Motorcycle Jokes

An old friend of mine is at end-stage of a long bout with cancer. We both decided, years ago, that we weren’t going to join any pity parties and, if we were going to stay friends to the end we were going to carry on as usual. Some days, I don’t have much to say, but I’ve been making an attempt to write something to her every day or two. Sooner or later, she’ll stop writing back. If I’m lucky, her son will eventually tell me it’s time to stop writing. I’m not looking forward to getting that notice but I haven’t heard from her in a while and that’s not a good sign. She’s in California and I’m in Minnesota and we don’t have many friends in common. She’s cut herself off from most of the people she knows because they can’t talk to her like she’s not already dead or like her dying is the worst thing that could happen to them. I haven’t seen her son since he was a baby and, as far as I know, he might not even know I exist. So, on the days when I don’t have something worth talking about, I send her jokes. Usually politically incorrect jokes. If nothing else, someday the email address will bounce back on me.

. . .

It was only when I bought a motorbike that I found out that adrenaline is brown.

. . .

Yesterday I got stuck behind a young girl riding a horse. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t get past her. I was tooting my horn, and hanging out the window yelling at her. She still wouldn’t let me past. There was a guy on a motorcycle behind me and he was waving too. The road rage was building to the point of gun violence.

I was getting so wound up and frustrated. “It’s people like you who cause accidents!” I shouted.

Eventually, I just couldn’t take any more so I looked around to make sure the coast was clear . . . and I jumped off of the carousel.

. . .

This little old lady decides one day that she wants to join a biker club, so she goes down to her local club and knocks on the door. The door is opened by a big hairy biker with a beard, who’s covered in tattoos.

“I’d like to join your club,” says the little old lady.

The biker is amused by this and decides to play along, telling her, “Ok, but you’ve got to meet the requirements first. Do you have a bike?”

The little old lady points to a Harley and says, “Yeah, that’s my bike there.”

The biker is surprised but says, “And do you smoke?”

The little old lady says, “Yeah, I smoke 20 cigarettes a day and when I’m shooting pool I’ll smoke a few cigars too.”

The biker is impressed and says, “And have you ever been picked up by the Fuzz?”

The little old lady says, “No, but I’ve been swung around by the nipples a few times.”

. . .

I kept telling my brother to be careful while he was out riding his motorcycle, but he wouldn’t listen. And of course, one day he fell off.

I went to visit him in the hospital and he said to me, “I… di…

“Did….

“Did… n… wu….

“I… din… war… yu…”

I interrupted, “You can’t say ‘I didn’t warn you?’”

. . .

Like that.

Life sucks, then you die. Goddamn it.

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Keeping up with the Japanese

I’m wrestling with an essay for MMM on motorcycle safety training. Mostly, writing about this subject is kicking my ass because there is so little actual information about the only thing that matters in motorcycle training: the outcome/effectiveness of training. It’s no secret that I believe motorcycles are a doomed mode of transportation and it shouldn’t be surprising that I believe the problem is that our favorite vehicle is primarily a hyper-dangerous toy and that licensing for the use of this vehicle on public roads is a joke. The fact that so many “riders” believe the DMV “test” is “impossible to pass on a real motorcycle” ought to be absolute proof that most of the characters on motorcycles are incompetent as riders and not all that bright as human beings.

As part of looking for inspiration for this article, I got involved in a discussion about why motorcycle sales have tanked (post-2008) and the recovery has been so weak. An old MNSportbike acquaintance who has been in the retail end of the business for the last decade thinks it’s because “the last two generations are pussies.” I can find no evidence to support his claim, but his argument is mostly that we’re following the Japanese model and that Japanese youth are “pussies.”

A long while back, Japan’s NHTSA equivalent decided to attack the constant over-representation of motorcycles in that nation’s mortality and morbidity statistics. The end result has been the only effective change in motorcycle safety in the world. Another result has been a dramatic drop in Japan’s motorcycle/scooter sales. Other than the industry itself, which generates almost as much expense as revenue, collapsing motorcycle sales isn’t much of a downside. The Japan Biker F.A.Q. created a page to explain the Japanese licensing system, “Motorcycle Classes and Vehicle Licensing.” The whole story is pretty much there in English and Japanese, explaining the tiered licensing system, insurance requirements, motorcyclists’ liability, laws and enforcement, and the rider costs of all of that. Honestly, I was surprised that the actual expense of compliance is so low. Insurance for the various classes isn’t out-of-line with US costs. Testing and licensing expense is reasonable. The real difference is what happens when you violate the laws: enforcement is expensive and harsh.

It’s obvious and true that if you had to be competent to obtain a motorcycle license and that getting caught riding without a license would result in serious costs and even jail time a large portion of the idiots on hippobikes would quit riding. Harley and Indian sales would disappear in a puff of logic, since obtaining that “Large Class” (400cc and over) license would require competence and riders would have to demonstrate that competence on the actual bike the plan to be riding.

Yesterday, on the way back from Alma, WI with my wife (she was driving), I got to see how far from being an actual motorcyclist the typical hippobike rider reality is. Two nitwits heading south on WI35 decided to make a U-turn on that relatively wide two-lane road with decent shoulders on both sides. The two stopped in the middle of their lane, stacked up a couple of cars behind them while they gathered their nerve to make the turn, paddled through the turn one-at-a-time, and the second of the two made his entrance into our lane about 100 yards in front of our vehicle. Being the obvious least competent of the two, he panicked when he finally noticed our vehicle (and the four behind us) bearing down on him, and he sped-up his paddling routine to get out of our way. Of course, he didn’t make the turn and paddled right into the ditch, which fortunately for him was only a few inches deep at that spot. On their best day, these two would barely deserve to posses Japan’s “Small Class: 50cc to 125cc” license. Here in Freedomville, USA, these idiots are on motorcycles 10X their capabilities.

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Ride Like the Killer Robots Are After You

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All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

A friend, Scott Jarrett, who has had a storied and impressive career as a professional musician once told me, “If you can imagine making a living any way but through music, you should.” For years, I took that as a semi-friendly put-down. It felt like he was telling me that, since I had regularly left the music world for a more predictable income from electronic engineering or education, I shouldn’t consider myself committed to being “a musician.” I have no excess of confidence regarding my musicianship, so I took that advice and when someone asks me if I play or if I’m a musician I always say, “sort of” or “no, but I own some music instruments.”

Recently, Scott was explaining to me his current financial dilemma that is mostly forced by the serious competition he receives from his past and current music students. These kids have the advantage of having had him as a step-up into music and the music business, plus they have the motivation, energy, and commitment and the advantage of of being young, footloose and unencumbered by obligations. He simply said, “I can’t keep up anymore. I can’t do the practice time or put in the hours to keep these kids from getting the jobs I used to own.” 

Scott described his situation as being similar to a scene in Douglas Adam’s Life, the Universe and Everything, where Arthur Dent, Slartibartfast, and Ford Prefect were watching some robots destroy a planet. Ford was explaining why the robots would win and destroy the universe while the three of them stood idly by observing their own demise.

We’re not obsessed by anything, you see,” insisted Ford. And that’s the deciding factor. We can’t win against obsession. They care, we don’t. They win.”

I care about lots of things,” said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.

Such as?”

Well,” said the old man, “life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords.”

Would you die for them?”

Fjords?” blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. “No.”

Well then.”

Wouldn’t see the point, to be honest.”

When I heard that, “If you can imagine making a living some way other than as a musician, you should” suddenly made sense to me, in a non-insulting way. Scott is not the kind of jackass you know me to be and I had always assumed that he meant this as a parable; unfortunately a parable that was simply beyond my comprehension. But I get it now. I was obsessed by music and, particularly, playing music on my guitar for about ten years of the fifty-plus years I pretended to be a musician. Not nearly enough to count for the kind of obsession required to be a professional musician.

In the United States, motorcycles account for 15% of highway deaths and an equally disproportionate number of serious injuries. If, as I’ve argued more than a few times, we amount to no more than 0.01% of highway traffic and, more likely, closer to 0.001%, the odds of dying in a motorcycle crash are somewhere around 1,500 to 15,000 times greater than in a cage. I know that traditional media claims the number is somewhere between 18 and 37 times more likely, but I think their math skills are suspect. 15% is 1.500 times greater than 0.01%. For motorcycling to be 37 times as dangerous as driving a car, we would have to drop our fatality contribution to 0.37% of total highway fatalities.

