Dec 30, 2013

#37 A Bunch of Old Women
All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

In the interest of punching holes in MMM’s political correctness quota, I thought I’d raise a little hell in this month’s column. I suppose if I didn’t want to piss off more than a few people, I’d have to start the column with “and now for something really different.” So this will just be more of the same old Geezer crap. Pretty much the worst thing you can say about a group of men (young or old) is to accuse them of acting like a bunch of old women. The stereotype being that old women are conservative, frail, and afraid of things that go “bump” in the daytime. In my experience, it’s a poor stereotype since I’ve run into more old men who are timid and wimpy than old women who fit the type. However, any insult that actually irritates the object of derision is worth using. Whatever collateral damage it causes is just icing on the cake, from an insult-effectiveness perspective.

With the irritation factor well in hand, I want to say that far too many aspects of motorcycling marketing are downright old-womanish. It only makes sense that it would be, since motorcycling is a piddly fraction of the country’s economic and social activities and the “Land of the Free” has become about as timid as England in the last few decades. We’re so conservative that, any day now, I expect a national referendum to invite the King of England (or the Pope) back into American politics. On one side of politics, we have “bleeding heart liberals” and on the other, we have “fainting heart conservatives.” I can’t tell one from the other without the TV captions under their simpering faces. A wimp is a wimp, no matter how they butter up their political positions.

That political/social wimpiness has bled into our downright anti-social, balls-to-the-wall, WFO-or-give-me-death sport. No, I’m not talking about Victor’s regular advocating of helmets and other protective gear. I wear my gear everywhere and I don’t need some bloodsucking government wimp to tell me I am breaking Big Mommies’ law to convince me to gear up. In fact, the reason I wear gear is in anticipation of falling down. The stuff doesn’t keep you from hitting the road, it keeps you from smearing yourself all over the road. Slugs don’t worry about falling down because they think they’re not going fast enough to get hurt. I know I’m going fast enough to get hurt. Hell, I’ve busted bones and torn muscles and ligaments riding bicycles and motorcycles, playing baseball, football, basketball, and chipping ice in my driveway. If I want to keep playing I have to gear up because I’m going to screw up and find myself sliding down the road on whatever synthetic material I’ve strapped on to protect myself from sliding down the road.

Somehow, people who sell, promote, or regulate our activity have come to the silly conclusion that passing laws to protect ourselves from ourselves will have some effect on traffic safety. We all know that if the regulators actually gave a flying poop about traffic safety, the first thing they’d do would be to take about half of us off public roads. Licensing every idiot with a car title in hand is no way to create safe highways. But that’s what they do and, as a public apology for their lameness, they try to make us strap in, helmet up, and drive slowly.

Personally, I think Big Mother should be limited to baking cookies and changing invalid’s diapers (especially those who became invalids by doing something exciting and getting smashed up in the effort) and leave risk taking to the kids who know how to do it best. If it were up to Big Mother, nobody would go racing. Nobody would scuba dive, skydive, hang glide, downhill ski, roller or skateboard, float white water rapids, or bust a tooth prying a beer cap loose. What kind of world would that be? Safe and boring, that’s what.

A great jazz player used to shout, “shoot me now, while I’m feelin’ good.” A great American writer recently wrote, “I’d rather be shot out of a cannon than squeezed out of a tube.” That’s what life is about. It’s not how long you live, but how much fun you had while you were alive. Longevity is overrated, fun isn’t.

It appears to me an especially some silly part of our social wimpiness is that the folks who have to clean up road guts think the rest of us should be making their jobs less stressful. My advice would be that if you can’t stand the goo, don’t join the highway patrol. It’s not like we made you take that overpaid, under-worked, donut-chomping job. As far as I’m concerned, if some states (Iowa comes to mind) laid off 90% of their highway cops the roads would still be clogged up with twice as many as are needed to meet a “necessary and reasonable” standard.

One of our country’s founding slogans used to be “live free or die.” We’ve turned that into “live safe and you won’t notice dying.”

A life led without some adventure is a life wasted. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it. After all, it’s not like there’s a shortage of human beings on the planet. You can’t take a step anywhere on earth without putting a toe in human crap. If some of us want to risk everything to experience a moment of life, why do we have to worry about the opinions of some stagnating government drone or some old “women” who are afraid of their own shadows?

Get out there and live a bit. You might like it. If you don’t, get the hell out of my way and keep your opinions (and laws) to yourself.

MMM June 2004

Dec 29, 2013

Dirt Biking in Elephant Butte

Bad news first? ATVs (non-licensed vehicles) are not allowed to play in the huge near-abandoned sand pit known as Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

The next-to-the-last picture in the series above might give you an idea of how dry the driest state in the union, New Mexico, is. With 3% of the lake's capacity, more than 97% of this state park is sandy desert. Way more, since there was a fair amount of sandy beach and rocky hillsides even when the lake was a lake. So, the good news is if you show up with a street legal dirtbike, you have miles and miles of sandy, packed gravel, and rocky trails to ride with pretty much no one else in the park to bother. The state still, apparently, desperately wants to pretend this lake is coming back someday, so some of the "roads" are regularly graded. In fact, for most of the days we've been camped here there are more park employees, counting campground hosts, than there are park visitors and campers. Often, considerably more. For the most part, New Mexico is a red-state, so management skills are pretty low on the list of state competencies; along with education, poverty, average income, child well-being, and a variety of quality of life measures. From an out-state dirt biker's perspective, not much of that has a negative effect on riding in the state. (However, like most red states there are an excess of traffic cops in most cities, so watch your speed and obey signage carefully. New Mexico drivers are notoriously careless and reckless, another thing to be aware of.)

2013-12-28 Elephant Butte (15)The other cool thing about the lake being water-free is that you can ride pretty much around the whole thing, skipping from one abandoned campsite or boat launch area to the next by interconnected trails. We are talking miles and, possibly, hundreds of miles of trails. I burned up a whole tank (3 gallons) of fuel and did 160 miles totally off-road yesterday, including playing hill climber for almost an hour in a rocky area near one of the world's most pointless dams. (Look way up at the top of the picture at left and you can see the outline of the world's coolest dual-purpose motorcycle.)

Sunday is supposed to be cool (45oF) and windy, so I will probably spend the day cleaning the bike, wrestling with my VW's electronic mess, and sucking up Aleve tablets until my joints quit aching. Tomorrow, it will be near 60oF and I'm gonna see if I can screw up some old man bones.

Dec 23, 2013

#36 Is It Me?
All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

A friend emptied out his magazine rack on me and I, like the addict I am, read them all. From cover to cover, magazines published from sometime in 2002 to December 2003, I read all about what the motorcycle publishing industry thinks I want to read about. Mostly, they are incredibly wrong about me. Maybe they’re right about the average motorcycling 25-39 year old male, but I’m not him. I don’t think I’ve ever been him, especially when I was 25-39.

Cycle World, Rider, the AMA’s rag (American Motorcyclist), Motor Cyclist, and Cycle USA, and several magazines I’ve never heard of before this weekend, all tried to sell me hippo-bikes and lots of chrome crap to pile on the hippo-bikes. I know you’re tired of hearing old guys complain that today’s bikes cost more than we used to pay for a house, but some of these bikes cost as much as I once could have paid for a small town city block! And they weigh almost as much.

In the midst of all this big iron silliness, there are some signs of light. There’s Honda’s 599, Yamaha’s FZ6, and Suzuki has me on a pike with the DL650 V-Strom. Suzuki brought back one of the all time best commuter bikes, the GS500F, with a full fairing. On the other hand, Suzuki’s Bandit 600 died.

Mostly, the showroom inventory of every manufacturer is strongly tilted toward old, fat guys. Honda, for example, is importing exactly two under-600cc street bikes and twenty blimp-mobiles. No, Virginia, we don’t buy huge motorcycles because we travel such long distances. Based on the mileage listed on 90% of the used bikes listed in the local papers, we barely ride ‘em at all. We just need big motors because big motors mean big seats to fit big asses. Hell, most of the “big bikes” sold have little bitty, super low seat heights, so they’re obviously not aimed at tall folks, just “big” folks who can’t get a leg up.

Honda and Kawasaki dumped a couple of ugly big bikes, the Valkyrie being the ugliest ever built by anyone on any planet. Honda wasn’t suffering a burst of cosmetic good taste, though. The VTX and the Rune still live and are crushing showroom floors all over the world. Victory and Harley are still altering the earth’s magnetic center with the mass of their inventories. As are several boutique Harley clone builders and lots of their fluffy stuff decorated (or polluted, depending on your perspective) the pages of bike magazines. When I stumbled onto these pages, like Al Bundy accidentally spotting his chicken-legged neighbor naked, I came close to screaming “My eyes! I’m blind!” For someone whose concept of art begins with “form follows function,” hippo bikes piled high and randomly with chrome bits look . . . stupid.

Art is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. Engineering, however, is in the function. The bike magazine tests are so consistently mild-mannered that I never once came away from a “shoot out” thinking anyone had been shot. Someone has to be a winner and someone has to be a loser when you put four to six bikes against each other on a closed course with a half-dozen riders, don’t they? In one wimpy-ass smackdown, a bike that wasn’t even submitted for the test (a Buell) even did pretty well. Unless you are really good at reading between the lines and have an active imagination and came to the article with a strongly formed opinion, that particular article was a wonderful example of a “win-win” situation for all the manufacturers.

I suppose the magazines are scared silly that one big advertiser will pull an ad series after a writer says something denigrating about a mediocre bike and the dominoes will fall. Who would notice? Do people actually read this drivel? Even more amazing is the price paid for these magazines, somewhere between $4 and $7.50 a rag. For that kind of cash, I’d expect the reader to be somewhere at the high end of the magazine’s obligations. After all, the reason advertisers pay to get into these magazines is that they have readers/customers to advertise to. Isn’t it? Or is this one connected, self-serving exercise with no real purpose?

The media, in general, is becoming one long infomercial. I quit taking the local papers when they dove so deeply into the welfare sports stadium promotion that it appeared to me that the loop was closed between advertising and “news” reporting. One hand is gripping the other and I’m doing my best to stay out from between the grip. Let’s face it, we don’t want to know where those fingers have been, do we? If, 30 years ago, I could have bought a house for the price of today’s bikes, I could have done something pretty cool with the price of the magazines. In fact, I can do something pretty cool today, buy a tank of gas for the bike. Hell, I could fill up my car for the price of two of them. I’d much rather be riding that reading, if I’m not going to be exposed to something different and interesting for the money.

Which brings me to Kevin Cameron. Without Cameron, Cycle (and most of what passes for motorcycle journalism) would be wall to wall, uninterrupted ads punctuating infomercials. I read one of Cameron’s articles, cut it out, study it, and, sometimes, figure out what it is he’s explaining to me. For almost six years, Kevin’s Sport Bike Performance Handbook has been comforting winter reading. I almost have a few bits of it figured out, too. I suspect that I’m not alone. Looking over a dozen issues of Cycle is a lot like watching television news for a particular report. If it’s interesting and worthwhile, it will be hidden deep into the program, placed so that you have to suffer the whole damn program for 30 seconds of (rarely) useful information. Cycle does that with Cameron’s work. His column is, usually, easy to find, but they’ve added random small Cameron articles, cleverly hidden in the infomercials; which means that I’m stuck paging from cover to cover to find these gems. Now that’s clever editing.

I’ve had my bike rag fix satisfied for several years after this experience. I’ve reconfirmed that can get what I want from dozens of magazines in a few minutes at the library and if someone would convinced Kevin Cameron to do more books, I’d be too busy struggling with those books to have time for infomercials.

Now, it’s riding season again and I’m going to be out doing that until the snow flies. The more time I can spend away from infomercials, the happier I’ll be. The rest of you are doing more than enough to fill in the spaces I’m leaving in the country’s economic activity. And more power to you. What would this country be like without folks spending cash they don’t have to compensate themselves for time they’ve wasted paying for stuff they didn’t need?

MMM May 2004

Dec 20, 2013

#35 It’s Too Cold
All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

A since-vanished-from-my-life friend got into motorcycling fairly late in life. He was suffering aftershocks from a nasty divorce and wanted to put a little adventure into his life. Through work, he stumbled into a small group (of which I was a member) of guys who went two-wheeling every evening, weekend, and holiday. If he was going to see any of us away from work, he needed to buy a motorcycle and learn to ride it. At our recommendation, he took an MSF basic class and started with a small, used bike. From there, he got the bug and began a small collection of small used bikes and started racking up some serious miles on a motorcycle. The company we worked for died and we all scattered into the winds of economic migration. Three of us ended up at the same company in Minnesota, for a while, which kept the motorcycle group thing happening for a few more years.

I sold my 850 TDM and moved downward in cc’s to the SV650. The core member stuck with his beloved 650XS collection and his Honda CBX. The new guy surprised us all by buying a new Harley “sport” cruiser. Because he wanted to avoid the laughter as long as possible, he didn’t let us in on the new purchase until he had put a few thousand solitary miles on the Sportster and was secure enough in his new Harley relationships to give up on us.

Except for the above-mentioned friend, we all kept migrating; objects in motion tending to stay in motion. I left the industry for permanent vagrancy. The charter member of the group left the state for a whole new lifestyle, including marriage. The original subject of this rambling song and dance stayed with our Minnesota employer and kept on keeping on.

After leaving the real job, I lost touch with my friend and I haven’t seen him in a couple of years. A few months back, I had some reason to want to get back in touch and called him. After getting business out of the way, we tried to catch up a little. I was a little surprised to learn that he’d given up motorcycling and was planning to sell the Harley. He’d already sold his other bikes and the Sportster was the end of the collection. He said that he’d quit because the riding season was too short in Minnesota and it was more hassle than it was worth.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I resent the 3-4 months that winter cuts out of my riding season, but I don’t really object to a period of forced maintenance because, otherwise, I’d ride my bike until it fell apart under me. Sometimes it does anyway. He, on the other hand, was convinced that the Minnesota riding season is only about 3 months long. He doesn’t ride in rain, wind, or temperatures under 75F. He doesn’t ride on a day that meets those restrictions if the weather report, including the long range weather report, suggests those conditions aren’t absolutely guaranteed.

Part of his choice of riding style created those restrictions. The fashion statement he decided to make on the Harley stuck him with a brainbucket, face shield-less helmet, weather-intolerant leather gear, and a stripped down bike without a windshield or a riding position that allows for aggressive maneuvering in imperfect riding conditions. It’s a fair-weather bike and he was always a little inclined toward being a fair-weather rider. Without long periods of fair weather, he became a non-rider.

Maybe it was an advantage that I started riding off-road. Fair weather is boring weather to a cross-country racer. Enduros are hardly worth riding when the trails are dry, well-maintained, and hazard-free. A trials event without cold rain is . . . something less than trials. Motocross without mud is stadium-cross and that is about as close to real motocross as pro wrestling is to a street brawl. Less than perfect weather is part of real off-road motorcycling. Real motorcycle events are not spectator sports, they’re for motorcyclists. Almost all of my favorite events have had a 10:1 (or much greater) participant-to-spectator ratio. In fact, most of the spectators were just motorcyclists recovering from motorcycle injuries, not disinterested “fans” who are so disconnected to the sport that they wander on to the course like squirrels in traffic.

When I moved from Nebraska to California, I rode through wind, rain, ice storms, and snow to be able to have my bike in California instead of being stuck with a car in that traffic-jammed place. I was poor and had my critical personal belongings strapped to my bike for the first week I lived in SoCal. But, I could ride every day and I found my way around my new hometown a lot quicker on the bike than I ever could have in a cage. I moved there in April and discovered the year I’d picked to move was the wettest, coldest, windiest year in decades. Large sections of the Pacific Coast Highway had washed into the ocean during rainstorms and I often arrived at work soaked to the bone, even when I only lived 5 miles from work.

