Another Tipping Point

“According to the Department of Energy, there are now over 500,000 EVs driven in the U.S.” Xcel Energy is even noticing the speed of EV adoption, “State of the Electric Vehicle 2017: Adoption keeps accelerating.” Used EV’s are littered all over Craig’s List, many for less than $6k with insanely low miles. If I didn’t have a small garage already double-parked with two motorcycles and a bunch of motorcycle equipment, I’d be seriously looking at a used Nissan Leaf. The new Leaf 2.0 has a 150 mile range, more than enough for any typical day trip I’m likely to take. The ads for most of the older EVs are more like 70-90 miles at highway speeds, which isn’t much of a problem as long as we still have the pickup for long hauls and pulling the camper.

electric-cars-ukI think we’ve hit the official deadend for suck-bang-blow. From here out, I expect to see EV’s capabilities increase exponentially and IC sales sag. Even dinky little Red Wing Minnesota has a downtown refueling station. EVs are particularly suited for autonomous operation, especially because it will be so easy to include electrical auto-fueling over the safety hazards of gas or diesel. The pressure is on for motorcycles to either get on the bus or get out of the way.

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Barbarians at the Gate

home-full-width-1-imagePaul Young sent me this link, “Will this electric bicycle disrupt the motorcycle industry?” from Revzilla. The Suru is made in Canada (Nova Scotia) and costs about $3k. The critical specs are listed in the website’s photo at right. The tires and wheels are more motorcycle than bicycle hardware, as is the suspension. Unlike a lot of electric bicycles, the bicycle part is single-speed and basic. The article quotes Suru designer, Michael Uhlarik, for a lot of its assumptions and the author, Clayton Christensen, is a Harvard prof and self-proclaimed manufacturing and techology historian. Some of their “manufacturing history” is not particularly well informed. Still their premise has been the same as my own for a while.

radroverI’m not convinced the Suru is the right direction, but I’m no fortune teller. My grandson’s RadRover is more in line with both the features and price point I think will attract people to electric two-wheelers. Everything about Wolf’s bike is similar to the Suru, except it is $1,500 cheaper and more versitile as a bicycle: “Intelligent 5 Level Pedal Assist with 12 Magnet Cadence Sensor” and a 7-speed derailier opposed to single-speed peddling, key-removable battery pack, full-coverage fenders, and less weight. My grandson has had his RadRover for about three months and is using it to commute 7-miles, one-way, throughout the Minneapolis winter. So far, he’s more than happy with his bike.

The article’s constant reference is to the 1966 Honda Cub which the author claims was “the last real disruption in the moto industry.” I’d say there have been quite a few disruptions in the last two decades, but often when you are trying to prove a point it’s easy to put the blinders on. Regardless, the electric bicycle and scooter movement is about to kick into high gear with everyone from botique dealerships to Walmart and Target offering products and services. BMW, Honda, Yamaha, and a collection of new comers are all making a variety of products available. Amazon has a showroom floor full of electric bikes and scooters with 36V models as cheap as $400. I think the tipping point has been passed.

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Horsemeat for Bikers?

121317-Worst-Motorcycle-Trends-2017-image10Some local guys were jawing on-line about the NY Times article, “No easy ride: Motorcycle industry is in deep trouble and needs help fast, panel agrees.” Like the industry, they blamed the usual suspects for the death of their favorite noise-makers: “the bubble-wrapped Millennials,” “the ultra-liberal lefties,” “tree huggers,” blah, blah, etc. Mirrors are tough on old guys. We look in them, see an accurate reflection and desperate want something else. The problem is, pretty much, us. We’re old, we’re irrelevant, and most of two generations wants to have nothing to do with imitating us.

Mostly, I read the Times article as a pretty accurate accounting of the lazy and braindead folks who represent US motorcyclists and the industry. The AMA and ABATE are just fronts for the butt-pirates who have turned off every sentient person possible with their noise, totally overrepresented crash, mortality and morbidity statistics, and general hooliganism. Nobody represents motorcycle commuters, the only motorcycle group that isn’t about conspicuous consumption. The AMA is almost proud of how few actual motorcyclists are regular riders and ABATE is just a drinking club that dabbles in politics and writes sympathy/love letters to gangbanging “brothers behind bars.”

no-motorcycles-sign-k-6938_thumbAs for off-road access, it’s not “liberals” who are shutting down access to public land; it’s ranchers, conservationists, residents near the parks, and the people who have to provide unfunded rescue services to the nitwits who go off trail, terrorize livestock, wreak property, and end up tangled in barbed wire somewhere it will take a helicopter to bail out mommy’s special little douchebag who has no insurance, no money, and suddenly believes in national health insurance. I’ve run a couple of events and watched dozens of off-road facilities go down in idealistic flames when their customers do everything possible to piss off anyone in the vicinity of the event, park, or private property. Motorcycles attract anti-social types and it’s harder than hell to cope with all of the forces that aren’t interested in putting up with spoiled children. I suspect if everyone were being honest, that would turn out to be a big part of the reason trials got bumped from Spirit Mountain and trials is the least obnoxious of all motorcycle sports. I KNOW that was why there was only one Merrick County enduro.

