May 31, 2017

A Smart Helmet

The question is, would you wear a smart helmet? Another question might be would you buy one? But here’s an opportunity to go one step further and build your own:

Protect Your Smarts, Build a Smart Motorcycle Helmet

May 29, 2017

#144 Not Art


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

I don't know if Andy and Aerostich created this sticker for me, but they should have if they didn't. For most of my adult life, the word "art" has meant something different to me than, probably, to the rest of the world. I've even created my own etymological backstory for the origins of the word art: "a modernization and abbreviation of the French 'art brut,' or 'art done by prisoners, lunatics, etc.'" The natural adaptation of that word to modern applications would be "not good."

not_artA good bit of my opinion of art and artists comes from decades of seeing materials misused, adhesives and fasteners poorly applied, and welds so miserably executed that even extreme grinding can't hide the turkey-crap splatter. At one time, I was a fairly decent stick welder and moderately decent with wire-fed welding on steel. Today, those skills are long in my past but I can still recognize good work when I see it. I'm not a great carpenter or cabinetmaker, but I have done enough of that work to know when I'm looking at a piece I would have no chance in hell of building myself. I've been some kind of musician almost all of my adult life and I know what I could play and what I couldn't and I try to spend as little time listening to something I do myself. When it comes to musicianship, I am my own definition of "artistic."

Forty-some years ago, I took an architectural tour of famous Chicago buildings (mostly recording studios and live music venues). When the tour stopped at a Frank Lloyd Wright building I got separated from the group when I was distracted by a couple of guys working on an overhang at the back of the building. As they described the work they were doing and the fact that kind of work had been done all over the house, I commented that didn't sound like maintenance but something more like re-engineering. They agreed and went on to describe how generally poorly Wright's designs fit the materials he used and how much of this particular building had been gutted and redesigned with structural improvements.

NotArt6_0My wife, a visual artist, has the typical artist's distain for what she calls "artisans." I don't bother to look up that word or to invent my own definition of the word because we've had this discussion for fifty years. It's pretty obvious that the work of an artisan is something a "real artist" couldn't compete with in a million years. Those impossibly complicated wooden bowls with inlay work so fine and detailed that it seems only magical elves could have done the work receives the disdainful classification as "artsy-craftsy" or artisan-created. A lump of clay so poorly formed that it couldn't hold water if that water was frozen solid would be "artistic." A photo-realistic airbrushed painting of a zebra in full punk body piercings and Oakley shades is not "art" (the only airbrush/oil painting I have ever purchased in my 67 years) but a paint-globbed and tire-tracked, over-priced canvas is. And so it goes. A friend recently explained that I wouldn't get a particularly irritating piece of music because "it's art, Tom." He was right. It was awful. I didn't get it at all. Whether the performer was really good at pretending to be talentless or he was simply talentless makes no points with me. I try to never let other people scream for me. I can do a bad job all on my own. If I'm going to buy something, it will be something I absolutely can not do myself.

Likewise, I don't have a lot of use for arty motorcycles. I despise the whole concept of machines with NotArt"character" (unreliability and pointless weirdness). Chrome and blinking LEDs are fine for Xmas trees, but putting that crap on a motorcycle means you live for polishing metal and replacing control circuits. I buy motorcycles to go places I can't go in a cage. Mechanical devices are, and should be, functional first and when they are really functional their form simply becomes beautiful effortlessly. Saying "form follows function" should be obvious and when form replaces function, count me out. I'll find my "art" in things that work, do stuff, and have a purpose.

May 28, 2017

Missed Another One

As a wanna be journalist, I have a massive, insurmountable flaw: I almost never think to take a picture of some amazing thing I want to write about.

I know. You had your own list of my massive, insurmountable flaws, but this is the one I’m going with today.

Yesterday, my wife and I were in Hastings on our way to the Cities for some family crap. We stopped for breakfast and on our way out of the restaurant parking lot an old woman on a Harley wobbled her way into the lot, stalled the engine, almost fell over while she was fooling with the starter button, clutch, and shifter, and went through that whole cycle (on her cycle) three more times before paddling her way into a parking space. Clearly, she had way more motorcycle than she had skills; which isn’t saying much from either direction.

Normally, I have managed to slap on my “I don’t give a shit” goggles pretty quickly in these situations. There are more than enough Boomers, or every other generation, on the planet that losing a few million to motorcycle crashes isn’t that big a deal when there are approaching nine billion of us littering up the planet. Yeah, brainless boobs on motorcycles cost the rest of taxpayers billions of dollars, just in the US, but what can you do? People just gotta be stupid and everyone else is stuck paying the bill. Nope, that’s not the picture I missed.

The thing that made this nitwit stand out wasn’t that she was old, incompetent, uncoordinated, and (as you would expect on a Hardley) completely inappropriately undressed in shorts, a gross haltertop, low top tennis shoes, and (or course) no helmet. All of that is everyday idiocy. The stand out was that behind her on the suicide seat was a little girl wearing an adult’s helmet and otherwise dressed like the idiot I assume was her grandmother. The kid was probably about eight, didn’t even get close to being able to reach the passenger pegs, and had about as much chance of surviving that trip as a turtle on the freeway.

I repeat myself. I don’t care if adults remove themselves from the Republican voting roles, but I hate seeing kids splattered because the “adults” in their lives are too stupid to know how really stupid they are.

May 26, 2017

Losing Money on Every Unit?

osbornesplash2This story is awfully familiar: “The Electric Car’s Same Old Problem.” The quote that sums up the whole problem is from Fiat Chrysler’s Sergio Marchionne, “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000.” I keep hearing through unconfirmable sources that Zero has yet to sell a motorcycle for a profit. I hope it isn’t true, but I suspect it is. Things change, but often pioneers take it in the shorts in the early stages. I remember Adam Osborne’s Trump-like claim for how his company was going to make money selling computers, “I lose money on every unit, but make up for it in quantity.”

After the shake-up this week at Ford, mostly over EVs and autonomous vehicle sales, it will be interesting to see if ANYONE makes it to the goal post with an electric car.

May 24, 2017

Crash Analysis

Take a look at this video and measure yourself and your take on this crash against the incident and the opinions expressed in the comments section.

It’s probably more than a little obvious that I put more than a little blame on the biker (I hesitate to call him a “motorcyclist.”) because his “braking” attempt was so lame and his assumption that the job of everyone in the world was to be looking out for a speeding motorcyclist. I used to see this kind of oblivious-to-reality lane splitting in CA all the time and, like this guy, they were astounded and hysterically angry when ever their mindless riding tactics knocked them on their asses. I'm a little surprised that I don't see this kind of crash every day in Red Wing. Pretty much ever rider on this kind of lame-ass machine is incapable of the most basic evasive maneuvers.

May 23, 2017

Nicky Is Gone

And another really nice guy dies young. Nicky Hayden died from complications on May 22. He was struck by a car while riding a bicycle in Itally on May 17. Hayden has often been called the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.” The Kentucky Kid snatched the championship out of Valentino Rossi’s hands in 2006. Before that, the last time the red, white, and blue was on the podium was Kenny Robert Jr’s year, 2000. No American has been close since Hayden pulled off his winning season. The 80’s and early 90’s was prime time for the USA, with Roberts Sr, Lawson, Schwantz and Rainey swapping championships for a good part of two decades. Nicky Hayden was a surprise win on his Honda and it could be years before the world is surprised by an American again.

In the meantime, we’re going to miss the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.”

Backseat Driving

I just took what will probably be my last MSF instructor training session and got a little more insight into where motorcycle safety training is going, in the process. The “new” (2014) classroom design is a giant step back from the MSF’s earlier attempt at “learner centered” or adult training. While I might suck at the delivery, I’ve always been a big fan of that concept because the alternative leaves me out in the cold as a student. The “education system” I grew up with is often called “the sage on the stage,” which would be one thing if the person on the stage was actually a sage (“a profoundly wise person; a person famed for wisdom. someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment, and experience”), but it will always be difficult to attract that kind of person to western Kansas (where I grew up and experienced my K-12 “education”). Most small-to-mid-sized towns have the same problems, from the intolerant majority segments of the Midwest and Southeast, and most of the country’s underfunded public education system. 

For many years I was too often stuck listening to someone who had put about as much effort into their lecture topic as me, although that person was 20-30 years older and a whole lot lazier. If it hadn’t been for the years I spent in southern California’s university system, I’d have lived my whole life believing that teachers were nothing special. Lucky for me, that didn’t happen. Otherwise, I’d have been so bored with “education” that I’d have given it up after my first junior college semester in 1966.

Becoming one of those “lazier than me” lecturers has never been a goal of mine. In fact, for the first 40 years of my life I had absolutely no interest in being any kind of teacher, although I’d been roped into dealer, technician, and customer training with a couple of my employers for about ten years. I didn’t consider myself to be a teacher and if someone had called me one I’d have laughed at them. My father was a career high school teacher and I spent my first 15 years surrounded by adults who made their living “teaching.” Nothing about that experience provided any inspiration toward that career path.

Some motorcycle instructors claim they teach the MSF program to “give something back to motorcycling.” I don’t get that. 

Motorcycles are a transportation vehicle or a luxury toy. If their primary purpose is to be a “lifestyle” prop and noise-generating irritant, that’s nothing worth the “giving back” effort. After paying my vehicle license and fuel taxes, I don’t feel any compulsion to give back any of my time and energy to Wisconsin, Iowa, Detroit, Japan, or China. Honestly, for at least half of the years I’ve taught the MSF program my primary motivation has been self-preservation. While I do not believe the remedial training we provide or the license testing the state requires does anything significant toward making new or even experienced riders safer or more competent beyond a few weeks post-training, I know that thinking, talking, and demonstrating decent riding techniques make me a safer, smarter, and more competent rider. And I get paid to do it, which brings up my decision to wind down my motorcycle instructor career. This is something I haven’t done for the money for the last 16 years, but wouldn’t do without getting paid for it about 90% of the time.

Over the last five years, I’ve discarded all of the other things I’ve done to make a living that fall into that category. I used to repair professional audio equipment for $175/hour. I wound down that work and business starting in 2012 and by July 2013 all of my customers had been redirected to someone else. I did commercial acoustic consulting and audio forensics, which sometimes paid fantastically and always paid well. I did my last 911 call analysis in late 2011 and completed my last acoustic consulting contracts in early 2012. A decade ago, when someone asked me what I did for a living, I used to say, “I teach rock and roll.” (Nobody wants to hear about the repair or consulting stuff and most people don’t take self-employment seriously; including me.) For more than a decade, teaching music production and technology at MSCM felt exactly like that. After the last couple of uninspiring semesters, there was finally more money than fun in that job. After a minor heart attack in late 2012 I decided I had been there long enough. My last months of teaching came at the end of the spring 2013 semester. I pretty much knew I wasn’t going back, but decided for sure on my 65th birthday that summer. The only thing I do for pay, now, is teach “motorcycle safety” classes a few times a summer. (2015 was the last summer I taught something resembling a full load. Plus, I am still selling off stuff in hopes that we can downsize “bigly” one more time and hit the road full time. Come on by. See anything you like, make an offer!

The “fun” part of teaching motorcycle safety classes was working with and getting to know the students. Even during the Harley/Polaris/Star/hippobike boom days I still had occasional students who made the job worth doing. [For example, two near-retirement medical doctors from Stillwater who took the class, listened to my advice on their first motorcycles, bought a pair of Honda Nighthawk 250’s, and rode them to Alaska and back.] I assisted with my first range portion of the MSF course in 2001 and wrote about freezing my ass off in 2” of slush back then. I went through the training program in 2002 and became an official MSF instructor and taught a boat load of classes that first year of the MSF’s Basic Rider Course. I wrote about that experience in MMM, too. For the next dozen years, I filled most of my summers with basic and experienced rider classes and enjoyed a good bit of that. I got to work with some dedicated, talented, and entertaining instructors (and a few who weren’t any of that) and I met a lot of hopeful prospective motorcyclists.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of conversations about teaching techniques, read a few dozen books about adult education, and have thought and written about teaching everything from computer applications to motorcycle safety and expertise to music, audio recording, and electrical/electronic engineering. One of the many things I’ve learned about teaching is that, like everything, it only works if there is a corrective (negative) feedback loop to provide input that keeps the system on course to achieve the intended outcome(s). There is only one meaningful outcome in motorcycle safety training: reduced mortality/morbidity occurances among “trained motorcyclists.” That is not only something the MSF warns instructors and programs not to expect, it’s not being measured by anyone. Without that critical piece of the puzzle, it seems to me that the effort, time, and money spent on training is wasted. I don’t have a lot of time left, so I’d like to waste as little of it as possible.

May 22, 2017

#143 Outta My Cold, Dead Hands

cavemanThe Geezer with a Grudge Columns
(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.) 

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

There is a punk gangbanger group on Facebook called the Yamaha WR250X and WR250R Public Group. I joined this group about two years ago, because their intro FAQ is all about the useful (and not so useful) things that can be done to make the WR250X/R more fun and practical to ride. I left the group this week because the most outspoken members are consistently spoiled brats. Like a lot of bikers/gun nuts/spoiled children and the rest of the crowd who think their “right” to do any damn thing they please overrides public safety, an undisturbed peace, and their neighbor’s property rights, many of these kids consider themselves above the law and beyond reproach. They are classic examples of why motorcycles and motorcyclists are about as popular as used car salesmen in plaid suits or politicians from another state. Between the “I don’t need no stinkin’ endorsement” and the “why would I carry insurance, I’m just a motorcycle” and “why should I care if wheeling out of control freaks out cagers” attitudes, the group is a sad cartoon of why motorcycles are likely to be historical relics in a decade or less. There are some decent folks in the group, but their voices (like the voice of reasonable motorcyclists everywhere) are drowned out by the goons, brats, and gangbangers.

The last “conversation” I had on the group was about how gangbanging is going to be tough in an autonomous vehicle world. One of the kids claimed “they’ll have to pry my steering wheel away from my cold, dead hands” and a half-dozen or more chimed in accordingly. I asked what they were driving now and got a list of fairly new, mostly-Japanese sedans and mid-sized pickups. I suggested that since all of these vehicles had automatic transmissions and were controlled by transmission and engine computers they weren’t really driving now. Add power steering, backup cameras, parking sensors, ABS brakes, adaptive cruise control and proximity warning systems and you are about 1/2 way to the fully autonomous vehicle. The difference between being a total passenger and a terrible driver in a smarter-than-humans car is immeasurably small. I think it is safe to assume that, based on their motorcycling attitudes, that these kids are awful cagers too.

As macho as the American driver pretends to be, it ain’t gonna take much to remove most of us from the steering wheel. The first and logical step is to crank the shit out of the price of car insurance for those who insist on driving themselves. That will pretty much do the job alone. Cops will be watching the self-piloted vehicles closely, since their business will pretty much dry up on the autonomous side of transportation. They are absolutely not going to be issuing tickets to the corporations that provide the multi-user leases to autonomous vehicle passengers. Not only are corporations “people” but they are people with super-special privileges not to be fucked with. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a cop going after any sort of big business, regardless of how vicious the corporation’s crimes may have been. So, the only ticketing game in town will be the “cold, dead hands” crowd and they will be feeling pretty picked on by the time they hand over the reins to their own autonomous car. I know, you’re thinking “The Geezer is still just pissed off about his damn Volkswagen automatic transmission experience.” True, I’m pissed off at Volkswagen over that nightmare, but I have always disliked automatic transmission cars. They feel patronizing, sort of like having someone pat me on the head, when they put me in an electric wheel chair and say, “Now you’re in charge old dude. The hallway is all yours.”

I think the most insulting vehicle I’ve ever driven was a Toyota rental car with “Sport Shift Mode” thumb shifters.  I guess some kid who grew up playing video games might be able to fool himself into believing that he’s “really driving a car” when he can select the gear with a flick of the thumb, but I don’t play video games. The little Corolla had more than enough power to get out of its own way, but the Sport Shift Mode was clunky, intolerant of any high RPM operation, and it felt like an attempt by Toyota’s engineers to convince me to go back to letting the car do the driving. Which I did after a couple of unsatisfactory experiments with the thumb shifters.

Unlike the obtuse kids, I don’t care about driving and I’d just as soon lease a portion of an autonomous car as own a whole car that I have to finance, insure, and drive myself. Cars are boring and I’m a lot happier as a distracted passenger than driving. I can read, sleep, watch the scenery, or write as a passenger. As a driver, I spend most of my energy trying to stay awake. Unlike these kids, if I’m going be stuck behind the wheel I want as much control as I can have, including getting to decide my vehicle’s gear, engine RPM, and the point in the powerband for the situation at hand. I’ve yet to see an automatic transmission or all-wheel drive vehicle do a half decent job on ice or in deep sand and I’ve sure as hell seen those vehicles do a pitiful job in those conditions. So, until I can get at least 95% of an autonomous car, I’m hanging on to my 4WD, manual transmission pickup.

There is nothing cold-dead-handish about this, though. I just don't like doing things half-assed. If I can get a computer to drive for me, I'm in. If the computer is just there to make me a more distracted, less competent driver, I don't need that kind of help. But back to the original point of this rant, in an autonomous car world (Coming soon to your town!) motorcycles morbidity/mortality statistics will become unjustifiably over-represented majority in traffic crashes and the ugly face motorcycling has proudly presented to the public will be something we're going to wish we'd have done something about when it would have helped.

MMM April 2016 (and, oddly, again in the March 2017 issue, #154)

May 20, 2017

Refering to Myself

About a decade ago, I had the incredible pleasure of getting to interview Cycle World's Kevin Cameron for MMM. That started an email conversation and friendship that I still work to keep alive. If you didn't know this interview was on this blog, you have a pleasant read ahead of you. Not only is the original interview here, all 900 words of it, but I posted the entire conversation with Kevin's permission, "Kevin Cameron Interview Text: Complete Interview." The reason I brought it up, was that I spent this afternoon at the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant open house and that experience was enhanced by a wonderful conversation my wife and I had with a brilliant friend, Stuart Anderson, who is a physics professor at Augsburg College in St. Paul and one of the most talented and interesting teachers I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Without the background Stuart provided last week, I wouldn't have learned a fraction of what I picked up today. Likewise, Kevin has opened my eyes and mind to all kinds of areas over the years.

May 18, 2017

Necessary Parts

Following up on my plan to regularly verify my semi-competence (see “Creating A Baseline”), I headed for the Red Wing MSF training range yesterday. I invited a friend, but he wasn’t interested in testing himself or his new V-Strom in the rain. I invited a kid I went to school with this year; he couldn’t get his bike to start. Absolving myself of any sense of obligation to combine my self-analysis with some sort of service to my fellow man, I wrapped up my honey-do projects and loaded up for the afternoon ride and practice.

Rain was definitely in the weather prediction, so I suited up AGAT Aerostich. First, I had a few errands to run on the bike, so I filled it up for the first time this season and put about a dozen miles running errands from one end of the gigantic Red Wing metropolis to the other. It’s a rough life, but someone has to be enough of a screw-off to manage it. About the time I wrapped up the errands and started up the hill to Southeast Community Tech where the MSF range lives, it started to rain. Rain isn’t a big show-stopper for me, but the Red Wing range is poorly marked and pretty much a mess on a good day. Still, if I were teaching a class we’d be riding, so I might as well get on with it. As expected, the range was soaked and I had to ride around it a few times, noting visible markers as clues where my targets would, roughly, be.

I started off surprisingly well, considering my lousy day on the bicycle last week (where my new cleated clip-in pedals put me on my ass twice in about 20 miles). I aced the figure-8 box twice, which wasn’t expected because I’m stiff as a board after this lethargic winter and turning my head to look for my target points was a little painful and not particularly impressive, flexibility-wise. However, it went downhill from there, fairly quickly. I moved to Exercise 6, the small oval cornering exercise, next. I was Ok there, but not as confident as I should be as a coach or even as a half-decent rider. I kept at it for a couple dozen laps in each direction. I got better, but a little colder, too. Cold equals stiff and so does old. Next, I worked on the 270o timed corner. Ok, but not great again. No problem staying in the lines or going minimally quick enough, but I didn’t convince myself to push the bike hard enough to get a little slide out of the back tire (easy in the rain) or to approach touching a peg to the asphalt. Quick stops, emergency swerves, and the big offset cone exercises pretty much wrapped up the stuff I usually practice and after all that I’d blown about two hours on the range.

Then the sky opened up and dumped for a couple of hours. Between when I left and this morning, we got 5” of rain on Wednesday. 4” of that landed on me between the school and home that evening.

wrpartsWhen I bought my WR250X, I busted my “no bikes from kids” rule. Some of the stupid things that had been done to that bike were trendy nitwit stuff: like removing the “tail” of the rear fender, hacking up the tail pipe and the intake air box. In a rain storm like this one, the last thing I need is a shade tree butchering of Yamaha’s well-thought-out air box. Water and high compression do not mix, ever. Likewise, without that “ugly” tail fin on the rear fender, the back tire tosses crap from the top of my head to my ass. I know, I rode it a couple of times before I found a cheap used replacement fender. Since I replaced all of that stuff fairly quickly, I made it home in the rain without any mechanical problems.

DarienRanger1_smIMG_8182Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to my personal protection. I was properly geared up, so I should have been reasonably dry. However, there is a key move you have to make to stay dry in an Aerostich Darien: you have to zip up the jacket all the way and close the collar. I didn’t do either. Lucky it was a warm rain.

I’m still trying to decide if I passed this year’s riding benchmark. I absolutely decided that I’m not smart enough to take advantage of good riding gear and the protection it provides.

May 16, 2017

Millions and Almost A Million?

A while back, I semi-proudly noted that this blog had finally passed 500,000 hits. GWAG HitsI was pretty impressed with myself, since for the first several years of this blog’s existence it felt like I would never get to 1,000 hits, then 10,000 hits, and so on. Since noting that benchmark and imagining it wouldn’t be long before I got to 1,000,000, the reality of those numbers has been eye-opening. In a good way.

We hear numbers like millions and billions and, even, trillions tossed around by politicians and the media as if they are insignificant. Some of us are old enough to remember when having 64kb of RAM in a computer was a big deal. I remember paying $10,000 of my employer’s money for a 5M hard drive in the mid-80’s, for example. If I hadn’t known how to do it myself, it would have cost another $1,000 to have a Wang tech come to the office to install it! I just paid $9 for a 64GB USB stick, which ups my remote audio recorder’s capability to 600 minutes for six channels of 24 bit/96kHz WAV audio! Ten freakin’ hours of high definition audio for $9? Impossible.

So, while I once had high hopes for hitting 1,000,000 pageviews fairly quickly, mostly I have a new respect for just how much activity it takes to arrive at that kind of numbers.

May 15, 2017

One, Two, Three, or Four Fingers?

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

In the MSF program, instructors are infamous for requiring students to use their whole hand on either the throttle or the brake. Not just one, two, or three finger braking, but the whole collection of finger-like digits; "If you have 'em, use 'em." This is a position that generates a lot of controversy among "experienced riders" who have cultivated (politi-speak for "clung to beginner habits") a variety of tactics that involve various fingers applied at random times with an assortment of justifications with empirically inconsistent results. There are some strong justifications for the MSF position. Is this the best way to teach front brake use? Probably. Is it absolutely the only right way to use the front brake? Not necessarily.

Sometimes even more controversial, MSF instructors are not fond of the "covering the brake" habit. (The 2013 MSF program is less emphatic about the consequences of this tactic, which more reflects the MSF's milktoast character than actual safety considerations.) I believe this tactic mostly comes from a fevered need to feel "prepared," in case a piano falls out of the sky and scares the crap out of you. Newbies may want the security of nervously covering that apparatus in case they forget where the brake is, but "need" and "want" are not the same animal. In high tension situations, it is natural to want to be ready to stop. The problem is, more often than not, grabbing a handful of brake is exactly the wrong move. All of those "I had to lay 'er down" stories are examples of how poor braking tactics turn into a justification for doing something stupid. Rubber will out-stop metal and plastic any time. Besides, we all know you didn't "lay 'er down," you screamed, panicked, and fell down. One reason for breaking the brake-covering habit is to force a few moments of thought into the decision-making process. If your hand is already on the brake, you'll use it before thinking.

There are a lot of arguments on the web and in bars and every other place motorcyclists hang out about how many fingers are necessary or ideal for precise, safe rapid stops. I snagged a portion of this answer to a question from a newbie about his MSF BRC experience from a moto-discussion site; "Some use 2 fingers because you can keep them over the lever at all times. If your brakes are bled correctly and the lever is adjusted, you will not trap the other fingers. (Tell me how that works out for you if you drop the bike hard on the right bar. Ever see a busted lever, kid?) How many fingers you will need in a emergency is dependent on finger strength and brake caliper strength." Another of those kids claimed, "I convinced a friend to ride with two fingers always on the break[sic] and he said the habit saved his life." When that friend drops the bike in a corner because his "habit" caused him to grab the brake when he should have been no where near that control, I wonder if the kid with the "great advice" will take the blame?

I think habit explains why so many riders feel the need to rest their fingers on the brake. Safety or preparedness are pretty low on the list of logical justifications for this practice. Fear is a lot higher on the list, but most riders won't acknowledge that. They began hanging on to the grip when they first started riding and haven't re-evaluated the practice since. New riders are terrified of letting go of the grip and just as nervous about taking their fingers off of the brake. Terror does justify a habit.

Obviously, some brakes and some riders are able to get all the stopping power they need from one finger. YouTube and the Web are full of guys showing off their one finger stoppie power. That doesn't make one-finger braking a brilliant concept, or a safe riding habit. A stunt is not the same as an unplanned emergency stop. In a stunt, you not only aim for the best possible spot to make the stop, you shift your weight to maximize the pressure on the front wheel to prevent skidding, and if you screw it up it you'll probably survive to try again. In an emergency, you want to stop with as much control and power as possible. If you screw it up, you might be dead.

I'm a long ways from an MSF-fanatic, but I do think our training organization is right in teaching the four-fingered braking habit. Being the single-minded, single-task animal we humans are, learning how to use the front brake with power and confidence is life-saving. In fact, if you never learn how to use the rear brake, you're only giving up on 10-30% of your stopping power. Precise front brake operation is one of the most critical skills in motorcycling. One of the reasons for learning how to perform a skill absolutely correctly is, then, you can intentionally modify that technique when conditions change. If you never learn how to use your brakes correctly, you won't suddenly figure it out in an emergency.

First published in the Rider's Digest #171 Winter 2015-2016.

May 6, 2017

Product Review: Giant Loop Pronghorn Straps


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day
A Giant Loop-supplied picture of the alleged "unbreakable fasteners." (Photo supplied by Giant Loop, Harold Cecil)
Friends say I'm unrealistically biased positively toward Giant Loop Products. Could be. I own and love several of the company's fine products: the Giant Loop Coyote Saddlebag, Dry Bag, Diablo Tank Bag, Kiger Tank Bag, and the Great Basin Dry Bag. All of that gear is fiercely waterproof, tougher than rhino skin, and brilliantly designed for backwoods motorcycling. When I received a trio of Pronghorn Straps to test, I pretty much assumed this would be another brilliantly designed product that would become an indispensible part of my travel kit. Turned out, that was pretty much a no-brainer assumption.

The three Pronghorn Strap options (Photo supplied by Giant Loop, Harold Cecil)

The first thing I felt needed to be challenged was the claim that the fasteners are "unbreakable." As a retired reliability engineer, I am compelled to test any such claim because I absolutely do not believe such stuff. In the interests of truth and the American Way, I will admit that I received these straps as "media samples," so I had no money invested in the following abuse/tests. Likewise, earlier in my career--when I was paid to abuse/test industrial electronics, music equipment, professional audio equipment, medical devices, software, firmware, and hardware--I did not pay for that equipment, either. Fair is fair.
Practically speaking, what kind of abuse would something like these straps and their buckle expect to experience? First, serious abrasion and tension stress under a variety of temperatures. Second, impact damage from crashes within the same range of temperatures. (For example, 0oC to 40oC.) Finally, an outright attempt to find the breaking point of the strap or buckle, whichever comes first would be typical test engineering experiments. I decided that I would limit my tests to semi-destructive because I wanted to long-term test the straps on our RV excursion during the winter of 2013-14. First, I measured the strap's total pre-test length for a distortion/elasticity baseline (32.1cm).

So, I started with simple abuse. I clamped one of the red straps (the size I thought I was most unlikely to use) to my vise and whaled away with my 4 pound sledge at the buckle and strap for a bit. The buckle showed abrasion signs of abuse afterwards, but it didn't break. The strap looked a bit scratched up, but it didn't appear to be weakened, either. So, I froze (at -5oC) the same strap in my basement storage freezer for a few days while leaving it under tension with an expansion clamp extended far enough that the buckle distorted significantly. After leaving it frozen for a few days, I pulled it out and gave the clamp a few more squeezes which stretched the buckle and strap even more, but didn't break it. Next, I tossed the strap into my wife's food dehydrator (80oC) and left it for a week while she dried pears on the other three trays. (Yeah, I know. I probably poisoned us with the plastic out-gassing. At our age, poisons will have to be pretty aggressive to matter much.) Out of the dryer, I put the strap back into the clamp and stretched it to 125% of it's relaxed length and left it in the clamp for a day. That ended the bench testing phase of my procedure. After that abuse, the 20oC resting length of the strap was 32.23cm, 101% of it's original length. The buckle retained it's original shape, compared to my untested copies. The strap didn't even retain the clamped form and appeared to be returning to the packaged shape after a few days on the bench.

A month later, I used two of the red straps to secure my Giant Loop Dry Bag to my WR250's tail rack for a camping trip along the St. Croix. (So much for my ability to guess which size strap I'd use most often.) One of the two straps was the one I'd abused in my earlier tests. I'd imagined that this trip would be pretty benign because the fall had been wet and I didn't plan on going off-road much between the Cities and Two Harbors, but once I got out of town I ended up letting my GPS guide me northward with the instruction that I waned to avoid freeways, major highways, toll roads with a high preference for dirt roads and "ferries" (in case I ever get a chance to cross the St. Croix on one). Pretty soon, I was bouncing along on a heavily farm-equipment-rutted road enjoying the hell out of my all-time favorite motorcycle. 350 miles later, I was still south of Duluth by 50 miles and looking for a place to hang my hammock for the night. As either a testament to my faith in Giant Loop products or my simplemindedness, I hadn't check my load once in the last 250 miles. It was all there, though. Ten minutes later, I was swinging between two trees reading my eBook with the sound of the river in the background, mosquitoes in the foreground, and birds and bats in between until the light failed and I fell asleep.

A few weeks later, I used five of the Pronghorns to secure bicycles,hardware, and the WR250X to my customized Harbor Freight trailer and we headed south for our first winter in retirement. Somewhere around 6,000 miles into the trip, weather, vibration, and metal fatigue caused one of the brackets I'd used to hold a bicycle in place snapped and a blue Pronghorn strap between the bike ramp and the bicycle's lower frame was all that kept my mountain bike from being abandoned on the highway in New Mexico. I didn't discover the failure until we stopped for the night.

I started collecting information for this review in 2013 and, somehow, the final article ended up sitting in my computer for three years after any formal "testing" ended. I regret that I didn't stay on this because the Pronghorn straps have more than exceeded my expectations and have lived up to their "unbreakable" claim, at least with any semi-normal use. I love 'em.

May 1, 2017

#142 Dumb Laws for Stupid Products

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On my usual mid-week trip to the library, I got stopped by a Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputy. As usual, he asked, "Do you know why I stopped you?" I did not.

"You crossed the white line to pass that van on the right." Fortunately for me, the deputy was a good guy (and a motorcyclist) and he let me go with a warning. All the way to the library and through the rest of my day's errands, I thought about what kind of goofy state has a dumbass law like that. Keeping in mind that I believe every state in the nation, except California, is barely sophisticated enough to bang the rocks together in a primitive attempt to communicate -- because of the national ban on filtering and lane sharing. Holding a motorcycle behind a stopped vehicle seems outrageously and unusually primitive.

I can just imagine our hillbilly state representatives creating this idiotic law and including all vehicles in it because one of their inbred offspring blasted by a stopped vehicle that suddenly turned right and tagged the passing vehicle. The obvious "solution" is to create another dumb law to regulate all of the stupid products (cages) and every other vehicle on the road because you never know when the next "special" child will take himself out of the gene pool.

It makes sense to hold cages to the no-passing-on-the-right rule because the damn things are too fat to fit in that small space, even on the freeway. But motorcycles and scooters? That's just stupid. If I'd have been on a bicycle, that would have been the lane I'm supposed to riding in. Does the law insist a bicycle stop in the same situation? The last place I want to be is stuck between a cage sandwich because some hillbilly lawmaker can't tell the difference between a motorcycle and a cage.

Like the ban on filtering and splitting, the fact that a rider can get a citation for saving his own life when one braindead cager slams into another on the freeway or any other place designed to stack up traffic irregularly, this is a dumb law. Aerostich's Mr. Subjective optimistically would like to believe that laws only reflect what the majority of the public is already doing, but anyone who observes traffic in neighborhoods where the "no left turn on red" or various misplaced stop signs have been randomly distributed without rhyme or reason knows that laws are self-perpetuating and lawmakers are a species unto themselves.

In case you're confused about this rant's title, the "stupid products" I'm referring to are cages, cars, single-passenger four-wheeled fuel-and-space-wasters. I have always believed the passenger car is one of the dumbest, most wasteful, most harmful inventions in human history. Anyone with rudimentary mathematics skills has to despair at seeing miles and miles of single-occupant, gas-guzzling cages stacked in congested parallel lines, draining our children's futures and destroying this version of the earth and current life forms for no good reason other than we all dislike each other and can't be bothered to use mass transit. Cars are for people who aren't competent on two wheels.

Likewise, the existence of handicapped parking is irrational. Everyone who drives a car is, obviously, handicapped. Those flags we hang from our windshield mirrors are just identifying those who are incredibly handicapped as opposed to those mostly handicapped. I know that from experience: for three months post-hip-surgery, I used one of those special parking permits because I couldn't get from the bedroom to the bathroom without a walker, crutch, or cane (in that order as my healing progressed). I was trapped in my cage, with my wife driving for most of two months, because I was incapable of riding a motorcycle. Now, I'm better and I don't need the damn car. If we had a civilized public transportation system, I wouldn't own one of the damn things. For those rare moments when I need to carry stuff larger than my side-cases, I'd rent a car or take a taxi. I hate being required to own a cage and am about 90% of the way convinced to move somewhere I won't need a car.

But what really twists my chain is being limited to the handicapped center-lane on a motorcycle because the dimbulbs who make the laws can't tell a handicapped vehicle from a motorcycle. Making the rules the same for all means of transportation is as stupid as punishing everyone for the sins of a few. It would be really nice to be a member of a society that makes laws to reflect what the public does, but I don't see that happening here or many places. A couple of years ago, a kid who was a wannabe cop asked me to list laws that I thought were irrational. I named about a dozen in the few minutes we had to talk. A day later, I emailed him another couple-hundred irrational laws that came to me after we'd talked. A few weeks later, my list had grown so large that I had to give up the whole project because it was taking over my life. Our legal system is downright depressing, when you take time to think about it. It long since has given up pretending to be a justice system and, now, just masquerades as a police state employment-bureau-for-the-mentally-handicapped while exercising its primary function as a tax collection system. 

When I move into my cave in Montana, you're going to hear the verse from one of my favorite Bobby Dylan songs coming from dim light that will be my gas lantern. "You ask why I don't live here? Man, I don't believe you don't leave." There will be only one law enforced from the entrance to my cave: "Get the hell out of my yard unless you want to be picking rock salt out of your lame ass!"

MMM Winter 2015