Remember When?

 Remember when motorcycle manufacturers thought sales were worth advertising for? It feels like a lifetime ago.

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No, 70 Is Not the New 50

A good friend and I are trying to plan a moderately unscheduled motorcycle trip, meeting in South Dakota and traveling up the Hills into Teddy Roosevelt and across to Bismarck, before we split up and he heads north into Canada and I go back home. At least that’s the plan as of this moment. We’re both riding Suzuki TU250X’s, so speed isn’t a thing for this trip, hence the “moderately unscheduled” aspect of the trip. We won’t be pounding out big miles, ideally. Mostly because I’m old. I mean I started this GWAG thing when I was 50-something. I thought I was old then and I was, but I am really old now.

I’ve been sleeping on the ground since I was a kid and that was a long time ago. To avoid being drug to church by my parents, I would sneak out of the house late Saturday night—with a blanket and a canteen and a flashlight and a bag of potato chips I’d smuggled into my room and had hidden in my kid’s crap pile—and cross the Highway 50 bypass to the ruins of an old Catholic school in an abandoned lot not far from our house. The only thing left of those buildings were the basements and I’d found an old wooden ladder that I propped up next to the ruins of the basement stairs of one of those buildings and that was my hideout from church “duty.” It worked for most of a year until my parents gave up and let me stay home if I would have lunch ready for the family when they all came plodding back from being preached at and scammed out of their allowances and an unreasonable portion of an already meager teacher’s salary. I was about 12 at the time. I’d still rather sleep on the cold ground than listen to a sermon.

After I moved out on my own, the summer I turned 16, I took a “gap month” after I’d dropped out of the worst community college in the planet and the band I would spend the rest of the summer touring with got a late start for the summer because the band leader crashed his Thunderbird into the only tree in Oklahoma on his way home to Little Rock. I didn’t have any real camping gear, but I remember scavenging a canvas Boy Scouts’ pup tent and a nasty looking sleeping bag I’d found somewhere. I lived along the Arkansas River between Dodge City and Cimarron, Kansas shooting squirrels and jack rabbits with my single-shot .22 and pretending to live off of the land, while occasionally sneaking into town and ripping off food from some of the south Dodge residents’ outdoor freezers and refrigerators. 

A few years later, I was living in Hereford, Texas (the place the hose goes when they give the world an enema) and struggling to make a living and clinging to my sanity as a new father, a barely-trained and unskilled electronics technician, and a failed ex-musician. The only escape from the pressure I could afford was backpacking the occasional free days in Palo Duro Canyon, mostly in the winter when no one else wanted to be there, but I hiked the Canyon any time I could get away for three years running (literally, often). About the same time, I lucked into Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker, one of the few books I have kept throughout the last 50 years. Fletcher taught me about gear, preparation, survival tactics, climbing and descending (with a loaded pack), and most of the “skills” I’ve used in backpacking, running rivers, and solo motorcycle camping. Sometime in the 90’s, I swapped out my trusty North Face tent for a Lawson Blue Ridge Hammock, but I still have much of the gear I started with. I’ve camped in ditches, abandoned farm house backyards, forests and windbreaks, by the ocean, streams, and lakes, and, even, official campgrounds all over the country; from California to Nova Scotia.

But I’m done with all of that now. Scott and I wrestled with all sorts of trip plans, with the assumption that camping is the safest way for old guys to stay away from the goobers spreading SARS-CoV-2 across the country. Camping just isn’t a practical option for me anymore. I might consider a trip that could guarantee trees for the Lawson Hammock, but this trip won’t be in that kind of terrain. My last trip was pretty much a disaster, but even if the “campsite” hadn’t been a dumb idea and well-tipped into idiotic if hilarious I learned that the costs of sleeping on the ground are too high now. I could do it if I had to, but I’d wake up stiff all over, the arthritis in my hands would be crippling, and that’s if I managed to sleep at all. If we’re going to do this trip, it will have to be with motel rests at night so I can boil my hands in hot water, ice my knees and shoulder, and sleep in a reasonably comfortable bed.

No, 70 is not the new 50 and anyone who says it is knows nothing. As Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel said in "Why I Hope to Die at 75, "over recent decades, increases in longevity seem to have been accompanied by increases in disability—not decreases. For instance, using data from the National Health Interview Survey, Eileen Crimmins, a researcher at the University of Southern California, and a colleague assessed physical functioning in adults, analyzing whether people could walk a quarter of a mile; climb 10 stairs; stand or sit for two hours; and stand up, bend, or kneel without using special equipment. The results show that as people age, there is a progressive erosion of physical functioning. More important, Crimmins found that between 1998 and 2006, the loss of functional mobility in the elderly increased. In 1998, about 28 percent of American men 80 and older had a functional limitation; by 2006, that figure was nearly 42 percent. And for women the result was even worse: more than half of women 80 and older had a functional limitation.” I was playing basketball fairly competently at 50, I probably couldn’t reliably catch a pass today. I confidently took off on a 30-day motorcycle trip to Alaska in 2007, when I was 59. I might still consider an Alaska trip at 73, but I wouldn’t have much confidence in the outcome. My 50-year-old self would kick my 70-year-old self’s ass any day of the week. So would sleeping on the ground for a week.

