Nov 30, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1992 Yamaha TDM 850

_reaso2 Learn (a lot) more about this bike
The TDM and I had a long and profitable love affair. The second picture [see below] is of my bike on the way back from Steamboat Springs, CO. Sorry the clarity is so mediocre. This photo shows every accessory I had on the bike. The picture at right is from when I got lost on a dirt "road" expedition at Flaming Gorge, Utah and picked up a cactus spike in the rear tire. I sort of thought that picture might be all that would remain of me when I ran out of water. A tire plug and 3 CO2 cartridges got me back on the road and I lived to screw up another day.

I bought my first TDM in March of 1994, in Denver, Colorado. I first rode a TDM during a Yamaha promotional tour, also in Colorado, in 1992. It was love at first sight and lust after that first ride. The TDM's cost about $9,000 out the door, in 1992. That was so far out of my price range that it might as well been a custom bike. But by 1994, Yamaha dealers were blowing out TDM's (along with a couple of other badly marketed flops) for as little as $4,000, new with full warranty. I bought mine, used with about 3,000 miles, at the beginning of the price reduction cycle for $4,200 with a set of Kerker pipes and a Corbin seat. It seemed like a good deal at the time, but the collapse of the TDM's dealer value put a bit of bite into my usual buyer's-remorse.

tdm I put ninety-some thousand miles on that bike in six years. Most of those miles came in the first two years. I did two extended trips on the TDM. Obviously, my days of using motorcycles as primary transportation were coming to an end. After moving to Minnesota, the "adventure touring" aspect of the TDM's design became less a part of my motorcycling activity. Between becoming a grandfather and the long Minnesota winters, most of my motorcycling was limited to commuting to work and short weekend morning trips into the country-side.

I bought my second TDM in the spring of 1999. It had less than 8,000 miles and I'd hoped to start over with a less "seasoned" TDM. The problem is that this bike had been whipped long and put up wet. It had been treated with considerably less than loving care and, by the time I'd gone through the bike fixing abuse and neglect, I was less confident of this bike than I was of my original TDM. I sold it in early spring, 2000, and had planned to stay with my original bike . . . until the SV distracted me. I sold my original TDM, yesterday (as of this writing, June 4, 2000).

Weird tale of karma. The guy who bought my old bike managed to dump it in the road in front of my house. He bought it, anyway, which saved us both a lot of hassle. The next day, I dumped my new SV650 on a turn that I've made a few dozen times, with no effort or stress. I think I broke my foot in that wreak, which makes me wonder what happened when the TDM went away. Did I catch that guy's karma or did mine infect us both when I let my old, dependable, bike go away? A ghost in the machine?

The "TDM List's Website" (the reference above the picture) was a great resource for prospective TDM users. They've hung on to an unabbreviated article I wrote (Steamboat Springs 1997) for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly (the short version), practically, since I wrote it. The list provided me with technical information, advice on repairs and parts, and friends. It must be one of the oldest motorcycling on-line groups around. The bike hasn't been imported into the US since 1993, but these guys keep the memory of Yamaha's great bike as alive as if Yamaha still thought Americans rode motorcycles for fun and practical transportation.

The TDM is a weird combination of a sport bike and a big bore dual-purpose motorcycle.  The bike has a much longer than typical suspension travel, both front and rear, a tall upright seating position, extremely stable handling, and a very narrow profile.  I rode my TDM down one of the sections of a Colorado regional observed trials and managed to get it between the rocks and trees with about as much trouble as some of the intermediate riders had with their trials bikes. That was one of my proudest moments on a motorcycle. The TDM gets fair mileage, about 46-50 mpg, and with it's big tank you can get very close to 300 miles per tank on a long, moderate speed ride. I think I made a terrible mistake selling my TDM.

Post-Mortem: Seven years later, I'm still sorry I sold my TDM. I own a 2004 Suzuki V-Strom DL650 now. The V-Strom is close to the TDM, but it is not a TDM. The Yamaha is still the best street bike I've ever owned. A friend recently bought a 1992 TDM and, after considerable wrangling with the carburetion due to the bike's having suffered improper long-term storage, is demonstrating what a great motorcycle the bike is/was. I'm jealous. The TDM is more fun to ride than the V-Strom. It's quicker, skinnier, has a better suspension, a lower seat height, more ground clearance, is easier to service, and is more stable on dirt roads.

