Makin’ Up the Numbers

The other day a friend (yeah, you know who you are) was bragging to me that he’d ridden more than a million miles in his riding lifetime. If you know anything about me you know I am a numbers guy and you also know that I assume 99% of Americans are embarrassingly mathematically illiterate. (That is putting it mildly.) After 73 years on this planet, in a country that despises math, science, and reality as much as the Catholic Church hates kids who rat out priests, I pretty much doubt everything anyone tells me until I can verify it myself. I doubt myself, too. I know some surveys have given the USA a slightly better math literacy score, but I think they are optimists. Ted Sturgeon once said that “ninety percent of everything is crap.” I think Ted, also, was an optimist. My name is “Thomas” for a reason, although probably not the one my parents intended; whatever that was.

Regardless of what your favorite politician has told you, a million is a really, REALLY big number. Here are some million-mile scenarios as a half-hearted attempt at elucidation: I reflected on how big a number that is back when my original blog site (geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/) finally passed a million hits in December 2020, after being on-line since 2008. (That was after converting my original GeezerwithAGrudge.com webpage to a Google blog. The original page had been on a Comcast site, which Comcast discontinued, since 2000 and had collected about 300,000 hits.) The Google site had been collecting an average of 3,000–5,000 hits per month with occasional monthly peaks of around 25,000 between 2014 and 2017 and as it approached 500,000 I got interested in watching the numbers roll towards a million. After a few months of that, I got bored and missed the big blog odometer counter roll-up. A 5,000 hits a month, it takes 100 months to collect 100,000; almost 8 1/2 years. Likewise, it takes a lot of riding to collect 1,000,000 miles:

1) If you ride 5 days a week for 35 years, to get to 1,000,000 miles you’ll have to ride an average of 110 miles a day. If you ride 7 days a week you’ll only have to average 78 miles a day.

2) Add a 1,000 mile annual vacation trip to the above daily miles and you’ll only have to average 21 miles a day seven days a week or about 23 miles a day for five days a week for 35 years. a 2,000 mile annual trip takes the 7 day necessary average to 12 miles and 5 days to 12.6 miles A 3,000 mile annual trip knocks the daily 7 say average to 8.5 miles and 5 days to 8.75 miles. If you’ve managed to pull off a 5,000 mile vacation trip every year for 35 years, you’d only need to ride to work and back 5.3 miles a day seven days a week or 5.4 miles for five.

We’re not talking about doing this daily ride occasionally. You have to average those miles on a weekly basis for 35 freakin’ years. You might be able to imagine that you’ve done that, but I’m not going with you. Likewise, I’m not going to believe that your get 30mpg in your Ford F150 or 60mpg from your Yamaha R1, either. Do not try to show me that idiot mileage calculator built into your fuel injection system. Show me a spreadsheet with at least 50 tank fills and no weirdness and I might begin to be convinced.

3) If you average 5,000 miles per year, it will take you 200 years to rack up a million miles: 7,500 annual miles needs 133 years, 10,000 needs 100 years, 15,000 will take 66 2/3 years, and 20,000 only 50 years.

All that said, in a 35 year riding “career,” odds are you haven’t crossed a million miles yet. Likely, you’re not even a quarter of the way there yet. Odds are even better you’ll never get there. I’ve been riding, off and on, since 1963, but there have been periods where motorcycles weren’t anywhere in my life and periods where motorcycles were about the only functional transportation in my life.

I know there are some rich, idle geezers who have managed 1,000,000 mile riding lives and–I guess–“hats off to them.” There are even some civil service characters with their typical 3 months a year vacation time who can act like rich idle geezers and who have pounded out big miles. (Yeah, I’m jealous.) But most of us working stiffs are likely to peter out at 200,000-500,000 miles if we’re lucky. Unlike my salesman friend, I suspect the average driving lifetime for motorcyclists is pretty close to 10,000 or 20,000 miles between fatal accidents. Craig’s List ads indicate the average motorcycle travels about 1,500 miles per year, which sort of clicks with the number of bikes the usual suspects have owned before ending up in a ditch bawling for an ambulance.

The cool thing about these kinds of claims is that I have never heard any of that kind of stuff from the few hard core motorcyclists LD I have known. All of those guys have worn their way through a pile of motorcycles and keeping track of the final odometer reading over a lifetime of doing more important stuff just isn’t a thing. Math geeks really shy away from making claims that don’t add up. The people who are really happy to quote wild and big numbers are too often self-declared mathphobes and innumeracy sufferers.

For example, one guy I know is a radical left-winger and who loves to jabber about “big banks” and “big finance” and how dysfunctional our economic system is, while admitting that he is so micro-economically incompetent that he can’t balance a check book, pay his simple 1040A taxes without an accountant, or manage a credit card. None of that inability even puts a glancing blow on his confidence that he is a macro-economics wiz and the world would be a better place if it listened to him and banished money and went back to living off of the land and under a rock. Personally, I wouldn’t put a dime in his hand if I expected to get it back. And I hate farming. I’d rather be a hitman than a farmer.

Now, before your panties get all wadded up and you become a prime candidate for a super wedgie, I’m not calling anyone a liar. Deluded, probably, but lying not so much. Even worse for your case, I don’t care. At this point in my life, pretty much all bragging goes in one ear and out the other. After the last 4 years of non-stop bragging from a character whose whole life has been one failure, disaster, crooked scheme, ripoff, bumbling idiocy, and easily fact-checked outright lies, bragging has lost its power and entertainment value. Self-depreciation, curiosity, and an appreciation for facts and reality, on the other hand, have really taken on a whole new light.

At the opposite end of this accomplishment and self-evaluation spectrum, I had the immense pleasure of hanging out with some ex-students from my McNally Smith College years this past week and their history and stories of the music business and their experiments with motorcycling (mostly 70’s Japanese bikes turned into café bikes, but at least two several year experiments at road racing) made my week. It takes a lot to make my week, so if you weren’t there you really missed out. If you were, thank you for allowing me to enjoy your life.

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2 Responses to Makin’ Up the Numbers

  1. Tim, Just up the hill from Lock 15 says:

    Thus endeth the lesson. Amen.

    And thanks, the homily pretty much validated my mood for the day. Which, oddly enough, is a pretty good mood.
    Tim, Just up the hill from Lock 15

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