I Shouda Been A Contender

When I was young, still “made out of rubber and magic,” and full of unfounded confidence in my invulnerability I restarted my motorcycling life with a purchase of a 1971 Kawasaki 350 Big Horn. Motorcycles had been a big, then a small, then a non-existent, and back to big part of my life from when I was 15 until a year before my first kid was born in 1971. I didn’t buy the Big Horn new. It had belonged to an old Texas rancher who imagined that he could easily step down from horses to a motorcycle and discovered that he’d be relegated to a pickup instead. Today, I can relate to his dilemma, but back then I just saw his age-related misfortune as an opportunity. I paid a fraction of new price for a barely used bike and immediately went back to my old off-roading habits.

In those days, Hereford, Texas was a slightly prosperous west Texas ranching and cattle-feeding town with a side order of sugar beets and cotton. Today, it is practically a ghost town. Then, we had Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Eurotrash dealers, a hill climbing area, a barely-out-of-town motocross track, and hundreds of miles of poorly maintained farm-to-market roads that, often, were barely more than tractor tracks leading as far away as a rider would want to travel on an off-road motorcycle of the day. One of the guys I worked with, a welder named “Charlie,” was a local “bad influence” motocross phenom who rode a 250 Kawasaki piston-port motocrosser and who had found the Big Horn for me. He and I spent a fair number of evenings and weekends banging tanks at the Hereford track and flipping over backwards showing off at the hill climb area. It was all his fault that I almost missed the birth of my daughter, Holly, because he’d signed us both up for a Sunday race in Dalhart the weekend she decided to venture into the world.

South Canadian River – Las Animas County, CO | San Isabel National ForestSince becoming a father ruined that weekend’s escape, A few weeks late, I signed the two of us up for the end-of-season race, the Canadian River Cross-country. A 120 mile race that started on the west end of Lake Meredith, a pitiful hole that might have been a lake at some time, but was just a big ditch most of the year in the 70s. From there west to New Mexico, the Canadian “River” was a long, wide trench with spotty pools of water, usually surrounded by rocks. I do not remember where exactly the race ended. 1971 was a LONG time ago. I remember my wife was really pissed that, after working a 90 hour week, leaving her home alone with a new baby, I was going to escape all of that bliss for a day and “go racing.” I was probably the least excited-to-be-a-young-father guy on the planet at that moment and her arguments were absolutely valid but unconvincing. Charlie was coming because he had a pickup and a great tool kit, but his interest in Cross-country was so slight that, after the first section, he turned back, loaded up his bike, and drove to the end to wait for me to show up so he could go home and get back to motocross.

I was “determined.” When I lined up with the other open class bikes, maybe 20 of us, it was the first race I’d been in since my rough scramble days on the Harley 250 Sprint. The juices were flowing, I thought i was ready to race and, even, win, and my Big Horn was faster than snot. Heavy as a buffalo, but really powerful for the time. In recent years, I’ve been told that my motorcycles are “unfit for off-road purposes,” and I just laugh at that idea because most of those characters wouldn’t even consider a mess like the Canadian River Cross-Country on a 2022 enduro. My Big Horn was heavy (400+ pounds), barely-suspended with Boge shocks (maybe 3 1/2” of travel) and the stock forks, only made real power (33hp) when the motor was wound up past 4,000 RPM, and ungainly as hell. Every bike I’ve owned from my 125 ISDT to my XT350 to my TDM850 or V-Strom adventure bikes have been far more off-road capable than that Kawasaki so-called “enduro.” In late-1971, I had no idea that there were much better options and if I had been it wouldn’t have mattered because they weren’t available or affordable in West Texas.

The flag fell and off we went. I’d spent some time boning up on the warning flags and less than 10 miles in that education paid off. Just before we entered a tight, blind, hard left in the riverbed, one of those flags fluttered just enough to clue me in that there was a hazard. The hazard turned out to be a substantial pile of rocks that was littered with bikes, bike parts, and riders. I managed to come to a stop before piling into the guy who was in front of me. He didn’t. I paddled through a narrow passage and climb to the other side of the rocks and kept going. From here out, my memories are really clouded.

I know I crashed at least a dozen times in the next 100-some miles. I remember seeing a fair number of bikes and riders stuck in swampy sand, piled into rocks, logs, and each other. I remember, somewhere near the end, smacking my engine case on some rocks, busting the cases, and slowly losing the transmission fluid over the remaining miles. I remember only being able to shift from 1st to 2nd with no neutral or other gears in the last few miles. I remember losing power like crazy and barely motoring past the finish line. Charlie was there waiting for me and we loaded my bike back into his pickup. I remember drinking something, probably beer, on Charlie’s tailgate waiting for the results. I definitely remember a long period of no motorcycle, lots of overtime, and recriminations from my wife, while I reassembled and repaired the damage to my bike from that race.

My big memory, biggest in fact, of that race was discovering that because “only” three open class bikes finished, the organizers decided that they would only trophy to 2nd place, instead of 4th as planned and announced. I guess they wanted to save money on their crappy $5 plastic trophies. I got a fuckin’ ribbon, instead, but my finishing position wasn’t even listed, since I didn’t trophy. I raced motorcycles for another ten years, ending with a series of busted ribs, toes, and fingers. I never again came close to being on the podium. I pointed, in Nebraska, well enough to progress from Novice to Expert in the “Enduro Class,” but that was a quantity-over-quality achievement.

