Jul 30, 2010

Photo Trip Report

This trip was all about Wolf. The whole point was to take him on a tour of places he'd never been and to enjoy being with him on the ride. So, there wasn't much of a trip report accompanying this adventure.

The map (at right) describes two routes: the one we planned (purple) and the one we took (red). Garmin's Mapquest software says we travelled 3400 miles. My GPS and odometer put the trip at closer to 3600 miles. Our original route was 4100 miles and included New Mexico and Arizona.

Obviously, we bypassed some of the adventure we'd planned; in favor of ease and comfort. Wolfe is a Minnesota kid and he isn't fond of heat. After a few days of cooking in 100+F South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah heat, he decided he wasn't all that interested in the Grand Canyon. So, that changed the western edge of our route. Once we passed Grand Junction, CO, I decided I wanted to see more of the western edge of CO. That was a terrific move.

We took a couple of days at Mesa Verde and Durango, which meant we wouldn't be doing New Mexico. That allowed us to head for Marble, CO via the scenic route I've never looped the Black Canyon and that was more than worth the effort. We spent a half day in Marble, another good move. We took Independence Pass through Aspen on our way to Buena Vista, something I've never been able to do; mostly because the pass always seemed to be closed when I lived in CO. That was a great move. We blew almost a whole day in Buena Vista, rafting the Arkansas. We split Buena Vista mid-afternoon, early enough to ride to the top of Pikes Peak. Always a great move.

We loafed for two days in Manitou Springs and Denver. Wolf had dinner at South Park's infamous Casa Bonita. We split Denver late afternoon Friday in the middle of Denver's rush hour and made it a dinky 150 miles to Sterling for the night. The next day, we cut out of Sterling at 5AM and diagonal'd Nebraska to make good time while seeing the sandhills, the grasslands, and Ashfall Fossil Park. After that, we just hammered out a way home, 850 miles total on Saturday.

We made it back about 10:30PM and neither of us went straight to bed. We had a great, safe trip and it was one of the most fun mini-adventures of my life. I hope we get to do a few more of these.

Jul 27, 2010

Highway IQ

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

I stare into every car, truck, van, or SUV that shares the roadway with me. Women probably think I'm checking them out. Sometimes there might be an element of that. I'm human. I stare at guys just as often, though. No matter what they think, I'm not checking them out. I am stereotyping them, though. I know that's politically incorrect, but there it is. Like the marketing gurus say, "impressions are everything." Or "image," something like that. I don't have time to get to know these people. I'm not even interested in doing so. I just want to know, as quickly as possible, what kind of hazard they present to me. Cops call this "profiling." Lawyers get really upset at this practice. So sue me.

The average person has an IQ of 100 points. I grant that and start from there. My built-in point system adds or subtracts from that number almost as quickly as I can make out the interior of the vehicle. From there, I either disregard the driver, more or less, as a threat or apply evasive tactics to get as much distance between me and the hazard. The dumber the driver, by my IQ accounting system, the quicker I want to escape their sphere of disaster influence. You probably do the same thing, either more or less aggressively than me.

  • Driver is in a 4(or more)-wheel vehicle: -5 points (How smart do you have to be to drive a cage?)

  • Driver is a cop. This class of government official has an inflated sense of driving skill, not reflected in performance. They are prone to make sudden, irrational moves when their radio distracts them. They regularly ignore stop signs and stop lights. They scare the crap out of other drivers, making everyone in their vicinity a little less skilled and attentive: -10 points.

  • Coffee, hairbrush, and/or cigarette in hand: -15 points for each item

  • Driver is tipped at 45 degrees, so that his (always a guy) head is right under the rear view mirror: -20 points (This appears to be a Minnesota thing, because I've never seen it anywhere else, but it always means the driver is drunk, stupid, physically incapable of holding himself upright, or all three. I treat this driving posture as a flashing "beware of idiot!" sign.)

  • Backwards baseball cap, blue hair, cowboy hat, or ski mask on driver's head: -25 points

  • Coffee in face or driver is most often looking in any direction other than the vehicle's path of travel: -30 points

  • Driver looking at self in rearview mirror with hairbrush, coffee, or cigarette in hand: -40 points

  • Cell phone in use or beer in hand: -50 points

  • "Start Seeing Motorcycles" or other pro-biking sticker on the vehicle: +2 points

  • I catch the driver's eyes in the rear view mirror: +10 points

  • After seeing me once, the driver looks again every few moments to see if I'm still there: +10 more points

  • Both hands on wheel, head and eyes in motion: +25 points

  • The driver is towing a trailer full of dirt bikes: +50 points

After I've made the above calculations and classifications, I use a modified version of the David Roth (ex-Van Halen frontman, current-EMT-has-been) crowd intelligence rule. I roughly count the number of vehicles in a 100' distance, front to back and both sides, of the vehicle and divide the driver's IQ by that number. In heavy traffic, everyone is a menace to my safety, almost by logical default. I'm the least likely vehicle on the road to harm the passengers of another vehicle, so I'm in the logical space for an escape route for other vehicles.

Just to calibrate your appreciation of my scoring system, an article in Scientific American Magazine once stated, ""Adults in the bottom 5% of the IQ distribution (below 75) are very difficult to train and are not competitive for any occupation on the basis of ability. . . " and "Persons of average IQ (between 90 and 100) are not competitive for most professional and executive-level work but are easily trained for the bulk of jobs in the American economy. . . " That's pretty cold, isn't it? Nature and the highway are cold as the floor of an icehouse. As far as my own survivability is concerned, a web article on IQ gave me the following information about the brainpower behind the numbers and I've added my own "Estimated Driving Skills" column to assess my own risk based on the driver's IQ:

IQ RangeEstimated Driving Skills (Alert Level Color Code)
Below 30Flashing Red: This driver is clearly an unpredictable moron, an outrageous hazard at any speed, expect any damn idiot move from this rolling example of chaos theory. Ultimate alert.
30 to 50Red: Mostly unpredictable, slow-witted, prone to panic and irrational lane changes. High alert.
50 to 60Orange: Unless a slight change in traffic, road condition, or the moon's position relative to the sun occurs, you can probably count on this driver to remain stable. Check for distracted behavior every second or two.
60 to 74Yellow: Loud noises, bright colors, anything sparkly or in motion will distract this driver, but he/she will probably do something mildly predictable when panic occurs. Moderate alert.
74 to 89Blue: Mostly, this driver is stable. Pay special attention to this driver at intersections, on curves, and near fast food entrances. Fairly low alert.
89 to 100Green: Probably not a risk, if anyone else in the above categories is sharing the road, this driver warrants minimal attention. I'd still avoid spending any time in an adjacent lane with this driver.
Above 100Invisible: The chances are slim that this driver provides much risk. Based on past experience, one of these guys will probably be who kills me.

I realize these generalization are culturally "unfair," "biased," and even irrational. They are based on my nearly half-million miles of motorcycling and they are habitual. I constantly and automatically balance my belief that most people are decent and well-intentioned and that most drivers are nuts and "out to get me." My riding state boarders on paranoia, I'll admit. My confidence in my ability to deal with these contradictions varies with the road conditions and my concentration. You'd think that this would take the fun out of riding a motorcycle and it does put a damper on outright highway euphoria, but I'm disinclined to that mental state as you might have noticed. Riding a motorcycle is risky and that's part of the attraction. However, there is a definite line between assuming risk and committing suicide and evaluating the folks I share the road with is part of my risk assessment.

Jul 18, 2010

Passengers and Passengers

A while ago, I wrote a section of the MMSC website that was clearly not PC enough for the state folks. One of the things I suggested in the website was that those considering becoming a motorcycle passenger look at the motorcycle rider as someone who has his hands on the passenger's life support equipment. If you wouldn't trust that guy with your oxygen, you shouldn't get on a bike with the dude. I don't know when, but the site removed my comments and replaced them with something a lot less critical. The folks who promote motorcycling don't want potential customers to worry about piddly things like safety and reasonable precautions.

I'm getting a dose of my own medicine as I write the beginning of this column. I'm on my 2010 Rocky Mountain Tour with my grandson, Wolfgang. My kids are the most precious people in my life. Having one of them on my motorcycle is both incredibly fun and scary.

Considering all of my deficiencies, I'm a fairly confident rider on my own. I screw up, but rarely badly. When I'm into a long-distance solo trip, I take some chances on speed, location, isolation, and communications. I might change directions, go someplace I hadn't considered or mentioned in my original plans without notifying anyone. I might get bored on a long stretch of repetitive terrain and drop the hammer on the bike and ride flat out for a while. I don't ride at night much these days, but I might do that under some conditions. I get downright mechanical about my routines, especially maintenance. That goes to hell when I just ride somewhere with someone else.

With Wolf on the bike, all of the above becomes well-deformed. We call in regularly and I tell his mother where we're going next. I'm riding like an old lady, by my standards of speed, cornering style, and patience. The tires have serious chicken-strips with the side-nubs barely worn. I would have to call my riding style these last 3,600 miles "conservative." If you know me, you know that ain't braggin'. I'm cautious about where we camp or stay. I stick to the planned route as well as I'm able. We pass cool looking side-routes that I'd jump into without question on my own. We might have taken 200 miles of dirt roads this trip. My usual ratio would be more like 25-50% of the overall trip on dirt roads and trails.

I assigned maintenance to him, because it keeps him busy, gives me a little breathing room, and it's "educational." It takes one task away from my list and he is solidly responsible. He did more than a competent job of it.

Still, riding with a precious passenger is a load. Not the weight he adds to the bike. Not the extra emotional energy it takes to travel with someone else. Not even the fact that he's a teenager with a kid's wildly varying energy and interest levels. The load is the responsibility to take this boy to every place we've talked about going and doing it safely. Motorcycling is a risky activity. We all know that. Anyone pretending that riding a motorcycle is in any way as safe as driving a car is someone you shouldn't trust with sharp objects, significant financial assets, or critical decisions.

There are rewards, for sure. I suppose most risky activities have rewards. All of the ones I've indulged in have had upsides that made the risk worth taking; at least at the time. When you spread that risk to someone else, you have to step into another role, though.At least, you ought to. You should care enough about that person to lower the risk factors as far as practical, while still having some fun and getting somewhere. It's a different mind-set than solo traveling. In our case, it was more than worth it. We had a great, safe, adventurous trip and we both came back in one piece. Now, I need a nap.

Desert Rats

We made it through Steamboat, a village that has turned into a seriously ugly city in the mountains, kept going almost all the way to Utah before the heat got to Wolfe. We quit about 5 miles short of Dinosaur National Park. The next morning, we arrived in Utah and Dinosaur National Park. The park turned out to be a serious disappointment. The wall of dinosaurs has been closed for viewing for more than 3 years. All that is left is a short walk led by a ranger and a campground. The campground was nice, but not worth 100 miles of desert.

Next morning, we headed south on Colorado 139. South on the west edge of Colorado is desert. At Grand Junction, it was 104F deserty. While we were filling out a gear shortage at a sporting goods shop, a guy driving a truck decorated with "Bob McConnell for Congress" door panels.

"You came all the way from Minnesota on that?"


"You got some great politicians in Minnesota."

I waited to hear who we had that was great.

"Tim Pawlenty and Michelle Bachman. Great people."

I sorta hoped that he meant Jesse, but I should have known better for the deserts of Colorado. I don't know if that guy was Bob McConnell, but he looked like a less macho, younger version of the face on a Bob McConnell poster I saw on the way out of town. Could be they clone wingnuts out here.

We found our stuff and hit the road again. Grand Junction didn't do much for me, either.

After Dinosaur National and Grand Junction, Wolfe was more convinced than ever that there was nothing for him in the arid zones. I'd really wanted to see the infinity bridge at the Grand Canyon, but Wolfe is boss on this trip. So, we kept going south, now on Colorado 141 which is one of the most scenic desert rides I've ever experienced. Just past Nucia, I put in an easterly deviation, via Colorado 145, toward Telluride to find a cooler camp ground. Found a great campsite about 5 miles south of Telluride on 145.

We rolled into Mesa Verde National Park at 8:30AM and I got a terrific birthday present from the National Parks System: a $10 lifetime pass to all national parks and monuments and a 50% discount on camping at all national campsites. Unlike Dinosaur National Monument, Mesa Verde did not disappoint. We saw most of it and cut out when the temperature beat 100F.

We didn't go far. We're in Durango now, blowing a night, waiting to take the train to Silverton tomorrow. Afterwards, we're gong north for a cheap night at a national campground and on to Colorado's charms and anomalies.

Jul 15, 2010

Crossing the Great Divide

The fine folks at Frontier Cycle whipped out a pair of fork seal replacements in an hour and a half and got us on the road by 10:30AM today. A few hours later, we crossed the great continental divide at Rabbit Ear Pass.

It's been a while since I've experienced new fork seals. At first, I thought I'd told Frontier to use the wrong fork oil. I've been using 15W on the V-Strom since I brought it home, but I was feeling every ripple in the road for the first 50 miles. Slowly, the ride smoothed out and the forks went back to sucking up the road irregularities.

We made up for a short day yesterday by being mostly bored with Steamboat Springs. I remember Steamboat as being a cool, but small, skiing village. It has turned into a noisy, tourist hell with a massive dose of boring yuppie condos and glass and redwood Texas whorehouses. Wolfe and I took the ski lift for old times sakes, but neither of us had much interest in shopping or being mobbed by people who were shopping. We moved on toward Dinosaur National Monument. We made it to Dinosaur, CO and discovered that the real entrance to the park is in Utah. We'd covered almost 350 miles since we left Laramie and we were cooked, almost literally. Copped out again and snagged a motel for the air conditioning.

