Book Review: A Craftsman’s Legacy

craftsman's legacyA Craftsman’s Legacy: Why Working with Our Hands Gives Us Meaning is one more book by someone who left the corporate world for the world of making expensive garage sale bait for the 1% and a few fools who want to “be like rich people.” Like Shop Class as Soulcraft and the rest of the raft of books by people who make incredibly expensive toys, furniture, and “art” for the idle rich, Legacy’s author, Detroit custom cruiser builder and reality television’s Eric Gorges from the show of the same name as the book, attempts to vilify the world we live in and glorify the world the average person never lived in; the Never-Neverland when people made beautiful things for money and ordinary people could afford them. There have been times when a few working people found enough spare time to make beautiful things for themselves, but usually working people just slaved away their days and lived in squalid tenements or on barely-sustenance farms and a few people made beautiful things for the ruling classes. The rest of the working classes lived with hand-me-downs and mass-produced products; just like today. 

Voodoo ChopperLike most of the folks who were inspired to quit their day jobs by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Gorges makes the ridiculous mistake of thinking that the goofier and less functional a product is, the more artistic it is. For example, the motorcycles he cobbles together are as non-functional and unridable as a three-legged horse. Unlike Persig’s ZaTAoMM reliable and practical Honda CB77 Super Hawk 305, nobody is going to cross the country on one of Gorges’ strung-out cruiser abortions (like the “One [2] One” bike pictured above). Most likely, whoever bought this ridiculous thing will trailer it anywhere this bike travels. Like the genre’s role model, the Captain America mess that recently sold for $1.2M and could barely be kept inside a highway lane for the filming of Easy Rider, this kind of art(?) does not qualify as a motorcycle. Even Fonda, who barely deserved being called a motorcyclist, admitted that his Captain America creation was so “squirrely” that the motorcycle scenes were simplified to mostly straight line riding. These weird collections of parts and artwork are not real motorcycles, but they are insanely expensive. They might be art, but they aren’t “craftsmanship.”

Too much of Gorges’ handwringing and the “woe  is all of us” bullshit spewed here is of the “nobody does real work anymore” variety. Gorges does not recognize modern engineers and product designers as craftsmen because what they do is so far above the metal-doodling he does that it would be as impossible for him to relate to modern engineering as it would be for Donald Trump to have an intelligent business conversation with Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. People who made swords, hammers, blew glass, and turned pots were the engineers of the 15th Century and back. Today, they are the struggling privatives trying to convince the rest of us that they are keeping skills alive. For what, the post-apocalypse? In the meantime, engineers have moved on for at least two centuries past Gorge’s technology and skill-set.

A lot of Gorges’ “craftsman” stars and role models unintentionally make the point that almost everyone you know might be an unheralded craftsman/artist. While it is interesting to imagine that these artists who “gave up everything for their art” might be the finest examples of woodworkers, glassblowers, metalworkers, potters, engravers, and painters in the country, the fact is that almost every mid-sized-and-larger community has examples of those same skills in its midst. They might not ever be profiled on television or in a book, but they are out there. People do extraordinary things in their spare time, even people who do boring white or blue collar jobs during their working lives. More to the point, though, is that people make incredible products using their hands, technical skills, and tools Gorges couldn’t imagine.

I admit that a big part of my lack of enthusiasm for Gorges’ book is his perspective on motorcycles. As far as he is concerned, there are 3 types of motorcycles: “choppers, which have a long front end and skinny wheel; bobbers, which have a short rear fender and stubby front end; and diggers, which are long and low.” I, of course, think any of those bike forms are hillbilly crap that do not deserve a “motorcycle” designation. There is an aspect of A Craftsman’s Legacy that disrespects function and mindlessly worships form. I have no use for that attitude. Some part of my own attitude comes from the fact that I spent a good bit of my life in manufacturing and I know how much actual craftsmanship is required to make reliable, functional products.

There is a panhandling aspect to Gorges’ craftspeople that really puts me off; like the occupations that survive from begging for tips. Many of these people have chosen a lifestyle that depends on others feeling sorry for them and paying exorbitant prices for items they could find in a Dollar Store. Gorges asks us to “Support these people, this world, and this way of life. Turn your appreciation into some concrete (money).” Like cashiers who point to their tip jar as if they have done something special by pouring coffee into a cup.

Finally, I firmly believe that everything that requires skill is improved by every generation. You may be one of those age-addled characters who imagines that “good music” stopped being made in 1960, 1970, 1980, or whenever, but you’re wrong. Likewise, most 1970’s era pro basketball players wouldn’t make the team for, even the freakin’ Clippers, today. Michael Jordan would have a hard time playing on a winning team today. It’s true that many people knew how to repair their cars and motorcycles in the 1950’s; because they needed to. A vehicle that lasted 25,000 miles without needing major work in 1950’s was a celebrated rarity. Today, we call any vehicle that fails before 200,000 miles a “lemon.” Modern electric cars are knocking down 300,000 miles without a major repair.

Today, if I had to go to battle with a 15th Century sword I’d just use it on myself to get it over with efficiently. Any modern weapon would do the job at a safe distance, regardless of how skilled the sword-wielder might be. Vintage “skills” are that because they are no longer state-of-the-art and, as such, are obsolete. If you think someone with a hammer and coal-fired forge can turn out a better steel tool than a modern factory, you’re only fooling yourself. If you don’t think a modern adventure touring motorcycle isn’t as well-crafted as one of Gorge’s hippomobiles, you don’t know what the word “craftsmanship” means. If you think someone cobbling out plodding, non-functional “choppers, bobbers, and diggers” could get a job on a modern factory motorcycle race team doing . . . anything, you are probably the ideal reader for A Craftsman’s Legacy.

Posted in book review, cruiser, harley davidson, https://www.fastlanebikerdelmarva.com/, maintenance, motorcycle, technology, zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance | Leave a comment

Because They Are Organized

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

At the 2015 International Motorcycle Show, I stopped at the DNR’s booth to pick up the latest trail maps and while I was there I asked why there are so many trails accessible to ATVs and snowmachines and so few for motorcycles. The answer was pretty simple, “They are organized.” It struck me that we motorcyclists are the equivalent to Will Rodger’s politics, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Likewise, I’m not a member of any organized motor vehicle group, I am a motorcyclist.

ATV owners have ATV Minnesota and a few dozen other political active groups.  There are about as many Minnesota snowmobile groups as there are Minnesotans. Snowmobiliers We have a group that battles against helmet laws, the almost perfectly useless AMA, and a hand full of gangbanger biker “clubs,” and the Shriners. It’s not really that bad, but when it comes to political action it sure seems like we’re as unlikely to band together for a common cause as Democrats are to show up to vote more than once every two or four years. We are not an organized political force. Yeah, we have the AMA and Always Beer at the Event, but those two entities have different agendas: the AMA wants to put butts on seats for its manufacturers and ABATE fights helmet laws and sells beer. Neither of those agendas do anything useful for motorcyclists who actually ride their motorcycles; let alone doing something for commuters and people who who use their motorcycles for regular transportation. Outside of pretending that helmet laws are freedumb-oppressing unreasonable regulations, responsible exhaust noise and pollution are anti-safety, and wasting money on ineffective “safety training” while opposing rational licensing laws, what has ABATE or the AMA done for motorcyclists? They’ve wasted our money, for one thing. I guess that’s more like something they’d done to us, rather than for us.

Every year, gangbangers wearing “colors” and pirate outfits show up at the state legislature in late January for the “ABATE of Minnesota’s Annual Bikerday at the Minnesota State Capitol.” This is when they attempt to demonstrate that bikers are scary assholes and that our government and elected officials should be afraid of them. “Important” policy recommendations like “No Change to the Adult Motorcycle Helmet Law,” “Oppose Changes to Motorcycle Insurance Requirements,” “Curtail Profiling of Motorcyclists in Minnesota,” and “Improve Motorcycle Training and Awareness” are their talking points. Look it up, they aren’t shy about the bullshit they’ve been spouting for a couple of decades or embarrassed at the awful motorcycle safety statistics produced by their political “success.” Like the gun lobby, it’s more important to them that they “win” than that Americans and motorcyclists’ quality of life is improved.

