Dec 25, 2016

Catching Up

Sometime this next year, 2017, I’m going to catch up with my own past. A few years back, I closed a website and moved all of my Geezer with a Grudge history to this blog, one article per week at a time. The next week’s article was published in MMM on July 2015, which means by sometime in 2017 I’ll be putting my current MMM article on this webpage about the time MMM puts it on their own webpage. At that point, it’s possible that my “output” will slow down considerably. The other possibility is that I’ll get a new burst of inspiration and start cranking out stuff way faster than MMM can choke it down and I'll end up posting it on the blog to keep from swamping my editor. Or Victor will fire me for pissing on loud pipes and oversized motorcycles and lousy riders and everything I do will end up here first.
Or some combination of the above.

Dec 19, 2016

Making A Dangerous Bed

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

(First Published in Rider’s Digest #189, June 2015)

Back in my Colorado days, I used to hang out with a trio of guys who had a variety of motorcycle skills. The leader of the pack was Brett, a guy who practically grew up on motorcycles and who is one of the nicest, most patient and loyal people I've ever known. I have considered Brett my best friend for two-thirds of my life, even though I haven't seen him more than a couple of times in the last ten years. David was a newbie to motorcycling, but he had taken an MSF course and had a pretty good grip on his skills and physical and mental limits. Richard was slightly less new to motorcycling than David, but had started off thinking motorcycling was going to come naturally to him and discovered it didn't. He'd crashed his bikes a couple of times, trying to keep up with Brett and me, and had moved from overly confident to massively paranoid. By that time, I'd been riding for twenty-five years and had way more confidence than skill. I'd moved to Colorado from California by myself and was wallowing in my independence and a relatively responsibility-free, semi-single-guy life. So, my moto-motto was "Shut up and ride." I even wore a t-shirt with that printed on the front and back.

One "feature" of this collection of diverse skills was an assortment of different start-up times for a ride to anywhere. If we were going to ride to downtown Denver for coffee, it would take anywhere from five minutes to an hour-and-a-half for the four of us to be ready to roll: five minutes for me and ninety minutes for Richard, for example.

One weekend, we decided Pikes Peak needed climbing one more time before the mountain riding season ended. Brett and I did most of the planning and we picked a filling station on the south end of Aurora for the rendezvous. Our start time was 7:00AM with some margin to accommodate the late risers and slow movers, but 8:00AM slipped by with one of the guys still "on the way." The first part of our route was going to be Parker Road (Colorado Highway 83) south to Colorado Springs. It's about 80 miles, via 83, to Colorado Springs and another 35 miles to Pikes Peak Park through some backroads around the Springs. Two-and-a-half hours on a slow day. Once you got into the park, the old road was 19 miles of beautifully unpaved twisty mining trail to the top. (This year, they finished widening and paving the whole thing and there is no more point in seeing the damage done than there is hoping that Newt Gingrich is married for life, this time. When the Peak was unpaved it was "America's Highway." Now, it's just a tourist path.) We had a breakfast plan for Colorado Springs, but with the late start Brett and I decided to move the meal to the café at the top of the peak. An hour after our start time, we had a mild disagreement about waiting or going.

Since I hadn't planned on plodding along at the pace the two newbies would be setting, I decided to meet them at the park. We'd done this a dozen times in the past and Brett and I sorted out where we'd be about when and agreed that if the pack didn't catch up to me at the base of the park by 11:00AM, we'd meet at the top. That settled, I hit the road. I'd loaded camping gear and a change of clothes, in case I decided to take the long way home after the Pikes Peak trip. I took a few deviations from the short route to the park, hoping that the guys would catch up or pass me. Still, I arrived at the base of the park on time and waited a half-hour in the tourist center before I bought a pass and headed up the mountain. We had some late season rain that year and the road was pretty torn up from traffic and erosion, so it was in perfect condition and I pretty much had the Peak to myself. I got to the top pretty quickly, for me, and figured I had an hour or two to myself before the pack arrived.

My bike, a 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM, was coated from the wet road and my chain was bone dry and caked in clay. I found some rags in the tourist trap's dumpster and filled a milk bottle with water to get started on some maintenance. I scrubbed off the muck from the chain and gave it a WD40 rinse before applying fresh chain oil. It didn't need it, but I went through the chain freeplay adjustment routine. After cleaning up the frame and engine, I made the rounds of all the fasteners, making sure everyone was in place and tight. I was parked right on the edge of the old tourist center's parking lot, so the workshop view was spectacular. I pulled the air filter, which was clean, and reapplied some fresh filter oil for no reason other than that I had it out and I had the oil with me. Short of checking valve clearances, I'd done everything I could think of to the bike.

So, I went back into the tourist center and had breakfast; a couple of donuts and a large cup of coffee. I walked out back and got into a conversation with a cog railroad conductor about the first and last train trip of the year, which often involved pushing a lot of unexpected show up or down the track and a lot of scared passengers. He went back to work and I was bored.

As long as you don't exit the park, you can ride up and down the mountain all you want for your park pass. So, I decided to ride down the mountain and meet the guys on their way up. I did that, twice, and, still, they weren't anywhere to be found. In 1992, none of us had cell phones so calling wasn't an option. I wasn't really worried, but closing time was approaching and I didn't want to be stuck on the mountain in the dark. Finally, just a few minutes before the visitor center closed, the three guys rolled into the lot. Brett looked pissed. I couldn't figure out the other two guys' expressions.

It turned out that, in spite of the late start, Richard and David insisted on stopping for breakfast, which burned an hour-and-a-half. After eating, they plodded along at a barely faster than walking pace until they got to the park. To "celebrate" riding the mountain, before they'd ridden the mountain, they stopped at the park store and bought "I Rode the Peak" patches for their jackets. Once they started up the mountain, the pace slowed even more. The switchbacks, the wheel ruts, the deep drainage ditch on one side and the steep drop-offs on the other combined to make the last few mile sheer terror for Richard and David. Brett stuck with them, dedicated friend that he is, and had about as much fun riding the mountain as he would have had in a dentist's chair; although the chair might have been a faster ride.

As they rolled into the lot, a park ranger was herding the straggling tourists to their cars so he could close the lot's gate. The guys didn't even have time to take off their gear before they were being hustled off of the summit and back down the mountain. That might have been a good thing, since riding downhill scared is much worse than riding uphill and they didn't have time to work up a good batch of fear before they were on their way down the mountain. The first few miles were the roughest, especially with the road in end-of-season condition and some pretty energetic bursts of wind near the top. They paddled around the sharpest of the corners and I took up the rear so that Brett could at least go down the mountain without herding sheep all the way. After we left the parking lot, I shut off my motor and coasted behind the guys, stopping every mile or two to let them get a ways ahead of me so that I could collect enough momentum to roll through corners without having to push. It took a good bit more than an hour to get to the park entrance. The gate was closed, the park was abandoned, but it was easy enough to get the bikes around the barrier. Just before the park road merged into Manitou Avenue, I saw Brett parked just off of the road. He was in much better humor, since he'd had time to find an ice cream shop and had drained a large milk shake while waiting for us to crawl down the mountain.

It was dark and riding back home via I25 was the only practical option, since Parker Road would be filled with deer and antelope for the next few hours and none of us was up for picking antlers out of our teeth. The guys settled for finding a cabin in Manitou Springs for the night. I was all for snagging a campsite in Garden of the Gods or just heading out Colorado 24 for Buena Vista and finding a campsite where ever one turned up. David and Richard convinced me that I wanted to hang with them for the night by insisting that they would cover the cost difference between a campsite (free, if I camped between Manitou and Buena Vista) and the cabin. Like an idiot, I became a follower.

They had a cabin site in mind and found it quickly. It was a two bedroom cabin with two fold-out beds in the huge living room. I took one of the living room beds. Our plan was to get the room sorted out and walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner. So, I was going about that when I dropped the damn bed on my left foot. I was pulling out the frame, expecting it to swing up before it lowered to the floor. Instead, the bed shot out about two feet and dropped like a spring-loaded anvil; right on my big toe. I'd pulled off my boots at the door, so there was nothing between my foot and that assassin's weapon and it almost amputated my toe.

