Sep 28, 2016

Deer Are Never Good News

My local paper led off with this good news today, “Minnesota drivers expected to hit more than 42,000 deer.” “Minnesota drivers have a 1-in-80 chance of hitting a deer this year, with Wisconsin drivers at 1-in-77, South Dakota drivers at 1-in-70 and North Dakota at 1-in-91.”

So, be careful out there.

Sep 26, 2016

#128 When Memories Lie

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Some friends were showing or selling stuff at the Viking Chapter AMCA National Vintage Bike Show and I had a few hours to kill before my kids stuffed me for Fathers Day, so I blew $5 and hung out with old timers looking at old bikes in better shape than when they (either the guys or the bikes) were new. There was a lot of stuff to see. The state fairground's Progress Center building was stuffed with motorcycles from my youth and beyond (Yes, Virginia. There were motorcycles before I was born.) and the campground to the north was manned by swap meeters plying their wares.
IMG_4640I've said this before, but there is still not a lot about owning and restoring old bikes that I get. I took a lot of pictures, talked to a bunch of people, and got asked "Do you know Victor?" in response to my MMM riding jacket. In all, I had fun, but wasn't much tempted . . . until I spotted a cheap, fairly sun-thrashed, 1984 Yamaha IT200 for "make offer."

I mostly know the 1984 IT 200 through it's older, smaller brother; the late 70's IT175D. Yamaha's 175 provided a permanent motorcycle memory. Through a Nebraska dealership where I'd spent some money over the years, I got a weekend test drive on the mid-sized IT and, pretty much by accident, I discovered I could wheelie the little blue bike at will. That may not sound like a deal to you, but I have never been a wheelie guy. I can a dirtbike's front wheel over a variety of obstacles, but just lofting it for fun had mostly escaped me. In fact, I've only been able to play Wheelie Guy on two bikes in 50 years, both were 175s. The other was a mid-70's Husky. I have never had a bank account that could foot a Husqvarna, so the Yamaha has always been in my sights. A few years back, I met a North Dakota Vincent collector who also had a weakness for the IT175s. While I barely comprehended his fascination for the Black Shadow of British motorcycling, I totally got the 175 thing. In fact, he insisted I take one of his Vincents for a test ride, but was totally unwilling to hand over the 175. I got that, too.

IMG_4641So, here was one I could afford. Not the bike I rode and loved, but pretty damn close and very accessible. The bits were mostly all there (the motor was busted, but fixable). The rod had snapped and punched a hole in one case. I could see from the parts box that most of the motor bits were reusable. The old bike had probably last been ridden in 2002 and had spent a good bit of the next 11 years leaning against the side of a Texas garage. The plastic was oxidized nearly gray, from the original Yamaha competition blue. The price was ridiculously right. It estimated at least $500 to get it running about another $1,000 to make it primo. A few hundred loving hours and I'd have a motorcycle that I lusted over when I was still mobile and reasonable athletic. I was tempted, but the temptation didn't last.

Mostly, it was all of the work putting the old bike together would require. I'm in the midst of about two dozen projects, several of which could dominate the rest of my summer. I don't need another project and that played pretty strongly in the decision.

Something else stuck in my craw, too. I have to wonder if this idea is what spawns those multi-garage motorcycle owning binges? What if I put all of those hours and all that labor into restoring this motorcycle that I remember so fondly and . . . it sucks? I realize that could be a double-edged sword. It might be that I suck on that great old motorcycle. Regardless, it's not only possible but it's pretty damn likely. Back when I discovered the joy of one-wheel-travel, I was also in my late twenties. The man I was then and the old man I am now bear damn little resemblance. That dumbass kid would kick my ass all over any competitive field I picked to die on. He was faster, stronger, braver, and had far less awareness of the consequences of falling on his butt. Hell, half of my butt isn't even real, but I know for a fact how much pain getting it fixed again will involve.

IMG_4639My daughter used to wear a t-shirt decorated with the words, "I only wish I could ride as fast as my dad remembers he did." I was in my 40's then. I have no doubt that another twenty years has made my younger self even faster. Hey! There is hardly anyone left alive to provide evidence to the contrary. I can say what I want and you're not going to find a counter-argument from a live person or YouTube, unless you can find some old silent movies that have been transferred to digital video. I was never good enough to warrant more being part of the background for someone who was doing something terrific.

In the end, I just mounted up on my WR250 and went on with my day, leaving the IT175/200 memories untarnished. I hope someone bought it. I hope they restore it to brand new perfection. I'm not sure I want to ride it when they are done, but I probably would if I got the chance. If it--or I--was disappointing, at least I wouldn't have money riding on the outcome.

Sep 19, 2016

#127 Dual Purpose Commuting


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Over a ten year period, I owned four different motorcycles while I lived in southern California: a 1979 Honda CX500, a 1982 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision, a 1986 Kawasaki KLR600, and a 1986 Yamaha XT350. Of the four bikes, the hands-down best daily California commuter was unquestionably the XT350. For four years, I rode my 350 to work from Huntington Beach to Costa Mesa every morning, three to four days a week, to school in Long Beach after every work day, and for 90% of my non-family-related transportation for a total of 68,000 miles. During my last years in California, if I wasn't on the XT, I was on a bicycle (I biked to work almost every day I didn't have college classes). My twenty mile work-to-school commute was via the Pacific Coast Highway, which was dramatically quicker than the 405, thanks to lane-splitting and filtering and no-thanks to the 405's 5mph average rush hour speed. The XT's narrow profile made efficient commuting even more practical as SUVs and other oversized single-passenger vehicles became more popular in the late 80's and the spaces between vehicles shrank considerably.

Since the 80's, so-called "dual purpose" motorcycles have grown (in size and expense) along with the SUV market. It's hard to imagine calling a Super Ten or a BMW 1200GS a "dual purpose" bike, but if you can manage that sort of off-road ride, you probably agree with Emilio Scotto who rode a his "Black Princess," a 1980 Honda GL1100, 457,000 miles through practically every country in the world and claims the Goldwing is the perfect adventure touring bike. Personally, a 900 pound Goldwing would not be my off-road choice and it wouldn't be the bike I'd pick to commute on, either. In a pretty-good world, lane-splitting and filtering would be a common part of urban traffic management and we'd all be saving time, money, energy, and highway maintenance taxes. That's the world in which a real dual purpose bike excels at commuting. With our tall seat height, we can see over and around most other vehicles. The long-travel suspension and spoked wheels allow for almost unlimited escape routes during times of stress. Light weight and nimble handling, a real DP bike can go where panicked cagers fear to roll.

For example, by the early 90's, analog cell phones (as compact as a bunch of bananas) appeared and California drivers became even more distracted. The ability to slide between cars and jump curbs to escape multiple car pile-ups became lifesaving. I'd have been the gooey center in a car sandwich multiple times if I had been on a less nimble motorcycle. Regardless of Minnesota's primitive motorcycle laws, I still split lanes on the freeway when forced to come to an unexpected stop in heavy traffic. I don't even wait for the tire screeching warning that some dimbulb has discovered, too late, that his cell phone was not the most important task of the morning. I just put iron between me and the idiots behind me and merge back into the flow of traffic when it crawls back to life. If a cop wants to give me a ticket for a preventative lifesaving move, I'll spend the time in court defending my right to stay alive. Jumping a curb and hiding in a convenient flower bed is a whole different kind of maneuver, though. That move isn't even an option for sport bikes or cruisers because they don't have the wheels, suspension, or ground clearance. It's not a practical move for a 600 pound "dual purpose" bike, either.

Picture 025I abandoned real DP motorcycles when I moved to Colorado (No, that doesn't make a lick of sense.), but after a few years without a serious dual purpose motorcycle, I bought a 2000 Kawasaki Super Sherpa KL250 with the intention of commuting and touring on the bike. The touring part never happened, but I regularly commuted on the little bike, putting 8,000 miles on the bike in two seasons. It replaced my V-Strom as my regular ride; solely because of the fun factor and 70+mpg in-town efficiency. A couple of years ago, I replaced the Sherpa with my current favorite motorcycle, a Yamaha WR250X. It gets slightly worse mileage (about 60mpg), but it starts easily year-around; thanks to fuel injection. I have a little more than 10,000 miles on the WR and it has done double-duty as a regular commuter and an mid-range adventure touring bike. My old V-Strom is even more lonely than before. In fact, I have ridden it once this year, as of mid-August.

A survey I have been running over the last year found that the average motorcyclist (loosely defined) rides well under 2,000 miles a year. There is no positive correlation between engine size and miles-ridden, either. With that in mind, it's obvious that most of us need nothing more than a 250-500cc motorcycle and the most practical motorcycles every made are dual purpose. For all-around daily use, a motorcycle that can go anywhere, does it efficiently and reliably, and has a decent resale value is hard to beat. Aerostich's Andy Goldfine has a "small and simple equals fun" basic motorcycle rule. Add a versatile suspension, great handling, narrow profile, fuel economy, dependable resale, and a design intended to be treated roughly and you have the perfect commuting motorcycle. Maybe, the perfect universal motorcycle.

From: Andy Goldfine 
Sent: Friday, June 06, 2014 11:33 PM
To: Tom Day; Day Thomas
Subject: Lightweight touring
Tom - Wonderful MMM column this month.  Thanks for mentioning me.  I learned the "Small and simple equals fun." formulation from an old Steven L. Thompson editorial in Cycle World or Cycle Guide.  

His version was "L + S = MF" which stood for 'Light + Simple = More Fun'.  He deserves full origination credit for this idea as it relates to motorcycling.

I hope we will be able to get together in person some time this summer.


Sep 17, 2016

How Historic will this Make Motorcycles?

outbackranch2_(5)__hdNavigant now believes that by 2050, self-driving cars will be the norm in civilized societies. “The idea of getting behind the wheel (in 2050) and actually driving a car is likely to be more a curiosity, akin to going to a stable to climb on the back of a horse.” In this month’s Design News blog entry, “Which Will Capture the Market First -- Autonomous Cars or Electrics?” Charles Murray describes the parallel race between electrics and autonomous vehicles. While EV’s are still just 1% of world automotive production, that number is expected to move up quickly. By 2030, that number could be as high as 50%.

e793109d5c5907bc0adccbe3583ce8d1If people stop driving cages, how long will it be before they don’t pilot motorcycles? That “back of a horse” comment has been on my mind for about two decades.

Sep 13, 2016

A Last (?) Short Season

My 2016 MSF/MMSC training season appears to be pretty much indicative of the motorcycle training business in general. Due to a physical problem, last year’s fairly normal season got cut short around late July. Since 2001, I’ve been doing 15-25 Basic and (recently renamed) Intermediate classes a year along with the occasional Skills Retest and Maintenance class. Last year, I’d signed up for 16 classes and managed to teach a dozen before my right foot turned into a pain generator and I had to bail out of the last portion of my season. I hadn’t missed a class in 14 years before that season.

This year, I decided to downsize my participation to the minimum 4 classes.Honestly, I didn’t have much fun last season and have been wondering if I’m near the point where teaching anything to anyone has lost its appeal. I have been doing some sort of education function for almost 40 years; either as a corporate trainer or a college instructor. My father was a high school math and accounting teacher and I never imagined myself following in his career footsteps, but I did; sort of. My tolerance for fools has never been well developed, but it appears to be vanishing altogether in my cranky old age. I can put up with miles of inexperience, but I can’t move and inch to fix deliberate stupidity. When I first started training technicians, in the mid-70’s, I was ruthless when it came to putting up with a tech who wanted the planet to revolve in his direction. Several of my employers moved asshole employees into my departments because they didn’t have the balls or personal organization and disipline to fire them. I have always believed in saying (and documenting) what I am going to do and doing what I say I will do. If I say, “Screw up three times and you’re fired,” you should assume that when you’re at two strikes you better not swing at a bad pitch.

Part of what convinced me to quit my college teaching gig was that my ability to make the classroom rules and enforce them had vanished. Probably the worst thing about activities like for-profit education, healthcare, resource management, and like things is that management can rarely remember the purpose of the organization, beyond providing large salaries to management, for any length of time. When the rules for an activity are changed to keep the income steady for mismanagement, the rules no long exist and neither does the purpose of the activity. And so it went for my college teaching career.

The rules for motorcycle safety instruction have never been designed toward improving motorcycle safety. The MSF is OWNED by the MIC, which is all about putting butts with credit or cash on motorcycle seats. “Safety” is just the smokescreen used to justify avoiding the sort of government regulations that motorcycling’s awful safety record would warrant. Any other activity that would cost the nation’s taxpayers a good bit over $16B per year while providing little-to-no valuable utility (except guns and “financial services”) would see the regulation hammer drop like a brick on an ant. Like most for-profit organizations, the MIC has no strong reason to care if its customers die shortly after handing over their cash or the dealers sell the loans to some TBTF bank. It’s not like motorcycling has a long future in sight for these folks or that their execs have a financial motivation to provide for the future of the companies they mismanage.

In fact, the MSF program carefully orders instructors and program managers not to make claims about the MSF’s training having any effect on motorcycle safety. And that’s because it doesn’t. Not only does the MSF know that training doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t appear to work anywhere. One of the attractions to teaching is the feedback an instructor gets when people learn a skill and begin on a path toward mastering it. Trust me, it’s not about the money. Take away the hope there was a reason for spending a hot summer weekend on a parking lot walking 11-miles-per-day putting down and picking up cones, avoiding and preventing injury from a runaway motorcycle and motorcyclist or ten, and listening to people whine when they manage to fail the grossly-easy “skills test” at the end and you kill a lot of instructor motivation. 

Teaching the “Intermediate Safety Course” (IRC) is often way less fun or advanced than the “Basic” course. Overcoming the myths and objections of so-called experienced riders is wearing. I’ve dealth with two-year-olds who were more informed than the majority of over-50 Harley riders; especially the “club” characters who are just making the motions toward motorcycle safety to justify their gang patches and pirate parades.

One of the main consumers of the IRC has been Polaris, with a requirement that employees must obtain a motorcycle license and take both the BRC and IRC before they can  “check out” bikes from the company’s reverse-engineering inventory and Indian/Victory loaners. To accomodate those wannabe “motorcyclists” who want to ride but don’t want to have to actually buy a motorcycle, we ran an experiment a couple of years ago with allowing IRC customers to use the BRC bikes along with taking the MSF’s IRC test at the end. The results were pretty good, but the outcome was that we’re now allowing IRC students to use the small bikes but we’re blowing off the test. If there was ever evidence that we are not serious about providing actual results from motorcycle training, it was this for me.

So, at the end of this season I’m going to be spending the winter contemplating my motorcycle safety training “career.” Like most teaching gigs in the US, I think the average length of a motorcycle trainer’s career is less than 3 years. You’d think getting to play with motorcycles for fun and profit would be a better gig, but it isn’t in most states. Again, it’s the feedback reinforcement that overcomes the downsides to teaching and they aren’t there.

Sep 12, 2016

#126 What Are You Afraid Of?


All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

A while back, one of our contributors listed a few of the things he was afraid of. One of the things he listed was flying. Another was helmet claustrophobia. I think spiders, snakes, girls, and clowns probably made the list, too.

Psychologists argue that the absence of fear is mental illness. The other possibility is physical or genetic damage to the portion of the brain called the "amygdala," which is the section of the brain that generates the emotion we describe as fear. I have yet to meet a psychologist/psychiatrist who I would call "courageous," so I'm only sort of buying into this analysis and classification. These are the same characters who invented a disease (AADD) to explain a lack of focus and poor self-discipline and who can't convince 65% of the public that human beings have predictable animalistic responses to fight-or-flight situations or social pressures.

Personally, I despise all of my own phobias (and I have a list). While a fear factor might be a wonderful survival tactic, it is definitely a buzz-kill. Standing at the edge of a bridge strapped to a harness and 100' bungee cable is a disgusting time to start evaluating your entertainment options. As a Kizinti (the alien species George Lucas ripped off, renamed "Wookie," and domesticated in Star Bores) told Louis Wu, "All that is needed is to scream and leap." After all, that's how we invest in the stock market, housing, higher education, and it's definitely how we choose our political "leaders." Important stuff like that requires no more thought than we put into "would you like fries with that?" So, why do we hesitate to fling our bodies into the void, especially with a perfectly good motorcycle under us and well-maintained roads to travel? It's not like indecision is going to add anything valuable to your steering plans at the apex of a curve or when the motorcycle leaves the ground at the top of a whoop or a small hill. Do it. Scream and leap. Set your hair on fire and give it your best shot. These days, if you really screw it up you'll probably end up a YouTube superstar. A small price to pay for your 1.5 seconds of excitement and 15 minutes, dead minimum, of fame.

Seriously, I do believe that fears are meant to be overcome. Catering to phobias and cowardice  is what makes you old before your time. If you give in to that crap, the next thing you know you'll be voting Republican and jabbering nonsense about "job creators" and "Obama is a socialist" and all of your friends will have sub-100-point IQs and you'll delude yourself into believing that Leno and Letterman are funny and Fox actually does "news." Man up, dude, before it's too late. Accepting fear is a choice and you can either get it up and get over it or shrivel into a timid little person who never has a moment on YouTube to relish. [Yes, I have several, although "relish" is probably not the word that first comes to mind.]

I like the tactic of facing fears until they are beaten back into my subconscious. Heights, for example. I suspect that most of us are a little shy about stepping on to a 20' roof or out on to the Grand Canyon's Infinity Bridge. We all, however, know that with reasonable caution there is very little about either of those "adventures" that qualifies as dangerous. So, most of us get on with the job and it doesn't take long before altitude fades into the background. I used to do a little rock climbing and it always amazed me that on Day One I might find myself frozen 15' above flat ground and a few days later I will be walking along the edge of a 300' cliff without the slightest nervousness. Speed is another sensation we can adapt to fairly quickly. I'm not sure that is a good thing, but it is true. When I take off for a long trip, sticking with freeway traffic sometimes seems like walking a knife edge. Two weeks later and I'm impatient when someone is "parked" in front of me a few miles-per-hour above the speed limit. [Not that I would ever, ever exceed the federally mandated speed limits when everyone else is doing their best to do multiples of that velocity.]

Fear is like guilt. Sometimes those emotions can keep us from doing things other people disapprove, but neither emotion produces a positive result. I can be made to conform to society's low expectations, but I will resent it and that will come out in odd acts of rebellion that help me maintain a balance of control. Fear will tell me to chicken out at the worst possible time, when going forward is almost guaranteed to be the right decision.

My favorite motorcycling example is when I screw up and enter a corner too hot. Unless there is a lot of run-out room, there is no place for braking in that situation. Once the bike is in a slide, there are even fewer options available. On dirt or gravel, this is where the fun begins. I'm less comfortable sliding on concrete or asphalt, but that's due to cowardice and inexperience, not common sense. So that's the fear I'm working on this summer, fear of sliding on paved surfaces. I'll let you know how that works out, assuming I survive.

Sep 10, 2016

Holy Crap!

My wife and I made a run for Northfield on Friday in the pickup because we were planning on blowing a boatload of money on trees at Knecht’s Nursery. About five miles east of Northfield on Highway 19, a westbound pickup was turning right into a farm house driveway. A nutjob on a big cruiser pulling a trailer was tailgating the pickup and, apparently, didn’t see the turn signal or notice the pickup was slowing for the turn. We were about 100 yards behind a delivery truck in the eastbound lane.

The biker nutjob decided to split the space between the pickup in front of him and the delivery truck, with a foot of space on either side. I shit you not, the idiot was dragging his fucking FEET to slow down while he slithered between the two vehicles! He had to have been going at least 60 mph and didn’t make the slightest effort to even roll off the throttle. I know because we could hear his POS exhaust going full bore when he past us.

Sep 9, 2016

Motorcycle Head Count

Sometimes I like to generate my own statistics, just to see of the published data bears any resemblence to actual highway experience. This afternoon, I rode from Red Wing to Rosemount and back, mostly because I screwed up and didn’t see the email yesterday rescheduling the MMSC coaches’ night at DCTC to next week. Oh well. While I’m riding my overly nimble WR250X on relatively boring county and state roads, I like to count the number of cars between motorcycles. Today, the sequence went like this:

  • 125 (Red Wing to Hastings, where I spotted the first motorcycle of the day)
  • 800+ (Hastings to Aldis in Rosemount where I stopped and quit counting before buying groceries)
  • 146 (post-grocery shopping in Rosemount, a commuter)
  • 78 (between Rosemount and Hastings, another commuter)
  • 366 (a parked motorcycle at the Hastings dairy)
  • 571 (all the way home from Hastings to Red Wing, not a single bike on the road)

When I’m doing my numbers, I don’t count groups of motorcycles as anything more than one rider. If it’s a pack of slow-moving pirates, I don’t count them at all. That kind of riding is just conspicuous consumption and has nothing to do with transportation. However, on this trip I didn’t even see a pirate parade around Treasure Island. I suspect most of the biker crowd have put up their chrome toys for the season.

Let’s add ‘em up, four motorcycles over 2086 cages or about 0.2% of highway traffic on a perfect motorcycle day in September at and around rush hour. That is one seriously dismal statistic. It absolutely justifies my estimate (from Craig’s List motorcycle want ads) that the average motorcycle is ridden barely 1,000 miles per year.

Now, let’s look at last year’s crash stats. There were 61 motorcyclists killed in Minnesota last year and, oddly, 67 people were also killed in pickup crashes. Combining two types of cages, SUVs and vans, a total of 41 people died in those vehicles’ crashes. So, if you believe there is any legitimate comparison to be made between the miles travelled by pickups or SUVs and vans and motorcycles, I’m all ears. Make me laugh.

On my mid-summer’s trip to Colorado, I went into overload on a couple of long stretches where the count was in the several thousand vehicles per motorcycle. Around Ft. Collins, the stats were more encouraging, but a couple dozen miles west into the mountains and, once the racer boyz were on their way back to the dorm, motorcycles vanished and I didn’t see another bike until Steamboat.

We’re a vanishing breed folks.

Sep 3, 2016

Big Leaps vs. the Status Quo

For about 40 years, I had at least some of my fingers into some area of mid-to-high-tech every day. When I moved from engineering into academia, I was pretty much down to one finger on the edge of what was going on in technology. Retirement put an end to that connection in any practical sense. One of the few ways I have left to stay in touch with what is going on in the tech world is my subscription to “Design News.” This month, Design News had a few articles that should be interesting to a motorcyclist.

In this month’s review of the magazine’s past home gadget builder projects, “Gadget Freak Case #235: Ignition Control Unit for Harley Davidson Panhead Engine” described how one gearhead tried to resolve the problem of getting an old Harley to start reliably. There isn’t much follow-up in the article, so I don’t know (or care) how it all worked out. Reading the story of his analysis and design solution was interesting, though.

In case you are still suffering the delusion that autonomous cars are in the distant future, "Hope or Hype? Big Automakers Look to Autonomous Vehicles" should relieve you of that false hope. You might know how I think autonomous vehicles are going to affect street legal motorcycling, so read it and weep. "Ford president and CEO Mark Fields made it clear that the giant automaker is not settling for half-measures in its effort and is going straight to self-driving cars by 2021. ‘That means there’s going to be no steering wheel. There’s not going to be a gas pedal. There’s not going to be a brake pedal and, of course, a driver is not going to be required,’ he said."

As for the noise, pollution, energy inefficiency of internal combustion engines, "6 Automakers Will Lead the Way to EV Battery Growth" describes how “Six big automakers will carry the electric vehicle (EV) battery market to a five-fold sales increase by 2020, a new study says . . .Tesla, General Motors (GM), Renault-Nissan, Volkswagen, BMW, and BYD will account for 90% of the electric car battery sales during those five years, mostly on the strength of bigger battery packs.” By “bigger” the article is not talking about physicial size, later this year Chevy will be hyping a “60-kWh battery in the all-electric Chevy Bolt.” The number of electric cars on the road is going to change, too. Tesla is planning for “annual sales of 500,000 of the affordable Model 3 vehicles by 2018.” There is some debate over how much of the cage market electric vehicles will be in the next few years, but I think the end of the Age of Oil is in sight and if I were a younger motorcyclist I’d be really interested in how that will play out on two wheels.