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Makin’ Up the Numbers

The other day a friend (yeah, you know who you are) was bragging to me that he’d ridden more than a million miles in his riding lifetime. If you know anything about me you know I am a numbers guy and you also know that I assume 99% of Americans are embarrassingly mathematically illiterate. (That is putting it mildly.) After 73 years on this planet, in a country that despises math, science, and reality as much as the Catholic Church hates kids who rat out priests, I pretty much doubt everything anyone tells me until I can verify it myself. I doubt myself, too. I know some surveys have given the USA a slightly better math literacy score, but I think they are optimists. Ted Sturgeon once said that “ninety percent of everything is crap.” I think Ted, also, was an optimist. My name is “Thomas” for a reason, although probably not the one my parents intended; whatever that was.

Regardless of what your favorite politician has told you, a million is a really, REALLY big number. Here are some million-mile scenarios as a half-hearted attempt at elucidation: I reflected on how big a number that is back when my original blog site (geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/) finally passed a million hits in December 2020, after being on-line since 2008. (That was after converting my original GeezerwithAGrudge.com webpage to a Google blog. The original page had been on a Comcast site, which Comcast discontinued, since 2000 and had collected about 300,000 hits.) The Google site had been collecting an average of 3,000–5,000 hits per month with occasional monthly peaks of around 25,000 between 2014 and 2017 and as it approached 500,000 I got interested in watching the numbers roll towards a million. After a few months of that, I got bored and missed the big blog odometer counter roll-up. A 5,000 hits a month, it takes 100 months to collect 100,000; almost 8 1/2 years. Likewise, it takes a lot of riding to collect 1,000,000 miles:

1) If you ride 5 days a week for 35 years, to get to 1,000,000 miles you’ll have to ride an average of 110 miles a day. If you ride 7 days a week you’ll only have to average 78 miles a day.

2) Add a 1,000 mile annual vacation trip to the above daily miles and you’ll only have to average 21 miles a day seven days a week or about 23 miles a day for five days a week for 35 years. a 2,000 mile annual trip takes the 7 day necessary average to 12 miles and 5 days to 12.6 miles A 3,000 mile annual trip knocks the daily 7 say average to 8.5 miles and 5 days to 8.75 miles. If you’ve managed to pull off a 5,000 mile vacation trip every year for 35 years, you’d only need to ride to work and back 5.3 miles a day seven days a week or 5.4 miles for five.

We’re not talking about doing this daily ride occasionally. You have to average those miles on a weekly basis for 35 freakin’ years. You might be able to imagine that you’ve done that, but I’m not going with you. Likewise, I’m not going to believe that your get 30mpg in your Ford F150 or 60mpg from your Yamaha R1, either. Do not try to show me that idiot mileage calculator built into your fuel injection system. Show me a spreadsheet with at least 50 tank fills and no weirdness and I might begin to be convinced.

3) If you average 5,000 miles per year, it will take you 200 years to rack up a million miles: 7,500 annual miles needs 133 years, 10,000 needs 100 years, 15,000 will take 66 2/3 years, and 20,000 only 50 years.

All that said, in a 35 year riding “career,” odds are you haven’t crossed a million miles yet. Likely, you’re not even a quarter of the way there yet. Odds are even better you’ll never get there. I’ve been riding, off and on, since 1963, but there have been periods where motorcycles weren’t anywhere in my life and periods where motorcycles were about the only functional transportation in my life.

I know there are some rich, idle geezers who have managed 1,000,000 mile riding lives and–I guess–“hats off to them.” There are even some civil service characters with their typical 3 months a year vacation time who can act like rich idle geezers and who have pounded out big miles. (Yeah, I’m jealous.) But most of us working stiffs are likely to peter out at 200,000-500,000 miles if we’re lucky. Unlike my salesman friend, I suspect the average driving lifetime for motorcyclists is pretty close to 10,000 or 20,000 miles between fatal accidents. Craig’s List ads indicate the average motorcycle travels about 1,500 miles per year, which sort of clicks with the number of bikes the usual suspects have owned before ending up in a ditch bawling for an ambulance.

The cool thing about these kinds of claims is that I have never heard any of that kind of stuff from the few hard core motorcyclists LD I have known. All of those guys have worn their way through a pile of motorcycles and keeping track of the final odometer reading over a lifetime of doing more important stuff just isn’t a thing. Math geeks really shy away from making claims that don’t add up. The people who are really happy to quote wild and big numbers are too often self-declared mathphobes and innumeracy sufferers.

For example, one guy I know is a radical left-winger and who loves to jabber about “big banks” and “big finance” and how dysfunctional our economic system is, while admitting that he is so micro-economically incompetent that he can’t balance a check book, pay his simple 1040A taxes without an accountant, or manage a credit card. None of that inability even puts a glancing blow on his confidence that he is a macro-economics wiz and the world would be a better place if it listened to him and banished money and went back to living off of the land and under a rock. Personally, I wouldn’t put a dime in his hand if I expected to get it back. And I hate farming. I’d rather be a hitman than a farmer.

