Mar 30, 2015

#102 Turning Corners

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

Regardless of the manipulation of political hacks and word spinners, words have meaning with historic context and those meanings, thanks to dictionary publishers, don't change with the breeze. I'm a big fan of a couple of words that have been abused for the last 30 years; "conservative" and "liberal." I use them all the time and I try to remember the actual definitions of those words to remind my listeners, sympathetic and otherwise, that I'm sticking with the historic definitions regardless of what idiocy the media is farting at us this week.

If, for instance, I suggest that your cornering style is "conservative," I mean "one who is marked by moderation or caution . . .a cautious or discrete person."1 If I compliment your "liberal" application of throttle in a difficult section of road, I mean "generous." If you make up your facts from whole cloth without knowledge of history or human nature, you could be a pseudo-liberal or a pseudo-conservative and I'm completely uninterested in your opinions. And so on, as the "liberal" writer Kurt Vonnegut once ended many paragraphs in at least one book.

One of the advantages to getting old is that you are risking less every year that passes. The idea that aging and conservatism go together bugs the snot out of me. All of the 60's "liberals" I know who "turned conservative" in middle age were as disconnected and disengaged as kids as they are as geezers. They didn't change so much as continue on the same path to nowhere. I turned 63 in July. That's not ancient, I'll admit, but it's more than twice as long as I expected to live. In many ways, I feel more bulletproof today than I did when I was 30. About a decade ago, I turned a corner on having dependents who counted on me for their survival. My wife requires my existence less every passing year, since her dependant list has shrunk along with my own. I have never been afraid of dying, but I've always been worried about getting hurt. One "advantage" of getting old is that I hurt all the time so I'm becoming a lot less sensitive to pain as I decay. That is a surprise. I am, however, continuing on the same personal path as as I started.

A friend and constant source of insight into all things, Martin Belair, was explaining his theory on why motorcycling events are losing their audience and participants. Outside of "everything is economics," he ascribed much of the vanishing sport to a increasing American aversion to risk. "We don't take chances anymore. We're afraid to get hurt." Martin, an ex-US trials champ, described telling his daughter that she could forget about riding a scooter on the street. "Too much risk." That was an interesting limitation, considering the source.

Risk is part of any worthwhile activity and a necessary part of growth, cultural and personal. If you're so afraid of getting hurt that you never venture outside of your comfort zone, you'll find yourself living in a shrinking comfort zone. If you're not pushing against the walls, the walls will close in on you.

A while back, I got tangled up in a discussion with a kid about motocross. I raced, a long, long time ago, and he talked about racing as if he knew something about it, until he started talking about stunting during races. Pretty quickly, I realized that he was talking about playing a motocross video game and he had deluded himself into believing there was a connection between the real thing and twiddling your thumbs in front of a television. I extracted myself from the conversation and decided to never again talk about motorcycles with anyone under 21. Apparently, some of those squirrels can't tell virtual from real world experiences. Later, a young friend tried to equate Guitar Hero with playing a real guitar or other real games; like basketball or even non-virtual golf. Conversations like that make me fear for my grandson's generation's mental and physical health. Get this straight, wiggling a control bar and pushing five buttons is not playing guitar and twiddling your thumbs while watching interactive television is not racing a motorcycle. Those activities barely qualify as activities, let alone an interesting skill, and they are in no way "sport."

A few weeks after the virtual-vs-reality conversations, I found myself at a cornering seminar at the Dakota County Technical College's drivers' range. A friend loaned me his DRZ400 Supermotard for a few laps and after a while my knees were coming close to the track in the tighter corners. In my last lap around the course, I managed to take one corner particularly well, for me, and I noticed that I could have touched the ground with a hand without much of a stretch. Spontaneously and totally out of context to anything I was thinking at the moment, I shouted "f--k video games" when the Suzuki popped out of the corner and lifted the front wheel a little on the exit.

I guess we've turned a corner, as a country. Coming across the ocean, or floating down a big river, to get to America was once a major risk. If you came willingly, out of necessity, or in slavery, you were at risk of losing everything, including your life. Now, immigrants expect to have welfare, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, health care, and public education benefits from the moment they cross the border. Some argue that immigration is the lifeblood of the "American spirit." I think a willingness to take risks is more important. If we become a conservative nation, we're not going to be very interesting and the Brave New World will happen, regardless of how cowardly we behave.

MMM August 2011 1 Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary

Mar 26, 2015

Motorcycle Responsibility

My column in the April issue of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine is about my take on what motorcyclists and motorcycle organizations need to do to get us to the level of acceptance where we might get some traffic preference and lane sharing/splitting. Oddly, this month’s Revzilla Common Threat column is on Washington state’s new lane splitting law and, prepare to be amazed, how screwed up it is.

The key phrase in the law is "The operator of a motorcycle shall not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken, except on the left-hand side of a vehicle traveling in the left-most lane of traffic on a numbered state highway identified in chapter 47.17 RCW that has two or more lanes of traffic in each direction if the operator of the motorcycle is traveling at a rate of speed no more than ten miles per hour over the speed of traffic flow and not more than twenty-five miles per hour."

Think about it.

Mar 23, 2015

#101 It's Not A #&^%#@ Wheelchair

All Rights Reserved © 2008-2011 Thomas W. Day

I'm Wisconsin's Highway 35, heading south, trapped behind a train of slow moving RUBs on overpriced garage jewelry. Usually, this experience is inspiration for a detour. I'd jump a curb and drive across an old lady's lawn to get away from listening to potato burps. This time, however, the parade was weirdly entertaining. 

The guy immediately in front of me had to weigh close to 500 pounds, was barely five feet tall, and stood on his tippy toes to touch the ground from his twenty-four-inch seat height. As Jabba the Hut's little brother wobbled off with the rest of the parade, I wondered about the logic behind calling motorcycling a "sport." As soon as I could see around the human obstacle, I passed him and the rest of his parade and rode on thinking about how the "sport of motorcycling" has changed in my lifetime. What kind of "sport" has sportsmen who couldn't lift anything heavier than a jar of mayonnaise, run faster than a one-legged hippo, or jump over a sliding dime?

Our “sport.”


For my 100th Geezer column and my 64th birthday, I found myself reminiscing about my weird-assed motorcycle history. When I was a kid, in the 1950's and 60's, I hardly ever saw anyone on a motorcycle who wasn't a kid. A rider in his 30's was an "old guy." The majority of riders were self-taught. The 70's were American motorcycling's boom years. Trials, motocross, enduros, speedway, cross country and desert racing, drag racing, and road racing were all flush with riders and spectators. There were more brands of motorcycles imported into the US than there are designer clothing labels today.

In the 80s, the motorcycle growth bubble burst loudly. Honda's "you meet the nicest people" marketing campaign dissolved into wishing and hoping for customers without providing them any realistic motivation to buy. Harley's yuppie "bad biker" image morphed into the only game in town and nothing much has changed since. Still, every long-term rider I knew took riding skills seriously and considered motorcycling to be something of a self-preservation-oriented competitive activity. Even thirty years ago, in southern California I rarely saw anything resembling gray beards or blue hair on a bike. It was still a mostly young man's sport.

In the 90s, I began to run into middle-aged men and women who, suddenly, decided they'd "always wanted to ride a motorcycle." I'll admit that I was hanging out with a dorkier class of people those years; I moved from California to Colorado and from the music industry to the medical industry. Again, my personal experience does not mirror the national demographics. I directed several of these mid-life-crisis critters to motorcycle training classes. I tried to help them learn to ride, but they weren't particularly athletic (to say the least) and my "go as fast as you can, until you fall down, then don't go quite that fast the next time" motocross instructor's advice didn't seem appropriate. Kids fall down, whine a little, get back up, and learn something from the experience. 40-year-old men and women fall down, bawl like babies, and sue someone.

However they learned, not one of the new riders I met during that period is still on two wheels. They bought a motorcycle, were disappointed that their new toy didn't make their butts look smaller, discovered it wasn't an efficient way to meet the opposite sex, and moved on to cosmetic surgery or religion. I lost contact with most of them when they left motorcycling.

For the last decade, I've been teaching MSF classes. As usual, I'm not recording accurate numbers or monitoring statistics, but it seems to me that the average age of the beginning motorcyclist has jumped another decade. It's not unusual to have six to ten fifty-five to seventy-five year old students in a Basic Rider Course. It's not unusual to hear that many of these wannabe riders have already bought exactly the wrong kind of first bike, are insanely proud of their new Village People outfits, and are sporting a bowl "helmet" that barely covers their bald spot. As the song says, "It's not unusual to wrong at anytime. . . "

Kids, with athleticism and durability on their side, will happily start out on a 200-350cc dual purpose bike or sport bike. The geriatric crowd seems to think they're going to make up for lost time by jumping on a bike that an experienced and talented rider would think twice about test riding on a closed course. The majority of younger new rider-students are considerably less arrogant about the skill of motorcycling. They are often better students, better listeners, more patient with themselves and the exercises, and more likely to be able to tolerate the physical demands of motorcycling (the "sporting" aspect).

A few of the learning-challenged not-young characters fail the license exam. However, most pass and they swagger-wobble out into the world imagining that they have the necessary skills to maneuver their 1000cc-plus, 800-pound-plus motorcycle in urban traffic. If the BRC was an 8-hours-per-day, five-day-a-week, six month program, it wouldn't be enough time to prepare many of these people for actual riding conditions. What they are asking from the program is the equivalent to taking a couple of afternoon lessons to become a competition snowboarder. Maybe not at the X-Game level, but at least at the level where they could quickly board down a hill, slip a rail, and make it over a couple of desk-sized jumps without falling. The insulting implication is that these newbies expect to obtain the hard-earned skill and judgment of their instructors in a couple of short sessions.

Most of my generation hasn't learned much in the last decade or more. They are sometimes capable of using their bank card at an ATM. If they are computer users at all, they rarely do more than prowl eBay and forward chain-letters. They don't read much. They only listen to music that was recorded thirty years ago. They don't exercise and they certainly don't play any sport (unless golf, bowling, or poker is a sport). They haven't been in a classroom for decades. The last time they "worked out" was shoveling snow from their sidewalk when the snowblower broke or the neighborhood kid was sick.

Most younger people have recently exercised all of the necessary mental and physical skills. Most important, as far as their motorcycling survivability is concerned, they haven't been polluted by whatever influence is making old people want to own 900 pound cruisers. When they are so infected, younger people might rethink that silly plan. A critical fault in aging is inflexibility. That's a fatal fault on a motorcycle. Like lawyers and doctors, we're all "practicing" motorcyclists. This isn't something you just get and keep, without exercising unnatural habits and complicated skills.

My generation seems to have created a lot of people who think the laws of physics can be influenced by money, the legal system, and by a heartfelt "I wanna." Velocity and acceleration (up or down) are ruthless. Gravity is insensitive to your brittle bones and inflexible joints. You don't get special consideration on the highway simply because traffic is moving “too fast” or you can't muster up the courage to make the bike stop or turn. Other highway users expect you to "drive it or park it." Being handicapped on a motorcycle is often fatal.

Years ago, a comedian friend of mine had a bit in his routine that asked, "Why are there fuckin' handicapped parking spaces at a racquetball court?" I'm trying to get him to add a routine that starts with "A motorcycle is not a fuckin' wheelchair, dumbshit."

MMM June  2011

Mar 16, 2015

#100 Defining "Retarded"

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

(NOTE: This rant was renamed "Defining Idiotic" with related editorial changes by my MMM Editor. I'm sticking with the original concept because it's more accurate.)

[Second NOTE: This rant marked the 100th time Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly published some of my crazy shit. This was not a rant I ever expected to see published. It was at the dead bottom of my slush pile of at least two dozen available essays. It fell into the category of "don't send anything you write while you're still pissed off." I can't guess why Bruce picked it.]

A few years back (June, 2001), I wrote a Geezer column called "Never Do That Again." The core of that rant was, "Over my 35 years of buying used vehicles, I've formed a collection of rules that, if I followed them, could prevent a lot of the usual used-bike/car misery. The first of those rules is 'never buy a motorcycle from a Kid.'" At the time, I defined "anyone under 40 is, more than likely, a Kid." It's a good rule. It should be followed relentlessly. Mercilessly. Without exception. 

