Why I Love Dawson City

February 2022: This is another old won, originally a Geezer with A Grudge Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column from 2013.

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

Possibly the most accommodating hotel I have ever experienced.

I’ve written about this a couple of times, but on a vacation trip with my wife through Oregon during the winter of 2013 it struck me again how strong the good feelings I have about Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada have been for the last 8 years. Of course, what reminded me of that was the wonderful experience my wife and I had on the Oregon coast. Everywhere we went, everywhere we stopped, everyone we met on that trip was so friendly, so accommodating, so naturally nice that we were talking about moving to Oregon by the time we crossed the boarder into California. That doesn’t happen much, since we’ve been pretty damn happy with Minnesota for the last 19 years.  

My benchmark for “nice” is not, however, Minnesota Nice. As friendly as many Minnesotans are, there isn’t a consistent attitude that defines Minnesota residents. Especially on the freeway, Minnesotans are pretty much on par, niceness-wise, with most of the country north of the parallel that more-or-less defines the westward extension of the Mason-Dixon Line. My personal benchmark for nice was established when I rolled into Dawson City, Yukon in 2007 at 2AM in mid-June with a separated shoulder, three broken ribs, and a busted hand. I’d been riding almost non-stop for 22 hours and I was completely out of patience with life, humanity, western civilization, my riding partner, my motorcycle (from which dangled miscellaneous parts from a crash on the Dempster Highway), myself, and Planet Earth. 

This is what a V-Strom bandaged with duct tape looks like.

Three hundred miles earlier, I’d misjudged the power of a 70mph side-wind, deep gravel, and my own riding ability and ended up going backwards at 50mph (for a few fractions of a second) and landing on my butt. After taking inventory and deciding that I had no more business going on to Inuvik than I have putting on a suit and working for Bernie Madoff or Mitt Romney or Bank of America or Doctor Phil, I turned around and headed for a Dawson City hotel and a hot bath. I’d suffered all of those injuries before and I knew exactly how the crash, shock, busted bones, seized body sequence works and I knew where I needed to be when the last part happens. 

I rolled into Dawson in a foul mood. The shock was completely worn off and I hurt everywhere. Drunks were decorating the streets of Dawson at 2AM, getting ready for their epic summer solstice party or the Commissioner’s Tea and Klondike Ball or whatever event it is that these party animals use to excuse staying awake for a solid week while the sun is out 24 hours a day. Some guy spotted my GPS as I was dismounting in agony and asked, “What’s your max speed?” I had no idea what he was talking about and didn’t have much patience with what seemed an irrelevant question and replied, “How the hell would I know?” He laughed and wandered off.  

Michael, the guy I’d been riding with to this point on the trip, and who had wanted to go on to Inuvik but couldn’t convince himself that I was going to make it back to Dawson on my own, stayed outside to talk to the partiers. I plowed through the crowd to get to the hotel desk. The desk guy tried to tell me a bunch of stuff about the rooms available, but I kept saying “I need a room with a bathtub.” After arguing about some hotel details that I wasn’t interested in, he finally gave in and handed me the key to the only room in the hotel with a bathtub. Turned out the room had  a single bed and was right over the bar, where a band would be playing all night. I did not care, but Michael would be a little concerned. When I turned to go back to the bike to get my luggage, I discovered all of my stuff was by my feet at the desk. The drunks had noticed that I’d left my keys in the bike, so they pulled all of my stuff off for me and deposited it where I could find it when I quit being an asshole. The next morning, I’d discover they had put the bike up on the center stand and pushed some of the broken pieces back into place and piled the loose stuff on my seat. From the restaurant window I could see there was a lot of loose/broken stuff.  Our hotel served the best, most reasonably priced breakfast I can remember ever enjoying; and I’ve enjoyed a lot of great breakfasts in my six decades. 

Gorilla Glue is highly endorsed by the Geezer.

Comfortably numbed by drugs and good food, I hobbled over to Dawson Home Hardware to shop for Gorilla Glue, duct tape, and JB Weld and from there to the General Store for a man-sized bucket of napoxen sodium, a couple rolls of ACE elastic bandages for my shoulder and ribs, and an assortment of pain-relieving/distracting sore-muscle ointments. When I got back, a couple of guys had rolled my bike away from the Hotel to a parking lot where they said, “It’ll be easier to work on it here.” I started to disassemble the fairing and spread the busted pieces on the ground, more-or-less in the vicinity of how they’d need to be reassembled. Mike gave me a hand, especially where my hand wasn’t working well. Eventually, I was bandaged and drugged and the bike was reassembled with it’s new polyurethane foam crust highlighting the cracks. Duct tape reinforced my busted GIVI cases where missing pieces weren’t available for reassembly. 

I was, mostly, ready to go back to the hot bath and warm bed, but Mike talked me into heading for the Top of the World boarder crossing, the most northern international border crossing and one the most remote, least travelled but maintained boarders between the United States and Canada. Since 2014, that bit of adventure has been “fixed” and the US side is paved all the way to Chicken, AK and beyond. In 2007, both the Canadian and US sides of the “highway” were unpaved and the ride up from Canada and down into Alaska was wet, slick, unpredictable, and hazardous enough that we passed a fair number of bikes that had missed the road and ended up in the creeks, ditches, and worse. In fact, there was a wreaked Harley on a trailer at the boarder crossing whose owner had been rescued and flown to Anchorage a few hours before we arrived. I was in no condition to help anyone and stopping was a fairly complicated and painful process, so I didn’t even slow down once after I negotiated the boarder crossing sans-passport: a whole different and strange story. 

When the ache of my separated shoulder began ease up a little, my busted ribs and cracked hand poked their warning notices through the fog of pain. When those two reminders backed off a little, or I got used to them, I regretted leaving Dawson City every morning and evening for the next week. Camping was out of the question, thanks to my complete inability to find a comfortable sleeping position on my thin insulated air mattress. So, for the next 3,000 miles I missed my Dawson City oasis. A few months after that great trip ended, I read a little about Dawson City and discovered I’d missed a lot: the Jack London Museum, the Goldbottom Mine tour, the Dawson City Museum, walking trails and tours, the Paddlewheel Graveyard, and at least a week of sightseeing stuff that I’m sorry I was too doped up and dazed to notice. We even missed White Stripes performing in the city’s Winter Solstice party. So, I gotta go back. This time, the Dempster Highway will not be in my travel plans.

Posted in agat, alaska, touring | Leave a comment

Miles and Miles to Travel (1994)

February 2022: This is a really old one. I was living and working in Colorado at the time. An old friend called wanting to celebrate his recent brush with Microsoft fortune and fame by inviting me to his place near Seattle to hang out, spend his money, and see an amazing private concert.

[Long before there was a GWAG and a Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, I wrote all sorts of articles on spec for a variety of magazines and industry rags. This was an 1994 article I wrote for Rider Magazine.  I had it sold to the magazine, before I ever bought a trip map, I thought.  After it was all whipped together, I discovered my editor was gone and the magazine wasn’t accepting any more trip articles. Bummer. Still, I made the trip, got paid an advance, and had an adventure. The article was published in a TDM Owners Magazine that year and stayed at the top of the web hit list for a decade.]

Three years ago I met the bike of my dreams. I figure that a few years before then, some Yamaha engineers got together in some muddy stream and said, “We need to do something for Tom Day. We have built a bike for almost everyone in America, but we haven’t done anything for Tom since the mid-1970’s. We took dirt bikes away from him when we jacked the seat heights to six feet. We even built the Virago for Elvis and he’s been dead for 20 years! Let’s make a Thomas William Day bike, OK?” They did, but they screwed it up and called it the TDM, instead of the TWD. Jingoish, I guess. 

