Dec 29, 2009

I can't believe I missed this

Evel Knievel was the god of crashing while doing backyard stunts and Robbie Maddison has erased all memory of lame motorcycle stunts.

Don't Ask Me

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

There are more things that I don't know than things that I do by such a large number that I consider it a divide-by-zero calculation. For example, I don't know why people like country music or why working class people vote Republican or why anyone listens to economists. These among the simple things I've contemplated for most of my life without resolution or satisfaction. The list goes on for miles and light years. When a friend or stranger has taken on the task of trying to explain these things to me, we always get hung up on the lack of logic in human decision-making.

So, I put a lot of items in the category of religion, politics, and sex and try to leave them out of polite conversation.

One of the topics I've recently moved into that category is "do you know a good motorcycle mechanic?" The answer is "no," but that doesn't mean much. I haven't really looked for one.

When my brother and I first stumbled (with his money) on to motorcycles, neither of us had money to repair the thing when we (usually, when I) broke the bike. The logical solution was to stick the bike beside the trailer I rented and ignore it until it rusted back to the earth from whence it came. Again, the lack of logic in human decision-making came along and caused me to pull apart things I didn't understand and couldn't reassemble to see if I could make a bad situation worse. Along the way, I learned to braze and weld. I learned a little about carburetor repairs and adjusting and replacing points and spark plugs. I became fairly talented at fixing flat tires. After a year or so, I could hammer out a bent steel rim, adjust spokes, replace bars and levers, crimp cable ends, and replace brake parts.

My father had a motto, "anything you can do for yourself, someone else can do better." He used that refrain to keep me from disassembling the family's broken cars, radios, televisions, and lawnmowers. Until I stumbled on to motorcycling, I thought I was as mechanically disinclined as my father. It didn't keep me from working on the bike. I didn't do those repairs because I thought I was good at them. I repaired the bike because the only other alternative was to not ride. I was the only mechanic I could afford.

A about the time I bought my first real car, a 1967 VW convertible, in 1969, the original John Muir's How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, A Guide for the Complete Idiot appeared to save me from my ignorance and convince me I could work on my own stuff. After a miserable and expensive experience with a VW dealer's attempt to overhaul my 1500cc motor and the near bankruptcy that followed, I started doing all of my own VW repairs. For the next decade, with Mr. Muir's well-greased book at my side, I became a shade tree mechanic and the only relationship I had with professional mechanics came from specialized part repairs; stator rewinding, brake drum and disk machining, and valve grinding. I discovered Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a few years later and Pirsig offered a convincing counter-argument to my father's assertion. In Zen, Pirsig convinced thousands of us that only a person who really cares can do Quality work. Any Libertarian knows that the only person who cares is the person who wants the work done.

A few years after I took over keeping my Volkswagen alive, a friend got serious about motocross and I ended up doing his track repairs. He was fast, I was not. He was a klutz with a wrench, I was not. He freely spent money to own the latest, most competitive bike on the track. I hung on to my race bike for three years; and it wasn't competitive the day it rolled off of the assembly line. In the first month of racing, my friend spent as much money repairing his first Suzuki RM125 as I'd paid for my three dirt bikes. I started wrenching for him so he could afford to keep racing. As a bonus, I got to ride his previous year's bike, which made me a little more viable. Eventually, I ran a part-time bike shop and worked on all kinds of motorcycles in my spare time. That lasted until I crashed and busted myself up, met my mortality and didn't like him, got serious about my career, landed my first engineering job, and gave up on motorcycle racing for the family life. These days, I don't work on my cars much because I know a good mechanic who hasn't yet broken my bank. I still, however, do most of my own bike repairs.

So, when a friend asked me if I knew a good repair shop, I had to rely on other friends' experiences. I have none of my own. I should have said "I know nothing," but I tried to be helpful and relayed the stories I'd heard from other riders. I had some doubts, but my friend wasn't in a mood to keep wrestling with his fuel system problems, so I gave him the name of a couple of bike repair shops. He picked one and things went downhill from there.

I suspect that the only people who get "good service" from repair shops are folks who don't do much of an inspection when the bike comes back from the shop. My friend isn't one of those guys. After coughing up $500 for a carb adjustment, he had high expectations for his motorcycle. He took a quick walk around the bike and discovered the shop had lost a variety of fasteners in reassembling his bike. When he got home, he discovered the threads mounting his petcock to the frame had been stripped and the bolts were held in place with some kind of adhesive. Like any reasonable person, he's now wondering what else was damaged by the "repair job." I suspect that the time he saved by letting the shop troubleshoot his carburetion problems will be lost in finding problems they left for him in other areas.

Of course, because I recommended the shop I'm on the hook for a portion of his misery. I'm the guy who gets to hear about the damaged parts and the customer dissatisfaction, since the repair shop isn't interested in hearing what they did wrong or putting out much effort in making it right. I'll probably get to help re-tap the petcock threads and supply the missing hardware from my giant jar of metric fasteners. Sooner or later I'll learn that I'd be better off keeping my mouth shut. "No good deed goes unpunished."

I'm going to try to learn something from this experience. Even more serious, I'm going to try to remember what I've learned. The next time some one asks if I know a good mechanic, I hope to provide my two honest recommendations for bike repairs: 1) Buy a brand new bike and sell it before the warranty expires. If you are lucky, you won't need to use the dealer's mechanics for anything more complicated than chain lube and tire replacement. If not, at least you won't be out a lot of cash when the bike spends the summer in and out of the shop. 2) Learn to fix your own bike and avoid the hassle of constantly crossing your fingers when you hand your ride over to random mechanics. If you are new to mechanics, this means you'll have to buy a bike that you have a chance in hell of figuring out, probably something manufactured before 1985 and no more complicated than a 250cc thumper. Those are the two rational choices. Otherwise, don't call me when you get a basket of parts back from the shop and a huge bill. I didn't send you there, I wouldn't recommend that shop or any other shop on the planet, and "I know nothing."

Dec 23, 2009

A Most Un-American Idea

For the last month, I've been barraged with catalogs, junk mail, and e-mail all promoting the "top 10 things to buy for the motorcyclist in your life." It's a sad fact, but I am the only motorcyclist in my life for whom I'd be inclined to buy Xmas gifts. Even worse, there is nothing that I want that I don't already have.

This is my all time least favorite "holiday" in the history of humanity. From the Coca Cola inspired Santa Claus propaganda to the wash of weirdness that comes from marketeers hoping to make a buck off of sentimentality and religion, I have overloaded on Midwestern guilt and am now suffering an allergic reaction to the whole idea. Like a life-long drunk who suddenly develops an intolerance for alcohol, I have developed a knee-jerk intolerance for anything that attempts to inspire guilt. Every phrase that begins with or sounds anything like "you should feel . . ." trips an anti-sales reaction that eliminates me from the vicinity of the pitch-maker. From the sad sort of douche who listens to every phone salesperson's routine all the way to the end before saying "no thanks," I have mutated into someone who hangs up the phone in 1 second if I have the slightest notion that I'm about to hear from an automated phone message or an auto-dialed live sales squid.

If it weren't for the rare phone call I get from my kids and grand kids, I'd disconnect the phone altogether for the month of December. With an encouragement at all from my wife, I'd just yank the damn thing from the wall and be done with telephones for the rest of my life.

As for motorcycle paraphernalia, I have more of that stuff than I know what to do with. I don't need more riding gear, a new motorcycle, an old motorcycle, or anything other than another set of tires for when the V-Strom's current shoes wear out early next spring. There is a lot of cool stuff in the catalogs that I could imagine wanting, if I had room for more stuff, but I don't want any of enough to bother my family with making a list. If I wanted to buy stuff for myself, I'd do it anything but during the Xmas season.

And that is my most un-American idea; buy your stuff anytime but between Thanksgiving and Xmas. Wait for the end-of-year sales. Wait for the beginning-of-year sales. Wait for spring. Wait for summer. Wait for your birthday or your wife's birthday or your kid's birthday. Just wait out Xmas. Don't encourage this idiotic behavior, this national frenzy of guilty and irrational spending. Statistics demonstrate that $15 billion of the $40 billion spent every Xmas results in unappreciated and unwanted crap that most of us throw away rather than bothering to return to the store. If you know you are going to be wasting $0.37 out of every buck you spent, why are you still doing that?

Yeah, I know. "Bah humbug." It's true. Outside of giving to people who actually need help, the rest of this season is lost on me. I don't need help with anything but my grumpy attitude and that won't be likely to change until the damn "holiday season" is done with.

However, if you can't control yourself, the V-Strom tires are 110/80 19 front and 150/70 17 rear. Honestly, I don't care all that much what brand you buy me, as long as I don't have to buy them. I never look a gift tire in the tread. If I get my druthers, I'd druther have Metzler Tourances, but anything that fits will get me down the road. Since I don't do Xmas thank-you notes, I want you to know I appreciate the tires even if I don't take the time to tell you so.

Dec 6, 2009

Why Not?

