Jun 29, 2008

Crazy Collector Stories

This blog entry is nothing more than a statement of inquiry. I’m trying to write a story about the mental state (habits, motivations, attitudes, and rationalizations) of folks who “collect” motorcycles. A collector, in my mind, is everything from:

  • someone who inherits/buys a bike and keeps it, unused, in the back of the garage for decades
  • to the packrat who buys and stores as many rat bikes as his garage can hold
  • to the Leno-style loony who builds an ostentatious storage facility and employs professional mechanics to clean and maintain his motorcycles in case he gets the urge for a short ride to the local Hard Rock or just wants to straddle a clean seat and make “vooroooom” noises.

For my money, each of these characters is exhibiting a form of eccentricity that is worth examining, simply for the entertainment value. When we’re being honest, I imagine all of us “hoard” something: family pictures or letters, ceramic dolls, musical instruments, ballpoint pens stolen from the office, and items that symbolize precious memories. Motorcycles are on the mild extreme of the crazy side of this addiction. After all, you can stuff a dozen bikes into a normal two-car garage which is slightly less nutty than buying a barn or airport hangar for a “collection.” Of course, that means the garage can’t be used for anything else. Even a collector has to admit filling a garage with unused machinery is an obsession; especially a collector who lives where severe winters make owning a garage a near necessity.

What I’m hoping to gather in this space (http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/) is any kind of story that describes the motorcycles in one of these collections or a description of the collector himself. Please, feel free to pass this along to anyone you know who can add something to this highly academic “analysis.”

Jun 28, 2008

The Repercussions of Having an Opinion

This summer, I reviewed a bike that put me in an ethical bind. I really liked the folks at the dealership, although they were clearly not motorcycle people. The dealership was a hardware store trying to get into the exciting, high-profile, profitable scooter and motorcycle market. Yes, I'm joking about the characteristics of our market but I'm not joking about their expectations for that same business. They were almost childishly anticipating a flood of cash from their entry into American motorcycling. I thought they should have been a little more cautious, since they had only recently dropped Polaris' and were still trying to offload their inventory (two bikes) of last years' It turned out that the bike was, largely, junk. 

 You can read the review linked to this column for a mild-mannered opinion of that motorcycle. Not only was the quality and design short of modern standards, it was overpriced, unreliable (based on my short and uncomfortable experience), and possibly dangerous. For example, the clutch grabbed so severely that it would intermittently yank the bike several yards on engagement and disengaged a fair distance from the misnamed "friction zone." The dealer admitted they had experienced this before, the factory offered a "fix" that didn't work, and I still have no idea if the bike can be made safe due to this defect. 

When my review hit the stands, I got a few calls and emails from Hyosung owners describing their experience with the clutch problems and asking if there was remedy. Since the dealer had decided to toss fuel and a lit match on our relationship, the best I could offer the Hyosung victims was a phone number and web-link for the NHTSA recall hot line. 

In my review I tried to briefly describe many of the bike's defects as accurately as possible. There is, or should be, a public service aspect to product reviews and I take that seriously, having been burned a few times by half-honest product reviews. It is hard to be critical of a motorcycle that has been handed over with the expectation of unbridled love, but that's a critic's job. Of course, the basic design was pretty funny on its own, which added an aspect of humor that was out of my control. The Korean manufacturer went for a really weird and retro chopper look and a totally stupid riding position, which was a regular source of entertainment by everyone who knows me and saw me on the bike. 

 To be blunt and honest, I hated the bike and think it is the worst representation of the style I've ever ridden. But, I'm no cruiser expert. I do my best to stay off of the damn things and have yet to ride one I'd consider owning. The article says as much. In a form-follows-function world, cruisers have lost their way. The Hyosung was the worst representative of a terrible motorcycle style that I've ever suffered. My review didn't reflect even half of my dislike of the Avitar. As toned-down as it was, the resultant article received the following comments from the manufacturer's sales department:

  • ". . . You assured both myself and [names deleted], our National Sales Mgr. that you just wanted to do a fair, light hearted review on some of Hyosungs models and that no matter how bad the bike or scooter may turn out to be (should that be the case, which it is not), neither you nor your writing staff would be overly hard or in anyway unfair on said unit and would emphasize the strong points of the model more so than its weaknesses. . .
  • "Well I can assure you that if this lop sided, closed and narrow minded, cruiser hating editors article hits the newstands as written, I will personally guarantee you that you will never ever review one of our bikes, scooters or anything else we manufacture again either. Did the same Jackass that wrote this article happen to ride the HD too?
  • "I am shocked that you call yourself a motorcycle magazine and that your reviewer considers himself a motorcyclist at all least of all an motorcycle editor? . . .
  • "However to send a person to test a motorcycle that openly admits to hating any and all types of a certain style of motorcycle (in this case cruisers) is just plain stupidity and completely unethical and can only lead to an uninformed and uninspiring review!
  • "Also, how small is this reviewer that he doesn't fit on the GV650? We had women that stood all of 5ft 4 inches tall and weighed 105 pounds soaking wet sit on it at the show, easily pull it up off the sidestand and feel very comfortable doing so? In fact, its neutral riding position along with how well it carries its weight low . . .
  • "He has no business testing ours or any other manufacturers products because he does not carry anything remotely close to unbiased, fair or ethical writing skills...or dare I say any writing skills at all. . .
  • "There are so many holes in this article that I couldn't plug them with all ten fingers and toes...but I digress, if this is what you call a review in your magazine, then please don't bother to ask to "review" our products in the future. . . "

Where the marketing doofus got the idea that I'm an "editor" is a confusion. He also appears to think my first or last name is "Jackass," which I suppose is more likely than me being an editor. While his own "writing skills" would make most text messengers blush in shame, he seems to feel pretty confident in his ability to blast mine which makes for entertaining reading. It is interesting that he conveniently chose to forget that MMM had not signed up to review the cruiser. In all the magazine's negotiations, the bike we were anticipating for review was the Hyosung GT650R; a Korean attempt at copying the Suzuki SV650. I was signed on to the review because I ride a Suzuki V-Strom 650 and previously owned and enjoyed an SV650 for 50,000 miles. Neither Sev, Victor, or I would have even considered putting me on a POS cruiser from any manufacturer under practically any conditions. If the goofball sales doofus had done any research, he would have known that MMM, in general, is not fond of cruisers and I, in particular, think they are clown bikes. 

Until the Avitar was rolled into the dealer's driveway and my wife had driven away in my escape vehicle, I had no idea that I would be test riding a Shriner vehicle. I would have dressed appropriately, had I known: protective bandana, butt-less leather chaps, Doc Martins, and the usual Harley comedy accessories. As it was, I arrived in full Aerostich gear, helmet, boots, and all. I was as appropriately dressed as a riot cop at a Grateful Dead concert. If I weren't cursed with a Midwestern inability to say "no," I would have recalled my wife and simply left after explaining to the dealer why they did not want me reviewing the Avitar. 

As it was, the dealer had spent all of the magazine's lead time prepping the bike, delivering it almost two weeks after they had promised it would be ready. Two of the four possible reviewers had dropped out of the pool of writers because of the near deadline and the poor timing. It would either be me and Steven Heller or Steven alone. It probably should have been Steven alone. So, I can't disagree that with the marketing doofus' basic premise that I was bound to dislike the Hyosung cruiser. A more adventurous manufacturer might have taken my position as a challenge and accepted any level of approval as an accomplishment or an opportunity to fine tune a vehicle that clearly needs critical design input. So it goes and Hyosung was already on record as being "sensitive," since they had burst into indignant flames over Cycle World's mediocre review a few months earlier. I admit it. I hated the bike. 

Riding the Hyosung Avitar was almost a crippling event and it felt unsafe at all but in the slowest, least traffic critical situations. My neck and back hurt for a week after escaped the Avitar experience. And the bike is butt-ugly. I did my best to picture it in the best light, including a pretty flattering (in my opinion) picture of the abomination next to a lake on a dirt road upon which only a masochist would venture with a machine so limited in capability. I gave it my best shot, but we were doomed to hate each other. 

Obviously, I didn't rave about the bike's glorious features and that was, apparently, a crime. Even I can only lie so much in 1,200 words. I do apologize for the "uninspiring" quality of the review. The best I could do was to reach for "funny." When I look back at the pictures of myself on the Avitar, I think we both accomplished funny. I still take crap from friends who posted a collection of pictures of me on that damn bike with my feet extended in the gynecologically-correct cruiser position and the rest my body so uncomfortably positioned that vacationing Guantanamo prison guards were taking notes as I rode by.

 In the aftermath of this experience, I've been relegated to finding my own bikes for review because MMM is growing gun shy of sales and marketing department backlash. Every once in a while, I feel a tinge of jealousy when the other writers get to play with cool bikes like the BMW F800ST (and I was on the list for that review before the Avitar fiasco) or the 2008 Aprilia Shiver. But I missed out on the H-D FLSTSB Cross Bones and the Can-Am Spyder, so I'm not all that injured. 

Successful humans almost always become more conservative and, no matter how you play games with the meaning of that word, that means we become less adventurous, courageous, and less willing to challenge the status quo. Believe it or not, I can remember when FM radio was adventurous. I can even remember when National Public Radio produced radically entertaining and informative programs. Way back in the dark ages of motorcycle publications, Dirt Bike Magazine actually performed shoot-outs that ended up with clear winners and losers. I wonder if Newsweek and Time Magazine had a golden age? I think the reason so many of us get our news and information from the Internet instead of magazines and newspapers is that the World Wide Web is still largely economically unsuccessful. Until the money starts pouring into blogs and web news sites, there are still ways to get attention on the Web without much financial incentive, so there is nothing to lose in telling the whole, nasty story. Once money creeps into the equation, the story's motivation changes. It's human nature. That doesn't make the occurance any less disappointing, though. Mostly due to a lack of patience, I'm going to post more product reviews on this blog in the future. I like the fact that I can say exactly what I think here without having to worry about offending whoever I'm likely to offend. It's easy enough to simply not read a blog if you don't like the writer.

Jun 18, 2008

Why I Hate Cruisers

What a totally bogus title. I don’t hate cruisers. They are inanimate objects. You should reserve a powerful emotion like “hate” for vicious characters like Nixon, Reagan, Georgie Bush and his sidekick Little Dick Cheney, Sideshow Bob, and the Anti-Truth (Fox News and their cast of clowns and freaks). I don’t hate cruiser owners, either. Some of them are among the lowest of the low, but they advertise that fact with their patches, tattoos, and crimes. Most folks who put on Village People costumes and ride a hard 50 miles-a-day from bar-to-bar on their big iron are mid-life-crisis walking wounded and are no more dangerous or despicable than the guys who dress up in gray flannel in Civil War enactments. So, really what this rant is about is why I dislike cruisers and the culture from which they are spawned.

First and most obviously, I can’t find a purpose or a function for the basic cruiser design.

It’s just a dumb-looking design without a single practical consideration. I once suffered through a Discovery Channel program on the history of motorcycles and that program tried to explain away the dopey riding position as being reminiscent of western cowboy saddles. I grew up riding western style saddles and I always had my feet under me anytime I was horseback. I’m completely unconvinced that sticking your feet in a pair of gynecologist stirrups is western, macho, or functional in any way. The “style” is derived from the piles of crap that the gangbangers chopper crowd rode during the days when only degenerates and Europeans rode motorcycles.

The riding position is primitive and uncomfortable. The chassis design negates all of the advantages of a motorcycle. The long, low, heavy, low ground clearance means the bike can't be maneuvered quickly in any kind of emergency. Cruisers can't turn, they can't get over obstacles, they can’t stop quickly, they can only accelerate in a straight line, and they are too heavy to get out of their own way. From a motor vehicle perspective, a cruiser is the equivalent of a Cadillac or, even more accurately, a single-passenger limousine. In other words, useless.

Most cruisers start with a single positive mechanical attribute; they are tuned so mildly that they can get pretty decent mileage when driven conservatively. Cruiser owners “fix” that almost immediately. Put on a noisy pipe, drill random holes in the intake system or put on a geeky chrome airbox and fuel efficiency will be sacrificed for the god of peak power at some random, probably unusable, rpm.

As far as the low CG advantage, that’s only useful when the bike is stationary, which (I guess) is a cruiser’s normal posture. Almost any inseam-challenged, overweight invalid can waddle a leg over a typical cruiser’s seat. A “tall” cruiser will have a 31” seat height while most customs will be modified so that small children can perch comfortably on the seat while planting both feet firmly on the ground. The other advantage to this “design” is that the bike practically stands itself in a parking lot. Like a sand-bottomed Bozo the Clown punching toy, with a pair of flat profile tires, a cruiser is a free-standing structure.

That, of course, is only an advantage when the bike is in a parking lot or barely moving. If form isn’t following some kind of function, I find no useful purpose for the form. A friend once said the cruiser “form is the function” and that lost me even further. If cruisers are art, I’m outta here. I don’t like non-representational art unless it’s on wallpaper and blends in with the furniture. I may not know art, but I know what I like; especially in motorcycles. A cruiser’s primary purpose appears to be to look impressively sedentary parked in front of a bar. I get that function from a rocking chair on my porch.

Tnere are folks who put the lie to my analysis, I'll admit. There are people who put long touring miles on their Harleys, Victories, and such and they amaze me. They are the exception to my "rule" and, as such, are exceptional. Sometimes I suspect they pick these ungainly, unsuited motorcycles just to prove that they can be ridden (tamed?) like a real motorcycle. I have the same kind of attitude toward really small motorcycles out of a similar motivation.

Humans are an irrational animal.

The social and historical aspects of cruisers turn me off even further. The riders who gravitate toward cruisers display a collection of traits that oppose most of what I believe in. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of very nice people riding completely silly motorcycles. Even some of them appear to be ignorant of what their ride-statement represents.

For example, the Nazi paraphernalia. A rider who also teaches MSF classes thought it was funny when I mentioned how insulted my WWII vet father would be seeing him displaying an airbrushed Nazi helmet. The guy is an ex-Marine, ex-policeman for cripes sake! How can it be that hard to figure out? Is there something about Nazis that I don’t know?

It gets a whole lot worse. I know bikers who sport Nazi swastikas and Harley tattoos, side-by-side. Biker rallies co-exist and cohabit with Klan’ers, skinheads, coke and meth dealers, gangsters, and all kinds of vicious, evil creeps. The posers who imitate the biker “style” don’t seem to realize that they are linking themselves with the worst of the worst.

The other social appeal for cruisers seems to be a freaky desire to turn back time to when men were boss and non-white men need not apply. The basic design of the “modern” cruiser recalls the crap that Hardly and Indian were making in the early 50s. Heavy, plodding, underpowered two-wheeled tractors that were more about sound than fury. All the 50s nostalgia recalls for me is fruitcakes like Joe McCarthy and lazy, do-nothing politicians like Eisenhower. The 50s were a time when superstition ruled our education system until the godless Russians gave us a demonstration of the axiom that “the only constant is change.” Of course, once science and engineering became popular areas of study, superstition took a lot of hits and off we went into the godless 60s and 70s.

From a public nuisance standpoint, it is, apparently, practically impossible to simply ride a cruiser. The kinds of people who pick this style of bike also want to announce their presence. Loudly. Their disrespect for my privacy and neighborhood goes right back at them every time they rattle my windows as they roar out of the corner in front of my house. You’d expect that kind of antisocial behavior from teenagers. Geezers blasting rapid fire farting noises are a different kind of retard. That kind of low tech cobbling passes for “customizing” and engineering in this breed of quasi-vehicle and I have to say I find it insanely boring and incredibly irritating.

The damage cruiser doofuses are doing to motorcycling is high on my list, too. They often pick these rolling wheelchairs because they are too fat, too incapacitated, and too scared to swing a leg over a real motorcycle. The prime quality of a typical cruiser is the low seat height. Some of these disabled machines are practically miniatures, with the associated useless suspensions, micro-powered motors, auto-pilot straight-ahead steering, and underpowered brakes. The obvious result is that near-cripples are riding these things into traffic and dying in large numbers. If they keep it up, they are going to give motorcycling such a bad name that no amount of whining by the rest of us will save our vehicle of choice from being banished to go-cart and snowmobile status.

Finally, I have to admit that I think the majority of cruisers are simply eyesores. All that shiny chrome placed in random patterns on badly welded low-grade steel chassis decorated with girlyman fringe and creepy, low-tech paint jobs grates on my nerves like a late night frat party that I can't shut enough windows to allow escape. To my eye, they are incredibly ugly and I can't get past that. It's no more rational than a "no fat chicks" tee-shirt, but ugly is as ugly does and cruiser owners do a lot of ugly.

There is a reason for this longwinded explanation. Stay tuned and all will be revealed.

Jun 9, 2008

A letter from a "fan":

From: Foxster5 . . .
Subject: MMM #103 (http://www.motorbyte.com/)

Thomas, in Statistics vs. Useful Information I found it disturbing that you would refer to the use of a PUBLIC way, by which the people PAY for, is referred to as a PRIVILEGE and not a right. A "driver" is a paid occupation, a "traveler" has the right to use the roadway free of charge and only so far restricted as the rights of others may be respected. We have the right to life, liberty and property as well and the STATE can not TAX our personal and private property, 10th Amendment of the Constitution.The STATE can not restrict or prohibit the right of movement. Almost all courts in the country agree, including the Supreme Court. I gave you a load of information on just this subject and you must not have read any of it. To say that the STATE may "BAN" motorcycles from the roadway is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. THEY CAN NOT!! It is our right to own property and included in that right is the right to use that property any way we see fit so long as we respect others rights. I would think that being your age you would have read the Constitutions and the Declaration of Independence and now these things to be self evident. Are you employed by the Rothschilds and are you part of the New World Order? Only a journalists that is employed by these morons would make such absurd and defeatist statements. I really want to meet you and explain the whole truth. You can reach me at 76 . . . and we can talk about meeting, I will even buy you dinner.

Cheers, Don


Even worse, I'm "subsidized" by the infinitely powerful Wanchena family. They are beyond New World Order and well into the Usual World Disorder, something far more likely to occur in my lifetime.

I read lots of silly stuff on the web, but I don't believe everything I read just because someone took the time to document their paranoia. If you really believe the government can't ban motorcycles from the road, try riding an unlit, unlicensed 2-stroke dirt bike from New York to California. Let me know how many dirt bikes you have to buy before you finally reach the Left Coast. Hauling it in a pickup doesn't count. How about putting a horse and buggy on the freeway? Or a 50cc scooter? Tried that lately? I don't find it difficult to imagine a high risk, low value recreation vehicle like motorcycles being legislated into limited use RV status.

A few years back, a self-described "ex-cop" took time to rant at me about his right to damage the ears of anyone foolish enough not to wear hearing protection as he rode his unmuffled Hardly through neighborhoods. I love discussion, but if I wanted to be preached at I'd join a church. His idea of "discussion" was to call me an idiot and to wave his years of meter-maiding as evidence of his superior knowledge. Again, I can get argumentum ad hominem and verecundiam at any bar or church. It's not worth crossing the street to hunt down. I've watched "rights" far more important than motorcycle transportation vanish without a whisper in my lifetime, especially in the last ten years. I'm unconvinced that standing behind our great Constitution provides much solace for those who are held in prison without hope or who are spied on because they aren't Republicans.

Anyone who has spent a moment or two looking at the history of economics, transportation, and individual rights can see that some "rights" are more inherit than others. Where privilege comes into play is nested in your own statement, "so long as we respect others rights." Publicly financed facilities, like public buildings, highways, and many state-managed natural resources (state and national parks, for example) are regulated by the will of the whole public for the good of the majority (even when we disagree with their assessment). I'm simply arguing that we should try to fix the unnecessarily disproportionately high mortality and morbidity rate for motorcyclists and reduce our irritation quotient before we join the long list of "historic" transportation modes.

As for the "whole truth," I've been an engineer too long to believe in it, or a close approximation, exists. You can wave the "I won't stand for this" and "You can't do this" flag at the rest of the population, if you think that will get any traction, but I'm not betting that it will be successful. You probably have noticed that many people have, even recently, ended up in jail imagining that the "STATE can not TAX our personal and private property." Evidently, they can. Ask Wesley Snipes.

Thomas Day
Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine