Aug 29, 2009
I used to take a couple of trips a year with one of my girls, when they were teenagers. We used to pick a direction, sometimes even a destination, and ride up the coast of California together. Every one of those trips is burned into my memory among the best moments of my life. It's a personal flaw that I can't do much with, but traveling with more than one other person is nothing but draining for me. Our family did some trips all together, but not many. It might have been just me, but it always seemed like we ended up more stressed from our vacations than we were when we left. But traveling with one of my family members was always fun.
Traveling the back roads of Minnesota and Wisconsin with Wolf was a throwback to those good old days. We saw and did things I wouldn't have done on my own. We stopped more often, we stayed longer, and I enjoyed myself more than I ever do traveling on my own.
There was a period, between 1996 and 2006 when I hardly went anywhere on my motorcycle during the summers. Wolfe was the reason. Nothing I could ever do on my own would be as cool as the stuff I could do with my grandson. We hung out almost every weekend for 8 years and most weekends for the following two years. As he gets older, he's less interested in being slowed down by an old guy, so I've gone back on the road for bits of my summers. If I'm not with my kids, I'd just as soon be alone. So there you have a reason why I'm a solo tourist.
For a while, I'm going to have the best of both worlds, motorcycling places and doing it with my grandson. It's hard to top that for as long as it lasts.
Aug 28, 2009
My personal opinion is that, at least in the United States, things do not get better. About 40 years ago, a Canadian politician came up with a fable that pretty much sums up the way politics works here. He called it Mouseland. The idea, to put it briefly, is the mice keep electing cats to run their country and the cats (surprise!) keep passing laws that make life easier for cats and much worse for the mice. That's the system we've built and we're #1 at it. Nobody has more cats governing the mice than the US. Something to be proud of.
My grandson , Wolf, and I took a short the-week-before-school-starts motorcycle camping trip to Duluth this week. We wandered from the Cities to Duluth through backroads and had a great 270 mile trip to a place that is only 130 miles from home, by freeway. We spend the afternoon and that night at Jay Cooke State Park, one of Minnesota's great unknown natural wonders and a terrific motorcycle road. We hiked a half-dozen miles of the park's trails and camped there Wednesday evening.
The next morning, I headed us to Duluth for breakfast. My goal was a coffee shop/bakery in Canal Park. My wife and I stumbled on to that place on our 40th wedding aniversary two years ago and I thought Wolf would enjoy the atmosphere and great food. When we rolled into Canal Park, I was surprised to discover the place had been decorated with parking meters. Obviously, Duluth is continuing its recessive decline into oblivion and the City Douchebags are doing everything they can to hurry the city's demise. Big sections of this ghost town are littered with parking meters and downtown is about as close to dead as a once-lively city contaminated by braindead officials can be. All of downtown is now metered and the city's parking mafia has turned the city's empty spaces into empty parking lots manned by politically-connected deadbeats. It has the feel of Chicago without any of the rebellious attitude or the architecture.
I didn't have a pocket full of quarters (also known as "metermaid foodstamps") and the new electronic metering system Duluth is using for much of Canal Park is extremely biker-hostile. Instead of plugging a meter in front of your bike, you have to buy a parking pass at a kiosk and find a place on your bike to put the pass. Obviously, cagers will be inclined to rip off the bike pass and put it on their cages. It's also impossible to bag up your bike with your gear under the cover and leave the bike and gear so that Lovely Richard the Metermaid would see the biker had paid his welfare-tariff. I gave up on the Canal Park restaurant and cruised the downtown area looking for a meter-less place for us to eat. Every restaurant was open, but empty. The meters had done their job. Finally, we ended up at a Perkins on the north end of town that had a parking lot. The place was jammed, unlike all of the metered businesses.
I had a brief conversation with an assistant manager when we paid for our meal. He said the downtown meters had caused a boom in their morning business.
While we were waiting for our food, I snagged a Duluth paper and read a really funny-sick article about a dude (check out the Duluth Faux News video, it's hilarious) who got into an argument while partying with another dude. To sum it up, the first dude shot and killed the second dude. Within an hour or so, 60 of Duluth's finest had the neighborhood surrounded with So-Where-Are-They'ers dressed in full Iraq invasion outfits. They looked fierce, just like they do in the movies. However, the guy they were surrounding looked like he'd be about as likely to sneak out and run away as Michael Moore. Look at him. He couldn't hide behind a mountain.
After cutting the phone lines, the Duluth cops hid behind armored cars, barricaded the streets into the neighborhood, posed with their automatic weapons for news camera crews, and had a bunch of huddled meetings with each other for five hours. Apparently, messing with a guy and his gun is a lot cooler than their usual metermaiding duties and they wanted to try out all of their gear before they outgrew it. Finally, the guy came out and they loaded him up and went back to patrolling all those parking meters. Now that I know how much firepower is behind a parking violation, I'm going to be even more inclined to spend my money in the burbs.
After breakfast, we gave up on Duluth and headed for Two Harbors. We stumbled on to a great tour of an old steampowered tugboat and a short history lesson from the curator of the lighthouse and museum. We kept going north for a few miles and had lunch on the way back at Betty's Pies. Yeah, we ate a lot for such a short trip. Get over it. It's a guy thing.
On the way back, I decided to put up with the meter crap and parked in front of Duluth Pack. I used my credit card to buy a $0.75 hour and discovered the meter gouges you for an extra quarter if you use a card. Something not advertised on the &^%$# meter kiosk. Since we couldn't close up the gear, we carried it around with us, which finished off any good feelings I had about Canal Park, since it got hot and carrying all our crap limited what we could do and wanted to do. I guess the good side, if you like parking meters, was that the park area was pretty much empty for a perfect last summer week afternoon before school started the next week. I've never seen that before in 12 years of hanging out in Duluth. The meters were doing their job of draining the city of downtown tourists and locals.
We gave up after 1/2 hour and went back to the bike to get the hell out of Duluth. Another biker was parked in our space, which looked like a bad idea, based on what I know of metermaids and city meter laws. As we were packing up, the other bike owner came over to ask about my luggage badges and the V-Strom. Turned out, he was from northern Minnesota and was making his once-a-year trip to Duluth. He hadn't noticed the new parking meter system and was surprised to learn he was parking illegally. I gave him the last 1/2 hour of our pass and left him looking at the damn thing, wondering where to put it so it wouldn't get stolen if he left the bike to get lunch. I recommended the Perkins north of downtown.
It would be cool to believe that the simple stuff, like parking for motorcycles, is fixable. Obviously, there are logical solutions and all of those solutions provide economic and social benefits to a wide range of citizens. However, we're a mousy "conservative nation," which means we're afraid of our shadows and we're even more afraid of pissing off the cats. Political correctness is just another form of mousy-ness. Burying ourselves in make-work jobs like metermaids and stuffing millions of citizens behind bars and hiring another few million to convict and guard them and all of the useless crap government does instead of providing useful services to working citizens is exactly the tactic every other failed dynasty has taken in the history of humanity. I would freakin' love to believe we're going to be different. But I don't.
It's all part of that fear of change and risk avoidance thing we're growing so proud of. One thing we used to know out of our manufacturing experience is that "change happens." You don't have to do a thing and change will happen. Hoping that it won't is stupid. One of the concepts I'd hope people would get from riding motorcycles is that you have to constantly adapt to change; changes in the road, in yourself and your abilities, traffic, weather, and even laws and cops. The cool thing about getting young people into motorcycling is that they might learn this lesson from riding, since they won't learn it in school, from their parents, or from video games. The not-so-cool thing about the Boomers getting into motorcycling is that they are too inflexible to learn anything new. They are constantly surprised when the universe doesn't notice their existence and fails to adapt to their all-important-selves. When they crash and burn, as they will, their reaction is to sue and pass more brainless laws to try to force the world to accommodate them. Like my home state, Kansas, passing laws to require pi to be a nice round 3.
I don't see this getting better. As much as I'd like to believe gentle argument and logical persuasion will convince the cats to allow us mice the right to lane splitting, filtering, multi-bike parking space access, and all of the cool things that motorcycles and motorcycling could bring to culture, I don't believe any of it will happen. Honestly, I think the best I will get is the right (for a while) to be pissed off about the incompetence of city, state, and federal officials and to say something about it. The problem with using sugar to catch flies is . . . who wants to catch a fly? When I see a fly, I always reach for a flyswatter.
I am pissed off. You're right. I used to love visiting Duluth, especially for hanging out around Canal Park. I've spent a small fortune on chocolate penances at Grandma's for my wife, since she often didn't get to go to Duluth with me. The Canal Park Famous Dave's is my 2nd favorite place in that chain. The lift bridge and ship harbor entry are pretty near San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge on my "favorite places" list. But I hate parking meters. I don't care much for metermaids, either (unless they look like these three, Australia knows how to do everything better). From now on, until Duluth meters-up 18th Avenue West in front of Aerostich, I'll probably limit my Duluth sight-seeing to the RiderWearHouse, Jay Cooke Park, and points north of town.
It's a weakness, I know, but human-waste like toll booth operators and metermaids bug me so much that I can't get past that irritation to enjoy the good stuff that's left of the city. There are too many places to be to have to put up with that kind of drivel. If Duluth doesn't want my money, Elie, International Falls, Redwing, and more mid-sized towns than I can count do. (Even some Duluth residents have a clue about what the city's tourist gouging is costing.) Like most Americans, I do as little business as possible in my own downtown, St. Paul, because of the transportation hassle. Between the near total lack of useful public transportation and the miserable parking experience, I'd rather skip downtown and miss out on everything that happens there than risk a $40 parking ticket for some obscure unpublished rule or from being beaten to my car by a metermaid.
Aug 15, 2009
As a fiction author, one of the things I find most difficult is creating really intelligent characters and keeping them in that character through the story. The problem is, as too many science fiction authors don't seem to know, really smart people consistently think and speak above the level that most of us operate. Interviewing someone who is extremely intelligent is a similar problem, except that the interviewer's task is to try and keep from boring the interviewee with predictable and idiotic questions.
Kevin turned out to be easy. Not because I overachieved, but because he is a very kind and generous person. We still have something of a friendship going, since he regularly comments on the silly crap I write in this blog, and he's is always good for insight into complex mechanical and social issues. So, I hit him up occasionally for his views on many of the things that baffle me. He has never let me down. Sometimes, that pay received from doing this writing thing is a small part of the total compensation.
Aug 13, 2009
Now we are getting down to it. The first 8 picks in this list of ten were easy. The last two will be hard, mostly because they are the last two. Once I've made this choice, I only have one pick left and I'm done. No more flexibility. No going back. I'm on record until the record disappears. I'm, of course, tempted to pick something really flaky, like a 1979 Rokon Scout, one of the ugliest, most practical off-road vehicles ever made. But it really isn't one of my favorites. It would be cool if it was, but it isn't. This is hard. I might not have ten favorite bikes. What do I do then?Aw hell, I know one of the last two has to be the most reliable, fun, versitle, comfortable, useful, easy to service motorcycles I've ever owned; the Yamaha XT350. For many, this will seem like a boring, predictable, common pick for a "favorite motorcycle." You're right. Of all the bikes I've owned and sold, my 1986 XT350 is really the only bike I wish I'd never sold and the only bike I ever owned that I'd like to have back.
From 1981 until 2000, Yamaha made this little enduro over and over again. Sometimes, it got a new paint job, usually it was white and red or white and blue. It's a brick of a bike and it handles well on and off road.
I bought my 1986 XT350 in 1989. I had two years left to get my degree and escape from California. That meant I would be commuting via side streets between Huntington Beach and via PCH to Long Beach 5-7 days a week. The 405 was not an option because it had long since become a parking lot. Commuting via PCH means that you are either splitting lanes during rush periods or you are parked. It also means that you might find yourself squashed between a dozen cars in one of California's famous multi-car pile-ups. Riding a little 350cc enduro meant I could escape traffic easily finding room to split lanes and I could escape being squashed by jumping curbs and hiding from the multi-car events sitting on a sidewalk or in someone's flower bed. I did both, often.
I put 35,000 miles on my XT between 1989 and 1995, when I decided, foolishly, to sell it. My life was overly busy during those last couple of years and I couldn't seem to find the time to get the jetting right for Denver's mile high atmosphere. My bike was dead on for the California beach, but always too rich in Denver. Today, it would be a snap for me to figure out that simple problem, but in 1995 I was so disconnected that I couldn't have fixed a toaster. Bad timing, bad thinking, and a bad decision. I've watched for another XT for more than a decade, but people don't sell those things. It took me four years to snag one in LA. In Minnesota, I probably won't live long enough to get lucky again.
This is a mildly emotional pick. The XT saved my ass dozens of times. It took me places I wanted and needed to go. I burned about a thimble of gas every zillion miles. It always started on the first kick. I have nothing but good memories for that motorcycle.
Here's the rest of the list, with only one bike left to pick:
Aug 12, 2009
I'm a little disappointed that this practical vehicle wasn't "Made in the USA." Oh well, if it worked for the Germans in 1941, it's probably good enough for me.
Aug 6, 2009
The incredibly basic air-cooled, twin-cylinder horizontally opposed Boxer four-stroke is the epitome of "basic." The motor is a pushrod-lifted, 2-valves-per-cylinder, moderate-compression (9.3:1), fuel-insentive, kick and electric-start 55hp picture of simplicity. BMW bent over backwards to make this motorcycle field-servicable and the field they intended it for can be any place you find yourself stranded.
This 355 pound (160kg) bike is suspended by a pair of Maico forks with 10.6" (270mm) of travel and canted Bielstein shocks providing 6.7" (170mm) of rear wheel movement. The frame provided nearly 10" of ground clearance, which meant a seat height of almost 34" ( a problem for shrimps like me). The small front disk and rear drum brakes are pretty pedestrian by today's super-disk standards, but they worked; wet and dry.
One of my personal heroes, Gaston Rahier, won Paris-Dakar in '84 and '85 on a BMW-prepared version of this bike and the company sold an autograph model called the "Paris-Dakar Special" for several years afterwards. The 80G/S is my favorite of the lot. Part of my bias is that the 80G/S is the only "enduro" BMW ever made that is close enough to the ground to allow me to swing a stubby leg over the seat and reach the ground afterwards.
You could say that it's unrealistic for me to call this a favorite, since I've ownly ridden the bike once in my life and that was a ride that was about as far from a serious dual-purpose test as anyone can imagine. Hell, it didn't even have a full 8.8 gallon fuel tank, so I didn't have the whole "experience" of trying to hoist the real weight of this bike even on my city ride.
I can't argue with or help you there. I have loved the way this bike looks and the way it works since the day I saw a California neighbor pull into his driveway with a pair of used Paris-Dakar Specials strapped to the back of his pickup. With more than a little envy, I will never forget his having found the two 80's for sale in the California desert for exactly the same price ($1600) that I had paid for my crappy used Kawasaki KLR600 that same week. After a year of farkeling my KLR, it wasn't even a fraction as tough, useful, or cool looking as his regularly desert-abused BMWs.
Many of the specs for the Paris-Dakar Special are here: http://www.motorcyclespecs.co.za/model/bmw/bmw_r80gs_paris.htm.
Specs are nice, but this bike simply felt competent from the moment I rode it out of my neighbor's driveway and headed down PCH toward Laguna. If I hadn't been married with children, I might have kept going to Mexico and never returned. My neighbor could have consoled himself over the loss by confiscating my KLR. Sucker.
Here's the rest of my 10 Favorites list:
Aug 3, 2009
The important part of the biker lawyer's conclusion was, "I do not see why a person who is overweight cannot safely operate a motorcycle. As a matter of fact, I personally know people who I would consider to be obese, and yet are outstanding motorcycle riders."
Holy crap! I know that the law is supposed to be blind, but I'm a little discouraged with how stupid lawyers and judges can be. How can anyone call motorcycle a "sport" on one hand and, then, claim that having the maneuverability of an overweight walrus and the shape to match would have no affect on a rider's capability?
My reasoned, calm, dispassionate response on his blog was "Well, that would explain why there are so many successful fat professional racers."
At some point, outside of the irrational territory of a court of law, common sense ought to prevail. Yeah, I know, "motorcycling is different than racing." It is: it's way more dangerous and demanding. Those giant bellies you often see perched on top of a lounge chair cruiser wouldn't fit on the seat of a motorcycle that has 21st century brakes, suspension, or handling characteristics. I've often considered most of what Hardly sells to be "motorcycles for the physically challenged" or "'rolling wheelchairs." If you are limited to a particular style of motorcycle because of your physical condition, it's obvious that you are equally limited in your capabilities. You might be able to compensate for those limits with experience, judgment, and by limiting your exposure to complicated riding situations (such as only riding in your backyard), but you're still less capable than someone not so encumbered.
While it's obvious that your "rights" will not be reduced because of obesity, it is equally obvious that a jury's sympathy for a lard-ass on a Harley will be dramatically different than it would be for a healthy adult riding a less stereotyped motorcycle.
In Motorcycle Consumer News, a while back, a much more reasonable lawyer spent some time explaining how successful trial lawyers would be well advised to avoid jury trials at all costs when they are representing a motorcyclist. Our public image sucks. Most people don't like us and we appear to be doing our best to further that opinion.
Regardless, imagine you're a juror in a trial where someone turned in front of a motorcyclist and the biker was unable to stop his bike and smashed into the cage. The biker is claiming, "There was nothing I could do."
The cager's lawyer shows you a picture of the biker on his bike, pre-crash. He's 350 pounds of sedentary flab and he's helmetless, armed in a wife-beater and sunglasses, and riding the bike of choice for the over-aged, Angel-wannabe (sort of like the bike Mr. Lawyer is pictured beside in his blog photo at right). Imagine the biker's lawyer is the guy in that picture.
You're a reasonably intelligent person. You can do a quick p=mv calculation in your head and-- adding the 900 pounds of the biker's rolling wheelchair to his 350 pounds of inert flab--you decide that anything changing directions faster than a glacier would catch this dude unaware and unable to avoid a crash. The cager goes free and un-fined and bikers all over the country cry "foul!"
The unfairness of the jury's decision causes even more flab-layered bikers to buy worthless loud pipes, eat more barbecue, and get even wilder tattoos. That alienates even more cagers and the next biker in court finds himself part of a routine on Jon Stewart's program.
Unlike Mr. Lawyer, I don't know a single obese "outstanding motorcycle rider." Not one. I know some once-outstanding riders who are still pretty good in their lard suits. I know a lot of guys, like me, who were once pretty good and are now on the edge of cycle-disabled because of their lack of flexibility, poor motorcycle posture, disproportionate weight-to-strength ratio, and limited choices of vehicles. If that really is a picture of the Law Blog lawyer, I suspect his definition of "outstanding motorcycle rider" and mine are radically different. He should look up the word "outstanding." I don't think it means what he thinks it means.
As I was digging through the crap in my MSF classroom bag, I stumbled on an old issue that cemented my disinterest in renewing my subscription back when that subscription was about to run out: "A Portrait of the Over-40 Rider." This article, written by Wendy Moon, was supposedly an analysis of a survey pasted inside a previous issue. The survey received 122 respondents and Moon makes some amazing conclusions from the results. This was a survey placed in an out-of-the-way spot in the magazine a few months back. So out-of-the-way that I had to paw through my old issues to find it. I hadn't even noticed the survey while I was reading the magazine.
With her tiny collection of responses from MCN's odd group of subscribers, Moon attempts to dispute the findings of NHTSA's crash data (and several other studies) from previous years. According to her survey results, 57% of motorcycle riders are in their 50s and 23% are in their 60s, leaving 20% of riders for the 16-49 and 70-up year-old categories. I'm not even close to buying that. Since she concluded that such an overwhelming percentage of riders are geezers, the fact that 50% of all fatalities are old folks doesn't bother her. Her conclusion was that, "In contrast to the media's portrayal, they could be said to be the safest riders on the road."
A statistic that is missing in all of the significant studies' data is miles driven, but Moon's average of 11,968 miles per year is so far from NHTSA's 2,411 and anything any reasonable person could believe that the rest of the article loses what little credibility it might have had. A substantial number of her polled riders claimed an average of 50,000 miles per year on their bikes. Hell, I don't even believe NHTSA's 2,600 mile estimate. I think most US bikes barely collect 2,600 miles before they hit the scrap heap. Asking a bunch of geezers how many miles they ride is as useful information as asking SUV owners about their gas mileage. People lie and people really lie about stuff that they think points out superior strength or weakness.
Moon and MCN's other conclusions were:
- 83% "always wore a helmet"
- full-face helmets were the "overwhelming" choice
- 75% said they "never" drank and rode
- 85% were self-taught and 60% had "some kind of training"
- 70% rode year-round in spite of the weather
- only 14% rode with a group of any kind
- 54% claimed to be daily commuters
- 40% claimed to be crash-free
Like hearing the mpg data from an SUV owner, I put very little faith in the big mileage claims of most cruiser characters. The best someone claiming 50,000 miles a year can expect from me is a polite smile. I work on that expression often. I am a firm believer in disbelieving practically amazing story I didn't witness. [How's that for a convoluted sentence?]
How does a wide range of motorcycle riders manage to put on 11,000 miles a year and while 40% of them manage to avoid any sort of crash? Not buying that, either. If you ride, you crash. If you ride a lot, you crash a little more.
She also quoted a study that concluded, "those individuals who took beginning rider training courses were more likely to be involved in an accident than those who did not, and that those who took the beginning course more than once were much more likely to be involved in an accident."
Now, that I believe. If you can take the MSF BRC and fail the test afterwards, you are incompetent as a motorcyclist. The test is insanely simple. Honestly, I suspect that most folks who are forced to take the BRC to get their license are a bit handicapped in the hand-eye coordination skills territory, anyway. There is no such thing as a "difficult DMV" test in these United States. If you can't pass that test, you are either riding a worthless pile of crap or you are not capable of managing a motorcycle. The test ought to be 200% tougher, if anyone ever really wants to reduce motorcycle deaths. For those of us over 55, it ought to be re-administered ever couple of years to check the decay of our skills.
What MCN proved is that getting useful motorcycle data is tough and that publishing sketchy data is a formula for losing credibility.