I can live with that. It took me two years to break down and buy a TDM and by then dealers were practically giving them away; especially the really cool–and red–1992 version. I’m sorry I wasted those first two years. I’m getting old and losing two years of fun wouldn’t have been worth the $3,000 I saved. I lost that much on my IRA’s in the stock market during those years. 

This year’s vacation could have been a lazy plane ride to Seattle and a week hanging out with friends, but I own a TDM! I planned a trip that would prove to the world what a terrific bike Yamaha had made for me. I would do a 1,600 mile freeway blitz to Seattle and a meandering return trip that would take me over freeway, two lane asphalt, dirt roads and dirt trails. I hoped to travel every kind of road surface in the U.S. of A. I was convinced that the TDM was a cross country dirt bike disguised as a mid-life crisis crotch rocket. 

I added a few personal touches that I wanted to test on a long trip. Because of a hand freezing problem a few months earlier, I attached Acerbis’ Rally Hand Guards to my bars. Clearview Shields (Golden, CO) built me a prototype of the TDM shield he is planning to market. Kerker pipes came with the bike when I bought it and I left them on, since they saved me about 30 pounds over the stock pipes. They added 30dBSPL to the road noise. I hoped that ear plugs would neutralize that disadvantage. After 15 years of dirt biking, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything to add weight to the bike; even something that would save my hearing and keep my enemies list low. The bike also came with a Corbin seat. Because I hoped they would add to the bike’s handling, durability, and mileage, I put Michelin A89X and M89X radial’s on the bike. A Chase Harper tank bag and saddle bags and a Tour Master tail bag did the luggage duties. Unlike big-deal magazine editors, I had to buy most of this stuff, so I made sure it fit the tour and the bike. The added weight and wind resistance from the luggage altered the bike’s handling, but I brought enough stuff to change residence. In fact, I ended up with too much mild weather clothing and too little roasting weather stuff. 

8/10/94 Wednesday

Tearin’ off the tie and pretending to be a free man.

Broke the corporate rules and only wore the top half of the dress code uniform. I came in my riding jeans and only had to dump the tie, dress shirt, dress shoes, and bad attitude to hit the road. Before I was released, I listened to every conversation, even ones that didn’t include me, for the phrase, “I guess you don’t need to hang around here anymore.” I got the word at 3:00PM and was out the door 5 minutes later. My bags were packed, the bike was gassed and prepped, and I strapped on my helmet as I drove away from Hell . . . I mean “work.”

Yeah, I had an Aerostich but I was not always smart enough to wear it. This would have been a perfect trip for that suit, too.

Since today was our 20th anniversary, my wife and I met in Boulder for lunch. The traffic was miserable between Denver and Boulder. Bumper-to-bumper, 5mph, smog sniffing hell. My bike that can fly and I’m crawling. Almost two hours later, I arrive at the restaurant an hour late. My wife only got here 20 minutes earlier, so I’m not in trouble with a capital “T.” We ate, talked, and said good-bye; anniversaries don’t get any better. [Yep, I am just that romantic today.]

Finally, I’m off. Sort of. I hoped to travel northwest to Montana by two lane U.S. Highway 285. Bad decision. More bumper-to-bumper slow motion. Colorado’s Front Range is as bad as southern California. People with bad hair and bad driving skills everywhere. Another hour wasted and no miles traveled. I give up just before Longmont and head for I25, which was also packed, but moving at a reasonable speed. About 10 miles from the Wyoming border, the crowd began to disperse. By Cheyenne I was on open, empty road. 

It is hard to describe how wide-open this part of the country is. This picture does it pretty well, though.

I gas up at Cheyenne and continued northwest on I25. Cheyenne is the beginning of a wonderful relationship with Montana. Good road. Fast traffic. No cops. Great scenery. People are passing me and I’m doing 95! So I go faster. Every other vehicle is a bike. Most of them are going east, the opposite direction, to Sturgis. Those guys weren’t going fast, but there were a lot of them. I spent the afternoon waving so often my sleeve wore out. Most of that bunch were in trucks and pulling trailers, so no need to wave at them. Some of the non-Harley riders were traveling faster than greased Ninjas. 

Past Cheyenne, still on I25, I can see for miles. Soft rolling hills that are only fenced near the freeway. Sheep and cattle graze together. Cars and bikes smoke up the road without a black-&-white in sight. I get a miserable 37mpg for this stretch, but I make good time. For a good bit of that section, I was wrapped up in a pack of fast moving cars riding well over 110mph. I’m assuming there was at least one radar detector in the bunch, since they are all very expensive looking cars. In the rear view mirror I spotted blue and white flashing lights and, apparently, so did everyone else. In a brilliant demonstration of how perspective is everything, we all slowed down. The cop was coming on us, fast, so that was comforting, too. I didn’t think to look at my speedo until he blew past us; flashing the tail lights in thanks for getting out of his way. Yep, we had “slowed down” to 95mph. Honest, it felt slow. And we ramped back up and never got close to seeing the cop again.

Thirty miles from Cheyenne the terrain turns spectacular. Nothing seems close, though. You can hang on to the throttle and still have all the time you need to enjoy the view. Huge piles of rock have heaved themselves on top of each other, to get a look at the Harley’s and the rest of us. Every Western movie I’ve ever seen must have been filmed here. I keep an eye out for smoke signals and stage bandits. 

About seventy miles southeast of Casper I pass a “Converse County” sign and 1/2 mile later a “Game Crossing” sign. I had Nike’s in my bag and wondered if they would let me play anyway? 

A few miles north of Cheyenne, the plains swell into rocky ledges that Festus and Mester Dillun would get sniped at by Native Americans (Whoa! I can be PC.) The weather is perfect, I have a full tank, and the scenery is terrific. You can smoke it here and still have time to enjoy the view. Everything is bigger and further than I’m used to, even by Colorado standards. I traveled 325 miles in my first half day of this trip and I’m beat. The TDM has been comfortable and nothing hurts, but a half work day plus the miles has done me in. 

Douglas, the home of the Wyoming state fair, is a great place with motels, hot showers, a McDonalds, and good old high school boys smoking cigarettes and sitting on pickup truck hoods. And soulmusic blasting out of every radio I heard (“Just Gimme Some Kind of Sign, Girl”). You probably think the Kerker’s took out my hearing and I was having an aural flashback, but I swear I heard political commercials too. I would never imagine a county treasurer ad. Nope, it was soul music, even for breakfast at the local’s downtown restaurant. Can’t beat that. 

8/11/94 Thursday
Douglas doesn’t have a grocery store that stays open late or opens before the banks. I had breakfast, hoping I could find one before I let go of my motel room, but no luck. Just one small tube of hair shampoo, that’s all I wanted. But do you think I could buy one? 

Driving across this beautiful, nearly unscarred plain, you could almost forget what a disaster humans have been to this world. The Dave Johnston Power Plant, just east of Glenrock, WY, will keep you within reality. This monster spews enough steam and smoke that you can see it for 10 miles. I though I was coming onto Long Beach, CA. I stopped to write this and a hawk screeched its way past me. Even old Dave couldn’t completely spoil this spot of Wyoming. 

You read that right, $1.29/gallon.

At Casper, I had to decide whether to stick with my planned route or get off of the freeway. I decided for chaos. I aimed at Yellowstone by way of US Highway 2026. After blasting along with no traffic in sight for more than 100 miles, I hit the reserve tank 22 miles from Shoshoni. Nothing but desert for 22 miles and I paid $1.29 for 4.3 gallons of the most precious fluid I’ve ever bought. 

