May 24, 2012

All the News That Didn't Fit

If you Google this item's title, you can see one of the most convincing arguments for going AGAT (all the gear, all the time) ever presented. The Denver Post website article includes the video from a traffic-cam recording of a motorcyclist being broadsided by a car that ran a light into heavy intersection traffic. The motorcyclist, Greg Edwards, suffered "a fractured femur, fractured ankle, chipped teeth and a gash on his lip that required six stitches," but he survived flying through air, landing on his head, and is healthy enough to talk about the experience.
MSP Gives Up on Motorcycles, Again
The Minnesota State Patrol has, for the second time in sixty years, to give up on its motorcycle fleet. The two-wheeled unit was revived in 2007, 58-years after the last time Minnesota had a MiPS squad. The state patrol Chief said, "We decided not to put motorcycles on the road this year due to increased training costs, a concern for trooper safety, and a lack of troopers interested in volunteering for the unit." The first of five bikes went up for auction April 21 and sold for $13,100. The ad read:

Motorcycles in Traffic

A recent TML (Transport & Mobility Leuven NV, a Belgian transport specialist organization) study argues that if one-in-ten motorists converted to motorcycles, traffic flow would be substantially improved in Europe's already-more-modern transportation system. In an article titled "Why commuting by motorcycle is good for everyone" in the London Telegraph, Kevin Ash explains the conclusions of the study and does his bit to promote motorcycling, lane sharing, and filtering to a society that has already joined the 20th Century (You read that right, the US hasn't even evolved to the last century's standards, let alone the current one.) and encourages all of those activities. Ash's article refers to substantial reductions in commuting time, vehicle emissions, and efficiency due to the estimated effects of increased (to 10% of total traffic) motorcycle use. I was not able to find the original study, so this is all second hand information. (Thanks to Ian for the heads-up on the study.)

Unfortunately for US motorcyclists, the US EPA would not be able to confirm either the increased inefficiencies or the lowered pollution contribution of motorcycle use in any state other than California; and pollution numbers don't look better by much, even in CA. Part of the problem is the EPA is hobbled by rules that force the agency to look at pollution-per-gallon of fuel used, rather than emissions-per-mile driven. This idiot rule limits the efficiency of any US-sold vehicle, motorcycles included, since manufacturers are forced to work at eliminating fuel exhaust output in unrealistic conditions (on a dyno with no regard for miles traveled). The oil companies have to love this (and, undoubtedly bought the necessary politicians to keep this stupid rule in force), but the rest of us suffer 1960's efficiency vehicles to keep oil use and profits high. As always, we have the finest government money can buy.

May 18, 2012

Smacking Home

On the way to an MSF class Wednesday, I got stuck behind a big-ass clubcab pickup and witnessed the cell phone abusing retard wobbling all over Rice Street until he rear-ended a guy on a cruiser. The cruiser guy didn't get much "protection" from his loud pipes, even though I could hear him two vehicles back, through my helmet, with ear plugs solidly in place. Adding noise to the already unhealthy noise levels of the world is a pretty passive-aggressive tactic and passive-aggression is well known to be ineffective.

The definition of "bimbo." Evidence 
that drivers' licenses are handed out
in Cracker Jack boxes. 
It looked like the cell phone douche was planning to duck out, so I made a show of scribbling his plate number down before I parked to look at the damage. There was a lot of damage, but the biker's injuries looked survivable if disfiguring. His face was pretty messed up. A nurse from a car on the other side of the road was doing first aid and she'd already called 911.

Two of my top five warning signs of 
driving incompetence. A baseball cap
and a cell phone.
Ten minutes, or so, later, a Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputy showed up and started collecting information. That's what I was waiting for. We had a brief conversation during which I called the truck-cell-phoner a liar (He'd claimed not to have a cell phone in the truck.) I offered to testify against him, if the cop searched his truck for the phone (which he found and confiscated). Supposedly, smashing into someone while jabbering on a phone is at least $500 over the usual fine, so that ought to be an expensive phone call.

