And Into the Mountai… on The RV Era Is Dead
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In a ridiculous number of ways, my years with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly has been oddly rewarding. I was putting this one to bed when the magazine decided to call it quits. I’d have loved to see it in MMM, but I missed the window. You wouldn’t think there would be anything educational or financially rewarding about wasting a few dozen hours on a beater ’70s Honda street bike, but there was.
Every weekend, I’m treated to parades of unskilled, noisy bikers wobbling through our small tourist town. Typically, 4-to-20-some bikers will ride, in staggered formation no more than 20’ apart, at 50+mph into town, often rolling through stop lights and signs because most of the riders are incapable of making basic traffic maneuvers: like stopping and starting competently. While the bikers, I’m sure, have images of the rest of us envying their “freedom” and bald domes shining (scroungy ponytails waving) in the sunlight, I am always reminded of herd animals grouping together under the flawed theory of “safety in numbers.”
There is a good evolutionary reason why antelope, gazelles, water buffalo, and cattle pack together in dangerous situations. The “good” part of the reason only applies to the young, fit, and quick. The predators will quickly identify the old and crippled and go for them, rather than waste their precious energy on the hard-to-catch young, fit, and fast. A pack of motorcycles all jammed together in an idiotic “rolling bowling pin” formation is, by default, a herd of old and crippled herbivores.
For decades, whenever we pass bikers in pirate underwear, my wife says, “They’re having fun now.” What she means, of course, is that those characters are so unaware of how precarious their existence is that they are blissfully unaware of how close they are to death, dismemberment, and general purpose mangling. If “ignorance is bliss,” pirate parade participants are some of the happiest people on the planet.
In the August 2019 issue, ABATE’s Ed Berner wrote “I’m tired of my brothers and sisters dying on the road because drivers are distracted or just don’t give a crap about anyone else.” When 30-40% of fatal motorcycle crashes are single vehicle incidents, you have to question that analysis. Knowing that more than a quarter of motorcycle crash deaths are solely the fault of bikers, you’d be statistically clueless to imagine that the other 60-70% of fatal motorcycle crashes are primarily the fault of cagers.
Mostly, I believe motorcyclists are dying out of disability: drunken driving behavior and a fair amount of their own “distraction” while they wobble down the road. Bikers are pretty much willingly hopping onto suicide machines dulled with “learned helpless syndrome” created by loud exhaust noise that causes mental and physical fatigue, distraction from useless and dangerous pack-formation etiquette, loud sound systems, on-bike cellphone use (hands-free and otherwise), handicapped by the mostly functionally-disabled motorcycles bikers choose to ride, and the general-purpose resistance to obtaining decent riding and defensive driving skills. Complaining that the suicide machines are actually doing the job they were designed to do isn’t any sort of solution.
Until retiring this year, I had been an MSF/MMSC Motorcycle Safety Instructor since 2001. I have taught dozens of what we used to call the “Experienced Rider Course” (ERC): now more-accurately relabeled the “Intermediate Rider Course” (IRC). Many of those classes were booked by biker clubs, often ABATE chapters. The hallmark of teaching those courses was too often excessive noise and general rider incompetence. Out of all of those courses, I only saw one rider on a big Harley who could actually handle that motorcycle competently and he was a retired motorcycle police officer with a stock exhaust and a mostly-stock motorcycle (He did have some Iron Butt farkles.). All of the other biker characters usually plowed through about half of the IRC exercises as if the cones were merely suggestions. Often, they would just park to the side of the range until the “impossible” exercises were finished.
At the opposite end of Berner’s death-and-destruction tale has been my 50-some-year association with motorcyclists (different folks than “bikers”). Counting the last two decades of hanging out with motorcycle safety instructors and the rest of my life with off-road racers, motorcycle journalists, adventure motorcyclists, motorcycle commuters, and Iron Butt riders, I have not personally known a single person who died riding a motorcycle. I have witnessed three motorcycle deaths in the last 50 years and two of the three were 100% the fault of the motorcyclist and the other was at least 50% due to the incompetence off the motorcyclist. I didn’t know any of those bikers. The riders I’ve worked and hung out with are, at best, entertained by the biker cult and, more likely, disgusted by the whole incompetent macho pirate-parade silliness. Among my friends, you won’t find a single bike with ape hangers, straight pipes, disabled front brakes, gynecological-exam-position road pegs, handlebar stereo systems, paddle-boards, or useless chromed geegaws. No novelty helmets or bowls, no chaps, no vests, gangster patches, or bandanas. No trikes, either. Those people depend—first, second, and last—on their riding skills, the capabilities of their motorcycles, AGAT, and unwavering focused attention on the road and other road users for their safety; not idiotic and useless legislation, billboards and bumper-stickers, or self-defeating “advocacy groups.”
Like my favorite t-shirt says, “If loud pipes save lives, imagine what learning to ride that thing could do.”
Remember the infamous Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Cheap Bike Challenge? Probably not. Back in the dark Great Recession days of 2009, the gist was, “Each entrant was to be given $300 and two months to find a bike and prep it for an event that would require the riders to ride an unspecified distance and complete special challenges. Like the International Six Days Trial, the event would test both man and machine.” Mostly, we spent a few weeks (or days, in my case) preparing a junk motorcycle to ride and, then, toss in the dumpster. My bike, a long-abandoned 70’s Honda CB-450, probably should have been left in that garage to finish returning to iron-oxide undisturbed.
There was a moment in my last-ditch attempt to find a motorcycle that had lasting effect on me. A Minnesota Sportbike group acquaintance emailed me that he had the perfect bike for the Challenge: a 1980’s KLR250 with a “new motor.” Turned out, the new motor had been “stored” in a cardboard box under a picnic table in the owner’s back yard for at least a decade. The motor was seized, the gas tank was full of smegma and rust, the wiring was rat-eaten, and the rest of the KLR was a mess. More to the point of this essay, the 6-or-8-car garage the KLR came from was jammed full of motorcycles in similar condition. I don’t think a single bike in that garage was salvageable without major money and time spent. Putting my clueless, rude foot in my mouth, I asked, “Why do you have all of this crap?”
The owner’s answer was, “Tom, when I was a kid I realized that when I sold a motorcycle I spent the money and then I didn’t have a motorcycle or the money. So, I decided to keep every motorcycle I ever owned.” That answer scared the shit out of me. Not that I had a collection of junk motorcycles or ever wanted one, but I did have a similar hoarder fetish for fine and not-so-fine microphones. At the time, I owned at least 50 microphones and I could easily imagine myself owning ten-times that many.
But I wanted to retire and I knew to do that my wife and I would be downsizing considerably from our 2700 square foot 1800’s farm house with an 850 square foot garage and a normal recording studio in the attic and 2 1/2 acres of Twin Cities yard. So a few years later, I made a retirement/downsizing plan: I would sell all but a few microphones; to allow just enough toys for hobby recording projects. Outside of that normal remainder, I’d sell the rest of my collection and put the money directly into my house principle. My end goal was to own our home before I retired.
In the end, I didn’t quite reach that goal, but I did only have $14,000 to pay off from our original $106,000 home loan. I haven’t once wished that I’d have kept any of the equipment, the extra space (we downsized to 1100 square feet and could go normaler), or even the microphones I’d owned since I was a very young man.
Collectors all over the world are discovering that the market for their collections is shriveling. New stuff is consistently better in every way than old stuff and younger consumers are unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for products whose sole intrinsic value is “that it is old.” A couple of my friends are muscle car collectors and they’ve seen the value of their collections practically disappear in the last decade. Obviously, the Great Recession put a hit on a lot of that stuff, but so has a hard dose of reality. Vintage guitars and guitar amps, pro and home audio equipment, motorcycles, dishes and dolls, and all of the other crap that Boomers and their parents collected are ending up in the local land fill.
At least four of the microphones that helped me pay down my mortgage had more collector value than real value. Two were a prestigious Danish manufacturer’s 1970’s instrumentation microphones that I’d snagged in an estate sale for a pittance at least a decade earlier. Their selling price about took my breath away and really took a hit out of that home loan. Likewise, two big German tube mics brought an unrealistic price; especially compared to the price I’d paid for those instruments 40 years ago.
