Nov 2, 2020

How Do You Know I “Can’t Ride?”

One of the local gangbangers was justifying his noise maker on the grounds of “safety,” and I recommended, as always, that he invest some time in learning how to ride competently. His response was, “How do you know I can’t ride?” A quick look at his social media page had turned up a picture of him on his goober-mobile and it was pretty much what you see in the drawing to the right. So, how do I know he can’t ride?

  1. In this drawing, the “rider”1 is wearing a jacket, boots, and jeans. No helmet, of course. While that isn’t even close to decent protective gear, the real gooberboy’s picture showed him in a wifebeater, lowtop tennis shoes, and a scraggly pony tail. I know he can’t ride because if he could he’d know how fast shit can go bad and how much blood, skin, and mobility he is going to lose when he hits the asphalt.
  2. The bike the dude in the conversation rides is just as disabled as the mechanical junk depicted in this picture. Everything from the feet-forward rolling-gynecologists'-chair riding position to the extended forks to the low ground clearance screams “this is a crash waiting to happen.” Obviously, the rider and the bike are overweight and under-equipped to cope with any emergency. Actions like stopping quickly, swerving to avoid an obstacle, getting up on the pegs to add stability and reduce suspension-load (as if this thing has a suspension), or even turning sharply without running out of ground clearance because of the exhaust parts or hard-mounted foot pegs are all out of this “rider’s” reach because the “design” of the motorcycle is non-functional. I’m not an emergency nurse, but I’d join them in calling this a “murdercycle.” It’s a stage prop, at best, but a completely disabled and incompetent vehicle to the point that it might as well be a trike. You know that “closed course use only” stamp that’s on your illegal exhaust pipe? This vehicle should have “for garage candy use only” written on the tank.
  3. What other clues did I have that led me to assume the character in this story can’t ride? My favorite reason of all, we got into this conversation from one of those “I had to lay’er down” stories. If you know much about me, you know I have no respect for that claim. I don’t care if it is made by some newbie or a motorcycle cop, if you fall down in your attempt to stop, you screwed up. You panicked, screamed, and fell over and tried to sell that as an intentional evasion tactic. Likewise, this goober couldn’t intentionally lay down a motorcycle with help in his garage. Just like the fruitcake in the drawing, he never uses his front brake for ordinary stops, but rides with a finger or three resting on the brake lever and when an emergency happened, he grabbed it and discovered that he had no idea how that brake works. In my character’s situation, that extended fork collapsed with the stress (Surprise!) and his already limited ground clearance vanished and he was instantly metal-on-metal. Then he “laid ‘er down.” Right.
  4. Finally, this ain’t my first rodeo. In my 18 years of teaching MSF courses for the state of Minnesota I taught about 40 of the old ERC (Experienced Rider Course) and a dozen of the renamed version of the same course, the IRC (Intermediate Rider Course). I have suffered the abuse of loud Harley exhausts and spectacular rider incompetence and seen these characters ride straight through obstacle ranges because “my bike can’t do stuff like that” or stop about 20’ beyond the minimum exercise distance because “I’m afraid of the front brake.” There are exceptions, for sure, and they are exceptional. One of the Minnesota Expert Rider instructors is a Minneapolis motorcycle cop and he does amazing things on his huge Harley. Of course, his bike is pretty much bone stock (which makes it the most unusual of all Harley’s on the road). It isn’t loud, it has a functional suspension, and he is a spectacular rider. Otherwise, 99.999% of the time, I can safely assume if you are on a Harley, especially a chopper, you are not a competent rider because you are not riding a competent motorcycle. You might think the stereotype is unfair, but so is life. I love it when someone proves me wrong, but you will be going against the grain when you try.

1 I keep putting “rider” in quotes because I don’t consider these characters in any way in charge of the direction of travel or speed their motorcycle takes. A more accurate description of these characters would be “handlebar streamers.” They are just dangling from the handlebars waiting for a crash to happen after which they’ll whine about how their “right of way” was violated or someone didn’t property sweep the street for debris or some other excuse that no actual motorcyclist would ever claim. When they crash, and they crash a lot, it’s never their fault and someone else is always supposed to get the blame and responsibility.


Oct 30, 2020

What Really Signals the End?

 

Selling your last and only motorcycle is pretty traumatic. From experience, I can say that it doesn’t feel final. You can always buy another motorcycle. And I could, even if nothing I ever own will never be as tricked-out and personalized as my last two bikes. I owned my 2004 V-Strom 650 and 2008 Yamaha WR250X longer than any other motorcycles in my life. I put more miles on a few other bikes, but those two were as close to being “friends” as inanimate objects can be for me; even more so than my guitars or my favorite microphones. Still, if I found myself recovering from this MG thing and felt confident in my ability to go places and return reasonably safely and reliability, I could find a satisfactory motorcycle, saddle up, and ride off into the sunset. It could happen, but it likely won’t.

If you’ve followed the train of my thoughts over the years, you know I’m not fond of being owned by stuff. I own a lot of motorcycle stuff, not even close to the least are my two Aerostich Darien suits. Sandwiched between the two Dariens is a non-descript black armored nylon jacket that my wife liked a lot and a Cortech DSX jacket with the now-extinct Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly logo embroidered on the back. I’ve had the grey Darien suit and the Cortech jacket since 2006, the black nylon jacket for at least 30 years, and the HiViz Darien AD1 prototype and off-the-shelf Darien AD1 pants since 2011. I have put more than 100,000 miles on the pair of Dariens, crashed in sharp gravel and survived in the grey suit, had my lack of attention to traffic rescued by the HiViz suit (more than once), and had hundreds of wonderful conversations started in coffee shops and motorcycle events by the embroidery on the Cortech jacket. (Don’t minimize that last one. I am, by nature, a loner and an introverted  wallflower. Possessing a conversation starter is no small thing for me.) 