As for off-road motorcycle “organizations,” it’s even harder to find examples that anyone outside of the groups’ clubhouses know about. In fact, the DNR guy I spoke with (and a friend who works for the National Forest Service)  didn’t know there were off-road motorcycle groups in the state or nationally. That, to me, is more understandable than the lack of on-road motorcyclists organizations. Off-road riders are often independent, adventure-riding, solo types. That sort doesn’t easily get drawn into organizations, meetings, or politics. Racers only belong to organizations like the AMA because it’s a necessity for some events. Like me, lots of racers have tolerated all of the bullshit they can stand by the time they quit racing and remaining a member of the AMA and suffering more of that incompetent bureaucracy is not likely something they’ll put up with when they don’t need that membership card to go racing.

The on-road crowd seems like it would be a natural for effective politics: they often travel in groups, wear uniforms, go to meetings, and don’t seem to have any sort of aversion to political rallies. Since 2007, the AMA has lost 28% of its already paltry membership (this link is to an excellent article by ex-AMA employee and Lifetime AMA Member, Lance Oliver, and you should read it). There are lots of reasons, all good. One would be that the AMA hired a failed politico wingnut asshole, Wayne Allard, to “represent” a group of people in an organization that is increasingly old, white, paranoid, uneducated, and timid/conservative. Meanwhile, the motorcycle population oddly includes women, minorities, and people under age 48 (the AMA member’s average age). Another reason for the AMA’s continued irrelevance would be it’s failed “leadership.” Since Rod Dingman took over in 2007, not only has the AMA steadily lost membership the organization (loosely defined) has been running in the red for several million dollars every year. Dingman, however, is still receiving a quarter-million dollar salary and getting big bonuses for his failures. He’s turned the AMA into a dysfunctional and inbred bureaucracy, mostly staffed and mismanaged by non-riders. So far, nothing has come along to replace the AMA and that isn’t a good sign for the future of motorcycling.

Organizations in general are not doing that well in the “age of information.” People don’t join trade or recreational groups the way we and our parents did. “Virtual participation” seems to be the way younger people want things to work, but it’s not working very well for them, so far. The people who can make changes are the ones who show up. The lobbyists and politicians and bureaucrats who make and enforce the rules are always there at every city council, county commissioner, state legislature, and federal congressional meeting. They show up. They get what they want and the rest of us wonder why. You can have a million tweet readers and twice that many Facebook followers and still accomplish nothing until you show up in force. That’s why, as lame and unrepresentative as they are, ABATE gets its agenda on the calendar. They may not get bills passed, but they apparently get good ideas squashed or ignored. The rest of us don’t even know there is a legislative event to attend and participate in, but ABATE’s lobbyists and members will be there on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 to make their case and to make the rest of us look even more irrelevant in the process. It’s not like anyone is fooled by a couple dozen pirates wandering around the state capitol building. We aren’t even close to being 1% of 1% on the highways on the best of days. Everyone knows that, including the politicians. Until we actually have an organization that represents the best interests of actual motorcyclists, fewer people who matter will take us seriously until they decide to stop dealing with us altogether.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

January with Fast Lane Biker

fastbiker-January

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Merge It or Park It

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

MotorcycleMergeA big cruiser (a full bagger with a reasonably geared-up rider) and a semi loaded with turf approach a T-intersection from opposite directions. The cruiser is making an easy right into the T while the semi has a turn lane and will be crossing lanes after coming to a near stop. The cruiser should reach the turn at least one-hundred feet before the semi begins to make his turn. How do you think this plays out?

Other than me following the semi through the intersection, there is no other traffic in sight. The semi approaches the turn and comes to a complete stop. The cruiser slows to a walking pace before entering the exit lane and, eying the semi, comes to a complete stop at the end of his merge lane. If he got off his hippobike and walked into the road he’d have beaten the semi through the intersection. He waits for the semi driver to signal that it’s safe for him to leave the merge lane. This, of course, forced the semi to come to a complete, totally unnecessary, stop partially sticking into the incoming lane while the cruiser doofus waddles away. What should have been a mindlessly simple traffic situation turned into something not only ridiculously complicated but was one more demonstration why Minnesota (and the rest of the country) needs tiered licensing and a dramatically more difficult motorcycle license test for any two-wheel vehicle over 50cc. The motorcyclist in this situation was obviously incapable of handling his oversized toy and should have been ticketed for blocking traffic. If there had been actual traffic in the scenario he would have constituted a road hazard.

