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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Product Review – Gaerne Goretex Boots

GaerneBoots (1)There is no point in my making a serious attempt at identifying these boots. Gaerne doesn’t make anything like them anymore. I bought them sometime around 1995 from Ryan Young’s booth at one of the US Observed Trials meets in Colorado. Mostly, Young’s gear was all about Observed Trials, but he had a fair line of Gaerne boots and a little street gear and these boots were in that lot.

GaerneBoots (3)To say the least, they have seen a lot of use. For starters, I liked them because of their extreme riding and walking comfort, replaceable soles, good (if not great) protection, and the look. I wore these boots under suit pants during my medical device career and never heard a word about their appearance. Of course, I did clean, wax, and polish them a lot more often back then. Since 2001, their only maintenance has been irrecular cleaning and an occasional dose of Nikwax leather treatment.

GaerneBoots (2)They weren’t cheap, around $200. I’ve worn out and replaced 3 1/2 sets of Vibram soles and the zippers were replaced about 15 years ago. You can see by the picture (above) that the Velcro alignment isn’t great since the zipper repair. No problem, they still don’t leak. I wore out the original insoles pretty quickly, hiking and riding off-pavement in Colorado. I can’t guess how many replacements I’ve burned up in that category.

There is really no good reason for this review, other than me wanting to recognize a great product that I have owned and used for almost a generation. I have two other pairs of motorcycle boots, but I don’t often wear them. In fact, the Gaernes are the only boots waiting downstair by the rest of my gear. I might was well admit I wasted money with the other boots and get rid of them. I’ve worn these boots back and forth from Colorado and Minnesota to California a half-dozen times, to Alaska in 24 days of almost constant rain, to Nova Scotia and the heaviest rain storm I’ve ever experienced under any conditions, all over North Dakota and most of the Midwest, and in wind, rain, and even snow around my homes in the Cities and Red Wing. I don’t think it is possible to wear them out. I won’t live that long.

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A Recycling Suggestion

maxresdefaultA totally worthwhile side effect of my attending the Davenport, Iowa Motorcycle Swap Meet was a killer idea on how to get rid of a house full of crap. Look at this picture. This was one of the more organized piles of crap from the show. I’m not kidding. There were “displays” that contained car parts, household appliances, television sets (CRTs even), and every kind of junk pile you’ve ever seen in a garage sale.

Walking around the fairgrounds with my friends gave me a killer idea. There was no real “registration” at the swap meet. You just show up with your truck full of crap, pay some cash for a display site, drive to the site, unload your crap, set up a table and some chairs to hang out while you wait for suckers. People were going in and out of the show all weekend long without squat for security other than goofballs looking at the parking permits on windshields.

Say you have a house full of old junk that your local recycling center wants a few bucks to turn into compacted refuse or to burn up in the city incinerator: $35 for a CRT television, $20 each for old furniture, a pickup full of toys and gadgets might cost $100 or more. Instead, you pay $25 for a display booth location at one of these swap meets. You neatly unload all of your crap into rows, just like the crap pile in the picture above. You drive back home and never speak of that trip again.

Eventually, someone will wonder why no one was minding the crap pile. By then, you’re long gone and the problem belongs to someone else.

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Wandering Down to Davenport

Back in early August, a friend wrote me, “Hey are you going to be back from Canada Labor Day weekend? I’m looking for a buddy to ride to Davenport Vintage Meet. Ride down Friday in time for the races, hang out Sat/swap meet, ride back Sunday with a ferry ride & a crazy Catholic church chicken dinner on the way.” Do not ask me why, but I said “Assuming no catastrophes or old age shit, I should be good for that.” And I put the ride on my calendar for the first weekend in September. I didn’t even look up the details about the “event” until a few days before we were set to go. I had delusions of seeing something like the old Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Week. Not a chance in hell.

IMG_8749After an auspicious beginning, “The Easy Way or My Way,” prep session, the actual trip was anticlimactic. The ride between Red Wing and Davenport was way cooler than I’d expected. I haven’t really explored much of southeast Minnesota, other than the ride back from Cincinnati when I bought my V-Strom in 2007. Cal did a masterful job as tour director. There were fewer than 75 boring miles (one-way) in the whole trip, most of which came at the end near Davenport. Davenport, on the other hand, is a typical Midwestern town with typically boring fairgrounds: home of the Mississippi Valley Fairgound also home of the Davenport Vintage thing. This would also be our “campground.” Over the years, I have camped in some really stupid places: ditches, corn and wheat fields, hanging from trees, shouldering my way on to rocks, on picnic tables and park benches, beside highways and freeways, and in KOAs and worse. This place was close to the worst. We ended up setting up camp in two places: 1) Cal and Tim in the middle of a parking lot where they both had sworn they would never camp again and 2) me next to a gazebo and some metal park benches where I could hang my hammock. Later, I discovered two things about my far more prime site than Cal and Tim’s, 1) I was surrounded by the loudest, scariest snoring sounds emitted by biological beings (assuming old men are biological beings) and 2) everywhere but where I entered the area my campsite was labeled “no campers here.” I decided, screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke and opted to pretend ignorance: forgiveness being easier to come by than permission. Besides, there were no other places in the damn fairgounds where my hammock could hang.

Mostly, I managed to sleep about as well as usual, for a 70-year-old geezer in a hammock, after I plugged my ears to soften the snarl of snoring and choking and farting and old white man nightmares. Holy crap! I don’t think there was a guy near my part of the park who didn’t need a sleep apnea machine and an oxygen tank and a soundproof/vibration-proof booth to sleep in to prevent avalanches or earthquakes. A large pack of pissed-off lions would have been quieter. To top it all off, one end of my Lawson Hammock broke loose about 5AM and I gave up, packed up, and went looking for a place to eat breakfast in peace. For a farm town, Davenport is awfully urban. I couldn’t find a damn place for breakfast in the whole freakin’ town until 7AM. I didn’t come away with a positive impression of Davenport from that search.

However, breakfast was good if late and I wandered back to the fairgrounds to see what the guys had been up to. Mostly, it turned out, half of that group had an ok night and the other half was at least as miserable as me. They were walking the “display” booths, piles of junk with hilarious price tags, mostly. I walked with them, being an asshole and amazed at the same time. “Really? You guys have come back here for this for 20 years?” Stuff like that. I’d decided over breakfast that I wasn’t going to suffer another night among the shambling old guys and their giant kazoo noses and noises and I started bugging Cal about a half-way spot to meet on the way back home. I figured I could easily find a better campsite than the fairgrounds, a better breakfast place, and get some writing and reading time while Cal and Tim spent a day looking at piles of junk.

Turned out, Cal had a sudden personal reason to head for home on Saturday and Tim was more than ready to cut it short. My only requirement was that we get the hell out of Dodge quick enough to avoid much night riding. So, we made a quick loop of the junk piles, walked the restored vintage competition room, and headed out mid-morning Saturday.

The ride back wasn’t as scenic as the right down, because Cal was trying to cut off a few miles and minutes for the trip. I broke away just out of Rochester and took a deviated GPS-mapped route home up MN 42 through Millville to MN 11 to MN 60 to US61 and home. Sort of the scenic route and much of it was an incredibly fun road for the V-Strom. Would have been even more fun on the WR.

As you might know, I’m not much for group rides. This was about as good as they get for me, though. It probably would have been more fun to drive down and bullshit all the way, but it wasn’t bad. I’m NEVER “camping” in a fairground again, though.

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