Oct 30, 2014

Book Review: Modern Motorcycle Technology: How Every Part of Your Motorcycle Works

modern motorcycle technology

by Massimo Clarke, 2010

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Massimo Clarke is an Italian version of Cycle World's Kevin Cameron. Clarke has several motorcycle books to his name, was the technical editor of Motosprint, and is currently a Director for Assomotoracing. (If you can figure out what this organization does, please explain.) Clarke's grasp of technology is excellent and his ability to quickly describe the function, advantages and disadvantages, and evolution of machines and their parts is why this book is worth reading. The photographs and illustrations, on the other hand, are what make Modern Motorcycle Technology fun to look at and browse through.

For me, this was not a cover-to-cover read. Instead, I skipped around to read about subjects that interested me at the moment; starting with "Intake and Exhaust." I followed that with going back to the beginning for "Engine Design" and "Structure and Function." While I have a decent basic understanding of internal combustion engine operation, there is no subtlety to what I know. When I'm troubleshooting, "suck, squeeze, bang, and blow" is about all the theory I use to stumble my way through solving engine problems. Clarke's detailed explanation of how the myriad of engine systems work and how the various one, two, three, and four cylinder configurations provide power, reduce vibration and instability, control heat, convert fuel to energy, and how design engineers compensate for the weaknesses of the basic design they have chosen was worth the price of the book. There are useful descriptions of the reliability sacrifices several engine designs make in the hunt for superior performance.

If you ever wanted to know what manufacturing processes were used for the various parts of your motorcycle, this book is for you. If you're interested in more than surface-level motorcycle metallurgy, fuel system chemistry, and frame and suspension geometry and physics, this book is for you. If you want to know the real effect of exhaust and intake modifications on the design intention of your motorcycle, Clark has a whole chapter just for you. Transmission? Exhaust emissions? Frame geometry? Suspension parts? Wheels and tires? Electronic components? It's all there and with enough detail to provide a decent background on how each of these bike bits works.

I can't decide if I'm going to keep my copy of Modern Motorcycle Technology in the bathroom/library or in the garage. It's good recreational reading, but it's also detailed enough to be useful as reinforcement to my service and owner's manuals, when I'm stuck troubleshooting some unusual problem. I might need two copies.

Oct 27, 2014

#79 Who Will Claim the Body?

[If you've been following the "re-publication of my old GWAG columns for MMM in this blog, you'll know that I put this article on the blog a good 1 1/2 years ago. I could be dead now, but I still have a few more old article scheduled to be published on this blog because of Google Blogger's cool scheduling feature. My wife was particularly freaked out by my having noted that I was so far ahead of my life in the blog that I could, literally, become my own ghost writer anytime in the future. If that makes you nervous, this article is particularly ghoulish.]

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

"Bring out your dead."

Recently, I pissed off a collection of street riders by making the assertion that no matter how you crash, you own some part of the responsibility. Like a newly converted hooker, I'm often guilty of coming off too piously convinced that "accidents" are rarely accidental. One of the folks I pissed off replied, "You sound like one of the MSF instructors I've heard about that bought the farm despite their years of experience and expertise."

That comment reminded me of watching an old guy with cancer answer a young nurse's lifestyle questions. When she asked if he'd been a smoker, he replied, "For a couple of years, when I was in my twenties." She quickly checked the box that attributed some component of his mortal illness to cancer sticks. He objected, but she ignored him. After the nurse left, he listed a string of things that were more likely causes for his cancer: such as 1940s farm chemicals, Korean War chemical weapons and radioactive materials, the industrial chemicals from his manufacturing jobs, his twenty-year-career as a mechanic and the associated time spent with asbestos brake components, and "all the crap they put in food these days." A couple of years as an occasional smoker seems pretty mild compared to the stuff most of us have been exposed to during our lives. George Shaw wrote, "It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics." I'm unconvinced.

I'm more impressed by people who actually understand the flaws and misleading characteristics of statistics. Even the sloppy common language use of statistical terms, such as "most" and "everyone," are evidence of poor statistical sophistication. Most everyone appears to be "moved by statistics," but most of us move in the wrong direction. Last year's NHTSA stats demonstrated that a motorcycle injury or fatality occurs every 125,000 miles. In my case, if I do "buy the farm" on a motorcycle, I'm not sure that will say much about the fallacies in my late-life attempt at a safe motorcycling philosophy. For one, I'm riding toward 400,000 miles on a motorcycle, not counting 15 years of off-road riding before I bought my first street-legal bike. I've long since passed a million automotive miles, including a five year period of driving a commercial vehicle 100k/year. So far, the most dangerous place for my motorcycle has been in my garage, where at least two brake levers and one clutch lever have lost their lives. My wife has made the garage a statistical hazard for our cars. So, what exactly will my buying the farm on a motorcycle prove? Sooner or later, something is going to get me. It's not like I've made myself a small target.