From my backseat perspective, the whole incident reminded me of a constant irritant that I do not miss from years of commuting in the Cities. Minnesotans do not know how to merge. Personally, I think stopping in an intersection or, worse, on a freeway entrance/exit ramp should be grounds for loss of license. I wouldn’t even object to the police firing a couple of rounds into the driver/rider’s head to get their attention. As my father used to say, “There is obviously no vital organ located in that skull.” The idea that drivers need to have the “zipper merge” explained to them in remedial terms amazes and depresses me. How is that not obvious?

It clearly isn’t, though. There are a couple of exercises in the old, 2007 MSF program that require simple merging skills and about one out of one-hundred classes actually manage to get through these exercises without one or seven or eleven backed-up traffic jams caused by merge-inability. The so-called “seasoned rider” courses are no exception to that statistic. People who have called themselves “riders” for decades simply come to a dead stop when faced with 5mph oncoming traffic (even when that traffic is another motorcycle in a parking lot exercise) and the resulting confusion is comical in a parking lot and suicidal on public roads. As I have asked thousands of times, if you can’t merge competently what makes you think you are capable of safely drafting/tailgating?

A few years ago, a rider and fellow MMSC/MSF coach remarked that he’d seen me “aggressively” getting into northbound downtown I35E traffic, as if merging at the end of the entrance lane at traffic speed was impolite. The implication was that I had somehow committed a faux pas in “jumping the line” of traffic some distance above his stuck-in-traffic position. Talk about Minnesota passive-aggressive. Guilty as charged. When I merge, I want to be moving at the prevailing speed and as near to the end of the merge lane as I can get. Commuting is not about standing in line politely waiting for some moron to hang up his damn cell phone. It’s about getting to work or home as quickly as possible. If you can’t figure that out, you have no hope of comprehending filtering and lane sharing. The day a semi beats me into a T-intersection from the cross-traffic side, even on my 250 dual purpose bike, will be the day I hang up my helmet and buy a convertible. If you are not going to use your motorcycle’s superior acceleration, braking, and maneuverability in a simple merge, what would make you think you can use those qualities in an actual emergency? Trust me, you can’t and you won’t. I’ve seen that kind of incompetence demonstrated on a regular basis and it amazes me that anyone that impaired would want to risk their life and limbs on a motorcycle.

Back in the 1970’s, I visited Chicago from my home in Omaha, for a trade show. My business partner and I were driving a rented panel van, loaded with audio equipment, and we were both small town guys blown away with the Big City. At the first stop light we encountered in the city, when the light changed I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the vehicles started moving together. A couple of lights later, a distracted driver didn’t hit the gas when the light changed and the vehicle behind him simply pushed the semi-conscious vehicle into the intersection until the driver assumed marginal control and caught up with traffic. Like most of the US, Chicago is dumbed-down and distracted, today. Vehicles leave intersections connected by invisible 100′ ropes, as one of my readers described driver awareness, in every city I’ve visited. Autonomous vehicles are going to solve this problem for cagers, but motorcyclists are forever going to be on their own. It is hard to imagine how this is going to play out in some way that provides public road access for motorcycles. At least until we are forced into recreational vehicle status, we ought to be merging competently. If nothing else, out of wanting to exit the scene gracefully.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Stupid Do You Think I Am?

When a young man I know learned that I’m selling my motorcycle, he immediately said, “I’ll buy it. You’d have to finance it, but I’m good for it.”

I immediately thought, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

This kid is a 20-something, wanna-be motorcyclist, who had an 80cc dirt bike when he was a pre-teenager, making him (in his mind) an “experienced motorcyclist.” To make up for his lack of a motorcycle license and riding skill/experience, he even asked me to give him a free MSF course; since I’m a retired Minnesota MSF instructor.

I’m selling a $4000 motorcycle. I’m 71 and at the point in life where if I see a light at the end of the tunnel I’m pretty sure it’s the Grim Reaper’s train. What part of this transaction sounds intelligent from my side? Or even his side, for that matter? The risk in that loan is insane. When he crashes it and his wife tells him to get rid of it or hit the road, I’ll be stuck with a mangled motorcycle, little-to-no-money for my long-shot self-financing bet, and the scary possibility of assuming some liability in his crash(es). I would have to be stupid to take that bet.

I’m not brilliant, but I’m not stupid. (As I often do, after writing that statement I check the heels of my boots to see if there is straw sticking out; since I obviously look like someone who just jumped out of a farm truck.)

From that conversation, I started to think about a bank or anyone else financing a motorcycle. It wasn’t that long ago that Harley-Davidson had to be bailed out by taxpayers for its own inability to manage loan money; to the tune of $2.3B. If Harley, a company that rarely wastes precious cash on frivolous things like engineering and competent product development, can’t find safe buyers for its hippo bikes, who am I to gamble in that market? Pretty much anything a bank would get involved in would be a $6,000 to $40,000 loan to a person who is probably 15,000 times more likely get killed than, for instance, someone asking for a car loan. A company insuring a motorcycle and loan is about as dumb as the bank making the loan, too.

Bankers are not a group widely known for their brilliance, outside of their own closed and in-bred circles. If you’ve read All the Devils Are Here or The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, you know that what passes for financial skills in these declining years of the United States empire is pretty dismal. Bankers are notoriously financially foolish with even their own money. In fact, the people most of us trust to hang on to our cash are not that smart or good at their jobs. Bankers and other financial gamblers will pay $100 and more to “win” a twenty-dollar-bill in an auction, in a crowd of other supposedly money-wise nitwits. These are the people who will loan you money to buy a brand new $40,000 Harley Davidson; even knowing that the odds are good that you won’t live long enough to pay off the debt. Just as dumb, the insurance industry is betting that you won’t actually ride the damn thing (which is, actually, very likely) which will self-limit their risk to your death and the destruction of the item they are insuring.

If you have any money squirreled away with a bank, the fact that institution would gamble on a loan for a motorcycle and that someone else (maybe in the same bank) is dumb enough to insure that motorcycle for comp and collision ought to scare the crap out of you. Seriously. How does that not bother anyone with cash in a bank?

Back to my own situation, I have never loaned money to anyone in my life. If a friend or relative is hard up enough to ask me for money and I have it, I consider it a gift. If I get paid back, I consider that amazing. If not, I never expected repayment and won’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen. That old Shakespeare rule, “neither a borrower nor a lender be” has always made sense to me because of the line that follows, “for loan oft loses both itself and friend.”  As for loaning money for a motorcycle purchase, do not count on me to even be willing to make a gift toward that dumb idea.

Posted in geezer with a grudge, https://www.fastlanebikerdelmarva.com/, motorcycle | Leave a comment

Way Better than Potato-Potato

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Until You Can Ride, I Don’t Care What You Think

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

until_you_can_rideDesigned by New Mexico artist, Jeff Ducatt, the tie-dye GWAG shirt sets a new standard for “HiViz.”

This essay title is one of the crafty sayings on the GwAG tee-shirts. In fact, this is the phrase I picked for my personal prototype shirt, the first and possibly only GWAG shirt owned by anyone on the planet. When I debuted the shirt on my Facebook page, all sorts of folks took offense. Good. I’m not in this life to make fools feel good about themselves. In fact, the older I get the less I care what anyone thinks about anything I do, say, or think. One of my other favorite shirts says, “Hermits don’t have peer pressure” (Steven Wright). I might have peers, but I don’t often listen to anything they have to say and I pretty much never change my opinion or revise my lifestyle because they are uncomfortable or disapprove.