The TDM had a reputation for being "weird looking." Today, dozens of motorcycles from Japan to Europe are imitating the look of the TDM. An extreme example of this is the 2008 Benelli Tre K which is an absolutely knockoff of the TDM's styling. Goes to show, what's cool now was "weird" yesterday.

TDM Modifications and Accessories
Five-Star Centerstand
One of the dumbest things that's happened to motorcycles in the last decade is the disappearance of centerstands. The Five-Star is/was made in Germany. Apparently, Europeans aren't any more interested in centerstands than Americans. Five-Star quit making this part in the late 90's and people have been digging for a substitute ever since. Some folks thought it lowered the ground clearance too much, especially on peg-dragging turns. I didn't ever have a problem with that, but I'm not that adventurous, either. My experience with a pair of these stands was good enough that I wouldn't be anywhere without one.

ClearShield Windshield
I bought the very first one of these ever built. I wrote it up in an article I did for Rider Magazine and I thought it did a good job for what it was intended. It provides decent weather protection from the neck down. However, it doesn't decrease the wind noise for the rider.

Kerker Exhaust System
This came with my first TDM. The pipes are light and noisy as hell. I, eventually, sold them and went back to stock. I got tired of the evil looks I was getting from my neighbors.

Supertrapp Exhaust System
This came with the second TDM I owned. The Supertrapps were a lot less irritating than the Kerkers and equally light. For what that's worth. Still, I'd rather have the stock pipes and be able to ride into my driveway with the motor on, late at night. I seriously doubt that any aftermarket company can improve a modern Japanese motorcycle manufacturer's performance. But the weight is a big deal, for racers. Either the Kerkers or Supertrapps probably weigh a fifth of the stock pipes.

Carburetor Modifications
I did both the shim correction and the Factory carb kit to the two TDM's I owned. Unfortunately, neither of the bikes were very similar when the job was done, so I can't give you a report of which was the best setup. The TDM is a miserably difficult bike to work on, in some ways. The fairing, side covers, tank, and aircleaner have to come off to get to the carbs. I wasted most of a winter doing the Factory setup on my second TDM and I'm not convinced I saw any improvement. The shim correction, on the other hand, is well worth doing. Replace the emulsion tubes while you're in there and you'll see an improvement in mileage and low end performance.  

Nov 24, 2015

Taking Me Seriously

There is a big difference between the columns I write for MMM or Rider’s Digest and the stuff I put on my blog. The main difference is proofreading. When I write for someone else’s publication, I try to round off the edges so that while I might intend to piss someone off I won’t do it accidentally (although some people misread anything written and you can’t help but wad up their panties with any sequence of words). For publication, I currently have about 20 articles in the que with another dozen almost finished but which will get a few more hours of rewriting before they are plopped on to the que. If my editors saw fit (and I’d love it if they did) and I died tomorrow, I could still be putting out “new” articles two years later.  As H.L. Menken said, “I write for the same reason cows give milk.” When I write for myself on this blog, I don’t worry about that stuff as much as I do trying to get out a point before it’s lost in my wrinkled grey matter. I have nothing in the que for this blog, other than the automatically logged stuff previously published that will end up here about a year or two after it’s in print. I give my publishers first publication rights, but I keep the right to self-publish here and on Wordpress.

While I would never encourage anyone to take me seriously anywhere you read my stuff, getting overwrought about an opinion you read here is an unnecessary strain on both your heart and credibility. I’ve said, for years, that I only believe about 1% of what I read, 10% of what I hear, and 50% of what I say. Your mileage may vary.

A couple of readers whose opinions and thoughts I respect considerably were really disappointed with my comments about Moto Guzzi’s M-something-or-other in a recent rant, Where We’re Going. To be clear, I don’t take much of anything from Europe, machine-wise, seriously. If Finland made a motorcycle, I’d be interested in looking at it, but I wouldn’t trust a bike from Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, or England any further than I could toss it. Been there, done that, thirty and fifty years ago and I’m still holding a grudge. It’s who I am.

More importantly, I wouldn’t invest more than 50% of what I am absolutely certain I could get out of a Euro-trash bike because I’d sell it as fast as I could find a buyer. That’s also who I am and you will have nothing, argument-wise, to beat that one back. It’s, honestly, not the machines with which I have a grudge, it’s the lousy European mismanagement and their complete inability to commit to building a dealer network. Now that VW owns Ducati, that brand is even further down my shitlist of undesirable machines than before: Germany times Italy equals the worst of everything humans do. If Saudi Arabia made a motorcycle, I wouldn’t expect it to be less interesting or more poorly supported. If you have a problem with that, talk amongst yourselves because I’m out of it. I will not live long enough to get over this grudge and wouldn’t want to. I plan to stay retired and don’t expect any new money to help with that.

