Jul 30, 2014


"But now consider the fact that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. Unless you are a real master at staying stuck you can't prevent this. The fear of stuckness is needless because the longer you stay stuck the more you see the Quality-reality that gets you unstuck every time. What's really been getting you stuck is the running from the stuckness through the cars of your train of knowledge looking for a solution that is out in front of the train.”

"Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors." " Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

When I was hung up in Albuquerque, flailing around looking for someone who knew something about repairing a semi-modern Volkswagen, I needed to remember this Pirsig thing about getting “stuck.” If you just wallow in being stuck, you almost always find a way out of the predicament. If you don’t, you probably haven’t embraced being stuck long enough.

In retrospect, I didn’t get stuck in New Mexico until we’d escaped Albuquerque and meandered down to Elephant Butte. We were truly stuck in Elephant Butte. As in being on my own to solve the problem in a place that was comfortable enough to admit to being stuck, with the resources to get unstuck in at least a half-dozen different ways of varying quality. Once I had a couple of less-than-ideal options sorted out, going after getting the vehicle back on the road was less intimidating. Worst case, we sell the RV for a big loss, rent a car, and drive back home after enjoying a winter away from winter. Don’t get me wrong, that was a painful way out of being stuck, but it was a workable tactic that we’d accepted as a possibility.

Once the nuclear option was laid out, the other options were explored. Honestly, if I could have dumped the RV in New Mexico, found a decent 4L pickup with a manual transmission, I’d have taken a pretty big hit to the billfold willingly. Didn’t happen. No serious offers on the RV, other than the guy in Oklahoma who had $10k ready to go. No manual transmission pickups in any sort of shape. So, I kept messing with the RV bits until Victor (Big Victor’s Automotive) and I found the TCM’s hiding place, discovered the drenched connector with the damaged terminals, and started looking at the options for fixing that. It took a long time to find a workaround that . . . worked. Once the problem was exposed, solutions became more acceptable, less impossible/more acceptable and the hard part of stuckness drifted into memory.

20140722_003417_resized 20140722_072021_resized A few weeks ago, I had the bright idea of tearing out a really ugly ceiling light in my porch. We’d been living with the damn thing for 18 years, but I’d never been able to figure out what do do in the hole that would be left when the old light was removed. Pulling the old light was the first step in getting unstuck. Once it was out and in the trash, I lived with the hole for a week before I came up with a design for the “fixture.” It took a while to convince myself I had a solution, a day or so sorting out the inner framework for the light. Once I had the frame, the cosmetic work went easily.

It’s worth mentioning that I suck at this kind of work. Visualiization is not one of my talents. Finish carpentry isn’t either. Usually, I need a picture to work from, but no such illustration was available in this project. Wallowing in stuckness is what got me this practical and decent looking light design.

I hope I can remember that the next time I am in a similar situation. Life is full of moments where the choice is stuckness or panic. Panic is a useless reaction. Panic is what leads an elk to lie down and suffer being eaten instead of attempting to kick his way out of death. It is a choice, panic or stuckness, Be clear about that. Panic is the useless, prey response and stuckness is a human, decision-making, problem-solving moment of zen. It can be a long, painful, frustrating “moment,” but as long as you are walking around the problem ticking through solutions you are still in the game. Maybe the real reason I bring a copy of Zen and the Art with me on most trips is to be reminded of how to appreciate stuckness.

Jul 29, 2014

Strange Experiences on the Training Range

What would make someone who considers himself to be an “experienced rider” to take a Basic Rider Course; the beginning MSF class? If you can think of a good reason, can you explain why this same rider would be a total hooligan weenie throughout the course, to the point of receiving three warnings on the first day about his poor riding skills and general hazard to the other students? [That’s one more than I usually allow. I think I’m about too old for this shit.]

It’s baffling. At least, it baffled me. If I thought I could ride well enough to be a constant pain in a class, I’d skip “go” and go straight to the DMV and take the state’s test without messing around in a course for $150. Seriously, if I had to I’d take the state’s test three times before I’d cough up money I didn’t think I needed to spend. On the other hand, if I thought I couldn’t pass Minnesota’s wimpy, super-easy test on my own, I’d be pretty damn humble in a motorcycle class.

Testosterone is a weird drug. It makes guys act like morons while convincing them they are being cool. I think heroin is probably less vicious a drug, especially when it comes to looking stupid and being clueless. Hell, the two heroin addicts I’ve known actually were pretty cool, outside of being well on their way to a premature death and being homeless and living under a bridge in the process. A pretty good clue to whether you are looking cool or not would be, “Are you worried that other people might not think you are cool?” If the answer is “yes,” you are a dork and won’t be allowed to park on the same block as actual cool people.

No, in Minnesota you don’t “need” to take the MSF BRC for anything, including getting to play with Polaris two-wheeled toys if you are a Polaris employee/intern. If you can pass the state’s DMV test you have passed “Go,” spent your $200, and are as legal as someone who took the MSF course and passed. You do need to take the Confident Rider Course (was ERC, Experienced Rider Course, then the BRC II, then . . . ) to get to play with the Polaris toys and, if you haven’t taken a motorcycle safety course, the BRC II will qualify you for insurance discounts and other minor perks.

All that said, I have often recommended the BRC to people who were once motorcyclists and haven’t ridden for a while, but still have a valid motorcycle license. My argument is, “You might learn some new skills. You might lose some old bad habits. You get to play with one of the state’s motorcycles for 10 hours and, if you crash it and bust it up, I give you another one. Try getting anything any where near that deal at the State Fair for $160.” However, if you plan to come into one of these courses with the attitude that “I don’t wanna be here and I am gonna make it as miserable as possible for everyone involved,” you might find yourself out $160 and booted from the class. That’s just stupid. If you are going to sign up for any sort of educational experience, be a student. Pretend you aren’t an expert, which shouldn’t be too hard, and try to open yourself up to learning something new. Otherwise, you are wasting everyone’s time.

The older I get, the more I value the few opportunities I have to be a student. It's not like I know everything, but it is like I just don't have the opportunity to be in a situation where I'm primarily there to be a learner. In the last ten years, I can think of about a dozen situations where I was in the student seat and I treasured those opportunities because they were so rare. It makes sense that a kid would be less appreciative, because kids are "stuck" in classrooms and in beginner situations all the time. Once again, youth is wasted on the young.

The second day of the weekend's BRC, our problem child slightly modified his behavior. He didn't cut back on his wennie-ness, but he pretended to take advice; occasionally. Even more rarely, he actually tried to follow some of our advice. I had to warn him, once, about doing wheelies on his DR200 and, once, about blowing into merging traffic without looking or a lick of control. After reminding him that two warnings were all he would get, he settled down. Nobody got killed, everybody passed, I went home with a splitting headache and an aching back. The usual.

Jul 28, 2014

#66 What Do You Do?

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I'm sitting in a line of vehicles waiting to turn left into a university parking lot. It's a beautiful day. The sun is shining. I can almost see a blue-ish tint from the sky leaking through the smog. The temperature is, as always, perfect for motorcycling or any other warm weather outdoor activity. But I'm solidly on edge. I'm in southern California and I've been tense for the last two years.

The two cars in front of me have turned tension into action. The lead driver made the radical decision to stop on yellow, almost a driving felony in southern California. The driver in the following four-by-four practically stood his pickup on its bumper to avoid rear-ending the lead car. Before the pickup tires stopped squealing, the driver was pounding on his horn. The driver in the front car offered a one-finger salute in response. In true California tradition, the action turned serious faster than you can sing "We gotta get outta this place."

