Dec 25, 2011

Movie Review: One Week

One Week
written and directed by Michael McGowen, 2008

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

This is one of the rare movies that will actually make you feel better for having spent the time; none of that bitter aftertaste of a wasted evening from One Week. The Internet Movie Database called One Week an "adventure, drama." Netflix (which currently has One Week on Instant Watch) categorizes the movie as "Indie Dramas, Romantic Dramas." I would have called it a dark comedy. It is, honestly, a lot funnier than the subject implies and a whole lot funnier than about 90% of what gets called "comedy."

The movie asks the main character, Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson), what he would do when his doctor tells him, "I'm afraid it's not great news." Tyler learns he has terminal cancer with a "survival rate of one in ten" and an undetermined "minimum" lifetime. [Something that is true for any of us all the time.] On his way home from the doctor's office, Tyler meets an old geezer polishing up his 1973 Norton to sell because "my eyes are going, I couldn't get my license renewed."(Move to Minnesota. Anyone can pass our state's eye exam.)

The bike wasn't entirely a spontaneous decision, as "Ben had been circling around the purchase for a while" because his fiancée had told him that "driving a motorcycle represented the height of stupidity." After one of the weirdest haggling scenes in movie history, Ben says, "I'll take it."

Ben's fiancée Samantha (brilliantly played by Liana Balaban) walks a fine balance between loving, overbearing, and wounded. Her hatred of motorcycles, desperate faith in the miracles of modern medicine, and her desire not to be the woman who abandoned her boyfriend when he got cancer all blend into a complicated character you'll either like or hate; or both. My opinion of her swung from one side to the opposite in practically every scene.

Ben decides to postpone his wedding, blow off his mind-deadening grade school teaching job, and obey the instructions on his coffee cup and "go west young man." At a loss for what to do with the end of his life, Ben sets out on a bucket-list trip from Toronto to British Columbia with a minor goal of seeing all the “big things” along the way; big chairs, biggest fake dinosaur, biggest paper clip, etc.

Ben tells Samantha he’ll only be gone two days, but his real plan is to travel without a plan or a schedule. All he knows about his future is that he’s “not ready to be a patient.” Ben doesn't tell his family or employer anything. Just before he takes off on his trip, he and Samantha participate in Ben's father's 70th birthday party where Ben's dad gives thanks for his uneventful life and his good fortune. Ben doesn't ruin the moment with his depressing news.

One of the many things I was reminded of by One Week is how much I love travelling in Canada. The camera work is terrific, the music selected for the movie is innovative and sets a high bar for indie productions, and the sound quality was as good as modern movies get. There is nothing in this production to get between you and the story. In my opinion, it is as flawless a movie as I have ever experienced.

Ben's relationship with the Norton, while exceptionally lucky (based on my experience with British vehicles), is dead on the money. He was almost as perfectly unprepared for this cross-country trip as he was for his medical prognosis. Riding into the Canadian sunset in jeans, a designer leather jacket, and an open face helmet, Ben is soaked, frozen, bathed in warmth and light, and bashed about by the trip and the people he meets. You will be, too.

Dec 21, 2011

Doin' It for 45 Years?

If you read my last Geezer column in MMM, you know I've been on the tipping point for a hip replacement for a couple of years. I tipped over last week and had the old hip cut out and replaced with what I hope is a high tech prosthetics. So, I'm stuck in the house suffering the great views of a warm Minnesota December while my bikes wither away in the garage. What to do?

So far, that's easy. I have a handful of physical therapy routines to work on, I upped my Netflix DVD allowance so that I can choke on all of the western movies I can't get on-line, and I'm too doped up on morphine and oxycodone-actetaminophen to worry about anything for long. One of the movies that passed a bit of time was "Bustin' Down the Door," a documentary about the origins of pro surfing in the 1970's when the Aussies took the sport away from Hawaiian control and surfing went big-time worldwide.

There are two motorcycling-similar stories in "Bustin' Down." One was the reaction of the old-time, biker gangster types (called the "Black Shorts" and headed by a surfing Hell's Angel stereotype named Eddie Rothman in the film). Rothman and his gangbanger buddies view the beach and surfing as their territory and fought back against the Aussie invasion with the only tools they had; violence and intimidation. "If you can't beat 'em, beat 'em up" has been the gangbanger chant for centuries and, as usual, laws and the cops proved to be as useless in Hawaii as they are everywhere else. The gangbangers kept the Aussies out of championship events until 1975. The Aussies couldn't even get into major events in 1974. In 1975, they won every event they entered and major press attention (and big event purses) followed. Even in their own words, the Black Shorts characters were about preventing change, true conservatives. They wanted to maintain control of the dinky surfing pond they'd managed to create and the Aussies wanted to put surfing into the ocean. Literally, the Hawaiians were afraid to attempt the maneuvers the Aussies were introducing, so their solution was to chase the Aussies out of the sport.

In the end, the Black Shorts sort of won. Hawaii is no longer the hub of surfing. The Harley gangsters managed to pull of the same kind of coup in the US. By creating "Harley-only" race venues and through rules and intimidation, the 1960's US motorcycling gangsters drove anyone who wasn't a gangbanger to the other side. Today, the US makes marginally functional hippobikes and practically every country in the industrialized world makes real motorcycles. The conservatives won and the nation lost.

The other similarity between motorcycling and surfing was pointed out by South African, Michael Tomson, "Very few people can look through their life, and say they've been doing something for 45 years. What have you been doing for 45 years? I will surf till I die."

Before this surgery, my wife tried to reconcile me to the possibility that I'm going to have to quit riding a motorcycle some time. "You can't ride forever." I can't live forever, either, but I can keep riding for a lot more years and you may as well assume that I will ride till I die.

Dec 13, 2011

'splain This

Patrick, the man who had no problem understanding why HD would market Ken and Barbie biker-thug-dollies wanted me to explain this. I don't see me wanting to own this bike, but I can see the . . . attraction. It seems like a logical extension to the passenger position on most sportbikes, doesn't it?

Dec 11, 2011

Left Speechless?

There aren't that many things that can leave me speechless, but everything associated with this Craig's List ad is wrong. The Hardly marketeers who commissioned this product should be traded to the Village People (The Village People don't have anything that worthless to exchange, so Hardly should just launch their marketing department in the general direction of whatever casino the Villagers are currently playing.). The cupcake who is selling this abomination should be jettisoned into the ocean from the national clown cannon (No, I don't care if it's a 12-yar-old-girl, but we all know it's not.). Even Mattel should take a hit in their micro-macho rating for packaging such a poofster product.

$350? Who says the economy is trashed? If this lamester can get $3 for this POS somebody has a lot of cash to trash. If I ran Hardly, I'd be buying all this crap up and burning it to recover whatever reputation the company has left.

Dec 10, 2011

Book Review: Odyssey to Ushuaia

Odyssey to Ushuaia
by Andrés Carlstein, 2002

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

This is a tour story of a ride from New York City to Tierra Del Fuego, but it's an odd version of the usual saga of multi-national hardship and extreme sports because the main character, the author, is something of a flake. At the time of the trip (1999), Carlstein was 25 years old and mostly a rookie motorcyclist. He was fortunate enough to have stumbled (through Internet research) upon a KLR650 as his vehicle of choice, but every other thing he learned he had to learn the hard way.

Intentionally or otherwise, Carlstein portrays himself as an anti-hero. He is often childish, regularly selfish and callous toward the women he meets and the people who cross his path, and often arrogant. Honestly, I kept at the book to the end because I wanted to find something about this guy that I would like. To that end, I came away disappointed. I can't say I dislike Carlstein, as he portrays himself in his own book, but I wouldn't cross the street to meet him either.

To give you an idea of what it took to hammer my way to the conclusion, a few pages from the end Carlstein meets a pair of motorcyclists and gets into a discussion about Greg Frasier's South America tour book. Carlstein says Fraiser's book was "not bad." And explained that comment by noting, "I was trying to be nice. The book wasn't bad--when compared to a book that is terrible." Carlstein does that throughout the book. When you are almost starting to like him, he will find a way to make you feel that his many crashes, catastrophes, and personal problems are a just desert. As an author, he isn't a modern Shakesphere or even one who would challenge the skills of most newspaper writers. He is confident and you have to give him that.