So, if it weren’t for the freak-out I suffered hunting down a ride for the Cheap Bike Challenge, I might not be comfortably retired today in a paid-for house with some cash in the bank. On more thing I have to thank Victor and my MMM editors for my 20 years with the magazine. Not only was it a great ride, but it still is.
Gangsters and cops have similar problems; they both want to have the public’s fear and respect. Fear and respect are, however, not the same thing and you can’t have one and the other.
Fear is easy to generate. You just have to be willing to do things decent people would never do. Shoot a few unarmed minority kids in the back and you have successfully terrified a community. Dress up like Hell’s Angels, Banditos, or the Outlaws and make more noise than a freight train hauling 100 tanker cars while the cops pretend they don’t see or hear you and you’ve sent a pretty powerful message to the public, “Even the cops are scared of us.” That’s fear.
Respect is what cops get when they run toward an “active shooter” when everyone else is running away. Respect is what firemen earn when they go into burning buildings to rescue people. Nobody respects bikers, but bikers aren’t bright enough to know fear from respect or they don’t care as long as they can convince themselves that they’re getting respect from the people they’ve terrorized.
Recently, our city police chief was asked, on Facebook, to explain the law surrounding Minnesota’s idiotic “Road Guard” legislation. Obviously, the questioner was pissed off at being detained by some nitwit pirate waving a pile of even dumber gangbangers through a public intersection. Being at the tailend of my life, between myasthenia gravis and CHF, I’ve pretty much had it with political correctness and fear. So, I commented on how stupid I think that whole law and pirate/gangbanger biker parades are. The response was expected and predictable, including the hilarious claim that pirate parades raise money for charities; as if it is impossible to contribute money to charities without the noise and air pollution of motorcycle exhaust.
Honestly, I didn’t expect any sort of rational response from either the police chief or the bikers. The bikers are flat out fun to fire up because they are consistently a pack of clueless nitwits.I really do hate the “road guard” legislation and our simpering wimp legislature totally bend over and took it up the ass from ABATE and the biker/gangster crowd in passing this total joke of a law. Asking working people to wait while a parade of incompetent jerks on tractors pretends to be doing something important really highlights the decadence in our lawless, irrational Failing Empire. There is NOTHING about a biker parade that is worthwhile and, at the least, a rational society would relegate this sort of silliness to unpaved farm roads.
And that is exactly what I think.
Thanks to old age and bad genetics, I’m stuck on a bicycle so far this summer. Double-vision and myasthenia gravis have pretty much taken me off of the motorcycle for an undetermined period; maybe for the rest of my life. Luckily, my generous and adventurous grandson donated his beat up electric bicycle to my cause this winter and, after repairing all of the damage done to that vehicle that he and city salt in 1 1/2 winters of Minneapolis commuting, I started riding it around my current hometown in January and have put about 750 miles on it, as of July. My wife became interested when she saw how much fun I was having on the eBike and I bought her one for Mother’s Day. She’s almost put 250 miles on the eBike since then. Riding with her today was an experience that made me think of something that might fit the August issue’s editor request for “a women-related article that would fit in with our August women rider issue.”
It’s never fair or realistic to stereotype people for sex, race, formal education, or any other major category we humans use to jump to easy conclusions. However, in my experience there are often some significant differences in men and women, outside of biology, and my experience is all I have to go on.
For example, my wife, like every other woman I know seems to be completely uninterested in how things work. I know a few guys like that, but not many. I realize that my acquaintances and friends are self-selected and I don’t have much in common with men who are disinterested in how things work, but I also don’t run into a lot of men like that. Every woman in my life is exactly like that; “Don’t bother me with how it works, just show me how to use it.” Even something as simple as an electric bicycle, my wife is disinterested in how the Pedal Assist System (PAS), derailleur shifter, battery status, brakes, or even the basic handling characteristics of a bicycle that will easily go 20mph; more than fast enough to create some major road rash. She just wants to know the minimum to get the bike in motion and get on with it. No chance she will ever read the 20-page manual, regardless of what might go wrong or what she might learn about her eBike that would enhance her enjoyment and confidence in riding the thing. I have known exactly two women in my life and career who were significantly different from my wife and her and our women friends.
Not knowing how a motorcycle works is a really limiting deficiency. For one, you’re pretty much stuck going any decent distance with other people; probably men who can fix stuff for you. Motorcycles are solo vehicles, by design, regardless of what the pirate parade nitwits may tell you, and clinging to those rolling bowling pin processions is a formula for ending up dead or wounded. Dead is no big deal, but seriously wounded is freakin’ awful. Another flaw in having to rely on someone else to be your technical resource is that the odds on finding a competent person who will take that job are slim-to-none. For the last 40 years, I have always said that if I ever won the lottery, the first thing I would do would be to hire an IT person for my wife. Likewise, I have found a mechanic to mess with her cars, so I don’t have to look at the neglect and abuse those pitiful vehicles suffer.
When it comes to riding skills, tactics, and techniques, motorcycle brand and model choices, and especially the clothes you wear on a motorcycle, if you are not actively making those choices on your own or, worse, basing those decisions on peer pressure, you are not really a motorcyclist (However, you might be a “biker.”). Peer pressure is for high school kids or worse. Style-over-function in a transportation or life-support equipment decision is just dumb. In my years teaching the MSF Basic and Experienced Rider Courses, I was too often asked questions about these things by people who had already made up their minds from poor advice and ignorant observation. In my touristy hometown, for example, about one-out-of-every-two-dozen bikers are wearing helmets and way fewer are wearing decent protective gear or even boots and gloves. I can tell by their posing that they imagine themselves to be such great riders that crashing is just not going to happen. Having been stuck trying to teach a lot of those exact characters how to make evasive maneuvers, use both brakes, keep their eyes ahead looking for hazards and escape routes, safe distances, and arguing with them about “dangerous helmets” and loud pipes saving lives, I’m here to tell you that those folks suck as motorcyclists. (They are state-of-the-art “bikers,” though.)
So, my suggestion for women who want to become motorcyclists is learn how to ride, learn how to maintain your motorcycle (busted fingernails and all), wear motorcycle gear (not Village People costumes), and remember “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you do know that ain’t right.” (Will Rogers) The problem with what most of the people who want to give biker-advice is that almost everything they know is wrong.
Last winter, when some friends helped me wedge my WR through the garage door into the basement shop, I had high hopes for this spring. In January, I wrote “For the first time since I left California in 1991, I have a warm, well-lit indoor space to work on my bike for the rest of the winter. This will be the most fun spring motorcycle prep in decades.”
Within a month, I began to experience double-vision problems that turned anything that requires vision into headache-inducing misery. The bike is still on the jackstand, exactly where I put it in January; untouched, except for being rolled around to get the shop-vac to all of the basement flooding we “enjoyed” this spring. The double-vision is an early symptom of myasthenia gravis,as Wikipedia puts it, “a long-term neuromuscular disease that leads to varying degrees of skeletal muscle weakness. The most commonly affected muscles are those of the eyes, face, and swallowing.” My father suffered from this disease in the last two decades of his life and it isn’t pretty. This isn’t just the end of my motorcycling life, but driving a cage, bicycling, walking, eating, drinking, and breathing are all up for grabs.
My eyes have never been anything special, as anyone who saw me on a motocross track could attest. I have been legally blind in my left eye since childhood and my right eye has been going far-sighted for more than a decade and both eyes are clouded by cataracts. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, though. Two mediocre eyes are better than one. Stereoscopic vision and binocular depth perception is greatly undervalued until you don’t have it. I can’t even reliably reach for a glass of water and expect a predictable result. I wear an eye patch most of the time, which mostly reinforces my low opinion of my crappy right eye.
A long-time rule of mine has been “when in doubt, throw it out.” I applied that rule, last spring, to my trusty 2004 V-Strom and sold it to someone who would use it as I did. Off and on that summer, I missed the 650 and occasionally wished I still had it, but mostly I wished I wasn’t 70 and lame. By June, I decided I had taught my last MSF class and “retired” from the Minnesota program. I had pipe-dreams of doing adventures on the WR, though: going places I would no longer have the gumption to take a bike as large and heavy as the V-Strom. Clearly, that isn’t in the cards.
I am waffling, but I need to take the bike out of the garage, do some of the basic maintenance tasks to get the bike ready to sell, and write up an ad. But, for now, I’m going for a bicycle ride while I still can.