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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

True Believers

True Believers make the best targets. No, I'm not talking about overly pious, religious people. I'm talking about people who make a motorcycle brand their almost-religion, people in whom, if only for a moment, you can instill a flash of doubt in their brand fervor, and who will then reward you with pained looks of horror. I love doing that, it gives me joy. Sometimes I'm easily amused.

In the motorcycle world the Harley guys are the biggest group of True Believers but BMW, Ducati, Triumph, Aprilia and others have their share of devotees, some of whom will gladly pay excessive prices (a logo premium or BMW guys call it "the Roundel Tax") to ride what they perceive as "the only motorcycle to own." Anytime someone pays too much for too little and then justifies it beyond all reason they have begun the drift from motorcycle enthusiast to True Believer. I'm only a motorcycle true believer to the extent that I think motorcycles are wonderful and amazing vehicles and more worthy of riding and ownership and devotion than any other type of vehicle ever made. As it happens, I've driven the current pinnacle of the production car world, the Bugatti Veyron, and it's an amazing piece of engineering but I'd rather have a Ducati Desmodecci for a day than a Veyron. I can't afford to actually own either one, which seems wrong and cruel, but that's life.

The fun comes when you can trip up one of these True Believers with some bit of mischief that leaves them horrified or looking silly for a moment. Example: In days gone by Ducati guys have rambled on to me about the glories of their Italian bike. "Italian style! Italian handling! Italian racing red! Italian SOUL!" they exclaim slowly fumbling prayer beads made of old Ducati bevel drive engine parts. The fun part came when you could tell them "Yes, but Ducati is owned by an American investment company, Texas Pacific Group. Ducati is no longer Italian, it's Texan." Argh!! They grab their heart…shudder…sacrilege!... and then rend their Ducati Mechanica t-shirt. Is nothing sacred??

And yes, that's an actual real estate development sign in Arizona.

Actually, a couple of years back TPC sold their Ducati shares to some Italian group so Ducati is back to being thoroughly Italian, as it should be. Of course knowledgeable Ducati faithful will then remind me with sneer that Aprilia's engines, until not long ago, were built by Rotax in AUSTRIA! GASP!! Except I don't care so it didn't work. I'm a fan of Aprilia but not a True Believer. The Rotax built Aprilia V60 engine is one of the best in the world but I don't care where it was built, it works superbly, and sounds even better…better than a Ducati. I do admit to being a purest though, as impractical as that is nowadays, to the extent that I think Italian bikes should be designed and built by Italians, Japanese by Japanese, etc. etc. Each culture brings or can bring unique characteristics and an almost undefinable flavour to the design and building of a bike and that is worth preserving. It is what can lift mere machinery to a higher level of mechanical art.

At a vintage meet I found an Indian owner with a good sense of humor

I'm no great respecter of persons, a big ego is merely a big target and friends and comrades-in-wheels who take themselves or their favorite bike brand too seriously are fair game for a bit of lampooning. I consider my 2002 Aprilia Caponord one of my favorite bikes ever. I miss that particular bike even though I've replaced it with a 2003 model. But I'm not such a fan that I couldn't pass up an opportunity to torment my fellow Aprilia fans. A couple of years back when Aprilia was in financial trouble and rumors abounded as to what would finally happen to the company or if it would survive at all.

In on-line forums the Aprilia faithful debated the unhappy possibilities that could befall the brand. Some heard that the Austrian firm KTM would buy Aprilia, others heard that BMW would snatch them up since BMW and Aprilia had done business together for many years (the first BMW F650's were built by Aprilia, the Caponord has BMW tubeless spoke rims on it). Seeing a chance to give a few Aprilia true believers bad dreams I offered up my own "facts" thus: "I heard that Harley-Davidson will buy Aprilia. They need a new outlet for their engine production because V-Rods are not selling well. I heard that next year the Aprilia RSV 1000 and the Tuono will come with a V-Rod engine in them." Someone replied calling me "evil." I was pleased. Aprilia wound up being taken over by it's chief rival, Italian scooter maker Piaggio, to the Aprilia faithful, a fate only slightly better than being bought by KTM or H-D.

Triumph guys (the new Triumph fans, not the old ones) make a nice target if you tell them the new Triumph engines were designed by Kawasaki. This gets them to sputtering and shouting "Yankee infidel! May Edward Turner curse you!" As with many a good jab, there is always an element of truth on which to fall back for defense. When Triumph was re-founded some years back by Englishman John Bloor I read that they consulted with Kawasaki on engine design but the Triumph engine was not designed by Kawasaki. It's all about effect and facts should be seasoned as needed to achieve the right effect. The important thing is that for a moment the budding Anglophile thinks he's still making payments on and riding a British bike with a Kawasaki engine. Horrors!
Photo above right : A real Triumph engine with a proper right side shifter.

My best all time gotcha was when I had my '99 Kawasaki Drifter. The Drifter was the Kawasaki homage to Indian, some would say rip off of, but I saw it as an honest salute to a great American bike. The Drifter carried Indian's famous deeply valanced and sweeping fenders, had mostly black trim on vintage dark maroon paint, and almost no chrome save the pipes, mufflers, and air cleaner covers. Mother Kaw, as Kawasaki enthusiasts sometimes refer to the company, did a fantastic job of building a retro Indian look (got sued for it too by the real fake Indian people in Gilroy) and really have not equaled it with subsequent color schemes. I loved the '99 Drifter. It was a wonderful bike to ride on a pleasant day and seemed to possess some of the panache of the real Indian motorcycle without the hassles of riding an actual ancient bike.

Seeking purity of design and some fun I "de-badged" my Drifter, pulled the Kawasaki labels off the side covers, flipped the instrument trim over to hide the Kaw name leaving then only the monochromatic dull silver tank badge had the not-easy-to-read "Vulcan" V-logo on it as the labeled indication of the brand. The bike drew lots of comments and was often mistaken for an Indian. I admit that it was a bit of the intent on my part and fun. I always corrected people, told them my dad had been once been an Indian dealer and I wanted to enjoy the Indian look without the eccentricities or expense of the real item.