I went for a bicycle ride with my wife back in March, 2013 (while we were camping at Palo Duro Canyon, Texas). She hasn’t put many miles on a bicycle for a long time and wasn’t a particularly technical rider when she did ride. She “rides” a stationary bike some, but that’s not real bicycling and not much of that exercise translates into bicycling competence. Shifting, for example, or balancing or watching for traffic or stopping or turning. On her stationary bike, she pedals continuously against a fixed resistance. On her mountain bike, she can not get a handle on matching her pedal speed and resistance to the road speed. She wants to randomly twist her Grip-Shifters and desperately hopes something good will come from that activity. What she does not want to do is think about how the front and back derailleur shifters work. Like the guy I am, I tried to help her figure out pedaling, shifting, and maintaining a constant load on her legs in the insane hope that she would learn to like bicycling. As you probably already guessed, what I got for my effort was a blast of feminine anger and a long, unpleasant ride with lots of stops, extended periods of silence punctuated with lots of what passes for cursing from the “gentler sex.” If “helping” with shifting gets that kind of response, imagine how talking about watching for erratic drivers and staying in her lane went.

One of the hardest things many teachers have to learn is to find a way to care about the opinions, as uninformed and foolish as they are, of their students. If you try to fake it, you’ll just sound patronizing. You really need to care on some fairly honest level. Many students, of any subject, labor under the delusion that they actually know something that would be interesting or useful to their instructors. Trust me, kiddies, you do not know anything anyone ever wants to hear about. Nothing. Not one thing. When you are stumbling along, failing to maneuver the bicycle or motorcycle competently, the last thing the person who is trying to help you needs to hear is what you think may be wrong with the vehicle or the advice you are given.

A typical attempt to bypass that foolishness is when the instructor takes your vehicle to demonstrate the technique. If the student is reasonably sentient, that demonstration of vehicle competence should end the conversation. Usually, it has no effect whatsoever. If that doesn’t work, what would? Oddly, distain seems to have a powerful effect. Contrary to modern, touchy-feely “everyone is a winner” educational philosophy, I’ve found that a sarcastic response to stupid assertions is a pretty quick route to the unused portions of a student’s brain. As politically incorrect as they may be, ridicule, silence, and pretending the noisy brat isn’t there are all fairly functional tactics, when it comes to conducting a group learning environment. The problem with these tactics is that occasionally a brilliant student will correctly challenge an instructor and if those moments are wrongly interpreted, the whole classroom comes unglued. The line between being an edgy teacher and being burned out is tiny.

As I cruise on toward the big Seven-Oh, I can clearly see moments in my near future where I will begin to give up more stuff. For the past two years, I’ve been getting rid of all sorts of possessions that I once believed would be with me to the bitter end. Turns out the end isn’t all that bitter and it came up on me a lot faster than I’d anticipated. I’ve sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of audio equipment and I’m still getting rid of stuff from that portion of my life’s history. My wife and I have purged furniture, pictures, kitchen appliances and utensils, books, records and CDs, artwork, and about 1/4th of a household worth of stuff and we still seem to have a house full of stuff. By the end of this discard-period, I expect us to be down to a pretty small possession pile and ready to move or hit the road, whichever comes first. With mobility comes flexibility. With flexibility comes less dependence on external income and tolerating the bullshit that working for a living usually requires. I am beginning to suspect that the “cranky old people” reputation is mostly generated by this cycle. Now that I have no aspirations to get richer, own more stuff, or live larger, I also have less tolerance for stupidity. Since the two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and human stupidity, I’m developing an appreciation for hydrogen. People, not so much.

That growing intolerance clearly signals the end of my teaching career, unless you can suggest a less stubbornly stupid species in need of motorcycle, music, electronics, or English instruction? Oddly, being a teacher was once at the dead-bottom of my list of career aspirations; since my father was a high school math and business teacher and my step-mother taught piano and neither of their careers looked like any fun at all. In the past few years, my original perspective on teaching as a career choice has been making a comeback. So, after almost 20 years of putting butts on seats and pointing out the brakes, clutch, and handlebars to newbies on dirt and street bikes, I find myself completely uninterested in the judgment of rookies who have strong opinions about subjects they will never master. Until you can ride, I don’t care what you think about motorcycle brands, styles, or politics.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment