Aug 31, 2012

Motorcycles and Religion

 All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

I snagged this a while back from a long, interesting, well-written comment from Tom Gallagher on the MNSportbike maillist, “. . . Motorcycling as religion: I often think of motorcycling as being like a religion. It is very personal, very emotional. And there are many ‘denominations’: the cruiser/Harley sect, the touring sect, and the sportbike/racing sect. There are even sects within those denominations. We each think ours is the correct one, the other not. We are evangelical. We are missionaries. We want to share our joy with others. . .” For years, I have been trying decide for myself if motorcycling is a sport or an activity, now I learn it's a religion. Yikes!

The statement inspired me to look up the definition of the word "religion." My Webster’s says the word means “1) the service and worship of God or the supernatural, 2) commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance . . . 3) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, . . and 4) (my favorite although it’s “obsolete”) scrupulous conformity, or 5) a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith."

I don't get the religious connection and I'm not convinced that sane people would be religious about motorcycling. Of course, I'm not convinced that sane people are religious, by the above definition, about anything. "Scrupulous conformity" seems like a bad quality, don’t you think? Of course, it would be cherry-picking to point out that those “rebels” who dress in the same shade of black, ride the same bike brand decorated with predictable accessories, and parade in miles long trains of carbon-copy motorcycles are the poster boys and girls for “scrupulous conformity," I’m ashamed that you even thought about going there.

If you take the rational approach to motorcycling, form follows function and you don't have to be religious about the activity/sport/whateverthehellitis. Either your bike serves a function or it doesn't. If it doesn't, I guess you are religious. Personally, the only time I would willingly “share my joy with others” is when I am joyfully paying my bills. I would particularly like to share my medical insurance, mortgage, and utility bill-joy with any number of folks.

Today, I suspect quite a few motorcycles are aspects of religious activity. Those long “charity” parades are, apparently, examples of folks sharing the joy of loud noises and traffic congestion with a much larger portion of the population who would like to see that joy shared in someone else’s town. Ah, religion. Do any two people see the same heaven?

More than forty years ago, riding a dirt bike was a fairly practical activity, with no religious overtones. In Kansas, Texas, and Nebraska (in that order), I could ride my dirt bikes to work, across country (on or off road), and around town if I just used a little discretion regarding local laws and public opinion. I could, for instance, ride from central Nebraska to Valentine or Sidney or Red Cloud without spending more than a few miles on pavement (usually hunting a filling station) and with barely a consideration toward being fully street legal. I had lights, but no turn signals or horn or battery, but I was legally registered with plates. A few years earlier, I rode a Texas cross-country that started north of Amarillo and chased the Canadian River to just short of the New Mexico boarder, hobbling home more than 100 miles with only first through third gear still spinning on a Kawasaki Big Horn that only had a headlight and no license plate or registration. I had a couple of conversations with police that mostly involved questions regarding my own shredded appearance. Mostly, they wanted to know if I needed a doctor. Turned out, I’d probably suffered the first of my three or four clavicle breaks, but I didn’t know it until fifteen years later, the next time I broke that bone.

A friend, who grew up in west Texas in the 1920s, raced his brothers from Hereford to Amarillo, without ever seeing a road or anything resembling a town until they arrived at their favorite Amarillo bar and grill. They’d taken seriously the Indian “Scout” concept and used their bikes as quarter horses had been used fifty years earlier. This was long before commercial farming, city-sized cattle feedlots, and the Interstate came along to ruin a good thing.

Today, owning a dirt bike is a hard-to-explain, harder-to-justify consumptive hobby. You can’t ride the bike anywhere practical and you have to ferry your bike on or behind a cage to use it. The folks who still ride off-road are downright religious in their defense of the hobby, but it’s just a recreational vehicle and the “rights” of dirt bikers have pretty much eroded into infinitely small moments of geezers’ memories and are segregated onto narrow paths on small plots of public or private land. Even snowmobiles receive more practical transportation consideration than do dirt bikes.

A lot of street-legal bikes suffer the indignity we describe as “garage candy.” Fluffy, pointless design “art,” obsolete drive-train characteristics, and lots of farm-implement noise usually accompanies these toys and their owners do their best to irritate as many non-motorcyclists (the other 99.99. . .% of the public) so that they can drive motorcycling, in general, off of the roads and into transportation history.

Some folks pray to the highly polished, totally tricked out, road-race bikes that are occasionally used on public streets. If worshiping “false idols” is a sin, these boys and girls are serious sinners. They must be kneeling, scrubbing the oxides from their frames, all winter long and most summer weekdays to get this kind of shine out of a naturally dull metal like aluminum.

I probably don’t get it because I’m not inclined that way. Beyond writing about riding and bike owning, I don’t do anything in the service of motorcycling. Being on two wheels is my favorite means of transportation, but transportation is mostly what my bike is to me. If I have to travel between point A and point B, I’d rather do it on my motorcycle. My second choice would be public transportation. My last choice would be in a car. If I’m not going to be able to enjoy the trip, I’d rather not have to think about it at all. But I’m not religious about it. 

Aug 30, 2012

My Wife Made Me Sell the Bike

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day
I hear at least one version of this story in every beginners' motorcycle class:
  • My wife made me sell the bike when we had kids."
  • "Now that we have kids [my motorcycling] has increased her anxiety and she is telling me I HAVE to sell the bike."
  • "I am finally getting back into motorcycling after a [fill in the blank] year break. The wife made me sell my old bike when we found out she was having a baby. The kid's grown up and my wife finally gave in this year and let me have a new bike."
  • "My wife made me sell my bike before she would marry me. I guess it was the right thing to do, but I loved that motorcycle."
  • "When I sold my motorcycle, my wife made me promise not to ever buy another one. That's how I ended up with a sailboat. I hate sailboats. In fact, I don't like boats."
And my favorite:
  • "The wife wasn't too happy about my motorcycle and, after my crash, she made me sell it. You know what they say, 'Happy wife, happy life'. Now we're divorced and we're both happy."
There are so many things wrong with those statements, I can't even properly punctuate them. "Happy wife, happy life?" That might be true for the wife, but there is no man in that statement. By that I mean, there is no sign of a pair of testicles on a guy who says "Happy wife, happy life." The happiest people I know are single, but they do have a motorcycle and they ride any time they feel like it. And I don't mean happiest by a micro-measured photo finish, I mean happiest by the diameter of the planet. The "satisfaction" men are supposed to receive with marriage and family is more rooted in reproducing the species than some improvement in quality of life for men (and women?).
People who marry other people with the intent of "improving" them are about as fun to be around as the Shoe Bomber. It doesn't take Edgar Cayce to predict that most of these fix-it marriages are headed for the dumper. Taking away someone's favorite activities is an act of control and power, not love. I guess some folks feel the need to live with a parent figure, but I think that sounds suspiciously close to mental illness. I haven't wanted to live with my parents since I was fifteen and the feeling was mutual.
The guys with the "wife made me do it" stories are total Sad Sacks. They are old, worn out, unhappy and, usually, broke. Some of those guys look twice my age at half my age. Any good thing a bad marriage might bring, divorce takes it away twice. The problem with trying to be someone else is that you aren't someone else. Sooner or later, you are going to be you and if your spouse wanted someone else you will be a disappointment.
In the aftermath, living in their parents' or a friend's basement, these deluded half-men imagine that sitting on a brand new Harley is going to rejuvenate their lost precious bodily juices. Two years later, they Harley will be posted in Craig's List, listed for 50% of the financed price and selling for 30% of that astronomical sum. The bike wasn't a miracle worker. The child support didn't go away and either did the debt. When you throw away your youth and vitality for a pipedream, those precious commodities are gone forever. You can't go home, get younger, or grow a pair in the empty sack where you snipped off the original two. The women the bike attracted were both expensive and cheap and stuck around long enough to figure out the Harley was window dressing on an abandoned building.  Motorcycles are not miracles on two wheels. They are just transportation.
Nobody has asked for my advice, but I am here to give it, anyway. If you want to ride a motorcycle, fly a hang glider, jump off of a cliff with a parasail strapped to your back, bicycle across the desert, volunteer with the Peace Corps in Uganda, or learn how to play a ukulele, I say, "Do it." In fact, I say, "Do it now!" I might have some reservations about the ukulele, but if it's good to you it's good for you. Just don't play the damn thing in my house and warn me if you're going to pull that thing out in public. 

Aug 29, 2012

Another Motorcycle Movie Review

For no good reason other than to distract my wife from the misery of a late summer cold or flu, we went to a movie yesterday, The Bourne Legacy. Spoiler alert: This is a non-stop chase movie with occasional fight scenes and no other mess distractions; like a plot that made sense.

No problem, late in the chase scene, Jeremy Renner (a sort of Gerard Butler knock-off) jumps on a dirt bike and races through Manila with some astoundingly competent motorcycle cops and a psycho-GMO-hitman hot on his ass. As usual, this Hollywood chase scene has serious time and distance problems, but the riding is generally excellent and believable (as in real people did the riding, not CG techs). There is, of course, no reason other than suspended disbelief, to imagine that Renner's character could ride a bike, let alone kick Kenny Robert's ass on one. Helmetless and showing of his buffed bod, Renner still looked reasonable comfortable on a bike. He is, in fact, a long-time motorcycle rider and is competent in the few scenes where it is obvious he's the stunt rider. His passenger throughout the entire chase scene, Rachel Weisz, was mostly terrified. She at some point in the chase scene, she must have managed to dip her ass in some Superglue or some other amazing adhesive so that she could stay on the bike even when both legs were in the air and she was flopping around the pillion like a hyperactive six-year-old. There is some great, if marginally believable, motorcycle stunt riding in the movie; sort of an X-Games for the spy movie crowd.

If I was more interested, I would try to identify the motorcycles involved. I think the dirt bike is a Honda. The camera work was so blurry and quick-cut that I could barely keep my attention on the action, let alone the details. My wife fell asleep early in the motorcycle chase scene and woke up to see the main characters lounging on a fishing boat. She was no less confused than I was having followed the whole mess to the end. 

During our recent trip to Texas, I drilled my way through a Robert Ludlum novel I found in my father-in-law's apartment. It was no less nonsensical than the plot of The Bourne Legacy, so I have some sympathy with the folks who decided to turn this silly story into a movie.

So, the most of the motorcycle scenes are in the clip attached to this "review." Watch 'em and realize that's about all of the interesting stuff there is to see in the movie. Save your money. The camera work is so bad this is practically a "made for video" film. And don't ever read a Robert Ludlum book if you want to preserve any sense of self-esteem.

Aug 28, 2012

New Stuff on the Website

A couple of big articles (meaning "long") from this spring and summer are now available on my personal website. Last spring, I wrote an article about making the Lake Superior Loop (Looping the Lake) that isn't available on-line, but my last draft before the editor went to work is on my website. The magazine turned the article into a marketing piece for the cruiser crowd, but I think the comments and recommendations at the end of the article are more biker-useful than all of the magazine's links to gangbanger touring companies. That's just me, though. The gangbangers themselves were so allergic to any connection to me that they "forgot" to include the author's name in their comments about the article. ("Recently the program gained a huge boost from our good friends and partners at Lake Superior Magazine. Paul, Cindy, Konny and Bob and their entire team recently featured motorcycle touring in their latest issue of the magazine in an article aptly titled 'Looping The Lake'.") Of course, Lake Superior Magazine was not in on that game and I was generously credited as the only author of the article, while the editor, Konnie LeMay, did a ton of work putting the text into the intended shape. Between my resistance to promoting the hippobike crowd and my incompetence due to pain medications and pain post-hip replacement, I was not the most flexible or competent author she'd worked with.

My MMM Yamaha XTZ1200Z Super Ténéré review will be out in a few days, minus about 400 words and a dozen pictures (mostly of the interior of that interesting motorcycle). Of course, readers who are not Minnesota residents or the rare MMM subscriber won't have the opportunity of seeing the contrast between Kevin Koncur and my take on that bike. So, the whole half that I contributed is available on my  aforementioned personal website.

I have a third article coming out in the September issue of Rider's Digest. That one will be on-line immediately, so look for it on the Rider's Digest site: #170.

Aug 27, 2012

Shaft, Chain, or Belt?

Because one of MMM's contributors recently suffered a catastrophic chain failure on her Versys, a bunch of us got into a conversation about shaft drive vs. chain drive vs. belt drive. My editor, Sev Pearman, is radically in favor of shaft drives over practically everything, especially chains. One of the technical contributors and a recently successful racer, Dave Soderholm, argued for belt drives. I'm old, not easily convinced by emotional arguments, and stuck with the experience of my lifetime, so I'm mostly on the side of chains and have no particular objection (other than cost) to shaft drives and seriously doubt the reliability of belts because Harley uses them and they are only found on cruisers and other toys (like electric bikes).

Here is some of the text from that discussion:

From: Cat on a Kawasaki 
Sent: Sunday, August 19, 2012 6:38 PM 
 Subject: Why my next bike will be shaft driven 

 Sunday ride, nice weather, going to get my nails done then off to a barbecue. Wait, what the hell...? (I watch in my mirror as my chain spins away on the road behind me) This is on 35W southbound, south of the Lake exit and north of the US-10 W exit. ONE vehicle stopped -- ONE!!!? -- a Goldwing rider and his wife. I'm glad they stopped. And I'm /very/ disappointed with the rest of the motorcycling community.

From:  T.W. Day 

Was it a replacement chain, a new/old chain, or a clip/riveted master link? I've been on bikes since the 60's and I've never had a catastrophic chain or sprocket failure. Obviously, they happen, but drive shafts fail too.  I had a CX500's bevel gear toss a tooth on a trip to SoCal in the 80's. I lucked out and it happened (or jammed) at low speed. I was able to pull the final drive apart, pick out the pieces, and limp back home where I rebuilt the thing. I've had infinitely worse luck (1/0) with drive shaft bikes than chains, when it comes to catastrophic failure. 

Thomas Day 
Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine 
From: Cat on a Kawasaki 

It was a master link on a replacement chain that had about 8000 miles on it. The chain chopped a chunk of aluminum out of the protector-thingie (I have no idea what that part is called), but there weren't any cracks or other damage. Whew! I still don't know why the clip came off. I found the master link in the chain lube goo - it was bent as if it had taken some pretty good pulling stress before it finally gave out.  

From: "T.W. Day" 

Thanks for the update. That's an interesting failure mechanism. In at least a couple hundred-thousand motorcycle miles, on and off-road, I've never had that happen. I'd be suspicious that the master link clip had been installed improperly, had been reused, or that the master link plate had not been compressed all the way, allowing the clip to sit on the edge of the pin grooves rather than firmly in the grooves. There is a good reason for using riveted master links, but I've never been afraid of the field-repairable style links and haven't had a failure in 40 years of riding. 

I have had three drive shaft bikes; a 1979 CX500 Honda Deluxe and a pair of XTZ550 Yamaha Visions. They were all reliable performers, if a little overweight. There is maintenance to be done to the rear drive and most riders blow it off, sometimes resulting in short drive life. The rear drive oil should be evaluated every time you replace the rear tire and that is a messy, time-consuming process. Some folks recommend changing that oil every time you replace the engine oil. Usually the splines at the end of the drive need to be greased at the same intervals. I know guys who have never changed that oil and lucked into long mileage and I know guys who blew off the maintenance and ended up with $2,000 in driveline repair costs for their lack of effort. I know at least one guy who did all of the maintenance required and still had a rear drive fail at 20k miles. "Maintenance-free" is a marketing delusion, especially if you go anywhere interesting on your motorcycle. 

Rocks are a drive belt killer. A moderately hard fall can bust drive shaft cases. A long ride in a hard rain can completely de-lube a chain and set it up for early failure. You buys your toys and you takes your chances. 

If you've read my stuff, you know I am unaware of this "motorcycle community" of which you speak. Motorcyclists are just people with no more connection to any overall community than the typical American voter. Waving aside (the motorcyclists' equivelant of saying "I'll pray for you" or "I'll hope for the best, assuming I don't have to put out any effort to help you"), I've had as much luck with old and young guys in pickups stopping to offer assistance as I have motorcyclists. For some reason, guys in driving pickups and wearing cowboy hats have been more valuable to me than anyone in or out of a helmet. 

 Mark Lawrence, by the way, is one of my favorite maintenance resources for practically all things motorcycle. His take on drive shave maintenance is worth reading. Mark was way ahead of the curve on the V-Strom 650 and his advice has kept my bike going strong through some tough times and places.

 From: Soderholm, David 

 Belts are the way to go - strong / light / quiet / clean / lash free / minimal input into suspension..........perfect drive for a street bike. 

From: T.W. Day 

 I've never had or ridden a belt drive bike. I've always questioned the strength and durability of belts. Of course, nothing I've ever owned has been a committed "street bike." Sooner or later, we're going riding on dirt roads and I suspect that could be a weak "link" for belts. Since a belt is, by design, a continuous loop, doesn't that mean considerable disassembly for replacement? 

From: Soderholm, David 

That's a good point Thomas, but most belt drives have a very long to life time interval period on replacement. They are also tested for rock and gravel off road during development. They are very tough.......

From: Sev Pearman

The shaft drive thread 
Pfft Anecdotal evidence 
And all 1800 Goldwings are shaking death traps. I know, cuz the innernets tell me. 

From: "T.W. Day" 

If "anecdotal evidence" is all we have, it's infinitely more valuable than myth and wishful thinking. The only discouraging word I have about the Tenere is the 42mpg bit. A shaft, one way or the other, is barely a consideration for me. I liked that bike and liked my XTZ550 Visions. If the Tenere came in a 65mpg 550 and at least $4k cheaper, I'd be on it. My point is that shaft drive is a wash, in the long run. And I've had a few of these bikes for long runs. I've never had a single sided shafter, though. That might have some serious advantages, maintenance-wise. The Honda Hawk is one of my favorite machines, concept-wise. I don't know anyone who put big miles on one, though. I know people who have them, I'm just not impressed with 15k miles of use

Does the fact that BMW put a chain on their F800GSe do more than provide "anecdotal evidence?" (I know, the picture was on the internet.) At one of the first Cycle World bike shows I attended in Minnesota, BMW displayed one of their their non-factory Paris Dakar boxers, which was chain drive. I have always wished I'd taken a good picture of that bike. I never seem to have a camera out or an audio recorder running when it really matters. Clearly, I do not belong in the news business. 

Let's face it, it doesn't much matter to people in my socio-economic bracket. There isn't an interesting shaft drive available in my low-ball price range. There is no chance I'm going to own a five-digit motorcycle, ever. There is little chance I'd ever want a drive-shaft cruiser, which might be in my price range but I'm not that old, yet. (I don't plan to live that long, either.) So, if there is a small reliability/price advantage, the initial cost overwhelms the conversation. If that were all there were to it, I'm sure all factory on and off-road race bikes would be belt or shafties. Since they are overwhelmingly chain driven, there is clearly more to it.

From: Sev Pearman

I don't think that is accurate. Permit me to add this observation

Cruisers and tourers may run belts (a/o shafts) due to fixed FD ratios.  No one cares to adjust it do the FD ratio is fixed. Having said that, BMW & M-G offer a variety of REAR pinion ratios to alter overall ratio

Sport bikes and offroad machines have stayed w chain because it is easy to adjust when gear ratios are changed

If not, a rider would have to stock x different length belts for as many possible FD gear ratios

This is a question of final drive ratio adjustment, not reliability

 I pity the poor salesman who has to sell you any machine 

From: T.W. Day

I always buy used from owners, never dealers, at the lowest price I can beat out of the seller, and rarely want anything badly enough to worry about the deal if it falls through. No salesman wastes much time on me because it is, apparently, obvious the moment I walk through the doors than I'm just looking. I bought my first and last new bikes in 1974 and only new car of my life in 1973. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I rarely go back for a whipping twice, unless getting my ass kicked at the race track counts. 

Do you have evidence that chains are standard because of the adjustibility or is that opinion?  

I doubt that a lot of gear ratio modifications take place in the Dakar or in enduros and cross country races, Isle of Man, and the rest of the endurance racing world and I suspect that if reliability was a serious issue with chain drives, even road race tuners would find a reasonable way to adjust gear ratios; as you've mentioned BMW and MG do already. I don't think the drive issue is as clear and simple as you appear to believe. I think the racetrack is equivalent to tens of thousands of miles of "normal" use, so if drive shaft systems possessed reasonable power-to-weight and efficiency performance and provided a reliability advantage, we'd be seeing them on the track. 

The fact that belts are practically non-existent outside of the low-performance, maintenance-ignorant cruiser market says a lot to me. I have no objection to drive shaft power transfer, but I'm unconvinced they are the bulletproof, no-maintenance, cost-effective drive line you're hoping they are. 

I'm also unconvinced that encouraging already-barely-conscious riders to buy "let's pretend these are no maintenance" bikes is a good idea. Going over the chain is just a small part of what ought to be good, regular maintenance. It's not difficult to make daily maintenance a reasonably clean activity. It does force us to look at axle bolts and adjustments, and to scan other parts of the bike. It gets us closer to the "Zen" of motorcycle maintenance and that's always a good thing. 

Now, when you get back from 2,500 mile (2,000 off-pavement) North Dakota ghost town tour and can still say, "Time on Victory bikes has made me a believer in belts as well," I'll reconsider. Until then, I'll see your "pfft" (although I'm not sure what means and raise you a couple of "humphs." A few piddling miles around town doesn't convert me to abandoning a system that has only improved dramatically in my lifetime. 


Some of you folks are more experienced, technically more capable, and bigger thinkers than me. What are your thoughts, opinions, and what facts can you bring to this debate table? 

Aug 26, 2012

What Happened Here?

Scott and the TDM on the way from Santa Fe to
Wisconin in 2012, the last big trip the bike would make.
I've written before about my friend Scott's troubles with his 1992 Yamaha TDM. That worthy machine finally moved to someone else's hands last weekend. Scott had ridden it from Santa Fe, NM to the Cities and had noticed it used more oil than usual on the trip. The oil use got worse as he crossed South Dakota, heading east. The bike had 56,000 miles on the odometer, so it was due to a valve check and other maintenance and when he had some time to play with it he brought it to my garage and we pulled it apart to do the inspection. What we found was a disaster.

The right side intake valve races were worn to the point that the aluminum had flared on the edges, preventing removal of the valve adjuster buckets. One of the race oil ports was very nearly closed by the wear. Of course, the intake valves were tight due to the wear, with no measurable clearance on that side. The only possible repair for this failure is replacing the head, a project that far exceeded Scott's available time.

In the end, we ran an honest Craig's List ad, explaining the engine problems and asking for a fair price with that knowledge in hand, and Scott bought a new NS700X. The Yamaha experience probably soured him on that brand and the 66-70mpg he got on the Honda riding back to Santa Fe might have made him into a permanent Honda fan. What didn't happen was all of his TDM problems souring him on motorcycling. He is, obviously, still a two-wheel guy and one of the most resilient people I know.

The TDM vanished from my garage last weekend while my wife and I were wrestling with my father-in-law's messy affairs and I fully expect to see the bike's good parts show up on eBay any day now.

My best guess is that something blocked the oil flow to the right side of the cylinder head. I don't think the wear we saw blocking the intake valve race happened first. There was no obvious scoring on any of the races or the camshaft, no sign of heat either (no darkening of the aluminum race or the camshaft), and it just looked like too much pressure had squashed the races. Obviously, wear had done that damage, but the lack of scoring or burning overwhelms my ability to diagnose the original fault. Scott thought the engine had a different sound over a portion of the trip and admitted that he might have run the bike with the low oil level for a few hundred miles. That is only a serious problem on a dry sump motor if the level becomes low enough that one of the pumps is starving, as best I know. Still . . . I put almost 100k on a TDM and 60k on another without any serious problems and with only needing to adjust the valves once on the two bikes. Scott's bike did not receive much love before he bought it and we have no idea how stupid the previous owner may have been. We do know how devious he was.

Dumbing-Down the Nation

I spent a lot of yesterday doing errands on my 250. The few moments I was on the Interstate gave me flashbacks to when I first arrived in Minnesota and hooked up to a couple of local motorcycle groups: MNSportbike (now MN-MSTA) and TC_DualSport, where I quickly got tangled up in one of the silliest arguments in my life; the Minnesota "fast lane." Eventually, I wrote a rant about it called Tailgating in the Fast Lane where I did my best to blast the illusion that some riders have about their "rights" on multilane roads. I was surprised at the non-reaction both on the MNSportbike site and in reader letters. I was downright insulting toward the "special" children who design our freeway system, "Urban Minnesota has a freeway system that was designed (to loosely and abusively use the word 'design')  by drunken professional wrestlers." (This was back in the Ventura Governorship days). Still, no reaction from the Mousketeers.

That article was in 2005 and I joined the debate in 1999. It's probably still going on. People who should know better (Yeah, I'm talking about you Pat.) were outraged at the fact that many drivers disrespected their right to go "fast" in the "fast lane."  There is, of course, no actual fast lane. All freeway lanes are restricted to the posted speed limits and only the exit lane is expected to move slightly more slowly than the other lanes. In the Twin Cities, every lane (including the center lanes) can irrationally become exit lanes and that fact eliminates any rational expectation of fast lanes.

Yesterday, I was struck at how LA'ish the Cities' traffic has become. Yeah, I know, it's been there for a while, but I wasn't stuck in it long enough to take the time to watch what's going on. Tailgating and multitasking have merged into complete Idiocracy. We are now ready for barrier-lined, electronic-speed-controlled "traffic" where the driver is nothing more than a passenger in a seat possessing a disconnected "steering wheel" and a petal that produces noise but no change in velocity. Obviously, resonance theory is beyond the scope of the average Amercun's vocabulary, but . . . damn! When forty reflex-dead zombies run bumper-to-bumper their miserable reflex times will add up to some seriously long intervals of no activity between short bursts of hyper-lane-changing and brake and throttle pumping. The fools who thought putting stop lights at freeway entrances have trained Minnesota drivers to do exactly everything wrong merging and driving.

I stumbled on to the freeway twice, out of habit, yesterday and it took me nearly a half-hour to extract myself each time. If any state desperately needs lane-sharing, it's Minnesota. These people don't have the reflexes to be dangerous to a competent rider. By the time they can apply their passive-aggressive block maneuver, you'd be a mile away. Even the kids are slow-witted. My wife blames this on hazard-free video game "driving" and she could be right. These people do drive as if they think a reset button is out there in case they fuck up.

Considering the alternatives, I was lucky.

My wife took the granddaughter and daughter to the state fair yesterday. That experience may have ruined her for state fairs, forever. She went for the animal and art and crafts exhibits, but the bozo qualities of the crowds overwhelmed her in about an hour. The XXXXL-size Marching Morons did her in. They all wore out and left frustrated about half-way their planned tour. The "art" and crafts have become so conservative and boring there is little point in visiting those areas more than once every five years, just to verify the constant decline in quality. The animals, outside of the specialty birds, are becoming genetic freaks. When did hogs top 1,000 pounds? Last time I paid attention, a 300-400 pound hog was a big dude. Herefords are a vanishing breed, replaced by the more trendy Angus. Watching Minnesota horsepersons is painful. This is a state of farmers, not cowboys. Even the horses are dumber than we're used to seeing. In Texas and Kansas, the animals have managed to hang on to their brainpower while the people down-breed back to neanderthals (I probably owe neanderthals an apology.).

It's a sad time when stop-and-go city streets are quicker than the freeway, but here we are. It makes you wonder if the human race has played out its string and nature is about to replace us with something more useful?

Aug 24, 2012

Non-Motorcycle Related, but Worthwhile

This is exactly what I'm talking about when I dispute the "motorcycle bigot" claim. For all you fruitcakes who name your motorcycles and imagine the damn things make you a better person, remember this: "Don't you ever, ever, applaud an inanimate object again. I believe that's why they have that section about the Golden Calf . . . in the Bible." There is no "Jesus app" on your motorcycle, whatever the brand name. It's a fuckin' inanimate object.


An Unpaid Unpolitical Announcement

A while back, I "Kindled" my blog on The link is and it's done very little (big surprise) since. Just for laughs and if you have a few moments to waste, I'd appreciate a review or two (No, I don't care if you subcribe to the Kindle thing.) just to make it look like less of a waste of time. (Maybe I should ask for a personal review to justify my whole existence?)

Riding Electric

Back in September of 2011, MMM reviewed the Zero DS. One of the better writers and a solid sportbike rider, Ben Goebel, wrote the review and it was, mostly, positive. I was jealous, not of the review (and the money Ben made from that review) but of getting to ride the Zero under review conditions (meaning, he got to play with it for several days). Every time Zero sent out a media notice, which always includes offers to ride a bike, I replied that I wanted to do just that. The last time, I got a response not just from the Zero media department but from a salesman at the Hitching Post in Fridley, MN. The salesman, Travis, and I played phone tag for almost a month before I gave up and rode to the store yesterday. He was out to lunch, I waited.
Photo by Zero Marketing

Ben is, apparently, longer legged than me. The DS (dual sport) model has a 35.3 inch seat height and looks intimidatingly tall. So, I went for the S ("street" or "sport," I think) model (33.1" seat) for my test ride. While waiting for Travis to arrive, I looked the bike over. Zero's manufacturing mixes an interesting combination of refined and coarse detailing. The frame is a piece of modern art. The plastic looks modern and appears to be typical of today's standards for bodywork. The kickstand, on the other hand, looks like a high school machine shop design. There were other parts that seemed inconsistent with the overall design, but the kickstand kept coming back to remind me that Zero is a very small company.

Photo by Zero Marketing
The brush-style motor is another small company reminder. It looks fragile, unnecessarily exposed to the elements and kind of dainty. Travis told me that it is designed to run underwater (a Euro- requirement) and is relatively weather-resistant, but that is should always be blown dry after exposure to water to prevent contact and brush oxidation. My intent for any motorcycle would be to commute to work, regardless of weather, and having to take time to dry the motor after riding to work isn't an option. I don't like work well enough to leave with that kind of spare time.

Zero's marketing lit says, "Imagine instant torque and power from a standstill. Imagine smooth acceleration as you throttle out of turns. Then, imagine never needing to stop at a gas station or be burdened with any scheduled powertrain maintenance. Not only is this possible… it’s available now." With that in mind, I set out to explore "instant torque and power from a standstill." Since electric motors can deliver monstrous power from starting RPM, that's what I expected. What I got was 25-50cc scooter acceleration from 0-15mph. There is absolutely no sensation of power from the early throttle rotation. My now-abandoned-by-the-assholes-at-Victory Polaris Electric Scooter has more oomph from take-off. Seriously. Once the bike gets moving, there is more happening but it is never particularly exciting. In Ben's review of the DS, he said "From a standing start, full throttle acceleration feels like riding a 125cc conventional motorcycle to about 35mph. By 45 to 50mph the ZERO pulls hard enough to get all of your attention; akin to a 250cc conventional bike near redline. On the class 5, the DS lit up the rear tire in a big way at 45 mph- once the mass had gotten rolling. Head down sideways, flat on the tank and exhaling, delivered an indicated 71 mph." The DS must be geared differently, although both bikes exhibited about the same top speed (In a long straight, I managed a speedo-indicated 69mph without going "flat down on the tank.") If the S-model resembles a 125cc bike, it would be the lamest 125 I ever rode.  For the first 50 feet, my Polaris scooter would kick the S-model's ass. I can do wheelies on the Polaris. No worries about that on the S-model. Likely, the lack of clutch and other safety issues convinced Zero to make the street model more easily controlled. I've helped design and build a primitive electric scooter and an electric VW Karman Ghia and I know how much torque a well-designed electric motor can provide. The Zero isn't even close to pushing that limit.

The 2011 models are, of course, obsolete. The 2012 models have new brush-less motors, larger batteries, a different frame and suspension, 114 mile range (opposed to 50 miles on the 2011 model), new bodywork, new brakes, and practically every other aspect of the bike has been upgraded; including the price. The Hitching Post price for the bike I rode was $10k and the 2012 version is $12k. Dealers will be unloading the 2011 models for cost or less, so your price tag may vary. In fact, it better vary.

Riding the electric bike is an exercise in getting used to something new. The rider position reminds me of Buell bikes. You're "on the bike" as opposed to being "in the bike." The seat feels more like a perch than a seat and the big battery adds to the top-heavy feel and response. Nothing turns like my WR250X, so comparing the Zero to what I rode to the dealer is unfair. Still, the Zero weighs about 300 pounds, sits about the same height as the WR, has similar practical applications, and costs $3,000 more, so I don't feel particularly biased in making some comparisons.

The handling felt stiff and marginally responsive at low speeds. The lack of low speed torque complicates tight low speed maneuvers. The brakes are fine, exactly as expected with a bike of this style and size. High speed (65mph) handling is ok, but not spectacular due to the high COG and frame geometry. The seat is OK  The controls are good quality and where you expect them to be except the missing clutch and shifter. I didn't ride in the dark, so I can't report on the headlights.

Overall, I can't get past the mild performance. I'm a 250cc four-stroke rider, so I'm not expecting a rocket but I do expect some kick to the acceleration. None was there. Without that, I can't be won over or lost by other details.

Aug 19, 2012

The Consumption Nation

My wife and I are in Texas and have been for a week. I haven't been back in this state for a few years and haven't been here for any period of time since the 70's. My father-in-law died last week and we've been trying to sort out his mess of an "estate" since. I learned a lot about why some people are careful about planning their death. The last memories of us that the people who have to sort out our crap will have can be pretty negative.

I snagged this picture from another website, but it is exactly
typical of the "traffic" we experienced in the Wichita Falls
ghost town freeway tour. 
I've been here for a week, putting on miles between Wichita Falls and Dallas, and there aren't enough Texas motorcycles on the road to warrant bothering to license motorcycles in the state. If a motorcycle is a transportation device, it falls miles below bicycles, skates, wheelchairs, Hot Wheels, and feet in miles-traveled in this state. If I throw out the few long distance travelers I've seen (maybe a half-dozen), I could easily count the number of motorcycles I've seen on the road on one hand. Pitiful.

This place is clearly oblivious of the world outside of its boarders. Cars are generally huge, mostly SUVs and single passenger pickups. Dallas is the ultimate urban sprawl collection of houses without communities. Downtown is all but dead, even the few suburban downtown areas are dead zones of empty business buildings and decaying neighborhoods. There is a light rail, but every time we've been traveling along its path the cars appear to be mostly empty. The highways, freeways, and toll roads are monuments to massive federal investment and a mindless faith that petroleum will last forever. Wichita Falls is, for example, a dying town, with a business real estate market that resembles Detroit. The place is overpass rich, though. For a town that has about as much traffic as a rural Nebraska farm town, Wichita Falls has a collection of giant overpasses and empty freeways. If I were making an "end of days" movie, I couldn't hope for a better collection of sets than in this abandoned city.

Texas drivers are mad. I mean exactly that word, too. They are a nasty combination of insane and angry. If I were forced to live here, I'd probably still ride but I'd spend a lot of my days in terror. If there is an example of a place that is actively burning up the world's resources so that their children can live in the stone age, this place has to be on the list. It's worse than LA.

When we went shopping for my grandson's birthday presents at a local Target, a man was hauling his 10-12 year-old daughter out of the store. She was kicking and screaming and nearly choking with emotion as the embarrassed man walked quickly through the store. As they approached I began to make out what she was screaming, "I'm not leaving until I get something I want!" She said it like a chant, repeatedly, all the way out the door. It felt like a national anthem after my experience in Texas.

Aug 11, 2012

Getting Customer-Serviced to Death

My Montana retirement villa. The guy who lives  here
looks like some kind of ZZ Top refugee, but he only weighs
about 110 pounds. I figure I can do a Willard Romney on him
and send him on his way with a nice picture of me living in
his old place and a couple of bucks in his jeans.

