All Rights Reserved © "Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."
- Mark Twain I check the comments on this blog regularly. The idea is that we're going to have a conversation about the ideas I've presented. You should be aware of the fact that when someone emails me an interesting comment, the odds are good that I'll post that in the comments anonymously and reply to that comment on the blog rather than in email.
All Rights Reserved ©
"Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference." - Mark Twain
I check the comments on this blog regularly. The idea is that we're going to have a conversation about the ideas I've presented. You should be aware of the fact that when someone emails me an interesting comment, the odds are good that I'll post that in the comments anonymously and reply to that comment on the blog rather than in email.
Mar 29, 2009
All the News that Didn't Fit (April)
Alan Wilzig is being picked on by the other folks in his neighborhood. Wilzig, heir to a banking fortune (Those fortunes still exist?), wants to build a “recreational sporting course” (for his 60-plus bike collection) called the Wilzig Racing Manor. It sort of irked the neighbors that Wilzig built the track before asking permission from the local zoning board.
“What really infuriated us is that the world is falling apart, psychologically, financially, every way possible, and this man is worried about his Ducatis and his racetrack,” said Ben Shecter, who lives in a restored barn and silo near Wilzig’s property. “It is such indulgence, these billionaires, these Madoffs of the world, build these walls where they are just totally immune to what’s going on.”
After 3 years, the battle for the Wilzig Racing Manor goes on. The Zoning Board of Appeals will hear Wilzig’s petition, again, in March. Most likely this battle for another version of the Hearst Castle will go on for a few more years.
Along with tax cuts, buying a new motorcycle will provide you with a tax break in 2009. "This inclusive and equitable solution will provide much-needed relief to riders, as well as to those who sell motorcycles," said AMA Vice President for Government Relations Ed Moreland. "When it appeared that motorcycles were going to be overlooked in this bill, the AMA and the Association's members, along with Harley-Davidson and others, took our case straight to Capitol Hill and persuaded lawmakers that this was the right decision."
2008 Motorcycle Sales Figures
While the major media is still calling the current economic disaster “a recession,” readers with a more seasoned sense of history suspect the world is in a depression that could be a long term affliction. The Motorcycle Industry Council reported motorcycle sales suffered an overall 7.2% decline in 2008, with off-road sales taking a huge 30% hit. Small bike and scooter sales were up, substantially, particularly in the first part of the year due to rising fuel costs. Scooter sales, alone, were up 41.5%, not counting small non-MIC member manufacturers like Kymco, Hyosung, and the many Chinese imports. Dual-sport sales were also up 22.8%, for the year. Big iron manufacturers, like Harley Davidson and Victory are hard-hit by the economy. Harley has announced the company will be eliminating 1,100 jobs over the next 2 years and Polaris will cut 460 jobs.
Fuel costs could be the economic driving factor for 2009. MIC President, Tim Buche, said, "We could find that many people who are getting into bikes just for the economics will discover the moto DNA within themselves and wind up becoming lifelong riders."
New California Motorcycle Air Standards
The AMA reports, “California bill proposes emissions testing for motorcycles. Recently, California State Senator Fran Pavley introduced legislation that would ‘amend Section 44011 of, and to add Section 44012.5 to, the Health and Safety Code, relating to air pollution.’” The legislation requires California motorcycle owners to get smog tests every two years for all 2000 or newer vehicles. Obviously, California EPA approved exhaust and fuel systems would be required to pass the smog tests.
The Best We Can Do?
On the right, that showroom picture? That's "America's Most Beautiful Motorcycle." According to the 59th Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, CA, Carl Brouhard designed and built this $175k (Brouhard's estimated value) concept-topping, prettiest-in-the-nation bike and everything else is Ugly Betty by comparison. I know, you know what I'm thinking.
I'll give Brouhard's boat points for a great paint job. The Batman in Drag styling is impractically, weirdly, non-functionally uncomfortable looking; the cute girl in a wheelchair kind of look or a paraplegic weight-lifter. (If you think those comparisons were politically-incorrect, you should have heard what my wife compared it to.) For posers, this mechanical abortion is the perfect bike: all kinds of imagined power without a lick of performance, 0-ground clearance and a wide, flat rear tire so it can't tip over, and airport turn radius so . . . I don't have a reason for the yanked out fork arrangement.