I freakin’ love the argument promoted in the Times article that, since the motorcycle companies don’t know how to sell to anyone who isn’t already a motorcyclist, it’s the job of motorcyclists to keep their business alive. That pretty much wraps up my argument in a Trump-quality gold plated ribbon. The industry is so obsolete it doesn’t even know how to sell its own products. How dumb is that?

Motorcyclists owe the industry their time and energy? For what reason? It’s just a vehicle or, worse, a rich kid’s toy. If no one wants to play with them, they should disappear. There is no good reason for motorcycles to be the noisiest, most polluting, most dangerous, least efficient vehicle on the road and not even have to pay their own way with motorcycle license taxes (You know they don’t in Minnesota, right?). You gotta provide some social value or you are just a welfare deadbeat if you still expect the public to foot your bill. By now, motorcycles should be knocking out at least 100mpg, emitting puffs of exhaust water and nothing more, and be bicycle-quiet. Instead, the stuff we get is barely 1980’s technology and most of it is from the 50’s.

As for the Millennial bulllshit, you guys are just fuckin’ old. You need to visit one of the boxing clubs, martial arts clubs, wall climbing clubs, bicycle racing clubs (off road, long distance, closed course, etc), and packing maker’s groups. Those places are all about Millennials. Sure, there are lots of pampered Millennials. There are also lots of pampered, overpaid, underworked, barely-skilled X-gens and Boomers. My parent’s’ generation paid a pittance for Social Security and jacked up the benefits until the system was almost broke before they elected Reagan who stripped that fund for his military-industrial buddies. Change just happens. Characters like Max Biaggi whined that all of that stuff crippled MotoGP riders while Rossi and the next generation just cranked ‘em up faster and leaned ‘em over further. Old people always complain about the next generation. “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise,” said Socrates. One of the fastest riders/coaches I know is just raving about Honda’s auto-transmission. I love well-implemented ABS and throttle mapping, even though I don’t own a bike that has either.

Face it, 90% of everything humans do is always crap. You don’t think millennials packed Washington with a bunch of superstitious, anti-science, spoiled trustfunders do you? If humans touch it, it will be screwed up. If humans deregulate something critial, it will be a disaster. Always. We’re just a braindead species desperately trying to fire off the 6th Extinction just to see which nutty death cult got it right.

That “wimp” label is nothing new, either. I have heard horse owners making the same “you are a bunch of wimps” arguments about motorcyclists since I was a kid. That is sort of valid, too. Keeping track of two empty skulls is twice as hard as managing one. That’s why I don’t ride horses. Your hippobike might seem “really big” compared to a dirt bike, but it is a twig compared to a 15-hand, 2,200 pound horse. Try laying one of those babies down in an intersection. On the other hand, try going faster than 20mph for more than a mile on a horse. Talk about limited range between extended fuel stops, horses are barely better tranportation than shoes.

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Training for Actual Motorcycling

David Hough recently posted an excellent article about the purpose of motorcycle training, “Situational Awareness.” I strongly recommend reading the article and the concepts he’s presenting.

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I’m Not Him, But . . .

A few years back, Sev Pearman and I took a trip toward Duluth for a day of off-road riding at Nemadji State Forest trails. I was pretty off-road rusty, from years of living in the Twin Cities and daily commuting and I was about six months away from having my left hip replaced. So, I wasn’t on my game and my left leg didn’t do me much good when I stuck it out in a corner. The day was close to perfect and the trails were wet and a little slick from recent rains and a fairly wet early summer. We spent a lot of the day sideways. I spent a moment lying in a puddle of mud with my WR spinning way a few feet, while I laughed at the miscalculation that had put me in the mud. Sev was concerned that the old fart had hurt himself and was impressively concerned for my health. Or he thought I’d had a heart attack and died. Either way, Sev proved himself to be a good friend and a solid person to ride with.