Carlstein begins his trip on the right foot. Somehow, he manages to connect with two experienced long-range motorcyclists (Robert and Peter) and they meet in Texas just before the first international boarder crossing into Mexico. These two guys have the patience of near-saints while over the next several thousand miles they put up with a variety of screw-ups, mechanical problems due to Carlstein's general lack of motorcycle skills, and fairly regular temper tantrums. I liked both of those guys and half-wished one of them had written the book.

All three of these guys have South American connections and possess a variety of language skills, which serves them well through the disaster zones Central and South America call "boarder crossings." The best parts of Odyssey are when Carlstein is describing the places and people he meets on the road. The worst parts are the regular sections when he is feeling sorry for himself.

In the end, I found myself neutral on Odyssey to Ushuaia. It was a distraction during one of the longest winters of my life, but I can't say I'd ever read it again or recommend it to someone who wasn't equally desperate for a motorcycle book. If you don't have an unnatural desire to know as much as you can about South and Central American travel by motorcycle, I suspect you won't find much to like in Odyssey to Ushuaia. If you are considering this trip and want to hear what crossing those boarders is like, there might be some value in the book.

Nov 18, 2011

Why I Pulled You Over

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

"Do you know why I pulled you over?"

"My best guess is that I didn't put a foot down at the stop sign." (And, of course, you're trying to meet your quota without expending a lot of effort.)

"That's right. You didn't come to a complete stop back there."

"Yeah, I did. I even rolled backwards a little bit waiting for traffic to settle down."

"There is no way you can come to a complete stop without putting a foot down."

"I can." (If you were paying attention, you'd have noticed that I was stopped and balanced for a few seconds before we started this inane conversation.)

"I don't care about those motorcycle stunts. Tell it to the judge. I'm a police officer and I know you can't come to a complete stop without a foot on the ground. I need to see your license, proof of insurance, and registration."

So went my first minutes in Linton, North Dakota. A minute was all I'd planned on spending in Linton, but that turned out to be a pipedream. While the cop went through his routine of checking me out for warrants and past evil behavior, I thought about all the conversations I've had with cops and judges over the years regarding the things "you can't do on a motorcycle." Considering all of the false information the law has to work with regarding something as well-documented as motorcycling, it's not hard to understand why the legal system is so incompetent when it comes to dealing with complicated things like treason, corporate and bank fraud, identity theft, environmental catastrophes, and insider trading.

Anyone who's ridden or watched observed trials knows that really good riders (not me) can spend a good bit of time not moving without putting a foot to the ground. At a 1980's US national enduro, I caught up with a trio of US pro riders at a check stop. They were sitting with a leg swung over the tank, having a conversation, with no feet on the ground, and no kickstands down; just showing off their balance while waiting to get their timesheets punched. I have never been able to do that or anything close to that. But, if I'm not concentrating too hard, I can stop and stay balanced for a few seconds while I inspect intersection traffic. I feel safer and more in control of the bike when my feet are on the pegs than when they are on the ground, so I try to stay in that position whenever possible.

I did not end up receiving a ticket in Linton, so I shouldn't look that gift horse in the mouth. I'm old, well documented, wearing Minnesota Safety Center patches on my gear, and a likely candidate to be sent off with a warning. Your North Dakota small town cop mileage may vary, especially if you don't when to shut up or you are young or if you don't look familiar and harmless.

The point is, the law doesn't often reflect what the MSF trainer website calls "best practices." The law is intended to provide "guidance" for cops and beginning riders. Riders (and drivers) looking out for John Law and worrying about what might be called illegal behavior probably causes as many crashes as it prevents; if it prevents any at all. I know that every time I see a cop I wonder what half-assed, unwritten or badly written, non-existent micro-law I might be breaking and it makes me nervous enough that I make foolish mistakes in attempting to avoid whatever weird thing I've heard cops are pulling bikes over for this week. Because of their unpredictability factor, I put cops pretty high on my list of life-threatening highway hazards.

Of the instances I can remember, in my 45 year motorcycling career I've been stopped and ticketed (or threatened with tickets) by cops for:
  • "Reckless driving"; standing on the pegs while crossing obstacles (this has happened more than once),
  • "Failure to keep in proper lane"; moving in the lane to increase visibility or to avoid slick spots or pooled water,
  • "Careless or negligent driving"; not using hand signals along with the bike's turn signals or turning right on red when traffic is oncoming, about a 1/2 mile in the distance (right on red was legal, the cop just thought I was being too "aggressive"),
  • "Signals; method required"; not signaling while merging into freeway traffic (in a state where motorcycle turn signals are not required and . . . is there any other option other than turning left into the traffic lane while merging?)
  • "Driving too fast for conditions"; 3mph over the posted 65mph and at least 10mph under the velocity of the rest of traffic,
  • "Parking improperly"; not parked parallel to the curb, but with the back tire against the curb and the bike pointing out toward the street,
  • "Windshields to be unobstructed; wipers required"; seriously, I was wearing a 1970's Bell Motostar full-face which the cop deemed "too restrictive" for proper vision.

Motorcycling and bureaucracies combine as poorly as oil and British engineering. Back in the 70's, I argued with a Nebraska DMV employee that the state's license test advice for crossing railroad tracks or for hitting a pothole was blatantly wrong and downright dangerous. For that matter, the Minnesota motorcycle test's "best" lane position advice is questionable. In the 90's, Colorado's motorcycling pamphlet offered some pretty funny advice regarding the use of the front brake. California's motorcycle handbook might still have some really dumb advice about merging into fast-moving freeway traffic. In fact, the 1980's California DMV advice would regularly get you a ticket for "merging below the speed of traffic." This list could go on for hundreds of pages. [Feel free to contribute your experience with idiot motorcycle traffic laws or equally goofy enforcement.]

I consider all of this to be examples of bureaucratic incompetence, ignorance, and/or abuse of authority. Fortunately for me, so did the traffic court in every instance. Because I've had such erratic "luck" with law enforcement, it's hard not to keep two eyes out for official traffic traps and no eyes on other traffic and road hazards.

So, when I see one of those "public service" announcements that claims the HP or local cops are working to reduce crashes, I suspect the intent. If officialdom really wanted to save lives on the highway, they would do these three things immediately:
  1. Make the driving exam about 5000% more difficult and quit handing out cage licenses in Cracker Jack boxes.
  2. Drop the hammer on tailgaters; one rear end crash and you're a bus rider for life.
  3. Detach cell phone use from driving. If the phone is moving more than 3mph, disconnect the call.

All that "get tough" marketing is nothing more than justification for activity that doesn't contribute much to public safety. Once you put the fools into the flow of traffic, pretending to be protecting them with nutty traffic laws is cynical and opportunistic.

On the other hand, at the Isle of Man:

Nov 16, 2011

Speed and Power Kills (or not)?

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

A couple of years ago in his "Motorcyclist" column, Keith Code wrote an article titled, "Fast Bikes Save Lives." He argued, that the Hurt Report found that "the average speed of the 900 accidents studied was below 30 mph." He also listed statistics that found that the worst accidents on a California race track were on bikes under 550cc and pointed to another study that found 600cc bikes "were involved in far more major injury accidents" than 1000cc bikes. NHTSA statistics disagree, "Larger motorcycles are figuring more prominently in fatal crashes." The 2006-09 data found that 5% of fatal crashes were on 250cc and under bikes, 43% were on 500cc-1000cc bikes, and 39% were on 1,001-1,500cc motored bikes. (NOTE: The remaining 13% were listed as "unknown.") Since most liter bikes are actually sub-1000cc, I think Code is fudging the facts to fit his premise.

After praising 160mph bikes for their safety characteristics, Code takes a weird turn into a discussion on motorcycle training, claiming that "what statistics have also shown all along is that rider training works." NHTSA, the MSF, and a variety of training organizations actually caution us that statistics don't seem to show any particular advantage, after the initial six months post-training, for trained motorcyclists. Of course, Code wants to claim that track day participants are underrepresented in traffic fatalities, since he runs a track training program. Typically, there are no statistics to prove this statement, that doesn't stop him from stating "riders who have raced or been trained by professionals are even safer." It would be cool if it were true, but I have found no evidence that it is a fact.

I'm not a Code-basher. I actually like Keith's books and his column, but I'm not a Code Kool-Aid drinker, either. In this case, I think his reasoning contains more bias than facts.

First, the argument than "the average speed" of 30mph is proof that speed doesn't kill is a meaningless argument in defense of big motors. A police report of a 30mph crash doesn't tell us if the bike was slowing down, drastically, or winding up with the front wheel waving in the air when the crash occurred. More power means it's a lot easier to get into acceleration trouble and the power won't save you on the way back down the speed ladder. You could also argue that when a bike actually crashes into a more massive obstacle, it is at a dead stop at the moment of impact. How's that for useless data?

Anyone who's attended a regional road race could guess why the 550cc and under crowd get into more serious crashes. Most of the novice racers are on Ninja 500Rs, for starters. There are some absolute rocket racers on 250cc bikes, but most of that crowd are beginners on Ninja 250Rs. Talk about cherry picking your statistical evidence, claiming that novice bikes "cause" novice crashes is a fair stretch even for the math-disabled.

Code doesn't cite references, other than to call his source a "very complete study." I'll take the NHTSA stats over some unidentified study, complete or not.

None of Code's argument really addressed the issue of speed or fast bikes and motorcycle safety. I know that lots of RUBs and Squids think that an ability to rip by cagers at 60mph over the speed limit makes them safer, but I've never owned a bike that was particularly fast and I can get past a truck or cage as quickly as I need to. Most of the characters who make the power-equals-security claim have a nasty history of near-misses, crashes, and or mangled body parts. Squids tend to get into motorcycling with a flash of adrenaline and exit in a fog of morphine. Their long-term participation in motorcycling is mostly dependent on luck, rather than love of "the sport." Too many of the huge twin crowd are a lot more involved in posing and polishing than in actually riding. The number of for-sale 10 year old hippo bikes with less than 20,000 miles on the odometer is depressing. (Their current unsellable status is an encouraging sign, though.) Safety should be described in mile-per-crash terms, not in one-off near crash stories. Until you have at least a 100k miles under your belt, your experiences barely qualify you as a novice.

A dozen years ago, a friend who'd just become a road racer argued that his 650 SV was more bike than he could handle on the track, but that he needed at least a liter rocket for "safe" freeway traffic management. He was and is a faster, smarter, and a far better rider than I'll ever hope to be so I didn't argue the point. I just disagreed. A couple of years later, he told me he'd changed his opinion. He'd sold his big sport bike and replaced it with a much smaller bike because, after a few years on the track, he realized that he might never become skilled enough to over-ride the smaller bike. He learned that he had been substituting riding skill with vehicle power and, in an emergency situation, skill would be a more useful resource.

That has been my opinion all along. Some of my favorite motorcycles have had a lot more frame and suspension than motor and, because of that resource distribution, it is practically impossible to over-ride those bikes with the throttle. With reasonable skill, the motor will not overpower what you can do with the brakes, the handlebars, and a bit of weight redistribution. Add 40hp to the same bike and you have a bloody catastrophe waiting to happen to many excellent riders.

With that in mind, Keith Code and I will have to settle for a respectful disagreement (at least on my end of the argument). Keith is a wonderful rider. I am what I am. From where I sit, fast bikes are dangerous bikes and way beyond the skill level of practically any really good rider. If you are Kenny or Valentino, you can probably deal with insane amounts of power. If you are Joe Typical, anything more than 40hp and 70mph is probably beyond your capabilities on public roads.

Nov 13, 2011

Bikes Replaced by iPhones?

Is this really possible? Check out this NY Times article.

Is the Era of the Motorcycle Over?

Can motorcycles be a dying product? Probably

Oct 22, 2011

What's with Stopping Distance Tests?

Motorcycle Consumer News publishes a Performance Index summary on all of the bikes they have tested over recent years (for example: 2007/2008 and 2010). There are always some interesting statistics in those evaluations. For those of who are lazy and looking for an executive summary, skipping the list and heading for the Ten Best categories at the end of the article is the easy way to get a look at the year of motorcycling products.

One of the stats I've been most interested in is the 60-0 stopping time measurement, since that directly relates to safety performance. 0-60 is interesting and 0-100mph is information only for squids and racers, but stopping distance is a big deal for all of us. So, I manipulated the MCN data into a spreadsheet and played with it for a bit. what I found was an indirect correlation between what I expected and what actually happened. The ten quickest stopping bikes MCN tested in the last 5 years are:

Triumph Speed Triple 1050 '06 104.8 ft.
BMW Megamoto 106.4
Triumph Speed Triple '99 106.7
Honda F6 Valkyrie 107.4
Honda Marauder 800 107.6
Honda VFR800FI Interceptor '98 107.9
Yamaha YZF600R '97 108.2
Suzuki SV650 '99 108.8
Ducati Monster 750 109.1
Suzuki TL1000S 109.4

None of these bikes were among the lightest tested. In fact, five of the 50 fastest stoppers were over 700 pound porkers. All of those were metric cruisers (Honda's F6 Valkyrie, Valkyrie Tourer, VTX 1800, and Kawasaki's Vulcan 1500 Classic FI and Suzuki's VL1500 Intruder LC). Even Harley's 620 pound VRSC V-ROD puts on the brakes in 109.5 feet. The lightest of the quick stoppers is the '99 Suzuki SV650.

There is some connection between the lightest motorcycles and fuel efficiency. MCN's ten top fuel misers were:

Yamaha XT250 67.8 mpg
Yamaha Virago 250 66.9
Kawi Ninja 650R '06 65.3
Kawi Ninja 500 64
Honda Rebel 250 62.6
Honda CRF230L 61.6
Suzuki SV650S '07 58.3
BMW G650 Xcountry 56.4
Buel Blast 55.4
Moto Guzzi California 55.2

The Hondas and Yamahas were in the 10 lightest bike group, too. The Moto Guzzi was the heaviest miser at 540 pounds. You have to filter down to 45 mpg before you see the first over 600 pound bikes show up in the efficiency column. That was no surprise. Suzuiki's DR650 was the only light bike to push 40 mpg, which isn't a huge surprise, since the DR is also the quickest 0-60 mph bike in the group.

MCN does a lot of testing and collects all sorts of data on the bikes they test. I'm marginally embarassed to admit that I only care about one other measure; weight. MCN's ten lightest bikes were:

Yamaha XT250 288 pounds
Kawasaki KLX250S 294
Yamaha WR250X 301
Yamaha WR250R 302
Kawasaki KLX250SF 305
Suzuki DRZ400SM 319
Yamaha Virago 250 325
Suzuki GZ250 334
Suzuki DR650SE 358
Suzuki DR650SE '07 368

All things considered, the Virago 250 and the GZ250 are the only bikes of that bunch that I wouldn't like to own. So, maybe my first big issue is weight. If I only get to pick one value, maybe that would be the top of my motorcycle values. MCN doesn't rate suspension travel, turning radius, off-pavement handling, street vision (seat height), visibility, reliability, winter starting, ease of maintenance, parts cost, fuel tolerance, LD comfort, or many of the things I try to look at when I review a new motorcycle. Sometimes, I wonder if including a "can I pass a BRC on this thing" category would be helpful This was, however, an interesting experiment and I'm going to put the resulting Excel spreadsheet on my website.

Oct 9, 2011

Your Take?