In the 1980s, when my daughter was skateboarding with her soon-to-be-famous boarding friends in Huntington Beach, she used to wear a tee-shirt that said, “I wish I were as fast as my father remembers he was.” I guess that is about as close as I will ever get to a motorcycle trophy.

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Breakin’ ‘Em in or Breakin’ ‘Em Down?

Way back in January of 2007, I bought a brand new, custom-fitted Aerostich Darien suit as part of my prep for an Alaska trip the coming spring. Looking back at the review I wrote in 2008 for that suit, I’m slightly ashamed (only slightly) of my cowardly description of breaking in the suit, “After wearing the Darien suit almost every day for two months, it became much more flexible.” Yeah, that’s not how I broke in my Darien. If you have never owned a new Aerostich suit, you might not believe me when I say their “abrasion-resistant Mil-spec 500 Denier Cordura®" is "stiff as a board," but it pretty much is. I have no idea how they fold those suits into a neat package because that stuff folds about as easily as a refrigerator box.

I had owned a very old Aerostich Roadcrafter before the Darien and I pretty much knew what I was getting into, even if that memory was more than 20 years old. I did ride to work a few times that winter and everything helps, but I’m going to admit to you in this rant how I really broke in my Darien during the winter of 2007. My grandson was about 11 at the time and he spent a lot of his weekends with us at our Little Canada house. Our backyard had a fairly two-tier steep cliff drop-off into Savage Lake and we sledded that hill often, even had large sledding parties when the snow was good enough and the lake was frozen solid. Most of the weekends between January and March that year, my grandson, my wife Elvy, and friends and family would bomb down that hill on sleds, snowboards, cardboard sheets,inner tubes, and I was right there with them in my Aerostich. Just me and that 500 Cordura and the Darien’s armor and the hill. I’d toss myself over the edge and slide on my back, belly and/or sides out on to the ice until that suit was as soft and pliable as it was ever going to be. I did not “wear the Darien” to break it in, I pounded the snot out of it. Not me, the suit. That tough material and terrific back, hip, shoulder, knee, and elbow padding and my helmet, gloves, and boots more than served the purpose of a sled and I got the suit broken in and ready to ride 13,000 miles that spring while having a terrific time being a maniac with my grandson.

In 2012, Icon gave me a really good deal on a pair of their Patrol Boots, which I reviewed for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly in 2013. I liked the boots quite a bit and wore them often for 2-3 years, but I never really liked either the hassle of latching up the dual adjustable stabilizer straps or getting my bunged up “Haglund’s deformity” heel past the section between the uppers and the inside of the boot. I’m old, I’ve never been particularly flexible, and the weird twisted position I have to get into to latch up the boots is a hassle. So, the boots have mostly sat in my closet ignored and unused for most of the 9 years I’ve owned them. I tried to give them away, but nobody wanted them. This year, my very old, very used Merrell winter boots rotted to pieces. I started looking for replacements, but a good winter boot is easily in the $100 territory and I’m unlikely to live long enough or walk far enough to justify a $100 boot. So, I drug out the Icons and, damn they are excellent winter boots: warm, water resistant, tough, and super comfortable; just not quite broken-in.

Soooooooooooooooo

Remember the Darien break-in tactic? I’m going to abuse the snot out of these boots stomping around in the snow all winter. Next spring, if I survive (something a lot of us are saying in this COVID world), I hope to have them and me broken in enough that I use them on the motorcycle a lot.

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Words and Pictures? Pass

My days of journalism and deadlines and word counts and waiting for invoices to be paid are done. “Rock is dead. Long live rock and roll!” And all that malarkey. The editor for the last online magazine I wrote for, “Fast Lane Biker Delmarva,” regularly asked for “pictures to go with the text.” I tried, honest I did. My editors with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly wanted the same thing, for almost 20 years. I managed to comply consistently enough with product and motorcycle reviews, but with my column I pretty much failed them regularly.

Why?

I hate taking pictures and I really hate taking pictures of me. I don’t even like looking at pictures of me. 95% of the reason I have a beard is that shaving requires looking in a mirror and mirrors explode into vaporized silicon dioxide when exposed to my face for any period of time. Seriously, I’m not visual and my patience with being asked to mess with images of any sort was never great but is now vanishing. When I was doing the journalism thing, criticism of my pictures usually evoked a “you do it, then” response. Threatening to dock my pay if pictures weren’t included didn’t have much leverage. I’d pay not to have to take a picture, so losing an article assignment because I couldn’t guarantee useful pictures was not much of a price to pay.

My wife is a “visual artist,” but one who is chronically lazy when it comes to learning anything new. In her mind, the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten pretty much wrapped up her education philosophy. (Except for those idiotic alien invasion Netflix “documentaries she seems infatuated with. Do you know there are morons who call themselves “alienologists?” Seriously. They all look like the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy and the same droning idiot narrates every one of those programs. It is the soundtrack of our basement office.) For more than 50 years, 99.9999% of our family pictures have been taken by me (resentfully) and even the ones that included me were usually taken with that damned self-timer camera function. (I should have never admitted that I know how to do that.) I have taken exactly one picture in my life that I sort of liked and that picture got my camera work more criticism than all of the other crap combined.

Today, while we were walking the dog along Spring Creek, my wife decided she wanted a picture of the creek for our 2021 Xmas card. We haven’t done cards in more than 20 years, but suddenly not only are we doing one but I’m supposed to take pictures and design a card. And for the first time in our 55 years together I said, “Nope. Not doin’ it. You want it, you do it.” I’m laying odds that will be the end of the Xmas card, but if it isn’t I will definitely write something as my contribution.

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My “Hardest/Fastest/Longest” Ride

I’ve been reading Andy Goldfine’s Aerostich blog since the first entry. This week’s piece was “The Older I Get, the Faster I Wuz” which he ended by asking “Famously, whatever doesn’t kill you hopefully makes you stronger.  What were some of your hardest/fastest/longest rides?”

I’ve had a few hard, long, and moderately fast rides, but my first real street bike trip was probably the longest and hardest of my life. I fully expected to do a search on this blog and find that story to link to my comment’s on Andy’s blog. Somehow, it only sort of got a mention in my review of the Honda CX500 I rode on that trip and another mention (with a trip map) in “Losing the Travel Thing” from 2017. If you thought I was running out of motorcycle stories, you don’t know me very well. I’ve barely touched on my early off-road experiences and mostly grazed over the motorcycle trips and “adventures” that occurred after I moved from California to Denver. Before that period, the only motorcycle writing I did was a couple of short stories and a commuting article for a southern California motorcycle magazine. So, I might start backtracking thanks to Andy’s question.

Like I said in the CX500 review, “I bought my 1980 CX500 Deluxe for $800, cash, from a guy who was suffering the after-effects of divorce and needed the cash in the middle of winter, in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1982.” The bike had less than 500 miles on the odometer, but it had been “decorated” with crash rails and “road pegs,” the foot pegs had been replaced with police-style paddles, and assorted other bits of useless and dangerous chrome. The parts guy at the electronics supply house I frequented bought all of the chrome crap for enough money to finance putting the bike back into stock shape before I left Omaha in late March, 1983 for my new job in California.

Between wrapping up my old job, getting our household stuff ready to ship to California later that spring when the kids were out of school and I had found a place for us, and putting my affairs in some sort of order so I could leave everything behind and get myself organized for my new job, I had no real travel plan sorted out for the 2,000+ miles between Omaha and Costa Mesa, California. After an emotional and stressful goodbye to my family and friends, I fired up the CX and headed south out of Nebraska, hoping to escape before the unpredictably warm spring Nebraska weather turned on me.

My first day out, I pounded about 450 miles between Omaha and Dodge City, Kansas, where I stopped to see my father and step-mother for the evening. The ride between Omaha and Dodge was tough, mostly because I hadn’t been on a bike for a couple of years and I had never been on a fully loaded road bike riding through a 40mph sidewind. My back, neck, and arms were beat to crap by the time I rolled into their driveway. The next day, the weather was so nice I let my father talk me into playing caddy for him while he played a round of golf and I stayed another night. That night that damn wind brought a blizzard, which was just starting to come down and stick when I hit the road early the next day. I’d planned on heading southwest into southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, but by the time I’d put on about 100 miles in that direction, it was obvious that south was the logical escape route.

CaliforniaMoveMy next stop was Hereford, Texas, about 300 miles southwest of Dodge. My kids were, sadly, born in Hereford in the early 70’s, something their birth certificates will curse them with for their whole lives, and I had some friends there. First, though, I had to survive the trip. By Guymon, Oklahoma, the snow had turned to ice and the roads were slick and dangerous. I was not even a little prepared for this kind of weather. My rain gear was a bright yellow, rubberized fireman’s suit, which was reasonably waterproof but thermally worthless. In Guymon, I stopped to steal a bunch of grocery store plastic bags that I wrapped my hands and feet in for water-resistance and a little thermal insulation. I stuffed that fireman’s gear with a couple layers of pants and shirts and wore a down vest on top of that. I had to have looked like a yellow Pillsbury Doughboy flying down the highway as fast as I could manage. Semi’s were littering the ditches, after jack-knifing on the iced highway and banging their way through any obstacles between them and the ditch. All of the motels were blacked out due to power failures and full-up even without heat and electricity.

I rolled into a Hereford filling station; frozen, well-into hypothermia, almost delirious from the cold and fatigue. Barely able to move my legs, I half-opened my side-stand, started to lift my right leg over the bike, and they whole mess—bike, gear, and a few pounds of ice stuck to every exposed spot on me and the bike—landed on the ground in a heap. I’d pretty much resigned myself to freezing to death on the spot when a guy in a cowboy had stepped out of his pickup, pulled the bike off of me and onto its side stand, and lifted me off of the ground saying, “Those things get pretty heavy sometimes.” I mumbled something. He asked, “Are you alright?” I mumbled something else and he shook his head and led me into the station where I found a telephone booth (Remember those things?) and found a motel for the night.

After unloading my gear into the motel room, standing in the shower until the hot water was used up, and finding a restaurant where I could get a huge steak dinner, I called a friend who joined me for an after-dinner beer and spent the night recovering from nearly freezing to death. I got up late, loaded up and hit US385 south toward Odessa and, hopefully, out of the ice and cold. I made it about 5 miles when my front wheel started screaming at me. It was pretty obvious that a wheel bearing had failed and I turned back to Hereford where I’d passed a Honda dealership on the way out of town. It turned out that the service department was pretty idle that day, since no rational Texan would be out on a motorcycle in 40F weather, and they got me back on the road in an hour or two. It also turned out that the dealership had been started by two of the guys I worked with when I lived in Hereford a decade earlier. Neither of them were motorcycle guys and they’d spent a small fortune building a new facility, overstaffing it with sales people and understaffing it with service people and had gone bankrupt in a couple years. The guy who owned the place took a great deal of enjoyment telling me about all of that, especially the bits about buying the business for a few cents on the dollar. With new front wheel bearings and some sunlight left, I headed south as fast as I could.

After those first miserable couple of days on the road, sunshine and 50F weather was intoxicating. I mindlessly pounded out the 400 miles between Hereford and El Paso, Texas before realizing that I really wanted to be on the freeway heading straight west, which meant going north (scary thought) to Las Cruces before I could really pound out some miles. Somewhere along the 400 miles between Las Cruces and Tucson, Arizona, I wandered off of the freeway, found a park I remember as “Apache Mounds” and put up my tent for the night.

The next day, I covered the 700 desert miles between my campsite and San Diego, California, hooked up to the 405 and made it another 90 miles to Costa Mesa, California just before dark. The two memories I have of that section of the ride were: 1) discovering that I could lock the CX’s steering and throttle and kick back and relax almost like I was a passenger for a lot of desert miles and 2) pissing off a rough, tough Harley pirate when his big noisy Harley died early on the way up the east side of the Pine Mountain on I8 and my “rice burner” just kept on going while he was stuck at one of the many water barrels at the freeway edge.

I had the idiot idea that my new employer was expecting me when I arrived and discovered that not only was that not true but the place was closed on Saturday and finding an affordable place to stay in Orange County on a weekend was a pipedream. I spent a good bit of time pounding away at motel phone numbers in a phone booth before discovering that I was on my own. I headed south toward some open land that used to be state park territory between Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach and camped for the night on the beach like one of today’s millions of homeless folks do. That night, I also discovered that I’d left my damn billfold in that Costa Mesa phone booth.

The next day, I rolled into QSC Audio Products’ office in Costa Mesa, broke, frustrated and angry, and screwed. At the suggestion of the receptionist, I called the Costa Mesa police and discovered some amazing, decent, sympathetic California had turned my billfold into the police lost-and-found. My money and credit cards were still in the billfold and my life was still on some sort of track. I also still had more than a week of downtime before I was supposed to show up for work for QSC.

First, I hit the 80’s version of Craig’s List, a newspaper called “The Recycler,” found a room-for-rent in a single-family home in Huntington Beach, stowed the stuff I’d been lugging across the country that I didn’t need for a motorcycle trip in my rented room, found a bank for my new life’s financial needs, and hit the PCH for some pressure-free exploration before starting a new life in California. My first stop was Yosemite National Park, 400 miles north, where I explored the hiking trails, fumbled a bit at pretending to be a rock climber, and relaxed for a day in a spectacular campsite, White Wolf. From there, I rode 200 miles to San Francisco and wallowed in a real hippy community that was still sort-of-cool in 1983 and stumbled onto a motel near Golden Gate Park that I’d take advantage of for the next 8 years, every time I was in San Francisco. After a day and a night in San Francisco, I was back on PCH and rode another 200 miles north to Mendocino, California and camped along the Big River just south of town; another location that I’d reused dozens of times while I lived in California.

A couple of days later, I rode 600 miles as close to non-stop as possible back to Huntington Beach and my rented room, unloaded the bike, and settled into my new life as a Californian. A month later, I found a two-bedroom apartment in Huntington Beach for my family, and the solo part of the California adventure was over.

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The View from Two Wheels

About this time last year, I posted an article on a Red Wing Facebook page about “How to Build a City around Bicycles Fast,” with the intention of beginning a conversation about making this fading village attractive to 21st Century people. I introduced the video with the statement “If you want to attract skilled, innovative young adults to a small town, making it a bicycle transportation haven would be high on a lot of lists.” The generally hostile response to that surprised me, a little:

  • “We don’t want it here they don’t follow rules now so that would make it even worse.”
  • “If bikes followed the rules of the road, sure. But in my experience they don’t. They don’t stop at stop signs, don’t ride on the proper side of the road, and even ride on sidewalks. They’re vehicles, and are supposed to follow vehicle traffic rules.”

And so on. There were slightly over 30 negative comments about creating any sort of accommodation for bicycles in the city and exactly 3 bicyclists responding.

I have to admit, I love the cluelessness of cagers imagining that they “follow the rules.” As a lifelong bicyclist and a motorcyclist for the past 50 years, what I see from my unobstructed view of cagers is almost non-stop ignorance and arrogance when it comes to “the rules of the road.” Here are some examples of that behavior.

