Mar 31, 2012

Cherry Picking

I feel like Jon Stewart trolling the "news" for comedy material. There is so little good to say about getting old farts back "on the road" on trikes that I don't know where to start. However, I appreciate the effort the company is making to solve the Social Security budget crisis. If trikes are dangerous on small ATVs, imagine how scary one of those POS designs will be on the road. Unlike this "engineer's" opinion, trikes are not safer just because they don't fall over at a stop sign. Like I said a long time ago, It's Not A #&^%#@ Wheelchair!

Blissful Ignorance?

When I started planning for the possibility of a hip replacement, I did what all geeks do in situations of ignorance; I went to the internet for advice. What I found was a lot of stories about hip replacements gone badly, unhappy patients, people who had gone from misery to more misery, and lots of legal sites trolling for patient-clients. That was a year ago. So, I decided to live with the pain and hope for the best. I made it through the summer, surviving a slightly lower MSF class load but ending the summer feeling my years and miles.

After I got back from my Lake Superior Circle with my brother, I was struggling. In a 1/2 mile walk, I was literally dragging my left leg for the last couple of blocks. After a day of work, I could hardly get out of the car and seriously considered spending the night in the garage rather than deal with the pain of trying to get my lame leg out of the car. Even with fairly consistent dieting and a year of physical therapy, I'd gained 30 pounds the previous year because it's tough to seriously burn calories without a working lower half. Last year, I added a lot of upper body cardio exercise to my routine and cut out even more of the casual part of my diet to get rid of about 25 pounds of lard, but I hit a plateau and the next 30 pounds stuck to me like it belonged there.

By early October, I'd come up with a surgery plan and started looking for a doc to perform it. I wanted a "resurfacing," in spite of the fact that is is a "new" procedure in the US, most US docs won't do it for over-60 patients, and, worst of all, the procedure wasn't invented here (it's Australian, like an awful lot of sports-oriented surgical procedures). Of the six guys who do resurfacing in Minnesota, five wouldn't talk to me at all because of my age; including the surgeon who had trained the other five surgeons. I made an appointment with the one guy who considered me a possible resurfacing candidate, but after reviewing my hip deterioration (too much bone loss) and making a judgement of my physical condition he said he wouldn't consider a resurfacing for me. In the end, I scheduled surgery for mid-December and started looking at how a total hip replacement would affect my life.

While I was considering the new plan, I looked into the company that made the prosthesis my doctor favored, the various surgical options, and anything else I thought was related. I know two guys who had hip replacements and their recovery has been less-than-inspiring. One has serious non-hip-related bone conditions that probably explains his progress and lack of same. The other is a classic American "patient": disinterested in the procedure's details, half-hearted about his doctor's physical therapy and medication, diet, and personal habits recommendations, and downright squeamish about the surgery. That seemed to be a characteristic of a lot of people who were complaining about their surgery's results. I kept looking and found two other people who had had hip replacements and were doing magnificently less than 6 months out from being cut. Both of those guys were conversant in the details of their surgery, were monster physical therapy junkies, and almost overwhelmed me with their insight of all aspects of being cut in a clinical environment and being in control of the recovery afterwards. They both set a standard of patient participation that I hoped to emulate.

Using their model, I went hunting in the weeks between being scheduled for surgery and the actual surgery date. I loaded up on background materials. One of the more education things I found was this Edheads hip replacement "video game" (link at left), which puts the player in the surgeon's seat. As a reference, neither of the poorly recovering patients could stomach playing surgeon (my favorite part of the video is the "pop" sound effect the animation uses when the leg dislocates from the pelvis socket) and both of the high-functioning ex-patients thought this site was the coolest thing on the web, although both criticized the procedure's technique as "out-dated."

Last month an old friend complained that "doctors are always treating symptoms with drugs etc. but never going after the root cause." I have to disagree, doctors have been going after the root cause, at least, since I was a kid. We've had the food pyramid, the diet plate, anti-smoking warnings, anti-lardass warnings, years of "get fit" encouragement, and everything short of boarding up fast food franchises and covering them with poison ivy, but Americans are uninterested in the symptoms. We want easy solutions. Blaming our health problems on unnatural food is like blaming our tanked economy on poor people; it requires a surreal perspective on reality and a massive math incapacity. Blaming the medical industry for focusing on repair procedures is as rational as blaming auto mechanics for buying tools and fixing busted cars instead of giving driving maintenance lessons. We're fat because we eat too much garbage and we exercise too little. We have crap-loads of problems recovering from surgical solutions to our poor health because we're lazy, ignorant, and squeamish (wimps, in plain language). I'd like to think that motorcyclists are an exception to this rule, but there is some serious pork on those Hogs and too many of us use our motorcycles like overpriced wheelchairs.