One night at a local bike and hot rod gathering place a fellow sauntered up to look at the Drifter. He was decked out in the official black H-D t-shirt, clean H-D doo-rag, shiny H-D boots and shiny H-D leathers. He eyed the Drifter for a moment and said seriously "Nice old Indian, man." I looked at him and then said slowly and with a cruel smile. "It's a Kawasaki, not an Indian." The guy looked visibly shaken, like he'd just Frenched kissed a girl in the dark and found out when the lights came on that it was his sister. It would have been better if his buddies had seen the moment, the look on his face, the moment he mistook a Jap bike for a real classic. He'd never live it down and probably be sent off to ride Gold Wings or some other terrible fate.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tom & Andrew's Excellent Adventure

Tom over at the Man and Machine blog wrote me way back in early 2006 about his search for an BMW R90S which happens to be my all time favorite motorcycle. We corresponded a bit, time passed, and the next thing you know Tom writes me this year that he has done more than talked about it, he actually bought one, a very nice looking Daytona orange version from 1976. That's Tom in the photo on the right (photos nicked from Tom's blog and e-mail).

s bike has had some mods done to it by the previous owner and isn't a museum piece or show piece and consequently he can ride it without feeling like he's devaluing the bike or desecrating a work of art. My thinking is that bikes should be ridden, that's what they were meant for. Not abused, mind you, but ridden and enjoyed in the way they were designed to be. A professional motorcycle restorer once told me "If you don't ride it, the next owner will."

Now the story improves.

Having more sense of adventure than good sense and apparently against the advice of those with good sense but no sense of adventure, Tom got together with his pal Andrew, who rides a 1976 Honda CB750, and decided to ride their old bikes from Indiana to Utah for the Bonneville World of Speed event and see just how fast they could go on the salt. Bonneville offers a "130 Club" for guys who want to run what they brung and don't want to go all the way and build a full on Bonneville race bike. Now that, friends, is my idea of a grand plan and what's better, they actually went did it.

I'll go no further with the story, only comment that I am a bit envious, and worse, without excuse for not doing something like that myself by now. Read Tom's account of their cross country journey over at Man and Machine. Link here. You'll find a good story of old motorcycles, friendship, fast bikes, fast cars, and some excellent pictures of land speed racers at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

No doubt the old meisters at BMW and the now retired techno-wizards at Honda would be pleased to see their machines put to proper use by riders who appreciate them, even thirty years on.

Friday, November 30, 2007

American Original

Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, 1938-2007

There's an old saying that's popular with motorcycle guys: "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "Holy #$%^, what a ride!"

Evel Knievel lived out that old saying probably better than anyone I can recall.

In 2004 I stood in front of the fountains at Caesar's Palace Casino in Las Vegas and thought about Knievel trying to jump them "way back when" on a 300lb Triumph with maybe 4 inches of of suspension travel to cushion the landing. I had to admit he had guts to even think about it let alone actually try it. If you check YouTube you can probably find the video of his spectacular crash. Years later, about 1989, Knievel's son Robby did the jump and pulled it off but he did it on a modern motocross bike with oodles of suspension travel. Old timers knew it wasn't the same deal as trying it on the old Triumph like his dad did.

I have to be honest and say that I was never a Knievel fan; I thought his over the top flamboyance was a little too carnival, a little too hucksterish. I saw him several years ago at a bike run sitting at a table signing autographs at $25 a pop and his face surely showed every bit of the life he'd lived.

In his last days Knievel showed up in a big church out in California professing a late-in-life acceptance of Christ. I'm always a little skeptical of last minute conversions by the famous and the infamous, especially when it's done with a bit of show and on TV but then we're talking about Evel Knievel, a man who spent his life as a motorcycle daredevil showman so how could it not be a show? Knievel's health, long poor, was obviously failing quickly and after a lifetime of risk taking I don't think he would try and put one over on God just before the biggest jump of them all.

Whether a great motorcycle rider or just a great showman he was most assuredly one of a kind, as someone said, he was "Elvis on a motorcycle." No doubt if such things were permitted in Heaven there'd be some ramps set up by the Pearly Gates and Evel Knievel would be selling tickets to his big arrival.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sheep, Wolves, and Doc Fees

Not long ago we purchased a travel trailer to drag along behind our white, long bed, extended cab, Ford pickup we call "Moby." Retirement is in theory just a little over a year away for me and we expect that we'll be doing some traveling and sadly the Gold Wing is not suitable for all occasions and taking it or the Aprilia Caponord along in the back of the truck seems a bit impractical, ergo, we decided to shop around a bit for a scooter (Steve Williams suddenly perks up). Nothing fancy, Steve, just something that would do for a run from the campground to the grocery store.

Being off this past week for the Thanksgiving Holiday we decided to visit some dealerships and look at scooters in the 50cc to 150cc category, maybe even something used would be fine. Of course I'd prefer a restored 1960 Heinkel Tourist but the budget won't go that far.

In the course of the day yesterday we visited three motorcycle shops and one scooter shop.

At the first shop we found a nice, used 2004 Yamaha Vino 50cc edition and also a left over new 2005 50cc Piaggio. The nice, clean Vino was priced at a very tempting $899 and the Piaggio was marked at $1500 out-the-door. "Ok," says I to the sales person, "How much out the door for the Yamaha?" I already did the numbers in my head and knew with normal Arizona tax and license it should have run out at about $1000. The answer: Same out the door as the Piaggio: $1500. I expected that the dealer would add some sort of phony baloney "doc fee" (vehicle registration documentation preparation fee) to the price and of course the usual sales tax and license fees but a little more questioning led to the fact that the "doc fee" was "...about $350 because we pay a company to do the documents for us and that's almost what they charge us." My thoughts, unspoken, were "Excuse me but that is a flat out lie. You know it, I know it, so why did you insult me like that? It was bad math too because your "doc fee" was closer to $500." We excused ourselves and left.

I understand that motorcycle dealers are scrambling for profit in a slowing market but why do they think they have to low ball me a price and then think they can make it up by lying to me about the doc fee? Just ask the appropriate price for the bike, for goodness sake. I don't doubt that many of the buying public are as dumb as a box of rocks (politicians count on it) but that doesn't mean that we all are. Aim high and respect your customers, treat them like they have a brain and can do math because many of us do and can.