If you’re planning your urban wild life vacation, have I got the place for you. Montana has 10 people to part with and Morton has 5. Kick up your heels in Wyoming! I can’t believe AAA puts these places on the map. Dubois, on the other hand, has 985 and most of them are rich, judging by the huge log mansions, BMW’s, and Toyota 4-wheelers.
Wyoming must have half of the state employed at tearing up the highways. I sat in line waiting for them to change the guy leaning on the shovel for a total of 45 minutes in a 200 mile section of highway. Maybe that’s where all the rich folks in Dubois come from; the highway department. Our tax dollars attempting to be a work. 

The Acerbis Rally Handguards and Clearshield custom wind screen paid for themselves between Yellowstone and Bozeman. I drove through a heavy mist which progressed to a driving rain and climaxed with bullet-sized hail. I changed gloves on the move, attempting to stay out of a pack of semis following me. When I lifted my hands out of the protective cover of the handguards, my hands were pelted blue and soaked in seconds. I made the change in the Clearshield’s air pocket and was able to ignore the storm till it played out a few miles south of Bozeman. My gloves were only a little damp at the edge of the gauntlets. The windshield kept my chest and below out of the rain and I was as comfortable as possible through the storm. When I stopped at a filling station, I joined a pack of riders (mostly Harleys) who had been hiding out for the past hour. They thought I was crazy to go back out into the storm, but I was comfortable and wanted to find a motel before they filled up. 

Bozeman was a disappointment. In honor of Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), I really wanted to stay there. I suppose, equally in honor of him, Bozeman didn’t want me. Every hotel was full, except for a casino/motel that had a $200 bridal suite available. I didn’t feel that desperate. Just before giving up and finding a tree to curl up under, I found a motel at Whitehall, 60 miles west of Bozeman. I found two motels, actually, both were hidden a few miles south of I90 on state highway 2. I spent $18 and slept like a baby. 

8/12/94 Friday
The next morning I cruised though the Idaho pan handle’s canyons and enjoyed the perfect, cool biking weather. I stopped at one of the “Sturgis Coffee Shops” for a free (minus donations) breakfast and got the straight stuff on the local scenic roads. I sped up when I passed a sign bragging about the Rock Falls’ “Bull Testicle Festival” (“Have a ball!”). You never know when there might be a shortage and the locals are hunting for substitutes. 

In Missoula, Montana, I met a guy on a full dress BMW K1100. He gave me some road condition advise and told me about a Flathead girlfriend who had the “perfect place to hold a martini, while she was giving him a blow job.” He was visiting Misoula to see her again. Once again, I had to face the deprivation of my own life. I have never known any Flatheads and I’m never going to be rich. This guy said he always buys bikes in pairs so he can guarantee himself someone to ride with. He started riding on a pair of Kawasaki Big Horn 350’s and has progressed to a pair of BMW K1100’s. I own a pair of socks, but I don’t share them. 

At this point, I want to mention one of the high points of this trip. Since I left Colorado, I have seen one highway patrol car in nine hundred miles. That guy passed me and the pack I was trailing like we were parked; and we were doing 90mph! What a country! Who needs the Autobahn? We have 650+ miles of I25 in Wyoming.. 

This picture is an excellent example of why I don’t mess with cameras. I suck.

For the first 800 miles of the trip, I had picked up the habit of dashing between filling stations for the first 120-140 miles at whatever speed seemed appropriate and, after I hit reserve, I mellowed out to 60-70mph; praying for a filling station. This was a dumb tactic from Casper to Yellowstone, since that cut my range to a margin that made praying a constant responsibility. But, mostly, it was the most fun way to travel. My worst mileage was 35.6mpg and my best was 44.6mpg. The worst mileage came between Coeur d’Alene and Moses Lake, Idaho, a section of flat, hot, desert where the traffic was flat out, non-stop. The best was driving down the peninsula between Hoquaim, Washington and Portland, Oregon. The scenery was so incredible there that I stopped to take pictures and wallow in the ocean every few miles, but I still smoked the territory between clear cut forest sections. Mild mannered driving and chest-on-the-tank blasting got nearly the same results, so I let nature have its way with my right hand. 

Between Coeur d’Alene and the Cascades, I didn’t stop for picture taking. You wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between that area and lots of Kansas. I liked Coeur d’Alene, but west of the lake to about ten miles of Spokane is one long, traffic congested city. It reminded me too much of L.A. and that made my head hurt. Then the desert, which also reminded me of L.A. I gotta go. I cooked in the 100+ degree desert. I stopped at every rest stop and watered myself down. I stood in the sprinkler system of one of those places and I swear I heard bacon sizzling before the water finally lowered my body temperature. The air wavered all around me and the asphalt was soft as putty. Good thing there are no corners in that 240 mile oven. 

I stopped at the Rainbow Motel in Ellensburg, Washington. Nice good motel and an experienced bike owner whom to to BS; he’s been on trips across Canada and gave me some good ideas for next year’s trip. I ate some greasy fast food before I fell asleep. 

8/13/94 Saturday
Again, I woke up later than I wanted and hit the road hungry. I’m starting to get into the habit of putting in a few miles before breakfast. It feels good to ride right out of bed and it feels even better to work up an appetite before breakfast. I stopped at North Bend, Washington, just before heading up the Cascades. I wandered around, taking in North Bend Days and listened to a killer country guitar picker for a while. Then, I hit the road with both barrels firing (You can say that when you ride a twin.). 

The intent behind this lousy picture was to show how gigantic those trees are. Again, I suck.

The 125 mile trip from North Bend to Seattle is pretty amazing. I swear, there is a spot where the freeway has desert on one side and 75 foot firs and forest on the other. The mountains leap out of nowhere and this part of the freeway is a royal blast on a bike. 

Just before I passed over a bridge and started heading up the east side of the Cascades for the last section of desert mountains, I had my one and only “incident” of the trip. I’d stopped at a “scenic viewpoint” to admire a man-made reservoir and had just enjoyed the fact that, at near sea level, my TDM could do wheelies in three gears exiting the parking lot. A few hundred feet from the exit a large dog or coyote ran onto the highway and stopped right in my path. Grabbing more than my usual two fingers full of TDM brakes, I decelerated from fast to stopped in well under a zillionth of a second. The mutt looked at me, barked, and picked another lane to scratch his ass. I crossed the bridge a little more slowly than the rest of the traffic while I shook out the dampness in my jeans. 

I rolled into Bellevue, Washington about noon and parked myself on a friend’s couch for a few hours. That night, we took in a pier-side concert, War and Tower of Power, and a lot of Seattle’s downtown sights, by car. I still loved my TDM, but I was beat. I think the desert did it. For two more days, I goofed off, played basketball, and enjoyed being away from the road. I visited the Microsoft “campus” and was depressed at the “information highway” working conditions. Very prison-like. I was hanging in my friend’s office when Bill Gates and a collection of application executives came wandering through one evening close to midnight. I got to hear Bill reprimand a few millionaires for their sloppy code; line by line. In retrospect, it’s difficult to remember which parts in my memories came from Microsoft’s offices and which parts were from the “Underground Seattle” tour. By Tuesday I was ready to roll again. 

8/16/94 Tuesday
After saying goodbye and tending to a little business, I headed out of Seattle a little after noon. I planned to take the scenic route down the peninsula, after getting there by the Kingston Ferry. Bikes, as they should, get priority on the ferry. Pass the line of cars and head for the front parking slots. It’s about time someone recognized our superiority. I could ride these boats for the rest of my life. What a great boat ride and I get to take my bike! The day was clear and cloudy, at the same time. I could see Canada and the U.S. clearly. 