In my manufacturing career, I was regularly exposed to (read "swimming in") trichloroethylene, carbon tetrachloride, all varieties of alcohol, acrylic lacquer thinner, methyl ethyl ketone, acetone, and practically every hydrocarbon ever compounded as a propellant, solvent, or paint. I have inhaled large quantities of asbestos, fiberglass, mineral wool, and all of the crap used to protect, cure, and laminate modern wood products. For the first 20 years of my working life, practically no one thought twice about wearing a simple cotton face mask as protection for any of these hazardous materials. In fact, I've only worked for one company in 40+ years that bothered to provide employees with Material Safety Data information. Every face mask or filter I've ever worn, I bought myself. You might think OSHA has been overprotective of employees, but I think they've been non-existent for all of my career. I lived next to a lead plant, a packing plant and, for most of my Midwestern life, was regularly surrounded by cattle feedlots. Motorcycling has been considerably safer than working and not much more dangerous than staying home.

All my life, I have suffered with asthma, allergies, and a tendency to turn any cold or flu into bronchitis or pneumonia. Since I turned 18, every chest x-ray is followed by a "how long have you been a smoker?" question from my doctors. I did smoke, for two weeks, when I was 19. After the initial high, it seemed pointless to spend money on a drug that barely returned my consciousness to normal, so I quit. I am a "child of the sixties" and, if I were inclined toward chemical addiction, I'd pick a much better chemical than nicotine. Until the late 80s, every work or recreational environment was a smoking environment. For forty years, my living room was the only "non-smoking" facility to which I could escape. I've inhaled every kind of second-hand smoke, from cigars and cigarettes to burning buildings and smog-spewing factories. Nothing portrayed in the Blues Brothers (I or II) was in any way more miserable than the places my bands played. I once picked a drummer solely for his ability to throw a broken drum stick like a knife with barely a click lost in the beat. Up until this past couple of years, I never imagined a smoke-free would exist in my lifetime.

Genetically, I'm in pretty poor statistical shape. My mother died of cancer when she was 34. I'm the oldest living male on my mother's side of the family, for three generations; our poor longevity is all due to cardiac failure and strokes. I've been mostly pleasantly surprised at every one of my birthdays since I turned thirty. I drink coffee and whiskey, sometimes together. I eat anything that grows, crawls, swims, floats, or walks on four feet. I'm the essential American; overweight, under-exercised, and over-stressed.

I'm a bit of a "risk-taker." Since I was 15, I've ridden motorcycles, on and off-road-and-track, fast and, sometimes, carelessly. I've bungee-jumped, rock-climbed, packed into a good bit of the American wilderness, scuba-dived to 175 feet, snorkeled with sharks. I've swam, kayaked, and canoed lakes and river rapids and both of our oceans. I've hitchhiked across a good part of the west, bicycled-commuted Los Angeles and raced down mountain goat trails, hung out with bikers and musicians, got married at 19, raised teenagers and baby-sit my grandkids. Most of those "dangerous" activities I do solo, even the ones that usually require a buddy-system. I have an allergy to groups, even groups of two. It's pretty likely that whatever thing that kills me will do so when I'm all alone. Some people believe that being alone is the biggest risk of all. Most days, I can't get anywhere near enough solitude.

I am totally capable of spacing out in the midst of any activity or crisis. I incessantly daydream and that is something that safe motorcycling does not tolerate. I hear and see more songs and stories in my imagination than all of Hollywood has put into movies. Most likely, what ever activity I'm engaged in when that fatal moment occurs, the most accurate COD will be inattention.

You want to blame a motorcycling crash for my demise? You want points for a piece of my mortal action? Get in line. I'm like the Simpsons' Mr. Burns; every one of my diseases, habits or activities is finely balanced against the rest and a puff of air from a butterfly's wings could trigger a total meltdown of my survival systems. Big deal, I'm going riding.

April 2009

Oct 22, 2014

A Logical Conclusion

1021motorcyclist California’s Office of Traffic Study looked at lane splitting for a year and concluded “the practice is no more dangerous than motorcycling in general, if the rider is traveling at speeds similar to or only slightly faster than the surrounding traffic.” The Sacramento Bee did a pretty good review of this study called, “Motorcycle lane-splitting study finds: the more speed, the more danger.” The article and study found that “Lane-splitting in California appears to be on the rise. The state Office of Traffic Safety study found 62 percent of motorcyclists say they lane-split on both freeways and other roads, a 7.5-percentage-point increase over 2013. Seventy-five percent of riders between the ages of 18 and 24 report they lane-split on all roads, including freeways. Notably, the survey found that motorcyclists were splitting lanes at slightly slower speeds and in slightly slower traffic than the year before.” The last part surprises me and is encouraging. Maybe California’s motorcyclists are beginning to wise up a little. If they do, it will be to the benefit of all of us. Lane splitting and filtering are the single most important issue that makes motorcycle commuting beneficial.

As in most areas, the US lags the world here and we appear to be going backwards rather than forward. If you think your right to illegally and obnoxiously loud pipes is more important than lane splitting, you are the problem. You’re not part of the problem, you are the problem and motorcyclists everywhere should join with the rest of society and give you the finger when you rattle and blast your plodding way along public roads.

Oct 20, 2014

#78 Crashing Cold

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

A friend, who wrote a book about motorcycle crashes and what the rest of us can learn from the mistakes of those who will admit to falling down, once asked a few riders to send him an accounting of their favorite trip to the hospital. Since I quit racing dirt bikes, I've been mostly without anything interesting to report. That doesn't mean that I've been especially cautious, competent, or any other c-word that implies something positive about my riding habits. It mostly means that I've been lucky. In my twenty-year street riding career, I've ridden while suffering hypo and hyperthermia, I've pushed on for hundreds of miles when I should have found a place to park and warm up or cool down, and I’ve risked life and limb with impaired riding skills due to temperature.