My most recent Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly rant, titled "Motorcycle Bigot,"  drew a bit of fire from a couple of cruiser fans. One of the funnier replies of outrage said, "I love ya man, although I do believe that your tearing down of the rides of a good  percentage of the motorcycling world based solely on you narrow opinions is unwarranted.  I love them all, from the Amazonas to the Zero, from 50cc mopeds to the 2000cc sled, and though you would never catch me owning a Gold Wing, I'd never deride in public (other than as the subjective subject of a road test) any person's choice of ride.  I know that every rider has reasons for riding what they do and I may never understand those reasons, but it is not my business to understand, and it certainly not my place to call a whole group of motorcyclists' choice of rides 'hippobike' and liken them to Falstaff.  I'm almost positive that most of the 'cruiser' owners reading that article will think that you are describing them, not the bike, and I'm confident that they will take this very personal."

I don't have much faith in human capacity, but I'm interested to see how this plays out. So far, I have two flames and six attaboys and the magazine just came out this weekend. Of course, what he calls "tearing down of the rides" I call criticizing mediocre engineering. For a guy who often derides political correctness, he appears to be sort of wimpy when it comes to motorcycles. As I said in the article, "In respect to motorcycles, my first thought is, 'Get over yourselves.' Nothing about disliking a particular type of machine is anywhere near as despicable as racial hatred or intolerance." When it comes to cruisers, they are barely past toys and I really can't take a toy seriously. That would be as silly as considering banjos serious musical instruments.

Murderball or Football

This one's for you, Pat.

A while back, a friend commented that I was unable to appreciate the skill exhibited by a cop wallowing around a gymkhana course on his hippo-Harley. He said something about me being unable to appreciate the skill required to make this bloated tractor of a motorcycle maneuver almost as well as a motorcycle.

Pat, you're right and you're wrong. I do appreciate the cop's skill, for what it is. However, I'd rather see a great rider on a great motorcycle, because that is actually interesting. Who knows if the cops can actually ride well? Yeah, they're great considering their handicap, but why intentionally reach for a handicap?

I got another reminder of my preference for all around competence over being pretty good at a boring skill today when a local television station ran the 1931 "A Connecticut Yankee" with Will Rogers. I wish I could find a link to the jousting scene in this great movie. The king's man is on a draft horse, all duded up in armor and fringe, while Rogers is on a cutting horse, in working cowboy clothes, with a lariat for a "weapon."

Not only do Rogers and his cutting horse kick the cruiser . . . whoops!

Not only do Rogers and his cutting horse kick the knight's ass, the mobile pair are a lot more fun to watch. I wish I could find a link to the jousting scene. [Will Rogers rocks!]

It's Sunday afternoon as I write this and the whole argument reminded me of  sports of all types. Yeah, it's really impressive that the guys who play Murderball are as good as they are at their sport. But what are the chances that Murderball will be on prime-time television Monday night or Sunday afternoon? What do you want to watch, guys in wheelchairs or guys who can throw a football 90 yards, run 100 yards in 9 seconds, knock other 250 pound monsters flat on their asses, or move like a ballerina hooked up to a freight train engine? Last I heard, the Special Olympics didn't get any television coverage, let alone major station attention. I must not be the only one out here more interested in the "best of the best" rather than "pretty good in mediocre conditions." Harsh words, but someone needed to say them and it might as well be me.

Oct 7, 2011

Marketing = Engineering/Invention?

This sort of off-topic, but . . . live with it. It's my blog.

All the media hand-wringing about Steve Jobs, "the 21st Century's Thomas Edison," is going a long way toward explaining to me why the country is going down the tubes. To be sure, it's a sad thing when a relatively young (55) man dies of a terrible disease (pancreatic cancer). However, I can't help but get a little cranky when a marketing guy whose claim to fame is based on his response to colors and rounded corners is regarded as a brilliant inventor. Even worse, when that marketing guy is getting credit for "inventing the personal computer" (not even close), being first to produce a portable digital audio device (not even in the running), and for creating a whole new market for "smartphones" (again, Apple was practically last to the market). This is a guy who lied to his partner about the payment for an early product design assignment with Atari, took credit for doing the design work when he was only the delivery boy, and cheated his partner (Steve Wozniak, the real founder of Apple and the only genius of the two Apple founders) out of $2,250 of the $5,000 contract.

Really? This is what passes for a great man in what's left of the United States of America?

"The Woz," as always was exceptionally generous about his memories of his "friend" when interviewed yesterday. I met Steve Wozniak in the 80's and thought he was one of the coolest, nicest, most humble brilliant and rich guys I've ever met. Another corporate CEO I knew pretty well at the time was a Jobs-worshiper, which was all I needed to know at the time about Steve Jobs. This guy was a lazy, credit-absorbing, blame-shifting shark and anything he liked I was probably not going to want to be near. Later, I got to know a few design engineers who had worked for Apple and they had been trashed and burned by Jobs at Apple and had nothing but bad things to say about the guy and nothing but hero worship for Wozniak.  Wozniak's analysis of Jobs was that he "was a good marketer and understood the benefits of technology." I think that's a near-perfect analysis of Jobs' contribution.

But that's not my point. The point is the boys and girls (none competent enough to described in adult terms) of our mass media no longer know the difference between inventors, engineers, scientists, and the people who take advantage of those skills. If perception has become that knowing how to sell crap is the same as knowing how to make it, what's the point in going through the effort to learn how to do actual productive work? Obviously, this is the conclusion young people make when they blow off science, engineering, and technology and take the easy route to business and finance degrees.

When a character like Keith Wandell, who can barely be described as a rider let alone a motorcycle engineer,  can be put in charge of a genius like Eric Buell and can conjure up the gall to shut down the only progressive division of an otherwise backwards, failing, obsolete product line, we are heading for membership in the long list of failed empires. Wandell isn't fit to take on the task of being Buell's secretary, but that's not the way business works in the declining US of A. Secretaries are running the asylum and inventors are sidelined as an unnecessary evil in a country that imagines product invention, R&D, design, and manufacturing can be farmed overseas and the easy part, marketing, will remain a US-only task.

In my experience, if you can do the hard parts you can do the easy parts. IBM discovered that when they shipped PC production to Japan and, suddenly, produced a truckload of competitors for themselves. Apple doesn't build anything these days. If you can find a "Made in the USA" sticker on anything with an Apple logo, I'd like to see it. If you can't make it, you can't design it. If you didn't design it, you're just a salesman and salesmen are a dime a dozen.

Oct 5, 2011

Product Review: GIVI E36N Touring Side (or top) Cases

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day

[Right: The big-butt look of a Suzukli DL-650 and a pair of GIVI E36 side cases. Now I can take up as much room in a parking space as a Goldwing.]

It's hard to imagine a product that has been more written about than GIVI Monokey™ cases, but here I am writing about them. The GIVI E36N USA Monokey™ cases are side loading, 36 liter capacity, touring cases. The 36 liter cases are the smallest touring cases GIVI offers and because of that they are the narrowest touring cases available from GIVI. This was important to me because the Suzuki V-Strom has a high, large exhaust pipe and GIVI's mounting system attempts to make the silhouette and balance as symmetrical as possible. As you can see from the back view picture, that adds a lot of width to my motorcycle's rear-end profile.

Since I planned about 1,000 miles of fire-roading on my 2007 Alaska-Canada trip-Northwest USA trip, I was concerned that the added girth would result in some unnecessary "adventures" added to my adventure tour. The off-road stuff turned out to be pretty tame and there were only a few narrow passages, between 4-wheel vehicle guards, where the cases were a problem. On the other hand, I managed to cut a few filling station and motel corners close enough that I bounced the cases off of posts, buildings, and other "obstacles."