The guy in the pickup jumped out, reached behind his seat, pulled out a shiny blue aluminum baseball bat, and started stomping toward the car at the head of the queue. The other driver calmly reached under his seat, took out his pistol, and got out of his car to face the guy with the bat. I'm sitting on my bike, third in the line, solidly in the line of fire, with a great view of the action, looking for a way to get back into the flow of traffic and away from the war zone. Traffic is flowing without the tiniest space between vehicles and I'm stuck. The car behind me has left about six inches of clearance between his bumper and my rear wheel and I have about four feet to work with in making myself scarce before the shooting starts. From behind me, several cars back, a cop fires off his siren. The two whack-jobs dive for their vehicles and, when the light changes, the lead car jumps into the right lane and drives away from the scene while the second car makes a u-turn and bolts in the opposite direction. I turn into the parking lot, find a space, turn off the bike, put away my gear, and begin another crappy day in Paradise.

We've survived another year with the occasional case of mad-dog-driving-an-SUV marring an otherwise mild and beautiful Minnesota summer. Rightfully, we get pretty upset about Minnesota Nice turning into Minnesota Madness. It's not that bad here . . . yet.

To put this in perspective, the scene I just described occurred in 1985 in Costa Mesa, California. Just a few years later, Steve Martin tossed a "Thursdays are for handguns on the freeway" scene in LA Story and everybody, except southern Californians, thought it was pretty funny. To those of us who lived in SoCal, most of LA Story was a romantic documentary and only funny in the way that scary stuff you have in common with thirty million other crazy folks can be funny.

I tend to think of road madness as just another symptom of overpopulation. You pack living things too close together, they get crazy. Rats do it, hogs do it, coyotes do it, and people are somewhere down the evolutionary tree from those animals, so it shouldn't be a surprise that we do it. We haven't even begun to go mad in the Cities, but we're working on it. Adding freeway lanes won't slow down our two-wheel drift into lunacy. More lanes will just compound the feeling that there are too many people in too small a container and folks will just get more and more violent as they thrash around trying to make elbow room for themselves. And more people will fill the available space. It's human nature, especially American human nature. In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore tried to figure out why we're specially inclined toward violent behaviors and he only managed to piss off Charlton Heston in the search for an answer. I don't have any better answers than Heston gave Moore, but I've witnessed, first hand, the experience of North American population pressure and it's not pretty.

When I first moved to California, from Nebraska, I was amazed that almost everyone I knew kept a loaded gun in their glovebox or under the seat or stuffed into their belt anytime they were on the road. I mean everyone, as in ordinary people from from every walk of life. The owner of the company that employed me―an upper crust, extremely wealthy, Volvo-driving, Sierra-clubbing Yuppie―had a 9mm automatic under his seat. The scrawny, long-haired, guitar-playing, mild-mannered tech who wrote the code for our automatic test equipment had a silenced .22 automatic under his vintage Austin Healy's seat and a .45 caliber revolver in an under-dashboard mounted holster. The over-weight, middle-aged woman who ran our manufacturing floor carried a stubby .32 in her purse. Our CFO had a short-barreled 20-gauge shotgun stuffed under his BMW's seat. And the list goes on until I felt like I was living in a freaky SiFi western populated with Japanese and European cars instead of horses and wagons. I grew up in Dodge City, Kansas, so I know a little about living in a cowboy town, but southern California was way more hostile and far better armed than Dodge ever was. With our shiny new "conceal and carry" law, we're heading for California attitudes.

While I lived in Orange County, I watched the night dirt track races, most summer Friday evenings. One evening, one racer took a particularly vicious fall and was seriously injured. His mother wrapped him up and stuffed him in her van and took off for the nearest hospital. Apparently, she cut off a guy on a freeway exit on the way to the hospital and he took exception to that mortal insult to his family pride. He pumped a clip load into her van, leaving her and the injured rider to die. The rider survived the incident, but his mother didn't. The driver/gunner was a middle-aged guy on his way home from work who just couldn't let a freeway insult pass without voicing his opinion . . . with a pistol he always carried in his glovebox.

Keeping our tendency toward vicious reprisals in mind, I try to remind myself of a quote from the MSF's Basic Rider video, whenever I start to get worked up over someone else's driving; "a motorcycle will never win in a battle with a car." No matter what silly crap you've seen in the last 50 years of Hell's Angels movies, a car beats a motorcycle (or motorcycles) like rocks break scissors. Four wheels and several tons of mass will shove two wheels and 500-1000 pounds of bike and rider pretty much anywhere the four wheels wants to take the two wheels. If you include the weapons storage capabilities (and likelhood) of SUVs and other large vehicles that often contain specially irritated and irritating cagers, you don't have a chance in a one-on-one confrontation.

I'd recommend that you choke down your rage, think about something pleasant (while keeping your mind on the road and traffic), and keep that fickle finger on the handlebars. It might be therapeutic to vent on the highway, but, if you're not careful, you could be in need of several months of physical therapy after everyone is finished venting. That's assuming that you live through the confrontation. Ride fast, ride safe, ride often, and control your emotions.

September 2007

One More Expensive Gocart

I, honestly, do not get this market at all. I suppose I need to have one last late-life-crisis to understand why anyone would want a rear wheel drive three-wheeler. I don't see where a 5" ground clearance is a good thing. This and the CanAm thing are overpriced, under-featured convertibles with no storage space and no practical purpose. I'm sure the spoiled children of the idle rich will "have to have one, mommie," but I can't see the advantage. I'd love to play with one on a track for a day, but what else would you do with it?

Jul 26, 2014

Gotta Hear the Motor

I worked next to a sidecar safety class yesterday and before my BRC started I had a short conversation with one of the side car coaches. When he explained what his class was going to be, I asked “Will there be any mufflers on anything on your range?”

His response was, “Yeah, like mine.”

His bike is a straight-piped Harley with a sidecar. When he’s demonstrating one of the exercises 100 yards from my range, I can’t hear any of my 11 motorcycles, what my co-coach or students are saying, or even my own thoughts. In some ways, it’s a great demonstration of how poorly the “loud pipes saves lives” delusion works, since his bike is pretty much non-existent when he is riding toward us and tears your ears off when he is riding away. Our training range is fairly open, so there are only a few reflective surfaces for sounds to be bounced back toward our location. Once again, the directional qualities of sound and exhaust pipes are most about telling people where you’ve been not where you are.

However, the comment that struck me most in that conversation was his comment as he walked away, “Gotta hear the motor.”

 Audio_Mask_Graph For the mechanically disinclined, the exhaust is the motor. It is the most obvious “expression” of the combustion part of internal combustion, after all. The problem with concentrating on the attenuated exhaust note is that it is all too capable of masking far more subtle, critical, and important engine noises. The ticking, whirring, and clatter of the valve train, for example, is easily overwhelmed and “masked” by the broadband and deafening noise output of a non-stock motorcycle exhaust system.

The masking effect of noise is fairly well understood and nicely diagramed in the drawing on the left. The “threshold of hearing” is frequency-dependent (your ability to hear sounds is directly related to the sound’s frequency content). As you can see from the illustration, our hearing mechanism is tuned to the general territory of human speech: 250-5kHz. Above and below those frequencies our hearing capabilities become severely limited. The poorly-and-improperly-applied “A-weighting curve” reflects the fact that at low volumes we are unable to identify low and high frequency sounds, for example. If you were to apply a noise filter shaped almost exactly the reverse of the “Threshold in Quiet” curve in the illustration, you’d have an A-weighted filter.

0730MotorcycleNoises_t_w600_h3000 The point is, exhaust noise covers a pretty huge bandwidth, unaltered. I looked all over the web to see if anyone had published something resembling a “noise output spectrum analysis” of any sort of motorcycle exhaust. There are multiple sources with broadband comparison data like the chart at right. As far as I can tell, all of the charts I found are inappropriately “A-weighted,” so the data has been massaged to create a false impression that motorcycle noise is not particularly harmful, grossly disproportionate to vehicle size and utility, and outright idiotic as a lame attempt to provide public information. Honestly, the so-called “professional engineering” community (SAE, for example) should be shamed into public organizational suicide for their lame performance in this (and most) areas of noise measurement and control. The purpose of A-weighting is to obtain a typical human response measurement to low level noise signals. Low, in this case, was intended to be noise levels below 55dBSPL. No motorcycle is that quiet. Most of the noise signals measured and regulated are inappropriate for A-weighting, but A-weighting allows noise polluters considerable advantages.


This is, unfortunately, the closest thing I could find to a spectrum analysis of a motorcycle exhaust. The measurements were at 4M off axis of a car and motorcycle exhaust, A-weighted. Even with the weighting, you can see there is substantial low frequency noise output, especially for the motorcycle. That nasty hump around 100Hz would be about 40dB larger with C-weighting, which would give you a really dramatic picture of how hazardous a stock twin exhaust system is to your hearing. The real problem is that all of this normal broad band noise is bad enough, from a seat-of-the-pants diagnostic standpoint. Adding exhaust noise output will do the exact opposite of letting you “hear the motor.” Hearing the valve train, including the timing chain, the drive chain, the transmission gear whine and shifting, piston detonation, wheel bearing noise, etc is all made difficult-to-impossible by excess exhaust noise. I have yet to be impressed by the diagnostic or mechanical skills by any “loud pipes save lives” character. Their riding skills are even worse.

Jul 25, 2014

You Are Who Resemble

musician2 biker1 I did my second, and last, gig as a musician last night (Saturday, July . I 19, 2014). If you missed it, good for you. Pretty much everyone I know lucked out. The good part was that we were mostly playing original Tim Gadban music and I love Tim’s songs. That was the reason I agreed to play . . . anywhere, after a 30 year hiatus from being a musician. The bad part was experiencing what passes for “sound reinforcement” in the 21st Century. The original concept is long lost and being subjected to unnecessary, mindless amplification of perfectly decent sounding acoustic instruments--simply because the crap PA is available, therefore, must be used—is nothing but painful. I think I can go another 30 years without doing it again. I don’t need, or receive, musical validation from an audience. I know I suck, I don’t need to provide a demonstration.

musician1 biker4 After I escaped the stage, it struck me how similar musicians and bikers are. First, they both have that "people who are so needy for attention they need to dress up and be as loud as possible are you guys and sixteen-year-old girls [and musicians]" mental failing. I really, really hate that aspect of playing modern music. For a few minutes, MTV seemed to be making my point with the Unplugged series. Artists such as Squeeze, Syd Straw, Elliot Easton, Paul McCartney, Dr. John and Joe Walsh, LL Cool J, MC Lyte (Cappucino), De La Soul (Ring Ring Ring), A Tribe Called Quest, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Pearl Jam, Queensrÿche, 10,000 Maniacs, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Stone Temple Pilots, and even Kiss took on the challenge of playing actual instruments without the crutch of overblown volume and general purpose distortion. MTV is still putting on Unplugged shows and they are typically considerably better than the performer’s usual tripe, pomp and circumstance, and sound and fury.

ZZ Top01 biker2 I’ve always sort of suspected that bikers were just untalented, frustrated rockers. Sometimes they’re the same characters. The noise, the exhibitionism, the general disrespect for the rights and privacy of everyone else on the planet, all sort of tie us together. My father used to say, “You are known by your friends.” You’re known by who it looks like your friends are, too.

Jul 23, 2014

She’s Real

The Cities’ Local entertainment rag, City Pages, did a pretty decent article on ear plugs back in June: “Can Minneapolis Make Ear Plugs Cool?”. A lot of the technical information in the article came from a friend of mine, Sarah Angerman, of the University of Minnesota’s Speech and Hearing Impairment Research Center. Sarah was my technical reference, a few years back, in my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Geezer column, “Hearing Damage and Motorcycling.”

One of my favorite crazy person responses to an MMM publication came from a loud pipes lunatic who hated every aspect of my hearing loss warning and doubted that “Sarah Angerman is a real person.” Now, he can be doubly pissed at City Pages and me, since we’ve both used this mythical expert (who is, even worse, a pointy headed PhD) to warn the general public about the fragility of their hearing mechanism.

The City Pages article is a little fluffy, due to R&R’ers love of deafening noise and a traditional fear of getting old and feeble. Mostly, it’s a good thing, though. A few years back, I read a technical paper that stated there are more hearing impaired 18-27 year old males, percentage-wise, than 60-75 year olds. Regardless of the numbers, it is a serious problem for today’s young music fans. Today, if you do a Google search on my article’s title, you will get 3.7 million hits. That ought to freak you out, if nothing else does.

That old piece of hate mail was preserved by my publisher, Victor Wanchena and you can read it and weep/laugh/agree/whatever right here:

Jul 22, 2014

Book Review: Hell on Wheels, An Illustrated History of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs

motto by Bill Hayes 2014

hell on wheels
This is the first in the “series” of book giveaway reviews. It’s also going to be a pretty brief, lame review. To be blunt, I have nothing in common with the subject matter. You could claim, like the author and his subjects, that this is a motorcycle and motorcyclists’ book, but it ain’t. This is a lifestyle promotion and I despise the lifestyle it is promoting. This book isn’t even in the territory of the wonderful AMC cable television series of the same name. Considering the cast of “characters,” there was never any hope for that.

Early in this mostly-picture-book, George Christie, ex-Hell’s Angel president of somewhere or another, is quoted, “As I got deeper and deeper into the enthusiasm of the motorcycle, I saw the possibility to fill the void that was left by the military by getting involved with the club.” Enough said. These little boy’s “clubs” are exactly what they look like, weird homophobic in-the-closet gangs of excess males who weren’t properly loved by the mommies and daddies. Christie (who has to be a near relative of New Jersey’s govenator, based on the lameness of his philosophy) continues, “I remember so clearly that the perception people had of me—even those who really knew me—immediately changed as I embraced that lifestyle.” What a surprise, when you dress and smell like a pirate who hasn’t seen land or a shower for months, people make assumptions about who you are. Worse, that old “biker lifestyle” bullshit covers up a lot of degenerate behavior (like the Angels’ monopoly on cocaine sales in the 80’s and their dominance of meth today) as if it were just a matter of appearances. There is a reason these assholes are generally despised and it has nothing to do with motorcycles. It has a lot to do with the reason the FBI categorizes these morons as “domestic terrorists” and racketeers.

The prose between pictures of fat old men in pirate outfits is along the lines of Louis L’Amour’s worst. A lame attempt to balance macho bullshit with god-awful country-western poetry decorates the bold and plain print. I guess you just have to be a fan.

So, who is this book for? If you are a fan of Sons of Anarchy, you might like Hell on Wheels. If you were offended by South Park’s “F-Word,” you might like Hell on Wheels. If you are the character Peter Mayer is singing about in “Brand New Harley,” you are almost certain to cherish Hell on Wheels.

Come Friday evening
I don't shower, I don't shave
And I put my little earring in
And it's time to misbehave
Yes I will clean your teeth on Monday
Or put braces in your mouth
But don't flash 'em at me Sunday, boy
Or I just might knock them out


Remember, the funniest (by my LOL calibration system) comment about this review gets the book.

Since Sliced Bread

Years ago, I watched Paul Streeter bleed a KLR’s brakes at one of the Twin Cities Dual Purpose Rider Tech Days. I was mostly drinking beer and talking to other folks, but I paid some attention. The bleeder tool, at that time, was about $70 and I figured for that kind of money I’d keep pumping the pedal and draining the lines slowly. Today, that same tool is $30 at Harbor Freight and I bought one last fall. In the rush to get out of Minnesota before the first snow, it hung on my shop wall untouched until this week.


Monday, I broke open the in-case-of-nuclear-war packaging and tried the tool on my WR250X. Ten minutes later, I drained and bled the V-Strom’s brakes. An hour later and I’d done both bikes and the RV in the time that I’d have usually struggled through getting the V-Strom’s front brakes bled. I’m convinced, this is a great tool and, finally, cheap enough for a geezer.


Jul 21, 2014

#65 Motorcycling; What Is It and Who Is It For?

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I recently read an article in an industry rag that described motorcycling as a "sport." I've called it that before, but I'm not sure it makes sense to describe what we do as "sport." Webster's defines sport as:

“1. An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.
“2. An active pastime; recreation. . .”

Ok, motorcycling is definitely an "active pastime" and it's part "recreation," part transportation. Racing is competitive and has rules and customs, but general purpose motorcycling only has rules specific to the activity if you're in a biker gang and have to maintain parade formation during a ride. Most motorcyclists ride to get away from rules and custom. I know I do. Being a fair-weather existentialist, I tend to think of the universe and, especially, society as being a hostile environment that is most interesting when I'm escaping, or breaking, rules and customs. I don't think I'd be interested in motorcycling if it weren't a physical sport that required skill, so it could be a sport.

Personally, I'm inclined to think of motorcycling as more "activity" than sport. Webster's gives us these definitions for "activity":
“1. The state of being active. “
  2. Energetic action or movement; liveliness. “
  3. a. A specified pursuit in which a person partakes. b. An educational process or procedure intended to stimulate learning through actual experience. . . “

Some motorcyclists are "active." A fair number of us exhibit an ability for "energetic action" and some aspects of "liveliness." I especially like section "b" of the third definition of activity; "an educational process or procedure intended to stimulate learning through actual experience." All of the skilled riders I know are constantly in "learn mode." Riders who keep at the sport/activity for a long time not only spend time learning new things about motorcycling, they practice basic and advanced skills to maintain their abilities and to stay aware of how aging has effected those abilities. (Yes, Virginia, old people aren't as quick, strong, or alert as young people. Nature is not an aging motorcyclist's friend. Nature fully expected the majority of us to die a good bit before age 40 and put in considerable effort into making that happen. You can, in fact, fool Mother Nature, but she's not going to take that insult kindly.)

There are gradations of "sport" and "activity" that make this discussion more complicated than I'd like. If physical exertion is a criteria and more physical exertion means the activity is more of a sport, than basketball is more of a sport for me than it was for Michael Jordan, since I have to work a lot harder to do a lot less. On the other hand, he is capable of producing a lot more work than me, so he's probably still more your ideal sportsman. See what I mean about complications? As a motorcyclist, Roger DeCoster was probably the least sporty motocrosser of all the 20th Century world champs, since he rarely seemed to be doing much more than cruising the neighborhood while he was winning motos and whipping his more energy-inefficient competition. On the mechanical end, the Sportster Sport is probably the least sporting motorcycle ever built but you'd sure have to physically exert yourself if you wanted to put that bike on any sort of race track. Now I'm completely confused.

If motorcycling is a "sport" or an "energetic activity," is it a good thing that motorcycle manufacturers are catering an awful lot of their output to folks who are neither lively, energetic, capable of measurable physical exertion, or skill? Judging by the industry trends, I suspect that it's possible that a lot of non-sporting types are being hand-held through the most minimal, basic motorcycling skills, resulting in a lot of new motorcyclists who are not capable of meeting the physical and mental demands of a sport or an activity that requires "liveliness." The upside is that more people are buying and, possibly, riding motorcycles. The downside is we're attracting more attention as those activity-deficient folks are contributing to a disproportionate number of crashes and injuries. I suspect there is a minimum physical and mental capability requirement for motorcycling that is rarely considered when dealers are trying to peddle a hippo-bike to an short, overweight, desk jockey who can barely lift a coffee cup without groaning, hasn't seen his feet since grade school, and couldn't turn his head far enough to see the corner of his desk. In conversations with other MSF instructors, I've heard numbers as large as 2% and as small as 0.1% regarding the percentage of the population who have the mental and physical capacity to be competent motorcyclists. I tend toward the smaller number.

It bothers me that there are no physical recommendations being given to new riders. It always appeared obvious to me that a person should be a good tricycle rider before trying out bicycles. And that bicycles should come before motorcycles. I'm even of the opinion that off-road motorcycles ought to be experienced before a rider is tested by highway conditions. In fact, in my pre-MSF instructor, pre-sensitivity days, I used to tell prospective motorcyclists that I think they ought to be competent enough, off-road, to get out of the novice motocross class before even considering a street bike. That might be extreme, but it's still more my belief than the prevailing theory that anyone who can straddle an office chair should be able to ride a motorcycle. Motorcycling is not a rational activity for the timid, physically or mentally disabled, or folks who are easily distracted by pretty colored lights.

Of course, I don't think the requirements for cage piloting should be as minimal as they are, either. Drivers' licenses come in Cracker Jack boxes, these days, and that's a crime. I'm even radical enough to believe that cops and firefighters should be able to pass exactly the same physical tests at the end of their career that they had to suffer in the police and firefighter academies. While we're at it, I think politicians and civil servants should be subjected to lie detector tests every 3 months. This could go on for a whole lot more words than I am allowed in this column.

Neither of my daughters ride, possibly partly because I always insisted that they get really good on a bicycle before they try out dirt biking. Motorcycling wasn't that interesting to them and they both appear to be happy getting their two-wheeled kicks on self-powered vehicles. I'm ok with that. Motorcycling isn't for everyone. Motorcycling is a high risk sport/activity and you ought to be committed to accepting the risk and earning the skills when you take on this activity/sport. If you expect cagers and physics to compensate for your inabilities, you're bound to become a statistic.

For several years, the majority of motorcycle crashes and fatalities in Minnesota have involved only a single vehicle. My bet is that these riders discovered just how physically demanding this sport is just a few seconds before they contributed to this particular statistic. If you want to smell the flowers, see the sights, or daydream your way through the country side, walk, ride a bicycle, or travel by train. Motorcycling is about focus, road strategy, physical skills and, sometimes, instantaneous and life-threatening decision making. There is nothing sexy about hospital time, large patches of road rash, and permanent injury. I don't care what the motorcycle ads tell you, this is an adventure that comes with considerable risk. If you're ready for the adventure, you're going to keep yourself fit, well trained, and well protected. If you're not, stick with the office chair. It's boring, but so is any visit to a hospital.

MMM August 2007

Jul 18, 2014

Justifying the “Grudge”

I am a huge fan of “burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me.” Some people, like my old editor Sev Pearman, call that being “a hater.” When it comes to products and corporations, I have no problem with that tag. I am absolutely capable of permanently despising a wide range of corporate entities. I am a firm believer in Robert Pirsig’s “culture is a higher animal” analysis from Lila; An Inquiry into Morals. Businesses, neighborhoods, cities, states, nations, and humanity, in general, have personalities, habits and tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, and perversions that tend to stick once they are imprinted. I might give a bad supplier a 2nd chance, after watching their behavior for a few decades, but I never feel any sort of guilt for permanently acquiring an aversion to a particularly company’s products. Never. Just because I’m a “lower animal” doesn’t mean that I won’t pay attention to the qualities and character of a dominant species. I’m no different than a dog who knows who will pet it and who will kick it.

Sometimes, I pick up my corporate prejudices from other’s experiences. For example, I don’t need to own my own Ducati to know that I will never have the patience, expendable income, or limited driving range to tolerate those fragile, unserviceable, overpriced bits of Italian mechanical extravagance. I have heard enough from Ducati owners to last me what little is left of my lifetime. Oddly, I actually think many of Ducati’s motorcycles are flat out ugly (particularly the engine wiring and plumbing), so that the one big draw to the company’s products eludes me. (I don’t like wine, either. So, I am clearly not properly educated.) Fiat’s vehicles are at the other end of the cost-spectrum, but I’ve been around enough Fiat owners and ex-owners to know that’s not an option for me, either. While one of BMW’s bikes, the R80GS granddaddy adventure tourer, is on my favorite bike list, it’s not there due to my having owned one. Again, from owner horror stories I’ve never considered my income as being in the necessary bracket for BMW ownership. The company’s stuff costs too much, initially, and their maintenance costs would move me out of hobbyist and too close to professional expenses.

On my own time, I have born long-term experience-based grudges for MG, Triumph (cars and motorcycles and most Brit-made mechanical devices), Suzuki (thanks to my 1974 RL250 debacle and experience with the company while I was a racer’s mechanic during the 70’s RM-canted shocks years), Mazda (thanks to my RX3 station wagon disaster), Sony everything, Apple most things, Toshiba computers and hardware, and, most recently, Volkswagen. Due mostly to word-of-mouth recommendations, I overrode my Suzuki prejudice a couple of years after the introduction of the SV650 and discovered that Suzuki wasn’t all bad. That led to my current “big bike” ride, a 2004 DL-650 V-Strom. So far, I’m still liking Suzuki pretty well, although their dealer network has taken some serious hits in the last decade; a worrisome fact.

When I get taken to task for my disinterest in exploring some of my other corporate prejudices, my response is always “Why?” It’s not like any of these companies make products I can’t get anywhere else (unlike Suzuki in 1999 and 2004). If I can find a decent version of whatever it is I need from a company I have some faith in, why should I try the detested brands? Exactly what’s in it for me? So far, “nothing” has been the answer. Grudges, like stereotypes, are handy, practical, efficient, and sometimes accurate. When it comes to corporate stereotypes/prejudices, I do not believe I am harming a “person,” no matter what sort of insane drive is spouted on that subject by our currently deranged Extreme Court. Like Mr. Hightower said, “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” In fact, I sorta look forward to that moment, assuming the convicted corporation is Exxon, Halliburton, GE, Goldamn-Sacks or something of that ilk.

In a life with a rapidly diminishing future, I’m perfectly happy to pick up any sort of efficiency available. I relive enough of my old unpleasant moments without searching out some of the sources of those bad times for a reenactment. Call it bias, prejudice, bigotry, or just a plain old fashioned grudge, but I don’t have enough time left to see if a bunch of bozos who screwed me once will screw me again. Let all of my mistakes be new ones.

Jul 15, 2014

A Disgusting Appeal for Attention

geezer  It’s true, I’m going into self-promotion mode and I’m doing it with my usual “style.” The blog is about to pass 750,000 lifetime hits and, at this pace, might hit 1,000,000 by the end of the year. I missed commemorating the 500,000 milestone late last year, so I’m compensating.

Since I’m retired, old, lazy, and desperate for attention and a little side income, I’ve decided to actually try to promote this website/blog. However, I am not willing to put actual money into this promotion; at least no noticeable ore regrettable amount of money. Even more disgusting, my promotion is going to be totally self-serving, unscientific, and as alienating as possible. I may not learn from actual smart people, but I figure if I take the tactics of huge, horribly managed, completely incompetent corporations (like Volkswagen and Chrysler and Bank of America) what can go wrong?

So, here’s the promotion.

Very soon, I’m going to start posting occasional book reviews. When the book review goes on line, I’m going to be watching your comments and the comment/commenter that/who makes me laugh the hardest is going to get a copy (the one I reviewed) of the book reviewed in the blog. Because I’m going to be motivated to keep the personal possessions pile small, the decision will come within a week or two (no pressure on me to meet a schedule) after I post the review so that I’m not tempted to put the book on a shelf. To keep this who promotion on the disgusting level with which I generally live and am comfortable, the first book “reviewed” will be a copout: Hell on Wheels: An Illustrated History of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs. It’s not going to be much of a review, as you might imagine my interest in the subject is . . . non-existent. Really non-existent. The best I could do was a single speed-reading scan of the “text” and brainless quotes and there is nothing in my opinions and observations that any magazine on earth would be willing to print. If I thought my blog were printed, I might not even submit these mindless words to my own blog.

imageRegardless, it’s a free book. I’m paying for the packaging and shipping and the publisher paid for the book. It will be in near-new condition, since I will have been the only person who read the book. The way, in the past or future, you’ll be able to tell that there is a free book involved will be that my brand new, stolen from a professional motto (at right) will be randomly included in the review. There will, I hope, be some other book reviews posted here that won’t include book giveaways because the author sent me a copy and they contain a personal note. So if the smartass “pissing everyone off is a piece of cake” stamp of disapproval is not included, either is the contest. For now, don’t worry about it. I have two more books in the mill that will be of interest to someone: Greg Frazier’s Down and Out in Patagonia, Kamchatka, and Timbuktu and Ian Falloon’s The Art of Ducati. Depending on who gives me what to review, there might be other sorts of products in this promotion in the near future, too.

Bring it on and feel free to be angry, disappointed, disgusted, and/or pissed off at my decisions.

Jul 14, 2014

More Electric News

From RideApart: "In a continuous effort to keep Police forces on the cutting edge of technology, the LAPD have recently turned to California based, Zero Cycles, to create a one-off LAPD electric patrol motorcycle.
The Zero MMX police/military motorcycle is a 100% electric cycle that meet all specific military and law enforcement demands. After an extensive and exhaustive testing session the bike performed beyond expectations. Not only for the officers but also for the community. The benefit of adding an all electric drivetrain to a motorcycle is a reduction in noise and maintenance. Not to mention an added benefit of little to no environmental impact.
“'There are major benefits to incorporating these environmentally friendly motorcycles. It costs less than 50 cents to charge compared to using gallons of gas, maintenance is simple, and the community appreciates how quiet they are,' reports Officer Steve Carbajal of the L.A.P.D. Off-Road Unit. 'Most importantly, our officers have an added tactical advantage while on patrol.'
'When you think of a raid on a meth lab or on a mob boss’ hideout, stealth can be your greatest advantage. Police loose the edge when the bad guys hear them coming miles away. A quite, all-terrain vehicle can ensure the baddies aren’t going anywhere fast, should they have a spontaneous need to flee the scene.'"

Yeah! Meth lab raids! I can see the movies spawning off of this in dozens of directions. "Roll Silent, Roll Fast," "Switch-Mode Cops," "They Just Keep on Coming," and . . . you get the picture.

#64 Creating the Wrong Impression

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

I had lunch, after a Basic Rider class, with a guy who'd been reading my column for a few years and took the class, partially, on the recommendation he'd found in one of my articles. He couldn't remember which column it was, but he was sure that I'd said something, sometime, about practicing basic skills being a worthwhile activity. Somehow, he ended up in one of my Basic Rider classes and felt the need to let me know about it as we were packing away the bikes at the end of the course. Better yet, he offered to buy me lunch.

While we were waiting for service at a particularly mediocre restaurant, he asked how I'd managed to avoid all of the motorcycling pitfalls I've described in my Geezer columns. Wow! Had he ever read me wrong! I haven't avoided ANYTHING, ever, except education and training before I needed it, experienced advice when I was inexperienced, and wisdom and judgment when it was desperately necessary. If I have any claim to positive personal value, it's that I try hard to make each mistake no more than once and that, somehow, I have lived through doing everything wrong at least once. I've repeated a few mistakes, but I work at keeping the count low.

Take any one of my favorite rant topics and you'll find that I have first hand experience on the other side of the fence. I've never been a member of any motorcycle group more vicious than the AMA, MWTA, or MN-Sportbike.org, but that's about the only motorcycling fault I've avoided. Yeah, I've produced excessive noise (two and four-stroke noise), ridden without a helmet (pre-1969 racing and recreational riding), pissed off landowners and neighbors, ignored and disobeyed laws and common courtesy, and I've even failed to recognize that motorcycles should be a part of daily commuter traffic.

The most embarrassing thing about getting old is recollections of how dumb you were when you were young.

I was an exceptionally dumb kid, with absolutely no adults of similar interests as mentors. When I swung a leg over my first motorcycle, the only people riding in my end of Podunk, western Kansas were my age or younger. In fact, I was lucky to be young near the beginning of the Motorcycle Age. Not at the beginning of motorcycling, because motorcycles arrived a couple of decades before my father was born. Not at the origin of the American motorcycle boom, either, because a tiny fraction of the Greatest Generation invented and financed the slow beginning of American motorcycles after WWII.

Motorcycling took off in the United States when Europe and Japan discovered the vast New World economic utopia in the early 1960s and I was part of that nirvana. My first ride (belonging to my brother) was a 1962 Italian 250, relabeled "Harley Davidson." My second was a 1965 Honda 175. Third was a 185 (or 175) Suzuki that lasted such a short moment that I can't even remember the model or displacement. Fourth, was a 1971 Kawasaki 350 Bighorn. And the list has gone on for almost half a century.

My father was so set against his kids riding motorcycles that he didn't know my brother and I had one until five years later, when I was back in Kansas, married, and beginning something that never quite coalesced into a career. He still disapproves of everything about me and motorcycles. My wife has never tried to convince me that I should consider a more conservative transportation, because she knows it would be a waste of time and energy. I don't react well to guilt tactics and it is, after all, my life; regardless of what the chicken hawks in Washington and St. Paul think. Most of the folks who disapprove of my motorcycling habit are too timid for their opinions to matter much to me, so I roll-on WFO unencumbered by common sense or rational fear. I'm not yet old enough to be conservative.

That's not exactly true. I rode fairly liberally and fearlessly for a long time, until I started getting hurt. I always understood that broken bikes can be fixed, but a busted body might not repair as well and that saved me from a lot of injuries for a long time. About the time I turned 30, I began to get hurt worse than my bikes. I started by tearing a 3", 15-stitch gash in my leg, hooking it on a trials bike shock bolt on my way back down a pile of concrete. I followed that, a few weeks later, with a left foot full of broken toes. After a year of one tore-up thing after another, I broke a bunch of ribs and was out of work for three months. Afterwards, I was infected with a year of irrational fear and experienced a mild version of PTSD, which made me completely worthless on the race track. It didn't keep me off of motorcycles, but it kept me from being competitive or getting much air between my wheels and the ground. Think Will Farrell and NASCAR and you'll have an idea of what I looked like going around a motocross track. That ended my motorcycle racing phase.

Moto-politically, I have been marginally astute. I was in my early-20s when I figured out the link between motorcycle hooliganism and shrinking riding space. Before that, it seemed like we had an infinite area to ride and a right to be there. In Nebraska, for example, we had a thousand miles of "limited access roads" that tied together into an incredible, free, barely-occupied, and unadvertised motorcycle park. Kids on dirt bikes and ATVs managed to piss off the landowners and state park managers by tearing up fences and vandalizing unmonitored grassland until the people who made the rules changed them. Afterwards, the only way to play was to pay. When I moved to California in the early 1980's, I experienced how bad those restrictions could get.

I think it ought to be obvious that a tiny minority exists at the pleasure of the majority, but we humans are not that bright. We confuse rights with privileges and, when we lose our privileges, we whine like Paris Hilton when she pays taxes on her inheritance. It's easy to tell the difference between a privilege and a right, in case you're confused. A "right" is something that is necessary and a "privilege" is a luxury.

People often confuse the two; sort of like confusing "need" and "want." Freedom of expression, the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure, the right to a trial, the banishment of cruel and unusual punishment, civil rights, and the rest are critical to civilization, progress, and the pursuit of happiness. The privilege of owning and operating a single-passenger vehicle is dependent on resources, necessity, and cultural convenience. Nobody needs a motorcycle. Nobody needs an SUV. People survived for thousands of years without them and, soon, we may have to figure out how to live without them again. Our society, the world, will roll past this inconvenience as if it were a small bump in a historic road, if these privileges are lost. It's worth keeping that in mind when you stretch your "Loud and Proud" tee-shirt over your belly.

Highway riders are taking the same low road with loud pipes, poor highway manners, and our high accident fatality rates and, I expect, we'll receive the same reward on-road that we earned off-road. If you can't contribute something positive, most likely you'll end up being obsolete in a world of diminishing resources. Evolve or vanish, those are the only choices an individual, a business, a culture, or a species has.

I like to think I've evolved a lot, in my 40-some years of motorcycling. I had a long way to travel and a lot has changed since the 1960s. Oddly, I think I've changed more in the last five years than I had in the previous twenty. Looking back through more than sixty Geezer columns, I can see a lot of my attitudes have shifted since I started publicly writing about motorcycling. In my career, I've suffered the mismanagement and collapse of two substantial companies and as many small businesses. I've learned to identify the signs of impending corporate death. I've watched a lot of personal rights and privileges disappear in my lifetime; it's been a rough sixty years for justice and human rights. All you can do is try to learn from the experiences and, if you care enough, share what you think you've learned with like-minded people. There is nothing positive to be gained in repeating history. Contrary to popular belief, mistakes are not even funny in repetition.

Lunch with the ex-student/new-rider holding a lot less respect for my personal brilliance and a better understanding of how my experience might fool an unsuspecting victim into believing I possess some kind of wisdom. However, he paid for lunch and, in my book, letting someone else grab the bill is always a wise decision.

MMM July 2007

Jul 9, 2014

Your Opinion? Who Cares?

Eric-Bostrom Cycle World e-published a nice interview with Eric Bostrom, Brammo’s main road racing competitor. Eric is clearly sold on Electric Vehicle’s future and anyone who has a clue about world fuel resources would be on board with him. Like most Americans, the comments after this article demonstrates that at least Cycle World’s readers are clueless. I mean embarrassingly, brainlessly, humorously clueless. After reading these brain-farts I think I lost 10 points off of my IQ:

“I have challenged Cycle World a few times to take a real ride, from LA to San Diego and back for example, a ride that could easily happen to many riders in SoCal, and compare the meanest, best of the E-bikes against a 300cc Ninja. I know the price differential will be huge, but drive em side by side for a trip like that, and then report all the details of the experience--not the politically correct version. Just the truth please.

”I already know the result, and that's why Cycle World ignores such a suggestion.” (Wrong. They ignore you because you’re a moron and no one cares what you think.)

“Now, I would like to point out a few flaws in the author's logic. First, he stated that the electric bikes would be easier to ride, because you would not have to use the clutch or shift. Most experienced riders should be at the point where clutching and shifting is pretty much muscle memory, and happens almost instinctively. Yes, a new rider may find the electric somewhat easier, but not much when the rider still needs to learn throttle control, as well as how to brake smoothly, along with smooth steering and paying attention to what is goin on around him.” (You probably believe in multitasking, too. Wrong again, Bonzo. Eliminating the transmission management tasks allows precious mental resources to be retasked to more critical functions. The day a Cycle World reader can find a flaw in Eric Bostrom’s logic will be worth celebrating.)

“now all we have to do is make the battery cheaper, stronger, lighter, and need less charging all the time. something nobody has been able to do yet. simple.” (All engineering tasks are complicated. If we as a society put 1/100th of the effort we waste on extending the ICE lifetime into battery and capacitor development, I might live to see EV turn mainstream. It’s all about focus and resources, something the Koch brothers haven’t redirected the half of our political system that they own toward.)

“I think the choice of electric bikes is a welcome addition to motorcycling. But I don't think replacing ICE bikes with e-bikes is a worthy goal. I would rather stop riding than be forced to ride an e-bike.” (Most likely, the overwhelming majority of society could care less if you stopped breathing, let alone riding. However, the Peak Oil moment is well behind us and the day recreational use of that resource is coming sooner than you think. Get over your “Mommy never loved me” bullshit and imagine a world where motorcycles are not the noisiest thing on the road.)

“Shifting gears and managing a bike's powerband is part of riding technique.... if eliminating facets of riding technique is the goal, ride a train.” (Ever watch MotoGP? Fly by wire eliminated all sorts of riding technique facets. Think you can ride any competitive bike better than Eric Bostrom? Right. Sure you can. Why not go back to suicide clutches, if you think complicating riding is valuable? Bet you miss having to manually add oil to the top end on the fly, too.)

Every sign on the horizon indicates motorcycling is a vanishing activity. Average rider age keeps heading for oblivion. Public opinion is at an all time low. Dealers are dying and consolidating. The only hope two wheeled transportation has for the future is in electrics. If these attitudes are representative of the majority of riders, the MIC can start kissing its ass goodbye.

Jul 7, 2014

#63 Bikes That I Love and You (apparently) Hate

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

At the end a workday this summer, I was surprised to see a new bike in our tiny area reserved for motorcycle parking. Even more surprising was that the bike was a 1988 Honda Pacific Coast PC800, one of the most unloved motorcycles ever imported to the United States. Honda tried to hustle us with this bike, off-and-on, between 1988 and 1998. We weren't going for it. Too quiet, too practical, too comfortable, too durable. Too something.

As you have already probably figured out, I like the PC800. I hung out waiting to meet the PC owner for a while. Two other bikers came by while I waited. They both had one or two nasty things to say about the "plastic glob" in our parking lot. When the owner arrived, he was suited (Aerostich), helmeted, and had his keys in hand. He walked purposefully toward his bike, avoiding looking at me, leaning against my bike and evidently looking to make a comment on his ride. I said, "Nice bike." He flinched and quickly swung a leg over, fired up the bike, and rode off. Obviously, he'd had and earful of the kind of comments the other riders make about the PC.

I managed to catch him a few days later, in a better mood. He said he'd made it to the freeway before he realized I'd complimented his bike instead of insulted it. We had a short conversation about his experience with the Pacific Coast and he confirmed my expectations of reliability, mileage, convenience, and comfort. He even said the PC was "a lot of fun to ride, especially long rides." His wife even liked taking trips with him on the PC.

I can't figure the reasoning behind all kinds of human decisions, from politics to music to motorcycles and everything between and outside of those brackets, and I'm at a loss to understand why the average motorcycle commuter wouldn't love the PC800. Unlike most of you, I've wanted a Pacific Coast, as a second bike, from the moment I saw one. Unfortunately, I never seem to own two bikes for long enough to consider multiple motorcycle ownership a practical concept. I have had the opportunity to ride the Honda Pacific Coast a few times and I found a lot to like about the bike. About a decade ago, a friend asked me to transport a PC800 from northern Iowa to central Kansas; and I loved every mile of the trip. It's like a comfortable car without the extraneous wheels. Great storage, smooth and quiet engine, cushy suspension, and it feels much lighter on the highway than you might expect. What's not to like? All that plastic, probably. No noise? The damn comfortable seating and predictable handling? The built-in storage?

A while back, I really pissed off one of our readers and earned a long, heated, rambling, saliva-spraying complaint letter to the editor. (Like that never happened before. Right, Victor?) Most of the reader's complaints were expected and more than a little funny. One of his claims, however, struck on a pet peeve of mine. He claimed that he didn't ride a motorcycle regularly because "a quality, fuel-efficient bike is not cheap." It's probably a taste thing. That reader's tastes are similar to thieves' tastes, since he claimed that his bike "within a month it would certainly by [sic] stolen or vandalized" if he rode it to work. Maybe he works at the wrong kind of drinking establishment? Maybe all that chrome attracts the wrong kind of attention?

I'm obviously out-of-sync with the kind of bikes that scumbags love to steal. For example, in 1994, I bought a nearly-new 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM; reviewers hated that bike, called it "bug eyed" and "gawky." I rode a TDM at a Yamaha Round-Up in 1992 and fell in love. At least as close as I get to loving a bike, anyway. Ok, I fell in "like." As in, "I think I'd like you in my garage."

I cared for that big red bike like it was the coolest guitar I ever owned. I waxed it, put road bags on it, installed new bars, crash rails, hand guards, a tall windshield, and dinky LED turn signals. (That's as tricked out as any street bike I've ever owned. Pitiful, I know.) A few months after buying the bike, my wife and I rode to an Aerosmith concert in Denver. We parked the TDM in the midst of Harleys and other chrome-laden cruisers, in our usual state of turmoil. My wife is not a willing bike passenger and any ride longer than a few hundred feet often turns her into an angry motorcycle protestor. In that state of marital discord, I managed to walk away from the bike with the key not only in the ignition, but with the ignition still on and the headlights blazing and turn signals flashing. Aerosmith audiences are on the far fringes from politically incorrect and, after the concert, there was a rash of stolen stereos, keyed bike paint jobs, snapped antennas. In the motorcycle parking area, bikes were tipped over and a few Harleys had vanished from the lot. The key was still in the TDM's ignition, the battery was drained, but the bike was untouched. I push-started it, came back for my grumpy wife, suffered a little mockery from the rent-a-cops, and rode home. Obviously, my TDM was not on the vandals' or the thieves' radar. I think that's a good thing.

The fact is, there is a plethora of reasonably priced, low-mileage, high efficiency, comfortable, practical motorcycles available. (Yes, El Guappo, I do know what "plethora" means.) Personally, I think the trick is to avoid ownership of things that others covet. I, especially, try to avoid owning things that professional thieves go out of their way to steal. Here are a few of the machines that I think meet the high standard of "a quality, fuel-efficient bike" that are reasonably priced, if "not cheap": Back in the 80s, I owned both the 1982 and the 1983 versions of the Yamaha XTZ550 Vision. How can you not love a water-cooled, drive-shafted bike that gets nearly 60mpg and has a heating system (in the faired 1983 version)? Americans did not love this bike and it was another dealer-discounted bike that took almost three years for Yamaha to move from show rooms. Other than a couple of minor maintenance problems, I rode the hell out of my Visions and got most of my money back when I sold them.

  • I still like the 1988 Honda NT650 Hawk GT. A great experiment in a mid-sized high-tech motorcycle that failed miserably. Clubman racers learned to love the Hawk GT until it was made obsolete by the Suzuki SV in that class, but Honda practically gave them away as door prizes at the dealerships. In Denver, several Honda dealers were still trying to unload brand new 1988 Hawks in 1993. Since the Suzuki SV arrived, used Hawk prices have, again, fallen.

  • I have lusted after the 1988-to-today's Honda XRV 650/750 Africa Twin and the 1989-1996 Yamaha XTZ750 Super Ténéré since the moment they were announced. These beauties are a pair of super-sized dual purpose bikes that never came to the U.S., but I've seen them in bike shows and at the old Steamboat Springs Vintage Bike Days. Once I'd sat on the real thing, my US-wimp Ténéré replica (the TDM) seemed tame and incomplete.

  • 1986-today's Honda Transalp 600/650 versions, but the newest Transalp 650 is unbelievably cool. We don't get many cool bikes in the States, so this bike is just a dream that will probably go unfulfilled. It doesn't come here because Honda thinks we wouldn't buy it in sufficient numbers to justify the EPA qualification process. The 1983(US and the world)-2000(Europe and Japan only) Honda NX650. This bike just kept getting cooler, but we didn't get a second chance at it after the US market imploded and dumbed-down in the mid-80s. For a commuter, this bike is close to perfect: electric-start, extreme suspension, ultra-reliable single-cylinder engine, big enough to travel at highway speeds, small enough to easily find parking anywhere.

  • How can you not love the 1984 Yamaha RZ350 Kenny Roberts Replica? Bumblebee cool, quicker than snot, smells like teenage Castrol (at least what Castrol smelled like when I was young). Kenny was still playing with this little guy, to whip the bootie out of liter bikes and lesser riders on Spain's mountain roads, as recently as five years ago. The original Honda Reflex, the 1986 Honda Reflex, looked like a trials bike, rode like a twitchy dual-purpose bike, got about a zillion miles-per-gallon and could leap medium-sized culverts, climb mountains, and was as reliable as a brick. As usual, Honda couldn't give them away at the dealerships.

  • 1982-83 Honda 500/650 Silverwing, fully loaded with fairing and bags. Whenever some BRC student tells me he/she needs a hippo-bike because he/she might want to "tour," I let 'em know that I crossed the country a few times on my 1981 Honda CX500, which is the undeveloped version of the Silverwing. I froze my ass off, in March moving from Nebraska to California, and put more than 100,000 miles on the bike before I sold it to a friend. We're still friends, too. No surprise, Honda couldn't find many buyers for this bike either.

  • 1988-2005 Honda VTR250, especially the last European VTR250 version that looks like a mini-Ducati Monstro. Look it up, it's an incredibly cool bike, but we don't get it because we're . . . not that smart. The 1988 VTR was Ninja-like and a slow mover for dealers, so Honda quit bringing it here about the time they started getting the cosmetics right. I've owned the 1988 VTRs and I can't say anything bad about it. The mileage was incredible. Sold that one to my brother and he wore it out. Personally, I think the weirdest bike I love is the 1987 Kawasaki 250 Ninja with the white wheels and grasshopper-looking exposed suspension bits and the macho red seat and black body work. I don't like the look, feel, or seating position of the newer 250, but I was really jazzed about the original bike.

Now, I can guess what you're going to say about a lot of these picks of mine, "I'm a forty-year-old, five-foot-six, two-hundred-and-sixty-pound guy and I'd look stupid on any of those bikes." Trust me, with that physical description you'll look hilarious on anything smaller than an over-under-tranny White Industries farm tractor. I know because . . . I know.

Several of my friends say that, in my 25-year-old Aerostich one-piece, I look like a giant gray sausage with salmon trim. Salmon, the color, not the fish. There is no fix for being a hippo, except for getting rid of the hippo-ness. A fat guy on a hippo-bike doesn't look any skinnier than he would on a 50cc scooter. Bikes look cool because they are cool looking, because they have some dedication to function that drives their form to coolness. To my eye, the hippest bikes are so committed to their function that they blow off fashion and trends and charge after the function they've identified without getting tripped up on whatever foolishness the rest of the industry is pursuing.

Economically, it makes more sense for manufacturers to join the pack and follow fashion down the drain of human conformity. Technically, whatever is happening today is already past-tense. Many of the bikes listed above sell for more today than they did when they were on dealers' floors. Some were so far ahead of their time that their time hasn't, apparently, come yet. Or I'm as motorcycle fashion-sense-inhibited as I am devoid of any other fashion sense. Personally, I think the weird non-functional designer bikes are the motorcycling equivalent to the strange Vogue/GQ crap that clothing designers display in Paris. Jeans, loose cotton shirts, Goretex hiking boots, and motorcycles designed for a function are what trips my trigger. Your mileage, apparently, varies.

MMM June 2007

Jul 6, 2014

With the Weapons We Have

One of the telling moments of the second Iraq War was when Donald Rumsfeld was visiting a safe zone in Iraq, pretending to give a shit what the soldiers thought about how the war was going. One of the soldiers asked him something along the lines of “When will we get equipment that is appropriate to fighting this war.” Rumsfeld’s snide reply was, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” There were two ways to take that comment, both ways are uncomplimentary to the people doing the work; 1) “You guys are what we have to work with, as sorry a lot as you are” or 2) “You’re just going to have to work with the crappy armament we’ve provided because we’re doing this war regardless of the risk” (to you, not me).  Either way, Rumsfeld was basically saying, “Fuck you, kid. We’re here and you’re doing this with the overpriced, no-bid-contract crap Halliburton gives you to work with.”

History is jam-packed with moments like this. Consistently, the losers are usually on the side of Rumsfeld’s position. Sometimes it takes a while, but the imperialist position of “damn the torpedoes, we have more people and torpedoes where those came from” is expensive, inefficient, and eventually leads to a crumbling empire or sudden overthrow and defeat. The alternative view, best expressed by Sun Tzu in The Art of War, is, “One mark of a great soldier is that he fights on his own terms or fights not at all.” From an American perspective, you could say that , since the Revolutionary War, the overwhelming majority of the wars our country has staggered into have disobeyed this axiom and the result has been the decimation of the country’s treasure, thousands of wasted lives, and a steadily declining commitment to liberty and democracy. If you read much history, you’ll note that many great empires have followed this exact path into decline and collapse. It’s a scary scenario.

This, believe it or not, applies to riding a motorcycle. The only advantage a motorcycle has in traffic is flexibility and a kind of nimbleness that allows us to go where most of the traffic can not. Like it or not, the highway is a battleground. Freeways are all out war. Motorcyclists are too often the fools who get caught with a knife in their hand at a gunfight. All of those stories you’ve heard from the Biker Boyz and big bad biker gangbangers about scaring cagers with noise, the biker stare, booting a rear view mirror off, or kicking the snot out of a cager after the biker “had to put ‘er down” are mostly bullshit. A motorcycle is a lousy platform from which to start a fight. In traffic, a motorcycle is absolutely a knife in a gun fight. The only way to “win” is to bring the fight to your terms. Unfortunately, most motorcyclists don’t know enough about riding a motorcycle to know where a motorcycle and motorcyclist’s terms lie.

A quick look at motorcycling history in the 1st world would be useful. The people who mostly picked a motorcycle over a Model T were guys (almost always) who weren’t afraid of getting dirty. The opening moments of On Any Sunday were a montage of people riding their motorcycles where cars could not hope to follow. That is your first hint, if you didn't have a clue in the early stages of this essay. Motorcycles are in their own, best element off of the beaten or paved path. If you want to “defeat” a cell-phone distracted cager who seems hell-bent on squashing you flat, lead him off of the pavement into a ditch. At best, the brainless boob will be stuck there till the HPD and AAA comes to their rescue. At worst, the cager will experience the thrill of rolling his handicapped vehicle and you’ll have the satisfaction of seeing his vehicle disassemble itself in your rear view mirror. That’s called bringing the battle to our terms.

Too many motorcyclists have decided to give in to sloth and inertia and take the battle to their opponent’s field; concrete and asphalt. The most popular style of motorcycle in North America is the cruiser, a totally disabled, barely-street-worthy bike with minimal suspension, a crippled feet-forward riding position, poor handling long wheelbase, and a ground clearance that often high-centers on speed bumps and minor potholes. Defending the existence of these pitiful vehicles is the engineering equivalent of whining that “we fight wars with the army we have,” not an army that can actually defend itself. The lame “defense” these rolling two-wheelchairs offers is “loud pipes save lives.” How’s that working for you, since the majority of highway motorcycle deaths are cruisers and old guys?