Next store: Looking at a nice Aprilia scooter we find the asking price to be reasonable but again dealer greed gets the best of the dealer and I'm told the "doc fee" is $245. I suggest to the salesman that based on how long it takes to do motor vehicle paperwork and submit it, whomever is doing the work is making more per hour than the best technician back in the shop. I've done dealer vehicle registration paperwork in ye olden days when it was filled out by hand right in front of the customer. It took about 10 minutes and I doubt that the process has gotten slower in the last 35 years. In fact here in Arizona it's all done one a simple PC linked to the Motor Vehicle Department.  $245?  I've watched it being done on the computer and it's 5 minutes from data entry to the printer spitting out the temporary "paper plate."  The salesman tells me about the $245 "We don't have a choice, we give most of that money to the DMV anyway." One more time: Excuse me but that is a flat out lie. You know it, I know it, so why did you insult me like that? Once again we walked.

Third store: Another "system house" (as we called such places in the olden days) owned by a "dealership consolidator" where they attempt to process customers like sheep through a shearing shed via a canned process which emphasizes "Make it easy to buy!"

Friends, dealers are entitled to run their business efficiently, train their staff, and give good service to the customers. Dealers are entitled to make a fair profit on their goods. I know there are dealers like that out there but they seem to be slipping into oblivion, overwhelmed by rapacious dealer "consolidators / integrators," and manufacturers who are so desperate to move units that they can't let themselves think about what the end purchaser is actually experiencing on the sales floor.

Dealers are not entitled to treat customers like ignorant, numbered, animals to processed in the most efficient manner. Listen, my dad was a car salesman for about 30 years; I grew up in car dealerships and I understand know how the sales business works and it is a tough business. Heck, some of my earliest memories are of hanging around the Chrysler - Plymouth - De Soto dealership where my dad was the general manager. Yeah, De Soto...I'm THAT old.

There is indeed a technique to selling things, even an art, but the techniques being pushed at motorcycle dealerships are sales methods that were considered disreputable by honest car dealers forty years ago. These days the car business and many motorcycle businesses are so twisted that they don't even realize their own lack of ethics anymore and they certainly have not a clue about building a lasting, two-way business relationship with their customers.

Modern "best practices" on the dealership sales floor and sales office bring to mind a video I saw recently of a Middle Eastern cleric explaining the proper way to beat your wife. Apparently it didn't occur to him that beating one's wife is morally reprehensible to most people in the first place. Low ball pricing, grinding on customers, "de-horsing" them, selling price inflated add-ons and inflated finance and insurance rates ("F&I income") to people who don't want, don't understand, or worse, cannot afford them, is wrong.

Once again, I have digressed so back to our story:

Store three quoted retail price for the scooter and $245 for a doc fee which I found interesting since they are owned by the same concern as store one and presumably operating under the same rules as store one. Maybe at the third store I didn't look like as big a rube as I did at the BMW / Vespa store? I'll remember to dress better next time I visit the BMW shop, maybe they'll think I'm smarter. No matter, once again I was told that the doc fee merely represented "our cost to process the vehicle registration paperwork." And again: Excuse me but that is a flat out lie. You know it, I know it, so why did you insult me like that?

In addition to the phony doc fee, store three also wanted a total of about $400 for freight and set up on a $1899 Honda Metropolitan 50cc scooter. I know the small units don't have much margin in them but really, adding $600 of pure B.S. profit on top of a $1900 scooter? You guys must be listening to the sound clip of the Michael Douglas character "Gordon Gekko" in the movie "Wall Street" over and over and believe that "Greed is good..."

Dealers do pay a small freight charge to get the bikes to them and they do have to spend a little time putting the bikes together. Anyone reading want to offer up how much assembly and prep time actually goes into a 50cc Honda scooter and whether the job is done by a master technician?

The dealer has a right to recover his costs if they are not adequately covered by the margin built into the MSRP or agreed upon selling price of the bike but marking the bike way down to zero profit and then recouping the loss using inflated fees and interest charges "on the back end of the deal" is misleading and really closer to dishonest. Why would anyone want their business to operate in a such a questionable fashion unless, like "Gordon Gekko" they really do believe that "greed is good" and no longer are able see the fundamental moral problem?

It's all about following the process.

In the end we didn't buy anything, didn't really expect to when we left the house but then many people don't when they wander into a bike shop or car dealership. I can say quite truthfully though that if the dealers had made it "easy to buy" as a certain sales guru preaches, we'd have bought. But they didn't make it easy to buy, they lied to me and tried to rip me off instead of just asking me to pay a fair price for the scooters.

For a look through the dark side of the bike biz, click here. The article is about car sales but trust me, the bike business, at least in the big dealerships, is no better and frankly less sophisticated than the car guys they are seeking to emulate. Many of the smaller bike dealers are even clumsier in trying to set up their own system house and in one case that comes to mind, I can see his store slowly dieing from his efforts. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, either. Yes, I'm being sarcastic again.

If you want to see the actual theory behind how many motorcycle dealerships are operated just Google the phrase "motorcycle industry consulting" (or "Spanish Inquisition") and read around for a bit, follow the links, and prepared to be vaguely queasy. It's all about controlling the sales floor and a multi-step process to reap big profits: A certain number of salespeople for a certain amount of floor traffic, a certain ratio of sales managers to sales people. Sales managers are expected to add a certain amount of $ to the deal or at least "make the close" and then turn it over to the F&I guy who is expected to add certain amount more on the back end of the deal. If you walk and don't buy they will do three call backs to your phone number because they know a certain percentage can be induced to re-visit the dealership and a certain percentage of the those folks will buy. It's a numbers game, friends, and you're a number.

Do your research and you'll understand why you're being treated as you are at your local "powersports store" and you'll also be better equipped to not be scammed by some dealers who see you as a sheep waiting to be fleeced.