At four months out, I still have a ways to go to consider myself "recovered." I'm still old, overweight, and weaker than I should be. The older I get, the harder it seems to be to recover from anything. If I work everyday for a month to improve my physical conditioning, but take a couple of days off to relax on a weekend, I've lost ground. From here out, I suspect that will only get worse. However, this picture of John Turner (at 69), from 50 Athletes over 50 Teach Us to Live a Strong, Healthy Life, has been stuck in my head for more than a decade and it's evidence that if you have a little luck, work at it hard, and don't give in to gravity, you can go down fighting. We're all going down, eventually, the trick is to do it with style.

Back in the late 90's, I watched Dick Mann celebrate his 60th birthday by slaughtering the over-500cc competition on the vintage motocross track at Steamboat Springs. I'll never been Dick Mann, but I could do a lot better job of being Thomas Day.

Mar 30, 2012

Change is Gonna Come

As I write this, I'm watching "The Revenge of the Electric Car." This is the follow-up, story-wise, to "Who Killed the Electric Car." It's a killer story, one of how Detroit (especially GM, the one-time front-runner of electric car design) got kicked in the ass by Silicon Valley (Tesla Motors), Japan (Toyota, first, followed by everybody making cars in Japan), and Europe (Audi, VW, BMW, Renault). The filmmakers got incredible access to the inside workings of GM, Nissan, Tesla, and Toyota. The story is not about how difficult the technology would be, it wasn't about how hard it would be to convince consumers to make the switch, the story is about how the industry, suddenly, realized the electric car's time had come. In fact, some of the executives realized the time had past and they were catching up to their own customers.

Incredibly unlikeable characters like Bob Lutz, GM's head gangbanger, demonstrated how their leadership imperfections created an industry that collapsed into a smoking heap of history. The inside view of that company and the brief commentary from Congress that disrespected automotive executive capabilities to a pretty realistic level provides a powerful perspective on how a once-great-and-powerful industry became near-obsolete. The Tesla story was pretty amazing, too. He decided to build a high-end, top dollar electric sportscar right at the time the economy crashed into a dying trash bin.

The major motorcycle manufacturers apear to be as clueless as Detroit, when it comes to where electric motorcycles fit into the future. Silicon Valley (Santa Cruz, CA), however, is moving into the future without pause. Zero Motorcycles is making a practical vehicle for a reasonably credible price (about $9k after the 10% federal tax credit for the ZeroS) for an 88mph, 114 miles/charge, $1/charge motorcycle. Zero may not be the eventually winner in this technology race, but they have a shot at it. Harley and Polaris, on the other hand, don't have a clue that there is a race.

Four years ago, I wrote an article called "A Technological Dead End." Apparently, my editors didn't like the column much, because it's still on the waiting list to be chosen or for me to give up on it and put it in this blog. In that article, I wrote about several technologies I've watched that peaked about the time the technologists realized the business was dead. Oil is dead. The peak oil curved topped in 2003 or 2004, even according to uber-conservatives like Dick Cheney. The world is overheating, our air is practically chewable, the world economy is tanking and a lot of that decline and instability is energy-based, and all the wrong people are getting rich in the process.

Oil and the oil economy is dead, we're just to dumb to know it. With it could go motorcycles. On the other hand, it's hard to beat motorcycles for the kind of single-passenger travel most of us do every day.

Mar 29, 2012

Writin' Reviews

I sent MMM's editors an article suggestion a few weeks back, "I think it would be cool to do an article about reviewing motorcycles with everyone putting in their two cents about the experience. Since hardly any of us like reviewing cruisers, that would be a principle part of the article; why we hate reviewing cruisers from everyone's point of view. On the plus side, everyone could talk about what they'd like to review and why." The editors resisted my "why we hate reviewing cruisers" suggestion for obvious (advertisers and money) reasons, but they were somewhat open to "a story on the challenges about trying to rude/write/review objectively." I think that's an interesting article, but I like my original idea better. So, I'm going to do it here. 

The hard fact is most motorcyclists dislike incompetent engineering. Bikers will ride any damn thing they think makes them look cool, but motorcyclists just want to go somewhere on two wheels with as little pain as possible and as much fun as they can stand. Fun is not a component of riding a cruiser. The damn things are just too awkward to even be considered motorcycles, let alone competent motorcycles. They are style-before-function toys and, as such, leave a lot to be desired in the riding-somewhere department. Currently, MMM has two people on staff who enjoy a day in a gynecologist's chair; editor Bruce Mike and new writer Michelle Moe. In a more rational world, that would set the magazine up for all of the cruiser reviews anyone should ever want to read. But there is a perverted strain in humans that insists everyone take a turn in the torture chamber. Hence, my two turns on cruiser crap.

An even odder fact about some of us at MMM is that we aren't all poor, young, starving writers desperate to hang on to our writing gigs. MMM doesn't pay squat for the written word and most of us are doing what we do for the magazine because it's fun. Opposed to the glossy magazine writers who are scratching out a living writing about motorcycles and desperately aware that practically everyone on the planet and on two wheels can do that job as well as they are doing it. To get some of us to review a motorcycle, it has to be worth messing with. For example, me. I have a 2004 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and a 2008 WR250X Yamaha. Nothing special there, but those two bikes do almost everything I can imagine wanting to do on a motorcycle. In fact, the only bikes I can imagine stuffing in the corner of my garage with the current two would be a relatively modern trials bike or the Zero DS. Otherwise, nothing made or imported into the US is as fun to ride as what I already own. That makes me less than excited about blowing a day or two on a motorcycle that I wouldn't own if I didn't have any motorcycles.

