Tuesday, May 11, 2010
First, thanks for doing that. Second, most of my future blogging efforts will be directed toward making Cycle Guide Magazine better, so I probably won't be posting much on TL from now on.
What I'd like to suggest is that if you're a subscriber to Tread Life, or a follower, you should click over to CGM and subscribe there, too. We have some great stuff coming up soon, with more in the works, including bike reviews, product evaluations, feature stories, and more by me and my CGM partner, Dain Gingerelli.
Stay subscribed to Tread Life in the meantime; in case I have something to say that doesn't fit the CGM mold, I'll post it here.
Thanks again for visiting. See you at CGM. And if you like what you see there, please tell your friends.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Good Night, Sweet Prints
You Should Write A Book
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I wrote for every issue of AR, starting with the Winter 1994 issue, right up until the most recent one, the June 2010 issue. I'm sorry to see the title go; when you work for a magazine for that long, and invest so much of your energy into it, you can't help but feel sad when it goes away.
I went through this before, when Cycle Guide folded in 1987, but there were other magazines to work for at the time, which is how I ended up six months later at Motorcyclist.
In this economy, though, that's not an option. Freelance budgets are shrinking at the few print titles that remain, and even long-time staffers at those titles are looking over their shoulders, wondering where the ax is going to fall next.
Sentiment aside, my biggest concern right now is that writing for AR accounted for a large chunk of my annual income. Without that chunk, freelancing as my primary source of income is no longer a viable option. At 58, I'm back on the job market. Along with several million other people.
...You want fries with that?
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I’ve been taking a break from Tread Life to make some money; while blogging nourishes my spirit, it doesn't do squat for my bank account. There’s still a lot to read here, though, especially if you’re new to TL. Here are a few suggestions from the archives to keep you amused while I attend to business elsewhere.Bikes I'd Like To Ride
Being a motorcyclist means never having to say you have enough motorcycles. No matter how good the bike I'm riding is, I always want to try out others. Here are some of the ones I've wanted to ride recently. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments.
Royal Enfield Bullet 350
Ducati Sport 1000S
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Honda GL1800 Gold Wing
I first rode a GL1800 in 2000, when Rider shipped me a bright yellow pre-production unit for a long-term write-up. I was appalled by its outlandish bulk and the sheer amount of natural resources required to build something that large and complicated, and at the same time hopelessly smitten by how well it worked not only as a tourer but as an all-around motorcycle, and by the way it seemed magically to shed 300 pounds as soon at it got rolling.
I put 4,000 miles on the Yellow Submarine and loved every one of them. But the relationship was doomed from the start, since all pre-pros eventually met the same fate—the crusher.
One of the Wing’s many functions was the “opening ceremony,” which was two or three screens of text that appeared on the LCD screen in the dashboard when you turned the ignition on. The default message was “Welcome to Gold Wing” or something like that.
One day I discovered the text was programmable through a complicated series of button pushes, so I added my own message. I really wish I could have been there to see the face of the tech who took the Sub for its final ride to the jaws of destruction as he turned the key and read, “PLEASE DONT CRUSH ME.”
I have only a few miles on a VFR, in this case one belonging to Paul’s wife, Ess, but that was enough to make me want more. After years of reading how well-balanced and competent the bike is, I’ve always wanted to find out for myself. When Honda came out with the anniversary color scheme on the Interceptor, I came that close to buying one. Last year, when Honda announced it was blowing the few unsold Interceptors it had left out the door at a killer price, I came even closer.
Two things held me back. Money, of course, was the big one. The other was VTEC, about which I’d heard enough mixed reviews to make me hesitate. So I passed on a VFR, which I’ll likely regret more and more as time goes by. But since we’re talking hypothetical here, we’ll just go ahead and park one of these right next to the GL1800 I can’t afford, either.
Shortly after I moved to Southern California, I got a call from a friend back in the Bay Area. He’d been in a BMW shop and had seen a mint SR500 sitting in the corner of the showroom like an unwelcome guest at a fancy party. The shop had taken it in on trade in exchange for a box of parts someone needed to restore an old BMW. About the same time, my father offered to give me his 1969 Ford F250 pickup if I came and got it. So I booked a flight to San Jose, met my dad in the airport parking lot where he handed over the keys to the Ford, and drove straight to the BMW shop, where for $750 I became the owner of an SR500.
It was a matter of right bike, wrong place. The SR500 was a lot of things, but a fun ride in heavy commute traffic on the 91 freeway wasn’t one of them. I was living in Lakewood, California, at the time, about a tank of gas away from any road that might be even slightly entertaining on a big single. Still, despite it being already well behind the technical curve the year it was introduced, I loved the little thumper dearly, and rode it every chance I got.
Then another love entered my life—a 1982 CBX that a friend who worked at Honda’s old Gardena HQ had spotted in the back of a warehouse. It was a retired test bike/Honda-rep loaner/service-school cadaver that had been ridden hard, put away wet, and finally taken apart and put back together so many times that everyone got sick of looking at it. But it was a CBX, the legendary six, and that’s all I needed to hear.
I paid $2,200 for it and brought it home to my tiny garage, which already held the SR500 and a Honda CB400F. There was literally not enough room for all three bikes; one had to go, and it was with genuine regret that I sold the slender Yamaha to make room for the double-wide CBX. Odds are I’ll never find another SR as nice at a decent price, but in my Perfect Garage I already have one, right next to the GL and the Interceptor.
That’s my Perfect Garage. What’s yours? Post it to the comments section.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
I knew there’d be things I’d have to unlearn when I first settled into the saddle of the Lehman Monarch, and for the most part I’ve made all the necessary mental adjustments, such as steering instead of countersteering, and being mindful enough of the width of the Monarch’s hindquarters to avoid shearing off a wheel on a curb or a parked car. But there’s another thing I need to unlearn that has more to do with me than the trike.
Despite being based on a Honda Gold Wing, the Monarch’s cornering characteristics are anchored in the car world. Because it steers like a car instead of leaning like a motorcycle, it needs to be held more deliberately on your chosen line. The faster you go in a corner, the more it resists being turned, and the more force is required on the handlebars. What I learned yesterday was to slow down on twisty roads to avoid turning an afternoon coffee run into an aerobics session at the gym from hell.
This bit of wisdom came in hindsight, as the twisties ended and I turned onto the highway for the last 10 miles of the ride home. Once I had a chance to relax, I realized my shoulders were knotted with tension, and my back was screaming at me. The Monarch simply cannot be ridden as quickly as a motorcycle, and I had paid the price for trying.
To be fair, I’d already been told all of this by several veteran trike riders. From now on I’ll listen more closely to the voices of experience.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Friday, March 5, 2010
Somewhere in Daytona engines are firing up, bikes are accelerating through the gears, crowds are cheering...and that's just the scene on the main drag through town. Meanwhile, over at the Speedway there's some kind of race going on. It's been going on every year for quite some time, apparently, and you can see a gallery of vintage photos from races gone by here.
If you're a fan of the Daytona 200, you should check out The Daytona 200: The History of America's Premier Motorcycle Race, by Don Emde, who won the 200 in 1972 on a 350 Yamaha. Get your copy here.
Honda has had its share of Daytona glory, too, with Dick Mann first under the checkered flag in 1970 aboard a CB-750-based racer. The CB-750 has been called the bike that changed motorcycling (it's been called some less complimentary things by the British motorcycle industry, which the CB knocked on its ass) and Honda has come up with a streetbike that's designed to evoke its landmark motorcycle. There's a longish and sort of repetitive video of it here. But don't get too wound up about it just yet. If I were a betting man, I'd put money on the CB1100 never reaching U.S. shores.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
In November of 1986 Cycle Guide editor Jim Miller tapped me to go to France in early December to cover Yamaha’s 1987 new-model into. I’d never been out of the country up until then, nor had I ever been on the cover of CG. I’d be doing both very soon.
Some parts of that trip stand out in my memory more than others. Here are some of them, along with the story as it ran in the March 1987 issue of Cycle Guide.
* * * *
Our flight began in Los Angeles and ended in Marseilles after about 20 hours in the air and in various airports. When we got to the hotel in the seaside town of Bandol, it was early morning local time, and who-the-hell-knows internal-clock time. Several of us wandered around the wakening town in a daze looking for something to eat, and found a vendor selling roast-beef sandwiches out of a cart by the waterfront.
As I ate my sandwich I noticed an odd scent on the breeze. It was warm, heavy, totally unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. It seemed to be coming from the south. I looked that way and realized where it was coming from. Africa.
Africa. Right over there, across that short stretch of water. I was so struck with how far from home I was that I wouldn't be surprised if my jaw actually dropped.
I scrambled down a rocky slope to the beach and dipped my hand in the water of the Mediterranean and thought about all the history that had taken place on the shores of that sea. Greece. Egypt. Rome. I’d never been out of the U.S. before, and look where I was.
Suddenly there was a huge splash next to me. My jet-lagged colleagues were pitching rocks at me, and laughing like madmen.
And just like that, I was home again.
* * * *
We were sitting around a table at an outdoor café in some small town, talking about the old stone houses that lined the narrow cobbled street. Someone asked the French Sonauto rep how old they were, and he said, “Oh, many of them are very old.” One of the U.S. journos said he was from back east, where some of the house were 400 years old. The Sonauto rep laughed and said, “Here, the new houses are 400 years old.”
* * * *
We had dinner one night in a restaurant in Bandol. While we ate, a guitar player, maybe 17 years old, strummed away on a stool by the door. One of the journos thought it would be funny to get the kid drunk, and sent glass after glass of wine over to him. The kid had probably started drinking wine with his meals when he was seven, and just smiled and thanked the journo with each glass. By the time we left, the kid’s playing was still flawless, which was more than could be said for the journo’s walking.
* * * *
There was a sign on the wall of the Paris airport where we changed planes. It said, “Luggage left unattended will be instantly destroyed by the police.” As if to hammer the point home, there was no lost and found in the airport terminal.
* * * *
At a lunch stop lunch in Cannes, I was seated next to one of the French National Police officers assigned to escort us. He was wearing a stainless-steel revolver in a white leather holster. I asked him what type of gun it was, and to my surprise he pulled it out of the holster, popped open the cylinder, dumped the rounds on the table, and handed it to me. If I’d had any doubt that I was no longer in America, that dispelled it.
* * * *
The Mistral straight at Circuit Paul Ricard was about a mile long. I was about two-thirds of the way to the end of it when I glanced down at the speedo of the FZR1000 I was riding and saw the needle swing past the 165mph mark. Corrected for speedometer error, that was close to 160 actual. That’s the fastest I’ve ever gone on a motorcycle, and the fastest I ever care to. Since it had been only five months since I’d had a big crash at Willow Springs that took me several months to recover from, I decided it was also as fast as I needed to go for the rest of the trip. I came into the pits and handed the FZR over to someone else.
* * * *
Near the end of a banzai street ride from Bandol to Monaco, we stopped at a turnout overlooking the harbor of Monte Carlo. We could see almost the entire country from up there. I tried to pick out the streets that made up the track the Formula 1 cars ran on. Clem Salvadori was standing nearby, and since he spoke French I asked him to ask our French National Police escort to point it out.
They did better than that. After we crossed the border into Monaco, they led us on a couple of laps of the course, motioning slow cars out of the way so we could wick it up some on the straight bits. Do they have jurisdiction here? I wondered. I still don’t know. But I wasn't complaining.
* * * *
During an off-day in Monte Carlo a few of us went to Le Roche de Monaco (the Rock of Monaco), site of the palace of Prince Albert. We found a small restaurant nearby and went inside for lunch. One of us spoke a bit of high-school French and tried to order for everyone. The waitress waited patiently while he savaged her native tongue without managing to put together a coherent sentence. Finally she said, “Pizza for four and a pitcher of beer, is that right?” in near-perfect English. We would run into this phenomenon—French speakers who were reluctant or too embarrassed or contrary to speak English—several times during the trip.
* * * *
On our last night in Monaco we had a huge dinner in the hotel restaurant and later walked to the fabled Casino Royale. James Bond wouldn’t have recognized the place. I’ve since been in Indian casinos that would have shamed it. We handed over our passports at the door and were directed to a cavernous room that was half empty. At the far end were some gaming tables and slot machines.
I’m not a gambler, but I have no objection to watching other people gamble. A few of the journos sat down at a baccarat table and lost quite a lot of what they would later realize was not expense money, but their own money, since the casino didn’t give receipts for gambling losses, and their magazines’ accounting departments weren’t about to reimburse them for doubling down on a bad hand.
We were doing just fine there for a while, enriching the local economy, when somebody spilled a drink. On the felt baccarat table. In the middle of a hand. We were asked to remove ourselves, given back our passports, and shown the door.
* * * *
Before the trip we had all been sent an information sheet by Yamaha outlining the itinerary, the travel schedules, and what to bring, including attire suitable for formal occasions, which is to say a suit and a tie, not just an spare clean T-shirt.
I bought a suit, but I ran out of time and money before I found a pair of dress shoes. Which is how I ended up as the only guest in a luxurious five-star hotel to be seated at a lavish six-course dinner wearing new, shiny black Bates roadracing boots.
* * * *
A week after I got back to the office I filled out my expense report and turned it in. The next day the money guy walked up to my desk and tossed a small piece of paper on it. It was a 30-franc receipt from the Oceanographical Museum of Monaco, where I had spent a few hours looking at bizarre sea creatures in jars of formaldehyde.
“Your souvenir receipt got mixed up with the real ones,” he said, and went back to his office.
Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying.
Well, that was different.
I put about 75 miles on the Lehman Monarch today. First impressions aren’t usually lasting when it comes to road tests—it takes way more that 75 miles to bring out most bikes’ personalities—but here they are, for what they’re worth.
Like the GL1800 it’s based on, the Monarch is smooth, and torquey as hell, and scary fast. Among other goodies it comes with an audio system and cruise control, both of which I left off so I’d be able to concentrate on the driving technique. (I think “driving” is the right verb.) The heated grips and seat (heated seat!) I turned on right away and never turned off.
The GL top case swallowed everything I normally carry on the V-Strom—toolkit, tire repair tools and pump, extra gloves, emergency spares and other on-the-road miscellany, a camera and tripod—with room to spare. Under the top case is the 4.5-cubic-foot trunk, which looks big enough for everything I’d take on a week-long ride.
The big difference between the Monarch and a motorcycle is, of course, in how you turn it. You steer a trike like a car—left to go left, right to go right. The faster you’re going when you initiate the turn, the more effort it takes. I discovered that if I rolled off the gas as I entered the turn, then rolled it back on as I exited, the initial effort was lower.
You have to hold a trike in a corner; let go of the bars and it wants to go straight. I learned to lean my upper body to the inside of the corner, and stiff-arm the outside bar, a technique that’s called lock and roll. Going fast on a curvy backroad can be a pretty physical undertaking.
The Monarch works best on the highway. In big, fast sweeping corners you still have to hold it on line, but it’s not as hard to do as it is in tighter corners. Straight-line stability is great; just remember to stay in the middle of the lane.
I can’t imagine I’d want to do a 200-mile stretch of twisties on a trike unless I had a lot of time to cover it, with some rest stops built in. I bet that on day 30 of riding the Monarch I’ll have more upper-body strength than I had on day one.
That’s it for now. More impressions as the miles pile up.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
This is a Lehman Monarch II trike. It's based on a GL1800 Gold Wing. It weighs a claimed 1,148 pounds, is 112 inches long and 54 inches wide, and has a 4.5-cubic-foot trunk under the standard Gold Wing top box.
And there's one just like this one in my garage.
It's here for an article I'm writing on trikes for Rider. I intend to ride it every day, weather permitting, for 30 days to see what the three-wheeled world looks like from the inside. Motorcyclists are getting older every year, and some are feeling their age more than others. For them, trikes represent a way to keep riding past the point where the difficulty of holding up a heavy two-wheeler would otherwise force them to hang up their helmets for good.
As soon as I get some pesky insurance issues ironed out, the V-Strom will be hooked up to a Battery Tender and covered up for a nice long snooze while I unlearn countersteering and putting my foot down at stoplights. I'll keep you posted as the test progresses, and I hope to shoot a video or two, as well.
Oh, I see that face you're making. Fine, go ahead and scoff, you...scoffer. But first look me square in the eye and tell me you're not the least bit curious what it's like to ride a 100-horsepower trike. Hah. I thought so.
Gizmag has the scoop on Yamaha's new XT1200Z adventure bike. Standard equipment includes a set of crosshairs with a BMW GS smack in the middle. Big image gallery, too.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
And remember to send me a postcard.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
“The patent includes several references to roadbikes and production which clearly indicate that the design will be used on roadbikes in the future.”
Gizmag reports that Ducati has applied for a patent designed to protect the design of its GP9 and GP10 race bikes that will almost certainly be applied to future street Ducatis. Read the full report here, where you'll also find a photo gallery.
Until I complete my Peter Egan toolbox restoration, my tools are living in a big yellow plastic utility box on my workbench. Since this box isn't made to hold tools except in a pile, it's hard to find what I'm looking for, and as a result the tools end up scattered all over the bench most of the time.
I ran across this pegboard tool cart this morning and decided I had to build one. The instructions call for welding, which isn't one of my skills, but I bet I can figure out a way to bolt one together. (The comments at the bottom of the page offer some clever alternatives.)
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
If someone were to offer me a track day on Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha M1 MotoGP bike today, I wouldn’t have to think about my answer. I’m too old to go haring around a racetrack on an expert-level racebike, I’m not even flexible enough to fit on it, and I couldn’t go anywhere near fast enough to appreciate it for what it is. So I’d say thanks, but no, thanks.
But in 1986 someone asked me a similar question and I didn’t have to think about my answer then, either. I said, “Hell yes!”
The bike in question was also a Yamaha, a distant ancestor of the M1—the TZ750. During its heyday, the 750cc four-cylinder two-stroke had a reputation for being vicious, nasty, hard to ride, and nearly unmanageable in all but the most expert of hands. According to someone who ought to know, it was overweight, it didn’t steer, and no matter how well set up the suspension was, it wobbled like a shopping cart with a bent wheel.
The someone was Kenny Roberts. And when KR talks, you listen. Especially when he says of the TZ750, “This bike spit me down the road more times than any other bike I’ve ever raced.”
Roberts and a 1977-vintage TZ750 owned by Yamaha racing director Ken Clark, along with two-time AMA Superbike champ Wes Cooley and his 1980 title-winning Yoshimura GS1000 Suzuki Superbike owned by Craig Vetter, had been invited to Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California, to take part in one of Cycle Guide’s high-concept feature stories, this one comparing the TZ and the GS with their approximate street-going counterparts, the FZ750 and GSX-R750. The general idea was to inflate the egos of sportbike riders by showing them how like actual race motorcycles their streetbikes were.
A flimsy premise, yes, but it got us two days at Willow, and the opportunity to ride two legendary racebikes.
I wrote the story in CG, and was so busy taking notes that I remember only a little bit of what went on during those two days. I remember catching editor Jim Miller going into a slow left-hander, diving inside him, and whacking the throttle on the Yosh Suzuki as I passed him. Later he said the sound that erupted from the open megaphone nearly blasted him out of the saddle of the GSX-R750.
I remember sitting on the dusty floor of a bare room under the timing tower—there was no furniture, not even chairs—interviewing Roberts about the TZ750, his racing career, and anything else that came to mind. I probably asked him what his favorite color was—when you get a guy like KR to sit down for a Q&A, you milk it for all you can.
But the thing I remember most is walking up to that TZ750, pulling in the clutch, thumbing the choke lever, toeing the gear lever down into second, pushing the bike down the pit lane, dropping the clutch, and hearing the dry clutch rattle and the engine burble for a few seconds before it lit up with a deafening staccato shriek that shot an entire day’s supply of adrenalin through me in a second.
I’d raced a 1974 TZ250 about a decade earlier, and the TZ750 was not so far removed from it that everything was unfamiliar—the hard rubber grips, the reversed shift pattern, the bark of the muffled expansion chambers all triggered long-buried sense memories. But after I’d put a cautious warm-up lap under my belt and twisted the grip all the way for the first time as I hit the main straight, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before or since.
The bike was geared for Daytona or some other high-speed track; at Willow it was topped out in fourth by the time turn one came up, with fifth and sixth unusable. It still tripped the radar gun at nearly 150.
When I hit the brakes the bike stopped right now, about 50 yards sooner than I’d expected. As I built up speed I braked later and later, and every time the TZ stopped so hard my eyeballs flattened against the inside of my faceshield. In the corners it felt like it was on rails, and changed direction so quickly and easily I couldn’t reconcile it with what Roberts had been saying about it only an hour before.
The power was astonishing; the engine came on the ports with the suddenness of a punch in the face. No hesitation, no lean spot as it made the transition; below the powerband there was decent power, then in the blink of an eye there was holyshiiiit-loads of power. Exhilarating is too weak a word to describe the sensation of riding it. It was, as the kids say today, awesome.
Back in the pits I babbled on about how fast it was and how easy it was to ride—until Dain Gingerelli pointed out that I hadn’t been riding it at anywhere near a race pace. He was right, of course. I’d been going as fast as I’d dared on someone else’s rare and expensive race bike, but the more I thought about it, the happier I was that I hadn’t simply embarrassed myself by fouling a plug—or my leathers.
Later that day I got to watch Roberts on the TZ. He hadn’t ridden one in years—he’d only ever ridden this one once, five years earlier—but despite that, and the fact that there was nothing at stake but a magazine story he’d probably never read anyway, he flew around Willow like a man possessed.
I got to ride one legend that day, and see another put on a show. Not bad, even if I never got going fast enough to get the TZ’s attention.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
You can teach old dogs new tricks. I'm living proof. Here's my first video, and my first YouTube upload, both accomplished without spilling blood or crashing the entire Internet.
It's no Dramatic Chipmunk, but it's a start.
There isn't any story line to speak of. I did it mostly to see if I could get a handle on the mechanics of shooting and editing, and to prove to myself that at 58, I'm able to do what 14-year-olds all over the world can do in their sleep. Take that, World Wide Web. And stay off my lawn.
The plan is to make more videos, and not just for practice. I live in a pretty nice part of the country, as you'll see in the video, and I'd like to share it with you as I ride around it this year. I have two long trips in mind, one south to California to visit my sister and some old racing buddies, and another a return to Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, neither of which I've been able to get out of my head since I went there last year.
I'd like to do some other videos, too, on bike maintenance and safety, new products, and some local rides. Once I get this whole digital video thing figured out, that is. It took me about six hours to shoot the footage, another six to cobble it together on my MacBook, and another three to get it formatted correctly and posted. That's 15 hours for a three-minute video. That you're seeing here for free.
Economics was never my best subject.
When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I used to go to indoor short-track races at the Cow Palace. The track, which the rest of the time was the floor of a hall where they held car shows and livestock auctions and crafts exhibitions, was cement or concrete, and looked as slippery as ice, but the traction was astounding, and the racing was cut-throat. I have some photos from one of these events where Kenny Roberts and Steve Eklund duked it out like the two masters of the craft they were; I'll get around to posting them soon.
Meanwhile, here's a video of an indoor supermoto race, shot from a helmet camera. It combines short track and road racing in a space that looks about the size of a 7-Eleven parking lot. I'd love for this to catch on here. I'd pay to see it. (Right now I'd pay to have the music track scorched from my memory.)
Saturday, February 6, 2010
They must be, because yesterday, on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) took time to recognize the achievements of Texan Ben Spies.
“Ben Spies is to be congratulated upon his winning the 2009 FIM Superbike World Championship,” Rep. Gohmert said. “He has no doubt blazed a trail for future successes with his steady hand, nerves of steel, and balance like nowhere found here in the House of Representatives.”
You got that last part right, Mr. Gohmert.
I watched the World Superbike series last year, and I was on the edge of my seat for most of it as Spies and Noriyuki Haga duked it out for the title. So good job, Ben, and good luck in MotoGP.
But honestly, is there so little to do in the U.S. House of Representatives lately? How’s the unemployment rate doing? Anybody got that pesky health-care thing figured out yet? Or an energy policy?
Friday, February 5, 2010
It’s my own fault, really, for signing up for all those Google news alerts. A couple of the ones I get regularly are about helmets, and this evening I made the mistake of following a link to a site full of misinformation, half-truths, unsubstantiated claims, and just plain muddled thinking about helmets and why no one should be forced to wear one. And then I got my rant on.
If pinned down for an unequivocal yes or no on the issue, I'd have to say that if you don’t want to wear a helmet, you shouldn’t have to. I take that position for purely selfish reasons; a few of my hobbies are, shall we say, potentially hazardous to my continued health and well-being, and I don’t want them to be outlawed by politicians and/or insurance companies citing the social-burden argument, which says the societal costs of an inherently dangerous activity like motorcycling (or shooting, or rock climbing, or skiing) outweigh the right of people to indulge in them.
But anti-helmet-law advocates too often take their argument a crucial step beyond the rights issue, and insist that helmets don’t increase your chances of surviving a crash—in short, that they don’t work. And that's where it goes off the rails.
The statistic these guys are most fond of bleating about is one that even the staunchest helmet advocates don't dispute: a motorcycle helmet isn’t designed to protect you from an impact at speeds much above 13 mph. The problem with that argument is it assumes the 13 mph figure applies to the speed the bike is going when you fall off. It doesn’t.
Some years ago I spoke to Dave Thom, who worked alongside the late, great Harry Hurt on the Hurt Report, which is to date still the most comprehensive, credible, and scientifically valid peer-reviewed study of the causes of motorcycle accidents (summary of the Hurt Report here). Thom knows his stuff. He's been a motorcycle-accident research assistant and associate (1977-1981), a research associate and later the laboratory director of University of Southern California’s Head Protection Research Laboratory (1981-1998), and the general and senior program manager of the Head Protection Research Laboratory of Southern California (1998-2003). He’s currently a senior consultant specializing in protective headgear, safety, and research at Collision and Injury Dynamics, Inc.
In short, Thom knows a lot more about helmets and motorcycle accidents than some guy from ABATE named Road Dog or Spider or Poochy.
“It’s an important and often misunderstood point,” he said. He explained that 13 mph—13.4 mph, to be precise—was the terminal velocity of an object dropped from six feet, or about the maximum height of the head of a rider seated on a motorcycle. “If you pick something up and drop it from six feet, it’ll hit the ground going 13.4 mph.”
But what about the speed the bike is traveling? I asked. What effect does that have on the speed at which the rider’s head hits the ground?
“The speed on your speedometer is very seldom any indication of how hard you’re going to hit your head,” Thom said. “The only situation where it is an indication is if you hit a vertical object, like a bridge abutment. Then your speedometer speed is very important.” But in most motorcycle accidents, the rider’s head falls straight down and hits the ground at 13.4 mph or less. “We found way back in the Hurt studies that the typical impact on a head at the 90th percentile was less than the DOT impact speed of 13.4 mph.”
If you need further proof that the bike’s forward, or horizontal, velocity is far less important than the vertical velocity of the rider’s head, said Thom, go to a motorcycle race. “If you’ve ever seen a guy fall off at 120, they almost always get up even though their forward speed was huge. They fall off, and they very likely hit their head at least once, but they have that six-foot fall, which is what we test helmets at.”
Once you understand the bike’s forward velocity is nowhere near as important as the speed at which the rider’s head hits the ground, the argument that helmets don’t work because they aren’t designed to protect you at speeds higher than 13 mph loses virtually all of its weight.
