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If there is an upside to the apparent end of my motorcycle life, it might be that I sold the two motorcycles while there was still a market for them. I sold my “big bike,” my 2004 Suzuki V-Strom last spring for pretty much Blue Book list with almost 100,000 miles on the odometer. My Yamaha WR250X went this April for a decent price after two weeks on Craig’s List. I suspect the arrival of the economic stimulus checks had something to do with that sale, although the buyer was a 17-year-old kid from Wisconsin driving a newer pickup than I will ever own.
Rural Minnesota’s coronavirus lock-down isn’t overwhelmingly restrictive and my wife and I have taken a couple of leisurely drives along Wisconsin 35, south toward Lacrosse. With an immune deficiency disease, I’m the posterboy for this disease’s “most likely to suffocate” award. So, we don’t stop where anybody else is standing around, we don’t shop, stop for restaurant food, or spend much money. We’re just breaking the plague quarantine routine for an hour or so. The last time we made that trip, I counted 17 motorcycles for sale parked in yards and driveways in a 40 mile drive. It is a glutted market. The overwhelming majority of bikes for sale are cruisers and the dominate brand on that used market is Harley.
Harley’s current economic situation, only slightly worse than before the Trump Recession due to a decade of declining sales, is reflective of that change in the seas. Motorcyclists and, especially, bikers are getting older, from a 1985 median age of 27 to a 2003 average of 41 and somewhere between 51 and 60-something (depending on whose stats you trust) by 2020. In the US, motorcycles are just expensive recreational vehicles to 99.9% of riders; most of whom are too incompetent and timid to commute or ride in city traffic. One aspect of those statistics is grossly and incorrectly skewed by the fact that practically every US driver who ever took a motorcycle license test automatically renews that endorsement for a few bucks every 4 to 6 years; because they can without any evidence of riding competence. So, actual rider age is probably lower than those numbers but actual motorcyclists’ numbers are also far smaller than the estimated 10 million households (who are mostly storing a motorcycle under a tarp in the back of a shed). Like that motorcycle endorsement, many bike owners reflexively pay the tabs every year for a motorcycle that rarely travels further than it takes to move it out of the way of the lawnmower or snowblower.
What does it mean for motorcycling? Hell if I know, but I know a lot of people in the industry are beginning to hedge their two-wheeled bets into other recreational areas.
The owner of Aerostich, Andy Goldfine, has talked a lot over the years about the value of motorcycling to society and he and his company sponsor events that try to illustrate motorcycles utility; like Ride to Work Day. In his blog, Andy talks a lot about the motorcycle market from the perspective of someone whose primary business is selling gear to the tiny percentage of motorcyclists (not bikers) who ride every day and depend on their motorcycle for transportation. That group appears to be shrinking and Aerostich is looking around for their next market. It’s possible it might be serious eBike riders (the fastest growing segment of the US two-wheeled industry).
Our position in the world is reflected by motorcycle data, too. Lance Oliver, in his blog The Ride So Far, reflected on this in his essay, “The U.S. market is increasingly unimportant in the motorcycle world“: “Here in the United States, we have a way of making ourselves sound bigger than we are. We call ourselves ‘the Americans’ even though we’re a small part of the Americas and we hold a World Series without inviting other countries to participate. In the motorcycle world, however, it’s impossible to mistake the fact that the U.S. market is becoming smaller and less important with every passing year.” The 2007 Bush Great Recession really illustrated that when a 90% reduction in Honda’s US motorcycle sales resulted in less than a 3% decrease in their world motorcycle sales. The world is growing and the American Century ended at the millennium. Maybe that was the real Y2K bug?
In this country, motorcycling is a lame excuse for “lifestyle goobers” and barely a recreational vehicle. I think that sucks. The old fat guys on Harleys, and their unemployable offspring, have sucked the life out of motorcycling as transportation. Their 500 miles/year posing flat out turns off anyone who might otherwise think a motorcycle is “cool.” Their pirate parades generate more hatred toward motorcyclists than all of the Hells Angel movies ever produced. Their insistence on white privileges without responsibility makes every motorist on the highway want to “unintentionally” wander into a motorcycle’s path just to watch the likely Laugh-In tricycle action. When a pack of biker gangbangers gets squashed on the highway, most people think, “good riddance.”
As cars become safer, quieter, more fuel efficient, tolerating incompetent and arrogant bikers becomes less sustainable. What do we do to try and mitigate that? We slap louder pipes on our lawnmower-motor “hawgs,” collect in even bigger gang demonstrations, campaign for special treatment and even more roadway privileges, and make greater “contributions” to highway crashes and mortality while fighting rational licensing, helmet, and traffic safety laws. Any fool could see where this is all heading, but we’re special fools and we’re going to drive this chopper right over the cliff.
This kind of “adventure” is sort of asking for trouble (not saying I never did anything this dumb, but I was on a LOT smaller bike when I did), but if you’re going to do it, do it fast.
On Sunday, I got a really nasty reminder that I’m old. (I know, that’s what mirrors are for.) My wife and I were going for an early morning bike ride and while I was waiting for her to get ready, I attempted to swing my leg over the bike and ended up lying in the middle of one lane of our county road. In a matter of a fraction of a second, I went from feeling pretty good for a 72-year-old man to feeling like someone had driven nails into my left knee. Just before the lights went out, I felt something pop in or near my left knee and the leg totally gave out; toppling me onto my back, bouncing my safely helmeted head off of the asphalt, and leaving me squirming on the road in pain.
Getting back up without the use of my left leg was difficult. Once I was able to stand, I discovered I could flex my knee without much pain and my general leg strength seemed good. Being a guy, since I had started the day off expecting to go for a bike ride I went for a bike ride. Mostly, I did fine, but every time I stopped getting off and on the bike was painful. By the time I gave up and came back home, my left leg would barely support me and climbing the basement stairs was really painful.
My wife had a knee replacement last fall and we still have the cold therapy machine the Mayo Clinic sent home with her. I used up a 15 pound bag of ice on the knee for the rest of Sunday. And I did lots of leg lifts with both legs, but especially the left one while I was trapped in a chair with the icing machine.
The next day, Monday, I boiled my leg in the bathtub, first thing, and hobbled around doing what I could after loosening it up with some flexes, stretches, and leg lifts. Monday was a rough day. Any sort of side-load on the left leg brought shouting-level pain. My wife has struggled with knee pain for years and I was moving almost at her pace for the first time since I had a hip replaced in late 2011. My empathy for her problems and pain has always been moderated by her complete resistance to any serious physical therapy (PT). This injury gave me some direct and personal perspective on the pain she’s experienced, though.
It wasn’t hard for me to imagine, though, that if this level of pain and disability lasted I might end up being a non-stop whiner. After a day of limping around and getting the occasional shock when I planted my left foot slightly off of dead flat, I was seriously thinking about a peg leg. It would take a lot for me to get used to going up and down stairs slowly and one-step-at-a-time. I mean, carefully lift the right foot to a step while using the handrail for at least 50% of my weight, then lifting the left foot to the same step, pause for pain recovery, and repeat. Between spurts of activity on Monday, I was in a chair, usually re-reading Jim Bouton’s Ball Four for the n-teenth time. Every moment I was in a chair, I was doing leg lifts. By the end of Monday, my leg was feeling much stronger, I had less pain, and it was obvious that my damage was in either a tendon or a muscle; not the actual knee or cartilage in that hinge. That is, by the way, usually the case with knee pain in the beginning. Let the muscle deterioration go one long enough, then you’ll start chewing through meniscus and causing destructive inflammation. In retrospect, I think I strained or ruptured the lateral collateral ligament.
Tuesday, I got out of bed, tentatively tested the knee while I sat on the edge of the bed, got up and on with my day, almost normally. By Tuesday morning, I would estimate that I had held my left leg in the air, unsupported by anything but the muscles necessary for that position, for at least 3 hours. For most of the day, I pretty much went through my normal tasks and activities normally. Any time there was a bit more than 10-15o of outside side load (think bow-legged) I’d get a minor twinge reminder that I was still injured. Otherwise, I was most of the way back to normal. To the point that I hiked up our backyard hill to fill the bird feeders and do some construction work on the outside of the house; ladder work, even.
Wednesday, as I write this, I would say I am about 80% back-to-normal. Remember, that is a 72-year-old “normal,” so I’m unlikely to ever be a physical specimen anyone sentient would aspire to. Especially me. At noon today, I have racked up 8 hours of leg lifts since Sunday afternoon. As a matter of fact, my left leg is lifted as I write this and has been almost constantly since I began.
And that is the “hot tip” I promised in the title of this essay; leg lifts for knee injuries.
35 years ago, I was bicycling to work 5-10 miles one-way almost every day in California. After a couple years of that, my knees hurt badly enough that I quit wearing long pants. The weight of the pants on my kneecaps was so painful that I could barely stand it. Like all good Californians, I went looking for an instant fix: surgery. Somewhere in that same period, I crashed my bicycle racing downhill and busted my left collarbone. I went through an extensive period of getting lousy advice from doctors and orthopedic surgeons before I finally lucked into a young sports medicine doctor. My collarbone had been fractured and unstable for almost a month by then and he convinced me that surgery, at this point, would be likely to fail. He prescribed a support brace that was actually strong enough that I wouldn’t be able to shrug is loose. He also gave me a PT routine that involved grinding the edges of the fracture to reopen the injury at the bone to restart the natural healing process. Within a month, the collarbone had fused, although fairly misaligned, and I was back on a bicycle and enjoying my screwed up knees again. I went to that same doctor about my knee pain.
His advice was, since I spent a lot of my work days in meetings, anytime I’m seated “stick that leg out and hold it there as long as you can.” The idea was that bicycling is mostly an posterior (backside) muscle/tendon activity which strengthens those connective tissue structures until they overwhelm the functions of the anterior (front) muscles. That allows the patella, for example, to wander across the area it has traditionally been positioned, grinding up the ligaments and meniscus. The backside of the patella is grooved from years of wear and blood flow and those grooves align with similar wear on the connective tissue and meniscus. Allowing new position and movement of the patella uses those grooves as a sort of file. [I realize this is a really pitiful explanation of what really goes on. However, it is pretty close to the dumbed-down explanation my doctor provided and how his recommendation might correct my knee pain. He also said, if that didn’t work, we could always “try surgery.”
So, 35 years ago I started sticking my leg out as straight and high as I could get it anytime I was at my desk, in a meeting, at a restaurant, or sitting down for any other reason. 35 years ago, that exercise absolutely fixed my knee pain. Even more incredibly, when I overstressed my knee this past week, a few hours of leg lifts helped me get back to my life in three freakin’ days. Now you know.
I’ve given this advice to a half-dozen friends with knee pain in the last 30-some years and not a one of them has ever had to resort to knee surgery. On the other hand, I suspect my wife hasn’t done an hour of leg lifts in the last 30 years and she still has knee pain, had a knee replacement last fall that she still describes as “horrible,” and moves with lots of pain and general difficulty. Your choice, I guess.
A few weeks ago, I wondered why it was so hard for Minnesota city and state cops to figure out how to enforce Minnesota’s vehicle noise laws. Minnesota State Statute 169.69 states: “Every motor vehicle shall at all times be equipped with a muffler in good working order which blends the exhaust noise into the overall vehicle noise and is in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise, and no person shall use a muffler cutout, bypass or similar device upon a motor vehicle on a street or highway. The exhaust system shall not emit or produce a sharp popping or crackling sound. Every motor vehicle shall at all times be equipped with such parts and equipment so arranged and kept in such state of repair as to prevent carbon monoxide gas from entering the interior of the vehicle. No person shall have for sale, sell or offer for sale or use on any motor vehicle any muffler that fails to comply with the specifications as required by the commissioner of public safety.” This, of course, is a fairly stupid law that was clearly written to satisfy some federal minimum for noise pollution and clearly does nothing to protect residents from semi-grown children who just can’t get enough attention in any positive way. Minnesota is not alone in the “gutless noise laws intended to do nothing” category.Based on this map, I’d say there are 9 states with enforceable laws (which doesn’t mean they enforce them) and the rest are pretty much lawless by design in this regard.
I made the mistake wondering this on a local “Ask the Chief” city webpage and got a totally bullshit answer from the Chief, “Yes, the State of Minnesota law covers muffler vehicle noise.” But he made it clear that it was the job of local residents to, literally, identify and detain lawbreakers and, then, to prove the vehicle violated the law. So, no, there is no actual Minnesota vehicle noise law and please don’t ask again.
A side-effect of asking this question was that that a bunch of local bikers got downright hysterical about the thought that someone might think their noise-making was illegal and should be fixed. One of those geniuses said, “mufflers are for pussies” as his justification for needing more attention than spoiled 13-year-old girls.
Someone else replied, “I thought that’s what Harley’s were for?” And things went downhill from there. It is true that actual motorcyclists scoff at the macho posing of the boys and girls on Harleys. It’s hard to pull off macho when you can’t exit a stop sign competently.
I do, however, think the second guy was right on the mark. Harley and the cruiser genre only have one defining “feature” to brag about: low seat height. In every other area important to actual motorcyclists, cruisers are deficient or defective. They are, to put it politically-incorrectly, “girls’ bikes.” Not women, but girls. Real women don’t ride Harleys and they don’t mess with handicapped motorcycles.
The rapidly vanishing American motorcycle market seems to be clueless about where American buyers are today. And bikers are doing their best to drive away any likely new riders with IQs into the mid-double-digits and the kind of behavior that puts the lie to “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” This is from the crowd whose purpose appears to be making as much noise as possible while looking like a sad collection of down-and-out Shriners who either lost their uniforms or couldn’t afford the Knights of Templar suit and the fez. No one with a spec of self-respect would want to join that gang and, apparently, hardly anyone does.
Way back in 2011, when US motorcycle sales were still not recovering from the Great Recession anywhere near as fast as the rest of the economy, the AMA’s Rob Dingman and the M.I.C. spokesman Peter TerHorst said, “The three biggest problems facing motorcycling today is noise, noise and noise.” That was the last gasp of reality from the AMA. The gangster crowd, who probably don’t amount to a tiny fraction of the AMA membership, scared the AMA “leadership” into abandoning this issue and losing even more members over the next decade. Since disclosures about the organization’s bleeding money in the early part of the last decade, the AMA has been really aggressive about courting members and really reticent about telling members how the “organization” is doing. In this case, I think it’s safe to say that “no news is bad news” and I doubt that I know a single AMA member among the hundreds of motorcyclists I know. Of course, none of my friends ride so badly they need noisemakers to let the world know an incompetent is in the area.
About one third of Minnesotans had been obeying the state’s social distancing rules by the time the rules started going away. Even fewer bother with masks, especially outside of the Twin Cities, and that two-thirds who aren’t taking any more precautions than they did back in January. Of course, they are constantly whining that the “the rules aren’t working.” Rules, of course, only work when people obey them. Which brings us to motorcyclists.
Thanks to some slimy legislation promoted by Minnesota ABATE in 1982, the minimal contribution Minnesota motorcyclists make to the state’s highway funds comes through gas taxes. Fees collected for motorcycle endorsements pay for motorcycle safety training exclusively, which is mostly wasted money. Minnesota uses the MSF program which has steadfastly refused to subject its training program’s outcome to any sort of evaluation. In fact, MSF instructors are cautioned not to tell “students’ that there is any relationship to the MSF’s training and becoming a safer motorcyclist. Based on my own 18-year experience as an MSF instructor, I believe the training we provided was as close to the absolute minimum possible to hand-hold the least capable riders through the endorsement test. In other words, we put a lot of butts on seats, which is what the MIC/MSF are all about. So, our every-4-year endorsement money pays for a barely-used bureaucracy and the few hundred miles a year the typical Minnesota motorcyclist rides generates a few bucks in gas taxes to pay for the roads we ride’ and crash on, to great taxpayer expense. In 2018, the estimated economic cost to Minnesota for motorcycle crashes was $1,875,540,500. The numbers aren’t in for 2019’s even higher number of crashes and fatalities, but they will be soon. As of early June, we’re on our way to setting a new state motorcycle fatality record in 2020.
Back in 2013, I compiled a database of miles traveled by collecting odometer readings from Craig’s List ads across the country. One of my readers transferred that to Google Docs format and readers/riders from across the country entered data. Eventually some asshole decided to crash the spreadsheet/database, but by then I had learned that the typical motorcycle gets ridden about 1,400 miles a year with a strong modal average at about 750 miles. Most people who call themselves “bicyclists” beat those road miles by a long ways well into their 70s.
So now that, as a society and thanks to the novel coronavirus, we’re asked to reduce our exposure to each other and to try and reduce the load and risk on our healthcare system what are motorcyclists doing? The usual, anything but something useful. I should rephrase that statement, motorcyclists are doing what they usually, being careful, going AGAT, and maintaining a small social and environmental footprint.
Bikers are the problem. Bikers are out in force, riding in their underwear, protected by magical napkins on their bald heads, making as much noise as possible, and spewing fuel and mayhem where ever they go. Bikers, on the other hand, are proudly members of the two-thirds of Minnesotans who could give a flying damn about anyone else. Their biker “rights” so grossly overwhelm any responsibility they might accept for their actions that they are beginning to attract attention from the public and, sooner or later, legislators.
As of early June, 2020, 29 people have died on motorcycles on Minnesota roads and highways; the majority are single vehicle crashes and the overwhelming majority are the pirate biker crowd. We’re on track to beat or equal the previous 1985 high for the state’s motorcycle deaths. I guess we’re “lucky” that attention has been diverted from our fatalities to Covid-19’s devastation. Bikers aren’t happy with losing that focus, though. In my small town, we have had multiple biker gatherings that are practically begging to be viral hotspots and, when they are, I’m sure we’ll hear all sorts of whining about “government tracking” when the bikers get the blame for spreading Covid-19. In our area, restaurants have been allowed to reopen with outdoor seating and decent spacing, but our local biker bar is flaunting all of that and their customers are dragging tables together and making a show of pretending to be tough boys and girls. From what I’ve seen (and experienced with asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia) I suspect that tough façade will collapse about the time they can’t breathe. Drowning in your own fluids is the ultimate waterboarding.
Imagine the attitude of overworked and stressed healthcare workers working without adequate PPE, staff, and other resources when some dill-hole in a pirate outfit is wheeled into an emergency room suffering injuries from recreating on a motorcycle. Do you really think people who label bikes “donorcycles,” “murdercycles,” and a collection of other even more graphic derogatory names are going to be happy to risk their lives on people who are too lazy and arrogant to even bother with a helmet? Do you think they should be required to care more than you do? Good luck with that. If your argument is “they knew what they were signing up for,” get ready to hear “right back at you big, bad bikerboy.” At the least, they are going to take special joy in scraping the rocks and asphalt from your road-rashed ass.
This video is of a New York biker gangster funeral procession back in early April. On their website, these characters claim they were “social distancing and being responsible.” You judge.
As of April 27, 2020 for the first time since sometime in early 1969, I do not own a motorcycle. That one brief hole in my motorcycle life between early ‘68 and late ‘69 was due to the distraction provided by young marriage and the struggle to provide for two people without any marketable skills. This time the break is going to be more long-lasting.
All of last summer consisted of a discouraging bout with ocular myasthenia gravis and constant double-vision. It was the first year in 50 in which I did not ride a single mile on a motorcycle. This year, I had reason to hope I might get another year behind the bars and my eyesight might stay under control for a bit. After all, it’s twenty-twenty, right? But the double-vision came back early and mean this March and so did my steroid prescription. At 72, adapting to being one-eyed and that eye not being particularly reliable is proving to be a daunting task without the complications of motorcycling. Odds are good that I will lose my driver’s license if it continues; and I should. My father had the same disease at the same age and, in the end, a brother-in-law optometrist was forced to take away Dad’s driving privileges after he had rear-ended four cars in four different crashes in 18 months. I DO NOT want to be my father. All last spring and most of the summer, I limited myself to very short daytime drives to necessities and my eBike just to avoid that fate. So far, this year, my vision is under control for about 10 hours a day. When I get tired, the left eye starts to wander. Bless you prednisone.
It appears that my motorcycling has become one more of “grandpa’s stories.” But between now and then, I estimate there were close to a million miles on two wheels. I “estimate” those miles because I mostly didn’t think about them while they were passing under my feet. Between 1965 and 1983, the motorcycles I owned might have come with odometers but that device along with the rest of the console, lights, reflectors, fragile stock fenders, factory levers and footpegs, factory exhaust systems, suspension parts, and large parts of the motors ended up in the scrap pile of unnecessary or insufficient stuff that came between me and successful off-road competition. I bought my first real street-legal motorcycle in 1983, a 1979 Honda CX Deluxe, and put 130,000 miles on it in a few short but intense years. A succession of sport bikes, small tourers, dual-purpose, and adventure tourers followed. I think the fewest miles I put on any of my motorcycles might be the last one, the Yamaha WR250X only had 17,000-some miles on the odometer when I admitted defeat and watched it roll out of my driveway.
Obviously, I’ve been preparing for this for a while. Way back in 2016, around the time I re-took the MSF Expert Rider Course, I wrote rant “#148 Creating A Baseline” for my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column. I wrote (to myself) back then, “Nothing about being able to take a low speed left-hand turn and stop with the front tire in a box is demanding in any way to a competent motorcyclists, regardless of the bike. Nothing about weaving through some widely spaces cones and making a right hand turn should confuse or confound a half-decent motorcyclist. Making a moderately quick stop from 12mph in first gear is not complicated. A 12 mph “swerve” around a huge fake obstacle ought to be second nature. If anything on that test baffles you, either your motorcycle or your skills are totally out-of-whack.” 2017 was the first year I racked up more bicycle miles than motorcycle miles since I was a kid. So, I created an evaluation for myself, “So, every March from here out I’m going to go through the old routine but after an hour or so of practice, I’m going to run through every one of the nine BRC exercises and the day I can’t do all of them ‘perfectly’ (no cones hit, no lines crossed, fast enough, and clean enough) the bike goes up for sale and I’ll fill the space in the garage with a small convertible. I might buy a trials bike, but that will be the end of my street riding days.”
This spring with the world wobbling between one and multiple dimensions I realized I couldn’t see well enough to even score myself competently. I wrote up an ad for the WR, put it on Craig’s list, and waited for cash to arrive. I did, a few weeks ago, wander over to the parking lot where I used to teach the Basic Rider Course and take the test on my eBike. I did ok, but riding a 70 pound, 20-mph-max eBike competently is a world away from a 300 pound 50hp motorcycle, let alone a cruiser, big touring bike, or even my old V-Strom 650. At this point, I think my motorcycle stories will all be told in past tense and there are lots of them left to tell. Like my oldest daughter’s tee-shirt used to say when she was a teenager and I was still a young man, “I only wish I could ride as fast as Dad remembers he did.”
French censors sent this ad back to the lab because “discredit[s] the automobile sector […]
while creating a climate of anxiety.” Those snowflake car owners (or dealers and manufacturers?) get nervous seeing the effects of their products on television?