My lessened excitement level does a couple of things to and for the reader. Unlike those desperate kids, I say what I think not what the bike supplier wants me to say (and think). If I don't like a bike, I say so. Sometimes the magazine chooses not to publish what I say but I still said it and most readers find the hints of the bits that were cut in what's left. My general lack of enthusiasm for the Holy Grail of Motorcycling can be a downer for kids who desperately need a cheerleader. I played football. I was not a football cheerleader (like G.W. Bush or the other Texas nancyboy Perry). I don't do cheers for anyone or anything, except my kids.

Every once in a while, I get to ride something I like and when I like it I say it. The Honda CBR250R in the current issue, the Kawasaki Versys, the Suzuki Gladius, both of the KLR650 (2002 & 2008) models I reviewed, and the 650 V-Strom that I liked so much I bought one. The reviews that have attracted even more attention are the reviews that didn't make it into MMM but ended up here and on my website like the Suzuki TU250X. I'm really unfiltered on my own blog.

So, that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Does This Armor Make My Butt Look Big?

A little while back, I was freaking out because I heard about someone bending her hip implant. So, I ordered hip pads for my Darien pants and those fine products arrived yesterday. I installed them this morning and took them for a test drive to work today. First, I think the extra protection is more than worthwhile. Second, as usual I immediately began to have second thoughts about my purchase. Aerostich makes two options for the pads, the soft shell set of TF3 foam and a curved hard shell set that has a hard plastic outer shell and might provide more protection. Now that I bothered to look, I see that my ole' buddy, Mr. Subjective, explained the differences in the pads at the bottom of the website page for the pads. [I use the smaller TF 5 hip pads, with optional sleeves in my Roadcrafter one piece. They are the easiest to manipulate my hand around to get into my pants pockets. (To reach a wallet or whatever.) And of the two versions of the larger size TF3 pads, the curved ones with the hard shells fit and function a little better -- but the flat ones are by far the best-seller. As far as protecting your hips from impacts they're all roughly similar, with the curved hard shell and TF5 models being slightly better. So if you want bigger and better, go with the curved hard shell model. For optimum street-pant access, the TF5 model. And for effective lower-cost protection, it's the flat ones. - Mr. Subjective 2012] The hard shell pads are $10 more, but that isn't what made me pick the softer pads.

Honestly, I was worried about comfort. There I said it. What kind of idiot chooses armor based on comfort? Me and a few thousand other riders and anyone else who uses armor on a daily basis. I know me and I know that if the gear is uncomfortable, hard to use, or in any way inconvenient, I'll find a way to avoid using it. My Darien and A.D.1. pants fit perfectly. They go over my regular pants and fit comfortably. Adding the hip pads decreases the flexibility, increases the insulation factor (and temperature, especially when it's already hot out), and makes the pants fit a little tighter. I can't say that any of those "features" are comfort oriented. So, I opted for the least protection possible because I know it is more than I had before and there is a fair chance that I'll stick with wearing it after the fragile old fart freakout is over. I'm still thinking about the hard shells, though.

MN Helmet Law

Big surprise, ABATE is opposing the new attempt to pass a helmet law in Minnesota. I can't remember the last time I agreed with ABATE, but this is sort of one of those times. I disagree on the need for a helmet law. Motorcyclists lost their "freedom" argument when seat belt "violations" became a primary offense in Minnesota. (Babble on about cagers wearing helmets, but we all know that's a non sequitur.) Our out-of-proportional miles ridden to highway deaths statistics are more than enough to move any sensible legislator to either do everything possible to improve motorcycle safety statistics or get the damn things off of the public roads. I'd rather they do the first.

ABATE chitters about having government "focus on public awareness, rider education, and crash prevention" as if that has a chance in hell of accomplishing anything. "Public awareness" of what? The 0.0001% of traffic that motorcycles amount to on a typical roadway? How about increasing the public's awareness that most motorcycle crashes are the fault of the motorcyclist (look at Colorado's data, for example)?

"Rider education" is such a empty promise that the MSF cautions its state providers not to try to connect training with lower mortality, morbidity, or crash statistics because "in societies where rider training was both widely available and in generally mandatory, they were unable to find conclusive evidence that riders without training were more likely to be involved in accidents." Wikipedia has a fairly extensive page on Motorcycle Training and their entry is consistent with everything I've read.

And, finally, "crash prevention." Gotta love that brilliant idea. "Hey, I just thought of something, let's all quit crashing." That'll work. We just put our heads together and make a wish, "I wanna stay rubber-side-down for ever, so help me Kenny Roberts."

