Feb 26, 2015

We are a bit of a freak show here in Minnesota, aren’t we?

The top two store types in Minnesota are “motorcycle gear” and vinyl records, based on typical interest in those sorts of stores in other states. Battery stores goes without saying in the frozen north. And since we’re housebound for 6-8 months a year, it makes sense that we get knocked up about 250% more often than the rest of the country. And, of course, we aren’t home to the nation’s “Bike City” for nothing. Bicyclists in Minnesota spend a boatload of money trying to stay warm and upright on two frozen wheels.



  1. Motorcycle Gear -- 605 percent higher than national average.
  2. Vinyl Records -- 351 percent higher than national average.
  3. Battery Stores -- 327 percent higher than national average.
  4. Maternity Wear -- 255 percent higher than national average.
  5. Bikes -- 239 percent higher than national average.
  6. Used, Vintage & Consignment -- 239 percent higher than national average.
  7. Music & DVDs -- 235 percent higher than national average.
  8. Newspapers & Magazines -- 227 percent higher than national average.
  9. Thrift Stores -- 222 percent higher than national average.
  10. Hardware Stores -- 213 percent higher than national average.

Feb 23, 2015

#96 Back in the Day

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

When I was a kid, barely into my 20's, I moved to west Texas for one of the worst jobs anyone ever suffered. A pair of the few upsides to that miserable experience was that I discovered new ways to play with motorcycles in one of the biggest motorcycle playgrounds on this continent. And I met Karl.

[My kids were born in that awful place, so at least two other good things happened there. I thought I should mention that.]

Karl was a sixty-something machinist who was a Texas lifer; other than a 3-year aerospace stint as a Lockheed machinist in California during WWII. Karl and his brothers were west Texas motorcycling legends. When he was a kid, between the two world wars, Karl and his four brothers rode Indian Scout v-twins. Back then, there wasn't a decent road between Hereford, Texas and Amarillo, so the boys rode their Scouts cross country. As best they could, they rode straight from their parents' farm to where ever it was they wanted to go in "the big city" and, after doing whatever it was they wanted to do in Amarillo, they rode straight back home. Every day I worked with Karl was spiced with stories of west Texas at the end of the cowboy days; or his adventures in California during the war.

Karl was more than a machinist, as much as that talent is undervalued. He was an inventive mechanic who was as likely to make his own replacement parts as us what the manufacturer's provided. He had a decent, if old fashioned machine shop in his home and turned out all sorts of tools, parts, and marginally-artistic pornographic novelty bits. Working with him gave me practical skills and insight into design and fabrication that was, for a long time, key to my career.

In 1971, Karl still had one of the family Scouts in his "barn," along with a WWI twin-wing fighter plane turned crop-duster, a couple of old Ford coupe hotrods, two 1940's Ford-Ferguson tractors, assorted pieces of obsolete farm equipment, and a late 50's Cadillac Eldorado. Of those possessions, the only ones that were in any sort of usable shape were the airplane and the Indian Scout. I saw him fly the plane, once, after a party at his neighbor's house where he and my boss finished off a pint-and-a-half bottle of Everclear and got into a pissing match over who could do the dumbest thing at that very moment. My boss, Arnold, tore off in his company pickup, bragging that he would bust 100mph before he made it to the highway. Karl ran to the barn and fired up the plane, planning to strafe my boss before he made his destination. There was a gun on the old plane and the chances were pretty good that it still worked, but Karl probably didn't have ammunition for it so Arnold was relatively safe, although he ran the pickup into a ditch on the way back from the main road. Karl didn't manage to do much more than circle his house a few times before he put the plane down in the field behind his house. The next day, he towed the plane back into the garage and I suspect it never moved from that spot for the rest of Karl's life.

Karl's signature moment came after he had a heart attack. He dropped to the ground on a trip to the local hardware store. Paramedics arrived and began CPR. They got him to the hospital barely alive and the ER doc put the paddles on Karl and whacked him several times before his heart restarted. Karl told me that it hurt like hell and that he'd been pretty comfortable with dying before being rudely brought back to Texas and 1973. He told every doc in the hospital, "If you ever do that again, I'll shoot you between your beady little eyes." When he got out of the hospital, he bought a little .32 pistol and kept it in his pocket in case he ever woke up in a hospital again. It's hard to argue with a living will that is enforced by a loaded gun.