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

"I have attention deficit disorder. Can I ride a motorcycle?"

Sure, why not.

"Will I be safe in freeway traffic?"

Probably not. I expect you'll get killed or maimed in your first week in traffic.

"That's not fair"

You have attention deficit disorder. Motorcycling is a high concentration activity. Get used to it. Life is like that. In fact, nature intended life to be only for the fit.

"I have dyslexia, can I ride a motorcycle?"

"I weigh 400 pounds and can barely lift a coffee cup with out experiencing chest pains, can I ride a motorcycle?"

"I am blind in one eye and can't see out of the other, can I ride a motorcycle?"

"My little (22 year old) boy is dumb as a post, irresponsible, and couldn't find his own nose with a 1x12, should I buy him a motorcycle?"

Sure, why not? All of you should take out a second mortgage and buy the biggest, ugliest hippobike you can find. Slap some loud pipes on it, for safety's sake, and slip that big monster into heavy traffic. Do your bit to solve overpopulation. Why not?

We live in a victim-based, entitlement-sheltered, litigious culture where everyone is not only "created equal" but where many believe the legal system can overrule the laws of physics and common sense. My home state once attempted to legislate pi to 3.00 (actually, 3 without decimal places to keep the concept simple), for convenience and orderly-ness sake. Pi, however, remained its unruly self and the universe remained inconveniently hostile to simple minds. The universe is a really big place and, in the overall scheme of it, we're insignificant as a planet, of no notable consequence as a species, and totally non-existent as motorcyclists. We can make all the dumbass laws we want without making the slightest dent in the effects of gravity, velocity, mass, acceleration and deceleration, centripetal forces, entropy, or mortality.

Outside of being a tiny part of a really big picture, the problem with a motorcycle is that, regardless of our distaste for the inconvenience, a motorcycle will remain a two-wheeled vehicle with minimal safety features and a high skill requirement. You can be dyslexic, ADD-afflicted, uncoordinated, physically incapacitated, and a total moron and public transportation can, probably, still help you to your intended destination. At the least, a cage will surround you in a shock-absorbent, crash enclosure that will probably shield you from your inabilities and indiscretions. A motorcycle will spit you off, fling you into fast moving traffic, and--if you time it carefully--add insult to injury by landing on top of you after other obstacles have had their way with your mangled body.

Even if you are in the prime of life, at the peak of human capacity and a nuclear-physicist-brain-surgery-performing-rocket-scientist, a motorcycle, Murphy, and Mother Nature can still find a way to maim or annihilate you. If astronaut John Glenn can practically kill himself stepping out of a shower, zipping down the highway on two wheels at 100 feet-per-second has to be pushing the limits of reasonable activities. Of course, that also applies to flying an airplane, hang gliding, sky and scuba diving, bicycling, playing most sports, running, climbing or descending stairs, jumping rope, and talking about religion, love, or politics in public.

Many high risk activities have restrictive entry requirements. To rent or fill scuba tanks, for example, you have to successfully complete accredited scuba diving training. Before you're allowed to jump out of an airplane, you have to suffer through hours of closely monitored instruction. Motorcycling is less carefully controlled. Like getting a driver's license, the state's licensing program is designed to hand out certifications in Cracker Jack boxes. If you can't meet the current requirements for getting a motorcycle license, you might not be safe outside of a padded room.

Regardless of the state's low standards of acceptance, we humans ought to exercise a little uncommon sense. If your legs are broken, don't run marathons. If you're blind, don't waste your money on computer aided design college classes. If you can't sing, don't expect Simon Whatshisface to say nice things about your voice. If you aren't physically and mentally able to deal with the demands of managing a motorcycle in heavy traffic, if you can't control your panic reactions, if you don't have the self-discipline to constantly work on your riding skills, stay away from motorcycles. Yes, you can "ride" all of the motorcycle video games you like, but don't touch real iron. You'll create even more enemies for an otherwise perfectly useful mode of transportation. You'll add to our already miserable statistics. You'll get killed. We'll end up with more moronic laws, more employment for useless lawyers, and you'll still be dead.

I've changed my mind. No, you can't ride a motorcycle.

Nov 30, 2009

Link to GabeUnchained

A totally cool look at the history of Buell Motorcycles. Keep an eye out for Kevin Cameron prowling the background. Many of your motorcycle journalist heroes were present for the Buell tour, which is probably a nostalgic moment for them today.

Nov 28, 2009

They're Back!

A blast from the 1970's past is back, Ossa is making trials bikes again. Everything on the site is in Spanish, so with the assistance of Babblefish, here's the word:

Certainly, project OSSA is very ambitious. That at time of crisis it leaves a new motorcycle with some concepts totally opposed to the habitual thing is a as dangerous adventure as brave. Those of Ossa have secured their intention with a revolutionary motorcycle.

The new TR280i has appeared today in the Hall Milán.El new equipment of OSSA Factory has chosen the Hall the Motorcycle of Milan (EICMA) to present/display its new and revolutionary TR 280i. It already was in this Hall, in 1965, where OSSA internationally presented/displayed the prototype on which first motorcycle of trial based his: a multipurpose denominated model Scrambler. Today, OSSA Factory returns to choose Milan to present/display the prototype of a motorcycle that it tries to contribute a blowing of fresh air to the sector. The new TR 280i raises an innovating and exclusive concept, a trial motorcycle that the spirit has inherited who characterized the past in the mark of the clover. After near two years of work, the TR 280i is a motorcycle technologically very outpost. With a motor of 2T with electronic injection, it breaks the established schemes and one appears like a quality alternative that, without a doubt, will conquer the fans.

This one is the first passage towards a future in which other projects and other modalities will conform the presence of OSSA Factory in the panorama of the industry international motorcyclist. The Renaissance of OSSA has been possible thanks to the effort of an equipment led by Jordi Cuxart, President of OSSA Factory, patron and defender of the project; Joan Gurt, Chief of a main directorate and impelling of the same; Alexander Laplaza, Financial Director and also patron, and by Joan Rome, Director of the Division of Motor and the person who has been able to reunite them thanks to an extraordinary vision of future. Josep Serra “Xiu” is the engineer and the soul of the new TR 280i, Director of the project and designer of the prototype. In his curriculum he emphasizes his Gas work Gas like person in charge of the development of an innovator and light motor of trial and its collaborations, through Xiu Research and Development SL. in different projects with Rieju, Dunax, Scorpa or in the Tramontana, an exclusive sport automobile of high benefits.

Marc Colomer, Champion of the World of trial in 1996 and five times Champion of Spain, is the one in charge to develop to the new TR 280i. “Very I am deluded with this project because I create firmly in its possibilities. We know that we have left work much ahead but I trust the equipment of OSSA Factory totally. We have already begun to work in some sections of the new TR 280i and the results are hopeful” has declared Colomer. Marc Colomer perfectly knows the capacity Josep Serra “Xiu” then both worked together in Gas Gas.

THE MOTORCYCLE OSSA has developed a motorcycle of trial with a new very innovating concept. Basically one has worked in the redistribution of the different elements of the motorcycle of logical form concerning the distribution of weights and other conditioners like the temperature of work of some from his components. Among others aspects the filter house in a very high position has been placed and readily accessible. Elements like the fuel tank, the box of the filter of the air or the radiator have been positioned thinking about the needs of a trial motorcycle. And one has become of rational form, with common sense and a clear objective: that new OSSA TR 280i is a reference within this specialty as were it at the time, the first SEA - Mike Andrews Replica of year 1972.

“The filter of the air in the low part of a motorcycle of trial and a high or located fuel tank next to the escape is concepts that from our point of view do not have logic” indicates Xiu responsible for the project. For this reason, the OSSA engineers considered new OSSA TR 280i placing the different elements from a motorcycle of trial on the table and with a folio in target they designed, them and they redistributed based on its needs.

THE MOTOR The fact that the new TR 280i incorporates a system of electronic injection it has allowed his engineers to redistribute different elements without being in favor conditional of the position of the classic carburetor. “Sometimes the injection system has been placed in the same space in which it was the carburetor, with the fuel tank in the high part of the motorcycle, without considering the option to look for a new positioning. OSSA Factory has let start off to me of zero and this one has been a determining aspect at the time of initiating this project” points Xiu. The situation and ideal configuration of different elements have given like result a very small motor with the inclined cylinder backwards, the intention to be able to locate in the high part of the TR 280i the system of injection and the filter house. The same logic that other manufacturers apply in specialties like cross or enduro, in OSSA considers that it is perfectly valid for a specialty like the trial. The new motor, of 2T, is very compact, with the case of a single piece. The change is extracted straight from lateral and the crank by the opposite side. Considering that the case for of chassis, for the being has been leaving resistant from the set, has been able to make a block compact. Of this form the possibility is simplified of acceding to the change relations. Another important aspect is that the maintenance is economic since to manipulate the propellent is extremely simple. A conventional motor as far as geometries can be considered or thermodynamics but has obtained an extremely compact set like concept. It is of the smallest motors of the moment.