Insurance companies use this logic when they price any sort of insurance coverage for the high risk, mostly-braindead, under-25 crowd. They never screw up because they never deviate from the knowledge that Kids are a poor risk. They never delude themselves into believing a kid might be able to connect two synapses to make a conscious thought. I, on the other hand, occasionally imagine Kids might be something other than sperm and body-part donors. Usually, something interferes with my normal analytic processes and sinks the ship that usually floats my rational mind.

Another rule I usually apply to buying anything more expensive than a $1 meal is "Never buy anything you want." The logic behind this rule is that if you want something (read "want," not need) you will over-pay for it. So, I reserve the wanting for after I get the best possible deal. Once I have it and get it for my price, I can be happy with it.

This winter was long, painful, boring, and got as close as any yet to driving me south or into the desert for a long deserved and desired retirement. About January, I was sick of snow, below-zero weather, no motorcycles, and listening to idiot opinions over the television and radio and, especially, in person. Even worse, I was sick with the third flu of the season and about to sink into four weeks of depressing, suffocating misery.

In the midst of all that, I wanted an excuse for getting rid of 40 pounds of lard I'd collected over the past couple of semi-sedentary years. Mostly out of boredom, I started watching Craig's List for a bike I'd dreamed about since first seeing it at the Cycle World Show in 2008. I wanted a WR250X and it was going to be my diet goal: "Get to 180 pounds and you get to buy a WR." Sounds like a hopeless dream, now that I see it in print, but it was an honest attempt at self-bribery at the time.

As I was sinking into the delirium of 2010's Great Influenza, I stumbled on to a reasonably priced, used 2008 WR250X in Forest Lake. I hadn't yet figured out that my congestion was due to the oncoming flu and not my usual allergies to my wife's indoor weed garden and I thought I'd take a look at the bike. It took a lot of schedule-wrestling to catch the owner and set a time to view the motorcycle and, by then, I was really heading downhill. Finally, my wife and I drive to Forest Lake to see the bike and it was one of the few above-absolute-zero days in the winter of 2010. I got really stupid and gathered up my gear, imagining that I'd take the bike for a test ride and maybe even buy it. It wasn't that warm and, by then, I'd begun to suspect that my creaking body, leaking sinuses, and general miserable condition wasn't really indoor weed allergies. But if I have any skill at anything, I am good at ignoring danger signs.

When I get to the owner's shop, I discover he has hack-sawed off the end of the exhaust pipe. He claims it was because a friend dropped the bike and bent up the pipe, but the cut was pretty clean and in exactly the spot a Kid would do damage in an attempt to camouflage lousy riding skills with lots of noise. Normally, that would have been enough to chase me away. Next, I discovered the Kid had deluded himself into thinking he was really tall and needed the suspension lifted artificially high. For me, it was unrideable in that condition. Normally, that would have been more than enough data to drive me back into the winter gloom. Finally, I discovered he didn't have the title on the bike and we'd have to meet 30 miles north where he'd use my money to pay off his loan. If any part of this deal sounds reasonable to you, you are either sicker than I was or dumber than I am. I put $250 down on the bike, got a hand-written sales receipt, and went home where I stumbled into the worst flu I've had in a decade. I even missed a day of work, something I hadn't done since 2001.

Eventually, we straightened up the paperwork, transferred the title, and he trucked the bike to my garage where it sat uninspected, unridden, and barely considered for a month and a half. Once the garage warmed up a little, I started looking over my brilliant purchase. When I got a good look at the mangled pipe, I knew I'd screwed up. A little further into the inspection, I discovered the rear fender extension and license plate bracket had been hacked "cosmetically." It always amazes me that idiot children imagine themselves to be superior engineers than the guys who designed and manufactured something as brilliant as a Yamaha WR250X, but human arrogance and stupidity are as common as hydrogen.

Finally, after finding a shade tree genius on eBay to supply me with a $50 replacement stock pipe and a "cosmetic expert" who provided a spare stock fender extension for even less, I had the bike almost back to working condition. After deciding to do a little of my own re-engineering with a larger fuel tank, I got into a full maintenance cycle on the cycle: oil change, chain tensioning and lubrication, packing the steering head and swing arm bearings, fork oil replacement, and eventually . . . checking the air filter.

