Jan 30, 2012

Ride with the Gunny?

This is the most baffling ad campaign I've ever seen. What is the attraction to riding a hippobike with a grumpy old guy? If that sells bikes, Honda should pay me to take squids out on the CBR250R. Hell, I'll even yell at them if that adds value. I'll check their hippy credentials, harass them about their poor riding skills, and hand them over to a cop for special attention at the end. We could fill a local jail with violators if that sells bikes. What do you say?

Jan 23, 2012

What Kills Local Dealers?

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

I was wrapping up a Basic MSF course a few weeks ago, telling the new motorcyclists about the 10% discount they'd receive on gear at local dealers by showing the completion card when one of the students asked, "Where do you buy your gear." Somewhat dishonestly, I named the usual suspects without thinking much about it. And I do try to buy locally whenever possible, but it's harder to make that possible all the time.

First, my favorite local dealer, Kline Motorsports, closed its doors last fall. Jim Kershaw, Kline's parts manager, went above and beyond my expectations for customer support and I, in turn, went way beyond my usual routine in making sure that I bought all of my V-Strom parts from him. When I was getting my gear ready for a 2007 trip to Alaska, I'd heard stories about how easily bad gas could wreak the V-Strom's fuel pump and I was all ready to buy a backup pump for the trip. When I explained my plan to Jim, he said, "Don't worry about it. I'll order one and, if you need it, we'll drop ship it to where ever you are." From then on, I bought everything from spare screws to gloves to repair parts from Kline. I didn't even go on-line to compare prices. I bought several hundred dollars worth of stuff from Kline every year and usually placed my orders over the phone. They didn't ask for advance payment and always delivered what I ordered within a few days.

My experience with two other local dealers goes back to when I first moved to the Cities, in 1996. I was riding a Yamaha TDM at the time and neither dealer stocked any parts for that bike, neither could get parts in less than a couple of weeks, and both required that I visit their parts room with a credit card before they'd order anything for me. I can do better than that on-line, without the hassle of dealing with the arrogant parts counter kids. Honestly, I sometimes think my usual on-line supplier is personally more interested in my business than the local guys demonstrated. Unlike most Americans, I have a long memory: "Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me." Almost 25 years later, I still have a more personal relationship with Beach Yamaha in California than I've managed outside of Kline. It didn't hurt that the service manager and I both rode XTZ550's (his was a way cooler Canadian white version), but that store actually bothered to take customer names and worked to maintain that database.

Recently, I ran myself through the local service cycle to see if anything had changed. I needed an air filter for my WR Yamaha and I wanted it fast. I called the local dealers. Nobody had a filter in stock or knew how long it would take to get one and everyone wanted a credit card number to order the part. I called my neighborhood store for an aftermarket replacement and . . . again, a credit card and an undetermined wait and the kid wanted me to call the order line because he was too important to transfer the call. I went across town, got a counter guy who claimed to be able to get the part in a couple of days. I coughed up the credit card and waited. A week later, I called about the filter and was told it was coming from the other end of the country and I'd be notified when it arrived. There was no option to cancel the late order or inclination to call to tell me the two day delivery wouldn't happen.

My favorite on-line supplier had it in stock and could have delivered it next-day if I'd have paid the extra freight. So, while it would be hip and community-oriented to always buy locally, it's often the hard way to go.

The problem is that local dealers aren't all that interested in local customers. Their employees are mostly Boomerang Kids who have been convinced that living in mommy's basement and working at a motorcycle shop makes them cool. They don't need the job, or any job, and don't give a damn about the store's customers or the store itself. The store owners are disconnected from their customers and their business processes. Yamaha doesn't do it's dealers any favors either. Yamaha's "Greater Twin Cities Yamaha Dealers" site lists six dealers, including dealers in Belle Plaine, St. Bonifacius, and Forest Lake. The Hitching Post, Delano, 61, or Starr Cycle weren't even listed.

I, clearly, have some habits to break if I want to buy locally. First, I have to give up entirely on the dealers who have been useless in the past, regardless of how close they are to where I live. Starr Cycle, for example, has been incredibly helpful in the past but the 90 miles to Mankato is an obstacle. The same goes for Delano Sports Center, 45 miles from my home. Two to five hours of road time is hard to call "local," but you do the best you can with what you have.

A depressed economy doesn't just weed out the weak and incompetent. According to some reports, Suzuki lost almost 30% of its US dealers in 2008-09. A lot of good businesses have failed in the last four years and a lot more are on the edge. It's almost impossible for a working class dealer to overcome competition that is backed by a substantial trust fund. The good dealers need all the support they can get, but it may not be enough to overcome a stagnant economy. Going through the maze of chaff to find the good dealers is enough to drive anyone to the internet (where we search for the dealers in the first place). This is exactly what kills local business.

Moose Strikes Twice

The headline reads "B.C. woman hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose." Ok, this isn't really funny, but is sure curious. On the other hand, in British Columbia seeing a moose is about as common as hoofed rats in Minnesota. I saw at least a dozen on a 100 mile ride down the Stewart-Cassier Highway (Hwy 37) and that was in broad daylight on a cold, rainy day. (Ok, so the daylight wasn't "broad," but it was daytime. Better?)

Jan 17, 2012

Cuttin' to the Bone

I'm on two legs now, walking around the house and using a cane when I go out for distance (1.5 - 2 miles a day average last week). Five weeks out from having my leg cut off and the jury (me) is still out on whether this was a good idea. I am a miserable cripple. I hate being unable to put my own socks on, let alone tie my shoes. My left leg jiggles like my belly, something that drives me crazy (both the leg and the belly). I lost about all of my muscle mass in the surgery and that comes back glacially at my age.

