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

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


"Crash" c1995

I freely admit to being at least a little and maybe a lot stuck in the past. Some people are like that. I'm a bit of a retro-grouch or worse according to some folks. More on that later.

Over the years I've crossed paths with some serious retro-grouches and one of the best ones was my late buddy "Crash." Crash, who's real name was Bob, stood a good bit past six feet tall and when I first met him was generally imposing in many ways from his wild hair to his mangled fingers. He was a Harley rider and a 1%er way before it was cool, like about 1958 or so. In the late 70s he still frightened most people who didn't know him personally. Funny thing though, little kids loved him, they seemed to see right through the rough exterior to the guy who would get down on the floor and talk to them about their world like it was his world.

In the late 1950's, drafted out of high school by a pro football team because of his size and strength, Crash quickly found he lacked the actual skills needed to play pro ball and got cut from the squad right away. Leaving training camp with some money in his pocket he did what any slightly aimless guy would do in the late '50s, he bought a used Harley and became one big, mean, ornery cuss on a motorcycle. He fell in with questionable people and from what I know, out did them on more than one occasion when it came to being tough. I asked him if he'd ever joined one of the well known gangs of the time and he said no, he preferred to ride alone and drink with whomever was around. When a fight broke out he'd side with whomever was buying the drinks that night, even if the fight was against the guys he had been drinking with the night before. When you're big enough and mean enough and strong enough I guess you can play like that.

One time drinking with some guys and discussing the acquisition of motorcycle parts at the Midnight Parts Company an outsider stated that his bike was so secure in his garage that no one could steal it. Wrong boast. Late in the evening Crash followed the guy home to see where he lived. The next evening Crash and a couple of other guys broke into the guy's garage, disassembled the well secured bike, and left it in pieces all over the garage floor. Said Crash as he told me the story "We didn't want his #$%$ bike, we just wanted to prove we could take it if we wanted it."

I asked him once how he got his nickname, nearly everyone who knew him, even his wife, called him "Crash." He said way back when, he'd been riding fast and a car made a left turn in front of him and he hit it square in the side. He and the car were both totalled. Riding buddies said it was the best crash they'd ever seen. The name stuck.

When Crash and I hung out together it was later in his life after he had parked the bike and kinda sorta settled down to a wife and kids and the benign hobby of building radio controlled model airplanes. He'd built model airplanes as a kid the way many kids did in the past and as an old guy, looking for some way to relax that was socially acceptable, he returned to building models. His chopped '48 Harley sat out behind his house in a shed, under a tarp, just in case the solid citizen thing didn't take though. He finally sold the bike a number of years back when crippled by arthritis and assorted ailments, it was clear to him that he'd not be able to ride it again even if he wanted to. He told me after the Harley was gone he regretted selling the machine even if he couldn't ride it. Sad day.

Crash would often sit at the counter of the little store I owned in those days and we'd swap stories about bikes and riding. Although his wild days were long behind him he really didn't understand my choices in modern bikes, my penchant for 400 mile day rides with no tavern stops, and my lack of a good black leather jacket. And his stories were always way more interesting than mine as mine didn't normally include bar fights, guns, and breaking both of someone's collar bones because "it takes the fight right out of them."

Crash was always scornful of my German and Japanese bikes and as we'd argue bikes and riding he always come back to the statement that one day I'd "have to grow a pair" and buy a Harley. I told him I didn't need a Harley to be tough and I'd kick his a--- any time I darn well pleased. It was a friendly and running joke between us for a long time and we both knew it was bull. I never doubted and I'm sure he didn't, that he could have sent me into the next life with one punch.

When I did finally get around to buying a new Harley in 1986 I snapped a picture of it and took the picture with me on a trip to visit family and friends in California. Standing and shooting the breeze at the model airplane field with Crash I proudly pulled out the picture of my new '86 Softail Custom and showed it to him. "Bah" he snorted derisively, "A new one. There hasn't been a REAL Harley-Davidson since '48." He was serious too. You see, for some folks, right or wrong, the old ways and old stuff are still the best or at least the most reflective of what they were and who they still are. People like Crash are genuine individuals and remain individuals to the very end. Crash has been gone a few years now and he is missed by many people. R.I.P. my friend. I still say I could have kicked your a--- any time I wanted to.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Chopper Chic

As long as I'm grouching about current styles in motorcycle clothing, let me say that a current style in bikes, that is to say, "chopper chic," sucks too. Choppers used to be cool because they expressed the ideas and feelings of an individual rider or builder; they were a rebellion against convention, an honest expression of self. Thanks to formulaic TV shows and a public that flocks to anything bright and shiny like raccoons to a tin can, choppers are now becoming so pervasive that they are rapidly becoming caricatures of themselves.