Mostly, it has been cold weather that caused me the most risk. I do not ride well when I’m cold. One of the keys to riding smoothly is to be relaxed at the bars. That becomes especially critical when your tires are cold, the road is unpredictably slick from rain or spots of frozen water, and when visibility is reduced. You can only shake out the tension so many times, to get some level of flexibility back into your arms and legs when you are freezing. Sooner, rather than later, you need to get warm or you risk crashing and getting hurt. Getting hurt when you are cold feels even worse than when you aren’t freezing your nuts off.

I used to play dirt biker year-round. When I lived in Texas and Nebraska, I raced all season and played racer all winter. A few years before that, in Kansas, I raced in the summer and commuted on the same bike (a 250cc Harley Sprint) six days a week to work and school. I moved from Nebraska to California by Honda CX500 in late March, 1983. My family followed, by train, a few months later. Sometimes it seems that I’ve ridden more miles cold than comfortable. The older I get, the less inclined I am to put in long, cold miles. I suck at it, so I’m learning not to do it.

Not long after I moved to California, a friend from Colorado wanted to do a tour of the Golden State. We planned to meet at an undetermined campground in Yosemite and start our adventure from there. As usual, I didn’t escape from work until dark. As usual, I hadn’t planned the trip any further than picking a spot and a general time when I was supposed to be at that destination. I rolled the CX into heavy traffic on I405 and headed north until I had to choose between going the fast route, I5, in boring commuter traffic and the scenic route, California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway along one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world. Even with my messed up “schedule,” I picked PCH and left the traffic. North of Santa Barbara you leave the L.A. atmosphere and California turns into “California.” The air is breathable, the natives are less restless, the scenery is incredible, and gas is expensive.

Without a thought in my head, beyond driving toward point B, I followed the highway with the setting sun supplying a reader’s light, falling just over my left shoulder. Until it got dark, just a few miles before I made it to San Luis Obispo, my trip was progressing better than I could have imagined. My usual travel habit is to create my schedule as I go. Somewhere along the road I’d decided that I needed to make it to Carmel that first day of travel. If you know the area, you’ll be noticing by now that my course wasn’t the short route from point A to B. In fact, I practically doubled the necessary miles by putting PCH and Carmel in the travel plan. “Logic be damned, full speed ahead” could be the title for a vacation planning book I might someday write.

Pushing on in the dark and rapidly dropping temperature, I made it to the edge of Big Sur and I was getting cold. The air was wet and cold and a strong wind was blowing from the ocean. I knew it was stupid to be riding through this incredible place in the dark, for scenic reasons, but I had set Carmel in my sights and I was going to make Carmel or die trying.

The Pacific coast had taken a severe weather beating that spring. Much of PCH had washed down the cliffs and I’d been redirected on several non-scenic detours around swept away sections earlier in the day. Big Sur doesn’t offer many options to the state's highway engineers, so quick patches are more practical than detours. Half-frozen, tired, and stupid, I whipped around a mountain curve to discover one of those quick repairs; an off-camber, gravel and broken asphalt section of road, bordered by a large pile of rocks on both sides. No way was I going to make this corner. I came into it way too hot, in poor position, and with limited skills. I was too cold to control the tension in my arms, so instead of pushing the bike as far into the corner as I could, I wasted my remaining strength pitting my left arm against my right arm. I headed for the pile of rocks furthest from the ocean, only partially intentionally.

The CX500 was my first street bike, since I’d stripped down a 1963 Harley Sprint to make it into a ¼ mile scrambler. I sucked on asphalt, but I had twenty years of off-road riding under my belt. Highways I didn’t know, rocks I did. When you are in a panic situation, conscious decisions get put away for better moments. Panic reactions are either controlled by practice or fight-or-flight. Without thinking about the kind of bike I was riding, I straightened up the bike, scrubbed off as much speed as I could before the front wheel hit the first rock, stood up on the pegs, got my weight as far back as my soft saddle bags and stubby legs would allow, and got back on the little twin's gas. A fraction of a second later, I was stopped at the end of the line of rocks, wondering what had happened and how I managed to be in that spot undamaged.

When I started back up, the bike was incredibly noisy and it handled weirdly. I rode for a mile or two until I spotted a grassy outcropping overlooking the ocean, pitched my tent, and crawled into my sleeping bag to shiver uncontrollably until I drifted into sleep. Five hours later, I struggled out of the tent and examined my bike. The exhaust headers were flattened and the mufflers were ripped from their clamps and pulled back about 2” from the end of the headers. My centerstand was busted to bits and the stand’s mount was smashed and ripped from the frame. The oil filter was dented, but not leaking. The bottom of the engine was scarred, but not busted. The front wheel was no longer round, the Comstar’s rim was intact, but one of the rivets that attached the hub to the wheel support was missing. The tire held air. The rear tire was gouged up, badly, but it appeared to be functional (that assessment would cause serious problems for me a thousand miles later). A couple of lower frame bolts were sheared off. Pretty much, the bottom side of the bike looked like it had been drug across a pile of rocks.