Nope, the place where I agree with ABATE is the idiotic kiss up to rich guys on garage candy that allows folks who can put up a half-million dollar "reparation security" on their motorcycle "that provides medical expense benefits of at least $250,000 and at least that amount for the total of income loss, replacement services loss, funeral expense loss, survivor's economic loss, and survivor's replacement services loss." As Bruce Mike said in his From the Hip column this month, if this makes sense why can't the same 1%'ers "demand the same option regarding seat belts?"

Just pass the helmet law, fools. Quit trying to find revenue venues that you can pretend are not "taxes" (like every other charge, fine, levy, fee, or resource enhancement you fruitcakes who signed the No New Taxes Pledge have tacked on to the 99% to protect the assets of the 1% who own your useless asses) and do something useful. Either man-up and pass a helmet law or stick your heads back in the mud and pretend you're giving taxpayers some value for their money.

Mar 25, 2012

Feakin' Stupid

So, yesterday I was out riding around town, doing eBay errands, checking in on friends, and enjoying the fruits of Minnesota's end of global warming.when I realized that I should be wearing hip pads. What the f.&*k! I just got a brand new, titanium socket and ball, which may or may not be stronger than the old flesh-and-bone attachment, and my Darien's are protection-free. The guy who bought my Super Sherpa told me a story about his mother-in-law falling and bending her hip replacement so badly it had to be removed. I say again, what the f.&*k! Holy crap and other expletives. Getting one of these things out after it has ingrown for four months has got to be godawful surgery. Putting something back in that mangled hole is a whole 'nother story. So, I ordered some hip pads from Aerostich and I'm wearing pillows on my ass till they get here.

Mar 24, 2012

Get 'em While They're Green

This is officially the must have gift for any real motorcyclist. Get yours by April 1st and be the first in your gang, biker bar, or "club" brag about it. 

New Aerostich Inflatable Shade Tree

The biggest of 156 all-new items in the new 2012 Aerostich/RiderWearHouse catalogs...and a must-have on any road trip. Deploys quickly and converts any barren roadside area into an oasis of shaded respite. Available in four arboreal varieties: Douglas Fir, White Pine, Walnut or Maple. Each inflates to a full-grown 20'x10', yet packs small enough to carry along on every ride. Set-up is fast and easy with optional compressor/inflator. Enjoy nearly instantaneous shade in any environment. A survival aid in arid desert scenarios which makes impromptu repairs tolerable under even the most relentless broiling sun. Rugged Chinese-engineered construction ensures many seasons of trouble free use. Prices start at $309.17, including patch kit, Kevlar guy lines and Ti stakes. Forest pack deal: Fifth tree is free with purchase of four.

Mar 23, 2012


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

There is a lot of controversy over which version of this story, the David Fincher "English" version (2011) or the Niels Arden Oplev Swedish version (2009), is the best or comes closest to the original Stieg Larsson novel or whatever criteria you may have for judging two movies about the same story. I am here to cast my vote after watching both in a couple of days.

English biking moments.

My critical judgement is mostly based on the motorcycling in these movies, since both stories are similar enough that I could watch either and get what the author/directors intended easily enough. However, the Fincher movie contains dramatically more motorcycle footage and creates a considerably more believable and interesting motorcycling character on a cafe racer-styled Honda CL350 than Oplev presents on a Yamaha WR250X (my best guess, since the motorcycle is so unimportant in the Swedish version). There you have it. I'm done. 

Swedish biking moments.

There's a little more to it than that, but not much. For my tastes, the Euro version is too dumbed-down, too slow, and a little old fashioned; editing-wise. Too much background is explained, rather than shown. Oplev's version has the main characters and secondary characters overwrought, over-defined, and the story moves slowly as a consequence. There are characters who are unnecessary, scenes that only serve to describe unimportant flashback events are repeated, and, in the usual manner, credibility in physical abilities are almost magically hauled out when convenient. [I could be talking about the Mission Impossible series here, with Tom Cruise's amazing but unpracticed ability on a motorcycle popping from thin air.]

From a motorcycling perspective, that was what I liked the best about Rooney Mara's Lisbeth. She didn't suddenly become a motorcyclist. She is a motorcyclist. She rides everywhere, not just when she can't find someone to drive her in a cage. Mara's character rides balls-out every time she's on the bike. She's got a lean on the CL when she's going straight. On the other hand, the few moments Oplev bothers to film the motorcycle it's straight up and toddling along at a sedate pace appropriate for a newbie on a tall motorcycle. She's as easily convinced to ride with an insecure cager as an old lady looking for a ride to the drug store.

For me, the credibility Lisbeth needs for every other thing she does came from the motorcycle scenes. Either she can do it, or she's just another movie-time poser. Whoever rode the bike for Rooney Mara built credibility for that character that made very other action scene believable. All of that said, both movies are pretty decent. The Euro version is a little slow-paced but it is filmed beautifully. The Swedish story is about a journalist and a girl who owns a motorcycle and rides it occasionally and some seriously evil bastards. The English version is a movie about a motorcyclist and a journalist and some seriously evil bastards. If I'm have a choice of two movies about the same story, I'll take the one with the motorcyclist.

Both movies had a severe motorcycling letdown at the end. [Possible spoiler alert]. The English version pulled the usual  Hollywood crap of having a motorcyclist get into a high speed chase in too much of a hurry to put on her helmet. As if you can actually ride a motorcycle fast with your eyes shut.  And, Tom Cruise-style, the English biker went to great efforts to get in front of the cage she was chasing, as if a diddly motorcycle can stop an SUV in flight. The Swedish movie did the helmet bit right, but missed the coolest moment possible when the motorcycling character gets off of her dirt bike to walk down a mild slope and stare dispassionately at the bad guy in the crashed cage. A real motorcyclist would have ridden down that hill and given the bad guy the stare from the badass black full face helmet.

Mar 17, 2012

Motorcycle Legislation around the Country (AMA press release)

Sacramento, Calif.: Assembly Bill 1890, sponsored by Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), would provide for motorcyclists using vehicular crossings or toll highways to carry a transponder or other electronic toll payment device in one of four ways: in a pocket, inside a cycle net draped over the gas tank, mounted on a license plate device provided by the toll operator, or in the glove box of the motorcycle. Current state law mandates an electronic payment device must be visible at all times for the purpose of enforcement when the vehicle is located on a vehicular crossing or toll highway.
            Sacramento, Calif.: Assembly Bill 1047, sponsored by Assemblyman (R-Lake Elsinore), which would expressly prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies that receive grant money for a motorcycle safety program from using that money for the implementation of motorcycle-only checkpoints. The bill has passed out of the Assembly and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.
            Honolulu: On March 6, the state House voted to pass House Bill 2277. The latest amended version of H.B. 2277 would prohibit youth ATV riding for riders under 8 years old, but is otherwise consistent with industry guidelines and reasonable regulations that have been adopted in other states. Much of the amended version's language comes from model legislation developed by the manufacturers of ATVs. However, the bill departs from the model in the area of minimum age.
            Manufacturers of ATVs design their machines for riders as young as 6. Riders of this age, and younger in some places, regularly participate in AMA-sanctioned events. Thus, the AMA and the All-Terrain Vehicle Association (ATVA) oppose any general prohibition on ATV riding by persons who are at least 6 years.
            The amended version of H.B. 2277 is a significant improvement over the introduced version. However, the AMA and ATVA continue to oppose the bill because of the minimum age provision.
            Please contact your Hawaii state senators today and urge them to change the minimum age requirement in H.B. 2277 to reflect industry guidelines and drop the age from 8 to 6. To call your Hawaii state senators, click here.
            Annapolis, Md.: House Bill 729, sponsored by Delegate (D-Montgomery County) and Senate Bill 940, sponsored by Sen. Roy Dyson (D-Great Mills), would require tire manufacturers or distributors to provide a label displaying each tire’s month and year of manufacture, and deliver information on tire aging and deterioration. The bills would also require tire merchants to keep records for tires older than a certain age if sold as new.
            St. Paul, Minn.: Senate File 1959, sponsored by Sen. Chris Gerlach (R-Apple Valley), would establish penalties for anyone found guilty of certain aggressive, inattentive, reckless, or careless driving offenses resulting in death or great bodily harm. If the violator was using a hand-held cellular telephone or texting while driving, they could be charged with a gross misdemeanor and may be sentenced to one year imprisonment, a $3,000 fine, or both if not charged with a more serious offense. A conviction under this new section would also require the Department of Public Safety to revoke the person's driver's license or driving privilege for a period of not less than six months. Second or subsequent offenses within 20 years of the first offense would be charged as a felony.
            Jefferson City, Mo.: Senate Bill 805, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington), would substantially increase penalties for those pleading or found guilty of certain right-of-way violations that result in physical injury, serious physical injury or death to another roadway user.
            Jackson, Miss.: House Bill 580, sponsored by Rep. Gary Chism (R-Columbus), would reduce the sales tax rate on retail sales of motorcycles from seven percent to five percent.
            Raleigh, N. C.: The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is moving forward with a proposal to use federal taxpayer funds to construct tolling infrastructure along the Interstate 95 (I-95) corridor. I-95 was built using public funds collected from the tax paid on motor vehicle fuels. Implementing tolls on the existing lanes would employ public tax dollars to install the tolling equipment in order to then charge the toll. Potential increases of crashes on secondary roads due to heavier traffic from those avoiding the tolls are also of great concern.
            The AMA sent a letter to the administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Gov. Bev Purdue, and North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Gene Conti opposing the conditional approval for NCDOT to progress with the tolls. To view that letter, please click here.
            Pickerington, Ohio: The AMA is pleased to announce the election of two corporate directors to the Board of Directors: John Ulrich, founder and owner of Roadracing World & Motorcycle Technology, and Sean Hilbert, CEO of Cobra Moto. The elections occurred at the annual AMA corporate members meeting in Indianapolis on Feb. 18. Ulrich was re-elected, while Hilbert is serving his first term on the AMA board. Both terms are for three years.
            In addition, Russ Brenan, senior adviser, government relations and public affairs, Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., was appointed to fill the corporate member seat vacated by Jim Williams, who represented Kawasaki on the AMA board before joining the AMA as vice president of industry relations and corporate member programs. Brenan's term runs through February 2013.
            Also attending the board meeting for the first time was Ken Ford, a 27-year AMA member from Bartow, Fla. Ford's election as the member representative from the Southeast region was announced on Jan. 25.
            To contact Ulrich, Hilbert, Brenan or other members of the AMA Board of Directors, please go to
            Pickerington, Ohio: The AMA has announced lower negotiated insurance cost savings of up to 18 percent for AMA event organizers. The new lower rates are geared to make riding and racing more affordable for AMA members everywhere.
            Offered by Lockton Affinity, the preferred insurance provider of the AMA, the new program takes effect on March 1, 2012. The current reduction is the second insurance rate drop in six months. On Sept. 29, Lockton Affinity offered rates that were 10 percent lower than previous rates.
            Oklahoma City: House Bill 2830, sponsored by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy), would require all motorcyclists over 18 years old who choose to ride without a helmet to carry at least $10,000 in medical benefits to cover injuries resulting from a crash while operating or riding a motorcycle.
            Columbia, S.C.: House Bill 4691, sponsored by Rep. Todd Atwater (R-Lexington), would prohibit the Transportation Commission and the Department of Transportation from discriminating against motorcycles, motorcycle operators, or motorcycle passengers when formulating transportation policy, promulgating regulations, allocating funds, and planning, designing, constructing, equipping, operating, and maintaining transportation facilities. The policy would also apply to transportation facilities and projects undertaken or operated by counties, cities, towns, and other political subdivisions of the state where public funds have been used in whole or in part to plan, design, construct, equip, operate, or maintain the facility or project.
            Columbia, S.C.: House Bill 4584, sponsored by Rep. Todd Atwater (R-Lexington), would require the Department of Transportation to design and erect traffic signs that promote motorcycle safety at locations that are deemed high motorcycle traffic areas, such as motorcycle rally event areas.
            Nashville, Tenn.: House Bill 2483, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), and Senate Bill 2458, sponsored by Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville), would authorize a new Rolling Thunder specialty license plate for motor vehicles. The plate would be designed in consultation with the leadership of the Tennessee chapters of Rolling Thunder and display an appropriate logo or design representative of the organization. Funds produced from the sale of the plates would be allocated to Rolling Thunder's Tennessee chapters for exclusively use to publicize Prisoner of War-Missing In Action (POW-MIA) issues.
            Richmond, Va.: On Feb. 28, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law House Bill 187, which was introduced by Delegate C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). The new law, which takes effect July 1, prohibits law enforcement agencies from establishing checkpoints where the only vehicles subject to inspection are motorcycles.
            The measure was introduced after the Arlington County Police Department set up a motorcycle-only checkpoint during the Rolling Thunder ride on May 28, 2011, that brings awareness to Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) issues.
            Also signed was House Bill 97, sponsored by Delegate Tony Wilt (R- Harrisonburg), which provides that two two-wheeled motorcycles may ride abreast while traveling in a lane designated for one vehicle. 

