Jul 31, 2012

Motorcycle Hate

After an incredibly rational reply from Joe about his favorite motorcycle magazines, stating "RR [RoadRunner, I thinkhas lots of cruisers but that really doesn't bother me. I just like seeing and learning about where they are riding. It bothers me not what bike they are riding. Motorcycle hate is unhealthy." I couldn't help but think about my own perspective on brands and types of motorcycles as I plowed across the boring flatlands of Wisconsin this weekend. He's right, of course.

If this isn't a picture of some level of Dante's inferno, it has to
be damn close. The sound  and smell of those miserably
tuned 14hp girls' bikes would be enough to make Richard
Dawkins pray for salvation. 
I've been accused of being a "motorcycle bigot" and worse because of my general distaste for cruisers and the obsolete technology they represent. I'm working on an engineering-based analysis of that opinion for MMM that might be in the September issue, if I get it together soon enough and Sev and Bruce go for it. While plodding through Hardly territory, I had lots of opportunity to examine my "bigotry," since an easy 90% of the bikes I saw in Wisconsin were cruisers of one sort or another, probably Hardlys. They all look the same to me. Ugly and slow.

From a distance (across a four-lane medium, for example), I have little-to-no opinion, one way or another. They are big, slow, and awkward but I don't have an emotional reaction to opposite direction cruisers. Up close, I found I do hate the damn things passionately. As I would approach one of the garage candyasses, the closer I got the more I hated the experience. Sitting behind a blubbering noise generator at a stop light is a miserable experience. I found myself trying to get a few cars between me and any in-town Hardly. On the road, passing one of those hippomobiles is painful. (No, not once in 720 miles did I experience getting passed by a cruiser.) The closer you get to the ass-end of an asshole's bike, the more painful it gets, so I discovered I have an automatic reaction of shifting to 5th and hammering by those derelict machines as fast as my 650 can go. On the little WR, I just have to grit my teeth and get by as quickly as possible, with the 85mph top speed limit putting a cap on how quick that can be. Of course, once I'm ten feet in front of the blubber-machine, the pain is done and they are out of sound and mind.

That sums up my emotional reaction to hippobikes. If they are quiet (not one in hundreds in Wisconsin), I don't notice them and have no more reaction to them than Goldwings hauling trailers, SUVs, or other land yachts. If they are "fags" (as accurately defined by South Park), my reaction to those screwed-up 16-year-old girl machines is exactly the same as "everyone" else. (In case you just arrived here from the fifth planet from Alpha Centauri and had been deluded by HD's marketing into believing Harley's are "cool" and "every body loves 'em," here is your opportunity to re-calibrate.)

For me, the big payoff was discovering that I'm neutral on the "type of bike" you ride and I'm no more a biker hater than 90% of the public. Sitting behind a few cages, with a pile of steaming garage candy in front of us all gave me the opportunity to look at the expressions of the people in those cars. As they rolled up their windows on an otherwise beautiful day, they were glaring at the asshole on the hippobike and hating his existence as if he were that moment's worst person in the world. I, on the other hand, didn't appear to exist for anyone in that line of traffic, for the moment. [I can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing.]

From my informal observations, I know that a huge number of people hate motorcycles, generically. I mean they automatically hate us all. Noise is the reason. We are the loudest thing in the urban environment. Babble all you like about how, if government goes after our noise it should go after other noises sources, but we're an unimportant portion of transportation and contribute nothing of noticeable value to relieving urban congestion. We are at the top of the irritating noise ladder and so easily knocked off that most people will just smile if motorcycles are banned from public roads, altogether. Think that can't happen. You wish.

Jul 26, 2012

The Road to the Super Ténéré

As I was reviewing the final copy for my MMM Ténéré review, I realized I have a history stored on my computer of that motorcycle's evolution from the TDM to the Ténéré:
My own 1992 TDM 850, pre-side stand installation. 

The not-for-USA 1996 TDM 900

The not-for-USA 1996 Dakar-winning XZE750 (later 850)
The not-for-USA 1998 TDM 900

The not-for-USA 2000 TDM 900

The not-for-USA 2001 TDM 900

The not-for-USA 2003 TDM 900
The not-for-USA 2006 ABS Tourer TDM 900

Finally, the for-USA 2012 Super Ténéré 1200
A lot of years and great Yamaha adventure touring motorcycles between the last imported TDM 850 (1993) and the arrival of the Ténéré. If that doesn't make you feel neglected, you've had a disappointing life.

