Jan 8, 2022

I Shouda Been A Contender

When I was young, still “made out of rubber and magic,” and full of unfounded confidence in my invulnerability I restarted my motorcycling life with a purchase of a 1971 Kawasaki 350 Big Horn. Motorcycles had been a big, then a small, then a non-existent, and back to big part of my life from when I was 15 until a year before my first kid was born in 1971. I didn’t buy the Big Horn new. It had belonged to an old Texas rancher who imagined that he could easily step down from horses to a motorcycle and discovered that he’d be relegated to a pickup instead. Today, I can relate to his dilemma, but back then I just saw his age-related misfortune as an opportunity. I paid a fraction of new price for a barely used bike and immediately went back to my old off-roading habits.

In those days, Hereford, Texas was a slightly prosperous west Texas ranching and cattle-feeding town with a side order of sugar beets and cotton. Today, it is practically a ghost town. Then, we had Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Eurotrash dealers, a hill climbing area, a barely-out-of-town motocross track, and hundreds of miles of poorly maintained farm-to-market roads that, often, were barely more than tractor tracks leading as far away as a rider would want to travel on an off-road motorcycle of the day. One of the guys I worked with, a welder named “Charlie,” was a local “bad influence” motocross phenom who rode a 250 Kawasaki piston-port motocrosser and who had found the Big Horn for me. He and I spent a fair number of evenings and weekends banging tanks at the Hereford track and flipping over backwards showing off at the hill climb area. It was all his fault that I almost missed the birth of my daughter, Holly, because he’d signed us both up for a Sunday race in Dalhart the weekend she decided to venture into the world.

South Canadian River – Las Animas County, CO | San Isabel National ForestSince becoming a father ruined that weekend’s escape, A few weeks late, I signed the two of us up for the end-of-season race, the Canadian River Cross-country. A 120 mile race that started on the west end of Lake Meredith, a pitiful hole that might have been a lake at some time, but was just a big ditch most of the year in the 70s. From there west to New Mexico, the Canadian “River” was a long, wide trench with spotty pools of water, usually surrounded by rocks. I do not remember where exactly the race ended. 1971 was a LONG time ago. I remember my wife was really pissed that, after working a 90 hour week, leaving her home alone with a new baby, I was going to escape all of that bliss for a day and “go racing.” I was probably the least excited-to-be-a-young-father guy on the planet at that moment and her arguments were absolutely valid but unconvincing. Charlie was coming because he had a pickup and a great tool kit, but his interest in Cross-country was so slight that, after the first section, he turned back, loaded up his bike, and drove to the end to wait for me to show up so he could go home and get back to motocross.

I was “determined.” When I lined up with the other open class bikes, maybe 20 of us, it was the first race I’d been in since my rough scramble days on the Harley 250 Sprint. The juices were flowing, I thought i was ready to race and, even, win, and my Big Horn was faster than snot. Heavy as a buffalo, but really powerful for the time. In recent years, I’ve been told that my motorcycles are “unfit for off-road purposes,” and I just laugh at that idea because most of those characters wouldn’t even consider a mess like the Canadian River Cross-Country on a 2022 enduro. My Big Horn was heavy (400+ pounds), barely-suspended with Boge shocks (maybe 3 1/2” of travel) and the stock forks, only made real power (33hp) when the motor was wound up past 4,000 RPM, and ungainly as hell. Every bike I’ve owned from my 125 ISDT to my XT350 to my TDM850 or V-Strom adventure bikes have been far more off-road capable than that Kawasaki so-called “enduro.” In late-1971, I had no idea that there were much better options and if I had been it wouldn’t have mattered because they weren’t available or affordable in West Texas.

The flag fell and off we went. I’d spent some time boning up on the warning flags and less than 10 miles in that education paid off. Just before we entered a tight, blind, hard left in the riverbed, one of those flags fluttered just enough to clue me in that there was a hazard. The hazard turned out to be a substantial pile of rocks that was littered with bikes, bike parts, and riders. I managed to come to a stop before piling into the guy who was in front of me. He didn’t. I paddled through a narrow passage and climb to the other side of the rocks and kept going. From here out, my memories are really clouded.

I know I crashed at least a dozen times in the next 100-some miles. I remember seeing a fair number of bikes and riders stuck in swampy sand, piled into rocks, logs, and each other. I remember, somewhere near the end, smacking my engine case on some rocks, busting the cases, and slowly losing the transmission fluid over the remaining miles. I remember only being able to shift from 1st to 2nd with no neutral or other gears in the last few miles. I remember losing power like crazy and barely motoring past the finish line. Charlie was there waiting for me and we loaded my bike back into his pickup. I remember drinking something, probably beer, on Charlie’s tailgate waiting for the results. I definitely remember a long period of no motorcycle, lots of overtime, and recriminations from my wife, while I reassembled and repaired the damage to my bike from that race.

My big memory, biggest in fact, of that race was discovering that because “only” three open class bikes finished, the organizers decided that they would only trophy to 2nd place, instead of 4th as planned and announced. I guess they wanted to save money on their crappy $5 plastic trophies. I got a fuckin’ ribbon, instead, but my finishing position wasn’t even listed, since I didn’t trophy. I raced motorcycles for another ten years, ending with a series of busted ribs, toes, and fingers. I never again came close to being on the podium. I pointed, in Nebraska, well enough to progress from Novice to Expert in the “Enduro Class,” but that was a quantity-over-quality achievement.

In the 1980s, when my daughter was skateboarding with her soon-to-be-famous boarding friends in Huntington Beach, she used to wear a tee-shirt that said, “I wish I were as fast as my father remembers he was.” I guess that is about as close as I will ever get to a motorcycle trophy.

Dec 27, 2021

Breakin’ ‘Em in or Breakin’ ‘Em Down?

Way back in January of 2007, I bought a brand new, custom-fitted Aerostich Darien suit as part of my prep for an Alaska trip the coming spring. Looking back at the review I wrote in 2008 for that suit, I’m slightly ashamed (only slightly) of my cowardly description of breaking in the suit, “After wearing the Darien suit almost every day for two months, it became much more flexible.” Yeah, that’s not how I broke in my Darien. If you have never owned a new Aerostich suit, you might not believe me when I say their “abrasion-resistant Mil-spec 500 Denier Cordura®" is "stiff as a board," but it pretty much is. I have no idea how they fold those suits into a neat package because that stuff folds about as easily as a refrigerator box.

I had owned a very old Aerostich Roadcrafter before the Darien and I pretty much knew what I was getting into, even if that memory was more than 20 years old. I did ride to work a few times that winter and everything helps, but I’m going to admit to you in this rant how I really broke in my Darien during the winter of 2007. My grandson was about 11 at the time and he spent a lot of his weekends with us at our Little Canada house. Our backyard had a fairly two-tier steep cliff drop-off into Savage Lake and we sledded that hill often, even had large sledding parties when the snow was good enough and the lake was frozen solid. Most of the weekends between January and March that year, my grandson, my wife Elvy, and friends and family would bomb down that hill on sleds, snowboards, cardboard sheets,inner tubes, and I was right there with them in my Aerostich. Just me and that 500 Cordura and the Darien’s armor and the hill. I’d toss myself over the edge and slide on my back, belly and/or sides out on to the ice until that suit was as soft and pliable as it was ever going to be. I did not “wear the Darien” to break it in, I pounded the snot out of it. Not me, the suit. That tough material and terrific back, hip, shoulder, knee, and elbow padding and my helmet, gloves, and boots more than served the purpose of a sled and I got the suit broken in and ready to ride 13,000 miles that spring while having a terrific time being a maniac with my grandson.

In 2012, Icon gave me a really good deal on a pair of their Patrol Boots, which I reviewed for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly in 2013. I liked the boots quite a bit and wore them often for 2-3 years, but I never really liked either the hassle of latching up the dual adjustable stabilizer straps or getting my bunged up “Haglund’s deformity” heel past the section between the uppers and the inside of the boot. I’m old, I’ve never been particularly flexible, and the weird twisted position I have to get into to latch up the boots is a hassle. So, the boots have mostly sat in my closet ignored and unused for most of the 9 years I’ve owned them. I tried to give them away, but nobody wanted them. This year, my very old, very used Merrell winter boots rotted to pieces. I started looking for replacements, but a good winter boot is easily in the $100 territory and I’m unlikely to live long enough or walk far enough to justify a $100 boot. So, I drug out the Icons and, damn they are excellent winter boots: warm, water resistant, tough, and super comfortable; just not quite broken-in.

Soooooooooooooooo

Remember the Darien break-in tactic? I’m going to abuse the snot out of these boots stomping around in the snow all winter. Next spring, if I survive (something a lot of us are saying in this COVID world), I hope to have them and me broken in enough that I use them on the motorcycle a lot.

Dec 14, 2021

Words and Pictures? Pass

My days of journalism and deadlines and word counts and waiting for invoices to be paid are done. “Rock is dead. Long live rock and roll!” And all that malarkey. The editor for the last online magazine I wrote for, “Fast Lane Biker Delmarva,” regularly asked for “pictures to go with the text.” I tried, honest I did. My editors with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly wanted the same thing, for almost 20 years. I managed to comply consistently enough with product and motorcycle reviews, but with my column I pretty much failed them regularly.

Why?

I hate taking pictures and I really hate taking pictures of me. I don’t even like looking at pictures of me. 95% of the reason I have a beard is that shaving requires looking in a mirror and mirrors explode into vaporized silicon dioxide when exposed to my face for any period of time. Seriously, I’m not visual and my patience with being asked to mess with images of any sort was never great but is now vanishing. When I was doing the journalism thing, criticism of my pictures usually evoked a “you do it, then” response. Threatening to dock my pay if pictures weren’t included didn’t have much leverage. I’d pay not to have to take a picture, so losing an article assignment because I couldn’t guarantee useful pictures was not much of a price to pay.

My wife is a “visual artist,” but one who is chronically lazy when it comes to learning anything new. In her mind, the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten pretty much wrapped up her education philosophy. (Except for those idiotic alien invasion Netflix “documentaries she seems infatuated with. Do you know there are morons who call themselves “alienologists?” Seriously. They all look like the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy and the same droning idiot narrates every one of those programs. It is the soundtrack of our basement office.) For more than 50 years, 99.9999% of our family pictures have been taken by me (resentfully) and even the ones that included me were usually taken with that damned self-timer camera function. (I should have never admitted that I know how to do that.) I have taken exactly one picture in my life that I sort of liked and that picture got my camera work more criticism than all of the other crap combined.

Today, while we were walking the dog along Spring Creek, my wife decided she wanted a picture of the creek for our 2021 Xmas card. We haven’t done cards in more than 20 years, but suddenly not only are we doing one but I’m supposed to take pictures and design a card. And for the first time in our 55 years together I said, “Nope. Not doin’ it. You want it, you do it.” I’m laying odds that will be the end of the Xmas card, but if it isn’t I will definitely write something as my contribution.

Dec 3, 2021

My “Hardest/Fastest/Longest” Ride

I’ve been reading Andy Goldfine’s Aerostich blog since the first entry. This week’s piece was “The Older I Get, the Faster I Wuz” which he ended by asking “Famously, whatever doesn’t kill you hopefully makes you stronger.  What were some of your hardest/fastest/longest rides?”

I’ve had a few hard, long, and moderately fast rides, but my first real street bike trip was probably the longest and hardest of my life. I fully expected to do a search on this blog and find that story to link to my comment’s on Andy’s blog. Somehow, it only sort of got a mention in my review of the Honda CX500 I rode on that trip and another mention (with a trip map) in “Losing the Travel Thing” from 2017. If you thought I was running out of motorcycle stories, you don’t know me very well. I’ve barely touched on my early off-road experiences and mostly grazed over the motorcycle trips and “adventures” that occurred after I moved from California to Denver. Before that period, the only motorcycle writing I did was a couple of short stories and a commuting article for a southern California motorcycle magazine. So, I might start backtracking thanks to Andy’s question.

Like I said in the CX500 review, “I bought my 1980 CX500 Deluxe for $800, cash, from a guy who was suffering the after-effects of divorce and needed the cash in the middle of winter, in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1982.” The bike had less than 500 miles on the odometer, but it had been “decorated” with crash rails and “road pegs,” the foot pegs had been replaced with police-style paddles, and assorted other bits of useless and dangerous chrome. The parts guy at the electronics supply house I frequented bought all of the chrome crap for enough money to finance putting the bike back into stock shape before I left Omaha in late March, 1983 for my new job in California.

Between wrapping up my old job, getting our household stuff ready to ship to California later that spring when the kids were out of school and I had found a place for us, and putting my affairs in some sort of order so I could leave everything behind and get myself organized for my new job, I had no real travel plan sorted out for the 2,000+ miles between Omaha and Costa Mesa, California. After an emotional and stressful goodbye to my family and friends, I fired up the CX and headed south out of Nebraska, hoping to escape before the unpredictably warm spring Nebraska weather turned on me.

My first day out, I pounded about 450 miles between Omaha and Dodge City, Kansas, where I stopped to see my father and step-mother for the evening. The ride between Omaha and Dodge was tough, mostly because I hadn’t been on a bike for a couple of years and I had never been on a fully loaded road bike riding through a 40mph sidewind. My back, neck, and arms were beat to crap by the time I rolled into their driveway. The next day, the weather was so nice I let my father talk me into playing caddy for him while he played a round of golf and I stayed another night. That night that damn wind brought a blizzard, which was just starting to come down and stick when I hit the road early the next day. I’d planned on heading southwest into southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, but by the time I’d put on about 100 miles in that direction, it was obvious that south was the logical escape route.

CaliforniaMoveMy next stop was Hereford, Texas, about 300 miles southwest of Dodge. My kids were, sadly, born in Hereford in the early 70’s, something their birth certificates will curse them with for their whole lives, and I had some friends there. First, though, I had to survive the trip. By Guymon, Oklahoma, the snow had turned to ice and the roads were slick and dangerous. I was not even a little prepared for this kind of weather. My rain gear was a bright yellow, rubberized fireman’s suit, which was reasonably waterproof but thermally worthless. In Guymon, I stopped to steal a bunch of grocery store plastic bags that I wrapped my hands and feet in for water-resistance and a little thermal insulation. I stuffed that fireman’s gear with a couple layers of pants and shirts and wore a down vest on top of that. I had to have looked like a yellow Pillsbury Doughboy flying down the highway as fast as I could manage. Semi’s were littering the ditches, after jack-knifing on the iced highway and banging their way through any obstacles between them and the ditch. All of the motels were blacked out due to power failures and full-up even without heat and electricity.

I rolled into a Hereford filling station; frozen, well-into hypothermia, almost delirious from the cold and fatigue. Barely able to move my legs, I half-opened my side-stand, started to lift my right leg over the bike, and they whole mess—bike, gear, and a few pounds of ice stuck to every exposed spot on me and the bike—landed on the ground in a heap. I’d pretty much resigned myself to freezing to death on the spot when a guy in a cowboy had stepped out of his pickup, pulled the bike off of me and onto its side stand, and lifted me off of the ground saying, “Those things get pretty heavy sometimes.” I mumbled something. He asked, “Are you alright?” I mumbled something else and he shook his head and led me into the station where I found a telephone booth (Remember those things?) and found a motel for the night.

After unloading my gear into the motel room, standing in the shower until the hot water was used up, and finding a restaurant where I could get a huge steak dinner, I called a friend who joined me for an after-dinner beer and spent the night recovering from nearly freezing to death. I got up late, loaded up and hit US385 south toward Odessa and, hopefully, out of the ice and cold. I made it about 5 miles when my front wheel started screaming at me. It was pretty obvious that a wheel bearing had failed and I turned back to Hereford where I’d passed a Honda dealership on the way out of town. It turned out that the service department was pretty idle that day, since no rational Texan would be out on a motorcycle in 40F weather, and they got me back on the road in an hour or two. It also turned out that the dealership had been started by two of the guys I worked with when I lived in Hereford a decade earlier. Neither of them were motorcycle guys and they’d spent a small fortune building a new facility, overstaffing it with sales people and understaffing it with service people and had gone bankrupt in a couple years. The guy who owned the place took a great deal of enjoyment telling me about all of that, especially the bits about buying the business for a few cents on the dollar. With new front wheel bearings and some sunlight left, I headed south as fast as I could.

After those first miserable couple of days on the road, sunshine and 50F weather was intoxicating. I mindlessly pounded out the 400 miles between Hereford and El Paso, Texas before realizing that I really wanted to be on the freeway heading straight west, which meant going north (scary thought) to Las Cruces before I could really pound out some miles. Somewhere along the 400 miles between Las Cruces and Tucson, Arizona, I wandered off of the freeway, found a park I remember as “Apache Mounds” and put up my tent for the night.

The next day, I covered the 700 desert miles between my campsite and San Diego, California, hooked up to the 405 and made it another 90 miles to Costa Mesa, California just before dark. The two memories I have of that section of the ride were: 1) discovering that I could lock the CX’s steering and throttle and kick back and relax almost like I was a passenger for a lot of desert miles and 2) pissing off a rough, tough Harley pirate when his big noisy Harley died early on the way up the east side of the Pine Mountain on I8 and my “rice burner” just kept on going while he was stuck at one of the many water barrels at the freeway edge.

I had the idiot idea that my new employer was expecting me when I arrived and discovered that not only was that not true but the place was closed on Saturday and finding an affordable place to stay in Orange County on a weekend was a pipedream. I spent a good bit of time pounding away at motel phone numbers in a phone booth before discovering that I was on my own. I headed south toward some open land that used to be state park territory between Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach and camped for the night on the beach like one of today’s millions of homeless folks do. That night, I also discovered that I’d left my damn billfold in that Costa Mesa phone booth.

The next day, I rolled into QSC Audio Products’ office in Costa Mesa, broke, frustrated and angry, and screwed. At the suggestion of the receptionist, I called the Costa Mesa police and discovered some amazing, decent, sympathetic California had turned my billfold into the police lost-and-found. My money and credit cards were still in the billfold and my life was still on some sort of track. I also still had more than a week of downtime before I was supposed to show up for work for QSC.

First, I hit the 80’s version of Craig’s List, a newspaper called “The Recycler,” found a room-for-rent in a single-family home in Huntington Beach, stowed the stuff I’d been lugging across the country that I didn’t need for a motorcycle trip in my rented room, found a bank for my new life’s financial needs, and hit the PCH for some pressure-free exploration before starting a new life in California. My first stop was Yosemite National Park, 400 miles north, where I explored the hiking trails, fumbled a bit at pretending to be a rock climber, and relaxed for a day in a spectacular campsite, White Wolf. From there, I rode 200 miles to San Francisco and wallowed in a real hippy community that was still sort-of-cool in 1983 and stumbled onto a motel near Golden Gate Park that I’d take advantage of for the next 8 years, every time I was in San Francisco. After a day and a night in San Francisco, I was back on PCH and rode another 200 miles north to Mendocino, California and camped along the Big River just south of town; another location that I’d reused dozens of times while I lived in California.

A couple of days later, I rode 600 miles as close to non-stop as possible back to Huntington Beach and my rented room, unloaded the bike, and settled into my new life as a Californian. A month later, I found a two-bedroom apartment in Huntington Beach for my family, and the solo part of the California adventure was over.

Nov 16, 2021

The View from Two Wheels

About this time last year, I posted an article on a Red Wing Facebook page about “How to Build a City around Bicycles Fast,” with the intention of beginning a conversation about making this fading village attractive to 21st Century people. I introduced the video with the statement “If you want to attract skilled, innovative young adults to a small town, making it a bicycle transportation haven would be high on a lot of lists.” The generally hostile response to that surprised me, a little:

  • “We don’t want it here they don’t follow rules now so that would make it even worse.”
  • “If bikes followed the rules of the road, sure. But in my experience they don't. They don't stop at stop signs, don't ride on the proper side of the road, and even ride on sidewalks. They're vehicles, and are supposed to follow vehicle traffic rules.”

And so on. There were slightly over 30 negative comments about creating any sort of accommodation for bicycles in the city and exactly 3 bicyclists responding.

I have to admit, I love the cluelessness of cagers imagining that they “follow the rules.” As a lifelong bicyclist and a motorcyclist for the past 50 years, what I see from my unobstructed view of cagers is almost non-stop ignorance and arrogance when it comes to “the rules of the road.” Here are some examples of that behavior.

  1. At least half of the traffic on a two-lane road will be unaware of where their vehicle belongs. For the most part, rural drivers know we drive on the right side in the United States, but they don’t seem to know what the lines in the road indicate. Trucks, especially, wander from the middle of the road to the edge of pavement, well into the scrawny “bicycle lanes” and skirting the gravel and, eventually, the ditch. As a bicyclist, you have to keep a close eye on what’s in front and behind you with a readiness to hit the ditch or jump a curb when you see a vehicle barreling from behind taking up the bicycle lane.
  2. Pretty much no one in a cage or truck knows the rules for stop signs. {“If there is a stop sign with no pavement markings, stop near the intersection where you have a good view of approaching traffic. If there is a crosswalk without a stop line, stop at the nearest crosswalk line. If there is only a stop sign, stop at the stop line. If the crosswalk has a stop line, stop at the stop line.”] What actually happens is most drivers roll through the crosswalk, stopping with the nose of their vehicle well into on-coming traffic, if they slow down at all. If you are a bicyclist, you have to assume the majority of drivers will expect you to give up your right of way so that they don’t have to control their vehicle competently.
  3. Stopping at stop signs and lights is, apparently, optional. This isn't just a rural thing because there is an intersection at 10th and Minnesota in St Paul where it is never safe to assume the vehicles heading northwest on Minnesota (a one-way street) will pay the slightest attention to the stop light. The police station used to be at that location and even that didn't slow down the goofballs who commuted through the area. In rural areas, lights and signs are regularly ignored and there are known areas of high crash incident. As a bicyclist or motorcyclist, it is never safe to assume cagers are competent, sane and rational, or not homicidal. 
  4. Stop signs and lights pose another fatal attraction for two-wheeled folks: getting run over or rear-ended while stopped. Lane-splitting advocates argue that lane-splitting/sharing reduces motorcycles from being rear-ended at stops. My experience confirms that but any rational person should be nervous about anecdotal and hearsay evidence. I don't buy those arguments for loud exhaust systems and you shouldn't buy them for lane-splitting. However, it is a fact that drivers often run over bicycles and motorcycles at this interaction points and I will always opt for getting some serious mass between me and any on-coming vehicles when I'm forced to stop in traffic. On a bicycle, you are screwed no matter what you do: 1) stop in a vehicle lane and you're likely to be run over, 2) stop in the bike lane and you are at risk both from cars that roll over you thinking the bike lane is a turn lane and you'll also be at risk when a cager decides to turn in front or over you thinking a cage has the right-of-way when turning over a bicycle going straight.
  5. Residential streets are a free-for-all zone, no rules apply to locals. Seriously, “random motion” describes what you can expect from drivers in these areas.
  6. In the United States, noise pollution appears to be one of those “my rights override any other considerations” situations, like gun ownership. As a bicyclist, you should be wearing ear plugs for when you are passed by motorcycles, pickup trucks, and any other motorized vehicle driven by a noisy spoiled child. The country and most states have vehicle noise laws, but cops are too lazy to enforce them. You can, literally, suffer permanent hearing damage from being near some of these vehicles.
  7. Speed limits are less than a suggestion if there isn’t a cop in the immediate traffic mix. Worse, most rural drivers are not competent to walk on a crowded sidewalk, but in a motor vehicle these idiots are rolling assassins but they all imagine themselves to be NASCAR drivers (including the inability to turn right).
  8. “Bicycle lanes” are mostly considered to be fair game for parking, passing, and trash dumping. Not only that, but city workers often place obstacles in bike lanes that force bicyclists into clueless traffic.
  9. Unplanned, sudden right turns across traffic lanes and, especially, bicycle lanes are snafu. This is true in urban and rural areas, but more true where drivers are unsophisticated, unskilled, and unfamiliar with sharing the road with anyone else. When a rube visits the “big city,” which can be a pretty small place if the rube is a total goober, everything is a surprise and their reactions are often totally idiotic and unpredictable.
  10. Nothing about the “distracted driver” whining is in the least bit sincere. Occasional and random traffic citations for cell phone abuse is just a revenue generator. If society cared about the people, cell phones would be cut off when they are in a moving vehicle (easily done from either the phone or the cell provider). Drivers know nobody really cares if they are paying attention, so they don’t. From a bicycle viewpoint, I can tell you at least half of the drivers waiting at a stop light are staring at their phones or yakking way as if they were in their living room. When the light changes, that “100’ rope” that appears to tie each of the vehicles in the traffic-train of together is just the lag time between when the light changes or vehicle in front moves and the idiot behind looks up from his/her phone and resumes being a distracted driver. Autonomous cars can not come soon enough.
  11. Drivers are not aware or skilled enough to be “out to get you.” Honestly, if drivers were intentionally homicidal they’d be easier to predict. Random motion is exactly that: random. So, guessing what kind of idiot move a driver is going to make is an infinitely complicated calculation. When I taught motorcycle safety classes, I would politically incorrectly tell students, “If cagers had any skill, they wouldn’t need four wheels to balance themselves.” That is still my position and I’m stickin’ with it.

I’m still riding, so the odds are good that I’ll be making additions to this list. If you have any favorites, add them on the “Comments” below.

Nov 14, 2021

RIP: Denny Delzer, A Collector/Restorer of Many Fine Things

In 2009, I did a North Dakota Ghost Town Tour that started weird and continued for the whole 3,000 miles of that state coming and going. About mid-way I managed to fry a back tire (I know, not the first or, probably, the last time.) and ended up backtracking to Bismarck and stuck with nothing to do while the shop I’d lucked into shoe-horned me into their shop schedule. Luckily, I detailed this amazingly cool day in a blog entry, “Got Friday on My Mind,” back then. Otherwise, my floppy memory would probably make a total mess out of the events 12 years ago. From Lee Klapprodt’s recommendaton of the Cycle Hutt for the tire to Cycle Hutt’s owner, Justin Bohn, introducing me to Denny Delzer by telephone, the day went from a little depressing to downright amazing.

Recently, my old Mac Pro 3,1 died and a friend sent me a 5,1 replacement, which I have been setting up and enjoying for the last month or so. Today, I decided to clean up the picture history on my Mac so that the super-cool screen saver Photo Wall would be more . . . entertaining and less repetitive. Afterwards, while I worked on my Dell laptop at the Mac’s desk, a bunch of pictures from that North Dakota tour popped up with a lot of the pictures I took at Denny’s shop and home and some that he took of me looking terrified on his $150,000+ Egli-Vincent restoration. (That bike was worth more than my entire net worth at the time.)

Denny and I had kept up an intermittent email friendship over the years and when I tried to look up his company, B3Hammond.com, and discovered it . . . looked weird. So, I did a search on “Denny Delzer” and discovered he had been killed in a single vehicle motorcycle crash (on his Vincent, of course) in June, 2020. There isn’t much information about the crash from official sources, but there are some stories on the Vincent collector sites. Apparently, “The day of the accident he was on the big engine Shadow and according to his riding partner, they were on a straight and smooth piece of tarmac and he suddenly went down. It appears to have been a blowout of his front tire that took him down.” I rode one of those “big engine” Vincents and it was as bad a motorcycle as I have ever experienced, with a heavy steering damper to try and disguise the steering deficiencies. A front tire blowout on that bike would almost certainly result in a crash with almost any ride.

I have nothing but good memories of the day I spent with Denny. He was incredibly generous with his time (and motorcycles), brilliantly technical, funny as hell, a good musician, and one seriously busy guy. Saturday night, I saw him perform with his band, Powerhouse (I think), before I skipped out of Bismarck and headed back west for the rest of my ghost town hunt. The last email between us in my email history was 2017. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but I guess it was. Shame on me. I have known very few old guys who were more alive than Denny Delzer. I’m sure he is missed because I miss him and I barely knew him.

Nov 9, 2021

Who You Meet on the Road

On my Sunday’s ride, I encountered a fair number of motorcyclists both on Highway 61 (slide whistle implied) and on the dozen or so county roads I traveled. The first group, or two groups, were a pair of very large cruiser pirate packs on Highway 61 a few miles north of Lake City. I’d estimate that there were about 50 loud, plodding and waddling traffic-clogging pirates traveling two-and-three-abreast in each of two groups. Or, maybe, it was just one huge pack of pirates with an intermission in the middle? There was a line of cars that went back at least 3 miles well into Lake City. Lots of pissed off cagers and not a cop in sight. If there were two legal exhaust systems in that flock of bikers, I missed them. That group pretty much reminded me of the greased-up “cool kids” from high school who would get jobs sacking groceries when they turned 16, buy a car a few months later, prowl the halls of school terrorizing the “geeks and nerds,” wearing their big brother’s letter jacket since they’d never played a sport successfully, and 20 years later they’re still sacking groceries, driving the same beater car, living in their mom’s basement, bitching about how their ex-wife(wives). screwed them in the divorce, and getting all dressed up like a pirate for their twice-a-year Harley outing with the other Born Losers. So many scowls in one place. You’d think they’d been drug to church on a sunny Sunday.

There were a few downed or stalled bikers along the road between Frontenac and Lake City and even more distributed throughout Lake City. There was a police car stopped behind one group of biker goobers, fending off traffic while the bikers tried to haul a hippobike out of a ditch. There were two hippos down in front of a Kwik Trip at the west end of town with a couple of riders sitting on the asphalt holding their heads as if they’d fallen down in the parking lot and cracked their un-helmeted skulls. Another half-dozen pirates stood around helplessly watching the Agony of Disability. As I passed that group an ambulance roared up behind me, sirens blasting, and pulled into the Kwik Trip.

On US 63, heading southeast out of town, two more hippos were being rescued from a ditch by a towing company winch and some black leather clad menial labor. One of the cruisers was some kind of full dress mess and there was a lot of busted plastic scattered along the roadside.

There is a weird-assed mostly abandoned mansion a few miles off of 63 on County 15 that I like to check out intermittently. Someone (or someones) have made irregular attempts at restoring this old place and I like to check out the progress (or lack of) occasionally. So, I did. It actually looks more disheveled than it did before the “work” began several years ago, but it does look like someone might be living in the carriage house.

After some mindless meandering around the twisty county roads south and west of Lake City, I started heading back home. A big pack of motorcyclists (not bikers) were congregated at the intersection of County Rd 5 and 2. Must have been 20-25 of ‘em, all decked out in leathers, Aerostich and ‘Stich clone gear, full-face helmets, and mounted up mostly on sportbikes. Passing that bunch of riders was almost like having a cheering audience for some performance I didn’t know I was doing. Without having the slightest idea who I was, I absolutely had the feeling they were happy, no delighted, to see me. I don’t remember ever having that many people energetically waving at me. I ride earplugged, but I’m pretty sure there was cheering and encouragement going on. Don’t know why, but they were definitely a friendly bunch. In high school, they’d absolutely have been in the glee club, probably the chess club, band, drama, and debate, too. Definitely nerds and geeks, my people.

Motoring along on a “limited maintenance” road west of Lake City, waved at a couple of guys (I think) on big adventure touring bikes as we passed each other in a cloud of dust. An Africa Twin and a big GS Beemer, if I remember right. Definitely geeks. I think one of them was signaling some kind of warning to me, but I don’t sign competently and I kept motoring along until I came up to a fairly slow-moving black pickup that, eventually, slowed to a stop in the middle of the road. Some California paranoia crept into my mind and I seriously considered blasting past the truck on the right to stay away from the driver’s side door and the weapon that can be. Most of my California reflexes have been dulled by witnessing too much Minnesota passive-aggressive behavior and I passed the pickup on the left at a moderate speed and got moving again without incident. A few miles down the road and I heard a police siren. I was approaching US 58 and initially thought the cop was ahead of me on the highway, but when I checked my mirror it was full of that black pickup and flashing lights. I pulled off and he passed me moving fast. I don’t know what the weird thing with blocking the road was about, but the sirens weren’t for me and that’s about all I cared about.

I managed to turn what could have been a ten minute ride home into another 45 minutes of meandering, but I still got home in plenty of time for the bicycle ride I’d promised my wife I’d do. There was absolutely no point in my Sunday ride. I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t stop anywhere, didn’t even need to stop for gas, didn’t do any errands, didn’t bring home lunch. Totally pointless and about as much fun as I’ve ever had on a motorcycle; at least on the street.

 

Nov 8, 2021

Recalibrating Expectations

Yesterday, Sunday November 11, 2021, was possibly the last really nice day of the year. Winter is coming and once it gets here it might stay for a while. I have done a crap job of motivating myself to ride my new (to me) motorcycle this season. I had some good excuses, cataract surgery in July that also sucked up a bit of August in recover, COVID made travel to many of the places I love to ride precarious, and a good bit of the Rockies were on fire during prime late fall riding season. But, mostly, I have realized that my primary lifetime justification for riding, transportation to and from work, is no longer in my life. I started off my “adult life” poor and remained pretty much on the edge of falling out of the lower middle class for about 3/5ths of my life.

I also fell into manufacturing and manufacturing engineering about the time I began to creep out of that precarious income bracket and ROI (Return On Investment) calculations became an everyday part of my life and remained so until I retired. I pretty much made every recreational activity I indulged in pay its own way, justify my participation and the activity’s existence financially. My band income paid for my musical instruments and the cost of being a musician. I got into “collecting” and trading musical equipment for several years and the money I made doing that paid for the recording studio equipment and facilities. First, my motorcycles were off-road recreational vehicles only, but I managed to pickup an Ossa dealership in the early 70s and I sold enough motorcycles to pay for my own and my wife’s dirt bikes. My garage was “The Dirt Shop” and I repaired everything from Ossas under warranty to street bikes. I started riding a street bike shortly before I moved to California in the early 80s and I made the move from Nebraska to southern California on my Honda CX500, carrying all of the clothing, books, and necessities I’d need for my first 3 months in California in a backpack strapped to the CX’s sissy bar. My motorcycles were my primary transportation in California for 10 years, in Indiana and Colorado for the next 6, and for at least 8 months a year for the first 22 years in Minnesota. I also taught the state’s Motorcycle Safety courses for 18 years, which provided about half of our family income for several of those years.

In Red Wing, I almost never have a compelling reason to ride a motorcycle anywhere. Downtown is 3 miles, an easy trip on my bicycles and an effortless trip on my eBike. After 50+ years of being on her own taking care of kids and a household while I worked 50-90 hour workweeks, my wife is doing everything she can to do the “togetherness thing” in our retirement years. We have taken more trips together in the past 6 years than in the previous 48 combined. Almost all of those trips have been in a cage.

Yesterday, I definitely felt that I either needed ride this motorcycle or admit that I have no good reason to own it. The previous owner put 700 miles on the odometer in the 9 years he owned it and, outside of some early summer trips, I’d have to do some traveling to rack up a 1,000 mile summer. Since I put 1400 miles on my eBike, that is more than a little embarrassing. After a bad start, fumbling around looking for some gear I eventually decided I didn’t need, I hit the road on the TU250X about 11AM. The weather was excellent and I’d forgotten how many terrific roads are within a dozen miles of my front door. We’d planned on doing a bicycle ride later that day, so I needed to get on it to push the odometer past the 1700 mile mark.

It was a weirdly eventful day, which I’ll describe in another post, and the weather and bike cooperated beautifully. Somewhere around the 2 hour mark, I realized that I was slowly losing my guilt complex about not having any particular place to go or reason for being out on the road burning fuel and cash.

2016 was the first year since I was 17 when I could file my income taxes on the 1040 short form. No outstanding invoices, no business expense deductions, no income outside of my Social Security checks and my required minimum IRA distributions, and a life with expenses that easily fall inside the standard deduction. After almost 50 years of justifying almost every expense, I’m suddenly in new territory; a life where just wanting to do something is justification to be doing it. And that, especially, applies to riding a motorcycle.

I’ve always ridiculed the Iron Butt competitions as something close to the ultimate conspicuous consumption activity: 1,000 miles a day to nowhere for no reason other than to say “I did it.” Honestly, living in retirement is not much different. We consume, but we don’t produce anything of value or importance. The old RV bumper sticker, “I’m spending my kids’ inheritance,” is pretty much what every day we’re alive is about.

A little more than 10 years ago, my grandson and I made a Rocky Mountain Tour and there was no income stream at all for that trip. I didn’t even try to line up a magazine to sell an article about the trip. We travelled to places I’ve been to a lot, but they were all firsts for Wolf. Ghost towns, weird back roads, tourist traps, geological and paleontology sites, and places I’ve lived and loved and even a few visits with relatives. The segment of the trip between the Black Hills and Steamboat Springs was a similar revelation to me as this weekend’s ride. It’s about 400 miles from Mt. Rushmore to Steamboat. I’d made that trip about a dozen times in the past decade and knew the route well. About half-way to Laramie I was beginning to question my memories, as the trip was taking a lot longer than I remembered. After a bit, I realized that I’d never ridden that section of the trip any where near the speed limits. With my grandson on board, I was sticking to 55mph even where I could see for miles and knew there was no chance a cop was running a speed trap. I’d practically flown that section of barely populated country in the past, but plugging along at 50-55mph changed everything about the ride. Good thing, too. A few miles outside of Laramie, the beat up farm-to-market road trashed one of my fork seals and the bike got a bit squirrely. At 55mph, that was easily dealt with. At 100+mph, not so much.

Now, I’m doing another kind of recalibration. Instead of riding for practical purposes, I’m going to have to try to become a recreational-only rider. That won’t be as easy as you might think. 50 years of habits and expectations are not easily changed. Stay tuned and any advice you have will be welcome.

Not Much Left

 In early 2017, Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine ended its 20 year run as a print publication and and the publisher vowed "MMM is not dead. Just the opposite." And he went on to describe the rosy future he hoped the magazine might enjoy as an on-line magazine. It never happened. Some intermittent short articles appeared on the website and, eventually, the publisher managed to get most of the back articles posted to the new site, but the traffic and readers never made the transition. Sometime in the recent past the site, WWW.MNMotorcycle.com, disappeared. Today, the only on-line evidence that it ever existed is https://issuu.com/minnesotamotorcyclemonthly

Issuu.com is a site that publishes PDF editions of a variety of magazines. And that's all she wrote for a pretty cool period of my life and a magazine that more people than you would think was read cover-to-cover and anticipated by local motorcyclists and a few long-distance subscribers.

Nov 2, 2021

Internal Combustion Engines As A Musical Instrument? You’re Kidding, Right?

“Most motorcycles I’ve owned have been chosen, in large part, for the way they sounded.” I am, you might know, an audio guy. I’ve been a wannabe musician since I was 11 and an audio engineer in a wide collection of areas in the industry. But I have never picked a motorcycle because of the way it sounded. Mostly, for me, my motorcycle choices were made in spite of the sound. That opening quote comes from a mostly thoughtful ADVRider.com article about the politics and hysteria that was generated in an article about electric motorcycles and the Kawasaki plan to fully switch over to electrics by 2035. If you do think there is something musical about motorcycle exhaust noise, you have to also be a lover of rap and hip hop or what my wife calls “washing machine noise.”

All spring-summer-fall we’ve suffered the noise and associate pollution of piddly twins blubbering their way past our home and if nothing else makes me look forward to winter (and not much else does) it is the hope that the noise level dies down because bikers are fluffballs who can’t deal with rain let alone cold. I’d be riding an electric motorcycle if they were cost effective. When our local Zero dealer gave up the ghost and blew out the end of the 2017 inventory, I almost went for it. If I were 10-20 years younger, it would be a no-brainer even with the technology where it is today. The 2022 offerings from Zero really make the point that ICE technology is so far behind the current state-of-the-art that nothing could possibly happen to reverse that.

Both the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) fanatics and the current state-of-the-art is about to prove on of my oldest and most accurate “Rat’s Rules”: #2 When You Know It’s Over. Here’s the gist of the rule, “My theory is that as a technology approaches terminal, it gets really good.  Then it dies.  When a new technology is just finding its legs, the technology being replaced makes a wonderful collection of giant leaps; which will fail to stave off obsolescence, even for a moment.“ ICE engines are long past their use-by date, are destroying a livable atmosphere on this planet (for humans, life will survive us), and the fuel is a vanishing resource. We may not grow up fast enough to save the species from long term effects of global warming, but we’re going to leave ICE behind and technology is changing faster than the biker crowd can keep up. Leaving old people, uneducated and unskilled people, and stubborn people behind is how progress has always worked.

Buying a motorcycle because of the noise pollution it creates is . . . sick. And not sick in a good way. There is NOTHING musical or pleasant about the sound of exploding gasoline and a whole lot that is unpleasant about the sound of an illegally modified exhaust. Noise pollution is a real thing, regardless of your grade school politics. Look it up. I gave you one link there, but there is a long history of negative effects of noise and ignoring science won’t change it.

Oct 11, 2021

What’s Stopping Them?

Sitting on my front porch this morning, when the trash truck showed up and a half-dozen cars backed up behind him, I was (as usual) amazed that the noise from a trash truck, three pickups, and two cars were totally obliterated by one blubbering Hardly at the back of the line. I moved to this place to escape the I35 noise in the Twin Cities, but the biker noise on our county road is making me reconsider that move and I’ve been looking for a quieter place since; probably not in Minnesota where cops are not only terrified of biker gangbangers but are often among their grubby “club” memberships. If that isn’t a firing offense, cops are a long ways from being effectively “defunded.”

A while back an acquaintance trying to prove that people aren’t pissed off at motorcycle noise claimed that the rare Goldwing that passed through his small Wisconsin town with it’s idiot stereo system blasting was noisier and more irritating than the usual horde of idiots on Hardlys. He mentioned something about taking a shot at them and I wondered why that wasn’t happening all the time. He claimed there was some guy who had taken shots at bikers, “of all kinds,” and after a few days I decided to try and find that story. As best I can tell, it never happened. [His rebuttal is "This happened pre WWW, about 1988 and I believe between Poplar WI and Bayfield WI.  At the time I was living in Duluth and it was my garbage man’s son who did the shooting.  If memory serves me, which it sometimes doesn’t, his last name was 'Henderson.'  If you could view the archives of the Duluth News Tribune I’m sure you would find the relevant stories as it was a bit of a sensational event in the region."]

And the question is, “Why not?” Americans shoot at every possible group of people, except actual bad guys. Gun nuts have slaughtered people in a dance club, people watching a country concert, people in churches (especially Black churches), high school kids, grade school kids, and, probably, pre-school kids, But actual assholes? Not so much. Where are you, John McClane, when your country really needs you?

If you do a Google search on “motorcycle” “shooting” (the quotes are necessary to get everything with “motorcycle” and “shooting” and nothing without both terms involved) you’ll get “About 25,900,000 results” with titles like “Woman dies following motorcycle gang shootout on I-4; Boyfriend charged with second-degree murder” and “Deputies investigate shooting at motorcycle club” and “Man, 22, was shot in the back of the head by motorcycle riders” and “Police investigating burglary suspect shooting, fatal ...” and lots more, but no one shooting at motorcyclists just because of the rage factor. Americans shoot each other when one person accidentally mows a bit of his neighbor’s weedy yard. Why aren’t there at least a few instances of guys going off the handle and opening up on a pack of biker gangbangers? Is there anything else in this country more irritating than some half-wit blasting the peace and quiet simply because his mommy didn’t love him and his daddy had the good sense to get the hell out of town when that moronic bimbo found herself pregnant?

I did find this story, which is pretty hilarious everywhere but the cops’ usual incompetence, “Deputies arrest 84-year-old woman who shot at neighbor's 'noisy' children.” I don’t know if the targets were actual “children” or just asshole teenagers with moron parents, but it’s pretty typical that the cops didn’t think of doing anything about a family of biker gangbangers. There is a not-unusual story about a drunken asshole biker who the cops found naked and rev’ing the engine of his hippobike because his neighbor had asked him to keep his dog quiet. There is no shortage of people complaining about this illegal behavior and a total absence of anything resembling law enforcement doing anything about it. As gun-loving as this country is and as much noise is made about “stand your ground” rights, you’d think someone would be cleaning the streets of these bozos. But you’d be wrong and disappointed.

Why is that?

There are some pretty sad reasons why cops don’t do the job they are paid to do. At least one ex-cop has an opinion, “The TRUTH About Loud Motorcycles, Automobiles, Trucks, the Police Won’t or Can’t Tell You." To sum him up, 49 of 50 states have laws that regulate the noise output of vehicles and “Mayors [and other political and bureaucratic city officials], motivated by political expediency and greed for the city coffer, opt to ignore the protective intent of well-established Federal and State muffler laws – laws enacted specifically for the “protection of the citizenry” within their jurisdiction – while these elected officials provide police protection and services for the law breakers i.e. the Loud Biker Cult[ure] and permit these narcissistic bullies to roam their municipalities unencumbered for days while the tax-paying citizenry suffers.”

I do not get why there aren’t occasional folks going off-the-rails and taking the actual law into their own hands, since the people paid to enforce laws are busy stuffing their maws with donuts. It almost seems un-American that the news stories aren’t filled with episodes about “ Good ‘ole Billy Bob just got tired of all that damn noise and shot up a bunch of bikes and burned down the biker bar with all of ‘em in it, pickin’ ‘em off when they came streaming out of the bar like a bunch of smoked-out ants, till the cops got there and took poor ‘ole Billy Bob down.” You’d think “’ole Billy Bob” would be a national hero with a parade attended by people from all over the country.

Sep 26, 2021

eBikes, Mopeds, and Motorcycles: Is There A Difference?

eBikes (“e-bikes”?) are becoming the most dangerous vehicle on the road, despite eBikers claim that bicycles and eBikes are not “vehicles.” Hint: if you are not walking and you are moving you are in or on a “vehicle.” "noun: vehicle; plural noun: vehicles 1. a thing used for transporting people or goods, especially on land, such as a car, truck, or cart." A bicycle/eBike is definitely “a thing” and even if you are just moving about recreationally you are being transported. This is, perhaps, the dumbest aspect of eBike promoters argument against regulating and licensing eBikes. If you like dumb arguments, you’ll love this doofus: Bolton Bikes.

If you’ve stuck with me for a while, you’ll know I think motorcycle licensing in the US is idiotic. And by that I mean any idiot with $13 and bare-minimal skills can get a motorcycle endorsement and, based on local traffic, I’d say every idiot in Minnesota has a motorcycle endorsement.

eBikes: Federal law in HB 727, a 2002 law enacted by Congress, defines an electric bicycle as “A two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.” Most states adopted that definition of eBikes and most also adopted the federal park regulation that allowed eBikes fitting that description access to bicycle trails and bike lanes. In some states, eBikes are excluded from the legal definition of “motor vehicles.” That, mostly, is for the purpose of minimizing licensing requirements.

State bicycle/eBike helmet laws are inconsistent, irrational, and unequally enforced. If there are bike helmet requirements, most likely they will only be applied to whatever the state decides are “children.”

Mopeds: Mopeds are probably the most misleading named vehicle on the planet today. A moped is legally defined as "[a] vehicle that has two or three wheels, no external shifting device, and a motor that does not exceed 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement and cannot propel the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on a level surface." You’ll notice, I hope, that nothing is mentioned about pedals in the moped description. A zillion years ago, mopeds were mostly bicycles people had stuck un-muffled 2-stroke motors to, leaving the pedals to fool lazy cops (as if there is another kind?) and piss off as many pedestrians, neighbors, and property owners as possible. State laws about mopeds are all over the place. Some states require a license plate and motorcycle endorsement for any vehicle that meets the definition of moped and above (anything not legally a bicycle or eBike) and some states only require a license for under-16 or under-18-year-old riders. Most “mopeds” are just small (50cc/under-30mph) scooters. Moped horsepower definitions vary by state from anything over 1 h.p. to 5 h.p. Some states (Colorado, for example) have a weird undefined area between 750W and “4,476 watts for electric motors” (6 h.p.) where the vehicle is neither an eBike or a moped. I can’t imagine what kind of nutjobs wrote those laws, but I’ve pretty much given up on at least half of the fools in this country so I’m not inconvenienced.

Likewise, helmet requirements are all over the place for mopeds. Like motorcycles, there is no rationale behind moped helmet laws. Most states require helmets for 18-and-under, but states like Minnesota rarely bother to enforce those laws (or any other laws that don’t get cops into non-white people business).

Motorcycles: Motorcycles are pretty much everything else, including some 3-wheeled vehicles, like the Polaris Slingshot and Can-Am Spyder, that are “motorcycles” because that is how the manufacturers slithered past car safety regulations. The lesson there is “If you don’t care how many of your customers you kill, call your vehicle a 'motorcycle.’” The Bolton goober claims there “are no horsepower limits on motorcycles.” Of course, he’s about as useful a source as I am on particle physics. In 2010, the EU limited production motorcycles to 100 h.p. for a while, then changed its little mind in 2015 and reversed that ruling. France didn’t follow the EU in going back to unlimited horsepower and maximum road hazard until late 2016. US DOT restrictions indirectly limit production bike horsepower with emissions, noise, and safety restrictions. Of course our lazy local policing allows bikers to circumvent federal and state regulations because so many of the so-called “law enforcement” gangsters are also biker gangbangers. The one thing cops really hate are laws that apply to themselves.

It is fair to say that anything that isn’t either a bicycle (or legal eBike) or a moped is a motorcycle; regardless of if it is a scooter, an electric two-or-three-wheel vehicle, has or doesn’t have pedals, or is a custom one-off or production vehicle. The definitions of these three vehicles are solely determined by powered speed limits and horsepower/watts. Any attempt to cloud those definitions are nothing more that blown smoke and any policing fooled by that smoke isn’t worth the price of a badge or public support.

Motorcycle helmet laws have been under siege by the very people they are designed to protect, in practically every country. As I speculated a while back, the only real argument for not wearing a helmet is a childish desire to be recognized as a biker. In 1966, the federal government offered highway funding incentives for states to enact helmet laws. (Eeek! Social engineering!) Regardless of the look-at-me! crowd delusions, the evidence for reduced serious motorcycle injury and death with helmet use is overwhelming. However, helmet laws have been under attack by the AMA and ABATE and other biker disorganizations from the start and, somehow, the AMA convinced our congresscritters to repeal the federal incentives in 1975. At that time, California (believe it or not) was the only state not to have a mandatory helmet law. Today, only 19 states have mandatory universal helmet laws. Oddly, California is one of ‘em.

Some stats about motorcycle riders, helmet use, and motorcycle crash data are . . . interesting. The average age of motorcyclists is somewhere between 51 and 56, depending on who’s data you’re believing this week. In 1980, the average age was 27. 19% of riders are women, compared to 6% in 1980. 3% of motorcycle deaths “are attributed to women” and 93% of motorcycle passenger deaths are women. (No surprises there.) “Mothers don’t let your baby girls grow up to be biker chicks?”

The point of this essay was to try and clarify the very clear lines between eBikes and the rest of motorized two-wheeled transportation. A surprise, to me, was that the line between mopeds and motorcycles is so sloppy.

Aug 17, 2021

Remember When?

 Remember when motorcycle manufacturers thought sales were worth advertising for? It feels like a lifetime ago.

Aug 16, 2021

No, 70 Is Not the New 50

A good friend and I are trying to plan a moderately unscheduled motorcycle trip, meeting in South Dakota and traveling up the Hills into Teddy Roosevelt and across to Bismarck, before we split up and he heads north into Canada and I go back home. At least that’s the plan as of this moment. We’re both riding Suzuki TU250X’s, so speed isn’t a thing for this trip, hence the “moderately unscheduled” aspect of the trip. We won’t be pounding out big miles, ideally. Mostly because I’m old. I mean I started this GWAG thing when I was 50-something. I thought I was old then and I was, but I am really old now.

I’ve been sleeping on the ground since I was a kid and that was a long time ago. To avoid being drug to church by my parents, I would sneak out of the house late Saturday night—with a blanket and a canteen and a flashlight and a bag of potato chips I’d smuggled into my room and had hidden in my kid’s crap pile—and cross the Highway 50 bypass to the ruins of an old Catholic school in an abandoned lot not far from our house. The only thing left of those buildings were the basements and I’d found an old wooden ladder that I propped up next to the ruins of the basement stairs of one of those buildings and that was my hideout from church “duty.” It worked for most of a year until my parents gave up and let me stay home if I would have lunch ready for the family when they all came plodding back from being preached at and scammed out of their allowances and an unreasonable portion of an already meager teacher’s salary. I was about 12 at the time. I’d still rather sleep on the cold ground than listen to a sermon.

After I moved out on my own, the summer I turned 16, I took a “gap month” after I’d dropped out of the worst community college in the planet and the band I would spend the rest of the summer touring with got a late start for the summer because the band leader crashed his Thunderbird into the only tree in Oklahoma on his way home to Little Rock. I didn’t have any real camping gear, but I remember scavenging a canvas Boy Scouts’ pup tent and a nasty looking sleeping bag I’d found somewhere. I lived along the Arkansas River between Dodge City and Cimarron, Kansas shooting squirrels and jack rabbits with my single-shot .22 and pretending to live off of the land, while occasionally sneaking into town and ripping off food from some of the south Dodge residents’ outdoor freezers and refrigerators. 

A few years later, I was living in Hereford, Texas (the place the hose goes when they give the world an enema) and struggling to make a living and clinging to my sanity as a new father, a barely-trained and unskilled electronics technician, and a failed ex-musician. The only escape from the pressure I could afford was backpacking the occasional free days in Palo Duro Canyon, mostly in the winter when no one else wanted to be there, but I hiked the Canyon any time I could get away for three years running (literally, often). About the same time, I lucked into Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker, one of the few books I have kept throughout the last 50 years. Fletcher taught me about gear, preparation, survival tactics, climbing and descending (with a loaded pack), and most of the “skills” I’ve used in backpacking, running rivers, and solo motorcycle camping. Sometime in the 90’s, I swapped out my trusty North Face tent for a Lawson Blue Ridge Hammock, but I still have much of the gear I started with. I’ve camped in ditches, abandoned farm house backyards, forests and windbreaks, by the ocean, streams, and lakes, and, even, official campgrounds all over the country; from California to Nova Scotia.

But I’m done with all of that now. Scott and I wrestled with all sorts of trip plans, with the assumption that camping is the safest way for old guys to stay away from the goobers spreading SARS-CoV-2 across the country. Camping just isn’t a practical option for me anymore. I might consider a trip that could guarantee trees for the Lawson Hammock, but this trip won’t be in that kind of terrain. My last trip was pretty much a disaster, but even if the “campsite” hadn’t been a dumb idea and well-tipped into idiotic if hilarious I learned that the costs of sleeping on the ground are too high now. I could do it if I had to, but I’d wake up stiff all over, the arthritis in my hands would be crippling, and that’s if I managed to sleep at all. If we’re going to do this trip, it will have to be with motel rests at night so I can boil my hands in hot water, ice my knees and shoulder, and sleep in a reasonably comfortable bed.

No, 70 is not the new 50 and anyone who says it is knows nothing. As Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel said in "Why I Hope to Die at 75, "over recent decades, increases in longevity seem to have been accompanied by increases in disability—not decreases. For instance, using data from the National Health Interview Survey, Eileen Crimmins, a researcher at the University of Southern California, and a colleague assessed physical functioning in adults, analyzing whether people could walk a quarter of a mile; climb 10 stairs; stand or sit for two hours; and stand up, bend, or kneel without using special equipment. The results show that as people age, there is a progressive erosion of physical functioning. More important, Crimmins found that between 1998 and 2006, the loss of functional mobility in the elderly increased. In 1998, about 28 percent of American men 80 and older had a functional limitation; by 2006, that figure was nearly 42 percent. And for women the result was even worse: more than half of women 80 and older had a functional limitation.” I was playing basketball fairly competently at 50, I probably couldn’t reliably catch a pass today. I confidently took off on a 30-day motorcycle trip to Alaska in 2007, when I was 59. I might still consider an Alaska trip at 73, but I wouldn’t have much confidence in the outcome. My 50-year-old self would kick my 70-year-old self’s ass any day of the week. So would sleeping on the ground for a week.

Jun 14, 2021

Makin’ Up the Numbers

The other day a friend (yeah, you know who you are) was bragging to me that he’d ridden more than a million miles in his riding lifetime. If you know anything about me you know I am a numbers guy and you also know that I assume 99% of Americans are embarrassingly mathematically illiterate. (That is putting it mildly.) After 73 years on this planet, in a country that despises math, science, and reality as much as the Catholic Church hates kids who rat out priests, I pretty much doubt everything anyone tells me until I can verify it myself. I doubt myself, too. I know some surveys have given the USA a slightly better math literacy score, but I think they are optimists. Ted Sturgeon once said that “ninety percent of everything is crap.” I think Ted, also, was an optimist. My name is “Thomas” for a reason, although probably not the one my parents intended; whatever that was.

Regardless of what your favorite politician has told you, a million is a really, REALLY big number. Here are some million-mile scenarios as a half-hearted attempt at elucidation: I reflected on how big a number that is back when my original blog site (geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/) finally passed a million hits in December 2020, after being on-line since 2008. (That was after converting my original GeezerwithAGrudge.com webpage to a Google blog. The original page had been on a Comcast site, which Comcast discontinued, since 2000 and had collected about 300,000 hits.) The Google site had been collecting an average of 3,000–5,000 hits per month with occasional monthly peaks of around 25,000 between 2014 and 2017 and as it approached 500,000 I got interested in watching the numbers roll towards a million. After a few months of that, I got bored and missed the big blog odometer counter roll-up. A 5,000 hits a month, it takes 100 months to collect 100,000; almost 8 1/2 years. Likewise, it takes a lot of riding to collect 1,000,000 miles:

1) If you ride 5 days a week for 35 years, to get to 1,000,000 miles you’ll have to ride an average of 110 miles a day. If you ride 7 days a week you’ll only have to average 78 miles a day.

2) Add a 1,000 mile annual vacation trip to the above daily miles and you’ll only have to average 21 miles a day seven days a week or about 23 miles a day for five days a week for 35 years. a 2,000 mile annual trip takes the 7 day necessary average to 12 miles and 5 days to 12.6 miles A 3,000 mile annual trip knocks the daily 7 say average to 8.5 miles and 5 days to 8.75 miles. If you’ve managed to pull off a 5,000 mile vacation trip every year for 35 years, you’d only need to ride to work and back 5.3 miles a day seven days a week or 5.4 miles for five.

We’re not talking about doing this daily ride occasionally. You have to average those miles on a weekly basis for 35 freakin’ years. You might be able to imagine that you’ve done that, but I’m not going with you. Likewise, I’m not going to believe that your get 30mpg in your Ford F150 or 60mpg from your Yamaha R1, either. Do not try to show me that idiot mileage calculator built into your fuel injection system. Show me a spreadsheet with at least 50 tank fills and no weirdness and I might begin to be convinced.

3) If you average 5,000 miles per year, it will take you 200 years to rack up a million miles: 7,500 annual miles needs 133 years, 10,000 needs 100 years, 15,000 will take 66 2/3 years, and 20,000 only 50 years.

All that said, in a 35 year riding “career,” odds are you haven’t crossed a million miles yet. Likely, you’re not even a quarter of the way there yet. Odds are even better you’ll never get there. I’ve been riding, off and on, since 1963, but there have been periods where motorcycles weren’t anywhere in my life and periods where motorcycles were about the only functional transportation in my life.

I know there are some rich, idle geezers who have managed 1,000,000 mile riding lives and--I guess--“hats off to them.” There are even some civil service characters with their typical 3 months a year vacation time who can act like rich idle geezers and who have pounded out big miles. (Yeah, I’m jealous.) But most of us working stiffs are likely to peter out at 200,000-500,000 miles if we’re lucky. Unlike my salesman friend, I suspect the average driving lifetime for motorcyclists is pretty close to 10,000 or 20,000 miles between fatal accidents. Craig’s List ads indicate the average motorcycle travels about 1,500 miles per year, which sort of clicks with the number of bikes the usual suspects have owned before ending up in a ditch bawling for an ambulance.

The cool thing about these kinds of claims is that I have never heard any of that kind of stuff from the few hard core motorcyclists LD I have known. All of those guys have worn their way through a pile of motorcycles and keeping track of the final odometer reading over a lifetime of doing more important stuff just isn’t a thing. Math geeks really shy away from making claims that don’t add up. The people who are really happy to quote wild and big numbers are too often self-declared mathphobes and innumeracy sufferers.

For example, one guy I know is a radical left-winger and who loves to jabber about “big banks” and “big finance” and how dysfunctional our economic system is, while admitting that he is so micro-economically incompetent that he can’t balance a check book, pay his simple 1040A taxes without an accountant, or manage a credit card. None of that inability even puts a glancing blow on his confidence that he is a macro-economics wiz and the world would be a better place if it listened to him and banished money and went back to living off of the land and under a rock. Personally, I wouldn’t put a dime in his hand if I expected to get it back. And I hate farming. I’d rather be a hitman than a farmer.

Now, before your panties get all wadded up and you become a prime candidate for a super wedgie, I’m not calling anyone a liar. Deluded, probably, but lying not so much. Even worse for your case, I don’t care. At this point in my life, pretty much all bragging goes in one ear and out the other. After the last 4 years of non-stop bragging from a character whose whole life has been one failure, disaster, crooked scheme, ripoff, bumbling idiocy, and easily fact-checked outright lies, bragging has lost its power and entertainment value. Self-depreciation, curiosity, and an appreciation for facts and reality, on the other hand, have really taken on a whole new light.

At the opposite end of this accomplishment and self-evaluation spectrum, I had the immense pleasure of hanging out with some ex-students from my McNally Smith College years this past week and their history and stories of the music business and their experiments with motorcycling (mostly 70’s Japanese bikes turned into café bikes, but at least two several year experiments at road racing) made my week. It takes a lot to make my week, so if you weren’t there you really missed out. If you were, thank you for allowing me to enjoy your life.