My following year's trip to Nova Scotia was less eventful, but the backroads between the far east end of the country and here put a significant vibration test to the cases and mounting. In 2009, I really put a pounding on the GIVI gear on my 3,500 mile North Dakota "ghost town tour" and the stuff held up without a moment of problem. At a filling station in Bismarck, ND, a cruising hip-hopper in a 70's Buick side-swiped my left side case, pinning me between the pump and the bike, hard enough that the lower hinge sprung open and left a 1/4" gap at the bottom of the case. I was sure that damage was permanent, but when I opened up the case, the hinge popped back into place and no injury was done, other than some bumper scratches on the side of the case. (Of course, the Buick driver, being the responsible citizen he was, sped away when he heard his car hit my bike and he saw me squashed against the pump. I'm sure, if he reads this, he'll be happy to know he didn't kill me.) Last year, my grandson and I racked up another 3,800 miles in the Rockies and on Midwest states' backroads and I have begun to treat my luggage like the most durable part of the motorcycle. 50,000 miles after snapping on the E36's, they are going strong and as utilitarian as the day I installed them.

I met another V-Strom rider on my 2007 Alaska trip who had laid his bike down at 30mph on the Alaska Highway and, while the cover of the case was nicely road-rashed, it was still solid and in one piece. He also had an E46 top case and noted that the seal was so tight on that case that he had trouble opening it when going from a high-altitude campsite to a sea level site. He claimed that when he opened the case he could hear a "pop" as the air escaped. We were both impressed with the extreme waterproof qualities of our GIVI hardware, especially considering the fact that we'd been rained on for more than 20 days straight..

The GIVI mounting frame for the V-Strom is something worth discussing. It's built to take abuse and to support substantial weight. The frames are designed to accept any of the GIVI Monokey™ cases, which means anything from 21 liters to 52 liters could be mounted to the same frames. In all of the above crash and fender-bender scenarios, the GIVI mounting system was undamaged. For a 4-day vacation trip with my wife this summer, I added the GIVI E528 tail-case mount. Like the side-case mounting system, the tail-case mount is easy to install and built to withstand abuse and support any of the GIVI Monokey™ cases. Attaching the cases to the mounting system is simple, quick, and almost foolproof. All you need to do is align the bottom of the case into the two tabs and snap the top keyed-section into the Monokey™ lock.

[Right: The E36 containing clothing, towels, food, spare parts, and a sleeping bag with room to spare.]

I'm totally impressed with GIVI's Monokey™ mounting system and never, even once, had a problem with the case attachment; durability or security-wise. These are tough cases that aren't quite deep enough to hold a helmet, but are plenty big enough for a significant amount of luggage. My wife and I managed to cram all of our clothing and necessities for our 4-day trip into one E36N case, which gave her more passenger peg leg room and a back support.

You'd think that a measly 30 liters capacity increase would be pretty meaningless with a load like mine, but you'd be wrong. Being able to load the cases from the side, meant that my packing was organized, accessible, and logical. The E36N cases, however, make perfect sense for adventure touring or vacation trips with a passenger.

My wife complains that the location and width of the cases make it difficult for a passenger to mount the bike. I haven't found a solution to the wife-comfort problem, but my grandson didn't have any complaints. However, passenger comfort aside I have depended on my GIVI cases for more than 50,000 hard miles and they have never let me down.

Postscript: In 2017, most of my V-Strom is degrading with age and abuse, but the GIVI cases will be one of the things I will miss the most when I sell this bike (probably next spring). The three best things about my V-Strom are the GIVI cases, the Sargent seat, and the ELKA rear shock. Without those three modifications, I'd have given up long distance motorcycling five years ago. 

Protesting China

My WR250's rear wheel requires a 27mm wrench to break the wheel loose for tire repairs or chain adjustments. The Yamaha tool is a POS that couldn't possible crack the specified torque for that nut. Motion Pro makes a very nice combination 27mm wrench and tire tool , but after looking at it I suspected the quality and torque capacity of the wrench end of the tool, plus the $30+shipping price tag put me off. I found a perfectly good 27mm wrench at Fleet Farm for $9, cut off the open-end end, and ground out a tire tool in about 20 minutes.

I know, my time was worth thousands of $ and I could have saved the world while I was making an over-capacity, less-than-hip looking tool, but I had fun, got exactly what I wanted, and it works really well at both ends. Motion Pro's tool is slicker looking, but Bob's didn't carry it and I wanted it in the tool kit this weekend. Now I'm ready for a road test.

Sep 30, 2011

GEICO vs Deer

GEICO has some advice about avoiding hoofed rats. It's not bad:

Bikes vs. Cars on MythBusters

MythBusters did a pretty thoughtful comparison between motorcycles and cages, on an economy, pollution, and practicality basis.  Like they said, the comparison "wasn't perfect," but it was a pretty fair comparison. Obviously, bikes are inefficient on multiple levels. Economically, motorcycles barely make any sense at all, particularly the way we ride and select our vehicles in the US. Hell, about the time the microscopic advantage in fuel economy starts to pay off we have to buy new tires.

I keep comparing my motorcycle transportation economy to my daughter's experience with her 1990 Geo Metro convertible. She gets 50-something miles per hour, sometimes pushing 60mpg. I get 50-something miles per hour. Her Geo has more than 100,000 miles on the odometer and has crossed the country a couple of times in the Geo. She replaces tires because they begin to crack before they wear out. Her car was low emissions in 1990. My first low emissions motorcycle (2004 DL-650) was manufactured in 2004. We have about the same luggage capacity, when all 3 of my cases are on the DL. We can both carry a passenger, but her passenger is more comfortable. I can go faster. She can go further on a tank of gas. She loves her Geo and maintains it with the care and detail worthy of any garage candy owner.

I thought about this a lot while my brother, Larry, and I were looping Lake Superior this summer. We were "riding together" on two motorcycles, both getting 55mpg, for 1600 miles. We passed dozens of biker clans of four to a dozen riders, some with passengers, all doing what we were doing. As this trip wore on, I began to question the purpose. Larry and I don't see each other much, maybe for five days out of every three years on average. We stopped for fuel and novelty on the trip, but we had 1600 miles to cover in four days. Traveling by motorcycle, even with a passenger, isn't about being with someone.

Motorcycling is a solo activity and only becomes silly when we try to pretend it's a community thing. One motorcyclist traveling unbeaten roads, traveling light and flexibly, makes some sense. Not a lot of sense, but at least it's not entirely irrational. Even traveling with one other rider is irrational under most conditions. I've been talking to a friend about doing the Pan American Highway in the next year or two. On the Lake Superior trip with Larry, I realized that trip would make more sense in a VW than by motorcycle. Even better, a VW-powered dune buggy setup for touring. Everything from fuel economy to security to camping to maintenance makes more sense in a VW Bug-based vehicle. Put a Baja-quality suspension on the Bug and even a dirt bike begins to seem silly.

So, we aren't efficient, we aren't low impact (unless the real advantage of off-road motorcycles were set loose), and we aren't communal. We better be good at something and we must be, because a whole lot of us ride motorcycles when better transportation is available all around us.

What Honda's Thinking

Bill Bassett from Motoprimo had his curiosity piqued by my comments about the CBR250R's tool kit. So, he called Honda to ask "What's up?" The response was funny enough he had to call me about it.

It turns out that Honda thinks motorcyclists are a lot lamer than most of you anticipated. And most of you anticipated that we're pretty incompetent, as a buying crowd. Honda's policy is to included only enough "tools" to allow the user to get to the battery. So, the CBR250R's kit includes one 5mm Allen wrench because you have to remove the seat to get to the battery. The Goldwing's battery can be accessed without any tools. So, guess what's in the Goldwing's "tool kit?"

Bill said Honda is, so far, alone in its low opinion of customer mechanical capacity. Yamaha and Kawasaki, for example, still include a reasonable collection of marginal quality tools with their bikes.

Sep 28, 2011

A Confused New World

I had the pleasure of riding a spanking new Honda CBR250R for 100 miles this past week. This is the epitome of modern motorcycle engineering--fuel injection, water cooled, single cylinder, long maintenance interval, high-tech electronics--in a small package. Exactly the sort of package that is selling in large quantities all over the newly-industrialized world.

Everything about this motorcycle is likable, except the tool kit. That's it, to the right. An Allen wrench and a helmet cable.

