Group Posing

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

An early June Sunday morning, my spouse decided we needed to take a drive to River Falls, via back, Wisconsin highway patrol-free roads. We have a leisurely route, after escaping WI 35 ticket-free, that will take us to our usual destination pretty stress-free most days. Not Sunday, however. That county road was cluttered with arrogant middle-of-the-road bicyclist obstacles and blasted with a half-dozen pirate parades and a couple smaller groups of lane-challenged sportbike pretenders. The drive, in either direction, was way too tense to be enjoyable.

As I watched one pack of pirate bikers waddle towards us, marginally in their opposite lane and demonstrating no signs of competence, I wondered, again, why people feel compelled to ride in groups. In an Experienced Rider MSF course, a few years back, one of the students described motorcycling as a “social activity,” which about floored me. He was, obviously, right, but it had never occurred to me that anyone would pick a vehicle that is clearly designed for solo exploration, minimalist transportation, and general anti-social behavior (Yeah, I’m talkin’ about you, Victor.) and imagine it to be the perfect platform for a group activity. A few years later and I’m no less baffled by that realization than I was when I first heard it. So, I kept thinking about it as I dodged the not-so-rare idiots on hippobikes wandering near my lane with their naked, bald heads shining and their wide open eyeballs target fixating on the front of my pickup. I came to a conclusion as to what all this silliness is about, but you probably aren’t going to like it.

infidel-motor-club-575x355For most of my life, I’ve viewed groups of men and boys as being at once homophobic and homoerotic. The badass biker crowd with its freaky gangbanging activities, and attraction to outfits the Village People would have thought were too poncy in the heyday of disco, are clearly dealing with some sexual identity issues. It’s not that different from the “gay for the stay” pretence men in prison use to justify their confusion, but it is slightly scarier since these maladjusted characters are out in the general population; at least until the next time they get caught and end up back inside. None of that is any different than frat hazing behavior or the military or rappers and their posse palls or those militia freakshows: guys congregate in packs to keep from having to think about which side of the street they want to walk.

Village-peopleObviously, I don’t care, one way or another, if people are hetero or homosexual, but packs of stray men are never a good thing. Packs of physically inept, overweight, peer-pressure intimidated men (and equally confused women) on oversized motorcycles are much worse things. There are no statistics that I can locate that account for motorcycle crashes in group rides, but it’s hard to find a group ride story that doesn’t include at least one nitwit who overshot a corner or ran into the back of another motorcyclist or ended up in the wrong lane. Watching these folks try to hold their place in the “formation” while negotiating curves at speeds picked by the group leader and desperately trying to look “cool” is just a little sad.

All because motorcycle parades are the socially-acceptable way for men to travel in groups on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Several years ago, my brother came to visit and to go with me on a “ride” around Lake Superior. We don’t get to see each other much, since he lives in Arizona and I can’t think of any good reason to visit that state. So, we travelled on my two motorcycles for almost 2,000 miles. The two bikes get about 50mpg each, so we averaged somewhat less than 25mpg for the trip. He got lost a couple of times because I tend to try to keep 2-3 miles between me and other vehicles, whenever possible, and he has the family tendency to wander off on the nearest interesting looking dirt road to see where it ends up. Overall, it was a mediocre trip and we probably got to spend about 8 waking hours actually hanging out over five days. It would have been cheaper, more fun, and at least as adventurous to have taken my 1999 Ford Escort wagon and I’d have known something about his life since the last time we hung out.

In the early 90s, I was renting a basement room from a friend in Denver and financially and mentally recovering from ten expensive years in southern California, raising two daughters, and starting a new career at age 41. During some holiday break, three friends decided they wanted to drive to California with me to see the sights while I hung out with my family for a weekend. Part of the motivation was that one of the guys had just restored a 1960’s Buick convertible and he wanted to try it out on a road trip. We made it from Denver to Idaho Springs, about 50 miles, before the Buick died. He had AAA tow the Buick back and he picked up my Toyota van and drove it back to Idaho Springs to collect the rest of the group. With nothing but time to waste, we all decided we’d stick with the roadtrip plan, even though the van only had two front seats because I’d hollowed out the back to serve as a cheap camper. If we got stopped, it was a safe bet that we’d be looking at seatbelt violations, at the least. If we crashed in the mountains or at any reasonable speed, missing seatbelts were the least of our problems inside that Toyota tin can.

We drove straight through, taking turns at the wheel, holding down shotgun duties, and sleeping in the back. About 1,000 miles and 18 hours later, we rolled into Huntington Beach, rested, relaxed, fed, entertained, and ready to split up into two groups: me and the other three guys. They headed for L.A. and Universal Studios and I enjoyed a few days with my wife and daughters. That was one of the best trips of my adult life and the only actual group ride I’ve ever enjoyed. Like most families, mine didn’t travel together much and when we did it was usually for something miserable like a funeral or wedding and this trip was the closest thing I’d ever experienced to an actual family vacation.

The next-closest tolerable-to-decent group rides were all of a similar sort. The same three guys and one other were the only motorcyclists I knew while I lived in Denver. One of them, my landlord, was an experienced, talented rider and the other three hadn’t (and wouldn’t) put 1,000 miles on their used motorcycles or on themselves in their motorcycling “careers.” All four of those guys were committed pavement motorcyclists while I was still trying to decide how I felt about asphalt and concrete. We often took Parker Road toward Colorado Springs after work or on weekends. If we were going all the way to the Springs, sometimes I’d take CO67 to Rampart Range Road and the military training road along the the eastern ridge into the Springs. We’d pick a destination and a meeting time and I’d cut out early and head for the mountains while the other guys took the shorter, quicker but less scenic route. Since they rarely hit the road before noon, even though my route was twice as long as theirs, I’d still end up at the end point a little early.

And that’s what I’d call a decent “group ride.”

However, when it comes to taking a trip on a motorcycle, it still makes more sense to me to do it solo. But then, I’m not worried about what anyone else’s opinion of how I travel or who I am traveling with.

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Fast Lane Biker Magazine – December


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Seat of the Pants Performance Comparisons

ZARS 2014A few years ago, when I was still capable of riding half-quickly and competently off-road, I was riding with a group of Twin Cities Dual Purpose guys north of the Cities. The “route” was a convoluted collection of gravel and paved roads with the occasional single-track and deep sand trail tossed in to provide the illusion of a dual-purpose outing. It might have been one of the first opportunities I had to test my new-to-me WR250X somewhere outside of my daily 6 mile urban commute. It turned out, there was more than just a riding competency and bike capability test available on that ride. One of the other guys had recently bought a used WR250R that had been barely-used and farkled up with a loud “performance” pipe, a Power Commander fuel programmer, a hacked-up air box, and the original owner had removed the AIS and EXUP systems and the “flapper-valve.” Pretty much all of the “performance” weirdness every kid who ever bought a WR might do without any of the nasty riding crap actual motorcyclists would have done first. Both of our bikes had been owned by such children and the WR/R owner had yet to begin the long process of returning the bike to original status and peak overall performance. I got after that immediately and my bike was all the way back to bone stock the day of that ride.

After 30 or 40 miles of the group ride, we all stopped for lunch and the WR/R guy and I compared notes. He was pretty tired of the exhaust noise and wondered if any of the modifications had actually improved the bike’s performance. You might figure, I always assume any “improvements” made by shade tree goobers is a downward evolution. Having been an engineer for most of my career, my appreciation for amateurs is very limited-to-non-existent. We decided that, when the opportunity presented itself we’d “performance test” the bikes on every sort of terrain we’d be riding on for the rest of the day. In our case, “performance testing” mean drag racing the two bikes at every opportunity. Mostly, a drag race eliminates skill from the equation; the outcome is pretty much determined by the bike with the best powerband and peak horsepower. As an unintentional handicap, I was spotting the WR250R about 50 pounds, since that bike’s owner was at least that much lighter than me. He was also a decade younger and a much better, more aggressive rider, for whatever that is worth.

To cut to the chase, the end result was no surprise to me and disappointing to him. On pavement, my WR250X consistently held the advantage. We would start out neck-and-neck, but after 3rd gear my WR/X would begin to pull away until around 70mph when the WR/R began to fall into the distance. On gravel, the results were mixed; pretty much whoever got the best start would end up in front. In deep sand, I got my ass handed to me, mostly based on his skill and my cowardice and, probably, that 17” front wheel that tends to plow into the sand. I was year or two away from having my left hip replaced and, by then, anything that required a firm foot on the ground was out of the question.

So, our shade tree, seat-of-the-pants evaluation of the usual collection of silly “improvements” kids make to the WR/R/X Yamahas was that more is less. You’d hope that doing all of that crap would not have made a 250 slower with an additionally 50 pound load, but it did.

wr250xfarkleSome of those modifications are, and should be, highly illegal. Yamaha did several things to make the WR/R/X bikes emissions legal, for the US, EU, and Japan. Defeating emissions controls is a federal and state violation and I despise the fact that our states and cops are too lazy and incompetent to enforce emissions violations. In fact, I resent having to pay taxes for cops who don’t care about exhaust noise but pretend to be enforcing the peace (and quiet) of the communities that employ them. Imagining that a low tech sheet metal worker could out-engineer Yamaha is pretty hilarious, at best. The only “tuning” aftermarket pipe manufacturers do is “noise enhancement.” They know you imagine louder being faster and play to that market.

Some of the other “improvements” might actually do something useful, if the entire bike was retuned to compensate for the huge change in intake and exhaust pressure curves. However, most goobers are done with their project once they tack on the expensive crap and wouldn’t consider spending another $1,500 on dyno testing and tuning. So, like the 99% dumbasses in The Marching Morons, they mistake noise and unpredictable and peaky power band for improvement and degrade the motorcycle while wasting money on junk that just irritates the general public, wastes fuel, adds more pollution to the environment, and devalues their motorcycle investment. The fact is that you can pretty much assume that every dollar you “invest” in aftermarket performance modifications will result in a fifty-cent reduction in the resale value of the motorcycle. You might, occasionally, find a kid who will pay inflated money for a farkled-up mess, but you’ll have to be astoundingly lucky to stumble on to one of those characters who actually has money.

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Hardly Riders and Laugh In

More Hardly riders doing the Laugh In tricycle bit. “I hit that hole in the road,” sort of like “I had to put ‘er down.” It always means, “I screwed up and fell over totally out of incompetence.”

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Are You Invisible?

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Fast Lane Biker Column (November)

Cheap Bike Challenge

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.

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What Did You Think Was Gonna Happen?

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.”

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