Jul 23, 2012

Fixing A Hole in My GIVI Cases

At the end of that long weekend of motorcycle classes, as I was packing up to call it a day and loading up my gear, I snapped off the key to my GIVI bags in one of my side cases. I always have a pair of small bungee cords on the cases, so I used them to hold the thing shut till I got home. I figured I'd be able to get the busted key out of the lock, if I got it all disassembled, but I couldn't budge the thing. My next great idea was to take the lock mechanism to a locksmith. Before doing that, I did a Google search on "givi lock repair" and discovered the locks are available and cheap; 3 locks, six keys, for $30. I checked with my local GIVI dealer, Midwest Cycle Supply, and they had the parts I needed. Road trip for the WR!

A bit later, I had the stuff I needed. I disassembled the busted case lock, first. That left the good one to use as a model for reassembly. It doesn't take much to get the lock out of the case, something to consider when you imagine a plastic case offers some kind of security. They don't. I accidentally "locked" the broken case, thinking I was going to set the mechanism free. All it took was a flat screwdriver and some wrist torque and the lock popped open; just like it would if a thief decided to empty my luggage on the road.

Once I had the case off of the bike, the first step is to remove the lock screw. This one screw holds the entire latch and lock mechanism in place.: one #8 by 1/2" Phillips screw between the world and all of my stuff. GIVI, security is not thy name. The screw out, the lock comes loose and you're ready to disassemble.

Dis-assembly is easy, too. One e-clip holds the lock and latch in place. Pop that with a flat screwdriver and the latch comes apart easily.

Once you have the latch apart, you're ready to reassemble with the new pieces.

 The new key lock goes into a plastic surround.

The surround pushes into the latch assembly.

The latch assembly is held together with the e-clip. That is most easily re-installed with a pair of needle nose pliers. 

Once the clip is in place, slide the latch mechanism back on the case.

Tighten the Phillips screw to hold it all together. 

You're done.

In my case, do it two more times so that all three of my GIVI cases use the same key and I'm set to go another 50,000 miles with this luggage. The fact is, it's probably a good thing I didn't think about how fragile my "security" has been with these cases and it's a good thing that I know that now. I'll probably buy some bicycle cables to lock around the cases, when I'm away from them from here out. 

Setting A Record

This weekend, I did a pair of MSF BRC (Basic Rider Course) classes in the rain on Saturday morning, in near-100F temps for Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday. A pair of 12 hour days in the Minnesota summer and 14 newly licensed motorcyclists. Not every "successful" day is really successful on an MSF range. Too many times, people who have no business watching a movie about motorcycles end up with a license from our incredibly easy, rudimentary license testing. Not this weekend. The ten students from the morning class were as good as anything I've ever worked with, each one of them. The four (you read that right, "four") students in the afternoon class were perfectly competent people and they all had some riding experience. Two brothers, 18 and 20, were pretty decent dirt bikers before the class. The other two men, 40-something and 50-something, had ridden "back in the day" (as if guys that young go back long enough to call it a day), 

My co-instructor and I had a choice: whip this out and get it over with or see if we can do something unusual with an unusual opportunity. Kevin and I went for unusual. Ten hours later and we managed to put almost 35 miles on that class's riders. 

A typical class has one or two good riders by the end and four to six almost competent riders and the rest are everything from scary-on-wheels to hide-behind-a-wall to save yourself. This class knocked out 35 miles on our dinky range in two afternoons and they were cooking at the end. Our fastest rider did the 135-corner in 2.36S and the slowest did it in 2.71S. 2.90S is a score that will cost you no points. It's not unusual for a good rider to do that corner in 3.2S or even more. Our total points for the whole class would pass the license test. 

Jul 17, 2012

Don't Look Back

It's hard not to look back, but I work at it. When i sell a motorcycle, I rarely ever think about owning it again. There have been three, maybe four, exceptions to that rule: my '92 850 TDM, my '86 XT350, my '86 TY350, and my '83 XTZ550 Vision. Yeah, I know; all Yamahas. If I could find an XT350 for the right price, I'd buy it. The same goes for the TY. A friend owns a TDM and I ride it occasionally. That usually satisfies that jones. I am not a collector personality. 

I taught a BRC II this weekend and one of the students brought his '83 Vision. It wasn't in great shape, but only had about 18,000 miles on the odometer. I flashed back to my old Vision (see photo) and discovered that I missed the bike. I missed the drive shaft, the comfortable seat (mine had a custom Corbin), the narrow profile, exceptional touring handling, the full coverage fairing, the freaking fairing heater, and the retro-modern spacey look. 