So, with those lousy odds in mind, how obsessed with riding a motorcycle are you? If you are absolutely convinced that magic and your biker stare are going to rescue you from lousy riding skills and your distain for motorcycle protective gear, you’re an idiot and one of the many reasons we are so overrepresented in highway crash statistics.

Motorcycling requires a similar obsession to being a professional musician. A motorcyclist is someone who constantly works on all aspects of his riding skills. She keeps her motorcycle in excellent condition by regularly inspecting the machine and spending the necessary money to keep it all in order. He reads books and magazines about riding, maintenance, and takes regular skills refresher courses to stay sharp and on top of his game. She rides as soon as the ice is gone in the spring and doesn’t put her bike away until the snow falls in the winter. He would rather ride his motorcycle than drive a car, ride a bicycle, walk, take the bus, or fly. She keeps herself in good physical condition so she has the strength, stamina, flexibility, and physical capacity to ride competently. He is obsessed with going places by motorcycle. When she rides, the only thing she is thinking about is riding a motorcycle safely, competently, and because it makes her feel more alive than any other thing she does.

Anything less than that is an unacceptable risk for minimal reward. If I thought it would help, I would repeat that sentence.

To paraphrase Mr. Jarrett, “If you can imagine going from point A to point B any way other than by motorcycle, you should.” I do not encourage people to become motorcyclists. I train people who think they want to ride a motorcycle, but I don’t give them a lot of encouragement. I am not a motorcycling cheerleader. I didn’t try to put my wife, kids, or my grandkids on a motorcycle. When they asked about it, I told them to get really good on a bicycle and get back to me. Neither of my daughters or my grandson made it past being pretty fair on a bicycle. None of them tried BMX or even bicycle road racing. My wife tried off-road motorcycling for a few years, but never had any interest in street riding. They all had a few biking crashes, lost some skin, and decided that was fast and dangerous enough. I agree with that decision. If I didn’t work at turning my kids into motorcyclists, I’m sure not going to try to convince a stranger or, even, a friend to take on riding. It is dangerous, expensive, complicated, and a lot of hassle. If you are not obsessed, you should take the bus, ride the train, drive your cage, bicycle, or walk. They are all much safer and cheaper than motorcycling. If you are obsessed, I will try to help you in any way I can to become a better, safer motorcyclist. If obsessed people were the only people on motorcycles, we would drive that 15% down to 0.37% and keep pushing it lower until we approach zero.

Published in MMM Issue #170 October 2015.

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Joining the Crowd

For most of my “adult life” riding either a bicycle or a motorcycle to work the instant weather permits has been a staple of my activities. “Weather permits” has meant any temperature above freezing and road conditions not including ice or snow. I don’t care about gravel in the corners. I did care, a little, about salt still remaining on the roads, but that usually just meant I washed off the bike more often than usual in the spring. It was a point of honor for me to not be among the “motorcycles are toys” crowd.

Not any more, apparently.

So far this year, I have ridden my motorcycle to school (I go twice a week.) exactly zero times. On a 55oF spring Sunday, of which we’ve had several to this point, I’ve ridden either of my motorcycles exactly once. Today, the wife needs the truck for yard work, so she’s driving me to school and I’m taking the bus back home. It’s 35oF outside this morning. With my heated Aerostich gear, that’s more than warm enough to justify riding to school. But I’m not going to.

I’m not sure what’s changed. I can’t help but suspect that my general attitude is tied to my disinterest/lethargy. “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.” All of the smart people I know have been pretty much running on empty for the last six months. The energy has gone out of a lot of people who are usually pretty pumped up and sources of hope and good will for me. I, on the other hand, have done pretty well betting on what I used to think were worst case scenarios—professionally and financially—and assuming the worst has always been more fallback position. You don’t become a test engineer or a reliability assurance engineer and do well at it assuming every design was divinely inspired. You assume everything has fatal flaws and begin your day looking to find that flaw before the damn thing becomes a product and when it fails it’s your fault.

My usual distrust of my fellow American’s competence has fallen to an all time low. We are living in the early (and last) years of The Marching Morons society and it’s just going to get worse and maybe never better. When I’m in a 4,000 pound pickup, that translates into assuming no one is stopping for stop signs or lights, idiots will occasionally drift into my lane from any possible direction, every fuckin’ idiot is packing a weapon, and expecting a couple of key or coin scratches on my truck anytime I leave it in a public place. On a motorcycle that translates into full-time terror. A ride into the country is a fine riding exercise, a fair amount of fun, and the best way to explore my surroundings, but it’s not utilitarian. In fact, I am now a motorcycle-toy owner, since I’m not using my motorcycle for transportation.

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#140 Change Is Gonna Come

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All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

My old MMM editor, Sev Pearman, sent a discussion group a link to an announcement from The Company about their prototype electric bike, Project Livewire. Expressing his Geezerly self better than me at my worst/best, Sev concluded, “I have zero interest in electric vehicles; pitiful range is but one of [my objections].”

My reply to that was, “The only thing that keeps me off of Zero’s new bikes is the purchase price. Price per mile crushes internal combustion engines, but I don’t have to worry about a motorcycle with a power train that could last 250000 miles. I won’t live or ride that long. 150 miles is enough range for 90% of what I do and a 6 hour charge is fine. In a few years, capacitors should replace batteries, charge times will drop dramatically, weight and range will expand nearly exponentially for the size and weight, power and performance are already comparable to or superior to internal combustion, emissions will finally be as good as cars or better, and that fuckin’ noise bullshit will be history. If you don’t like maintenance, electric motors are the bomb. A bike you can tweek to your performance standards through a USB port is right on target with the current and last two generations of possible motorcyclists.”

Sev’s response was, “Blah blah blah No offense, Thomas, but this is the same ‘in the very near future…’ song that I have been hearing for 40 years. I distinctly remember reading this in both Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in the early 70’s. Sorry, color me skeptical.”

Obviously, I’m comfortable with skeptical. In fact, when it comes to the blathering of economists, southern politicians, the major media talking heads, and any so-called “authority figure,” skeptical should be the default attitude. However, when scientists and engineers talk, I listen with a relatively open mind and some expectations. The fact is, no one writing for Popular Mechanics or Science was talking about semi-permeable molecular capacitors, lithium polymer batteries, lithium ion batteries, or even nickel-metal hydride batteries 40 years ago. Hell, sixty years ago Popular Mechanics and Science were babbling about flying cars and computers small enough to fit into a basketball gym and powerful enough to add really big numbers reasonably accurately. In 1989, some overly optimistic scientists claimed to have cracked the secret to cold fusion and the resulting inability of other researchers to replicate that experiment created enough psycho-babble from the media to convince the average schmoe that all science was fake and nuclear energy was at a dead end. Today, Westinghouse, GE, and a collection of foreign competitors are on the verge of making small liquid metal modular reactors available for applications from small electric engine power to portable electric generators and everything in-between. It could be a deal-breaker for the oil companies and revolutionary for electrical generation, but most people are fixated on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the false cold fusion story. Stay tuned, electrical generation could be the new cheap energy. Ballard Power Systems, a Canadian fuel cell manufacturer, is contracted with Volkswagen’s fuel cell development program and a couple of large bus manufacturers with working prototypes in service, not to mention providing the power for Toyota’s corporate offices in Torrance, CA. All kinds of science fiction stuff is happening right now and almost none of it was predicted or promised 40 years ago. About the only prediction that has been reasonable useful from the last 50 years has been Moore’s Law. (“The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year. . .”) Gordon Moore’s succinct technology estimate has been reasonably accurate for at least 30 years and there is every likelihood that it will be revised upward with new technology.