You can only produce so many Harley-clone engined, pre-fab chassis, flame painted, skull festooned bikes before they become about as unique as a Honda Shadow. You can only sell so many millions of chopper branded t-shirts before no one with any appreciation for bikes would be caught dead in one. When I see 300lb women at Wal-Mart pushing shopping carts full of junk food while wearing a West Coast Choppers t-shirt or an OCC t-shirt I'm thinking that cool has pretty much vacated the premises for those two brands.

Motorcycles in and of themselves are special machines, possesing a aura that makes them more than just machines. To use one as a fashion statement is perhaps worse than wearing a contrived leather biker jacket with an advertising agency generated brand name emblazoned on it.

The guys at a web site called Chopper Flop would seem to agree with me or I agree with them. Either way, their "Cool Guide to Chopper Style" is right on the mark, one of those things I wish I'd written except that I'd have been meaner and more ornery about it than they were.

I'm not so sure the Chopper Flop guys are not just trying to capitalize on a small backlash to chopper chic by selling t-shirts but this is America and it's our nature to squeeze a fad for every $ we can so more power to them. Heck, the day Wal-Mart calls and wants to do an official "Forty Years on Two Wheels" line of t-shirts I'm selling out just like everyone else. I'll have to draw the line at putting a skull, Iron Cross, or flames on the shirts though. I'm thinking "Oscar the Grouch" on a Bultaco would be more fitting.

Monday, February 07, 2005

"Resistance Is Futile..."

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--for ever."
--from the book "Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell

I don't normally comment on political stuff here or even the tech side of things which is covered better than I could do it by other blogs like Bikes is the Fast Lane and the larger motorcycle news services. Some technological issues cross over into politics and on both levels can or will effect motorcycles and the people who ride them. In this case the techno-political stuff is something into which I have a little insight given my years working in the automotive industry in vehicle testing and what I see bothers me more and more.

So I'm passing this along so you be more aware of what is coming. No, not what might be coming, what is coming. Oh, it might take another ten years, maybe fifteen or twenty to get to bikes, but it will happen because the seeds of the technology are already planted and growing in your cars and in your newer, ever more electronically managed bikes.

From a BBC News article: (Link below)

"The combination of engine management system and wireless communications also gives governments a way to enforce speed limits that no-one can escape.
Mr. Illsley said all the technology to do this is available now.

For instance, the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds is currently in the middle of a six-year project to evaluate an intelligent speed adaptation system that keep cars to a prescribed speed limit.

But, says Mr. Illsley, once you have road signs that can control an engine and slow a car down 'it's no longer a technical issue, it's a social issue about how we want to apply the rules'. "

Link to the complete article

In this instance it looks like the British government is leading the way and it's subjects will placidly follow as they always do on matters of public safety as seen by their current government (and soon the Europen Union). Remember that "1984" was written by a British author about his own people. No doubt the American government will adopt more extensive vehicle control and monitoring technology than they already have (see below) after seeing how it works out for the Brits.

On this side of the Atlantic we Americans, who are rebels at heart and by birthright, might be shocked at the thought of the government taking control of our cars and motorcycles but as we have all quietly accepted police radar, red light cameras, speed cameras, and a host of other intrusions into our daily lives, there will be little resistance to this next intrusion. Besides, it will all be for the collective good, don't you see? Who could argue against safety? And individual rights, quaint notions that they are unless you are a criminal, terrorist, or pornographer, must not be allowed to intrude on the safety and orderliness of the greater society, right? Right?

To get just a small idea how far things have gone already take a little time to read this article in Auto Week Magazine:

"Under the Hood, with Big Brother"
Forget Orwell’s 1984 - 20 Years Later It’s Our Cars That Are Giving Us Up

By the way, lest you be tempted to blame all this on one political party or another, it's not a partisan issue. The technology and it's implimentation is being driven forward by technocrats and insurance companies who are determined to do what they see as best for society regardless of who is in power.

And don't think you'll be able to bypass or disable the technology. The "OBD II" system that is already in your late model car cannot be disabled without disabling the vehicle. I know this, I work in vehicle testing, remember?

Have a nice day. Go for a long, fast ride while your bike with still let you.

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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