Aug 23, 2019

MOvie: Broken Roads to Siberia

Aug 19, 2019

Are You A Risk Taker or Just a Moron?

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

During an Experienced Rider class late in 2014, my group of smarter-than-typical riders seriously discussed motorcycle gear, riding fast on public streets, and taking risks. The only barely-competent guy in this normal group commented, "If you're not going fast you're not riding." His bike of choice was a classically overweight, underpowered, unmaneuverable hippobike, so I had to assume that his version of "going fast" would be less-than-impressive, outside of his noise output. Still his comment inspired one of the other riders to say, "Watching my kids bang around the house reminded me that I was no longer made out of magic and rubber and I gave up serious off-road racing when I turned 30." The "magic and rubber" comment really stuck with me. 
 
As my wife and I were near the end zone of getting our house in Little Canada emptied out and ready for sale, I took a walk around our old neighborhood. On the way back home, I flashed back to a decade ago when my grandson was in the early stages of learning how to ride a bicycle. One afternoon after riding to our neighborhood playground he was "racing" me back home when he target-fixated on a group of mailboxes and plowed into them pretty close to full speed. He was, of course, helmeted, gloved, and wearing a little protective padding. I wasn't far behind him and after I'd checked him over, determining that he had nothing more than a big scare and a few scratches, we rode the rest of the way home fairly subdued. While we were putting up the bikes and gear, we had another talk about where you look when you're riding a bicycle: "look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go." In what seemed to me like a few minutes, he'd gone from scared and crying to having forgotten about the crash altogether. The next time we rode to the park, he was back to racing me and every trip after that was uneventful. If I had that same crash I'd probably still be in a wheelchair and scarred for life; helmet or not.
 
Thinking about that crash reminded me of the series of horrific crashes Garry McCoy demonstrated for the movie "Faster." 

McCoy did not get away harmlessly when he crashed. Between 1998 and 2010, when McCoy finally retired from racing, Garry broke an ankle and a wrist and spent more time than any sane person flying through the air with pieces of his motorcycles scattering in the winds. When McCoy crashed, he crashed spectacularly. But he raced at a world championship level for 18 years and even when he didn't run with the fastest guys he was always fast and fun to watch. Racers know that old saying about motorcycling, "there are riders who have crashed and riders who will crash" is a fact. If they've been riding near their limits for any time at all, they've already joined the "riders who have crashed" group, more than once. 
 
Once you've done the "flying through the air" thing, you will become far more familiar with the risk involved in riding a motorcycle. Even if you're properly geared up, AGAT from head-to-toe, you'll most likely still be sore the next day and more aware of how slight the margin between seriously broken and almost broken can be. When my grandson crashed his bicycle all I could think about for a few hours was how easily his crash could have been something awful for him and our family. Some of that was due to my own familiarity with crash consequences. In various off-road racing incidents I've broken all of the toes on my left foot, all of my left side and several of the right side ribs, a couple of fingers, and both clavicles (one on a bicycle). Not one of the crashes that resulted in busted body parts was even close to being one of my most spectacular endos. Just a little bit of bad luck and/or poor timing turned what could have been nothing but a good story into a few months of painful recovery. 
 
When I see riders wobbling down public roads in their "biker underwear" (any outfit that doesn't qualify as AGAT), oblivious to the risk they are taking and the possible consequences of that risk, I'm reminded of my wife's observation, "They're having fun now." It's not difficult to imagine how quickly that fun can turn into disaster. I've seen what happens when skin meets asphalt at speed. It's ugly, painful, and a little disgusting. I've seen a skull turned into something more like a poorly shaped pillow that sagged weirdly into the road. I've crashed my bicycles at 2-25mph, wearing the usual bicycle "gear" and left a whole lot of myself on the road or trail. Even when the road rash barely breaks the skin, if there is enough of it it still hurts a lot and for a surprisingly long time. 
 
Motorcycling is risky. So, it's fair to say that every time we gear up and swing a leg over a motorcycle, we're assuming risk. With that assumption, it's also fair to say that every time we swing an unprotected leg over a motorcycle we're acting stupidly and pretending the road isn't hard and unforgiving, that mechanical parts don't fail unexpectedly, and that we're unlikely to make a stupid mistake that could result in a crash. There is also the less likely possibility that someone else will do something stupid and crash into us. So, motorcycling without taking the barely-reasonable precautions of going AGAT and being sure our skills are sufficient for the machine we've picked is clearly stupid. So, before you open the garage door and roll your machine into the driveway, I'd recommend asking yourself, "Am I a risk taker or just a moron?"

Aug 11, 2019

Assholes Everywhere



The comments on this page are hilarious.  My wife saw something like this silliness on EuroNews this morning and was convinced I'd be impressed. 

Putin rides like a conservative politician; terrified and awfully. He and his asshole biker buddies are exactly the kind of nitwits we have parading around the Mississippi River Valley every weekend. I'm tellin' you, the apocalypse can't come soon enough. Humans have clearly down-bred to the point of no return.

Aug 9, 2019

Back in Paper




This seems like one of those destined to fail marriages,but for now I'm writing a column (still called "Geezer with a Grudge" for Fast Lane Biker Magazine. This month's issue is the first for me. Like Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly 20-some years ago, Fast Lane is trying to get pissed off reader letters to justify their existence. So, I'm justifying my existence by pissing people off, again.

Jul 29, 2019

The Difference Between Pros and the Rest of Us

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

A young woman wrote the following on a motorcycle list I occasionally follow, "I'm considered/called a 'pro artist' but I don't get paid for my work. Just because someone races and gets paid for it doesn't mean they actually know what they are doing." She was responding to a comment I'd made about how unimpressed I was with all of the "performance" farkle-jabber that went on among the wannabes and street bandits on that list (My exact comment was, "Actually, to be a professional at something you have to be good enough to get paid for it."). Another kid on the list responded with, "You also don't have to be a pro-rider on a race circuit to be considered 'pro.' It's all in experience."
 
First, let's get the semantics out of the way. Mr. Webster, if you please. 
 
Pro-fes-sion-al adj
1) a: of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession; b: engaged in one of the learned professions; c: (1) characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace  
2) a: participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs <a professional golfer> b: having a particular profession as a permanent career <a professional soldier> c: engaged in by persons receiving financial return <professional football>
3) following a line of conduct as though it were a profession <a professional patriot>
From the above definitions, I think it's safe to say that being a professional has something to do with getting paid to do the job. Someone "considered/called a 'pro artist'" who does art without compensation is a hobbyist or an amateur. That person might be an excellent artist, but not a professional artist. 
 
How long would any of the tens of thousands of competent high school or college football players survive an NFL game? In sports--and motorcycle racing is a sport--the difference between professionals and the rest of us is as dramatic as the intellectual space between Stephen Hawking and Bonzo the chimp. Being "courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike"--even adding the gold leaf of "conforming to the technical or ethical standards"--might cut it in the Misfortune 500, but it won't buy you one microsecond of cornering advantage on the race track. Being a pro-rider means you are better than all of the novice, intermediate, and expert amateurs. Getting a substantial investment from a race sponsor or a five-to-seven-figure salary from a manufacturer means you are among the best-of-the-best. Winning national and world championships means you are superhuman.  
 
