Why I Don’t Do Reviews

You might have noticed, both in the blog and in MMM, I don’t do many reviews these days. When it comes to bike reviews, MMM got tired of defending my “right” not to be impressed with everything I swung a leg over. So did I. I don’t get the opportunity, on my own, to ride many motorcycles long enough to form an opinion. Mostly, the bikes I get offered are not interesting enough for me to write about and I’m pretty satisfied with the equipment I own. So, my motivation to risk life and limb to experience something different is vanishingly small. There are, in fact, about a half-dozen new motorcycles that I’m interested in riding and the rest just don’t hold much attraction.

For example, at the last (for 2017) MN MSF instructor bike night our host brought four bikes: a KTM, the Kawasaki 300 Ninja, the Honda CB300f, and a CB500f. I sorta wanted to test ride the CB500f, but couldn’t generate enough motivation to gear up and take it out. The other three are cool bikes, but not something I’m fired up about anymore. Ten years ago, absolutely. Today, not so much. I’m old, remember? The Versys 300? Now that’s a whole different ball of string. I’d love to test that bike. I might even trade in my WR250X on the right day.

As for gear, I’ll probably still find a thing or two to try out in the next couple of years, but I have a garage full of stuff I don’t use at all or rarely use. I don’t need anything more and I’m in the process of getting rid of a lot of unused gear. Interestingly, I get a lot more inquiries about doing product reviews with sales incentives. I’m really glad I don’t need the money (I can use it, I just done need it.), because some of these characters don’t even care if I’ve ever seen their products. They just want sales links and will pay for hits and sales.

So, bike and product reviews are mostly (or entirely) in my rearview mirror. I had fun with some of those motorcycle experiences and was flatout miserable on a couple. (Remember the Hyosung GV650 or the Honda VT1300CT?) I’m glad I had the experiences and I’m satisfied with having done as much of it as I wanted to do.

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Revolting, Revolving Roundabouts?

Roundabout ProposalBecause I’m an idiot, I tossed my name into the hat last summer as a Red Wing City Council candidate. One of the things I learned about my fellow Red Wingnuts during the election cycle was that lots of them are terrified of roundabouts. Many more are terrified in general. However, we now have two roundabouts in town and while they seem to be doing the job of reducing traffic hangups and routing vehicles through intersections without much trouble, they are still unpopular with a fair number of drivers and bikers (Motorcyclists are fine with them.). The myths around the hazards of roundabouts are incredible: truck drivers hate ‘em, bus drivers hate ‘em, motorcyclists hate ‘em, they kill birds . . . wait that  last one is windmills, sorry.

Having taught MSF classes for the last 16 years, it’s not hard for me to imagine why roundabouts are scary: merging is not a Minnesota driving skill. In fact, Minnesotans are practically incapable of competently merging under any circumstances and roundabouts require . . . [gasp] merging compence.

There are several incredibly simple merging opportunities in the the MSF’s Basic Rider Course (BRC) and the Intermediate Rider Course (IRC). Watching students fumble their way through those merging moments is always painful and I almost kill my voice yelling, “don’t stop, keep moving” a few hundred times every class. Nothing I do will prevent Minnesota drivers from becoming overwhelmed by the idea of a moving merge, though. Every class provides me with a frustrating moment of watching one after another of my students come to a staggering stop, jamming up the exercise, and wreaking another teaching moment.

Likewise, watching Minnesota drivers try to merge on a freeway onramp is flat-out painful. For a goup of mediocre drivers who are totally confident in their ability to tailgate any sort of vehicle at any speed for any number of miles under all situations, figuring out a zipper merge appears to be impossible.


I like to tell my BRC students, “If you merge like that in Southern California, they will run over you, back up and empty their weapons into your body, and run over you again as they abandon your lifeless body. Honestly, I don’t know if that is true any more. It’s possible that the whole country has abandoned competency. Regardless, I’m here to say I love roundabouts because I despise stop signs and hate stop lights. The Mythbusters did a pretty cool test on the efficiency of roundabouts vs. our clown car 4-way stops. You guessed it, Europe wins again.

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Riding (and falling through) the Rails

Funny, in a politically incorrect way. When I was a much younger man, 40+ years ago, “riding the rails” was a pretty popular way to get from one end of town to the off-road sections where we used to spend most of a weekend. When I lived in central Nebraska, back in the 70’s, getting across the Platte River via railroad bridges was an every weekend thing.

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The Easy Way or My Way

IMG_8723The day started simple. I just need to replace the V-Strom’s front tire. Nothing to it, should be no more than 10 minutes of really hard work and 30 minutes of easy stuff, put the tools away and to back to screwing around for another day of simple retirement. Of course, I had to reorganize the back of the garage to make it so it would be easy to put everything back when the tire job was done. That took about 45 minutes, but now the back of the garage is organized.

IMG_8725As expected, pulling the old tire off was the hard part and it took about 10 minutes to break the beads and pop the tire free from the wheel. The new tire went on easily and quickly. The wheel balanced right up, with 4 weights (28grams) which is about twice what I’m used to needing. The tools went back hassle-free. I got the garage cleaned up and rode the bike back to the lower level garage.

