Aug 14, 2017

Weird and Terrifying

In the always weird and terrifying Craig’s List world, this might be the weirdest yet, solidly belonging in the WTF? category.

https://minneapolis.craigslist.org/ank/mcy/6251902580.html

New Picture

electricGW

electricGW2

#152 The Little League Dad Society

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

We've all witnessed the "little league dad" syndrome and some of us have suffered that arrogant, egotistical, under-achieving fellow personally. Some of us have even been stuck with little league dads and moms. Way back in 2014 (I Hate Racing #155 April 2014), I made my personal take on watching little kids on motorcycles pretty clear, "When a stadium motocross is broken up (too often literally) with a bunch of 8-year-olds plodding around a motocross track, smashing into each other and the track obstacles, I have to be somewhere else. I can't watch." Even worse, when I end up following a dad on his bike and his kid dangling from the back--feet a few inches from reaching the passenger pegs, in minimal clothing, and an ill-fitting helmet--I have to find another route to where I'm going. I've seen dead and mangled adults and I don't like it much, but I can deal with it. I'd just as soon live my whole life without ever seeing a dead and/or mangled little kid. I'm afraid I'd never be able to get that image out of my mind. I saw a dirt bike foot-peg-gutted high school kid, 40 years ago, and I'm still stuck with that image as if it happened last week.

I wonder how many parents have digested the real message behind the Will Smith movie, Concussion, or the book it is based on, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru's League of Denial? As one of the doctors in the book said, "We're exposing more than 1 million kids to early-onset brain damage, and we don't know yet how to prevent it." Well, we know there are a lot more than "1 million kids" exposed to this because he's just talking about football. Between baseball, hockey, soccer, motorcycle racing, and a culture that tells kids they can knock each other around like punching bags without consequence, almost half of our kids are exposed to early-onset brain damage (resulting in chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE) on a regular basis. Another sports-related concussion researcher said, "If only 10 percent of mothers in American begin to conceive of football as a dangerous game, that is the end of football." Obviously, the possibility that 10% of American mothers don't "conceive of football as a dangerous game" pretty much proves that there are a lot of clueless mothers out there. Anyone who has played football for more than one afternoon knows it's a dangerous game. However, until recently we didn't know how dangerous. CTE has been found in the brains of 18 to 21 year old football players and the leading neurological researchers are now recommending that "kids under the age of 14 should not play collision sports as they are currently played. We believe they should not be playing tackle football." Likewise, it's pretty obvious that kids under the age of 14 should not be racing motorcycles. It's a well-known fact that when you're racing off road, "if you're not crashing you're not riding."

Peter Lenz, center, poses with mechanic Will Eikenberry, Dylan Code, Misti Hurst, and Keith Code. Lenz died at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Of course, this is an issue where following the money gets to core of the problem. Danger is why we like these high risk sports: football (394,350 injuries in 2012 with an average of 12 deaths per year for the past 25 years), soccer (172,470 injuries in 2012), baseball and softball (119,810 and 58,210 injuries in 2012), basketball (389,610 injuries in 2012), hockey, volleyball (43,190 injuries in 2012), wrestling (40,750 injuries in 2012), gymnastics (28,300 injuries in 2012), field and track (24,910 injuries in 2012), and motocross and road racing (for which there are no reliable statistics). Hell, we've even figured out how to make cheerleading dangerous (37,770 injuries in 2012). And there is a lot of money to be made (the NFL's 2014 revenue was $7.24B) exposing young athletes to death, disability, and damage to their long term mental health. However, we're just getting started with learning about brain damage and the fact that 76 or 79 studied NFL player brains found evidence of CTE hasn't sunk; especially NFL players and their families. Regardless, you would have to be delusional to imagine that motorcycle racing doesn't have these problems. The sad case of ex-NASCAR racer Fred Lorenzen is probably the first shot fired in motorsports and I suspect there is a lot of hidden damage out there in race cars, motorcycles, and every other contact sport. Now that (a few) doctors know what to look for, a lot more cases will be popping up.

The big sea change here isn't that we are surprised that long term consequences result from injuries. We expect knee, hand and arm, shoulder, and even internal injuries from motorcycle racing that will hamper the ex-racer later in life. Racing is dangerous, get over yourself, right? My hip replacement was due, according to my orthopedic surgeon, to "use and abuse" and genetic factors. Racing and riding off-road motorcycles would be major contributors to that use and abuse. I wasn't surprised and I haven't once looked back and wished I'd not ridden motorcycles when I was young and made out of "rubber and magic." The big change in attitude should come from the knowledge that "getting your bell rung" can have long term consequences to your mental health: resulting in CTE which is "essentially pugilistica dementia (boxer's dementia)" with side orders of memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, Parkinsonism, suicide, and progressive dementia. If you know your kid is being exposed to chemicals that could result in those symptoms would you keep him or her in that environment?

We use, semi-rationally, to justify risk is the associated reward. Those of us who chose to ride motorcycles, with some understanding of the risk we're accepting, have a collection of rewards that we believe makes the risk acceptable. The problem with this new knowledge is that the information is being aggressively repressed by the people who make the most money from these sports. In the case of football, the NFL has done everything possible (like Big Tobacco) to squash research and evidence that head trauma can lead to long-term cognitive problems. By "everything" I mean everything from creating bogus "research" to ridiculing researchers in public media to suing people for slander. I suppose murder hasn't been on the table, but you never know. Currently, their big argument has been that it's not "certain" that head banging is the cause of CTE. Since we're not absolutely positive that whacking on a kid's skull causes CTE, we don't have to stop it. Drug and chemical companies have used that bullshit argument for being able to continue polluting water, air, food, medicine, and the entire planet for a century. A more rational society would require the polluters to prove they aren't doing harm before they are allowed to do whatever godawful thing they want to do, but humans are mostly irrational. Maybe we're all brain damaged and it's too late to make any difference for the species?

In the meantime, I think parents should seriously reconsider the risk their children are taking for whatever weird cause they've used to justify putting a little kid on a motorcycle and putting that kid on a race track. Ten years ago, you could excuse this behavior with "it's not a problem, he'll shake it off and be ok tomorrow." Today, the evidence is good that not only will that headache and loss of memory stay around a while but it might become a whole lot worse in 30-40 years.

 MMM #183 May 2017

Aug 13, 2017

Kill the Wabbit, Please

Cal's Valkyrie[Should that be “Kill the Wabbit, Pweese?”]

A friend proudly put a picture of his Honda Valkyrie on Facebook the other day. We, in jest (I hope) had a few words about his opinion and mine regarding this chrome-laden hippo bike. When the Valkyrie first came out, in 1996,I thought it was the butt-uglist motorcycle ever produced by anyone, including the gods of ugly; Harley. It arrived in a variety of horrific paint schemes, all Harley-replica stuff, and every year until 2003 when Honda quit puking out these damn things it got uglier. I didn’t know, until recently, that the Valkyrie was a US-made Honda, from Marysville, OH. Figures. They probably coudn’t find any Japanese tasteless enough to work on it.

There is only one thought that comes into my mind when I see a Valkyrie, usually stationary with a “for sale” sign duct-taped to the windshield.

This one is pretty good, too.

I wish I could claim this as an original thought, but the credit belongs to a friend, Brett Rihanek, who spontaneously made the connection the second he saw the first Valkyrie ad.