May 9, 2012

Back to Basics

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day
When I got back from Alaska, I'd had enough of riding a touring bike on dirt roads. Going upside down and backwards at 50mph with 500 pounds of motorcycle and gear grinding up the roadway in front of you will change you that way. I had regretted selling my XT350 Yamaha from the day I sold it and had been watching for something like that bike ever since. I got more serious about that search in July of 2007.  One of the guys in the local dual purpose motorcycle group advertised a 2001 Kawasaki KL250 Super Sherpa on the list and I took it, sight unseen. The price was right, the size was right, and I knew this guy's word was good, so if he said it was in good condition, it would be in good condition.

The picture at left is of my 2000 KL250 Super Sherpa just before I sold it. The picture at right is the Australian version, called the "Stockman." Aussies get a lot of the coolest stuff from Japan and I think we should give up on getting anything useful out of Iraq and Afghanistan and immediately invade Australia to get their motorcycles. Everything about the Stockman is what I hoped to get with my own Super Sherpa. I was a little disappointed.

A friend drove me across town to pick up the bike. I took it for a test drive, swapped money for motorcycle, and drove it home through city streets to get a feel for the bike's character and problems. It turned out to have plenty of problems. It had been ridden hard and put up bent a few times and some of the bent bits bothered me more than others. When I got it home, I took it apart and began to straighten out the things I though desperately needed fixing. A couple of levers, a new front fender, new handlebars, new grips, new tires (yanked the knobbies and replaced them with street-oriented Bridgestone Trail Wings), a new chain and sprockets, a new air filter, a serious carb cleaning, and the bike was ready to ride.

I rode often it for three solid years; to work, on errands, on meandering trips into the countryside, and anywhere I would ride a bigger bike as long as the trip total doesn't exceed a few hundred miles. The bike is comfortable, insanely fuel efficient (70-90mpg!), fun to ride around town, lightweight, mostly easy to work on, and an absolute blast off road. The Sherpa is no motocrosser, but it's a fun trail bike. It's not powerful, but it can get out of its own way. I've even played trials with it, going up a staircase at work and hopping logs in my back yard. The 10" of ground clearance makes for a pretty versatile off-roader. 

As a local commuter, the KL250 was a pleasure and real budget saver. When I was careful with the throttle, I could squeeze around 90mpg from a 1.4 gallon tank of fuel. If I was hammer-handed, the little guy still gave me 65-75mpg and a lot of fun. The bike is easy to park and, if you can't find a normal parking space, the Sherpa is enough of a Sherpa (you Bultaco fans know what I mean) to climb some stairs and park where the bicycles park. Top speed is about 70mph, according to the speedo. I mounted a GPS  but didn't get enough time with the touring rig to double check either the speedo or the mileage accuracy, but the bike seemed to keep up with normal freeway traffic. It's wailing at top speed, though. If there were a tach, it would probably be near redline.

My used bike came with a KLR's high fender in front. On the highway, I noticed some front end weirdness that seemed to be linked to that big fender flailing around in the wind. I dumped the high fender for an old, ugly red Acerbis low fender that I had lying idle in my garage for 15 years. The bike became more stable at speed and I lost a little mud clearance off-road. For my purposes, the trade-off was a good move. I had the Kawasaki low fender, but never bothered to try to make the KL look pretty while I was riding it. I prettied it up just before I sold it. 

Replacing the knobbies with street-aimed "trials tires" was a good move. The knobbies made the bike absolutely terrifying on grated bridges and rain grooves. The Trail Wings are a great improvement, but real street tires would improve mileage, highway stability, and street traction. I may keep looking for the perfect DP tire for this bike. Since the KL is so light, I'm unconvinced that I need knobbies to get me out of the kinds of dirt and mud situations I'm likely to experience. So far, this has been true in deep sand, muddy dirt roads, and all sorts of rock and gravel single-tracks. If trials tires do the job for Dougie Lampkin, they would probably work for me and they did fine for as long as I owned the Sherpa.