In moments, the toe turned black. It was bleeding like a stuck pig, so I used up all of the stuff in my medical kit to medicate and bandage the bit toe to it's nearby partner. We went to dinner, me shoeless on my hobbled foot. I drained a bottle of some kind of painkiller to try to sleep that night and woke up to find that the toe nail had lifted off of the toe, in spite of my having drilled a neat pressure-letting hole in the nail and taped it tight before I went to bed. I could not get my left boot on, so I had to cut the boot and gaff-tape it together; once my foot was in it. Walking was miserable and awkward. Shifting was painful and had to be done with my whole foot or heel. Buena Vista was out of the question. Getting back home would be an achievement.

We had breakfast in Manitou Springs. I set out ahead of the guys under the assumption that they'd probably catch me and, if I ended up stuck on the side of the road unable to ride, we'd work out a plan to get my bike and me home. Once I hit the interstate, I was pretty sure I'd make it home and that didn't turn out to be a problem. The next day, my doc pulled the toe nail, stitched a patch over the exposed toe, and put my toe in a brace that would be my hobbling partner for about two weeks. The bone at the end of the toe (distal phalanges) was crushed.

For the next several months, I took a lot of crap about being the "big bad bike racer who was crippled by a hide-a-bed." Obviously, the real reason I ended up crippled was that I stayed back to be a nice guy and escort the slow guys down Pikes Peak. Not only do "nice guys finish last," but they might even get hurt for the effort. Screw being nice. "Shut up and ride."

Dec 18, 2016

My New Career

Chopper TomA friend and ex-student sent me this along with a note asking about my “new career” as a chopper rag model. I admit, it does look a lot like me, but I did NOT model for the drawing. Honest.

Dec 17, 2016

TurboBike, When You Know You’ll Never Grow Up

“Turbospoke is a complete exhaust system that fits to any bike and makes it look and sound just like a real dirt bike. Turbospoke is based on the old 'baseball-card-in-the-spokes' concept, brought right up to date. The realistic engine sounds are created using long lasting plastic cards, a clever sound chamber and an awesome megaphone exhaust pipe which really amplifies the sound.” Sounds more like a drawn-out fart than a motorcycle engine, but . . . I guess that’s a “real motorcycle sound” if a Harley is a real motorcycle.

Dec 14, 2016

Is This Like the Others?

During the parade season, there is never a shortage of noise makers in clip_image001Red Wing. However, as a motorcyclists’ location . . . not so much. I don’t know why that’s a fact, but it is. When I first moved here, I set out to distribute MMM to the various places I thought might attract motorcyclists (not necessarily bikers, but actual motorcyclists). I hit the college cafeteria, local restaurants, the library, and the bike shops. After a couple of months, I got the bike shops set up with their own supply of magazines, but I quickly noticed that there was no point in replenishing the other locations because the first set of issues were still there. Two years later, some of those first magazines are still waiting for readers.

Lucky for me, Red Wing has a decent Suzuki and Yamaha dealership, but I don’t know why. The dealership seems to retain the same collection of “new” and used bikes for at least a couple of seasons, probably until another dealer or wholesaler takes them off of their hands. If it weren’t for boats and ATVs and snow machines, I suspect we’d lose that dealer. The Polaris/Victory dealer never seems to have customers and I’d guess someone is burning up a trust fund with that venture. Likewise, the local community college offers a summer full of motorcycle safety classes, but 3 out of 4 of my last season’s MSF classes cancelled due to lack of interest, including an Intermediate Rider Course that wasn’t supposed to cancel under any conditions. On a typical work day, it’s rare to see more than one of two bikes on the road and most of those will be touring riders passing through town.

It’s a mystery. Red Wing and the surrounding territory is a massive riding resource. We have twisty roads and small towns with history and good food and recreation. You can’t beat the river valley for upper Midwest scenery; it’s the closest thing to mountains we have for 650 miles. As a mostly-dirt rider, I have more interesting country roads and marginally maintained back roads than I know what to do with. It is incredibly easy for me to burn up a tank of gas in an afternoon without doing more than crossing pavement every 50 miles. There is even a few sections of actual off-road riding from abandoned farm roads that haven’t yet been converted to farm land.

Outside of the summer pirate parades, it feels like motorcycling is on its last legs here. All of the riders I know are over-50 and most of them are on the edge of giving it up. The kids I meet who talk about buying a bike and learning how to ride just talk about it. It’s not a practical thing for them, for whatever reason. There is some off-road activity in Elsworth and I should get over there to check it out. But . . . it’s Wisconsin and a battlefield of starving small towns and bankrupt counties all overstaffed with highway patrol and sheriff’s deputies haunting the backroads to make their quotas. I cross the river only when I really need to.

Dec 12, 2016

#137 Foot Out, Rider Down

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

A friend sent me a note this week, complaining about the godawful scooter and bike skills he witnessed near the UofM. He said, "When I was instructing, a favorite thing to yell at students (and sometimes regular folks) was 'pick up your feet'. For some reason that horrible habit has re-entered the consciousness of people that think they know how to ride. A few days ago I watched a young guy on a scooter (wearing a helmet, with shorts and flip flops) stick his left foot out as he arced through the intersection. This evening I watched a young hipster (flannel shirt, rolled up jeans with lace up boots) on a Sportster leave an intersection making a left turn with his boot out like he was at the Springfield Mile. Just a few blocks later, I watched an overweight middle age guy on some bloated metric cruiser wobbling away from a stop sign with his feet down as he tried to gain momentum and stability. Unfortunately he too was wearing flip flops. At that point I was ready to stick my head out and yell."

I'm not sure what to say about this. His comment was inspired by a rant on the site, after one of my weekend classes. I had a young man in the class who was convinced he was an experienced off-road motorcyclist. Every turn was accompanied by him sticking out his foot like he was planning on sliding it around a quarter-mile dirt track. There was nothing special about his speed and his steering input was more bicyclist tactic than dirt biker. I repeatedly told him that if he hooked a heel on the asphalt he might be looking at tearing up body parts from an ankle to a knee to a hip.

He kept saying, "it's a dirt biker habit."

I kept saying, "It's really just a bad habit."

So it went for the day. Apparently, so it is going for lots of riders everyday.

Honestly, like cager tailgating and throttle pumping I think it's a byproduct of kids who play video games deluding themselves into thinking they've done something real. When my wife sees someone flying through traffic, crawling up the ass of every car slowing down the fruitcake's progress, she says, "There goes another video game fool." What she means is that kids who grew up playing dumb crap like Grand Theft Auto or Forza Motorsport have been conned into thinking their "competence" in that moronic game translates to their ability as a car driver. Trust me, punk. It doesn't. Likewise, "success" with MXGP - The Official Motocross Video Game has no connection to actually riding a motorcycle off-road. Not one iota of a relationship. None. Nada. Here's where the real difference lives: if you crash your virtual cage or bike, you restart the game and try again. If you crash your real cage or, especially, bike, you might be dead or so mangled you'll wish you were dead. Video games are (wait for it) games. Racing is a sport. The difference is one is played by effortlessly twiddling your fingers while you stuff your face with Cheetos® and the other is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world.

So, just because your virtual "rider" sticks his foot out for every slight change of direction that does not mean real motorcyclists need their feet in the air to turn a motorcycle. That is what the handlebars are for. The tripod method of turning depends on poor traction (so your foot will slide and the rear wheel will spin) and great footwear so your foot and ankle will provide that third leg of stability. Some of the fastest off-road riders reserved sticking a foot out for extreme situations where it was absolutely necessary because of the injury risk involved. Getting a picture of Roger DeCoster sticking a foot out took patience and DeCoster won a Gold Medal at the 1964 International Six Days Trial, was the 1964 Belgian Observed Trials National champ, collected five 500cc Motocross World Championships, and won 36 500cc record-setting Grand Prix races. Putting an unprotected foot out in a low speed, poorly-executed city street turn is just a demonstration of sorry cornering skills.
Anyone dumb enough to stick a flip-flop-shod-foot out toward concrete or asphalt deserves to be fitted for a pegleg. I am not exaggerating. That is one of the world's dumbest moves, right along with wearing shorts and a tee-shirt on a motorcycle. Why not ride naked? You might as well. It's not like that teeshirt is going to be any sort of protection when you are sliding down the road. Remember, you're the idiot who needs to poke a foot out to turn a perfectly competent motorcycle at walking speeds. It's not like anyone smart is going to put money on your riding skills. The house odds are that you are going down, hard, sometime soon. When you do, there is going to be a lot of skin left on the road and you will be making some plastic surgeon very happy (and rich) for a very long time; if you live.