Regardless, the Honda Valkyrie is still the posterchild for all of the gross Boomer hippobike excess that led up to the Great Recession and the current motorcycle downturn. 720 pounds of blubbering, over-complicated (six 28mm carbs?), waddling incapacity. You can not go anywhere on this motorcycle you couldn’t travel more comfortably in every cage ever built. To put a cap on the grossness, Honda topped their ugly-fest with the Valkyrie Rune. This POS goes so far beyond ugly that I don’t have a category for it.

2004-honda-valkyrie-rune-34_600x0w

Aug 12, 2017

Licensed Non-Riders

One of the many ridiculous facts pertaining to our idiotic motorcycle licensing system in the “freedumb” USA is that once you obtain a motorcycle endorsement you can keep the damn thing forever without even riding a motorcycle once you receive the endorsement. Apparently, 8 million non-riders in the USA are in that category. 8 million bozos are ready and barely-able to swing a leg over a 110 cubic-inch Hardly simply because they once passed (even if they barely managed that on a 125cc training bike). Holy crap.

Even worse, Hardly wants to capitalize on that by convincing that marginally-abled crowd of “sleeping license-holders” to jump in front of a moving train after getting a second mortgage on their homes to buy a chrome-laden suicide machine. According to an article titled, "Millions of people have a motorcycle license but don't own a bike," ”Harley has a goal of attracting 2 million new U.S. riders over the next 10 years, a tall order considering it would represent a 25% increase in the total number of motorcycles registered in the nation.” You know me, I’m all for population reduction any way it can happen (as long as no innocent cats, dogs, hawks, eagles, crocodiles, or elephants are harmed in the filming of this catastrophe), but this is downright hilarious.

Stuff like this is why I believe motorcycle training is totally back-asswards. It’s pretty obvious that training beginning riders is a pointless, stupid idea from the perspective of a society trying to reduce the $22.6B in medical costs due to motorcycle crashes. Society has absolutely no reason to want to train beginning motorcyclists, with the obvious idea that the more butts put on motorcycle seats the more money it will cost society. However, once someone has decided to get licensed and buy a donor-cycle, society has every motivation to be sure that person is as unlikely as possible to contribute to that $22.6B. Which means that every time a motorcycle license comes due it should NOT be renewed without some evidence of recent (3-6 months, for example) advanced rider training. Not that silly MSF Intermediate Rider bullshit, either. I mean some kind of skill-demanding, road-speed advanced training like the MMSC/MSF “advanced” or “expert” rider courses.

Couple that training with a serious helmet law (no DOT head-pot bullshit, but full face, Snell-approved or nothing) and we’re beginning to talk about an actual attempt to drag US motorcycling into the 20th Century. Once we’ve made it that far, we might even head toward an actual 21st Century system of tiered licensing and a real inital rider’s test.

Aug 9, 2017

Training’s Value?

For the last 16 years, I’ve concluded every motorcycle safety class with a bit about the insurance companies that offer discounts for taking the classes. A couple of weekends ago, I took the MMSC’s MN Expert Rider Course and the lead instructor told us that GEICO, Progressive, and a few other companies offer a discount for every training course a rider takes. This morning, I called GEICO to update their records on me and ask for the additional discount.

What I learned was something completely different from what I’ve been saying for the last 16 years. Not only did I not recieve an additional discount for the Expert Rider Course, but I haven’t even been receiving a discount for being an instructor because I haven’t notified GEICO that my instructor certification had been re-upped in the last couple of years. It turns out that the ONLY people who get a discount credit for “training” are instructors. At least, that’s true with GEICO.

Now, I’m wondering if any insurance companies still give discounts for taking the class? As instructors, we don’t get much feedback on some of the things we’ve been taught to say during the classes. I’ve heard hints from students, especially Intermediate Rider Course students (used to be the “Experienced Rider Course”) that their insurance company didn’t give any sort of discount for the BRC. I’ve checked up on this over the years on the Web, but that information has been inconclusive and contradictory. So, now I’m even more confused than usual.

I did learn that a couple of companies have discontinued motorcycle insurance in various states that do not have helmet laws.

Aug 7, 2017

#151 Looks Cool, but It's Not


All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

Fashion is one of the many human ideas that is sometimes described as something you can identify with "common sense." One of my personal heroes, Bertrand Russell, called common sense "the metaphysics of savages" and fashion proves him right, repeatedly. Nothing about fashion follows the fundamental (and grossly oversimplified) concept of economic supply and demand, for example. For practically everything fashionable, there is no demand at all until some marketing wizard convinces a fair collection of fools that they desperately need some useless product that will pretend to enhance their lifestyle but will add nothing more than one more pile of crap to put in the hoard of useless crap. All you have to do is look around you at the clothes people are wearing, the cars they are driving, and the silly junk they think is essential to their survival and you'll know how idiotic fashion really is. 
 
The grossly misnamed "smart phones," for example, regularly costing $75-100 per month are one of the silliest products that anyone ever flushed cash into. Unless you have a business that requires constant communication with customers or employees (a dope dealer, for instance), a cell phone is a mindless distraction at least 99.999% of the time. A cell phone doubles as a low resolution camera, a fuzzy, shaky video camera with crap audio, a GPS loaded with distracting advertisements, and the easiest way to allow hackers access to your personal finances (next to stringing your life's savings into a belt and wearing it everywhere you go). Possessing a product this flawed is at least 30 IQ points below retarded. Paying a monthly rate for this "service" proves that "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public" or any other nation's marching morons.
 
looks_coolThere are a multitude of similarly idiotic products, but this rant is really about how fashion and engineering can not occupy the same space. An obvious example would be the waddle-inducing pants-on-the-ground hip hop costume fad. The geniuses who came up with this sales pitch must have had stock in for-profit-prisons. If you've ever seen a gangbanger try to run from the cops while trying to hold his pants up, you know what I'm talking about. Serious comedy. Look under "stupid" in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of some kid wearing his jeans wrapped around his knees.
 
[For that matter, what kind of macho rock and roller or R&B artist would get anywhere near something as lame sounding as "hip hop?" Is there a hip hop group called "Peter Rabbit" or "Easter Bunny?" Don't get me started.]

When I bought my WR250X, I didn't notice that the previous owner was one of the robot children who follows fashion wherever that pack of fools might lead. My wife spotted and commented on the droopy pants aspect of his appearance, but I was too occupied with the motorcycle to register that valuable piece of buyer-beware information. I did notice the hacked up exhaust pipe and priced the bike accordingly. I missed the butchered front and rear fenders. The baggy Cut me a break, I was sick and it was January. My reasons for wanting to own a WR250X was as close to totally functional as my limited mental resources allows: fuel injection so the bike will start under all weather and altitude conditions, fuel economy, light and maneuverable for city traffic, versatile, and long suspension for the future state of decay that our road maintenance promises. What the bike looked like was not in my buying equation. It should have been, but it wasn't.  
 
There can be a mathematical value system to judging products by their functional properties. You can apply quantitative measure to fuel efficiency, weight, height, suspension travel, and almost every performance-based value. You can add up the pluses and minuses and use some sort of logic to pit one motorcycle against another. In ever purchase, there is some emotion involved but if function is what is driving your purchase you can suppress those emotional misdirectors until the decision is made. 
 
Fashion is the polar opposite of the elegance of mathematical analysis. If you're buying a motorcycle on the low standards of fashion, you're using the kind of touchy-feely decision making process women use when they buy shoes that are unfit for walking. I would hesitate to say this if I gave a damn about political correctness, but if fashion is what drives you to a particular motorcycle it's not a "guy thing" that is putting you on two wheels. At best, you're making the same kind of statement on your motorcycle that you probably make with your golfing attire.