A fellow employee, Charlie, a kid who had been a pretty good local motocrosser before he was drafted into the Army in 1972 and went to Vietnam. Charlie came back pretty emotionally and physically damaged in 1974. The last story I head about Karl was he and Charlie had redesigned a Honda street bike that could run on diesel, naphtha, or practically anything that would burn and Charlie was riding all over the remaining open Texas fields and across the state smelling like French fries, an oil stove, or himself. From what I heard, Karl and Charlie had worked out a pretty effective rehabilitation plan.

By the late-70's, I'd lost track of the few Texas friends I wanted to keep. I'd moved my career across three industries in five years and the internet was about 20 years from becoming a useful resource. If he's alive, Karl would be a little over 100 and that seems unlikely. But if he's still around, I bet he is still packing that .32 and scaring the crap out of Texas doctors.

MMM March 2011

Feb 16, 2015

#95 Chasing Ghosts

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

[The whole "ghost" thing reappeared in a different form a few weeks ago. My youngest daughter lives in Texas and, like most Texans, the state has done some damage to her reasoning faculties. Must be the water. Should be the water, the stuff smells like someone pissed in it before it came out of the tap. Anyway, she and her husband are convinced that their 20-year-old house has a "haunted room." My son-in-law thinks of himself as a frustrated entrepreneur, with no actual evidence of the usual spirit for evidence. Oddly, he considers himself to be an atheist, too. (Hint: Atheists don't believe in ghosts or any other paranormal silliness.) When I suggested that he could make a fortune selling tickets to his "haunted room," he drew a blank. Oh well, can't say I didn't try.]

My grandson, Wolfgang, and I rode through 3800 miles of the Black Hills and the Rockies this summer. We took two weeks to travel that distance. We were far from Iron Butters and there was no plan to set any mileage records or work hard enough to impress anyone. We were traveling for the sake of seeing places, meeting people, and being on our own as much as possible. Whenever possible, we stepped off of the main roads and went ghost town hunting. In the Rockies, that's easy prey. There are ghost towns all over the place. If you aren't picky about a few live residents, there are a lot of near ghost towns in South Dakota, too.

We found ourselves on a dirt road on the west edge of the great state of Colorado approaching a husk of a town that I've discovered before, probably 18 years ago. This particular ruin stuck my fancy, way back then, because it had a beautiful stone bank. The back end of the bank was gone, crumbled away like it had been made from dust and the wind had blown it away artfully. The front, however, was almost in perfect shape. I could stand there, looking at that bank, imagining the people who came through those doors, feeling the life that was once in that place. I love ghost towns.

Back in the early 70's, my family lived in central Nebraska and we used and abused the amazing bounty of "limited access" roads north and west of where we lived. We had miles of those roads to explore and my wife and I and many of our friends spent hours and days riding those sandy trails, cut with deep ruts from the occasional tractor and regular erosion. Miles and miles of plains, grasslands, hills, and ranches and farms. Nebraska, like many Midwestern farm states, had a law that prevented farmers from bringing the fences together until a road had been unused for several years. I suspect there weren't a lot of years left for those roads 40 years ago. Twenty feet of farmland, hundreds of miles long, is a lot of profitable acreage and this modern world doesn't tolerate unused natural resources for long.

Before GPS, in a place that wasn't interesting enough for anyone to bother with detailed topological maps, we mostly navigated by asking for directions when we really strayed outside of our known boundaries. Otherwise, we just wandered around until we found some kind of identifiable landmark or highway and made it back to our cars and bike trailers. We got to know those roads well enough that we became pretty confident in our ability to find out way back home from practically anywhere in a 100 square mile area.