I took that picture in front of my house in Colorado, while I waited for a guy from California to pick up the bike to take it back to California. The only thing I don't miss is the 48mpg that I consistently got from the Vision. Not good enough then or today. 

Jul 15, 2012

The Problem with Statistics

I'm reviewing Pat Hahns' new book, Motorcyclists Legal Handbook: How to handle legal situations from the mundane to the insane, for MMM. As always, I ended up with too many words for the magazine publication. As always, I'm dumping the extra verbiage here, because it's something I want to say. Before I go into full rant mode, I want to be clear that this is a useful, well-written book that most of us can use. Like all of Pat's books (except, maybe, Maximum Control: Mastering Your Heavyweight Bike, which is unintentionally hilarious considering the subject and the author who has used my term "hippobike" as often as me), Legal Handbook is practical, helpful, technically excellent, and damn near necessary for anyone who travels interstate. In fact, I'd recommend it as required reading for the IB folks.

Here's my only conflict with the book, and my excess 400 review words: My biggest disagreement with the whole book is about the state "rideability" rating. Rideability is a statistical evaluation of the "ratio of multi-vehicle motorcycle fatalities to single-vehicle motorcycle fatalities," plus the population density and law enforcement density. Pat claims that "a high ratio, such as 75/25, is bad, as it shows in a fatal accident in that state, it is more likely that the rider got hit by another vehicle rather than simply having an accident on his or her own." I disagree with this conclusion on at least two points.

When I first glanced through a few of the states' evaluations, I took that particular ratio completely differently. I would argue that a low ratio, such as 25/75, is bad because it shows that most of the state's bikers may be drunks and incompetents and tend to ride off of the road on their own accord. Plus, simply noting that a crash was a multi-vehicle event doesn't release the motorcyclist from fault for the crash. 

Second, since most Minnesota motorcycle fatalities occur on rural roads and in small towns, I don't put much into population density as a "rideability' evaluator. Having lived in L.A., where I experienced high population density, I apply even less credibility to the density issue as a riding negative. Nebraska has a really high "rideability" rating, but some of the most insane and incompetent drivers I've ever witnessed were in that state. Driver competence is more important than population density.

 I do agree with the inverse connection between rideability and law enforcement population. However, Iowa's 5th place (lower numbers are better) in law enforcement population does not reflect my Iowa experiences. As best I can tell, every third Iowegn is in a police car. I do anything possible to avoid Iowa, even if I'm travelling to Missouri. The whole state is "erratic," to use Pat's term for unusual laws or enforcement. Texas' relatively benign rideability number must reflect the near-absence of motorcycles from the streets and roads of that state. I lived in Dallas and west Texas in the 60's and 70's and the place was hell on wheels for motorcyclists then. My daughter and her family live in Dallas and I visit fairly regularly. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of motorcyclists I've seen in the time I've been in Texas in the last ten years. In all, I'd have to put minimal value on the book's rideability estimates. Somewhere in the mix, there would have to be a miles-driven/motorcycle crashes value for that kind of evaluation to be useful.

Jul 12, 2012

Want It Hard or Soft?

This is a really well considered discussion of bike luggage: Do you want it hard or soft? (your motorcycle luggage, that is). I'm a fan of both, hard and soft for exactly the reasons everyone interviewed in this article listed: hard for the big bike and security ("hard" for me is my GIVI rig on the DL) and soft on the WR and when I'm worried about falling down a lot.

Yeah, I know. I should always ride with soft luggage if "falling down a lot" is the criteria. However, I have fallen down pretty hard with the GIVI stuff on the bike and it held up well. I was smacked by a douchebag in a low rider in North Dakota at a filling station stop and the GIVI's kept me from being smashed against the pump. They are really water-tight and tough. I can squeeze a lot of crap into the side cases, if I'm dedicated to the proposition.

On the other hand, the Giant Loop gear on my WR holds about as much stuff a lot closer and lower on the bike with a fraction of the total container weight (especially considering the GIVI frame mounts). The Giant Loop stuff is water-tight, tough as metal, incredibly convenient, very removable with excellent access to the innards without having to remove it all from the bike, and looks cool. The zippers are waterproof and the rain flaps close with magnetic "latches."

I'm with the folks in this article. Hard or soft depends on the ride, the bike, and the rider. I'm both hard and soft. For around town commuting, I have a cheap sealed tail case on the V-Strom ($39.99 from J.C. Whitney) and a Motofizz small tail bag on the WR. Neither of these, especially the Motofizz, qualifies as "waterproof," but I'm not often commuting on the road long enough to worry about it.

Motorcycle Magazines & Me

[I wrote this one a long time ago, as you can see by the copy-write date on the header. It's still mostly the way I feel about the leading motorcycle magazines.]

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day
In looking for product to review, I realized that one of the most arrogant things a writer and a magazine could do is review the competition. Since they don't know we exist, I decided if the cynical Shakespearean adage "discretion is the better part of valor" was catchy enough to gain traction, arrogance and courage might hook up as well. Another motivation for doing this review is that lots of new riders don't know what the rest of us read when we are not reading MMM. With that in mind, I thought it might be sort of a public service to describe our rivals. With that as my guiding light, I decided to do an analysis of the major motorcycle rags. (This is my definition of "major" magazines, your mileage may vary.) There are some pretty good on-line magazines, but I'm not going to look at them on this pass. I decided to list the magazines in order of my opinion of their value, so you'll probably have another bone with which to pick.

#1: Motorcycle Consumer News (www.mcnews.com)
The advantage MCN has over the competition is that this little magazine (practically printed on rag paper) doesn't accept advertising. So, MCN's reviews should be uncontaminated by commercial influences; as if that is possible in corporate America. Sometimes, though, MCN's reviews are the best you will read when the product has serious problems. Unlike the glossy, advertiser-driven rags, MCN writers will occasionally tell you about the things they don't like in a bike, gear, or even the industry.

David Hough's criticism of the MSF's political tactics and training deficiencies, a couple of years ago, was the only voice in the woods. Since the MSF is sponsored by the motorcycle manufacturers and the organization exists to put a happy face on the sad world of motorcycle mortality statistics, the woods were thick. None of the other rags would have touched that subject, but MCN took it on for a series of articles.

Like most of us who review bikes, MCN wastes time describing the technical characteristics of the bikes they review. Anyone who is capable of cutting and pasting data from the manufacturers' press releases can look like a technical wiz by doing this and, since everyone else does it, MCN is wasting precious space in repeating that tactic. Skip the marketing drivel and go straight to the "riding impressions." MCN costs $41/year, so wasting time and space doing what everyone else does for $7/year makes me reconsider my subscription every time they do it. I do, however, hang on to MCN copies until I'm sure I've gleaned all value from each issue.

#2: Cycle World
There is one great thing about every issue of Cycle World, Kevin Cameron. The brilliant author of Sportbike Performance does a technical article, TDC, in which he takes apart yet one more complex idea and re-describes it so that the rest of us have a useful understanding of what is going on inside the mechanical world. Funny thing about CW. In writing this column, I looked all over the house for the magazine and was unable to find a single copy. After working my way through Cameron's column, I rarely spend any time on the rest of the magazine and give it away almost immediately. Kevin is worth the $7/year I spend on CW. No, I am not a Peter Egan fan. Apparently, making that statement alienates lots of local CW readers because Egan is a Wisconsinite and while Minnesotans hate the Packers and successful Minnesotans, we're supposed to love our neighbor motorcycle pundits. I find Egan to be long-winded and a little like listening to Paris Hilton describe her jewelry and makeup.

#3: Motorcyclist
I go hot and cold with Motorcyclist. I, often, love the articles contributed to this rag from outside of their staff. For example, Ed Milich's article, "Field Guide to Common Internet Motorcycle Wackos" was as good as funny motorcycle articles gets; and accurate. The editors of Motorcyclist are thin-skinned, a little reactionary, and highly sensitive to their advertiser's needs/demands. I rarely read the bike reviews or "shoot-outs." Everything is wonderful and you should buy them all is the gist of those puff pieces and I can't afford the time to "read in-between the lines" to sort out what they really thought about the stuff they rode. I can't tell the reviews from the ads and there are pages and pages of ads. Motorcyclist's photo shots cater to the hooligan crowd and that doesn't do much for me, either.

Kenny Roberts mans their "MotoGP Desk," but rag's index is so badly laid out that I usually hear about what he's written from other readers long after I've discarded my copies. Sometimes the mag reminds me of those webpages designed with black text on a dark purple background. Sometimes it's too much work to fight through the format to see what the writers had to say.

#4: Rider Magazine
Rider has vanished into a weird marketing scam (Riders' Club), but it used to be a rider-based, rider-written touring magazine. I have hopes that someday it will return to that standard. I bump into Rider about a half-dozen times a year and in recent years that experience always reminds me of the magazine I used to like, but the current magazine is not it.

Jul 10, 2012

Perspective Is Everything

The character in this picture, Donald Morris, was wearing his "motorcycle gear" (as pictured) and riding his 1991 Harley somethingorother (what else?) when he tried to pass a truck on the right side as the truck was swinging wide to turn right into a Harley dealership (Surprise?). Morris ""laid the bike down and somehow managed to kick away from it" and managed to kick away from the bike as the semi crushed the Harley into scrap metal.

The article this picture comes from is primed with Hardly quotes like, "I'm never happy to be in a situation like this, but it could have been a lot worse if I didnt' manage to get off that thing." How many situations has Morris been in like this? With his skills and obvious unfamiliarity with traffic, trucks, motorcycle handling, and common sense, it won't be a surprise to find he does this often.

Gotta love the picture of the smashed POS bike, the smashee, and the Harley sign blessing the whole event.

A similar story, Woman dies in crash on Route 9, with a considerably less comical conclusion comes from Paul Young and the Albany New York Times Union. So much of this story is predictable and typical of this class of "rider" that is almost hurts to tell it. The Times Union did a good job of describing the incident, which will be classified as a "multi-vehicle fatality" and mis-categorized in motorcycle safety statistics as something other than a purely motorcyclist-at-fault crash.

Riders' Digest #168

The new edition (#168)of The Riders' Digest is out and I'm in it (check out page 57). As usual, the magazine with the best action motorcycle shots is full of great photography, unusual articles, and more variety than a three-ring circus. All delivered with those odd British words in place of proper English. (Sorry, Dave.)

RD is becoming my favorite "glossy" motorcycle magazine. Between  "oldlongdog's" demented trip down memory's lanes and his hilarious take on humanity and Paul Browne's brilliant trip across the Americas, I can barely wait for each issue notice to pop into my email. I check the site 4-5 times a month to be sure it hasn't appeared when I wasn't looking.

The Live Version

YouTube work at its finest.

Eight Bikers Walk into A Bar

Since the police and city and state bureaucrats are virtually useless when it comes to confronting the biker gangbangers, we may be left to hope the Mob takes care of this problem in their less subtle way. [As if they are on different sides of this war on the rule of law.]

Jul 9, 2012

What's Wrong with This LIfe?

I've been working on a book about my road trips and . . .  stuff. It's no fun because writing is work and I'm lazy. However, I fought my way through a section that I didn't know know how to write last night and went to be feeling incredibly dissatisfied; not with the book but with myself.

Today, My wife and I rode down to Fountain City and back, down by WI35 and up by a collection of WI letter roads. We stumbled on to County Road F and 100 miles later we were on 10 heading back home. All the way home, that same feeling of dissatisfaction stuck with me.

Of course, part of the problem was that Elvy, my wife, has "grown" over the years and I was sitting on the freakin' tank to make room for her. That and the fact that I generally don't like passengers on my motorcycle and I am a lousy group traveller made the trip fairly uncomfortable. My nuts are still squashed. That wasn't all of the problem, though.

The rest of the problem was that I've been waiting for my grandson to get out of his dreary teenager period, so we can get back to doing stuff together. While I'm waiting, I got half of a new ass last December. I churned through all of the medical crap my doctor has been nagging me to do since three or four years ago. Maybe longer. I sorted out a year of screwed up business accounting, thanks for a pair of hard drive crashes and Quicken Home and Business 2009's inability to do a proper backup. I polished up some skills my day job expects me to have to continue teaching. I dedicated myself to getting into some kind of shape after surgery and before I trash my other hip and need more of the same. I scrimped and saved and sold stuff and replenished our savings after the previous winter's massive house damage due to ice dam leakage and some long-put-off house repairs, plus the hit to the same cash box with the out-of-pocket portion of the cost of last December's surgery. I did all that painful, boring, useful shit and the result was . . . I'm restless.

That's what I figured out on the ride today. Working on that book of past adventures and catestrophes started me toward getting to know what was wrong. Riding 350 miles today finished the chore. I need to go somewhere. There are lots of places I haven't been, but right now the only place I really want to go is back to Alaska; this time, on my own. So, this summer, next fall, and winter are going to be dedicated to getting the V-Strom and me ready to go to Deadhorse.

Now I feel better.