Wolfe is getting into the bike check routine. It's his job while I fill the tank and pay for the gas. We're using repetition of the T-CLOCS MSF routine with a little more detail on the loose bolts and rattled loose bits.

Jul 14, 2010

Crusin' the Rockies

Wolfe and I are on the 3rd day of our Rocky Mountain Adventure. We've had a few glitches. Got cooked in the Black Hills yesterday, but had an amazing day and night at Rushmore and in Keystone. The picture, at left, is Wolfe being held up by the wind at the top of Morton Pass on Wyoming Highway 34. We must have fought a 50mph cross wind all the way over the pass. Kansas has nothing on Wyoming winds.

Today, we got out early (about 3 hours too early for Wolfe) and were making great time until about 1PM, when we stopped for a moment in Laramie, WY and I discovered my right fork was pulsing oil. We'd covered about 250 miles or so and I was hoping to add at least another 150 before stopping. Instead, we're in Laramie for a while.

Suzuki's dealer here, Frontier Cycles, seems to be on it. I carry a pile of tools, but nothing near what it would take to replace a fork seal. I thought about pulling the fork, flushing it with diesel, filling it with ATF, and making a run for a friend's house in Denver where there might be more tools and a shop I could use, but the guys at Frontier think they have the necessary parts and I'm taking a gamble on them. Where this goes from here is anyone's guess.

Jul 10, 2010

What It All Means

The things revealed in the exposure of the internal workings of Motorcyclist Magazine shouldn't come as a big surprise to anyone. The inner workings (and collapse of) of the main stream press has been discussed practically to death in the last decade. A recent series of discussion in Politics Daily ("'Beyond the Killing Fields': Why Journalism Is in a 'State of Chaos") says as much about consumer product journalism as it does about political and state-of-the-world journalism. To use William Goldman's phrase, "follow the money." Money created modern journalism and money is going to change it. Publishers like William Hearst invented old-school "yellow journalism," promoted the Spanish-American War, waged war on a variety of social issues, and made boatloads of money from it all. When the money really became the issue, in 1929, the corporation's (and Hearst's) politics changed, much of their editorial stance swapped directions, and has steadily become more conservative over the last eight decades.

The trick to modern journalism is to convince readers that the publication is intended for their interests and entertainment while consistently promoting the interests of the advertisers. For that to work, the readership has to be fairly gullible. The problem is that readers are inclined to be skeptical. The most gullible citizens generally aren't literate, curious, well-informed, logical, critical, or analytical. While those folks would be most magazine's target audience, they aren't consistently reachable through the written word. Television is their media of choice. It will be interesting to see how motorcycle magazines find a place in the new world of information and entertainment.

Jul 9, 2010

When Readers Get to Peek Under the Hood

"Leaked docs show Motorcyclist caved to advertiser pressure, fired editor" is the title. The gist is, due to advertiser pressure, Brian Catterson (Motorcyclists' editor) fired staff writer Dexter Ford for a story he wrote about Snell helmet standards for the New York Times last fall. I'm not much of a fan of Motorcyclist, mostly because of the magazine's overwhelming endorsement of hooligan exhaust system noise and Catterson's generally abrasive attitude toward anyone who disagrees with him, but this series of emails shows that Brian is even more erratic in reality than he seems in his magazine.

Pretty funny stuff. The Hell for Leather article includes this line, "If true, the emails raise troubling questions about a potentially unethical relationship between advertising dollars and editorial content at the popular magazine. . . " Sorry. I don't think any reasonable person reads Motorcyclists or any other major product-based magazine expecting to see information critical of that industry. Rick Sieman (Super Hunky) with Dirt Bike Magazine was the last seriously critical editor (in my memory) in the history of mainstream motorcycle journalism. I think the manufacturers set fire to his ass and tossed him into a swimming pool full of high test.

Advertisers have the power in the ragstock publication business. Honest industry magazines have stopped asking for subscription contributions because subscribers just don't pay the bills. The folks who pay the bills call the shots. That's pretty much all there is to it. I wish Mr. Ford well. He is a good investigative journalist, but there isn't much call for investigative journalism these days. We've moved into the newspapers/magazines-as-press-releases phase of written communications and, until folks can figure out how to make money on the World Wide Web, that's where we're going to be for a while.