After a month or two of that wet spring, I decided to get a real riding suit for those few months. I went shopping and at every bike shop I visited someone told me that I was crazy for riding in February. “It’s too cold for motorcycles” I heard over and over again. The first time I got this lecture was at a parts house where the owner warned me that some SoCal nights got down to a “freezing” 45oF and said that I was nuts for exposing myself to that kind of weather. Coming from eastern Nebraska’s radical April weather, 45oF seemed like getting’ naked temps to me. For nine years, I was on either a bicycle or a motorcycle every day in California. The only time I suffered 4-wheels was when I was taking my family somewhere or buying a big pile of groceries for my food-inhaling, athlete daughters. It was never too cold for the bike, or too wet, or too windy, or too hot. Yeah, I’ve frozen my butt off a few times. I’ve ended up shivering under a hot shower in a motel only a few hundred miles from home, too cold to ride any further, too tired to find HBO on the tube, wishing that I’d ridden a little faster when the weather was good. But I have never been on the bike wishing I’d driven the car; not once in almost 300,000 miles of street biking.

Not that I can remember, anyway. All of my memories of being on a motorcycle are good. Even the ones that ended up with me hobbling around on a crutch, wearing a sling, or groaning like an old man because of busted ribs or some other mangled body part.

I’m writing this piece in November. It’s 35oF outside this morning and I’m going to make a few trips around town before I head to work, on the bike. Supposedly, it’s going to snow this weekend. Maybe that will end the riding season for me until the snow melts in March or April or whenever it warms up again this winter. We start MSF classes in April, regardless of what Momma Nature decides to do to the outside temperature. I’ll be on a bike in April. It will probably be too cold for motorcycling, but I’ll ride anyway.

MMM April 2004

Dec 18, 2013

Bending Without Breaking

My wife is a big fan or horoscopes, particularly Rob Brezsny's column, "Free Will Astrology." Whenever I trip over a free magazine that has his column, I bring it home for her. Because I'm a habitual reader, I usually look at her horoscope and mine before I hand it over. If it were ever really bad news, I'd toss it. Brezsny seems to be disinclined toward predicting bad news, so I can’t remember ever failing in my delivery routine.

A week ago, when I was mired in Albuquerque’s RV repair hell, the opening line to my horoscope was, "You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks," a quote from philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The horoscope went on to describe how, due to my flexibility, in a few days I’d be looking back , wondering at how that capacity had turned bad fortune into good. I’m writing this from a beautiful campground in southern New Mexico, while we enjoy almost decent weather, and feel specially fortunate to have escaped last week’s booby traps and financial disasters. It was not all luck that got us here, but there was more than a fair share of good fortune that made the difference.

giving upOne of the factors in aging is the loss of elasticity. Kids are known for their flexibility and resilience. Old farts are known for being as fragile and brittle as Mr. Glass and as disinclined to bend as a piece of dried tumbleweed. The reason popular “wisdom” claims that people become conservative as they age is that it is true; old people are typically not particularly courageous. In fact, when someone over 50 acts with noticeable courage, it stands out as a particularly outrageous moment in history. As an example, Bertrand Russell and Benjamin Spock stood out as nearly lone examples of their (my parents’ and their parents’) generation when they protested the Vietnam War. Obviously, no courage was needed for the majority of those non-draft-able adults who hid their opinions and kept their heads down or, worse, went along with the Johnson and Nixon administrations’ claim that the war was necessary, ethical, and legal. Being “conservative” always means playing it safe. That is true on a macro and a micro-level.

After the 2nd “repair facility” (to use that phrase carelessly and grossly) claimed that I was an idiot and that I would not be able to get out of New Mexico without handing over $7,000-10,000 and gambling on the invisible talents of a collection of children and hillbillies, I was bent near the breaking point. Honestly, if I’d have had any faith that University VW or Hans Foreign Car Repair were competent to do the repairs for their quoted estimate, I might have gone for it. Since both places were incapable of troubleshooting the obvious electronic problem(s), that faith would have been unfounded. In freezing weather, with no place to work, limited tools, and a moving household to manage, I was on the edge of overwhelmed. Even after I found a competent shop, German Motowerkes, the job didn’t end until the last day. After all of that, it turned out that I should have had German Motowerkes do one more transmission fluid/filter change before we left town. Unfortunately, playing it “safe” is far too often a shortcut to being wrong.

I’ve had a couple of breaking-point injuries in my life; clavicle (3x), ribs (twice), fingers (4x), toes (5x), the grinding down of my mal-designed hip, and last year’s stopped-up heart. None of those events resulted in world-class “tragedy,” but the scar tissue on bone, vessel, or muscle/tendon is never as flexible or durable as the original materials. My conservative approach to riding on sand is closely knit to the number of times that sand has tossed me into space like a rag doll launched from a cannon. When I was young, mostly those events were comical and even a little fun. Now that I’m an official geezer, fun it ain’t.

There is a world of advice about bending without breaking:

  • “Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.” Albert Camus
  • What appears to be the end of the road may simply be a bend in the road.” Robert Schuler
  • “When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time. “ Saint Francis de Sales
  • “Men, like nails, lose their usefulness when they lose their direction and begin to bend.” Walter Savage Landor
  • “If God wanted us to bend over he'd put diamonds on the floor.” Joan Rivers

All good words, but only some of that advice is useful some of the time. Bending is a lot harder, as a two-legged animal, than falling. It takes more strength, more flexibility, and better balance and all of those things deplete with age.

Dec 17, 2013

Working on A Phobia

dnews-files-2013-07-lake-disappears-670x440-gifWe’ve been camped in the vicinity of the world’s fastest vanishing lake, Elephant Butte Lake, near Truth or Consequences, NM, since last Wednesday. It’s hard to comprehend the level of drought this state has experienced in the last twenty years, but the flashy picture (at right) might give you some idea. The Big Blue version was a satellite photo from 1994, when the lake was 89% full. The smaller photo was taken this September. According to the Corp of Engineers, the lake is currently at 3% of capacity.

2013-11-30 to 12-12 (55)It is a sad thing that southern New Mexico is experiencing this “exceptional drought” condition, but for me there is an upside. When I said we are “in the vicinity” of the lake, I mean that it is more than a 1/2 mile away from us when our campground was designed to be near lakeshore. That means that I am parked right above a wonderful desert off-road park.

And so, when it warmed up to 50oF Saturday, I decided to see if I could excise a fairly new phobia of mine: riding in deep sand. Ever since I busted myself up practicing for a cross country in Nebraska way back in 1978, did it again on the Dempster Highway in 2007 and bought a $100,000 ass-cheek in 2011, I have been downright timid in sand. There is a good reason to be nervous about the stuff. When you go down in sand, if you are riding it right, you go down hard. I mean “SPLAT!” If you’re lucky, you slide and tumble along harmlessly. If you’re me, you dig a small hole in the shit and stick like a bug on a windshield, spreading bits of yourself all over the terrain.

2013-12-14 Elephant Butte Riding (1)Also, if you’re like me, you hate being afraid of stuff; anything, no matter how rational that fear may be. I’ve wanted an excuse for getting back on top of the shifting sands for six years. I haven’t wanted it all that badly, because crashing when you’re old hurts for a long time and it’s a long ways from my house to any decent sand pit or river bed and riding back a long ways with busted body parts is less fun than it sounds. Right now, I could crawl back to the RV if I had to, so that excuse was gone.

2013-12-14 Elephant Butte (19)A little before noon, Saturday, I geared up and hit the trails below our campsite. At first, I just practiced technique; standing up and back on the pegs, keeping the bars loose in my hands and letting the steering wander, steering with my feet and the throttle, and staying on the gas when all of me was screaming “Slow down, you fuckin’ moron!”

2013-11-30 to 12-12 (68)My target was a sandbar and island all the way across the beach from our campground. Some of the path is graded by the state for cars and pickups and lots of it is blown over every day when the wind tosses their hard work back in their faces. When I got to the beach, a 4x4 was stuck on one of the “roads” and three big, young guys were trying to wedge rocks and driftwood under the tires to unstick it. I looped around them and went back up the hill they’d been aimed at to get a better view of the route I wanted to take. More deep stuff with a rocks that looked like petrified wood tossed in to make it interesting.

2013-12-14 Elephant Butte Riding (14)After a couple of near flying-over-weight-object-incidents, I got back into the swing of riding in sand. With my serious tools about 1800 miles away, there is only so much of this that I can do without permanently disabling my WR, sand is not a chain’s best friend, and I haven’t ridden hard off-road in a few years (since the new hip), so a couple of hours was all I could pull off.

2013-12-14 Elephant Butte Riding (15)In all, getting to play dirt biker made my week. I ended the outward bound portion of the trip by getting myself dead-headed into a blind canyon that, for me, was impassable. I walked up to the top and saw that at least a few motorcyclists and ATV’ers had pulled it off and the other side was an easy ride around the butte, but I chickened-out. It has been too long since I seriously took on anything resembling trials hill climbing and I was about beat. It could be days before someone stumbled on my busted or dead body and my wife would be really pissed off if I left her stranded in New Mexico.

2013-12-14 Elephant Butte Riding (16)2013-12-14 Elephant Butte Riding (8)With that altruistic motive, I scrambled back out of the canyon, took some shots of the view, and headed back across the sand dunes. Tonight will require a substantial dose of naproxen and I should sleep like a baby. In the morning, I’ll move like a 65 year-old, but today I feel like a kid.

With those ya-yas out  of my system, I went arts-and-crafts shopping with Robbye, had a great night enjoying the incredible “Elephant Butte Luminary Beachwalk 2013,” lots of free food and cider, and a town spirit like I haven’t seen since we lived in Nebraska in the 70’s. This part of New Mexico is hard-hit, economically, dry and cold in the winter, hot and dry in the summer, and it has really grown on us.

Dec 16, 2013

#34 Accidental Memories
All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

In early May I attended and filmed the MN-Sportbike group's foray at Dakota Technical School's road course. I even got the opportunity to make a couple of laps myself after the program ended and the track was good and rain soaked. During the event a couple of riders went down and at least one of the bikes was severely damaged. Later in the week, the rider of that bike posted a note to the group describing the sequence of events and bad decisions that led to the crash. I mean every tiny detail, down to the color of the grass beside the track and the road surface where the crash occurred.

In reading his description, I was reminded of my own disgustingly large collection of crashes, most of which occurred 20-35 years ago in my dirt biking/racing days. Other than a slightly painful spit-off that I received a few days after I purchased my used SV650 (caused by a modification made by the previous owner which pinched the throttle return cable between the frame and the carbs resulting in an unexpected acceleration when the bike was leaned over and the bars were locked full right), all of my crashes were done off-road and most were during competition or practice. But the real issue is that they happened years ago.

A decade or two ago, one of my daughters had a tee-shirt that read "I only wish I could ride as fast as my father remembers he rode." The fact is, I don't remember myself riding all that fast or often. I made thousands of laps around an oval dirt track in western Kansas and spent a decade on an assortment of motocross tracks from Texas to Nebraska. I regularly rode cross-country races and an occasional enduro. I even did a couple of hill climber events, once on my Kawasaki Bighorn and once on a Rickman 125. In my motorcycling memory, most of what's left are those seconds before and during my most spectacular or painful (often the two are linked) crashes.

If I work at it, I can recall a moment or two where I felt like I was riding fast and well in competition or practice, but those memories are pretty fuzzy and indistinct. I have no trouble at all in recalling the crash that resulted in five broken toes. I can remember the accident that ended my motocross hobby almost like it happened a few weeks ago, even though it was almost 20 years ago when it actually happened. I can even pull up the "splat" sound that my ribs made as they separated into a collection of disassociated bone fragments. I can even remember the hallucination that I had while unconscious, something about being in a cargo plane flying over a desert and being tossed out without a parachute. After that accident, I decided to "grow up" and act like a man who was married with two children and no health insurance. I rode trials for a few years and, eventually, turned to street riding and no more air time.

I used to love "bench racing," that thing we do in Minnesota for way too much of the year waiting for our short riding season. In Nebraska, where I did most of my motocross, our bench racing (or bar stool) season was about the same as here and about as well practiced. I don't do much of that anymore. I don't even like doing it all that much. The memories were from too long ago to have any meaning or value.

I don't have any recent stories to tell so that takes the edge off of the desire to "share" an experience, but, mostly, remembering my days on the track brings up memories of being way too close to the track. Practically embedded in the track, in fact. At least once, I was so much a part of the course surface that other twenty-plus riders used me to improve their corning traction.

On one level, it's sort of fun to recall those moments and realize that I survived them and learned from them and they are part of my riding experience. Other than having an unnatural ability to tell when the weather is about to change, anywhere on the planet, I'm in pretty good shape considering what could have happened every time I took a spill. In fact, the longest lasting, most painful, injuries I've suffered came from landscaping my backyard and chipping ice on my driveway. So, motorcycling hasn't been the only risk to which I've been exposed. Buying and maintaining a house in Minnesota has been more painful and hazardous.

Still, the point in all this gibberish is that it seems odd that the moments before a crash would be so permanently etched in memory. There is something about being a motorcycling enthusiast that makes some of us want to make every corner perfect, every stop as efficient and quick as possible, and every evasive maneuver precise and controlled. When that effort breaks down, or completely fails, it's like a psychic hangnail. At least for me, that has been true. I have gone over those moments, analyzing where my experience and skills failed to meet the needs of the moment, until I have every second embossed in my memories. Sometimes I've learned something useful from the analysis. Other times I've just learned how to thoroughly memorize one of my life's painful moments.

All the good times, the fast times, the coordinated and skilled times, the ruthless moments of racing concentration, are not nearly so well remembered. I don't remember being any where near as fast as kids are today. Nobody was and we had some really fast guys in our time.

But I wasn't one of them. I could do some stuff pretty well. I held my own on a track and did a little better than average on a 100 mile long cross country race. Not only do I not see myself as being capable of doing that at my current age, but I don't see myself being competitive with today's rocketeers if I was 30 years younger. Today's riders are faster, better trained, better equipped, and more radically pushing the edges of traction and technology than their predecessors. They stand on the shoulders of the riders who went before them, but they've taken the sport way beyond the skill and imagination of earlier riders.

And they'll keep doing it until their collection of painful memories overwhelms the thrill of riding on that edge. Then, the motivation to go fast and take chances gets moderated by the fear of pain and disability. At that point, the next generation takes over and the sport goes the next step faster.

MMM March 2004

Dec 13, 2013

Product Review: Giant Loop Coyote Saddlebag, Dry Bag, & Diablo Tank Bag

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

The left side view of the whole caboodle packed and ready for a camping trip to Wisconsin.
After a moto-camping trip to Canada, I realized that my small bike luggage had a few faults. My Motofizz "camping seat bag" (reviewed in August 2008) is a great commuter packer, but it is far from watertight. Four days of rain in the morning and 100F+ muggy afternoons and my gear smelled like a boy's gym and made my skin crawl with bacteria when I went for a "fresh change." My 15 year old Eclipse P-38 saddle bags were pretty leaky when i bought them, but now they provide as much weather protection as a fishing net. It was time to step up to something more serious.

MMM has reviewed Giant Loop gear before (Giant Loop Great Basin Bag and Fandango Tank Bag, Winter 2010 the Giant Loop Saddlebag, June 2008) and  the consensus was always positive. So, I went for the whole shootin' match with the company's new Coyote Saddlebag and Dry Bag and the Diablo Tank Bag. If you've ever used canoe or kayaking dry bags, you're already familiar with the construction materials Giant Loop uses on this series of products. The shell of all three of these bags is made from Giant Loop's Bomb Shell™ “trucker’s tarp.” This is tough, waterproof stuff and the abrasion points at the bottom of the tank bag and the bottom and leading edge of the Coyote Saddlebag are reinforced with 1050 Nylon Ballistic Cordura™. The zippers are heavy duty and, the full length zipper on the Saddlebag and the Diablo are waterproof and protected by storm flaps. The Dry Bag seals up with a side-release buckle, canoe bag-style.
The exceptionally hip sleeping bag stuff sack and the Coyote Saddlebag's interior compression bindings.
The Coyote Dry Bag neatly straps to either the front or back of the Saddlebag and is big enough for both my sleeping bag and the pad with extra space for camp shoes and light clothing. The Saddlebag is shipped with three really heavy duty "contoured" stuff sacks, including one that is pre-curved to fit  The stuff sacks and the full length zipper makes it possible to get to any of your gear without having to remove the stuff you don't need at the moment.
The Diablo stuffed with rain gear, wheel lock, flashlight, cold weather gloves, air guage, tools, and camping utensils.
The Diablo has a rear divider for immediate stuff and a water-tight window that you feed from inside the bag through a zipper in the lid's mesh backing. This window setup is making me reconsider my Streetpilot GPS setup for the first time since 2004. You could use any battery-powered GPS protected inside this bag, including a multi-function phone; no need for a motorcycle-specific and over-priced waterproof unit. The bag unzips from the base to allow removal and incredibly easy access to the gas cap. This feature, alone, puts the Diablo in the stratosphere of  "best ever" tank bags. A 4-liter tank bag may seem too small for practical use, but there isn't much of a choice on a small dirt bike or sport bike. 8 1/4" x 12" isn't a lot of real estate, but it's enough for compact gear you need to get to in a hurry while still being able to maneuver your bike without steering-lock restriction.

The right side view of the small bike Giant Loop Coyote camping rig.
In real-world use, this combination of gear is a giant improvement over my old rig. Packing light, I had a little room to spare after stuffing all of my camping gear and four days of clothing and snacks into the three bags. The first evening out, I was hammered with a monster downpour and my gear and clothing was as dry as when I packed it. I spent one night on a mid-August trip sleeping on a picnic table where I only used the gear stored in the Diablo and the Dry Bag for a short, marginally legal night's sleep. The convenience and access to my stuff, without having to load and unload everything I'd packed, allowed me to spend a night for free and stay off of the road when the hoofed rats came out when a planned campsite was closed due to flooding. 

A deal, for me, with my WR's luggage, is the height and mounting restrictions. I'm old, inflexible, beat up, and short. My WR is young, nimble, and taller than me. My old camping rig often snagged a boot as I swung my leg over the tailbag and was inclined to send me and the bike crashing to the ground at particularly awkward moments. My Wolfman Enduro tankbag pushed my seat room back into the tailbag and saddlebags, which increased the odds that I'd land in a heap when getting on or off of the bike. One reason I ended up mounting the Dry Bag at the front of the Saddlebag is that kept the overall height of the rig low. That mounting position keeps the weight more centered, too.

Packing into the bug-infested trails of Wisconsin.
As in any motorcycle packing situation, it's important to keep the weight as low and centered as possible. You want to pack the heavy stuff at the bottom of the Saddlebag and keep the weight evenly distributed. This probably isn't a big deal on a Triumph Thruxton, but on a 275 pound dirt bike, maneuvering through a twisty trail packed weight matters. When that weight is unstable, it's an even bigger deal. The attachment system Giant Loop uses on these three bags is flawlessly stable. It stays in place banging through rough terrain, in high winds and torrential rain, and for long distances.I will admit that the Coyote Saddlebag is a little weird looking, but it is exactly what I needed for my WR's touring rig and, altogether, this setup is better than my wildest dreams for my mini-touring bike..


POSTSCRIPT: I have had my Giant Loop gear for three years, now. There isn't much more to say about the stuff except that is has worn incredibly well, is still water-tight, and the more I use it the more I like it. If you've followed my grumpy career, you know that is saying a lot. The zippers still work and are actually slightly easier to use than they were the day I loaded up the WR and headed out for my first weekend camping trip. Unbelievably, the map window on the Diablo is still crystal clear and it has seen almost 20,000 miles of use and abuse on the WR, including being strapped to the tank all last winter behind our RV. 

I'm not ashamed to admit that the Dry Bag has seen use both on the WR and my V-Strom but in the canoe and kayak. It is an amazing product and has outlived two REI dry bags and survived dozens of canoe trips loaded with boating camping gear.

Nothing I can say will adequately describe how much I like the Coyote Saddlebag. It is simply the ultimate dirt bike camping bag. Nothing else even comes close.

Ten Reasons to . . . or Not to

Dec 12, 2013

Wrung out in Truth or Consequences

IMG_5444[1]We’re mobile, sort of, again. I’m writing this from Campsite 66 at Elephant Butte State Park about 200 miles south of Albuquerque.  As you can see, at left, the view from our “home” is pretty spectacular. We got here about noon and, after an hour of panic when we discovered our water system was iced up and that Robbye’s having left the shower drain pump on for an undetermined time had fried the pump’s seals, we settled into our old routines. Tomorrow, Thursday, is supposed to be wet, chilly (around 45F), and relaxing. We are going nowhere if nowhere is the most comfortable place to be. I paid for a week at this site, but I might add a week if we decide we like it here.

The campground is about 15 minutes from Truth or Consequences. That puts us within striking (by our ever-reliable WR250X) distance of groceries, shopping, and HOT SPRINGS! After Thursday, the weather report is for clear, reasonably warm,

Monday was a confusing combination of painful, stressful, and heartening. When I last talked to Ricardo (Ric) of German Motowerkes on Friday, it sounded like we were ready to hit the road. We were too far from their shop to make it before they closed at noon, so I asked him to do an oil change and we’d pick up the RV Monday morning. We were staying with friends in Santa Fe and decided to try to pretend we were confident about Monday’s outcome for two days.

We got to German Motowerkes a little after their opening time and discovered they hadn’t got to the oil change yet. The owner, Ricardo (Ric) said they’d drive the RV several times and it seemed to be working. They wouldn’t be able to get to the oil change until later that afternoon. After breakfast, I decided to do a test drive myself. I went back and caught Ric in the driveway, asked him if it was ok for me to drive it for a bit while it was in the queue, he just asked “Do you have keys?” and went back to work. OI assumed he want me to pay for the work, so far, or to leave a credit card, or something, but . . . we know it’s not my honest face. I took off, uphill, toward Santa Fe, for the first 14 miles, it looked like we were in business. As I drove up I25, my brand new Scangauge II started to tell a different story. In the beginning, the transmission temperature was 140F, which indicated that the German Motowerkes guys had been driving the unit that morning. For 14 miles it ran about 170F-180F, slightly higher than before all of the VW craptrain began hailing on us, but within specs. At the beginning of the uphill grade toward Santa Fe, the transmission temperature began to head toward 200F, then it ramped up quickly to 250F and the transmission began to do it’s torque converter shifting dance. I was trapped on the freeway for about a mile before I could exit and get the RV parked.

This was a brand new problem, I thought. With no idea of where to go next, I waited for more than an hour to let the transmission temperature drop below 200F and started back toward German Motowerkes under 40mph in fixed gears. For a couple of miles, the temperature stayed high, but when I was about to decide a transmission overhaul was in my future, the temperature suddenly dropped to 170F and stayed there for the last 10 miles back to the shop. WTF, as the illiterate masses tend to text.

By the time I got back, I’d decided to shotgun this problem. The only thing I could think of that could cause that kind of temperature disaster was the bypass I’d paid $180 for that monitored the transmission fluid and routed the transmission fluid around my new transmission cooler when the temperatures were under 160F. I guessed it was stuck in bypass mode. I asked Ric to pull the bypass while he was doing the oil change.

He agreed that was the only thing that made sense and we planned to pick up the RV Tuesday morning. Here’s where the “heartening” part of this story appears. We had clearly worn out our welcome in Santa Fe, so our options were limited for the night. With a dog, motels are sketchy. Without burned out attitudes, even looking for a motel was going to be a stretch. We decided to head back to our friends in Belen, load up our gear, sleep in the car, and be outside of German Motowerkes at 7:30AM sharp. When we arrived at our friends’ home, Pat greeted us with “Welcome home! I knew things weren’t going well when you both came in one car.” I was so tired and discouraged that I was close to tears. She wouldn’t have us staying in the car but put us right back in the room where we’d stayed for more than a week. I wanted to resist, but I didn’t have the energy. I do not know what we have done to deserve such precious new friends, but I am eternally thankful. Pat and Jeff Sullivan went so far beyond anything reasonable that I don’t even know how to start thanking them.

Tuesday morning, we picked up the RV, sans transmission bypass and with fresh engine oil, on Tuesday morning. I was stunned to see the bill; $274. Instead of a $7,500, suspect-rebuilt transmission, with the electronic problems that caused the failure still intact, I had a bill that barely amounted to an oil change. (This article, Eurovan Automatic Transaxles: The Whole Story, nicely details the problem with VW’s electronics when the article states, “We have experienced situations where a fresh transaxle either does not work properly upon install, or is ruined in short order by a faulty control unit.”) On top of that, when I talked to the tech at Gowesty (the source of this article), he stated in no uncertain terms that VW transmissions are unreliable crap and that their electronics were as buggy as a Tijuana hotel. This guy’s company makes a good bit of their living servicing this junk! On top of that, Gowesty’s advice to “Always try a NEW control unit to correct a transaxle problem BEFORE replacing the transaxle.” is disingenuous, at best, because that tech told me that VW no longer provides the ECU part.

With all that as background, we carefully drove around Albuquerque with one eye on the Scangauge II. So far, so good. I found a Harbor Freight and bought a siphon to do a transmission fluid change on the road. We hit I25 on the way back to Belen to pick up the bike trailer and our stuff. Still, no problems. The transmission temperature was slightly higher than I’d expect for the ambient temperature, but not grossly so.

IMG_5434[1]We got to the Sullivan’s about 1PM and, probably based on our trashed appearance, Pat insisted that we stay over and leave in the morning. We tried to be sociable, but I had been surviving on no more than 3 hours sleep a night for almost two weeks and Robbye wasn’t in much better shape. I managed to get the trailer loaded up and moved the RV to the start gate before dark and, again, we rudely crashed at a children’s hour after dinner.

Early Wednesday, as Jeff was getting his clothes for work, he said, “Well, since you’re going south, you can’' always ‘come back home’ if something goes wrong.” We’d been with them so long they had begun to call their home ours. How do you repay that kind of debt?

We’re in our little RV for the week, but we will always think of that house in Belen as one of the places we’ve called “home” and of the Sullivans as part of our family.