It’s good to be on the road again. I have no idea where I’m going or when I will get there, now. The directed part of the trip is over now and I’m on my own with only the wind and handlebars to follow. I guess I’m expected back in five more days, but I can’t think about that. I can only follow my front wheel. 

This is my first chance to see a rain forest. I could go to Canada, by ferry, or to Oregon, by road. Those are my choices, because I won’t backtrack. I’m through with freeways for a while. The tallest mountains are shrouded in clouds and rain. I can’t see detail, only hazy forms. It looks like I’m going to get wet. I should have patched the hole in my rainsuit’s crotch. 

I found some other bikers to talk to about Washington’s highway 101 and the places I should watch for. Mostly, I played tourist and enjoyed the boat ride. As the boat lined up for docking, I walked back to my bike and stuffed my gear into the bags. Since there were no pedestrians on the boat, bikes went out first. I stopped at the first station in Kingston to fill up and walked across the street to an auto parts store to buy a can of tire seal. I’d been meaning to buy that stuff for 1,6000 miles and I don’t know why I was inspired to do it then. 

It’s amazing how fast you can learn to resent the “amenities” of culture. Things like fume catchers on gas pumps, pre-paying for gas at self-service stations, cops on every corner start to eat at you till you are ready to go somewhere isolated. Kingston had that affect on me. I checked the bike over and headed for the western Washington beaches. 

Fifteen miles later, I was stuck at the Port Gamble toll bridge waiting for the “men leaning on shovels” to let me pass. There was some noise about construction in the area, but all I saw was two people with stop/slow signs and some parked trucks with shovel-leaners nearby. Twenty minutes later, we were moving again. I made it about ten miles past the bridge before I noticed an instability in the rear end of my bike. I stopped and found the rear tire was low. I rotated the wheel on the kickstand and found a leak, but no sign of a nail or anything in the hole. I pumped the tire up and took off, slowly, for a phone. 

The view right off of the ferry.

I made it into Port Ludlow and called AAA for help. After an hour of debating with Washington’s AAA and Colorado’s AAA phone reps, I learned that Washington isn’t in the United States. They have “a different series of policies” for motorcycle coverage and I would have to pay for the tow and Colorado would reimburse me. (I’m still waiting for the reimbursement.) A really well equipped and professional driver carefully picked up the TDM and drove me to Port Townsend, where I paid $85 for a motel room on the beach. I could have picked a lot worse places to be stuck. Nice town, great view, great restaurants. 

8/17/94 Wednesday
I got to Port Townsend after the local Honda dealer had closed, but I was there before they opened in the morning. I could tell you that Port Townsend Honda & Marine was one of the high points of the trip and, if I hadn’t been forced to visit them, it could almost be true. They were professional, cool, and fun to talk to. Tom Noyes, star mechanic, let me use the opportunity to look at my bike from the bottom side to best use. I tightened bolts, checked for leaks, and fiddled around while he struggled to fix the collapsed Michelin. And struggle he did. Michelin radials are not built to fix. The inside surface is so convoluted that he had to grind at the inside of the tire for a long while. He still wasn’t happy with the smoothness of the surface and the patch didn’t seem to be sticking well. We added suspenders to the belt and put in a tube. My kickstand bolt had tossed its nut and worked its way almost off of the bike. He ground out a custom locknut and re-threaded the bolt. I bought another can of air and tire goop and hit the road about lunch time. 

I expected the trip down Highway 101 to be beautiful, unusual, and inspiring. I’ve stared at pictures of the rain forest in National Geographic’s for years and was expecting the experience to be something I’d remember for the rest of my life. Sometimes it was that kind of experience, sometimes it was really depressing. So much of the forest has been clear cut that it hurt to look at the ruins. I enjoyed the remains of the forest and the beaches, but my memory of that portion of the trip is damaged by the thousands of acres of stripped clean mountains and beaches piled high with the discarded carcasses of huge fir trees. Those images pushed me to rush through a section of my trip that I had hoped would be special. 

On the other hand, the stretch of 101 to Hoquiam along the bay is incredible stuff. I passed house boats, skiers, a huge Hitachi barge, and rotting historic structures, while I swept along the edge of the ocean on a great twisting road. I didn’t stop much, but it was hard to keep my eyes on the road for the great view on both sides of the road. Since there was almost no traffic, that wasn’t a major disadvantage. 

I didn’t slow down as I passed Portland and kept running until I exhausted myself. By then, I was on the east side of the Cascades and I spent the night in Hood River, Oregon. Considering that I hadn’t started until after noon, a 500 mile day meant pretty hard traveling. At least my patched rear tire held up solidly. The other advantage to staying on the move was that I missed out on the long lines of people waiting for whatever the men-leaning-on-shovels make people wait for. There was nearly 100 miles of cobbled-up highway between the eastern edge of Portland and Hood River and, since I passed through that at night, I didn’t have to park in the heat with the other tourists. I don’t feel that I missed anything valuable in Portland. 

The next 150 miles toward Boise, still on I84, were fun but hot. From Hood River to Boardman, the freeway parallels the Columbia River and I hopped from one side to the other—I84 to US Highway 14—whenever the whim struck me. I wasn’t in a hurry and both roads were fun to travel and free of men-leaning-on-shovels. 

I took a side road, county highway 142, away from the river at Lyle, Oregon. The road was nothing special and the temperature shot up fast away from the river. Thinking that I could navigate my way back to highway 14, cross-country, I headed south on the first dirt road that looked like it had been traveled in the last decade. It whittled down from a wide two lane to a narrow single in a few miles. In another five miles, the single lane turned into a pair of worn ruts. The TDM’s suspension handled the ruts and holes, but the bike’s weight was convincing me that it was no dirt bike. The Michelins were even further from off-road usable. They allowed the bike to slip in every possible direction and got no bite at all on the sand. So I went faster to compensate. I figured that if I was going to crash, I might as well crash solidly. When my arms and legs were burning and barely after I’d switched to reserve, the road changed back to a decent single lane. The trail-to-farm road route repeated itself until I was back on highway 14. I have no idea what that road was used for, it went nowhere other than the route I took. I watched my back to see if Rod Sterling was announcing “The Twilight Zone” the whole way. Weird. 

I made it to Boardman, Oregon and headed southeast, away from the river. Thirty miles of hot, flat plains and I’m back in high desert. This is beautiful country. I checked out the Oregon Trail tourist spots and had a great time looking on all directions until a little south of Baker City. It gets hot and Kansas-like quick here and I wicked it up to get where I was going as fast as possible. I made it to the Idaho boarder about noon. Gotta love an early start, but I’m seriously hungry. 

Idaho was burning. The whole state was either cooking something or on fire itself. Just before the border city of Ontario, I began to smell French fries. By the time I could see the city, my helmet was filled with drool. There is a huge Ore-Ida potato chip factory in Ontario and the whole valley smells like a monstrous McDonalds. By the time I was free of the actual source of that odor, my helmet lining was saturated with potato grease and I lived with hunger for another fifty miles. Which carried me into the next burnt and burning territory where fields on both sides of the freeway were flaming and billowing smoke. That cured the hunger pains, in a few miles my eyes were burning and my tongue felt like I’d been eating lit cigarettes. At Boise, I was downwind of of the Sawtooth and Boise National Forest fires. Sometimes the smoke cloud was as thick as fog. The smoke cloud was as thick as fog from slightly east of Boise and that cloud stayed with me, in some form, to the Utah border. 

I made it to Boise mid-afternoon. I was out of the burning fields and into the burning forests. Boise was cloudy with smoke from the national forest fires. The heat was especially oppressive, combined with the smell of burning trees. 

I stayed with an old friend that night and we planned on an early morning and a trip to Sun Valley for the next day. To prepare ourselves for that, we stayed out sampling Boise’s nightlife until way-too-late-o’clock. 

Dave and I left early and the sun was shrouded by smoke for most of the trip. I followed his car for a few miles and got bored. When we left the freeway, I left him. Highway 20 out of Mountain Home is a fun ride over some good road and great scenery. I waited at the highway 75 intersection for Dave to catch up and we meandered into town together. 

Sun Valley, the place that drove Hemmingway to suicide. Now I can say I’ve been there and understood that. The rich and slippery come here to shop. The wannabes come here to shop, too. In their spandex uniforms, the women who wannabe “trophy wives” parade up and down the sidewalks, hustling their stuff. I was constantly reminded of the joke about the priest asking the babe if she would do it for a million dollars, then a penny, as he tried to determine her price; having already determined her morals. 

From what I have learned about Idaho since, it is totally appropriate that Mr. Hemmingway chose that fuckin’ state to do away with himself,

No, I didn’t like Sun Valley. This is not a fun place to ride a motorcycle. There are cops on every corner and they are collecting “road taxes” like the roads are about to go out of style. My bet is that if Hemmingway had lived only a few miles south, in Ketchum where the working class lives, he’d have lived to a natural death. Ketchum has a much better class of people, fewer cops, and serves better breakfast. 

I started the day off with breakfast in Hailey, said goodbye to Dave, and cut across a county road east on state highway 20 toward Craters of the Moon National Park. If it hadn’t been for Dave’s suggestion, I wouldn’t have gone this route. A few miles east on 20, I stalled at another group of men-leaning-on-shovels! There is no escape from these people It doesn’t matter how remote the road is, they are there; holding up traffic, leaning on shovels, and smoking cigarettes. Where do they find all the shovels? I’m pretty sure that, if you could disappear all the shovels belonging to public works departments, there wouldn’t be an employee left standing. Or they’d actually be forced to do some work to keep from falling. 

Craters of the Moon is about the weirdest excuse for a national park in the park system. What it sounds like is what it is. Black, volcanic rock piled everywhere. As you approach the park, the desert begins to be more regularly dotted with this stuff until you are finally completely surrounded by heaps of stuff that looks like it was dumped here by the Intergalactic Department of Sanitation. No kidding! I did the look around the park, looked into the oven-hot caves, burned my arm on one of the handrails, and headed for the air-conditioned, clean-bathroomed Visitor’s Center. I came, I saw, I TDM’d my way eastward. 

I linked up with I15 at Blackfoot, Idaho and turned south, toward Utah. More shovel-leaners. I tried to fool them by cutting off on Highway 30 at McCammon, but they were waiting. Twenty minutes later, I’m blasting past cars and semis on almost totally open road. Another nice highway, as long as the shovel-lovers stay away. 

I popped out on I80, from US 30, and rode it fifty miles east to the Flaming Gorge, Utah, exit, state highway 530S. The first 30 miles into the park are nothing special. You can see the bare edge of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, on the distant west horizon, but the terrain around the highway is flat, dry desert with high and hot winds. 530S travels over a plateau past the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the winds are steady and strong. The sky looked like rain, but the air didn’t feel like it. 

I quickly got bored enough to haul out my detailed map and make a shot at some dirt roading. The “detailed map” was far from detailed enough. The road I picked, turned into a barely rutted trail, which vanished altogether on a slab of rock. I took a chance and went straight across the rock and, 1/2 mile later, I was on a trail again. But was it the same trail I started with? The map didn’t seem to follow the same pattern as the road. I was still going west when I was sure I should have turned south and east, heading back toward the highway. I flipped the map around a while. I drank some water. I took a nap. I decided to keep following the ruts and fifteen miles later I found paved road. The experience with the Michelin’s made me nervous while I was away from traffic. I decided to curtail those experiments until another trip with different tires and more tools. 

About 40 miles south of I25, 530S turns southeast and the view improves immediately. The next 90 miles is littered with switch-backs through cliffs and the reservoir constantly in the background. Highway 44 and 191 are some of the most incredible stretches of the Rockies. This is a combination of nearly forested terrain and desert. The sky is cloudy and the temperature is perfect for riding. I blast and stop, blast and stop, all the way into the forested area south of the park, where I hit…more men and shovels. Another twenty minute wait. But this time a really cute girl was hanging onto the stop sign, so it wasn’t a total waste. I’m finally in a forest that isn’t burning. I hope my Kerkers’ spark arrestor is working. I don’t want to be responsible for torching the last tree in the west. 

Because I want the last day of my trip to be easy, I decided to blast out the miles between this edge of Utah and western Colorado. Once I turned east at Vernal, Utah, this wasn’t a hard decision to stick with. I’m not much of a desert fan and this is desert. It stayed hot until about 7:00PM and then it was really warm. I had a full moon and no cloud cover, so the land was well lit even after dark. I drove all the way to Craig, Colorado, before stopping. I think Craig has a lively nightlife. I heard sirens off and on all night. It didn’t mean anything to me though. I had traveled 680 miles, all desert. Parts of my body may never move the right way again. I can’t feel my butt, even with the Corbin’s protection. 

8/21/94 Sunday
I stuck with my drive-a-while-before-breakfast routine. I drove the 90 miles to Steamboat and arrived in time for sidewalk sales and what looked like a motorcycle festival. I saw bikes I had only seen before in magazines, European magazines. Brand new Motoguzies, BMWs, Ducati’s, Paris-to-Dakar replica Hondas and Yamahas, Buells, Triumphs, and zillions of Harleys and Harley-clones. It was a lot like my buddy from the westward portion of the trip had been cloned, there was a pair of everything! I was out of film and my picture taking motivation was drained, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But I’m really looking forward to Steamboat’s “Motorcycle Weekend” now. 

Looking at the map, it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t need to make up as much time as I thought I did. That happens every vacation. At least one day out of every trip, I get a burr in my butt and go “mileage berserk.” Drop the hammer and ignore every worthwhile sight in my way, because I “have to make up for lost time.” Some of those times are lost forever now. I have smoked past moments that could have been precious for all of my life. All I have to show for those times are miles traveled. I did that a little less this trip than usual. Maybe I’m learning. 

The rest of the ride back to Denver was nice and uneventful. I stopped at Winterpark and rode the ski lift up and the Alpine Slide down. I bought this vacation’s last tank of gas and relaxed for the final two-lane miles before I hit interstate. That was a good decision, because I70 was bumper-to-bumper, crawl-and-stall traffic almost all the way to Denver. The road was littered with highway patrol, steaming engines, and angry cagers. I cut off at the Red Rocks Park exit and took side roads to avoid the traffic for most of the way back home. Back to work on Monday and daydreams of 3,700 miles on a TDM will have to keep me sane till next year . . .

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#133 The Trouble with Being the Solution to A Big Problem

February 2022: This one, published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly and in the Google blog, drew a lot of heated gibberish responses. That pretty much made it one of my all-time favorites. It received 3,400 hits on the Google blog, which puts it in one of the top 20 from that location.


All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

Pretty much all of the major problems on today’s highways are fairly obvious: according to NHTSA statistics 2012’s Big Three causes for highway fatalities are 1) drunk driving 31%, 2) motorcycles, 14%, and distracted driving, 10%. Solve all three of those riddles and you have taken away 56% of US highway fatalities. What is the miracle cure for all three of these highway safety problems? You might think that’s a stupid question.

“You’ll never stop people from being drunks or from playing with electronic toys while they drive and nobody’s ever gonna teach me how to ride or make me wear a helmet.”

Actually, I know the solution to all three of those problems and so does NHTSA and DOT and all of the car manufacturers. How do you stop people from getting drunk, satisfying their cell phone addiction, playing with their makeup or shaving on the way to work, or keep them from crashing their motorcycles? Those are the wrong questions. The right questions are how do you get the first group out from behind the wheel and how do you get motorcycles off of the public’s roads? Simple. You make cars that are smarter than the average driver.

That’s not a particularly high bar to leap, if you think about it just a little bit. The average American driver imagines himself to be a NASCAR racer, drafting the car in front of him with less than a fraction of a second of safe margin at speeds that are best described as “terminal.” From the vantage point of a motorcycle seat, where I get to see all sorts of clueless drivers, distracted to the point of unconsciousness behaviors, physics-disabled punks suffering from “the fast lane is mine” video game reality distortions, and motorcyclists and scooter pilots who have almost enough skill to get out of their own driveways uninjured but not nearly enough talent or intelligence to ride competently and safely. With typical reflexes, reacting to a hazard takes at least a second and, more likely, a couple of seconds before you’ve even decided what to do about a disaster unfolding in front of you at 70mph. At 70mph, you’re traveling 108 feet/second. If you’re tailgating at 50 feet when a wheel comes off of a truck in front of you or a blowout puts the car you were “drafting” into a spin, you are solidly entangled before you even think about applying the brakes. On a motorcycle, you’re in the air wishing you’d worn a helmet before you can even touch the brake (probably the wrong one used poorly, if you do manage to slam on the brakes and toss your bike into a sliding “stop”). On average, there isn’t enough driving talent on our highways to overwhelm the capabilities of a 1980’s Z80 processor and a MS/DOS controlled text-based program. Mostly, the folks we’re trusting our lives with on the freeways and country roads are unfit to pilot bicycles, if they could load their lard asses onto a bicycle seat without bursting the tires. With all of those facts in hand and with the motivation of “societal cost of crashes” estimated at $230 BILLION, there is more than enough incentive from all directions to do something about the solvable problems of the Big Three. The fact that the solution is likely to do some serious damage to the other 44% of highway deaths is just icing on the cake.

In TheKneeslider.com, Paul Crowe wrote an article titled “Riding Motorcycles Among the Robots – You’re Going to Need A Transponder.” He pipedreams, “The thought of blasting through that digital parade on your human controlled and non transponder equipped Electra Glide may no longer be an option.” If only that were likely. Like most of the motorcycle industry, he avoids the question, “Why would highway planners make any accommodations for a vehicle that contributes less than 0.001% to commuter traffic but 15% of fatalities?” Do you seriously believe that Harley Davidson and Polaris have that kind of economic clout? Harley Davidson’s whole product line amounted to $5.9B in 2013 sales. Polaris grossed about $4B in 2013 for all of their products combined and sold about $1B in Polaris and Indian motorcycles. Out of a $17 TRILLION GNP, that is pretty insignificant and if you include our 15% of the nation’s “societal cost of crashes” that $5B is pretty overwhelmed by the $34B motorcycles crashes cost the country. Remind me, again, why should the 99% of society who don’t ride motorcycles on a regular basis, or ever, care about our “right to the highway?” 

If you don’t think motorcycling’s awful public image, our overrepresentation in highway injury statistics, or our low tech tendencies are a long term problem, you are not paying attention. The freight train of Change is blasting down history’s tracks at revolutionary speeds. We are about to go from travelling by poorly manually piloted vehicles to a managed transportation system that makes decisions on a macro level, reducing traffic congestion, optimizing resource use, providing dramatic improvements in travel safety and efficiency, and transforms society as dramatically as giving up the horse-and-buggy did about 100 years ago. The only way motorcycles are going to get to play in this new sandbox is if we provide some value to transportation. Otherwise, the industry and population of users will resemble the tiny demographic that has clung to horses and horse sports since those animals were shuffled off of public streets. The trouble with being part of the solution to one of society’s big problems is that you get swept up in a whole lot of things that are a lot bigger than you (or your industry). In manufacturing a rule of thumb is “the best way to idiot-proof a system is get the idiots out of the system.” We are pretty tightly aligned with many of the idiots on the highway and we’re going to get swept up with the drunks and distracted drivers when our transportation system evolves. The only way I see to avoid that is for motorcycling to move away from being part of an obvious solution to highway deaths.

Posted in geezer with a grudge, minnesota motorcycle monthly, motorcycle safety training, rider training | Leave a comment

Reality vs. Delusions

February 2022: This was good in 2009 and it is gooder today.

Back in 2009, a friend was trying to run a recording studio in Hudson, WI. Hudson is one of the many cities in our area that poorly tries to balance the public peace and quiet with the demand from bars and restaurants to cater to the summer biker crowd. Scott tried to raise some awareness of how mentally ill the whole biker bullshit is with this essay, “Loud Pipes Risk Lives.” While it has the stink of science, knowledge, and reality that so many Americans seem to have abandoned, if you can hold your nose and get past that bias, it’s a pretty good analysis of psychoacoustics and sound from someone who has studied those fields extensively.

PS: Yeah, I know I’ve linked this article before, but good things often require repeating.

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Aerodynamics or Butt Cracks

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The Best We Can Do?

February 2022: Another missed “gem” of opinion and bias.

Originally Published March 2009 and in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine


On the right, that showroom picture? That’s “America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle.” According to the 59th Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, CA, Carl Brouhard designed and built this $175k (Brouhard’s estimated value) concept-topping, prettiest-in-the-nation bike and everything else is Ugly Betty by comparison. I know, you know what I’m thinking. 

You’re right. 

I’ll give Brouhard’s boat points for a great paint job. The Batman in Drag styling is impractically, weirdly, non-functionally uncomfortable looking; the cute girl in a wheelchair kind of look or a paraplegic weight-lifter. (If you think those comparisons were politically-incorrect, you should have heard what my wife compared it to.) For posers, this mechanical abortion is the perfect bike: all kinds of imagined power without a lick of performance, 0-ground clearance and a wide, flat rear tire so it can’t tip over, and airport turn radius so . . . I don’t have a reason for the yanked out fork arrangement. 

Like Douglas Adam’s Vogon guard said about his job, “The hours are good, but the minutes are quite miserable,” some of Brouhard’s details are pretty but the whole is damned ugly. It’s true. I don’t get non-representational art. Jackson Pollack-style wallpaper, Chagall’s my-3-year-0ld-can-paint-better-than-that portraits, or Ornette Coleman’s harmony-and-rhythm-free jazz all leave me with a little less appreciation for chaos. A pile of shiny pieces, randomly glued together into a hippo of a motor, stuck in the middle of a bunch of swoopy Euro-bend sheet metal puts me in a mood to watch some X-Games moto-x’ing. I’ve seen some bikes, even around here, that I’d pick over that crazy looking geek-mobile at the top of this page. 

Somebody in Duluth turned a VFR into a Supermoto monster. I took a picture of it, during the 2004 World Trials at Spirit Mountain, but I fed those pictures into my data-eating Mac and that bike remains an image in my mind’s eye that I can’t share. That was the meanest, coolest, most sophisticated custom bike I’ve ever seen. I freakin’ loved it. 

 A quick browse through Google found two other bikes I’d pick as being a lot closer to “America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle.” For example, the tricked out little Honda single Supermoto MX’er (above) or the totally weirded customer VFR that looks half road bike and half Supermoto (right)? I admit it. I have a bias against motorcycle that can’t be ridden. I don’t much like bikes that can’t be ridden practically anywhere. 

“America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle” actually has pads under the bodywork that prop the bike up for show. No kickstand, just a pair of belly-skids that work like immobile training wheels. The wheelbase must be approaching 10 feet. The motor is, by far, the ugliest aspect of a long list of ugly aspects. It is a butt-ugly conglomeration of chrome bits, randomly jutting out like a bunch of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones almost compacted into a neat pile ready for recycling. My love of functional cool goes a long ways back. I can’t even guess how far. 

My grandfather was a particular fan of function. He managed the installations for the company he and my grandmother ran. He was good with tools and appreciated a good tool for its utility and appearance. I followed that with a job in Texas where I worked with an Air Force trained tech and a self-trained machinist for 3 years. Both of those men built equipment from scratch as complicated as multi-station electronic weights and measures system to as simple as a four component hitch system that could support and restrain 50k pounds and be disassembled with a single hitchpin. Both men had a gift for simplifying designs to the point that our company’s design engineers refused to look at our installations because they knew they would be better than the original proposed design. 

A friend once compared my form-follows-function tastes as “fundamentalist.” My wife says I’m more Calvinist. I have a feeling that either comparison is insulting, but I’m going to ignore the fundamentalist tag since I know where it came from. I’m not sure there isn’t some connection to Calvinism in me, though. I’m some part English (3rd generation American), some part German (3th generation), some part Dutch (no idea what generation), and more mutt bits that are probably better left unknown (by me). I do subscribe to the philosophy that says, “don’t work, don’t eat.” I think that came from whatever brand of rejects who survived the attempt to settle Jamestown. 

Apply it to motorcycles and you have “don’t work, don’t waste fuel.” I can live with that. That won’t be a problem for “America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle.” It appears that the ridiculous thing can’t move without being picked up. The only fuel likely to be found in the vicinity of this strange sculpture will be used for cleaning parts.

Posted in biker culture, cruiser, dual purpose, engineering, geezer with a grudge, minnesota motorcycle monthly, performance | Leave a comment

My Top Ten Bike List #4: Yamaha SRX Series (250, 400, & 600)

February 2022: Another really old one that slipped past my sieve of a brain. Near the bottom I claimed, in 2008, that you’d be hard-pressed to find one for less than $3k. The last really nice SRX600 I saw on eBay went for $18k.

July 2008

I’m pretty sure I’ll hear that I should be embarassed about this selection: Yamaha’s SRX Series (250, 400, & 600cc) .

The 1988 600cc version is pictured on this page, but I love ’em all. Probably, knowing my state of motorcycle perversion, I loved the 250 the most. The single-cylinder, balance-shaft-smoothed, single overhead cam motor has a kind of mid-tech simplicity that really tripped my trigger. The two stage carbs (like the XT dirt bikes of that period) was a bit of high (for the time) tech engineering that added bandwidth and performance to the SRX bikes. The sturdy but lightweight metalic-painted steel frame and cool looking alloy wheels created a striking, functional bike that has yet to be beaten for trick-ness. I’d buy one today if I could find one. In fact, when I was unemployed a few years back, a 600 SRX showed up on Craig’s List and I went after it as if I actually had money. I still regret that someone beat me to it.

Yamaha made the SRX models from 1985 until 1997, but the 400 barely appeared in the US and the 250 was only bootlegged here. The 600 was available (and ignored by the buying US public) from ’85 to ’89, sort of. The dealers I knew had ’86 bikes until ’89 and relabeled them if they bothered to try to move them at all.

The specs are underwhelming:

Detailed Specifications:
Type: 4-Stroke, SOHC, 4-valve, Single Cylinder
Displacement: 595 cc
Bore and Stroke: 94.0 x 84.0 mm
Compression Ratio: 8.5:1
Maximum Torque: 34 ft·lbf @ 5500 rpm
Maximum HP: 40 hp (30 kW) @ 5700 rpm
Carburetion: 2KY27PV
Oil Capacity: 2.5 Quarts
Transmission: 5 Speed

Overall Length: 82.1 inches
Overall Width: 27.8 inches
Overall Height: 41.5 inches
Wheelbase: 54.5 inches
Ground Clearance: 5.7 inches
Seat Height: 30.3 inches
Dry Weight: 329 lb.
Wet Weight: 375 lb.
Fuel Capacity: 4 Gal.

But the bike outperformed the sum of its parts. Anyone who owned one expected a fortune in exchange for a title. The SRX6 sold for $2495 list in 1988, but if you can find one for less than $3k today, you are scoring a big one.

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Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

There is a lot of controversy over which version of this story, the David Fincher “English” version (2011) or the Niels Arden Oplev Swedish version (2009), is the best or comes closest to the original Stieg Larsson novel or whatever criteria you may have for judging two movies about the same story. I am here to cast my vote after watching both in a couple of days.
English biking moments.

My critical judgement is mostly based on the motorcycling in these movies, since both stories are similar enough that I could watch either and get what the author/directors intended easily enough. However, the Fincher movie contains dramatically more motorcycle footage and creates a considerably more believable and interesting motorcycling character on a cafe racer-styled Honda CL350 than Oplev presents on a Yamaha WR250X (my best guess, since the motorcycle is so unimportant in the Swedish version). There you have it. I’m done. 

Swedish biking moments.

There’s a little more to it than that, but not much. For my tastes, the Euro version is too dumbed-down, too slow, and a little old fashioned; editing-wise. Too much background is explained, rather than shown. Oplev’s version has the main characters and secondary characters overwrought, over-defined, and the story moves slowly as a consequence. There are characters who are unnecessary, scenes that only serve to describe unimportant flashback events are repeated, and, in the usual manner, credibility in physical abilities are almost magically hauled out when convenient. [I could be talking about the Mission Impossible series here, with Tom Cruise’s amazing but unpracticed ability on a motorcycle popping from thin air.]

From a motorcycling perspective, that was what I liked the best about Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth. She didn’t suddenly become a motorcyclist. She is a motorcyclist. She rides everywhere, not just when she can’t find someone to drive her in a cage. Mara’s character rides balls-out every time she’s on the bike. She’s got a lean on the CL when she’s going straight. On the other hand, the few moments Oplev bothers to film the motorcycle it’s straight up and toddling along at a sedate pace appropriate for a newbie on a tall motorcycle. She’s as easily convinced to ride with an insecure cager as an old lady looking for a ride to the drug store.

For me, the credibility Lisbeth needs for every other thing she does came from the motorcycle scenes. Either she can do it, or she’s just another movie-time poser. Whoever rode the bike for Rooney Mara built credibility for that character that made very other action scene believable. All of that said, both movies are pretty decent. The Euro version is a little slow-paced but it is filmed beautifully. The Swedish story is about a journalist and a girl who owns a motorcycle and rides it occasionally and some seriously evil bastards. The English version is a movie about a motorcyclist and a journalist and some seriously evil bastards. If I’m have a choice of two movies about the same story, I’ll take the one with the motorcyclist.

