A Motorcyclist Looks at Motorcycles

Red Wing, this time of year, has a lot of pirate traffic. It’s a small town on the Mississippi River with good restaurants and lots of bars, polite and light traffic, wide roads with remedial curves designed for truck traffic, and decent scenery. This is the place for which Harleys and Indians were designed. So, the irritating sound of badly tuned tractor motors (potato-potato-potato and rub-rub-rub) decorates our evenings and weekends most every mild summer day. Our cops, like cops everywhere, can’t tell the real gangbangers on cruisers from the wannabe gangbangers on cruisers. So, they’re afraid of them all, including the dentists and stockbrokers, and let them wobble down our streets in packs of unskilled idiots, just like everywhere. There are days when most locals avoid our favorite restaurants because they’ll be littered with pretend-pirates and all-too-real assholes covered in patches and colors.

I, on the other hand, am either on a bicycle or in a cage (as a passenger or a tentative driver) these days. My eyesight is not getting better, which likely means my motorcycle days are done. So, I find myself at frontage road intersections like this one looking down my blind side (left) at traffic, making my best guess at oncoming vehicle distances and speeds, and planning a right turn into the right-hand lane. As Keanu would ask, “What would you do?” There is a truck in the on-coming left lane, about 1/4 of a mile away on a 55mph four-lane highway and a stop light about 1/4 of a mile down the road from this intersection, so traffic will likely be slowing about the time I’m up to speed and in my lane. I’m turning right, so I should be able to merge into the right lane without any issue, right? What if that truck was a Harley with the usual gearless pirate dangling from the handlebars? What if it were a parade of clueless pirates?

As a life-long (50+ years) motorcyclist and retired motorcycle safety instructor, I have a different take on the “start seeing motorcyclists” bullshit. I know, on average, motorcyclists are the most incompetent people on the road; either on their motorcycles or in their cars. When I see one, two, a half-dozen, or fifty motorcyclists in the lane I am hoping to join or even in another lane, at practically any distance, I am forced to wait for them to pass. Not because I don’t believe I can get into the lane and up to traffic speed in a decent interval, but because I know 99% of the nitwits on two-wheels in my town are totally incompetent (unfortunately that applies to bicyclists, too). Any sort of complication in the road ahead of them will cause insanely inappropriate panic and generally foolish behavior and I might end up with some moron plastered across the back of my pickup. It’s not worth the hassle. So I wait.

I admit that my estimation of the rider’s skill is dramatically guaged against the brand and style of motorcycle. If it’s a cruiser, I automatically assume total incompetence. If I’m wrong, it’s a pleasant surprise; but a rare one. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is geared-up, I assume moderate skills with undetermined judgement. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is helmet-less., bare armed and legged, and perched on the bike like he’s straddling a too-big butt-plug, I’m back to assuming total incompetence with zero judgement capacity. If its a geared-up adventure biker or, even better, a dual-purpose biker I take no special precautions. That one group can generally be trusted to be at least as competent as the rest of traffic. I don’t have the eyesight to pick commuters from joy-riders, but if I did I’d be pretty confident in the commuters’ skill, too; regardless of motorcycle style.

NOTE: If your take on traffic and commuting is, “I don’t ride to work on my motorcycle because everyone else on the road is out to kill me” you are a moron and not even close to being skilled enough to ride a motorcycle on public roads. Welcome to the sad, overwhelming majority of the motorcycle clan. I’m sure you’ll be comfortable in whatever bar they are contaminating.

Sad, isn’t it? The people I’ve been associated with for most of my life, musicians and motorcyclists, are pretty much the bottom of the gene pool in most of society’s rankings. Honestly, other than through Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, my motocross and trials years, and the safety instructor gig, I may have been associated with motorcyclists but I rarely associated with them. I have fewer than a dozen friends (and a brother) who I would consider riding anywhere near. I almost always travel alone and use groups of motorcycles as an indicator of where not to go or be. You can’t really be a musician without being around other musicians, so there is that association that is totally fair.You can be a motorcyclist without knowing a single other motorcyclist. In fact, most likely the fewer motorcyclists you know the more likely it is that you are a competent motorcyclist. Knowing exactly zero “bikers” is always a good sign.

I admit it, I feel “put upon” by being required to babysit these incompetents. Worse, after I give their inabilities lots of safety margin, these idiots assault me with their exhaust noise and pollution and my local cops don’t even give them a look. That’s injury added to insult added to wasted time. The accommodations our culture makes for bikers so that a few bar owners can optimize their profits at the expense of the rest of society is a red flag of insanity.

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Are Motorcycles History?

I was scanning my old employer’s website, notice that Century College’s Basic Rider Course schedule for 2019 includes fewer classes, in total, than I used to teach almost exclusively at that school in a single season: down from more than 100 courses on 3 ranges to 26 courses on one range. Dakota Tech is down by similar numbers: from more than 80 courses on 4 ranges to 41 on two ranges this season. According to friends who still teach, last year DCTC cancelled a lot of it’s classes, often the day before the class was scheduled to run. St Paul College is scheduling 26 courses. I retired last year, after all of my classes in Red Wing and all but one at DCTC cancelled in 2017. Staying certified was going to be more of a hassle and expense than it would be worth.

At least in Euro-ville, 60% of all new bicycle sales are eBikes. I can’t find a solid figure for the US, but based on the growth of a few name companies that can’t keep up with the orders I suspect that’s a shift here, too. The industry word is that ebike growth is exponential and motorcycle sales are in decline. If you do a Google search on “motorcycle dealers closing” limited to the last year only, you get a depressing # of hits; including insider stories about how motorcycle imports and exports are slowing up practically everywhere. These are interesting times. That “change” thing is proving itself to still be a constant.

Lots of dealers, like River Valley in Red Wing, didn’t see much of a recovery in motorcycle sales after 2007-12 and moved on put more effort into boats and ATVs. A bunch of dealers (especially on the coasts) are adding eBikes to their sales floors. Yamaha, Ducati, and KTM either have eBikes to sell or are in serious development. Hardly just bought a kids’ ebike company. Of course, HD could just be recognizing how lame their customers are and acting accordingly. Yamaha’s eBikes are grossly overpriced: $4-6k, but they might figure it out before they totally lose their place in consumers’ sights. KTM will probably need a mortgage refi, but their victims always seem to have spare cash or credit.

One of the funniest things I’ve read about this business and customer shift has been from traditional bicycle shops who imagine that repairing eBikes is “different” or more complicated than fixing a motorcycle. Current breed bike shops often charge as much as $50-80 to swap out an ebike tire, especially a back tire on rear-hub driven models. eBike repairs are different than motorcycle repairs, for sure; about 1Mx easier. Anyone who can troubleshoot fuel injection or electronic ignition could do anything necessary on an eBike without any training at all.

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Taking It Lying Down

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

One of the less sane things I wanted to do with my retirement spare time is bicycle. And by that, I mean do some serious distance. I have considered myself a bicyclist since I was about five years old. There have been years when I’ve done more miles by pedal-power than on either a motorcycle or a cage, but not lately. I hoped to change that before I’m so decrepit that I can’t do much more than bitch about the kids trespassing on my lawn, if I ever have a lawn. I have had a fascination with recumbent bicycles since I first saw them in California 40 years ago. I’ve always wanted to try one, but, like many cool things, they have mostly been priced out of my income bracket. This winter, I kept my eye on a Burley recumbent that seemed to hold it’s place in Craig’s List without any sign of movement other than a slowly deteriorating price. After I finished wrestling with, hopefully, my last ever complicated state and federal income tax submission, I took the remains of my tax “return” and hunted down the Burley recumbent owner. We came to a price agreement, as the last snow storm of the long 2014 winter started to bury the roads and the seller’s hope of convincing me to buy his bike after a test ride. A week later, the snow finally left the streets for “good” and I started learning how to ride my new toy.