Behind those jackets are the last of 3 full coverage helmets in their storage bags. That small group is left over from a pile of on and off-road helmets I gave away when we left Little Canada in 2015. On the bottom of that shelf is a large plastic storage box that houses spare gloves, cold weather gear, storage bags, tank bags, camping gear, and stwo sets of MC boots: my Gaerne Goretex road boots, and a pair of barely-used Icon Patrol Boots.

On the other pole, is the Giant Loop saddle bags for the WR, a couple of Camelback water storage packs, an Aerostich courier bag, and a couple other shoulder bags. In the garage is a toolbox full of special motorcycle tools, an Aerostich wheel balancer, a bead breaker, and a box full of farkles, parts, and stuff I never got around to putting on my bikes before I sold them.

This kind of gear will be hard to get rid of because, as I always told my motorcycle safety students, “Buy the best gear you can afford and buy a motorcycle with whatever money is left.” I did that. So, if I sell or give away my gear, going back to motorcycling will be at least a $2,000 entry fee; before I even look for a motorcycle. At my age, fixed income, and overall motivation level, that resembles an insurmountable obstacle.

Back in the 70s, my riding gear was pretty basic: a 3/4 helmet, lineman’s boots, very lightly armored coveralls, Justin roper gloves, and a set of hockey shoulder pads I wore under my nylon jersey and canvas jacket (in cool weather). In the mid-70s, I blew it out and bought a pair of $100 Malcom Smith ISDT boots and within a month, I’d high-sided and crashed practicing for the weekend motocross and, when the bike landed on my heel as I slid face-first toward a pile of busted-up concrete, I ended up with all of the toes on my left foot broken and had to have that boot cut off. I did not spend big money on gear again until I moved to California in 1983 and, thanks to a wet, cold spring I mail-ordered a brand new Aerostich Roadcrafter and ventured into a life in real motorcycle gear; mostly. I admit, during those early years I occasionally went for comfort and just a simple leather jacket and jeans instead of the ‘Stich, but I have been very lucky for most of my life. By the time I left Colorado in 1995, I was a committed AGAT guy and there have been more than a few times when that habit saved my skin, skull, bones, and life.

I have discovered a different kind of emotional attachment to the riding gear than I had for my actual motorcycles. Obviously, I was closer to the gear, pun intended. I never slept on the bike, but there were more than a few sub-freezing nights that I slept in my Darien suits and a few where the Darien backpad and my gloves provided a picnic table sleeping mattress. Through my gear, I got to meet and become friends with Andy Goldfine, Aerostich’s owner and chief designer, and the crew of that great American company. Over the years, I’ve spent at least $3,000 with Aerostich, attended 3 of their Very Boring Rallies, and used RiderWearHouse as an excuse for an afternoon or weekend ride to Duluth too many times to remember. I bought the Gaerne Goretex boots from Ryan Young, in person, at one of the US Trials Championship rounds at Spirt Mountain in Duluth. At least three of the coolest camping trips I ever enjoyed was done on my Yamaha WR250X with the gear stored in my Giant Loop Coyote Saddlebag. I took my grandson for a 3,300 mile motorcycle trip to, through, and back through the Rocky Mountains—and home again—wearing my Darien. I wore that same suit to Alaska and back, for 13,000 miles in 26 days, in 2007. Again, in 2009 I wore that gray Darien across Canada from Sault Ste. Marie to Quebec City to Halifax where I picked up my wife wearing that black nylon jacket, her luggage, and we slogged 100 miles through the worst rainstorm I’ve ever experienced.

Damn, I have some attachments to this stuff, but someone else will get use out of it and my kids won’t have the slightest idea how to find it a home. I’m gonna have to do it.

Geezer Column October: What Really Signals the End?

Aug 3, 2020

Where Is This All Going?

If there is an upside to the apparent end of my motorcycle life, it might be that I sold the two motorcycles while there was still a market for them. I sold my “big bike,” my 2004 Suzuki V-Strom last spring for pretty much Blue Book list with almost 100,000 miles on the odometer. My Yamaha WR250X went this April for a decent price after two weeks on Craig’s List. I suspect the arrival of the economic stimulus checks had something to do with that sale, although the buyer was a 17-year-old kid from Wisconsin driving a newer pickup than I will ever own.

Rural Minnesota’s coronavirus lock-down isn’t overwhelmingly restrictive and my wife and I have taken a couple of leisurely drives along Wisconsin 35, south toward Lacrosse. With an immune deficiency disease, I’m the posterboy for this disease’s “most likely to suffocate” award. So, we don’t stop where anybody else is standing around, we don’t shop, stop for restaurant food, or spend much money. We’re just breaking the plague quarantine routine for an hour or so. The last time we made that trip, I counted 17 motorcycles for sale parked in yards and driveways in a 40 mile drive. It is a glutted market. The overwhelming majority of bikes for sale are cruisers and the dominate brand on that used market is Harley. 

