~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

"I Knew A Guy..."

If you've been riding motorcycles more than about a month, by now you've encountered at least one person who, when they discover you ride, immediately says something along the lines of "I knew a guy once, he rode a big ol' Harley, only had the thing about a week when he left O'Malley's Tavern dead drunk in a snow storm and he crashed and was killed. You couldn't get me on one of those things!"

A variation is the concerned female who will look disapprovingly and say "I have a dear, dear friend who lost her step-son on one of THOSE THINGS five years ago. Poor Jimmy was just riding home after work and he was hit by a cement truck." It's hard not so make some crack like "Yeah, I'll bet THAT left a mark!"

In some previous blog entry here I'd mentioned my own dear father's story of Ernie, who crashed and "was never right in the head after that." Odd thing, for as many years as as I've been riding, I have not collected that many stories of people I actually knew who were killed on a bike. Currently the number (and I hope it does not increase) is two. One fellow was in fact going home drunk on his Harley (but not in a snow storm) and the other was a kid way over his head into a turn on a borrowed Kawasaki 900 Ninja.

When you show up somewhere on your bike, a party, a family gathering or whatever, I have to wonder why people feel they must, MUST tell you about the death, destruction, and dismemberment of some hapless rider they knew, knew about, or heard about on the news last week. "Yeah, I heard the other day one of those guys on a crotch rocket lost control at over 150 mph on the freeway, flew into the air and went 'SPLAT" against the I-10 interchange sign. And he wasn't wearing a helmet!!" Gee, do you think speed played a factor in the accident or did the motorcycle just decide it wanted to crash and took him with it? I know motorcycling is not as safe as driving a car so stories told to me by other people, stories of mayhem and carnage are intended to do what? Stop me from riding? Shall I shout "Oh my God, I didn't know bikes were THAT dangerous, I'll walk home tonight!!"? It's really difficult not get sarcastic with some people.

Are people well meaning and genuinely concerned for my safety or is it some way they morbidly sample the excitement of riding without actually riding and taking the risk? I'll ascribe concern to my parent's motives and morbidity to everyone else. No wait, there's a third group, those who simply have to vocally disapprove of anything which falls outside their live-in-a-cocoon existence.

I guess I've heard the "I knew a guy.." story countless times over the years. Most recently was a co-worker in the lunch room at work who, after he saw my Aprilia Falco said "You're gonna kill yourself on that thing!" I replied (loud enough so everyone could hear me) "Earl, I'd rather die in a horrific, flaming crash at 150 mph next week than in an old folks home drooling on myself when I'm 85 years old." To Earl's credit, he responded, "Yeah, you probably have a point there."

I've used variations on what I call the "shock 'em" concept at different times depending how polite I wanted to be to the other person. Condemning absurdity by giving an absurd example works pretty well: "Yeah, I crash a lot too. Got hit by Buick once. Sucker drove off and left me laying there with my leg tore plum off. Had to bungee cord it to the back of the seat of the bike and ride myself to the hospital to have it re-attached. Kickstarting the bike was a real pain, I hope to tell ya."

More often than not, being the polite fellow I am, I just say "Well, I've been riding over thirty years. Life is full of risks and riding a risk I'm willing to take."

And on the subject of death, here's this week's wanderings:

The weather today was perfect: 73° and blue skies. It's the kind of day that makes enduring Arizona's blistering summers worth while. I rolled the Aprilia out of the garage to do a short ride and try out the Vista-Cruise throttle lock I installed last night. As usual I headed east toward Coolidge and Florence. I should have ridden a lot farther and in fact intended to ride down towards Tucson and Aravica but I've pranged my shoulder somehow so decided to give it a bit of a rest.

I took a different road out of Florence this time, a nice little two lane bit a couple of miles long with a few curves. As I zipped along I saw out of the corner of my eye and old cemetery. I'm a sucker for anything historic, historic markers, and the like and given that the cemetery had no sign by the road and looked unkempt, I decided to turn around and see if maybe it was the local pioneer cemetery. It's always interesting to visit those places and see what bits of history can be gleaned from the grave markers. I parked the Caponord by the small entry way, the stone posts are left but the gate is long gone. I imagine it was ornate and attractive and so long ago was swiped to decorate someone's garden.