By now, you’re probably wondering what the hell this has to do with motorcycling. Hang in there, it’s coming.

recumbent1After 500 miles of getting adjusted to a new riding position, I learned a few new things about a lot of two-wheeled stuff. First, the limitations of riding feet-forward have always put me off on motorcycles. The same position on a bicycle provides similar sorts of restrictions. In fact, the things I couldn’t do on my first recumbent probably outnumbered what I got from this riding position by at least 10:1. Thirty years ago, I swapped my road bikes for mountain bikes and have never looked back, until now. Fat tires, a tough frame, and an upright riding position have let me go places I’d have had to walk on a normal bicycle. Many recumbent bikes are even more limited than road bikes. Curb-jumping? Nope. Dirt roads or single-track bike trails? Furgetaboutit. Quick turns, jumping curbs (in either direction), hill-climbing with anything resembling speed, fast starts, any sort of start on an uphill, or predictable transitions from one surface to another? Nope, on all counts. No more quick jumps on the bike, either. My Burley Limbo recumbent was a solid foot-and-a-half longer than my mountain bike and at least 20 pounds heavier. I didn’t  just hop on that bike and go for a quick ride. Because of the length and awkwardness, getting a recumbent out of the garage takes some rearranging, strategic planning, and heavy lifting. A recumbent can be a very restrictive bicycle. Most of my friends were surprised I put up with it.  

If you have to give up all of that freedom and capability what do you get out of a recumbent? Speed on flat land, downhills, or mild uphill grades. That’s it, but that is a lot. On relatively flat terrain, recumbent bikes are so superior to traditional bicycles that like all superior technology they have been banned from pretty much all forms of bicycle competition. Recumbents were first banned from UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) competition right after the first one was invented by Charles Mochet, in 1934. Oddly and symptomatically, the race organization’s “reasoning” was that a recumbent wasn’t a “bicycle.” Bureaucrats have always had problems counting to two competently. In 2005, Tim Brummer won a US national championship on one of his own Lightening Cycles’ recumbent bikes and the United States Cycling Federation outlawed them immediately afterwards. You have to love the regressive and conservative nature of racing organizations as they do everything they can to make sure race vehicles don’t actually go particularly fast or progress into useful vehicles. Sort of reminds you of our own AMA Racing disorganization or the FIM, doesn’t it? If racing bureaucrats don’t like recumbents, there has to be something useful in the design. The useful part is lowered wind resistance and some improvement in the efficiency of the pedal stroke.

recumbent2The other advantage that finally pushed me over the edge of my normal buyer’s resistance is comfort. Unlike a motorcycle cruiser, most recumbents have a lawn chair of a seat. No more tiny wedgie triangle cramming its way up my butt. Instead, I have a mesh sling seat that gives me full support from the seat to my upper back. The Burley’s rear wheel is suspended, which removed any impact from road surface defects, but cost a lot in uphill pedal efficiency. I can ride my recumbent for hours without any discomfort other than getting tired. No more back or butt aches, no more numb hands. That is no small thing.

More differing characteristics than I’ve listed here are discussed in some detail are listed on this link: http://www.biketcba.org/TRICORR/compare.html. However, the stuff I have described all relate to the connection I’ve made to recumbents and cruisers. There is no real efficiency upside to cruisers, especially since their designers are inclined to build 700+ pound hippobikes with no real thought for fuel efficiency or lowered wind resistance. The only reason for picking a feet-forward, slouched-back cruiser riding position should be comfort. Since every handling quality is sacrificed for this riding position, you better need it. Like my recumbent bicycle, you are not going to turn quickly and confidently, potholes and other road defects are going to connect directly to your back since cruisers usually have laughable suspension designs, and the high bars pretty much eliminate confident braking. You’ll be limited to riding on only the best roads (freeways), being a near-stationary target for every texting and coffee slurping distracted driver on the road, and being handicapped by poor visibility and a lousy sight-line thanks to the low seat height. To me, that all seemed like too many sacrifices for a marginal improvement in comfort.

As for my recumbent bicycle experiment, in the summer of 2016 I gave up on my Burley Limbo thinking I was done with recumbents. In early April of 2017, a friend who is an experienced recumbent touring bicyclist let me ride his bike and I discovered that many of the complaints I had with the Burley were due to the suspension and the steering linkage. I’m about 500 miles into this new bike and, so far, I’m a big fan. It still sucks on uphills but way less and the improvement in steering stability, especially on gravel roads, is dramatic. However, it appears to be a given that this riding position is limited to ideal road conditions and like cruisers not that practical in mixed traffic situations.

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Show Stoppers

doublevisionFor the last month or so, my 71-year-old vision problems have multiplied into what appears to be a show stopper for what I had hoped might be my last years as a motorcyclist. Last year, about the same time, I had a sudden bout with double-vision that took me out of the driver’s seat until I ended up with a variation in my glasses prescription that involved prisms. (I have no idea how that works, but it did for about a year.) Early March, this year, it happened again, but way worse. Another visit to the optomotrist and I learn that my eyes’ offset has flipped and that is an indication of something serious going wrong. So far, none of the various tests I’ve undergone have enlightened either me or the docs.

I don’t know about you, but I am not inclined to be a one-eyed motorcyclist. I’ve put in a bunch of miles on the bicycle this spring, one-eyed, and it sucks. When I was young and even more foolish than now, I imagined that losing my hearing would be worse than losing my eyesight. I’ve been involved in music for my whole adult (and most of my youth) life and my hearing was once something I took some pride in. Old age, noise exposure, stupidity, and bad luck have taken a toll on my hearing. I’m at the age Sir George Martin was when he decided it was time to hang up his golden ears. I don’t think I ever had golden ears, but they were pretty damn good for a lot of years. Now, they aren’t. Following that realization comes the current problem with my eyes.

Luckily, my close vision hasn’t been much effected. Which is why I can write this without being driven nuts. All this likely means that I might be selling off my only motorcycle, my 2008 Yamana WR250X yet this spring. I sold my V-Strom last spring, after discovering that I no long had the strength or will to wrestle with a 400 pound motorcycle. If I were capable of loving a motorcycle, that amazing 2004 650 was as close as I will ever get. It just never let me down and was always a delight to ride. My WR is a close second, but I will likely never end up spending as much long-distance, day-after-day time on the WR unless I get a couple more years with some cure for this vision problem. If I sell the WR, I will likely be done as a motorcyclist.

I might also be done as a cage driver. My overall sight in my right eye (the good one) is pretty sad. My distance judgement was never great, even with glasses, but one-eyed it is non-existent. My father had similar probably at about my age and ended up having his license taken away after several rear end crashes that were all his fault. I am not going to do that. I have always believed that one crash in the back of another vehicle should disqualify someone from ever driving anything heavier than a bicycle. It means you are stupid or physically disabled enough to be incapable of safe driving. That applies to me, too.

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Tell Me How Good You Thought My Riding Was

Ripped from a section of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Fit the First:

FORD PREFECT:
Well…if we’re lucky it’s just the Vogons come to throw us into space.
ARTHUR DENT:
And if we’re unlucky…?
FORD PREFECT:
If we’re unlucky the Captain might want to read us some of his poetry first.
NARRATOR:
Vogon poetry is, of course, the third worst in the universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their poet-master, Grunthos the Flatulent, of his poem ‘Ode to a Small Lump Of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Midsummer Morning’, four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging, and the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos was reported to have been “disappointed” by the poem’s reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his twelve – book epic entitled ‘My Favourite Bath-time Gurgles’, when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save humanity, leapt straight up through his neck, and throttled his brain. The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, in the destruction of the planet Earth. Vogon Poetry is mild by comparison, and when the Vogon Captain began to read, it provoked this reaction from Ford Prefect:
Scene 9: Int. Vogon Spaceship Bridge.
FORD PREFECT:
[Screams]
THE BOOK:
And this from Arthur Dent:
ARTHUR DENT:
[Horrible screams]
VOGON CAPTAIN:
“Oh freddled gruntbuggly…”
ARTHUR DENT:
[Blood-curdling screams]
FORD PREFECT:
[Awful screams]
VOGON CAPTAIN:
“…thy micturations are to me, as purdled gabbleblotchitson lurgid bee.”
ARTHUR DENT:
[Ghastly screams]
FORD PREFECT:
[Suffering screams]
VOGON CAPTAIN:
“Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes…”
ARTHUR DENT:
[Dreadful screams]
FORD PREFECT:
[ Agonised screams]
VOGON CAPTAIN:
“And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles, for I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon, see if I don’t!”
ARTHUR DENT:
[Terrible screams]
FORD PREFECT:
[ Horrendous screams]
ARTHUR DENT:
Aghhh. Ahhhhh.
FORD PREFECT:
Ahhhh. Aghhhh.
VOGON CAPTAIN:
So, Earthlings, I present you with a simple choice. I was going to throw you straight out into the empty blackness of space to die horribly and slowly, but there is one way, one simple way, in which you may save yourselves. Now think very carefully… for you hold your very lives in your hands! Now choose: either die in the Vacuum of Space, or –
[Dramatic chord, then several not-so-dramatic chords]
VOGON CAPTAIN:
…tell me how good you thought my poem was.