However, the point of Where We’re Going would have been in the other 75% of that essay that speculated on the possibility that the frivolousness of American motorcycling may be pointing to the likelihood that motorcycles are on a short public road longevity leash. It should always be pretty obvious that the majority of the content in any sort of article is the actual point, but maybe not.

Thanks to the curse of my personality and past occupation (test and reliability engineering), I actually have a pretty good record of predicting bad shit. I’m retired because I accurately predicted four painful economic downturns and placed a strong bet against our bubble economy on three of them. (I only missed the 4th because my shithole Misfortune 500 job had beaten me down so far that I didn’t care if the world and my own bank account sank into the swamp. Hell, by the time I quit that POS job, I couldn’t even read headlines let alone place a sell order on my investments.) To be clear, I have no ability to spot the early leading edge of “irrational exuberance.” I got into Microsoft a little late and got out way early, likewise Marvel Corp, Disney, Genome, Texas Instruments, and a raft of alternative energy investments and commodities. Because I always expect the worst, I almost never get burned but I rarely strike gold. I do get a lot of silver, copper, tin, steel, and well-manufactured products, though. All of my past stockbrokers are either dead or still working for a living and doing it out of necessity. I ignored 99% of their “better jump on this stock” advice and all of their “hold till it gets better” advice and I’m retired and they are not. Most of them are a good bit older than me, too. A couple of them died underwater on investments and real estate. This is my analysis resume: I’m good at predicting when stuff will turn to shit. Four different industries paid me well to tell them when their products would belly-up over 30 years in industry. In one particularly evil industry, part of my job was to predict when our asshole execs should divest themselves of their stock options because the flaws in our product designs would sink the company and its stock value. You can read more about that in one of my other blogs, if you care.

So, with that as a background, try not to focus on how much I distrust Moto Guzzi’s dealer network, hipster styles, or pirate outfits. It was not my point. The original essay was inspired by the fact that motorcycle sales are down and sinking and dealerships are experiencing hard times even in a fairly up economy. Fishing for reenactment business seems very much like the endgame, like those small towns who have nothing but 2nd hand stores left. I've had a couple of private conversations with people in the gear and accessory industry who think they may not survive another year like this. You might be surprised who is thinking these thoughts. These are businesses that have been around a while.

Couple that with my own experience with a couple dozen "new riders," who got into motorcycling for that brief moment when it was hip to be a retro-biker (a trend that peaked about a year ago) and who have already moved on, and away from motorcycles, after a few months experience. That "current fad" is fading into the past quickly. So, what's wrong with it is not that I give a damn about the fad, am offended by the style, or have some sort of moral/engineering objection to the styles and fashions of motorcycles or motorcyclists. It's that it appears to be a quickly passing fad with no serious follow-up consumers.

Harley and Polaris have been counting on the dress-up market for a couple of decades. The people they sell to are old and are on the edge of moving on from their three-wheel wheelchairs to the real thing. Honda hoped the NC700/500 models might attract some practical riders, something resembling long term business, but those bikes are now getting blown out with major discounts. From V-Stroms of both sizes and all models, 250s and 300 sport bikes and dual purpose bikes, big and small sportbikes, cruisers, there doesn't seem to be a model group that is selling. All of that is true for the support business, too. At least from the folks I've talked to, it sounds like gear, accessories, tools, and aftermarket parts sales are down with a pretty poor long term outlook. I don't pay for insider industry information, like PowerSports, so I can't claim access to industry sales data. I’m old and at the tailend of my riding life, so I don’t care much, either. It's pretty widely known that Suzuki planned on closing about 20% of its dealerships in 2013, but more like 30% actually went away. Harley's dealership numbers are below what they were in 2000. Their sales are unreliably hyped by inventory shuffling and money sleight-of-hand games. Harley recently fired the marketing people who were responsible for attracting “under 35 year old consumers” to the brand. I see no evidence that they made the slightest dent into that consumer group. Triumph and Ducati dealers are closing or consolidating.

Here in Red Wing, our local Big Three dealer is dumping 2014 and 2015 bikes and, from what my neighbor (a friend of the owner) said, the dealer might be planning to replace the inventory with the dead minimum motorcycle buy for 2016 and dropping one or two brands. He has two other dealerships and, again from rumor, will be eliminating motorcycles from both of them in a year or so without some sort of change in the business. Boats, jet skis, ATVs, campers, farm equipment, and even snowmobiles are moving. Motorcycle sales are down and sinking. In the Cities, dealers vanish regularly and are either absorbed by other dealers or just disappear.

One well-considered reader/friend asked, “So if the current hipster fads of making old jap bikes into bobbers/cafe/brat style what-evers helps push the manufacturers into making what the kids want to see, what’s wrong with it?” “Wrong” is the wrong word. My feeling is that the existence of this sort of “market” is exactly what’s “wrong” with Midwestern cities lined with 2nd hand stores and no actual businesses. It’s a logical response to a dying industry. Hipsters spend a few weeks wrapping tape around a rusty exhaust pipe, buying flat bars at garage sales and dealer bankruptcy clearances, hacking fenders short, and they ride for a few weeks until they get scared by a near-miss and quit. The gangbangers are either pissing off the general public with their hooligan antics or scaring the shit out of them with their mobster tactics and they are old, fat, unhealthy, and steal their bikes and parts rather than buy them. The gangbanger wannabes are old and incompetent and contribute mostly to morbidity/mortality statistics. The 1% of riders who are on the road regularly, regardless of weather or trendiness, are (I think) a lot more common in other countries. Throughout the swings of the economy and trends, these are the riders are who preserve motorcycle rights/privileges and who the industry counts on to provide steady revenue and new product markets. If the whole number is shrinking, that 1% will eventually become too small to support anything other than hobby business. Again, look at small town economic disintegration to see a recent example of how that all works. 2nd hand stores are hobbies, not businesses.

Sadly, when Kevin Cameron said about my column and blog, “Nobody else does this emperor's clothes kind of thing!” This is the kind of thing he was talking about. There is no motorcycle magazine on the planet that would publish an “end of times” article. Advertisers would panic. I, on the other hand, don’t have any skin in this game. I could, also, be really wrong. I hope I am. What’s happening here is definitely different than much of the rest of the world.

When and where I first started riding in the 60s, it was much worse than now. In Kansas, most people hated motorcycles and motorcyclists and I am not exaggerating when I say it was pretty common to have someone try to knock you off of the road. Truck, cars, and even cops would intentionally crowd me close enough to make contact. So, I just started riding in the ditches. Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are still places I wouldn't consider touring on the WR250 for that reason. I'd want at least a 650 for the power to keep some space between me and hostile cagers. I have always blamed the biker gangsters for this attitude. The gangbangers were pretty common sight on Harleys, BSAs, Nortons, and Triumphs making noise and being assholes back then. Americans are, I think, more timid, conservative, and afraid of most everything than most people, in my experience. We're not warlike because we're brave or give a shit about justice or freedom. We want to blow the shit out of everything because we're afraid of everything from different races, religions, economic systems, languages, to architecture. On motorcycles, too many riders are terrified of the risk and want someone else to “fix it” for them. All that “start seeing motorcycles” and asking for harsher punishment for “right of way” violations and insane expansions of motorcycle right of way claims are part of that.

A lot of the problem with motorcycling in the US is because we're afraid of risk, as a culture. That might be why our actual inventors, scientists, athletes, and entrepreneurs standout so dramatically in contrast. However, that’s a whole different rant.

A Little Encouraging

Century College is one of the biggest MSF/MMSC training centers in Minnesota and the Cities. The college had a down year in 2015, with a total of 542 students enrolling in the Century Motorcycle Safety Classes for the year (slightly over half of previous stronger years). Some of the demographic breakdown is interesting, though.

  • 15-19: 13%
  • 20-29: 37%
  • 30-45: 27%
  • 45-60: 19%
  • 60-up: 3%

There were years when more than half of our students were 60-up. Harley and Polaris’ golden years, I suppose. It is dramatically easier to teach physical and mental skills to people who are still in school or only recently left an environment where they were expected to learn something occasionally. More fun, too.

30% of our students were women. I don’t really have much of an opinion about that. Too often, women are taking the class because a spouse or boyfriend insists they “need to know how to ride.” That rarely works out well. It is a terrible motivation. And often leads to an often-dropped-motorcycle and tears.