When I mentioned the undersized tool "selection" to Dean Cross, Motoprimo's Off-Road Product Manager (who is a cruiser-riding-only guy, which is another confusing topic altogether), he joked that the CBR didn't come with any tools but that they'd scavenged this tool bag from a Harley. After I failed to get the joke, he asked, "What would you do to this bike?"

I started listing the things I do with tools and motorcycles and he interrupted me by saying something about me being old, unusual, and out-of-touch with reality. Apparently, modern people don't work on their own motorcycles. I really wanted to argue with him, but I had nothing to work with. At the music school where I teach, many of our students are incapable of properly tightening a microphone stand's parts without accidentally disassembling something in the process. If that something actually falls off, they will stand fixated by the reflection of the dropped part like a deer trapped in headlights until I show them how the part is reattached. These are, mostly, not stupid kids, but they are mechanically clueless.

Some time ago, in an interview with Kevin Cameron, Kevin said "every new entering freshman class has better keyboard skills and more math, but they are less prepared to deal with the physical world. When those people become engineers etc. and go on the job, they have to go and do the playing that they would have done when they were 12 or 8 or 16. They do it on the job and some pretty ridiculous things come out of it. But in the end, the same function is performed, namely, the person gets squared away with physical reality." In my field, I don't see either the improved keyboard skills (unless illiterate texting counts) or improved math capacity, but I can only hope that is the case for engineering students.

In response, Honda created a small motorcycle with large maintenance intervals and assumed that even this fairly simple motorcycle would receive all of its service care at the dealership. Where those high quality dealership mechanics are going to come from appears to be an item of faith or wishful thinking.

I wish I could claim this idea for my own, but it belongs to Dean Cross. He suggested that all of modern experience comes from video games, so video games ought to provide some value to society by including technical demands with the mayhem. For example, before you can pillage an Iraqi village in Gears of War or Battlefield or Call of Duty you have to disassemble, clean, and reassemble your weapons (like basic training). Occasionally, your weapons will jam in the battle and you will have to fix them while ducking for cover. Motocross Mania, MotoGP, and the like are obvious candidates for a little maintenance reality check. Tires should be replaced between races at the dead minimum. Force players to actually figure out how to slip a door lock and hot wire a car to go anywhere in Grand Theft Auto. Make up your own list of games that need to reflect the physical world. If you play video games at all, I'm sure your list will overwhelm mine. I had to go to to find the names of any of this stuff. Hell, I might get interested in video games if the games actually required a little thought.

I don't, however, have a solution for stupid games like Guitar Hero. Just pick up a real guitar and learn to play music. Pushing buttons on beat is the definition of "lame."

Sep 27, 2011

Easy Fix, Never Happen

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

The news report read, "Hennepin County attorneys say that on the morning of Oct. 7, 2010, 20-year-old Amanda Elizabeth Manzanares was driving without insurance and under a restricted instructional permit when she drove her car across the centerline of Excelsior Boulevard in Minnetonka and struck a man riding a motorcycle. The man suffered severe injuries that have, to-date, required $500,000 in surgeries and other medical care. . .

"After retrieving Manzanares' cell phone at the scene, Minnetonka police investigators found a series of text message exchanges and calls on Manzanares' phone that were made and received in the minutes surrounding the collision.

"But, according to court documents, Manzanares denied using her phone at the time of the accident, telling Minnetonka police she had “blacked-out,” was tired, that she hadn't taken prescribed medication and that she was still getting comfortable as a driver."

This is what passes for "news" in modern America. Tainted, slanted "information" intended to inflame the unwashed, illiterate masses without providing any solutions, context, or depth. Back when he was funny, Dennis Miller defined television news as a series of unimportant but bad things we could all be glad didn't happen to us.

Don't get me wrong, Manzanares ought to prosecuted for nearly killing an innocent bystander with her miserable, incompetent (for whatever reason) driving. But by shining a bright light on this pitiful excuse for a human being, the law and the media are doing their damndest to distract the blame from the real criminals in this all-too-common sort of incident; cell phone providers. On one hand, television reminds us at every cop-show opportunity that any cell phone can be tracked if it is on. If it can be tracked, its trajectory and velocity can be determined. If all that is true, any communications attempted while the phone is in motion can be terminated. End of problem.

Driving while yapping on a cell phone use is clearly an example of driving while incapacitated. Every study that has examined the relationship between driving drunk and driving while asking "whut r u doin?" has found that cell phones are linked to driving mental retardation. One study (published in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society) found in simulated driving conditions that drunks (at least those with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level) are better drivers than cell phone yappers. None of the drunks crashed in that study, while three cell phone morons did.

Why it took a study to identify this character of cell phone abuse says more about academia, society, and capitalism than it tells us about the actual problem. Any half-conscious motorcyclist knows that you stay as far from a cell phone user as the road permits. They are erratic, marginally conscious, and as dangerous as gangbangers. I'm no less worried about riding near a cell phone user than I am about trying to get by someone who is tossing out the occasional empty beer can or has an Easy Rider rifle rack loaded with automatic weapons.

If you're brand new to this planet and these United States, you might ask, "Why is this tolerated if the solution is so simple?" The reason, dear alien life-form, is money. The slim splinter that remains of our democracy is dedicated to the idea that the profits of a few override the security, health, safety, and quality of life of the nation and its not-rich citizens. Those trust-funded, grossly overpaid and under-skilled corporate executives who are the only real beneficiaries of the death and destruction their products cause (not the cigarette executives, this time) are more important than the lives of every other person on public roads. Why that argument doesn't hold true for alcohol-pushing corporate executives is a little inconsistent, but I'd bet it's because the cell phone execs are richer.

Of course, my electronic trigger isn't the solution I'd recommend in an ideal world; too passive and forgiving. Personally, I'd rather see cell phone manufacturers forced to install a spring-loaded 4" spike in every cell phone that would be triggered by cell phone use at any velocity exceeding 10mph. At worst, the cell phone user would have some part of his/her anatomy skewered for violating rational cell phone laws. At best, one more idiot would be spiked from the gene pool.

Honestly, I don't expect either idea to take hold in my lifetime or before the next comet blasts an idiot wind across the planet and restarts the evolutionary cycle. The rapid degeneration of our species depends on the right of the dumbest and most corrupt evil spawn's access to every damn toy their idiot heart desires. So, my favorite solution is dead in its tracks. Second, the attention deficit disordered have grown to depend on knowing what their friends and family are doing at this very second and they are perfectly happy to kill anyone in their path to have that knowledge. What's the worst thing that can happen, being prosecuted for "felony texting and driving?" That sounds slightly more serious than unpaid parking tickets.

Sep 19, 2011

Collector's Wet Dream

Chicago's Lee Hartung died recently and all of the items in the Lee Hartung Barn Find Collection will go on auction in November.

This video and two others makes an effort to document the immensity of the collection. Crazy. There is an absolutely nutty amount of transportation-related items in this collection: cars, motorcycles, bicycles, oil cans, event posters, parts, medallions, stamps, books, clothing, etc. I am incapable of comprehending how or why someone would hoard this much stuff, but you might.

Sep 17, 2011

Gas Gas and Cigarettes

Like all things trials, this rocks:

Like all things marketing, I have no idea what it has to do with some dumbass brand of cigarettes. Anything to see someone ride spectacularly well, I always say.

Sep 10, 2011

They're Havin' Fun Now

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were westbound on I694 when we came upon a dude on a Harley towing a trailer. At least I think he was towing the trailer, he was riding so badly it's possible the trailer was pushing him. As the wind blew the bike-trailer-rig from one side of the lane to the other, he would lean way over to try to coerce the bike back into the middle of the lane. He clearly had no idea how to steer a motorcycle, but he was all duded up in his armored headband, wife-beater with the HD logo, raggedy but stylish jeans, and tennis shoes. I did not have a camera with me, but I'll never forget him.

I will also never forget what my wife said about the boy, "He's havin' fun now."

A couple of days later, my grandson and I were biking around the neighborhood on a summer Saturday afternoon and I decided to snag a few pictures of folks who were having fun at the moment, but would be in a world of hurt if anything (I mean ANYTHING) went wrong.

As my wife says, "They're havin' fun now." If they have to stop quickly, swerve to avoid a bug in the road, or make any sort of emergency maneuver the odds are they will "have to put 'er down" and then they won't be havin' much fun. There are a few helmets in the group, but they are mostly haircut bowls that won't do much for the riders or passengers when the face meets the pavement. No armor, few gloves, awful footwear, just a lot of people counting on luck to save their silly asses and havin' fun now.

Motorcycle Advice: Harley Davidson Rider Gives a New Biker Some Tips

How to be cool, from the mouth of someone who can almost spell "cool." It's pretty much all here:

Thanks Sev.

Sep 1, 2011

Readjusting to Smallness

When I finished my test ride of the Honda Custom Interstate, I was hurting, tired, and frustrated. All of this misery was not because of anything specific to the VT1300, but generally due to all of the flaws in the design philosophy of a cruiser. The weight, length, awkwardness, and anti-ergonomic design of that style of motorcycle contains none of the things that I love about motorcycles. I've said this before, if this was the only sort of motorcycle I owned I'd probably ride fewer than four or five times a year. If that sounds familiar to you, maybe you own the wrong motorcycle.

In response to the often-screeched complaint that I'm a "motorcycle bigot," I have to say "fuck you." I also have a personal "no assholes rule," if that applies to you, deal with it. This isn't about religion or race, it's about bad design. I am too old, too beat up, and have too little time to tolerate assholes in my life and, likewise, I'm not particularly interested in lousy engineering.

That is the real problem, for me, with the cruiser style; it's all about fashion not transportation. Unlike those gaywad old fat guys who imagine that an expensive motorcycle actually changes who they are or how silly they look, I know that no motorcycle is going to make me young, rich, smart, fast, or sexy.

Like the guy with the undersized dick who was asked by a hooker, "Who's that going to satisfy?" All I have to please is "me." And there is nothing about riding toward a eternal gynecologist appointment that makes me happy. Sitting on my tailbone in an unrelenting fixed position would drive me to stop at every "biker friendly" bar if I were inclined toward addiction or using alcohol for pain relief. Riding straddle-legged is something I gave up when I quit riding horses, sometime in the early 1970's. Even more, sacrificing personal safety for fashion with no aspect of enjoyment involved is totally out of my interest or capacity.

Hippobikes are freakin' terrifying. They can't turn, can't stop, can't go off-road, and are so freakin' close to the ground that the rider can't see over or around anything taller than a go-cart. What idiot thought that made sense? We're not talking engineering here, this is "design" at the lowest level. Motorcycles as women's shoes.

Riding the big Honda so put me off that, after I ended the test ride last Friday afternoon, I didn't get back on my own motorcycle until the next Thursday. It effected me so strongly that I didn't get comfortable on my beloved WR250X until I'd been on the bike for more than an hour. It took me that long to regain confidence that what I was riding could stop, turn, and competently be maneuvered in traffic. No wonder so many hippobike owners whine about how "unsafe" the freeway is. If I had to ride the crap they ride I'd be afraid of my own neighborhood.

A while back, I wrote an article called It's Not a #&^%#@ Wheelchair. Turns out, I was wrong. This kind of motorcycle is barely up to the standards of wheelchairs. Check out the comparison at right. All three bikes were backed up to the garage door, to make dimensional comparisons easy. In every measure, except length and mass, the VT1300 is a kid's bike. The incredible extra length is nothing but a detriment to maneuverability. The weight is to provide something for the owners' $14,000.

After my cruiser experiences, I sort of have sympathy for the guy I described in Why We Die So Often, "Whether by design, inability, or inattention, the cool cruiser guy didn't make the slightest move to avoid the oncoming cage. He didn't even cover the clutch, let alone the brake. He didn't swerve or slow down, he just stared at the cage as if he was Darth Vader and the cager was one of those Return of the Jedi teddy bear things. He just clung to the bars like a pair of streamers, glared at the cager as he rolled past, barely clearing the wagon's bumper." That's exactly how I felt in heavy traffic on the VT1300; almost as helpless as a passenger or a bumper sticker. The fact is, you can't do much when you are hanging on to 1000 pounds of lumbering iron. That sympathy is no different that my feelings toward squirrels crossing the road in traffic, though. There was nothing wrong with the damn tree they were in before they decided to test the asphalt. Likewise, only an idiot would pick a motorcycle that isn't road-worthy. There are too many squirrels and idiots in the world and this is how nature sorts 'em out.

Aug 25, 2011

The Laugh Machine

That is the VT1300 in the foreground, the V-Strom in the middle,
and the WR250X in the back. The shot is taken straight out from
the VT1300.
 This morning, I picked up a Honda VT1300CT Custom Interstate to review for MMM. This thing is an amazing hippobike that probably does everything hippobike buyers want a bike to do. It's long, low, loud, and fat. In fact, when my wife saw the bike in the garage, she said, "Wow! That's an old fat guy's bike." And it is.

The Interstate's seat height is a troll-like 26.8". It's almost a foot shorter than my WR250X's seat before I dropped it a bit. If you can't swing a leg over this monster, dude, you are a cripple. Stay up tonight, watch a little Channel 29 and get that number for the guy who will get you your Hoveround for "no money out of your pocket."

There are all kinds of prices to pay for a low seat height. For example, at right the WR250X is in the foreground, the V-Strom in the middle, and the VT1300 at the back with ground clearances of 10.5", 7", and 4.5". Four-and-a-half inches of ground clearance with no rider! You couldn't drive that thing over an ant hill without being responsible for a massacre.

Honestly, if all I owned was a Honda VT1300 I doubt that I'd ride more than a couple of times a year. The bike is a total pain to get out of the garage, and that's when it's in the front of the garage. I don't think I stopped and started twice competently in 140 miles today. The Interstate makes me feel weak, old, and uncoordinated. I'd feel sorry for all those hippobike riding ERC students I've insulted over the years, except they picked the damn things to ride. It's not my fault they can't ride what they bought. I can't either. Feeling sorry for someone struggling through a corner or wobbling away from a stop light when they had options that included actual engineering is like feeling sorry for a fat man at a basketball court. "You don't have to eat everything you see, you know?" I know I didn't (have to eat all that stuff, that is.).

Finally, the last straw was being seen on that monster. No, I'm not worried about my reputation. I trashed that years ago. This was more of a funny bit than an embarrassing bit. When I ride my WR250X into the city, I get a lot of kids (people under 40) asking about the bike. Men, women, boys, and girls notice the WR and comment on how cool it looks. On the big Honda, the demographics of the positive commenters jumped up about 20-30 years. Lots  of blue hairs mumbled "Nice bike" as I wobbled toward them at stop lights.

Great. Grandma likes the VT1300. Gotta get one to pick up those hot near-mummies.

Aug 23, 2011

Irritating Follow-Up

Edmund's InsideLine followed up my comment on automotive boredom with a list of "The 100 Greatest Cars of All Time." I agree with exactly 10 of their choices (the numbers are theirs, the comments are mine):

4. 1938 Volkswagen Beetle: Edmund's comment was that this car "May be the most beloved car ever." I would still consider owning and driving a '67 Beetle if I didn't live in the Rust Belt. If I were going to drive the South American Pan-American Highway, it would be in a Beetle. This car was in production for 65 years with minor improvements. If this isn't the greatest car ever made, the standards for "greatness" are stupid.

9. 1908 Ford Model T: This is more of a political choice, for me, than engineering. The Ford Company was beginning to become something democratically revolutionary, inspite of the company's fascist owner. "It was the first car most people could afford." The people behind and on Ford's assembly line created America's first middle class. They are still doing it, too.
15. 1964 Ford Mustang: The original car was just a screwed-up Ford Falcon and how it "made Lee Iacocca an icon" is more about how modern management pulls credit up and pushes blame down than saying something about Iacocca's "vision" and leadership. Since the Falcon wasn't on Edmund's list, I'm left with the residual choice. I like the Falcon better, though.
24. 1949 Ford: My first 4-wheel ride was a '54 Ford convertible, which was definitely one of the models that Edmund's said "would follow" the '49. Solid car that proved it could run without an air filter for longer than it should have. I was a dumb kid.
27. 1990 Acura NSX: I don't lust after sports cars, but I always lusted for an NSX. If I won the lottery, I might have one. Probably not, though. I'm too old now.
34. 1984 Honda Civic CRX: Edmund's silly comment, "The first fun economy car" just shows how out of touch their writers are with history. The VW was fun, especially the convertible. The VW Karmann Ghia was fun. The original 1972 Civic was fun. The CRX is unnecessary, for me. Honda made a mark with the introduction of the Civic and has been denting the auto industry since.
46. 1992 Toyota Camry: This was the 3rd version of the Camry, but I thought the original '82 Camry was pretty "standard" setting. I owned a '73 Toyota Hilux at the time and was already sold on Toyotas.
45. 1976 Honda Accord: Nothing to be said here. A nice, Americanized Japanese car that everyone wants to own.
74. 1946 MG TC: Like all MG's, this is British crap, but it was fun crap to drive when it worked and sort of fun to work on (which owners had to do all the time).
79. 1950 Volkswagen Type 2: The VW microbus was the original do-everything vehicle. I loved mine, low mileage engine and all. You could camp with the family or bag up your 125 and drive to the motocross in a VW Bus. This vehicle started the whole mini-van business.
97. 1968 Datsun 510: A cheap, sort-of-sporty car that got good mileage and held up during every challenge except Midwest salted roads. Had one, liked it, thanks Doug.

My additions to the list:
A. 1986 Nissan Pathfinder: the only real SUV Japan ever made.
B: Datsun 520 Pickup: the Japanese break-through vehicle to the US market (mostly in California).
C: 1973 Toyota Hilux Pickup: The single toughest vehicle I have ever experienced.

 I probably don't disagree with Edumnd's about the other 90 cars, I just don't care about them. The whole "great car" argument is lost on me. Cars have two too many wheels and make driving so simple even the simple can do it. When it comes to driving, I'm an elitist; if you can't do it well, you should be on the bus. When it comes to expensive and mostly useless cars, I can't generate enough interest to even look. Cars are for carrying people and stuff you can't carry on a motorcycle.

That is all I have to say about cars. Let us never speak of this again.

Aug 21, 2011

A Partial Gearhead

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Most of my friends think of me as a gearhead. It's true that I like almost all kinds of gear; motorcycles, guitars and other musical instruments, recording studio equipment, computers, manufacturing and machining tools, almost everything mechanical or electrical. It's not true that :I like all things mechanical, though. I particularly dislike gear that has passed into obsolescence and continues to waste human resources and energy; like cars. I don't like driving them, riding in them, thinking about them, and, especially, I hate owning them.

My wife ruined her knees walking on concrete, while working for one of the big box hardware stores. So, riding a motorcycle is no longer a pleasant pastime for her. For our anniversary this year we took a cage trip south along the Mississippi into Iowa. She gets carsick, so traveling by cage, plane, boat, or bus isn't all that pleasant for either of us. She usually drives and that's fine with me. Other than the knee issues and the motion sickness, she's a fine traveling companion.

I hate driving cages. There are two too many wheels and the damn things give me an unpleasant feeling of instability and cumbersome awkwardness that is mind-numbing and a little scary. For three to four months every winter, I'm stuck in my Ford Escort wagon wishing bus service was even close to practical where I live. No, having a "better car" wouldn't help. I've driven Beemers, Porsches, stockcars, dune-buggies (my favorite cage), and a collection of staid Eurotrash luxury sedans and unpronounceable Italian "sports" cages and they all leave me bored. Convertibles are almost tolerable. If I could poke out the windshield, they'd be better. If I could legally drive a dune-buggy wearing a heated suit and helmet, I'd be about as happy in a cage as I'm likely to get. However, if I have to be in a cage I'd rather be a passenger than a driver. Being a passenger in a cage is at least productive, since I can write stuff like this as I ride along isolated from the wind, weather, and all sensations of speed and motion. If I'm going to be caged, I prefer the biggest cage I can get into: buses, trains, and such.

Floating past my favorite letter roads along WI35 was particularly frustrating. My GPS is littered with routes I would be taking along the river, if I were on a vehicle that well-tolerated dirt roads and twisty two-lanes. That kind of path is a perfect formula for agitating my wife's nausea. And her getting sick doesn't do my traveling Jones much good. I can hang upside down in a moving box while reading a technical journal without a lick of stomach instability, but if someone else gets sick near me I'm following their path like a cow heading to the barn. Barfing is something else that never happens to me on a motorcycle.

I keep hearing about "man's love affair with the automobile," while talking heads try to explain why we're pouring money into the black hole of cage manufacturing. I don't get it. What's to love about a cage? To me, that's like loving a chair or a wheelbarrow. At best, a cage is another utilitarian device that has outlived its usefulness; like horse-drawn plows or buggy whips or cell phones. We only cling to the damn things in the US because we haven't been bright enough to maintain our mass transit infrastructure. We're going to pay for that within a few years.

In San Francisco or New York, I could rent or borrow a cage on the rare occasion I need one. Where I live, the bus stops running anywhere near my home at 6PM. A decade ago my route ran till midnight, but that schedule ended after the current administration took office. I don't expect to live long enough to see real mass transit in the Cities. We're way too conservative and oblivious to reality to put rail or any other alternative on the burner until the last pump drips its final drop of gas. Then, in true conservative fashion, we'll shriek "the sky is falling" and it will.

We made the Wisconsin-and-back trip safely. She didn't get sick. I didn't throw a boredom-inspired tantrum. That's as good as cage traveling gets for us.

The next day I mounted up and headed back to Wisconsin. Almost immediately, I got stuck behind a gaggle of doddering cheese-burners on WI35, but at the first county road (which happened to be gravel), I split off and got back on my pace. Within a couple of hours, I had almost forgotten the torture of being trapped and strapped behind a windshield, listening to poorly selected radio music or talking head babble. On a real vehicle of transportation (physical and mental), I was swinging through the countryside with my own music in my head, pacing my own rhythms, thinking my own thoughts, enjoying the ride and the place. I hate cages and love motorcycling.

Aug 18, 2011

My Application

So, here's my application, Motorex.
I am a 63-year-old experienced motorcyclists with arthritic hips, worn out knees, and a little extra padding around the middle. In almost 20 years of racing (my last race was almost 30 years ago), I never managed to win a single trophy. Some stupid ribbons, an occasional trophy tire or set of goggles, but no trophies. In fact, the only trophy I've ever earned was a "Spud Award" from a past California employer for being an "unidentified flying object" when I crashed a mountain bike and busted a clavicle and a couple ribs. The only trophy girl I ever got to kiss has been my wife.I'm not complaining.
While I am old, I am also a little slow around the track. About 30 years ago, I crashed and broke all of the ribs on my left side. Since then, I've been a little shy about catching air. I can do it, I just don't like it much. [See left: You may have to blow up the picture a ways to see the actual air under the bike. I've been told a brand new US dime could be slid under that POS Honda while it was airborne. This may seem like sour grapes, but I was trying to minimize the impact because the Honda was falling apart in several directions as I rode it around the track. I have launched my new WR250X a lot further into the air, but nobody has bothered to get a picture of that because they don't want to embarrass Yamaha.]

It's not that I wouldn't like to be fast. I would. Maybe if I had the right oil in my motorcycles I'd be faster. The only way to find out is for you to sponsor me and we'll hit the track together. Me and you and our race bike. What do you say?

I'm not only old, I'm a little lazy. So, I'm assuming your sponsorship comes with a mechanic and a driver and a trailer with sleeping quarters (for me, the employees can find their own accomodations). I'm not broke, though. I am assuming I'll be responsible for my own food expenses. I think that's only reasonable.