Like Douglas Adam's Vogon guard said about his job, "The hours are good, but the minutes are quite miserable," some of Brouhard's details are pretty but the whole is damned ugly. It's true. I don't get non-representational art. Jackson Pollack-style wallpaper, Chagall's my-3-year-0ld-can-paint-better-than-that portraits, or Ornette Coleman's harmony-and-rhythm-free jazz all leave me with a little less appreciation for chaos. A pile of shiny pieces, randomly glued together into a hippo of a motor, stuck in the middle of a bunch of swoopy Euro-bend sheet metal puts me in a mood to watch some X-Games moto-x'ing. I've seen some bikes, even around here, that I'd pick over that crazy looking geek-mobile at the top of this page.
Somebody in Duluth turned a VFR into a Supermoto monster. I took a picture of it, during the 2004 World Trials at Spirit Mountain, but I fed those pictures into my data-eating Mac and that bike remains an image in my mind's eye that I can't share. That was the meanest, coolest, most sophisticated custom bike I've ever seen. I freakin' loved it.
A quick browse through Google found two other bikes I'd pick as being a lot closer to "America's Most Beautiful Motorcycle." For example, the tricked out little Honda single Supermoto MX'er (above) or the totally weirded customer VFR that looks half road bike and half Supermoto (right)? I admit it. I have a bias against motorcycle that can't be ridden. I don't much like bikes that can't be ridden practically anywhere.
"America's Most Beautiful Motorcycle" actually has pads under the bodywork that prop the bike up for show. No kickstand, just a pair of belly-skids that work like immobile training wheels. The wheelbase must be approaching 10 feet. The motor is, by far, the ugliest aspect of a long list of ugly aspects. It is a butt-ugly conglomeration of chrome bits, randomly jutting out like a bunch of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones almost compacted into a neat pile ready for recycling. My love of functional cool goes a long ways back. I can't even guess how far.
My grandfather was a particular fan of function. He managed the installations for the company he and my grandmother ran. He was good with tools and appreciated a good tool for its utility and appearance. I followed that with a job in Texas where I worked with an Air Force trained tech and a self-trained machinist for 3 years. Both of those men built equipment from scratch as complicated as multi-station electronic weights and measures system to as simple as a four component hitch system that could support and restrain 50k pounds and be disassembled with a single hitchpin. Both men had a gift for simplifying designs to the point that our company's design engineers refused to look at our installations because they knew they would be better than the original proposed design.
A friend once compared my form-follows-function tastes as "fundamentalist." My wife says I'm more Calvinist. I have a feeling that either comparison is insulting, but I'm going to ignore the fundamentalist tag since I know where it came from. I'm not sure there isn't some connection to Calvinism in me, though. I'm some part English (3rd generation American), some part German (3th generation), some part Dutch (no idea what generation), and more mutt bits that are probably better left unknown (by me). I do subscribe to the philosophy that says, "don't work, don't eat." I think that came from whatever brand of rejects who survived the attempt to settle Jamestown.
Apply it to motorcycles and you have "don't work, don't waste fuel." I can live with that. That won't be a problem for "America's Most Beautiful Motorcycle." It appears that the ridiculous thing can't move without being picked up. The only fuel likely to be found in the vicinity of this strange sculpture will be used for cleaning parts.
Mar 24, 2009
Doin' the Right Thing
A grandfather who went slowly into dementia: at first, he had trouble recognizing his grandson when he would visit. Later, he didn't recognize him at all. He'd try to hide it by quickly entering into casual conversation, "What kinda car are you driving now?" He'd go on about cars, the weather, and such until, finally, his curiosity got the better of him and he'd ask, "So who are you, sonny?"
"I'm your grandson. I'm Scotty, Bill's kid."
"Oh. Hmmm. So what kinda car are you driving now."
And back around the loop he would go until, he'd ask for the identification of his visitor, followed by another car inquiry.