Jul 1, 2010


All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

I recently taught an MSF Experienced Rider Course (ERC) with another refugee from our magazine. He is a serious rider with a small collection of motorcycles in various states of abuse and deterioration and an even bigger collection of small businesses and personal responsibilities. The result of that complicated mid-life is that his motorcycles don't always get the love and attention the need and deserve. The result of that result was that on this Sunday morning, he had nothing to ride. So, his choice was to give up the class, use one of the state's motorcycles for class demonstrations, or turn over all the demos to me. To cover his bets, he'd already pulled one of the state's Suzuki GZ250's from the trailer when I arrived.

To satisfy as many people as possible, the state provides us with a fair selection of motorcycles for the Basic Rider Course. We have small sport bikes, a couple models of dual purpose bikes, some standards, and some cruisers. Why an experienced and talented rider would pick the GZ250 from that assortment is the inspiration for the title of this rant. The GZ250 is a clunky-shifting, long-wheelbase, uncomfortable, awkward and imprecise mini-cruiser. If you want to look like you know what you are doing, this would be the last bike you'd pick for demonstrations. (I've written before about how dumb I think cruisers are, so this isn't going to be that discussion.) His reasoning for picking the one bike in the trailer that he didn't like riding was: he was handicapping himself with a poorly designed motorcycle so that student's wouldn't be able to claim he was "cheating" the course on an easier-to-ride bike than the implement they'd brought.

Many of us who teach the ERC get that response from the hippobike crowd when we demonstrate on our motorcycles. So, we compensate. I usually ride my 650 V-Strom for these classes, although my everyday ride is a 250 dual purpose. Unless I'm going some distance or need the carrying space the V-Strom's 3 cases provides, the 250 does my commuting job pretty damn well. So, when I ride the V-Strom for an ERC, I'm handicapping myself for the benefit of the many characters who bring over-sized, hard-to-ride motorcycles that overwhelm their skills and physical capabilities. I guess I'm trying to show some sympathy for their poor choices. The more I think about this, the dumber it seems.

At the other end of the learning spectrum, when the MN-Sportbike guys throw one of their Hedonistic-Enthusiasm parties and I'm able to sign up, I often bring the 250. It's more fun to ride. The only way I can keep up with my group is to go fast in the corners, since everyone is going to hammer me on the straights. I learn more about cornering and I push my own limits harder on the little bike. Did I mention it's more fun to ride?

In emergency situations, I'd rather be on the little bike. It's stops faster, turns quicker, is able to leap tall curbs in a single hop, is as happy riding in a ditch as on the pavement, slips between practically any traffic space, and, if I find myself lying under it, it doesn't weigh much. Splitting lanes in an emergency maneuver is way easier on the 250. Swerving away from a traffic obstacle is effortless and doesn't even require much thought.

It's obvious that lots of American motorcyclists think that buying a big bike is like buying a big car: bigger is safer. That is about the dumbest rationale I've ever heard. When you are vaulting over the handlebars, you want the smallest motorcycle you can imagine in the air behind you. It's hard to come up with an emergency scenario that would justify being on a large motorcycle. In any crash situation, the highway, traffic, engineering, and nature have handicapped motorcyclists to a sensational disadvantage. We don't need to give up any more than we have already donated to make this demonstration seem "fair." When you are on the top rung of that risk-taking ladder, it's past time to start looking for any advantage you can find.

Even when I'm demonstrating on the V-Strom, I get "That's easy to do on your bike, trying doing that on my Giganticusmaximus " My response is usually, "Why would I want to do that?"

Seriously. Why would I want to ride a motorcycle that was designed by a committee that has the group intelligence of a Spinal Tap audience? Hell, my 650 is too big for the stuff we're doing on this range. My 250 would be perfect here, but I'm handicapping myself with a road bike so that you won't feel bad about not being on the wrong motorcycle for your skills and our purposes. If you think this U-turn exercise is easy on my V-Strom, you'll really be disgusted at how easy it is to do on the bike I ride everyday.

By the way, I put 5,000 miles on my 250 last year, what did you do on your 1800 Hippodromeopotamus? Are you going to ride that thing, or just watch it deteriorate in your garage? You can't ride it, right? You're afraid you're going to crash it and kill yourself because it's too big, too powerful, and you don't have the skills to manage it. You should have bought a 250 for your first bike, but you didn't want to look stupid. You missed that bet, dude. You can't look dumber than when you are selling your $25,000 motorcycle for $5,000 with 2500 miles on the odometer and a rash of scratched up chrome from when you dropped the bike in your driveway.