GoDecosterWhile I was righting myself and the bike, Sev commented on how much time I spent sideways and how rarely I bothered to stand on the bike. Today, I was listening to Adventure Rider Radio and a conversation/commercial for some brand of footpegs and the jock made a big deal out of how off-road riding means “never using the seat.” I’m too old for that silly shit. The fastest rider of my generation, Roger DeCoster spent at least as much time in the seat as he did on the pegs and RogerDeCosterRoger won five world championships and competed at the highest level from 1966 to 1980. I first saw DeCoster ride at the Herman, Nebraska TransAM in the 1970’s. The track at Herman was seriously rough and most of the US riders were on the pegs everywhere but in the sharpest corners. DeCoster looked like he was out for a Sunday ride around the neighborhood. There were a couple of monster hillclimbs terminating in even bigger jumps and Roger was on the pegs when he landed from those jumps. Otherwise, he was seated and on the gas hard enough that he lapped 3/4 of the pack by the end of the motos.

RogerDeCoster1977I’m not any fraction of the rider Roger DeCoster was or is, but I learned a lot from watching him ride. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time watching a worldclass athlete changed my tactics, style, or attitude. DeCoster absolutely changed how I thought about a 20 minute moto, though (although his races were 40 minutes +1 lap). I worked a lot harder at going a lot slower before I saw Roger DeCoster in person. Afterwards, I worked harder at being smoother and using less energy and, as a result, I was a good bit faster. One of the things I learned was that standing isn’t always the best riding position, even on rough terrain (even with a 1970’s suspension).

After I gave up trying to be fast, I bought a trials bike and spent a few years plonking around rocks, creek beds, and logs. Standing is the status quo in trials and the seats on that style of motorcycle aren’t worth squat. Obviously, there aren’t a lot of places where sitting on a trials section makes sense and I spent a lot of hours on the pegs. It’s not like I don’t know how to ride standing up, I’m still considerably better at low speed maneuvers on the pegs than on the seat. I’m still inclined to think Mr. DeCoster’s off-road racing style makes more sense than the “always be on the pegs” philosophy.

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Motorcycle Economics

Hitching Post Closed

If you are a Minnesota motorcyclist, this is a heartbreaking, eye-opening wake-up call. When I moved to Minnesota, in 1996, the Hitching Post stores were the place for practically every motorcycle brand I am likely to own. The Hitching Post offered group rides for the Big Four Japanese brands every year where a rider could actually put a few miles on a bike Their service department was, at one time, pretty good (that’s the best I can say for any dealer service department). Some of their sales people were motorcyclists. Mostly, the HP stores were distributed all over the Cities and represented the motorcycle economy in our area. Now, they are gone.

Lots of that sort of thing is going on all over the country. Early this year, Polaris decided “to focus on Indian and the Slingshot” and closed down the Victory brand. Personally, I suspect Polaris is just quickly downsizing their motorcycle operation by getting rid of the largest part first. Triumph is downsizing its dealership position all over the country. Apparently, that country overestimated the demand for Triumph products. Eric Buell (EBR) gave it up one more time early this year. In the midst of the Great Recession recovery, Suzuki took the slow down opportunity to pare its dealerships by 20%. More than a few groups that had acquired facilities and brands from smaller dealer organizations gave up recently, such as Ohio’s American Heritage Motorcycles. Yamaha’s fans seem to have a better inside picture of the industry’s struggles than I get from the industry promo rags. They don’t paint a pretty picture, though. A Google search on “motorcycle dealers closing” gets you about a half-million hits with pages and pages of stories about motorcycle dealers giving up the economic ghost.

Somewhere, I read a guesstimate that if motorcycle dealers are going to survive into the next decade, they’ll have to be picked up by big pocket car dealers. Since one of my own favorite dealers used to be associated with a local car dealership, I doubt that is going to be much of a solution.

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#157 Who Is An Expert Rider?

geezer_squareAll Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

This August, I took advantage of a Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC) Rider Coach invitation to take the program’s Expert Rider Course at Century College. Two of my favorite coaches from the Minnesota program, Rich Jackson and Ben Goebel, were the instructors for this class. It was pretty much a no-brainer that if I was going to demonstrate how far from “expert” my riding skills are, this would be the safest place. Both of those guys are so far outside of my skill-set I hesitate to call myself a “motorcyclist” in comparison. Sort of like when someone asks me if I’m a musician, my immediate point of reference is Jeff Beck and my response is, “Hell no.” Also, lucky for me, it was a small class, so there wouldn’t be many witnesses to tell tales of how many times I rode through an exercise without making the slightest attempt to demonstrate the skills being taught.

ExpertClass5The MMSC offers a variety of classes, beyond the Basic Rider Course (BRC) that many people use to obtain their motorcycle endorsement. For example, the MMSC offers Basic Motorcycle Maintenance, Intermediate Rider Course (IRC), Introduction to Motorcycling Course, Moped Rider Course, the Minnesota Advanced Rider Course and the Expert Rider Course. I’ve taught the IRC for about 15 years under a variety of names (ERC, BRC II, and the current acronym), but my previous summers’ teaching schedules prevented me from taking either the Advanced or Expert courses. This summer, I had a light schedule and I lucked into an open weekend.

ExpertClass3The price ($75 for a one-day, eight-hour range, 9AM-5PM) for either the Advanced or Expert courses is a steal, but the classes aren’t offered often and enrollment is limited. There is very little similarity between the IRC and either of these courses. Both the Advanced and Expert classes were designed by Rich Jackson, a Minneapolis Police Department motorcycle officer and MMSC Rider Coach; both courses have some similarities to the training a motorcycle officer receives. The cones are bigger, the exercises are harder, the speeds are higher, and the expectations are elevated. What passes for “a tight, low speed turn” in the other MMSC classes feels pretty roomy compared to the Expert Course obstacles. Likewise, an emergency stop or an offset-weave at 30-40mph is very different than from the 12-15mph BRC or IRC experience. Many of the exercise names are self-descriptive: “40-mph brake-and-escape, instantaneous stops, the Iron Cross, J-turn, slow and 30 mph offset weaves, tight and locked turns in confined spaces.” 

The exercises are broken up by “breeze-outs,” which are follow-the-leader trips around the college campus; in single-file, side-by-side, or staggered formation. The breeze-outs are an opportunity to experience group ride tactics, hand signals, and the three basic formations for group riding. When Rich introduced a few of the hand signals, mostly for my benefit, I demonstrated my one and only motorcycle group hand signal: a way bye-bye. No one was amused. Rich and Ben are excellent instructors and I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to learn from their experiences, but I’m still unconvinced that group motorcycling is a clever idea. Even when the group is being led by actual experts (instead of the usual best-dressed pirate bozos), it still feels to me like rolling bowling pins. I have seen no evidence of safety in numbers when it comes to motorcycles. I’m glad I got the Expert group experience, but I’m still riding solo on my time.

ExpertClass10The breeze-outs are a terrific opportunity to cool off the motorcycles, reduce some of the performance pressure of the class exercises, and get a feel for close-quarters group exercises without the hazards of traffic. There is enough of a hooligan aspect to the breeze-outs to blow off a little steam, too. When else will you get to ride the sidewalks, basketball and tennis courts, and handicap ramps of a college campus without worrying about campus security? Those rides aren’t aimless rambles through the park, though. Rich and Ben kept the pace quick enough to require serious lean from the big bikes in the group.

Most of the student and instructor bikes were pretty large, too. There is a 400cc minimum size requirement for either the Advanced or Expert classes and most of the participants in my group exceeded that engine-volume by a few multiples. Unexpectedly, I was really impressed with my fellow “students'” abilities. Of my group, I was clearly the least “expert” in the crowd, but I was the most experienced/oldest. For every rider who claims the DMV’s riding test is “impossible” on a “real motorcycle,” these guys consistently proved that the DMV’s test is a cakewalk for an actual motorcyclist.

In my opinion, this course is really close to what I think should be required every four years to re-up a motorcycle endorsement. Currently, there are about 200,000 more licensed riders than registered motorcycles, just in Minnesota. Far too many people simply pay the extra $13 to add an M-endorsement to their license without being able to demonstrate even the most basic skills. Even better would be a tiered license system that required riders to take and pass a course like this to obtain a license for 500cc or larger motorcycles. If the goal is to reduce motorcycle morbidity and mortality, it’s only common sense to require motorcyclists to make a minimal effort to be competent riders.

So, who is this course for? It should be obvious that anyone who intends to participate in group rides belongs in the Advanced Course; at the least. There are a lot of subtleties to riding in a group that most people participating in these rides do not know. Becoming familiar with hand signals, the tactics and complexity and importance of formation riding, and knowing how a group should come to a stop and take off from a parking spot are just the beginning. Doing all of that in a completely supportive and non-threatening situation should be a baseline requirement for anyone wanting to ride safely on public roads in a group. For riders like me who don’t feel particularly tested with the IRC’s basic exercises, the Advanced and Expert Courses up that game considerably and provide a dose of humility when you see your skills compared with other experienced riders. If the Basic or Intermediate course seemed difficult, this isn’t a great fit for you. However, if you put in the time and effort to become comfortable with those fundamentalexercises, setting your sights on these two course for your near future is a practical aspiration. I strongly recommend this course and, particularly, with these two instructors. At the least, you’ll spend a day playing around on a motorcycle refining your skills and hanging out with terrific people.

All photos by Catten Ely

Originally published in MMM #187 September 2017

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