with the trip across Nebraska and Iowa, so I figured it was worth continuing. Not that I had much of a choice.

Wyoming is a great state. I suppose every state has a motto. Nebraska blabs about some mystical "good life" that no visitor or resident has seen any sign of. Iowa yaks about "liberties" and "rights" and parks a cop on every road to make sure no one ever even dreams about freedom. Colorado’s "nothing without providence" is totally meaningless. But Wyoming is the "big country" and you don’t have to look far to find real cowboys just like the one on their license plate. Some of those cowboys drive farm trucks on highway 85. I only saw four vehicles on the road between Lusk and the South Dakota boarder. All of them were doing 90+ mph and they all waved when they went by me. I would have stayed with them, but I wanted to live through this section of the trip with chain intact. There is nothing, in any other part of this country, like the concept of "safe and reasonable" as a speed limit. It almost makes me feel like an American. Out there, Mamma Government is in short supply and nobody misses her.

The weather totally cooperated. From the beginning of this day until I hit the plains, just west of Wall, SD, the sky was clear, the temperature was in the low 70’s, and the wind was nonexistent. South Dakota’s Black Hills are a national treasure. South of Deadwood, 85 winds through the hills like the best Rocky Mountain highway. There are miles of twisty, narrow highway that parallels beautiful streams and cuts through wooded valleys and farm land. I could take a summer long vacation, traveling the roads of the Black Hills, and never grow even a little tired of it.

I made it to Deadwood in one piece. Stopped for gas, lubed the chain, washed the windshield, checked the tires, and thoroughly inspected the bike. Then I walked to the Deadwood Historical Society museum and wasted an hour looking at the coolest of western history. There are Harleys all over Deadwood. It’s only a few miles from Sturgis, which must account for all the heavy iron.

I still hadn’t eaten when I left Deadwood. I was making, and having, such good time that I couldn’t convince myself to waste any of the day in a restaurant. Slightly north of Deadwood, I struck interstate and there I stayed until Minnesota. Once you pass Wall, the home of Wall Drug, there isn’t much to say about South Dakota. Every diddly-butt town has some kind of tourist trap. None of them are worth stopping for. It’s not just that there’s nothing to see in those towns, there’s nothing to see in that part of South Dakota. It’s just miles and miles of flat, boring plains. Most of the state’s rest stops are "out of order," probably to force travelers to waste time and money in the state’s tourist traps. I stopped for gas at Wall, Chamberlain, and Sioux Falls. There isn’t much more to say about the space between any of those cities.

The wind was killer, once I passed Wall. It was 50+mph and I felt like I was making the world’s longest right turn. 420 miles of right turn. I wanted to make Sioux Falls by nightfall, but I was forced to take a stretch break every 50 miles. My arms, back, and butt were going numb and the road never seemed to end. I swear that some of the mileage signs increased the distance to Sioux Falls as I drove east.

The only break in the monotony comes a few miles before Chamberlain, SD. The Missouri River valley almost instantly changes the scenery. It takes you from flat, barren plains to green rolling hills in only a few miles. The river is awesome, especially after 200 miles of desolation. It’s as wide as a lake and as blue as an ocean. Unfortunately, 10 miles east of Chamberlain, I’m back in a windy desert. That evening, 650 miles from where I left that morning, I pulled into Sioux Falls and headed for a Super 8.

The next morning, I tried to sight-see in Sioux Falls but failed to find any interesting sights. I left town at about nine and headed for home. I repeated the original leg of the trip by exiting I90 at Worthington and take 60 to 169, through Mankato, and on to the Twin Cities.

I got home a little after noon. I popped the cap on a beer, filled up the hot tub, and fell asleep dreaming about high mountain passes, unlimited speed limits in Wyoming, and gorgeous snaky roads in the Black Hills. I woke up, sweating, later that night when the dream turned to wind blasted, straight and boring South Dakota interstate dotted with hundreds of Iowa Highway Patrol cars.

Oct 12, 2022

There Are Tires and There Are Tires

Earlier this spring, a friend rode his Suzuki TU250X from Santa Fe to the west coast and back. On the way back, he got hammered by winds that were almost enough to exhaust that little single-cylinder 250 into a low gear and wore himself out keeping the bike on the road. Yesterday, I did a piddly 50-mile round-trip ride in my local area. On the way back, I experienced 30-40mph side and head winds and re-discovered the joys of skating on a motorcycle. The bike, literally, slides a foot or so across the lane when a big gust hits it strongly. It’s not that different from riding on loose gravel or even a sandy country road, but it’s a little disconcerting and definitely tiring after a few miles. And I wasn’t loaded up with a week’s worth of gear and camping gear, so my experience was a small sub-set of his on the high plains of Idaho. Still, it brought back a lot of memories about motorcycle tire evolution in my lifetime and experience.

When I bought my first street bike, a ‘80 Honda CX500, I got my first taste of getting hammered by the wind when I rode that bike from Omaha to California in 1983 to start a new job. Between Omaha and western Kansas on my first day of the ride, I got my ass kicked by strong winds constantly blowing that oversized, under-powered boat from one side of the highway to the other. Since that bike had barely more than 1,000 miles on the odometer, I’m fairly certain it was still wearing the stock tires when I evacuated the Midwest for California. Probably 4-ply, bias-belted, symmetrically patterned tires like the ones in the Honda ad picture to the left and above. Those tires were consistently awful on waffle-steel bridges, gravel, newly paved roads with loose grit, wet surfaces, and any irregular surface. Not that great on regular surfaces, either. And, of course, the bike was more like a sailing ship than a land vehicle in the wind.    

Not long after arriving in California, I had to reshoe my bike and the first tires I remember making a difference were bias-belted Dunlop Elites. The trick is increased contact patch, irregular grooves in the tire to move water away from the contact patch, and the difference in the ride and stability was revolutionary. Most of the problems I complained about in the above paragraph vanished with the Dunlop shoes. Especially wet surface stability and grated bridges became mostly non-issues. And I stuck with those tires on all of my bikes except the two dual purpose bikes I owned for the next 8 years. The last bike to wear Elites was my XTX550 Yamaha Vision. I moved from California to Indiana to Colorado with that bike and a Yamaha XT350 Enduro.

Not long after moving to Denver (Parker, actually), I stumbled on to a killer deal on an 850 Yamaha TDM and that bike, owned by a doctor who farkled up the bike to the max but rarely rode it, came with Michelin radials. They were, as I remember, tires that I’d considered out of my budget up to then, but I don’t remember what model of tire they were. What I do remember is that the TDM was the most stable, sure-footed motorcycle I had ever ridden at speed on any surface. From that bike on, every motorcycle I’ve owned that could take a tubeless tire got high-end radials: from my TDMs to my SV650 to my V-Strom. And all of those motorcycles and tires convinced me that weight, style, and the rest of the excuses motorcyclists use for “needing” a large, heavy, unwieldy motorcycle are clueless.

But yesterday, back on a small motorcycle with old-fashioned bias belted tires, I was thrown back in time to the bad-old-days when tires were designed intuitively rather than using science and engineering. I have a pair tires in the garage waiting to be installed, but the miser in me wanted to get at least enough use out of the damn 10-year-old OEM Cheng-Shin CS Marquis Chinese junk to satisfy something-or-other waste-wise. Before writing this essay, I hadn’t really looked at the OEM tires. After writing “10-year-old OEM Cheng-Shin CS Marquis” I realized how stupid that argument is. Those tires were installed on the bike to protect the rims in shipping. No rational person would be dumb enough to ride a motorcycle on public roads wearing those sad faux-tires.