An aunt went into dementia angrily. When she first began to lose her memory and current status consciousness, she thought people were playing tricks on her. She'd accuse whoever was closest of moving her things, of turning on or off lights behind her, and, later, of putting drugs in her food so that she'd pass out and lose track of days and weeks. Eventually, she settled into a sullen, constant scowl and barely snarled at old friends and family who would visit. In the end, she was a catatonic who looked out at the world with an expression that was pure hate.
The three of us decided we don't want to go like that. To lighten up the conversation, we each picked a final exit strategy. The guy with the forgetful grandfather wants to die in his sleep. The guy with the cranky aunt decided he'd rather die awake, but in bed with someone half his age. I've had a favorite Colorado mountain hairpin turn, edged by a several thousand foot drop, picked out for my final missed corner since sometime in the mid-1990s.
Sinking into our individual foul moods, we jabbered on for a while about how disappointing it is to be getting old and creaky. Someone made a crack about aging drivers and their vanishing skills and how that solves a lot of "how do I want to die" questions. One of us mentioned the notion that a lot of wrinkling Baby Boomers seem to be finding ways to end up on a slab after trying out some X-games style sport or machinery.
I sort of bailed out of the conversation at that point and started meditating on my own experience with aging characters in my MSF classes. I remembered seeing some recent weird statistics that indicated that twenty-five and under males have almost exactly the same disdain for safety equipment as do the sixty-and-over geezer crowd. Both groups "rarely wear" helmets or upper or lower body armored riding gear and have some strong opinions about those who do.
It suddenly struck me that I've been bashing a fine old American company for doing a public service. They cater to a specialized crowd of aging folks who have an image to project and self-image to preserve, right up the final moment of life. Like my friends, they don't want to die drooling on themselves in a wheelchair. They want to go out in a bang! With their marketing and their products, Harley Davidson has been trying to serve the most precious interests of their special market and I've been knocking them for their effort.
I officially apologize for the misunderstanding.
Product Review: Sargent Cycle Products World Sport Performance Seat
The only things that really matter about a motorcycle seat is how it sits and how it holds up. I found the seat to be very roomy, for me and for a passenger. The platform base is wider than the stock seat, the foam support is stiffer, and that distributes the pressure more evenly across a rider's backside. After a 27-day, 10,000 mile trip to Canada, Alaska, and back, I can say that my Sargent seat was extremely comfortable.
On a negative note, the standard seat material (GRIPTEX, pictured at right) didn't prove to be particularly durable. After three months and 12,000 miles, my seat began to deteriorate, on both sides of the seat, at the point where the seat frame turns upward toward the tank. It looks to me like the frame edges needed to be de-burred to prevent abrasion at this pressure point.
I had my last Corbin seat repaired by a local boat upholstery technician and it held up for another four years (the original seat only lasted a year) and still looked like new when I sold the bike. I'll just take the Sargent back to that guy if the material flaws become a serious problem. At this point, I'd have to say, "No, I probably wouldn't buy a Sargent for my next bike." Their "one year limited warranty" was a disappointment, at least as far as the torn section of the seat is concerned. This may be another American company that is suffering from too much success? However, I can't complain about Sargent's customer service. The tech was communicative and did a good job repairing the tear and reworked the other side of the seat to prevent a similar failure there.
POSTSCRIPT 7/1/2018: 12 years later, my Sargent seat looks as good as it did the day it came back from the factory repaired. I put another 60,000 miles on that seat and never again reconsidered my initial investment as anything but brilliant. I sold the V-Strom today to a relatively young rider who plans to double the bike's mileage in the next few years. He was as impressed with the comfort of the Sargent seat as me and has written me twice to comment on how well the bike "fits" him. I've changed my mind, the odds are excellent that I'll buy another Sargent seat for my WR250X.
