Dec 30, 2019

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

I am a habitual reader, a speed reader, and I make up my mind about books fairly quickly in the early pages. Sometimes, when a book appears to have some value but the scene and character-building activity bores me, I kick it into high gear and blow through 50-100 pages almost as fast as I can turn the pages. If I start a book, I almost always finish it, but often more as a physical exercise than from a love of or interest in the literature. Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain started off with a bang, with a description of the main character’s canine limitations and impending death and the relationship between Enzo, the dog, and Denny, the dog’s partner in life and the human main character. By the third page you have the Big Picture of almost everything that is going to happen in the book, you just don’t have the details and everything is in the details.

Racing in the Rain is filled with reminders of my motorcycle safety training instructor career and some moments that made me recall my motocross days, too. Some of my favorite quotes follow:

  • “No race was ever won in the first corner but many have been lost there.” Denny Swift
  • “It’s not about a heavier foot. It’s about feel.” Denny
  • “In racing, your car goes where your eyes go.” Denny
  • “The great driver finds a way to keep racing.” Denny
  • “There’s no dishonor in losing a race. There is only dishonor when you don’t race because you’re afraid to lose.” Denny
  • 'The best drivers focus only on the present. Never dwelling on the past, never committing to the future. Reflection must come at a later time.' - Enzo (the dog)
  • 'When I'm in a race car, I'm the creator of my own destiny.” Denny

Eve: How come you go through the turns so much faster than the other cars?

Denny Swift: Well, most drivers are afraid of the rain, because it’s an unpredictable element. They’re forced to react to it. And if they’re reacting at speed, then they’re probably too late, so they should be afraid of it.

Eve: Well, I’m afraid just watching it.

Denny Swift: Yeah, but if you intentionally make the car do something, you don’t have to predict. You control the outcome.

Eve: So you skid the car before it skids itself?

Denny Swift: Yeah. Yeah. When I’m in a race car, I’m the creator of my own destiny. “That which you manifest is before you.” Create your own conditions, and rain is just rain.

  • Enzo: [voice over] In racing, your car goes where your eyes go. A driver who cannot tear his gaze from the wall will inevitably meet that wall. But the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free, that driver will maintain control of his car and his destiny. I realized this was what Denny had done. He had manifested a win because he knew we needed one. Enzo: [voice over] It turned out to be the 1989 Luxembourg Grand Prix in which the Irish driver, Kevin Finnerty York, finished victorious while driving the final twenty laps with only two gears. A true champion can accomplish things a normal person would consider impossible. Denny just needed to remember that. Know who you are on the track with”.

Dec 2, 2019

How the Cheap Bike Challenge Saved My Retirement

Remember the infamous Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Cheap Bike Challenge? Probably not. Back in the dark Great Recession days of 2009, the gist was, “Each entrant was to be given $300 and two months to find a bike and prep it for an event that would require the riders to ride an unspecified distance and complete special challenges. Like the International Six Days Trial, the event would test both man and machine.” Mostly, we spent a few weeks (or days, in my case) preparing a junk motorcycle to ride and, then, toss in the dumpster. My bike, a long-abandoned 70’s Honda CB-450, probably should have been left in that garage to finish returning to iron-oxide undisturbed.

There was a moment in my last-ditch attempt to find a motorcycle that had lasting effect on me. A Minnesota Sportbike group acquaintance emailed me that he had the perfect bike for the Challenge: a 1980’s KLR250 with a “new motor.” Turned out, the new motor had been “stored” in a cardboard box under a picnic table in the owner’s back yard for at least a decade. The motor was seized, the gas tank was full of smegma and rust, the wiring was rat-eaten, and the rest of the KLR was a mess. More to the point of this essay, the 6-or-8-car garage the KLR came from was jammed full of motorcycles in similar condition. I don’t think a single bike in that garage was salvageable without major money and time spent. Putting my clueless, rude foot in my mouth, I asked, “Why do you have all of this crap?”

The owner’s answer was, “Tom, when I was a kid I realized that when I sold a motorcycle I spent the money and then I didn’t have a motorcycle or the money. So, I decided to keep every motorcycle I ever owned.” That answer scared the shit out of me. Not that I had a collection of junk motorcycles or ever wanted one, but I did have a similar hoarder fetish for fine and not-so-fine microphones. At the time, I owned at least 50 microphones and I could easily imagine myself owning ten-times that many.

But I wanted to retire and I knew to do that my wife and I would be downsizing considerably from our 2700 square foot 1800’s farm house with an 850 square foot garage and a normal recording studio in the attic and 2 1/2 acres of Twin Cities yard. So a few years later, I made a retirement/downsizing plan: I would sell all but a few microphones; to allow just enough toys for hobby recording projects. Outside of that normal remainder, I’d sell the rest of my collection and put the money directly into my house principle. My end goal was to own our home before I retired.

In the end, I didn’t quite reach that goal, but I did only have $14,000 to pay off from our original $106,000 home loan. I haven’t once wished that I’d have kept any of the equipment, the extra space (we downsized to 1100 square feet and could go normaler), or even the microphones I’d owned since I was a very young man.
Collectors all over the world are discovering that the market for their collections is shriveling. New stuff is consistently better in every way than old stuff and younger consumers are unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for products whose sole intrinsic value is "that it is old.” A couple of my friends are muscle car collectors and they’ve seen the value of their collections practically disappear in the last decade. Obviously, the Great Recession put a hit on a lot of that stuff, but so has a hard dose of reality. Vintage guitars and guitar amps, pro and home audio equipment, motorcycles, dishes and dolls, and all of the other crap that Boomers and their parents collected are ending up in the local land fill.

At least four of the microphones that helped me pay down my mortgage had more collector value than real value. Two were a prestigious Danish manufacturer’s 1970’s instrumentation microphones that I’d snagged in an estate sale for a pittance at least a decade earlier. Their selling price about took my breath away and really took a hit out of that home loan. Likewise, two big German tube mics brought an unrealistic price; especially compared to the price I’d paid for those instruments 40 years ago.

So, if it weren’t for the freak-out I suffered hunting down a ride for the Cheap Bike Challenge, I might not be comfortably retired today in a paid-for house with some cash in the bank. On more thing I have to thank Victor and my MMM editors for my 20 years with the magazine. Not only was it a great ride, but it still is.

Nov 28, 2019

Seat of the Pants Performance Comparisons

A few years ago, when I was still capable of riding half-quickly and competently off-road, I was riding with a group of Twin Cities Dual Purpose guys north of the Cities. The “route” was a convoluted collection of gravel and paved roads with the occasional single-track and deep sand trail tossed in to provide the illusion of a dual-purpose outing. It might have been one of the first opportunities I had to test my new-to-me WR250X somewhere outside of my daily 6 mile urban commute. It turned out, there was more than just a riding competency and bike capability test available on that ride. One of the other guys had recently bought a used WR250R that had been barely-used and farkled up with a loud “performance” pipe, a Power Commander fuel programmer, a hacked-up air box, and the original owner had removed the AIS and EXUP systems and the “flapper-valve.” Pretty much all of the “performance” weirdness every kid who ever bought a WR might do without any of the nasty riding crap actual motorcyclists would have done first. Both of our bikes had been owned by such children and the WR/R owner had yet to begin the long process of returning the bike to original status and peak overall performance. I got after that immediately and my bike was all the way back to bone stock the day of that ride.

After 30 or 40 miles of the group ride, we all stopped for lunch and the WR/R guy and I compared notes. He was pretty tired of the exhaust noise and wondered if any of the modifications had actually improved the bike’s performance. You might figure, I always assume any “improvements” made by shade tree goobers is a downward evolution. Having been an engineer for most of my career, my appreciation for amateurs is very limited-to-non-existent. We decided that, when the opportunity presented itself we’d “performance test” the bikes on every sort of terrain we’d be riding on for the rest of the day. In our case, “performance testing” mean drag racing the two bikes at every opportunity. Mostly, a drag race eliminates skill from the equation; the outcome is pretty much determined by the bike with the best powerband and peak horsepower. As an unintentional handicap, I was spotting the WR250R about 50 pounds, since that bike’s owner was at least that much lighter than me. He was also a decade younger and a much better, more aggressive rider, for whatever that is worth.

To cut to the chase, the end result was no surprise to me and disappointing to him. On pavement, my WR250X consistently held the advantage. We would start out neck-and-neck, but after 3rd gear my WR/X would begin to pull away until around 70mph when the WR/R began to fall into the distance. On gravel, the results were mixed; pretty much whoever got the best start would end up in front. In deep sand, I got my ass handed to me, mostly based on his skill and my cowardice and, probably, that 17” front wheel that tends to plow into the sand. I was year or two away from having my left hip replaced and, by then, anything that required a firm foot on the ground was out of the question.

So, our shade tree, seat-of-the-pants evaluation of the usual collection of silly “improvements” kids make to the WR/R/X Yamahas was that more is less. You’d hope that doing all of that crap would not have made a 250 slower with an additionally 50 pound load, but it did.

Some of those modifications are, and should be, highly illegal. Yamaha did several things to make the WR/R/X bikes emissions legal, for the US, EU, and Japan. Defeating emissions controls is a federal and state violation and I despise the fact that our states and cops are too lazy and incompetent to enforce emissions violations. In fact, I resent having to pay taxes for cops who don’t care about exhaust noise but pretend to be enforcing the peace (and quiet) of the communities that employ them. Imagining that a low tech sheet metal worker could out-engineer Yamaha is pretty hilarious, at best. The only “tuning” aftermarket pipe manufacturers do is “noise enhancement.” They know you imagine louder being faster and play to that market.

Some of the other “improvements” might actually do something useful, if the entire bike was re-tuned to compensate for the huge change in intake and exhaust pressure curves. However, most goobers are done with their project once they tack on the expensive crap and wouldn’t consider spending another $1,500 on dyno testing and tuning. So, like the 99% dumbasses in The Marching Morons, they mistake noise and an unpredictable and peaky power band for improvement and degrade the motorcycle while wasting money on junk that just irritates the general public, wastes fuel, adds more pollution to the environment, and devalues their motorcycle investment.

The fact is that you can pretty much assume that every dollar you “invest” in aftermarket performance modifications will result in a fifty-cent reduction in the resale value of the motorcycle. You might, occasionally, find a kid who will pay inflated money for a farkled-up mess, but you’ll have to be astoundingly lucky to stumble on to one of those characters who actually has money.

Nov 16, 2019

Hardly Riders and Laugh In

More Hardly riders doing the Laugh In tricycle bit. “I hit that [invisible] hole in the road,” sort of like “I had to put ‘er down.” It always means, “I screwed up and fell over totally out of incompetence.” These guys always remind me of the Laugh-In tricycle gag. How can you ride this badly and still take your badass biker posing seriously?

Nov 9, 2019

What Did You Think Was Gonna Happen?

Every weekend, I’m treated to parades of unskilled, noisy bikers wobbling through our small tourist town. Typically, 4-to-20-some bikers will ride, in staggered formation no more than 20’ apart, at 50+mph into town, often rolling through stop lights and signs because most of the riders are incapable of making basic traffic maneuvers: like stopping and starting competently. While the bikers, I’m sure, have images of the rest of us envying their “freedom” and bald domes shining (scroungy ponytails waving) in the sunlight, I am always reminded of herd animals grouping together under the flawed theory of “safety in numbers.”

There is a good evolutionary reason why antelope, gazelles, water buffalo, and cattle pack together in dangerous situations. The “good” part of the reason only applies to the young, fit, and quick. The predators will quickly identify the old and crippled and go for them, rather than waste their precious energy on the hard-to-catch young, fit, and fast. A pack of motorcycles all jammed together in an idiotic “rolling bowling pin” formation is, by default, a herd of old and crippled herbivores.

For decades, whenever we pass bikers in pirate underwear, my wife says, “They’re having fun now.”  What she means, of course, is that those characters are so unaware of how precarious their existence is that they are blissfully unaware of how close they are to death, dismemberment, and general purpose mangling. If “ignorance is bliss,” pirate parade participants are some of the happiest people on the planet.

In the August 2019 issue, ABATE’s Ed Berner wrote “I’m tired of my brothers and sisters dying on the road because drivers are distracted or just don’t give a crap about anyone else.” When 30-40% of fatal motorcycle crashes are single vehicle incidents, you have to question that analysis. Knowing that more than a quarter of motorcycle crash deaths are solely the fault of bikers, you’d be statistically clueless to imagine that the other 60-70% of fatal motorcycle crashes are primarily the fault of cagers.

Mostly, I believe motorcyclists are dying out of disability: drunken driving behavior and a fair amount of their own “distraction” while they wobble down the road. Bikers are pretty much willingly hopping onto suicide machines dulled with  learned helpless syndrome” created by loud exhaust noise that causes mental and physical fatigue, distraction from useless and dangerous pack-formation etiquette, loud sound systems, on-bike cellphone use (hands-free and otherwise), handicapped by the mostly functionally-disabled motorcycles bikers choose to ride, and the general-purpose resistance to obtaining decent riding and defensive driving skills. Complaining that the suicide machines are actually doing the job they were designed to do isn’t any sort of solution.

Until retiring this year, I had been an MSF/MMSC Motorcycle Safety Instructor since 2001. I have taught dozens of what we used to call the  “Experienced Rider Course” (ERC): now more-accurately relabeled the “Intermediate Rider Course” (IRC). Many of those classes were booked by biker clubs, often ABATE chapters. The hallmark of teaching those courses was too often excessive noise and general rider incompetence. Out of all of those courses, I only saw one rider on a big Harley who could actually handle that motorcycle competently and he was a retired motorcycle police officer with a stock exhaust and a mostly-stock motorcycle (He did have some Iron Butt farkles.). All of the other biker characters usually plowed through about half of the IRC exercises as if the cones were merely suggestions. Often, they would just park to the side of the range until the “impossible” exercises were finished.

At the opposite end of Berner’s death-and-destruction tale has been my 50-some-year association with motorcyclists (different folks than “bikers”). Counting the last two decades of hanging out with motorcycle safety instructors and the rest of my life with off-road racers, motorcycle journalists, adventure motorcyclists, motorcycle commuters, and Iron Butt riders, I have not personally known a single person who died riding a motorcycle. I have witnessed three motorcycle deaths in the last 50 years and two of the three were 100% the fault of the motorcyclist and the other was at least 50% due to the incompetence off the motorcyclist. I didn’t know any of those bikers. The riders I’ve worked and hung out with are, at best, entertained by the biker cult and, more likely, disgusted by the whole incompetent macho pirate-parade silliness. Among my friends, you won’t find a single  bike with ape hangers, straight pipes, disabled front brakes, gynecological-exam-position road pegs, handlebar stereo systems, paddle-boards, or useless chromed geegaws. No novelty helmets or bowls, no chaps, no vests, gangster patches, or bandanas. No trikes, either. Those people depend—first, second, and last—on their riding skills, the capabilities of their motorcycles, AGAT, and unwavering focused attention on the road and other road users for their safety; not idiotic and useless legislation, billboards and bumper-stickers, or self-defeating “advocacy groups.”

Like my favorite t-shirt says, “If loud pipes save lives, imagine what learning to ride that thing  could do.”

Nov 6, 2019

Are You Invisible?

This is sort of like that Dancing Bear video, with a lot more science. Unfortunately, I think too much of the "message" is a deluded hope that car drivers will compensate for motorcyclists' fundamental problems.

Nov 5, 2019

Changing Gears, Sticking with the Old Transmission

Way back in the WinXP years, I started using Microsoft Live Writer as my primary blog editor. I moved to Open Live Writer when MS decided that blogs and reading/writing skills are a thing of the past and, thankfully, dumped Live Writer into the open source world. Unfortunately for me, Live Writer hasn't been updated since 2017 and Google has made a bunch of nonsensical changes to Blogger in the past 2-plus years. Those changes and incompatibilities have made it difficult-to-impossible to easily create blog entries in a normal editor (the junk that Google installed in Blogger for editing is very 1999). 

Wordpress, however, has made a special effort to link its blog capabilities to Live Writer. All that means is that I have to create two documents for every blog update. You might have noticed that I have commented on the bullshit I'm going through getting old this past summer: including eyesight issues, selling off my beloved WR250X and ending my active life as a motorcyclist, etc. Another offshoot of all that is that I have decided to switch my blog entry focus, first to the Wordpress site--Geezer with A Grudge - Wordpress --and second to this site: Also, you may not know that there is a direct path to the GWAG stuff,, but there is. Previously, that link redirected you to the Blogger site, but as of today it will go, instead, to the Wordpress pages. 

My intention is to keep double-posting everything to both sites, but from here out I will be going to Wordpress first and Blogger second. In the past, occasionally that has meant that a few things didn't end up on the Wordpress site. It stands to reason that the opposite might be true now that my process has changed.

Nov 4, 2019

Fast Lane Biker Column (November) 
 In  a ridiculous number of ways, my years with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly has been oddly rewarding. I was putting this one to bed when the magazine decided to call it quits. I'd have loved to see it in MMM, but I missed the window. You wouldn't think there would be anything educational or financially rewarding about wasting a few dozen hours on a beater '70s Honda street bike, but there was.

Oct 30, 2019

You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Gangsters and cops have similar problems; they both want to have the public’s fear and respect. Fear and respect are, however, not the same thing and you can’t have one and the other.

Fear is easy to generate. You just have to be willing to do things decent people would never do. Shoot a few unarmed minority kids in the back and you have successfully terrified a community. Dress up like Hell’s Angels, Banditos, or the Outlaws and make more noise than a freight train hauling 100 tanker cars while the cops pretend they don’t see or hear you and you’ve sent a pretty powerful message to the public, “Even the cops are scared of us.” That’s fear.
Respect is what cops get when they run toward an “active shooter” when everyone else is running away. Respect is what firemen earn when they go into burning buildings to rescue people. Nobody respects bikers, but bikers aren’t bright enough to know fear from respect or they don’t care as long as they can convince themselves that they’re getting respect from the people they’ve terrorized.

Recently, our city police chief was asked, on Facebook, to explain the law surrounding Minnesota’s idiotic “Road Guard” legislation. Obviously, the questioner was pissed off at being detained by some nitwit pirate waving a pile of even dumber gangbangers through a public intersection. Being at the tailend of my life, between myasthenia gravis and CHF, I’ve pretty much had it with political correctness and fear. So, I commented on how stupid I think that whole law and pirate/gangbanger biker parades are. The response was expected and predictable, including the hilarious claim that pirate parades raise money for charities; as if it is impossible to contribute money to charities without the noise and air pollution of motorcycle exhaust.

Honestly, I didn’t expect any sort of rational response from either the police chief or the bikers. The bikers are flat out fun to fire up because they are consistently a pack of clueless nitwits.I really do hate the "road guard" legislation and our simpering wimp legislature totally bend over and took it up the ass from ABATE and the biker/gangster crowd in passing this total joke of a law. Asking working people to wait while a parade of incompetent jerks on tractors pretends to be doing something important really highlights the decadence in our lawless, irrational Failing Empire. There is NOTHING about a biker parade that is worthwhile and, at the least, a rational society would relegate this sort of silliness to unpaved farm roads. 

And that is exactly what I think.  

Oct 14, 2019

I Remember Liking This, I Think

Believe it or not, in late August I finally pretty much got the WR back together. It took all day to do it. Nothing went well. Thanks to my last season of commuting on Minnesota roads, the rear axle was rusted to the inner spacing sleeve; probably the result of too many months of neglect during the commotion between the end of my work life and retirement and the move to Red Wing. I spent a solid two hours working that axle out of the wheel. It came out cleanly but damn that was exhausting. 

Then, I clearly forgot everything I ever knew about removing a tire, because I made that job a lot harder than it should have been (do NOT forget the soapy water, dumb ass!). After wrestling with getting the tire off for way too long, I soaked the tire in soapy water and it practically fell off of the wheel. How do you forget lessons like that, outside off the likely Alzheimer's onset? I have probably replaced at least 250 motorcycle tires in my lifetime and used a few hundred gallons of soapy water in the process. The end of that project left me feeling like the dumbest guy in Minnesota.

The bolts that hold the rear sprocket to the wheel were about half-seized and there went another hour, just removing six bolts.The damn screw that holds the chain guard in place was seized, too. Another long, painful half-hour there.That was good timing, though. That plastic guard protects both the top and bottom of the swingarm from the chain was worn but not so much that the wear allowed the chain to do damage to the swingarm. That long-travel suspension can cause the chain to tear up both sides of the swingarm, but none of that had occured. I've replaced that guard routinely with every sprocket change, each time before it was a problem. s

The chain should have been easy, but since I did a dozen or so projects (that didn't require decent eyesight) between when I hauled my tools down to the basement and some friends helped me move the bike into the basement, I managed to bury my rolling garden seat into a corner and pile crap on top of it; which is where my chain breaking tool was finally found. Another hour down, so I ended up resorting to a clip master link, because I forgot how to use the damn tool for the riveted link and I was running out of day and patience. Finally, ready to install the rear wheel and . . . the damn rear aftermarket (Sumo) brake pads are clearly too thick. Another miserable hour burned. At least those giant thick pads ought to last a while.

Finally, the bike is all back together, except for some piddly stuff I can deal with later. And the freaking bike jack won't release. Patience gone, I pretty much ripped the bike off of the stand, wrestled it out of the basement and into the garage, and I'm done for the day. Tomorrow, I'll pick up the tool pile and haul it all up to the garage, sweep up the mess, install the new battery and front sprocket cover, and, maybe, have time for a short test ride. I sorta remember enjoying working on my motorcycles, but after today those memories might have been replaced with something else. I have really been enjoying the simplicity of working on my eBike and it might be a long stretch for me to get back to hassling with all of the unnecessary crap that comes with a full size motorcycle.

And that was my August "spring maintenance" day.

Oct 10, 2019

Ya Missed It

Because I managed to lose the email with the link to this auction, I didn't get the message to you all that this Sale of the Century was going on last week.

25 Year Collection of 500 "Motorcycles."

Oct 4, 2019

SOLD: 2008 Yamaha WR250X Supermoto

After a lot of anguish, changing-of-the-mind, and reminiscing, in early April 2020 I put my Yamaha WR250X up for sale on Craig's List. Mostly, due to health reasons, it's become more clear every day that I'm not going to be doing any big miles on a motorcycle from here out. I wish it weren't true, but it is.The bike sold after the ad had been online for about two weeks.

2008 Yamaha WR250X Supermoto

I have ridden my WR250X for 8 of the last 9 years commuting to work in St. Paul (10 miles round trip), over most of New Mexico and Colorado, and around even more of Minnesota and Ontario.  I am at the end of my 55 years of motorcycling. I love riding this motorcycle and it is the best all-around two-wheeled transportation I have ever owned. It really hurts to be selling it, but I haven't ridden it for a year and a half and I don't see that changing.

If you've read my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column, "Geezer with A Grudge," you've heard a lot about my experience with my WR250X. During the 9 years that I've owned this motorcycle it has been adventurous, economical (at least 55mpg under all conditions), interesting, versatile, reliable, dependable transportation. Thanks to Yamaha's terrific fuel injection system, the WR250X starts in any kind of weather, including -25F Minnesota winters. For all but the last year, my spring maintenance and trip preparation routines were almost as much a part of my motorcycle life as the actual riding. I replaced the chain, sprockets, rear tire, fluids, brakes, battery, and engine oil this past September (2019). The front tire has less than 500 miles of use. The bike has a little over 24,000 miles on the odometer.

Engine and Transmission
Displacement: 250.00 ccm (15.26 cubic inches)
Engine type: Twin, four-stroke
Power: 30.31 HP (22.1 kW)) @ 10000 RPM
Torque: 23.70 Nm (2.4 kgf-m or 17.5 ft.lbs) @ 8000 RPM
Compression: 11.8:1
Bore x stroke: 77.0 x 53.6 mm (3.0 x 2.1 inches)
Valves per cylinder: 4
Fuel system: Injection
Fuel control: Double Overhead Cams/Twin Cam (DOHC)
Ignition: TCI
Cooling system: Liquid
Gearbox: 6-speed
Transmission type, final drive: Chain
Fuel consumption: 3.31 litres/100 km (30.2 km/l or 71.06 mpg)
Chassis, Suspension, Brakes and Wheels
Rake (fork angle): 25.0°
Trail: 76 mm (3.0 inches)
Front suspension: Inverted fork
Front wheel travel: 269 mm (10.6 inches)
Rear suspension: Single shock
Rear wheel travel: 264 mm (10.4 inches)
Front tyre: 110/70-17
Rear tyre: 140/70-17
Front brakes: Single disc. Hydraulic disc. Hydraulic disc.
Front brakes diameter: 298 mm (11.7 inches)
Rear brakes: Single disc
Rear brakes diameter: 230 mm (9.1 inches)
Physical Measures and Capacities
Weight incl. oil, gas, etc: 136.0 kg (299.8 pounds)
Seat height: 894 mm (35.2 inches) If adjustable, lowest setting.
Overall height: 1,191 mm (46.9 inches)
Overall length: 2,115 mm (83.3 inches)
Overall width: 810 mm (31.9 inches)
Ground clearance: 259 mm (10.2 inches)
Wheelbase: 1,425 mm (56.1 inches)
Fuel capacity: 7.57 litres (2.00 gallons)
Oil capacity: 1.50 litres (0.10 quarts)
Accessories and Improvements
* IMS 3 Gallon durable, cross-linked Polyethylene Tank
* K&N Air Filter
* 14-54 Sprocket set (new) with Case Saver Kit
* Acerbis Handguards
* YamaLink WR250X Lowering Link
* Flatland Engine Case Bashplate
* easily removed Spitfire windscreeen
* RotoPax 1 Gallon Fuel Pack and mounting plate
I have the stock shock link, fuel tank, seat, luggage rack cover, and most of the stock parts that I've replaced with aftermarket bits.

I have always garaged this motorcycle (except when I bought it into my basement for maintenance) and I always do a complete maintenance before putting it away for the winter. After sitting untouched all winter, the motor fired up instantly with the new battery this spring, just like every other year. The engine does not use oil and my oil change interval has always been 3,000 miles. I always use Valvoline or Mobile One synthetic motorcycle oil. The valve clearances were last checked at 12,000 miles and they did not need adjustment. This motorcycle and I have done several 600+ mile days together and I wouldn't hesitate to take this motorcycle on cross-country mile trip in its current condition. If I only could, there is no chance I would be selling it today.

If you are looking for a test ride, be sure you bring a copy of your motorcycle endorsement, insurance evidence, at least a helmet and preferably real motorcycle gear, and a deposit. 

 And there she goes.

What Are They Selling?

Somewhere in this ad, there is supposed to be a motorcycle.

Oct 1, 2019

Making Friends Wherever We Go

A little more than 20 years ago, my oldest daughter lived in Daytona Beach. My grandson was born there. When she first moved to that beleaguered city, she really loved the place. She lived easy walking or bicycling distance from the ocean, work was a short bike ride every morning, the weather was almost always perfect, her rent was cheap, and the hospital where her son was born (prematurely) was very competent. And then the first month of March rolled around and with it rolled in a half-million bikers and their noisemakers. Her last year in Daytona, 2000, was a record breaker (until 2006) with 15 motorcycle deaths highlighting the 10-day “event.” The noise and pollution from that many illegal motorcycles in a confined space with “law enforcement’ turning a blind eye to everything from burnouts on residential streets to guns fired at all times of the day and night to wannabe gangbangers hanging out anywhere there was something to slouch against convinced her that Florida was no place to raise a kid. It also made things a little tense between us for a while, when she was reminded of my daily motorcycle commute. 

My experience with biker events started long  before that. In 1974, my local (Nebraska) Suzuki dealer was looking to make a dent in the off-road racing sales and service and winning an event or two at the Black Hills Motor Classic was one of his marketing targets. I got tagged to help with his entries in the hill climb, the motocross, and the cross country races. I planned to ride a TM250 for the last two events and we both thought we’d take a shot at the hill on a TM400 Cyclone with big paddle-style tires. 1974 was the first year, I think, for vendors and he’d brought stuff to sell; dirt bike stuff. I think we knew we were in the wrong place with the wrong stuff the moment we drive into the pit area. The motocross event was so normal it was practically non-existent. There were only a few riders, mechanics, parents, and people who looked like they belonged at a motocross and a lot of people who looked like they came straight out of a Dennis Hopper-cast biker movie hanging around the vans, trailers, and any bike that wasn’t being watched closely. We immediately scrapped out plan to camp out in the pit area in tents and opted for waiting to see how things played out at the first races. 

Later that day, the kind of stuff for which Sturgis became infamous began to happen; fights, drunks staggering through the pits looking for fights, tools and bikes stolen, motorcyclists hassled by bikers, and it was really obvious that this wasn’t a motorcycle event. Sore loser performance art? I was pretty much stuck in South Dakota until my friend made up his mind. Since the only things I’d brought were my riding gear, I snagged a ride east with some folks who had also decided to give it up for lost and go back home. They dropped me off in Rapid City and I found a bar near a motel on the west end of town and a phone booth (remember those?). I called my wife to let her know she didn’t have to worry about me getting banged up on the motocross track. A few hours later, my Suzuki dealer/friend showed up; frustrated, bummed-out, and angry. Things back in Sturgis got worse after I left and he’d seen all he needed to see of bikers and the Black Hills Motor Classic. Almost 50 years later, I do not remember what his past experience had been with the event, but I am pretty sure he’d raced there at least a few times previously. We drove straight back home that evening. Back home, there was lots of bad press about the gangsters and hoodlums who had run wild in South Dakota. Being known as a motorcyclist wasn’t a good social move for a long while. 

The next motorcycle rally/event I intentionally experienced was the Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Weekend in Colorado that ran from 1981 to 1998. Steamboat ended, when the high-rent development in that once-really-cool-town ate up all of the rideable real estate and priced motorcycles out of town. I started going to Steamboat in 1992 and went every year from then to the end. It was a great motorcyclists’ event. For at least 5-6 years, the event was really popular with the local folks, too. That is UNUSUAL! Typically, the locals hate motorcycles, motorcyclists, and bikers by the time an event is over. I’ve spent a lot of miles prowling around South Dakota and if you aren’t on a Harley you will often get an earful of what the locals really think of bikers and the Sturgis train-wreak. For a surprising number of years, that was not the case for Steamboat Springs.

For one, the only noisy bikes at Steamboat were the race bikes--on the track --where noise and race bikes belong. For two, Steamboat wasn’t a gangbanger event, but a motorcycle event that was more about motorcycles and riders than any of the previous two described events could ever hope to be. Instead of partying like drunk circus bears, the late evenings in Steamboat were often folks sitting around a campfire telling adventure touring or racing stories. The motorcycles, both the competitors’ and the fans’ motorcycles, were unusual. No chrome and LED gunked-ujp hippobikes or suspension-mangled sportbikes, but lots of odd and interesting stuff I never saw before and haven’t seen since; outside of coffee table books. The thing to takeaway from Steamboat is that motorcyclists and motorcycles don’t have to be Public Enemy #1. as weird as it sounds, a motorcycle event could be about creating good will between the 99.999…% of the public who do not ride motorcycles and those of us who do. Otherwise, it’s safe to assume motorcycling’s days on public roads are numbered and we’re likely to end up as the same kind of history as horses and buggies and all of the other unlicensed recreational vehicles. Think about it.

Sep 16, 2019

Sharing the Load

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

When I'm home, which is most of the time these days, a character I've known for years used to regularly stop by the house with his motorcycle in some state of disrepair hoping that I'll drop whatever I'm doing and fix it for him. In my withering years, I'm disinclined to multi-task for anyone at any time and I ignored him until he went away. Along with the "fix this for me" chant, he regularly includes "Why don't we ever ride somewhere together?" 
We bought an RV a couple of years ago and I spent the summer fixing up the damn thing, getting it ready for what I'd hoped would be a 12,000 mile winter trip. By "we," I mean "me." My wife encouraged this purchase, provided the money from a normal inheritance she'd received from her father's estate, and nagged at me to find an RV until I put aside the stuff I wanted to be doing that year and researched RVs until I found something we could live in and that she might be willing to drive. The limitations were serious: has to be normal enough to feel like driving a car, costs under X-dollars, gets good mileage, can be parked in town, and has a collection of "must have" accommodations. Not many US-sold RVs met her requirements, so we ended up with a very low-mileage 2000 Winnebago Rialta. I flew to Portland and drove the damn thing back by myself because she decided, at the last minute, she didn't want to take that trip. Huge warning flags waving right then, but I am as perceptive as a sightless fish and as smart as a sightless worm. 
8,500 miles later and a good portion of the winter spent re-engineering Winnebago and Volkswagen's poor quality assembly attempts, and I know way more about "adaptive transmissions," VW's many quality problems, automotive computer systems, and being an RV owner. My wife, on the other hand, knows almost nothing about any aspect of our vehicle and its functions as a moblie home. I signed up for a couple of users' groups for this vehicle and a woman recently posted, "I had no idea what my husband did with our Rialta until he died last summer and I discovered I didn't know how any aspect of this motorhome worked. I had to spend nearly $2,000 doing the basic maintenance he did every spring for a few hundred dollars and a weekend of puttering around. I didn't even know how the stove worked until one of you showed me at the Nevada rally." I'm not saying my wife is incompetent. She gets around the kitchen pretty well and has sort of adapted to my "everything has a place and belongs in it" Captain Bligh routines, she took over most of the cabin-cleaning duties. I cook, she cleans up afterwards. She's a good driver and put on a few hundred miles behind the wheel on the first half of the trip and a few thousand on the way back. While she knows there is a setup and teardown checklist and can read it off to me, she would be helpless if the roles were reversed. Among our RV-aquaintances, my wife and other wives pretty much agree, "If he weren't with me, I'd sell this thing in a minute." Like motorcycling, RV-ownership appears to be a guy thing.
If I were to "go riding" with the wannabe co-rider about whom I started this rant, I'd be stuck in the same situation, but on a motorcycle. I have always tried to surround myself with people who are smarter than me; and that's not often a difficult task. When I go for distance on my motorcycle, I am exercising my Inner Hermit and I have no desire to babysit anyone. Since I turned thirty, my motto has been "Hermits don't have peer pressure." In fact, I'm going to have a t-shirt made with that on it; in big letters. There are some people with whom I have obligations and I'll set aside my better hermit judgment for them. There are a very few people with whom I would happily travel anywhere, anytime, for as long as they want to go. For everyone else, I'm not going there with you. I have enough problems taking care of myself. Adding you to my load is not on the menu. I've had my kids and you're not them.

Sep 3, 2019

Fast Lane Biker Column #2

At the least, this is curious. My title for this Fast Lane Biker column was "Making Friends Wherever we Go." I think they have decided my subtitle will be "It's Not What You Don't Know" for everything I write for them.

Sep 2, 2019

It’s Not What You Don’t Know

All Rights Reserved © 2019 Thomas W. Day1

Thanks to old age and bad genetics, I’m stuck on a bicycle so far this summer. Double-vision and myasthenia gravis have pretty much taken me off of the motorcycle for an undetermined period; maybe for the rest of my life. Luckily, my generous and adventurous grandson donated his beat up electric bicycle to my cause this winter and, after repairing all of the damage done to that vehicle that he and city salt in 1 1/2 winters of Minneapolis commuting, I started riding it around my current hometown in January and have put about 750 miles on it, as of July. My wife became interested when she saw how much fun I was having on the eBike and I bought her one for Mother’s Day. She’s almost put 250 miles on the eBike since then. Riding with her today was an experience that made me think of something that might fit the August issue’s editor request for “a women-related article that would fit in with our August women rider issue.”

It’s never fair or realistic to stereotype people for sex, race, formal education, or any other major category we humans use to jump to easy conclusions. However, in my experience there are often some significant differences in men and women, outside of biology, and my experience is all I have to go on.

For example, my wife, like every other woman I know seems to be completely uninterested in how things work. I know a few guys like that, but not many. I realize that my acquaintances and friends are self-selected and I don’t have much in common with men who are disinterested in how things work, but I also don’t run into a lot of men like that. Every woman in my life is exactly like that; “Don’t bother me with how it works, just show me how to use it.” Even something as simple as an electric bicycle, my wife is disinterested in how the Pedal Assist System (PAS), derailleur shifter, battery status, brakes, or even the basic handling characteristics of a bicycle that will easily go 20mph; more than fast enough to create some major road rash. She just wants to know the minimum to get the bike in motion and get on with it. No chance she will ever read the 20-page manual, regardless of what might go wrong or what she might learn about her eBike that would enhance her enjoyment and confidence in riding the thing. I have known exactly two women in my life and career who were significantly different from my wife and her and our women friends.

Not knowing how a motorcycle works is a really limiting deficiency. For one, you’re pretty much stuck going any decent distance with other people; probably men who can fix stuff for you. Motorcycles are solo vehicles, by design, regardless of what the pirate parade nitwits may tell you, and clinging to those rolling bowling pin processions is a formula for ending up dead or wounded. Dead is no big deal, but seriously wounded is freakin’ awful. Another flaw in having to rely on someone else to be your technical resource is that the odds on finding a competent person who will take that job are slim-to-none. For the last 40 years, I have always said that if I ever won the lottery, the first thing I would do would be to hire an IT person for my wife. Likewise, I have found a mechanic to mess with her cars, so I don’t have to look at the neglect and abuse those pitiful vehicles suffer.

When it comes to riding skills, tactics, and techniques, motorcycle brand and model choices, and especially the clothes you wear on a motorcycle, if you are not actively making those choices on your own or, worse, basing those decisions on peer pressure, you are not really a motorcyclist (However, you might be a “biker.”). Peer pressure is for high school kids or worse. Style-over-function in a transportation or life-support equipment decision is just dumb. In my years teaching the MSF Basic and Experienced Rider Courses, I was too often asked questions about these things by people who had already made up their minds from poor advice and ignorant observation. In my touristy hometown, for example, about one-out-of-every-two-dozen bikers are wearing helmets and way fewer are wearing decent protective gear or even boots and gloves. I can tell by their posing that they imagine themselves to be such great riders that crashing is just not going to happen. Having been stuck trying to teach a lot of those exact characters how to make evasive maneuvers, use both brakes, keep their eyes ahead looking for hazards and escape routes, safe distances, and arguing with them about “dangerous helmets” and loud pipes saving lives, I’m here to tell you that those folks suck as motorcyclists. (They are state-of-the-art “bikers,” though.)

So, my suggestion for women who want to become motorcyclists is learn how to ride, learn how to maintain your motorcycle (busted fingernails and all), wear motorcycle gear (not Village People costumes), and remember “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you do know that ain’t right.” (Will Rogers) The problem with most of the people who want to give biker-advice is that almost everything they know is wrong.

1This was the first essay I have written for (of all places, Fast Lane Biker Magazine.Check it out. I am, currently, a contributor.

Aug 27, 2019

Get Real Guys

eBikes ought to be a solution to a lot of the world's carbon transportation problems, but too many of the manufacturers are treating the market as if it is only occupied by 1%'ers. Yamaha, for example, is hustling its new Wabash Gravel model for $3500 plus $330 for a rack and fenders. Eric Buell's eBike, the Fuell Fluid, is going for $4,000 or $4,400 with a 2nd battery. Harley has some eBikes in the works and it's safe to assume they'll be asking prime prices. BMW's attempt at high tech eBikes will be in the $3000 to $4000+ price range. Ducati, as you should assume, will be offering eBikes at full motorcycle prices.

I think that is a huge mistake. Right now, Motorcycle dealers are ideally positioned to provide service for hundreds of thousands of eBikes of all brands, which would draw new customers to their showroom floors. Give the competition enough time and motivation and as motorcycle sales continue to tank that advantage will fade away. Bike dealers and mechanics are currently busy whining about having to cope with "complicated" eBike systems and hardware, but they too will either have to figure it out or vanish in the dust of business history. This, like all games, a zero-sum game; not everyone currently in the game will survive. eBike sales are cranking up all over the world and there will be big winners and lots of small losers.

Aug 19, 2019

Are You A Risk Taker or Just a Moron?

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

During an Experienced Rider class late in 2014, my group of smarter-than-typical riders seriously discussed motorcycle gear, riding fast on public streets, and taking risks. The only barely-competent guy in this normal group commented, "If you're not going fast you're not riding." His bike of choice was a classically overweight, underpowered, unmaneuverable hippobike, so I had to assume that his version of "going fast" would be less-than-impressive, outside of his noise output. Still his comment inspired one of the other riders to say, "Watching my kids bang around the house reminded me that I was no longer made out of magic and rubber and I gave up serious off-road racing when I turned 30." The "magic and rubber" comment really stuck with me. 
As my wife and I were near the end zone of getting our house in Little Canada emptied out and ready for sale, I took a walk around our old neighborhood. On the way back home, I flashed back to a decade ago when my grandson was in the early stages of learning how to ride a bicycle. One afternoon after riding to our neighborhood playground he was "racing" me back home when he target-fixated on a group of mailboxes and plowed into them pretty close to full speed. He was, of course, helmeted, gloved, and wearing a little protective padding. I wasn't far behind him and after I'd checked him over, determining that he had nothing more than a big scare and a few scratches, we rode the rest of the way home fairly subdued. While we were putting up the bikes and gear, we had another talk about where you look when you're riding a bicycle: "look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go." In what seemed to me like a few minutes, he'd gone from scared and crying to having forgotten about the crash altogether. The next time we rode to the park, he was back to racing me and every trip after that was uneventful. If I had that same crash I'd probably still be in a wheelchair and scarred for life; helmet or not.
Thinking about that crash reminded me of the series of horrific crashes Garry McCoy demonstrated for the movie "Faster." 

McCoy did not get away harmlessly when he crashed. Between 1998 and 2010, when McCoy finally retired from racing, Garry broke an ankle and a wrist and spent more time than any sane person flying through the air with pieces of his motorcycles scattering in the winds. When McCoy crashed, he crashed spectacularly. But he raced at a world championship level for 18 years and even when he didn't run with the fastest guys he was always fast and fun to watch. Racers know that old saying about motorcycling, "there are riders who have crashed and riders who will crash" is a fact. If they've been riding near their limits for any time at all, they've already joined the "riders who have crashed" group, more than once. 
Once you've done the "flying through the air" thing, you will become far more familiar with the risk involved in riding a motorcycle. Even if you're properly geared up, AGAT from head-to-toe, you'll most likely still be sore the next day and more aware of how slight the margin between seriously broken and almost broken can be. When my grandson crashed his bicycle all I could think about for a few hours was how easily his crash could have been something awful for him and our family. Some of that was due to my own familiarity with crash consequences. In various off-road racing incidents I've broken all of the toes on my left foot, all of my left side and several of the right side ribs, a couple of fingers, and both clavicles (one on a bicycle). Not one of the crashes that resulted in busted body parts was even close to being one of my most spectacular endos. Just a little bit of bad luck and/or poor timing turned what could have been nothing but a good story into a few months of painful recovery. 
When I see riders wobbling down public roads in their "biker underwear" (any outfit that doesn't qualify as AGAT), oblivious to the risk they are taking and the possible consequences of that risk, I'm reminded of my wife's observation, "They're having fun now." It's not difficult to imagine how quickly that fun can turn into disaster. I've seen what happens when skin meets asphalt at speed. It's ugly, painful, and a little disgusting. I've seen a skull turned into something more like a poorly shaped pillow that sagged weirdly into the road. I've crashed my bicycles at 2-25mph, wearing the usual bicycle "gear" and left a whole lot of myself on the road or trail. Even when the road rash barely breaks the skin, if there is enough of it it still hurts a lot and for a surprisingly long time. 
Motorcycling is risky. So, it's fair to say that every time we gear up and swing a leg over a motorcycle, we're assuming risk. With that assumption, it's also fair to say that every time we swing an unprotected leg over a motorcycle we're acting stupidly and pretending the road isn't hard and unforgiving, that mechanical parts don't fail unexpectedly, and that we're unlikely to make a stupid mistake that could result in a crash. There is also the less likely possibility that someone else will do something stupid and crash into us. So, motorcycling without taking the barely-reasonable precautions of going AGAT and being sure our skills are sufficient for the machine we've picked is clearly stupid. So, before you open the garage door and roll your machine into the driveway, I'd recommend asking yourself, "Am I a risk taker or just a moron?"

Aug 11, 2019

Assholes Everywhere

The comments on this page are hilarious.  My wife saw something like this silliness on EuroNews this morning and was convinced I'd be impressed. 

Putin rides like a conservative politician; terrified and awfully. He and his asshole biker buddies are exactly the kind of nitwits we have parading around the Mississippi River Valley every weekend. I'm tellin' you, the apocalypse can't come soon enough. Humans have clearly down-bred to the point of no return.

Aug 9, 2019

Back in Paper

This seems like one of those destined to fail marriages,but for now I'm writing a column (still called "Geezer with a Grudge" for Fast Lane Biker Magazine. This month's issue is the first for me. Like Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly 20-some years ago, Fast Lane is trying to get pissed off reader letters to justify their existence. So, I'm justifying my existence by pissing people off, again.

Jul 29, 2019

The Difference Between Pros and the Rest of Us

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

A young woman wrote the following on a motorcycle list I occasionally follow, "I'm considered/called a 'pro artist' but I don't get paid for my work. Just because someone races and gets paid for it doesn't mean they actually know what they are doing." She was responding to a comment I'd made about how unimpressed I was with all of the "performance" farkle-jabber that went on among the wannabes and street bandits on that list (My exact comment was, "Actually, to be a professional at something you have to be good enough to get paid for it."). Another kid on the list responded with, "You also don't have to be a pro-rider on a race circuit to be considered 'pro.' It's all in experience."
First, let's get the semantics out of the way. Mr. Webster, if you please. 
Pro-fes-sion-al adj
1) a: of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession; b: engaged in one of the learned professions; c: (1) characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace  
2) a: participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs <a professional golfer> b: having a particular profession as a permanent career <a professional soldier> c: engaged in by persons receiving financial return <professional football>
3) following a line of conduct as though it were a profession <a professional patriot>
From the above definitions, I think it's safe to say that being a professional has something to do with getting paid to do the job. Someone "considered/called a 'pro artist'" who does art without compensation is a hobbyist or an amateur. That person might be an excellent artist, but not a professional artist. 
How long would any of the tens of thousands of competent high school or college football players survive an NFL game? In sports--and motorcycle racing is a sport--the difference between professionals and the rest of us is as dramatic as the intellectual space between Stephen Hawking and Bonzo the chimp. Being "courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike"--even adding the gold leaf of "conforming to the technical or ethical standards"--might cut it in the Misfortune 500, but it won't buy you one microsecond of cornering advantage on the race track. Being a pro-rider means you are better than all of the novice, intermediate, and expert amateurs. Getting a substantial investment from a race sponsor or a five-to-seven-figure salary from a manufacturer means you are among the best-of-the-best. Winning national and world championships means you are superhuman.  
When we watch a pro race, it's easy to imagine that kind of skill is normal because the race track is filled with people going fast and making it look easy. Michael Jordan made dunking a basketball look easy, too. Magic Johnson made bullet behind-the-back passes and half-court jump shots look natural and humanly possible. Kenny Roberts convinced a lot of fools that the Yamaha TZ750 was a real dirt track miler, not the deathtrap ("They don't pay me enough to ride this thing," sayeth Kenny) that it really was. NFL quarterbacks pinpoint 60 yard passes into the hands of the quickest runners in human history and we delude ourselves into believing that our cheering helped them perform those incredible feats. I know about this delusion, because I watched Bobby Hannah skip across the tops of chest-deep whoops in 1977 and I thought I could do that if I only had a factory bike. I suspect I couldn't ride a 1976 factory bike on my best day. Being a spectator is a deceiving experience. Hell, television even convinces some of us that science and invention is easy and glamorous. 
It's all bullshit, though. These aren't normal athletes. They aren't ordinary people. What they do is not normal human activity. They are professionals. 
We can argue about how much those talents are worth, financially, but arguing that "it's all in experience" is foolish and arrogant. I've been riding since 1963 and I have a butt-load of "experience." I get paid to teach MSF classes, so I am (in a weak sense) a professional motorcyclist. But I never had a fraction of the talent, dedication, physical ability, or focus to be a professional racer. I have written more than 250 articles for a variety of industry publications (including motorcycling) and that makes me a professional writer. A writer becomes an author when he publishes a book: I am not an author. Experience doesn't amount to squat until you get paid to do the thing, if you want to compare yourself to professionals. All you have to do to gain experience is to stay alive and observe the world around you. 
Professionals don't delude themselves with stupid fantasies. (They may be superstitious, though. I can't explain that.) Pro motorcyclists wear the best protection gear available. They ride motorcycles that have the very best maintenance and state-of-the-art technology. They study the race track, the other racers, their machine, and they integrate all of that information into a performance that produces results or results in early retirement. To be a professional you have to convince someone you are actually worth hard cash. On the race track, you do that by winning races. Nothing else matters.

Jul 22, 2019

Running from the Noise Makers

There are tourist towns and there are tourist towns. Red Wing, MN, (my hometown) seems to really want to spend a lot of taxpayer cash attracting out-of-town money, but only a particular type of money. Like Lost Wages in the 90's, Red Wing is pretty much a town full of geezers (mostly retired) who are terrified of change, young people, and bikers. Our cops, especially, follow the national mode of knowing these assholes are gangbangers and domestic terrorists and they keep a long distance. If there is such a thing as a biker who could pass a DWI test on a typical summer weekend, our cops have no idea what that would look like.

We had some friends visit for a weekend recently and when we went looking for an restaurant on one evening we ratcheted from Smokin’ Oak to Kelly’s to Bayside to downtown, finally settling on one of the downtown restaurants that wasn’t surrounded by bikers and loud drunks (not that the two are a different crowd) and their poorly maintained and highly-illegal cruisers. The fact is, you can’t have it both ways; you are either a family-friendly tourist town or a biker-friendly bar stop. The difference between most cruiser exhaust noise and year-round fireworks is usually that the fireworks are quieter and more entertaining. Concentrating on the biker money means that family entertainment money will go elsewhere.

Back in 2007 and, again, in 2013, Stillwater, MN made some political noise about cracking down on illegal motorcycle and 4-wheel exhaust noise and the biker gangbangers made some seriously threatening noise back. About the same time, Hudson, WI’s City Council, reacting to residents’ complaints, had a similar discussion, attracting a collection of Outlaw bikers to a city council meeting, which scared the local cops into hiding for the evening. That effectively caused Hudson to back down from their resident-friendly position. There is a group, Citizens for a Quieter Stillwater, that has tried to keep this issue upfront in Stillwater, but Stillwater police seem to have been terrorized into pretending this isn’t a policing problem. I get that, biker gangs are high on the FBI’s list of domestic terror groups. There are many good reasons to be afraid of them, but that is supposed to be why police get to carry guns and can (and should) arrest dangerous law-breaking people. (I know, if I am dumb enough believe that the characters who mostly want to wear badges and carry guns are willing to risk their 20-years-and-out retirement plan putting themselves at risk to protect and serve the public, you have a bridge and Thomas Jefferson's airplane you want to sell me.)

A few months back, in answering a question about vehicle noise and disturbing the peace, Red Wing’s Chief of Police made it clear that he is familiar with the state noise laws ( and how they should be enforced. The reasons those laws are not enforced are both economic and pragmatic. Local bars catering to bikers carry a disproportionate amount of political weight and they don’t care much who brings in money as long as there is lots of it. In Minnesota, motorcycle advocacy groups like ABATE (Always Beer at the Event) advocate against helmet laws, motorcycle safety and pollution inspections, mandatory rider training and licensing, and to whine about increasing penalties for right-of-way violators (unless they are bikers). The state legislator was coerced (or terrified) into passing the “Motorcycle Road Guard” law where a mildly-"trained" doofus is allowed to “stop and control traffic for motorcycle group riders”: one of the dumber ideas from our not-too-bright state legislature. Obviously, a smarter approach would have been to enforce rational pirate parades with police examining all of the vehicles in the parade for legal exhausts and fuel systems and breaking up the parade into normaler, traffic-manageable groups. ABATE does an “Annual Bikerday at the Capitol,” where all the group’s pirates dress up in gangsta outfits intended to scare the crap out of the pseudo-conservative lightweights in the capitol and to keep motorcycle legislation off-discussion. It, so far, has worked. 

The average age of US motorcyclists has been going up 2-3 years every year (>50 as of 2018) and the median income is considerably above the US average: $62,500 in 2018. Safety training programs across the country are reducing the number of classes they offer, for example by more than half in Minnesota from the peak 2003-07 period. Motorcycle dealerships are closing or diversifying into ATVs and boats. The number of licensed motorcyclists drastically exceeds the number of motorcycles with valid license tags, indicating that actual ridership is down substantially (and that a regular demonstration of competence should be part of motorcycle license renewal). That last fact is even more dramatic than it seems when you take into account the fact that many/most active motorcyclists own and ride more than one motorcycle. So, this noise and safety issue could be self-solving as bikers age out of the country’s demographic and motorcycle manufacturers price themselves out of existence.
As for the “loud pipes save lives” hype, as a life-long motorcyclist who taught Minnesota motorcycle safety classes for 17 years, I recommend learning how to ride your motorcycle over passive noise makers. 30-to-40-something-percent of Minnesota fatal motorcycle crashes are single-vehicle incidents and common sense would indicate that at least that number of motorcycle crashes are at least in large part the fault of the motorcyclists. The state doesn’t keep any sort of statistics on loud pipes involved in crashes, but there are a LOT of Harley’s and other cruiser models involved in fatal crashes and the most “custom” Harley is one with no pointless modifications done to the exhaust system. So, the evidence appears to be pretty conclusive that the only reason for loud exhaust systems to flaunt disrespect for laws and authority and common decency and peace and quiet.

Jul 15, 2019

Only Mortal

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

In 2008, a few weeks before I took off on a month-long bike trip to eastern North America, I accidentally ran a test on my self-confidence. You'd think that a 60+ year old man would be pretty familiar with his body and his limits, but you'd be wrong. One of the characteristics of folks who take on risky activities like sky diving, scuba, and motorcycling is the need to operate on some level of conviction that "I won't get hurt." Crashing and getting maimed and dying is for other people. They have my sympathy, but I'm not one of those guys. I felt that way, especially, when I was young and raced off-road. Some days--those few when I get out of bed relatively painlessly--I still feel a bit indestructible. 
It's an illusion. A fantasy. A conceit. We're all not only mortal, but a little bit fragile. At speeds beyond a brisk walk, we're downright breakable. Even me.
So, one afternoon after work I was on my way home; taking residential roads, avoiding traffic congestion, and ugly freeways. As I approached a collection of apartment buildings, I saw a trio of kids with arm loads of water balloons. I was in my usual armor. It was a hot July afternoon. They were having fun. I didn't make any special effort to avoid them. As I passed, all three fired off a balloon in my direction. Two balloons harmlessly hit the pavement in front of my bike and splashed a little water on my boots. The third landed right in my lap. 
At first, I was shocked that getting hit by a water balloon wasn't as fun as I remembered it being. My grandson and I toss water balloons at each other all summer (I know, "You could put an eye out doing that.") and nobody ever gets hurt. 
I got hurt. I practically vomited it hurt so much. I've been hit by 200 pound guys in football gear and this was worse. I've hit the ground at 50mph in a dirtbike get-off, this wasn't that bad but it wasn't far off. The pain from the balloon impact was somewhere below crashing and breaking a rack of ribs and way above having a 10 year old grandkid jump on my stomach while I'm lying on the floor watching television. 
Nursing my bruised gut, I did a little research on risk, just to see if I could learn something. I have learned enough about pain, I didn't need any more of that sort of information. The Journal of Sport Behavior had some interesting things to say about risk: "Choosing risk for the sake of risk is not the goal. Rather, while being attracted to activities that offer novel or intense experiences, sensation seekers are willing to accept the potential risks involved."1 The same article considered the mindset of the risk taker, "risk is necessary for sensation seeking to occur but that risk itself is not necessarily the fully intended goal of a sensation seeker. Choosing risk for the sake of risk is not the goal. Rather, while being attracted to activities that offer novel or intense experiences, sensation seekers are willing to accept the potential risks involved."
I'll buy that. Honestly, risk isn't the reason I ride. The risk is the thing I try to avoid while I ride. Riding is certainly a "novel experience," though. Driving a car, riding a bus, pedaling a bicycle, walking, or any other means of transportation have very little in common with the motorcycling experience. Riding a motorcycle is more like flying an ultralight, if an ultralight could maneuver in dense traffic. 
In 1988, a researcher named Bogo found that "high-risk athletes were not fearless, but that they had learned how to handle fear. The climbers he interviewed viewed fear as an acceptable and potentially useful emotion in helping keep them safe." We who ride do that, sort of. I'm not convinced that I think, directly, about the risk of riding. I certainly look out for strange cager behavior (is there another kind of cager behavior?). Maybe I've been riding long enough that fear has morphed into something else; paranoia, for example. However, that balloon-induced dose of intense pain brought back an awareness of fear and mortality.
Getting hurt reminds us that we aren't immortal, bulletproof, infallible, or reliably lucky. Crashing, snagging a fingernail against the edge of a spinning tire, mangling a hand on a sheet metal edge, or getting nailed with a fast-moving water balloon reminds us that it can all be over in an instant. We're indestructible until we destruct. Then, we think about the risks we're taking. We re-evaluate the reward vs. the risk. We decide if the possible consequences of those "intense activities" override the joy we receive from the activity. 
When someone tells me they used to ride a bike, when they were kids, but crashed once and decided it wasn't worth the risk, I know what they are talking about. I've gone through the re-examination process several times; usually while nursing busted bones or some such aggravation. So far, I still feel that what I get from riding is worth what it takes from me. There will be a time where infirmity or risk-aversion makes me re-evaluate that position.

1 "A qualitative examination of risk among elite adventure racers, " Journal of Sport Behavior

Post-Script: As you can guess by the date on this rant, I wrote it more than a decade ago. Another piece the magazine, MMM, editors didn't pick for whatever reason. Having been busted up a few times since I wrote this, I do NOT feel that it is in any way an exaggeration.