The fuel tank of three liters of capacity has been placed in the place where conventionally the trial motorcycles mount the radiator to improve the distribution of weights. The equipment of OSSA Factory considers that the more light it is a trial motorcycle, the more necessary turns out to have the advanced center of gravity.

When placing the radiator behind the deposit and the filter house, is avoided something so habitual in the specialty of trial because the radiator is covered with mud, with the consequent problems that entail the fact that the motor cannot work to the appropriate temperature. A motorcycle without movement (stopped) has to have the capacity to dissipate the heat of the motor and to mount a electroventilador like in the TR 280i. Therefore, although in a motorcycle of another specialty it would be necessary to apply fresh air canalizations, in a motorcycle of trial no. Since the own fuel tank protects the radiator, the new TR 280i can work to a constant temperature, without being conditional to the possible dirt of the radiator.

On the other hand, to invest the cylinder has allowed to practically mount the admission in vertical after the fuel tank, and so the air intake through filter is located more in one of the elevated points of the motorcycle. Therefore, the watertightness of the filter will be superior and the access to the own filter, very simple through a cover. In the interior, under this same cover, some elements of the injection system will be placed. In this location the components will be affected neither by the temperature of the own motor, nor by the humidity. In the distribution of the elements of the motorcycle one has considered very the temperature to which will work each of them. When having the inclined cylinder and mounting the escape backwards, from the back monoshock absorber can be defined the escape, whose volume is superior to the one of a conventional motorcycle.

CHASSIS Made in aluminum and steel to chromium conditional molybdenum and to the design of the motor, the fuel tank has gotten up in the front part of the motorcycle having formed resistant part of the set. In the zones where habitually in the chromium chassis molybdenum there is many welds and therefore weight, forged aluminum pieces have mounted. The pipe of direction, the treated aluminum deposit, the estriberas and the support of the rods are also in forged aluminum. The rest is of steel to chromium molybdenum, with a very simple and welded structure in TIG.

The suspensions have been developed jointly with Öhlins (back) and Marzocchi (front). The back suspension mounts an innovating system of rods that is prote'ge' very and integrated and it is united directly to the forged piece of the chassis. System TTX of Öhlins to the specialty of the trial has been adopted, a system by which the hydraulic valves of the piston and settings have been placed in the outside. This technology already has been used in motocross contributing to many advantages concerning settings as far as simplicity and accessibility. The front suspension is an inverted bracket Marzocchi, a type of suspension that for many years that it was not applied in the specialty of the trial. But unlike other experiences in which a suspension of cross or enduro has adapted, in the TR 280i and close collaboration with Marzocchi, has designed exclusive an inverted bracket for the specialty with aluminum bars.

OSSA Factory enters with own technology the specialty of the Trial and it does with a human equipment with experience and the competitive spirit who made prevail to the mark of the clover. The components of the new motor will be finished in the month of December and the completed motorcycle will begin to try in January. Its production is predicted for the month of 2010 July.

A Little Geometry Lesson

Observed trials has always been the artistic side of competitive motorcycling. Tonui Bou's workout on this odd collection of concrete forms and natural rock seems to defy gravity, traction, and common sense. However, it is always artistic and entertaining.

The coolest thing about the video is that many of Bou's stunts are rerun in slomo in the 2nd half of the show, which doesn't explain how he does them but it does give you a great look at how he shifts his weight to maintain balance and traction and momentum.

Click on the picture to find the link.

Thanks Martin!

Nov 24, 2009

Stupid Motos for Stupid Times

Hardly's new ad campaign spouts brilliant prose like:
  • "It's a free country, but have you felt like that lately?"
  • "There's a reason they call if revolutions per minute."
  • "Freedom ain't quiet. Raise your voice at"
At you can read brilliant and highway-friendly comments like,
  • "Quit staring and just get out of the way."
  • "Hello may fat lady may moon light in the dark I see you your sparks in may soul lov . . . you borm may live in hell of kisses."
  • "If it don't rumble like a Harley it probably ain't a Harley. . . "
  • "There's nothing like the rumble of a Harley beneath you and the peacefulness of the open road."
  • "I m free coutry beatutifull."
  • "Harley Davidson. Loud and Proud."
For a change, the above spelling errors and crazed grammar are not mine. I just wrote 'em as I read 'em. There are hundreds of similar and much crazier sentiments on the site. I'm not sure what Harley was intending, but what they provided was a boatload of justification for the general feeling that Harley owners are less-than-brilliant and somewhat unstable.

Buell's last ad was particularly sad and, unintentionally, informative: "Many people were happy Buell had a stellar AMA season. Then again, many poeple were disturbed by it." Apparently, some of the disturbed were the Harley executives who couldn't figure out how to market a motorcycle after years of selling life-style.

Buell, of course, is dead. Harley dumped the Troy, WI division in mid-November. On their way out, Buell's marketing department left an interesting mark on motorcycle etiquite with their "It’s ok not to wave back" ad from the company's 2009 October magazine campaign. Lots of motorcyclists took issue with the knee-dragging street rider who is too occupied with dangerously pretending to be a racer to acknowledge a fellow rider. To me, that raised hand might be a warning rather than a wave. As in, "Slow down, douchebag. The road is about to surprise your squidly dumb ass." The non-Buell rider is obviously armored up and at least as capable as the wannabe road racer.

I can't say I'm a 100%-waver. I often wave or nod my helmet at other riders. I usually ignore parades of motorcylces. I'm too busy trying to figure out where they are going so I can go somewhere else. I probably wouldn't wave much when I'm winding my way through two-lane Rocky Mountain roads or wrestling the V-Strom through deep gravel. Some places, motorcycles are common enough that waving gets out of hand. In Minnesota, that's rarely a problem. For me, it's a reflex more than some kind of social comment or statement of solidarity. When I started riding, I saw another bike on the road or trail about once every zillion miles. So, it just felt natural to acknowledge the existence of another nut on a motorcycle. I've been doing that for so long I don't even think about it at this ripe old age. Some motorcyclists are so far outside of the group I'd consider to be among my peers, such as the packs of gangster-posing, loud pipe, traffic-jamming parades or Buell's knee-dragging example, that it doesn't occur to me to bother waving. Folks who are risking my life or rights don't engender a feeling of solidarity.

Marketing is all about coming up with a glib one-liner that convinces the sheeple to part with their money. Sometimes glib and irresponsible are closely coupled. These days, I really miss Honda's old "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" tactic. I can't help but wonder if the boom in ridership that US motorcycling experienced during the 70's wasn't in some part assisted by the crazy idea that normal people might ride a motorcycle? In fact, a whole lot of very normal people got into motorcycling at that time and many of them are just now approaching the time in their lives where their physical abilities aren't up to the task. When those folks leave motorcycles for motorized wheelchairs, who is going to take their place?

If the industry is lucky, the kids on Suzuki's V-Strom, Kawasaki's Versys, and Honda's new NT700V sport-tourer are the future. (Yeah, and the no-dead Buell Ulysses almost fell into that bracket, the last US-manufactured motorcycle I ever considered owning. If Buell had lasted long enough to put a decent motor in the Ulysses, I'd have bought one to replace my V-Strom. I guess I'm lucky they died when they did rather than after I'd spent my money.) The future of motorcycling, I think, is in efficiency, versatility, and adventure. Look at the bikes the Big 4 are selling all over Asia and Europe and you'll see that big, fast, inefficient, and impractical are American-only engineering goals. The rest of the world wants motorcycles and scooters that are stingy fuel users, fun, quick (not powerful), practical, useful, and cool looking. We can only hope that something inspires young Americans to want something similar because, otherwise, motorcycles are going to be a thing of the past, industry-wise, here.

In fact, that segment of the motorcycle business is down more than 65% and outside of industry magazines, nobody cares. That's no formula for longevity.None of those manufacturers make anything resembling an efficient motorcycle. The closest thing to fun you can get riding a hippobike is found when you park it and step into the bar for beer. Adventure? Get serious. while it's an adventure trying to turn or stop one of these monsters, you'd never take one someplace that wasn't level, paved, and well-populated. All we're left with are companies that build huge 1950's styled and engineered monuments to the nation's past engineering skill and habits. If American car manufacturers stuck with that formula there wouldn't have been anything left to bail out. If HD, Victory, Indian, and Big Dog all went bust tomorrow, it wouldn't amount to a blip on the US economy.

(I wouldn't be surprised if I'm forgetting somebody. Since they all build the same bike, I'm probably forgetting several. I can't find the motivation to care.)

Riding Down the Tubes

This is just a depressed observation on the state of the motorcycle industry, media, and the economy that was inspired by this month's Cycle World. The first inkling that this might not be an issue I’d put in my archives came at the end of the gushing review of the $15,000 H-D Wide Glide. I skipped the article because I have no more interest in what anyone thinks of another Hardly hippobike than I have in the terrified whining wisdom of the ClusterFox characters. For some reason, I did skim over the “Editors’ Notes” and Edward’s comments reminded me of why I try not to read this stuff. The Wide Glide wasn’t noisy enough for him he wanted it to have “Louder pipes, too, though not obnoxiously so.”

Douche. Anything louder than legal is “obnoxiously so.” These damn things already get a welfare noise check from the EPA to keep them in business. If you need more noise than that, you’re suffering from 15-year-old girl insecurities. Rubrubrub, to you too dude.

CW followed that up with a “customizing” of the $14,000 Honda Fury that took a geek bike and turned it into a really noisy over-weight piece of crap that only a character like Dave Edwards would think is “cool.” This silly-assed customization job removed the license plate (completely, now you can only ride your bike in your own driveway), replaced the legal pipes with straight pipes, polished up the aluminum so that every weekend will need to be spent removing oxidation from the unprotected aluminum pieces, and shortened the fenders so that the bike will splatter crap all over the motor and rider. Of course, no one would ever consider riding something as silly as this in the rain, on a gravel road, or away from their manicured gated yuppie communities.

The only good thing about the article was the hilarious picture of Mr. Edwards posing on the Fury, looking as dorky as a stock broker on his way to the Hollywood Hard Rock Café for a designer beer and a plate full of Santa Fe spring rolls. All those shiny bits, including Dave’s half-helmet, reflecting Hollywood’s asphalt glory and the desiccated palm trees reminded me why I wanted out of California so badly. If I was dreading winter before, now I’m looking forward to the weather that “gets rid of the riffraff.” We don’t have a day mild enough to allow someone to ride a bike as useless as the Fury. As Dave says, "The $600 the polisher charges is us money well-spent." Holy crap. If that's well-spent money, I should be looking for the next Bernie Madoff to take care of my retirement funds.

Not that I like any part of the Fury, but the page 60 before-and-after picture left me with a little more respect for Honda's stylists. The finished "customized" Fury is a cluster of crap stuck together with lots of cash and Tijuana velvet painting taste. Another example of more money than sense.

It took me a lot longer than usual to read Kevin’s TDC column because of the ad for the Cycle World Vintage Memories Calendar on the adjacent page. I couldn’t get over the picture of the side-hack monkey with his chin a couple of inches off of the asphalt and his shoulder dragging on the ground. I’ve never seen anything like that. I’m not sure I’d want to see it as it happened. However, my eyes kept wandering to that picture as I tried to read about “twitchy monsters” and electronic throttle control circuitry. That is one sick picture.

Those were the good old days of motorcyclists and giant huevos (or little tiny brains). Today, the American motorcycle market is all about rich guys and their useless toys. If you aren't Jay Leno and don't want to own a barn full of bikes that you touch once a year, you aren't worth considering in this Timid New World. I guess this is all a prelude to turning motorcycles into dedicated recreational vehicles unfit for highway use and illegal on public roads outside of the occasional parade. It's hard for me to find a reason to be glad I'm old, but this gets close.

Nov 19, 2009

Are You Stupid?

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

Last January, outside my kitchen window, I watched three typically spoiled, unskilled, good ole' boys on ATVs bombing around our backyard lake. Normally, I'd be happy to see the lake in use, since it's barely considered a lake by the county and state and any attention is better than none. This wasn't normally.

Our lake boarders the freeway, so noise isn't much of an issue. We have a little mud island in the middle of the lake that's surrounded by Russian Loosestrife, an invasive weed, cattails, and snowmobilers usually plow it flat every winter in their search for a little uneven terrain to explore. That's no problem, either. When I bought the house, there was a collection of "No Snowmobiles" signs in the garage. My wife painted flowers over the signs and we used them as corner posts for our compost pit. I like owning a place that people can use as a path to recreation. I've told all of our neighbors that, if they own snowmobiles, our path is the route to the lake, no questions asked or permission needed. As of this morning I'm reconsidering all of that. Three morons on three and four wheel ATVs have almost changed my attitude about my property and recreational vehicles. These clowns, not content to bomb around a twenty acre lake, unimpeded and unnoticed,. decided it was more fun to add a few backyards, including mine, to their winter race track.

We've been cultivating cattails and native plants along our shoreline. The ATV'rs tore that up more effectively than I could have done with a John Deere diesel and a plow. My wife has built a wildflower garden on the hillside which, apparently, is a moron magnet, because one of the morons felt the need to rip up the hillside with his girlyman four-wheel lawn tractor. Yeah, I'm not impressed with Suzuki, Honda, or Yamaha's latest motorized wheelchairs. Let's face it, four wheels are not better than two. Four wheels are two too many wheels. Simple as that. In my opinion, ATVs are as interesting as unequipped, low-torque garden tractors.

The hill these goofballs tore up is a mild challenge for my 25-year-old Toro riding lawnmower. If that mound gets your rocks off, you'd be stimulated by the sound of a nylon zipper. As for ATVs, anyone who needs a freakin' stable platform to go off-road ought to consider bridge, canasta, or a seat in front of a Treasure Island slot machine, instead of a slow moving lawn tractor without a grass-cutting blade. Especially when that unbalanced doofus feels the urge to tear up my yard with the damn thing. Yeah, I'll admit that I'm generalizing. But I'm generalizing about a specific trio of overgrown kiddies on specific vehicles.

This is a question I often ask people who are doing unbelievably dumb things, "Are you stupid?" I really want to know the answer, so don't consider this a debate tactic or a rhetorical vehicle. If you're stupid, you have an excuse. If you're not, maybe you should consider a lobotomy so that you will have an excuse.

Any parent knows that the thing kids do is push against boundaries. Teenaged children are constantly shoving against anything resembling boundaries, and that's natural. Stupid, but natural. Sometimes, a wall is the only thing between you and a thousand foot drop. I guess my yard was a boundary and my wife's gardens were the walls.

Watching these guys pout, and shred the edge of my yard, as I ran them off of my property, I was reminded of all the vandals on vehicles I've known in my life. I'm talking about folks like the dirt bikers who couldn't be contained to ORV park trails. They waved their freedom flag high by tearing up all the private land and pristine public land possible and got the rest of us banned from hard-won ORV parks and most of the American Desert. I mean those loud pipe folks who are doing their part to get bikes banned from neighborhoods and public roads. I mean those rough-tough biker dudes who get together in gangs to torment "citizens" and rape and pillage like Viking stormtroupers, then, whine like little babies when the non-riding public stereotypes "bikers" as gangsters and works to outlaw motorcycles from society.

Most likely, all of this crowd is just starved for attention and love. Sons and daughters of distracted, workaholic parents and such. I suspect that all the terrain shredding, loud pipe, bad freeway mannered, rebels-without-a-clue types are all just overgrown teenagers looking for love. Sorry, I can't help you. If you're parents didn't like your sorry ass enough to pay attention when you tried to stand on your head, I'm absolutely the wrong shoulder for you to cry on. And if you don't get that damn ATV off of my yard, I'm going to litter the trail with shingle nails and wait for you at the top of the hill with a Sheriff's deputy. I don't like you any more than your daddy did.

Nov 15, 2009

All the News that Didn't Fit

AMA Trial des Nations Team Goes to Italy
This year's AMA team (Will Ibsen, Patrick Smage, Cody Webb and Keith Wineland) will be competing in Darfo Boario Terme, Italy on September 19-20. AMA Director of Racing Joe Bromley said, "The Trial des Nations represents the pinnacle of the sport and is a big part of our international racing effort. Team USA will face a world-class challenge in Italy this year, but we're sending a world-class team that will make America proud." Last year's team placed 7th in the event. Patrick Smage is an Elkhorn, Wisconsin native and is a three-time AMA/NATC National Trials Champion and the winner of the 2009 national title. This is his 3rd TdN, although he missed last year's event because of a back injury.

Buster's Hates Bikers
According to MMM's Kevin Kocor, Buster's on 28th is a fairly biker-hostile environment. According to Kevin, "Twice now they have refused our patronage. Once, they told us we could sit outside, but we had to order our drinks inside and we couldn't order food for the patio. It was early in the season, and cold - but not unreasonable.

"Tonight [8/26/09] - they kicked us off the patio and said that it was reserved seating after I had gone inside and verified that it was 'seat yourself' - it turns out that Buster's prefers money from their own Softball League and not Scooter people. Shortly after we got up - the team that Buster's sponsors replaced us."

Philadelphia Parking
The Philadelphia Parking Authority is creating motorcycle zones in the downtown business district. The spaces will cost $1/hour, half the car rate.

Nov 5, 2009

The Boys Have Done It Again

As with their brilliant analysis of several religions, terrorism, imigration, and other complex social issues that haunt our culture, the Boys of South Park have done it again with analysis of the loud pipe mentality: The F Word. The English dictionary has been revised to accurately utilize a word that has long been marginalized.

Fag {fág} n. 1. An extremely annoying, inconsiderate person most commonly associated with Harley riders. 2. A person who owns or frequently rides a Harley.

It's "Episode 1312: Everyone agrees they've had enough of the loud and obnoxious bikers that have arrived in South Park. The boys are taking on the Harley riders. They throw down the F word and the game is on."

I feel better about the state of the nation, the world, and the universe. Way to go Big Al. And a big "blubblubblubblubblubblub" to you Hardley riders.

The Price of Complexity

A young friend and I often get into an argument about 1960-1980 rock & roll bands. He's a Led Zep fanatic. I liked the Who and was bored with most of the Zep's output. Partially, it's a matter of taste. Partially, it's a matter of perspective. Mostly, it's something for us to talk about when we're bored. However, yesterday's argument about "kids' music" produced something new for me.

He really objected to the idea that R&R is kids' music because, according to him, a lot older people are getting into the music and sticking with it longer. Cute, don't you think? I don't know how any 20-something can claim his generation is sticking with R&R longer than his parents' generation who are, apparently, going to go to their graves listening to the same crap they listened to when they were 19. Even worse, we're going to go down the tubes making our kids listen to that crap. Try to find a radio station that isn't playing 30-year-old R&R. Good luck.

That's not the point of this rant, though. The point is that, about half-way into our usual routine, I realized that 25 (or 30) is the new 15-19. This morning, I realized why.

A significant portion of our culture is dedicated to convincing its children to stay children long past puberty, long past the normal age of separation, mating, and starting a family, and well beyond when any traditional human would be a good way into adulthood. No, it's not because we live so much longer.

Steve Wozniak was 26 and an accomplished, employed (by HP) engineer when he started Apple, Inc. with his 21-year-old friend (at the time) Steve Jobs (who was still living in his parent's home). Jobs was (and may still be) the posterboy for the youth culture, but Wozniak was a more traditional young adult. [As a side-note, Jobs engineering-background claim-to-fame came when he conned Wozniak into doing a design job he'd been hired to do for Atari, split the bonus with Wozniak, and claimed he was a "real engineer" for doing the job. Sales as design, I guess.] Bill Gates (15) and Paul Allen (17) started their first commercial computer programming venture writing code for traffic control systems and moved to New Mexico five years later to start Microsoft. Eric Buell was a full-time engineering student and motorcycle mechanic in his early 20's. Sure, this short list if overstuffed with non-typical successes, but the list of young adults making their way before they are middle-aged goes on for millions of Boomers. Go back another generation and you're looking at a majority of young men who were out their parent's door and on their own in their teens. Today, it appears to be rare to find a young person who can live independently before 30 (or 40).

I work for a school that jammed with 20-something kids who are no closer to being self-supporting than they were when they were 10. They are "pursuing their dream" of collecting student loans and parental rent payments without a clue as to how they are going to begin life as an adult. Daniel Quinn, in his book Ishmael, described our child-adult extended education system as a glorified babysitting service that exists to keep the young out of the workplace as long as possible, because they are unnecessary. There are more than enough unemployed and underemployed adults in the que, without adding to that waiting list by releasing young adults into the workplace competition at the time in their lives when they are more than capable of competing for jobs. So, we convince kids they need a college education so they will be able to manage a coffee shop or a big box store department of 10 menial-labor employees, sell cars or stocks, or even do entry-level work as an engineer. Hell, Wozniak got his EECU degree from UC Berkeley in 1986, more than 10 years after he founded Apple, Inc. His biggest academic difficulty was refraining himself from correcting his professors when what they taught was either wrong or obsolete.

Finally, to the point of this rant, one reason that kids stay kids well beyond reasonable expectations is that our culture has become over-complicated. No 20-year-old is likely to start a computer company today, even if 20-year-olds are able to understand the hardware or software as thoroughly as did Wozniak or Jobs. Computer systems are so much more complex than they were in 1976 that building them from a garage is a ridiculous proposition. John Britten and Eric Buell's early success as motorcycle builders suggests that driven and radically talented young men can do some astounding things in this area. Buell's recent situation may pour a little water on that fire, though. Areas where a young person can feel like there is new ground to be broken and where the necessary tools and technology are not overwhelming are few and, for me, unimaginably far between. Maybe that's always been true, but I doubt it.

Maybe the real problem is that our education system is pointing itself too high on the cultural totem pole. Since the purpose in education is to prepare kids to become adults, our system is working hard to produce employees for jobs that probably won't exist by the time a kid is ready to find work. To quote Daniel Quinn's proposed evaluation of one portion of our 3 R's education system, "Two classes of 30 kids, taught identically and given the identical text materials throughout their school experience, but one class is given no instruction in reading at all and the other is given the usual instruction. Call it the Quinn Conjecture: both classes will test the same on reading skills at the end of twelve years. I feel safe in making this conjecture because ultimately kids learn to read the same way they learn to speak, by hanging around people who read and by wanting to be able to do what these people do."

That is a self-defeating purpose for a system that pretends to be useful. If kids are going to learn to read and write and use mathematics on their own, or not, because it is a useful and necessary tool, teaching these things is bound to be frustrating and disappointing. And it is.

Not being satisfied to criticise, but stuck with an irritating tendency to look for a solution, Quinn continued his speculation with, "It occurred to me at this time to ask this question: Instead of spending two or three years teaching children things they will inevitably learn anyway, why not teach them some things they will not inevitably learn and that they would actually enjoy learning at this age? How to navigate by the stars, for example. How to tan a hide. How to distinguish edible foods from inedible foods. How to build a shelter from scratch. How to make tools from scratch. How to make a canoe. How to track animals--all the forgotten but still valuable skills that our civilization is actually built on."

Even more to the point, K-12 school classes that include tool building and use would be equally valuable. Those shop or auto mechanics classes that we Boomers often ridiculed as being "trade school" education values are exactly the kinds of skills that modern kids lack. They are also the source of inspiration and competence for anyone who is inclined to want to build something. Those of us who suffered the tradesman's discipline in shop class also learned to respect tools and the things they can accomplish, even if we sucked at using the tools as apprentice/students. One or two generations earlier than my own, an apprentice might be whipped for breaking a valuable tool, we got off easy with a few swats from a well-designed paddle. The paddle my shop instructor threatened to use was made from local maple and was drilled to reduce wind resistance. I don't remember seeing it used, but it is still in my mind's eye hanging from the instructor's office wall. If I ever need one, I know how to build it.

My first technical jobs were nothing more than apprentice positions that only paid a living wage if I was willing to work 70-80 hours a week. My later engineering classes were a poor substitute for the education I received in my first 4 years as a working technician. Disconnected theory is way less useful than practically applied reason and experience. My first technical employer was a god of reason and experience and self-education. He expected the same from me.

Motorcycles are a terrific opportunity for the kind of cultural education that Quinn is talking about. They incorporate practically everything in modern technology--electronics, mechanics, green tech, transportation--and they are small, reasonably cost effective, and accessible. Maybe we ought to be encouraging our schools to dump their basketball and football programs and take up motocross and road racing? Yeah, the risk is high but so is the education value. Plus, there is no shortage of people on the planet so the risk has a positive secondary effect. Those who survive will be useful?

Nov 4, 2009

It's Our Turn

Tonight, Comedy Central airs "The F Word," South Park's take on motorcycle bozos. The story synopsis is "The boys fight back against the loud and obnoxious Motorcycle Riders that are disrupting everyone in South Park." In a couple of days, you'll be able to see it here:

Eric Cartman is my all time favorite comedy character and I am really looking forward to seeing my little buddy take on the Hardley crowd.

Nov 1, 2009

Product Review: Added Insurance

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Thirty-nine years ago, I began my collection of protective gear. I started with a helmet, which promptly proved its value when I did an unintentional headstand on a large pyramid-shaped rock. A while later, I started wearing calf-high linemans' boots instead of hiking boots or sneakers. I followed that brilliant triumph with denim coveralls (no kidding!) with factory-installed knee and hip pads. Later, I moved up to tear-off goggles, hockey-style shoulder pads, real motocross gloves, High Point racing boots, early Malcolm Smith racing pants and armored jacket, and racing gloves.

The thing that I discovered about real riding gear is that the more of it I owned, the more experimental I became on the track and trail. That might sound like I was only taking extra risks, but I was also experimenting with my riding style, control techniques, and exploring the connection between myself and my motorcycle and doing it with less fear. Fear is not a useful component of a learning environment. The more we are afraid, the more conservative we become, the fewer options we have when exposed to hazards, and the less we learn from riding experiences. My protective gear allowed me the luxury of feeling confident in moments where I'd previously felt exposed to danger. On the practical side, when those "educational moments" turned into a crash, the gear did its job and protected me from serious injury. If today's chest protection had been around in the 1970s, I'd have probably managed to avoid broken ribs and busted collarbones.

All this brings me to a new kind of protection I used on a trip to Alaska in 2007. While studying what others had experienced in Alaska and on adventure tours, I stumbled on an article about a serious deficiency in medical insurance. Mainly, most US medical insurance providers only cover basic doctor visits in the 50 states and rarely pay for medical evacuation from remote areas. Most policies don't reimburse you for emergency medical expenses outside of the US. Since evacuation can cost as much as $50,000 and there appears to be no upper limit to hospital bills, an adventure tour could be a lot more of a financial adventure than most of us can stand. The more I learned about the crap we call "medical insurance," the more I realized I needed additional protection from a bankrupting accident and visit to a hospital; US or Canadian. That comforting Canadian national medical system doesn't apply to non-taxpaying, non-residents. Everyone else has to pay for a visit to a Canadian hospital and those unprotected visits aren't much cheaper in Canada than they are in the US.

There is a type of insurance that appears to be designed for adventure touring; it is called "Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance," also known as "Supplemental Medical Coverage for Travelers." This kind of policy can provide coverage for emergency evacuation to the nearest medical facility. It will pay your "reasonable travel" expenses for a spouse or caregiver who may need to come to where you are hospitalized until you can travel home. When you are ready to travel again, the insurance will pay for the cost of returning home.

I ended up going with MEDEX (, but there are several companies providing various levels of coverage for a variety of costs. Some other possibilities are:
In 2007, I paid about $300 for 30 days of coverage. When I crashed 100 miles north of the Artic Circle on the Dempster Highway, one option available to me was to ask a truck driver who stopped to provide assistance to radio in a helicopter to fly me to a hospital. I was on the 9th day of a 30 tour and I was pretty sure, in my crashing past, I'd suffered through each of the injuries caused by the Dempster crash. Over the years, I've become a rehab semi-expert and while I was testing my limbs and bodily functions I was figuring out what I'd need to do to get better fast. When I made the decision to turn around, keep riding, and head for the semi-civilization of Dawson City and a hot bath, I had the security of knowing that if I was wrong needed medical attention, I could call it in at any time. My Emergency Medical Insurance was like a piece of gear that added confidence and security. Without it, fear would have had more control on my decision and I might have missed out on the next 20 days of the adventure of my life.

The next year, when I rode from home to the tip of Nova Scotia, I bought another 30 day policy for that trip. The price wasn't much different than it had been the previous year. To the surprise of everyone who knows me, I didn't have a single moment of excitement on that trip. There aren't a lot of interesting dirt roads out east, though.

When friends and family tell you that you are crazy for riding your bike from Timbuktu to Bolivia, you might have to concede that point. But you don't have to be stupid. You can armor up to minimize the damage when things go wrong and you can be prepared to deal with all sorts of disasters and distractions. "Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance" is one more way you can put some padding between yourself and catastrophe.

Oct 21, 2009

10 Reasons NOT to Wear A Helmet

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

I've spent way too much ink ranting about why helmets are good for you. I'm a believer in protective gear, but that's just me. Most crash landings begin with a face plant, so I think anything short of a full-face is mostly pointless. You can argue that the DOT thinks a beanie-brain-bucket is "protection," but I'm unconvinced. The federal government is the last place I'd look for technical advice.

If you have some question about how well your gear will work in a crash, put a bow in your do-rag or button down your beanie and slam your face against a hard surface. If you snap off your front teeth and break your nose, you might decide to buy a real helmet before you try the same exercise on hard, unforgiving asphalt at 30mph.

Lots of solid cases have been made for every piece of protective equipment that is sold today. Other than the "live free and die young with a really gory corpse" and the "I scream like a baby when I put one of those boxes over my head" arguments, not many people have spent time (or beer or mixed drinks) coming up with good reasons not to wear a helmet, especially a full-face helmet. So, with a beer and a mixed drink in hand(s), I thought I'd give it a shot.

  1. Nobody will ever say anything you want to hear. You are past 25, so you'll never enjoy any new music beyond this point. You ride without a helmet because you are trying to destroy your hearing.
  2. You can’t smoke inside a full-face helmet. Cigars are especially incompatible with face shields and such. Since smoking is one of those "little suicide" activities, making the step to a larger, less passive, suicidal activity (riding helmet-less) is a short jump.
  3. You can't eat or drink and ride. Even jerky is tough to filter through a face shield. Forget about ice cream cones. Since you're proud of your stylish American bulk, you are more concerned with getting your daily caloric intake than worrying about the goo inside your skull. You ride to eat and eat while you ride.
  4. Hip wrap-around sunglasses won't easily stuff into a helmet, so, you're stuck wearing dorky geek glasses. This has inspired several shade manufacturers to make dorky geek glasses and call them hip. My last visit to a Harley shop was made much more entertaining by the collection of $5 tinted industrial safety glasses being sold as designer shades for twenty-times what those same frames (made of more durable materials) would bring in a welding supply shop. Looking like a geek has never been so expensive.
  5. You can't pick your nose and wear a helmet. Even if you could get a useable finger past the shield, the chin guard gets in the way. Personally, I think that's a good thing because a small pothole and a cruiser's suspension would probably result in a finger poking through the back of your skull.
  6. Telephones, you gotta have 'em, but you can't do telephones and wear a decent helmet. These days, nobody can do anything or go anywhere without a cell phone, so it's damned important that you be able to answer the important question of the day (which is either “Can you hear me now?” or "Where are you now?" or "Waz up?") whenever it's asked. The entire planet revolves around the concept that someone's lack of planning is someone else’s emergency, no matter how trivial the problem. Wingers display insane levels of connected-ness lunacy with headset installations in their helmets and Microsoft Office displays on their face shields. You, however, simply need to be able to answer the phone when it rings.
  7. An excellent reason for not wearing a full face helmet is that you have nothing to lose. You hate your job, your wife is having an affair with your boss, your kids are on crack, and you're broke. What's the worst thing that could happen? You crash and survive, but are stuck at home recovering on the couch while your wife and boss hold business meetings in your bedroom.
  8. Good hair days, you can’t have ‘em and wear a helmet. Helmets will turn any hair style to a greasy pancake look. Which raises an important question, does Donald Trump ride to work every day? Is his bad hair because of a helmet or did an ugly squirrel curl up and die on his head and the Donald hasn’t taken the time from his busy, motivational day to have one of his Fox News eunuchs scrape it off?
  9. The "vision thing." From listening to years of lame excuses about helmets obstructing vision, I've decided this isn't about being able to see, but it's about being seen. Racers, two and four-wheel varieties, wear helmets and nobody needs to see better than those folks. After spending $45,000 on a custom cruiser, you probably want people who know that you have that kind of credit line. We're all equal inside a helmet and you're probably not happy about that.
  10. Finally, the best reason to not wear a helmet is that you know your genetics have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to the human race and you want to make the ultimate Darwinian sacrifice for the greater good of the species. Good for you. Your contribution to the universe will not be remembered, but you are still doing a good thing. Consider immediate sterilization so that no nasty little accidents happen before your nasty big crash.

I think I've provided sufficient justifications for those cute little bikini-beanie "helmets" and the 100% Dacron-reinforced do-rag fashion statement. Even though it's very likely that any crash you may have will result in a face-plant, it's important to consider there are a lot of important things that you can't do while wearing full face protection. What's a little cosmetic surgery and a lot of dental work worth compared to the important issues discussed in this highly academic analysis?

As spectacular as my list is, you can probably think of even better reasons to avoid protecting the insides of your skull. Feel free to contribute your best justifications.

Oct 14, 2009

Consumer Repellants

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Every once in a while, I check out ClusterFox New’s website to find out who is advertising there to be sure I don’t buy anything from their sponsors. It doesn’t mean much to anyone but me, but I’m the only guy I have to satisfy at this late point in life. Likewise, this afternoon--when it turned out that I’d managed to escape my class and arrived early for my wife’s birthday party at my daughter’s home—I found myself with a rare couple of unoccupied hours and an appetite. I’m near downtown Minneapolis, a place with a plethora of great restaurants in nearly every area of the city, and I’m not on a budget or in a hurry. Where do I go?

Dinkytown has great burger joints and designer beer. It also has parking meters and a boatload of underemployed metermaids. Downtown restaurants are practically abandoned buildings at 2PM, but they are surrounded by those damn meters. Riverfront? Nope, brand new meters as of last fall. So, I ended up in a neighborhood bar with “famous” hamburgers and I’m set for the next couple of hours.

The ‘burbs live off of consumers’ rejection of “urban planning” stupidity customer hostility. If I were an owner of a suburban business, I think I’d try to get myself elected to a major city's City Council so that I could increase the number of parking meters and metermaids. I think repelling consumers from the city would be at least as effective as an advertising campaign. I wouldn’t have to pay for the parking meters and metermaids, so on a cost-basis the political campaign might be a lot more effective use of my time and money than advertising. That might explain why so many city council members live outside of the urban centers.

At the least, I think urban business people ought to use accurate terminology when they are describing these meter plagues. I’d call them “consumer repellants.” Parking meters are probably the most effective way to reduce downtown congestion, over-stimulated downtown business activity, and all of the complications that come with customers and money-changing in a living city. Far better to force all of that nasty commerce on to the suburbs where they are better situated to deal with business.

St. Paul, for example, has shed the shackles of capitalism and opted for a purely government-based economy. Every significant downtown building is jammed with city and state offices and workers and that has saved the city from having to mess with sales taxes, traffic, and inflating property taxes. The City of St. Paul is an abandoned ghost town the moment all those city and state employees head back to the suburban homes. So much volume vanishes from the downtown area it almost feels like you’ve entered a low pressure zone if you stick around past 4:30PM in downtown St. Paul.

Minneapolis, on the other hand, has extended metering hours to 10:30PM, so that city’s metermaids prowl the streets looking for stragglers to punish and the rare visitor to downtown restaurants and bars. Duluth just began a major campaign to rid itself of tourists and Canal Park visitors. It will take a few years, but that brilliant strategy will soon solve both city's’ nasty downtown business problems.

For her birthday, this September, my wife wanted a trip to Duluth. Because she was feeling guilty about making me drive our cage through Wisconsin on our anniversary, she pretended she wanted to take the bike. We've done this trip a few dozen times in the last decade and it has always been one of our favorite things to do in Minnesota. The weather report for Duluth was for a 60% chance of rain. She wanted to hang out in Canal Park. Duluth downtown parking is motorcycle hostile and I couldn't think of a good reason to deal with the hassle. I suggested we take the cage so she'd be comfortable. She drove. I read a book.

A couple of years ago, I was forced to travel through downtown Cincinnati and I was amazed at how effective that city’s parking meter solution had been. That large, once-booming downtown was absolutely abandoned on a perfect Saturday afternoon. I think you could walk naked through Cincinnati’s streets and nobody would notice. It was amazing! Cincinnati had such an effective parking meter program that the Amtrak station’s parking lot was teeming with metermaids, like sharks who’d sniffed blood in the water but who’d arrived too late to sample the kill. As I loaded my gear on to my bike in front of the station, two Cincinnati metermaids stopped to warn me that I had ten minutes to move or they’d “have to” ticket me for illegal parking. As I pulled out of the loading zone, they looked absolutely lonely with the station lot back to its natural empty status.

When I toured North Dakota, I was sort of impressed with that state’s attitude toward ghost towns and empty business buildings. It seemed to me that a year or two of abandonment was justification for bulldozing a building or town. I wonder how long it will take for the major cities to take this approach? St. Paul has a “World Trade Center,” but if al Qaeda had blown up that collection of empty office spaces nobody in the state, let alone the nation, would have noticed. The city could save itself a lot of energy by knocking down at least half of the downtown buildings and making something useful out of the space; like more empty parking lots. At least you don’t have to heat a parking lot. It’s not like the city’s metermaids are so busy that adding a couple thousand more spaces to their route would cause an inconvenience.

Oct 3, 2009

Aerostich Earplug Sample Kits

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Disposable Kit: Photo courtesy of the 2007 RiderWearhouse Catalog.

Sometimes a product is more than a product. A really good product can even be a public service. The RiderWearhouse Aerostich Earplug Sample Kits (offered in a "Disposable Kit" for $10 or a "Reusable Kit" for $25) are that kind of product.

Riding a motorcycle is a well-known cause of hearing damage. It's almost impossible to find a hearing damage chart that doesn't include a picture of a motorcyclist with a suggested decibel caption beside the picture. Those charts seriously disagree about the level of noise exposure a motorcyclist suffers (from an impossible low of 85dbA to a more believable 125dBA), but they all agree that motorcycle riding is detrimental to the health of your hearing. If you experience the joy of a continuous tone, whine, "metallic waterfall" noise, or hiss when you are in a quiet room, you're one of the millions of tinnitus sufferers. Don't worry, if you like the sound of that tone, it won't go away for the rest of your life. Enjoy.

One of the additional joys of the "loud pipes" theory is that while you may think other people can hear you and, accordingly, watch out for you, you're not hearing much because you're driving yourself deaf. Helmet haters are getting the same benefit from their preference.

Exhaust noise is not engine noise and is mostly useless for troubleshooting purposes and wind noise is totally distracting. Lowering the overall noise level allows me to discriminate odd mechanical sounds, sirens, car horns, and even voices from the two major useless noises. The obvious solution is to ride wearing hearing protection. In a 90-125dBA environment, you have lost much of the subtlety in your ability to discern noises; important from unimportant. A high-noise environment is well known to cause fatigue, stress, loss of concentration, circulation and respiratory anomalies, and a weird psychological characteristic known as "learned helplessness syndrome." I've found that, if I want to hear the sound of my engine, I have to reduce the overall noise level to something tolerable. So, if you want to be able to put in a long, focused day on the bike, you're going to need to protect yourself from the noise of your vehicle, helmet, and wind.

Reusable Kit: Photo courtesy of the 2007 RiderWearhouse Catalog.

That's easy to say, but it's difficult to find an earplug that fits. At the corner drugstore, Walmonster, or hardware store, you can find all kinds of earplugs and maybe you'll find one that works for you. I've tried the cylindrical industrial foam earplugs and they do a great job of shutting out noise, but they irritate my ears after a few hours. The latex flanged plugs I found in an industrial supply store were even more painful. The waxy sleep plugs work, but they get filthy quickly and stick to my helmet and are expensive. My expensive "musician's earplugs" work really well, but I'm afraid I'm going to misplace those $140 plugs in a restaurant after a long day's ride. When I discovered these kits from Aerostich, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try out a variety of plugs (many of which are stocked individually at RiderWearhouse) to see what best fit my ears and personality.

The "reusable" kit comes with ten different pairs of reusable plugs. Moldex Rockets, North Com-Fits, and others are in that kit. Seven are corded (for us forgetful types) and three are not. The "disposable" kit supplies you with twelve different pairs of plugs, six corded and six not. This kit includes Howard Leight Max's, EAR Express Pod Plugs, Moldex Pura-Fits, and others.

Most of the plugs in both kits were reasonably comfortable and all of Aerostich's choices provided good hearing protection. I found the reusable latex (or latex-like) plugs to be too stiff for long use, except for a couple earplugs (I liked the Moldex models). Some of the disposables wouldn't fit in my ear well enough to provide good isolation. In the end, I found that the Howard Leight Multi-Max was the optimum protection and most comfortable fit for my ears. I bought a case of 200 and I use them on the bike, mowing the lawn, working in my shop, in the recording studio and around live music, and when my wife is trying to get me to do some job I don't want to do. Your mileage will probably vary, which is the point in these two kits. Like snowflakes, no two ears are alike (even your own, probably). What fits and works for me probably won't work for you. The best way to find a good fit is to try a lot of earplugs and, for $35, you can try out 22 of the best.

Sep 30, 2009

Davida Moto Photo

Interesting photos from motorcycling's history (motly Euro-stuff): Davida MotoPhoto. Thanks, Denny.

Sep 29, 2009

Snell Loyalty

People are loyal to the oddest things. For a couple of decades scientists and testing engineers have questioned the Snell standards. A key part of Snell's standards is the dual impact (same location) test and the 300g internal impact allowance. Those two bits mean that the helmet must be harder (less able to spread impact) both on the shell and in the internal impact liner. A while back, Motorcyclist magazine did some of their own testing and cast some aspersions on the Snell standard. More recently, the New York Times published a piece called Sorting Out Differences in Helmet Standards.

I'm not here to argue the standards. I read the Motorcyclist article and was impressed with the authors' thoroughness. At the time, I'd traded my comfortable old (highly damaged) Shoei X11 (a Snell helmet) for a brand new non-Snell HJC CL-15. The new HJC was the first non-Shoei, non-Snell helmet I'd owned since the early 1980s. That first HJC was the first of three HJC helmets that I've owned since. While my Shoei's have saved my bean from several scrapes, nothing about the crashes I've experienced have tested Snell's extreme standards. I'm, apparently, inclined to get off at 20-50mph, on dirt trails and deep gravel or sand, and I have yet to land on top of my head. I have scraped the paint off of the side of my full-face helmets and gouged the snot out of the faceshields.

On a MN motorcycle chat site, the responses to the NYT article went like this:
  • "The advantage in my eyes to a Snell rating is that I know the helmet's been validated to the guideline. "
  • "Until the standards are re-written its just a holy war and I'll continue to wear my RF1000 helmet replete with 05 Snell standards. "
  • "My helemts [sic] (full face always) have always been snell rated, but I am an Arai loyalist and they don't make anything less than snell rated--and honestly--I wouldnt want it any other way."
  • "Usually the NYT limits its coverage to political and scientific thingsthat they don't understand. Now they've added international standards setting to the stew."
I think it's interesting that a testing lab can generate so much customer loyalty, even with other testing labs, scientists, and engineers disagree with those results. No, I don't know what that means. Yes, I'd love to hear your opinions.

Sep 25, 2009

What are Honda Engineers doing with Their Spare Time?

Now that Honda has abandoned the Honda Hoot, the V-10 NSX supercar, clean diesels, and the AMA Superbike and Formula 1 racing programs, what are Honda engineers going to do with all that spare time?

Sep 21, 2009

How Long Can You Do This?

This month marks the 10th anniversary for the Geezer concept. Who'd have thought that an idea based on irritating readers to generate letters to the editor would have lasted ten years? Not me.

The whole Geezer with a Grudge concept was born after I was introduced to Troy Johnson and Erin Hartman at a party for a long-dead music magazine. My oldest daughter wrote some music reviews and was an editor for that magazine. I'd written a couple of social commentary (really loosely defined as such) articles for the same rag and that earned me both an invitation to the party and the nickname "butt crack guy." Maybe I should have stuck with that name instead of the Geezer thing. My latest column for the music mag was about obscenity. My take on the concept was that if anything is obscene it's a fat guy standing in line at a Fleet Farm with half of his hairy ass exposed. Why anyone would object to pictures of naked beautiful women and not go totally ballistic over an ugly fat guy's butt crack exposed to the world and impressionable young children still baffles me.

Whatever. "Human logic" is the ultimate oxymoron.

With that introduction, Troy and Erin and I met at this same drunken backyard punk rock croquet bash and after they realized I wasn't another old fart on a Harley we engaged in a long conversation about motorcycles and writing and magazine publishing. They described a magazine that was going down the tubes due to a lack of advertising revenue and evidence of readership and I made them an offer they didn't refuse: to write a short article that would piss off a few dozen people and prove to advertisers that someone read MMM (Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly). It wouldn't pay much, but I wasn't doing it for the money. The whole idea was pretty much fueled by good European beer, my recent croquet defeats, and my macho (Spanish for "stupid") confidence that I had an indefatigable ability to piss people off enough to move them to action.

I wrote the article that night and emailed it to Troy and forgot about the whole thing.
A month later, Troy emailed me to say that the magazine had received more mail about my article than it had received in the entire history of the magazine. I wrote him back offering to try to do the same thing on a regular basis under the half-baked, tentative title of "Geezer with a Grudge." For some crazed reason, he took the bait and I'm about to enter my 2nd decade as a "motorcycle journalist" of sorts.

Of all the wacky, semi-profitable things I do to turn a buck these days, the Geezer column is by far the most fun. Thanks for the last decade and thanks for being my friends and advisers and, especially, for reading what I write.

Sep 17, 2009

Getting Cranky about Patriotism

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

In an extended email conversation with a reader about positions I've taken in this column over certain motorcycle brands, motorcycle styles, and motorcyclists, I found myself getting downright belligerent over some issues that I really don't care about at all. When that happens, you have to wonder "why"? I did the wondering, but it took me a while to figure out the why.

Our conversation had devolved into a question of patriotism vs. owning and riding motorcycles. His side of the discussion included a lot of terms like "Jap bikes" and "rice burners" and that always puts me on edge. In a way, those terms are childishly humorous and the users of the terms tell us a lot about themselves, unintentionally, when they are so relaxed about one set of derogatory terms and wouldn't think of calling another collection of motorcycles "Wop bikes" or "Kraut bikes" or even "Yankee bikes." In self-defense, I've taken to calling a certain group of motorcycles, "cheese burners."
After getting past that, we got into why he was so encouraged by my mechanical problems with my KL250 Kawasaki Super Sherpa. He was more than pleased to know that I was less than impressed with how Kawasaki (and lots of other manufacturers) retain the countershaft oil seal. Somehow, his several-thousand-dollar problems with his American-made motor were less irritating knowing that I was wrestling with a $5 oil seal.

All through this bit of our conversation, I found myself becoming more irritated than the subject warranted. The next morning, I awoke knowing why: I don't care if a product is "made in America," but what I do I want is American products that are made really well. I go out of my way to buy products like those made by Aerostich because they are made better than the equivalents produced elsewhere. It doesn't hurt that Aerostich is made in Duluth, but if the stuff was crap I wouldn't be a customer.

A couple of decades ago, I worked for a pro-audio company that proudly advertised their products were "Made in California." The legend on the box was intentionally printed to resemble the labels on foreign manufactured products. Every product was designed and assembled in California and we were kicking the snot out of Ramsa (Panasonic), Yamaha, and other imported products in our market. We used Texas Instruments and Motorola parts (many of which were manufactured in Singapore, even in 1983), Japanese passive components, and locally built chassis parts. It was a great company and we made terrific products. I left in 1991, because I'd had all of southern California that I could stand, but I still loved working for that company making those products. We were state-of-the-art in a mid-tech business with extremely demanding customers.

Today, that same company has all of its products fab'ed and assembled in China. I'm glad I'm not there to have been part of that transition. The sales and marketing bozos were always bragging that "we're a design and marketing company, not a manufacturing company." They are probably happy as pigs in crap that the company no longer has the skills to build its own products. Our designs were driven by customer requirements and our close connection to the manufacturing floor. Our marketing was embarrassing, at best, and if the products hadn't been exceptional most of our rock and rolling customers would have avoided our products so as to not be connected to our foolish advertising. You only have to be a brilliant marketer if you suck at design and manufacturing.

Now that the economy has caught up to the reality of our national unproductive output, a lot of people are complaining that Americans don't know how to build products that Americans or anyone else wants. American labor builds products just fine, but American management couldn't manage a lemonade stand without government assistance. Last year when the economic "experts" were claiming that the economy was solid because "home sales were strong," I thought these morons were on crack. How can an economy survive when it is based on people leveraging the places where they live for food, clothing, and transportation? I should have put more of my money where my mind was, because it's now obvious that national economies have to be supported by something real: manufacturing, farming, research and development, and services that actually produce wealth instead of just moving mythological wealth from bank to bank.

I'd love to buy an American-made motorcycle (although I'd probably have to buy it used to fit my own economic situation), but I want something designed for the 21st century, not some silly-assed replica of the overweight, underpowered crap street riders put up with in 1955. Yeah, I want an American-made motorcycle, but I want a great American-made motorcycle, not just a few decrepit frame parts that were welded around a collection of Asian electronics and an imported motor. My American motorcycle would have to be light, reasonably quick, able to negotiate dirt roads and poorly maintained two-lanes all day long , and reliable. I wouldn't be buying it for the image or out of some phony patriotism, but because I thought it would take me where I want to go the way I want to go there. Anything short of that would just be disappointing.

Sep 14, 2009

The Kind of Marketing the MSF Should Do

This ad is from the Norsk Motorcykkel Union. It's funny, professional, and makes the point. And to reinforce the point, my wife had to watch it twice to see the motorcyclists in the ad. I don't know what to say about that.

Thanks for sending me this, Andy and James!

Sep 13, 2009

2009 Vincent Rally

This weekend Minnesota (Cannon Falls) hosted the 2009 Vincent owners' rally. Because I still owe Denny Delzer some points for his generosity when I stumbled upon him in Bismark, ND and because I was interested in the sort of folks who would put up with all of the quirks and weirdness of a 60 year old (or older) Brit bike, I rode down to Cannon Falls (the longest, dumbest way possible) on Saturday. I shot about 200 pictures. 100 of them are in this blog entry.
Being the camera rookie I am, it took me most of the day to figure out how to get rid of the date marking feature in my new camera. Sorry about that. If you click on any of the photos in the slideshow or the "view all images" button, you'll get to my Photobucket page where the originals are stored. You can download and edit my pictures of Vincents and Vincent characters at your leisure.

Sep 8, 2009

Chasing New Technology

A friend sent me a link to this picture as a comment on something I'd said a while back. If you look closely, you'll see that the carbon fibre front wheel disintegrated and the tire stuffed itself between the front fender and the forks and what was left of the wheel. I have no idea where this happened and under what conditions, but it's a pretty interesting look at what pushing the edges of available technology can produce.

A lot of racers have sacrificed their bodies to provide giant steps in technology over the years. Sometimes, the failure of one technology produces a completely different modification in the state-of-the-art, as when Roger DeCoster's Suzuki semi-experimental forks let loose during a 1975 Trans-AMA motocross and DeCoster suffered serious injury from the resulting face-plant. When he came back from reconstruction surgery, he was wearing a full face helmet and started a revolution in personal protection for motocrossers.

One of the good reasons some riders are so hung up on vintage bikes is that the technology is "proven." A bad reason for the same decision is that the proven technology is so far behind the state of the art that the proven stuff is dangerous; drum brakes, for example. Ignition points might be another example of deeply flawed historic technology, based on modern ignition systems and their reliability.

This last week, my wife drug me to the state championship high school rodeo at the Minnesota State Fair. Having grown up on rodeos, I was surprised to see all of the protective gear some kids were wearing. I like the change, but it's a long way from the "traditional" cowboy look. Helmets, armor, high tech shoes, and ropes that hold a loop even when they are dangling from the saddle horn, all stuff my older rodeo-riding cousins would probably spit on.
Everything changes. Some changes are painful. Some are easy. Some make sense, some ideas that look spectacular on blueprints turn out to be freakin' idiotic in application. As for motorcycle wheels, I still like aluminum wheels with spokes. Ideally, the wheels would support tubeless tires, but I can live with tubes. Someday, I suppose, I'll end up on a bike with plastic wheels and I'll like it.