Huh? The airbox is empty. No filter.

There are all kinds of stupid on this dying earth, but I had completely forgotten that there are people dumb enough to imagine a motorcycle doesn't need an air filter. I haven't met (until this winter) anyone that dumb since I was a Kid. I was 15 when I decided to pull the air filter from my father's 1954 Ford because it was so dirty the car wouldn't start with it installed. It didn't take long for that genius move to go wrong. It would have taken a lot less time for the WR motor go be chewed up by grit. I, obviously, don't know what the Kid did with my motorcycle sans air filter. I can only hope the motor is still mostly new. He only owned the bike for about a thousand miles and, maybe, he did this damage during the parked winter months. I can only hope.

There is a lesson here for me, though. It's a variation on "never buy a motorcycle from a Kid." The new edition of that rule is "Never, ever, under any conditions buy a motorcycle from a Kid." There is, literally, no such thing as a "good deal" when the seller is a Kid. If you buy a Kid's bike listed for $5,000 in the Blue Book for $500, you're going to lose money in the long run. At the least, you'll spend $6,000 in mental energy fixing all the dumb Kid crap. My definition of "retarded" is being an old guy who buys anything from a Kid. I am, clearly, retarded.

MMM July 2011

Mar 15, 2015

Splitting in the News

Here are a couple of decent articles about filtering and lane-splitting in the news, including one from the Wall Street Journal (thanks Paul):

Wall Street Journal WSJ.COM Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Could Move Beyond California Lane-splitting in the mainstream? Here's a two-step program to get those laws passed

If you are in favor of splitting/filtering, prepare to be disappointed by the comments in the WSJ article. There are some really timid motorcyclists out there. The video on the WSJ article is absolutely worth watching. The article pitted a splitting rider vs. a non-splitting rider on a 1 hour (caged) commute while discussing the advantages and disagreements about splitting.

Being the conservative bastion that we’ve become, Minnesota is not part of the conversation. We should be, though.

Mar 13, 2015

Another Shitty Day in Paradise

IMG_0021Almost 70F again in Minnesota and I had to go into the Cities to meet an electrician about work that may (or may not) be necessary to sell our old home. I wish I could say this damn deal is nickel-and-dime’ing me to death, but it’s more like thousands of dollars that I have no reason to be spending other than having made a mediocre deal. That’s the shitty day part.

The ride home was pretty boring, even if it was my 2nd ride of 2015. Just a little west of Red Wing I noticed a torn up clay road heading northeast. I circled around and headed into it and I don’t know how many miles later ended up at a dead end boat launch. On the way, I slogged through frozen slick clay sections (the source of that famous Red Wing pottery), a couple of flooded road crossings (paved underneath, so it wasn’t much of an adventure), some axle deep mud sections, and amazing scenery. That’s the paradise part.

PS: While I did gain some MN winter weight, there are two layers of insulation under that jacket. It was 32F when I left this morning.

Mar 12, 2015

Total Slacker Year

Last year, about this time, I'd put on so many winter motorcycle miles that I had burned up a 2nd set of tires since October. This winter, I'm an old Minnesotan. Today was (sigh) my first two wheeled adventure day since last Thanksgiving. We've had about a week of decent weather and there have been a parade of cool motorcycles going past our new Red Wing home, but I'm still trying to get my new garage functional. There is nothing wrong with the space, it's just a 380 square foot garage filled to the ceiling with stuff from my old 850 square foot garage. It's getting there, but it's not really a work space yet.

Today was too pretty to ignore, though. I'm slightly ahead of the runoff that pours from the yard and road into my lower level garage. Bills are paid, we're in limbo on the house we're selling in the Cities, and the bike garage is actually pretty organized. So, I wrapped myself up in Aerostich gear and hit the trails on the WR. This was my first motorcycle adventure as a Red Wing resident, so I picked the county road in front of my house, headed south, cut east on the first non-deadend dirt road and 90 miles later the WR is coated in a beautiful layer of clay and gravel and my legs are trashed.

What a great day! Maybe the best in months. Hills, valleys, stream crossings, slick wet corners, piles of recently graded sand and gravel in the various spots on the road, and even some frozen stuff disguised as wet clay. Not only was it all good, it was incredibly fun.

I'm signed up for a motorcycle class every weekend from the end of April until early October. Looks like there's gonna be some two-wheeling this summer.

Mar 9, 2015

#99 Why Do We Die So Often?

All Rights Reserved © revised 2011 (first written 2008) Thomas W. Day

Everyday, I get a little more insight into why motorcyclists die at such unreasonable rates: we are nationally more than 10% of highway fatalities and an incredibly small percentage (less than 0.01%) of the total traffic. This is a fact that threatens motorcycling as a transportation mode on public highways all over the world. Because motorcycling is mostly a recreational activity, our benefit-to-cost ratio is a small fraction of practically every other vehicle on the road. That is beginning to attract the attention of the folks who decide who gets to play where.

I was at a stop light, waiting for green, when I saw a big, black cruiser with a middle-aged rider (helmet-less, decked out in Village People leather, and practically invisible in the early evening light) approaching the signal from my right. He was concentrating on a cool-looking pose and he conveyed the bearing of a man traveling by motorized Lazyboy. From the other direction, a mid-sized SUV was about to make a left turn across the path of the cruiser. Since the light was yellow and the station wagon was already in the intersection, the cage clearly had the right of way. The bike wouldn't clear the entrance to the intersection until after the light had changed to red. At the last minute, the station wagon driver saw the bike approaching and nailed the brakes. The station wagon slid few feet into the on-coming lane and came to a noisy stop.

Whether by design, inability, or inattention, the cool cruiser guy didn't make the slightest move to avoid the oncoming cage. He didn't even cover the clutch, let alone the brake. He didn't swerve or slow down, he just stared at the cage as if he was Darth Vader and the cager was one of those Return of the Jedi teddy bear things. He just clung to the bars like a pair of streamers, glared at the cager as he rolled past, barely clearing the wagon's bumper.

I don't know if you've ever had a 50-year-old bald and bearded Village Person glare at you, but it's not particularly unnerving. I might have misinterpreted a look of panic for an angry glare, but it's hard to tell what expression is behind large dark sunglasses and a ZZ Top beard. If that's a typical motorcyclist's hazard avoidance maneuver, no wonder we're dying at a rate more than 100 times our highway presence. If the station wagoneer hadn't managed to get control of his vehicle, he'd have ended up with motorcycle and leather splattered all over the side of his spiffy new urban assault vehicle. Since the biker was totally unhampered by functional protective gear, the chances are pretty good that the biker would be dead or severely injured, adding another body to the statistical mountain of motorcycle crashes.

A few nights later, my wife and I were caging it on a one-way downtown Minneapolis street when two twenty-something dudes on liter bikes rolled up beside us in the far left lane. They parked side-by-side to pose for their imagined admiring minions and engaged in a heated discussion about something stupid. Their helmets were firmly strapped to the left side grab-bars. Their arms were bare to show off their toned biceps and lower halves were protected by leather sandals and baggy shorts. When the light changed, they blipped their non-stock exhausted motors, apparently to alert me and other traffic to the fact that they were on the move. I was in the left-turn-option lane and had been signaling a left turn. The two chicken-strippers paddled into the intersection, so I gave them some room to stabilize their bikes and was surprised to see that they ignored their lane's left-turn-only status and rode straight ahead and wobbled into my lane at the middle of the intersection.

Per the title of this rant, I have given you two examples of why we die so often. As Keanu Reeves' character once asked, "What would you do?" What would you do if a large station-wagon rolled out in front of you? Would you be stuck glaring at the approaching deathtrap, showing attitude and foolishness all the way to the last moment? Would you desperately hang on to the bars hoping your exhaust noise will magically move all obstacles from your path of travel? Would you apply some motorcycling skill to try and avoid that traffic obstacle? Do you have any motorcycling skills to apply?

If your skill doesn't get you past the cage or through the turn, do you have enough gear on your body to be able to survive a little impact? A motorcycle safety expert once said, "You crash in the gear you left home wearing." Someone a lot less brilliant said, "I'd wear my helmet if I knew I was going to crash."

If I knew I was going to crash, I'd take the bus. Why the hell would anyone get on a bike if they knew they were going to crash that day? Better yet, stay in bed. If you know the only hazard-avoidance move you have is a menacing glare or a loud exhaust note, staying in bed is always your best policy.

If this incident is in any way typical of the kind of brainless motorcycling that has generated such awful numbers for motorcycling, we need to change motorcycle licensing. An IQ test should be added to the usual exam. I'm convinced that the Powers That Be (society and society's bureaucratic employees) are only going to put up with motorcycling for as long as it takes to figure out how to lower the risk of this activity. I think we have a simple choice; we can reduce our fatalities or someone else will do it for us. The easiest way to eliminate motorcycle crash numbers is to remove motorcycles from public roads.

Since most motorcyclists are recreational riders--don't commute or ride for practical transportation--who would it inconvenience if motorcycles were banished from highways? Who did it inconvenience when horses and horse-drawn carriages were banned? Did anyone care when 2-stroke dirt bikes, snowmobiles, ATVs, and go-carts lost the privilege to travel the streets? How about when those same Powers decided that bicycles, small motorcycles and scooters, and other high efficiency vehicles would be banned from freeways? "No," is the correct answer. All these perfectly useful means of transportation have been eliminated from normal traffic because the Powers decided their risk was too great and the reward was too small.

I used to say that I thought you ought to be able to ride well enough to get out of the novice class in almost any racing format (off or on-road, except drag racing) before you get a motorcycle license. Today, I think something that dramatic might be required to save motorcycling. Guys who hope that a mean look or random noise is going to save them from catastrophe need to be educated. Riders who think looking cool is more important than staying alive, or those who aren't smart enough to know they are making that choice, need a massive dose of reality. We need to work toward zero tolerance for motorcycle fatalities. Fix it or lose it.

I'm telling you this out of personal experience. I have seen a civilization full of vehicles removed from public roads. Lucky for me, I'm old and the worst that will happen is that I won't spend the last couple years of my life on two wheels. You, on the other hand, may be telling your kids about the cool bikes you rode when you were young and how they were all swept from public roads so fast you didn't even have time to sell yours before they became Shriner parade items.

MMM May 2011

Mar 7, 2015

Stereo Demographics

On the way back to Red Wing from the Cities today, my wife and I decided to stop off at the local casino, Treasure Island, just to see what the place looks like. I’m not a gambler, but I thought it might be nice to check out another of the area’s music venues. What a flashback. Smokers decorated every area of the casino, including the non-smoking areas. The average age had to have been at least 60. Lots of old guys with pony tails and old girls with piles of starched blue hair. It looked exactly like a crowd at a Harley Davidson event. Exactly. so exactly, in fact, that on the way out a group of old folks in biker vests and paraphernalia came lumbering into the casino.

Mar 5, 2015

If Only We Were A Civilization

A perfectly depressing article about why we could save billions with a little common motorcycle-sense. It’s Economics, Stupid! Why Motorcycle Lane Filtering is Becoming More Accepted. "Filtering" is really the more necessary right than "splitting." Filtering is the ability to move to the front of a stopped or super-slow-moving line of traffic. In general, I suspect Americans are not smart enough to cope with splitting at any sort of traffic speed. We've been downbreeding for a couple of centuries and, now, even the low art of video games is overtaxing our capabilities.

Mar 2, 2015

#98 The Tale of Two Opinions

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

At the beginning of the winter of 2010, Yamaha's Super Ténéré XT1200Z was making the rounds of the Cities' Yamaha dealers. A friend who temporarily back here over the holidays called and asked if I wanted to chase the Ténéré down and take a look. He is a current Yamaha 850 TDM owner (the bastard grandfather of the Ténéré) and I owned a couple of them not that many years ago. We both consider the TDM one of the best big dual purpose bikes ever imported to the US. Getting a look at the TDM's adventure touring spawn seemed like a worthwhile way to spend a winter afternoon, so we made plans to meet at the Hitching Post.

The Ténéré was worth a visit. Ténéré stock or as a Yamaha accessory, this bike has pretty much everything I think a motorcycle should have; long suspension, high ground clearance, shaft-drive, crash bars, bashplate, a decent fairing, big luggage capacity, a comfortable seat, comfortable riding position, a tough steel frame, large fuel capacity, and serious lighting. Buy it, ride it anywhere, farkel it up to taste but not out of necessity. Fourteen grand and the usual tax and insurance suspects and you're out the door with a GS-Beemer-buster for about one to three grand less than a new GS. What's not to love, right? Fourteen thousand dollars, that's what.

My friend posed for a picture on the Ténéré and stuck it on his Facebook page with a "my next bike" warning to his virtual and real friends. When some of our mutual friends heard that I took that picture, they asked if it would be my next bike, too.

Probably not.

For my tastes, the Ténéré is too much bike; two-to-five times too much bike. The TDM's 850cc's was the biggest motorcycle I've ever owned and, having done that once, I don't expect to own that much motorcycle again. To generate even more disgust from my friends, I admitted that the Ténéré is about four times the price I'd consider paying for a motorcycle. I bought my 2004 V-Strom in late 2006 for $3400 with less than 900 miles on the odometer and that was pushing the limits of my budget. My friend, on the other hand, was talking about financing and justifying the payments in the usual All-American ways.

In his 2010 New York Times interview, Ducati's ex-North American CEO said, "No one saves up to buy a motorcycle. They sign up for a credit loan." As usual, I'm either "No One" or "Nobody." The same kind of Nobody who read Tom Clancy's Executive Orders in 1996 and had no problem imagining that the country could be attacked with a commercial airplane. The same No One who wasn't surprised to hear that large numbers of 3rd worlders hate the United States with a passion. I read William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick's The Ugly American in 1960, when it was a junior high English book assignment. The same Nobody who argued that Afghanistan had been a quagmire for empire builders, at least since Alexander the Great, and had Vietnam déjà vu in 2003. The same No One who suspected that the economy was out of whack when my real estate agent and mortgage broker insisted I could afford a house that cost five times my annual salary. Ten years later, Las Vegas waitresses were buying half-million dollar mansions on credit with no money down and economists claimed that was a sign of a strong economy and claimed that "Nobody could argue that home ownership was a bad thing." Me. Mr. Nobody. Pretty much every time the media or the powers-that-be claims that "Nobody could have seen this coming," and I'm out there being Nobody and No One. I don't have any prescience when it comes to spotting good investments, but I can often see stupid when it begins to rear its empty head.

When it comes to gratuitous purchases like a new motorcycle, especially when my old one is perfectly serviceable, I always wait till I have cash. If I don't have the cash, I keep riding what I own. Worst case, I'll buy a rat bike and ride it while I save my money. I'm not happy about being in debt for my home, but that's all the debt I'm willing to take on. So, I'll just keep plugging along on my used 650 and my beater 250 until I can justify a replacement and pay for it with cash.

This might come as a surprise to you, but there are no good deals waiting for those who use credit. After taxes, fees, and interest over a 48 month loan, that $14,000 motorcycle will cost you (not me, you) just short of $18,000; not counting insurance, licensing, and the usual maintenance culprits. I am not man enough to pony up twenty grand for four years of motorcycle ownership, without even having gone anywhere. Hell, I'd be afraid to go anywhere I'm interested in going on a $20,000 motorcycle.

Dirt roads have a magnetic effect on me and that often means getting in over my head and the occasional low-to-moderate speed spill with the mandatory scratch, gouge, and/or mangled plastic bits. I've been known to Gorilla Glue, duct tape, bungee cord, and wire-wrap my bike back together and keep going leaving the real repairs for the end of the season. I have never reported my minor incidents to either the police or my insurance company. Why would I? They usually don't happen on publicly maintained roads.

The cops don't care about a "crash" I rode away from and what's the point in calling the insurance company about something I'm going to fix myself? If I need counseling, I'll ask my wife to lecture me on one of my many faults. At least she doesn't think I'm Nobody. I'm the idiot who keeps mangling himself on his motorcycle, in the garage or yard, and at work. At home, I'm Somebody.

April 2011