This week was full of the kind of frustration that makes people like me buy an arm-load of guns and a station-wagon full of ammunition and move into the Montana "dream cave." (see at right)

First, a friend decided he wanted to look at buying a new bike. So, he and I wandered into the local "we got everything" dealership and browsed the pickin's. He was interested in Honda's NS700X and Suzuki's V-Strom DL-650 ABS (which the dealer had mis-labeled as the DL-650A and the salesman had to wander the halls for 20 minutes to confirm was, in fact, ABS). Both bikes would go out the door at around $10k. After looking at the two, side-by-side, he seemed to be settling on the V-Strom. The salesman was such a zombie that I had to get away from the flow of babble and I left the building to stare at the weird-assed Victory contraptions parked in the front of the building. Forty minutes later, I returned to Zombieland and found that the guys had filled out application paperwork and were waiting for the shop guys to give some kind of appraisal on the trade-in bike. They had hauled the bike into the shop about 40 minutes earlier and we were running out of time. When my friend reminded the sales zombie that he'd said it would take about "30 minutes to do the appraisal," zombie-geezer replied, "I didn't say they'd drop everything and do it instantly." Meaning, "It will take 30 minutes to do the appraisal but that 30 minutes begins when we say it begins. Maybe next month?" So, we bagged up our stuff and went on with out day, leaving zombie-fool to mutter about all the paperwork he'd done for nothing.

My friend had left my phone number with the dealer, since he's in-transit to a new job in another state, and when zombie-sales-fool called Friday morning to ask when we'd be back to finish the appraisal, I said, "You're fucking kidding, right? The dude's buying a Honda in Wisconsin." Zombie-sales-geezer-fool was offended and wanted to "reason" with me, but I had stuff to do and hung up. My best guess is that when economic times are tough, the dealer mismanagers get rid of all of their smart sales people and hire semi-retired idiots who would otherwise be Wal-Mart greeters. That tactic might also apply to the shop guys who imagine that a trade-in inspection on a $10k sale can wait until all the donuts are consumed and the cans of Mountain Dew are drained.

This was, by the way, the polar opposite of the qualities of the shop my editor likes to hit up for magazine reviews. Those guys were absolutely customer-service oriented and would be my first choice for all things Honda, Yamaha, Triumph, and Kawasaki if they were 30 miles closer to where I live. As it is, if I ever win the lottery and decide I NEED a new motorcycle, that's where I'll be shopping. Parts, unfortunately, I'll still buy on-line because I hate dealing with dealers' parts children.

Move to later in the week.

I'm still wrestling with getting the Garmin software to work with my old 2610/2620 GPS units. When my office computer crashed last fall, I recovered most everything that mattered (except for the incredibly critical Quicken Home and Office backup data that turned out not to be backed up by Quicken's "backup" function). One of the few things that hasn't come back to life has been City Navigator v8. I can sort of get v7 going, but it only recognizes the existence of my GPS units and won't actually "install the unlock "(a crazy phrase if I've ever written one) and give me access to my maps. The device isn't useless, but it's not a lot more than a compass, altimeter, and a US Interstate locator as it is.

So far, the "recommendation" I get from the Garmin "technical support" guys is the routine I have already followed, which doesn't work. They, also, recommend I buy a newer GPS. I don't need a newer GPS. The roads I travel haven't changed much in 40 years and I can get by just sort of knowing where I am. The sun and the stars fill in the data bits the GPS unit can't complete. I know my 2610 is "old." So am I. It has also survived a drop from my bike at 70+mph and continued to function for 5 years afterwards. If Garmin can guarantee that one of their new units will be that tough, I'll buy one (used and for less than $50, just like the 2610 purchase in 2007). I think Garmin's tech support is still out of Kansas, almost US citizens, but their comprehension of problem-solving might as well be coming from ESL characters in India. Honestly, this experience has made me more open to the idea that Garmin might not be the supplier to my next GPS device and that's probably a good thing.

Finally, my wife and I "celebrated" our 45th anniversary yesterday (Yeah, I know. I'm older than dirt.). While my friend hacked away at the maintenance of his Yamaha TDM, we did some Cities prowling. First, because she is a plant-person, we spent the afternoon at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I have no complaints about that place, other than the fact that I'm allergic to practically everything growing there. Following that, we went to dinner at what used to be one of our old favorite bar/restaurants on the Minneapolis Mississippi River. That place has changed! $6 domestic beer? $48 for a couple of hamburgers and two beers and the beer was luke warm and the burgers were too. I swear the fries came from McDonald's trashcan. Add the mediocre food to the fact that the clientele was almost exclusively spoiled UofM rich kids with nothing more important to discuss than their latest Facebook entries and you have a moment to "disremember" (to quote our last frat-brat "What me worry?" President). Good thing the plants were cooperative. As humans we should begin to aspire to the high standard of lilies, hostas, and trees.

Aug 10, 2012

All the News that Didn't Fit

Good News/Bad News
The good news is the economy is clawing back toward "normal," as first quarter 2012 US scooter and motorcycle sales are up 9%. The bad news is that we have a long way to go to get back to pre-depression sales. 2007 two-wheel vehicle sales were around 950,000 units and 2011 sales were at 441,000 on and off-road units.
Hoka Hey Payoff
The Harley long distance event continues to provide entertainment as the 2010 and 2011 "winner," William Barclay filed a suit against Hoka Hey organizers Jim and Beth Durham and "the Medecine Show Land Trust.” The Durhams "disqualified" all 11 2011 finishers from receiving the $250,000 cash and $40,000 motorcycle first prize. Barclay is asking for $5.29 million in damages, plus attorney fees and court costs. The 2009 and 2010 payoff was just as messed up, so this is nothing new for the Durhams. The 2012 Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge is supposed to start on August 5. How many suckers will line up for a pie-in-the-sky this year? For that matter, Barclay is probably trying to get blood out of turnips.
Arrested for "Obstruction of Revenue"
Natalie Plummer, a Houston Texas bicyclist, fed up with her city's less-that-subtle revenue generating tactics (read "new taxes"), scrawled "Speed Trap" on a paper bag to warn fellow citizens of a road hazard ahead. The Houston cops threw a tantrum, forcibly searched her backpack, arrested her on a trumped up "felony obstructing justice" charge. Since that was clearly bogus, she was eventually charged with 'walking on the roadway" after being jailed for 12 hours. It's impressive that the Houston cops have solved all of the city's real crimes and have so much time on their hands for stuff like this.  

Aug 6, 2012

Missed, Again

Barely conscious if this, I have been keeping half-an-eye out for a 1986 Kawasaki 250R Ninja. I missed this one, this week, on Craig's List. It wasn't a great price, but there is something about the first generation Ninja 250 that I really like. We used to call it "Little Grasshopper," for the leggy space between the wheels and the bodywork.

My Favorite Kind of Ad

Found on Craig's List today:

1981 Maico 250 - $1 (Twin Cities)

Date: 2012-08-05, 12:33PM CDT
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

This bike has had a stage three modification completed by Eric Cook. Probably the most unbelievable bike I ever had the pleasure to ride. I just don't have the time to show it off at the tracks or even time to ride it like it should be ridden.

I just had the clutch chains changed and engine completely inspected. I'll sell it to the right person for 5k. Serious inquiries only... other wise I'll just keep this one of a kind bike. I purchased thru Bill at EC Maico and just bought some new "red" side plates from Bill also.

If you don't understand the names and processes completed; this is NOT the bike for you.



Why even try to sell it if you won't take any offer less than outrageous and would rather store it in your garage, anyway? What's with the $1 price on the header? If you want $5k, have the balls to admit it and reap the consequences of the absolutely NO calls you will receive for this relic of the bad old days. 

Aug 4, 2012

The "New" V-Strom Adventure

I have to admit, it is particularly irritating to read an excellent (as in well-written, concise, competent, technical) review in the New York Times on one of my favorite motorcycles. Unremarkable, in a Nice Way, by Roy Furchott, is close to one of most entertaining, most informative motorcycle reviews I've read.

Aug 2, 2012

Vanishing Point

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

We're banned from using the wasted lane-splitting space on roads and freeways. When we are stuck in congested traffic, we aren't allowed to reduce that congestion by filtering to the front of the line. Some states single out motorcycles for DUI and inspection stops. Fuel wasting stop lights are designed to ignore us. Our license fees are way out of line in regard to the damage our vehicles do to roadways and our need for road maintenance. Urban public parking often bans motorcycles. Drivers are encouraged to risk our lives by distracting themselves to lethal incompetence with communication and entertainment centers, food and beverages, and soundproof sleeping accommodations. Someday soon, the highway of the future will be a robot-controlled, wired-in, GPS managed, glorified passenger train with no room for any sort of two-wheeled vehicles.
And what are we up in arms about? The right to be stupid.
Motorcycles are being shoved from the road and all bikers care about is the right to hear the wind whistling between their ears and to irritate as many people as possible with illegal exhaust systems.
The Philip Contos thing still irritates me. A guy kills himself fighting for the freedom to kill himself. If he were trying to damage motorcyclists' already pitiful public image, he couldn't have been more effective. Between the YouTube parade of hairy gangbangers on noisy two-wheeled tractors and Contos' demonstration of suicidal lack-of-skills, he made international news. Seriously. Enter "Philip Contos" into a search engine (put it in quotes, so you're only getting hits for this guy) and watch 17,000 or more articles appear with titles such as "Embrace Your Right to be Stupid' or "Biker Protesting Helmet Laws Dies of Head Injuries from Crash" or "Darwin Award Nominee - Philip Contos" or "Philip Contos Goes Head Over Heels At Anti-Helmet Rally" or any number of sarcastic headlines describing Contos' 15 minutes of infamy that reflect the public's low opinion of motorcyclists. Thanks, Phil. We needed that.
This is a freedom we're willing to fight for? When real freedom is vanishing in all directions, when access to public roads, practical use of the roads we pay for (at least with property and fuel taxes, if not with licensing taxes) is in jeopardy, we want to pretend that baring our heads to the tender mercies of asphalt and concrete is a "basic right?" Not me. If I'm only going to live so long, get into so many battles, and have limited energy for all of it, I'm going to pick my fights. I disagree with the helmet protest and I'm on the other side of the loud exhaust battle, so fighting for these silly issues is one of the many ways "motorcycle organizations" (almost as oxymoronic as "military intelligence") alienate me.
Most likely, the AMA, ABATE, the Motorcycle Industry Council, and the rest of the characters representing every point of motorcycling view but that of the daily commuter and the safety-oriented, law-abiding rider could care less about my nickels and dimes. I not only don't own $30,000 garage candy, I haven 't bought a new motorcycle since 1974. I am more likely to put my time and money into Occupy Wall Street than motorcycle political action for anything less than a movement to legalize lane-splitting or off-street downtown parking. If cagers have to wear seatbelts, motorcyclists should reasonably be expected to wear helmets. If I can't stage a 120dBSPL rock concert in my backyard, the pointless noise made by gangbangers and cager-squids in Honda Accords and rednecks in RAM pickups should be restricted to legal limits.
I am aware of the fact that my opinion doesn't matter. The money is behind the other arguments. Aftermarket companies sell loud pipes, bike manufacturers hustle the gangbanger or the squids-in-wife-beaters image, and even the politically-correct-and-connected AMA is only half-heartedly promoting safety and neighborhood-friendly exhaust systems. Even the MSF is afraid of offending the noisemaker crowd, because you can show up for an "Experienced Rider Course" on a bike that will deafen your instructors who have no way to send away a motorcycle that was, apparently, legal on the public streets.
All that probably makes the proponents of motorcycling's two big issues feel in control. They are fooling themselves. All around the country, local, state, and national politicians, traffic safety engineers, and planners are hearing complaints from communities, medical professionals, urban traffic planners, and insurance companies about the real issues motorcycles present. Very little of what they hear is positive. In fact, the story motorcyclists present is so overwhelmingly negative that we have about as much social clout as a climate scientist at a Tea Party convention. With many (or most) motorcycle "clubs" on the Justice Department's Gang and Terrorist Threat Lists, getting grouped in with "bikers" may be a fast route to Guantanamo for all of us.
So, how do we fix the mess we're in? While it might be too late for motorcycles and motorcyclists to fix a public image that is so wrong we're practically in the gangster category, we've got nothing to lose but energy we're going to burn sooner or later.