This is when someone who loves you should be suggesting you get some training. Most likely, it might be a good time to get your motorcycle license, too. Since 20% of Minnesota's motorcycle fatalities are unlicensed "riders," (If you're not skilled enough to get a license, you're barely a glorified passenger.) it's a safe assumption that lots of those foot-turners are unlicensed and uneducated riders. Even better, if you want to be the kind of rider who really needs to stick a foot out in corners, sell your scooter or street bike, buy a dirt bike, and go racing. Believe it or not, being on a race track is a hell of a lot safer than riding poorly in traffic.

Dec 10, 2016

Form over Function = Art

ktm-610-supermoto-hmc-redbull-factory-race-bike_3I take a fair amount of crap over my dislike for motorcycles with “personality” and intolerance for form over function (choppers and other non-functional toys). For starters, I’m not particularly visual: ask me what my favorite color is and the answer will be “Who cares?” There are a few colors I don’t like, a lot of colors that are acceptable, and a few that I prefer under particular conditions. Likewise, I tend to look at mechanical things as tools and tools are either useful or not. If they are really useful, I don’t care what they look like at all. Or, at least, I put the cosemetic aspect so far in the background I only think about it in really rare and slightly drunken moments.

clip_image002My wife is a visual artist. She is very visually oriented and wouldn’t recognize a function if one were staring her in the face. The function of plastic bags evades her, or (like me and colors) she doesn’t care about even basic functions. I buy large bags of bird seed for our outdoor feeders and if she beats me to being first to open a new bag, the bags look like a rabid squirrel chewed its way into the package. This might not seem like a thing to a more normal person, but I have a system for filling the feeders, mostly because I hate squirrels and spillage attracts squirrels. My system is fairly anal, I admit. I cleanly cut the top off of the bag, spread the bag so that it fills the can, stick the feeders all the way into the bag, and fill the feeders with a pitcher so that all of the excess falls back into the bag. She, on the other hand, disassembles the top foot of the bag, pours seed randomly in the container, around the container, and even some into the feeders. Squirrels love her. These bags were actually designed to be containers and a reasonably organized systems of distribution and art turns them into chaos.

So, for 49 years we’ve lived together with disparate interests and conflicting styles. Art, as I define it, comes from an old Greek (or Chinese or Abo) word meaning “not good.” If something is art, the execution will be amateur, the choice and use of materials will be juvenile, and purpose will be obscure or nonexistent. My wife and her artist friends are convinced that I’m too obsessed with purpose and artisanship (an insult, to the art crowd). I’m convinced that if the workmanship sucks, I don’t care about the rest. When I look at a piece of ironwork art, I look at the welds first. If they are amateur, poorly formed, or ground off to hide the poor workmanship, I don’t take the rest of the work seriously. Same for woodworking. I’m looking for a level of workmanship before I start considering the form. As a mediocre musician, I have always required music to be something more complicated than I can perform if I’m going to spend my money on it.  clip_image001

The fact that this motorcycle is unrideable except under the most restricted conditions defines it as art and not a functional vehicle, in my mind. I’m a big fan of engineering, like the KTM at the beginning of this essay and not much of a fan of cobbled and useless art, like this cruiser. I’m not bragging here. I realize that this function-over-form requirement limits my ability to appreciate purely form-based art. I don’t see anything but discomfort, impracticality, and unnecessary complication and expense when I see a bike like this cruiser. I don’t have a mechanism that allows me to appreciate it as art alone.

A designer/author named Don Norman sums up my problems with bad design (art) in his book, The Design of Everyday Things, “Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Motorcycles, for example, are dangerous, complicated, and non-intuitive (countersteering, for example). Good design would minimize that. Lousy design adds to all of the negatives without providing any value, other than chaos, to the rider. And if you’re not riding your motorcycle, you are not a motorcyclist but an owner of a piece of art.

As Norman said about Apple products in a FastDesign article a while back, “Apple is destroying design. Worse, it is revitalizing the old belief that design is only about making things look pretty. No, not so! Design is a way of thinking, of determining people’s true, underlying needs, and then delivering products and services that help them.” Likewise, motorcycles with a primary purpose of “looking pretty” are destroying motorcycling by convincing rube motorcyclists that looking cool (or clownish, depending on your perspective) is more important than going places safely and competently. These toys are so badly designed that they need to make as much noise as possible to compensate for the fact that the riders are helpless to defend themselves with the qualities a decently designed motorcycle and motorcyclist take for granted; agility.

Wow! If I were in a better mood, I’d go back and pare this down to one argument. I’m not in a good mood and probably won’t be for at least 4 years. The worship of ignorance, chaos, and corruption has become a national religion and I don’t expect to enjoy it any more than I like looking at a piece of badly executed “art.”

Dec 9, 2016

A Room Full of Elephant

elephant_noisyWay back in 2008, I wrote an MMM article titled “Hearing Damage and Motorcycling.” Among other things, that article produced one of the looniest, most illiterate responses anything I’ve written for anyone has ever inspired. This month, Cycle World discovered that motorcyclists are among the world’s most deaf recreationalists. The article, aptly titled “Say What?” by John Stein, concludes that “Hearing damage is motorcycling’s elephant in the room.”
Now, we just have to convince ABATE, the AMA, and the cities and towns across the country who tolerate motorcycle noise pollution that these loug pipe idiots are disturbing the peace and doing harm. `

Dec 7, 2016

Bikes I've Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1971 Kawasaki Bighorn 350

Learn more about this bike
350bhornThe Kawasaki Bighorn was my first real dirt bike. The link above tells you a lot about this history of this rotary-valved, 350cc two-stroke, 33-hp, 400+ lb. monster. It's important to remember, however, that these guys appear to like ancient motorcycles. What I remember most about my green machine was its unpredictability. The bike would do something different every time you applied the throttle, tried to turn, tried to stop, or tried to start it up in the morning. Occasionally, I felt like I knew what I was doing on this bike, when it went where I pointed it, as fast as I'd intended it to go. Usually, I felt like streamers dangling from the handlebars as the Big Horn rocketed into some obstacle that I'd intended to wheelie over, slid into a low-side because the motor busted the back wheel loose when I thought I had it loaded up enough to guarantee traction, or launched me into a high-side when the bike hooked up when I felt sure I could power through a turn steering with back wheel slip.

I'm pretty sure the Bighorn weighed more than my 1992 850 TDM street bike. It sure handled worse, on or off road. But it did start me off on a lot of years of fun and adventure. And it was a pretty cheap bike to get started on ($300 for a like-new 1971 F5 in 1972). Since I fell down and broke bits of it almost every time I went riding, it was helpful that parts were cheap, too..

The one and only competition I ever attempted with the Bighorn was the Canadian River (Texas) Cross Country Race, in (I think) 1972). I was one of four open class bikes to finish the race, about 30 started as I remember. Because so few finished, the promoter only trophied to third class. All of the other classes trophied to fifth. It was one of the few times I had a chance to leave a race with something more than bruises and stories to tell and I'm still pissed about missing out on that piece of chrome plated plastic. Later, I managed to earn a few ribbons and some tires or accessory parts racing motocross and such, but that race was the last event I rode that actually offered a trophy and the last time I was in a position to earn one.

I moved the Big Horn with me from Texas to Nebraska, but quickly ended up on a Rickman 125 ISDT and the Big Horn ended up in a neighborhood kid's garage after the kid pulled the air filter in a misdirected attempt to "get more power." He got a burst of power, just before the leaned out mixture seized the piston and never managed to find enough money to put it back together. When I moved, the bike was being chewed up by garage mice and I doubt that it ever ran again.

Dec 5, 2016

Bikes I've Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1963 Harley Davidson 250 Sprint

250sprintThis is what the bike, supposedly looked like when it was new:




Thdmailboxhis is the best use I've ever seen made of a Harley Sprint:

My brother bought this bike somewhere around 1968. Being the abusive big brother I was, I used the heck out of the bike, mostly, against Larry's wishes and knowledge. He has been trying to catch up with me, on the abuse and creepy-ness scale, ever since. Since he's a terminally nice guy, I'm destined to stay in the lead for the rest of our lives.

fragile-sprint-bitsThis was, simply, an awful motorcycle. Like most Harley's, the Aermacchi/Harley was poorly engineered, under-powered, overweight, and unreliable. I bashed it a good bit of the way to death on figure-eight "rough scrambles" tracks in Dodge City, Kansas, but it wasn't worth much before I stumbled into it. The suspension was awful, so we replaced it with a pair of chunks of steel plate in the rear and shimmed the springs to immobility in the front. The footpegs kept breaking off, whenever I rode over any kind of bump. I learned how to weld in the process of reinstalling them every week or so. The motor started life weak and ended up so anemic that you could kick start it by hand.

The only good thing I can say about the bike is that it had two wheels and made more noise and was slightly faster than a bicycle with playing cards in the spokes. Kansas was an awful place to ride motorcycles in the 1960's. Folks you'd never met would go out of their way to run you off of the road. I became an "off road rider" because the ditches were where I spent all of my time, anyway. I figured that staying there was safer and faster than zigzagging from the road to the ditch every time a car passed me in either direction.

Nov 28, 2016

#136 When You Need a Faster Bike

Add Your Data to the Geezer Mileage PollFor a bit of self-entertainment, I created a spreadsheet to collect data about how many miles a typical motorcyclist rides in a year. A few other riders and I grabbed sale ads from CraigsList all over the country and the spreadsheet takes that data and turns it into a look at who rides what how far in the good old US of A. The numbers are enlightening and a little depressing. The gross overwhelming majority of motorcycles get ridden less than 2500 miles a year. My observations and suspicions were confirmed, Americans are not really motorcyclists (Except, possibly, in Mexico; which is, after all Central America.). 

caveman(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

One point I was trying to make with gathering this data is that justifying a bike larger than 250cc is a pretty specious argument. Even those cheap Chinese bikes sold off of trailers at swap meets can survive a decade of 1000-2500 miles/year use and abuse. However, I know a lot of you can't maintain your self-image on a small motorcycle. So, In the interest of providing a public service for those of you who desperately want to imagine that you're different than the average biker, I've decided to come up with a short list of reasons why you might need a faster motorcycle.
  1. It's the end of the world as we know it. The best reason I know of for buying a liter bike (and I don't mean one of those girlyman big-twin dingleberrys, but a real liter bike like an R1 or a GSX-R or a CBRR) is that your doc has given you a couple of months to live and you have decided to get shot out of a cannon instead of squeezed through a medical system tube. There is no better way to splatter yourself all over a wall or launch yourself from a cliff than from a 200mph motorcycle.
  2. An alternative to the above scenario would be that NASA has confirmed that QE2 is going to collide with Momma Earth and we're all gonna die in a couple of weeks. Of that big Antarctic ice shelf is sliding into the ocean and life as we know it is about to get messy. Might was well grab that bull by the handlebars and let 'er rip for one great, last high-speed chase. Of course, the cops will be busy with other stuff so they might not want to play along. Still, you can do a lot of damage with a 200HP, 200MPH motorcycle while the rest of humanity is trying to tuck it's head between its legs.
  3. Everybody hates you, nobody loves you. It's either eat worms or buy a fast bike, put on a wife-beater, some flip-flops, baggy shorts, a snazzy biker mask, and go out and collect some serious road-rash scars.
  4. You've been evicted from Mom's basement and, with no place to go and no possible future, you've decided that prison is the only place to spend your "productive years." Rev up that R1 and take if for a ride down Highway 61. The cops clocked you at 160mph and you're on your way to jail for a good long time. Hope they still do Spanish Rice on Thursdays.
  5. Your girlfriend dumped you, your dog died, your pickup blew a piston, and you lost your job. Like #1 and #2, you have nothing to live for and need a fast, guaranteed way to end it all. Pick a mountain road and drop the hammer. They'll be picking up the pieces for years. That ought to teach that old girlfriend a lesson. (#3, #4, & #5 are suspiciously similar, but so are the usual justifications for buying more bike than you can ride competently.)
  6. You have a beautiful new house with an impeccable 4-car garage and nothing to put in two of the stalls. Like Jay Leno, money is pouring out of your orifices and you need someplace stupid to spend it. The smart thing to do would be to buy vintage guitars, diamonds or gold, or really large and ugly "art." The second dumbest thing you can do is to buy a liter crotch rocket and ride it. I recommend that you drain the fluids from however many bikes you choose to buy and treat them like artwork. Put them on stands and make the highlight of the garage portion of your house tour, "And this is my race bike collection. I'm waiting for the fuel systems to be remapped and new hand-wrapped race tires." The first dumbest thing you can do is to drag home a trophy wife.
  7. You and the wife push the industrial meat scale's needle toward 650 pounds and no small bike will haul or support all of that pork. A big twin with a pair of chaise lounges perched on top of a low-slung, noisy, underpowered motor will be barely enough to put you and your honey into motion. Stopping is a whole 'nother problem, but why worry when you're looking so cool? (Yeah, I realize this "reason" is justifying a "girlyman big-twin dingleberry," but some of you are going to buy them and not ride them. I might as well concede to reality.)
  8. You are a banker and you need something really heavy to hold down all of that fraudulent paper you've been generating since 1981. If the paperweight is big enough, you hope the IRS will never ask to look at it. I recommend a HumVee for this application. They are heavier, harder to move, and cheap as dirt. Next best thing, Kawasaki Voyager XIII, tipping in at 960 pounds wet.
  9. You want to build the world's fastest ski lift. You don't really care about the motorcycle for this application, just the power plant and gearbox. With 200HP and the capability of rev'ing to 12k, you can launch skiers into the sky like down-encrusted cannon balls. I say "Go for it."
  10. You are a real racer, not a poser. You have graduated from a couple of years on a 250, moved up to a 650 twin or 600 four, and you are ready to race with the big boys. Pull the lights, safety-wire the fasteners, pick a number, and get ready to spend all of that trust fund because you're going racing! (In case you're not paying attention, this is the only good reason to own a race-replica motorcycle.)
Of course, buying a smaller, easier-and-more-fun-to-ride, more fuel-efficient motorcycle would make a lot more sense under most conditions and for the majority of US riders, but when has recommending practicality been an American marketing tactic? I realize that most of my ten "reasons" are suicidal. With a firm grasp on 14% of total road fatalities, for a good number of us riding a motorcycle of any sort appears to be self-destructive. At the core, I'm serious about this. If you are one of the majority of riders, you have no need, business, or fashion justification for a race bike wannabe. It doesn't make you look cool, younger, skinnier, smarter, or richer. The riding and general public just assumes you're on the monthly installment plan and will probably turn the bike back to the loan company the first time you drop it in your driveway and skin up your unprotected knees. The best you can hope for is to be ignored until you go away.

POSTSCRIPT: Oddly, the next issue (#166, June 2015) Victor Wanchena, MMM's publisher, felt the need to "correct" me in a "The Geezer Gets A Response" column:

In response to Thomas Day's article from last month [MMM #165] I would like to offer the following rebuttal. Thomas has missed the point completely. While focusing on the point that only a small handful of riders can use a liter-class sportbike (or an overweight, overpowered, poor handling hippobike, TWD) to its fullest potential, he misses the salient point. The beauty of freedom of choice is just that, you can choose. If I wish to buy an epically fast sportbike and wobble around corners like a noob that's my preogative [SIC]. We are free to ride what we want. No one should dictate what to buy as long as you aren't riding in such a way that endangers others or impinges on their freedom. [How about their medical insurance costs? TWD] There is an inherent beauty in the freedom to make choces [good or bad] on your own. We, as riders, don't need to be save d from ourselves [NHTSA and insurance companies would disagree. TWD] 

Does anyone need a fast sport bike? No, but that's not the point. I resist any attempt to tell me what I do or don't need. If motorcycle swere restricted to what someone else thinks we "need" then we'd all be trundling around on 49cc mopeds. [Interesting analysis of what motorcyclists really need. TWD] 

I support Thomas's decision to not own one as much as I support anyone who decides to buy one. Viva la difference. I now plan to go ride laps around Thomas's house on my loud piped 950cc dirt bike. 