About 85% of the students who enroll in a course pass it. You could blame that stat on good instructors, which Century has plenty of. I tend to believe that the course is far too easy. Many people who should not pass, do. Occasionally, someone who rides well screws up something simple and fails, but that’s rare and easily remedied with a “Skills Retest” card. The bigger problem is the much larger group who pass, barely, and on their only decent ride of the weekend. They have been marginally trained to ride a motorcycle slowly, in a free-from-traffic parking lot, with an instructor providing moment-by-moment instruction. Real world traffic will overwhelm them.

Nov 23, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1986 Yamaha TY350 Trials


For no good reason, I'd barely used this bike when I gave it up. (Ok, there was a pretty good reason. I’d bruised my right knee badly enough that the bone was beginning to atrophy. My orthopedic surgeon recommended that I buy a crutch and lay off of physical activity for at least a year to let the bone heal. If that didn’t work, I’d have bought a fake knee about 1998.)

I bought it in Colorado, when I thought I might take advantage of the nearby Ramparts Motorcycle Park. I didn't. I moved it to Minnesota, where I built a small trials course in our yard. I'd probably used the bike a total of 20 hours in the six years I've owned it. I sold it in 1998, after wreaking a knee in my backyard (doing yard work, not riding). In retrospect, this was another bike that I wish I'd have hung on to a while longer. At the time, I was told I wouldn't recover from the knee injury and would, probably, end up with a plastic knee. With careful exercise and Glucosamine, I discovered there was an alternative. Almost ten years later, my knees are fine; better than they were when I was 30, in fact. Now, I wish I had a trials bike.

If I'd have had a bike like the TY350 when I was young and actively riding trials, I'd have loved the sport much more. Since I had the RL250 at that time, I learned to love watching trials but sort of lost the drive to do it myself. After the knee injury, I let the TY sit in the garage, untouched for three years and, on a half dozen kicks, it fired up and ran like someone has been taking care of it all along. I bought a new rear fender and a pair of half-decent air filter elements, which brought all of the TY's pieces up to decent standards. When I sold it, the bike looked great, ran strong, and started on the 3rd kick on a 35F day, once again after being left unattended for months.

Its old fashioned drum brakes aren't up to doing modern trials tricks, but they worked well enough for a plugger like me. The TY350 seems to be indestructible, based on the abuse I'd given it, something I'm definitely not. I needed a time machine and 25 fewer years on my joints. The engine is obsolete, a throwback to the slow rev'ing, high torque days of trials engine design. The bike is way over-weight, by modern standards. The engine didn't rev instantly, launching the bike up a vertical incline like a wheeled cougar, but I could putt up my backyard pile of rocks with confidence. The brakes weren't 1-finger tight, but I could control the TY350 on a downhill slide into a creek bed.

The suspension is equally backwards. However, all of the parts worked together pretty well. I might never be able to hop a trials bike, but I could get over a 4' tall log. With all that, I might have been a half-decent novice rider on the TY if I'd have known I'd be getting my knees back.

Nov 19, 2015

Why We’re Everyone’s Favorite Asshole

California is still the only state in the US with actual legal lane-splitting/sharing. I’d love to believe that this great idea will spread to other states, but because motorcycles attract more assholes than humans, I suspect it never will (or won’t in my lifetime). This article from CBS Los Angeles, Road Rage Caught On Camera: Motorcyclist Smashes Auto Mirrors And Flees, is one of many reasons why. If you do a Google search on “motorcycle road rage video smashes mirrors youtube ” you’ll discover more of this crap than you’d imagine/hope.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen almost no evidence that self-regulation works in any industry or activity. Scuba diving and some of the high-liability air sports like skydiving and glider piloting are the exceptions. Personally, I think motorcyclists are going to have take motorcycle licensing and laws in hand and drop the hammer on assholes like this douche or we can wait to be banished from public roads with more than enough justification.

Then, of course, there is always the total asshole gangbanger crowd. I will never understand why, if cops are so anxious to blow holes in people, they don’t practice with these jackasses. There wouldn’t be 30 seconds of protest if this whole pack of dickwads were routed into a warehouse districted and shot to pieces. There might even be promotions and medals involved.

Nov 17, 2015

Where We’re Going

2013-MotoGuzzi-V7Stone3A friend sent me a link to his next dream bike: a Moto Guzzi V9. His comment was “I like the idea of bigger motor w/ more hp to replace the V7.” If you haven’t seen the V7, there’s a reason for that: it is a kinda silly Euro-trash product that can only be spotted in US major urban centers. At $10,000 for an underpowered, barely unsupported Sportster-style 750, you have to be a fairly committed hipster to even consider owning one of these things. As a motorcycle, it’s a fashion statement that totally evades me. When I mentioned it to a friend who is a daily rider, but who isn’t particularly connected to the motorcycle culture or a moto-journalism reader his comment was, “Is Moto Guzzi still around?” They are and the next obvious question is “Why?”

bikers-379983Of course, I’ve been asking that question about the myriad of US cruiser manufacturers and Japanese clones for the last three decades. More accurately, my question has been,“Why the hell are these people making these stupid bikes and why are people buying them?” Believe it or not, I think there is an answer. It’s not an answer I like, but it appears to be as close to the truth as a short essay can describe.

bikers1In an email conversation about the motorcycling economy (or lack of one) Andy Goldfine explained this stuff to me a couple of weeks ago in a way that makes demented sense. His take is that US motorcycling has become a “reenactment activity,” like Civil War reenactments or Renaissance Festivals. Like it or not, that explains the desperation from the biker bunch and their pitiful rebels without a cause group angst. It more than explains the cobbled-up Eurotrash-revival of hipster cafe racers and scramblers. It even goes a ways toward explaining the whole vintage Japan nuttiness. While riding for transportation appears to be a vanishing habit, dressing up like a 1910-55 motorcyclist is a "thing."

ww14-benoit-guerry-018-1024x682In his book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” Thomas Frank points to the abundance of secondhand stores as evidence of economic and cultural decay. After reading his book, you can’t help but see the incredible collection of junk stores in the smoking, dead hulk of what used to be the Midwestern “Mainstreet USA.” Likewise, sunny-day recreational riders dressing up like pirates or bankrobbers or 1960’s mods is evidence of the decay of motorcycling. All this posing means there is no real purpose for motorcycles. Like those abandoned Midwestern towns whose only purpose is to house the remaining seven ancient characters who don’t have the motivation, courage, or competence to move to a decent place, these people are saying the only reason to own a motorcycle is as an excuse to play dress-up. The unfortunate fact is that this opinion is the majority motorcycling attitude.

Leader of the Pack.They are, of course, wrong. I’m not going to list all of the should-be-obvious advantages two-wheel vehicles have over cages, but the fact is that we can fill the spaces in any sort of traffic; auto-piloted or otherwise. On a typical American urban street, more space is wasted than used. That is taxpayer money being foolishly spent out of tradition and if anything on this earth has proved to be useless it is tradition.

Nov 16, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1983 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision

Learn more about this bike

vision83 Like the '82, this Vision was a great bike. For some reason, the '83 Vision didn't sell at all in CA until 1985. Once they left the showroom floors, you couldn't find one, anywhere. I watched for an '83 right up till I found one in 1988. I bought the bike, rode it for my last three years in CA and took it with me to Colorado.

The '83 was an especially terrific Colorado touring bike, the fairing's heating system added about two months to my riding season in that state. While friends were hiding in their cages, I rode for all but about two months of the first two years I was in Colorado. The fairing provided great coverage, some storage, and the heating vents worked so well that I can't figure out why more bikes don't do it. The Vision was way ahead of its time. Too much vision?

The only downside to the bike was that the added weight of the fairing seemed to overwhelm the brakes, slightly. The '82 Vision had strong, positive feeling front brakes. The '83 brakes were slightly mushy and not nearly as powerful. Plus, the front end tended to sag under rough road riding. Still, it was a decent motorcycle and it served me well for more than 50,000 miles.

The Corbin seat (in the picture) was a custom design that I drew up on CAD and shipped to Corbin, along with the stock seat frame). It worked pretty well, but I got carried away with my attempt to lower the seat height and the Corbin slightly cramped the riding position with no advantage. For whatever that's worth, it was a fairly cool looking seat and really comfortable for a passenger.

The Vision was so versatile that I only took my XT350 out of the Colorado garage one time, and ended up selling that bike a couple of months later. If the TDM hadn't come along, I might still be riding the '83 Vision. I can't say enough about what a great bike this was.

I put about 50,000 miles on the '83 before selling it to a guy who came all the way to Colorado from Southern California (in the winter) to pick it up. It was still in great shape and ran flawlessly. The guy didn't even want to test ride the Vision. I started it for him and we loaded it into his truck and away he went. I took this picture a couple of days before it left my life. I didn't want it to escape my memory the way the CX500 and others had. The new owner seemed more interested in the stock seat I'd kept in like-new condition, so maybe he was more of a collector than a rider or could see that the Corbin had some design problems.

Nov 9, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1986 Yamaha XT350 Enduro

Learn more here 1986-Yamaha-XT350-White-Red-5173-0

Again, a bike for which I've had to steal a picture. This pic is pretty much exactly what my XT looked like, dead stock. However, if I’d have found a 2000 XT it wouldn’t have mattered. Other than color changes the 2000 is not even a little bit different than the 1986.

I owned my XT for 6 years and loved it for most of that. The TDM and my old age finally eliminated my need for the bike and it sold for what I'd paid for it. XT's don't show up, often, for sale because they're such terrific bikes.

In California, I watched for one for two years, when I found it I got into a bidding war with three guys who hadn't even been out to see the bike yet. I was the winner because I was there with cash. When I sold mine in 1995, I was on the other end of the same situation in Colorado.

I used my XT, mostly, for commuting in Southern California, along PCH between Costa Mesa and Long Beach. Because California drivers are practically talentless and most are mental cases, I wanted a bike that could jump off-road without hesitation. The XT suspension could take a curb as well as most bikes can roll over smooth highway. I can't guess how many times I left the road and ran for the safety of someone's front yard, while commuting to school in Long Beach. I watched as two to a dozen cars, then, piled into each other, burying the spot I'd vacated a few moments earlier. Once, I decided the air must be too thin for the average Californian's pollution-damaged brain and I rode nearly five miles on the sidewalk paralleling PCH. The place is a nutbin, but the XT350 was my way to escape joining the wacko bloodbath.

The other great advantage was in parking. CSULB would let me park my XT by the bicycle racks. I could practically ride up to my classes and step off the bike into my classroom.

Being a lazy bonehead, I allowed a little tuning to get between me and using the XT regularly in Colorado. Moving the bike, which was perfectly tuned in California, to Denver resulted in major jetting problems. The XT always ran way too rich in Colorado and a trip to Ramparts highlighted how far away from prime the tuning was. I had a miserable weekend trying to keep the 350 running in the 8,000 foot altitude of the motorcycle park. I couldn't even keep the other guys in sight, while I fought stalling, loading-up, and the other symptoms of a super-rich fuel-air mixture. Locally, I got some terrible jetting advice from the Yamaha Aurora shop and the twin carburetor low/high rev system defeated me. Out of disgust (mostly with myself), I quit trying to figure out the bike and sold it. The moment my buyer loaded the XT on to his truck, I knew I'd made a mistake. 

For almost a decade, I watched for a replacement, even an exact replacement, for almost 15 years nobody appeared to be getting rid of their XT's.  I wish I'd have never sold the one I had.  Finally, the WR250X came along and wiped the memory of the XT’s brilliance from my mind.

Nov 5, 2015

2015 Motorcycle Riding Season Preliminary Statistics Summary

At this point there have been 60 motorcycle fatalities this riding season in 56 crashes. That compares to 44 rider deaths at this point last year.

There were 46 motorcycle fatalities in 2014.

2015 Rider Deaths Statistics
·       Helmet use: 37 riders killed were not wearing helmet; 16 were wearing a helmet.
o      It’s unknown if the remaining 7 riders were wearing helmets or not.
·       33 of the crashes were single-vehicle, involving only the motorcycle. 23 of the crashes involved a motorcycle and another vehicle.
·       6 of the crashes were motorcycle vs. deer.
·       8 passengers have died in motorcycle crashes.
·       26 of the crashes happened while motorcyclists were negotiating a curve. Only 2 of the 26 involved a second vehicle; 24 were single-vehicle crashes.
·       Rider Deaths by Age:
o      20’s: 9 riders
o      30’s: 9 riders
o      40’s: 12 riders
o      50’s: 18 riders
o      60’s: 10 riders
o      70’s: 2 riders
·       41 of the crashes happened in a rural area. 15 happened in an urban area.

The summer months (June, July, August) tend to be the time when there are the greater number of motorcycle fatalities.

The record for the most motorcycle fatalities was set in 1980, when 121 motorcyclists were killed in 112 crashes.

The data is followed by some of the usual advice such as "wear a helmet, get trained" and the ABATE party line about how drivers need to watch out for unskilled and poorly protected motorcyclists because we're too dumb to do it for ourselves. published "Learning How to Ride a Motorcycle," which has a few decent tips on how to avoid becoming a statistic. Couldn't hurt to take a look.

A Real Future


A friend who makes a living in the motorcycle accessory industry recently had some discouraging words to say about his perspective on the future of motorcycling. Obviously, I didn’t have much to offer in disagreement. However, outside of the historical “reenactment” cruiser characters who are nearly as ancient and obsolete as Civil War wannabes, there is a potential market for motorcycles in the under-70 generations that is almost completely untapped.

Nov 3, 2015

Something to Think about Every Year You Ride

Peter Cheney’s article, “Why I quit riding motorcycles” in the Globe and Mail pretty much voiced what we all know to be true: motorcycling is dangerous and, someday, we’re all going to get killed or get hurt and quit or just quit while we’re ahead. There are no other options. I especially liked this paragraph, “Historian Jeremy Packer concluded that there are four basic approaches to motorcycle safety. The first is to quit riding. Then there’s Risk Flaunting (epitomized by riders who refuse to wear a helmet and wear T-shirts that read, “You only live once”). Then there is Risk Valorization, where risk is accepted as an unfortunate but controllable component of a desirable activity. Packer’s fourth approach is the one that used to be my mantra: Hyper-Reflective Self-Discipline (which I will refer to as HRSD).”

I think most of us consider ourselves to be among the HRSD crowd. As David Hough found out a couple of years ago, at a certain age you are fooling yourself if you believe you can “hyper” anything. Every day, the decision moment comes closer and at 67, I’m suspecting that I will regret pushing it too far.

Nov 2, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1986 Kawasaki KLR 600

If you're a glutton for punishment, you can learn more about the KLR600.

klr600 You might be able to tell from all the non-stock stuff on this bike that I really wanted the KLR to be my personal statement about motorcycling. I spent way too much on accessories and customizing the KLR600. When it was all said and spent, the brutal fact remained; this was the worst, least functional motorcycle I'd ever owned. The KLR600 couldn't get out of it's own way. It's only claim to fame was electric start. Otherwise, the bike was a monster loser in every way. In many ways, the KLR more resembled the first Kawasaki I'd ever owned (the 350 Bighorn), than any other bike I've had.

The suspension was soggy, made even more awful by the extra weight the 6 gallon Acerbis tank lent to already pitiful forks. The motor was anemic and easily overheated, even though it was watercooled. The handling was poor on pavement and awful on dirt. Rain grooves turned the KLR into something nightmarish. So did stream crossings. Mileage was a mediocre mid-30's, unless you babied the throttle like you were driving a GM Suburban. The seat height was too tall for comfort while the ground clearance was not much better than the '82 Yamaha Vision street bike it replaced. I could go on for pages. In short, the KLR 600 sucked.

I built the custom, stainless steel saddlebag racks, you see at the back of the bike (just below the "600" on the seat). The design allowed me to use a variety of bicycle panniers, saving a lot of money and adding a lot of options for in-town and touring luggage. It worked a lot better than the bike did.

Our relationship even ended badly. I sold the bike to a German tourist, in Southern California. The kid promptly killed the engine by riding it for several miles with the kickstarter half engaged, trapped behind his leg. When the starter gear seized, it took out a piece of the cases and he ignored that noise just as he'd ignored the grinding of the starter gear. After the engine oil was emptied out, the engine seized and that stopped him.

On discovering that he'd managed to turn his $1,600 investment into a pile of trash, he sued me in small claims court. Fortunately, he was stupid enough to explain what he'd done to the judge, while still expecting me to foot the bill for his stupidity, and the judge laughed him out of court, after giving him a short lecture on the word "used." Still, I wasted a morning of my life and several hours getting ready to present my case. For a while, I thought the KLR was never going to let me escape from its clutches. (pun intended)

Nov 1, 2015

MN Crash Stats

One feature of being an MMSC motorcycle instructor is that we get to look at the crash data, compiled into a spreadsheet, often and early. As usual, this year’s data is embarrassing. But a little interesting. For one, only four crashes involved non-liter or smaller motorcycles and all of those crashes involved another vehicle or a deer. Most of the crashes and fatalities were on rural roads. Not surprisingly, the majority of motorcycle crashes and fatalities were from Harley riders who ran into mailboxes, ditches, deer, sign posts, cable barriers, open fields, curbs, and other vehicles. Based on these statistics, you’d think ABATE would be doing everything they could to get bikers off of cruisers, on to smaller motorcycles, away from country roads, and out of bars. Don’t hold your breath.

PS: If you’d like to look at the preliminary spreadsheet, send me a note and I’ll email it to you.