The Sherpa was a work in process. To make the Sherpa a decent touring bike, I expanded the range of the 1.4 gallon fuel capacity to about 3 gallons. I added Acerbis Rally Guards, a tail rack, Eclipse bags, a small MotoFizz tailbag, and a GPS mount and electrics.  The bike was ready to go on a long North Dakota tour when it blew the countershaft oil seal and dumped all of the engine oil in a few feet. It took a season to put it back together, but my confidence in the bike was too low to trust the little guy for anything seriously adventurous. Before I sold it, I pulled off all of my mods and sold them independently. 

The seal seat design is retarded, at best, and the oil seal problem is a well-known issue with the 2000 Super Sherpa. Kawasaki used a seal that, apparently, doesn't grip to the cases and is easily pushed out. It's possible there was a breather problem, but I found no evidence of that. After replacing the seal, it still leaked; slowly, but surely. I replaced the seal, again, and it still leaked. I couldn't figure out the carb problem from the last time it gummed up and I gave it to a friend who discovered the oil seal seat stops just before a beveled bit of the case housing. If he tapped the seal flush to the outer case, the seal got bound on that bevel and leaked. -Not an intuitive or impressively secure design. It turned out that I managed to lose the anti-backfire spring during the last cleaning and that's why it gave me so much trouble starting and running smoothly. I gotta get a bike lift. Seeing all of that stuff would have been a lot easier if I wasn't crawling around on my garage floor to do maintenance. I'm too old for lying on concrete.

The Super Sherpa is about the only modern DP bike with a reasonable seat height. However, that low seat height has a cost. One price paid is the slight difference between the bottom of the fuel tank and the carb fuel inlet. This close relationship means the fuel pressure is barely enough to push fuel past the float needle. Add a fuel filter and you might not be able to get the last half-gallon out of the tank. When I put a small ceramic fuel filter on my stock tank, I lost about 30 miles of range due to this problem. The gas was there, I just couldn't get it into the carburetor. Even worse, the reserve petcock position wouldn't give me much more than a 1/4 mile before the bike sputtered to a stop. With all of the tiny anti-pollution jets and air passages, the tank filter isn't enough to keep particles from stopping up the carb and an accessory filter isn't a possibility. That means regular carb cleaning is part of owning a Sherpa.

After a year  of messing with the Sherpa, I decided to return it to mostly stock form. I went back to the stock low fender, not as effective as the Acerbis fender, but less color-jarring. I re-installed the stock tank, removed the handguards, and cleaned it up to sell. After all that, I rediscovered how much fun this little bike is to ride. For its intended purpose, urban commuting and light weight off-roading, the Kawasaki Super Sherpa KL250 is a decent, well-behaved motorcycle.  Since I replaced  it with a fuel-injected Yamaha WR250X most everything I liked about the Sherpa will still be in my stable. The one thing I will be losing is that great mileage. The WRX squeezes 60-65 miles from a really carefully managed gallon, but more typically turns in 55mpg consumption.

Since I didn't need it anymore, I kept a little hope alive that my grandson might want to go off-roading with me. He expressed exactly zero interest in motorcycling last summer and, again, this summer. So, I put the Sherpa on Craig's List and it went in a week to the first caller.

KL250 Specifications

Four-stroke, DOHC, 4-valve single cylinder
Bore x Stroke
72.0 x 61.2mm
Fuel System
Single 34mm Mikuni BST34 carburetor
Frame Type
Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel
Front suspension/wheel travel
36mm telescopic fork / 9.1 in.
Front Tire Size
2.75 x 21
Front brakes / rear brakes
Single hydraulic disc / Single hydraulic disc
Overall width
30.7 in.
Seat height
32.7 in.
Ground clearance
10.6 in.
Curb weight
282.1 lbs.

Kawasaki KL250 Accessories

Air Filter
From my experience, this is a no-brainer. I replaced the stock filter with a K&N. I have had K&N filters in every vehicle I have owned since my 1973 Rickman 125 ISDT and my 1973 Toyota Hilux pickup. Call me "superstitious," but I think those filters have added something to the incredible reliability I've experienced in my vehicles. I don't consider a K&N filter an aftermarket "accessory." I think the lack of a K&N filter is simply an incompetent motorcycle design that has to be rectified before the bike is a reliable vehicle.

Kawasaki's Rear Luggage Rack
This is a middle-of-the-road piece of equipment that isn't great but is far from bad. Like many factory racks, the Kawasaki piece has a 5 pound recommended max load capacity. Obviously, that is close to useless, so I'll be exceeding their recommended capacity by 2-4x. I plan to take the Sherpa on a trip or two, so the ability to carry some luggage is going to be critical.

Eclipse P38 Saddle Bags
I've had these bags since my 1st Yamaha TDM. On the Sherpa, they work well, minimally affect handling, and hold a fair amount of junk. Like a Colorado neighbor who'd used his P38's for years of commuting, my bags are severely bleached out but they still work flawlessly. I had to build a heat shield to keep the exhaust from baking the right side bag, but it was fairly simple and seems to work fine.

May 7, 2012

Motorcycle Movies I Love to Hate

Anything with Tom Cruise is enough to set me off, but the Mission Impossible crap is intolerable. Between the magic all purpose tires and the movie's suspended reality that asks us to believe that motorcycling is just a simple hobby that any super-spy excels at, I about toss my popcorn at the screen when this crap appears.

Top Gun is, obviously, another example why Cruise needs to come out of the closet. I don't know if the wimpy-assed motorcycle gayness pissed me off more than the despicable 80's soundtrack, but it was the only close race in that POS movie. It's hard to remember Cruise as a competent physical actor, but I sort of remember him fondly in The Color of Money. Although, it's possible that Paul Newman just made everyone around him look cool. Some guys have so much hipness it just spills on the surrounding territory.

Cruise isn't the only guy with magical motorcycling powers, though. Wall Street: The Money Never Sleeps put me over the top, too. When Shia Lebouf and Josh Brolin duke it out on Dukes at a level that most MotoGP riders couldn't match, I was banging on my chair hoping at least one of them would catch fire and die. No such luck, though. These two corporate shill douche bag 1%'ers just rip through the countryside as if that kind of useless maroon could actually have some kind of skill. Fat chance.

A while back, I wrote about how much I liked the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because of the motorcycle scenes. The opposite effect is more often true. In the good Dragon Tattoo, The balls-to-the-wall riding style of the main character created a credibility for her that nothing else could. The fact that she was willing to toss herself into riding that rat bike and let the winds of fortune decide her fate made her someone I completely believed could do everything else she did. The earlier version's Lisbeth rode so conservatively that I took her for a wimp and didn't buy one single moment of her sudden toughness.

Stuff like Wild Hogs barely deserves mentioning as a motorcycle. For starters, there aren't any motorcycles in the movie, just a pile of two-wheel tractors. Four in-the-closet douchebags run into a pack of Village People and . . .  everyone gets a new hairdo and shoes? I get enough of these people in real life. I'd rather get my gums scraped without sedative than spend a couple of hours watching them survive crashes that should have turned them into jelly. Ideally, napalm jelly. There are generations of this Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man drivel and it makes everyone but the Village People look bad. My advice for movie producers wanting to make one more biker motorcycle movie, "Do us all a favor and kill yourself. Do it now. Seriously."

The Tron duet is so non-motorcyclish that it was work to put in the Amazon link. Freakin' video game generation drivel for the mindlessly boring virtual-life set. On the science fiction shelf, is it hard to imagine a multi-tasking, indestructible robot riding more gayly than roided-up biker-face Arny in Terminator? (Yeah, I linked that one. Nobody can fault me for consistency.) Why would a robot pick a 1940's hippobike? A real motorcycle is too fast? Any real robot could outrun a Harley, so riding one would be  . . .  What? An act of sporting-ness? Giving the enemy a fair chance? What kind of robot would do that, some freaky doomsday robot infected with Azimov's Three Laws of Robotics?

In an attempt at reminding myself of the totally forgettable, this giant douche of an insurance salesman put together a list of the lamest "great' motorcycle movies that is almost perfectly filled with total crap. Let's all take a guess at what he rides before we look it up. Did you get it right? At a recent visit to my local library, I scanned this POS book,The Big Book of Biker Flicks: 40 of the Best Motorcycle Movies of All Tiime. Practically everything I hate about movies about motorcyclists and motorcycles was listed in this waste of paper. If you managed to watch more than two of these godawful cinematic disasters, you'd either be driven to run over every motorcyclist you saw or join the Hell's Angels just so you can wear a leather jacket drenched in piss. The book could be right, though. The bar was set incredibly low for "best biker movie" was set pretty low from Brando's The Wild One right up to The Wild Hogs or whatever the most recent low-budget POS "biker movie" might be. There is something about hippobikes that lowers the IQ of everyone involved with them: from the riders to movie makers.

Robert Redford knew enough to be in a good motorcycle movie when he made Little Fauss and Big Halsy, but instead he made a ridiculous piece of crap. At the time, 1970 (one year before On Any Sunday), dirt riders had nothing on screen.  So, we were willing to give Hollywood a break just to exist. A dozen years passed before we made the screen again with Timerider, another movie with possibly good intentions but an idiot screenplay. Ex-Monkey

May 5, 2012

Taking Names and Doing Something about It

Last week, I was at a meeting in Minneapolis at the Metrodome Holiday Inn. I rode my bike to the meeting. As I tried to fumble my way into the hotel's parking structure, a guy ran up to tell me motorcycles aren't allowed in the hotel's parking area.The guy ran me through the usual reasons why the hotel didn't allow motorcycles entry into the structure, but it summed up to the fact that the hillbillies who designed the ticket gate are using 1945 technology to sense the presence of a vehicle and when that badly-designed system fails it often drops the gate on the bike or biker. So, for "liability reasons" the gate manufacturer stamps a "no motorcycles" sign on their crap and the parking garage owner complies with that instruction rather than look harder for a piece of equipment that wasn't designed by Fred Flintstone.

After a few cars backed up behind me, he "remembered" that the hotel had a designated motorcycle parking are just to my right (the drainage slope designed to prevent cars from going around the gate). For $4, I could park my bike where most anyone walking into the parking structure could mess with it and where it took some near-off-road skills to maneuver the bike into the space and even more skill to get back out of the parking lot. The exit route was to ride up that slope, make a hard left turn (while still on the slope), dodge between the gate and several concrete barriers, and make a hard left out of the lot into other exiting traffic. Getting on and off of the V-Strom was a little tough, but the riding part of this parking and exiting exercise was no problem. For other bikes, like big touring bikes or hippobikes, the parking and the exiting would probably be exciting. 

A couple of days later, I received an email about some kind of political boycott over some mildly obscure issue and it struck me that we're a pretty substantial economic group. If, for example, all 180,000 Minnesota motorcyclists decided to stay away from all businesses that don't allow us access to parking we could do some damage. I don't mean just when we are riding but for all business activity. If, for example, all 180,000 Minnesota motorcyclists took their business out of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul (where pretty much every parking garage has one of those damned signs) we could cause some folks to revise their "liability reasoning." Now there is something for ABATE to sink it's teeth into that would actually benefit motorcyclists.

There are options, too. There are companies that use technology that will not only sense a motorcycle but pedestrians. This was a choice made by the management of these facilities and one that should cost them some cash as a result. Just for laughs, I'm going to start taking pictures of the parking signs and the buildings and businesses that ban motorcycles. I'll post those here and if you want to contribute (not just Minnesota, but let's put all of those businesses on notice). Send them to me and I'll stick them up here, too. Power to the people, as long as the people are us.

I'm Back

Ok, I never really left. However, I did leave a few bits of me somewhere in a hospital trash can five months ago and I've been working toward today ever since. At 7AM today, I started my first MSF BRC class for 2012. I've been doing 50 deep squats, a variety of leg lifts, pushups, setups, physical therapy, and flinging 10-20 pound dumbells (the weights, not the people) around every day for four-plus months aiming at today. It was just a single, but according to my Fitbit that amounts to 4.5miles walked today and 2400 calories burned before 1PM. Not bad for a 65-year-old under-achieving fat man with a bad attitude and low self-esteem.