Jul 5, 2012

The Gift Horse's Mouth

Back in late April, Tousley Motorsports had an event that has left me questioning my sanity. The dealer hosted a Victory "Kick Start the Season Event" where Victory got to show off the brand's line of motorcycles and their famous "Victory girls." Because there was free food and an opportunity to test ride any of Victory's products (except the girls), I ventured forth.

As evidenced by my experiences test riding for MMM, I sort of assumed I'll ride anything once. After sampling the food and watching the girls for a while, I wandered among the bikes to see what I might like to try out. I swung a leg over the Vision, the Judge, the Crosscountry, and the Hammer and walked around the rest of the models they had on display and ready to ride. I couldn't find anything to ride.

I admit that riding to the event on my WR250X didn't put me in a mood to straddle a hippobike. I didn't intend for that to happen, it's just the first thing I grab if I'm going somewhere. In comparison, everything Victory has to sell looks and feels 1942'ish.

The sound of those huge things rolling in and out of the parking lot didn't inspire interest, either. I could have sworn we have noise ordinances in US cities and a DOT/EPA that limits the noise from commercial products? No? So much for overbearing government regulations or even reasonable regulations. The first thing Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, or any other famous lawman did when you come into town is take your guns and put them in lockup. If we had any semblance of law and order in the US, the cops would confiscate bikes without mufflers. Damn that was noisy. I put my earplugs back in after I finished eating.

I started writing this rant when I came back home that evening, after a nice long off-pavement ride north of the Taylors Falls. I read it and decided to sit on it for a while. This morning, I looked at my "drafts' and reopened that experience. Some things change, some don't. Forty years ago, I would have laughed at someone offering me a ride on a bike like these. I wasn't much interested in anything that was street legal, but gigantic, underpowered, noisy machines that have no ground clearance, can't turn inside an airport runway, and are decorated with as many useless dinglebobs as a rapper's pimpmobile just wouldn't have been interesting. I didn't even like seeing bikes like that in the parking lot at a race because it always meant trouble. Twenty years ago, a friend was in the market for a "real bike" and he drug me to a series of dealers to look at Harleys, Honda Shadows, Kawasaki Vulcans, and the rest of the usual suspects of that ilk. I rode a few of them, hated them all, and couldn't wait go get back on my Yamaha TDM to erase the feel and smell of "new/old bike." After riding a Harley Sport something-or-other, I left him to his search and made a run up Mount Evans to wash away the memories. The next day, I took the long route through Ramparts to Colorado Springs to Pikes Peak and divested myself from the cruiser crusade. He bought a Sportster and it still lives in his garage, twenty years older and with less than 5,000 miles on the odometer.

At the Tousley/Victory event I only lasted for about as long as it took to inspect the plastic bits on the Victory Girls and eat a hot-dog. The memory of my disinterest in $20k garage candy has stuck around a lot longer. I get called "motorcycle bigot" about once a month by someone reading the blog or my MMM column. That is too serious a label. I don't hate these things, I just don't care about them. If they were the only motorcycles available, I wouldn't be a rider. I like my Escort station wagon better, as transportation and as a piece of engineering. Cruisers and golf are for old people, like bridge and senior housing and polka dancing. I'm only 64. Maybe later.

Jul 2, 2012

The Right to be an Idiot?

The Myrtle Beach geniuses who stage the Suck Bang Blow gangbanger beer bash are claiming being a bozo is a Constitutional right. Their argument is that doing burnouts and other retarded activities is their customers' way of “expressing their manliness and macho, as all males are prone and inclined to do to a greater or lesser degree.” Of course, holding on to a brake lever while applying limited horsepower to a motorcycle tire and spewing pounds of pollution is a pretty poor description of "macho," unless you're a cruiser dude on a girls' bike. But if you're really macho-disabled, do the burnout in a pit with the front wheel pinned to a wall, Suck Bang Blow-style. (And now you know why the bar is named.)

The actual "macho" portion of this activity is being tough/dumb enough to want to inhale the toxic pollution generated in melting a tire. The riding part is just dumb.

Regardless of the marginal macho quality of this brainless biker standard, the Murrells Inlet biker bar is suing Horry County for attempting to limit the bar's clients' brainless activities. Supposedly, burnouts are a First Amendment right, Suck Bang Blow “believes that providing these expressive performances to the public is a beneficial social activity which enhances individuals’ conscious ability to assimilate.” I suspect that some basic human quality would be a more useful way to assimilate, but you have to go with what you have. When all of the ditch digging jobs have gone to migrants and machinery, what's left for a rich dirtbag to do but sue?

What's the Opposite of a Grudge?

A couple of weeks ago, I listed ten (just to keep it short) companies, products, and concepts that have earned my long-lasting distrust. During the following week, I ended up at my neighborhood motorcycle accessory store buying replacement summer gloves and discovered that I naturally passed over several brands because of mediocre past experience and immediately picked out a couple of versions from the one brand the store carries that I generally like. From that experience, I decided to list a few of the companies, products, and concepts that I have (probably) unreasonable faith in
  1. icon -- icon is, in fact, the company that provided the motivation for this rant. Some time back, I reviewed a pair of mid-priced icon gloves. Five years later, those gloves are still providing good service. A few years later, I reviewed a pair of icon ventilated pants that I still wear, often. Both products have been reliable, tough, and functional. When I stood in front of that rack of gloves, icon was my only real options, since I've been burned by TourMaster, Alpinestars, and FirstGear. Joe Rocket was an option, but the first pair of gloves I picked up had failing seams, I went for the icon twenty-niner and have been very happy with the choice. Lousy gloves are a memory that sticks with a rider for a long, long time. Good products have the same sticky quality.
  2. Aerostich -- Just mentioning this brand is 'nough said. Aerostich makes great products and I've reviewed so many of them that it would take a page just to list the wonderful products I've bought from the company. Even the products they carry that are manufactured by other people are checked out as thoroughly and supported as consistently as their own stuff. Aerostich/Riderwearhouse is a great American-made company.
  3. Yamaha -- Over the years, I have owned a variety of Yamaha motorcycles and scooters.The first was my wife's MX100 which gave her spectacular service for years before she sold it. She has nothing but fond memories of the bike and out grandson still wears her old bumblebee yellow Yamaha jersey. My first Yamaha street bike was a 1982 XTZ550 Vision that suffered at least 50k miles of LA commuting traffic before I sold it and bought a 1986 Yamaha XT350 that I still regret selling almost a decade later. Along with the XT, I owned a 1983 Vision that moved me from California to Indiana to Colorado and, finally, was sold for a profit to a guy who drove his truck all the way from LA to Denver to pick it up. My 1986 TY350 was and is, likewise, one of my all-time favorite motorcycles along with the pair of 1992 850 TDM's I owned and loved. The current mechanical love of my life is my WR250X, the most fun motorcycle I've ever ridden. The Super Ténéré I reviewed last week joined the list of impressive Yamaha motorcycles I've experienced. I've only owned one Honda, but it was an equally excellent motorcycle. My experience with Suzuki has been less consistent. My two Kawasaki's have been disappointing.  Yamaha has done very well by me and that makes any Yamaha vehicle look a little better than the rest, in my view. 
  4. Dell Computers -- I own four of them: two Latitude 410 laptops, a desktop tower, and the 1012 Netbook I'm working on as I write this. The Latitude 410's were the convincer for me. After wearing out a half-dozen laptops on my motorcycle trips, including two of the grossly misnamed Panasonic Toughbooks, I stumbled on the 410 just before I left for Alaska. 70,000 miles and hundreds of hours later, that first unit is still working. So, I bought another. And another. And . . . Dell's customer service has been exceptional and knowledgeable, on the rare occasion I've needed it. 
  5. Avon Tires - Way back in the 1970's, I was commuting about 60 miles a day in a VW Beetle. The Nebraska roads were poorly maintained, there was often black ice and drifted snow to contend with, and I went through a VW motor about every 60k miles and a set of tires every 15k. A rally driving friend recommended Avon tires and I bought a set. They outlasted the VW's motor and were great on those crappy roads. The whole time I lived in California, all of our cars wore Avons, but I didn't discover Avon motorcycle tires until I put a pair of Distanzias on my V-Strom. After getting 3-5k out of the previous rear tires, I doubled that with the Avons. I don't drive that much these days and my car tires usually dry out and start weather cracking before the treads are 2/3 used. I put pretty much anything that fits on the cage and, sometimes, I go cheap on the bike when city commuting is the primary task. When I'm going long on the bike, I'll go with Avons. I have never been disappointed with an Avon tire.
  6. Chase Harper - Currently, I do not own any of their products. However, I have had several in the past. Their product support (warranty and repairs) is second to none. I owned a pair of Grand Millennium 4000 saddlebags for 30 years and wore them out, twice.  The company not only repaired the bags under warranty both times, but they upgraded the bags to current design standards each time. 
It's a short list, I know. I imagined I'd come up with at least ten companies, but I didn't come close. I've hung on to this post for a couple of weeks, hoping that I'd remember a few more companies on my preferred vendor list. There aren't many to choose from. Forty years ago, a Peavey sales manager explained to my partner why Peavey products were such crap, "Dan, there will never be a pre-CBS (Fender or Harley) Peavey market. We don't want any of our current products having to compete with our older products." Most modern corporations can make that same claim. None of their new stuff will last long enough to leave a memory for the majority of consumers.

