Apr 27, 2015

#106 Geezertude

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

I just got back from the Progressive International Motorcycle Show. Seven weeks away from my hip surgery and I managed to put in 2.5 miles at the show and between the Convention Center and the rest of my day. That is a low mileage day, I know, but it's not bad considering that about fifty days ago a guy in a white mask cut off my leg and nailed a titanium railroad spike in the hole. Considering that my left leg felt like it weighed hundreds of pounds six weeks ago, it's amazing that I can walk at all, let along take more than 6,500 steps and climb 11 flights of stairs. (Yeah, I'm anal. I wear a Fitbit thingy that tells me how much harder I should worked each day.)

I ran into MMM publishers, Victory and Tammy Wanchena, at the show. Victor had to remind me that a hip replacement is pretty much a geezerly credential. Athletes have knee replacements. Old farts have hip replacements. He's right. Between 200,000 and 300,000 hip replacements are done in the US every year. Only about 10% were patients younger than 50. Mostly, that's because docs advise patients to put off hip replacements as long as possible because "the limited life expectancy of the prostheses" and the relatively long and painful post-surgery recovery period.

Creepy, don't you think? Me too.

I found at least one prediction that US hip replacements will rise to 600,000 by 2015. There could be one coming to your town any day now. At about $50,000 per replacement, hips ought to wipe out Medicare alone. On the other hand, about 300,000 knees are replaced every year, just in the US. About 70% of those are geezer (over 65) surgeries. Knees are even more expensive.

The upside is that most (65%) hip replacements last at least 25 years. My upside is that I'm in less pain today than I was on December 13th, the day before my surgery. When I got back from the bike show, I made my first attempt to get on the WR250X. I didn't try to get on to a single bike, even the handicap-enabled hippobikes, at the bike show. If I was going to fall on my ass, get stuck halfway between on the bike or on the floor, or end up buried under a motorcycle, I wanted it to happen privately. When I tried to swing a leg over the WR's tall seat, I half-expected to be disappointed. I was not. Painlessly and fairly smoothly, I found myself sitting on the seat, comfortably. Damn. I don't know if it ever felt so good to be on a motorcycle seat.

Two months ago, I worried that I was making a choice between walking or riding. Walking is nice, but riding is something I live to do. Not just motorcycles, but all things two-wheeled. I enjoy riding my bicycle almost as much as my motorcycles. Almost. If the choice had been clearly "walk or ride," I might have given up walking. My surgeon kept telling me, "You'll be able to do what you want to do." I decided to trust that very non-specific statement and it looks like he wasn't whitewashing the pig (me).

My wife reminds me, regularly, that this should teach me something about being positive.

A week into "recovery" and I was convinced I'd ruined my life, that I would be lame for the rest of my life. I was miserable. My usually sunny outlook was darker than a black hole. [Yeah, I know. I couldn't buy a sunny outlook with Warren Buffett's money.] I was walking, slowly and carefully, from the kitchen to the living room; for exercise. I couldn't put on my own socks or shoes, find a comfortable position for sleep, or think half-clearly on my morphine-laced meds. A week later, I was dragging my ass to the malls and struggling to knock out a half-mile in an hour. A week later, my wife and I walked about 1/2 way around Lake Como. That week, I crawled on to my wife's stationary bicycle and managed to put in ten minutes before running out of steam. Week four, I walked a mile for the first two days, a mile and a half the next, and by Saturday, I was covering two miles a day.By the end of the week, I was pedaling the stationary bike for thirty minutes and that has been my minimum routine since. The big benchmark in week five was tying the laces of my hiking boots. Week six, I could put on my shoes without a long shoe horn.

Now, at seven weeks out, I'm walking 2 1/2 to 4 miles a day, doing a half-hour of therapy, pedaling a stationary bike for a half-hour, and working on increasing my flexibility. I got on the bike today, but I'm not strong enough to ride safely, I couldn't pick up the 250 if I dropped it in the garage. I'm working on that. I'm almost as strong as I was before the surgery, which was a pretty poor benchmark.

Every day is a step closer to getting back to being me. I'm on the edge of being able to imitate a sunny outlook. For the first time in years, I expect to be in less pain and more mobile in a couple of months. Come May, I will be back in the saddle.

Ride safe, ride hard, and "rage against the dying of the light."

MMM Spring 2012

Apr 22, 2015

Catching Up

One of the features of being retired is that I don't have to carry a cell phone, answer my voicemail until I'm good and ready to hear whatever bad news has been lurking on the machine for the past week, or check up on the comments on my blogs until I've had at least two cups of coffee and a donut. I get that some people think I'm giving up on a lot of my old "life" because they are right. I was tethered to a cell phone for 20 years, on-call in two industries and with four different companies and if I never have to answer another phone call it wouldn't bother me at all. We lived with an interstate practically in our backyard for almost 20 years, I don't miss the noise or the traffic and, surprisingly, I don't miss the immediate access to the Cities. I have absolutely left that life behind.

What I haven't (yet) left behind are the good relationships from 53+ years of work. I stay in contact with many of my old friends (especially the ones still alive) and we're living a lot more social life in Red Wing than we had for the last few years in the Cities. I've even recorded two CDs in the last month; one for Southeast Technical College and one for a local songwriter. I'm working regularly for a local performance theater and doing a little work for two other facilities. I got involved in the Red Wing Red Hot Hack! last month and was even part of a group that developed some interesting tourism software.

Motorcycling in southeastern Minnesota is exceptional, but we've been so overwhelmed with our new home and the work (we think) that is required to make it our place that I've barely broken 200 miles so far this year. Last year about this time, I'd ridden the 250 7,500 miles or more during the same period. My first MSF class is this weekend and it's going to be chilly. I gotta get out in the next couple of days and put in a little practice time.

My old MMM editor, Sev Pearman, sent me this link with some points of disagreement with the author: NoiseOFF -Motorcycle Noise Pollution . We had to agree to disagree. I didn't find a single statement off base. I'd like to hear your opinions.

Apr 20, 2015

#105 You Can't Ride Forever

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

I have officially reached the point in life where I can look back at a lot more things I’ve done than I’m likely to do for the rest of my life. For me, the identifying factor in making that measure has been arthritis. Both of my hips are trashed, bone-on-bone and little chunks of debris spitting out the sides of both hips and an “osteoarthritis” diagnosis from both my regular doctor and an orthopedic surgeon.

For the last year, I’ve been avoiding the surgeon and trying to slip past that nasty bit of personal history with physical therapy. If the definition of “it’s working” is that I’m still mobile and working, it’s working. If the definition is being pain-free (or even mildly inconvenienced by pain) and able to be as active as I expect myself to be, it’s not working at all. So, I’m looking at a total hip replacement this winter, followed by weeks of pain and disability and months of rehab. If that isn’t a marker for being “old,” I don’t want to hear about the next step.

While wrestling with the surgery decision, I’ve been carefully comparing the best post-surgery case to my current physical status. There are things that I can do now that I may not be able to do after surgery. There are things that I can’t do now that I could do a year ago. Currently, I don’t do anything with my legs that doesn’t involve pain. So, while I’m arguing with myself my wife chips in, “If the big part of the decision is whether you can ride your motorcycle after surgery, you know you can’t ride forever.”

No, I don’t know that. Ok, I do. I understand that I'm not going to live forever; nothing and no one does. But I don't concede that I won't be able to ride for nearly all of my life. Not yet. I'm not even willing to concede that decision is in my near future.

I’ve taught Experienced Rider students who were seventy and even eighty-years-old. I’ve worked with MSF instructors who are almost a decade older than me. I plan to be one of those guys ten years from now. My father-in-law, Bob, is 93 and he gets around easier, faster, and more gracefully than me. If I’m going to have a chunk of bone (the femoral head) sawed off of my leg and a six-inch chunk of titanium inserted in the hole, I expect to be at least as mobile as a 93-year-old man as a result. If that’s too much to ask, I can live with the pain for a few more years. Like, until I’m 93.

Pain is a relative thing. You think you can’t stand any more until you get more. Then, your old reference is replaced with a new one. Literally, it is replaced. A few years back, I crashed and separated my left shoulder, cracked some ribs on my right side, and broke the metacarpal forefinger bone on the forefinger of my right hand. I’ve enjoyed at least two of those injuries in the past, individually, and thought they were almost beyond tolerating. When I broke several ribs in an off-road crash in 1978, I thought the world was ending. I was out of work for several weeks and hobbled for three months.

When I separated a shoulder and broke my collarbone in an off-road bicycle crash in 1988, I sold the family’s beloved VW camper because I couldn’t manage the unpowered steering or the shifter. When I jammed (and fractured) that very same finger on my left hand in a basketball game in 1991, I was unable to use my left hand for much of anything that required strength.

When I revisited all of those injuries together, I turned my bike around and rode it 400 miles back to Dawson and “fixed” everything in a boiling-hot bathtub, a ten yards of Ace bandages, and a bucket of Aspercream™. I didn’t know the ribs were damaged for several hundred miles until my shoulder pain dropped below the rib threshold. Other than not being able to hold a fork with my right hand, I barely noticed the hand injury for almost a week and 2,000 miles when I stopped at a clinic in Valdez for X-rays and discovered my hand was healing almost perfectly. What I learned from that is that big pain overwhelms less-big pain. I half-suspect that smashing my big toe would solve my hip problems for at least a couple of days.

If this column runs in the Winter issue, by the time you hear from me again we’ll all know if I’m right; or that my wife wins another argument. Or we’ll learn that I’m a total wimp and limped away from the surgeon’s knife like the gutless cowboy I am. I can always smash a toe every morning and distract attention from that damned hip.

MMM Winter 2011

Apr 13, 2015

#104 "You Are A Motorcycle Bigot"

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

For the hundredth time in our acquaintance-ship, the dude called me a "bigot" because of my general dislike of the cruiser class of motorcycles. I get this charge from a couple of folks and a fair number of readers. They think the accusation is a major blow to my credibility as a motorcyclist and a writer and a person. I think they are somewhere between goofy and overstuffed with themselves.

For starters, bigotry is no small thing. It's a word with meaning, history, and authority. Webster's defines a bigot as "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance." In respect to motorcycles, my first thought is, "Get over yourselves."

Nothing about disliking a particular type of machine is anywhere near as despicable as racial hatred or intolerance. An overweight, barely mobile, noisy, awkward, and gaudy motorcycle design is still merely a silly toy. I'm not even disliking a means of transportation, just a style. In general, I don't like bagpipes, banjos, women's basketball, hillbilly music, hip hop, uncomfortable shoes, liver and onions, cancer and heart disease, or the sociopathic institution of "incorporation." In specific, there are some instances of each of those (except cancer, heart disease, and corporations) that I can tolerate in small doses. Except for three exceptions, I don't hate any of that list.

However, taking the accusation half-seriously I thought about comparing the typical cruiser to the description of a person, using the word's definition. What I came up with is someone who is grossly overweight, stubby-legged, physically incapacitated to the point of presenting a hazard to himself and anyone nearby, wealthy (or expensive, if a dependent) and high maintenance, noisy and constantly trying to draw attention to himself, and who dresses like one of those characters at the Renaissance Festival. Shakespeare's Falstaff is exactly my mental image of a cruiser-as-a-person. Falstaff may be the kind of guy you want to hang out with in a bar, but he'd be a lousy choice of partner in a bar fight. If you don't need intellectual challenge, Falstaff might be an entertaining conversationalist, but not in a library or hospital corridor where his noise, bluster, and stupidity would piss off anyone with an IQ over moronic. As a whole, Falstaff is exactly the kind of person I try to avoid under all circumstances. You'll notice there is no color or ethnic component to my description. I don't buy that avoiding this character qualifies as bigotry. I'd call it "discretion."

However, cruisers are not animate objects and are unworthy of hatred; any more than banjos are truly despicable or heart disease and JPMorgan Chase deserve to survive into the next decade. I can't generate anything near hatred toward any kind of motorcycle. What I do dislike the most about the run-of-the-mill cruiser is that they violate my esthetic sense. Like Falstaff, they are not pretty. Since I'm stuck with a personality that requires form to follow function, the lack of function in cruiser-form is just ugly.

If you're honest, you'll have to admit that I'm not obstinate in my objection to the cruiser style. I've ridden a couple dozen of the genre over the last two decades and I'm always open to the hope that "this one is different." So far, I've been disappointed. The least disappointing of the bunch was the H-D Sportster Sport, but grinding the right-side pipe exiting the Denver dealer's parking lot as I merged into Colfax Avenue traffic didn't raise that bar very high.

Not being a roadracer, there have been a few sportbikes that disinterest me as much as cruisers. Since my mid-fifties, I can't twist myself into that riding position for more than a few minutes without permanent injury. The only cycle style I haven't tried out has been trikes and I gave them up when I graduated to bicycles in 1954. My Hoveround® days will arrive soon enough, I don't need to accelerate the decline.

I have always felt the only real defense I have in traffic on a motorcycle is maneuverability. That's it. If I am not able to change or split lanes quickly, stop or swerve, see over and around other vehicles, or abandon the lanes of traffic and head for a ditch or someone's lawn, I feel naked and exposed on a motorcycle. The only part of motorcycling on the street that approaches a "sport" is the part the motorcycle plays.

Cruisers don't have the ground clearance necessary to pretend to be athletic. Their weight and weight-distribution, width and length, silly handlebar shapes and irrational foot-peg placement, and parts placement are the antithesis of "athletic." That blubbering potato-potato noise sounds practically asthmatic. The louder it is, the more injured it sounds. My term for that design, "hippobike," comes from watching the things wallow through corners. It's almost painful to watch those crippled machines attempt to escape from a stop light before they are run over by the distracted or irritated SUV drivers behind them.

So, while you may call wanting to avoid a noisy, dangerous, cowardly, clumsy, fat man a prejudice, I don't buy it. You can tell yourself that my dislike for overweight, lumbering, badly designed, noisy motorcycles is bigoted, but the reaction you're going to get from me is a chuckle and a little more social distance. If you can't pick your friends any better than that, you are already used to disappointment. If those are the characteristics you look for in a motorcycle, you're "crusin' for a bruisin'."

MMM October 2011

Apr 6, 2015

#103 Magura Levers and Preston Petty Fenders

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

Every year that I have taught MSF classes I’ve spent a good portion of at least a few BRCs cobbling together a lever out of busted pieces of Japanese aluminum. Beginning riders crash, they break stuff, the stuff they break most often are brake and clutch levers.

For my own replacements, I try to never, ever buy a factory Japanese lever. They don’t bend, they break. Always.

Almost any kind of alternative lever will be more indestructible and more reusable than the aluminum-powder crap that the Big Four dumps on their customers. Twenty-five years ago, that was the rule for brake and clutch levers and shifters, regardless of where they came from; England, Japan, Italy, Germany, and the US. All crap. The slightest impact and the levers snapped like pencils. For that matter, so did the bars. Today, nothing has changed.

Back in the bad old days pretty much every brand of lever was as fragile as factory metal, except a Spanish company called Magura. Magura made slightly more expensive levers that could be bent, straightened, bent again, and straightened over and over. It wasn’t that they were easier to bend, either. They were tough and repairable. For some of us who had wrestled with the problem of carrying a half-dozen levers in the toolbox, Magura levers were freakin’ magic parts. Once Magura came out with a replacement lever for the bike of the season, that problem was solved indefinitely.

Sometime in the early-70s Magura upped the ante by introducing “dog-leg levers.” Today, practically every bike lever sold is a copy of those 70's Magura parts. However, the levers pawned off on ignorant consumers by the major manufacturers only copied the shape. The reliability and strength of the original design got lost on the drawing board or on the manufacturing floor. Magura still makes really cool bicycle and vintage motorcycle replacement parts. Our loss. My last trials bike had a pair of Magura bicycle levers in place of the junk Yamaha had installed. I crashed that TY350 a few hundred times and the levers were still in like-new shape when the new owner picked up the bike and trailered it away.

A common gripe among sportbikers is the expense of replacing fragile plastic. “Drop a sportbike, spend a few thousand,” is the sequence we’ve all experienced. Even a slow spill in the garage can cost a month’s wage in repair parts, most of them plastic. Forty years ago, all factory fenders were metal and they were fragile and often replaced. Europe started using fiberglass bodywork, but that was only a cosmetic “improvement.” Parts still broke easily and replacement parts were no better than the OEM bits.

A west coast desert racer, Preston Petty, designed a line of ABS plastic parts that was guaranteed to be “unbreakable” and, under most circumstances, they were close to indestructible. Petty branched out to fuel tanks and other body parts and, for a lot of years, you could find a Preston Petty parts section in most shops that catered to dirt bikers.

My experience with Petty’s fenders varied a little from the indestructible reputation. Every spring my one-man bike dealership would ship a box of fender pieces for warranty replacement. After three years of this routine, I got a call from the company asking what my customers were doing when they broke the fenders. When I told them we were motocrossing in near-zero-Fahrenheit weather, they weren’t amused. It’s the truth, though. We’d crash and the fenders would break like glass. On ice and snow, we crashed a lot and we broke a lot of fenders every winter. I never broke a one between March and November, though.

I’ve been a big fan of ABS plastic stuff ever since. Maybe not for Minnesota winters, but it’s great stuff the rest of the year. Rustproof, durable, light, when it’s scratched it doesn’t show because the color is injected into the plastic, and it’s even weld-able so you can repair it or modify it, it’s the perfect motorcycle body material. Apparently, ABS is expensive. The street bike parts from the major motorcycle manufacturers has little of the qualities that made Preston Petty’s fenders so durable, except for the rustproof-ness. The only reason I can imagine they use this crap plastic is because it is cheap. Obviously, it’s no skin off their noses if we have to cough up thousands for replacement parts as long as we have no alternative sources for the parts we buy.

Acerbis has taken up the slack for dirt bikes and their parts are tough. I haven’t raced or crashed on the ice in more than twenty-five years, so I don’t know if their parts hold up at low temperatures. I’m curious, though. I have used Acerbis tanks, fenders, lighting, and all of that stuff has survived my abuse. It looks good, too.

Whenever someone tries to tell me that the major manufacturers are doing me a favor by building great bikes, I remember Preston Petty and Magura. When the majors couldn’t figure out how to do a job right, someone does it for them, turns it into an industry, and forces the big guys to do their job. Without all of those pioneer privateer bike part designers, we’d still be riding bikes with crap suspensions, fragile body parts, boring cosmetics, and poor performance. I don’t feel any need to thank Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, or any other manufacturer for today’s motorcycles, but I do want to thank Preston Petty, Magura, and the other great designers and motorcycle fanatics for polishing the big company turds into the wonderful motorcycles we ride today.

MMM September 2011