Mid-Life Rider http://midliferider.com/blog rambling through mid-life on motorcycles Fri, 11 Apr 2008 15:01:58 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.3.3 en Sometimes a Saddle is More Than Just A Seat http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/04/05/sometimes-a-saddle-is-more-than-just-a-seat/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/04/05/sometimes-a-saddle-is-more-than-just-a-seat/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2008 00:15:47 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/04/05/sometimes-a-saddle-is-more-than-just-a-seat/
This is a story about building a custom saddle for a motorcycle. And more.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and interview a fair number of people about why they ride motorcycles. Many of these stories inevitably wander back to the story of a first bike.

For me, that first bike came when I left Rochester, NY and moved 49 states away to Hawaii in my twenties and bought a brand new Honda CB750F. I gave buying it about no thought having ridden two other bikes. It was black, it looked impossibly cool, and I bought it. Later I found out that it went really fast and I didn’t have the first clue how to make it go around corners. But I was glad to have it and glad to ride it.

Fast forward nearly thirty years and I’m still delighted to have and ride a bike. Except now that unfettered glee is fettered by my aching muscles, creaky joints, and sore backside. Youth is so wasted on the young.

Anyone who has read even two things I’ve written knows that I get strangely mystical about nearly everything related to owning and especially riding motorcycles. I go near a bike and I hear the echoes of Don Quixote and the rumble of everyone who’s ever ridden out of town calling me to get out and go. I’m doubly enthralled when it comes to people who have pushed their chips all in and now spend their days making, bending, cutting, sewing, designing, building, welding, repairing, tuning, and selling anything associated with bikes.

In other countries, bikes are just transportation. Not long ago I visited Vietnam with my family. The streets are nutty. Everyone is either driving or riding a scooter. There’s nothing mystical about it. It’s like waking up inside a chain saw.

But here in the big PX, where the preferred mode of transportation is a car, nearly everyone having anything to do with motorcycles is making a statement.

Enter the Entrepreneur

I’m also spent a lot of time around small business owners over the past thirty years. I’ve been one, I’ve sold to them, and I’ve consulted with people who sell to them. If you don’t know this, small businesses are the engine that drives any vibrant economy. They create all the new jobs. They create most of the wealth. They file an astonishing percentage of all the patents. They export more than you would believe.

People start small businesses for all sorts of reasons. I’m not talking now about someone trying to be the next Google. I’m talking about the man or woman down the street that sells you flowers, fixes your leaky pipes, or makes a new saddle for your bike. A lot of these people can’t really explain why or how they started their business. They kind of had this idea and then all of a sudden, they’re in business. Usually before they’re ready. But particularly in the early going, it’s about the love. They love motorcycles, or cabinets, or coffee makers, or whatever. So they toss it and go for it.

The business of motorcycles seems to be particularly hospitable to crackpots, visionaries, misfits, dreamers, schemers, and true believers. It’s small business heaven. Long after the car business got boring and faceless, at least in the main, motorcycling has happily kept the lights on for people to invent, craft, and make everything to do with making two motorized wheels go, stop, turn, and look better. It’s true for whole bikes. It’s true for parts. It’s true of everything in between. This is where the part about my sore butt comes in.

Meet Rich. He Makes Saddles. Lots of Saddles.

Rich

I met Rich (www.richscustomseats.com)a couple of years ago shortly after I purchased an FJR1300. It’s a marvelous bike, made to gobble entire states in a single bound. It can also show a tail light on a back road to a poorly ridden sport bike. I loved it the moment I rode it. But I’m not that 24 year old any more. I also can’t leave well enough alone. So I hiked my complaining butt and sore limbs down to Rich’s to see about a custom saddle. Problem solved.

Two years later, I find myself in possession of a brand new Aprilia RSV Factory, a stunningly beautiful Italian superbike that goes, stops, and turns like hell won’t have it. It’s also less than a comfortable place to spend a lot of time. So, figuring it worked once, why not again, I called up Rich and made an appointment for me and the Priller to get a new seat.

I should confess at the outset that the whole idea of having something custom made seems completely foreign to me. English gentlemen have had their suits, shirts, ties, pocket squares, shoes, and knickers done in this way forever. All furniture used to be done this way. The hyper wealthy call their naval architects every couple of years to ring up a new mega yacht. The rest of us generally buy retail and make do.

There is a certain logic to the idea of a custom made motorcycle saddle. It’s the single largest point of contact between you and your bike. It plays a big role in how your body is positioned in relationship to the other controls. Depending on the design, it provides comfort, support, and a platform for leveraging your bike . . . or not. Given that our skeletons are fundamentally unhappy sitting, it’s the first and last line of defense between comfort and misery. Yeah, when you put it that way, getting one shaped just for you doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.

Rich has been building saddles at his shop in Seattle for a long time. He figures that over the past ten years alone, he’s built something north of 20,000 of them. A lot of them are built for people who spend the day in his shop going through multiple fittings while watching the seat go from what is usually crap foam covered in crap vinyl, to a leather-clad work of art.

The day I showed up Rich was feeling the sting of an unhappy customer.

I built a seat for this guy. He calls me up after I built it. “This thing is beautiful,” he says.” He went on and on about the leather and the stitching and the work. A while later he calls up and says he wants me to lower it in the back. Well the pan is built the way it is. You can only drop it so far.

I said, “I’ll change it as far as I can. You try it and if you don’t like it, send it back.” So I built up the nose and cut down the back as far as I could and sent it to him.

So I get this email today, “Rich is so busy talking about what he knows about seats that he doesn’t listen to what the customer wants.” It’s not that I don’t listen to what people want. I have to work with the parameters of the seat. He probably caught me on a day when I was busy or distracted and I was probably short with him. I know I do that sometimes. And I don’t try to do that. We’re trying to help people. We’re trying to make them happy. He was saying what a beautiful seat it was and now he doesn’t like it.

Then he told me he got a Russell seat. He said he sent them pictures and they got it right the first time. This guy is 1500 miles away. He got lucky. I tell people if they’re here, I can help them a lot better.

So I don’t know. Whenever someone writes to me like this guy I always take it really personally because I really am trying hard. My heart is in this. I want to make great seats everyday. But you’re working with different anatomies, different people, different personalities, and on and on. If I can’t build you a seat, I’ll give you your money back.

It’s a tough way to start the day. It’s the part about being a small business owner. It seems like a silly place to start a story, but to me it speaks to the part that I find so intriguing about the whole enterprise.