In the United States, most motorcyclists and the rest of our fellow citizens regard motorcycles as recreational vehicles. We don't commute on our motorcycles. We don't use them for daily transportation. We don't even use the most mobile, quickest vehicles on the road for messenger delivery service. We're humiliated into toy status by bicycles, even in that obvious application.

As toys, motorcycles have a huge collection of disadvantages, culturally and practically. The most apparent is risk vs. reward. The risk of being a marginally-skilled hobby motorcyclist is huge, with our consistent overrepresentation in highway fatalities being a giant red flag waved to everyone involved in highway safety. The reward for the rider who puts on 100 to 1,000 miles a year is microscopic and grossly out of proportion to the risk.
looks_cool_2 
I have seriously suggested that the people I've known who ride that seldom that they pull the fluids from their bike and build a nice stand for it in their living room or den (if they are rich enough to have a den).

That sort of rider is exactly the kind of person who is likely to be influenced by fashion when selecting his motorcycle and exactly the kind of person who is likely to be killed by the many serious functional flaws in a fashionable motorcycle. For that matter, this category of rider is likely to select (or avoid) protective gear that is fashionable but useless, too. Literally, everything about fashionable motorcycling contributes to our crap safety statistics and heads us all down the path of becoming true recreational vehicles and illegal on public roads. And this is where I suggest to you that your silly-assed hippoboke or your shade-tree-mechanic-mangled modifications to a perfectly useful motorcycle only looks cool to the uninformed and incompetent. In other words, you think it looks cool, but it's not. The only good thing about fashion is that it is always temporary. Droopy pants may be cool today, but they are going to look a whole lot dumber than bell-bottoms tomorrow. Your gangster-wannabe buddies might think your 800 pound hippo-relic is cool today, but nobody is going to want that useless piece of crap tomorrow because it is functionless and as silly looking as droopy pants.

Published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly #182 April 2017 

Aug 6, 2017

Spring Creek National AMA MX Races

There might be an MMM article coming up about my visit to the Millville Spring Creek MX Park this year, but in the mean time, here are the pictures I took.

Aug 3, 2017

Foolish Motorcycle Stuff

The stock market gurus, the Motley Fool, had some foolish motorcycle statistics on their website in March. The title is a typically Wall Street puffed-up piece pretending to be a big surprise and delivering a little wisp of new information. It’s interesting to see some of what outsiders consider to be surprising, though.

https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/03/05/7-motorcycle-statistics-thatll-floor-you.aspx

12 Motorcycle Statistics That'll Floor You

The facts that explain the changing face of the motorcycle industry and those who support it. Motorcycles have come a long way since 1885, when Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach built the first one in Germany. Called the reitwagen, or riding car, its engine had 0.5 horsepower and a top speed of 11 kilometers per hour. Fourteen years later, the first production bike was made by Hildebrand and Wolfmuller featuring a two-cylinder engine that produced 2.5 horsepower and topped out at 45 kph.

Today's motorcycles are obviously more powerful iron horses. Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) recently unveiled its new Milwaukee-Eight engine that, on the 114 cubic inch high-end model model, has four valves per head and produces over 100 horsepower.

The industry has grown over the past 132 years serving a much more diverse crowd of riding enthusiasts. Although bike makers have struggled to recover from the financial-market meltdown a decade ago, here are 13 additional facts from the Motorcycle Industry Council that will blow you away.

1. Sales gains are fleeting. There were 573,000 new motorcycles sold in 2015, up slightly from the prior year, but sales are expected to have declined around 2.1% in 2016.

2. Harley is still hogging sales. Harley-Davidson accounted for 29.3% of all new motorcycle sales in the U.S. in 2015, followed by Honda Motors at 14%, and Yamaha at 13%. Polaris Industries (NYSE:PII) represented just 4.4% of total sales that year with its Indian and Victory brands. Yet Harley reported at the end of January, and 2016 U.S. sales fell 3.9% and were down globally 1.6%. Polaris, on the other hand, said its sales were up 1%, with Indian Motorcycle enjoying mid-20% growth.

3. Gang of eight. Eight manufacturers represented 81% of all U.S sales in 2015. In addition to the four manufacturers above, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki, and BMW round out the list.

4. Going back to Cali. California had the most new motorcycle sales, at 78,610, or 13.7% of the total. The next closest state was Florida, at 41,720, followed by Texas, with 41,420 new bikes sold. Despite being home to the annual motorcycle pilgrimage of Sturgis, South Dakota sold only 2,620 new bikes in 2015. Two motorcycle riders on wide open road IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

5. Wide open spaces. Even though California topped all states in new bike sales, because it is also the most populous state, its sales work out to just 2.9 bikes per 100, below the national average of 3.2 bikes per 100 people. Wyoming, with 7.0 motorcycles per 100 people, has the most. As a result, there are fewer bikes in the east, with 2.9 per 100, and most in the midwest, with 3.4.

6. Changing makeup of riders. Women represented 14% of all motorcycle owners in 2014, up from 6% in 1990 and 10% in 2009. It may be one of the most telling figures in why Harley is struggling; its core customer of middle-aged males has fallen from 94% of the motorcycle-owning population in 2009 to 86% in 2014. It's also part of the reason Harley introduced its Street 500 and 750 models, and Polaris came out with its Scout and Scout Sixty models to appeal to these riders newer to the market. However, IHS Automotive data says Harley-Davidson still has a 60.2% share of women riders.

7. A graying market. The median age of the typical motorcycle owner is 47, up from 32 in 1990 and 40 in 2009. And although its sales are slipping, Harley maintains a 55.1% share of the 35 and older male rider demographic. However, more troubling for the industry is the decline in riders under 18, which has fallen from 8% in 1990 to 2%, and those between 18 and 24 from 16% of the total down to 6%. Where will the new bike buyers come from if the industry is not attracting these younger people?

8. The great escape. Married riders comprise 61% of motorcycle owners, up from 57% in 1990.

9. Becoming a wealthy pursuit. Some 24% of motorcycle owner households earned between $50,000 and $74,999 in 2014, and as much as 65% earned $50,000 or more. The the median household income was $62,200.

10. And well-educated. 72% of motorcycle owners have received at least some college or post-graduate education, and almost as many (71%) were employed. Some 15% were retired.

11. Most weren't off-roading. Of all the new motorcycles sold in the U.S. in 2015, 74% were on-highway bikes, and the 8.4 million motorcycles that were registered in U.S. the year before was more than double the number in 1990. Motorcycles, in fact, represented 3% of total vehicle registrations.

12. Motorcycles do their part. The motorcycle industry contributed $24.1 billion in economic value in 2015 via sales, services, state taxes paid, and licensing fees, and it employed 81,567 people.

AUTHOR Rich Duprey Rich Duprey (TMFCop) Rich has been a Fool since 1998 and writing for the site since 2004. After 20 years of patrolling the mean streets of suburbia, he hung up his badge and gun to take up a pen full time.

Aug 1, 2017

Crashing and Talking About Crashing

Here’s where we are in Minnesota, as of the end of July (Some corrections to these numbers will probably surface in August, but it won’t get better. Not all counties and municipalities report crashes quickly.)

2017 Minnesota Rider Deaths Statistics

Helmet use

  • 4 riders killed were wearing a helmet.
  • 22 riders killed were not wearing a helmet.
  • It’s unknown if 4 riders were wearing a helmet or not.