When we watch a pro race, it's easy to imagine that kind of skill is normal because the race track is filled with people going fast and making it look easy. Michael Jordan made dunking a basketball look easy, too. Magic Johnson made bullet behind-the-back passes and half-court jump shots look natural and humanly possible. Kenny Roberts convinced a lot of fools that the Yamaha TZ750 was a real dirt track miler, not the deathtrap ("They don't pay me enough to ride this thing," sayeth Kenny) that it really was. NFL quarterbacks pinpoint 60 yard passes into the hands of the quickest runners in human history and we delude ourselves into believing that our cheering helped them perform those incredible feats. I know about this delusion, because I watched Bobby Hannah skip across the tops of chest-deep whoops in 1977 and I thought I could do that if I only had a factory bike. I suspect I couldn't ride a 1976 factory bike on my best day. Being a spectator is a deceiving experience. Hell, television even convinces some of us that science and invention is easy and glamorous. 
 
It's all bullshit, though. These aren't normal athletes. They aren't ordinary people. What they do is not normal human activity. They are professionals. 
 
We can argue about how much those talents are worth, financially, but arguing that "it's all in experience" is foolish and arrogant. I've been riding since 1963 and I have a butt-load of "experience." I get paid to teach MSF classes, so I am (in a weak sense) a professional motorcyclist. But I never had a fraction of the talent, dedication, physical ability, or focus to be a professional racer. I have written more than 250 articles for a variety of industry publications (including motorcycling) and that makes me a professional writer. A writer becomes an author when he publishes a book: I am not an author. Experience doesn't amount to squat until you get paid to do the thing, if you want to compare yourself to professionals. All you have to do to gain experience is to stay alive and observe the world around you. 
 
Professionals don't delude themselves with stupid fantasies. (They may be superstitious, though. I can't explain that.) Pro motorcyclists wear the best protection gear available. They ride motorcycles that have the very best maintenance and state-of-the-art technology. They study the race track, the other racers, their machine, and they integrate all of that information into a performance that produces results or results in early retirement. To be a professional you have to convince someone you are actually worth hard cash. On the race track, you do that by winning races. Nothing else matters.

Jul 22, 2019

Running from the Noise Makers

There are tourist towns and there are tourist towns. Red Wing, MN, (my hometown) seems to really want to spend a lot of taxpayer cash attracting out-of-town money, but only a particular type of money. Like Lost Wages in the 90's, Red Wing is pretty much a town full of geezers (mostly retired) who are terrified of change, young people, and bikers. Our cops, especially, follow the national mode of knowing these assholes are gangbangers and domestic terrorists and they keep a long distance. If there is such a thing as a biker who could pass a DWI test on a typical summer weekend, our cops have no idea what that would look like.

We had some friends visit for a weekend recently and when we went looking for an restaurant on one evening we ratcheted from Smokin’ Oak to Kelly’s to Bayside to downtown, finally settling on one of the downtown restaurants that wasn’t surrounded by bikers and loud drunks (not that the two are a different crowd) and their poorly maintained and highly-illegal cruisers. The fact is, you can’t have it both ways; you are either a family-friendly tourist town or a biker-friendly bar stop. The difference between most cruiser exhaust noise and year-round fireworks is usually that the fireworks are quieter and more entertaining. Concentrating on the biker money means that family entertainment money will go elsewhere.

Back in 2007 and, again, in 2013, Stillwater, MN made some political noise about cracking down on illegal motorcycle and 4-wheel exhaust noise and the biker gangbangers made some seriously threatening noise back. About the same time, Hudson, WI’s City Council, reacting to residents’ complaints, had a similar discussion, attracting a collection of Outlaw bikers to a city council meeting, which scared the local cops into hiding for the evening. That effectively caused Hudson to back down from their resident-friendly position. There is a group, Citizens for a Quieter Stillwater, that has tried to keep this issue upfront in Stillwater, but Stillwater police seem to have been terrorized into pretending this isn’t a policing problem. I get that, biker gangs are high on the FBI’s list of domestic terror groups. There are many good reasons to be afraid of them, but that is supposed to be why police get to carry guns and can (and should) arrest dangerous law-breaking people. (I know, if I am dumb enough believe that the characters who mostly want to wear badges and carry guns are willing to risk their 20-years-and-out retirement plan putting themselves at risk to protect and serve the public, you have a bridge and Thomas Jefferson's airplane you want to sell me.)

A few months back, in answering a question about vehicle noise and disturbing the peace, Red Wing’s Chief of Police made it clear that he is familiar with the state noise laws (https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/p-gen6-01.pdf) and how they should be enforced. The reasons those laws are not enforced are both economic and pragmatic. Local bars catering to bikers carry a disproportionate amount of political weight and they don’t care much who brings in money as long as there is lots of it. In Minnesota, motorcycle advocacy groups like ABATE (Always Beer at the Event) advocate against helmet laws, motorcycle safety and pollution inspections, mandatory rider training and licensing, and to whine about increasing penalties for right-of-way violators (unless they are bikers). The state legislator was coerced (or terrified) into passing the “Motorcycle Road Guard” law where a mildly-"trained" doofus is allowed to “stop and control traffic for motorcycle group riders”: one of the dumber ideas from our not-too-bright state legislature. Obviously, a smarter approach would have been to enforce rational pirate parades with police examining all of the vehicles in the parade for legal exhausts and fuel systems and breaking up the parade into normaler, traffic-manageable groups. ABATE does an “Annual Bikerday at the Capitol,” where all the group’s pirates dress up in gangsta outfits intended to scare the crap out of the pseudo-conservative lightweights in the capitol and to keep motorcycle legislation off-discussion. It, so far, has worked. 

The average age of US motorcyclists has been going up 2-3 years every year (>50 as of 2018) and the median income is considerably above the US average: $62,500 in 2018. Safety training programs across the country are reducing the number of classes they offer, for example by more than half in Minnesota from the peak 2003-07 period. Motorcycle dealerships are closing or diversifying into ATVs and boats. The number of licensed motorcyclists drastically exceeds the number of motorcycles with valid license tags, indicating that actual ridership is down substantially (and that a regular demonstration of competence should be part of motorcycle license renewal). That last fact is even more dramatic than it seems when you take into account the fact that many/most active motorcyclists own and ride more than one motorcycle. So, this noise and safety issue could be self-solving as bikers age out of the country’s demographic and motorcycle manufacturers price themselves out of existence.

https://www.ironhorsehelmets.com/if-loud-pipes-save-lives-imagine-what-learning-to-ride-that-thing-could-do-biker-t-shirt/
As for the “loud pipes save lives” hype, as a life-long motorcyclist who taught Minnesota motorcycle safety classes for 17 years, I recommend learning how to ride your motorcycle over passive noise makers. 30-to-40-something-percent of Minnesota fatal motorcycle crashes are single-vehicle incidents and common sense would indicate that at least that number of motorcycle crashes are at least in large part the fault of the motorcyclists. The state doesn’t keep any sort of statistics on loud pipes involved in crashes, but there are a LOT of Harley’s and other cruiser models involved in fatal crashes and the most “custom” Harley is one with no pointless modifications done to the exhaust system. So, the evidence appears to be pretty conclusive that the only reason for loud exhaust systems to flaunt disrespect for laws and authority and common decency and peace and quiet.

Jul 15, 2019

Only Mortal

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

In 2008, a few weeks before I took off on a month-long bike trip to eastern North America, I accidentally ran a test on my self-confidence. You'd think that a 60+ year old man would be pretty familiar with his body and his limits, but you'd be wrong. One of the characteristics of folks who take on risky activities like sky diving, scuba, and motorcycling is the need to operate on some level of conviction that "I won't get hurt." Crashing and getting maimed and dying is for other people. They have my sympathy, but I'm not one of those guys. I felt that way, especially, when I was young and raced off-road. Some days--those few when I get out of bed relatively painlessly--I still feel a bit indestructible. 
 
It's an illusion. A fantasy. A conceit. We're all not only mortal, but a little bit fragile. At speeds beyond a brisk walk, we're downright breakable. Even me.
 