One early spring Sunday afternoon, east of Palmer, Nebraska, we found ourselves at the bottom of a steep hill with rain grooves cut so deeply into the road that we paddled out way up the last few feet, scraping the pegs and dragging the frame and engine cases on the edges of the ruts. At the top of the hill, we discovered a small village, abandoned not that long ago, in Hollywood movie set condition. There was a 1950's-looking Sinclair filling station, with the red clock-tower hand crank pumps, thermometer glass fuel inspection window, and white dome lights perched on top of the pump. My uncle ran a station like that back in the 1950's and it stood on the edge of his property until a railroad-caused fire burned down the neighborhood. There was a two-room post office, a small general store, a barber shop, and a half-dozen cottages in livable condition. The dirt road through the middle of town was severely deteriorated, but the structures looked like they'd been abandoned recently. The lawns were just starting to turn green, so they looked cared for. The wooden structures were mostly sound and painted, although the roofs wouldn't pass close inspection. No one had bothered to break the windows or trash the buildings. The little town looked habitable, but it was completely abandoned and had been for a while. The road in, was impassable for anything other than horses or motorcycles.

We spent a little while, looking through windows and testing doors and walking through the buildings that weren't locked up. After a bit, we got back on the bikes, went back down the hill, and continued our weekend exploration. That town has never left my memory. We never managed to figure out where it was, so we never found our way back to the place. No one I knew had any idea what dinky village we'd managed to stumble upon. A short while later, we moved to Omaha and never returned to that area on motorcycles. Every time I find myself in a vanishing village or a completely empty ghost town, I think of that empty village in Nebraska.

Like adventure touring, one of the ideas I love about history and ghost towns is, "You can't get there from here." My father's family all lived in dying Kansas towns. When I was a kid, I spent hundreds of hours exploring abandoned banks, stores, barbershops, newspapers, and homes. I walked, freely, among small crumbling civilizations and read the public news and personal letters of folks who had been gone from those places, from the world, before I was born. Those places are lost in time, slowing decaying back into the raw materials from which they came. The closest you can come to being there is to be there by yourself, imagining the lives and the place when they were fresh and vital. It's not time travel, but it's the closest I can come to it.

Riding a motorcycle to those places provides a connection to the past that could only be beaten on foot, bicycle, or on horseback. I'm too lazy to bike or walk and I'd rather bike or walk than ride a horse, so my motorcycle is the best time machine option. This summer, I was blessed to be able to share my passion with my grandson. Even better, he seemed to be as drawn to the experience as I was when I was his age.

Winter 2010

Feb 15, 2015

How to Know When You Have too Much Money

All you 1%'ers, it's time to put in your bid. Only $17,500 for one of Yamaha's more fragile designs (I had an unwanted side business replacing XT500 top-ends back in the 80's). Remember this little beauty sold for about $1500 when it was knew, unknown, and mildly competitive. So, my title probably should add "and too little sense" to be complete.

Feb 14, 2015

Self-Image vs. Reality

A great little video about the giant space between what motorcyclists thing their motorcyle does for them vs. what it really does.  Ok, that's not what the show as supposed to be about, but . . .

Feb 12, 2015

Motorcycles Are Deadly? Crap.

Motorcycle-Carrying-Cargo-177We’re on the world watch, like a disease: Death Rides a Moto. "The subtitle for this article, in case you didn’t follow the link, is “The world's most pressing public health crisis isn't AIDS or Ebola or malaria -- it's a soaring number of motorcycle fatalities. And it's costing developing countries billions.” In Cambodia, for example, motorcycle crashes represent 67 percent of all road deaths; in Thailand and Laos it has reached a staggering 74 percent." As we know, motorcycles are a tiny fraction of US traffic but a grossly overrepresented 12-20% of fatalities.

We’re at a weird time in world history. In the US, we have a whole generation that is abandoning motor vehicles, in general, not just motorcycles. Car sales are struggling, motorcycle sales are stagnate, about the only thing with wheels that seems to be gaining ground is bicycles. But in the rest of the world, “About 95 million motorcycles will be manufactured this year, compared to 80 million cars. China’s growing middle class accounts for nearly a quarter of the global car market — a breathtaking number — but motorcycles and scooters are rolling off assembly lines and out of showrooms at an even faster rate, with some industry analysts predicting sales of up to 135 million units in 2016.” No wonder Honda barely noticed when motorcycle sales in the US crashed at the beginning of the 2007 Great Recession.

Philippines-Motorcycle-OverShades of the US noise and air pollution problem (and solution), “a number of Chinese cities have banned the bikes from all or part their downtowns for a combination of environmental, traffic flow, and safety concerns.” Even where the public mostly likes motorcycles they are finding ways to force people off of two motorized wheels. Why? “According to World Bank estimates, road crashes are costing the economies of Southeast Asia between 2 and 3.5 percent in annual GPD. Loss of productivity due to death and long-term disability (the overwhelming majority of motorcycle fatalities are male breadwinners), the burden on the health care system and property damage are the main factors . . . road crashes cost the Cambodian economy $337 million last year.” That’s pretty similar to the number I’ve seen attributed to the cost of motorcycle crashes in the US.

There is nothing good for the future of motorcycling in this story. It seems to me that motorcycle manufacturers are a lot like gun manufacturers. They’re balanced on a razor thin edge between corporate profits and massive corporate liability. One smart country putting the blame where it belongs and the whole house of cards will come down.

Feb 9, 2015

#94 Maybe It's Not for You

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

"I put my SV up for sale. My wife and I had a scare on a country road and I decided I'd rather be around or, at least, not in a wheel chair when I have kids. And I realize I'm talking to a great example of the fact that riding can be safe, but it's the things beyond my control that scare me. I have someone stopping by tomorrow to look at it."

So ends the motorcycling adventure of a young man. I meet the 45-60 year old version of this guy in almost every motorcycle class I teach. The "born again" empty nester, recently divorced Baby Boomers who decided they missed something the first time around and, now, want to be a motorcyclist. Honestly, I think the younger guy's odds of survival are better than the older version. We talk about motorcycling being a skill of the eyes and mind, but the fact is it is more than a bit physical and both the eyes and the mind are sharper in youth. It's possible that the improved wisdom of age might compensate for decaying senses and strengths, but I suspect a person whose judgment has substantially improved with age wouldn't consider taking up motorcycling at 55.

As far as the bit about giving up motorcycling out of fear of "things beyond your control," practically everything in life is beyond control. "Safe" is a relative thing. I'm no "great example," either. In my 45 years on motorcycles and 50+ years on bicycles, I've been incompetent, skilled, lucky, paranoid, cautious, and careless. I've busted bones and torn muscles and ligaments on bicycles and motorcycles and basketball courts and working around my house. People break their necks in the shower or on their doorstep. When it ends, life is over in a moment.

There are things you can do to improve your odds, but if riding a motorcycle doesn't push your buttons strongly enough to want to go that route, it's probably not worth the effort. Motorcycling is not for everyone, as much as the motorcycle manufacturers would like you to think it is.

On a short Wisconsin vacation trip with my wife, I watched people on an elephant ride in Baraboo cling obediently to the safety rail of their saddle. "Sir, keep both hands on the safety rail at all times," lectured the girl on the megaphone as a forty-something dad sat, bored out of his skull, at the back of his clan while the elephant trudged down the fenced path. Insurance companies and our national avoidance of personal responsibility has reduced practically every activity to a Big Mommy-sheltered endeavor that would sedate Martha Stewart. Anyone who could fall out of a waddling elephant, fenced into a saddle and pinned by four other harnessed passengers, should not be allowed to reproduce. The gene pool should rejoice if such a person managed to crawl out of that entrapment and fall under the ponderous feet of an elephant.

Motorcycling isn't like that. You can armor up, take a safety course ten times a summer, plug along with traffic whizzing by you as if you were in a molasses-based dimension, and you can still get killed or maimed if your luck doesn't hold. Two wheels are unstable and motorcycles are as rare an occurrence in traffic as unicorns. A tire blows, a wheel bearing seizes, a cager is distracted by a life-changing text message, a tree falls in front of you, and down you go. The reason people ride motorcycles is to get away from the bitch telling us to hang on to the handrails.

Bertrand Russell said, "A life without adventure is likely to be unsatisfying, but a life in which adventure is allowed to take whatever form it will is sure to be short."

Not being bright enough to know that motorcycles are dangerous isn't an improvement from being swarmed in a web of caution. Get on a bicycle in your shorts and flip-flops and take a spill at 5mph, just to test the road rash worthiness of your skin. Crashing sucks and can kill you in full gear. In your birthday suit you're guaranteed to be hamburger. Personally, I've managed to find plenty of adventure inside my helmet and armored gear. You might as well shoot me now as drag me onto that damn elephant, though.

October 2010

Feb 5, 2015

Bike Sharing Anyone?

Here’s a press release I received from BlancFleet: Dear Editor,

We want to radically change how enthusiasts nationwide gain access to newer bikes in the market. Today, riders have two options, own a bike outright or rent one. Owning a bike offers freedoms renting cannot, but it also limits the number of bikes an enthusiast will enjoy on the road in his lifetime. Renting also has its problems, cash deposit requirements, mile limit requirements, insurance requirements, and in most cases, renters only have access to an older fleet of bikes.

We want to change this through sharing and crowdfunding. The latter allows bike enthusiasts to raise money for new bikes they want to experience on the road and then share them between the pool of buyers. We believe sharing + crowdfunding together is the future and Blancfleet is paving the road forward that will connect bike enthusiasts everywhere to make buying a new bike more cost effective and accessible to everyone. Blancfleet also wants to remove cash deposit requirements, mile limit and insurance requirements on each bike funded through our platform so buyers simply enjoy the fleet of bikes they helped fund.

We want to expand Blancfleet nationwide and in the future globally.

If you believe your readers would benefit from our bike sharing program, we invite you to write about us.

Charles Polanco
Founder and CEO of

I can see this as the wave of the future for auto-piloted cars. I don’t quite get it for motorcycles.

Feb 4, 2015

Start Learning How to Ride

Explain to me, one more time, how "Start Seeing Motorcycles" would change a single crash in this video? Before we expect the rest of the world to give a damn about us, we need to be at least reasonably responsible citizens. These crashes are all Russian, but the only upside to that is knowing that the Russians are downbreeding as fast as the US.

Feb 2, 2015

#93 Appreciating Good Luck

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

At the end of my 2009 riding season, I moved my ailing, drooling dirt bike to the back of the garage and the V-Strom was parked between our cages; ready to ride on the last ice-free days of the year before and during the period when Minnesota drops us all into the deep frozen purgatory we call "winter." By late November, I am usually down to riding to work four out of five days and that ratio will drop rapidly until it's time to dump fuel preservative in the tank, hook up the battery tender, change the oil, and call it a year. Why, at this late date, I had an awareness provoking dream about motorcycling is baffling. If I needed some sort of wake-up call from my subconscious, you'd think I would have needed it at the beginning of the season when my skills are rusty and my body is creaking from hibernation disuse and I'm about to put on some serious motorcycling miles..

I dreamed I was in dense, slow-moving traffic and I'd been stuck in that groove for a long time. Finally, I broke out of the cager pack and got up to speed quickly. The road was flat, long, and a little boring. It felt a lot like west Texas or southwest Minnesota. In the dream, I was dreaming about something (an egg in an egg) other than being in the here-and-now and I found myself in a long declining radius curve at a speed above my comfort level and drifting into the center of the road, just crossing the center line. Suddenly, there was a pickup coming in the opposite direction. For a moment, I forgot what to do. I rolled off the gas and tried to steer harder back toward my lane. Obviously, that wasn't going to work. I woke up.

It was a dream, but a really life-like simulation of a real life scenario. The dream didn't include screeching tires, crunching noises, pain, butt-clenching fear, or any of the usual accommodations of this sort of event. It didn't need to. I awoke knowing exactly where it would have ended. A moment of poor concentration and bad timing and I'm facing several oncoming tons of iron at deadly speeds. After trying to regain the night for some actual rest, I gave up and crawled out of bed to think about what this dream was trying to tell me.

Motorcycling, skydiving, scuba diving, bicycling in traffic, and all of the things we do for adventure leave little room for daydreaming. You drift off for a moment, lost in the thought of something unrelated to the activity, and you could awake in time to see your life vanishing before your eyes. That's it. No chance to recover. No saving grace. No timeouts. You are literally here today, gone today. Smelling the flowers, feeling the wind between your ears, stargazing, listening to a favorite tune, and/or checking out who is checking you out and motorcycling do not go together. But everyone does it. If you ride often and long enough, you'll find yourself snapping back to reality and realizing that you've doped out for long enough to have caused a serious problem if your luck hadn't held.

At a family party, I listened to my son-in-law and his brother dismiss bicycle helmets because of their long list of bicycle crashes and their continuing existence. Their durability has been pretty impressive, but every one of their descriptions included a healthy dose of luck that kept them among the living and the mobile. An inch here or a pound there and they'd have been killed or disabled and a little protective gear goes a long ways when you need it. Every long life, and many short lives, are filled with moments where, without a bit of luck, a brain fart could have turned into a life-ending incident.

Luck is a grossly underrated commodity. I've been present at the beginning of a trio of businesses. One was very successful, one was a disaster, and one managed to sell itself to a sucker before the bottom fell out. Luck played a big part in all three end results. The right customer finding the company's products at the right time, and we were suddenly in the money. That same kind of customer finding the product the month after the company slid past its reserve funds and the momentum goes the other way; and no amount of talent, good intentions, or demand can stop the bankers from closing the doors.

Anyone who has ridden for a few dozen years and a few hundred thousand miles has experienced more than a reasonable share of luck. Those of us who have been less-than-brilliant in our riding habits or gear selection and can still walk, talk, and carry on a semi-intelligent conversation have been incredibly lucky. I can look back on my first decade of street riding and think of more than a dozen moments where a minor obstacle placed in an unlucky position would have ended my day, riding career, and most likely my life. Some people have survived because they were prepared for the worst-case scenario, because they had well-thought-out contingency plans that worked, and because they knew what risks they were taking and they knew what they were doing. Not me. When it comes to staying alive after doing something stupid, I have been as lucky as a trust fund brat. I may have turned luck into an art form. My Plan B is to keep driving at Plan A and hope for the best.

A friend tried to give me some credit by claiming "You make your own luck." I'm unconvinced. To an extent, I know he's right. On average, I'm pretty alert, pretty conscious of where I am, what my limits are, and what I can do with my bike. If I'm not an AGAT rider, I always ride reasonably well geared-up. If I give myself credit for being on top of my riding game for 99.9% of my time on the road, that means in my 400,000+ mile motorcycling career I've daydreamed away more than 400 miles. I can't give myself credit for 99.9% awareness and I don't want to make an accurate estimate of how many lucky miles I've traveled. The fact is, I owe good luck for a lot of my survivability and that's a little scary.

There is an old saying, "If you're not worried, you are not paying attention." Anytime you can't generate a little nervousness about being on the road, it might be worth considering how much luck you need to stay alive, just to keep your edge sharp. You can only make so much of your own luck and trusting luck for your survival is putting your fate to a test that you will probably fail. So, thank your lucky star or rabbit's foot or whatever charm you trust in, but pay attention, wear good gear, and stay nervous. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” That goes for bad luck, too.

September 2010

POSTSCRIPT: Who knows? I posted this to the blog on 5/28/2013. If I'm still alive when it arrives in your mailbox, good for me. However, it's time for me to be honest about what inspired this rant. When my grandson and I made our Rocky mountain Tour, I did a pretty good job of staying focused, riding sanely, and being responsible with that precious cargo on the passenger seat. I did, though, have one moment when I entered a Black Hills corner slightly faster than idea and we found a half-dozen elk in the road right in the middle of that blind corner. It was luck that prevented a tragedy. I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit that, but it's true. And that's why I wrote an essay "Appereciating Good Luck."