Single-vehicle crashes vs. Multi-vehicle crashes

  • 12 of the crashes involved only the motorcycle
  • 16 of the crashes involved a motorcycle and another vehicle

Motorcycle vs. deer

  • 4 of the crashes involved a motorcycle colliding with a deer.

Passengers killed

  • 3 passenger have died in a motorcycle crash

Motorcycle License Endorsement

  • 25 of the operators had a valid motorcycle license endorsement or permit.
  • 2 of the operators did not have a valid motorcycle license endorsement or permit.
  • It’s unknown if one of the riders had valid motorcycle license endorsement or permit.

Negotiating a curve

  • 9 of the crashes happened while motorcyclists were negotiating a curve.

Rider deaths by age:

  • Under 20: 1
  • 20’s: 6
  • 30’s: 1
  • 40’s: 6
  • 50’s: 10
  • 60’s: 5
  • 70’s: 1
  • 80’s: -

Rural vs. urban area

  • 14 of the crashes happened in a rural area.
  • 12 of the crashes happened in an urban area.
  • 2 of the crashes is unknown.

Registered Motorcycles Drop

The number of registered motorcycles declined by 10,000 from 2015 to 2016 after being stagnate for the previous four years.

The Mostly Useless Motorcycle Safety Advisory Task Force

ST. PAUL — Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman has reappointed, Frank Ernst, Debra Heisick, Natonia Johnson, Mark Koon, Monte Ohlrogge, Dwight Smith, Bob Swenson, Tim Walker, David Weeres and Geoffrey Wyatt, and appointed new members, Tracey Lynne Armstrong, Jonathon Paul Fernholz, Bridget Karp, David Nei and Dean Nelson to the Motorcycle Safety Advisory Task Force.  Their appointments run through June 30, 2019.

There is no information listed as to whose interests these “representatives” represent. You’d think police, MNHP, dealers, MMSC coaches and the private training sector, daily commuters, MNDOT engineers, and actual representatives of Minnesota motorcyclists would be in this mix. However, it’s usually just the ABATE pirate crowd and their only input is “no helmet laws,” criminalize anyone who hits a motorcyclist in an intersection and ignore the majority of motorcycle crashes that are the fault of motorcyclists, and DO NOT EVER talk about motorcycle noise.

Supposedly, this group “will focus on three areas:  motorcycle rider training, motorcycle rider testing and licensing, and public information and media relations.” If history is any indicator, media relations will be a bigger topic than anything useful.

2017 Toward Zero Deaths Conference

This might be an opportunity for non-ABATE bar-hoppers to have some input into the state’s motorcycle safety. planning. The “Minnesota’s Toward Zero Deaths” traffic safety initiative. You can find a little more information about the conference at http://www.minnesotatzd.org/events/conference/2017/index.html. Registration is $95 for a two-day conference, “including breakfast, lunch, and a reception.” I scanned the website and can’t find any evidence that motorcycles are even discussed in the conference, but it’s possible we might come up since we accounted for 15% of 2015’s Minnesota traffic deaths (the latest data on MNDOT’s site).

Jul 21, 2017

Bait and Switch

A while back an acquaintance who has worked in motorcycling’s retail and marketing deadzone for the last decade or more tried to tell me that the industry had spent huge bucks and tons of effort trying to find motorcycles that Millennials might buy. I admit that I don’t monitor the industry the way I once did, but I have not seen any sort of serious attempt to either figure out what the next generation of American motorcyclists might buy or to sell that generation on motorcycling. Likewise, there hasn’t been much to attract my attention, either.

r3Today was supposed to be that sort of opportunity with their 2017 Yamaha Street Motorcycle Dealer Demo Event at River Valley Power & Sport. It was raining when I left, but there had been one pass of the bike test rides down my street, so I knew it was going on. I was interested in the R3, which was supposed to be one of the test bikes. I got there right after the first group returned. No R3. I asked one of the Yamaha guys if I’d just missed it and was told that quite a few people had asked about the R3, but Yamaha and the dealer had decided to load up Yamaha’s “new” edition of the classic hippobike, the Venture. 2018-yamaha-star-venture-motorcycle-preview-1Supposedly, there was a waiting list of buyers for this blimp, but I doubt that. There were some geezerly folks there to test ride the Venture, but there were always a few unridden spares, leaving one Venture behind would have freed up space that could have held at least two R3 bikes. Unfortunately for me, there was nothing else in the lineup that I wanted to ride.

Once again, the draw of the Boomer big buck buyer displaced new riders and riders who aren’t just looking for something to take up space at the back of the garage.

IMG_8411IMG_8412IMG_8413IMG_8414IMG_8415IMG_8416IMG_8417IMG_8418IMG_8419IMG_8420IMG_8421

Jul 18, 2017

Grand Assumptions

too-many_minds 4When I was a kid, growing up in western Kansas, I assumed that everybody knew how to ride a horse. I did, after all, and I was a “city kid” and most of the people I knew were city kids and all of them rode a horse at some time or another, I assumed. I had an uncle who had a large eastern Kansas ranch and who kept horses, a lot of horses. I started riding horses when I was about five and kept at it until I was in my mid-twenties. When I moved to Dallas, Texas in the late-60’s, I discovered practically no one in that city had ever seen a horse outside of television. I was practically considered a “cowboy” because of my hometown and the fact that I knew how to saddle and ride a horse.

2012-Nissan-Frontier-4X4-PRO4X-dash-viewNow, I take more than a little crap from the fact that I own a manual transmission pickup, one of the last made and sold in the US: a Nissan Frontier. “Nobody” drives a manual anymore.” It’s almost true. Fewer than 3% of cars and trucks sold in the US have manual transmissions. Ten years ago, half of the vehicles sold had manual transmissions, especially trucks. It won’t be long before the only people who know anything about shifting gears will be motorcyclists and even that could change quickly. Scooters have always been “automatic” shifters and some motorcycles are going that way, too. My wife tolerates our pickup, but she has decided she wants a mini-van with an automatic transmission and all of the extras. My driving days are numbered and I’m not complaining. Part of the deal we made with the pickup was that I’d keep driving as long as we had it. When we go back to an automatic transmission vehicle, I’m moving to passenger-only status. It’s not a punishment for her, but a reward for me after driving more than a million miles in my lifetime, I’m opting out.

Some people believe that possessing a driver’s license is an important thing. A rapidly increasing number of Americans disagree. “Among young adults, the declines are smaller but still significant—16.4 percent fewer 20-to-24-year-olds had licenses in 2014 than in 1983, 11 percent fewer 25-to-29-year-olds, 10.3 percent fewer 30-to-34-year-olds, and 7.4 percent fewer 35-to-39-year-olds. For people between 40 and 54, the declines were small, less than 5 percent.” Owning a car and driving are less important in urban areas and are becoming less important in small-to-mid-sized cities. Red Wing, for example, has a terrific bus service that will pick me up at my driveway. It’s only 3 miles to downtown from my near-edge-of-the-city home, so walking or bicycling makes a lot more sense than driving about 90% of the time to go downtown. Getting to the Cities is more complicated, but not impossible. Amtrak has a daily “shuttle run” to the Cities, even though the times are weirdly inconvenient. There is talk of a “Red Rock Corridor” rail that would connect Red Wing and other Mississippi Valley cities to the Twin Cities. If that happens, even these rural areas1 could see a drop in car ownership.

automated_carsIn 2017, it might seem impossible to imagine a future where most people don’t drive their own cars. In 1900 it was pretty impractical to imagine a future where most people didn’t own a horse. In 1960, it was difficult to imagine a future where most Americans didn’t own an American-made car. In 2030, it could be hard to believe that people once drove cars, rather than simply instructed their autonomous vehicle to take them to a destination while they relaxed, read, did homework or work-work, or yakked on the phone. By 2050, it is entirely possible that the only people who will “drive” their own vehicle will be the ultra-rich, since they will be the only people who can afford the liability insurance. Imagine that.


1 An unanticipated effect of this shift would likely be even more abandonment of the rural areas, fewer resources for small towns and disconnected areas of even high population states like California, and more electoral catestrophes like the 2016 election unless the Electoral College idiocy is addressed. Not all Future Shock stresses are desireable or healthy. They just happen and we react as if “nobody knew it would be this complicated.”

Jul 13, 2017

The Cycle of Life

_grandloopSo, a few years ago, this was the only camping vehicle I needed or wanted. I could go anywhere I wanted, any time I got the time to go somewhere, without worrying about anything from someone else’s schedules to what the roads are like where I wanted to go. The WR with my Giant Loop gear was the perfect touring vehicle at the time.

20140704_142353Then, I retired. We bought an RV. Ok, I bought an RV, but I did it because my wife wanted a few adventures now that I wasn’t working a bizillion hours a week. I mean this was a serious months long nag that finally convinced me to look for an RV that would hold both of us, that my wife might drive (since I still hate driving four-wheel anythings), and that could tow a trailer for bicycles and the WR. Being the dumbass I am, I picked the Winnebago Rialta you see at right. I wrote a whole series of rants about how awful that played out.

2016-02-16 Blizzard & RVSo, we sold the Rialta and decided to downsize and move to someplace less noisy than Little Canada and our beloved I35E backyard noise generator. We moved to Red Wing, downsized about 1600 square feet, from 2700 to 1100, lost about 35dB of average noise, Still with a jones for traveling, she decided we needed to “seperate our camping house from our vehicle,” so we bought a pickup with towing capability and a camper trailer. And there it sat, wind, rain, snow, heat, and rince and repeat for two years. This week, we finally got the damn thing out on the road, mostly to practice backing it up and parking it. She wanted nothing to do with any part of the process and decided the whole camper experiment had been a mistake. I concur.

_grandloopSo, we’re going to put the camper up for sale. Maybe, buy a minivan for short haul camping trips (that we’ll probably never take), and we haven’t decided if we’re keeping the pickup. Since I sold the bike trailer, we might hang on to the pickup and ramps. In the meantime, I’m back to my original camping rig and other than all of the hassle involved between then and now, I’m ok with that.

Feelin’ Lucky, Punk?

Lots of terrific things have happened to me as a result of my association with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, but getting to know Kevin Cameron ranks really high on the list. I’ve saved much of the last seven years of correspondence with Keven because, like his Cycle World column, it has been brilliant.

IMG_8409IMG_8410

Jul 11, 2017

Social Engineering & Motorcycling

One of my favorite things about Mount Rushmore is the statements the Park Service selected from each of those Presidents. George Washington’s words are, probably, my favorite, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” Life and democracy are just a series of experiments, some successful and some not so much. Anyone who has ever worked in a lab of any sort knows that you just move on when an experiment fails.

So, with that background in mind, I think the MIC has been clueless in its sudden approach to find new customers. I’ve been saying, for almost 20 years, that new riders will not be the same people as the old riders. The Hardly/biker/gangbanger crowd are old, clip_image002white, poor, and stupid. They are, literally, on the way out; and good riddance. Their redneck replacements will be even more poor, dumber, and will satisfy themselves with the old stock easily found on practically every block in the country. Harley stock-piled bikes in warehouses, dealers’ lots, and in the garages of wanna-be yuppies who are so underwater on their chrome toys that they’ll never see dry land again. In the meantime, those “nicest people” Honda once convinced to buy motorcycles have moved on to other things. In Sound Familiar?, my last post, I ridiculed the traditional approach the MIC is taking to try to cling to the biker business in spite of the fact that bikers are about as trendy and hip as Disco Dan. A local Red Wing motorcyclists’ Google group I sometimes follow was on a similar subject, based on that Bloomberg article and the fact that internal combustion powered vehicles are losing ground faster than expected.

One member seemed to think electric motorcycles are a joke and that my suggestion that motorcycling advocates try to seperate motorcycle licensing from cage licenses was ridiculous. “I'm envisioning an electric moped running the ironbutt rally. Pulling a trailer full of batteries. Picking up fresh batteries every 100 miles.

“Not to mention that a driver's license is much more than a license to drive, but also establishes residency, personal identification and even implied nationality. 

“In my opinion, it makes sense to learn to drive in a car. Protected by a cage, one can learn traffic patterns etc without the undue risk associated with a bad/inexperienced decision on an MC.”

Since the Iron Butt is probably the ultimate motorcycling conspicuous consumption event, 1000 miles a day for no reason other than to burn fuel and attempt suicide-by-deer, I don't think many motorcyclists or motorcycle manufacturers take it into account in their product planning. I suspect there are more motorcyclists who don't know about the IBR than who do. I'd never heard of it until I moved to MN in 1996 and I'd been on two wheels for 40 years at that point. People who might commute by motorcycle are, or should be, a far bigger concern of the industry than the 12 guys who spend as small fortune on their once-a-year IBR extravaganza and the rest of the year recovering from that crippling event.

However, you might envision the ass-kicking suck-pow-blow bikes are getting at Pike’s Peak. Like horse-and-buggy owners at the turn of the last century, electric vehicles are coming on a lot faster than the old guard thinks and the speed of that change is only going to get quicker.

clip_image004In fact, a drivers’ licenses is exactly nothing “more than a license to drive.” There are identification cards that serve the identity purpose of a drivers' license and you get them at the same DMV office or, in civilized states, at the post office or your local library. Red state voter suppression politicos try to make ID cards as difficult and expensive to obtain as cage licenses, but those folks are fighting a losing battle. Demographics and economics are going to be driving this bus and no matter how much voter repression goes on in the red states, those two things will be driven by forces outside of political control.

That last argument is what I think of as the ultimate helicopter parent whine, “I’m gonna put my half-witted offspring in the largest SUV possible, in case little Douchebag gets distracted by his cell phone, video game, and in-dash movies and loses control of his vehicle and kills your kid; who was responsibly walking, bicycling, or motorcycling.” If you think young drivers are learning traffic patterns, you haven’t been on the road in any sort of state of consciousness. You don’t learn patterns or good habits from being inside a well-protected, smarter-than-you vehicle. You learn by immersing yourself in the environment where you will sink or swim. That’s why walking, bicycling, and motorcycling are better educators than cages, but it’s also why we’ve become a nation of pampered, lazy, uneducated spoiled brats who are non-competitive, trailing-edge, and have traded democracy for idiocracy.

hondaad2I’m not convinced motorcycles have a future in the industrialized world. When the only people who can afford the average motorcycle are the 1%, the market has shrivelled to unsustainable. There was a reason Henry Ford paid his workers enough that they could buy the products they built. There was an even better reason Honda tried to market their 1960’s motorcycles to “the nicest people.” Today, a reasonably practical new motorcycle costs at least $5,000 and that same money will buy a decent used car that will get the same or better fuel mileage, last longer with less maintenance, and be useable year-around.

I really believe it’s time to experiment with the whole motorcycle paradigm. I know of more than a few young people who could be tempted to obtain a motorcycle license before they mess with a car license. They might not ever bother with the car license, given mass transportation access and automous cars. While some people imagine that “drivers’ education courses” in high school or privately provides some level of competence, that would just be more of that silly idealizing-high-school crap. Drivers’ Ed courses are notoriously taught by the guy who couldn’t clear the lowest bar in teachers’ education, worse than phys-ed, and the classes are barely a joke, academically or practically. Currently, all licensing testing is designed to put butts in seats as efficiently as possible. Safety and competence isn’t any significant part of either drivers or motorcyclists training. That could and should be changed. Completely decoupling the cage license from motorcycle licensing could provide an opportunity to enhance all aspects of motorcycle training, which would make both motorcycle and car licensing more productive. Obviously, tiered licensing only makes sense. I can’t think of a single good reason to put a new motorcyclist on a liter bike; or a new driver in a 2,400 kilo SUV.

Electric motorcycles might make even more sense than electric cars, given the fact that most motorcycles don’t travel more than 1,500 miles a year and the advantage motorcycles could have in parking, lane-sharing, and storage. An electric motorcycle with a 150 mile range would more than do the transportation job for most people and a $0.06 fillup would just be icing on the cake.

Jul 10, 2017

#150 Old Habits and New Fears

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

I retired in 2013 and my wife and I escaped our first Minnesota winter in 18 years in a used Winnebago RV. That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately, I discovered a whole lot about Volkswagen and that company's non-existent product support along the way (Ducati owners beware!). So, instead of a 13,000 mile trip to the southern California and up PCH to Portland, we spent the winter (all five months of it) in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico while I troubleshot our Eurovan's electronics and contemplated going back to some kind of work since "retirement" had turned into such a disaster.

Along the way, I met some really terrific people who also owned the same POS RV (Ours was a 2000 Winnebago Rialta.) and had a bunch of discussions about what kind of person makes a "good" RV traveler. Many of us came to the conclusion that the fact that I was perfectly happy traveling by myself, staying in cheap motels or sleeping in a hammock or on the ground probably meant I would never be a "real" RV sort of guy. Some of you might know that I generally don't like driving any sort of four-wheel vehicle and would rather take the train, bus, or hitchhike than be anyone's designated driver. Sometime during my early 20's I passed the million-mile mark in work vehicles, driving 100,000+ miles a year for almost a decade, and any love I might have had for cars or trucks vanished. I own a pickup because it can carry a lot of crap, including my motorcycles and because my wife hasn't given up on that damn RV dream. On my own, I'd rent a car when I need one. 

We bought the Rialta because it was supposed to be fairly easy to drive. As long as you didn't have to back it up with a motorcycle trailer in tow, it wasn't particularly painful to pilot. I ended up doing most of the driving because my wife freaked out about the motorcycle trailer, but she did at least 20% of the driving later in the trip and that made 20% of the RV traveling tolerable for me. Mostly, I wasted most of that first year's summer getting the RV ready to travel: new flooring, transmission cooler, overhauled the A/C, new entertainment center, and a full 75,000 mile point-by-VW-point service. 2,000 miles later, after being stranded in a snow and ice storm in Carlsbad National Park for a week, the many flaws in VW's wiring and electronics put the vehicle in "limp home mode" and we eventually limped into Truth or Consequences for the next five months. In April of 2014, we drove the VW/RV back home, cleaned it up, and sold it. End of story?

I wish.

habits_fearsLike I said, my wife had not given up on the RV dream but her new mantra became, "You want your house separate from your vehicle." Slowly, I got talked into thinking about trying the mobile life again. Too many of the VW's problems came from the poorly implemented electronics that controlled the automatic transmission, so I started looking for something with a manual transmission that could haul a motorcycle and pull a small trailer. Just in time for the move to Red Wing, I bought a Nissan Frontier in great shape with a manual transmission and cruise control; the Holy Grail of traveling vehicles. After some nagging and pleading, we stumbled on to a small camper that had the layout, weight, and price we'd decided on. We bought it last fall, knowing the chances that we'd go somewhere in it were slim due to other commitments for the winter. I'm writing this in mid-July and the camper hasn't moved an inch since the previous owners parked it in our yard. Like 90% of the campers purchased on this planet, it is serving as a yet-unused spare guest room.
 
"What's the problem?" You ask.
 
"General disinterest, marginal backing up skills, and practically no familiarity with towing anything other than a U-Haul trailer," would be the answer.
 
I'm perfectly happy with a tent and sleeping bag, and rolling down the highway on two wheels. I don't need to learn the new skills required to setup and drive a vehicle pulling a 3,000 pound trailer. My wife's interest in traveling by RV is still strong. She, on the other hand, is expecting me to find the motivation to not only do all of that crap but to teach her how to do it, too. We've been married almost 50 years and all of our worst moments have been when I was stuck being her coach or teacher. I am a professional teacher, but she is a life-long stubborn resistant-learner. She has absolutely no self-teaching skills, instincts, or motivation and I would rather hand feed an alligator tiny pieces of steak than be forced to teach my wife anything difficult.
 
And there is the problem.
 
My memories of our five months "camping" are mostly of me trying to sort out VW's well-hidden and inaccurate service information, crawling around under that damned Eurovan POS or disassembling the interior or engine wiring to find the three cobbled-together engine and transmission computers or worrying that I would be abandoning our $20,000 RV investment in New Mexico (the home of many abandoned retirement dreams). The "good moments" of that winter were mostly spent on my WR250 bombing around Elephant Butte Lake's dried up shores relearning how to ride in deep sand. I've been told that when fellow campers heard the bike fire up they'd drag lawn chairs to the lake-side of their campsites and place bets as to how long it would take before I endo'd into a pile of sand. I rarely disappointed them. Other fine camping moments were when I'd given up hope on the VW for the day and settled down with a few bottles of beer and my Martin Backpacker to sing Kink's songs to the coyotes. The best moments where when I'd given up on the VW entirely and loaded up my camping gear and headed into the Gila National Forest mountains for a couple nights of solo camping while my wife stayed with the camper and dog and our new friends at the hot springs in Truth or Consequences. 
 
Speaking of the dog, the obvious problem here is getting and old dog to learn new (not particularly desirable to the dog) tricks. The idea of driving a fairly large pickup with a camper in tow is just not inspiring. I am really nervous about the whole concept. It seems claustrophobic and dangerous and complicated and expensive. In fact, at the moment I'm a lot more inspired to start the process of convincing my wife that we'd be better off selling the camper and giving up on the whole idea of traveling together than I am to learn how to be a competent RV'er. When I see something like this moment appear in my motorcycle students, I do not encourage them to press on. Maybe pulling a camper isn't the same kind of risk as riding a motorcycle, but it does feel like the kind of thing that you shouldn't be doing if you can think of a better way to travel. I don't, honestly, have any faith that I'm going to be good at pulling a trailer and I have absolutely no motivation (other than making my wife happy) to learn how to pull a trailer safely. "Why me?" is the phrase that comes to mind every time I look at the thing parked in my yard.
 
Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, I'd have bulled through the fear and loathing and learned how to do this thing that I really don't want to do. At almost 70, not so much. The only good to come from this moment, so far, is that I have a lot more empathy for my motorcycle students who really don't want to be out on the range learning how to ride a motorcycle to please someone else.

 
POSTSCRIPT: As of this week (July 11, 2017), our R-Pod has only been used as an occasional office for me and my brother Larry stayed in it for a couple of weeks this month. After watching Larry and me wrestle with getting the pickup hooked up to the trailer and--after discovering the 7-pin electrical connector was wired wrong--drive off to practice backing up and parking the damn thing, my wife decided she wasn't as hip on the camping idea as she'd thought. Now, she wants to sell it and buy a mini-van.

Jul 8, 2017

Sound Familiar?

Bloomberg just published an essay titled, “The Motorcycle Industry Is Dying.” Not a new concept and much of their analysis has been seen here first, but it’s slightly comforting to see some one else get it. The article puts a lot of weight on the new Honda Rebel 500 and I have to admit that is entertaining. I rode the Rebel 250 for the first time in a MSF class a couple of weeks ago and it is awful. There is nothing about that motorcycle that would have enticed me to get into motorcycling.

“Honda’s Rebel is the latest entry in a parade of new bikes designed for first-time riders; almost every company in the motorcycle industry has scrambled to make one. They are smaller, lighter, and more affordable than most everything else at a dealership and probably wouldn’t look out of place in the 1960s—back when motorcycling was about the ride, not necessarily the bike. They are also bait for millennials, meant to lure them  into the easy-rider lifestyle. If all goes as planned, these little rigs will help companies like Harley-Davidson coast for another 50 years.” Good luck with that daydream.

800x-1

I personally can’t imagine anything other than a hoard of electric bikes in the $5,000-territory that will turn the motorcycle economy around, but power to them for finally waking up and discovering Boomers are dying off. “A motorcycle is a picture of discretionary spending, and they can be tricky to finance even in a healthy credit market. Even now, with the stock market on a historic bull run and after the U.S. auto industry posted its best year on record, traffic in motorcycle stores has stayed slow. In 2016, U.S. customers rolled off with 371,403 new bikes, roughly half as many as a decade ago.”

Too little, too late has been my analysis for the last decade. This author sort of agrees, “The problem, however, with this sudden industry pivot to younger customers is that it may be coming too late. For years, it was too easy to just keep building bigger, more powerful bikes.“ It was easier and Boomers were dumb enough to buy into pretending that 60 was the age of midlife crisis. Ride down WI35 and look at all the Harleys out on the front lawns for sale. It’s over boys, now what are you going to do? One problem with a lot of these little motorcycles is that they aren’t as energy efficient as many cars. If anything makes motorcycles a purely recreational toy it is lousy fuel economy.

It could be a bigger trend than motorcycles, though. Driving, in general, has lost a lot of appeal to practically everyone.

Jul 3, 2017

#149 It's a Dirt Bike Habit

caveman

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

One of my least favorite excuses for poor street bike motorcycle skills is "it's a dirt bike habit," as if I'm too stupid or inexperienced to know what works off-road. Ok, I grant that I'm not that bright and there are a world of things I don't know about riding a dirt bike, but I'm pretty sure I know more and ride better on or off-road than an over-18 newbie who needs to take the MSF Basic Riding Course to get a motorcycle license. (A subject for a whole different GwAG rant.) Face it, if you were good you'd just ride down to the DMV, take their easy little test, and get your license. But that doesn't stop a certain portion of the folks who take the Basic Rider Course from explaining away all of their awful habits with "it's a dirt bike habit"; habits that have been formed from experiences as diverse as riding on the back of Dad's ATV to mountain biking.

The things that get blamed on dirt bike experience are 1) clinging to the front brake lever with one or more fingers as if it were a lifeline, 2) sticking a foot out any time the bike leans more than two degrees away from vertical, 3) superstition, ignorance, and terror of either the front or rear brake use, 4) staring at the front wheel as if it were about to fall off at any moment at the expense of having the remotest idea where the motorcycle is traveling, and 5) any number of weird and uncontrollable throttle hand positions. There are lots more dumb things that, supposedly, dirt bike riders "all do," but I'll leave the list at five for the purposes of keeping this short and minimally pissed-off. 

It is true that riding off-road and, especially, racing off-road is a different animal from street riding. There is no life-threatening situation in a motocross or enduro where you have to worry about maximum braking horsepower. That is one of many reasons why dirt bikes have wimpy little brakes that barely seem functional in street riding situations. Mostly due to my riding style, skill limitations, and attitude, when I raced off-road I was more inclined to lift the front wheel and ride over obstacles and downed riders and bikes than I was to hit the brakes or try to avoid those obstructions. That is simply not a survivable option on the street. On the road, in any given week of commuting, I would be surprised if I didn't seriously exercise my motorcycle's brakes at least twice out of necessity and I have a long-established habit of working on my stopping and avoidance skills every day. You have to be able to stop quickly or be ready to offer up the girlyman excuse, "I had to lay 'er down" when you explain why you are on crutches for a whole riding season. I hope it's obvious that four fingers are stronger than one or two. It might be less obvious that regularly practicing braking with all four fingers does not limit a rider to exclusively using four fingers every time the brakes are used. You can always consciously choose to only use one finger or two in appropriate braking situations or when hanging on to the bars in precarious (as it is in off-road situations). I always argue that it's better to have to think about using a less effective braking technique than it is to automatically select the low-power option in an emergency. I could be wrong about that, but it's still the argument I'd present to any new rider hoping to ride safely for a lot of years.

Clinging to the grips while you are also trying to use the throttle, clutch, or brake precisely is another "dirt bike habit" that is ineffective, unnecessary, and dangerous on the road. I am referring to those riders who are unable to use more than a couple of fingers for braking because they are afraid of losing their grip on the bars. Braking in particular puts a lot of force on the palm of your hand and you are not likely to be bumped loose when you're applying maximum braking forces. However, if you are really that insecure about loosening your grip on the bars, the chances are pretty good that you're going to crash sooner or later. When you do, those fingers you've allocated under the levers are likely to get crushed when the weight of the bike smashes the lever ends into the ground. 

A few moments on YouTube will demonstrate the difference between the riding techniques of great off-road racers and street racers (search for Valentino Rossi and James Stewart on-board camera views, for example). The road racer hand movements and throttle application looks almost in slow motion compared to the off-road racers. Steward, Dungey, and Carmichael drop the hammer on the throttle like they have no use for anything between full off and full on. Likewise, off-road one finger clutch and brake use is common because you are hanging on for dear life and taking a pounding, physically, for every inch of travel. The street is a different environment. Speeds are higher, traction is more predictable, acceleration and deceleration forces are dramatically higher as a result. Road racing is physical, but it is a substantially different sport. Rossi, Stoner, and Marquez are much more tentative in their use of all of their controls. It's not accurate to say the road racers are altogether smoother than the off-road pros, but their on-bike movements are considerably less sudden.

The foot thing is just silly in pavement situations, especially on a dry parking lot at speeds that barely require shifting to second gear. At 150mph, Valentino Rossi might stick a leg out from behind his fairing's air-pocket to add a little drag before entering a high speed corner and James Stewart might plant a speedway-style boot in the apex of a tight corner, but you do not need to pretend you are in either of those situations in typical street conditions. Stick that basketball shoe into a warm chunk of asphalt and you may find your shin trying to occupy the same space as your thigh bone when you discover how much traction those Nikes can grab. More importantly, if you are sticking a foot out to help steer your street bike around a tight curve you are most likely putting your weight on the highside of the bike, which forces the motorcycle to lean further than necessary and a greater lean angle can mean you are working with a smaller tire contact patch and unnecessarily high side forces. And, of course, you look like a total douche to any experienced motorcyclists who may be watching.

Maneuverability is a motorcyclist's only weapon against the forces of four-wheel evil, four-hooved devils, and two-legged idiots. Stopping or slowing quickly is just one aspect of maneuverability, but if you can't do it you're pretty much a set of streamers dangling from your bike's handlebars. Regardless of what your father, boyfriend, goofy neighbor, or Rush Limbaugh told you, using either brake aggressively and with skill is not a dangerous activity. In fact, if you can't use your brakes, riding is dangerous.

MMM October 2016






Jun 30, 2017

Grom Idiocy

In case you EVER feel bad about yourself or your riding skills, bookmark this video and no matter who you are you’ll probably be reassured. These Honda Grom nitwits are a whole new level of incompetent.

Jun 28, 2017

The Death of DP?

Hard to know, but it’s harder to find people who think off-pavement riding is even interesting, let alone worth risking life, limb, and savings on this kind of adventure. All of the economic reasons listed are valid and likely contributors, but I think the biggest problem is the price of motorcycles vs. competitive means of transportation.

  • HONDA XR650L: $6690
  • KAWASAKI KLR650: $6599
  • SUZUKI DR650S: $6499
  • HUSQVARNA FE501S: $10,599
  • BETA 500RS : $9799
  • KTM 500EXC-F: $10,399
  • BETA 430RS: $9699
  • HUSQVARNA FE350S: 10,399
  • KTM 350EXC-F: $10,199
  • SUZUKI DR-Z400S: $6599
  • HONDA CRF250L: $4999
  • YAMAHA WR250R: $6690
  • YAMAHA XT250: $5190
  • SSR XF250: $2999
  • SUZUKI DR200S: $4499
  • YAMAHA TW200: $4590

Maybe these prices look reasonable to you, but for a kid looking for a recreational vehicle he/she might ride for 3-4 months a year, 3-4 times a week, this is nutty money.

Jun 26, 2017

#148 Creating A Baseline

caveman All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

In my Geezerdom, I'm always trying to find baselines for measuring my decline. My daughter is fully on-board with my concerns and she's recommended putting black throw rugs around the house because, apparently, old farts will mistake black carpets for bottomless pits and that is a tactic used to keep dementia patients in their rooms. Sooner or later, I'll end up trapped in the bathroom and that will be the winter my wife escorts me to the front door during a sub-zero blizzard and sends me on some sort of grocery store errand.

Like the Minnesota drivers' license "exam," the nation's motorcycle competency test is a low-bar baseline evaluation. While it is true that you don't need to be "perfect" to pass the license exam, you will need to be able to perform every one of those simple skills perfectly to stay alive on the highway and in traffic. Living in tourist town Red Wing provides me with plenty of evidence as to why motorcyclists are thousands of times more likely to die per mile travelled than cagers: most motorcyclists barely contribute more to the direction and speed of their vehicle than do handlebar streamers. It's a Village People clown show out there, folks! Nothing about being able to take a low speed left-hand turn and stop with the front tire in a box is demanding in any way to a competent motorcyclists, regardless of the bike. Nothing about weaving through some widely spaces cones and making a right hand turn should confuse or confound a half-decent motorcyclist. Making a moderately quick stop from 12mph in first gear is not complicated. A 12 mph "swerve" around a huge fake obstacle ought to be second nature. If anything on that test baffles you, either your motorcycle or your skills are totally out-of-whack.

This season was my "decompression and re-evaluate" year for my career as a motorcycle safety instructor. Since 2000, I've taught twelve to thirty basic and intermediate riding classes a year, but this year I signed up for only four and two cancelled. Other than a trip to the Rockies in July, I didn't do much riding this year, either. My usual 12,000 to 20,000 miles a year has withered down to about 3,000 so far this year. I'm retired, so commuting to work is no longer a habit. That accounts for about 6,000 miles a year gone from my Cities' routine. Leaving the 88dBSPL noise level of my old Little Canada/I35E home took away substantial motivation to "get away from the bullshit," too. Most summer mornings, I can sit on the back porch with a cup of coffee watching the hummingbirds and listening to mostly nature. There isn't much that I feel the need to get away from here. If the second half of this summer is much like the last couple of weeks, I might get in more bicycle than motorcycle miles in 2016.

I started this season out like I have every year for the last 15, with a couple hours of practice time on the class range at Southeast Tech. My spring habit since I started teaching safety classes has been to do the usual beginning of the season maintenance stuff, then ride to the range and go through the entire sequence of course exercises until I can do it all comfortably. In Red Wing, after that bit of practice I head south and drop off of the pavement for 100 miles or so of gravel roads and lightweight dirt bike practice and go home. This year, I went through that routine three times before my first Red Wing Basic Rider Class (BRC), which cancelled due to a lack of students, and once more before my first Intermediate Rider Class (IRC) in the Cities. We talked about that a bit in the discussion portion of the IRC and a couple of students said they'd consider adopting my springtime season-tune-up routine and at least one thought it was "way unnecessary."

On the way back home, I thought about the ambivalence or resistance many riders have toward any sort of competence evaluation (something that should be, but isn't, a part of the Intermediate Rider Course). About the time I got to Hastings and into some motorcycle traffic, it became fairly obvious why many motorcyclists would resist a serious competency test and regular skills evaluations. After watching my father's driving skills deteriorate from barely-competent in his prime to life-threatening by his eighties, I have become a firm believer in regular (every 3-5 years) re-licensing skills tests for over-60 drivers who want to cling to their driving privileges. I'd drop that number to 50 and up the testing interval to every two years for motorcyclists. Since motorcycle, car, and truck licensing is mostly about putting butts on seats (selling vehicles) and has little to do with actual highway safety, we all know that won't happen. That resistance to reality and health cost-containment has nothing to do with my life, though.

I have never considered my motorcycles to be an important part of my self-image. I don't name my bikes and I don't identify with any brand's lifestyle bullshit. My motorcycles are transportation first and last. If I'm not using my bikes to go places, I'm not keeping them. The only things I've ever hoarded have been tools and microphones. The microphones are mostly gone with the retirement move and downsizing and I re-evaluate my tool ownership with every declining aging phase. If I haven't used something in the last year, the next step is Craig's List or eBay or the garbage can. Ideally, when I die the only thing my kids will have to worry about in an estate sale is getting rid of a bed, a few dishes, towels, and an empty house. So, like that dementia-test black throwrug, I needed a go/no-go evaluation tool for when it's time to hang up the Aerostich. Lucky for me, I had one already laid out and it was totally familiar: the MSF's BRC course.

I've already said that I consider the BRC to be a lowest-bar standard for the skills needed for riding on the street. However, for my own self-evaluation I need it to be a little more demanding. Likewise, I already had a self-test routine established. I just need to write a scorecard for the test. The first day of the BRC is mostly about introducing a motorcycle to newbies, but exercises 6 (a small 2nd gear oval), 8 (offset weaves), & 9 (quick stop from 2nd gear) demonstrate actual riding skills. Likewise, all but the lane-change and obstacles exercise from the second day's BRC exercises 10-16 are useful evaluations. A more practical obstacle is a reasonably tall curb that I have to navigate from a 45-degree angle, so I added that to my spring warm-up. So, every March from here out I'm going to go through the old routine but after an hour or so of practice, I'm going to run through every one of the nine BRC exercises and the day I can't do all of them "perfectly" (no cones hit, no lines crossed, fast enough, and clean enough) the bike goes up for sale and I'll fill the space in the garage with a small convertible. I might buy a trials bike, but that will be the end of my street riding days.

Of course, your mileage will probably vary. In fact, I'd bet most of the riders I see in Red Wing couldn't pass the Minnesota license test in a dozen tries. If you think that has no correlation to your riding skill or survivability, you are statistically very likely to join the ranks of the "dead wrong."

MMM September 2016