Jun 27, 2011

Looking Retarded/Idiotic/Stupid or Just Being Me

My Geezer with a Grudge Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column is always as much a surprise to me as it is to the magazine's readers. Part of the motivation for this blog came from the fact that I write a lot more than the magazine can publish. In the past, I have had more than two-dozen columns available for the editor to pick from and some of those articles just become useless after a few months. So, a blog was born to dump my rapidly decomposing thoughts and experiences. 

Victor Wanchena, the magazine's owner and past editor, gave me (what seemed like) a good reason for stockpiling essays because he picked his way through all the craziness on my article pick-up page and found bits and pieces that he connected to the rest of the magazine. In retrospect, that might have been one of the meanest things I've ever done to someone I like. I hate to think that onerous task is why Victor decided he wanted to back away from the editor's desk.

The current Managing Editor, Bruce Mike, and the long-term editor, Sev Pearman, took a different approach for the first few months they ran the magazine without Victor's direction. Sev asked me to put my first choice for the monthly article to publish on top of the sort. So, I did that and had been doing that for a while. As best I remember, my March 2010 article was the first Geezer column that I selected for the magazine since my very first rant submitted in October 1999.

That policy changed this month and, for the first time in my MMM career, I was politically correctly edited. Bruce decided to change the title of my essay from "Defining 'Retarded'" to "Defining 'Idiotic'." Aw, man, I feel so Faux News'd. I mean, the only good thing about getting old is knowing that the punishment for political incorrectness is going to be short-lived, since I'm also going to be around for a limited amount of time. My personal goal in late-life is to be one of those cranky old men in a wheelchair rolling around the home pinching cute nurses on the ass and acting stupid when they complain about my behavior. Sarah Palin's 2010 pretend-offense to Rahm Emanuel's use of the word "retard" sounded like cynical posing from a broad who advocates "targeting" her opponents, especially when she wasn't particularly bothered by Rush Limbaugh's use of the same word. However, I take all of my political correctness cues from South Park. About 30 years ago, if Bart Simpson said it on Fox I figured it was good enough for me. About a decade ago, I moved my baseline to South Park, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Cobert. Since Cobert combined all of the PC offenses when he called Palin a "f--king retard," I didn't worry about calling myself "retarded" in my own column.

However, I wasn't all that satisfied with the whole story, so I shoved it down to 7th place in the column list. Since only the top option had been used for the last year of magazines, I figured I had some time to polish the article. So, I was surprised to learn that not only that article had been picked for the July issue but that it would be PC'd. If I'd have been asked before publication, I probably wouldn't have objected to the edit. I would have asked for a few moments to go over it again. Bruce let me know, in advance, that the changes had been made but the magazine had already gone to press when he sent me an email about the edits.My pick for July was an article about plowing up the nation's asphalt and turning the place into a haven for dirt bikers.

All this means is that I'm going to have to get some payback . . . somewhere. And here is that somewhere. So, for the record, buying a motorcycle from a kid is a chronic problem. Idiotic, stupid, and foolish are acute problems. Being repeatedly dumb is retarded. Buying one motorcycle from a kid is idiotic. Buying my last four motorcycles from kids is retarded (even if I managed to luck out on two of those four bikes).

Jun 25, 2011

Riding to Work

Another Ride to Work Day passed, on the 18th. Did you ride?

Hell, I didn't even work, but I did take the bike out for a trip into school for a meeting, a collection of errands and a little dirt road cruising. In the summer, most of my work days come on the weekends. Monday is "reserved" for hellish meetings (of which I was forced to partake) and boxes-stacked-on-the-bike expeditions to Fed-X for my occasional eBay sale shipping trip.

As usual, you could count the number of motorcycles in the St. Paul and I35E traffic on the fingers of one hand. That whole "start seeing motorcycles" BS campaign needs an associated "start riding your damn motorcycles" poster for cagers. How the hell does the ABATE crowd expect to be seen if they don't have the balls to ride?