And another word to shoppers: The legitimate dealer has a right to make a living! Grinding every last bit of profit out of him doesn't keep him in business and there when you need parts and service. There should be some fair give and take. Sadly, at this point dealer/customer culture is so corrupted it's about as likely to be fixed as certain Middle East problems. A lucky few motorcycle dealers and their customers will learn or have learned to live in peace and even friendship but for most it's going to be war to the end of time an no one wins.

Our final visit of the day was to a shop dealing only in scooters. We'll save that visit for another blog entry. In the mean time, anyone know where we can find a Yamaha C3 at a fair deal?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Gonna Ruin The Sport!

What a bunch of 8 balls! The Westside Motorcycle Club up in Eugene, Oregon was sure to ruin the sport of motorcycling if someone didn't stop them. Crazy stunts on public roads, stand up on the seat, ride sitting backwards, no protective gear, scaring the pants off of John Q. Public. And then film the whole thing so they can laugh about it later?? Shocking!

"There is nothing new under the sun" eh stunta boyz?


Sunday, October 28, 2007

At The Cycle World Show

The Cycle World show was good, not great. It still doesn't meet the all time standard for great bike shows that was set by the San Diego Antique Motorcycle Club with their "Del Mar Concours" back in the early and mid-90s: Great customs, classics, vintage bikes, swap meet, Sat. night vintage flat track races, Sunday mile track races, and tons of famous racers from the past. Now THAT was a bike show.

The CW show had lots of exotic Italian bikes in evidence, and by exotic I don't mean Ducati. Ducati is nice but are like belly buttons, everybody has one. Ducati does win the award though for having "Booth Babes Most Likely To Get A Husband Elbowed In The Ribs." Yowzer! Sorry, no pictures; Wife has sharp elbows. The Duc stuff was nice though, especially the SR decked out Monster, but where was the Desmosedici RR??

Someone old enough to know better wrestles with MV moto-lust

I hope he gave in!
Outside there was a large area with plenty of demo bikes from KTM, Victory, Kawasaki, Can Am, and others. It would have been easy to spend the whole day just riding demo bikes, didn't even seem like there was much of a wait as the show appears to be poorly attended again.

KTM seems to do things very well these days and with a style that is their own and not borrowed from anyone else. The KTM Super Duke looks edgy and brutal, like some evil device you would like to own in order to frighten other people. I was going to take a photo of the bike but the lighting was so poor I didn't bother. The bigger mistake on my part was not going back today for a test ride to see how it compares to the Aprilia Tuono I rode last year.

The new Victory Vision touring bike was much in evidence and just as bizarre in person as in the pictures. I still think the thing looks like the accidental love child of a weekend fling between a Harley-Davidson and a BMW 1200LT. It's one of those bikes that is more impressive and better looking with the bodywork off than on. And even at that, the appearance of the aluminum castings is not a nice as what's seen on the Italian bikes like the Benelli.

I spent a few minutes talking to Dennis Manning whose Bonneville bike set the land speed record for motorcycles last year at 350 mph with Chris Carr at the controls.

Manning is an interesting fellow, very successful outside of racing too, and with plenty thoughts on what it takes to succeed at the highest levels of that sport. I asked him "Ergonomics notwithstanding [Manning is a big guy], do you regret not being able to run the bike yourself instead of having Chris Carr do the job?" His reply, paraphrased here was an emphatic "No! The goal was to set the record. To do that you have to use the very best of everything or you compromise the effort."

He pointed to the Manning, Riley & Rivera LSR bike from 1970 and said he ran it a few times himself and when the team decided Cal Rayborn was a better choice as a rider, he had to agree and the results showed it.

In 1970 going 200+ mph was a little less complicated than 350 mpg in 2006

If you've seen the movie "On Any Sunday" you've seen this bike.
If you have not seen the movie, shame on you.

For you young whippersnappers, Cal Rayborn was was of the best dirt and pavement racers of the 60s and early '70s.

You can click on the image to read the sign text.

Manning's '70s orange stripped LSR bike ran a record 265mph with Rayborn at the controls and if the goal is to set motorcycle land speed record, Manning told me " 'Something old, something new,...' isn't how you get it done." Apparently that lesson stuck and 36 years later Chris Carr was the best to get the job done and it worked again to the tune of 350+ mph. I asked Manning if they were going to run the bike again and he said they'd done parachute tests this past summer. "Going to shoot for 400mph?" I asked. He replied with an uncontrolled smile "Well, we were the first bike to 350mph so why not?"

I'd be happy to drive it but I out weigh Chris Carr by about 100lbs.
There may be other reasons I'll not get the job.

Joe Petrali's 1937 speed record bike stands next to the BUB 7.
60 years and 200 mph+ is the difference between them.

I didn't see any great deals on accessories or goodies this year as there were last year or maybe I didn't look close enough at the booths selling chrome lightning bolt jewelry or magic mending tape or overpriced home sites in vineyard country. I did wind up buying a new pair of Lee Parks deerskin riding gloves ($80) to replace my old ones that I bought from Thurlow Leather works in Sandy Eggo when I was over there for the now defunct Del Mar Concours. I paid $65 for the Thurlow's and they lasted about 10 years so I guess that's not too bad a return on the $. I heard that Thurlow is out of business now and I know the website is gone. Too bad, Mr. Thurlow's stuff was the best, somewhat better than what I bought yesterday if thickness of the hide and placement of seams is any indication. If I'd have taken better care of the the Thurlow gloves they might have lasted another 10 years. We'll see if Lee Parks' stuff is as good as what the gumpy old biker guy used to make. I do hope so because a nice pair of deerskin riding gloves is wonderful thing to wear.

The number of vendors seemed to be way down and the people staffing the displays seemed mostly uninterested or perhaps just discouraged by the low attendance. If the show comes back next year the promoters will need to do something to juice it up a good bit or the turn out will be even worse and then that will be that for mainstream motorcycle shows in Arizona. Hard to believe that in a metro area the size of Phoenix that a something besides a RUB Harley show cannot be successful. I blame promoters who don't know really understand motorcycling and a local motorcycle community that is too shallow in their love of motorcycling.