So, one afternoon after work I was on my way home; taking residential roads, avoiding traffic congestion, and ugly freeways. As I approached a collection of apartment buildings, I saw a trio of kids with arm loads of water balloons. I was in my usual armor. It was a hot July afternoon. They were having fun. I didn't make any special effort to avoid them. As I passed, all three fired off a balloon in my direction. Two balloons harmlessly hit the pavement in front of my bike and splashed a little water on my boots. The third landed right in my lap. 
 
At first, I was shocked that getting hit by a water balloon wasn't as fun as I remembered it being. My grandson and I toss water balloons at each other all summer (I know, "You could put an eye out doing that.") and nobody ever gets hurt. 
 
I got hurt. I practically vomited it hurt so much. I've been hit by 200 pound guys in football gear and this was worse. I've hit the ground at 50mph in a dirtbike get-off, this wasn't that bad but it wasn't far off. The pain from the balloon impact was somewhere below crashing and breaking a rack of ribs and way above having a 10 year old grandkid jump on my stomach while I'm lying on the floor watching television. 
 
Nursing my bruised gut, I did a little research on risk, just to see if I could learn something. I have learned enough about pain, I didn't need any more of that sort of information. The Journal of Sport Behavior had some interesting things to say about risk: "Choosing risk for the sake of risk is not the goal. Rather, while being attracted to activities that offer novel or intense experiences, sensation seekers are willing to accept the potential risks involved."1 The same article considered the mindset of the risk taker, "risk is necessary for sensation seeking to occur but that risk itself is not necessarily the fully intended goal of a sensation seeker. Choosing risk for the sake of risk is not the goal. Rather, while being attracted to activities that offer novel or intense experiences, sensation seekers are willing to accept the potential risks involved."
 
I'll buy that. Honestly, risk isn't the reason I ride. The risk is the thing I try to avoid while I ride. Riding is certainly a "novel experience," though. Driving a car, riding a bus, pedaling a bicycle, walking, or any other means of transportation have very little in common with the motorcycling experience. Riding a motorcycle is more like flying an ultralight, if an ultralight could maneuver in dense traffic. 
 
In 1988, a researcher named Bogo found that "high-risk athletes were not fearless, but that they had learned how to handle fear. The climbers he interviewed viewed fear as an acceptable and potentially useful emotion in helping keep them safe." We who ride do that, sort of. I'm not convinced that I think, directly, about the risk of riding. I certainly look out for strange cager behavior (is there another kind of cager behavior?). Maybe I've been riding long enough that fear has morphed into something else; paranoia, for example. However, that balloon-induced dose of intense pain brought back an awareness of fear and mortality.
 
Getting hurt reminds us that we aren't immortal, bulletproof, infallible, or reliably lucky. Crashing, snagging a fingernail against the edge of a spinning tire, mangling a hand on a sheet metal edge, or getting nailed with a fast-moving water balloon reminds us that it can all be over in an instant. We're indestructible until we destruct. Then, we think about the risks we're taking. We re-evaluate the reward vs. the risk. We decide if the possible consequences of those "intense activities" override the joy we receive from the activity. 
 
When someone tells me they used to ride a bike, when they were kids, but crashed once and decided it wasn't worth the risk, I know what they are talking about. I've gone through the re-examination process several times; usually while nursing busted bones or some such aggravation. So far, I still feel that what I get from riding is worth what it takes from me. There will be a time where infirmity or risk-aversion makes me re-evaluate that position.

1 "A qualitative examination of risk among elite adventure racers, " Journal of Sport Behavior

Post-Script: As you can guess by the date on this rant, I wrote it more than a decade ago. Another piece the magazine, MMM, editors didn't pick for whatever reason. Having been busted up a few times since I wrote this, I do NOT feel that it is in any way an exaggeration.

Jul 8, 2019

Visible When It Counts

A "feature" of teaching is regular, frustrating failure: failure to communicate, failure to connect, failure to even be able to verify your own existence when you see the "results" of your students' test answers. If you are one of the many Americans who believe that teaching is a lucrative, rewarding, interesting job, I recommend you try it. Too often, it is just frustrating and doesn't even come close to compensating enough for the hassle. Many people who are teachers have the credentials to do something more financially and psychically rewarding and many do so after a very short stint in education. Teaching, as a calling, requires something that is rare to non-existent in modern life, "A good teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the way for others."  You can only do that or so long. If you are smart, not very long at all.

When I hear the usual whining bleat of people working menial jobs who don't think their tips are big enough, I think of all the jobs that don't get tipped at all that don't pay anywhere near enough to compensate for the crap they take from an ungrateful public. In fact, most jobs don't get tips, a decent or livable income, or respect or gratitude. Teachers are high on the list of people in that category. In fact, the well-educated and trained teacher this article featured, "Why a South Carolina teacher quit at 28 — and shared her resignation letter with the world," left teaching for a waiting job which pays better, requires fewer hours, and is way less unreasonably demanding. I'm not complaining about my stint, either as a college instructor or a motorcycle safety instructor. I was in pretty good financial shape when I started those jobs and, mostly, I did them to keep from dipping into my retirement savings before I actually retired and, for a long while, because they were fun jobs. Not having to take the administration of either of those establishments particularly seriously was a giant insulator between my sanity and their general purpose weirdness. If I had been a recently graduated instructor with no financial resources and the typical blob of college debt, my situation would have been drastically different.

The only "tips" I have received from my students have been calls and emails and the occasionally note thanking me for helping them find a career or ride a motorcycle safely. Those come few and far between, not much more than a dozen times in 20 years and thousands of students. Most people think they have paid for a teacher's time and they deserve whatever comes from that. The rare student knows that is not true.

So, with that whining background behind us, a few days ago my grandson, Wolf, called to thank me for all of my years of riding tips, safety harping, and encouragement after he had a near-miss traffic incident when a cager ran a stoplight and nearly clipped him from his eBike.  Of course, the driver was fumbling with a cell phone and "didn't see" either the light or the bicyclist. She also didn't slow down after mouthing "I'm sorry" and drove off without even checking to see if he or his bicycle were damaged. What else is new, right?

Wolf, has been commuting year-round in Minneapolis by eBike for two years, going on three, and we've had lots of conversations about counter-steering, swerving, braking, and relentless paranoia with the understanding that anyone needing 4-wheels to balance a vehicle is, by default, a moron. Unlike so many of the people who filtered through the so-called "motorcycle safety program," Wolf learned a lot of hard lessons on his bicycle on empty streets in the early-morning hours (he worked night shift for a year) where errors like braking in the corners, applying brakes suddenly, riding with fingers resting on the brakes, and slight lose of attention put him on the ground in the ice instantly, but without a lot of morbidity/mortality risk because he is an AGAT guy. (See the picture at right for a bit of his winter riding gear.) After two years of well-developed braking habits, that event we all hope will never happen did and his smooth, strong application of both brakes brought the bike to a complete stop just before hitting the cager-nitwit. She brushed against his front wheel with her back bumper and almost pulled the bars out of his hands, but the contact was so slight that he didn't go down.

I'm going to guess that I have made at least 750 people miserable in my MSF Basic Rider Courses (BRC) over the last 18 years. In all that time, I have probably had no more than a half-dozen people thank me for anything other than passing them at the end of the course. Many of the people who did pass shouldn't have because they didn't have the skills, attitude, or awareness to be safe on motorcycles in real traffic. The old BRC wasn't even close to a serious safety and skills program and the new one is simply a joke intended to put as many butts on seats as possible. My grandson suffered mightily under my nagging from when he first started to ride a 16" wheel bike almost 17 years ago until this past winter. In many ways, all of the good things I have learned about riding and teaching over the last 50 years all ended up in his lap. When he was 15, we took a Rocky Mountain tour and many bikers were convinced that he was being abused in having to wear full gear, all the time, regardless of the heat. We had a lot of conversations about motorcycle operation, maintenance (his job was the check the tires and do a visual examination at every fuel stop). He did a great job, including noticing a fork seal leak that became a serious problem a few miles outside of Laramie, WY. We lucked into a great Suzuki shop there with a mechanic who knew that there were a LOT of Suzuki seals that would fit in my V-Strom.

If there were anyone on the planet who I would like to have influenced, it would be Wolf. Getting that call was the best tip I could have ever hoped for.

It's A Brave New (Electric) World


https://www.cyclevolta.com/

The company that owns and publishes "Cycle World Magazine" is hedging its bets with an eBike on-line publication called Cycle Volta. This is no small commitment because, motorcycle rag fans will notice, most of the technical articles are written by Kevin Cameron. Kevin is the guy many of read Cycle World for and many of us will jump to Cycle Volta for the same hit of rational thinking and technical insight.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fuell-fluid-longest-range-best-pedal-assist-ebike#/ 
Add to that, the fact that Ducati, Yamaha, Honda, and hundreds of start-up eBike brands are in the early hunt for market dominance; or even a decent showing. Supposedly, 60% of all bicycles sold in the EU are eBikes and while US statistics are typically poor it's pretty obvious that our market is experiencing a sea change, too. Midwestern innovator of the century, Eric Buell, has caught the wave and he is going after the high-end eBike market with a 125 mile range eBike, "Fluid," with an assortment of options and a new electric race bike. His brand is called "Fuell" as a link to Eric's name and a nod to the Harley assholes who still claim ownership of the "Buell" brand name. I have no doubt that anything Eric does in this market will blow anything Harley does into history. It would be fun to see HD have to "buy" Eric's new venture just to stay in business.

Jul 3, 2019

Seven Dead in New Hampshire

A motorcycle group called "Jarheads MC" ended up in a group crash that killed seven members and injured several others. A friend called to ask for my take on the crash. I don't watch much news these days, the news is always depressing and increasingly stupid, so I just wander through the tail end of my life singing a Steely Dan song, "Any World I'm Welcome To." While we talked, I checked out the news on the web. I know I was supposed to be feeling compassion for "fellow motorcyclists," but the news report didn't generate much of that from me. I have phased from ambivalence-to-numb regarding the dumb stuff that happens to bikers decades ago. (Motorcyclists are different and I do still care about stuff that happens to them.)

One of my least favorite gigs when I was teaching "motorcycle safety" classes (which especially deserves the quote hint in this situation) was trying to run an Experienced Rider Course with a pack of bikers. There would typically be 11 bikers on 11 totally illegal hippobikes with, at best, one or two competent riders in the group and four or five totally incompetent bikers and the rest in-between but closer to incompetent than competent. And every one of those hippobikes made as much noise as a 1940's farm tractor without a muffler of any sort. The worse the rider, the louder the pipes. The level of entitlement and foolishness from the group would just reek, "I am a member of a gang and we're scary. I need loud pipes on my bike to warn you that an incompetent fool is sharing the road with you. Take care of me because I can't take care of myself." The worst-of-the-worst for this kind of course would be a gang of "law enforcement officers," who would not only be lousy riders on illegal bikes but the most arrogant, entitled folks on the planet. Nothing tops a cop who is also a military veteran for someone who believes the world owes him fear disguised as "respect." Regardless of the make-up of the group, they too often all brought their required helmets strapped to the bike seat or in a saddlebag, just to make sure the instructors knew they didn't believe in that shit. So, when I hear one of the many stories of biker gangs getting involved in one more multi-vehicle pile-up, I'm not surprised, shocked, outraged, or even particularly interested. These are the people who overwhelmingly make up the 30-40% of all motorcycle fatalities that are single vehicle crashes.

In one report of the crash, a relative of one of the dead bikers said of the truck driver, "As long as he pays a price. He has caused lot of harm to a lot of families. If has a problem, he shouldn't be on the road. If he is a bad actor, he doesn't belong on the street. He caused enough of a tragedy. Enough is enough." I wish that rule were applied to motorcyclists. "Enough is enough." It's time motorcyclists were required to take responsibility for their lousy driving habits and the total criminal irresponsibility of pirate parades.

As usual, the cops are confused and irrational. “The pickup driver, Volodoymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, an employee of a Springfield, Massachusetts, trucking company, was not seriously hurt. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating, said he was interviewed at the scene by police and allowed to return to Massachusetts.” First they sent the truck driver home after taking his information, then they drove to his home and arrested him on a "fugitive from justice" charge, then released him again. Nothing like muddying the waters of an already dumbed-down American media machine and the Marching Moron public. Bikers are riled up and the tiny portion of the American public who can think are wondering what really happened and if anyone will ever know.

I think it's safe to assume the eye witness reports from the bikers will be useless. Most likely, they didn't have a view of what happened, due to their concentration on riding within reach of each other, so anything that happens seems like an unavoidable hole opening in the earth. A surviving rider said, “It was just an explosion . . . with parts and Al and everything flying through the air. He turned hard left into us and took out pretty much everyone behind me. The truck and trailer stayed attached and that is why it was so devastating . . . because the trailer was attached and it was such a big trailer, it was like a whip. It just cleaned us out.” If that’s true, it sounds like 1) the truck driver was passing after the first bike or two went by and plowed into the middle of the group or 2) turning at an intersection not realizing the oncoming traffic was moving so fast or 3) fooling with his cell phone or some other distraction and wandered into the opposite lane and panicked. In the picture above, the road is pretty clearly marked as a no-passing zone.

An uncle of one of the riders said, ‘‘The truck was coming in the opposite direction. It’s hard to figure how he could hit 10 motorcycles without getting out of the way.” Obviously, the bikers were following way too close for safety. What else would they be doing. That rolling bowling pin crap is one of many reasons to stay away from group rides, especially pirate parades. I hate to think the uncle was wondering how a truck pulling a trailer could have avoided 7 bikers. The real question is how did 7 motorcycles end up tangled together by one truck? Motorcycles only have one practical defense in all traffic situations; maneuverability. Hippobikes, of course, are not real motorcycles and are really just suicide machines looking for a place to happen. So, it's not hard to figure how 7+ motorcycles couldn't find a way to get out of the way. Their typical reaction is to scream, panic, and fall over (that's "I had to lay 'er down" translated to plain English).

There are some curious aspects to the biker group, though. Only one of the fatalities was over 60. That's depressing. I keep hoping that younger people will learn from my braindead generation's many mistakes and stay away from Hardlys and the incompetent biker crowd. There is nothing that I like about motorcycle packs, peaceful or otherwise. They are “rolling bowling pins” and this truck driver almost got a ten pin strike. I have had a strong opinion about lines and biker parades for all of my life. I want to feel more compassion for these folks, but it mostly affects me like reading about a group of climbers getting killed free-climbing Yosemite's El Capitan; except without the admiration for the climbers' courage and physical skills. I guess this is more like hearing a bunch of young fat people  whine about their diabetes, physical disabilities, and likely premature death while gorging themselves on McDonalds Fatty Meals: what did you think was going to happen?

Jul 1, 2019

Can't be on Time to Save My Life

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Considering it was supposed to be a day off, Wednesday was a catastrophe. The day started well, I kicked the morning off by meeting with a friend in downtown St. Paul for an extended discussion of the world's problems and lots of coffee. We went a little long, but we both had time to spare. That evening, I had an MSF classroom scheduled for 5:30 and that was my only deadline for the day. From downtown, I went to the UofM Hospital to visit a friend and deliver his mail. I hung out with him for a couple of hours before heading home to grab my class gear and relax a bit before that appointment. 
 
Around 4PM, I loaded up the bike and rode to White Bear to pick up a package for my hospitalized friend. Barely a half-mile from home, I found myself stuck on Rice Street behind a wandering oversized black club-cab pickup, probably my all-time least favorite vehicle in the world. The fool behind the wheel was deeply involved in a cell phone conversation and driving like a drunk, covering a lane-and-a-half while he jabbered into his phone. 
 
Not that many years ago, someone talking to themselves in their vehicle or walking down the street would be assumed insane. Today, jibbering chimps can hold a piece of plastic to their heads and pretend they aren't crazy because they're "having a conversation." I'm not buying it. A toy smartphone does not prove sanity. Humans are not a multitasking animal. Most of us suck at everything, let alone everything at the same time. Every clinical trial has found that drunks are better drivers than cell phone users, but there is more money in keeping driving-while-cell-phone-abusing legal so we're all condemned to share the highway with incompetent cell phone addicts. But I don't have to like it and I still think most of these people are talking to themselves and are crazier than a rabid goat.
 
Along with the irritation of being stuck behind big-assed-truck cell phone boy, our two-vehicle convoy caught up with a dude on a cruiser. Loud pipes, shorts, sandals, some kind of handkerchief or napkin covering the bald spot, a scraggly grey ponytail flapping in the wind, the usual tidbits of leather in useless places, and he's crawling along at 25mph in a 40mph zone. What am I, a "stupid magnet?" Good thing I left a half-hour early, at this rate it's going to take me 45 minutes to go 10 miles.
 
The frequency of the blubbering pipes suddenly drops and I hear a crunch before the tail lights on the truck come on. We all come to an abrupt stop. Cell phone boy is looking in his mirror, I think to see if anyone saw him hit the bike. So, I made a little show out of getting a pen out of my jacket and writing down his license plate number on the map in my tank bag. Then, I rode around him, on the right side to see what the damage was. The bike was a mess, about half-way under the pickup, and crumpled like a toy. The biker had, apparently, gone over the bars and landed on his face and shoulder. There was a lot of blood, but he was mostly coherent. A couple of cars in the opposite direction traffic had stopped and a woman who claimed to be a nurse took control of the medical scene. She had him lie down and wait for the cops and ambulance someone had already called. [Ok, there are some things cell phones are good for. One thing, in fact.]
 
Should I stay or should I go? I decided to stick around to tell the cops about the cell phone involvement in the crash. Fifteen minutes later, a Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputy is asking me "Did you see the accident?" 
 
"It was no accident. The douchebag in the pickup ran over the guy on the bike. He was too busy flapping his lips into his cell phone to be bothered with driving."
 
"He said he doesn't have a cell phone."
 
"He's a liar or he likes holding black pieces of plastic to his ear and pretending to be on a cell phone. Either way, he drives like a drunk. I bet you'll find a phone in his truck. I bet you can find a record of his using it up to a few minutes ago." I gave the cop my business card and, finally, got back on the road for my class. 
 
I made it about 15 minutes before the class was supposed to start and made a great impression with the other instructor, who got stuck doing all the prep work by himself. The only upside was that I had another motorcycle crash story to tell my class.

Jun 24, 2019

Buy Low, Sell High?

Last winter, when some friends helped me wedge my WR through the garage door into the basement shop, I had high hopes for this spring. In January, I wrote “For the first time since I left California in 1991, I have a warm, well-lit indoor space to work on my bike for the rest of the winter. This will be the most fun spring motorcycle prep in decades.”

Within a month, I began to experience double-vision problems that turned anything that requires vision into headache-inducing misery. The bike is still on the jackstand, exactly where I put it in January; untouched, except for being rolled around to get the shop-vac to all of the basement flooding we “enjoyed” this spring. The double-vision is an early symptom of myasthenia gravis,as Wikipedia puts it, “a long-term neuromuscular disease that leads to varying degrees of skeletal muscle weakness. The most commonly affected muscles are those of the eyes, face, and swallowing.” My father suffered from this disease in the last two decades of his life and it isn’t pretty. This isn’t just the end of my motorcycling life, but driving a cage, bicycling, walking, eating, drinking, and breathing are all up for grabs.

My eyes have never been anything special, as anyone who saw me on a motocross track could attest. I have been legally blind in my left eye since childhood and my right eye has been going far-sighted for more than a decade and both eyes are clouded by cataracts. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, though. Two mediocre eyes are better than one. Stereoscopic vision and binocular depth perception is greatly undervalued until you don’t have it. I can’t even reliably reach for a glass of water and expect a predictable result. I wear an eye patch most of the time, which mostly reinforces my low opinion of my crappy right eye.

A long-time rule of mine has been “when in doubt, throw it out.” I applied that rule, last spring, to my trusty 2004 V-Strom and sold it to someone who would use it as much and as seriously as I did. Off and on that summer, I missed the 650 and, occasionally, wished I still had it, but mostly I wished I wasn’t 70, worn-out, and lame. By June, 2018 I decided I had taught my last MSF class and “retired” from the Minnesota program. I had pipe-dreams of doing adventures on the WR, though: going places I would no longer have the gumption to take a bike as large and heavy as the V-Strom. Clearly, that isn’t in the cards.

What prompted this was my motorcycle insurance premium notice and 2019 ID cards just arrived in the mail. For the first time in 50-some years, I am not going to be putting out a few hundred dollars to insure my motorcycle(s). For the time being, I will put that envelope aside, on the desk, hoping that something changes and I get another year of riding; by some miracle. I am waffling, but I need to take the bike out of the garage, do some of the basic maintenance tasks to get the bike ready to sell, and write up an ad. But, for now, I’m going for a bicycle ride while I still can.

Jun 17, 2019

Why It's Not So Obvious

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

"Wear all the gear all the time." 
 
"Never go anywhere without full protection."

". . .  there is no doubt after the first time a young kid crashes his little motorcycle that the idea of what might happen, and that it can hurt, takes hold."1

"Approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death; a comparable figure for automobiles is about 20 percent."

You've heard it all. The politically correct choices are AGAT (All the Gear, All the Time) or Most of the Gear, All of the Time (MOGAT). Don't get me wrong. The intelligent choice is to gear up every time you ride. That idiot's claim, "If I think I'm going to do something risky, I'll put on the gear," makes about as much sense as saying "If I think I'm going to crash, I'll wear a helmet." Riding is risky. If you think you're going to crash, don't ride. Why that isn't obvious is lost on me. 
 
Those of us who started riding as kids probably have a better feeling for the disconnect between good gear advice and reality. My first (1964 or 65) racing gear was a pair of Converse high top canvas tennis shoes, a pair of Justin leather work gloves, Levis, a jean jacket, and sunglasses. I was racing either a left-turn only circle or on a modified figure "B" track with 4-6 equally well-dressed young men. None of us had ever seen a helmet outside of WWII movies. Nobody was shooting at us, so why would we need helmets? There was no AMA or any other rule-setting organization to interfere with our insanity. We just showed up at the track a couple of miles outside of town and rode 5-lap races until we got tired. A few months of that and we started putting a few dollars into a pile and awarding prize money. Someone set up a hotdog stand and sold drinks out of a cooler. Money changed hands and we kept racing in spite of the commerce. A few guys got hurt: broken arms, toes, fingers, and such. Most of us managed to get through a day of racing with no more than a few cuts and bruises.
 
Later, when I really got into off-road riding, I adopted a 3/4 helmet, gloves, lineman's boots, and lightly padded jeans and a nylon jersey. I crashed a lot, at races and in practice and goofing around. Between ages 20 and 28, I spent a fair amount of time flying over the bars, sliding down the road with the bike in front or behind me, flipping over backwards, and crumpled in a heap. All through that period, I managed to go uninjured. The lesson I took from all that good fortune was obvious: I am indestructible. I wasn't foolish enough to really believe that I couldn't be hurt. I got hurt often at work. I just managed to convince myself that on a motorcycle, I was "too good" to get busted up.
 
In early 1976, that all came to an end. Practicing for Sunday's motocross, I managed to crash and break all of the toes on my left foot. My brand new Hi-Point boots had to be cut off of my foot because the foot swelled up so quickly that I couldn't get the boot off myself. I might have cried when that happened, not from pain but from seeing my $150 boots ruined. $150 was a lot of money (for me) in 1976. A few months later, practicing again, I crashed and broke all the ribs on my left side. That event ended my period of invulnerability. I have rarely since thought of myself as being lucky, tough, or unbreakable. From then out, I was clear on how much pain I could tolerate and how quickly that point could be passed.
 
The difference between me and a real motorcycle racer was that new vulnerability added several seconds to my lap time and I never regained the confidence I needed to go WFO for extended periods. I kept riding and racing for the next four years, but I spent those years in the back of the pack. In 1982, I sold my dirt bikes and bought a used Honda CX500, upon which I moved myself to California in the early spring of 1983. My family followed a few months later by train. As insignificant as it was, my racing "career" was finished and I have never since lined up at a start gate with twenty testosterone-jacked young (or old) men. 
 
I have, however, put nearly a half-million miles on a collection of street bikes in several states and two non-US countries. Mostly, I've managed to stay rubber-side-down on my street bikes and the only breaks in that record have been on outback single-track trails or gravel roads. With that many hours on the road without mishap, it would be easy to start shedding gear.  I wear more equipment on my daily commute than I used to wear racing. What kind of sense does that make? Why not drop the armored pants? What could it hurt to ride in light-weight comfortable shoes occasionally? I'm just going to work, why bother with the helmet? Big Minnesota Mommy says I only need to wear eye protection and a speedo. If she doesn't think I need all that gear, what am I wearing it for? 
 
I've seen the results of naked biker crashes and it's not pretty. The lucky guys bust their heads open and die on the spot. The unluckiest guys end up sucking the meals out of a straw and staring at a hospital ceiling for the rest of their lives. In between, people spend their lives recovering from a fraction-of-a-second lapse. I'm not man enough to risk that for a little breeze blowing in my hair or the relief from a few degrees of discomfort. I like my skin where it is and my bones properly connected. I'll give it to you straight: I'm a coward. "I cover the stuff I want to keep."

Jun 10, 2019

A Motorcyclist Looks at Motorcycles

Red Wing, this time of year, has a lot of pirate traffic. It’s a small town on the Mississippi River with good restaurants and lots of bars, polite and light traffic, wide roads with remedial curves designed for truck traffic, and decent scenery. This is the place for which Harleys and Indians were designed. So, the irritating sound of badly tuned tractor motors (potato-potato-potato and rub-rub-rub) decorates our evenings and weekends most every mild summer day. Our cops, like cops everywhere, can’t tell the real gangbangers on cruisers from the wannabe gangbangers on cruisers. So, they’re afraid of them all, including the dentists and stockbrokers, and let them wobble down our streets in packs of unskilled idiots, just like everywhere. There are days when most locals avoid our favorite restaurants because they’ll be littered with pretend-pirates and all-too-real assholes covered in patches and colors.

I, on the other hand, am either on a bicycle or in a cage (as a passenger or a tentative driver) these days. My eyesight is not getting better, which likely means my motorcycle days are done. So, I find myself at frontage road intersections like this one looking down my blind side (left) at traffic, making my best guess at oncoming vehicle distances and speeds, and planning a right turn into the right-hand lane. As Keanu would ask, “What would you do?” There is a truck in the on-coming left lane, about 1/4 of a mile away on a 55mph four-lane highway and a stop light about 1/4 of a mile down the road from this intersection, so traffic will likely be slowing about the time I'm up to speed and in my lane. I'm turning right, so I should be able to merge into the right lane without any issue, right? What if that truck was a Harley with the usual gearless pirate dangling from the handlebars? What if it were a parade of clueless pirates?

As a life-long (50+ years) motorcyclist and retired motorcycle safety instructor, I have a different take on the “start seeing motorcyclists” bullshit. I know, on average, motorcyclists are the most incompetent people on the road; either on their motorcycles or in their cars. When I see one, two, a half-dozen, or fifty motorcyclists in the lane I am hoping to join or even in another lane, at practically any distance, I am forced to wait for them to pass. Not because I don’t believe I can get into the lane and up to traffic speed in a decent interval, but because I know 99% of the nitwits on two-wheels in my town are totally incompetent (unfortunately that applies to bicyclists, too). Any sort of complication in the road ahead of them will cause insanely inappropriate panic and generally foolish behavior and I might end up with some moron plastered across the back of my pickup. It’s not worth the hassle. So I wait.

I admit that my estimation of the rider’s skill is dramatically guaged against the brand and style of motorcycle. If it’s a cruiser, I automatically assume total incompetence. If I’m wrong, it’s a pleasant surprise; but a rare one. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is geared-up, I assume moderate skills with undetermined judgement. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is helmet-less., bare armed and legged, and perched on the bike like he’s straddling a too-big butt-plug, I’m back to assuming total incompetence with zero judgement capacity. If its a geared-up adventure biker or, even better, a dual-purpose biker I take no special precautions. That one group can generally be trusted to be at least as competent as the rest of traffic. I don’t have the eyesight to pick commuters from joy-riders, but if I did I’d be pretty confident in the commuters’ skill, too; regardless of motorcycle style.

NOTE: If your take on traffic and commuting is, “I don’t ride to work on my motorcycle because everyone else on the road is out to kill me” you are a moron and not even close to being skilled enough to ride a motorcycle on public roads. Welcome to the sad, overwhelming majority of the motorcycle clan. I'm sure you'll be comfortable in whatever bar they are contaminating.

Sad, isn’t it? The people I’ve been associated with for most of my life, musicians and motorcyclists, are pretty much the bottom of the gene pool in most of society’s rankings. Honestly, other than through Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, my motocross and trials years, and the safety instructor gig, I may have been associated with motorcyclists but I rarely associated with them. I have fewer than a dozen friends (and a brother) who I would consider riding anywhere near. I almost always travel alone and use groups of motorcycles as an indicator of where not to go or be. You can’t really be a musician without being around other musicians, so there is that association that is totally fair.You can be a motorcyclist without knowing a single other motorcyclist. In fact, most likely the fewer motorcyclists you know the more likely it is that you are a competent motorcyclist. Knowing exactly zero "bikers" is always a good sign.

I admit it, I feel "put upon" by being required to babysit these incompetents. Worse, after I give their inabilities lots of safety margin, these idiots assault me with their exhaust noise and pollution and my local cops don't even give them a look. That's injury added to insult added to wasted time. The accommodations our culture makes for bikers so that a few bar owners can optimize their profits at the expense of the rest of society is a red flag of insanity.

Jun 3, 2019

Are Motorcycles History?

Scanning my old employer’s website, I noticed that Century College's Basic Rider Course schedule for 2019 includes fewer classes, in total, than I used to teach almost at that school in a single season: down from more than 100 courses on 3 ranges to 26 courses on one range. Dakota Tech is down by similar numbers: from more than 80 courses on 4 ranges to 41 on two ranges this season. According to friends who still teach, last year DCTC cancelled a lot of it's classes, often the day before the class was scheduled to run. St Paul College is scheduling 26 courses. I retired last year, after all of my classes in Red Wing and all but one at DCTC cancelled in 2017 and I had my first bout with double-vision. Staying certified was going to be more of a hassle and expense than it would be worth. (That turned out to be an understatement as my double-vision root-cause has been diagnosed as myasthenia gravis.)

At least in Euro-ville, 60% of all new bicycle sales are eBikes. I can't find a solid figure for the US, but based on the growth of a few name companies that can't keep up with the orders I suspect that's a shift here, too. The industry word is that ebike growth is exponential and motorcycle sales are in decline. If you do a Google search on "motorcycle dealers closing" limited to the last year only, you get a depressing number of hits; including insider stories about how motorcycle imports and exports are slowing up practically everywhere. These are interesting times. That “change” thing is proving itself to still be a constant.

Lots of dealers, like River Valley in Red Wing, didn't see much of a recovery in motorcycle sales after 2007-12 and moved on put more effort into boats and ATVs. A bunch of dealers (especially on the coasts) are adding eBikes to their sales floors. Yamaha, Ducati, and KTM either have eBikes to sell or are in serious development. Hardly just bought a kids' ebike company. Of course, HD could just be recognizing how lame their customers are and acting accordingly. Yamaha's eBikes are grossly overpriced: $4-6k, but they might figure it out before they totally lose their place in consumers' sights. KTM's offerings will probably need a mortgage refi, but their victims always seem to have spare cash or credit.

One of the funniest things I've read about this business and customer shift has been from traditional bicycle shops who imagine that repairing eBikes is "different" or more complicated than fixing a motorcycle. Current breed bike shops often charge as much as $50-80 to swap out an ebike tire, especially a back tire on rear-hub driven models. eBike repairs are different than motorcycle repairs, for sure; about 1Mx easier. Anyone who can troubleshoot fuel injection or electronic ignition could do anything necessary on an eBike without any training at all.

May 28, 2019

Black Magic or Just British Underengineering?

The Vincent nonsense never ends, does it? The kind of money involved in this motorcycle's existence and sale at auction makes me want to puke. $929,000 for an obsolete motorcycle that handles like a brick, is almost as fast as a modern 400cc sport bike, and can only be repaired by a machinist who can make parts from scratch? When motorcycling becomes the playpen of the idle 1% you know it's on the way out of mainstream.

May 20, 2019

Taking It Lying Down

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

One of the less sane things I wanted to do with my retirement spare time is bicycle. And by that, I mean do some serious distance. I have considered myself a bicyclist since I was about five years old. There have been years when I've done more miles by pedal-power than on either a motorcycle or a cage, but not lately. I hoped to change that before I'm so decrepit that I can't do much more than bitch about the kids trespassing on my lawn, if I ever have a lawn. I have had a fascination with recumbent bicycles since I first saw them in California 40 years ago. I've always wanted to try one, but, like many cool things, they have mostly been priced out of my income bracket. This winter, I kept my eye on a Burley recumbent that seemed to hold it's place in Craig's List without any sign of movement other than a slowly deteriorating price. After I finished wrestling with, hopefully, my last ever complicated state and federal income tax submission, I took the remains of my tax "return" and hunted down the Burley recumbent owner. We came to a price agreement, as the last snow storm of the long 2014 winter started to bury the roads and the seller's hope of convincing me to buy his bike after a test ride. A week later, the snow finally left the streets for "good" and I started learning how to ride my new toy. 

By now, you're probably wondering what the hell this has to do with motorcycling. Hang in there, it's coming. 

recumbent1After 500 miles of getting adjusted to a new riding position, I learned a few new things about a lot of two-wheeled stuff. First, the limitations of riding feet-forward have always put me off on motorcycles. The same position on a bicycle provides similar sorts of restrictions. In fact, the things I couldn't do on my first recumbent probably outnumbered what I got from this riding position by at least 10:1. Thirty years ago, I swapped my road bikes for mountain bikes and have never looked back, until now. Fat tires, a tough frame, and an upright riding position have let me go places I'd have had to walk on a normal bicycle. Many recumbent bikes are even more limited than road bikes. Curb-jumping? Nope. Dirt roads or single-track bike trails? 

Furgetaboutit. 

Quick turns, jumping curbs (in either direction), hill-climbing with anything resembling speed, fast starts, any sort of start on an uphill, or predictable transitions from one surface to another? Nope, on all counts. No more quick jumps on the bike, either. My Burley Limbo recumbent was a solid foot-and-a-half longer than my mountain bike and at least 20 pounds heavier. I didn't  just hop on that bike and go for a quick ride. Because of the length and awkwardness, getting a recumbent out of the garage takes some rearranging, strategic planning, and heavy lifting. A recumbent can be a very restrictive bicycle. Most of my friends were surprised I put up with it.   

If you have to give up all of that freedom and capability what do you get out of a recumbent? Speed on flat land, downhills, or mild uphill grades. That's it, but that is a lot. On relatively flat terrain, recumbent bikes are so superior to traditional bicycles that like all superior technology they have been banned from pretty much all forms of bicycle competition. Recumbents were first banned from UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) competition right after the first one was invented by Charles Mochet, in 1934. Oddly and symptomatically, the race organization's "reasoning" was that a recumbent wasn't a "bicycle." Bureaucrats have always had problems counting to two competently. In 2005, Tim Brummer won a US national championship on one of his own Lightening Cycles' recumbent bikes and the United States Cycling Federation outlawed them immediately afterwards. You have to love the regressive and conservative nature of racing organizations as they do everything they can to make sure race vehicles don't actually go particularly fast or progress into useful vehicles. Sort of reminds you of our own AMA Racing disorganization or the FIM, doesn't it? If racing bureaucrats don't like recumbents, there has to be something useful in the design. The useful part is lowered wind resistance and some improvement in the efficiency of the pedal stroke. 

recumbent2The other advantage that finally pushed me over the edge of my normal buyer's resistance is comfort. Unlike a motorcycle cruiser, most recumbents have a lawn chair of a seat. No more tiny wedgie triangle cramming its way up my butt. Instead, I have a mesh sling seat that gives me full support from the seat to my upper back. The Burley's rear wheel is suspended, which removed any impact from road surface defects, but cost a lot in uphill pedal efficiency. I can ride my recumbent for hours without any discomfort other than getting tired. No more back or butt aches, no more numb hands. That is no small thing. 

More differing characteristics than I've listed here are discussed in some detail are listed on this link: http://www.biketcba.org/TRICORR/compare.html. However, the stuff I have described all relate to the connection I've made to recumbents and cruisers. There is no real efficiency upside to cruisers, especially since their designers are inclined to build 700+ pound hippobikes with no real thought for fuel efficiency or lowered wind resistance. The only reason for picking a feet-forward, slouched-back cruiser riding position should be comfort. Since every handling quality is sacrificed for this riding position, you better need it. Like my recumbent bicycle, you are not going to turn quickly and confidently, potholes and other road defects are going to connect directly to your back since cruisers usually have laughable suspension designs, and the high bars pretty much eliminate confident braking. You'll be limited to riding on only the best roads (freeways), being a near-stationary target for every texting and coffee slurping distracted driver on the road, and being handicapped by poor visibility and a lousy sight-line thanks to the low seat height. To me, that all seemed like too many sacrifices for a marginal improvement in comfort. 

As for my recumbent bicycle experiment, in the summer of 2016 I gave up on my Burley Limbo thinking I was done with recumbents. In early April of 2017, a friend who is an experienced recumbent touring bicyclist let me ride his bike and I discovered that many of the complaints I had with the Burley were due to the suspension and the steering linkage. I'm about 500 miles into this new bike and, so far, I'm a big fan. It still sucks on uphills but way less and the improvement in steering stability, especially on gravel roads, is dramatic. However, it appears to be a given that this riding position is limited to ideal road conditions and like cruisers not that practical in mixed traffic situations.





May 1, 2019

Show Stoppers

For the last month or so, my 71-year-old vision problems have multiplied into what appears to be a show stopper for what I had hoped might be my last years as a motorcyclist. Last year, about the same time, I had a sudden bout with double-vision that took me out of the driver’s seat until I ended up with a variation in my glasses prescription that involved prisms. (I have no idea how that works, but it did for about a year.) Early March, this year, it happened again, but way worse. Another visit to the optometrist and I learn that my eyes’ offset has flipped and that is an indication of something serious going wrong. So far, none of the various tests I’ve undergone have enlightened either me or the docs. 

I don’t know about you, but I am not inclined to be a one-eyed motorcyclist. I’ve put in a bunch of miles on the bicycle this spring, one-eyed, and it sucks. When I was young and even more foolish than now, I imagined that losing my hearing would be worse than losing my eyesight. I’ve been involved in music for my whole adult (and most of my youth) life and my hearing was once something I took some pride in. Old age, noise exposure, stupidity, and bad luck have taken a toll on my hearing. I’m at the age Sir George Martin was when he decided it was time to hang up his golden ears. I don’t think I ever had golden ears, but they were pretty damn good for a lot of years. Now, they aren’t. Following that realization comes the current problem with my eyes.

Luckily, my close vision hasn’t been much effected. Which is why I can write this without being driven nuts. All this likely means that I might be selling off my only motorcycle, my 2008 Yamana WR250X yet this spring. I sold my V-Strom last spring, after discovering that I no long had the strength or will to wrestle with a 400 pound motorcycle. If I were capable of loving a motorcycle, that amazing 2004 650 was as close as I will ever get. It just never let me down and was always a delight to ride. My WR is a close second, but I will likely never end up spending as much long-distance, day-after-day time on the WR unless I get a couple more years with some cure for this vision problem. If I sell the WR, I will likely be done as a motorcyclist.

I might also be done as a cage driver. My overall sight in my right eye (the good one) is pretty sad. My distance judgement was never great, even with glasses, but one-eyed it is non-existent. My father had similar probably at about my age and ended up having his license taken away after several rear end crashes that were all his fault. I am not going to do that. I have always believed that one crash in the back of another vehicle should disqualify someone from ever driving anything heavier than a bicycle. It means you are stupid or physically disabled enough to be incapable of safe driving. That applies to me, too.

Apr 1, 2019

In It for Ourselves

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

I dropped off my grandson at school on a Thursday fall morning and headed back home, in my trusty, rusting Escort station wagon via I35E. About half-way home, I saw a fast-approaching orange hippomobile in my rear view mirror. The rider wasn't a small guy, either. Gear-wise, the rider was almost as naked as the day he was born; helmet-less and bald, glove-less, half-covered by a two-man tent-sized wind-whipped tee-shirt, loose butt-crack illuminating gangsta jeans, and low-top tennis shoes without socks. The rider was a one-man advertisement for the MSF's Basic Rider Course. Using his considerable weight to weave his 1,000 pound vehicle and flying along at 20mph over the posted speed in moderately heavy traffic, there was no way to avoid imagining how this dude's motorcycling career was going to end. His motorcycle motto was clearly, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." His bike had a lot in common with streetcars, too.

There were three lessons to be learned while being passed by this experiment in high velocity meat distribution: 1) the physics of sound and 2) the errors in common assumptions and 3) far too many motorcyclists are among the most self-centered people on earth.

Obviously, the hippomobile was exhaust silencer-free. In fact, the exhaust noise was so obnoxious that I could hear him when he was nearly out of sight. However, that same deafening blubber was non-existent until the bike was close to parallel with my cage. My windows were rolled up, the radio was on but not loud, and I saw the doofus at least 1/4 mile before I heard him. I listen for a living and I was paying particular attention to this goofball because he looked like a crash-waiting-to-happen from the moment I saw him. As he dodged between the cars around him, clinging desperately to the bars, heaving his belly from side-to-side pretending to be a real motorcyclist, he was violating the peace and quiet of thousands of fellow highway users and every neighborhood within a 1/2 mile of the freeway. However, all that noise was totally useless as a heads-up for anyone he was about to pass. As a life-saving device, his loud pipes only advertised his exit, not his approach.

I was at a friend's going-away party a couple of days earlier and when I was introduced as the author of this column, my new acquaintance said, "You probably hate superbikes, right?" After we talked for a while, he admitted to often "testing" his GSX-R 1100 on Dallas freeways at near top speed and to high speed lane-splitting in a state (like most) where any sort of lane-splitting is illegal. I suggested that a bike like his had no particular purpose in a 60mph world and that he might have more fun on a 250 or 500cc motorcycle on his daily commute. I suggested that, if he wanted to encourage lane-splitting in Texas, he might want to consider less ill-mannered tactics that the ones he'd been using.

He answered by telling me that it didn't matter. His bike had been dead in the garage for engine problems (one too many poorly engineered "upgrades" and the motor had fried). He said he was probably going to give up motorcycling when his first kid was born in a few months. With that change in the subject, I mentioned that my biggest complaint with his "superbike" and most of the hippobikes I bitch about is that they are useless toys, ridden aggressively and offensively until the owners either get hurt or quit riding before they get hurt. This leaves real motorcyclists with a bad reputation and a hostile voting majority looking to limit our access and rights. I don't hate the bikes, but I'm not fond of their stereotypical owners.

I'm not too impressed with people whose riding skills and common sense is so limited that they have to give up motorcycling because of a mild change in responsibilities, either. If you suck too much to ride and parent, I doubt that you were ever good enough to be licensed to ride on public roads. I'd suspect your capacity as a parent, too.

Where I live, I have the pleasure of hearing all sorts of un-silenced motorcycles blasting a boring, straight section of eight-lane freeway. All of those folks impress me with how lame and clueless they are. There is a common assumption among hippobikers that motorcycling's bad reputation mainly comes from crotch-rocketeers blasting through traffic and terrorizing cagers. The fact is that tactic is pretty common among all of the folks who don't care how many people they irritate; superbikers, hippobikers, and douchebags in clubcab pickups and wannabe sports cars. I'm beginning to suspect that if one set of manners is deficient, that deficiency may apply to that person's conduct in general.

Riding as if your parents were cannibalistic wolves and raised you in a cave with no human contact other than the Manson gang or Motley Crue is single-mindedly selfish. It demonstrates a distinct unconcerned attitude toward everyone but yourself. It says that you don't care about offending the general public. It says that you don't care about costing future motorcyclists their public road access. It says that you don't mind pissing off a cager so that the next motorcyclist may be put in danger.

South Park did a pretty decent job of describing what's actually being said after one of you noisemakers blasts past. (This is not a rare opinion. A friend, whose son is gay, seriously considered waving a "Fags go home" sign at the noisemakers who polluted her neighborhood at a recent rub-rub-rub rally in Hudson.) Loud pipes don't save lives, but they do something. Juvenile driving tactics don't save time, demonstrate your motorcycling skill, or impress the cage-driving peasants. Anti-social behavior just does one thing: it pisses people off. People who vote, write their government, complain to their local police, and write new laws limiting motorcycle access to public areas.

For most of my life, I've heard guys brag about how much attention they get on their loud, expensive toys. The only attention you're getting is negative. Nobody thinks you are cool, but a large number of people want you banned from public roads.