And yet you’ll see that argument put forward in most anti-helmet-law rants. The actual information is there for anyone to find, if they just look for it. But the anti-helmet faction doesn’t want to look for it, and they don’t want you hear about it, because it leaves them with one less bullet in their ammo belt in their fight against helmet laws.
As I said above, if you don’t want to wear a helmet, don’t. If you’re above the age of consent, it’s up to you. But there’s a difference between consent and informed consent. Some people don’t know the facts; others don’t want to know them. And that’s the difference between ignorance and stupidity.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Someone who knows me all too well sent me links to these products, along with a warning to freeze my credit card in a block of ice before clicking them. And I gotta say, these two gadgets appeal to me.
(Note: I have not tested this product, nor have I received any compensation from the manufacturer for including it in a Product Spotlight. I just thought it was interesting/innovative/clever enough to warrant bringing it to your attention. All specifications and claims for the product are the manufacturer’s.)
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
If you spend enough time on internet motorcycle forums you’ll eventually hear someone accuse motojournalists of being lazy; for example, not bothering to check the facts and instead rewriting the sales literature that came with a bike and passing it off as a road test. It’s not a charge I’m prepared to dispute unconditionally, although my guess is it has less to do with laziness and more to do with a lack of solid journalism skills.
Still, a lot of writers who should know better have, for so long I can’t remember when it started, parroted Buell’s claims that it pioneered several “innovations”—the quotes are intentional—like fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm, and inside-out front disc brakes, the latter rebranded with the flashier term Zero Torsional Load.
I’ve held my tongue about this for years, and probably committed the innovation offense myself now and then just to keep an editor happy. If that's lazy, then I’m guilty as charged, although I could argue that it was a necessary economic decision based on the fact that few editors are prepared to pay me for being a nitpicky know-it-all (even though I'm really good at that).
But tonight I brought home a copy of a major motorcycle magazine from the library, and sitting down to read it over dinner, finally reached my limit.
Accompanying an article about the closing of Buell was a sidebar called “Buell Timeline”; it ran down the significant milestones of the company’s short life, including the debut in 2002 of the XB9R, “with innovations such as fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm and inside-out ZTL front brake.”
There are plenty of examples of these “innovations” appearing long before Buell laid claim to them.
In the May 1972 issue of Cycle Guide is an article about a monocoque-framed street bike that then-editor Bob Braverman whipped up using a chassis from a company called Competition Racing Development Center in Brisbane, California. The two principals of CRDC were Don Haagstead and Jim Gordon. I remember seeing and talking to them at the first AFM races I rode in the early 1970s. Their monocoque design used the frame as a fuel tank, and the seat for an oil tank for the two-stroke powerplant. For more pictures of their work go here and scroll down to CRDC in the section about special-framed bikes. (An even older example of fuel in the frame can be found here.)
I couldn’t turn up any examples of motorcycles with the engine oil in the swingarm prior to the XB9R, but there are plenty of examples of trials bikes with a chain-oil reservoir in the swingarm; this period test of four trials bikes notes that three of them had reservoirs:
Swingarm chain oil reservoir. The Ossa doesn't have one. The other three bikes did. The Kaw has a bolt to keep the oil in. The Yamaha has a plug that keeps popping out.
It's not big leap, once you've put chain oil in the swingarm, to put the engine oil there.
Finally, in the book Arlen Ness—Master Harley Customizer by Timothy Remus, on page 128 is a picture of a Ness custom with what is unmistakably an inside-out front brake. Ness didn't call it Zero Torsional Load, instead modestly preferring to engrave his name in the rotors. But he beat the XB9R to the punch by several years. And it could well be that others beat Ness; never underestimate the imagination of Harley customizers, who seem willing to try almost anything to stand out from the crowd.
I should make it clear I’m not out to kick Erik Buell when he’s down. I was never much interested in his bikes, except maybe the Ulysses, but a lot of other people were, many of them passionately so. A few of them worked for Buell, and the fact that they lost their jobs largely due to a decades-long epidemic of head-up-ass disease in Milwaukee sucks hard.
But before anyone gets all teary-eyed about the company’s demise, remember that it staked its fortune on a niche bike that at its best was no better than its competition, and at its worst was a lot worse; and that boasting about “innovations” is no substitute for building reliable motorcycles that more than just a few people want to buy.
I hope Buell’s new racing shop thrives, and that when his non-compete agreement with H-D expires he comes up with something so terrific that the suits at Harley who cut him loose will be taking turns kicking each other around the block.
I just don’t want to hear him use the word innovation ever again, unless it’s really justified.
Say what you will about "old-world craftsmanship" and "hand-built motorcycles," mass production rocks. It makes things faster, better, and cheaper than a bunch of guys squatting on the floor in a dimly lit garage could ever do. Here's a peek at how the new VFR1200F is made at Honda's Kumamoto factory. (And doesn't Kumamoto sound like a great name for a bike?)
Monday, February 1, 2010
SMIDSY is an acronym for "Sorry, mate, I didn't see you." The scenario presented in this British PSA video harkens back to a day of more civilized discourse between motorcyclists and oblivious car drivers—the last time I was in a similar situation and honked my horn at the offending driver, he flipped me off for making him spill his latte and drop his phone—but it also proves nothing much has changed since then.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
When Cycle Guide magazine closed in 1987, I had no idea where I’d be working next, or when, for that matter. I’d been a freelancer before CG, and figured I could be one again. So during my last days in the office I gathered up all the story notes and photos I’d been storing in my desk and took them home, hoping there’d be something there I could turn into a buck later.
What you see here snuck in with the stuff I knew was mine, and has been sitting in a box since they locked the doors behind us 23 years ago.
It’s a two-stroke engine, what used to be called a “twingle,” I think, with two pistons, one on a con rod and the other on a separate rod that pivots on the first one.
The big piston at the back of the crankcase has two connecting rods, both drilled for lightness. My guess is this is some sort of crankcase pump to help push the air/fuel mixture up into the cylinders, like a crude supercharger.
I found this photo this evening in an unmarked folder along with a large-format black-and-white negative and three photocopies, two of hand-written text, and the third a very bad reproduction of a man sitting on an unidentified motorcycle.
The first of the two pages of text reads as follows:
Deutsche Kraftwagen Werke
The racer that captivated Hitler!
The second says:
German Road Racer
3 cylinder, 2 stroke supercharged
Used at Isle of Man and other Grand Prix events
This particular motorcycle was found in Rodashia, Africa abandoned by the German Racing Team at the start of World War II.
The motorcycle was raced at the Isle of Man and a more refined version won the Isle of Man in 1938 in the 250cc class.
The motor has 4 connecting rods, 3 pistons, 2 firing cylinders and 1 spark plug. It is water cooled and was the loudest motorcycle ever to race the Isle of Man. When raced it got 14 miles a gallon.
That’s all I know about this engine, but I'm sure there's much more to the story, especially the part about how it came to be abandoned in what I assume to be, despite the spelling, Rhodesia, South Africa. The folder the photo was in wasn't marked, so I don’t even know where it came from, or who sent it to Cycle Guide in the first place, or when.
If you can shed any light on the matter, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments section or via email at treadlifeblog at yahoo dot com.
Update: Information about the Mystery Engine has been flooding into the spacious Tread Life offices. Here’s the latest.
From Paul d’Orleans, whose wonderful Vintagent blog is a wealth of information about old motorcycles:
The 'Ladepumpe' was used extensively by DKW for its racers, pre and postwar. It is a method of positively charging the cylinder in the two-stroke engine, with less power loss than a conventional supercharger. That's the big piston at the front of the engine. These machines were incredibly fast, and incredibly noisy! I have ridden with one on the track at Hockenheim (I was on a Velo MkVIII KTT), and behind a DKW is not where one wants to be! So I passed him... that was actually a really fun ride.
Hope this helps.
all the best, Paul
My friend Larry Parmenter, whose most recent blog can be seen here, put the question of the engine’s identity to a few friends, and got the following responses. The first is from Dennis Guggemos:
I've heard of that thing. The 3rd piston was sort of a supercharger, compressing the crankcase mixture before it got ported to the combustion chamber(s). The 3rd piston did not fire or deliver a power stroke. Just as Smith says. Gawd that piston is HUGE.
A twingle was a parallel twin 2 stroke with one common combustion chamber. Not sure this qualifies. It might be a "split single". I've seen arguments on the W650 forum about what makes a twingle or a split single.
Check this out
"...Marcellino's design had the pistons one behind the other,.."
That url also makes reference to a twingle as a variation of the split single, but this argument may just be down to semantics, or just when the word twingle came about, and it's the same as "split single".
Note the 1 conrod, Y shape in this configuration (link)
You can see how people would argue what a twingle was these different designs. Anyway still googling around trying to get some idea of what that 1938 TT lightweight TT winner was. So far, a split single designed by Ing Zoller... (link)
scroll down a screen or 2 to the green bike with #plate 36. Can't say this looks like the pic on Smith's page. But the description of the engine is very similar. This is the "loudest motorcycle ever to race the Isle of Man". Smith's photo is of the 1935 earlier design. Don't know what's different about them.
Another of Larry’s friends, Paul Duchene, said:
... I used to have a Puch 175cc twingle. Puch actually made a 4-cylinder racing version in about 1938 supercharged version I've seen in action at the Isle of Man. At the time, it was said the only thing more painful than the noise was the mileage. I can vouch for former...amazing. The problem with mine was the automatic oil pump which was very careful to supply enough oil to prevent seizure. The net result was that at 65mph on the freeway, I looked like an ME 109 going down in flames in the Battle of Britain... Still, people followed at a respectful distance.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
In 2008, at the Mugello round of the MotoGP World Championship series, Valentino Rossi debuted a helmet with his own face, mouth wide open in a scream, painted on it. Now you can follow in Vale's whimsical footsteps. Go here to create your own customized AGV helmet, which you can then have shipped directly to you. At least that's the idea, or so I'm told, although I'm not completely sure because the pertinent information is in Italian.
Still, it's fun to mess with the site and see how goofy a pic you can graft onto a helmet. Daisy, Tread Life's editorial assistant and morale officer, was initially thrilled with the idea, until it became apparent AGV does not make helmets in dog sizes.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Here's a great piece of moto-nostalgia, a British motorcycle safety film from the 1960s. Note the the vintage bikes and riding gear, as well as the Orwellian undercurrent sounded by the grim-faced factory boss lying in wait for tardy worker drones. I wasn't aware that Britbikes of the era lacked throttle-return springs, but one of the ones in the video appears to since the rider pulls away from the curb...sorry, kerb, while signaling with his right hand. No mirrors or turn signals on the bikes, either. I guess safety was a relative term even then.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
With not much of anything else to talk about in the off-season, the racing press has been speculating about whether Valentino Rossi will leave Yamaha after his contract runs out at the end of 2010 and join Ducati. Predictably, the Italian press has been eating this up, despite Rossi’s father, Graziano, denying it.
While all this has been going on, Rossi himself slipped out the back door yesterday and turned up at Circuit de Catalunya to try out a different kind of fast red, Italian racer—a 2008 Ferrari Formula 1 car.
The nine-time MotoGP World Champion is no stranger to cars, or Ferrari. In 2006, at his first Ferrari test, he lapped faster than several seasoned F1 drivers, and was only a second slower than F1 legend Michael Schumacher, who opined that Rossi would make the transition from MotoGP to F1 quickly. Rossi has been competing off and on in World Rally Championship events since 2002, winning the Monza Rally in 2006 and 2007. Now, with the end of Rossi’s two-wheel career in sight, Ferrari F1 boss Stefano Domenicali is floating the idea of a third car for Rossi in Formula 1.
Based on Rossi’s performance at Circuit de Catalunya, Domenicali’s plan might turn out to be more than wishful thinking. By the end of his first day behind the wheel, Rossi’s best lap was 5 seconds off Kimi Raikkonen’s 2008 qualifying record at the track. Not bad considering the car wasn't set up to allow Rossi to stick his left leg out in the corners.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
From Mark Neale, the director of the movie Faster, with Ewan McGregor doing the narration, comes Charge: Zero Emissions/Maximum Speed, about the inaugral TTXGP held on the Isle of Man last year. Here's a preview. Listen to that electric motor spool up, then look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn't want to ride one of these. I dare you. (Movie website here.)
Monday, January 18, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Installing speakers in a helmet often involves modifying the comfort liner or the protective EPS liner itself. Neither is an ideal solution, since the first method can affect the helmet's fit and the second its safety. A company called Tunebug has come up with what it believes is a better way—instead of putting speakers in your helmet, turn your helmet into a speaker.
The Tunebug Shake connects to audio devices using Bluetooth, and the Vibe uses a standard 3.5mm plug. Both are designed to be attached to a helmet, the shell of which is then "excited" by the sound generated by the unit, causing it to act like a speaker. The Shake and the Vibe apparently can be quickly and easily switched from helmet to helmet so you can enjoy your tunes while riding your motorcycle, bicycle, skateboard, or snowboard.
For more on both units, see Tunebug's website here.
(Note: I have not tested this product, nor have I received any compensation from the manufacturer for including it in a Product Spotlight. I just thought it was interesting/innovative/clever enough to warrant bringing it to your attention. All specifications and claims for the product are the manufacturer’s.)
Friday, January 8, 2010
I’ve always had an aversion to watching races from the grandstands, and in my youth I was adept at finding ways to get into the infield and take the kind of photos I just couldn’t get from the nosebleed seats.
On July 7, 1974, I had weaseled my way into the San Jose Mile and was standing outside turn three, behind the waist-high wooden rail fence that along with a row of moldy haybales was the state of the art in track safety. Turn three was a great place to shoot. In truth, there was no bad place to shoot at San Jose, but here I was able to see the bikes barreling down the back straight right at me and watch the riders flick them sideways to scrub off speed, then follow them through the turn, panning and shooting as they passed.
I had put my camera bag down on the ground next to one of the big trees—another safety feature—behind the fence and was leaning out over the top rail with one eye shut and the other looking through the viewfinder of a 35mm Nikkormat. I had snapped off a couple of shots of a group of bikes setting up for the turn when something—probably that very same keen instinct for self-preservation that prevented me from becoming a really fast racer—told me to get the hell out of there. I turned and ran.
The next few seconds were a blur, and they remain so today. All I remember is when I looked back, Jim Rice was standing in front of me—oddly, on my side of the fence—and dust was everywhere.
Out on the track lay Mert Lawwill. He was motionless in that way that is never good, especially when it’s the result of a hard crash. Track workers ran to him, and after a while he came to, groggy and no doubt hurting, but breathing.
I was snapping pictures when the roll in the camera ran out. I started to rewind the film and went to get a fresh roll from my camera bag...which was nowhere to be seen. Until they lifted Mert’s bike onto its wheels and rolled it away. The bag had been trapped under it, half squashed, but the other camera body and the lenses in it were undamaged.
Rice's bike came to a stop down the track from where he had jumped or been thrown over the fence. The action was red-flagged while they cleaned up the mess, and later Mert limped out there and gave it his best, just like he did every time he raced. I forgot how he did that day, but I bet he remembers, and probably wishes he didn't.
I had pretty much forgotten this incident until a couple of nights ago, when after years of putting it off I finally started cataloging and scanning the hundreds of black-and-white contact sheets and boxes of color slides I have from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, when I shot flattrack races and roadraces, first for myself and later for Cycle Guide. Depending on how quickly the scanning goes, I’ll be posting something from that era at least once every couple of weeks, either as part of the Flashback Friday series, or as stand-alones like this.
I’ve previously mentioned that I wasn't big on labeling photos back then—when I shot them they represented rent money, not history—so if I get some of the details wrong please let me know. And if you have a story of your own to add about any of the photos, please contribute that, too.
There isn’t much to be cheerful about in Milwaukee these days. Harley’s sales are down, its stock is weak, and judging by the introduction of the new Fat Boy Lo (that’s not a typo), things are so tough the company is even cutting back on silent letters.
But this ought to get them laughing at H-D. It’s concept bike by designer Miguel Cotto, who has the foresight/chutzpah to suggest this might be what Harleys look like in 2020. It has hubless wheels, and presumably some sort of suspension, although none is apparent. Oh, and somewhere in there is an 883 Sportster engine, which is like powering the Starship Enterprise with a small-block Chevy.
See more of Cotto’s flight of fancy here. Then try really hard to picture a bearded and tattooed bro in chaps, fingerless gloves, and a cat-dish beanie helmet riding it, and laugh along with the folks in Milwaukee.