Unnecessary Evil?

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

In a recent long, sometimes emotional, occasionally irrational discussion about the superiority/inferiority of belts, drive shafts, and chains, the comments from a few of the MMM regulars illustrated how much we humans dislike maintenance. It’s messy, it takes time away from riding and other more exciting activities, and it is boring. At my age, maintenance is also painful. Getting down on my garage floor to inspect low-lying components like the chain, oil-drain and filter, wheels and tires, and practically everything below the height of the seat is a gamble. After every service interval, there is a good chance that I’ll be squalling, “Help! I’m a turtle and I can’t get up!”

I taught a class called “Studio Maintenance I.” In the class introduction, I introduce the concept of maintenance to people who have often never touched a tool and describe how that practice effects a recording engineer’s performance and economic success. That discussion breaks studio owners’ maintenance attitudes into three basic categories:

  • Maintenance is something I only do when things break and I can’t get out of calling a tech.

  • Maintenance is something I do to prevent equipment from failing at critical moments.

  • Maintenance is what I do to add value to my studio’s sound quality and reputation.

I think you can apply those statements to motorcycle maintenance with a little modification.

Maybe it’s because my life was permanently altered when I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Maybe it’s because I worked as maintenance tech, manufacturing and design engineer, manufacturing manager, and tech services manager for more than half of my life. Maybe it’s because I have a mental disability that prevents me from walking by broken stuff without feeling a compulsion to fix it (Unless it’s plumbing. I hate plumbing.). Whatever the reason, I can’t help but think something vital is missing in a culture (or cultures) that does not feel the need to do basic maintenance. 

One of the key consumer features of all modern products is the disposability of those products. Most electronic devices are completely impractical to repair under all conditions. Car dealer service techs regularly yank an in-warranty motor and replace it with a whole assembly rather than fool with complicated diagnostics and repairs. Years ago, I discovered that motorcycle manufacturers dump their inventory of critical spares as soon as those parts cost more to store than they make from sales. When I reviewed the Honda 2011 Honda VT1300CT Custom Interstate last fall, I was astounded to see that Honda had entirely scrapped the idea of a tool kit because they considered the entire motorcycle to be “not user serviceable.” Because of the market that bike was intended to “serve,” their other assumption was that those users would be too incompetent and lazy to perform the most basic maintenance.

That’s a pretty strong statement Honda and others are making about us. If they are right, we’re not far from losing our right to claim we are a “tool using” species. No Wilbur, tapping “whr r u” on your smart phone does not mean you are either a tool user or smart. There is a pretty good chance that Honda’s bet will backfire on them, too. One of the activities that has formed and inspired the best young engineers and budding scientists is learning how to maintain machines or all sorts. If motorcycles become maintenance-free, in a few years the fools who mismanage the world’s manufacturing companies may find there is no one who can actually build them. If we were to wait for an MBA to build something useful, we could be stationary for centuries. In fact, just before we all starve to death, it’s possible that the world might discover that scientists and engineers are the primary “job creators” worldwide.

Knowing enough about our machines to recover from the average minor breakdown is an absolute necessity for anyone hoping to make use of an “adventure touring” bike. You aren’t going to suddenly develop those skills after your bike tosses off bits of your “maintenance free” drive belt after the rear tire spits a small rock into a pulley. In fact, if you aren’t already in the habit of doing fairly major maintenance, you won’t have the necessary tools available to repair the simplest problems on the road. One nasty side-effect of doing your own maintenance is accumulating a collection of tools. Unlike the sometimes-small odds that you’ll experience headaches, birth defects, insomnia, anxiety, and/or tremors with prescription medications, you will contract tools if you do maintenance. Owning tools isn’t evidence that you are a tool user, but not owning them proves you aren’t one. 

I can’t disagree that cleaning and lubing a chain is sometimes an unrewarding task. Checking and adjusting modern bucket-and-shim valve lifters is about as exciting as homework. Balancing injectors or carbs is mundane and uninspiring. For some of us, just cleaning a bike is painful. Carefully looking over every fastener from the footpegs to the wheels to everything holding the motor together and to the frame is the kind of work many of you would assign to the step-child you want to leave home first.