  1. At least half of the traffic on a two-lane road will be unaware of where their vehicle belongs. For the most part, rural drivers know we drive on the right side in the United States, but they don’t seem to know what the lines in the road indicate. Trucks, especially, wander from the middle of the road to the edge of pavement, well into the scrawny “bicycle lanes” and skirting the gravel and, eventually, the ditch. As a bicyclist, you have to keep a close eye on what’s in front and behind you with a readiness to hit the ditch or jump a curb when you see a vehicle barreling from behind taking up the bicycle lane.
  2. Pretty much no one in a cage or truck knows the rules for stop signs. {“If there is a stop sign with no pavement markings, stop near the intersection where you have a good view of approaching traffic. If there is a crosswalk without a stop line, stop at the nearest crosswalk line. If there is only a stop sign, stop at the stop line. If the crosswalk has a stop line, stop at the stop line.”] What actually happens is most drivers roll through the crosswalk, stopping with the nose of their vehicle well into on-coming traffic, if they slow down at all. If you are a bicyclist, you have to assume the majority of drivers will expect you to give up your right of way so that they don’t have to control their vehicle competently.
  3. Stopping at stop signs and lights is, apparently, optional. This isn’t just a rural thing because there is an intersection at 10th and Minnesota in St Paul where it is never safe to assume the vehicles heading northwest on Minnesota (a one-way street) will pay the slightest attention to the stop light. The police station used to be at that location and even that didn’t slow down the goofballs who commuted through the area. In rural areas, lights and signs are regularly ignored and there are known areas of high crash incident. As a bicyclist or motorcyclist, it is never safe to assume cagers are competent, sane and rational, or not homicidal. 
  4. Stop signs and lights pose another fatal attraction for two-wheeled folks: getting run over or rear-ended while stopped. Lane-splitting advocates argue that lane-splitting/sharing reduces motorcycles from being rear-ended at stops. My experience confirms that but any rational person should be nervous about anecdotal and hearsay evidence. I don’t buy those arguments for loud exhaust systems and you shouldn’t buy them for lane-splitting. However, it is a fact that drivers often run over bicycles and motorcycles at this interaction points and I will always opt for getting some serious mass between me and any on-coming vehicles when I’m forced to stop in traffic. On a bicycle, you are screwed no matter what you do: 1) stop in a vehicle lane and you’re likely to be run over, 2) stop in the bike lane and you are at risk both from cars that roll over you thinking the bike lane is a turn lane and you’ll also be at risk when a cager decides to turn in front or over you thinking a cage has the right-of-way when turning over a bicycle going straight.
  5. Residential streets are a free-for-all zone, no rules apply to locals. Seriously, “random motion” describes what you can expect from drivers in these areas.
  6. In the United States, noise pollution appears to be one of those “my rights override any other considerations” situations, like gun ownership. As a bicyclist, you should be wearing ear plugs for when you are passed by motorcycles, pickup trucks, and any other motorized vehicle driven by a noisy spoiled child. The country and most states have vehicle noise laws, but cops are too lazy to enforce them. You can, literally, suffer permanent hearing damage from being near some of these vehicles.
  7. Speed limits are less than a suggestion if there isn’t a cop in the immediate traffic mix. Worse, most rural drivers are not competent to walk on a crowded sidewalk, but in a motor vehicle these idiots are rolling assassins but they all imagine themselves to be NASCAR drivers (including the inability to turn right).
  8. “Bicycle lanes” are mostly considered to be fair game for parking, passing, and trash dumping. Not only that, but city workers often place obstacles in bike lanes that force bicyclists into clueless traffic.
  9. Unplanned, sudden right turns across traffic lanes and, especially, bicycle lanes are snafu. This is true in urban and rural areas, but more true where drivers are unsophisticated, unskilled, and unfamiliar with sharing the road with anyone else. When a rube visits the “big city,” which can be a pretty small place if the rube is a total goober, everything is a surprise and their reactions are often totally idiotic and unpredictable.
  10. Nothing about the “distracted driver” whining is in the least bit sincere. Occasional and random traffic citations for cell phone abuse is just a revenue generator. If society cared about the people, cell phones would be cut off when they are in a moving vehicle (easily done from either the phone or the cell provider). Drivers know nobody really cares if they are paying attention, so they don’t. From a bicycle viewpoint, I can tell you at least half of the drivers waiting at a stop light are staring at their phones or yakking way as if they were in their living room. When the light changes, that “100’ rope” that appears to tie each of the vehicles in the traffic-train of together is just the lag time between when the light changes or vehicle in front moves and the idiot behind looks up from his/her phone and resumes being a distracted driver. Autonomous cars can not come soon enough.
  11. Drivers are not aware or skilled enough to be “out to get you.” Honestly, if drivers were intentionally homicidal they’d be easier to predict. Random motion is exactly that: random. So, guessing what kind of idiot move a driver is going to make is an infinitely complicated calculation. When I taught motorcycle safety classes, I would politically incorrectly tell students, “If cagers had any skill, they wouldn’t need four wheels to balance themselves.” That is still my position and I’m stickin’ with it.

I’m still riding, so the odds are good that I’ll be making additions to this list. If you have any favorites, add them on the “Comments” below.

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RIP: Denny Delzer, A Collector/Restorer of Many Fine Things

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In 2009, I did a North Dakota Ghost Town Tour that started weird and continued for the whole 3,000 miles of that state coming and going. About mid-way I managed to fry a back tire (I know, not the first or, probably, the last time.) and ended up backtracking to Bismarck and stuck with nothing to do while the shop I’d lucked into shoe-horned me into their shop schedule. Luckily, I detailed this amazingly cool day in a blog entry, “Got Friday on My Mind,” back then. Otherwise, my floppy memory would probably make a total mess out of the events 12 years ago. From Lee Klapprodt’s recommendaton of the Cycle Hutt for the tire to Cycle Hutt’s owner, Justin Bohn, introducing me to Denny Delzer by telephone, the day went from a little depressing to downright amazing.

Day 5 053

Recently, my old Mac Pro 3,1 died and a friend sent me a 5,1 replacement, which I have been setting up and enjoying for the last month or so. Today, I decided to clean up the picture history on my Mac so that the super-cool screen saver Photo Wall would be more . . . entertaining and less repetitive. Afterwards, while I worked on my Dell laptop at the Mac’s desk, a bunch of pictures from that North Dakota tour popped up with a lot of the pictures I took at Denny’s shop and home and some that he took of me looking terrified on his $150,000+ Egli-Vincent restoration. (That bike was worth more than my entire net worth at the time.)

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Denny and I had kept up an intermittent email friendship over the years and when I tried to look up his company, B3Hammond.com, and discovered it . . . looked weird. So, I did a search on “Denny Delzer” and discovered he had been killed in a single vehicle motorcycle crash (on his Vincent, of course) in June, 2020. There isn’t much information about the crash from official sources, but there are some stories on the Vincent collector sites. Apparently, “The day of the accident he was on the big engine Shadow and according to his riding partner, they were on a straight and smooth piece of tarmac and he suddenly went down. It appears to have been a blowout of his front tire that took him down.” I rode one of those “big engine” Vincents and it was as bad a motorcycle as I have ever experienced, with a heavy steering damper to try and disguise the steering deficiencies. A front tire blowout on that bike would almost certainly result in a crash with almost any ride.

I have nothing but good memories of the day I spent with Denny. He was incredibly generous with his time (and motorcycles), brilliantly technical, funny as hell, a good musician, and one seriously busy guy. Saturday night, I saw him perform with his band, Powerhouse (I think), before I skipped out of Bismarck and headed back west for the rest of my ghost town hunt. The last email between us in my email history was 2017. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but I guess it was. Shame on me. I have known very few old guys who were more alive than Denny Delzer. I’m sure he is missed because I miss him and I barely knew him.

Day 5 039

PS: While Denny practically forced me to ride his Egli-Vincent, he didn’t make the slightest motion toward the bike he and I both liked a lot, his Yamaha IT-175.  There are limits to anyone’s generosity. I might have run away with the Yamaha, but he was safe in the knowledge that the Vincent would come back.

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Who You Meet on the Road

On my Sunday’s ride, I encountered a fair number of motorcyclists both on Highway 61 (slide whistle implied) and on the dozen or so county roads I traveled. The first group, or two groups, were a pair of very large cruiser pirate packs on Highway 61 a few miles north of Lake City. I’d estimate that there were about 50 loud, plodding and waddling traffic-clogging pirates traveling two-and-three-abreast in each of two groups. Or, maybe, it was just one huge pack of pirates with an intermission in the middle? There was a line of cars that went back at least 3 miles well into Lake City. Lots of pissed off cagers and not a cop in sight. If there were two legal exhaust systems in that flock of bikers, I missed them. That group pretty much reminded me of the greased-up “cool kids” from high school who would get jobs sacking groceries when they turned 16, buy a car a few months later, prowl the halls of school terrorizing the “geeks and nerds,” wearing their big brother’s letter jacket since they’d never played a sport successfully, and 20 years later they’re still sacking groceries, driving the same beater car, living in their mom’s basement, bitching about how their ex-wife(wives). screwed them in the divorce, and getting all dressed up like a pirate for their twice-a-year Harley outing with the other Born Losers. So many scowls in one place. You’d think they’d been drug to church on a sunny Sunday.

There were a few downed or stalled bikers along the road between Frontenac and Lake City and even more distributed throughout Lake City. There was a police car stopped behind one group of biker goobers, fending off traffic while the bikers tried to haul a hippobike out of a ditch. There were two hippos down in front of a Kwik Trip at the west end of town with a couple of riders sitting on the asphalt holding their heads as if they’d fallen down in the parking lot and cracked their un-helmeted skulls. Another half-dozen pirates stood around helplessly watching the Agony of Disability. As I passed that group an ambulance roared up behind me, sirens blasting, and pulled into the Kwik Trip.

On US 63, heading southeast out of town, two more hippos were being rescued from a ditch by a towing company winch and some black leather clad menial labor. One of the cruisers was some kind of full dress mess and there was a lot of busted plastic scattered along the roadside.

There is a weird-assed mostly abandoned mansion a few miles off of 63 on County 15 that I like to check out intermittently. Someone (or someones) have made irregular attempts at restoring this old place and I like to check out the progress (or lack of) occasionally. So, I did. It actually looks more disheveled than it did before the “work” began several years ago, but it does look like someone might be living in the carriage house.

After some mindless meandering around the twisty county roads south and west of Lake City, I started heading back home. A big pack of motorcyclists (not bikers) were congregated at the intersection of County Rd 5 and 2. Must have been 20-25 of ‘em, all decked out in leathers, Aerostich and ‘Stich clone gear, full-face helmets, and mounted up mostly on sportbikes. Passing that bunch of riders was almost like having a cheering audience for some performance I didn’t know I was doing. Without having the slightest idea who I was, I absolutely had the feeling they were happy, no delighted, to see me. I don’t remember ever having that many people energetically waving at me. I ride earplugged, but I’m pretty sure there was cheering and encouragement going on. Don’t know why, but they were definitely a friendly bunch. In high school, they’d absolutely have been in the glee club, probably the chess club, band, drama, and debate, too. Definitely nerds and geeks, my people.

Motoring along on a “limited maintenance” road west of Lake City, waved at a couple of guys (I think) on big adventure touring bikes as we passed each other in a cloud of dust. An Africa Twin and a big GS Beemer, if I remember right. Definitely geeks. I think one of them was signaling some kind of warning to me, but I don’t sign competently and I kept motoring along until I came up to a fairly slow-moving black pickup that, eventually, slowed to a stop in the middle of the road. Some California paranoia crept into my mind and I seriously considered blasting past the truck on the right to stay away from the driver’s side door and the weapon that can be. Most of my California reflexes have been dulled by witnessing too much Minnesota passive-aggressive behavior and I passed the pickup on the left at a moderate speed and got moving again without incident. A few miles down the road and I heard a police siren. I was approaching US 58 and initially thought the cop was ahead of me on the highway, but when I checked my mirror it was full of that black pickup and flashing lights. I pulled off and he passed me moving fast. I don’t know what the weird thing with blocking the road was about, but the sirens weren’t for me and that’s about all I cared about.

I managed to turn what could have been a ten minute ride home into another 45 minutes of meandering, but I still got home in plenty of time for the bicycle ride I’d promised my wife I’d do. There was absolutely no point in my Sunday ride. I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t stop anywhere, didn’t even need to stop for gas, didn’t do any errands, didn’t bring home lunch. Totally pointless and about as much fun as I’ve ever had on a motorcycle; at least on the street.

 

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Recalibrating Expectations

Yesterday, Sunday November 11, 2021, was possibly the last really nice day of the year. Winter is coming and once it gets here it might stay for a while. I have done a crap job of motivating myself to ride my new (to me) motorcycle this season. I had some good excuses, cataract surgery in July that also sucked up a bit of August in recover, COVID made travel to many of the places I love to ride precarious, and a good bit of the Rockies were on fire during prime late fall riding season. But, mostly, I have realized that my primary lifetime justification for riding, transportation to and from work, is no longer in my life. I started off my “adult life” poor and remained pretty much on the edge of falling out of the lower middle class for about 3/5ths of my life.

I also fell into manufacturing and manufacturing engineering about the time I began to creep out of that precarious income bracket and ROI (Return On Investment) calculations became an everyday part of my life and remained so until I retired. I pretty much made every recreational activity I indulged in pay its own way, justify my participation and the activity’s existence financially. My band income paid for my musical instruments and the cost of being a musician. I got into “collecting” and trading musical equipment for several years and the money I made doing that paid for the recording studio equipment and facilities. First, my motorcycles were off-road recreational vehicles only, but I managed to pickup an Ossa dealership in the early 70s and I sold enough motorcycles to pay for my own and my wife’s dirt bikes. My garage was “The Dirt Shop” and I repaired everything from Ossas under warranty to street bikes. I started riding a street bike shortly before I moved to California in the early 80s and I made the move from Nebraska to southern California on my Honda CX500, carrying all of the clothing, books, and necessities I’d need for my first 3 months in California in a backpack strapped to the CX’s sissy bar. My motorcycles were my primary transportation in California for 10 years, in Indiana and Colorado for the next 6, and for at least 8 months a year for the first 22 years in Minnesota. I also taught the state’s Motorcycle Safety courses for 18 years, which provided about half of our family income for several of those years.

In Red Wing, I almost never have a compelling reason to ride a motorcycle anywhere. Downtown is 3 miles, an easy trip on my bicycles and an effortless trip on my eBike. After 50+ years of being on her own taking care of kids and a household while I worked 50-90 hour workweeks, my wife is doing everything she can to do the “togetherness thing” in our retirement years. We have taken more trips together in the past 6 years than in the previous 48 combined. Almost all of those trips have been in a cage.

Yesterday, I definitely felt that I either needed ride this motorcycle or admit that I have no good reason to own it. The previous owner put 700 miles on the odometer in the 9 years he owned it and, outside of some early summer trips, I’d have to do some traveling to rack up a 1,000 mile summer. Since I put 1400 miles on my eBike, that is more than a little embarrassing. After a bad start, fumbling around looking for some gear I eventually decided I didn’t need, I hit the road on the TU250X about 11AM. The weather was excellent and I’d forgotten how many terrific roads are within a dozen miles of my front door. We’d planned on doing a bicycle ride later that day, so I needed to get on it to push the odometer past the 1700 mile mark.

It was a weirdly eventful day, which I’ll describe in another post, and the weather and bike cooperated beautifully. Somewhere around the 2 hour mark, I realized that I was slowly losing my guilt complex about not having any particular place to go or reason for being out on the road burning fuel and cash.

2016 was the first year since I was 17 when I could file my income taxes on the 1040 short form. No outstanding invoices, no business expense deductions, no income outside of my Social Security checks and my required minimum IRA distributions, and a life with expenses that easily fall inside the standard deduction. After almost 50 years of justifying almost every expense, I’m suddenly in new territory; a life where just wanting to do something is justification to be doing it. And that, especially, applies to riding a motorcycle.

I’ve always ridiculed the Iron Butt competitions as something close to the ultimate conspicuous consumption activity: 1,000 miles a day to nowhere for no reason other than to say “I did it.” Honestly, living in retirement is not much different. We consume, but we don’t produce anything of value or importance. The old RV bumper sticker, “I’m spending my kids’ inheritance,” is pretty much what every day we’re alive is about.

A little more than 10 years ago, my grandson and I made a Rocky Mountain Tour and there was no income stream at all for that trip. I didn’t even try to line up a magazine to sell an article about the trip. We travelled to places I’ve been to a lot, but they were all firsts for Wolf. Ghost towns, weird back roads, tourist traps, geological and paleontology sites, and places I’ve lived and loved and even a few visits with relatives. The segment of the trip between the Black Hills and Steamboat Springs was a similar revelation to me as this weekend’s ride. It’s about 400 miles from Mt. Rushmore to Steamboat. I’d made that trip about a dozen times in the past decade and knew the route well. About half-way to Laramie I was beginning to question my memories, as the trip was taking a lot longer than I remembered. After a bit, I realized that I’d never ridden that section of the trip any where near the speed limits. With my grandson on board, I was sticking to 55mph even where I could see for miles and knew there was no chance a cop was running a speed trap. I’d practically flown that section of barely populated country in the past, but plugging along at 50-55mph changed everything about the ride. Good thing, too. A few miles outside of Laramie, the beat up farm-to-market road trashed one of my fork seals and the bike got a bit squirrely. At 55mph, that was easily dealt with. At 100+mph, not so much.

Now, I’m doing another kind of recalibration. Instead of riding for practical purposes, I’m going to have to try to become a recreational-only rider. That won’t be as easy as you might think. 50 years of habits and expectations are not easily changed. Stay tuned and any advice you have will be welcome.

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Internal Combustion Engines As A Musical Instrument? You’re Kidding, Right?

“Most motorcycles I’ve owned have been chosen, in large part, for the way they sounded.” I am, you might know, an audio guy. I’ve been a wannabe musician since I was 11 and an audio engineer in a wide collection of areas in the industry. But I have never picked a motorcycle because of the way it sounded. Mostly, for me, my motorcycle choices were made in spite of the sound. That opening quote comes from a mostly thoughtful ADVRider.com article about the politics and hysteria that was generated in an article about electric motorcycles and the Kawasaki plan to fully switch over to electrics by 2035. If you do think there is something musical about motorcycle exhaust noise, you have to also be a lover of rap and hip hop or what my wife calls “washing machine noise.”

All spring-summer-fall we’ve suffered the noise and associate pollution of piddly twins blubbering their way past our home and if nothing else makes me look forward to winter (and not much else does) it is the hope that the noise level dies down because bikers are fluffballs who can’t deal with rain let alone cold. I’d be riding an electric motorcycle if they were cost effective. When our local Zero dealer gave up the ghost and blew out the end of the 2017 inventory, I almost went for it. If I were 10-20 years younger, it would be a no-brainer even with the technology where it is today. The 2022 offerings from Zero really make the point that ICE technology is so far behind the current state-of-the-art that nothing could possibly happen to reverse that.

Both the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) fanatics and the current state-of-the-art is about to prove on of my oldest and most accurate “Rat’s Rules”: #2 When You Know It’s Over. Here’s the gist of the rule, “My theory is that as a technology approaches terminal, it gets really good.  Then it dies.  When a new technology is just finding its legs, the technology being replaced makes a wonderful collection of giant leaps; which will fail to stave off obsolescence, even for a moment.“ ICE engines are long past their use-by date, are destroying a livable atmosphere on this planet (for humans, life will survive us), and the fuel is a vanishing resource. We may not grow up fast enough to save the species from long term effects of global warming, but we’re going to leave ICE behind and technology is changing faster than the biker crowd can keep up. Leaving old people, uneducated and unskilled people, and stubborn people behind is how progress has always worked.

Buying a motorcycle because of the noise pollution it creates is . . . sick. And not sick in a good way. There is NOTHING musical or pleasant about the sound of exploding gasoline and a whole lot that is unpleasant about the sound of an illegally modified exhaust. Noise pollution is a real thing, regardless of your grade school politics. Look it up. I gave you one link there, but there is a long history of negative effects of noise and ignoring science won’t change it.

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You Are No Cowboy

I grew up in western Kansas and spent a lot of my K-12 years working on an uncle’s eastern Kansas ranch. My cousins were actual cowboys, even winning state roping and riding championships. I liked the work, it turned out that I don’t like horses all that much. In the late-60s, my wife and I rented an apartment from a dude in Dallas who desperately wanted to be a rich guy and had bought a “ranch” that he planned on turning into a horse breeding business. Since my wife loves horses and I had spent some of my youth working on an uncle’s ranch, our landlord thought we’d be cheap help on his ranch. For two years, I trained, fed, castrated, exercised, and got tossed on my ass by a motley collection of thoroughbreds and quarter horses. Most of which were almost as smart as a two-stroke motorcycle; especially the thoroughbreds. I have documented my horsie experiences before, in Geezer with A Grudge: “#48 An Attempt at Understanding.” The end result is that I have enough trouble keeping track of one scatterbrain and I generally don’t ride horses or want to ride horses.

At the beginning of my electronics career, I worked in commercial ag equipment; electronic scales, to be precise. Most of my customers were cattle, hog, and horse (seriously) feedlot owners from South Texas to North Dakota and all states between and east to Louisiana and west to the Rockies. I met a lot of working cowboys in that job and saw a lot of rodeos. I am not one, but I know a cowboy when I see or hear one and I know a great rider when I see one.

Ira McKeever 3There are two things that are guaranteed to piss me off are Nashville country singers wearing cowboy hats and Harley asshats pretending that their idiotic motorcycles are throwbacks to “western American riding style.” The picture (left) is of my wife’s grandfather, Ira McKeever, a real live western saddle cowboy and if you can see a resemblance between his saddle position and a Harley’s traditional gynecological exam awkwardness, you need both glasses and some damn sense. You’ll notice a real cowboy doesn’t wear that ridiculous asshat Nashville city boys pretend is a cowboy hat, either.

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