Harley’s current economic situation, only slightly worse than before the Trump Recession due to a decade of declining sales, is reflective of that change in the seas. Motorcyclists and, especially, bikers are getting older, from a 1985 median age of 27 to a 2003 average of 41 and somewhere between 51 and 60-something (depending on whose stats you trust) by 2020. In the US, motorcycles are just expensive recreational vehicles to 99.9% of riders; most of whom are too incompetent and timid to commute or ride in city traffic. One aspect of those statistics is grossly and incorrectly skewed by the fact that practically every US driver who ever took a motorcycle license test automatically renews that endorsement for a few bucks every 4 to 6 years; because they can without any evidence of riding competence. So, actual rider age is probably lower than those numbers but actual motorcyclists’ numbers are also far smaller than the estimated 10 million households (who are mostly storing a motorcycle under a tarp in the back of a shed). Like that motorcycle endorsement, many bike owners reflexively pay the tabs every year for a motorcycle that rarely travels further than it takes to move it out of the way of the lawnmower or snowblower. 

What does it mean for motorcycling? Hell if I know, but I know a lot of people in the industry are beginning to hedge their two-wheeled bets into other recreational areas.

The owner of Aerostich, Andy Goldfine, has talked a lot over the years about the value of motorcycling to society and he and his company sponsor events that try to illustrate motorcycles utility; like Ride to Work Day. In his blog, Andy talks a lot about the motorcycle market from the perspective of someone whose primary business is selling gear to the tiny percentage of motorcyclists (not bikers) who ride every day and depend on their motorcycle for transportation. That group appears to be shrinking and Aerostich is looking around for their next market. It’s possible it might be serious eBike riders (the fastest growing segment of the US two-wheeled industry).

Our position in the world is reflected by motorcycle data, too. Lance Oliver, in his blog The Ride So Far, reflected on this in his essay, “The U.S. market is increasingly unimportant in the motorcycle world": “Here in the United States, we have a way of making ourselves sound bigger than we are. We call ourselves ‘the Americans’ even though we’re a small part of the Americas and we hold a World Series without inviting other countries to participate. In the motorcycle world, however, it’s impossible to mistake the fact that the U.S. market is becoming smaller and less important with every passing year.” The 2007 Bush Great Recession really illustrated that when a 90% reduction in Honda’s US motorcycle sales resulted in less than a 3% decrease in their world motorcycle sales. The world is growing and the American Century ended at the millennium. Maybe that was the real Y2K bug?

In this country, motorcycling is a lame excuse for “lifestyle goobers” and barely a recreational vehicle. I think that sucks. The old fat guys on Harleys, and their unemployable offspring, have sucked the life out of motorcycling as transportation. Their 500 miles/year posing flat out turns off anyone who might otherwise think a motorcycle is “cool.” Their pirate parades generate more hatred toward motorcyclists than all of the Hells Angel movies ever produced. Their insistence on white privileges without responsibility makes every motorist on the highway want to “unintentionally” wander into a motorcycle’s path just to watch the likely Laugh-In tricycle action. When a pack of biker gangbangers gets squashed on the highway, most people think, “good riddance.”

As cars become safer, quieter, more fuel efficient, tolerating incompetent and arrogant bikers becomes less sustainable. What do we do to try and mitigate that? We slap louder pipes on our lawnmower-motor “hawgs,” collect in even bigger gang demonstrations, campaign for special treatment and even more roadway privileges, and make greater “contributions” to highway crashes and mortality while fighting rational licensing, helmet, and traffic safety laws. Any fool could see where this is all heading, but we’re special fools and we’re going to drive this chopper right over the cliff.

Jul 21, 2020

The High Cost of Overconfidence and Timidity Combined

This kind of “adventure” is sort of asking for trouble (not saying I never did anything this dumb, but I was on a LOT smaller bike when I did), but if you’re going to do it, do it fast.

Jul 17, 2020

PT Hot Tip

On Sunday, I got a really nasty reminder that I’m old. (I know, that’s what mirrors are for.) My wife and I were going for an early morning bike ride and while I was waiting for her to get ready, I attempted to swing my leg over the bike and ended up lying in the middle of one lane of our county road. In a matter of a fraction of a second, I went from feeling pretty good for a 72-year-old man to feeling like someone had driven nails into my left knee. Just before the lights went out, I felt something pop in or near my left knee and the leg totally gave out; toppling me onto my back, bouncing my safely helmeted head off of the asphalt, and leaving me squirming on the road in pain. 

Getting back up without the use of my left leg was difficult. Once I was able to stand, I discovered I could flex my knee without much pain and my general leg strength seemed good. Being a guy, since I had started the day off expecting to go for a bike ride I went for a bike ride. Mostly, I did fine, but every time I stopped getting off and on the bike was painful. By the time I gave up and came back home, my left leg would barely support me and climbing the basement stairs was really painful. 

My wife had a knee replacement last fall and we still have the cold therapy machine the Mayo Clinic sent home with her. I used up a 15 pound bag of ice on the knee for the rest of Sunday. And I did lots of leg lifts with both legs, but especially the left one while I was trapped in a chair with the icing machine. 

The next day, Monday, I boiled my leg in the bathtub, first thing, and hobbled around doing what I could after loosening it up with some flexes, stretches, and leg lifts. Monday was a rough day. Any sort of side-load on the left leg brought shouting-level pain. My wife has struggled with knee pain for years and I was moving almost at her pace for the first time since I had a hip replaced in late 2011. My empathy for her problems and pain has always been moderated by her complete resistance to any serious physical therapy (PT). This injury gave me some direct and personal perspective on the pain she’s experienced, though. 

It wasn’t hard for me to imagine, though, that if this level of pain and disability lasted I might end up being a non-stop whiner. After a day of limping around and getting the occasional shock when I planted my left foot slightly off of dead flat, I was seriously thinking about a peg leg. It would take a lot for me to get used to going up and down stairs slowly and one-step-at-a-time. I mean, carefully lift the right foot to a step while using the handrail for at least 50% of my weight, then lifting the left foot to the same step, pause for pain recovery, and repeat. Between spurts of activity on Monday, I was in a chair, usually re-reading Jim Bouton’s Ball Four for the n-teenth time. Every moment I was in a chair, I was doing leg lifts. By the end of Monday, my leg was feeling much stronger, I had less pain, and it was obvious that my damage was in either a tendon or a muscle; not the actual knee or cartilage in that hinge. That is, by the way, usually the case with knee pain in the beginning. Let the muscle deterioration go one long enough, then you’ll start chewing through meniscus and causing destructive inflammation.  In retrospect, I think I strained or ruptured the lateral collateral ligament. 

Tuesday, I got out of bed, tentatively tested the knee while I sat on the edge of the bed, got up and on with my day, almost normally. By Tuesday morning, I would estimate that I had held my left leg in the air, unsupported by anything but the muscles necessary for that position, for at least 3 hours. For most of the day, I pretty much went through my normal tasks and activities normally. Any time there was a bit more than 10-15o of outside side load (think bow-legged) I’d get a minor twinge reminder that I was still injured. Otherwise, I was most of the way back to normal. To the point that I hiked up our backyard hill to fill the bird feeders and do some construction work on the outside of the house; ladder work, even.

Wednesday, as I write this, I would say I am about 80% back-to-normal. Remember, that is a 72-year-old “normal,” so I’m unlikely to ever be a physical specimen anyone sentient would aspire to. Especially me. At noon today, I have racked up 8 hours of leg lifts since Sunday afternoon. As a matter of fact, my left leg is lifted as I write this and has been almost constantly since I began. 

And that is the “hot tip” I promised in the title of this essay; leg lifts for knee injuries.
 
35 years ago, I was bicycling to work 5-10 miles one-way almost every day in California. After a couple years of that, my knees hurt badly enough that I quit wearing long pants. The weight of the pants on my kneecaps was so painful that I could barely stand it. Like all good Californians, I went looking for an instant fix: surgery. Somewhere in that same period, I crashed my bicycle racing downhill and busted my left collarbone. I went through an extensive period of getting lousy advice from doctors and orthopedic surgeons before I finally lucked into a young sports medicine doctor. My collarbone had been fractured and unstable for almost a month by then and he convinced me that surgery, at this point, would be likely to fail. He prescribed a support brace that was actually strong enough that I wouldn’t be able to shrug is loose. He also gave me a PT routine that involved grinding the edges of the fracture to reopen the injury at the bone to restart the natural healing process. Within a month, the collarbone had fused, although fairly misaligned, and I was back on a bicycle and enjoying my screwed up knees again. I went to that same doctor about my knee pain. 

His advice was, since I spent a lot of my work days in meetings, anytime I’m seated “stick that leg out and hold it there as long as you can.” The idea was that bicycling is mostly an posterior (backside) muscle/tendon activity which strengthens those connective tissue structures until they overwhelm the functions of the anterior (front) muscles. That allows the patella, for example, to wander across the area it has traditionally been positioned, grinding up the ligaments and meniscus. The backside of the patella is grooved from years of wear and blood flow and those grooves align with similar wear on the connective tissue and meniscus. Allowing new position and movement of the patella uses those grooves as a sort of file. [I realize this is a really pitiful explanation of what really goes on. However, it is pretty close to the dumbed-down explanation my doctor provided and how his recommendation might correct my knee pain. 

He also said, if that didn’t work, we could always “try surgery.” 

So, 35 years ago I started sticking my leg out as straight and high as I could get it anytime I was at my desk, in a meeting, at a restaurant, or sitting down for any other reason. 35 years ago, that exercise absolutely fixed my knee pain. Even more incredibly, when I overstressed my knee this past week, a few hours of leg lifts helped me get back to my life in three freakin’ days. Now you know. 

I’ve given this advice to a half-dozen friends with knee pain in the last 30-some years and not a one of them has ever had to resort to knee surgery. On the other hand, I suspect my wife hasn’t done an hour of leg lifts in the last 30 years and she still has knee pain, had a knee replacement last fall that she still describes as “horrible,” and moves with lots of pain and general difficulty. Your choice, I guess. 

Jul 13, 2020

Mufflers Are for Pussies?

A few weeks ago, I wondered why it was so hard for Minnesota city and state cops to figure out how to enforce Minnesota’s vehicle noise laws. Minnesota State Statute 169.69 states: "Every motor vehicle shall at all times be equipped with a muffler in good working order which blends the exhaust noise into the overall vehicle noise and is in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise, and no person shall use a muffler cutout, bypass or similar device upon a motor vehicle on a street or highway. The exhaust system shall not emit or produce a sharp popping or crackling sound. Every motor vehicle shall at all times be equipped with such parts and equipment so arranged and kept in such state of repair as to prevent carbon monoxide gas from entering the interior of the vehicle. No person shall have for sale, sell or offer for sale or use on any motor vehicle any muffler that fails to comply with the specifications as required by the commissioner of public safety." This, of course, is a fairly stupid law that was clearly written to satisfy some federal minimum for noise pollution and clearly does nothing to protect residents from semi-grown children who just can’t get enough attention in any positive way. Minnesota is not alone in the “gutless noise laws intended to do nothing” category. Based on this map, I’d say there are 9 states with enforceable laws (which doesn’t mean they enforce them) and the rest are pretty much lawless by design in this regard. 

I made the mistake wondering this on a local “Ask the Chief” city webpage and got a totally bullshit answer from the Chief, “Yes, the State of Minnesota law covers muffler vehicle noise." But he made it clear that it was the job of local residents to, literally, identify and detain lawbreakers and, then, to prove the vehicle violated the law. So, no, there is no actual Minnesota vehicle noise law and please don’t ask again. 

A side-effect of asking this question was that that a bunch of local bikers got downright hysterical about the thought that someone might think their noise-making was illegal and should be fixed. One of those geniuses said, “mufflers are for pussies” as his justification for needing more attention than spoiled 13-year-old girls. 

Someone else replied, “I thought that’s what Harley’s were for?” And things went downhill from there. It is true that actual motorcyclists scoff at the macho posing of the boys and girls on Harleys. It’s hard to pull off macho when you can’t exit a stop sign competently. 

I do, however, think the second guy was right on the mark. Harley and the cruiser genre only have one defining “feature” to brag about: low seat height. In every other area important to actual motorcyclists, cruisers are deficient or defective. They are, to put it politically-incorrectly, “girls’ bikes.” Not women, but girls. Real women don’t ride Harleys and they don’t mess with handicapped motorcycles. 

The rapidly vanishing American motorcycle market seems to be clueless about where American buyers are today. And bikers are doing their best to drive away any likely new riders with IQs into the mid-double-digits and the kind of behavior that puts the lie to “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” This is from the crowd whose purpose appears to be making as much noise as possible while looking like a sad collection of down-and-out Shriners who either lost their uniforms or couldn’t afford the Knights of Templar suit and the fez. No one with a spec of self-respect would want to join that gang and, apparently, hardly anyone does. 

Way back in 2011, when US motorcycle sales were still not recovering from the Great Recession anywhere near as fast as the rest of the economy, the AMA’s Rob Dingman and the M.I.C. spokesman Peter TerHorst said, “The three biggest problems facing motorcycling today is noise, noise and noise.” That was the last gasp of reality from the AMA. The gangster crowd, who probably don’t amount to a tiny fraction of the AMA membership, scared the AMA “leadership” into abandoning this issue and losing even more members over the next decade. Since disclosures about the organization’s bleeding money in the early part of the last decade, the AMA has been really aggressive about courting members and really reticent about telling members how the “organization” is doing. In this case, I think it’s safe to say that “no news is bad news” and I doubt that I know a single AMA member among the hundreds of motorcyclists I know. Of course, none of my friends ride so badly they need noisemakers to let the world know an incompetent is in the area.

Jul 6, 2020

Socially Responsible Motorcycling? When?

About one third of Minnesotans had been obeying the state’s social distancing rules by the time the rules started going away. Even fewer bother with masks, especially outside of the Twin Cities, and that two-thirds who aren’t taking any more precautions than they did back in January. Of course, they  are constantly whining that the “the rules aren’t working.” Rules, of course, only work when people obey them. Which brings us to motorcyclists.

Thanks to some slimy legislation promoted by Minnesota ABATE in 1982, the minimal contribution Minnesota motorcyclists make to the state’s highway funds comes through gas taxes. Fees collected for motorcycle endorsements pay for motorcycle safety training exclusively, which is mostly wasted money. Minnesota uses the MSF program which has steadfastly refused to subject its training program’s outcome to any sort of evaluation. In fact, MSF instructors are cautioned not to tell “students’ that there is any relationship to the MSF’s training and becoming a safer motorcyclist. Based on my own 18-year experience as an MSF instructor, I believe the training we provided was as close to the absolute minimum possible to hand-hold the least capable riders through the endorsement test. In other words, we put a lot of butts on seats, which is what the MIC/MSF are all about. So, our every-4-year endorsement money pays for a barely-used bureaucracy and the few hundred miles a year the typical Minnesota motorcyclist rides generates a few bucks in gas taxes to pay for the roads we ride’ and crash on, to great taxpayer expense. In 2018,  the estimated economic cost to Minnesota for motorcycle crashes was $1,875,540,500. The numbers aren’t in for 2019’s even higher number of crashes and fatalities, but they will be soon. As of early June, we’re on our way to setting a new state motorcycle fatality record in 2020.

Back in 2013, I compiled a database of miles traveled by collecting odometer readings from Craig’s List ads across the country. One of my readers transferred that to Google Docs format and readers/riders from across the country entered data. Eventually some asshole decided to crash the spreadsheet/database, but by then I had learned that the typical motorcycle gets ridden about 1,400 miles a year with a strong modal average at about 750 miles. Most people who call themselves “bicyclists” beat those road miles by a long ways well into their 70s.

So now that, as a society and thanks to the novel coronavirus, we’re asked to reduce our exposure to each other and to try and reduce the load and risk on our healthcare system what are motorcyclists doing? The usual, anything but something useful. I should rephrase that statement, motorcyclists are doing what they usually, being careful, going AGAT, and maintaining a small social and environmental footprint.

Bikers are the problem. Bikers are out in force, riding in their underwear, protected by magical napkins on their bald heads, making as much noise as possible, and spewing fuel and mayhem where ever they go. Bikers, on the other hand, are proudly members of the two-thirds of Minnesotans who could give a flying damn about anyone else. Their biker “rights” so grossly overwhelm any responsibility they might accept for their actions that they are beginning to attract attention from the public and, sooner or later, legislators.

As of early June, 2020, 29 people have died on motorcycles on Minnesota roads and highways; the majority are single vehicle crashes and the overwhelming majority are the pirate biker crowd. We’re on track to beat or equal the previous 1985 high for the state’s motorcycle deaths. I guess we’re “lucky” that attention has been diverted from our fatalities to Covid-19’s devastation. Bikers aren’t happy with losing that focus, though. In my small town, we have had multiple biker gatherings that are practically begging to be viral hotspots and, when they are, I’m sure we’ll hear all sorts of whining about “government tracking” when the bikers get the blame for spreading Covid-19. In our area, restaurants have been allowed to reopen with outdoor seating and decent spacing, but our local biker bar is flaunting all of that and their customers are dragging tables together and making a show of pretending to be tough boys and girls. From what I’ve seen (and experienced with asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia) I suspect that tough façade will collapse about the time they can’t breathe. Drowning in your own fluids is the ultimate waterboarding.

Imagine the attitude of overworked and stressed healthcare workers working without adequate PPE, staff, and other resources when some dill-hole in a pirate outfit is wheeled into an emergency room suffering injuries from recreating on a motorcycle. Do you really think people who label bikes “donorcycles,” “murdercycles,” and a collection of other even more graphic derogatory names are going to be happy to risk their lives on people who are too lazy and arrogant to even bother with a helmet? Do you think they should be required to care more than you do? Good luck with that. If your argument is “they knew what they were signing up for,” get ready to hear “right back at you big, bad bikerboy.” At the least, they are going to take special joy in scraping the rocks and asphalt from your road-rashed ass.



This video is of a New York biker gangster funeral procession back in early April. On their website, these characters claim they were “social distancing and being responsible.” You judge.

Where Did All the Miles Take Me?

As of April 27, 2020 for the first time since sometime in early 1969, I do not own a motorcycle. That one brief hole in my motorcycle life between early ‘68 and late ‘69 was due to the distraction provided by young marriage and the struggle to provide for two people without any marketable skills. This time the break is going to be more long-lasting.

All of last summer consisted of a discouraging bout with ocular myasthenia gravis and constant double-vision. It was the first year in 50 in which I did not ride a single mile on a motorcycle. This year, I had reason to hope I might get another year behind the bars and my eyesight might stay under control for a bit. After all, it’s twenty-twenty, right? But the double-vision came back early and mean this March and so did my steroid prescription. At 72, adapting to being one-eyed and that eye not being particularly reliable is proving to be a daunting task without the complications of motorcycling. Odds are good that I will lose my driver’s license if it continues; and I should. My father had the same disease at the same age and, in the end, a brother-in-law optometrist was forced to take away Dad’s driving privileges after he had rear-ended four cars in four different crashes in 18 months. I DO NOT want to be my father. All last spring and most of the summer, I limited myself to very short daytime drives to necessities and my eBike just to avoid that fate. So far, this year, my vision is under control for about 10 hours a day. When I get tired, the left eye starts to wander. Bless you prednisone.

It appears that my motorcycling has become one more of “grandpa’s stories.” But between now and then, I estimate there were close to a million miles on two wheels. I “estimate” those miles because I mostly didn’t think about them while they were passing under my feet. Between 1965 and 1983, the motorcycles I owned might have come with odometers but that device along with the rest of the console, lights, reflectors, fragile stock fenders, factory levers and footpegs, factory exhaust systems, suspension parts, and large parts of the motors ended up in the scrap pile of unnecessary or insufficient stuff that came between me and successful off-road competition. I bought my first real street-legal motorcycle in 1983, a 1979 Honda CX Deluxe, and put 130,000 miles on it in a few short but intense years. A succession of sport bikes, small tourers, dual-purpose, and adventure tourers followed. I think the fewest miles I put on any of my motorcycles might be the last one, the Yamaha WR250X only had 17,000-some miles on the odometer when I admitted defeat and watched it roll out of my driveway.

Obviously, I’ve been preparing for this for a while. Way back in 2016, around the time I re-took the MSF Expert Rider Course, I wrote rant  “#148 Creating A Baseline” for my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column. I wrote (to myself) back then, “Nothing about being able to take a low speed left-hand turn and stop with the front tire in a box is demanding in any way to a competent motorcyclists, regardless of the bike. Nothing about weaving through some widely spaces cones and making a right hand turn should confuse or confound a half-decent motorcyclist. Making a moderately quick stop from 12mph in first gear is not complicated. A 12 mph "swerve" around a huge fake obstacle ought to be second nature. If anything on that test baffles you, either your motorcycle or your skills are totally out-of-whack.” 2017 was the first year I racked up more bicycle miles than motorcycle miles since I was a kid. So, I created an evaluation for myself, “So, every March from here out I'm going to go through the old routine but after an hour or so of practice, I'm going to run through every one of the nine BRC exercises and the day I can't do all of them ‘perfectly’ (no cones hit, no lines crossed, fast enough, and clean enough) the bike goes up for sale and I'll fill the space in the garage with a small convertible. I might buy a trials bike, but that will be the end of my street riding days.”

This spring with the world wobbling between one and multiple dimensions I realized I couldn’t see well enough to even score myself competently. I wrote up an ad for the WR, put it on Craig’s list, and waited for cash to arrive. I did, a few weeks ago, wander over to the parking lot where I used to teach the Basic Rider Course and take the test on my eBike. I did ok, but riding a 70 pound, 20-mph-max  eBike competently is a world away from a 300 pound 50hp motorcycle, let alone a cruiser, big touring bike, or even my old V-Strom 650.

At this point, I think my motorcycle stories will all be told in past tense and there are lots of them left to tell. Like my oldest daughter’s tee-shirt used to say when she was a teenager and I was still a young man, “I only wish I could ride as fast as Dad remembers he did.”

A Climate of Anxiety?



French censors sent this ad back to the lab because “discredit[s] the automobile sector [...] while creating a climate of anxiety.” Those snowflake car owners (or dealers and manufacturers?) get nervous seeing the effects of their products on television?

Jun 1, 2020

Music and Motorcycles

Years ago, I sold my 1979 Honda CX500 to a good friend who used the bike to move from LA back home to Idaho. At the time, I thought I was doing him a favor because good old LA was killing him and he needed to cut free of all of the crap that held him in place. Moving by motorcycle is one of the best ways to give up crap that you don’t need. He made it to Idaho, restarted his music career there, cut some records, toured with some big name acts, and quit riding the motorcycle because he was afraid he’d fuck up and damage his hands. After one winter in storage, mice chewed through the bike’s wiring and started a fire that burned down his garage, turned the CX and a car into ashes and scrap metal, and convinced my friend that motorcycles were in his past. 

My wife saw James Taylor on Late Night with Seth Myers and we had an argument about Taylor’s age. (I thought he is my age. She thought he is 5-8 years older.) I looked up his stats on Wikipedia and I was right, he is three months older than me. However, while I was browsing his history, I hit this bit, “On July 20, he performed at the Newport Folk Festival as the last act and was cheered by thousands of fans who stayed in the rain to hear him. Shortly thereafter, he broke both hands and both feet in a motorcycle accident on Martha's Vineyard and was forced to stop playing for several months.” I did not know that Taylor lost six months of his career between his first Apple Records release and his first Warner Brothers record, Sweet Baby James


A more well-known motorcycle career alteration was Bob Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle crash that occurred the month Blonde on Blonde was released. When Dylan reappeared, he was dramatically lower energy, with the country-music-influenced John Westly Hardin in ‘67 and Nashville Skyline in ‘69. By all accounts, Dylan’s crash was more of an ego bruising than a serious injury, since he mostly moped around in a neck brace for a few weeks and was never hospitalized for injuries. Dylan was a notoriously awful motorcyclist. As Joan Baez recalled in her biography, “He used to hang on that thing like a sack of flour. I always had the feeling it was driving him, and if we were lucky we'd lean the right way and the motorcycle would turn the corner. If not, it would be the end of both of us.” Lucky for Bob and his Nobel Prize future, he quit riding motorcycles before they finished him. Although I recently read an interview with Mark Howard, a record producer, who claims to sell an occasional cobbled-up cruiser to Dylan. Hopefully, Bobby just collects them. 


Piano Man Billy Joel got whacked on his Harley in ‘82 by a cager running a red light and, for a time, had concerns that he might not play piano again. Billy still rides and even has a Leno-style collection of motorcycles. Mostly, he’s a Moto Guzzi fan, but he owns 70’s and modern Japanese bikes, Harley collector bikes, and some customs. He still rides, although not particularly well. 

Duane Allman famously ended his career and life crashing into a stopped flatbed truck hauling a crane; hardly a hard-to-see or avoid obstacle. Allman was, like Dylan, a notoriously mediocre rider and, worse, he had a fondness for disabled, strung-out choppers which played a prominent part in his demise. Berry Oakley, the Allman’s bass player, rode his Triumph into a bus 14 months later. The trajectory of that fabled rock and blues band was forever altered and mangled by the loss of those two key members. 


A more typical Rock and Roll motorcyclist even was Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler’s 1981 crash, mostly caused by his drugged-to-oblivion state of mind when a tree jumped in front of him. Lucky he crashed on the way to pick up his daughter from a babysitting gig, rather than afterwards with her on the bike. 

Billy Idol, a classic rock nitwit, wandered through a stop sign in 1990 and met a car at moderate hippobike speeds. He broke an arm and a leg badly enough doctors almost had to amputate. In 2010, Idol crashed again. Big surprise. 

Some of the rest of rock and roll’s biker mistakes are Dire Straights’ Mark Knopfler, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis and Chad Smith, Richard Fariña, and, of course, Bono managed to mangle himself (fractured shoulder blade, humerus, eye socket, (orbit), and pinky finger on a bicycle. Waiting in the wings is Justin Beiber. If you’ve seen him demonstrate his “skills” on YouTube, you know that goofball is going to tear up a bunch of tattoos any day now. 

As best I can tell, music and motorcycles are a bad mix. But motorcycles and most things don’t mix well, so that’s not news either.

May 27, 2020

Spam Magnet?

I admit, I don't know what the purpose of spam attached to blog comments could be. Call me "stupid," I'm used to it, but one rant I've written rises above all others as a spam magnet, "Start Seeing Corners and Road Signs." China, Russia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines spammers (in that order) are attracted to that one essay to the point that I once turned off "anonymous" comment access and, now, I automatically route anonymous comments to my spam holding pen. Typically, I will delete 50-75 anonymous comments due to their spammy nature every week. Often, every one of those comments will have been attached to that one rant. 

Maybe I should be flattered? I have a mirror, so that never works. I am entertained to the point that I have left a bunch of those comments in the blog as some sort of reminder that I'm shipping out my thoughts to a autonomous world of non-readers . . . or something. If I were more trusting (could I be less trusting?) I'd have let them all go and I could brag about having written something that received 1,000s of comments. I keep suspecting one of those "anonymous" comments will have an attachment that could do harm to actual readers, but most don't and I can't figure out what their purpose is. 

On another level, I am sort of proud of "Start Seeing Corners and Road Signs." It drew a little attention when it was published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly (even though the magazine didn't like it enough to post it on their website afterwards). "Attention," to my column always meant pissed off bikers posing as real motorcyclists. In that column, I wrote this, "A newbie rider, Harley-shopping guy, Roger Holmes, 59, said it all with his Trib article quote, 'It makes you feel good. It makes you feel younger.' Holy crap. One more sucker buying into the marketing bullshit. Dude, you need to have someone take a picture of you and your wife on your hippobike. Put it on your mirror and stare at it every day until you wise up and realize that you not only don't look younger, you look downright silly wallowing around the road on that porker. Exercise will make you feel younger. Eating smart, giving up smoking, drinking less (way less, for you cruiser characters), and reducing the stress in your lives by avoiding stupid impulse buying and idiotic debt will all make you feel younger (and look younger than your dumber Boomer friends)."It probably says a lot about me, but I am damn proud of that writing and I'll stick with the content until my bones are incinerated.

May 26, 2020

A Funny Documentary



Some of this is blatantly schmaltzy. Some is slow. Much of it, I suspect, is right. Harley the corporate welfare queen may be one of the big losers from the pandemic and Trump’s Recession. It is really hard to feel sorry for them.

May 10, 2020

Self-Delusion at Its Finest

I don’t know much about “Business Insider,” but this article “The rise and fall of Harley-Davidson" is flat-out entertaining. Mostly, it is a collection of nonsense masquerading as economic, social, and business commentary. Some of the biker and commentator quotes are hilarious, though:

  • Irene Kim: “You don't have to be a biker to know about Harley-Davidson. Harleys are big, loud, fast, and inherently American.”
  • Jake Holth: “You get some of that instant respect just riding one alone.”

Of course, motorcyclists know that a Harley Davidson is the last bike you want if you want to go fast. Hardlys are so slow they have to have their own brand-specific racing class to be “competitive.” In other words, “That’s a pretty fast bike for a Harley” is the best compliment a Harley owner can hope for.

“Respect” means fear to this crowd. It’s true that cops, citizens, and the government are terrified of the domestic terrorism that Harley’s demographic represents. You wouldn’t be far from being right in saying “nobody respects these assholes” though. You earn respect and all that the gangbanger crowd have earned is the regular “faggot” epithet muttered and shouted as they blubber their way through our towns and countryside. Bikers are the ONLY people who waste two seconds of thought of the news that one to a dozen bikers were killed on the highway. That is how much “respect” bikers and Harley have earned.

  • Matthew DeBord: “In decades, they could wind up just disappearing. We'll all still associate Harley-Davidson with being the greatest motorcycle brand in the world, but there won't be any motorcycles. You won't be able to buy one.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone clueless enough to consider “Harley-Davidson with being the greatest motorcycle brand in the world,” but if I remember there are people who don’t laugh when Trump claims to be the “greatest President in history” I guess it’s possible. It is also possible that someday in the not-so-distant future “there won’t be any motorcycles” on public roads; just like there aren’t any horses on those roads today. If that happens, Harley’s marketing and politics will deserve a large part of the blame. The company has defended rider incompetency, illegal motorcycle noise, hooliganism and gangsterism at the worst levels,

  • DeBord: “America is a very conservative place at the time, and a lot of guys came back from that, and they said: ‘Uh-uh, I'm not interested in that. I'm gonna get me a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and I'm gonna go live on the road. I'm gonna live my life on my terms with freedom, mobility, attitude.’"

As The Rolling Stones discovered at Altamont, nobody is more “conservative,” racist, violent, mindless, lawless, or less committed to the concept of freedom than bikers. These characters line up like cows heading back to the barn behind every fascist asshole who has appeared in American history since the 1940s. They were Vietnam cheerleaders, Afghanistan and Irag Invasion cheerleaders, and they are Trump’s brownshirts. They are certainly fans of chaos and lawless disorder, but that’s because they are too lazy to be useful.

  • Billy: “All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.”
  • George: “Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.”

No, all you represent is old men with ponytails and bald domes pretending to be something you’ll never be: decent Americans. Yeah, this half-witted shit pisses me off.