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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pavlovian Motorcycle Response

"Machines of Escape"

Frankly, my attempt at making due with the little TW200 Yamaha as my only motorcycle was not working out well. Nothing against the little TW, it does what it was designed to do and does it pretty well including hauling my fat butt and camera gear around. In fact I'll likely keep the TW for assorted RV adventures but every time I rode the TW I'd twist the throttle and the little 14 hp 200cc single just didn't make me feel happy in the pants the way 100 horsepower or more does. I might be retired, I might be getting older, but I'm not dead yet.

I have been sort of shopping for another bike (pretty much a permanent condition for me) and had settled on some sort of used and abused Kawasaki Concours 1000 as a likely candidate. I had purchased a new Concours in 2001 and enjoyed it a great deal before ill health forced it's sale. The Concours 1000 survived twenty years in Kawasaki's line up primarily because it did so much so well for so little money. The engine is all but bullet proof, the handling is decent, and the assorted bits and pieces generally work well and are reliable.

I had found a slightly used (ok, beat up) '90s edition Concours on Craig's List for a sum that was within reach and had resigned myself to buying a beater touring bike. I figured there was nothing wrong with it that some hot glue, JB Weld, and a rattle can of black paint couldn't fix. Kawasaki Concours "bobber", anyone?

I was a bit late getting my taxes done this year and had to file an extension with those nice folks at the IRS. That is the first time in my life that I have ever had to do that. It just goes to show how lazy I am getting since I retired from VW.

I expected to get a few bucks back from the tax man, we usually get back some reasonable amount but when the tax accountant told us how much we were getting back this year my "Pavlovian Motorcycle Response" kicked in and I turned immediately to the wife and said "New motorcycle!" In the blink of an eye she replied "What sort of bike can you get for 50% of that amount?" Apparently in the nanosecond of time it took me to think "new bike" and get the words out of my mouth she had already thought "Money for vacations!" She's quick, I'll give her that, and she knows that my dear ol' mum taught me to share as a gentleman should.

In due course the tax money arrived via direct deposit and I began checking Craig's List more diligently and with a bit larger budget in hand. Happily, it only took about a day for decent 2003 Concours to turn up. I went and looked at the bike and it had been well serviced for 25k miles, just not kept clean and orderly the way I like to keep a bike.

The previous owners had upgraded the suspension, added assorted goodies that are popular with the Concours crowd, and generally looked after the bike decently except for the cosmetic issues. By my standards the bike was a diamond in the rough, it just needed some polishing. Money changed hands and the Concours came home with me.

The ride home, about forty miles, reminded me why I liked my '01 Concours so much. The bike is fast enough, comfortable enough, and competent enough that Kawasaki could have kept building it for another twenty years and it still would have been a great bike if it were not for changing tastes in motorcycle styling and a degree of corporate pride. The trusty Concours, always a steady seller for Kawasaki, was looking pretty dowdy when compared to the much newer, sexier designs of the Honda ST1300 and Yamaha FJR1300.

I spent about eight or ten hours over the next two days really cleaning and detailing the bike, attending to some minor issues, and making it look it's best. It's not perfect but for $3k I think it's a pretty solid ride. Today I took it for my familiar ride out to Coolidge Airport. Very nice. Good to feel more than 14 horsepower again, ya know?

"Velocity Super XLRG5" and 2003 Kawasaki Concours 1000
(click for larger version)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I Can Die Happy Now

"Moonrise, Hernandez" by Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams, eat your heart out (if you're not spinning in your grave).

There is a web site out there now called ACQUINE, short for "Aesthetic Quality Inference Engine." Some really smart folks with a serious interest in computer science, programming, and art are attempting to create an image analysis program that analyzes and then rates photographs on a 0 - 100 scale. Sort of like a engine dynamometer for pictures. Cold, dispassionate, it's just about the numbers. As horsepower junkies like to say "The dyno doesn't lie."

Naturally I ran the URL for my 1977 BMW R100RS photo through there and low and behold it rated it 99.8 putting it in a three way tie for highest rated picture. Zowie! It's a death match between the BMW, a sunset, and a roll of twine. Palm trees, McDonald's arches and all it's a good photo according to the computer and we all know computers can't be wrong.