The Adamsville Cemetery is pretty run down. There are perhaps thirty grave markers still there. I suppose it was used much more than that but time and neglect have erased any sign of many of the graves. I couldn't help hoping as I wandered around that some empty spot where I trod would not give way and send me into the nether reaches. A few of the graves retain their ornate, iron fencing but most have been swept flat and smooth over by time and only the markers, most broken or tumbled over, indicate a grave. The most recent folks were laid to rest in 1997 but they are the exception, most arrived for their big dirt nap between 1880 and the 1930's. The local ground squirrels have been busy throughout the cemetery digging their burrows though. No doubt they have found some spacious accommodations in course of their tunneling.

As I wandered around, camera in hand, reading the headstones, two markers caught my attention more that the others. The first was an obelisk, now broken and it's top setting on the ground next to the base. As often is the case, the inscriptions tell a sad tell of hard times in the old west. One side of the marker reads "Our babies Lou, age 21 days Died 1884 - Lulu, age 3 years, Died 1887" The other side of the marker lists what I took to be the father's name, a Mr. Bailey, and his departure in the year 1888 at the age of 38 years. Even over 100 years hence it's hard not to be moved by the apparent plight of some poor woman, in the harshest part of the wild west, her children and husband all gone in the space of four years.
The other marker was for a Mr. Granville H. Oury. Clearly Mr. Oury was a prominent fellow and it seems has friends to this present time. Born in 1825 he shuffled off this mortal coil in the year 1891. What made Mr. Oury's marker remarkable was the inscription. Seems he was a member of the Arizona Mounted Volunteers. That in itself isn't so surprising given the man's place in time and the wars with the Indians here in Arizona. What was remarkable was the inscription underneath: "CSA" What was the connection between the Arizona Mounted Volunteers and the Confederate States of America? I knew there had been one small skirmish of the Civil War fought here in Arizona. Was Mr. Oury a participant in that? Interesting stuff! I won't tire you with the whole story of Capt. Granville H. Oury. Suffice to say that I had no idea that Arizona had once been declared a Territory of the Confederate States of America and even had a Confederate governor. Oury had quite a life and covered many miles. Funny that in the end, after so many adventures, he should wind up in an obscure little cemetery outside Florence, Arizona. You can read about him here if you're a history buff.

After a bit I walked back out to the Aprilia, packed away the camera and started up the bike. The 990cc v-twin is more or less muffled by Remus aftermarket mufflers and they are not loud enough to wake the dead but are loud enough to make me smile. The ride back into town was very nice and not at all sad or depressing considering I'd just spent 40 minutes or so in a windswept, nearly forgotten graveyard. Each and every step in such a place tends to remind one of our own fleeting existence, our impermanence even in the history of our own families. It's tough to be sad though when your mode of transport has so much character and stirs the soul, not belabors it. The Caponord continues to impress me with the way it functions in a sporting but unassuming manner, much like a really good horse might have seemed to Capt. Oury. I've put about a 1,000 miles on the Aprilia and I like it more every time I ride it. And ride it I will if only to gather more stories and take more pictures in the most exciting way possible. Also because there are few adventures left out west, no more opportunities to belong to the Arizona Mounted Volunteers of the Confederate States of America. The Arizona Aprilia Mounted Camera Guy is as close as I can get.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Wind and the Engine

Since motorcycling began riders have used hand signals to communicate with one another on the road. Pointing to the tank meant you needed to stop for gas, pantomiming a drink meant you needed to stop for a drink, standing up on the pegs briefly meant your butt was tired and you needed a rest or you just farted. A clenched fist or single extended middle digit was sufficient to let car drivers know you were not pleased. Communication -- simple, direct, without encouraging mindless chatter or distracting unnecessarily from the ride. Each rider's lane space and brain space is respected, his thoughts remain his unless it's truly necessary to interrupt.

Over at Mike Werner's "Bikes in the Fast Lane" blog ( I read it daily) Mike has posted some product news pieces over the last few weeks about new crash helmets that are coming from their manufacturers with wireless networking and/or cell phone support built into them. I love gadgets and love technology but I have doubts about the goodness of wireless network enabled helmets except perhaps for rider and passenger to communicate. Even there I suspect some couples enjoy the mutual silence of the ride as a way to be together without feeling like some minimum level of talk was necessary to be polite. How necessary is it to ask someone during a ride "What are you thinnnnking?" or encourage them to "Look at all the cows!"? Worthwhile conversation should be saved up, filtered, and then poured forth at the scenic overlook, rest stop, or at dinner, leaving the joy of the ride itself undiluted.

I've tended to look with disdain upon those folks with long CB antennas curving from the back of their Goldwings and ElectraGlides. I've heard the arguments about safety, sharing ride info, finding each other after getting separated, or whatever. Those are all valid arguments but to me go against the essential nature of motorcycling which I see as an individualistic sport if not a largely solitary sport. Motorcycling over-complicated with gadgets becomes motorhoming. Harley ran an excellent print ad years ago that said "If you think you need all the comforts of home, maybe you should just stay there." The picture was a huge, barge-like "motorcycle" with everything onboard including a fringed floor lamp and an overstuffed chair for a seat. Of course that was before H-D discovered they could but their brand on all that stuff, mark it up to ridiculous prices, and sell it to the R.U.B.s. Let me expand on that and say "If you need every techno-gadget money can by when you ride maybe you have missed the point of the ride." To me, motorcycling is about escaping the digital dialed, luminescent screened crap that clutters our daily lives, not hauling along as much of it as we can and then trying to use it while we ride.

I saw a small rider poll on Sport-Touring.Net recently that indicated that people rode alone and preferred to ride alone about 75% of the time. My number would be more like 99% of the time although a comely pillion passenger would be welcome more often than that and would eliminate the need for the electric back massager. I'm open minded enough to think that I might feel differently about on-bike communications if I rode more with other people. Even in the days when I was married I rarely had company on a ride but today I went out for a ride with the one and only club to which I belong, The Geezers M/C. Ten or fifteen bikes, 200+ miles of riding. No two-ways and only the rarest of hand signals. People who have ridden for a long time don't need to communicate much on the road, they seem to know what needs to be done and when.

A decade ago on a ride from Arizona over to California for the BMW 49er Rally I hooked up a small FM radio so I could listen to SOMETHING while trudging down the interstate for the 500 miles before the good roads began. The usefulness proved to be minimal as the reception of the small Sony radio was weak out away from big cities and adjusting the station with gloves on was impossible. My background music was pretty much limited to mariachi music from just across the border. Mariachi music is fine with a Mexican dinner or a fiesta but piped into your helmet, especially when you don't understand Spanish, gets a little painful. In the areas where the little Sony did function and brought in proper pre-1970 rock & roll I felt it distracted from operating the bike or at least, given the mind numbing flatness of the southwestern desert, intruded on time better spent thinking important thoughts about life, motorcycles, women, and food.

Riding takes more concentration than driving a car, perhaps that's part of the unique fun of motorcycling. Few things in our daily lives demand that we focus our mind and whole body in a coordinated effort a task that is both simple and complex at the same time. Sports like golf or bowling may do that for a moment but a bike demands that kind of focus for hours at a time. Perhaps that's why some of the more philosophical riders talk about getting into a Zen like state of mind when they do long distance rides.

My work days are spent with a phone on my desk and a cell phone on my belt so that anyone and everyone can interrupt my work at their will even when I'm not at my desk. Why, when I am doing what I like best (riding a motorcycle) would I want to set up a scenario where my thoughts and the pure concentration and joy of the ride can be jangled by a ringing phone, warning beeps from a GPS, or a radio commercial? Having a cell phone ring inside your helmet and feeling like you have to answer it via your "Official Bluetooth Voice Activated Mic With Integrated Earpiece" as you bend into a fast sweeper or some great s-curves, is nuts. No thanks. The only noise I want to hear when I ride is the wind and the engine.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

"Stunting." A Rant.

One of the hottest areas in motorcycling right now seems to be stunt riding and "stunta" videos. The stunt videos that abound on the 'net are all pretty much the same but for a couple (see below). Grab your GSXR, FZR, Ninja or whatever sport bike, your video camera, videotape your buddies doing wild wheelies, standing on the seat (Indian Larry syndrome), racing through traffic at 150 mph, then set it all to bad rock & roll music and you've got it. By the way, while I'm grouching here, there hasn't been any good rock & roll music since 1969 and even then the Rolling Stones, a.k.a, the World's Greatest Garage Band, sucked.

Generally, stunting on sport bikes seems to consist of what are in fact amazing feats of balance and coordination on sport bikes. Sadly, it's not real riding. No it's not. Sorry. Riding well, riding skillfully, consists of operating the motorcycle as a motorcycle, sometimes to it's intended limits, and not as mechanical phallic symbol in order to impress empty headed, tank-topped, 20-something girls. Riding in baggy pants or shorts with your butt hanging out, no helmet, shirtless, doing stoppies on in traffic or doing wheelies at 150 mph on a crowded highway are not riding motorcycles, it's merely showing off and helping to clean out the shallow end of the gene pool.

It does indeed take a great deal of skill at any speed to perform wheelies, do a stoppie and whatnot but then it takes skill to flip a playing card into an up turned hat. Because you can flip a playing card time after time into a hat does not mean you are a great poker player. Doing a stoppie takes skill, it doesn't mean you're a good motorcycle rider. Yes, those fellows can probably ride the winding roads well too but that doesn't excuse abusing equipment and scaring John Q. Public into calling his congressman and demanding it all be stopped.

When you get right down to it, I guess my contempt for stunting is less about the foolishness than it is scaring the public, annoying the police, and simply abusing rather than riding good motorcycles. All three are inexcusable.

For decades motorcycling has suffered from a bad image courtesy of "The Hollister Massacre" article in Life Magazine, the movie "The Wild One," and assorted dumb biker flicks in the '60s. Riders have worked for decades to overcome those images and gain some degree of respect and acceptance on the public roads. I never bought into the "Nicest people on a Honda" thing, motorcycling is about daring to be different but there's a difference between being different, being out of the mainstream, and just being an idiot on a motorcycle.

With a lot of work and the passage of time the general public has come to realize that the guy on the Honda (or an Aprilia) is on a Honda and the guy on a Harley is probably not going to beat him up and run off with his daughter. It's a tenuous acceptance and if you think it's not, look up Sen. John Danforth's foray into regulating sport bikes back in the 1980s. It could happen again and with more disasterous results the next time around.

The biker stunt boys, by virtue of being idiots on motorcycles, are undoing about four decades of positive image building. When the damage is done to the sport they'll find something else to amuse their video game addled minds and tattoo or road rash scarred bodies. Motorcycling will be left behind, worse for the wear and tear, just like the empty headed babe in the tank top.

I've noticed in watching some of the videos that the stunt guys seem as caught up in their official uniform as the R.U.B. Harley riders are. The Harley guys have to be swathed in a Brando style black jacket, black t-shirt, pre-tied official Harley bandana, Harley underwear and overpriced boots that without the motorcycle label sell for $50 at Wal-Mart. Oh yeah, don't forget your chain drive wallet.

The stunt boys' uniform consists of much less but it just as predictable. Close cropped hair or shaved head, assorted piercings, baggy pants or baggy shorts, no gloves, no helmet, no shirt, a variety of tattoos, and some sort of lace up over the ankle boot. Hey, everyone has their favorite ride gear but come on guys, you're not rebelling against anyone, you've just traded one kind of conformity for another. That goes for the R.U.B.s also.

Happily, someone with a better sense of humor than I have decided to poke some fun at the stunt guys via a home video in the same style as every blessed one of the stunt videos I've seen. The difference? They didn't use a GSXR, they used the decidely dowdy and uncool Kawasaki KLR 650. You've got to hand it to the guys over at WWW.KLR.NET, they have a keen eye for humour. If you've seen some of the "real" videos you'll appreciate the exquisite satire of "KLR 650 Fun." I actually laughed out loud at some parts.

You'll find the videos here:

KLR 650 Fun 1
KLR 650 Fun 2

And spare me the hate mail about how stunting IS real riding and I'm just a fat old grouch or worse. I know I'm a fat old grouch and stunting is not real motorcycle riding. At the least, take it off the public roads. You're harming the motorcycle sport I've loved for 40 years. Don't believe me? Click here or here .

If you're doing this stuff on public roads, you're not being cool, just stupid.

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence



An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison