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.