You can argue that you can’t have a major mechanical problem because you never ride more than fifty miles from home. There is some truth to that. You pick your poison and you live or die with the results. Lucky for me, most days fiddling on a bike in the garage by myself is the best part of the day. Rolling out of the tent early in the morning and going through my maintenance routine is part of how I figure out how the rest of the day is going to go. When I stop for food or fuel, I go through a similar checklist while the bike is warm and the tires are hot. At night, before I settle down for the evening I have a different schedule of things to check. When all of those processes are working right, I ride almost fearlessly. I feel closer to my motorcycle and more like we’re in this together. When something screws with some or all of my routine maintenance, I am clinging to the bars worrying about what is likely to fall off or blow up until I stop and do the work.

Your mileage may vary. Apparently, it likely does.

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Sliding to A Stop

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I was exploring some of the dirt roads between St. Paul and Taylors Falls on a Saturday morning this past fall, when I had the occasion to come to a couple of emergency stops. The first time was after a short series of 15mph turns on a paved farm road, I was barely out of one of the turns when a large deer wandered into the road and stopped to observe my on-coming motorcycle. He was in the middle of my lane and, since a truck was coming the other direction, the only evasive maneuver available to me was a quick stop. I’ve read several reviews of my WR250X that implied that the brakes are “weak” or “mushy.” I beg to differ. Maybe for a racer’s tastes those descriptions are apt, but for my weekend warrior playbike purposes the WR stops just fine.

And it did.

A few years back, I managed to execute a similar maneuver at night on a mostly-empty highway on my 650 V-Strom. For the most part, that incident had a happy ending, too, other than getting me gore-coated when an opposite-direction pickup splattered the deer all over his truck, emptying the contents of the deer’s bowels all over me in the process. That incident taught me not to admire the luck and skill of an emergency braking maneuver for more than it takes to pick a safe path around the deer and get the hell out of there.

One of the best things about being a motorcycle instructor is that I have to demonstrate quick stops a few times every week and think about braking technique often enough to be able to explain and do it half-well. Too bad there wasn’t anyone around to see this demo. I squared the bike up and laid into the brakes right up to the front wheel’s limit of traction. I might have slid the back tire a little bit, but not much. The deer wandered off of the road, after getting his day’s entertainment out of my emergency, the truck roared past without making any sort of adjustment, and I got the hell out of there and went back to playing around on the backroads.

A few miles further from that encounter-of-the-hoofed-kind, this time on a gravel farm road, I crested a hill and discovered a freakin’ herd of deer parading across the road; big ones, middle sized ones, and at least a half-dozen little bitty Hell spawn Bambis.  This time, I was moving a bit faster and hauling the bike down to stop took a bit more concentration. The road was slightly damp, covered with loose gravel and small rocks, and provided reasonable traction. No harm no foul or fawn.

After the four-hoofed crowd meandered from the road and I got back on the trail, I thought about how my two four-hoof experiences could have ended and how a police investigator might have evaluated the “evidence.” When I read police reports of crashes, one of the bits of “evidence” they seem to use is the skid distance left by crashed vehicles. Supposedly, this is some sort of indication of how fast the vehicle was traveling. Using that useless data point, if I had hit the deer the cops would have claimed I “made no effort to stop.” No skid marks, no braking? Seriously? I thought about this for a while after the last stop. On wet gravel just over a hill and no sliding and the bike came to a quick stop a good distance before any of the hoofed rats or me were in danger. So, no evidence left for the highway forensic “experts” to interpret and that would tell them what about my riding ability, attempt to avoid the collision, or anything else?

A while back, there was a news report about an off-duty cop who ran into a kid in a residential neighborhood  after “laying the bike down” in an attempt to avoid the collision. I see that kind of language in local police crash reports, too. We talk about this silly stuff in motorcycle safety classes all the time. Anyone who believes that sliding on polished metal provides a better coefficient of friction than rubber probably shouldn’t be playing with motorcycles. The only time I have ever seen a sideways motorcycle stop more effectively than one still operated rubber-side-down has been in soft, deep sand or sloppy mud. Often, that tactic results in a spectacular flying machine stomping the crap out of the helpless rider. Stopping or slowing quickly in either one of those situations usually involves flying over the bars and some unpleasant impact activities, followed by a completely out-of-control motorcycle doing whatever physics and luck dictate. Pavement requires some kind of sticky material for traction. Conveniently, tires are made of sticky materials. Bodywork, chrome and painted bits are considerably less sticky. 

“Lay ‘er down” logic ranks up there with the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” insanity. The argument defies logic, physics, mechanical engineering, experience, reality, and statistical evidence. Motorcyclists know that dropping the bike is an out-of-control panic maneuver, usually due to inappropriate rear brake use. Bikers never get good enough to know the difference. If you don’t know which kind of rider you are, you are not a motorcyclist.

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Gangbanger Holiday

This past weekend, Friday through Sunday, was River City Days in Red Wing. More than usual, we had packs of loud, incompetent, badged and tatted pirates parading through town creating smog, noise, irritation, and entertainment. We made it to the downtown affair a couple of times and had an opportunity to view how motorcycles are seen by the general public in a fairly diverse crowd. It’s pretty much all negative.

 

If you think South Park was exaggerating, you’re delusional, clueless, and or an asshole. There are no other alternatives.

The experience got me to thinking about where years of negative stereotypes are taking the future of motorcycling. Combined with a 3,000 mile trip to the Rockies and back earlier this summer where I saw so few motorcycles doing anything other than being asshole gangbangers or asshole squids, this summer really put a point on the spear I’ve been anticipating for years. Other than a few Midwestern manufacturing jobs, who would it inconvenience if motorcycles were banned from public roads? Since motorcyclists are already classified as “terrorists” and gangsters by the FBI (and I mean all of us with a class “M” license, not just the actual gangbangers), the majority of the public considers motorcycles to be a menace (and not just in the US), and insurance companies and most motorcyclists consider their motorcycle to be purely a “recreational vehicle,” it’s pretty obvious that we’re treading on unsound territory here.

In the past (the mid-80’s), the motorcycle manufacturers have at least considered ending motorcycle imports to the US and other 1st world countries due to liability costs. If insurance companies (especially health insurance) were able to properly price their products regarding insurer risk, most of us wouldn’t be able to ride because we couldn’t afford health or life insurance. If the public could do simple math, the estimated $2/mile cost of motorcycle crashes (mostly paid by the general public, since only half of motorcyclists involved in crashes have health insurance) would drive more than a little legislative action. Economically, the only rational move any society has is to start moving toward getting motorcycles off of the public’s roads.

Again, I ask “Who would that inconvenience?” Well under 1% of the public are being supported and tolerated by the 99%. If that sounds familiar, consider how much rage there is toward that other 1% group. Lucky for us and the other 1%, at least half of the country is so stupid that they will vote for a 1%’er to save themselves from sanity and they will pretend that motorcycles are some sort of “freedom” worth protecting. But they may not be stupid forever.

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Dumb Laws for Stupid Products

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dumb Laws for Stupid Products

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On my usual mid-week trip to the library, I got stopped by a Ramsey County Sheriff’s Deputy. As usual, he asked, “Do you know what I stopped you for?” I did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When You Know the End Is Near

untitledhttp://www.behindbarz.com/

BEHIND BARZ is a FAH-REE, full color, glossy magazine. It is distributed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. We also have subscribers in other parts of the country and all over the world! We showcase all types of motorcycles, domestic and import. We focus on local riders from a local rider’s point of view – not from the outside looking in . . . BB was created as a service for the biker. We are not going to give you a one picture and a paragraph kind of deal. BEHIND BARZ is here for the biker, period! We might not have been the first magazine in the Carolinas and surounding areas but we set the standards that no other can emulate or imitate!

“All types,” particularly if they are loud, slow, heavy, and incompetently designed. If you are looking for lots of “biker face,” here’s the main source.

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When You Know You Are Living with Marching Morons

Business Insider’s recent article about autopiloted cars, “Autopilot in cars is going to be a very tough sell,” proves that we’re well on our way to a society that is more emotional than rational and more stupid than sentient. The hysteria around one Tesla auto-piloted car crash seems particularly stupid from a motorcyclist’s perspective.

The half-witted article claims that the crash story and an included bit about Tesla’s auto-pilot saving one of the electric car manufacturer’s customer’s life, “provide at least a measure of anecdotal support for Tesla’s claims that its own data show autopilot—imperfect as it is—is already significantly safer than the average human driver.

“That’s going to be a tough sell, though, to the public and regulators alike. Brown’s death ignited a backlash that had been brewing since Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced autopilot in a heavily hyped, Steve Jobs–like launch event in October 2014. ”

A significant portion of the public is moronic enough to imagine that Donny Trump is bright enough to assume the office of President of the United States without doing what he does best; bankrupting the entire nation. Caring about what those people think is not among the qualities that any half-intelligent society would consider. It’s obvious from a few moments of highway driving that 90% of the current driving public would be better replaced with a 1980’s MS-DOS computer system.

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