Remind Me Why?

It's March, unseasonably warm (record-breakingly warm), and we're having lunch in the backyard. Once again, the primary noise source from the freeway across from our house has been idiots on motorcycles. After an hour outside, if it were true that loud pipes save lives, I'd be particularly in favor of total silence motorcycle exhaust laws if there were a chance that would get these idiots out of the gene pool. As my dad used to say, "Fire a couple warning shots to the head to get their attention." I have to wonder if these fools have an attention to get?

This video makes me miss the good old days from California. One of the reasons motorcyclists kept the lane-splitting privilege in CA was that motorcycle cops were so hard on loud pipes, unridable vehicles (like the ape-hanger comedian in this video), hooligans, and the usual gangbanger biker crowd. Today in Minnesota, the gangbangers are the cops, so noise laws and the rest of the rational restrictions on motorcycles are ignored and will continue to be ignored until bikes get banned altogether.

There is no reason why a motorcycle should be louder than a modern car. No safety advantage comes from the noise, no engineering limitations require the noise, and common sense should motivate a minority not to piss off the majority. I'm not kidding. Motorcycles are a solid 10-25dBSPL louder than the average traffic noise. Idiots.

Crazy Weather

A friend of mine wrote, "We're going to be the last generation to enjoy global warming." And enjoying it we are. It's the 2nd week in March and Minnesota is setting all kinds of weather records. Yesterday we were 40F above the average March temperatures. In fact 5 all time high temperature records were set in the past week. I've ridden to work lots of March days, but I can't remember ever doing that without any thermal gear at all. I'm dressing like it's June.

We're probably going to pay for this in July and August and we're really going to pay for it as the oceans rise and currents adapt to increasing levels of fresh water, but right now I'm loving global warming in Minnesota.

Mar 13, 2012

March 13

December 14, I gave up on the idea that I'd be able to physical therapy my left hip back to functional. It took me all of the 3 months of the period between when I met my surgeon and my scheduled surgery date to decide I was going to risk getting cut. A couple of months ago, It was hard for me to see this decisions made a lick of sense. Today, it all came together. Today, Tuesday, March 13, an insignificant day in an insignificant year for most everyone but a day I expect to remember for years, for the rest of my life.

Today it was 52F just before I needed to leave for work. The weather man guess-timated the day's high would be 65F. My leg is stronger than it has been in a couple of years. So, I moved the cage to the driveway, to get it out of the bike's way, and I rode the WRX to work this morning.

If you weren't a motorcyclist, you'd be amazed at the difference 20 minutes on a motorcycle makes in a day. If you are, I'm probably wasting your time here. Today, I handed back about 75 midterm exams, a few of which were pretty damn miserable. I usually put int a fairly long, intense day on Tuesdays. In good times, it's not my favorite day of the week. I won't get to leave before 9PM. For the last 2 months, I've been getting more and more bored with life in the frozen north on four wheels. Overall, I have a pretty good life, a pretty good job, and any half-intelligent guy would be satisfied to plug along just being able to walk at 64. I'm ashamed to admit I'm not that guy. It turns out, a lot (I mean A LOT) of my declining attitude has to do with not being able to ride a motorcycle.

I get bored with the predictable nature of a predictable life. My wife says I was born to be a sailor. My cousin says most of our line, on my father's side, were drowned sea captains. The closest I've been to either was when I was on the road 100,000 miles a year back in the 70's when my kids were little and we were living from check-to-paycheck and for short segments of my engineering and musical career. But the closest I've been to being a sailor is on my motorcycles. Even the lousy commute to work is like a quick fishing trip. A summer road trip is my version of going to sea for a month. It's all I have and it's all of that I have had for almost 50 years. The only other thing I've done for that long is music and eating and sleeping. Not just that, though, I need it. I need the thing I get from being on two wheels. Imagining the rest of my life without a motorcycle is like asking a sailor to give up his boat.

I'm writing this in my basement surrounded by other bits of my life; the exercise equipment that helped me get my leg back, my Dobro (the instrument I most naturally reach for when I'm pissed off or bummed out), and a pretty decent AV system. Between mid-December and today, I've probably watched Faster and Dust to Glory a dozen times. I've grown tired of Faster's sound track, so I watch the movie playing along on my Dobro. I watch those guys ride half-expecting that could be the extend of my motorcycling from here out. Not today. Maybe next week, next month, next year, or most likely in the next decade, but right now I'm wallowing in the feeling of having two-wheeled myself around the city for the day and that's all it takes to get my sailor on. And I'm going to do it again tomorrow.

Mar 11, 2012

A Non-Brand Plug

On a bored, chilly, and uninspiring Thursday afternoon, my wife and I went to the cheap theater and saw Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in 3-D. I admit it, I am a 3-D fan and will watch all sorts of crap in that format. Mostly, GRSoV was disappointing. Some of the effects were interesting, but most were tame as you'd expect for a Nick Cage movie. I was impressed, however, with the motorcycle picked for the film. As opposed to the girlyman custom Hardly from the first film, Ghost Rider has stepped up to horsepower with a charred and macho V-Max. The coolest aspect of all that is that you'd have to know this was a Yamaha to know it was a Yamaha. The V-Max is iconic, but only to motorcyclists. The usual wimp off of the street would probably assume it was a muscled-up Hardly.

That's it. The end of my movie review. The plot is predictable. Cage still can't act. Mark Johnson still can't write or direct. 3-D movies still wear you out and lose effectiveness about 20 minutes into the experience.Ghost Rider is as silly as ever. The V-Max is still the meanest looking motorcycle made.

Mar 10, 2012

Product Review: Aerostich Ultralight Bike Cover

All Rights Reserved © 2008/2012 Thomas W. Day

The V-Strom fully loaded and Aerostich-covered.

I'm a big believer in covering my motorcycle whenever I'm not riding it. Plastic and paint fade and look uncared for if you leave those parts exposed to the sun. A newly detailed, unprotected bike will be quickly coated with dust, urban air pollutants, and unsightly rain spots. Tires oxidize, get hard, and lose their stickiness. Birds crap on the places where you put your hands and butt. Vandals will steal your handles, farkles, and anything not solidly secured. In those low places where diversity is not appreciated, folks who disagree with your choice of motorcycle may even decide to give your ride a toss, out of whatever motivation inspires that sort of uncivilized behavior. Putting a cover on your bike can insulate you from many less-than-precious memories.

For a half-dozen years, I'd used a Nelson-Rigg bikini cover to protect my SV and V-Strom from snow, rain, wind, and such. The Nelson-Rigg cover served me and my bikes well, but when I added GIVI side and top cases to the V-Strom, the old cover left a bunch of my bike's gear unprotected. When I saw the Aerostich Ultralight Bike Cover appear in the 2007 catalog, it looked like a good fit for my application.

The "self-storing pocket."

There are a lot of bike covers available, from a lot of vendors; even Wal-Mart and Fleet Farm carry pretty good motorcycle storage covers. The problem with most of those products is that you have to dedicate a lot of luggage real estate to be able to carry the cover with you on the road. The Aerostich Ultralight is not one of those. The medium Ultralight wraps around my V-Strom, cases and all, with a little room to spare. Without the cases, I can wrap up the V-Strom like a Xmas package for Batman. That same protection stuffs into a "self-storing pocket" that takes up slightly more space than two cans of soda.

Both bikes covered and protected on a rainy night in Canada.

To get all that protection into such a small package, Aerostich designed the Ultralight out of "opaque 1.1 oz siliconized ripstop nylon." This is the material that allows parachutes and kites to pack light and small. The Ultralight Cover comes in small (dirt bike and scooter size), medium (sportbikes, standards, dual sports, and sport touring bikes), and large (Goldwings and nuclear submarines). The additional details that make the Ultralight Cover specially cool include a elastic shock cord that lets you wrap up your bike's parts securely and a pair of grommets for tying down the cover in windy weather or for a security lock or cable. The self-storing pocket is also a handy place to hide your security alarm. The cover is large enough that it provides good protection for gear placed under the bike and that makes it particularly useful when camping.

The small cover on the small bike in a parking garage.

One thing I worried about was that the cover would be so large that it would either turn into a kite and fly away in a strong wind or that all the added surface area would make my bike unstable in that same situation. So far, that hasn't been the case. On a cold and rainy afternoon, I parked and covered my V-Strom in an open parking lot as winds gusted to 40mph. The cover flapped in the breeze and a hard rain fell all day. At the end of the afternoon, my bike was dry from the wheels up and the cover was right where I left it. 2008 was my first season for the Ultralight Cover and I'm very happy with it. It has gone to Nova Scotia and back with me and I have used it often for two years.

After the 2008 trip, I bought a small Ultralight Cover for my Yamaha WR250X commuter. It adds security and weather-proofing to the commuting, touring, and camping capacity of the little bike. I've been using it to theft-proof my bike in the parking garage and to protect my camping gear in the woods. A couple of times, I've used that cover as a rain shield when I stopped for a break on a Wisconsin single-track trail. This product gets a six-thumbs-up vote from me.

Mar 3, 2012

Riders' Digest: Another Word from the UK

Here is a rare opportunity to get to read a pretty decent publication for nothing. Paul Compton sent a link to the new on-line Riders' Digest so I could look at an article called "A Labrador Called Harley," but the whole magazine was pretty interesting.

For example, on page 71 there is an article titled "Group Riding: What's the Story?" with which I disagreed on every point made and where the "statistics" used would have made Mark Twain perfectly satisfied with his conclusion ("There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."). Similar to the argument Keith Code made a few years back regarding the safety embedded in liter bikes over smaller machines, the author finds comfort in numbers and conclusions that a Republican economist might avoid.The statement "The group ride is a relatively new and fast growing area of motorcycle culture," is so blatantly stupid that I practically put my fist through the computer screen when I read that bit of foolishness. Group riding has been around, especially in the biker gangster crowd, since the 1950's, at least. Sixty years is "relatively new" by who's standards? The author, Heidi Bailey, sites her sources as "a new study conducted earlier this year with the
help of over 1200 bikers of all shapes and sizes has started to examine the issue," but never bothers to identify that "study." She has that in common with Keith Code who also claims that training improved motorcyclists' mortality statistics, but never worries about showing evidence of that claim. However, mine is just one point of view and her's is probably more the majority view of safety in numbers or whatever the justification behind trains of motorcycles may be.

Paul's recommended article contained a quote that I may use for the rest of my life, ". . . Essentially, every new Harley is an old bike. Old engine, old frame, old idea. That’s what the customers want." Damn, I wish I'd written that. The author, only identified as "Oldlongdog," kills his topic. Another line that came close to home was, "To a biker a Harley is a bike; to the uninitiated wannabe a bike is a Harley." Paul is right, I loved every paragraph of the column and will bookmark the magazine for regular reading. I wish I knew who Oldlongdog is, I'd look for his writing, too.

The dog-portion of the Harley-Lab article reminded me of a joke I heard from an old guy in Nova Scotia, "What does a Labrador dog and a Harley have in common? They both like to ride in the back of pickup trucks and drool." The funny part of that joke, for me, was the fact that in Nova Scotia, a "Labrador dog" was not a breed of dog, but dog from Labrador.

It's tax time in the US, so my recreational reading is limited to fiction that will take my mind off of my difficulties by focusing on my favorite fictional philosophy, "killin' people who need killin'." That's a Bill Hickok quote, but  I think it still applies to most of modern culture. However, I'm going to keep working my way through the Digest because it's one of the most interesting magazines I've read in years.