I removed the centerstand, cobbled the exhaust together with wire and snot, installed a new filter and oil (dirtbikers carry spares), and wobbled into Carmel, wounded and reprimanded. Carmel is too small to have a bike shop and too snooty to give a crap, so I kept riding until I got to Monterey. I found a Honda shop, bought some parts (including a new front wheel and centerstand from a recently rear-ended CX customer), and did my repair work in the shop’s driveway. The Honda mechanic even loaned me some tools and helped me straighten my exhaust headers enough to make a fair muffler seal with the new clamps. A welding shop cut off the old centerstand bits and installed a makeshift replacement. Six hours later, I was on my way to Yosemite.

I survived my first half-frozen street incident. I managed to learn next-to-nothing from the experience and put myself in similar situations several times in the next twenty years, but I’m beginning to realize that I am never going to be a good cold weather rider and I compensate, a little, for that disability. Now, when I can’t relax my arms, I take that as a sign that I’m too cold to ride and start looking for a motel or campground. It’s been too many years since I actually rode on rocks on purpose and I’m sure my panic reactions are less conditioned than they were on that trip. I don’t want to test myself, so we’ll just have to assume that is true.

March 2009

Oct 18, 2014

Hoping to be on the Move

Still wrestling with Wells Fargo Bank on our new house in Red Wing. With a memory about as long and clear as a mosquito’s, Americans tend to forget the incompetence with which US banks mismanaged property just 5 years ago. I’m getting another reminder this month. Wells Fargo appears to be unable to locate the title for the foreclosed house we’re buying. So, they’re putting off the closing until they get their shit together or can’t. We won’t know which it will be for at least another week. In the meantime, we’re bagging up our possessions, selling stuff, giving away stuff, throwing away stuff, and generally operating under the assumption that we’re going to be moving . . . somewhere yet this year.

Nissan Frontier w-bike (1)One bright light, so far this year, has been getting rid of the Winnebago and, last month, replacing it with a Nissan pickup. The proof is in the miles and we don’t have a lot yet, but so far so good. Nissan manages to get more torque and horsepower out of 4L than pretty much anyone. On top of that, Nissan is (was) the last Japanese manufacturer to put a manual transmission (a six-speed, yet) in a 4L six. You can still get a 5-speed in a little 4-cylinder, but the bigger the truck the less competent the manufacturers think the drivers are. So, we went for a low-mileage, 2008 4-door Kingcab. It cost more than I wanted to spend, but Nissan and Toyota trucks are like that. I hope we discover why.

Two weeks into ownership and I installed a Class III hitch, the electrical tow package, figured out a ramp system for the WR, and managed to disable the godawful Viper security system. The next project will be taking the damn thing out and returning the truck to stock Nissan wiring; or as close as I can get it to that. Unlike most of the used motorcycles I’ve bought, the only non-stock bullshit on the pickup is a grossly overpriced Pioneer GPS/Stereo/Bluetooth phone system and the Viper crap. 
I suppose the security system came after the previous owner bought a $1,000 stereo system.

Someday, I’d like to sit quietly and listen to someone explain how a stereo system that does not provide one watt more power, the slightest improvement in frequency response, or any useful new feature over the stock system provides more value. Cars depreciate astoundingly quickly. In 5 years, this vehicle lost almost $18k in value; not counting the likely interest, additional insurance, and maintenance costs (to ensure factory warranty coverage). That’s nothing compared to the “entertainment system,” though. New price on this silly piece of electronics was a grand and, today, you can buy the same system new in the package for $250 and used for about $150. Pioneer, not exactly a leader in GPS technology, stopped making update disks (Yeah, the GPS disk has to be in the player for the system to work. It has no significant internal memory. Dumb, huh?) for this unit in 2012. Not that long ago, consumers realized that buying console home entertainment systems was a dumb bet. Putting a television, stereo system, tape deck, turntable, CD player, and speakers into one giant box was a fool’s way to buy electronic gear that had a variety of MTBF expectations. Car owners appear to have yet to learn that lesson.

Nissan Frontier w-bike (2) Now that the stereo system is practically worthless, the bug-factory security system is overkill. As a manual transmission vehicle, we already have a tiny bit of built-in theft insurance. At least the car will be near-impossible to drive away for joy-riding kids.

This sort of With all of the yap you hear about how auto-piloted cars are going to eliminate the “joy of driving,” it’s entertaining to learn that manual transmission sales have declined from 34.6% of car sales in 1980 to 3.8% in 2010. If you really want to be a driver, controlling the engine speed to road speed relationship is baseline. If using a clutch and shifting is more driving complexity than you like, you’re not really a driver. You’re a glorified passenger, probably distracted by silly electronic crap right up to the moment you run over a motorcyclist.

None of this is new territory. Way back on #90 (Too Dumb to Scoot), I came to the conclusion that I am too dumb to take scooters seriously. The automatic transmission is a big part of that. Reducing the riding requirement to hanging on to the handlebars and twisting the throttle pretty much turned riding into boredom for me. Maybe I should install an unpredictable security system on a scooter to see if that livens things up a bit? Maybe mount an entertainment center on the handlebars?

Oct 16, 2014

A Low Risk Generation?

There is a lot of talk about how the Gen-X, Gen-Y, etc kids are low risk takers. I have a different take on that. I think the human race is splitting, again, into haves and have-nots. We've decided, at least in the US, that we want a country with a tiny number of insanely rich people and a huge number of uneducated, underprivileged, mostly incarcerated poor people. The cost to the upper-middle and upper classes is that their spoiled brats are terrified of their own shadows and have about as much chance of survival in any sort of stressful conditions as cotton-candy in the rapids of the Colorado River. I doubt that the world is in any danger of losing risk-takers, they're just going to come from other places. Americans, on average, are conservative ("holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation"). If any part of that definition looks courageous to you, you're part of the problem. Don't worry, though. Survival requires risk (No, that doesn't mean an ability to carelessly gamble with other people's money, moron.) and the species will either take risks and survive or not. The planet and the universe will continue to evolve with or without us.

Here, for example, is a video about some asskicking risk takers.

the US, t

Oct 15, 2014

Good Advice from another Source

Imagine this, solid motorcycle advice from a website called WallStreetCheatSheet.com, "6 Motorcycles that Make 250cc Fun on the Cheap." Author Eric Schaal is dead on the money and a whole lot smarter than about 90% of the motorcycle press.

Oct 13, 2014

#77 On Being Alone

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

"I gotta hand it to you. I couldn't ride 6,000 miles across country by myself." I've heard that a few times, but I haven't been able to explain how untrue that assumption is. There isn't a place in the country where you can be alone for long. In fact, as Ted Simon said at the Very Boring Rally II this summer, "You aren't alone anywhere you go on this planet." There are people everywhere and they are, mostly, pretty friendly and helpful. Sometimes, they are a little too interested in what you are doing, where you are going, and why you are going those places and doing that stuff.

For example, I was riding in the Yukon last summer with a friend when I managed to get blown backwards and crash on the Dempster Highway. My riding buddy was about 1/2 mile ahead of me and managing his own problems. So, by the time he discovered I wasn't inhaling his dust I had picked myself and my bike up, patched up the busted stuff, and was ready to struggle my way back to asphalt when he showed up. About the same time, a trucker stopped and offered to satellite phone for help. Of course, if I had slid off of the road into the permafrost nobody would have found me or the bike when we sunk into the muck.

My favorite example was in Montana on a dirt road to a microscopic place called Helmsville. The road to Helmsville is between a two-lane highway from nowhere to another two-lane to the grand village of Lincoln, MT. The road is paved for the first few hundred yards, turns to loosly packed clay punctuated with sections of deep gravel and sand. There were no signs that anyone had driven County Road 271 since the last wind or rain storm, not a track in the gravel. About 50 miles into this adventure, I needed to stop and relieve my bladder. I found an abandoned corral with an even more abandoned outhouse outside the gate. The outhouse floor was collapsed, so I chose to water the weeds by the door. About the time I got an unstoppable stream flowing, a flatbed full of high school girls drove by, waving and whooping, "Yooo-whooo!"

I'm pretty sure they'd have stopped to rescue me, if I'd have needed rescuing. As it was, they kept moving without asking about my well-being or vehicle status. I don't blame them. I wasn't even secure enough in my position to wave back.

Later that summer, my wife and I were on a 40th anniversary trip around the Iron Range and points surrounding that territory. We were on a dirt road detour around the construction on MN Highway 1 to Ely, when I discovered a cool two-track path to a hidden lake. We dirt biked our way down the path to where it dead-ended at a picture perfect lake. It was absolutely quiet; again, no signs of any other vehicle having been on the path. We enjoyed the lake and the privacy for a half-hour or so. Before we headed back to the main road, I decided to get rid of the morning's coffee. Once again, at the point of no return, a couple wrangled their pickup and boat trailer down the road and headed down the path to my watering hole.

I'm telling you, there is no such thing as a place to be alone on this continent. Anywhere you go, someone is there to share the planet with you. You might as well travel without food, tools, clothing, or shelter. While they are in your space, you might as well borrow something from them. At least ask for spare change. I know I can't go anywhere without someone asking me for money, why should you be any different? If you really get insecure, feeling alone in the world, whip it out and relieve yourself. If your luck is anything like mine, a truck full of high school girls will be along any minute.

On a motorcycle, you're pretty much by yourself as long as you are rolling. No matter how many folks there are in your "rolling bowling pin" traveling configuration, nobody but you is in control of your bike. Assuming you are in control, that is. Once you get off of the bike, though, it's harder to find privacy than it is to instigate an intelligent conversation in Missouri. 300 million citizens in the US amounts to about 85 people per square mile. Eliminate Alaska's 1.16 person per square mile ratio and that state's 572,000 square miles and the nation's grazing ratio is 101 people per square mile. That's a lot of people for every 640 acres; one of us for every 6.4 acres in fact.

Being "alone" is a relative thing. Simply being outside of your neighborhood is a long ways from alone. Not being able to hear the rumble of traffic doesn't mean you are out of the reach of civilization or humanity. A bonus that comes with traveling alone is that you are almost forced to make new acquaintances and friends. If you let yourself get into the traveler mode, you will meet people you'd have never known about if you had stayed home.

Being alone is probably scary. I wouldn't know, I've only been to places where I'm surrounded by other people; as few as 1.16 of them per mile2 in Alaska and as dense as more than 500 per square mile in the eastern states and way more than that in the cities. Since man is the "most dangerous animal," being alone is probably safer than being surrounded by people. Still, sometimes it's comforting to know that anywhere I go I have the opportunity to be part of a community, if only temporarily. Starting off by myself means that I get to chose where and when those opportunities happen. That's as alone as I can get.

Winter 2008

Oct 12, 2014

Why I Hate Kids

MSF ERC: Is there a point?

yamirider's Avatar

yamirider Slowpoke: “My dad REALLY wants me to take it. Will it really help me? From what I've heard its nothing but low speed maneuvers. He wants me to do it in the name of keeping me alive.
”Of course better control of your motorcycle is only going to help, but I'm not that worried about breaking both my legs and getting paralyzed by a little 5mph incident.”

Followed by lots of good advice by some really smart people about how taking the course would make his father happy (Point 1), provide the little douchebag with a few basic skills that might save his pitiful life (Point 2), provide an opportunity to discover something useful about the motorcycle in a safe environment with experienced riders explaining motorcycle safety (Point 3), and if his father bought the bike the little moron is obligated to do whatever the hell Dad says if he wants to play with his massively inappropriate toy (a Suzuki SV650).

Brat boy’s response to this good advice was:

yamirider Slowpoke:

“First off, I paid for half of this bike.
”Now, here is the thing I'm worried about:
”I've ridden 2 miles on my SV...and that was during the test ride. My dad hasn't let me ride it 2 feet since I've gotten it home. I'm not used to it at all. I don't want to go take the MSF where I'm supposed to put my bike through its low-speed paces and possibly crash and rash it up. (it has ONE scratch on it right now)
”I mean, is that a legitimate concern?
”I've heard of people crashing before during MSF thats why I'm worried.”


The very first response to this spoiled douchebag’s bullshit was:

“If you're afraid you're gonna crash in an ERC, you've got no business being on the street.
”Think about what you posted. You think you're too good or too experienced to derive any benefit from the class, but you're afraid those simple maneuvers are going to make you crash?

“I too, have nothing of value to add to this thread...”

Me either, other than I’d put money on the odds that Slowpoke put that scratch on his bike dropping it in the garage or driveway. I bought my 1999 SV650 from a douchebag just like him, in 2000. The spoiled little creep’s mommy bought him the bike practically the day SV’s showed up in his local dealership. Smartass put a Two Brother’s asshole pipe on the bike and fucked with the air filter and air box, dropped the bike in his driveway, and bawled until Mommy bought him a new 4WD Toyota. He was selling the SV to get money for loud pipes on the Toyota. I paid $2,000 for a slightly-scratched 1999 SV with about 300 miles on the odometer. I was afraid to ask where the 300 miles came from, but the bike turned out to be like-new and lasted me a good long while before I sold it.

Luckily, most of the kids I see in motorcycle safety classes are not blatantly like yamirider Slowpoke. They might be that much of a jackass under their usual sullen teenager facade, but at least 90% of them make an effort to hide their assholyness. Of the 90%, a good bit more than 50% actually seem to enjoy the experience and are consistently the best riders I get to work with. Still, as a Geezer and a parent, I fuckin’ hate kids. Slowpoke reminds me why.

Now, back to researching the history of the ERC.

Oct 9, 2014

Hipster Biking

hipster biker2In the end-of-season letter to Minnesota motorcycle trainers, Bill Shaffer noted, “While the final numbers are not in, it looks like we’ll train fewer students than last year, and with the number of registered motorcycles falling last year for the first time since 1995, I think we’ll be training 5,000 to 6,000 students a year for a number of years to come. Also, a lot of the baby boomer generation is getting to that age where they may not start riding if they haven’t already done so, and a number of their kids, the ‘boomlet’ generation, are trading motorcycling in for mortgages and families. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I don’t think we’ll see the big number of students, that we did six to ten years ago, for some time.” I, sort of, hope Bill is right, since I need to find someone from the “boomlet” generation to buy my Little Canada house. Mostly, though, that generation is not buying much of anything but expensive coffee, lots of booze, video games, and cool clothing at over-priced second hand stores.

hipster biker

Very possibly the hippest guy I know. Mr. McNally on his hipped-out CX500.

When I first got back from New Mexico I had a head-full of the stuff a fellow camper had told me about the motorcycle and vehicle industry. He is a semi-retired ex-Motorcyclist, Cycle World, Powersports, etc writer and editor. Like a lot of RV-ers, he never volunteered his name and, in kind, I never asked. Darwin Holmsted and I think we know who he is/was, but I suck at facial identification and pictures almost never tell me much. This retired writer and I spent a lot of mornings between the campground shower and our respective campers talking about where the industry/business/sport had been and where it was going. When we weren’t talking about that, he had a good time describing his perspective on my comedic deep sand riding experiences from the previous day. He had a DL1000 in tow behind his Class B camper, but I never saw it unhitched. I attempted one picture of his rig next to our at Elephant Butte and another camper rolled past right when I hit the digital shutter. I took another when he was “camped” in a neighborhood in TorC and I can’t find that one anywhere, now. His camper and trailer both had California plates. That’s all I have for identification.

Anyway, he was full of doom-and-gloom from the industry side of the rider/driver equation. None of it was stuff that he was ever allowed to write about because the industry thinks happy talk will sell vehicles. So far, it's not working.

To the majority of this crowd, the important thing about motorcycling getting a good picture of yourself “riding.” This is an excellent example of pretend-riding. I’m sure this kid’s riding career peaked at this moment.