4:30 on Saturday and the park lot is nearly empty

The AMA had a big, empty booth there with a few people standing around hoping to add to the membership. The layout and organization of their displays and vintage bikes was such that it did little to draw people in to sign up. Buying an AMA membership is about as inviting as buying term life insurance and the long, imposing AMA display with little in front of it to entice people closer wasn't much more inviting that your typical insurance office.

Mind you, I belong to the AMA because they are all we have worth anything at all in that might be able to keep the freedom grabbers Washington, DC at bay a little longer. That's not a comment on one political party or the other, either. Democrats and Republicans both, in their lust for power and control, will happily ride roughshod over on road motorcyclist's and off-road user's rights. Question for the AMA: How many politicians do we have on our pocket compared to the number in the earth friendly hemp hiking shorts pockets of the Sierra Club? Stop playing nice or you're going to lose. Nice guys finish last, remember?

Some wonderful vintage motocross bikes showed up courtesy of the local racers.

Note to Cycle World: Connect more with the local people for ride-in bike shows and maybe even a bike swap meet ("horrors...how tacky!! They would never do that at Pebble Beach!") . Making it more of a motorcycle event than a sterile bike show might not seem as slick and urbane as press folks dream of the show being but having an empty parking lot and empty booths doesn't seem all that sophisticated either. And oh yeah, at this point in the history of motorcycling, the stunt show out the back door was trite and largely ignored as far as I could tell. Some guy doing big air tricks on a pit bike was not that impressive, it looked more like a filming location for a YouTube.com crash video. You'd have been better off with a good indoor trials bike demo or someone with a top fuel drag bike doing huge, smokey burn-outs, or both. Better: Give Dennis Manning and extra $5,000 to start his LSR streamliner once a day. That should wake up a few people.

Another note to the AMA: Match up the Super Moto series with the Cycle World shows. Goodness knows there's enough empty parking lot space to handle the track and extra spectators and maybe both events will begin to get the spectator draw they should be getting.

There, now that I've groused a bit, let me say that the show was great fun if you most anything with two wheels and an engine. The cool stuff was there but not in great depth. If you're single minded about one particular aspect of motorcycling you were probably disappointed in the show. Your loss.

One of the bikes hard to ignore was the "Revelation." Take a Mazda RX-7 rotary engine, mate it to a BMW transmission and final drive, chop the exhausts short, and the stand back! You have something that is a bit crude but surely must sound like the Apocalypse itself coming down the highway.

The wisdom of building a 250hp rotary engined street bike might be subject to question
and riding the beast (no pun intended) might bring you closer to God sooner than you expected so it's best to be prepared. The builder of the "Revelation" seems to have figured out that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

One hand on the throttle hurtles you down the road and closer to Heaven and your Maker, or at least the undertaker, while your right boot feels the fires of Hell. Kudos to the builder for a clever change from skulls and other worn out, negative images and without going to the milquetoast religious piety of saintly faces with glowing hubcaps behind them.

So there was a little bit of everything and not a lot of anything at the show. However, anyone who truly loves motorcycles (like me) could easily find much to love and drool upon. The level of craftsmanship in the customs, the race bikes, and the one off specials like Roland Sands' KR MotoGP engined tracker was striking.

One of the last street bikes to come out of the old MV Agusta factory.
The new MV Agustas are a work of art but this older generation was blessed by Count Agusta himself.

The current generation of Bimota Tesi.
Old Harley guys and old Triumph guys know what a "Turnip Eater" is and maybe this bike in particular:

And finally, old motocross racers know that the first thing a Husqvarna rider bought for his new motocross bike was a "goodie guard" unless he wanted to race in the "powder puff class" next time out. Yes, they actually made little padded leather covers and sold them under that product name "Goodie Guard."

Those Swedish engineers must have been some tough hombres
to design a bike like that.

If you know bikes you could meet a few famous people, see some very rare vintage bikes, and test ride all kinds of fun machines from the new Can Am Spyder to the KTM Super Duke. How can anyone say that's not worth $12.00? Not me. It could have been a better show if the organizers and Cycle World loosen up a little and remember that motorcycling is about excitement and find a way to build real excitement, not the contrived excitement of stunt shows, into the event. Still it was a fine time and a day well spent. I recommend you go when the show hits your neck of the woods.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"The Cycle World Show" Phoenix

Phoenix, AZ October 26-28, 2007

As noted in the logo above, the Cycle World Show (insert long official name if you wish) is coming to Phoenix again this year and that time is just about three weeks away. I went last year and had a blast test riding the new Gold Wing, the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000, and the Aprilia Tuono. Let's just say that the each of the demo rides was run in the finest tradition of each company. The Honda ride was spit and polish and well under control, the Kawasaki guys were a little more relaxed, and the Aprilia guy told us in some indeterminate but not Italian accent "No wheelies, no stoppies, no burnouts. If you get arrested just leave the bike by the side of the road and we'll pick it up." And off we went. The wife delighted in the Gold Wing ride, hated the big Kaw v-twin, and opted not to ride along on the Tuono when she saw the gleam in my eye.

Some local riders thought the show sucked last year. They were wrong. The show was great if you love motorcycles and motorcycle people. This is Phoenix, not Europe and the Intermot Show or Tokyo and the big extravaganza there. You local guys quit your whining and show up so the show will grow and get better each year, otherwise it will get worse each year until it doesn't come back and then all we're left with is the annual "R.U.B. Billet Barge, Pose and Polish Show" up in "Snottsdale."

Hey, last year I got to ride bikes for free, got two or three free t-shirts, yakked with assorted motorcycle people, and saw the then recently triumphant BUB streamliner fresh from setting the motorcycle land speed record at Bonneville (354.832 mph). Dennis Manning, the BUB owner, sat there with his magnificent moto-creation and answered all the dumb questions one could ask.
I have to tell you, that was worth the price of admission just to see the bike, never mind get to talk to the guy who dreamed it up. I understand the bike will be there again this year. I'd go to the show just to once again see the fastest motorcycle in the world.

Tickets to the show can be bought on-line thereby saving you $3.00. The show website is here.

I'm taking Friday off work to beat the crowds and spend less time waiting to ride interesting motorcycles I have no intention of buying. Should be a grand time!

Monday, September 17, 2007

After The Fall

An informal poll in one of the motorcycle forums I sometimes visit indicated that over all, about 70% of the riders had fallen off at some point or another in their pavement riding career. We're speaking now about riding on the pavement because dirt riders all know that crashing is a regular part of their game. Bailing off a dirt bike is pretty routine compared to tossing away a street bike although I'm on record as having done some pretty spectacular dirt bike crashes. The simple fact is the motorcycling isn't the safest hobby around and people do crash.

On one forum there have been long discussions of some forum members' recent crashes and their own unhappy mental state afterwards. Often the "why" and "how" of the incident and getting the bike fixed or replaced are easier to answer than the "What should I do next?" issue. Getting the bike back in the garage can be easier than getting the rider's shaken confidence set aright, especially when well meaning family and friends wring their hands and say over and over "Quit riding those %$@# motorcycles!"

A few of the forum regulars have had the misfortune to go down this year, some hard, some not so hard. Some biffed it due to rider error, some due to stupid car drivers, one or two because of deer strikes. Regardless of the cause, getting back on the bike after a hard fall can be a challenge both physically and mentally. I think it might even be more so for older riders because we seem to heal slowly and we're a little more in touch with our mortality after a few decades of living.

Someplace around the age of forty years you suddenly realize that you're not invincible and not going to take up space above ground forever. Your own mortality becomes more tangible and therefore the urge to NOT test it becomes more tangible. Too, we older guys usually have more financial obligations hanging out there than the younger guys. Mortgages, kids in college, career issues, all become more prominent factors as the years of motorcycling accumulate and they tend to inflict a sense of responsibility even when it's not welcomed, and further, conspire to cause the throttle to roll shut and the brakes be applied sooner on the curves than they used to be.

In case you're wondering at this point: No, I have not crashed, at least not recently.

It's been a long, long time since I crashed a motorcycle on the street. The first and last time was back about 1972 when I was riding 2-up on a Suzuki 550 Indy (2-stroke triple) on Highway 154 in California. It was foggy on the coastal side of the Santa Barbara mountains and I was going sensibly slow. A car coming the other way, apparently freaked out by the dense fog, the winding road, and big drop offs on his side of the road and the driver cut well into my lane on a curve. I dodged to the right and onto the shoulder of the road escaping the car but not the broken up edge of the pavement. I got the bike slowed down to about 10 mph before the undercarriage snagged on the asphalt edge. A loud scrape, a nice low speed tank slapper, and down we went.

The Suzuki's Wixom fairing suffered a broken windscreen and the hard saddlebags were a little messed up. The ignition points cover on the side of the engine (you all remember ignition points, right?) was split open. My riding buddies stopped and my passenger and I scrambled to our feet, our riding gear a little scuffed up but unhurt. The Suzuki was up righted, the dirt wiped off, the broken windscreen removed and tossed aside. The cover for the ignition points was broken open by the impact and the points were packed with dirt. I cleaned them out with a screw driver and some blowing and the broken aluminum points cover was taped over with electrical tape. The engine started right up, we hopped back on the bike, and with some increased degree of caution completed the ride up to the little Danish-style tourist town of Solvang, CA.

These days I might not be so likely to continue on after a get-off but back then I was young, studly, and knew that Peterson's Danish Mill Bakery awaited with it's trays of amazing and wonderful pastries. Come to think of it, even now I'd get up and keep going for the pastries unless the bike wouldn't run or I had bones sticking out. When I was racing motocross back in the days of the dinosaurs we had a saying "If there's no blood or bones showing you're not really hurt."

Although I have not crashed on the street in a long, long time (fingers crossed) there have been other unhappy things from which I had to bounce back since then and in each case I was determined to not give up what was important to me. That didn't mean that returning to the fun didn't scare me or that I hadn't had my confidence badly shaken, it just meant I wouldn't give up without a struggle. I told someone recently about dangerous situations "Being scared is normal, not being scared is crazy. Not letting your fears control you is the true sign of courage."

I think it's important to realize and admit that it's NORMAL to be at least a little scared and a little nervous about riding after a crash. Accept that your negative feelings are not unreasonable and then begin a planned, logical process of overcoming them and laying them to rest. Heck, anyone who gets on a motorcycle anytime without feeling at least a twinge of caution is either crazy or stupid.

I do believe it's important to ride again after a crash, even if it's only once, so that you can look back and say you were not beaten by fate, stupidity, the machine, or worse, your own fears. Still, each of us has to make that choice for ourselves and I don't believe there is actually a wrong choice in the matter, just an intensely personal one. I would never criticize anyone who had crashed and decided afterwards to give up riding.

When I was racing motocross back in the days of the dinosaurs we had a saying "If there's no blood or bones showing, you're not hurt." Going home banged up from a crash always sucked. When you're single the girls always go "Oh, poor baby, let me kiss it and make it better." When you're married the women say "Nice work again, Ace. How much is it going to cost us this time?"

Of course the best plan is to avoid crashing entirely but there are no guaranties about that. Philosophical question for the day: If you knew that it was impossible to crash, that nothing could ever go wrong, would riding be as much fun?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Big Brother Or Just Big Money?

So you think the Tennessee police are being hard on the folks running up and down Deal's Gap? Maybe they are, but take some time to read around the website theNewspaper.com "A journal of the politics of driving" and see what state and local governments in the US, Canada, and other nations are doing to their citizens in the name of "safety."

As nearly as I can tell from reading about the seizure without trial of vehicles merely because they are likely to be used in "street racing" (Canada) to the State of Virginia hammering drivers with outrageous fines to the those wacky Aussies vandalizing speed cameras, it's clear that traffic safety means big money to governments looking for ever new and ingenious ways to tax drivers off the road and into public transportation or maybe just bankruptcy.

Here's one to brighten your day if you live around Pennsylvania. "Pennsylvania to Impose $25 Tax on Driving Across State" Take a read and see if your blood pressure doesn't go up a bit. Hard to believe but it would seem the politicians we elect may not have our best interests at heart. Big Brother isn't just watching you, he's planning on stealing your paycheck. What is worse is that they are proud of it. If I were not already so cynical about government, I'd be shocked.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Stepping On The Dragon's Tail

I love to ride and drive fast but I'm selective about when and where but I freely admit to taking liberties with the speed limit now and again even at this later stage of life. In my twenties there were people who doubted I would make it to thirty but I did and someplace along the way since then I learned to slow down and yet enjoy the ride. Still, the throttle hand can get itchy on a nice road and I give into the need for speed. I've gotten more than one "performance award" over the years one two wheels and four and pretty much deserved them when I was stopped. You play, you eventually pay.

Out east in Tennessee (and also out west and in California) the guys have taken specific twisty roads, turned them into public race tracks, documented their fun with websites and blogs (www.killboy.com) and now are moaning and groaning when the police crack down. Gentlemen, what did you think was going to happen when you have numerous people flaunting the speed laws every single weekend on the same stretch of road for years? There's no shortage of evidence. Go to Google Video and you will find over 1,000 videos if you search on the term "Deal's Gap."

 photo: Killboy.com

I'm really not knocking killboy.com (I read it most every week and enjoy the pictures and captions) or the people who have figured out how to boost tourism around an obscure rural Tennessee road so they can make a living, I'm just saying that when the police finally get enough calls from John Q. Public and also have to work enough traffic accidents on one stretch of road, there are going to be consequences. The government is not going to wink and look the other way when people are being injured and killed just because breaking the law brings in tourist dollars. We all know that fact as surely as politicians love to grandstand on any issue that they can, whether they grasp all the facts or not. Don't whine. You knew in your heart of high RPM hearts that this was bound to happen.

Same goes for the loud pipes chopper guys who are feeling the heat now via city noise laws in places like Denver, CO and Cave Creek, AZ. You Jesse James wannabes knew those straight pipes were not legal, did you think they would be ignored forever because of the silly slogan "Loud pipes save lives"? If you did then you're wearing your official Harley do-rag too tight.

Riders (including me) and drivers have been flaunting the speed laws on popular roads for years because they can, so it's no surprise that when the police do crack down that they get heavy handed about it simply because they can. Cops are human and having riders or drivers blitzing "their road," which is in fact their workplace that they are hired by the public to control, is likely to draw a strong reaction. As Jim Croce sang: "You don't pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger..."

I've read recently that Mullholland Drive in SoCal is getting much the same treatment as Deals Gap and the road up Palomar Mountain (my old stomping grounds) has been under the police microscope more than once and even suffered vigilante backlash from residents in the area. You challenge the cop's authority on the road you're going to lose. Get real, folks, and move on. There are other great roads in TN and other great roads in California. Are you riding to enjoy the ride or riding to be seen and show off? Spread out and have your fun but don't make yourself a nuisance. And when you get popped, take your medicine like man.

A little TN police hypocrisy in action. photo via www.killboy.com

I'll say too that some of the stories of tickets written by the TN cops and the pictures of patrol cars themselves violating the law are convincing enough to say that the police are misguided in their heavy handedness and ultimately making enemies instead of changing attitudes or making friends. Was it really necessary to have fourteen patrol cars on eleven miles of road? Necessary to write tickets to tourists for 35 mph in a 30 mph zone? That's just stupid. One patrol car at each end and one in the middle of the Gap would have been enough to spoil the fun and make the point with the most egregious violators.

Thumbs down to the knee draggers and crazies who thought they could flaunt the speed laws forever and get away with it and thumbs down to the Tennessee highway patrol guys and country police for acting more like Sheriff Buford T. Justice than professional law enforcement officers.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cruising vs Cruising

Seems like an easy choice to me!

The wife has been interested in doing the cruise thing. No, not the two wheeled kind with a v-twin engine, lots of chrome, shiny black leathers, and a vest covered with patches from 30 mile, police escorted fundraiser rides. No, she apparently saw too many episodes of "The Love Boat" as a kid, has watched too many Travel Channel shows, and has become convinced that traveling in a floating city while wearing floral print shirts and plaid shorts as we watch the world go by is a fun thing. Given that the our Gold Wing is a bit of a land yacht you would think that she'd be satisfied with that, I certainly am.

Now, the wife has been on a short cruise or two before we met so has some experience with ocean travel. I think she's done more miles on the Gold Wing than ocean going vessels so she should be able to see the easy choice of bike over boat when it comes to vacation travel. Zillion dollar cruise ship, soft beds, cool breezes, unlimited food or Gold Wing, Magic Fingers Motel, and mom & pop cafes? No brainer choice for me, that's for sure. Start packing the 'Wing!

I've not actually been on an ocean cruise myself but I did tour the Queen Mary once in Long Beach twenty-five years ago and that seems like enough. As all TV viewers know, even a "three hour tour" on the water can go terribly wrong.

Keep in mind too that a snazzy ocean cruise costs as much as a decent used bike unless you want to row the boat yourself, sleep in an ocean going foot locker, and eat pickled carp lips with the Zamovian immigrants traveling in steerage. Why spend thousands on a fleeting week of sea sickness and shuffleboard with when you could buy another motorcycle and have it forever? OK, I don't keep bikes more than about a year but you get the idea.

I even showed Mrs. Cruise fan an on-line video of a storm tossed cruise ship and carefully explained that a ship being tossed by the waves like a cork in a flushed toilet was a common occurrence. Happens nearly any time one of those fancy cruise ships gets more than a mile or two off shore. Trust me! She asked why we never hear of such things on the news and I explained that there is a huge conspiracy by the cruise lines, travel agents, and pharmaceutical companies who specialize in drugs for the treatment of sea sickness to suppress the stories because they are making a lot of money.
Moreover, the problems don't stop with just the "price-of-a-bike" trip costs, oh no. When you finally get on the ship the party of the 1st part, the wife, expects the party of the second part, the husband, to wear new "cruise clothes" that are not permitted to have motorcycle logos anywhere on them and to "socialize" with dull people who probably don't like motorcycles (or they wouldn't be on a cruise). Henry David Thoreau warns us "Beware of any enterprise that requires new clothes."