I lucked out and it was a great class, full of over-achievers and it is good to be back on the range.

May 4, 2012

All the News That Didn't Fit

Marlon vs. Harley
When Harley Davidson named their designer boots "The Brando," they thought they were taking advantage of the Johnny Strabler badass biker culture Marlon Brando made famous in the movie “The Wild One.” So did Brando Enterprises, the organization that controls the marketing of Marlon Brando's name, face, and any other Brando reference that turns a buck. Triumph motorcycle jackets, Dolce & Gabbana $265 shirts, and MasterCard have hyped their brands using the Brando image and name. Since Strabler was riding a Triumph in The Wild One, it was a stretch for Harley to put Brando's name on their boots, at best. Supposedly, the Brando organization and H-D have come to an out-of-court settlement. This will be the second victory in a month for Brando Enterprises, since Ashley Furniture Industries settled a similar suit for $356,000 and renamed the sofas "Brody." Adrien Brody?
Rent A Cop and Help Save the EU
Greece is going down the tubes and being a civil servant in that country is worse than being a public school teacher in the US. In an effort to earn a little cash, Greek cops are renting themselves out to individuals and corporations. The rates are low: $39/hour (€30) for a cop, $20/hour for a motorcycle escort, and $1,960/hour gets you a police helicopter.

May 3, 2012

Gone International

The new issue of Riders' Digest is out and the gonzo sometimes-biker-courier guys from Britain have made me international with the catchy title: "The Clutch Cable; Our Midwest correspondent considers the ageing process." It's an honor to share pages with one of my new favorite journalists, OldLongDog (aka Peter Martin). Along with lots of  space, the magazine printed some of my favorite pictures (at least, favorite pictures with me in them) and a generous link to Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly's webpage and my blog.

Thanks Dave and Peter. I'll be pawing through this issue for a week or so and I'll be back with more to say about it. TRD's PDF format is a little weird. Pictures are often spread or divided between two pages and the two pages are encoded as one wide page. Adobe can't tell one page from another, so searches and small eBook readers work weirdly.

There is one article, a review of a Triumph Street Triple ("Long Range Middleweight") that uses a phrase I'll never comprehend, "British engineering genius." Having owned and had maintenance experience with MG's, Triumphs, BSAs, Brit-designed gas welding rigs, SSL and Trident recording consoles, and a variety of English-designed products, I can not put "British engineering" and "genius" in the same sentence without either sarcasm or some clearly negating adjective. The review of the slightly-used and abused Cagiva Rapture (with a carb'd SV650 motor) has style and information all wrapped up in one piece of writing. It's even a little bit of a review. Not the usual thing for TRD. Many of TRD's "product reviews" are more like autobiographies wrapped in some product's packaging. Sometimes you learn about the product, but usually not.
One of my favorite things about TRD is the photography. Early in this issue, there is a shot of a pair of race bikes that is one of the best I've ever seen; anywhere.

May 2, 2012

Two Wheeled Wednesday

More than the usual early May traffic today. All I can say is, "Be careful out there." There must have been some kind of special on cell phones, because everyone in a cage seems to be yakking on one. I came up with a concept for a weapon to explode the damn things on the way in today. I might have to work on it. A huge scar on one side of an asshole's face could be like the 21st Century's "scarlett letter." Serves you right for having one of the damn things in your car.

On the way into work, yesterday, I was reminded of my old California commutes. Riding Rice Street into downtown St. Paul, I couldn't make much space for myself; cars close behind me and erratic drivers on all sides. About Maryland, a school bus stopped; yellow lights flashing. The cell-phone babbling fool in front of me slammed on his brakes. The two idiots behind me were gibbering in their cell phones, totally clueless about the on-coming obstacles. I split the space between the bus and the leading idiot and kept moving. The car behind me slammed into the stopped car. The other idiot it the bus, then hit the 2nd car. Fuckin' morons.

Since there were no innocent parties, other than the school bus, I kept moving and got to work whole and on time. Someday, the state will have to stop giving out drivers' licenses in Cracker Jacks boxes.