The next thing I did was run a link through pointed at über-Meister photographer Ansel Adams' classic image "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico." "Moonrise" is considered by most devotees of photography to be one of the great photos of the 20th century and Adams is generally considered to be one of the four or five greatest photographers ever.

As it happens, I'm a bit of an Ansel Adams fan and have two inexpensive prints of his, including "Moonrise," hanging above my desk. I don't have a real Adams print because an original print of "Moonrise" fetches somewhere in the solid six figure$ a for a nice example and if I had that kind of money to throw around I'd be riding better motorcycles.

So the computer rated "Moonrise" at 68.4, apparently a competent professional photograph. Another favorite Adams picture of which I am fond is "Rose and Driftwood" and that one garnered a 93.5. Better but still not as good as my BMW shot. I may need to get a larger helmet soon.

"Rose and Driftwood" by Ansel Adams

It then follows -- because really smart people and computers are not generally wrong -- that at least once I was a better photographer than Ansel Adams at his best.* And if you believe that I'll be happy to sell you a signed print of the BMW R100RS, complete with palm trees, for half of whatever the going price is for a pristine, signed, original, Ansel Adams original print of any subject. Hey, you're my friends, only for you! Order in the next ten minutes and I'll throw in a set of Ginsu knives, a used ShamWow, and a picture of me naked.

In truth, what the folks at ACQUINE are trying to do is very interesting and I can't even guess the philosophical and mathematical debates going on behind the scenes at ACQUINE. Just how do you mathematically quantify what is art and what is esthetically pleasing? Personally, I don't think it can be done. You can lay out rules and principals of design like the "rule of thirds", use of colors, and so on but in the end it comes down to what one person sees and whether or not it pleases him or her. Andy Warhol said "Art is what you can get away with." In my world motorcycles are an art form and that is why to me it makes no sense to say that one brand is better than another or that one style of bike is better looking than another (Bultacos are best, by the way). "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and all that other happy horse doo doo.

*Disclaimer: The 72 dpi web based version of Adams' photos I linked to may not have quite equaled the original Adams print. As it happens, I've seen more than one original print of "Moonrise" along with a number of Adams' other masterpieces and they are so good, beyond good, it made me want to throw away my camera gear and just stick with riding motorcycles. That was 25 years ago though, so you see I'm at least stubborn if not another Ansel Adams no matter what the "dyno" says.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Apparently I'm Doing Something Right

In the space of just over a week I've found another of my black and white photos featured on Webshots.com. This time it's a very nice 1977 BMW R100 RS. As my dad taught me avoid the sin of envy: "I wish I had that one and he had a better one." I've always wanted an R100RS and never bought one. I should work on that.

Here's the linked image:

I must be getting a handle on the new camera or at least the editing software. Not enough though to eliminate the distracting palm tree in the background. Not realizing it's impact when I took the shot and setting the camera for a shallower depth of field was a fundamental photography mistake. Perfection continues to elude me.

The complete black and white album is here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Fame and Fortune Sure to Follow

I keep most of my on-line photos at WebShots.com. I've been signed up there for so long that I have a ton of free storage space so I thought "Why not use it?" I'll go out on a limb here and presume that people get some enjoyment from the photos so the photos are better there than just gathering electron dust on my computer hard drive. Too, sorting them and putting them on line, however minor the exposure in the wide world, does make me take a second or third critical look before I upload them.

Since I got the Nikon D90 I've been working a little harder on my black & white photos. No one has mistaken my stuff yet for Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier-Bresson but the nice folks at WebShots did pick on of my recent photos of a 1969 Triumph Bonneville to be a featured photo. This makes three times now that I've had photos featured over there. So far they have not been my favorite photos but then who knows why one photo appeals to one person and not another? Having a photo featured doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of life, a bit of recognition, not unlike have a blog post quoted favorably somewhere else. Still, it's fun stuff and a little encouragement goes a long ways and who knows, maybe that call from National Geographic or Maxim is just around the corner.

Here's the photo they picked.

1969 Triumph Bonneville

The rest of the black and white album is here.

Popular Posts

Search This Site

"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