Jun 24, 2019

Buy Low, Sell High?

Last winter, when some friends helped me wedge my WR through the garage door into the basement shop, I had high hopes for this spring. In January, I wrote “For the first time since I left California in 1991, I have a warm, well-lit indoor space to work on my bike for the rest of the winter. This will be the most fun spring motorcycle prep in decades.”

Within a month, I began to experience double-vision problems that turned anything that requires vision into headache-inducing misery. The bike is still on the jackstand, exactly where I put it in January; untouched, except for being rolled around to get the shop-vac to all of the basement flooding we “enjoyed” this spring. The double-vision is an early symptom of myasthenia gravis,as Wikipedia puts it, “a long-term neuromuscular disease that leads to varying degrees of skeletal muscle weakness. The most commonly affected muscles are those of the eyes, face, and swallowing.” My father suffered from this disease in the last two decades of his life and it isn’t pretty. This isn’t just the end of my motorcycling life, but driving a cage, bicycling, walking, eating, drinking, and breathing are all up for grabs.

My eyes have never been anything special, as anyone who saw me on a motocross track could attest. I have been legally blind in my left eye since childhood and my right eye has been going far-sighted for more than a decade and both eyes are clouded by cataracts. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, though. Two mediocre eyes are better than one. Stereoscopic vision and binocular depth perception is greatly undervalued until you don’t have it. I can’t even reliably reach for a glass of water and expect a predictable result. I wear an eye patch most of the time, which mostly reinforces my low opinion of my crappy right eye.

A long-time rule of mine has been “when in doubt, throw it out.” I applied that rule, last spring, to my trusty 2004 V-Strom and sold it to someone who would use it as much and as seriously as I did. Off and on that summer, I missed the 650 and, occasionally, wished I still had it, but mostly I wished I wasn’t 70, worn-out, and lame. By June, 2018 I decided I had taught my last MSF class and “retired” from the Minnesota program. I had pipe-dreams of doing adventures on the WR, though: going places I would no longer have the gumption to take a bike as large and heavy as the V-Strom. Clearly, that isn’t in the cards.

What prompted this was my motorcycle insurance premium notice and 2019 ID cards just arrived in the mail. For the first time in 50-some years, I am not going to be putting out a few hundred dollars to insure my motorcycle(s). For the time being, I will put that envelope aside, on the desk, hoping that something changes and I get another year of riding; by some miracle. I am waffling, but I need to take the bike out of the garage, do some of the basic maintenance tasks to get the bike ready to sell, and write up an ad. But, for now, I’m going for a bicycle ride while I still can.

Jun 17, 2019

Why It's Not So Obvious

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

"Wear all the gear all the time." 
"Never go anywhere without full protection."

". . .  there is no doubt after the first time a young kid crashes his little motorcycle that the idea of what might happen, and that it can hurt, takes hold."1

"Approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death; a comparable figure for automobiles is about 20 percent."

You've heard it all. The politically correct choices are AGAT (All the Gear, All the Time) or Most of the Gear, All of the Time (MOGAT). Don't get me wrong. The intelligent choice is to gear up every time you ride. That idiot's claim, "If I think I'm going to do something risky, I'll put on the gear," makes about as much sense as saying "If I think I'm going to crash, I'll wear a helmet." Riding is risky. If you think you're going to crash, don't ride. Why that isn't obvious is lost on me. 
Those of us who started riding as kids probably have a better feeling for the disconnect between good gear advice and reality. My first (1964 or 65) racing gear was a pair of Converse high top canvas tennis shoes, a pair of Justin leather work gloves, Levis, a jean jacket, and sunglasses. I was racing either a left-turn only circle or on a modified figure "B" track with 4-6 equally well-dressed young men. None of us had ever seen a helmet outside of WWII movies. Nobody was shooting at us, so why would we need helmets? There was no AMA or any other rule-setting organization to interfere with our insanity. We just showed up at the track a couple of miles outside of town and rode 5-lap races until we got tired. A few months of that and we started putting a few dollars into a pile and awarding prize money. Someone set up a hotdog stand and sold drinks out of a cooler. Money changed hands and we kept racing in spite of the commerce. A few guys got hurt: broken arms, toes, fingers, and such. Most of us managed to get through a day of racing with no more than a few cuts and bruises.
Later, when I really got into off-road riding, I adopted a 3/4 helmet, gloves, lineman's boots, and lightly padded jeans and a nylon jersey. I crashed a lot, at races and in practice and goofing around. Between ages 20 and 28, I spent a fair amount of time flying over the bars, sliding down the road with the bike in front or behind me, flipping over backwards, and crumpled in a heap. All through that period, I managed to go uninjured. The lesson I took from all that good fortune was obvious: I am indestructible. I wasn't foolish enough to really believe that I couldn't be hurt. I got hurt often at work. I just managed to convince myself that on a motorcycle, I was "too good" to get busted up.
In early 1976, that all came to an end. Practicing for Sunday's motocross, I managed to crash and break all of the toes on my left foot. My brand new Hi-Point boots had to be cut off of my foot because the foot swelled up so quickly that I couldn't get the boot off myself. I might have cried when that happened, not from pain but from seeing my $150 boots ruined. $150 was a lot of money (for me) in 1976. A few months later, practicing again, I crashed and broke all the ribs on my left side. That event ended my period of invulnerability. I have rarely since thought of myself as being lucky, tough, or unbreakable. From then out, I was clear on how much pain I could tolerate and how quickly that point could be passed.
The difference between me and a real motorcycle racer was that new vulnerability added several seconds to my lap time and I never regained the confidence I needed to go WFO for extended periods. I kept riding and racing for the next four years, but I spent those years in the back of the pack. In 1982, I sold my dirt bikes and bought a used Honda CX500, upon which I moved myself to California in the early spring of 1983. My family followed a few months later by train. As insignificant as it was, my racing "career" was finished and I have never since lined up at a start gate with twenty testosterone-jacked young (or old) men. 
I have, however, put nearly a half-million miles on a collection of street bikes in several states and two non-US countries. Mostly, I've managed to stay rubber-side-down on my street bikes and the only breaks in that record have been on outback single-track trails or gravel roads. With that many hours on the road without mishap, it would be easy to start shedding gear.  I wear more equipment on my daily commute than I used to wear racing. What kind of sense does that make? Why not drop the armored pants? What could it hurt to ride in light-weight comfortable shoes occasionally? I'm just going to work, why bother with the helmet? Big Minnesota Mommy says I only need to wear eye protection and a speedo. If she doesn't think I need all that gear, what am I wearing it for? 
I've seen the results of naked biker crashes and it's not pretty. The lucky guys bust their heads open and die on the spot. The unluckiest guys end up sucking the meals out of a straw and staring at a hospital ceiling for the rest of their lives. In between, people spend their lives recovering from a fraction-of-a-second lapse. I'm not man enough to risk that for a little breeze blowing in my hair or the relief from a few degrees of discomfort. I like my skin where it is and my bones properly connected. I'll give it to you straight: I'm a coward. "I cover the stuff I want to keep."

Jun 10, 2019

A Motorcyclist Looks at Motorcycles

Red Wing, this time of year, has a lot of pirate traffic. It’s a small town on the Mississippi River with good restaurants and lots of bars, polite and light traffic, wide roads with remedial curves designed for truck traffic, and decent scenery. This is the place for which Harleys and Indians were designed. So, the irritating sound of badly tuned tractor motors (potato-potato-potato and rub-rub-rub) decorates our evenings and weekends most every mild summer day. Our cops, like cops everywhere, can’t tell the real gangbangers on cruisers from the wannabe gangbangers on cruisers. So, they’re afraid of them all, including the dentists and stockbrokers, and let them wobble down our streets in packs of unskilled idiots, just like everywhere. There are days when most locals avoid our favorite restaurants because they’ll be littered with pretend-pirates and all-too-real assholes covered in patches and colors.

I, on the other hand, am either on a bicycle or in a cage (as a passenger or a tentative driver) these days. My eyesight is not getting better, which likely means my motorcycle days are done. So, I find myself at frontage road intersections like this one looking down my blind side (left) at traffic, making my best guess at oncoming vehicle distances and speeds, and planning a right turn into the right-hand lane. As Keanu would ask, “What would you do?” There is a truck in the on-coming left lane, about 1/4 of a mile away on a 55mph four-lane highway and a stop light about 1/4 of a mile down the road from this intersection, so traffic will likely be slowing about the time I'm up to speed and in my lane. I'm turning right, so I should be able to merge into the right lane without any issue, right? What if that truck was a Harley with the usual gearless pirate dangling from the handlebars? What if it were a parade of clueless pirates?

As a life-long (50+ years) motorcyclist and retired motorcycle safety instructor, I have a different take on the “start seeing motorcyclists” bullshit. I know, on average, motorcyclists are the most incompetent people on the road; either on their motorcycles or in their cars. When I see one, two, a half-dozen, or fifty motorcyclists in the lane I am hoping to join or even in another lane, at practically any distance, I am forced to wait for them to pass. Not because I don’t believe I can get into the lane and up to traffic speed in a decent interval, but because I know 99% of the nitwits on two-wheels in my town are totally incompetent (unfortunately that applies to bicyclists, too). Any sort of complication in the road ahead of them will cause insanely inappropriate panic and generally foolish behavior and I might end up with some moron plastered across the back of my pickup. It’s not worth the hassle. So I wait.

I admit that my estimation of the rider’s skill is dramatically guaged against the brand and style of motorcycle. If it’s a cruiser, I automatically assume total incompetence. If I’m wrong, it’s a pleasant surprise; but a rare one. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is geared-up, I assume moderate skills with undetermined judgement. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is helmet-less., bare armed and legged, and perched on the bike like he’s straddling a too-big butt-plug, I’m back to assuming total incompetence with zero judgement capacity. If its a geared-up adventure biker or, even better, a dual-purpose biker I take no special precautions. That one group can generally be trusted to be at least as competent as the rest of traffic. I don’t have the eyesight to pick commuters from joy-riders, but if I did I’d be pretty confident in the commuters’ skill, too; regardless of motorcycle style.

NOTE: If your take on traffic and commuting is, “I don’t ride to work on my motorcycle because everyone else on the road is out to kill me” you are a moron and not even close to being skilled enough to ride a motorcycle on public roads. Welcome to the sad, overwhelming majority of the motorcycle clan. I'm sure you'll be comfortable in whatever bar they are contaminating.

Sad, isn’t it? The people I’ve been associated with for most of my life, musicians and motorcyclists, are pretty much the bottom of the gene pool in most of society’s rankings. Honestly, other than through Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, my motocross and trials years, and the safety instructor gig, I may have been associated with motorcyclists but I rarely associated with them. I have fewer than a dozen friends (and a brother) who I would consider riding anywhere near. I almost always travel alone and use groups of motorcycles as an indicator of where not to go or be. You can’t really be a musician without being around other musicians, so there is that association that is totally fair.You can be a motorcyclist without knowing a single other motorcyclist. In fact, most likely the fewer motorcyclists you know the more likely it is that you are a competent motorcyclist. Knowing exactly zero "bikers" is always a good sign.

I admit it, I feel "put upon" by being required to babysit these incompetents. Worse, after I give their inabilities lots of safety margin, these idiots assault me with their exhaust noise and pollution and my local cops don't even give them a look. That's injury added to insult added to wasted time. The accommodations our culture makes for bikers so that a few bar owners can optimize their profits at the expense of the rest of society is a red flag of insanity.

Jun 3, 2019

Are Motorcycles History?

Scanning my old employer’s website, I noticed that Century College's Basic Rider Course schedule for 2019 includes fewer classes, in total, than I used to teach almost at that school in a single season: down from more than 100 courses on 3 ranges to 26 courses on one range. Dakota Tech is down by similar numbers: from more than 80 courses on 4 ranges to 41 on two ranges this season. According to friends who still teach, last year DCTC cancelled a lot of it's classes, often the day before the class was scheduled to run. St Paul College is scheduling 26 courses. I retired last year, after all of my classes in Red Wing and all but one at DCTC cancelled in 2017 and I had my first bout with double-vision. Staying certified was going to be more of a hassle and expense than it would be worth. (That turned out to be an understatement as my double-vision root-cause has been diagnosed as myasthenia gravis.)

At least in Euro-ville, 60% of all new bicycle sales are eBikes. I can't find a solid figure for the US, but based on the growth of a few name companies that can't keep up with the orders I suspect that's a shift here, too. The industry word is that ebike growth is exponential and motorcycle sales are in decline. If you do a Google search on "motorcycle dealers closing" limited to the last year only, you get a depressing number of hits; including insider stories about how motorcycle imports and exports are slowing up practically everywhere. These are interesting times. That “change” thing is proving itself to still be a constant.

Lots of dealers, like River Valley in Red Wing, didn't see much of a recovery in motorcycle sales after 2007-12 and moved on put more effort into boats and ATVs. A bunch of dealers (especially on the coasts) are adding eBikes to their sales floors. Yamaha, Ducati, and KTM either have eBikes to sell or are in serious development. Hardly just bought a kids' ebike company. Of course, HD could just be recognizing how lame their customers are and acting accordingly. Yamaha's eBikes are grossly overpriced: $4-6k, but they might figure it out before they totally lose their place in consumers' sights. KTM's offerings will probably need a mortgage refi, but their victims always seem to have spare cash or credit.

One of the funniest things I've read about this business and customer shift has been from traditional bicycle shops who imagine that repairing eBikes is "different" or more complicated than fixing a motorcycle. Current breed bike shops often charge as much as $50-80 to swap out an ebike tire, especially a back tire on rear-hub driven models. eBike repairs are different than motorcycle repairs, for sure; about 1Mx easier. Anyone who can troubleshoot fuel injection or electronic ignition could do anything necessary on an eBike without any training at all.