Now, before your panties get all wadded up and you become a prime candidate for a super wedgie, I’m not calling anyone a liar. Deluded, probably, but lying not so much. Even worse for your case, I don’t care. At this point in my life, pretty much all bragging goes in one ear and out the other. After the last 4 years of non-stop bragging from a character whose whole life has been one failure, disaster, crooked scheme, ripoff, bumbling idiocy, and easily fact-checked outright lies, bragging has lost its power and entertainment value. Self-depreciation, curiosity, and an appreciation for facts and reality, on the other hand, have really taken on a whole new light.

At the opposite end of this accomplishment and self-evaluation spectrum, I had the immense pleasure of hanging out with some ex-students from my McNally Smith College years this past week and their history and stories of the music business and their experiments with motorcycling (mostly 70’s Japanese bikes turned into café bikes, but at least two several year experiments at road racing) made my week. It takes a lot to make my week, so if you weren’t there you really missed out. If you were, thank you for allowing me to enjoy your life.

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Start Seeing Unicorns

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

We’re turning over a new leaf in our family. I hate driving four-wheel vehicles and after a fairly miserable several months stuck as the sole driver of our winter excursion in an RV, I am giving up driving our family car as much as possible. My wife, on the other hand, gets car sick when she isn’t driving, can’t read a map, program a GPS, or provide useful directions as a passenger and claims to actually like driving. After 46 years of being the family primary driver, we’re swapping roles. She is a perfectly fine driver with good skills, reasonably good vision, and decent judgment. I hate driving and am prone to zoning out after a few minutes behind the wheel.

So, we’re on the way to visit our daughter’s family in Dinkytown on a warm April evening. My designated driver is about to turn left on Hennepin Avenue across two opposite direction lanes after a barrage of vehicles finally created a slot. She’s focused on the cars coming toward us, about 100 yards away. I saw a motorcyclist in the far lane and provided a slightly-over-the-top warning (not quite a shout) before she turned into his path. She stopped safely and the completely undressed kid on the black motorcycle, wearing black clothing (without a stitch of protective gear), and who’d cleverly disabled his daytime headlight shook his finger at us as some kind of warning. As usual, he hadn’t made even the slightest effort to remove himself from any aspect of the near-crash: no braking, no evasive maneuver, no horn honking, headlight flashing, or even a shout. Just a limp finger-wagging. Loud pipes wouldn’t have done him any good, since they’re only good for warning people behind the motorcycle that a noisy asshole is in front of them. 

This is where the “Start Seeing Unicorns” comes in. Delusional motorcyclists and safety bureaucrats imagine that if enough propaganda and severe enough penalties are applied, motorcycles will magically become visible to drivers who have real threats to worry about. Not only do most motorcyclists dress to be invisible, but at 0.001-0.01% of total traffic on any given perfect-for-motorcycling day, we’re about as common a sight as unicorns. Nobody but little girls who watch too much television looks for unicorns because they are a statistical unlikelihood. The same logic applies to motorcyclists, with only a minimally greater chance of a sighting. Asking other road-users to watch for us when we are rarely present and don’t make the slightest effort to be seen or rescue ourselves is an exercise in hubris. Your mother may have told you that you are the center of the universe, but no one else on the road has heard of you and, worse, probably won’t notice you until you are bouncing off of their vehicle or sliding down the highway on your bloody ass. 

Earlier that day, I met a guy who bragged that he’d crashed 18 times before he quit riding a few years ago. His last crash was into a house, after an uncontrolled wheelie and jumping a curb and tearing through a garden. He crashed into a house. He admitted that “all of my accidents were my fault, except one.” Speeding, lousy cornering technique, poor judgment, and an irrational belief in his indestructibility all were to blame for all but one crash. The one that he claimed wasn’t his fault was because a woman “pulled out in front of me.” Based on his other experiences and my own later the same day, I suspect that blaming the one crash on someone else misses the point of that one experience. Like the rider who narrowly escaped becoming a hood ornament on our car, this ex-rider clearly needed some decent skills, a dose of common sense, and protective gear.

In fact, too many people supposedly involved in motorcycle safety issues argue the nutty fallacy that motorcyclists are pitiful victims. For example, a University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research study found, “that 60 percent of the time motorists in other vehicles are at fault when they collide with motorcycles.” I’d love to see where that data came from, in detail. Since 34-50% of fatal motorcycle crashes are single vehicle events, it’s pretty obvious that we can’t even deal with the freakin’ road, let alone traffic. What kind of fool would believe that a group of people who are totally responsible for killing themselves half of the time are innocent victims during the other half, when traffic is involved? Seriously? We can’t ride well enough to keep from flinging ourselves into the trees on a solitary road but we suddenly become more competent in heavy traffic? I’m not buying that for a second. And my experience on motorcycles for nearly three-quarters-of-a-million miles totally contradicts that wishful thinking. Every one of the motorcycle fatalities I’ve seen were either completely the motorcyclists’ fault or would have prevented with the tiniest bit of riding skill and reasonable protective gear.

Instead of wishing and hoping that drivers will start watching out for us and compensate for our invisibility and mediocre skills, I think giving up on that dream and getting on with learning how to ride competently would be a good start toward reducing motorcycle crashes. If a rider is serious about staying jelly side up, becoming as visible as possible, and  getting real about the slim chance that anyone will be looking out for us while they are worried about giant trucks, distracted bozos in oversized pickups and SUVs, and their own distractions is absolutely necessary. The whacked idea that people in cages are going to save us from ourselves is delusional, arrogant, and foolish. In 2013, motorcyclists accounted for 15% of national highway deaths. There is no justification on this planet for that massively disproportionate contribution the the estimated $228 BILLION in “societal cost of crashes.” At some point, the country is going to decide to either make motorcyclists prove their competence before obtaining a license, wear reasonable protective gear, or get the hell off of the public’s roads.

I’m not saying motorcyclists need to be paranoid and tell themselves “they’re all out to get me.” We aren’t that important or interesting. They don’t even know we are on the road because we are not a serious threat. You could drive most mid-sized 4-wheel drive pickups over the whole Minnesota contingent of biker gangsters’ toys and still make it to the store for bread, milk, and cookies and back home before you worried about scraping the biker gunk off of your bumper. Not being a threat is much worse than being a potential enemy. You can sort of guess what someone who’s out to get you might do next. If your opponent doesn’t even recognize your existence, there are an infinite number of awful things they might do completely unaware of you and your motorcycle. If that doesn’t make you want to gear up and put your riding skills and motorcycle in order, you do not belong on a motorcycle.

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The Helmetless and the Maskless

Every morning, my wife and I start our very different routines. I head for the kitchen, assemble a bowl of fruit and cereal, make coffee, and either settle in on our porch to read or at my laptop in the far corner of the house to write. She fires up the television and spends the first couple hours of her day watching the previous evenings’ streamed Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers shows. I usually insert a nice set of Bluetooth noise-cancelling earbuds so I can ignore the noise and, especially, the “news” with which she starts and ends her day.

Today, she had to “share” the news that US House Republicans are refusing to wear masks and vaccination. Of course, I did not need to know that or, at least, hear it. In these days of the American Empire’s dying light the news is relentlessly depressing and uninformative and useless. The nation’s original massive flaws and bonehead founding decisions and “values” are slowly coming home in dozens of directions and there is nothing I can do about it. So, why bother me with it? Stuff I can fix, I’m interested in. But if I’m in the back row of a 747 headed straight down from 30,000 feet at 700mph (or 1,000 ft/sec) after a software failure locks up the plane controls, I’m just in the plane for the ride down and, hopefully, a quick and painless death. Don’t ask me to take the controls or even make suggestions to the pilots in those final 30 seconds.

Mission Impossible 2 Epic Action Scene - YouTubeHowever, hearing that “news” did remind me of a thought that I’ve had for the last couple of decades about motorcycle helmets and the people who refuse to wear them as some sort of strange rebellion against common sense and intelligent decisions. Contrary to the self-image these characters have, I have yet to see a single helmetless motorcyclist who even slightly resembles Tommy Cruise (even the weird looking plastic-surgery-enhanced 60-year-old Tom Cruise) or Ron Perlman. More typically, they look like some fat version of either Marty Feldman, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Joe Pesci, or Danny Trejo with or without scraggly beards (including the Rosie O’Donnell look-alikes). Nobody needs to or wants to see that, but these goobers all think they are gracing the scenery with their inbred faces and we all have to suffer for their vanity.

There is a logical fallacy called “the Spotlight Effect” that probably explains much of this pain and suffering. The Spotlight Effect is used to describe “the tendency we have to overestimate how much other people notice about us. In other words, we tend to think there is a spotlight on us at all times, highlighting all of our mistakes or flaws, for all the world to see.” Or, in the case of Republican congresscritters or bikers, deeply flawed humans who imagine everyone is looking at them with envy or admiration.

Trust me, we aren’t.

In fact, we are doing the best we can to ignore your existence, but you’re making it really difficult with all the whining, potato-potato noises, and traffic-stopping incompetence. Real motorcyclists know that, at best, motorcycling on public roads exists by the will and tolerance of 99.99. . . % of the population. Motorcycles are nothing more than recreational vehicles as used by the overwhelming majority of motorcyclists and every one of you noisy pirate pretenders.

Roaring from bar to bar, impeding traffic, disturbing the public peace, and getting killed at exorbitant rates and in expensive ways is not a demonstration of a “lifestyle.” It is a statement of insecurity and a desperate need to be noticed. You are simply compensating for having been (rightfully, probably) ignored as children and are mistaking irritation for admiration. Take off your pirate outfit and disguise yourself as a normal human being and mingle with other human beings in any downtown are plagued by bikers and listen to the comments made by those people about the jackasses on motorcycles. You’ll be surprised, disappointed, enlightened, and (on your best day) humbled by how much people hate motorcycles and bikers.

Likewise, if you are paying attention when a Goldwing or other real motorcyclist is in the same traffic situation you’ll notice that nobody hates them or even notices their existence. That is the best situation possible for a recreational vehicle on public roads. Because if we get enough attention for our outsized contribution to noise and air pollution, traffic congestion, and general lawlessness we’ll end up in the same place as horses and horse-drawn buggies, ATVs, go-karts, farm equipment, jet skis, and the rest of the world of adult toys not allowed on public roads.

So, put a helmet over your mess of a face, put the stock pipe back on your bike, and shut the hell up about your bullshit “right of way” and learn how to ride that thing before you lose the privilege . . . for all of us.

And, if you are a Republican chaos and destruction promoter, please expose yourself to as many equally careless and contaminated goobers as possible. Coronaviruses can only do the job evolution designed them to do if at least 70% of the population are dumb enough to set themselves on fire to thin the herd.

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Motorcycle Review & Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): Suzuki TU250X

All Rights Reserved © 2009/2015/2021 Thomas W. Day

This started off as a “review” and a really brief one (see [Initial Review August 2009] below). In May of 2021, I stumbled into decent buy on a TU250X and bought it, after assuming that my motorcycling days were long gone. So far, I’m still here and I’m still occasionally riding. I had BIG touring plans for this summer after buying the bike in the spring but cataract surgery on both eyes ate up all of July and half of August and the upper body strength I lost during that long period when I was supposed to avoid lifting more than 10-25 pounds, keep my head above my waist as much as possible, and a whole other list of strenuous activities pretty much diluted my initiative and courage out of commission. I suspect I may regret missing out on that trip for the rest of my life. Of course, at my age that is not a long-term bet.

I have taken a few 100-250 mile rides on the TU250X and the bike performed wonderfully, so far averaging 87mpg mostly running at near full throttle anytime I’m outside of city limits. This is the first motorcycle I’ve owned since the 70’s that allows me to be flat footed when I’m stopped. I haven’t cared much about that for the previous 50-some years of motorcycling, long suspensions being more important to me than stopped stability, but I’m old, not particularly limber or strong, and considerable less stable than in the past and it is a nice feature/function at this point in my life. Vibration is minimal at the bars, foot pegs, and seat; at least it is reasonable and minimal to me. Engine noise is also minimal, I’ve been “complimented” a few times with “Wow! That bike is really quiet.” Of course, most people just assume a motorcycle will be asshole-loud and that motorcyclists are obnoxious hooligans.

The speedometer, with stock tires, is “optimistic” at best. I ride with a GPS, so I know what my actual speed is and the speedo is about 7% faster than reality: 62mph indicated is about 55mph, for example. That said, cruising speed on the 250 on flat land without wind hindrance or assistance is about 55-65mph (max and in mild temps conditions). At that speed, the bike is incredibly easy to ride for long distances, with rest stops every hour or so. The passing “experience” is a throwback to my old VW Beetle days; plan on lots of space and no noticeable acceleration above 65mph. Even getting around farm implements is exciting and the only place I can ever pass a semi is on straight uphill sections.

Off pavement, the new handlebars made all the difference. I went from being tentative about turns, deep road sand and gravel, and wet sections to being irrationally confident that my old dirt skills would get me through most anything the road tossed at me. So far, so good. 

Maintaining the TU is almost an old school experience. Valve adjustments are the old-fashioned screw adjustment system, which means it needs to be checked every 3,000 miles, but the components are fairly easily accessed and it only takes about 30 minutes once you’ve gone through the routine once or twice. The air filter is just a coin-screwdriver away and the oil change routine is nothing complicated or odd, except for the oil screen which is hidden behind the filter frame (some TU owners don’t know it is there). 

I added a USB charge port to the handlebars to power my Garmin and charge my phone. Bar vibration is lower enough that I can read the little Garmin maps on the fly. The GPS has Bluetooth, but I don’t need it or want it talking to me while I ride. I read maps through the plastic case on my Darien’s thigh for 30 years. I can deal with a handlebar GPS just fine.

May 2021 POSTSCRIPTAs of May, this review turns into a “Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little)” review. I bought a barely-used 2012 TU250X and now, I hope, this will turn into a long-term review of that motorcycle. Even after whining that I’d owned my last “customized motorcycle,” I immediately started personalizing my TU. 

#1 Best Farkle: The T-Rex Racing “2009 – 2020 Suzuki TU250X Center Stand.” Installing this thing is a 3-handed job, but well worth the effort. Suddenly, many difficult maintenance and touring operations are much easier. Lubing the chain, for example is possible a half-dozen different ways. 

#2: The Acerbis Dual Road  Handguards. For me, handguards are a must, but there isn’t a lot of handlebar real estate on the TU. These guards solve that problem as well as it can be solved. They are a bar-end only attachment and with that limitation they robust and good protection for my hands and the bike controls. 

 #3: An old standby (for me), Oury Road/Street grips. These things have been on my street and dirt bikes for longer than I can remember. They soften the vibration and impact, add grip, add some diameter to the bars (easing arthritis pain and blood constriction), and stay where they belong until you cut them off. My comfort level on the TU dramatically improved by replacing the grips. The TU’s throttle is inconveniently specifically designed for Suzuki’s mediocre grips, who some Dremel carving is necessary where the handguard meets the throttle body.

#4: The stock cafe racer style bars are ok, on pavement, but I’m just not comfortable with narrow pullback bars. So, I replaced mine with Fly Racing Carbon Steel Honda CR bars, about 2″ wider, straighter, and marginally lower. What a difference! The first time I was on gravel, the bike felt squirrely and a little unstable in 2-4″ loose gravel and sand and I didn’t feel like steering responded particularly well. Nothing else has changed, except the bars, and the bike is almost as solid off-pavement as my V-Strom or WR250X.

Stay tuned. If my eyesight and health holds up, me and this little 250 are going to go a few places.


[
July 2015 POSTSCRIPT] 

 Last month, I added a little track time to my TU250X riding experience. What I learned from that is that the TU250X is a fully capable urban commuting bike. I still don’t know what the top speed is, but it’s got to be above 70mph because I hit that a couple of times on the Dakota Community Technical College straight-away and I had some top end yet to go before I bailed out and started braking before the chicane and carousel. A better rider would have gone faster and deeper into the corner before hitting the brakes. Regardless, the TU wasn’t straining at 70mph and I had a good time on the bike and the course; meeting and exceeding all of my expectations.

Last summer, my brother bought a TU on my recommendation and, as of May 2015, he had 17,000 miles on the bike and has ridden it all over Arizona deserts, mountains, and back country. He still likes the bike and doesn’t seem to feel the need for more power or status, since he’s knocking down 70-90mpg regularly and saving a bucket of retirement cash in the process. His big complaint about the TU, after taking a Lake Superior Loop ride with me in 2011 and seeing how much insane fun I was having on my WR250X, was that his TU wasn’t very good on gravel roads and, especially, steep gravel road hills around the lakes near his house in Arizona. So, I recommended a collection of tire options and he upped the “aggressiveness” of his tires and I haven’t heard a word of dissatisfaction from him since. I remain jealous of his mileage, youth, and common sense.

 

[Initial Review August 2009] 

This will be a very limited review, since I’ve only “test ridden” the Suzuki on an MSF range. But it is a work in progress. I will find one of these bikes in licensed condition and I’ll add that to the report. If I have to, I’ll even buy the damn bike myself.

Suzuki’s newest entry for 2009 was the TU250X; a 330 pound, air-cooled, fuel-injected, catalytic-converted, electric-starting, 82mpg, retro-looking, standard bike that is the kind of machine that riders have been wanting in every major motorcycle market in the world; except the US. This $3,800 bike has everything that an urban commuter could want. Most especially, the fuel-injection makes it friendly to new riders and those of us who are tired of the hold-your-mouth-just-right starting routines carbureted bikes require from us in cold weather. The 3.17-gallon fuel tank should provide close to a 250 mile range for most commuters.

Cosmetically, Suzuki went straight after the vintage-Brit-bike-lovers’ market. Suzuki’s marketing department describes the TU250X as a bike with “classic styling – including spoked wheels, a round headlight and low-slung tapered muffler.” With its pin-striped red paint job, it reminds me so much of old small-bore BSA and Triumphs that it gives me flashbacks. The only obvious nod to the 21st Century is the front disk brake, but the rear brake is a competently functioning drum, just like the old days. 18″ wheels, front and back, add something to the vintage appearance and help give the bike a neutral handling character. Turning or going straight, the TU250X doesn’t resist change and it doesn’t do anything unexpected. The Cheng-Shin tires suck, but the 90/90 and 110/90-18 tire sizes are available in Metzeler Lasertecs, Dunlop GTs, Conti Go! and Ultra TKV11/12 among other tire options.

The frame is silver-painted steel and is pretty rigid, if a little heavy feeling. The engine is a stressed-member of the frame and the square-tubed backbone adds to the frame strength. The rear suspension (3.7″) is a traditional dual-shock rig, slightly canted. The moderately long (54.1″) wheelbase of the bike makes it stable for all sorts of street use without being difficult to maneuver. The TU has a low (30″) seat height, so it’s accessible to riders of all heights. The twin-section seat puts the rider in sort of a neutral-cafe-racer posture. The independent passenger seat is reasonably large and comfortable, for a 250. Your feet are mildly bent, but the 27″ wide straight bars put most riders in a slightly aggressive riding position. It works for a variety of riders, from 6′ and a little over (see photo on right) to the rest of us (a 5’8″ rider is pictured at left). A bar-mounted windshield would be a useful addition to the bike’s aerodynamics and comfort.

The 249cc, 4-stroke, single-cylinder, air-cooled, SOHC, wet-sump engine is mostly straightforward. The cylinder is SCEM-plated (nickel-silicon-phosphorous) to reduce weight and increase heat transfer, just like most of Suzuki’s competition off-road bikes. The motor is tied to a wide-ratio 5-speed transmission linked to the rear wheel by chain drive. The air filter is washable foam and is easily removed for service. The plug, oil filter, screw-and-locknut valve adjustments, and battery access are readily available and straightforward. The bike has a 3,000 mile service interval, including valves, so it’s a good thing that it is reasonably easy to service. Well cared for, it ought to last tens-of-thousands miles. Suzuki puts a “12 month unlimited warranty” on the TU250X, to give buyers a bit of confidence in the model.

The bad news is that the TU250X is hard to find. My local dealer was given one for the season. One. More than 80 buyers signed up for first shot at the bike, but it vanished as it hit the floor when a walk-in customer snagged it. That’s it for 2009’s stock from that substantial Suzuki dealer. I know of one buyer who drove from Minnesota to Georgia to buy one.

The TU250X is, obviously, fitting a niche. In the rest of the world, it has been such a hit that Suzuki has been overwhelmed by the demand, which means the paltry small-bike US market is going to be even more starved for attention and inventory. The good news is, if you are really a vintage Brit bike fan, you’ll miss the puddle of oil in your garage. Take that as a consolation for not being able to see, ride, or buy this cool little bike.

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The Louder the Bike the Worse the Rider

On GeezerwithAGrudge.com, I just revived an old column from my MMM days. “#61 What Loud Pipes Say.” I was on a roll back then and that column rolled up more dumbasses per word than anything I’d written in the previous five years. Hell, I got more hate mail from Hardly goobers from that one column than the whole magazine had received in the previous five years. Our advertising rates went up accordingly.

I no longer live on a curve, so the biker goobers are no longer announcing to my neighborhood the upcoming comedy of their lame attempts at turning a motorcycle competently. Now, they’re just making noise to be making noise because, apparently, their mothers didn’t pay enough attention to them in the first few weeks of their pitiful little lives. A few weeks ago, I wrote about watching a pair of these goobers fumbling a stop, falling over, and putting on a Laurel and Hardy show trying to figure out how to pick up their hippomobiles and fumble off to the nearest bar to whine about “how mean everyone is.” Needless to say, those two fools were on a pair of mindlessly and needlessly noisy Harleys.

There is, of course, no evidence at all that “loud pipes save lives” and crash statistics point to the exact opposite fact. I don’t suspect the loud pipes are the problem, though. That would be and error of mistaking correlation for causation. It’s not that loud pipes substantially increase the likelihood of crashing, it’s that all of the most incompetent riders rely on loud pipes to make up for their lack of skill, judgement, and basic intelligence. So, it might stand to reason that the louder the bike, the less skill the rider possesses.

Loud Pipes Are My Right! (Or Are They...) - BikeBandit.comYears of long and careful, if cynical, observation has established this theory as a fact, in my mind. In dozens of MSF “Experienced Rider” courses, (ERC) the most incompetent people on the range were consistently mounted on the loudest motorcycles. Male and female, if the bike was loud I could set my watch on the moments the rider would dropout, fail to negotiate a section, fall down, or all three (not necessarily at the same time) during a 4-hour course. They always had the same motley excuses, too. Usually something along the lines of “the course is laid out for small motorcycles” or “nobody ever has to ride this slow and this is unrealistic.” Not that these goobers did any better on the faster exercises or on the sections where every other equally large (but not as loud) motorcyclists did fine.

The funniest example of this syndrome I ever experienced was in a 13 bike ERC full of Hennepin County Sheriff Deputies. I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating that these “law enforcement officers” were about as legal as a pickup load of cocaine with a meth chaser. Except for one very competent Goldwing rider in the group, 12 of 13 cops had no more business on motorcycles than they had performing in a tight rope act. Their “plan” for incompetence compensating was to be illegally noisy and wear lots of “biker face” whenever possible. A bunch of middle-aged fat guys on Harleys wearing law enforcement patches is intimidating in a bar, but in traffic it is just as useless as the loud pipes.

HD noiseThe local bars here are stuffed with the loud pipe crowd and when one of those groups decides they’ve drunk enough and pull out of the parking lots, it looks like pure random motion; or a flock of chickens after someone has tossed a firecracker into the pen. You have never seen worse riding skills or more unpredictable behavior and all they have with which to defend themselves is noise. And it never works.A giant “Look out! I’m an idiot on a motorcycle!” sign would probably make more sense. Sort of like those bicycle flags recumbent riders sport, except big screen television size.

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#61 What Loud Pipes Say

05/20/2021

This is an old one, as you can see from the copyright date below. It is also one of my favorites from the old MMM column. This one essay received more idiotic hate mail than everything I’d written in the previous 5 years: and I had really been trying to get people pissed off for those 5 years.

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

A teenage girl gets on my morning bus and treks to the back of the bus, loudly jabbering at the girl who got on the bus before her. Every other word is “Iwaslike.” She is apparently convinced that the entire bus is interested in her problems with a high school teacher. Bus passengers are barraged with her high volume nonsense, until the bus driver tells her to “shut the hell up.” On a train to Chicago, the train makes a stop and picks up a trio of wannabe-executives who find their way to seats, flip open their cell phones and begin loud, moronic “business conversations” with content equivalent to “where are you now” and “dude, I’m on my way but I’m gonna be late.”

These incredibly complex messages are delivered, loudly, and over and over, for the next forty minutes until the train disgorges these geek-suited posers a little before we get to Chicago.

I wonder why it is that folks who have nothing interesting to say feel compelled to say that nothing so loudly?

A few summers ago I taught an MSF Basic Rider Course (the BRC); eight women and three men. Incidentally, about half of the bikes that came out of our MSF trailer had mildly-to-severely-damaged exhaust pipes, so several of our new riders had that “loud pipes save lives” thing going for them, right there on the practice range. I wore hearing protection whenever the students were in motion. When all eleven bikes were roaring around the course, the six loud bikes made about as much noise as a single Sportster with an aftermarket bozo-pipe.

In the BRC, we spend a lot of time trying to convince our students to lay off of the brakes in corners. For new riders, this isn’t a natural or comfortable thing to do and it takes a lot of nagging to convince newbies to try it. In this particular class, we had six bikes that loudly announces their riders’ throttle activities, so we had special “opportunities” to note when our riders were rolling off of the throttle. At the end of the class, one of those students mentioned that she felt picked upon because her bike was so noisy that every throttle-control mistake she made was loudly broadcast to her coaches. She suspected that if she’d have been riding one of the quieter bikes, she might not have received as much attention/criticism/nagging/assistance as she had with her blubbering noisemaker.

She was right. Nothing broadcasts poor technique like advertising it with noise. A while back a news show highlighted the noise motorcycles add to our general noise pollution din. They interviewed a gaggle of bikers and learned that a couple of seriously dorky guys thought that loud bikes “make me look tough.” When Mr. Accountant rides through the neighborhood, he imagines that “everybody’s lookin’ to see who’s on that bike.” They’re lookin’ all right. They’re lookin’ and thinkin’ that motorcycles ought to be banned from the planet and that motorcyclists are morons.

What kind of statement is this?

There’s a different message loud pipes often convey to other motorcyclists. For example, I live on a sharp curve in St. Paul. At least a few dozen times a summer weekend, I get to experience the loud backfiring of poorly maintained big twins as they decelerate all the way through our turn, followed by the even louder potato-splatting of moderate horsepower crawling away from the scene of incompetence. I’m sure these dudes think all that noise implies “NASCAR driver” to local residents, but I happen to live on a block with a half-dozen fairly proficient motorcyclists. To all of us, what we hear is “Bozo hasn’t crashed yet. Damn!”

For those of you out there who ride with the passive “protection” of loud pipes, here’s something for you to think about. To the average Jill or Joe, you’re announcing that you don’t care about their hearing, peace of mind, or privacy. To some bikers, you’re displaying your uncanny ability to max out your credit card and bury yourself in debt on frivolous purchases. Some folks love any symbol of excessive consumption and pipes and chrome as just another sign of a well-oiled economy doing the supply and demand thing and more proof that “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

I have a guard rail all along the front of my property to protect my home from the talents of people who drive without knowledge or skill. Every spring the crash rail gets used by bikers and cagers, when they discover the city’s lackadaisical attitude toward sweeping up the post-winter barrels of sand and salt. Every summer, I get to pick up bits of chrome and plastic from vehicles that have discovered the flaws in their cornering technique. The first year we were here, I had to call 911 to come and remove a guy who had planted his leg in between the guard rail and one of the posts, which resulted in a knee that made crunching noises when he moved it.

When we were discussing a particularly awful rider’s travels through our neighborhood, my wife described the loud pipe’s message as “Look out for me! I’m not very good and I might fall down!” And I promptly fell down laughing. Maybe the noise message works. At least it might work when inanimate objects aren’t involved; like curves and barriers, trees, obstacles in the road, and fat old guys lying in the yard.

When you are roaring down the road, scaring small children and making enemies for motorcyclists in general, you’re also announcing something to a lot of motorcyclists. It’s not “look at me, I’m a badass lawyer/accountant/dentist/burger-flipper.” The message is “look out for me! I’m a terrible rider and I am likely to fall down without warning!”

I suppose the rest of us should thank you for the warning. We’ll do our bit to avoid you. Your noise vehicle is a “loud and proud” announcement of your own evaluation of your poor skills, so we’ll have to assume you’ll do something stupid and unpredictable and wildly hope everyone else will be anticipating that nincompoop action.

MMM April 2007

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None of Us Are Too Smart

One of my favorite books and podcasts is You Are Not So Smart (YANSS). In episode 1 of the podcast, “The Invisible Gorilla,” at about 9 minutes, Daniel Simmons discusses the “inattentional blindness” issue and directly relates it to why so many cagers do not see motorcyclists.

Especially during these years of Trump-insanity I’ve been distracted and fascinated by how poorly human brains work and how distant we actually are from the “rational animal” we pretend to be. YANSS is a wealth of information about those defective, funky, weird things that mostly reside between our ears. Since safe motorcycling is mostly a skill of the mind, rather than a physical skill of magical and mythical “muscle memory,” figuring out how our minds function or fail to function is a lot more important to those of us one two wheels than it is to cagers or mass transit commuters.

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Socially Acceptable Ways to Get F****d-Up

Now that I am occasionally back on a motorcycle, I am getting the regular reminders from friends and acquaintances of how dangerous motorcycling is and v Always, these brilliant and insightful comments come from people who either have never ridden a motorcycle or, worse, have had a friend or relative who crashed and died or was maimed for life. I am, of course, totally happy to receive these ill-formed anecdotes of death and destruction and enlightened by their low opinion of my judgement and skills.

If you know me at all, you might know I’ve been struggling with a basement bathroom installation all winter and some of last fall. Plumbing and me are in no way on friendly terms. I’m not that fond of construction carpentry, either. I am, more than anything cheap and picky about how things are done on my property, so I generally turn everything into a DIY project that I will hate before, during, and after the project is completed. It is just who I am. The point of bringing up this piece of recent and on-going history is that I have smashed and nearly sawn or clipped off fingers, bunged-up my knees and shoulders and back, and experienced a collection of minor and near-disastrous injuries during this damn construction project and not one person has commented on how I could maim various parts of my marginally repairable body working on my damn house. Maybe one out of ten of these people will say something about my working on the roof of my house, even. Dying to keep a roof from leaking or to stop a spouse from bitching is socially acceptable and, probably, even expected. But riding a motorcycle is just an unreasonably dangerous risk. .

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