That is when everything went to hell.

Trying to horse the bike into the garage, over the loose gravel driveway, I lost control of the bike and it dropped into the retaining wall. Total damage: one brake lever, one hand guard, and one turn signal. After wrestling the V-Strom back up, I started stripping off the body parts to get to the portion of the fairing where the turn signal piece lives. That didn’t go too well, so I disassembled the hand guard to evaluate that broken section.

I decided it was time for me to learn how to use my Harbor Freight plastic welding rig. I’d played with it before, but only with throw-away plastic bits. The hand guard break was clean and clamp-able, so I gave it a shot. It welded up pretty well. I wouldn’t call my weld “beautiful,” but it is strong and could be repainted to look fairly decent. The ABS weld material is white and the V-Strom parts are all black, so the weld will definately show unless I decide to paint it. Next is the fairing bit that holds the turn signal. This is a piece that I broke when I crashed in the Yukon in 2007 and cobbled back together with Gorilla Glue. Nothing on that fairing piece is cosemetic, so a big strong weld could be better than the original design. I also cracked the front fender in Alaska and have been ignoring that for a decade. That repair was next and it went badly. The fairing isn’t ABS, but some cheaper, crappier sort of plastic that refused to accept any of the plastic material that came with my rig. Just like 2007 in Alaska, I ended up gluing that piece back together. After that failure, most of the rest of the repairs were taken care of in a similar half-hearted manner.

However, the rest of the repairs went about as well as you could expect, knowing that my mood was dark and my patience expired. I’d turned a couple hours work into two days of fumbling around and my V-Strom looks a little more beat-up for the experience. The good news is that it all hung together for the 800 mile trip and so did I.

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Minnesota’s Off-Road Gem

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

I’m out of my depth here. I specialize in criticism, picking apart the flaws I observe in products and services, and general purpose griping about stuff in general. So, after a long, hot July afternoon at the Spring Creek Motocross Park, I don’t have a thing to complain about; at least as far as the park itself and the races are concerned.

Since we moved to Minnesota in 1996, my summers have been jammed with work, travel, and play; pretty much in that order. One of the events I have consistently missed because of overbooking and poor planning has been the Spring Creek AMA Pro National outdoor motocross round. This year, purely by luck, I had nothing planned for that weekend and I kept it empty, once I discovered that happy accident.

Millville 6Once I started planning to spend a day in Millville’s main attraction, I realized that the last time I was at a real outdoor motocross was in the late 70’s or early 80’s. I was lucky enough to see a few of the 70’s Trans-AMA rounds with Roger DeCoster and crew, the 1976 AMA season and Bob “Hurricane” Hannah’s first national championship season, and a half-dozen AMA national races every year until I moved to California. The year Spring Creek MX Park opened, in 1983, I arrived in southern California just in time to read about the end of the great motocross parks: Saddleback, Elsinore Raceway, Carlsbad, Corona, El Toro, Hopetown, Indian Dunes, Ontario Speedway, and Orange County International; all absorbed by the vast urban and suburban California housing explosion of the 80’s. There was still outdoor motocross to see in California, but it required a hundred-plus mile trek through the city and desert. At the same time, stadium-cross was gearing up and I got large doses of an extreme version of the sport at Anaheim Stadium and the Los Angeles Coliseum. Even better, I could convince friends to come with me to those places. Getting beach dwellers to drive to Riverside is harder than teaching a cat to swim. A decade or two later, Denver and Minneapolis stadium-cross was a big step down from the L.A. experience, so my motocross spectating interests dwindled away. After moving to Minnesota in 1996, every year when the Spring Creek pro national round came around, I thought, “I should go.” This year, Saturday, July 22, 2017, I made it to Millville.

Millville 1Dirt Rider magazine provides a solid blow-by-blow wrap-up of the race results (Check out http://www.dirtrider.com/spring-creek-motocross-results-2017#page-4.) and I don’t have anything to add to that. I didn’t attend the races as “press,” so my access was no different than yours. I paid my $10 parking and $45 general entry fee. I hauled a chair, a big umbrella, lots of water, and a backpack full of electronics and camera gear, so I drove my pickup to the races. Motorcycle parking is free and right by the entrance gate, just like you’d expect from a real motorcycle event organization. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a thousand motorcycles in that area. The “overflow parking” for cagers is about a half-mile from the park entrance and I was glad I dressed for a hiking experience. The park’s camping area is another parking lot a little closer to the track and I have to say I was unimpressed with motocross fans’ camping etiquette. Saturday afternoon, the campsite smelled like a bunch of the campers were dumping their black water tanks on the ground. Out in the overflow parking lot, a disappointing number of young men were dumping trash into piles and setting fire to their garbage between the parked cars. Apparently, if you can’t be a motorcyclist the next best thing is to behave like a drunk and brainless hooligan.

Milville 5The Spring Creek track and spectator grounds are amazing. On Saturday, it was practically a small town in itself. The variety of food available during the national event was diet-busting. The event organization was totally professional. Even the security guards were friendly and helpful. The ticket area was organized and well-run and and if you wanted to get through the lines fast, you brought cash.

Going to these races was a lot like stepping back in time to the glory days of Southern California’s CMC, except for the politically-correct Midwestern electric guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner and the weirdest pre-race Road Warrior-style prayer I’ve ever heard. If this were a CMC event, the between-race entertainment would be a Van Halen-style band (or the actual Van Halen band) and the motorcycles would provide respite from the sound system volume. The track’s PA system is adequate for between race dialog, but is pretty much buried by the 4-stroke snarl of 40 race bikes. However, the track also has a simulcast on the 107.9MHz FM radio band and if you bring a radio and some in-ear phones you can follow the jocks’ conversation during the races.

Millville 2There is no one spot from where you can see all of the action on the track: the course is just too long and convoluted for anything short of a hovering blimp for an overall view. However, there are dozens of great spots to setup a shade tent or large umbrella. Most the good spectating spots are within a reasonable hike to a beer garden, food, and a porta-can. Speaking of hiking, thanks to the giant culvert-underpasses, you can hike the entire perimeter of the course. There are stairs to assist those of us who aren’t mountaineers up or down the cliff known as “Mount Martin.”

The track itself is a little bit of everything; from deep sand to loamy only-in-Minnesota knee-deep topsoil to hard-packed whoops on the way to the finish line. Every stereotypical bit of motocross topology is there, too: killer whoops, even bigger jumps, ruts and berms deep enough stop non-super human riders, a giant hill climb (Mount Martin) and a banzai run back down the same hill with a hairpin at the bottom, more deep sand, and another steep hillclimb and downhill, before the whoop-filled drag race to the finish line.

I’ve been raving about the Millville park to anyone who will listen since I got back. At least one friend, who raced at Spring Creek back in the early 80’s, and I are going back for the end of the regional Millville Super Series season. I can’t say enough good things about my day at the park. I’m not familiar with the warm glow of satisfaction, but I could get used to it. The organization that puts on the Spring Creek national races could consult with every other motorcycle event group in the state and improve every one of them.

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Review Extension: GIVI E36N Side Cases

IMG_7444Way back in 2007, I wrote a review of the GIVI E36N cases I installed on my 650 V-Strom. I revised it in 2012 and added a little to it, today.

To this day, they are one of my favorite things about my V-Strom. They are reliable, tough, water-tight, and easy to use. My only complaint is that the GIVI plastic is not that friendly to stickers. So, some of my favorite stickers have blown off during the 60,000+ miles I’ve traveled with GIVI cases. Lame complaint, I know.

I think the V-Strom and I are about at the end of our relationship. With the big miles I’ve put on that bike, it won’t be worth much used or in trade, but I really don’t enjoy riding it as much as I did when I was a decade younger. Someone who will use it more than once or twice a year should have it.

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HD Still Struggling with the Next Generation

The Journal Sentinal wrote this wide-eyed “analysis” of HD’s struggles with people who aren’t one foot in the grave, “Harley-Davidson unveils its largest-ever product development project.” As usual, there were bits I particularly liked (as in laughed at). For starters, “Harley-Davidson Inc. has unveiled its largest product development project ever: eight redesigned cruiser motorcycles for 2018, including bikes that have been a mainstay of the Milwaukee-based company for decades.” New paint? Sillier fenders? Easier to remove stock muffler, so the louder replacement can be snapped on?

“As part of the research, Harley-Davidson says it interviewed more than 3,000 riders for their views on cruisers — a versatile style of bike with a relaxed riding position, suitable for long-distance riding but more nimble than a big touring motorcycle.” Sounds like the same old crap in a new crappier package. “We were literally in people’s homes and garages, talking with them about their motorcycles,” said the guy with the goofiest job title yet, Paul James, product portfolio manager. WTF? Where else would you talk to motorcyclists about their bikes, in airports? Jones acts like he really discovered the marketing holy grail by chasing down actual customers. Of course, he should have been talking to people who bought the competitions’ bikes. Too hard? Sure, keep talking to grey hairs until they’re all dead.

“Four of the new Softails — Fat Bob, Fat Boy, Breakout and Heritage Classic — are available with a more powerful 114 cubic inch Milwaukee Eight.” Cubic inch? What is this, 1945?

“Up to 35 pounds lighter than 2017 models, Harley says all eight bikes have an improved power-to-weight ratio for quicker acceleration, better braking and handling.” Yep, “up to 35 pounds” will make a huge difference on an 800 pound hippobike.

Finally, “The company gave the bikes a healthy dose of classic cruiser looks — some of it vintage 1950s — while incorporating modern features such as anti-lock brakes, LED lighting, a digital instrument screen, keyless ignition, a USB charge port, mono-shock rear suspension and lockable saddlebags.” So, nothing changes except some badly implemented 1990’s ABS and a cobbled 1970’s suspension and a bunch of tacked-on Chinese electronics. Sounds really biggly to me.

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