Mar 11, 2009
Book Review: A Cure for Gravity
All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day
I'm a binge reader. I get hooked on a topic and read everything I can about it. This month, I started an adventure touring binge and I checked out every book in the library on motorcycle adventures. While I was doing my library search, I bumped into A Cure for Gravity. Mostly, I'm not much of a fan of motorcycle novels. I've read a few. Most are poorly written, motorcycles ignorant, and closer to romance novels or bad westerns than they are to entertaining literature. Sometimes, however, I run into an author who reminds me that the only skill I've picked up in forty years of attempting to learn the writing trade is a refined ability to know when I am reading the work of a master. Arthur Rosenfeld is a word crafting master.
It was the title that made me stick this book on my checkout list, A Cure for Gravity. Motorcycling has "cured" gravity for me, momentarily, several times and I thought that the author might have some actual insight into motorcycling. It was a lucky guess. When I saw the cover page, an upside down view of a long, straight section of two-lane, I suspected the author might really know something about riding. Rosenfeld is, in fact, a motorcyclist. He is also a fine writer. If I had to put him in a category, he'd be in the Elmore Leonard, William Goldman, Joe Heller, and Pete Dexter category. Those writers are my favorite in a curious genre. The genre is "story teller." Is it a mystery? Is it a fantasy? Is it a ghost story? Is it one of the best, funniest, most complicated novels I've read in years? Yes. All of those. And a motorcycle trip is in the mix. Like the work of my favorite fiction authors, Rosenfeld weaves a story that is beyond genres.
in either an event of synchronicity, bad luck, or not-so-clever marketing, for his first novel Rosenfeld (or his publisher) chose a title very close to Joe Jackson's 2000 autobiography. Jackson's story was about how music lifted his life above the gravity of his social caste. Rosenfeld's title refers to something less specific.
Gravity has a large collection of characters, but the main focus is on two riders crossing the country on motorcycles; Mercury Grant and Umberto Santana. The two bikers meet each other fantastically defying gravity with the assistance of an Oklahoma tornado. Grant is a middle-aged, ex-vet, ex-limo-driving-fishing-boat-captaining refuge from an incredibly failed love affair on the way to an unclear destination. Santana is a 17-year-old Cuban bank robbing bike mechanic on the run of his life. Other principle characters are FBI agent Eagle Cooper, 6-year-old blind Audrey and her widowed grandmother, Santana's gorgeous wannabe-a-movie-star pregnant girlfriend, a murderous lover, and a collection of bad memories and ghosts.
Santana thinks he pulled the perfect crime, that he's set himself up for life with a $370,000 one-time bank robbery. However, a U.S. Senator freaked out during the robbery and, in an asthma attack, suffocated and died. Now, her rich husband wants revenge and Santana's otherwise incredibly lucky day takes a vicious turn. Grant isn't part of the plan until he involves himself. The FBI and Cooper are on Santana's back tire and that means both riders are on a different trip than the one they planned to take.
A Cure for Gravity is a rare gem in an otherwise desolate pile of rocks. We often meet interesting strangers on a long motorcycle trip, but this is one strange trip. While you're at it, check out Rosenfeld's 2nd book, Diamond Eye. It is also about a character who occasionally rides a motorcycle and it is, also, a terrific read.
Mar 3, 2009
MotoFizz Camping Seat Bags Revisited
Note to Mr. Subjective: When a less-than-brilliant customer is overcome by the thought of having readily available access to coffee, suggest the two smaller bags because they will hold twice as much caffeine. You probably did that and I ignored your sage advice, right?
I had the new bag on my Super Sherpa for exactly two weeks when it was stolen. Like Monty Python's King of the Swamp Castle ("When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up."), I bought a second MotoFizz for the Sherpa. So far, I still possess this one. If I lose it, I will buy another one.
The small Motofizz bag, like the medium and large, is constructed to withstand a hurricane and sticks to the bike as if it were designed for it. The multitude of zippered storage pouches, plus the plethora of tie-down loops, makes the bag perfect for securing enough gear for a several day outing. Motofizz, apparently, listens to complaints because they replaced the silly elastic shock cord on the raincover with a much more secure nylon cord and are now using a much heavier material.
As usual, Motofizz gear is available from RiderWearhouse.
Mar 1, 2009
Beer and Motorcycles
Courtesy of Mr. Subjective:
Product Review: Chase Harper Sport Trek Magnetic Tank Bag
I have three pieces of Chase Harper gear (European Tour ET4000 saddlebags, Compac Line 1150 Tank Bag, and a Sport Trek Magnetic Tank Bag) and this review could be about any one of them, but the Sport Trek bag was the most recent acquisition and the one that brought this review into focus. Everything I've ever purchases from Chase Harper has been a superior piece of equipment, so this review could apply to any of my current three pieces.
Have you ever tested a product's "lifetime warranty?" How did that work out for you? For example, I have a Martin acoustic guitar with a "limited" lifetime warranty. It's "limited" alright. Martin's warranty only applies to the original purchaser still possessing the purchase receipt having registered the warranty with Martin within 30 days of the original purchase and, after all that, the warranty only covers workmanship or material flaws as determined and accepted by the Martin Company. The few problems I've had with this guitar have all fallen outside of Martin's criteria, leaving me with almost as much money invested in repairs as I originally spent on the guitar. A few years back, the bridge cracked and I've decided to live with that until I die. My kids will inherit the guitar and its worthless lifetime warranty and it will theirs to agonize over. Every time I look at the damn thing I want to toss it into my fire pit; the instrument has contributed to twenty-plus years of buyer's remorse. That's my typical experience with lifetime warranties, but Chase Harper gear is the exception.
Take my Sport Trek Tank Bag, for example. I called it a "recent acquisition" but that's a relative term. I've had the saddle bags since the early 1980's and the 1150 about as long. I bought the magnetic bag sometime in the late-1980's. I only remember that because it lived on my 1983 Yamaha Vision for about 20,000 Colorado miles. The original magnet and base material did not agree with my Yamaha TDM and the bag was unstable with a full load, so I returned it to Chase Harper before I took off on a long west coast trip. Ron Harper tried a new padded rubber material on the base and increased the magnet area, which worked for another decade and another 100,000 miles on the TDM and my Suzuki SV. Last year, the base material began to disintegrate, getting very close to exposing the magnets to the SV's tank. I went back to using the 1150 bag and tossed the magnetic bag on a shelf in the garage.
Both of these bags have similar features; they are both expandable to more than three times their compressed height with double zippered compartments. The 1150 has a rear-facing zippered pouch for holding small items like a flashlight, coins, and cigars. The lower compartment comes with a foam base for holding a phone, cameras, tools, or other fragile stuff. I toss the foam and cram my Belstaff rainsuit into the bottom section. Large strips of Velcro keep the bag small, allowing the bag to incrementally increase in size as you load the top section. They are both constructed of heavy urethane-coated nylon CorduraPlus. They both have a Neoprene foam base to protect your tank from scratches. The Sport Trek bag has 908 cubic inches of storage space and the 1150 has about 1100 cubic inches of space.
I bought a Suzuki V-Strom and the plastic surrounding the base of the tank makes it difficult to get to the rear straps on the 1150 bag. So, I sent the Sport Trek back to Chase Harper for repair. I didn't bother asking for a return authorization (RA). I didn't look for the original receipt. I didn't write to ask if Mr. Harper would repair it again under warranty. I didn't do much more than write a brief description of the problem and put the bag in a shoe box with a shipping label. I didn't even clean it up before tossing it into the box. Three weeks later, the shoe box came back.
Ron Harper doesn't waste a lot of time with words. He rarely returns (my) email and I've never had a telephone conversation with a real person at Chase Harper. In his ads, he doesn't say much about his products, other than basic specifications and line drawings to describe the features. He doesn't brag about the materials, workmanship, or engineering of his products. He just puts them out there and lets them build a reputation. My experience is part of that reputation.
When I opened the shoe box, I found the bag has a brand new base with a really clever magnet flap. It works perfectly on the V-Strom, which doesn't provide much metal at the top of the tank. Mr. Harper installed a new map case and added a nice rubberized handle at the back of the bag. Some of the Velcro was replaced. A new front mounting strap was included and the buckles are all new. The bag is still faded and it's clearly my original bag, but you'd have to look closely to see that it's more than 15 years old. The new Sport Trek base sticks to the top of the bike as well as the 1150's four straps had held that bag and it's way easier to get fuel into the tank with the single strap and magnet bag.
I hate to say this, but I suspect I may actually have a lifetime product, now. It looks like it will easily outlast me. But I don't have to worry about it. Over the last twenty-plus years, if I have had a complaint with any of the Chase Harper products that I own, I ship them back and they fix it better than it was when I bought it. If you can think of a better warranty than one that improves the product as you own it, I'd like to hear about it.
Product Review: HJC CL-15 Full Face Helmet
The long affair was over. I walked away, only looking back once, later wishing I'd taken one last picture to remember our time together and the painful end. My friends all said I should have left sooner, much sooner. My parents were simply ashamed of me. My wife had held her tongue for so long that she was about to burst into mocking derision every time she saw me leave the house. Finally, even I saw the light (actually, I saw gouges cut so far into the fiberglass that small bits of foam were exposed), I had to leave my old Shoei X11 helmet and find a new lid.
I was stuck in Seattle with a smashed up helmet and, while the folks at this bike shop were good to me, asking me to pay full list for anything is almost taken as a life-threatening gesture. After taxes, a new bottom-of-the-line Shoei from Seattle Cycle would be more than $450 and I've already spent $600 on new tires, a heavy duty chain, brakes, and gloves. I'm decision-seized and almost ready to go out into the world with my old, massively damaged, but still mostly comfortable Shoei.
The salesman is going overboard with his "once you've gone Shoei you can never go cheaper" routine. I react poorly to pressure sales tactics. Usually, the salesperson gets exactly the opposite reaction he/she expects: I don't buy anything when I'd fully intended to buy something. I am, however, a discount buyer. When I can, I buy my motorcycles, clothing, furniture, and computers second hand. If I'm not getting at least 50% off, I wait until I can get 50% off of most everything I buy new. I'd buy used food if I could figure out how to safely digest it.
However, the helmet is wrecked. So, I kept looking. I found a bright yellow HJC helmet and tried it on. The salesman says "you won't like it, it's not a Shoei." But I did like it.
The HJC CL-15 fit really well, the visibility was better than my old lid, and it was much lighter than my Shoei. As if I expected to get a straight answer, I asked about the quality of the HJC brand and received "it's a cheap helmet, it won't last as long as your Shoei." I paid a small fortune for the Shoei and wore it a good two seasons beyond the expected lifetime because I wanted to get my "money's worth." Maybe a helmet that won't have such a tight grip on my billfold-memory would be a good thing. It was Seattle-expensive, but not so painfully prohibitive that I couldn't justify replacing my ruined lid.
On the road, I discovered the miracle of actual ventilation. The CL-15 flows air. On a cold morning, I opened up the chin vent, and in motion the fog vanishes and I can breathe normally. I thought my X11 was quiet, but the CL-15 is much more quiet. Like the Shoei, the famous V-Strom "buffeting" is unnoticeable due to the aerodynamic design of the helmet.
The face shield is designed so that I can flip it all the way up, at freeway speeds, and it doesn't shake or threaten to rip itself from the helmet. It stays in place, also at every intermediate setting. In the worst crosswinds I've ever experienced, in North Dakota (surprised?), I latched down the shield and that added a little stability to the helmet and quieted down the noise a bit, too. When I got home and went shopping for a backup face shield, I discovered the HJC shields are almost half the price of Shoei replacements. The shield is easily removed and reattached with a simple mechanism. The shield "securing system" parts are repairable and reasonably priced.
The cheek and crown pads are removable for cleaning. The chin strap is fastened with an old fashioned D-ring system with a securing snap to keep the end from rattling in the wind.
HJC warrants the CL-15 for a year (limited warranty). The helmet is Snell and DOT approved. After 18,000 miles of use, my CL-15 is still quiet, well ventilated, and comfortable. I'm happy with my cost-justified decision and expect to live with this helmet for a few more years before I have to deal with a buying decision on this piece of protective equipment again.