Yeah, I'm pissed off. I spent at least 45 minutes editing helmet-cam footage in hopes of finding a motorcycle or two to post on the Geezer YouTube site and here only to find three other riders in 2 hours of freeway, business traffic, and highway footage. I think it's time to start forcing motorcyclists to retake the driving test every year to prove they can still ride. Screw the statistics. There may be 180,000 licensed riders in Minnesota, but they don't deserve to be licensed.

As for the Teabaggers and wingnut hate mongers who did their damned best to inspire the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (regardless of the shooter's eventual motivation), I hope there is a hell because that's where you'll be spending eternity. You don't put a bull's eye on public officials, shriek "Don't retreat, reload," and agitate crazy boneheads to violence without consequences, unless you're a wingnut. Giffords is one of the good guys. There aren't many of those left in public office.

Jun 23, 2011

Asphalt Wars

This past weekend, one of the nicest people I've had in a motorcycle class took a hard spill near the end of the course. She entered a curve a little fast and decided to apply brakes while the bike was leaned over. The bike dropped into a lowside so fast that she didn't even have time to get her hands down to cushion the fall.

[This guy demonstrates the crashing "technique" pretty well.]

Unfortunately, our student was poorly protected by her gear. She really tore up her chin with a face-plant and her eye protection (sunglasses) caused significant bruising and abrasions to her right eye. Her 3/4 helmet provided about 3/4 protection, but since face plants account for 40-70% of injuries and impact points in crashes (depending on whose statistics you use) that description is misleading.

For me, her crash was harsh reminded of how unforgiving nature is. I haven't seen someone go down that hard for a few years. She was probably going about 15mph before braking, so her impact speed was no more than 10-12mph. The front tire slid out so quickly, she didn't even know she was in trouble until she was inches from the ground before reacting. She hit face-first, followed by a hard twist to her back, and a hard bounce across the asphalt where she lay still on her back for a few seconds. During that second bounce, her head was about 2' from the ground before coming back to earth hard. She tried to get up, failed, and lay back down with some muscle twitching before going still. The other coach and I signaled for the rest of the class to shut down and we ran for her. The other coach beat me to her by yards and he kept her still while I shut off her bike and moved it away from her. She was coherent but seriously in shock and bleeding. We patched her up, as best our medical kit allowed, and got her back to the trailer to take stock. She is a nurse and provided considerable assistance in her own care. She is tough and practical, so it really helped that there was absolutely no hysterics on her part. I was probably in less control than the actual victim. My co-coach was clearly the better care provider of the two of us.

A few years back, a couple of days before a long trip, I crashed my bicycle at about 2-5mph and shredded my right forearm. That incident was a reminder of how important a little gear can be, even at low speeds. Last weekend's crash was another wake-up call. The side and back of her helmet was rashed deeply. It is entirely possible that she would have been dead or seriously injured without that helmet, but it's also true that she would have been unhurt with a real helmet. Other than the head injuries, she had some minor scrapes on her arms and one shoulder. If she'd have wanted to continue the class, she could have without the head injuries.

Regardless of the pseudo-statistics the anti-helmet crowd blows around at us, the overwhelming majority of motorcycle deaths are due to head injuries. Not wearing a helmet is evidence of ignorance and foolishness and nature abhors a fool (the universe is full of vacuums, but fools don't live in a vacuum for more than a few seconds). Two of the three motorcycle deaths I have witnessed would have been prevented by a helmet. I suspect I just witnessed what would have been a fatal crash, but instead it was turned into painful but minor injuries by a helmet. A real helmet would have eliminated all but the slightest of those injuries. Motorcycle gear would have made the crash into a non-event. AGAT, folks. Wear it or pay the price.

Jun 22, 2011

Jun 14, 2011

A Two Wheeled Party

My kind of club ("the Blind Lizards Motorcycle Club meets exactly one day a year") and I can't help but admire the art. The event is the Blind Lizard Picnic and it's held at Nicollet Island, Father's Day, Sunday, June 19. Only bicycles and motorcycles are invited, no cages. It's advertised as a family event.

What It Isn't

This month's Geezer column was my 100th, since beginning the first Letter to the Editor/Geezer Debut called What Are We Riding For? in April of 1999. I'm still asking that question, too. As I work through this season, I'm working on my 10th year as a Minnesota MSF instructor, too. That really brings up that original question after a couple weekends teaching both BRC (Basic Rider Course) and ERC (Experienced Rider Courses) that were experiences in the best and the worst in what motorcycles bring out in Americans.

The first ERC was pretty interesting. The first range exercise in the ERC is a large rectangle around the course. It's an attempt to get riders to break their lazy riding habits and use both brakes before the entrance of curves, look and accelerate through the turn, and knowingly counter-steer. After about 5 minutes of watching the cruiser characters use their engines to decelerate and, when that failed, hold on desperately through the corner until they either made the corner (they all did) or crashed into the adjoining BRC class (none did), I stopped the group. After getting them to shut off their racket-makers, I told them they made me feel like the kid in The Sixth Sense. The only thing I could say about their cornering ability was "I see dead people." I went through the procedure for turns again and restarted the exercise. The only people, out of 11 riders, who used their front brakes consistently were a lady on a Buell Blast, a guy on an old Suzuki GS, another guy on a beat up Triumph triple sportbike, a guy on a huge Victory who was a new rider and had taken the BRC the previous weekend, and a guy who was taking the course with his wife riding passenger. The rest either ignored me or wiggled their fingers at their brake lever without actually using the brake.

And so the day went. They got better, but I felt that most of them would return to their old habits within a week or so. No wonder motorcycle training doesn't seem to improve motorcycle crash and fatality statistics.

The BRC was one of the most frustrating in my MSF career. Of 11 "students" (to moderately abuse the word), 5 dropped out or failed. One, who already owned some kind of Sportster, started badly after telling us that she had been riding for several years and ended early the 2nd day by telling us she didn't need to put up with this crap (negotiating tight turns) and would get her license from the Harley folks. In 10 years of teaching MSF classes, only two students have seriously scared me and this woman was Number Two. Every time she came my way, I planned out my fake and my escape route and I had to use those tactics at least a dozen times in the first day. In retrospect, we should have removed her from the class earlier to protect the other students, but I think we were both just trying to survive the day. Even two of our better riders failed the license test and everyone ended the day frustrated.

The next week, I had another ERC with the same coach I worked with on the BRC from Hell. He's a good guy, an excellent rider, and we usually run a fast, efficient class together. This ERC was a totally different kind of people; generally the same style of bikes, same age group, but completely focused on the purpose of the class. Right from the start, these "students" tried to do everything we suggested. I think we could have just handed them the course book and they'd have done pretty well teaching themselves. They politely thanked us for every correction we offered and continued to exponentially get better with every repetition. I felt pretty good about being part of this program at the end, but I have to wonder if the major contribution was made by the practice space and the students. Regardless, I was there to set out the cones and pick 'em up again as the day progressed.

The next BRC was equally different from the previous. This was a young group with the oldest in the class at 44 and the youngest at 15 (the youngest I've ever taught), so it should have been easy and it was. There were two scooter riders in the group and, otherwise, no motorcycling experience among the bunch. We went from basics to some pretty advanced riding demonstrations in four days (counting the classroom) and the whole group passed the license skills test. We even had three perfect scores and a couple of one-pointers. In fact, the cumulative skills test points of all 11 students didn't add up to a failing score for a single student (21 points is a failing score). Again, managing this class was so easy it didn't seem like I was making much of a contribution. My co-coach even mentioned that if every class was this easy it wouldn't be right to accept payment for doing the work.

On the other hand, the two earlier and opposite classes deserved hazard pay. Seriously. You could be killed or maimed standing any where near our Student from Harley Hell. The only skill she demonstrated was an ability to crank on the throttle at exactly the wrong times, every time. I will never forget her swinging her bike in a circle and rolling out-of-control towards another student while I shouted "stop" and she kept saying, "I am stopped." The only thing that kept her from slamming into the other student's bike was me hitting the kill switch. Then she said, "What did you do that for? I was stopped."

When blessed with meeting a motorcyclist like this, I have to wonder if the guy who sold her that shiny new Harley should be prosecuted for attempted murder or given a Medal of Freedom. Know what I mean?

Jun 13, 2011

Gangs, Gangbangers, and Biker Clubs

By now, it might be obvious to my readers that I'm not a fan of biker gangs.To be politically correct, we're supposed to call these groups "clubs," but I'm so tired of political correctness I'm almost ready to reinstate my grandmother's 1930's pissed-off vernacular. I consider every collection of excess men a "gang" and all of those members to be "gangbangers" and their basic intention to instill fear in the non-members of the group.

To be fair to bikers, any group of excess men makes me nervous: gangs, clubs, football teams, the Mob, military units, Blackwater mercenaries, male support groups, police, heavy metal bands, heavy metal concert crowds, men's movement drum groups, poker runs and charity rides, or just unemployed bums hanging out on a street corner. My wife's term, "excess men," about wraps up the meat in this argument. Men who don't belong to families, have meaningful occupations, feel personal connections to the surrounding community, possess moral values that extend outside of their group, or even a crowd of testosterone charged boys with no adult supervision on a Saturday night. I try to stay clear of anything that resembles a Lord of the Flies congregation. Nothing good will come from getting tangled in their "us against the world" mentality. I, apparently, consistently represent "the world." When those groups are situated in our goofy well-armed country, "dangerous" becomes a grossly understated word. Combine crazy young men, weapons, and a cult-like "mission" and you have the basic formula for social instability.

I know a few people with biker gang histories who resent my implications against the sanity and value of biker gangs. I respect (from a long, disinterested distance) their point of view, but remain perfectly unconvinced. Personally, I'd be happy of there was a Constitutional amendment that prevented groups of single men from congregating in groups of more than two without adult supervision. (None of those "adults" would be permitted to wear uniforms.) The Dave Roth rules of crowd IQ particularly applies to men; "The bigger the crowd, the lower its IQ" and divide the highest IQ in the crowd by the number of people in the crowd to get the crowd IQ. Four Einsteins in a bunch would still be a retarded crowd.

The motivation behind most gangs is the human flaw of mistaking fear for respect. Dictators over the long haul of history have made this error and some have gone down in flames and complete confusion when the people they assumed loved them shot them down like dogs. Most, however, have done pretty well instilling terror for riches and fame. A human life is a short, painful thing and most of the characters who have populated history couldn't manage a Popsicle stand without threatening their customers with injury or death as incentive. So, there is a logical reason for them to band together to oppress competent people who do have lives. The ordinary person makes a useful contribution to the community and doesn't have to scare the shit out of their neighbors to pull it off. However, most people aren't comfortable being surrounded by dangerous, unstable, uneducated men and that makes the average person easy prey for gangs.

History is jammed full of that story and Hollywood has made a bundle on the fantasy that one skilled, well-armed man can protect the rest of us from whatever flavor the local gang provides. Louis L'Amore would have died a poor farm laborer if that one-against-the-gang story had no basis in society's wishful thinking. For the short term, however, fear is an acceptable substitute for respect since respect requires time and energy to earn. All you need to inspire fear is a well-armed gang. Hoot Gibson, Joel McCrea, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, James Arness, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Steven Segal, and even Chuck Norris would be easy pickings for your average US gang; from the inner city Crips and Bloods to Idaho's Aryan Nations.

The other delusion many biker gang members suffer is the fantasy that everyone loves them. As they pass through towns scaring the shit out of the local police and ignoring traffic laws with impunity, gangsters imagine their admirers waving cheerfully at the parade. The reality is that the majority of those people are cursing the bikers' existence and wondering what donut shop is serving as a hideout for the local police?

Gangs of all sorts are convincing arguments for forcible population control. If the gang we hire (the police) can't control the gangs we want protection from, the whole idea of fighting fire with fire becomes obviously hopeless. All that makes for a convincing proof of the "all gangs are bad" argument, but it's mostly useless information and one more reason for suspecting that humans are a evolutionary dead-end.

So, when it comes to gangsters I'm all about avoidance. I don't travel armed. I obviously don't share any of the concerns or opinions of any gang on this earth. We have nothing in common and I suspect we're going to be happiest if we stay as far from each other as possible. (I suspect most people feel that way about gangs. Otherwise, most people would belong to a gang.)  When I was younger I just tried to get by gang parades as fast as possible and put as many miles as possible between me and them. These days, I just pick an alternative route and do my best to be where they aren't. Riding a 250 will humble you that way.