Both movies had a severe motorcycling letdown at the end. [Possible spoiler alert]. The English version pulled the usual  Hollywood crap of having a motorcyclist get into a high speed chase in too much of a hurry to put on her helmet. As if you can actually ride a motorcycle fast with your eyes shut.  And, Tom Cruise-style, the English biker went to great efforts to get in front of the cage she was chasing, as if a diddly motorcycle can stop an SUV in flight. The Swedish movie did the helmet bit right, but missed the coolest moment possible when the motorcycling character gets off of her dirt bike to walk down a mild slope and stare dispassionately at the bad guy in the crashed cage. A real motorcyclist would have ridden down that hill and given the bad guy the stare from the badass black full face helmet.

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Start Seeing Corners and Road Signs

February 2022: Yep, one more “classic Geezer” from both the Blogger side and Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine.

Original Published July 2013

The Star Trib ran an article, sort of parallel to Joe Soucheray’s pitiful “goodbye motorcycling” plaintive cry of the wimpy conservative, Rash of Motorcycle Deaths Worries Minnesota Riders, Officials (gotta love the lack of editorial literacy in the Trib’s headlines). The gist is “Total fatalities, so far, are up 60 percent over the Department of Public Safety’s tally at this time last year. (The 2012 number later grew once more reports were compiled.)” More to their point, “Since January, more than half of those killed in motorcycle crashes statewide were over the age of 45.” Why that surprises anyone is beyond my comprehension.

The one thing I liked about this article was the early sum-up of the season’s most typical crashes, “One man, with his wife on board, lost control of his motorcycle on July 4th, killing them both. Another veered off the road on a sharp curve and struck a road sign, dying. A Coon Rapids couple was killed when they crossed the centerline and collided with a pickup.” Again, this proves that my intense dislike for the “Start Seeing Motorcycles’ campaign is justified. Until we are a small percentage of what is killing motorcyclists, motorcyclists need to quit pointing at other motorists and start learning how to ride or, like Joe, get the hell off of the road.

This is mystifying, “Meanwhile, fewer riders are getting trained. Despite a record number of licensed riders, sign-ups for state safety courses have fallen from their peak in 2008. This season, the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center canceled some classes because of low registration.” About 1/4 of my teaching season has been cancelled due to low turnout. It’s not unusual for August classes to cancel, but early July?

A newbie rider, Harley-shopping guy, Roger Holmes, 59, said it all with his Trib article quote, “It makes you feel good. It makes you feel younger.” Holy crap. One more sucker buying into the marketing bullshit. Dude, you need to have someone take a picture of you and your wife on your hippobike. Put it on your mirror and stare at it every day until you wise up and realize that you not only don’t look younger, you look downright silly wallowing around the road on that porker. Exercise will make you feel younger. Eating smart, giving up smoking, drinking less (way less, for you cruiser characters), and reducing the stress in your lives by avoiding stupid impulse buying and idiotic debt will all make you feel younger (and look younger than your dumber Boomer friends).

So-called “motorcycle advocacy groups” are doing everything they can to keep motorcycle deaths high and to kill public roadway access for future motorcyclists in their usual way. This article keeps that trend in place with all sorts of stupid statements. NHTSA has been trying to force some consciousness into state laws by continually chanting the FACT that “helmets cut the risk of a motorcycle fatality by 37 percent. ” The let’s-kill-motorcycling groups, waste time and energy on fighting helmet laws with all sorts of inconsistent arguments. In this article, I was incredibly disappointed to hear Rider Academy owner/coach, Jed Duncan, say that he opposes helmet laws with the tired and lame argument, “Everybody should be able to choose. At the same time, I wear a helmet every single time I’m on a motorcycle.” If drivers can’t “choose” to drive without seatbelts while protected by well-designed vehicles and front/side airbags, what makes motorcyclists special? If you have an answer for that, don’t waste it on me. Keep chanting it to your “loud pipes saves anti-social assholes” buddies.

The author of the Trib article actually watched a BRC. One of her comments caught my least favorite part of our classroom song-and-dance, when she described how the MSF program has students watching “short videos of attractive people checking their bikes before a ride.” Talk about hyping the motorcycle marketing bullshit about feeling “young” on a bike. About 3 of the people in the entire video series look like our typical calls, but even the least-fit-to-ride old lady imagines herself looking like the Angela-clone on her Harley. This is clearly the influence on the MSF from the organization’s sponsors, the manufacturers. If a real safety organization had anything to do with motorcycle training, there would be a section on the aftereffects of crashing. Our version of the old “Highway of Death” programs the pre-political correctness drivers’ training programs always ran.

Nothing about this trend is good for motorcycling.

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Product Review: Thor 50/50 Motocross Boot

February 2022: Yep, one more old article recently moved to WordPress.

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day
“The ultimate motocross boot to meet the demands of professional riders.” Yeah, that’s what I need for touring backroads on my 250 enduro and a V-Strom 650 because I’m obviously a “professional rider.” Ok, my reasoning was a little sketchy, but when I tried on a dozen or so boots at Bob’s the 50/50 boots were the best of the lot.

Back in my off-road racing days I was as old school as you could get, including wearing padded denim overalls, hockey pads, and lineman’s boots instead of slick nylon integrated modern gear and–more important than all of that–the best protection afforded to modern motorcycling; Heckel boots. Bultaco distributed those blue and yellow plastic spoke-killers and only the rich or sponsored could afford them, at least in my realm. I eventually managed to con a distributor into letting me test and write about a pair of Malcolm Smith labeled Hi Point boots. I still have that same pair and wear them occasionally, off-road. To this day, I envy the bulletproof protection those plastic-hinged warrior boots provided. 

When I decided to armor up for a long-range back roads trip into North Dakota, I went shopping for more protection than my spiffy Gaerne “G Class” road boots provide and more mobility than I get from my ancient motocross boots. Neither pair, to be honest, are comfortable on any kind of hike. The Gaerne boots tear up my heels and the Hi Points blister every contact point on my feet in less than a mile. Considering the places I wanted to go and the bike I planned on taking there, I needed tough boots that I could wear if I had to walk back. Leather hiking boots might have been the ticket, but I was in a rare money-spending mood.

After trying on practically everything on the store’s wall, I ended up liking the Thor 50/50 boots best. The stitched-on, double density sole, ankle protection, two locking adjustable buckles, and the flexible Achilles protection were big parts of making that selection. Instant walking comfort was next in line. Two aluminum buckles per boot and you are cinched in and heavily protected; no wimpy zippers like the Gaerne’s or awkward belt-hole buckles like the Hi Point’s. You cannot twist your ankle in these boots, if they are laced up right.

The 250 didn’t make the trip, so my back-up V-Strom did. I didn’t have to walk out of anything resembling remote territory, but I did do a lot of walking on that trip. I walked all over various museums and parks in Bismarck. I hiked almost 20 miles of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. I practically ran through the Icelandic State Park hiking trail, chased by mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds and horseflies with attitude. My feet were never tortured by the 50/50 boots on any of those trips. In fact, I think my oldest, completely broken-in hiking boots wouldn’t have been an improvement.

View 2 of my Thor 50/50 Boots at 10,000 miles of road and 2,000 miles off-pavement.

 At the other end of the comfort scale, that trip put me in the middle of North Dakota’s wettest ever June. I was rained on from Day 1 to the last few feet of my driveway into the garage. I could have sworn the salesperson told me the 50/50’s were Goretex-lined, but if he did he was wrong. The funny looking mesh above and below the lower buckle is a water-magnet (read “sponge”). My feet were wet almost every evening and most of every day. As bad weather touring boots, the 50/50 Thor’s are a wash, literally. I’d suspect this is a weakness for actual motocross use, too.

Bob’s Cycle is the local distributor (Little Canada, MN) of Thor Products.

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