To sum it up, there are at least a couple of current and upcoming generations that are about as interested in owning/driving/riding vehicles as they are in buying CDs or any kind of music, going to movie theaters, owning homes, playing musical instruments, doing manual labor, etc. A lot of things that previous generations took for granted as "necessary skills" are solidly untrendy. Motorcycling is one. Owning a car is another.

I know a few hipsters who proudly bought a 70's or 80's motorcycle, spray painted it black, got pictures of themselves on the bike in tight black pants, designer leather, and an 80's open face helmet and put the bike back in the garage indefinately. It's all about image. You don't have to actually ride to maintain the image, just repost your picture on Facebook occasionally. I’m sure I’ll hear the usual suspects whining about my disrespect of their lifestyle. When you’re right, you’re right. I do, in fact, have little damn respect, tolerance, or interest in the lifestyles of the chronically boring, wealthy, sullen, idle hipsters of any generation. Always have, always will.

Moto_Guzzi_V7_Racer-IMG_0673In an academic paper titled, “Marketing to the Generations,” the authors stated, “Baby Boomers are [were] a good market for travel, adventure vacations, expensive restaurant meals, second homes, recreational vehicles, maintenance-free homes, personal chefs, personal trainers, motorcycles, and financial advisors.” There were no such claims for “good market” of anything for either Gen-X or Gen-Y. In fact, the paper mostly discussed the media most likely to “reach” those two groups without any positive indication that once a marketer had found his target market they would be interested in or able to buy any significant products. It is legitimate to classify Boomers as a marketer’s wet dream. We are a bunch of silly suckers. I have a really hard time imagining aging X-gens populating smelly, noisy, ugly casinos.

Oct 6, 2014

#76 Hearing Damage and Motorcycling

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

It's tough to talk about technical things without technical language. So this article is going to be burdened with technical terms and other debris that can't be avoided. If thinking makes your head hurt, you may want to move on to another page.

A lot of motorcyclists suffer from tinnitus; "a noise in the ears such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, or clicking." My generation, the Boomers, is experiencing a higher rate of hearing damage than our parents suffer at their more advanced age and the generation following us is even worse hit by hearing loss. The reason is noise exposure.

You may wish to blame sinus infections, being dropped on your head as a baby, or bad luck for your tinnitus, but the real reason is probably your long term exposure to excessive noise. Even worse, your tinnitus was probably caused by exposure you could have prevented if you'd have cared about your hearing when you were younger. "If I'd have known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself," sayeth (said-eth?) vintage rocker Al Kooper.

Motorcycling is a particularly abusive activity, as far as your hearing is concerned. If you are one of the "loud pipes save lives" crowd, you are probably a charter member of the "what did you say" group. Even by OSHA's conservative, obsolete, and employer-friendly standards, the kinds of noise levels we expose ourselves to riding motorcycles is beyond the harmful levels and into the "are you crazy?" territory. Good old mommy OSHA only grants our employers a "maximum allowable duration per day" of 1/2 hour at 110dBSPL (Sound Pressure Level) before hearing protection is required. OSHA "weights" that noise level with an "A-filter," which reduces the measured low and high frequency content, which would be appropriate for low level signals (under 55dBSPL unweighted) but is an improper use of the filter for high level signals. The original 1940's source for the OSHA standards, NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), has continued evaluating this hazard and now says that "exposure for any duration" to sound pressure levels above 106dBSPL (unweighted) "may pose a serious health risk"

Inside a full face helmet, behind a moderate windshield, at 70mph, my noise measurement equipment says that I'm exposed to about 110dBSPL (C-weighted or mostly-unfiltered, for the technically inclined). These numbers have been confirmed by other test and measurement sources, but you're welcome to test your own gear. I'll even help if you don't mind riding your motorcycle for a few miles with small microphones stuck in your ears. Riding without a helmet and without hearing protection exposes your ears to sound pressure variations very near the levels of the loudest rock and roll concert you've ever attended; add loud pipes to that and you are probably venturing into uncharted territory.

The folks with the biggest noise exposure problem are probably those who ride big twins. After stripping off the manufacturer's already noisy pipes, these riders often add chrome exhaust farkles that boost the bike's low frequency (LF) noise output substantially. This, supposedly, compensates for the lack of actual power with the illusion of power; more noise. The problem with low frequency (below 150Hz) signals is that they pass through most acoustic obstacles (including your head) relatively unattenuated. Those LF signals cause all sorts of hearing mechanism damage. If this wave motion is strong enough (the signal is loud enough), it rips the cilia (hair-like structures inside the cochlea) from the inner lining causing loss of sensing at the frequency band previously measured by that cilia. Maybe more often, the noise just "flattens" those sensors so that they are less sensitive. This loss of sensing results in a neurological feedback loop that causes tinnitus. If enough cilia are damaged, you may hear a constant roaring or multiple ringing tones. Pete Townshend (songwriter and guitarist for The Who) described his tinnitus as having progressed into sounding like a constant "loud metallic waterfall." Your tinnitus may not be that bad, but it could get worse.

If you're looking to blame someone else for your tinnitus, you are a true American. However, you're probably stuck with either your parents to blame or yourself. The overwhelming majority of hearing defects are noise-related, but some of us have inherited our hearing sensitivity or defects. A life of sinus infections is probably not the cause of tinnitus, but the allergy medications you've taken could be. Other medications can also cause hearing damage and tinnitus.

Lots of us suffered hearing loss from 1960-70s pre-OSHA industrial noise exposure and some of us added to that with motorcycles and music and other bad habits. The problem with trying to overwhelm your tinnitus with more noise is that you are causing more hearing damage and even more tinnitus. I sympathize with that maddening noise you’re hearing, but trying to kill it with noise is self-defeating. If that constant noise bothers you during a distracting activity like riding, how do you sleep? If you move that constant noise from background to the loudest thing in the room won’t that be much worse? Eventually, you'd think that we might begin to pay attention to Al Kooper's warning about taking better care of ourselves in case we have to deal with the consequences later.

In the last decade, there have been a lot of studies on noise and biological noise effects. I don’t think this is something we should take lightly. We (as motorcyclists) are on the leading edge of a coming noise pollution reduction movement. In many urban areas, motorcycles are one of the most identifiable and prominent noises. Noise is making us, as a country and species, dumber and less civilized. Lots of countries are realizing this and attacking noise sources with science and legislation. Sometimes I suspect that in the US we may be too damaged to make much progress on this front, but that isn’t a good thing for our future.

On a personal level, I think you should consider wearing hearing protection when you ride (regardless of your exhaust output) and I would be very cautious about the noise levels you are suffering when you listen to music while you ride. If you wouldn't listen to music at that volume in your living room, you shouldn't be putting up with it while you ride. My wife's argument is "if it hurts to hear, it hurts your ears." Like most of our critical organs, the sensitive parts of your hearing are not repairable. If you overuse it, you will lose it. That is true for political clout, too.

MMM October 2008

All of the stuff that is technically correct in this article was thoughtfully edited and amended by Sarah Angerman of the University of Minnesota's Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Department. All of the errors are my own.

Oct 4, 2014

Another Geezer or Just Another Rider with A Grudge?

I think I love this guy, Damon Lavrinc, and this article, "Why No One Will Sell You The Bike You Want" is so dead-on it hurts, "This isn't intended to be negative or anything, it's just stating the great unstated caveat when it comes to the American motorcycle industry."
  • Combine that with our overwhelming need to overcompensate and you create a market that sees motorcycles as toys. 
  • The Harley idiots (pictured) are all drunk, all the time and refuse to wear helmets.
  • The sport bike tools think their chin strap beards and bright white sneakers endow them with a professional athlete's riding ability and buy those GSX-Rs as first bikes, then quite predictably run them into the first tree off the dealer lot.
  • If you owned a small general contracting firm and a nice man at the bank suddenly told you you could buy any motorcycle you wanted, would you want a nice little runabout or the HOG with the most tassles ever squeezed on two wheels?
  • Where, in most of the rest of the world, governments have imposed tiered licensing for motorcyclists, requiring them to work their way up to riding the big, dangerous bikes, America has always been a total free for all. Here, a 16 year old can perform a couple U-turns in a parking lot on a scooter, hitch a ride from Mom to the local Suzuki dealer and walk out the same day with a Hayabusa.
  • All of a sudden, sportbikes don't sell and, try as they might, Harley's success can't be emulated by the Japanese. Kawasaki logo's just never looked as good on a bandana.
  • . . . the parent companies can't be bothered making the bikes newly-impoverished Americans might be interested in buying. Why would you, when this country only accounts for .66% of your sales?
  • Will you ever ride a motorcycle? Well, it's one of the most life-affirming, time-saving, downright awesomest things you can do, but the people trying to sell you motorcycles would never tell you that, which is a shame. 

Those are just a few of what I considered to be core nuggets in Lavrinc's argument, but you should read the whole article and get a load of how a real marketing guy thinks. (I'd pretty much forgotten that there are marketing guys who DO think.) (Thanks Paul!)

Oct 1, 2014

Now for Something Not All that Different

The Midual Type 1 (that thing on the right) is the latest toy designed for the world's 1%. There are lots of them (toys, that is) so you have to watch closely to see what POS those goofballs are storing in the garages, closets, and warehouses this week. A french company, headed by Oliver Midy, has cobbled together this Ducati-look-alike and is asking a mere 140,000 Euros or £111,790 pounds or $177,628.50 each for the 35 copies of this bike. I'm sure those of you with a couple hundred grand wasting away are going to charge out and gobble up this 106bhp longitudinally-mounted, 1036cc monster (Monstro?) because . . . you can.

The things you get for $200k?
  • 78ft-lb of torque at 5300rpm
  • an aluminium monocoque which, Buell-like, contains the fuel tank 
  • 239kg of pure overpriced sex appeal
  • custom colored and finished leather seat
  • a wooden dash and custom frame finish
  • one-off switch gear, displays, gauges, signal indicators, footrests, brackets and mudguards so when Midy goes bankrupt you'll never have to worry about riding this thing anywhere, since you won't be able to buy replacement parts
  • Brembo calipers 
  • 43mm Ohlins forks
  • a TTX36 Ohlins rear shock
  • adjustable steering head angle
Of course, you could get all of that stuff for a 10th of the price with a Ducati, BMW, MG, or several other bikes. But there would be more than 35 of them and that defeats the purpose, doesn't it?