An executive I worked with three decades ago once complained that "customer loyalty" is dead. He was the kind of guy who believed that warranties are made to be ignored and all of the inventory of a crappy product should be sold before the product is abandoned. He argued that our customer warranty database was a waste of time and effort, even though we were one of the few companies that stored the data customers filled out on those usually-worthless warranty registration cards. For ten years, I beat back this guy's arguments and we developed a loyal customer base that had high expectations of our company and paid a small premium for our products. A few years later, the company moved production to China, shipped a collection of marginally reliable and under-performing products, and wiped out thirty years of reputation in a few short years. Now, they are one of many equally positioned companies and battle for the lowest cost point, since customers are no longer loyal to the brand.

Customer loyalty is a two-way street. To get it, a company has to be loyal to its customers. Most companies can't even manage to be loyal to the country that provided the resources for their existence, let alone the customers who buy their products. The cost for that disloyalty is that the products become a commodity that can be purchased equally reliably -- or unreliably -- from any vendor. Once you're in that world, the only advantage you can offer is price and that means quality is sacrificed even more and customer loyalty slips away even further.

The high price for maintaining customer loyalty is beyond the capability of most corporate management. In my life, that has been the most obvious thing that is slipping away from US corporations; management with ability. The skills that we have lost and are least likely to regain are intelligent, skilled management with foresight. We can't build stuff because manufacturing management requires the most energy, talent, and commitment. Any lazy idiot can invent fraudulent security "instruments" and sell them to other fools; as long as we're willing to give up on being a nation ruled by law. The few companies that still do business responsibly and are customer-oriented deserve our business more today than ever.

Jul 1, 2012

All The News that Didn't Fit

Can 4 Wheels be a Cycle?
South African company, Swago Motor, is producing a product they are calling a "four-wheeled leaning motorcycle" (also known called a motorized quadricycle). The model is the 575 EVR-1 and it is sort of like a trike for the handicapped. It cruises at 65mph with a 24 mile range, has all-wheel independent suspension, dual hydraulic disk brakes, dual rear-wheel direct drive electric motors with electronic torque control, takes 6 hours to charge, and will lean up to 42 degrees. It's still not a motorcycle, though.
Harley is in India, Sort of
Not long ago, HD opened up a new "mother plant" in Bawal, Haryana. Soon afterwards, there was a lot of talk about an "INR 3-4 lakh Harley Davidson" developed specifically for the huge Indian market. However, Harley Davidson India CEO Anoop Prakash made it absolutely clear that there will be no sub-800cc Harley products coming from his factory. The Company is trying to target emerging economies' younger buyers in India, Brazil and South East Asia. without a product aimed at that market's preferences, it will be tough for HD to make much of dent in those highly competitive markets. 

The American Dream?

I've been researching crash statistics and biker data interpretations of those results for a future Geezer column. One of the side-effects of that research is discovering how goofy motorcyclists are as a group. Sometimes, it's hard to believe that the people commenting on helmet laws, loud exhaust systems, crash data, and articles about motorcycling in the mass media are capable of paying an internet bill to maintain their computer access. Maybe this is a terrible consequence of having computers in public libraries? 
Back in 2007, the New York Times interviewed a character named Lou O’Connell who was, possibly, the first rider "saved' by the airbag on his Goldwing. In that interview, O'Connell said something that might ring true for too many motorcyclists, “The American dream is to ride a motorcycle without a helmet.” His experience in crashing his Goldwing changed his mind and, supposedly, he will always be wearing a helmet after his airbag experience. Good for you, Lou.
Regardless of the airbag bit, I want to know when riding helmetless became an "American dream?" What happened to rags-to-riches, home-ownership, public education, democracy, freedom and liberty, and all of the things I thought were the core of the American Dream? Riding without a helmet? What the hell kind of dream is that? We used to be a nation that was famous for dreaming big. Now, an Irishman comes to the U.S. to enjoy riding helmetless because he's been told that's the new American dream. How the mighty have fallen.