Concerned reader [and publisher]
Victor Wanchena 

Since I submit about 40 articles for every one that gets published by MMM, the "concerned" part is pretty funny. I put 'em out there and Victor's editor picks them out of a big old hat. What MMM doesn't use, Rider's Digest does, and what I can't petal to those magazines I try to hustle to Motorcyclist and other magazines receptive to freelance writers. What's left or what isn't long enough or politically-correct enough ends up on the blog first. The blog gets about 50% of my original ideas.

My point was that riders get a lot of this kind of bullshit from dealers, uninformed "friends," biker gangbangers, and pretty much every publishing source. "Don't bike a small (under 1,000ccs) bike because you'll outgrow it." Motorcyclists are the most likely to die folks on public roads. Nothing with a license plate is more dangerous than motorcycles and a good bit of that is because too many mediocre riders are dangling from big bikes like cheap plastic streamers.

People in some occupations should be the last people to lecture about the glories of "freedom," but I don't give a damn about any of that silliness. If toy manufacturers, consumer product manufacturers, drug and medical device companies, food producers and packagers, car companies, grocery chains, restaurants, bartenders, and most of the rest of the service and manufacturing industry have liabilities due to consumer misuse or design flaws, gun and motorcycle manufacturers ought to be subjected to the same rules and penalties. If you put a fat, crippled-up, old drunk on a liter bike and he rides out of your lot and gets killed, you own some of that responsibility. Delivering that bike to an irresponsible, untrained dealer's sales staff if part of the sequences of liability.

We can continue to pretend that ignoring all of this shit is going to slip by the attention of the other 99.999..% of the population, but since we're going to be taking up a larger and larger percentage of highway fatalities as cars, trucks, and buses continue to become safer and safer that tactic is going to blow up in "freedom's face."

Nov 21, 2016

#135 Another Brick in the Wall

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Australia's South Wales legalized "motorcycle filtering" in 2014. A friend, Paul Young, sent me a link to an article about the event in, which was sort of news in itself. It's not often that any US media realizes the rest of the world exists, let alone Australia and, even more, South Wales. Paul's note, along with the link, said, "Never happen here in MN, we don't have enough folks riding in traffic to justify it." Not only is that true, but Minnesota doesn't really have the motorcycle traffic to justify the existence of motorcycles on public roads. Worse, we don't have that traffic anywhere in the US. As the AsphaltandRubber article indirectly said, US motorcyclists "have relegated their machine to purely recreational duties . . . " It's hard to imagine the mathematics necessary to prove good reason for allowing public road access for our noisy, polluting, unsafe, and antisocial vehicle of choice. But if we wanted to hang on to our on-road privileges, putting aside the old petty biker animosities and working together to get filtering and lane-sharing legalized all over the country would be a good place to start.

2061485331_183d17c23dAs usual, we motorcyclists are our own worst enemy. AsphaltandRubber's writer claims, "So, when ignorant bureaucrats eventually come to their senses about the realities and benefits of filtering, as riders we can congratulate our fellow riders while reluctantly patting the receding hairlines of those enlightened policy-makers." You wish. For one, the receding hairlines are those of aging motorcyclists, as our demographic rapidly resembles that of the Tea Party; old and uneducated (Except for California where we are old, rich, and married). What exactly would make "ignorant bureaucrats . . . come to their senses?" Our sterling reputation for citizenship? The love the rest of the country holds for the noisiest, most arrogant, least skilled, most expensive-per-mile-driven vehicles on the highway? Our safety record or our contribution to minimizing highway congestion? Again, you wish.

For two, what "realities and benefits of filtering?" I'm not arguing that filtering is a bad idea. The problem is filtering is only viable if there are enough responsible motorcyclists on the road to make the legislation worth the time and effort. The problem is, none of that is the case in the US. So, I am arguing that motorcycling's current demographic of hooligans and outlaws does not inspire confidence or warrant effort from "enlightened policy-makers." The country is swamped in problems of huge magnitude and we are a piddly little drop in the lake. Get real, kiddies. Honda had the right idea fifty years ago when they tried to convince the country that they would "meet the nicest people on motorcycles." If we want to get the kind of privileges the rest of the world's motorcyclists take for granted we're going to have to clean up our own act and at least become something better than the nastiest people on the road. One way to do that would be to crank up the requirements for obtaining a motorcycle license, drop the hammer on riding without a motorcycle license, and to start a new motorcyclists' organization that is directed at obtaining useful rights for motorcyclists (no more fighting helmet laws or exhaust noise ordinances). Obviously, ABATE and the AMA have to change or go. They are making about as many friends for the vanishing number of US motorcyclists as the NRA is for gun owners.

A the end of a long weekend of MSF classes, I had a fairly long conversation with a couple of "Seasoned Rider" students and my co-instructor about lane sharing, filtering, and riding in California. I was the lone rider who thought filtering and lane sharing are a necessity for motorcycles to be practical commuting vehicles and to make a worthwhile contribution to traffic congestion reduction. The two students were not only unaware that those two motorcycle options existed anywhere but were terrified of the concept. My co-instructor lived in San Francisco twenty or thirty years ago and "never tried it." You might know that I lived in southern California for a decade and filtered and split lanes ("shared" for the PC crowd) every day I rode on every road that I travelled. The college degree I finally earned was absolutely indebted to my "right" to split lanes and filter on the Pacific Coast Highway between Costa Mesa and Long Beach. My two recording studio-oriented businesses, especially studio maintenance, couldn't have survived without lane splitting on the 405, 5, and I10. I once hauled two highly-modified JBL 4311 studio monitors strapped to the back of my '82 Yamaha Vision from Huntington Beach to downtown Santa Monica Boulevard, LA, on a Friday afternoon, splitting lanes through 5mph freeway traffic to meet an otherwise impossible session date. The speakers ended up being rented for two months and several famous-name artist sessions. The rental fee pretty much took care of our overpriced apartment rent for most of a month.

To paraphrase a famously awful Minnesota motorcyclist, "You ask why I wanna lane share. Man, I don't believe you don't want it too."

Opinions on lane-splitting say a lot about individual motorcyclists. If you are afraid of splitting because you don't have the skills and confidence to do it, In my opinion, you don't have the skills or confidence to be safe in any highway traffic situation. If you hate the idea because your motorcycle is too wide, heavy, or awkward to split lanes, I think you and your bike should be confined to Shriner parades and closed-course clown-costumed demonstrations. You are part of the problem. Contrary to the loud pipe bullshit, the only worthwhile defense a motorcyclist has on the road is maneuverability. Gear and armor is fine, but if you are going to clash with a cage, bus, or truck the best you can hope for is that the gear will minimize your injuries. The best defense is a well-engineered motorcycle that can go places where no cage can travel. One of the best places to go is between stopped cars and as far from impending doom as possible putting as much inert iron between you and a distracted driver about to create a multi-vehicle pile-up.  Hoping for the best is not an crash avoidance tactic. A "safe" motorcyclists is always planning for the worst and doing everything possible to achieve that happy ending. One of the most basic tools available to us is an ability to split lanes in traffic and to filter to the head of a stopped line of traffic. How we earn the right to do that is a problem we're going to have to solve if we want to stay on the road.

Nov 15, 2016

A Motto for Our Times


I’ve had this tag on my keychain for at least 25 years. It’s not something I carry because I feel superior, but because it’s a warning I need to remember every day I’m out in the public. The world is full of flat-earthers (nitwits who think the world’s resources are infinitite and that angels and fairies watch out for fools) and they depend on the luck of the moment, rather than actually paying attention to reality. All of that just got a lot worse, so be careful out there: the idiots are feeling really lucky.

Nov 14, 2016

Change Is Gonna Come

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

(Original published in Rider’s Digest, #188 Spring 2015)

My old MMM editor, Sev Pearman, sent a discussion group a link to an announcement from The Company about their prototype electric bike, Project Livewire. Expressing his Geezerly self better than me at my worst/best, Sev concluded, "I have zero interest in electric vehicles; pitiful range is but one of [my objections]."

My reply to that was, "The only thing that keeps me off of Zero's new bikes is the purchase price. Price per mile crushes internal combustion engines, but I don't have to worry about a motorcycle with a power train that could last 250000 miles. I won't live or ride that long. 150 miles is enough range for 90% of what I do and a 6 hour charge is fine. In a few years, capacitors should replace batteries, charge times will drop dramatically, weight and range will expand nearly exponentially for the size and weight, power and performance are already comparable to or superior to internal combustion, emissions will finally be as good as cars or better, and that fuckin' noise bullshit will be history. If you don't like maintenance, electric motors are the bomb. A bike you can tweek to your performance standards through a USB port is right on target with the current and last two generations of possible motorcyclists."

Sev's response was, "Blah blah blah No offense, Thomas, but this is the same 'in the very near future...' song that I have been hearing for 40 years. I distinctly remember reading this in both Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in the early 70's. Sorry, color me skeptical."

Obviously, I'm comfortable with skeptical. In fact, when it comes to the blathering of economists, southern politicians, the major media talking heads, and any so-called "authority figure," skeptical should be the default attitude. However, when scientists and engineers talk, I listen with a relatively open mind and some expectations. The fact is, no one writing for Popular Mechanics or Science was talking about semi-permeable molecular capacitors, lithium polymer batteries, lithium ion batteries, or even nickel-metal hydride batteries 40 years ago. Hell, sixty years ago Popular Mechanics and Science were babbling about flying cars and computers small enough to fit into a basketball gym and powerful enough to add really big numbers reasonably accurately. In 1989, some overly optimistic scientists claimed to have cracked the secret to cold fusion and the resulting inability of other researchers to replicate that experiment created enough psycho-babble from the media to convince the average schmoe that all science was fake and nuclear energy was at a dead end. Today, Westinghouse, GE, and a collection of foreign competitors are on the verge of making small liquid metal modular reactors available for applications from small electric engine power to portable electric generators and everything in-between. It could be a deal-breaker for the oil companies and revolutionary for electrical generation, but most people are fixated on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the false cold fusion story. Stay tuned, electrical generation could be the new cheap energy. Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian fuel cell manufacturer, is contracted with Volkswagen's fuel cell development program and a couple of large bus manufacturers with working prototypes in service, not to mention providing the power for Toyota's corporate offices in Torrance, CA. All kinds of science fiction stuff is happening right now and almost none of it was predicted or promised 40 years ago. About the only prediction that has been reasonable useful from the last 50 years has been Moore's Law. ("The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year. . .") Gordon Moore's succinct technology estimate has been reasonably accurate for at least 30 years and there is every likelihood that it will be revised upward with new technology.

If the USA was driven more by technologies than by idle and incompetent corporate back-stabbers and lazy and corrupt old technology billionaires, we'd be enjoying a whole new world of high efficiency transportation and putting a serious dent in the atmosphere's carbon content. A real war on the world's terrorists, begun back in 2001, would have crushed the oil cabal, launched the US into the 21st century with a vengeance, and revitalized our technology industries like nothing since the 1960's space race. Instead, we choked, took the easy way out and invaded Iraq hoping for a quick fix with that country's "oceans of oil" and blew two decades on militaristic decadence. Catching up is much harder than staying ahead, in any kind of race. Technology and change don't depend on American exceptionalism and all of those technologies we ignored are going ahead without us. Just ask the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and the struggling descendants of the world's great powers of the past: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Russia, and, even, China (only now crawling out of the ruins of its 4,000 year old civilization).

technology-growthSemiconductor density is not the only technology experiencing exponential change. You know that bullshit small print thing stockbrokers hope you don't read regarding the odds that the stock they just conned you into buying will produce a profit (for you)?  "Past performance does not necessarily predict future results." Look at the chart on the right, that's what an exponential curve looks like as it approaches infinite change. Ray Kurzweil called this the "Law of Accelerating Returns." The steps in that chart are 50 year intervals and the X-axis is linear, but the Y-axis is more exponential than linear. The technology development required between the printing press and the telescope (a 200 year interval) was insignificant compared to going from what existed at the start of the space race to our world of cell phones, personal computers, and the Internet (20 years). The same comparison will be made between the last days of hydrocarbon-based energy and whatever comes next. The technological growth rate of the last decade will look absolutely stagnant compared to the next ten years.

Back to electric motorcycles, the only thing that keeps me off of one is the cost. Certainly not the cost of operation, but the cost of ownership. At 66, I can't justify a $10,000 motorcycle of any sort. I don't expect to live long enough to consider that a rational expense, especially in Minnesota where half of the year is lost to rotating my battery tender from the V-Strom to the WR250X. $5,000 is a whole different game. Zero's 2015 battery pack is expected to live for 2,000 charge cycles (at least 200,000 miles) before it deteriorates to 80% of new capacity (probably the recommended replacement point) at 185 city miles or 94 highway miles per charge.  At the current 6-8 cents per kilowatt, Zero's 1.4kW charge requirement makes for pretty cost-effective transportation. You just have to have a 200,000 mile life expectancy to justify going electric. I do not. If you are a decade or three younger than me, you should start thinking about what your first electric motorcycle is going to be, because that's very likely going to be a big decision in every motorcyclist's life in less time than you expect.

Nov 8, 2016

Two Human Sized Motorcycles

The BMW G 310 GS

And the Honda CRF250L Rally


Postscript: As I was quickly informed by a couple of readers, I missed one great new bike: the Kawasaki Versys-X 300.
ABS, a slipper clutch, a 19" front wheel, decent suspension travel, with accessory center stand, crash rails, and luggage. What's not to like?

Nov 7, 2016

#134 Changing the Rules, Mixing My Emotions


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

On the last October weekend of the 2014 MMSC training season, I taught a “Seasoned Rider” class (aka Experienced Rider Course, ERC, BRC II, etc.) for a few Polaris company employees. Because the course had some experimental qualities (“There will be a test.”), the course was prepaid to the college regardless of the number of students. Saturday morning was right at freezing and no one was compelled (either by work or because they’d laid down $60) to be there, so only four students showed up. On top of that, due to the lateness in the season and the “test,” the Polaris employees were allowed to ride the course on the state’s 250-and-under motorcycles, instead of bringing their own rides. Due to those points, I was the only guy on the range who rode to the range. The first 3 1/2 hours were identical to the usual course, but it was pretty obvious that we all had a different kind of edge on due to the impending “evaluation” (PC for “test”). The students, because they were in a pass/fail situation and instructors because we’d never conducted a BRC II with a test at the end.

The big exception to this course was the students were offered the choice of riding their own bikes or the state’s. Because it was specially offered to Polaris employees by Polaris and some of them are beginning motorcycle owners and may or may not actually own a motorcycle, it made for an interesting experiment. By design and purpose, the BRC II is intended, I think, to be ridden on the students’ bikes. At least, that’s the way we’ve always done the course as long as I’ve known about it. And, of course, there has not been an evaluation at the end to determine what has been learned in the course during the time I’ve been an instructor. That has not always been the case, though.

I took my first prototype-ERC at Willow Springs Raceway, back in the late 1980’s. It wasn’t called the ERC, as I remember, but I don’t remember what it was called. There was a fair amount of lecture along with the usual emergency stop, obstacle avoidance, turning, and riding technique instruction. There was a short performance test at the end of the course and, as I remember, we were presented with a certificate that could be used for a drivers’ training discount with our insurance companies. The next time I took the course was in Denver, at Bandimere Speedway, the drag racing track. The “range” was a marked-up and coned section of the speedway where the cart racing is today. The course used the same kind of exercises, along with an opportunity to play panic-braking on their big training-wheeled 500 Nighthawk. You could wind up the bike to about 40-50mph and hammer the brakes and the skids kept the Nighthawk from falling over. I don’t think there was a test with that course. The last time I took the course as a student was in Minnesota on the Guidant parking lot in Arden Hills. The parking lot had been oiled earlier that week and employee cars had been sliding into each other at low speeds, morning and evening. I know because I worked there. I usually bicycled to work, so I missed out on the parking lot fun until Saturday at the ERC. The course continued the sliding and crashing the cars had demonstrated earlier in the week. Almost everyone in the class crashed at least once and a lot of chrome and plastic looked worse for the wear. I “anticipated” the emergency swerve exercise because I didn’t think my Yamaha TDM would look better coated in greasy black oil. The next week, another asphalt contractor cleaned and recoated the parking lot, this time with materials that didn’t come from the county oil recycling sludge pit. That’s the history of my student experience with the ERC and it’s ancestors and all of that was on my own motorcycles.

That behind me, I had a little built-in resistance to teaching the course to “experienced riders” on what most of those riders would consider to be “beginner bikes.” The fact is, a lot of experienced riding course students do not ride well enough to be called “experienced.” Maybe that’s the motivation for the recent renaming of those classes as “Basic Rider Course II” or “Seasoned Rider Course.” Another fact I have often expressed is that I think about 90% of Minnesota motorcyclists choose motorcycles that require skill levels far beyond the riders’ capabilities. Unlike ABATE, the AMA (the motorcycle group, not the doctors’ AMA), and the Industry, I believe tiered licensing is just common sense and that our current license testing is a joke. Not a funny joke, but a cruel, sarcastic, vicious joke that costs lives and billions of dollars in death and injury. From observing street riders over half-a-century and training them for a dozen years, I’d estimate about 50% of Minnesota riders should be limited to 250cc-and-under motorcycles, 90% should be limited to 650cc-and-under, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the 10% who are smart, competent, and safe enough to be on 650cc-and-above would probably choose to ride their big bikes on closed courses 90% of the time.

All that baggage under my belt, we started this course with a little apprehension. A lot of my doubts dissolved quickly, though. After the first couple of exercises it became clear that our students were riding a lot more aggressively and testing their skills more confidently than the typical BRC II class. Some of this was because this was a younger-than-typical class, but I have to give a substantial credit to the fact that we all ride small bikes more competently and confidently than large ones. We decided that I’d administer the test, since I’d studied the BRC II test procedure and had a couple of on-line conversations with California MSF instructors who’d done the test in the BRC II’s early years. The BRC II test is more like the DOT’s test. Which means all four sections of the test are performed by each student, more or less non-stop. More concentration is required, along with competence, memory, and attention, all qualities directly related to being safe on the road. Again, this was a small class filled with better-than-typical students, but at the end they all scored well enough to be qualified as MSF instructors.

I thought about this class for several days afterwards. There are some subversive reasons I am inclined to like the whole concept. The test is more important than I’d imagined. We often have old, unskilled, and/or arrogant riders who simply ride through the harder exercises on their abysmal hippobikes, imagining that there is no relationship between low speed closed course exercises and their delusional “real world.” The apehanger crowd that is overrepresented in mortality/morbidity statistics is typical of this character. Handing them a card that indicates successful completion of the course is particularly galling. Mostly what that group achieves is four hours of an out-of-control riding demonstration on an overweight, unmanageable motorcycle that has put the other riders and the instructors at risk. Most of that alcohol-demented bunch would totally blow the BRC II test because they’d forget half of it before they left the gate. If they were allowed to perform the test on a small bike or their own, the result would probably be the same; massive failure. Nearest and dearest to my heart, allowing these intermediate-level riders to do the course on our small motorcycles might encourage some of them to consider, or reconsider, their choice of motorcycle. A tiny percentage of riders might discover that “small is fun” and take that lesson to the street. If that, alone, happened, I’d be all for letting BRC II riders take the class on whatever motorcycle they chose.

Oct 31, 2016

#133 The Trouble with Being the Solution to A Big Problem

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Pretty much all of the major problems on today's highways are fairly obvious: according to NHTSA statistics 2012's Big Three causes for highway fatalities are 1) drunk driving 31%, 2) motorcycles, 14%, and distracted driving, 10%. Solve all three of those riddles and you have taken away 56% of US highway fatalities. What is the miracle cure for all three of these highway safety problems? You might think that's a stupid question.

"You'll never stop people from being drunks or from playing with electronic toys while they drive and nobody's ever gonna teach me how to ride or make me wear a helmet."

Actually, I know the solution to all three of those problems and so does NHTSA and DOT and all of the car manufacturers. How do you stop people from getting drunk, satisfying their cell phone addiction, playing with their makeup or shaving on the way to work, or keep them from crashing their motorcycles? Those are the wrong questions. The right questions are how do you get the first group out from behind the wheel and how do you get motorcycles off of the public's roads? Simple. You make cars that are smarter than the average driver.

That's not a particularly high bar to leap, if you think about it just a little bit. The average American driver imagines himself to be a NASCAR racer, drafting the car in front of him with less than a fraction of a second of safe margin at speeds that are best described as "terminal." From the vantage point of a motorcycle seat, where I get to see all sorts of clueless drivers, distracted to the point of unconsciousness behaviors, physics-disabled punks suffering from "the fast lane is mine" video game reality distortions, and motorcyclists and scooter pilots who have almost enough skill to get out of their own driveways uninjured but not nearly enough talent or intelligence to ride competently and safely. With typical reflexes, reacting to a hazard takes at least a second and, more likely, a couple of seconds before you've even decided what to do about a disaster unfolding in front of you at 70mph. At 70mph, you're traveling 108 feet/second. If you're tailgating at 50 feet when a wheel comes off of a truck in front of you or a blowout puts the car you were "drafting" into a spin, you are solidly entangled before you even think about applying the brakes. On a motorcycle, you're in the air wishing you'd worn a helmet before you can even touch the brake (probably the wrong one used poorly, if you do manage to slam on the brakes and toss your bike into a sliding "stop"). On average, there isn't enough driving talent on our highways to overwhelm the capabilities of a 1980's Z80 processor and a MS/DOS controlled text-based program. Mostly, the folks we're trusting our lives with on the freeways and country roads are unfit to pilot bicycles, if they could load their lard asses onto a bicycle seat without bursting the tires. With all of those facts in hand and with the motivation of "societal cost of crashes" estimated at $230 BILLION, there is more than enough incentive from all directions to do something about the solvable problems of the Big Three. The fact that the solution is likely to do some serious damage to the other 44% of highway deaths is just icing on the cake.

In, Paul Crowe wrote an article titled "Riding Motorcycles Among the Robots - You're Going to Need A Transponder." He pipedreams, "The thought of blasting through that digital parade on your human controlled and non transponder equipped Electra Glide may no longer be an option." If only that were likely. Like most of the motorcycle industry, he avoids the question, "Why would highway planners make any accommodations for a vehicle that contributes less than 0.001% to commuter traffic but 15% of fatalities?" Do you seriously believe that Harley Davidson and Polaris have that kind of economic clout? Harley Davidson's whole product line amounted to $5.9B in 2013 sales. Polaris grossed about $4B in 2013 for all of their products combined and sold about $1B in Polaris and Indian motorcycles. Out of a $17 TRILLION GNP, that is pretty insignificant and if you include our 15% of the nation's "societal cost of crashes" that $5B is pretty overwhelmed by the $34B motorcycles crashes cost the country. Remind me, again, why should the 99% of society who don't ride motorcycles on a regular basis, or ever, care about our "right to the highway?" 

If you don't think motorcycling's awful public image, our overrepresentation in highway injury statistics, or our low tech tendencies are a long term problem, you are not paying attention. The freight train of Change is blasting down history's tracks at revolutionary speeds. We are about to go from travelling by poorly manually piloted vehicles to a managed transportation system that makes decisions on a macro level, reducing traffic congestion, optimizing resource use, providing dramatic improvements in travel safety and efficiency, and transforms society as dramatically as giving up the horse-and-buggy did about 100 years ago. The only way motorcycles are going to get to play in this new sandbox is if we provide some value to transportation. Otherwise, the industry and population of users will resemble the tiny demographic that has clung to horses and horse sports since those animals were shuffled off of public streets. The trouble with being part of the solution to one of society's big problems is that you get swept up in a whole lot of things that are a lot bigger than you (or your industry). In manufacturing a rule of thumb is "the best way to idiot-proof a system is get the idiots out of the system." We are pretty tightly aligned with many of the idiots on the highway and we're going to get swept up with the drunks and distracted drivers when our transportation system evolves. The only way I see to avoid that is for motorcycling to move away from being part of an obvious solution to highway deaths.

Oct 20, 2016

Reality vs. Delusions

Back in 2009, a friend was trying to run a recording studio in Hudson, WI. Hudson is one of the many cities in our area that poorly tries to balance the public peace and quiet with the demand from bars and restaurants to cater to the summer biker crowd. Scott tried to raise some awareness of how mentally ill the whole biker bullshit is with this essay, "Loud Pipes Risk Lives." While it has the stink of science, knowledge, and reality that so many Americans seem to have abandoned, if you can hold your nose and get past that bias, it's a pretty good analysis of psychoacoustics and sound from someone who has studied those fields extensively.

PS: Yeah, I know I've linked this article before, but good things often require repeating.

Oct 17, 2016

#131 Collecting Crap?

geezer (Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  
All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On top of our all of our negative image problems, motorcyclists are often hoarders. Yeah, I know, it's a "collection." In my experience, there are two polar-opposite examples of collectors who own (and sometimes ride) dozens of motorcycles. The most obvious is the rich collector/archivist. Over my six decades, I have bumped into a couple of types who collect expensive motorcycles. One of those was the type who owns a sterile showroom that is neatly lined with perfectly restored bits of artwork, polished and oil-free to keep the hardwood floor spotless. At the more sane end of this type is a friend who buys incredibly expensive motorcycles in mediocre-to-good shape, restores them to better-than-factory finish, hangs on to them hoping the bikes' prices will go stratospheric, and tries to sell them for a medium fortune. Once he has the cash from the last bike in the bank, he starts all over again. He always has a dozen bikes in the supply chain, but everything is for sale at any time. This is the speculator variation on the rich guy collector. Maybe he should be called a "wannabe rich guy?" When the economy tanks, this guy will be among the "get rich on real estate' goofballs who lived large until the sky fell and, now, will be forced to get rid of his overpriced crap for what it is worth; nearly nothing. So far, he's avoided that disaster pretty deftly, though.

That about wraps up the interesting portion of the personalities of rich guy motorcycle collectors. Like most rich people, they're mostly boring.

Motorcycle-Junk-Yard However, the more common and most interesting (as in "weird") collections I have seen are garages and sheds full of marginally-fixable motorcycles in various states of disrepair and disassembly. Most of these guys are of the "all of this stuff is junk but if I sold it I'd just have more money but no junk" hoarder variety. Instead of carving paths through the old newspapers and cereal boxes, these packrats stuff their garages and barns full of half-reassembled semi-vintage crap, scavenged parts that will "someday" end up reinstalled on the vintage crap, more parts that can't even be identified, and boxes and piles of old motorcycle magazines and service manuals.

If you foolishly express an interest in some motorcycle in the hoard, you will end up risking your life using rock-climbing techniques to scale the heaps of junk to get a dim glimpse of a small bit of one of those bikes buried under a moldering tarp in some far corner of Squirrel Hell. It's best to act as ignorant and neutral as possible and get the hell out while you can still walk. If the hoarder is a Minnesotan, he'll be convinced he has millions dollars "invested" in his vintage crap and he's just waiting for Leno or the "What's in the Barn" guys to show up and make him rich. The Minnesota hoard-mating call is "If I can't get my price, I'd rather keep it." We've been here before (see A Seller's Market, MMM Winter 2005). The seller is serious. He won't sell for anything resembling a reasonable, realistic price. This is exactly the kind of guy who thinks a beat-up 1972 Kawasaki Z900 is worth a few thousand. You are not going to get a good deal from this dude, but you could waste hours listening to his crazed economic theories. You will also need a tetanus shot after you get back from exploring his "collection."

I have to admit, most of the collector thing eludes me. I am a big fan of "when in doubt, throw it out" (or sell it if it's still worth money). A garage is a place to store tools and other stuff and, most importantly, a place to keep your car and motorcycles out of the sun and bad weather. When the garage is stuffed with junk motorcycles, you can't get to the tools and you can't park the cage indoors. In my neighborhood, that means the cage's gas tank will be siphoned-off and, most likely, I'll have to buy a new car stereo and a window or two every summer. (Not really, but I could live in that kind of neighborhood. After all, that is my socio-economic bracket even if my neighborhood is a decent place.) Plus, I have always aspired to be able to move all of my stuff in one mid-sized U-Haul and my dream life would be living in a 30' camper traveling from one state or national park campground to the next, always a month ahead of cold weather.

I can't help but suspect some motorcycle collections are another bit of evidence that some guys can't commit to anything. Outside of racing, you seriously can't find one or two motorcycles that do everything you want to do on two wheels? Not that you're trying to do anything with that pile of rotted seats, hoses, and tires and the stacks of half-disassembled motors. It's just a hoard and the purpose of a hoard is . . . something non-motorcycle-related.

Oct 10, 2016

#130 Sliding to A Stop

(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)  

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I was exploring some of the dirt roads between St. Paul and Taylors Falls on a Saturday morning this past fall, when I had the occasion to come to a couple of emergency stops. The first time was after a short series of 15mph turns on a paved farm road, I was barely out of one of the turns when a large deer wandered into the road and stopped to observe my on-coming motorcycle. He was in the middle of my lane and, since a truck was coming the other direction, the only evasive maneuver available to me was a quick stop. I've read several reviews of my WR250X that implied that the brakes are "weak" or "mushy." I beg to differ. Maybe for a racer's tastes those descriptions are apt, but for my weekend warrior playbike purposes the WR stops just fine.

And it did.

A few years back, I managed to execute a similar maneuver at night on a mostly-empty highway on my 650 V-Strom. For the most part, that incident had a happy ending, too, other than getting me gore-coated when an opposite-direction pickup splattered the deer all over his truck, emptying the contents of the deer's bowels all over me in the process.

One of the best things about being a motorcycle instructor is that I have to demonstrate quick stops a few times every week and think about braking technique often enough to be able to explain and do it half-well. Too bad there wasn't anyone around to see this demo. I squared the bike up and laid into the brakes right up to the front wheel's limit of traction. I might have slid the back tire a little bit, but not much. The deer wandered off of the road, after getting his day's entertainment out of my emergency, the truck roared past without making any sort of adjustment, and I got the hell out of there and went back to playing around on the back roads.

A few miles further from that encounter-of-the-hoofed-kind, this time on a gravel farm road, I crested a hill and discovered a freakin' herd of deer parading across the road; big ones, middle sized ones, and at least a half-dozen little bitty Hell spawn Bambis.  This time, I was moving a bit faster and hauling the bike down to stop took a bit more concentration. The road was slightly damp, covered with loose gravel and small rocks, and provided reasonable traction. No harm no foul or fawn.

After the four-hoofed crowd meandered from the road and I got back on the trail, I thought about how my two four-hoof experiences could have ended and how a police investigator might have evaluated the "evidence." When I read police reports of crashes, one of the bits of "evidence" they seem to use is the skid distance left by crashed vehicles. Supposedly, this is some sort of indication of how fast the vehicle was traveling. Using that useless data point, if I had hit the deer the cops would have claimed I "made no effort to stop." No skid marks, no braking? Seriously? I thought about this for a while after the last stop. On wet gravel just over a hill and no sliding and the bike came to a quick stop a good distance before any of the hoofed rats or me were in danger. So, no evidence left for the highway forensic "experts" to interpret and that would tell them what about my riding ability, attempt to avoid the collision, or anything else?

A while back, there was a news report about an off-duty cop who ran into a kid in a residential neighborhood  after "laying the bike down" in an attempt to avoid the collision. I see that kind of language in local police crash reports, too. We talk about this silly stuff in motorcycle safety classes all the time. Anyone who believes that sliding on polished metal provides a better coefficient of friction than rubber probably shouldn't be playing with motorcycles. The only time I have ever seen a sideways motorcycle stop more effectively than one still operated rubber-side-down has been in soft, deep sand or sloppy mud. Often, that tactic results in a spectacular flying machine stomping the crap out of the helpless rider. Stopping or slowing quickly in either one of those situations usually involves flying over the bars and some unpleasant impact activities, followed by a completely out-of-control motorcycle doing whatever physics and luck dictate. Pavement requires some kind of sticky material for traction. Conveniently, tires are made of sticky materials. Bodywork, chrome and painted bits are considerably less sticky. 

"Lay 'er down" logic ranks up there with the "Loud Pipes Save Lives" insanity. The argument defies logic, experience, reality, and statistical evidence. Riders know that dropping the bike is an out-of-control panic maneuver, usually due to inappropriate rear brake use. Good braking achieves maximum traction without sliding. When you're sliding, you're not stopping. It takes practice and the best time to do that is when you aren't trying to keep from getting killed on the highway. Even better, take a safety course and have someone analyze and help you improve your technique. It is, after all, a life-saving skill and one that we all have to work at so we have it when we need it.