There is a great website, Edheads - Virtual Hip Replacement Surgery, that provides a complete look (less gore) of the procedure. Too many people, in my opinion, minimize the severity of this surgery and toss themselves into the hands of surgeons without a second thought. Go through the whole procedure, then decide how you feel about getting your leg cut off compared to whatever pain you're experiencing and disability you're suffering. If you don't have the stones to do the virtual procedure, I suspect you won't do well with the real thing. Lots of people don't.

I was in the garage earlier today, moving the battery tender from the V-Strom to the WR, and trying to imagine being able to swing a leg over either bike. It's impossible today. It's more possible today than last week, though. My wife cautions "patience." Patience, my ass. I want to ride something.

Jan 7, 2012

The Pace or the Ride

Sev Pearman, my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly editor and long-time friend and co-conspirator, sent me an article written by Motorcyclists' Nick Ienatsch called "The Pace." In the article, Ienatsch extolls the virtues of a particular sort of group ride. After several people on Sev's email list responded, I felt compelled to put my $0.02 worth of bullshit into the mix.

"Responsible? A bit. Educational? Probably. Fun? Most certainly not.

"Nothing about any sort of group street riding sounds rational to me. The opportunities for misjudging the surrounding riders, for getting overwhelmed with input data, or for becoming so bored that I drive off into a ditch to keep from falling asleep and to provide myself with a little entertainment are all reasons why I always "get lost" in group rides. Make one wrong turn, and you own the road again and don't have to worry about who fell down up front or who's about to run up your tailpipe on a boring straight section or where you're going to sit when 70 bikers decide to descend on a hapless coffee shop or greasy spoon. There is an aspect of 'togetherness' that many people link to motorcycling that is, as my hero Eric Cartman would say, 'Lame, dude. Totally lame.'"

Yep, I felt pretty good about that opinionated opinion. I'm still about half-doped up with my morning dose of 15mg of morphine sulfate and 5-325mg of oxycodone-acetamineophen (Percoset), so I could be wrong.

Sev whipped right back with, "I'm gonna disagree w/ you on this one, Thomas. There are times when I LOVE riding w/ 1-5 other riders of similar skill and mindset. Parade rides of pirate-costumed riders on clown bikes? No Thanks But a spirited ride among a small group  of riders can be invigorating."

Which, finally, brings us to the point of today's Geezer rant. As you know, I can't tolerate disagreement; unless I get a beer out of the deal. When it comes to off-road riding, I'm sort of in agreement with Sev, although my group size would probably be smaller (1-3, with 1 being exponentially better than 3). I found, on my trip around Superior last fall, that I'd rather be in a cage if I'm trying to hang with someone (preferably with them doing the driving) than do the group ride thing. Economically, ecologically, practically, and socially, it makes more sense.

The conversation and, probably, the drugs brought up some old memories that had been almost entirely in the old age fuzz. Must be the morphine or Alzeheimers.

In Colorado, there were a group of three guys I hung out with for almost everything. We worked together, explored Colorado's cities and mountains and ghost towns, fixed cars, did off-road remote controlled car racing, hot-wired the company's intranet so we could play networked Doom and Hell on Earth (Doom II) all weekend, and generally hung out a lot. When I first moved to CO, I was the only active motorcyclist in the group, so we naturally did a lot of stuff in our cages and the "driver" of the event picked everyone up and sort of set the tone for whatever we were going to do. The two vehicles of group excursion choice were often my hippie Toyota van, which had no back seats, but was "decorated" in two large beanbags (for camping), an icebox, and a great surround system and a 1960 Pontiac Catalina convertible with an even better surround system. We covered a lot of ground in those two vehicles, including trips to New Mexico and Wyoming, an excursion to visit my family in L.A., fishing on Colorado's Arkansas River, road trips up Mount Evans and Pike's Peak, and at least one lap around Colorado's state RC off-road electric championship series.

A couple of years later, everyone decided they needed to become motorcyclists. We started to try to do the same things we'd done in cages by bike. It was a miserable experiment. Our skill levels were all over the place. Every trip ended up with one of the rookies in a ditch or dragging his ass back home with parts dangling from their poorly maintained bikes. In the end, I took to planning the route and heading for the end point at my own rate, expecting to spend an afternoon in that spot while the other guys straggled in hours later. On a Denver to Pike's Peak trip, I rode the whole mountain, twice, performed a thorough maintenance on my bike, had a long conversation with one of the Peak's railroad engineers, and had lunch before the other three guys straggled into the parking lot. Around that point, I decided group rides weren't going to be my deal and I have avoided them since. I will always miss the road trips we took, but none of the motorcycle adventures.

Jan 1, 2012

Where have all the model builders gone?

One of my on-line friends (thanks Paul) sent me this link to convalesce with: Aviation: Where Have the Models Gone? The author attempts to link lost mechanical understanding and skills with the demise of kids' building detailed models. One of the activities I've let slide has been building motorcycle models. For a few years, I bought and built everything Tamyia made two-wheel-ish. I have about a half-dozen really cool models that I plan to get back to this winter.

When I was a kid, I had a huge collection of Revell and Monogram models, from Big Daddy Roth hot rods to WWII and Korean Conflict military planes, trucks, and ships. I don't know what I learned about mechanics from building models, but I did learn about following instructions, detail work, and how to blow stuff up. Every 4th, I would take out the year's model production, load 'em up with M80s and cherry bombs and spread plastic bits all over my parents' backyard. Nothing was spared. I had a tiny basement room in my parents' home. There was no room for anything other than me, a twin bed with a bookshelf headboard, the built-in desk and bureau, and if I wanted to make something new in the next year, I had to clear out the previous year's inventory. Plus I liked blowing stuff up. Still do.