Worse, sometimes the party first part, the wife, requires that the part of the second part, the husband, to "dress for dinner" which of course is followed by the ultimate degradation: Dancing in public. I know for a fact that one of the tortures used to persuaded captured terrorists to talk consists of sending them on a cruise and making them dance in public. Most spill their guts at the first sight of a cruise ship brochure. I love my wife but there are limits to what I can endure for her. Need kidney donated? No problem. Pick up dog poop on the carpet. Got it done. But public dancing? Well, there are some things even a bug splattered old motorcycle guy like me won't do.

Sadly, she bought none of my stories and is still talking about cruises to Alaska. Makes no sense to me since we own paid-for adventure bike and the Alcan highway goes that way anyway. I sense that I am losing battle though and should next try to lose some weight so I look my best in my tuxedo for "Passengers Talent Contest Night." The thought of it all makes road rash seem like being tickled with a feather.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Someday" Might Slip By

June 25th marked the 3rd anniversary of Forty Years On Two Wheels. Concerning that momentous day I saw no headlines in the NY Times, Cycle World, or The National Enquirer and no congressional committee subpoenaed me to testify (I'd take the 5th anyway) so I guess my plan to become a world famous and incredibly wealthy moto-blogger is behind schedule. No matter, I'm having a pleasant time with all this, mostly, and you twelve regular readers seem to enjoy it also judging by the e-mails I receive.

Sometime back Angry Bob over at motorcyclebloggers.com offered up the question "Why blog?" and then answered it from his always interesting perspective. My answer to the question would be that I have some basic compulsion to write, to sort through my my thoughts and then see them in front of me, and blogging gives a better forum for that and a longer half-life for the words than what they would get in a typical motorcycle forum.

Things I've noticed about moto-blogging:
  • Starting is the easy part.
  • Many times I've thought of quitting (today, for example) but I'm not a quitter.
  • Trying to come up with something semi-unique to say that has not been said a jillion times is tough. The world doesn't need another piece on helmet fit or tire changing.
  • Taking and selecting the pictures for the blog is often times the most fun part.
  • Putting a mildly risque picture in a post will get me in trouble at home.
  • Writing about farting gets me lots of e-mails.
  • The Triumph Scrambler entries draw more interest than the Harley entries.
  • Blogging anything about Steve McQueen makes the hit counter jump.
  • I don't have a lot of regular readers but the ones I have, judging by my e-mail, are a pretty interesting lot, including the once famous, the never famous, and the likely-to-be-infamous (Jeff at the late great, "Iron Livered Goon" blog).
  • Meeting new people is the best part of blogging.
  • When I started blogging in '04 there were perhaps a dozen motorcycle blogs I could find and now there are more than anyone really knows or could possibly have time to read.
  • I only read about five blogs regularly now. I won't tell you which ones.
  • Hardly anyone actually cares what anyone else thinks on any given subject.
  • If it's not entertaining you're dead so never take yourself too seriously. There is a reason why Peter Egan is published and we blog.
  • My favorite punctuation mark is the ellipsis...
  • I can write a blog entry, edit it to death, re-read it a dozen times, and then find a typo thirty seconds after I hit the "Publish" button.

I didn't ride as much in late 2006 and early 2007 as I did in previous years. Some would say that getting married cut into the important things in life but that's not entirely true. Being well past 50 years old now means that the body, long abused by motorcycle racing, riding, hang gliding crashes, and other socially unacceptable activities, seems to let me down more often than it once did. There are a lot of really cool things about getting older but an aging body isn't one of them.

Back in early 1975 I had the misfortune to crash while flying an Icarus V hang glider. The confrontation with the earth left me with three fractured vertebrae in my back. Ask the fattest rider you know to stand on your back while wearing high heel shoes and you'll know how that feels. Be sure to get a picture too.

After laying around the house recouping for three months from the crash I did the only logical thing I could since I was also then out of work: I got on my BMW R90S and rode from California to Colorado to see what was there.

600 - 700 mile days were the norm as I set about riding all the highest paved passes I could find. It hurt but hey, I was young and tough...or thought so. These days, 30+ years later and long after the bones have healed but the arthritis the doctor predicted would happen has set in along with assorted other aliments, I'm pretty sure that one 600 mile day would be tough and doing several back to back would be my last foolish adventure.

That kiddies, is one of the reasons it is important to ride as much as you can when you can, because there will come a day when you cannot. Take the rides, push the days, buy the bikes. Do what mere mortals or financial managers say is crazy because one day your own body will begin to show it's own mortality. Don't do anything stupid, but do ride when you can and don't put it off thinking that "someday" you'll take that big trip or do that track day. "Someday" might slip by and become "never" and you'll truly be poorer for it.

If it sounds like I'm giving up riding you'd be dead wrong but I simply cannot ride as much or as far as I once did and frankly, that sucks. But reality is what it is and I'm really glad that I did that ride to Colorado and all the other crazy stuff over the years. But maybe because I did it I don't feel as much need now to venture off and flog myself through endless days on the road or prove anything to anybody. Good thing.

Speaking of pictures (nice segue, eh?)...

As you wander about riding, seeing the sites, taking in the rallies or doing whatever it is you like to do on your bike, be sure you STOP often and take pictures. And just as importantly, take pictures with people in them and YOU in them. The years will go by and memories will fade a bit and those pictures will mean the world to you when you're old and gray.

I've always been prone to taking pictures but like most people I took scenic shots without people in them. I've usually ridden alone which will in part explain the lack of people in the photos but beyond that, scenic shots are nearly worthless after 10 or 20 years. Unless you're a real pro photographer scenic shots look pretty dull because they never capture the reality of the moment. Take pictures of your friends, your bike, their bikes, and YOU. Turn the camera around because I guarantee you that in a decade or two you will get a big kick out of looking at pictures of yourself. That's not narcissism either, that's just the inherent human trait of trying to place our self in time, where we are now vs. where we were then.

Then and now. I have not changed a bit and I still like red bikes.

Sadly, for all the pictures I've taken over the years, almost none have me in them and most of the people were people I didn't even know. I've tried to do better the last ten or twenty years but that whole thing of turning the camera on one's self is somewhat intimidating for most of us. Do it anyway, you'll thank me someday.

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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

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"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