Jun 10, 2011

Personal Delusions

A while back, I got tangled up on a users' page in a discussion about pro riders. It went something like this [edited for brevity]:

ME: . . .  So, forgive me if I'm unimpressed by a non-pro rider's "power is like a dog dragging its ass across the carpet stock" comments. Any tool can go fast on a straight section of freeway, but real riders prove their point on the race track.

Squid #1: . . . You also don't have to be a pro-rider on a race circuit to be considered 'pro.' It's all in experience.

Squid #2: . . . I'm considered/called a pro artist but I don't get paid for my work. Just because someone races and gets paid for it doesn't mean they actually know what they are doing.

ME: . . . My bet would be that if you put a great rider on a WR250X in a tight supermoto track with all of those poser Hypermotards, Diavels, and SM's, you'd see a WR on the podium. I really want to see a Hypermotard in the whoops or on a big jump. Now that's comedy. 

And so it went.

 There seems to be a complete disconnect among the Boomerang generation. Anyone who considers herself a "pro artist" but has never earned a nickel as an artist is delusional. The definition of "professional" includes the exchange of money for work. It's easy to imagine that people who are proud of their "navel studies" degree and believe they are adults able to make their own life-decisions while living in their parents' basement might be clueless about the meaning of the word "professional." For the generation that grew up playing MX Action and NBA Live! and imagines that has some connection to riding a motocross bike or playing basketball, I suppose we should excuse the strange belief that being "professional" has something to do with "experience." I, however, am not interested in excuses or ignorance.

There is no connection, genetically or talent-wise, between professionals and the rest of us. Anyone who can watch Valentino Rossi, Bobby Hannah, Dougie Lampkin, Jeff Ward, Kenny Roberts, or the rest of the world's best and see any connection between that level of performance and their own riding better be ready to put up or shut up on the track. Otherwise, it's just arrogant babble from drunks at the bar.

Having watched a few pros (motorcycle, basketball, engineers, and musicians) close up, I resent the implication that those exceptional people are just "experienced." Their courage, commitment, ability, dedication, and creativity is almost unimaginable among ordinary humans.  The people who finance professional sports don't care about your experience, they want to win. Coming in second is no better than finishing last. You are either the world champ or one more guy who finished behind the world champ. If you are good enough to convince a motorcycle race team to hand you a zillion dollar race bike, you are better than 99.9-something-% of all motorcyclists in the world. Everyone is "experienced," only the best are professionals. And, yeah, they do know what they are doing.

Jun 6, 2011

All the News that Didn't Fit

A Motorcycle Safer May?
May was officially Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Early in the month, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) asked that "all motorists" use this as an opportunity "to improve their driving, improve their riding, make better decisions and increase safety for everyone on the road." I want to add to that that May should have been a month when we all got better SAT and IQ scores and made more informed voter decisions. How'd that go for you?

BMW and Husky
BMW's plans for Husqvarna is beginning to make sense. The German company has announced a new 900cc street model using BMW's 800cc Rotax twin power plant. It appears that BMW is going after KTM's adventure touring, supermoto business with their new label.

Motorcycles and Toll Booth Lines
Have you ever been stuck behind a truck in a toll booth line, or any kind of line? At a toll booth in France, a truck belonging to Herve Poncharal's MotoGP team decided another line was moving faster, backed up, and headed for the other line, only to find a motorcyclist tangled in the truck's wheels. The rider died before emergency vehicles arrived. The driver has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. The incident makes a strong case for motorcycle-only lanes in similar situations.

Feeling Mortal

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

This has been a tough 24 months. In the spring of 2009, my step-mother died. Later that year, two friends bought the farm, one of whom was considerably younger than me. Spring 2010, my father died: he was almost 91. This past winter, one friend announced he had been diagnosed with a fatal cancer and another died in a car crash. There is nothing like losing friends and family to remind us of our mortality. There is nothing to like about being reminded of mortality. I know that my father's 91 years seems like a long, long time. It's not.

Thirty years ago, when he was my age, my father didn't have a personal doctor. He lived 64 years without a single cavity, broken bone, or even a bad cold. He'd lived through the Great Depression, multiple WWII landings in North Africa and Europe, kamikaze near-misses on a Pacific aircraft carrier, forty-five years of teaching high school and coaching football, tennis, and basketball, and being the sole support for a five-kid family. Up until his first major medical event, he was a state champion "over-30's" tennis doubles competitor for more than 30 years. He was knocking down 3-pointers and kicking his kids' and grandkids' asses on the basketball court well into his sixties. He worked an 18-hour work day until he retired. In his late-sixties, cancer and his cancer therapy took away most of his sight, hearing, his mobility, his golf game, and a good bit of his life. A heart attack in his mid-70s mostly bound him to his home. Every year, he lost a little more of his physical life until he was only able to leave home in an electric wheelchair. After having a ramp built for his front door, he had the chair for about two weeks before he died.

Like a kid with a new bike, Dad loved his electric scooter. He ripped out of the house, leading whoever was going with him, blasting through residential intersections. It wasn't a matter of not looking. Dad couldn't see a car coming if it were topped with flashing lights and painted like a GSXR. He reminded me of an old guy with a new Harley and about twenty minutes of riding experience. Unlike that stereotype, my father didn't have much to lose. For a change, he was having fun and experiencing a little freedom from the limitations of his life. For the first time in his life, he might have had some empathy with my love of two-wheeled adventure.

When I was twenty, I thought I had all the time in the world. When I turned thirty, I felt like an old man and thought it was all downhill from there. When fifty rolled around, forty seemed like the prime of youth. At sixty-something, time is the only thing I know I don't have to spare. Time is the only completely non-renewable resource. You get however many years you get and, then, you are done.

I suppose the next stage is where I will begin to realize that no matter what I do, I will never be in better shape than today. That's got to be the definition of "being old." At some point in life, exercise, diet, and self-discipline lose their power over age. The day you know that every facility you possess is on a non-stop trajectory downhill, is the moment you switch from feeling alive to dying. Of course, that's illusion. As Bobby Dylan said, "He not busy being born is busy dying." The arc of our lives is a quick peak with a long decline, a skewed-left bell curve of abilities, endurance, and energy.

With that in mind, most of the piddly stuff of life shrinks to insignificance. Work, politics, money, possessions, Facebook, and all the silly crap people allow to get between their lives and the things that matter all shrink to insignificance. In the end, family, the friends you've made, adventures and inspiring sights, and the good and bad you have done are the sum of a life. It would be terrible to have put off living until retirement and discover that you've slipped past that point of no return before even getting started.

WWII set my father back some. The death of my mother, when she was 34 and he was 36, took some more starch out of him. His desperate desire to "fix" his broken family inspired a hasty remarriage and an instantly large family. The stress from all of those events and decisions pushed him into a shell where he stayed for most of his life. His quest for adventure was so suppressed that a family hike up an Estes Park mountainside was over-the-top extreme sport.

In his mind, I was always "that dumb kid." I've lucked out and none of life's real catastrophes have struck me directly. In his mind, my motorcycling jones was a crazy, irresponsible, incredibly dangerous addiction that probably should have been treated with medication and corporal punishment. As should have my backwoods backpacking, white water canoeing, mountain biking (which started with a 40 pound Schwinn on our neighborhood hills), and my rock and roll guitar-playing habits. He was probably right about bicycling because I had more near-misses and catastrophic hits on bicycles than anything I do, other than household repairs.

It took me years to realize that WWII was all the adventure my father needed or wanted in his lifetime. His last couple of weeks of life were, maybe, the first time he connected to the fact that I'm still accumulating a tiny portion of the lifetime experience he collected in his twenties between 1942 and 1946. Hopefully, I will have better memories of my experiences than my father held.


I worked at a range next to a pack of Hardly noise makers yesterday. My stock answer, when students ask "What do you think about loud pipes?" Is, "Watch South Park."

That's all there is to say about the question.