Apr 29, 2013

Backing Myself Up

For the last decade, everything I've written for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine was archived on the magazine's website and on my own site. There is a chance that Comcast is going to eliminate the users' webpage feature (hardly any customers use it and it hasn't been available for new customers for several years). When that happens, that history will be gone because MMM's website is pretty much a clusterfuck and doesn't appear to be on the path to getting better any time soon. That puts me in a pretty awkward position and I'm too old for almost any of the stuff in the Kama Sutra. Hell, I'm probably too old to be able to read the damn thing.

So, I'm thinking about scheduling a reposting of every one of my past Geezer columns right here in this blog. Google doesn't seem to be going anywhere (no offense, to Larry Page and Sergey Brin in case they are lurking) and I'd like to know where some of my stuff is in case I have yet another of my many computer disasters in the future. So, if there is no immediate outrage at the thought of having to suffer through my 125-or more non-blogged essays, I'm going to be cutting-and-pasting a crap load of stuff from my ancient past (1999 to 2013) right here over the next 100-and-something days. I might even repost some of the product and bike reviews here, if that's acceptable.

Thanks for your patience, as always.


Apr 28, 2013

When I Was Less Old

In 1999, when I first proposed that I write an essay to generate lots of hate mail for the then-flailing-fledgling motorcycle magazine, Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, I was convinced I was old enough to call myself the "Geezer with A Grudge." Men in my family don't, on average, live long. I was 51 at the time and had absolutely no expectations that I would live a lot of years past that mark. In fact, only two years later I decided to quit a high-paying engineering job in the medical devices industry and take a flyer on going back to my old music business life (recording studio maintenance and design) as a "retirement" gig in my last years. Worst case, I figured that I'd burn through my savings in five years and would be back at the door of some Misfortune 500 crap hole begging for something like my old job. Best case, I'd struggle on balancing freelance work, occasional short-term employment, and living like a semi-retired guy on a fixed income until I really was on a fixed income or I kicked the Big Bucket like the rest of my genetic predecessors. Living to 65 was not part of that plan.

Assuming I survive another few weeks, I will turn 65 this summer. Regardless of Social Security and the Repuglican 1%'er congresscritters' opinions, that is officially the age of a "geezer." I know, some of you passed that number decades ago and are still running marathons, leaping tall buildings, and just starting out on new careers as dotcom entrepreneurs and I'm just a boy in comparison. Fuck you. I'm old, tired, beat-up, surviving on artificial limbs and weird crap propping up my heart vessels. Maybe your family typically lives to 150, but the guys in my family usually top out at 40-55 and I'm living on "bonus time" (as my best friend once described it).

Henny Ray Abrams' recent sudden death in February was another reminder of how fast life changes to death. Henny Ray was 58 and died working on one more motorcycle story. He wrote for Cycle News, Cycle World, and anyone else who would buy his stories and pictures about MotoGP, motocross, or pretty much anything he might find interesting on two wheels. I didn't know Abrams from anything other than his writing, but I liked him and thought of him as a "good guy." By my current standards, he was not old enough to be a geezer. He was, literally, working on another motorcycle story when he died in his apartment at his desk.

If you didn't need stuff like this as a reminder that life is short and then you're dead, good for you. I'm inclined to get caught up on the daily grind of making a living, paying the bills, and worrying about other people's problems and time blows past my way too fast. The last decade has been one of the most pleasant of my life. Mostly, because I have taken work way less seriously, worried about making assholes richer almost not at all, and taken more time to appreciate my friends, family, and good fortune. Today, I'm going to take a ride and appreciate the fact that spring has finally arrived (at least for a few days) in Minnesota and I'm still able to enjoy it. I suggest you do something equally fun. It's Sunday, the day even some of the 99% get to fuck off.

Apr 24, 2013

The News . . . My Way

Paul Young put me over the top with the first article in this month's news report, so if you're not entertained blame it on him. When the new Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly editor, Guido Ebert, took over the editorial reins from Sev Pearman he decided he wanted a more traditional news column. That said, he added, "You may not miss doing the news, but I think we’ll have readers that’ll miss you doing the section." Honestly, I won't miss that job. The pay was nothing spectacular and it was a lot of work; often a whole day out of my life each month. Worse, I felt that I needed to temper my own attitude on that column since it reflected the magazine rather than just me, unlike the Geezer column. With all that in mind, here comes the motorcycle news for May . . . my way:

Loud Pipes Will Get Your Weak Ass Strangled
A set of noise-makers got a Pasadena, Texas bozo strangled in early April. Chris McLain had about enough of his neighbour's loud motorcycle and the jackass's habit of riding across McLain's front lawn at 4.30am. When he complained about those two things, the biker-neighbour stabbed him. McLain's obvious response was to choke the biker to death. The biker-bozo's name has yet to be released by police. He was "in his mid thirties." Police and EMTs rushed McLain to Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute by helicopter. He's in critical condition for multiple stab wounds.

The police report said, "McLain's father said his son had no choice but to defend himself." The rest of us just say "good riddance" and hope McLain recovers soon.

Read, Fire, Aim - Our AMA at Work
Friday, April was the AMA's "Freedom Friday" somethingorother . . . celebration? Of the several items they equate to "freedom" is the freedom to terrorize, irritate, and otherwise make as many enemies as possible for people who actually ride motorcycles as opposed to the AMA's largely garage candy clientele. In that spirit, they whined that motorcycles are being "banned from public beachside parks, private gated communities or acre after acre of public land" and especially bitched about "signs that say: 'No Motorcycles Allowed.'" Clueless as always, the AMA appears to be completely unaware that their fight against limits on motorcycle noise, poor pollution and efficiency characteristics of most motorcycles, general biker hooligan behavior, and the fact that motorcycles have become mostly a rich kids' toy in the US is the core of the motorcycle image problem. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Anyway, the AMA wants you to report motorcycle bans because, "We want to know about them, and we want to unite motorcyclists to block or overturn them." They also want insurance companies to be restrained from correctly assessing risk on motorcycles and motorcyclists. It's all part of their "freedom" campaign or something freedom-like.

April - AMA Go Ride! Month
In their usual clueless jibberjabber style, the AMA decreed the first two weeks of April as AMA Go Ride! Month. Are you clowns fuckin' crazy? There is a foot of snow on the road and ice packed into every turn. You assholes go ride. I'm staying by the fireplace. Moron Californians.

Maybe Riding Is Not Such A Good Idea
The first week of April was almost like a real April. The result was that a couple of Minnesota motorcyclists managed to kill themselves while the sun was shining.

Tyron Somaiah (23) of Crystal was "evading police at a high rate of speed on 694. He exited at Brooklyn Blvd" where he ran a red light at Welcome Avenue and was struck by a car. He died at the scene. A 57-year-old Brooklyn Center woman was injured in the crash and was taken to North Memorial Medical Center with minor injuries.

Anthony John Carlson of Lake Elmo was westbound on County Road 41 near Minnemishinona Falls when he lost control of his motorcycle and crossed into the eastbound lane and hit a guardrail. He was taken to Rochester's St. Mary's Hospital where he died.

Save the Corn Lobby, Buy Crap Gas
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced a bill, H.R. 875, that would repeal the EPA's waiver decision approving the use of E15. The bill would require the EPA from making further "decisions" until the agency obtains some actual evidence that E15 isn't a stupid idea. Wisconsin, obviously, isn't a big corn state. Otherwise, that state's Republican representative would be all about forcing alcohol into our fuel systems. Who does Sensenbrenner work for, anyway? I didn't think there were any Republicans who weren't wholly owned subsidiaries of one or more corporations.

Why Idiot Lights are Called "Idiot Lights"
American Mental Giant (AMG), Jack Wilson, in an act of motorcycle mastery, crashed his Harley-Davidson (what else?) and tossed his wife hard and far enough to cause permanent brain damage. Judy Wilson suffered skull, facial, rib and scapular fractures and has a prosthetic skull and a permanent brain injury that often leads to future disability.

AMG Wilson is suing Harley-Davidson because he mistakenly believed his 2008 Harley-Davidson Road Glide was equipped with ABS. Wilson crashed on California's Highway 99 and told the CHP that the cause of the crash was that the bike's ABS malfunctioned. Unfortunately, the only hint of ABS his bike had was the space on the console where the ABS light would be if the bike had ABS installed. Wilson has Harley in court claiming that the icon and idiot light space fooled him into believing he was protected by magical ABS powers. Obviously, a pair of real (full-face, not toilet bowls) helmets might have been a better investment than the ABS idiot light.

Harley's lawyer said, "If the icon doesn't light up when you start the bike, anybody should know you don't have ABS . . . He should have known the bike's features after riding it for 15 months and 12,000 miles." Wilson sued Harley for the ABS icon "design defect" and hoped to win $3 million. A jury disagreed.

Victory Auctions a Playboy Playmate Autographed Bike for Charity
No matter what I do with this "news item," I'm damned. I'm just gonna say the three Playmates featured in the Victory catalog -- Raquel Pomplun, Anna Sophia Berglund and Ciara Price -- signed a 2013 Victory bagger "loaded with attitude and performance" for "Operation Gratitude, a charitable organization dedicated to providing material and emotional support to America's armed forces and their families." Nope, nothing more than that. I'm done.

Lane-Splitting Safety Guidelines
Supposedly, the CHP issued the first-ever guidelines for lane-splitting in California. I'm unconvinced this is a first, since it is exactly the same rules a CHP officer explained to me in traffic school thirty years ago, but what do I know?

"The agency's guidelines rest on a fundamental rule: a motorcycle is allowed to pass between cars in adjoining lanes of traffic as long as it does so safely.

"Safely" means three things:
1. A motorcyclist should split lanes at no more than 10 mph above traffic speed.
2. A motorcyclist should not split lanes when traffic is moving at more than 30 mph.
3. A motorcyclist should split lanes using the space between the No. 1 and No. 2 lanes.

"The guidelines are not laws. A motorcyclist could not be cited for breaking them, but neither could one avoid being cited by following them if he were otherwise riding unsafely -- not paying attention to environmental issues like lighting, weather and so on. An officer could cite a motorcyclist for riding recklessly, whether within the guidelines or not, said Sgt. Mark Pope, statewide coordinator for the CHP’s California Motorcyclist Safety Program."
My favorite section of the article was this little asside about ABATE: "Among the loudest voices was Steve Guderian, a former Ontario city motorcycle cop who is now the safety officer for the motorcycle rights group ABATE. (Formerly the American Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, ABATE is a political action organization with roots in the Hells Angels’ ultimately unsuccessful battles against the California mandatory-helmet law. Trying to shed its renegade past, ABATE now calls itself the American Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education.)"

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Licenses and other Legal Crap
Alabama has been the only state in the Union that doesn't require a motorcycle license. Rep. Allen Farley, (R-McCalla) introduced House Bill 185 that would require said license. Farley has stated that he would also eventually like to see a skills test requirement. Currently, any Alabamian 16 and older with a regular driver’s license can also operate a motorcycle in the state. The law does not require an endorsement to operate a motorcycle.

Massachusetts may join California in outlawing "for competition use only" pipes on street bikes. Senate Bill 1663 would require every motorcycle built after Dec. 31, 1982 and parked or operated in the state to be equipped with an exhaust system labeled in conformance with the Code of Federal Regulations for OEM (original equipment manufacturer) or aftermarket exhaust systems. The law would require the exhaust system label to be clearly visible without the use of inspection mirrors or other optical aids, or without removal of any equipment attached to the motorcycle. An initial violation would be punishable by a fine of $250; second violation, by a $500 fine; and third violation by a $1,000 fine.

Other states are considering laws that prohibit motorcycle checkpoints, children under the age of 5 years from being a passenger on a motorcycle, permit a motorcyclist stuck at an intersection controlled by a traffic-actuated signal to proceed with due caution, would create an aggravated offense for driving while using a video device, wireless telephone, or electronic communication device, authorize motorcycles to operate in toll lanes and on toll roads without the payment of a toll, to be equipped with a means of varying the brightness of the its brake light for a duration of not more than five seconds upon application of the motorcycle’s brakes, would make comprehensive motor vehicle insurance reparations (no-fault insurance) applicable to motorcycles, would permit motorcycle operators and passengers 21 or older to make their own decision with regard to motorcycle helmet use, and all sorts of dumb shit. Good thing we have government, otherwise nobody would think to do this sillyassed stuff on their own.

NHTSA Recalls:

Triumph Motorcycles 2012-2013 Daytona 675, Street Triple, Speed Triple, and Tiger 800 motorcycles: Due to a manufacturing error, the turn signal stems on the front and rear of the motorcycle may fracture. If the turn signal stems break, the turn signals may not be visible to other vehicles on the road, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

Triumph will notify owners and dealers will replace the turn signal stems, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin during April 2013.

Yamaha 2009 YW125 (Zuma 125) scooters manufactured between July 2008 and April 2009: Due to possible improper clearances in the internal fuel pump components. These improper clearances may cause an inadequate supply of fuel. The limited fuel supply could cause engine stalling, increasing the risk of a crash. Yamaha will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel pump with a newly designed fuel pump. The recall began on February 27, 2013.

Zhejiang Jixiang Helmets JIXJX-B210: It's hard to find recalls to laugh about, but the April recall of the Zhejiang Jixiang JIXJX-B210 series of clownish toilet bowls hit that mark. NHTSA says "the affected helmets failed to conform to the impact attenuation, penetration, labeling and retention requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard # 218." So, if you somehow lose your balance and fail to skid down the road exactly on the top of your head (the only part of your empty skull these joke helmets pretended to protect), you're just as screwed as you will be in every other kind of crash.

Apr 22, 2013

Celebrating Earth Day the AMA Way

An unknown motorcyclists pictured
riding , illegally, on public land (Lamoose Trail).
Demonstrating that near-Lenny Bruce-quality comedic timing and sensibility that have endeared the AMA to thousands of environmentalists for decades, the AMA tossed out the following hillarious press release for the entertainment of environmentalists world-wide as part of the "celebration" of Earth Day 2013:

Every day is Earth Day for motorcyclists

PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- As conservation takes center stage on April 22, 2013 for Earth Day, the American Motorcyclist Association salutes motorcyclists and all-terrain vehicle riders nationwide who do volunteer work on public land.

Nobody loves clean air more than street bikers.
How else could you see where we've been?
The AMA also salutes street riders, noting there are many environmental benefits to commuting and traveling on a motorcycle or scooter. "For motorcyclists, every day is Earth Day," said Rob Dingman, AMA president and CEO. "Off-highway riders enjoy the outdoors and respect the land, sometimes even carrying out other people's trash from remote areas. Street riders -- whether on a motorcycle or a scooter -- have a positive impact on the environment and their rides result in a more enjoyable, less-congested experience for all road users."

Celebrating the environment
the AMA Way.
Every year, thousands of off-highway riders and employees of motorcycle-related companies roll up their sleeves to restore and maintain forest areas by planting trees, cutting brush, picking up trash and donating tens of thousands of man-hours or more to those efforts.

Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A. employees alone have restored more than 12 acres of forest land over the past five years at the San Bernardino National Forest in California. AMA member Robert Langley, who recently received the AMA Outstanding Off-Road Rider Award, was hailed by the Washington state Department of Natural Resources as one of its top volunteers statewide in 2012 for donating up to 1,000 hours of work a year.

Demonstrating our environmental sensitivity by producing
at least 5-times the hydrocarbons of modern cars.
When it comes to street riding, a typical motorcycle can provide fuel mileage that exceeds that of most fuel-efficient automobiles. Many motorcycles return more than 50 miles per gallon, and many scooters can deliver nearly twice that. In addition to using less fuel, motorcycles require less oil and other chemicals to operate. And the recent introduction of electric motorcycles provides an added benefit for the environment.

Motorcycles take up less space than cars and trucks both during operation, and when parked. They reduce traffic congestion and, in so doing, help increase the efficiency of traffic flow on the road.

Proof that we take up less space.
Significantly fewer raw materials are utilized to produce motorcycles and scooters compared to cars and trucks. By some measures, it requires thousands of pounds less metal and plastic per vehicle to produce a motorcycle. The environmental benefits are realized both during production, as well as at the end of the vehicle's useful life.

Because motorcycles and scooters are so much more compact and lighter than cars and trucks, they cause far less wear and tear on the highways, reducing the cost and environmental impact of infrastructure repairs. In addition, because of their size, many more motorcycles can be transported from factory to consumer using the same or less energy.
Once a biker has put his mark on the
environment, it's marked for decades.

"When you add it all up, there is no question: If everyone rode motorcycles, the planet would be a greener, less congested place," Dingman said. "And just as important, more of us would experience the thrill and freedom that motorcycles provide. Riding is not just easy on your bank account and the planet, riding is a fun, and often a social activity that simply makes life more enjoyable."

All that touchy-feely, spin-master bullshit just makes you want to slam into a tree and tear up a hillside, doesn't it? If I were rich enough, I'd go out and do a burnout just for good ole' Mother Earth. As it is, I'll just ride to work one more day in my usual boring fashion.

Apr 17, 2013

Looking for Summer

There appears to be no break for the morally ambivalent (that's me). After a viciously long and irritating winter, I thought the worst was behind me back in late March. I broke out the WR250X and started riding to work everyday. Then, last week winter revisited Minnesota and the bike has sat parked next to my disabled Escort ever since. Yesterday was a good day, but I had people to haul and things to carry and was stuck in the cage. Today, the weather report predicted more snow.

Once again, I need to be reminded of why I live in the Great Frozen North. Somebody help me out here. I can feel my resolve dissolving and my willpower vanishing. Warmth, twisty roads, and a population density somewhere under 10 people per square mile is calling me. Practically screaming at me, in fact.

Apr 9, 2013

Two Weeks of Two Wheels

I've had a good run. The last two weeks have been cool, but not cold, and the roads have been fairly clear. This week, much of the middle of the country is back in winter storm watch. I'm on 4 wheels today, but for other reasons. If there is 6" of snow on the ground on Wednesday morning, I'm probably not going to ride to work that day. Work is tough enough when I get to ride there and back. Add the boredom of driving to the day and I start to seriously contemplate retiring.

Apr 3, 2013

Being Stereotyped

 One of the downsides of being a motorcyclist is that when people find out that I ride a motorcycle they immediately start stereotyping me. My 12 year relationship with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly started out when I met a young couple at a music magazine party, who my daughter had introduced to me as "people who ride motorcycles." They were youngish, relative to me, dressed in black with a fair amount of leather in their ensembles, and pretty much fit in with the hipsters who were attending the party; although they had taken over a couch a corner of the house out of the line of party traffic. I have no clue how I was dressed. I'd driven my daughter, her year-old son, and my wife to the party, so I could have been wearing the "business attire" crap required for my corporate job or I could have been outfitted in my usual away-from-work worn jeans, long sleeve tee-shirt, and high-tops "fashion statement."

I don't like parties much, so I was mostly looking for a conversation near the door so I could pretend to be polite, say "hi" and "nice to meet you" and slip out the exit and take a long walk around the neighborhood until my family was ready or willing to let me get the hell out of there. Crowds of more than three people make me nervous and there must have been fifty people crammed into that house. I was not looking to strike up a friendship or even a long conversation. I got the feeling they were hoping our introduction wouldn't waste a lot of time, either. Troy Johnson and Erin Hartman were making similar assumptions about me that I made about them. When they politely asked, "What do you ride" in response to my daughter's introduction of me as a "biker, too" they were clearly surprised when I replied "an 850 Yamaha TDM." To them, I was an old guy and they had made the logical assumption that I would be pirating along on some sort of Hardly or a Hardly look-alike. Likewise, I had made similar assumptions about them.

After we reassembled our interior stereotypes, we actually had a conversation that resulted in Troy's complaining that nobody who read the magazine ever bothered to write in with either agreement or complete disgust about anything published in the magazine. I offered to write an article that I guaranteed would create response. They offered to publish it for a nominal fee if it was any good. That article ended with "We’re, on average, a freakin’ nation of posers and squids and we aren’t worth the effort it takes to run an EPA test." The next few weeks, Troy and Erin fielded more letters to the editor than they had received "in the history of the magazine." I've been a columnist for MMM since that first brief October 1999 shot across the bow of what passes for motorcycle journalism and community.

The point, of course, is that even motorcyclists assume the worst about people who ride motorcycles. And, usually, they are right. Be honest. You are hanging out at a restaurant and this guy rides up with similar looking buddies, puts a kickstand down, and waddles into the building. What are you thinking? I know I'm going to wrap up my meal and get the hell out before one of those characters sights in on my helmet and Aerostich gear and decides to have a conversation with me. If I'm lucky, they haven't kicked over my WR or V-Strom in a little-boy "rice burner" exhibition of stupidity and bullshit fake patriotism and I can get the hell out of there without any sort of incident. For all I know these guys are all lawyers and doctors dressing up as bad boys, but I'm not looking for poser friends, ever, and there is nothing about any of the possibilities that is worth testing the waters.

When I showed this guy's picture to my wife, she said the guy who did the welding for a theme park project she designed 20-some years ago looked just like him. I looked at the early assembly of that stuff and mentioned to the project manager that they might want to hire an independent welding inspector before the frames were covered up with fiberglass artwork. I wouldn't trust my kids to something that guy had welded. I've known a few great welders and they were all as personally meticulous as they were professionally picky. If it looks like a slob, acts like a slob, and sounds like a slob, I'd assume it is a slob in all areas of life. Her "welder" was just another shop guy who'd fooled some ignorant management moron into believing he could weld "good enough."

On the other hand, I know several brilliant musicians, a few genius college professors (physics, sociology, electrical and mechanical engineering, philosophy, music, and neurology PhD's and MS's), more than a few technicians and engineers (mechanical, alternative energy, and electrical engineering), and a couple lawyers who have all of the above biker's physical and sartorial attributes except for the excess lard (although I know a brilliant Colorado lawyer who could wrap himself in that biker's "gear" without much discomfort). The problem with stereotypes is that they don't allow you to pick out the one-in-some-large-number exceptions. The reason we naturally create stereotypes ("profiles") is because they are more often than not accurate. They save us time, energy, and create some safe margin of distance from people who are often dangerous or useless.

One of my favorite recreation-reading authors, Minnesota-ex-patriot John (Camp) Sandford, is pretty typical in his "civilian" outlook on motorcyclists. In his newest book, Mad River, Sandford has one of his state cop main characters', Lucas Davenport, thinking about where you look to find criminals: "Davenport had spent the best part of two years building a database of people in Minnesota who . . . knew a lot of bad people. He had a theory that every town of any size would have bars, restaurants, biker shops, what he called 'nodes' that would attract the local assholes."In a list of three places in all of society where you might find the worst criminals "biker shops" makes the grade. Something for all of us to be proud of? Pound your chest and whine "that's not fair, we're not all assholes" as much as you like, but you know Sandford is just writing what everyone is thinking. By "everyone," I'm including us, even we think most bikers are assholes.

Apr 1, 2013

A Way Back for You Girliemen

For all of you lightweights who let your girlfriend or wife (or whatever other wimpy politically-correct title you give "the boss") who told you to sell the motorcycle, Aerostich has a solution: the "Magnetic Baby Onsie."
"Having a baby changes everything -- including your motorcycle riding. This new Aerostich Magnetic Baby Onsie (View action video.) helps you manage it without giving up your bike. Simply place any child within the Onsie and position it on your gas tank as if it were a magnetic tank bag. Then clip the safety leash to handlebar and ride! Prototypes have been endorsed by experts and baby-tested at over 140mph! For security and peace-of-mind it’s made of strong abrasion-resistant GORE-TEX Cordura with a full-length water-proof zipper, an internal comfort pad and three strong rare-earth magnets per side. A large strip of 3M SOLUS reflective provides nighttime conspicuity and inside is a removable, washable, fire-retardant 100% cotton fleece lining. There’s also a detachable 36” shoulder-strap to maximize off-bike portability. Available in Small (1-6 months) or Medium (6–18 months) and either Hello Kitty, Sponge Bob, California Raisin, or Spiderman-licensed styles. A Millard-Marcus-Rebeka product. View action video."

I only wish I had a kid to test this with. Can I borrow yours?