And that is pretty much what it is often like to be a motorcycle safety instructor when your friends, relatives, and aquaintances ask you to tell them what you think of their motorcycle skills. I would much rather be tossed into the vacuum of space. Most motorcyclists over 40, the majority of motorcyclists I know, are pretty awful and almost none of them know it. They don’t want to hear about it, either. Without getting at least $50/hour there is no chance that I want to be the one to tell them, either.

I didn’t even much enjoy telling strangers that they had no business being on a motorcycle and I did get paid $50 an hour for the privledge and repsonsibility. Damn few people want anything resembling honest when they ask you “Do I look ok in this dress?” or “Does this color make me look fat?” or “All in favor of my decision/idea/self-promotion raise their hands.” Or any number of “let’s pretend I’m able to accept criticism” moments. Most people just want affirmation of their wonderfulness. Most people are not particularly wonderful.

Teaching motorcycle safety classes is a different situation, for the instructors. All of my favorite co-instructors were really quick with evaluations or criticism of both my verbal presentatiuons or my riding demos. They were receptive to my opinion of their performance, too. At least, they pretended to be. Going for a group ride or a track day with a bunch of motorcycle instructors is an exercise in listening to criticism about your riding skills, judgement, and your motorcycle maintenance habits at every stop and, sometimes, on the fly.

I am not complaining. Normally, going for ride in a group of motorcyclists is a weird kind of suicide mission where nobody knows who is going to come back in a box or an ambulance. Watching the characters in most group rides like like observing odd-shaped objects spiriling into a gravity well intended for perfectly round coins. Lots of random motion, nearl collisions, and solid impacts preceded by poor judgement, marginal riding skills, and a misguided belief that gods or nature or Murphy is on our side.

I’m pretty comfortable in the rider-coach group. In fact, as I age out of my motorcycle years I wish I could still have the opportunity to regularly have my riding technique criticized by these people. I have a “test” that I’ll continue to give myself, but that’s not the same as being observed and criticized by riders who have no horse in my riding race. Not only are they competent, realistic riders, but they are my friends and they care (for multiple reasons) that I am doing those exercises correctly and consistently. They are not going to tell me “how good” my riding is if it sucks and if the demos I provide will be poor examples of riding technique. They are going to tell me that I either need to do more work on my demos or, worst case, that I am not good enough to be an instructor. That was a hard thing to give up when I retired from the MMSC this spring. Maybe the hardest thing.

On the other hand, when I watch my friends wobble away from a stop light or wobble to a stop with both feet on the ground dragging on the ground because they don’t trust their ability with a front brake and don’t have the balance to use the rear brake all the way to stopped, I’m supposed to keep my opinions to myself. I’d love to claim that “my training” prevents me from saying something about those riding skills, but it’s really the fact that I am naturally an asshole that makes me say what I think. The only way to avoid blurting out “You Suck!” is just to avoid the whole situation. It is just one more reason why I don’t like riding in a group. In fact, there are about a half-dozen people on the planet that I enjoy traveling with.

So, don’t ask and I won’t tell.

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Real Luxury

IMG_9599[1]For most of my semi-adult life, I’ve been more than a little jealous of people who have a heated, comfortable workspace. Two years ago, I put considerable effort into installing a “real door” between our basement and our lower garage. This was a big part of the reason for going through all the misery of disassembly 60 years of cobbled-together door frames. 3 layers of 2”x10” jack studs and headers tacked on top of each other as the water and rot ruinied the last layer the previous owners just shrunk up the door by 4” and ignored the basement garage. You can see the old hobbit door at the far right against the wall in this picture.

A couple of the incredibly generous and cool guys from the Red Wing Iron Works Motorbike Club showed up this morning to help me wrestle the bike from the garage into the basement. It went as easily as I could have hoped (still not a one-man job, especially when the one man is an old fart). For the first time since I left California in 1991, I have a warm, well-lit indoor space to work on my bike for the rest of the winter. This will be the most fun spring motorcycle prep in decades.

I have a bunch of new parts (chain and sprockets, back tire, oil and fluids) to swap out and a couple cool mods to make and the WR will be ready to go somewhere when it warms up.

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Face-Planting Across the Ages

350bhornIt was spring 1971 and I was well on my way into parenthood at 23 years old, a trade school dropout, living in Hereford, Texas and working 80-90 hours a week at $3.25 an hour servicing the electronic scales on cattle feed trucks. What a life! One of my new friends at my new job turned me on to a deal on a 1970 Kawasaki F5 Bighorn 350. It didn’t take long and, if I wasn’t stuck behind the wheel of the company Chevy C10 pickup blasting my way from one feedlot to the next, I was on that motorcycle. It was my first 2-stroke and the first bike I seriously tried to prep for off-road racing. 28 raging horses with a rotary valve fueled motor, a 5-speed transmission, electronic ignition, aluminum wheels, Hatta forks (at least 3” of travel), lime green paint job, and . . . lights. I don’t think Kawasaki advertised the weight. Maybe metric weights and measures numbers don’t get that big. If it was less than 400 pounds, wet, I’d be astounded.

70s helmetMy last gasps of freedom before becoming a father and really needing to rack up overtime at work would be two races: the Canadian River Cross-Country Race and a state series motocross in Dalhart, Texas. The Canadian River race was first and I was “preparing” for that race by blasting across the Texas plains on some friend’s property every spare evening could get away from work. Helmets were optional at most Midwestern 60’s motorcycle events and I had one, a gold metal flake open face unit just like the one in the picture at left. But I often took it off when I got where I was going because riding off road was “so much safer than being on the highway.” Everybody knows that, right? It, honestly, wasn’t much of a helmet and the only reason I owned it was because the rancher who sold me the motorcycle included the helmet. When I arrived at the field where I often practiced riding fast, I would sometimes take off the helmet and stick it on a fence post to be picked up when I got back from playing racer.

One weekend afternoon, I snuck out of work and rode my Kawasaki to the practice field and for whatever reason I popped the gate loop, rode through the gate, reattached the loop, and headed into the field with my helmet still on my head. I rode around the field for a long while and after I tired of going fast, spinning around in dirt-bomb circles, and racing down the dry creek bed on the property, I decided to practice jumping big rocks. The Canadian River race was notorious for having rock piles that had to be either ridden over or you had to drag your bike across the rocks or take the long way up the river bank and back down, hoping you didn’t miss a check point in the process. Some of those river banks were a long trip up, around, and back down. If you could do it, hopping over the rocks trials-style was the way to go and I needed a lot of practice if I would be able to use that tactic in the race.

The Bighorn’s 350 motor was an unpredictable bitch. You never really knew what would happen when you opened up the throttle. Plus or minus a hundred rpm at 3,000 rpm would be the difference between flipping over backwards or charging full speed ahead without enough torque to clear a dime under the front wheel. Hopping logs and rocks on that bike required a lot of clutch and throttle work. I was having a pretty good day working on the technique when I suddenly wasn’t. I’d been working a fairly large pointy rock from several angles when I got the full speed ahead torque-less response and slammed my front tire solidly into the rock, launching me over the bars head-first into the rock, flipping over that and landing on my back in a pile of goatheads. I remember hearing something that sounded like gunshot just before the lights went out.

The day I wake up and can’t remember where I am or who I am will be sponsored by the many times I’ve been concussed in my life. This was one of those times.

I don’t know how long I lay on my back in the goatheads, but it was long enough that when I decided to rejoin the west Texas population of humanoids my shirt was covered in blood. I managed to get to my feet, pull the Bighorn upright and swing a leg over it, and sit there semi-balanced for a bit longer until I remembered where I was and how to get out of there. By that time, my lime green gas tank was blood red. I was really losing a lot of blood and I didn’t know where it was coming from. I rode back to the gate, did the unloop and relooping thing, and rode to my friends’ house. I think I was hoping for a hose to clean myself and the bike off and a bandage for my lip. By then, I had figured out that I’d punched a hose clamp bolt (from the toolbag on my crossbar) through my upper lip. I could feel the wind on my teeth while I rode, even though my mouth was closed. It didn’t hurt much, yet, but I suspect it would soon.

I got to their house and, luckily for me, they were home. I freaked them out a good bit; looking like someone had taken an axe to my face. One of the couple was a nurse and she quickly realized that my face needed stiches and she did them right there in their kitchen. Six stiches, I think. While she was stiching up my face, he took a hose to the bike and my gear. About the time the nurse was applying iodine to her handiwork, he came into the kitchen with my helmet in his hands. “Was this from today?”: He pointed to a triangular-shaped hole in the center of the very top of my helmet.

“Nope. That’s something new.”

We loaded my bike into his pickup and drove out to where I was fooling around when I crashed into the rock and there was a lot of gold metal flake paint on the point of that rock. I must have been launched headfirst into the largest spearhead in Texas. It was a crappy helmet, but it wasn’t crappy enough to let that rock get through to my skull. That was the first time a helmet saved my life.

IMG_9575 Page forward to December 2018. I’m 70 and the only big moment in life I’m anticipating is my next bowel movement. No kids on the way and no demanding, unrewarding, dangerous as hell job to worry about. My grandson gave me his fairly worn-out eBike earlier this winter and I just got it back on the road.

I bought a new winter helmet, since my usual bicycle helmet is colder than wearing nothing and isn’t really much protection. When the mailman delivered the new helmet, I had a bunch of small errands to do and a bike ride on a 38oF December day seemed like the perfect excuse to go for a ride. I put on about 12 miles bombing around town and enjoying both the ride and my new much warmer gear (including some Bar Mitts I picked up at Red Wing Bicycle while I was downtown). Just to put some more miles on the battery and see what kind of range the bike had hauling my lard ass around town, I headed out the Cannon River Trail toward the Anderson Center at the west edge of town. I came to the gate that blocks all traffic except fat tire bikes (like mine), cross-country skiers, and hikers and scooted between the bars on to the trail.

IMG_9591I made it about 30’ on the partially melted slush and the front tire zipped out from under me and dumped me face-first into the road. The slush was soft and slippery, but didn’t provide any buffer between me and the asphalt path. If you look at the middle of the front of the helmet, you’ll see the nice new dent I put in my nice new helmet on its first day on my head. Once again, I was knocked punchy for a few moments, but not unconcious this time.

IMG_9589Once again, I punched a hole through my lip, but this time it was with a tooth. Once again, I coated my coat, pants, and bike with blood, but the hole was small and self-healed after a couple of hours. Weirdly, it leaked saliva all over my lip for a couple of days, but it didn’t swell up all that much and while it pretty much squashed any whistling I might have wanted to do it wasn’t that limiting otherwise. No serious kissing, please. I might have been able to whistle through the hole before it closed up, but I didn’t think to try. Too late now.

I wouldn’t have been out there on the snow if I hadn’t had the helmet, but I’d have been out there sometime this winter. You just have to ride snow sometime if you are going to live in Minnesota and be a biker. Once again, a helmet kept me from bashing my tiny brain out.

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