If the USA was driven more by technologies than by idle and incompetent corporate back-stabbers and lazy and corrupt old technology billionaires, we’d be enjoying a whole new world of high efficiency transportation and putting a serious dent in the atmosphere’s carbon content. A real war on the world’s terrorists, begun back in 2001, would have crushed the oil cabal, launched the US into the 21st century with a vengeance, and revitalized our technology industries like nothing since the 1960’s space race. Instead, we choked, took the easy way out and invaded Iraq hoping for a quick fix with that country’s “oceans of oil” and blew two decades on militaristic decadence. Catching up is much harder than staying ahead, in any kind of race. Technology and change don’t depend on American exceptionalism and all of those technologies we ignored are going ahead without us. Just ask the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and the struggling descendants of the world’s great powers of the past: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Russia, and, even, China (only now crawling out of the ruins of its 4,000 year old civilization).

technology-growthSemiconductor density is not the only technology experiencing exponential change. You know that bullshit small print thing stockbrokers hope you don’t read regarding the odds that the stock they just conned you into buying will produce a profit (for you)?  “Past performance does not necessarily predict future results.” Look at the chart on the right, that’s what an exponential curve looks like as it approaches infinite change. Ray Kurzweil called this the “Law of Accelerating Returns.” The steps in that chart are 50 year intervals and the X-axis is linear, but the Y-axis is more exponential than linear. The technology development required between the printing press and the telescope (a 200 year interval) was insignificant compared to going from what existed at the start of the space race to our world of cell phones, personal computers, and the Internet (20 years). The same comparison will be made between the last days of hydrocarbon-based energy and whatever comes next. The technological growth rate of the last decade will look absolutely stagnant compared to the next ten years.

Back to electric motorcycles, the only thing that keeps me off of one is the cost. Certainly not the cost of operation, but the cost of ownership. At 66, I can’t justify a $10,000 motorcycle of any sort. I don’t expect to live long enough to consider that a rational expense, especially in Minnesota where half of the year is lost to rotating my battery tender from the V-Strom to the WR250X. $5,000 is a whole different game. Zero’s 2015 battery pack is expected to live for 2,000 charge cycles (at least 200,000 miles) before it deteriorates to 80% of new capacity (probably the recommended replacement point) at 185 city miles or 94 highway miles per charge.  At the current 6-8 cents per kilowatt, Zero’s 1.4kW charge requirement makes for pretty cost-effective transportation. You just have to have a 200,000 mile life expectancy to justify going electric. I do not. If you are a decade or three younger than me, you should start thinking about what your first electric motorcycle is going to be, because that’s very likely going to be a big decision in every motorcyclist’s life in less time than you expect.

Published in MMM #140 September 2015

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#168 Two Approaches to Aging

caveman

Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly #168 August 2015

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Coincidentally, I had two very different conversations about motorcycling in the same week from over-60 riders who had pretty strong opinions about their motorcycle future. This may seem like a pretty pointless subject, especially if you are under 40, but motorcycle demographics are rapidly aging and our mode of transportation and recreation is coming to some sort of turning point in the United States and a few other first world nations. The average age of US motorcyclists is increasing by 2-4 years every 5 years (depending on who’s statistics you believe). In the last 15 years, the number of over-50 riders has increased more than 250%. Unfortunately, that group of 60-and-older riders is 250% more likely to end up with serious injuries than their 20-to-30-year-old counterparts. “Middle-aged” riders don’t fare much better. 40-60 year-old riders, were 200% more likely to suffer serious injuries than the younger group.

There are a variety of suspected reasons for these dismal statistics, including deteriorating skills, vanishing physical capabilities, inexperience and overconfidence, and the fact that older riders too often pick motorcycles to enhance their fading self-image rather than for practical and realistic motivations. Regardless of “why,” older motorcyclists are less safe for a variety of reasons than younger riders and there are a whole lot fewer young riders than in previous moments in motorcycling’s history. That decision day is coming for us all and this past week made that uncomfortably clear to me.

First, one of my oldest friends called and started the conversation with, “Do you know anyone who wants to buy a Goldwing?” Thinking he was giving up on being a ship captain and had decided to return to a normal motorcycle, I made a joke about the question. His reply was, “No. I’m serious. I’m done.” After more than 40 years on two wheels, he had made the decision to pack up his riding gear and move on to other pursuits. All of his reasons were sound: three years of shoulder surgeries had reduced his upper body strength and confidence below his comfort level, his wife no longer wanted to ride with him, he wasn’t riding enough to maintain his skills, his local riding friends had all cashed in their Harley’s for boats, planes, and RVs. Other than admitting that I would regret not having taken more advantage of our years of riding together, I had no valid counter-argument. I put feelers out for anyone who might be in the market for a well-maintained Goldwing and that is that.  

Another friend, who has been riding fewer years and tends to ride bikes that are more vintage than competent came by the house a few days later to show off his new, current-technology ride. On the way to my place, he’d had a couple of near-misses and was pretty agitated about the state of Minnesota driving skills. An ABATE member, he went on a rant about how right-of-way laws still needed to be more aggressive “to get the dumbasses off of the road.” I expressed my dislike for the concept of prison sentences for unintentional acts, which suddenly put me with the enemies of motorcycling on the “other side.” No problem, I have spent my whole life on the wrong side of every argument; depending on who I’m arguing with, I seem to be on every side of every argument humans have.  I am the most radical liberal-conservative-middle-of-the-road person most of my acquaintances know.

The rest of the conversation was one-sided. Lots of ranting about how “people need to pay attention to those ‘Start Seeing Motorcycles’signs” and how loud pipes make up for driver distraction and incompetence. You might guess that I was pretty uninvolved in the whole “discussion” by that time and just wanted to get back to cleaning my garage and digging the New Mexico sand out of my WR’s crevices and crannies.

The two schools of aging motorcycle thought appear to be “it’s time to quit” and “the world needs to be a safer place for me.” I totally sympathize with the first group and am amazed at the second. Oddly, the “safer for me” crowd often sees itself as being all-American, tough guy, independent individuals. They are brand-conscious, pirate-posing, anti-AGAT (or any real motorcycle gear), and group-riding characters whose self-image is practically the polar opposite of what the rest of the world sees when they lumber past, deafening anyone within a couple of miles of their parade. As best I can tell, their riding defense system consists of a whole lot of denial. Old people (me included) are famous for denial tactics, but reality has a nasty habit of putting a mirror to anything you try to ignore too long. Deteriorating riding skills, lost physical capability, and arrogance are a poor combination on the road.

I can feel that “No. I’m serious. I’m done” moment creeping up on me at accelerating speeds. I have been riding since the mid-1960s and I have nothing left to prove as a motorcyclist to myself or anyone else. I have no delusions about where my skills are going or where my physical capabilities have gone. I past the “it’s all downhill from here” moment about twenty years ago, optimistically, or thirty-five years ago, practically. I can’t remember when I last believed that I could “do anything I want to do.” I’m pretty much at the point of being happy just to be able to do an occasional thing more-or-less the way I wanted to do it. Things like brushing my teeth or putting on laced boots or lowering myself into a chair without falling the last few inches are on that list. I do not have any delusions that my presence on the highway creates an obligation for the rest of the world. They aren’t out to get me. They don’t even acknowledge I exist. The weaker, fatter, slower, dumber, blinder, and shorter I get, the more clearly I can anticipate hanging up the helmet and going shopping for a Miata convertible. I hope to not repeat my father’s model and stay on the road until someone has to take responsibility for me and forcibly revoke my driver’s license. I hope I’m as smart as my friend and start purging the motorcycle collection and equipment before I wind up in a hospital bed. I’ll keep you posted on how that all works out. 

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# 138: Tires Make the Man

caveman

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I am officially retired as of this summer. “No more pencils, no more books, no more rules, no more teacher’s dirty looks.” Ok, the dirty looks came from me, but I’m done with that too. The next time I hear some kid complaining about how hard school is, I’m just going to laugh at the pampered little cell-phone addict. I, officially, do not have to care any longer. One of the best things about being retired is giving up on all pretense of concern for dress codes. “What are you going to do, fire me?” The people who mismanage America’s businesses solidly buy into the old adage that “clothes make the man.” Since the only skills required for modern American managers are dressing themselves and pulling credit towards themselves while shuffling blame off on their underlings, that’s understandable. It’s hard to see the pulling and shuffling stuff, but even a CEO can identify a nice suit. I have spent most of my career ignoring dress codes or pushing their boundaries closer to my own comfort zone. Starting this summer, my comfort zone will creep closer to full nudity. Avert your eyes or don’t sneak into my backyard uninvited.

street-motorcycle-tiresIn the motorcycle world, our suits are on the wheels. Your tires say a lot about what there is to know about you as a rider. Your bike could be a cluster-fuck of vintage bits cobbled together with gaff tape and pipe clamps, but if your tires are good you’re officially well dressed. On the other (and more typical) hand, your bike may be a shining example of everything Cruiser Magazine says is “all the rage” (clearly a gay biker magazine) or a plastic-fantastic full-race liter bike that Cycle World calls “all pimped out,” but if your tires are bald you are undressed. If a motorcyclist looks at your tires and mutters “chicken strips,” you’ve been outed as a poser and a the kind of rider who crawls through corners and blasts down the block as if he were being chased by Barney Fife (look him up, youngsters). On the other hand, some tires say nothing but good things about your sterling character.

Sportbikers have a tendency to be proud of balled up bits of rubber clinging to the outer edges of their tires. If you are a racer, that’s just expected. You can’t successfully race anything on two wheels without pushing the boundaries of traction at all possible angles. If you are a street biker, you are a goofball who likes to push traction to the limits’ edge and are probably about as fun to ride with as a wasp trapped in the helmet. There aren’t a lot of places on the street where leaning a bike over far enough to touch a knee to the ground can be called anything but “reckless.” The sad fact is that almost every sportbike sold is over designed for any practical street application and that probably explains why so many of those motorcycles fall into the “less than 1,500 miles per year” category. Off of the race track, they are just rich kid toys with no more practical use than a plastic Star Wars laser sword. The tires tell that story repeatedly. 

Cruiser owners generally have more concern with the polish of their white sidewalls than traction or lean angle. In fact, cruiser lean angle is about topped out where the sidestand puts the bike when it’s parked in front of the usual bar. You can’t blame these guys for chicken strips, since straight-up is about the only way to ride a cruiser. However, a lack of concern when the tire wears down the inevitable center says a lot about the owner of an already-disabled vehicle. Motorcycles with marginal suspension, cumbersome maneuverability, and as much mass as a Prius can’t afford an on-the-road tire failure. When you’ve given away every advantage a motorcycle has in the road warrior battles, you can’t blow off swapping out that bald rear tire because it’s a hassle. Tires are the only real clothing a cruiser has.

At the other end of the style spectrum, dual purpose riders sometimes make a big deal out of their off-road worthiness. Seeing a KLR parked in front of a coffee shop shod in full non-DOT knobbies with narry a scuff on the side knob sprue nubs and the soft middle of the tire worn down to a bump is always good for a laugh. You might as well paint “dirt” onto the bike as imagine that other motorcyclists are going to be impressed with your tales of off-roading. Any trials rider knows that a pretty mild tire pattern can carry the average motorcycle through some seriously rugged stuff. Pretty much anything will haul a Lampkin straight up a wall. You don’t need knobbies for the occasional dirt road. But you’d know that if you ever rode that thing away from pavement.

The guys who almost never pose as anything but themselves are real touring riders. With 100,000 miles on the odometer, they know the only thing they can’t scrimp on is their tires. A Goldwing will putter along with watered-down Canadian gas with an occasional ping or two, but a flat tire in Butt Fuck, Wyoming is downright life-threatening. These guys will tape a $1-store cupholder to their handlebars, but the only money they save on tires comes when they install the skins themselves. There is nothing funny about getting stuck in Whitehorse with a wreaked tire. You won’t make it back out of town for less than $600 and you might spend twice that again on a motel bill while you wait for the shop to get around to installing your tire. Don’t even think about asking the Honda dealer if you can just buy the tire and install it yourself. Being “well dressed” on a 10,000 mile tour means having brand new tires on the bike and a second set wrapped and ready to drop-ship in the garage; postage pre-paid so your wife or best friend can just fill out the shipping label and drop the tires off with UPS.

I might be naked in the backyard, but my bike is always well dressed and there are two complete sets of replacements in the back of the garage waiting for the next big motoring social event. You never know when you might be invited to go somewhere and do something cool. Wouldn’t want to violate the only dress code I’ve ever honored.

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