Rich has dedicated his life to this one odd thing: making custom motorcycle saddles. Years on, he still gives a rip. I’ve been in his shop probably four times in the past two years. Every day it’s the same. He’s talking to a bunch of middle-aged people about their aching butts and their custom aspirations. He treats them all like they’re the only person in the world when he’s talking to them. He’s got his hands on the critical parts of the process. He’s funny. He’s super knowledgeable. He loves bikes. He tells great stories. He knows more about what you rode in on than you do. Amazingly, he invites you to watch and take part in the process. I can’t think of many other craftsmen who would allow you to sit and watch them work.

Equally as striking is the person with the bike. He or she also gives a rip. They’re passionate enough about bikes and riding to want to make their bike their own. They want it just the way they want it. They don’t want to live with the compromises invented by the factory.

Bringing these two forces together is like watching improvisational theater. It’s just a great show. With all that passion and opinion running around, there are bound to be pinch points. By his own admission, Rich is a control freak. To some extent, so are his customers. Like I said, it’s great show.

Let the Games Begin

I wheel up to Rich’s at 8:30 in the morning. Entry requires honking at a garage door and then a swoop down a concrete driveway to the workshop below. I’ve done this before but remember feeling slightly intimidated by the blind drop the first time. Other men rev and gun their engines to properly announce their arrival. I’m not those guys. I cut my engine at the top and coast to a stop behind a BMW 1150 GS and next to a BMW “Chromehead”. Also on the row ahead of me are Rich’s all-up custom Shovelhead and a spanking Paul Smart Ducati I haven’t seen before. Row one is usually Rich’s, so I assume it’s his bike. It is.

Yeah, I need that like I need a hole in the head. But I just love to look at it. If I could put it on my mantle in the living room I would.

And of course you have to do stuff to make it your own. I made a seat the first day I had it. I removed all the stickers. I modified the license plate. I made a number cover for the front light. I put an exhaust on it before it was ever delivered to me.

It’s fun to ride. It makes a great noise. It’s a bike with a soul.

While we’re gassing on about Aprilias and Ducatis, a guy named Tom rolls in with a nicely done ‘86 VFR 750. He and I, along with the owner of the Chromehead, various members of Rich’s team, and an assortment of Harley owners who come and go during the day –including and especially a couple who show up with a zero mile 105th anniversary edition V-Rod, resplendent in copper and black paint–will be part of today’s performance.

The process begins with the removal of the stock seat coming for stripping. Most seats are stapled together, and consist of a seat pan (molded plastic or metal on older bikes), foam, and either vinyl or leather. My bike is new, so the foam looks like extruded vanilla ice cream. The foam on older saddles is just plain scary looking. With covers off, not one of the donors look even half up to the task of supporting a rider for longer than a run to the donut shop.

I recall seeing all of this for the first time and thinking, “I’ve got a $12,000 bike with a $12 saddle.” Two years on, my opinion of the working end of what I sit on hasn’t changed. “I have a $17,000 bike and a $17 saddle.” I think I may be high on that latter figure. Nothing Rich has to say suggests I’m wrong. Underneath, the Harley saddles are even scarier . . . big blobs of foam that look like they’re ready for rendering, not sitting on.

Rich and the rider talk about the bike, where, how much, and how often he or she rides, what he or she likes and dislikes about the saddle, and where it hurts. Rich gives every impression of listening intently, no mean feat given that he’s had this exact same conversation with five to ten riders a day for the last decade at least.

My bike doesn’t have a center stand so one of the cast members comes over to support the bike while I perch in my best go-fast position. He looks desperately for something to hang onto, settling in on the parts of the clip-ons I’m not gripping.

Rich has me move around and change positions until I’m settled into what passes for normal on a sport bike. There aren’t a lot of options so this part of the process is pretty straightforward. With a touring oriented rig, there is much more to talk about . . . angle of the spine, angle of the knees, angle of your elbows, length or reach . . . Rich wants you to focus on all of it as, within limits, he can build you something that can move you up, forward, back, or down with front to back angling to match.

The truth is, most riders don’t really have a clue what they really want, which is probably best. Others have very distinct ideas. That doesn’t always work out.

I make the same seat day after day in a thousand different configurations. Some guys will come in here and say something like, “20 years ago I had a Honda with a flat seat and I could ride it all day long.”Well first of all, you’re twenty years older. Second, it was a crappy seat. Your body is not the same. Just because your memory reminds you of that doesn’t mean that’s the way it was. I know that I used to do the same thing. I was just happy to be riding a motorcycle.

Whenever people want me to build things that are different than what I do every day, they rarely or never work. But sometimes I’ll try it. I don’t do this to do them as fast as I can. I do it to make them as good as I can. I try to perfectly fit each individual to the best of my abilities. When I start building something completely different from something that is successful every day, it just doesn’t work.

In the case of building a seat for a sport bike, the range of choices is pretty small.

It’s like other seats. The difference is like other bikes, it’s a compromise. The seat is shaped like this (concave). We want to get it like this (convex). The contact area was like this (small). We want to make it more like this (larger). It will never be a luxury-touring bike. We just want to take some of the sin out. We want to make it as good as we can. It will be better. But it won’t be perfect.

Sport bikes are designed to be race bikes with lights. You have to build a seat you can hang off on and lean into the turns, but you want to make a little bit of pocket so it’s not taking your body and beating you to death. But it’s not the difference you find when you take a stock Harley seat and make a custom. The stock one is nasty. Then it’s perfect.

When you get on a sport bike you get on it and think, “what was I thinking?” When we’re done, you’ll think, “That’s a little better.”

Let the games begin

The initial fitting ends with Rich drawing all over the stock saddle. I’ve looked at a bunch of these at this point and they all look like the line of march for the Siege of Tobruk. There are lines, arrows, and arcs everywhere. I think I was sitting on top of Rommel’s feinting maneuver, but I could have also been the British 8th Army. I couldn’t really tell.

Rich waives and points and says things about ten-pound foam, or maybe it was seven, and off the seat goes for the first round of modifications. While that’s happening, Rich launches into another story, or if there is another bike and rider, another fitting. The rest of the shop whirs away, with people working on saddles in all states of repair, rebuild, and recovering.

The next time I see the saddle it’s been glued up with a layer of muscular looking foam. Rich has at it with a wicked looking saw-thing, I’m sure it has a name. He wields it like I might use a spoon in pudding. He’s done this a zillion times, at least one time at the cost of part of a finger.

Brrrrrrrrgrrrrp. The blobby looking thing that used to be my saddle is once again looking ready to ride, but now with some contours where my butt goes.

The seat goes on and off the bike a couple more times, interspersed with me sitting on it, Rich drawing on it, and then him sending it off for more of this and less of that. Each time it makes the circuit, he’s inspecting it and shaping and reshaping it himself, not trusting the really critical parts of the process to anyone else.

Ready to Ride, Sort of

“Okay, go take it for a spin. If you hate it immediately, just come on back. If not, ride it for ten or fifteen minutes.”

I remember the first time he told me that two years ago. I get why it’s necessary, but there’s a part of your brain that says, “It looks like a sofa that met a Pit Bull in heat.” There are different colors, shapes, and densities of foam all stuck on with the occasional scribble still showing through.

For a sport bike, it’s a pretty straightforward process. I’m never going to be on the bike for longer than an hour at a stretch, and anything will be an improvement. For the sport touring, adventure touring, and touring set, it’s a whole other thing. One guy, Gary Eagan, took off with his saddle still uncovered and test rode it from Seattle to Alaska and back. When he returned, Rich covered the saddle and Gary went and broke a bunch of records.

Gary Eagan went 250,000 on his and set five world records. I just redid that seat for him. But all I did was recover it. I didn’t even change the shape or the padding or the gel pad. He had it on three different bikes. I forgot to have him sign it. That’s the seat right there. Short little guy. That’s not actually wear. It’s where he drug his boots across it getting off. He’s a hell of a guy.

The rest of us don’t make it three exits up the road.

My new seat is huge improvement but I find myself crowding the tank more than I want. So Rich adds more foam to the nose and does a bit of reshaping. The difference is remarkable. Sold!

One of Rich’s guy takes the seat to a table where he’ll install a gel pad and cover the whole assembly with some sort of miracle cloth. Rich and I head over to the rack to pick out a covering.

Rich likes color and he’s done some wild applications on some wild looking bikes. There is a pair of mesmerizing choppers at the back of the shop that are getting fitted out with crazy-shaped saddles. I didn’t want to ask the name or cost of the material being used for the covering.

“Your bike is just screaming for a carbon fiber look.” Good call as that’s a big part of the up-charge for the Factory addition of my bike.

“Normally I’d say go for some color, but your bike has so much going on visually, we don’t want to fight it. So how about an accent in gray, like your bike?”

The rest of the customers are inching closer at this point to see what Rich has in mind. Mine is the first seat to get done today and people want to see. We’re all smiling and nodding at the pairing Rich has come up with. I’m feeling right now like the guy who just selected the Amorone to go with the entre because it brings out the richness of the flavors.

The combination is fabulous and the two leathers and the saddle head to the upholstery bench. There, they’ll make a pattern, cut the materials, stitch them, fit them, attach them, and treat them in the next 90 minutes or so.

By this point in the play, everyone in for a custom saddle is deep into the process. People are coming and going, roaring more confidently up and down the steep ramp now that they’re in the club. Hanging around in Rich’s shop has that affect. Where the stories tended to flow one way at 8:30, by noon the air is thick with bench racing, tall tales, recollections of epic rides gone by, and secret confidings like, “If my wife knew how much I have in this bike, she’d kill me.” We all nod knowingly.

The customers have also settled into a routine that intersperses messing around with their bikes and either talking on the phone or typing on a laptop. By and large it’s an entrepreneurial bunch. All of us tell ourselves that we’re masters of our own destiny and “taking a day off” is no big deal. But it clearly is. The world outside is calling and we’re calling back. It’s understandable but sad in a way. I think if the bikes could talk, they’d be pissed. As it is, they just sit and sigh. “You just don’t get it, do you!”

Leaving the Club House

Finally my custom saddle is done. It’s stunning. And now I don’t really want to leave. I just want to sit and look at it. I want to see the rest of the saddles as they’re done. I want to keep talking about bikes. I want to know more about these people.

“Why do you ride?”

“Why this bike?”

“What do you do?”

“What do you wish you did?”

There’s more to this than a custom seat. There’s more to this than bikes and riding. There’s a story attached to all of us and these stories are just bursting to be told. Not at home with your significant other. Not even with the people you ride with on weekends.

But here in the clubhouse, people freely admit that they’re no longer tough enough to just shrug and grind it out another couple of miles. There’s an unexpected level of vulnerability. The souls are stripped as naked as the saddles.

“Am I sitting on my bike right?”“

“Should I be feeling that pain right there?”

“Tell me it’s okay to be spending all this money on a saddle!”

“What do you think about this gray? Is it too blue? What about a warmer tone?”

“The leather is $100 more than the vinyl? Do I deserve it?”

It’s almost sweet. That word may grate, but it’s the right one I think. The adults have left the building. It’s just us kids now. Kids with their new bikes all over again. The ones our dad’s gave us. The ones we’re now clipping playing cards to so that we can make them sound like a real motorcycle. A great circle is closing, if only for a couple of hours.

And then the phone rings and the spell is broken. I’m geared up and shaking hands with Rich who tells me, “I hope you ride it a million miles.” What a wonderful way to part company.

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The Importance of Motoczysz: Why You and I Need These People to Succeed http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/31/the-importance-of-motoczysz-why-you-and-i-need-these-people-to-succeed/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/31/the-importance-of-motoczysz-why-you-and-i-need-these-people-to-succeed/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2008 23:02:44 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/31/the-importance-of-motoczysz-why-you-and-i-need-these-people-to-succeed/

Michael Czysz is following his dream.

He’s building a transcendently cool motorcycle with the intention of competing and winning at the highest levels.

He’s not solving global warming.

He’s not curing cancer.

He is not bringing peace to the mid-east.

In the big calculus of life on this planet, what he’s doing matters not one jot.

But he’s still a hero.

For reasons most people can’t and won’t fathom, what he’s doing matters. Why? Because he’s following his dream. He’s taking the journey. He’s plumbing the depths. And when that happens, when a soul stirs, the universe responds.

Good Grief Man, It’s Just a Bike!

True. It’s just a bike. Even sillier, it’s a racing bike. It has no purpose other than to go round a circuit as fast as possible for less than an hour. Still, even if the whole notion of men and their toys baffles you, you have to admire the sheer grittiness of the entire enterprise.

The best part of the story is the guy leading the parade. I’ve yet to meet the man, but the book on Michael is that he was born in 1964 with motorcycles already in his blood. If you have a look at the Motoczysz web site, you’ll see what I mean. His dad, grandfather, and great grandfather were all smitten with bikes so it seems natural that Michael would be too. The part about taking on the industry giants seems less obvious at this point.

Michael studied at Parson’s in New York and Portland State, got married, and had two sons with seriously excellent names: Max and Enzo. The baton will pass.

In 1990 he started an architectural firm called Architropolis. That would make him, what, 26 at the time? The firm thrived and thrives and has done award-winning work for famous people and famous companies. It’s okay to feel jealous and the story is barely underway.

Note two things at this point:

  1. Most people would be thrilled to be doodling houses for the likes of Cindy Crawford and could easily be excused for settling in for a rewarding career with lots of time and money left over for mad hobbies and great vacations.
  2. There isn’t even a whiff of a credential at this point to suggest that starting a company to build a world-class racing motorcycle based on revolutionary new technology would be a good idea. Naysayers, and we’ll get to them in a minute, are still looking for that heavenly sign.

Apropos of point 2, “But that’s what happened.” A muse visited, strange notions about the proper way to configure an engine, gearbox, and suspension sprang forth, and the boy-architect genius decided that the logical next step was to not only tilt with giants, but do it on an impossibly compressed time frame, displaying levels of under-funded bravado that cause most people, including and especially captains of industry, to roll eyes. Those of us who have started businesses (and I’m one of those people) smile and applaud wildly, even if just to ourselves. Either you get it or your don’t.

It’s the hard that makes it great

There is a wonderful interchange between character’s played by Tom Hanks and Geena Davis in a movie called “League of Their Own.” The Davis character, Dottie Hinson, has decided to quit and go home with her newly returned and wounded war-hero husband. It goes like this . . .

Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

I can’t remember exactly when it is that I first heard about what Michael was up to, probably it was in a motorcycle magazine, but I do remember two things: 1) How cool it all sounded. How utterly, heroically, magically cool. 2) How pissed off I felt reading the nay saying from this expert and that poobah. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. Nay saying goes with the territory. It’s how you know you’re on to something big.

Just so I can get this out of the way, the naysayers were and are wrong. Not just about what Motoczysz is doing. About everything.

First and foremost, they’re wrong at a metaphysical level. The only people who say no to someone else at the beginning of a great journey are people who are too timid to leave on their own . . . people who have already said no once too often to their own journey, to their own dreams, and now they’re bent on passing their lack of courage to someone else.

“I was and am too frightened to leave the village, so you can’t possibly be justified in doing it either.”

And if that accusation by way of observation causes you to bridle, take your anger out on someone else. You either get it or you don’t.

Which brings me to the second fault with nay saying and naysayers. Let’s ignore the obvious, that every invention, every discovery, every great adventure has always been sent off and beset by the worries and nays of others. What’s less obvious is that the naysayers and doubters lack vision. They see what they see in a single slice of time. They miss the whole concept of the journey: That by virtue of setting out, you open yourself to both the likelihood of failure and the opportunity to learn from it and go beyond.

“It won’t work, so why do it?”

“Of course it won’t work, but something else will. That’s why.” Or in the words of Jimmy Dugan, “It’s the hard that makes it great.”

To Journey is to Seek Your Own Soul

This is the part where those hoping to read about counter-rotating engines, interchangeable gearboxes, single-shock front suspensions, or any of the other 20+ patents Motoczysz has amassed may want to check out. It’s all shockingly cool. If the company never fields a competitive bike it has assured some kind of future for itself just on the strength of its inventions. But if you focus on the gear, and maybe for the second to last time I’ll go on record as saying it’s great gear, you’re missing the bigger picture. You’re missing the importance of what’s going on here.

Even given the little I’ve related about what Michael and team have been through, to go from table-napkin dream to a bike that is currently lapping at test tracks at a class-leading pace, you have to know that it’s been a tough road.

Besides the naysayers, there have been bad castings (both the people and the metal kind), flakey vendors, broken bits galore, blown engines, crashes, team members quitting, money problems . . . the list just goes on and on. Plenty of opportunities to give up. But the true believers have not. They are now officially beyond themselves. They are now Jason and the Argonauts. Without knowing it, Michael and crew are now following a script written in the very soul of mankind. It’s now no longer about a motorcycle. It’s about the “big why?”

What Michael and crew are onto now is nothing less than what Joseph Campbell describes as the “heroic journey.” Every culture down through history treasures at least one of these stories. Although there is a wonderful richness and variety to the various myths and legends, heroic tales all ultimately adhere to the designs of what Campbell calls the “monomyth.” Here it is in a sentence.

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”


The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Mythos Books)

Joseph Campbell. Princeton University Press 1972, Paperback, 464 pages, $16.95

Here’s the longer version.

The Call to Adventure: Every journey begins with a call. Often the person ignores or ducks the call, but eventually it can be disregarded no longer. At this point, there is no hero. That comes later. It’s just a somebody doing whatever it is they do one minute, and feeling like they really have to go do something else the next. It’s an architect waking up one day and saying to himself, “I have to build a motorcycle that will revolutionize everything. Oh, and I have no business doing it. Whatever.”

Supernatural Aid. In Campbell’s words: “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure . . . who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.”

Later, in retrospect, these sources of help and comfort are completely obvious. In the early going, you have no idea that the person you just met, or the thing you just found, or the whatever just happened is going to be so important later. Men are particularly bad at the act of noticing the little things. It’s so contrary to the energy required to drive a great enterprise forward. Great journeys require both.

Crossing the First Threshold. There will be challenges on this journey, and therefore there will be a first challenge. Many journeys founder at this point. But it is successfully meeting the first challenge and getting the first win that provides the propellant the journey needs. Again, at the time, it just hurts. It’s a bother. It’s an unwelcome intrusion on your carefully laid plans. If for some reason you don’t know this by now, dealing with and learning from adversity is the whole point of the journey.

The Road of Trials. The first trial is there to ready us for what follows. Says Campbell, “The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.”

Little by little the hero, and his crew if he has one, gather experience, strength and courage as they commit further and further to the final objective. They have no idea how they will slay the dragon or steal the fleece or field a competitive race bike. Who can even think about such a thing while the storm is raging, or a big rock is trying to crush us, or some #@*&^$@# vendor has just shipped a critical part that is complete crap?

The Ultimate Boon. Having reached the final destination, the hero faces his or her ultimate test. In some cases, the journey was the hard part and the boon or blessing is easily won. In other cases, the final challenge is a fierce one, calling on all the faith, cunning, courage, self-confidence, amulets, chants, potions, and the occasional trick that the hero has at his or her disposal. But to win the challenge is to win the boon—the blessing that the hero brings back to the benefit of the tribe.

Crossing the Return Threshold. Grabbing the fleece, killing the dragon, capturing the castle, or lapping the track at a record pace isn’t enough. You have to make this win, this boon, part of something bigger. You have to tell the stories and raise the bar on your collective expectations. You have to come back and integrate what you’ve learned into what you are. Traditional heroes often returned to pomp and glory. Some snuck home. Many must wrest their rightful home or throne from an interloping pretender. Sometimes coming back is harder than going out. But the story isn’t complete until the hero is back home.

In the case of Motoczysz, I have no idea what the boon will be. I haven’t a clue when the big battle will occur. Coming home means nothing at this point because they’re still going out. For all I know Michael has never heard about the Heroic Journey and could care less. Right now he’s got at least two companies to run, giants to slay, and bikes to build. But the story can’t and won’t end with a race bike in a paddock somewhere. There’s more here than that.

Again, It’s Just a Bike!

I’ve often been accused of making a lot of a little, and especially writing a lot where less would do. I offer no apologies now or in the future. A proper heroic tale can’t be told directly. You have to work up to it, particularly the BIG POINT. Well here it comes.

You can take my word for it or do your own research. But accept for now the assertion that every culture, eastern western, northern, southern, old and young, has and recounts heroic tales. So you have to ask yourself, why? Why do we have these myths and tales? Why do we tell the stories of Jonah, Parsifal, Beowulf, Don Quixote, Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, and Rocky Balboa, just to sample a few? Given the sheer number of essentially identical stories stretching back thousands of years, there’s more than coincidence at work here.

Or, specific to the story at hand, why should we care if Michael and team sell a single bike or turn a single wheel in competition? Because in the end, the stories are about ourselves. The Motoczysz story can be your story too. Only the details are different.

At one level, these heroic tales are all stories about great deeds. And at that level, they are meant to pass along the glory and stories of the group as a whole. In telling these stories, we’re reminding ourselves of who we are and who we need to be.

At a second level, these heroic stories are meant to guide us on the journey from childhood to adulthood. They tell us what it means to be a man. Or what it means to be a woman. They remind us, sometimes for the first time, sometimes for the hundredth time, that there will be trials and tribulations. A life doesn’t pass by without some bumps and twists. It’s how we learn.

At a third and more profound level, the level at which the Motoczysz story carries it’s deepest weight, the stories are meant to inspire us to learn about who we really are and what we’re here to do. That’s why they’re important. That’s why it’s important that Michael followed his dream. That’s why it’s important that the naysayers spoke and he didn’t listen. That’s why it’s important that he and his team have persevered.

By taking up the call to do this thing, to build this dream, Michael has activated a force that runs deeper and more powerfully than mere passion or interest. He activates it for himself. He inspires people who feel it and pay attention to activate it in themselves. And maybe one of those people will go cure cancer. Or invent a better crochet hook. Or get on a bike and ride further than he or she has ever ridden before.

That’s why he’s a hero. That’s why what he’s doing is important. So that we can be reminded to go follow our dreams.

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You have to watch this! Colin Edwards’ Awesome Save at Jerez http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/30/you-have-to-watch-this-colin-edwards-awesome-save-at-jerez/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/30/you-have-to-watch-this-colin-edwards-awesome-save-at-jerez/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2008 20:48:14 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/30/you-have-to-watch-this-colin-edwards-awesome-save-at-jerez/ I’m not big on posting random videos and bits from the internet, but this is worth a mention. Watch Colin Edwards do a truly amazing save at Jerez

Embedded Video

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Book Review: Riding with Rilke by Ted Bishop http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/28/book-review-riding-with-rilke-by-ted-bishop/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/28/book-review-riding-with-rilke-by-ted-bishop/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2008 23:55:55 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/28/book-review-riding-with-rilke-by-ted-bishop/

Riding with Rilke

Ted Bishop. W. W. Norton 2007, Paperback, 272 pages, $14.95

The excitement at setting out is what I’ve come to think of as the andiamo phenomena. Andiamo is Italian for “let’s go.” D. H. Lawrence calls it the most beautiful word in the Italian language. Certainly, the English “let’s go” feels flat-footed in comparison, pedestrian in the worst sense. The Italian is like a whip about to crack; the throb on the third syllable marks the wave pulses through the word. Both command and response, with a built-in exclamation mark, andiamo conveys the exotic, carries the excitement of taking off. It’s the word you breathe inside your helmet when you finally clear traffic and the road opens in front of you. It’s the feeling you get when you finally clear time and space and settle in with a new book. Heading into the silence, the platitude and possibility of silence.

What a delicious book. By all means read what I have to say about it, but also don’t be afraid to just run on down to the local book store, or click the link, and add a copy of Riding with Rilke by Ted Bishop to your reading list.

Let me caveat by saying I’m a fan of words. I like to read them. I like to use them. I like to write them. Love words I do. And Ted spills them across the page like so many truffles. Or if that imagery is too girly for you, reading Ted is like sitting at your favorite bar with a pint of their finest. You get the idea.

Ted’s an academic, something you’ll not be able to forgive him in this instance as threading the drama of chasing books, authors, libraries, and archives with riding a Ducati Monster—a bike no sane person would ride further than the next town—from somewhere hell and gone in Canada to deep in the heart of Texas is the whole point of the book. Me? He had me about three paragraphs in.

I found Riding with Rilke while poking around Amazon. Never one to do anything without at least three agendas in mind, I was: a) Looking for some good summer reading; b) Researching what I’ve come to think of as the “canon of road books” in preparation for perhaps taking a swing at making a contribution of my own; c) Looking for some grist for my blog. And yes, I read with a yellow marker and a pen. And I make notes. And it takes me forever. I can’t seem to just read.

Somewhere deep into Ted’s prose I started to get it. Reading is just like riding. You can rush and miss the texture and detail of it all. Or you can put down the pen, put down whatever it is you were thinking about, and just read . . . just ride.

I should say that this little revelation came as a bit of a shot. I am easily seduced by the idea that every human activity needs to have a purpose. And purposes need to be accomplished with dispatch. Doing something with purpose beats doing something “just because” by a mile. And getting it done faster is better than slower. No savoring the smells. No dallying about. No stopping just to take it all in.

Just typing this makes me sad. 51 years into the game and it finally occurs to me that there’s more to life than just getting stuff done. There’s more to reading a book than finishing it. There’s more to riding a bike than getting there. Actually, that thought occurred to me some years ago—a story for another time and place—but I’m often startled to meet it again and again like a lost dog that just won’t stop following me home.

So Riding with Rilke is not a book to be rushed. I came to respect the rhythm of the read out of respect for the man: Given a choice between flying and riding, Ted chose the road. Most of us who ride, heck all of us, would like to make that choice. And as we get later and later in life, we wonder why we don’t.

The highly condensed version of the book goes like this:

  1. Buy a Ducati.
  2. Take a sabbatical to go to Texas and dig around a really cool archive.
  3. Ride “blue highways” stopping often to observe, sample, and otherwise take it all in.
  4. Make a point of visiting places of bookish interest. As it turns out, even lovers of Virginia Wolf and D.H. Lawrence have spots to visit in the great American West. Go figure.
  5. Arrive in Austin Texas and have a swell time.
  6. Get involved with projects that further delay doing what you went there to do but also give you an opportunity to go to Europe, meet relatives of famous people, and present a paper in Rome on James Joyce. Cool.
  7. Come back and more or less repeat in reverse.
  8. Have a really bad crash in order to create a clever intro/outro bookend to the book.

Yeah, that about covers it. And if you stop there, you’re missing the whole point. It’s the words man! It’s how the nouns and verbs and all the connecty bits work together to tell what is otherwise a pretty simple story. Just like it’s the swoops and turns and stops and gos that bring you back again and again to a favorite road, where others only hear, “I rode to Bothell and back.” Oh.

Early on Ted plays with channeling his inner outlaw . . .

Still, you wouldn’t ride a bike if you didn’t want to cultivate a bit of an outlaw status. I was working on my Entrance, one of the most important aspects of being a biker. You come into town and cruised slowly down the main street — rump, rump, rump, cough – REVVvvv-rump rump (obviously a high powered machine, dangerous if not for your expert control) – and to the end of the street do a slow U-turn and come back to the café. You back the bike up against the curb, taking long enough that you know all eyes are upon you, take off your helmet, put your sunglasses back on, and walked toward the door. You use the capital Strut: shoulders back, head high, just a hint of pelvic thrust.

You step inside the door and, chin still high, moving only your head, survey the room (even if it only has four tables). Then you take off your dark glasses and hook them in the left breast pocket of your leather jacket the way fighter pilots do in the movies. Don’t look. This is crucial. If you have to fumble for the pocket, you’ve blown it and you might as well get back on the bike and leave.

Okay, by this point the men are cowed, the women trembling, and the girls behind the counter moaning softly. One flutters over with a menu and you look her in the eye and say, “Coffee. Black,” and then something insinuating like, “And give me a wedge of your… cherry pie.” (I hate black coffee, but whoever said, (Jed ! There is a stranger in town and he drinks his latte with a double shot !”?)

Anyway, I’m still working on it, and there are usually some creamers on the next table that you can snag on the way back from the washroom.

I so resemble those remarks, except that I only do the strut in my mind’s eye. Given my firm belief in ATGATT (all the gear, all the time), my actual strut looks more like the Michelin man’s evil brother. It’s more like a waddle.

And this . . .

Whether you’re writing a cruiser or a dirt bike or a big touring rig, in the eyes of the world you’re a bit of a hooligan or you wouldn’t be out there. We reject it, we deny it, we explain at length that there is a difference between a Rider and a Biker, but we secretly relish it. We like the idea that we’re mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Anyone who has ducked into the last available hotel room in the last available hotel 40 miles after they should really have stopped will get this . . .

The room had more cigarette burns and TV channels. It was the sort of place where you walk to the shower naked in your motorcycle boots that because you’re kinky at because Who–Knows–What lurks in that inch–deep russet–orange acrylic shag. Stephen King must have a story somewhere about a malefic interstate shag carpet from hell that wraps its greasy tendrils around the toes of comely coeds and drags them screaming into its devouring embrace. I flossed forlornly and watched one of the religious channels, trying to tell myself that this was so bad it was great. The Quintessential Interstate Lodging Experience, I told myself. It didn’t work. I burped softly; the Denny’s fish and chips tasted just as bad the second time. I turned out the light, wondering why the knob felt both greasy and sticky. I decided not to pursue it.

More good words, these about that pesky notion of having purpose and resolve, qualities that occasionally come in handy hours, miles, and days into a big ride . . .

I learned long ago that the only way I could accomplish anything was to tell myself I could quit if I want to – that I could quit hiking and set up camp halfway up the pass; that I could quit high school and go work on a tramp steamer; that I could mow half the lawn and do the other half next week. In short, that I didn’t have to go the distance. All that inspirational stuff about focusing on your goal and never wavering from it just made me want to open a beer and apply for unemployment insurance. But once I’d decided I could quit, things didn’t seem so bad. And if anyone should say, “Wow, what you’re doing is difficult,” or even moderately interesting, I would square my shoulders and think, “Pff, a mere bagatelle.” It’s true I wasn’t certain what a bagatelle was (though I suspected there wasn’t an actual bag involved), but the books I was reading at the time always linked “mere” with “bagatelle” and it was always some beautiful object or difficult exploit but they sure are treated as if it were nothing.

Deep into the book, our hero writer-rider decides to spiff up his ride. Another inclination I respect and follow. My riding pal Ron stands firmly in the other camp, reveling in the grime and grunge that covers his bike or car or gear as noble talismans of a road well traveled or a journey well done. Only when there is no more adventuring to be had will he break out the soap and water. Me? I’m looking for a hand car wash in every town I sleep in, exceptions being made if it’s pissing rain.

I pulled into the bright twenty-four stall car wash and the friendly ex-Marine told me how to get my bike just right, using the final anti-streak spray. I was going to make some excuse for being there – the Monster was just dusty, not dirty – when two Corvettes pulled in that were cleaner than my car has ever been in its life. This was American auto culture, where having your ride clean, so clean, is more important than how it handles. That made sense out here, were the closest curve was in Albuquerque. But this wasn’t about logic, I realized as I bought a chamois and wiped the water droplets off my tank, the backs of my mirrors, the front forks and fender; it was about showing respect, about the ritual adoration of the machine. Saturday night was date night, Friday night was car night. As I pulled out from the clean well–lit bay into the dark street, I didn’t feel lonely anymore. The camaraderie of the car wash.

To the inevitable and tiresome question about danger . . .

Non-riders would always ask me, “don’t you think motorcycling’s dangerous?” in the tone of a foregone conclusion. It could be, I agree, but I was a conservative rider. Besides, I said, motorcycling is only one of a million ways you can go. You can just as easily go in your La-A-Boy recliner. In the spring, or when I haven’t been writing in a long time, I have a moment of fear thinking about what I’m going to do, but as soon as I’m up and riding, I’m fine. I would give the answer my father gave when people asked him, “Isn’t mountain climbing dangerous?” “Sure,” he said, “but at least you go doing something you like.” Then in The Stone Diaries I read about a Canadian journalist named Pinky Fulham who was crushed to death when a soft-drink vending machine fell on him. He had been rocking it back and forth, trying to dislodge a stuck quarter. Apparently eleven North Americans per year are killed by overturned vending machines. The next time I approached a vending machine I did so warily. And the next time someone asked me about bikes being dangerous, I told them about the Pinky.

We’re almost there. Being a book by a writer about reading and riding, it’s only appropriate to wonder at why some books want to be read by you, and some don’t. At least not right now. I’ve got books like that. Presently Robert Pirsig’s icon, Zen and the Art . . . falls into that grouping. Has for years now. I’ve also been down roads like that, roads that just don’t want to be ridden, at least by me on that day. Word to the wise. Respect the book that won’t have you. Put it away. Respect the road in the same way.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig. HarperTorch 2006, Mass Market Paperback, 560 pages, $7.99

I believe a book knows when you are ready for it. If you are not, you might as well forget about it. You can buy it, sit down with it, try to read it. If the book doesn’t think you’re ready it resists. It’s as if you’re trying to pry it open, to heave open a spring-loaded door, but it snaps shut the moment you slacken your effort even slightly. Sweaty, exhausted, your hair plastered to your forehead, you stagger away.

And then, when you’ve forgotten about it, when you didn’t even know you needed it, you glance up from your writing, not looking, just raising your eyes as if you’re looking for a phrase, and there it is. Right there. Within reaching distance. It may even have edged out to the edge of the shelf. It’s a bit scary.

Looking back over the book, and this despite my sternest efforts, I find many more passages than these marked and noted . . . including an especially wild flight of fancy about woman and motorcycles. Decadently sexist and sexy. It’s on page 233 if you care to go looking.

For me, I’m not sure if the book did more to inspire me to read, write, or ride. But I do know that I felt inspired . . . that tugging feeling that makes you want to put down whatever it is you’re doing and andiamo! Yeah, it’s that kind of book.

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Mid-Llife Rider Joins the Ranks of Motorcycle Bloggers International http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/27/mid-llife-rider-joins-the-ranks-of-motorcycle-bloggers-international/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/27/mid-llife-rider-joins-the-ranks-of-motorcycle-bloggers-international/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2008 23:09:04 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/27/mid-llife-rider-joins-the-ranks-of-motorcycle-bloggers-international/ I’m delighted to report that this little corner of cyberspace has been accepted into the ranks of Motorcycle Bloggers International.

Motorcycle Bloggers International is an association of riders who write motorcycle blogs. Our members reside in many countries and live in different cultures but they have at least one thing in common—a passion for riding and writing about riding.

Click on the link to go read more about my fellow rider-ranters. I am also pulling feeds from a number of them on the page called “blogfeeds.”

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Open Letter to Uncle Piaggio about Aunt Aprilia http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/26/open-letter-to-piaggio-about-aunt-aprilia/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/26/open-letter-to-piaggio-about-aunt-aprilia/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2008 20:46:12 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/26/open-letter-to-piaggio-about-aunt-aprilia/

Dear Piaggio

Gosh, it’s been so long, where do I start. We’re all well here. Kids are good. Wife is wonderful. Bikes are neat. Our little Vespa is the cutest darn thing on two wheels. My new RSV1000R Factory is a real stunner. People drool when they see it and it sure gets down the road in a hurry. You? Doing well here in the big PX?

I just hate getting unexpected letters from family, and seeing as how I own two of your bikes, well, I kinda feel like family. You just know they either want something, usually money, or they’ve been pissing around about something and now what to “clear the air” or some such nonsense.

Just so you don’t panic, I’m okay on the first front . . . though I do love that free financing you’re offering on Guzzis, and the tasty year-end price break I got on that rip-snorting liter bike you obviously weren’t able to otherwise move was , well, I really appreciated that. Thanks a bunch.

One of the things I really like about my new-year-old RSV Factory is that I don’t see them coming and going on the street. For that matter, I don’t see them anywhere. Same with your absolutely stunning Tuono. And but for the fact that I hang around the local dealer like a lost dog, I don’t think I would ever have seen a Caponard in the flesh much less the SXV or RXV. Hopefully the new Shiver won’t be so shy and will want to come out and play with the other kids on the block.

All of this got me to wondering. Are you doing this on purpose? Being all coy like this? Keeping the good china in the cupboards in case the neighbors stop in for leftovers? Some reason why you don’t call or write? Invite the friends and family over more often? Maybe show up down at the parents-teacher conference or the Wednesday-night poker game?

I know, I know. My family was all immigrants to this mighty land too. It takes awhile to figure out that you’re not in Belarus anymore. Probably it’s like that for you guys too, huh? All that success in 125s and 250s just doesn’t cut it over here. Bummer. But definitely keep up the racing bit. Moto-ST is the best series going here in the land of the free. I have to believe people will notice.

Sooooo, yeah, I did want to “clear the air” on a couple of things. And please know that we all love you very much. We only offer “constructive criticism” because we care.

Stay in Touch

I know, I know, you’re kind of busy. And it’s not like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, or most of the others do a great job of this either. But while you guys were busy buying and rescuing Aprilia and Guzzi, Web 2.0 happened. Who can make any sense out of why all those people are lurking around on fan forums, much less Facebook and MySpace? Why would anyone write a blog, much less read one when there are all those advertising supported fanbooks they could be reading? And even assuming there are answers to those questions, why would companies like Piaggio, and brands like Aprilia, want to participate?

I have to imagine you’re asking yourselves the same questions. Yeah, this whole “consumers taking charge” of the media they make and consume thing is probably going to pass any day now. And mixing it up on the forums and blogs is just asking for trouble.

WAKE UP! All the action is out here with the precious few fans you have in the land of plenty of everything. Even over here we’re passionate. We care deeply. We tell our friends. We share pictures. Heck, we wear people out to the point that we’re ordered out of the room. And yet, when it comes to Uncle Piaggio, nothing.

I do want to give you a sugar plumb for hosting a forum on the Aprilia website. Couple of thoughts on that.

1. The sign-up process is painful. Having to alert you to my VIN number, full name, address, email, favorite bike, and a PICTURE OF ME AND MY BIKE in order to register isn’t going to win you lots of accolades never mind participants on your forums.

2. English is good, at least over here where I live. While waiting for my log in authentication (waiting, waiting, waiting) I went browsing. While I think I follow this . . .

Mamma mia che moto! Da quando l’ho vista non c’ho visto più! C’è solo lei nei miei sogni! Che linea e che motore! Da quando l’ho provata non esiste altra moto all’infuori di lei! Ti adoro e presto sarai mia!! =))

. . . after five or six pages that looked just like that, I quit looking for anyone posting in a language I understood.

3. If there’s another place online you’re hanging out, drinking espresso, and chatting with the fellas, let me know. Otherwise, we must be missing each other.

I’ve owned a Vespa for four years now. I can’t remember the last time I heard from you. Actually, I can’t remember the first. I took my wife to Italy and rode scooters around Tuscany for a week with Italy by Vespa. Spent a bunch doing it too. Nothing. I bought Aprilia’s flagship bike, which means I bought everything about the company as well, and I got a form letter alerting me to the fact that I could call if my bike fritzed while I was out riding around.

Don’t mistake me; I really appreciate you thinking about me like that. Buy you need to go attend some conferences on building and nurturing your “community.” Do something that maybe only Harley has done, and get directly involved with your customers. Talk with us. Listen to us. Mix it up with us. Reach out to us. There’s a conversation going on out here, and you need to do better than lurk, if you’re even doing that.

And no, “That’s what our dealers are for” doesn’t cut it. I love Dave at Moto International, but you want me to love Aprilia more.

Get Physical

There aren’t that many of us, so why not invite us over for dinner. Or maybe a track day. Something. Saturn did this to great effect in the early days of building their brand. Harley has managed to figure this out. I’m not talking about being virtual right now. I’m talking physical.

How about this. Make a deal with one of the many track-day sponsors out there. You could be the official sponsor. You could have bikes there for people to ride. You could give out swag. I know you know where the tracks are, so it’s not that. I’m sure Dave and Brian at 2-fast or Moira Zinn at Elite Track Days would be all ears (just to pick two).

Better still, how about taking a track school under your wings. I know that guys like Reg, Keith, Kevin, and Freddie have longstanding relations with the big boys over the Pacific, but there are plenty of dates for the dance. Right here in Pacific Northwest is Puget Sound Safety who runs a couple of fine advanced riding clinics on the track and a bunch of Lee Parks Total Control Clinics. You could start there. I have their number.

I’m just full of ideas. Here’s another. Sponsor a spec series. No, I don’t mean Moto-ST. I mean something like the old Boxer Cup. Until you get some new engineering and a couple of hundred more CCs, the RSV is kind of stuck without a clear identity. Beating other brands is fine, but out here with the cash-paying crowd, ripping around the track beating other riders is where the action is.

Decide What You Want to Be

For the last zillion years, car, boat, bike, and motorcycle manufacturers have drunk the Alfred Sloan Kool-Aid without even knowing who he is. Quick history lesson: He was the guy who turned GM into the colossus it was for so many years before people who hate cars and hate car buyers even more took over the company. He had two insights that continue to echo through the ages.

Assemble a bunch of brands so that the buyer never needs to leave home. Start out in a Chevy and wind up in a Caddy with stops along the way in a Pontiac, Olds, and Buick.

Franchise your distribution. It saves capital that you don’t have anyway. It also makes buying that new fangled whatsit feel that much safer knowing that some pillar of the local community is betting his money and reputation on it.

Alfred Sloan was a very, very savvy capitalist, and following his lead makes a ton of sense. So I say this with all due respect: You’re running plays from an 80-year-old playbook. To make it work, the various brands not only have to be different from each other, something later GM execs forgot, but they have to make sense, both to the consumer and in the overall competitive context.

In terms of the brand portfolio . . .

The Vespa is a home run all the way around. That’s an American term for a brilliant dinner, several bottles of the choicest Barollo or perhaps an Amarone or Ripasso, and a fine Vin Santo. And a Limoncello! Nice job selling them through stand-alone boutiques too. Very Ducati (yikes!)

I never really understood Guzzis but I’m growing to love the whole idea: the history, mystery, and romance associated with the brand are transporting. I truly dig the loopey rabidity with which owners regard their bikes and the company that makes them. I could even see myself buying the Stelvio as long as it’s not another Tiger. More on that idea later.

What I can’t get my head around is how Aprilia fits in the grand scheme of things. I get how it sits in a different place than does Guzzi, but beyond that, what? Is it the “not-Ducati,” like Pork is the other white meat? Are you playing Maserati to Ducati’s Ferrari, with MV holding up the Lambo end of things? Are you the “value” superbike? Before the 1098, you were “more Italian Superbike for the money,” but that’s gone bye-bye and isn’t that strong a position anyway.

And then there’s the new RSV4 super dooper bike. I’m sure it will be a beast, and seeing rock stars ride around on them will cast a warm glow over the brand. But please tell me you’re not hanging it all on that peg?! Unless you can bring it in at or close to 1098R money, and even then, it’s not going to cure your sales ills in the US.

And meanwhile, KTM and Buell have jumped into the big-twin sport bike market with killer offers. Say, isn’t it starting to get a little warm in here?

And who is the customer? Judging by the price point and the overall level of sophistication and componentry, I would say guys like me: middle aged, have some money, looking for something a big different. Something to get the heart rate up and the nether parts firm to remind us that we’re still got what it takes.

When I look at the graphics, I flash on uncomfortable memories that had something to do with imbibing, inhaling, or ingesting controlled substances. It’s like Gixxer meets Andy Warhol except even Suzuki has grown up a bit, and oh yeah, did you hear? Poor old Andy “passed away.” The service was very nice and the food after was really quite good.

It’s not that you don’t make sensational bikes. I love my RSV and I may yet buy a Tuono. My guess is that the folks back home have a very clear picture of the brand. Over here in the largest-market-in-the-world-for-everything-until-China-passes-us, some other brand is sitting in all the obvious spots you want. I wonder if you shouldn’t go to school on Audi: The thinking man’s performance bike.

And While You’re At It, Get a Color

This is a picky point, but think about owning a color. Not actually owning it. I don’t think you could take a color off the market, particularly one of the primary ones. They’re needed elsewhere.

KTM has Orange. All of Italy has Red, but it seems that they boys in Bologna have run off with it. Nothing in blue. It doesn’t flatter you. Too Teuntonic. Green is clearly out of the question. And I’m pretty sure it’s not that purple-color you have on the Bol d’ Or. I do love the black on grey of my RSV Factory. I’m not coming right up with something here, but I’m sure you’ve got someone who can work on it.

Or here’s an idea: All of these are free by the way; we’re family. Why not go the “art car route” pioneered by BMW back in the day. This may run counter to my previous nagging about some of your weirder color schemes, but it’s a classic niche brand play that Leica, BWM, and even Ducati have managed to run with great success. Tart up a limited edition of your premier offer by “borrowing equity”, that’s a fancy branding term, from someone else. My wife is a pretty darned good artist. I can put you in touch if you’d like. If that seems too close to home, there are plenty of folks you could find who could do something nifty for you.

Or, better still, and I’m just riffing here, how about getting all web 2.0 and edgy and let your customers design your bikes. I was thinking about just the graphics here, like they do for t-shirts at Threadless. But why not the entire bike? Technology visionary Patricia Seybold calls this “Outside Innovation.”

I know, I know, it’s your kitchen and you don’t like letting anyone in there while you’re cooking. But this gets back to that whole “engage with your customer” thing and getting all web 2.0eeey like we were talking about. If you don’t know this, and you must, none of us can seem to leave our bikes alone. We’re always foolin and farkling around. Some of it you just don’t want to know about, what with the EPA and the Eurocrats taking emissions so seriously (not to mention CARB). But that still leaves plenty of room for paint and other kinds of aftermarket goodies.

Or how about letting your dealers design your bikes? What? “Betty, get in here, Uncle Bob is drinking again!” No, I don’t mean what you think I mean (what did you think I meant?). I mean stepping more firmly into the aftermarket like Ducati did, or BMW did with their M brand, or Mercedes did with AMG, and making it possible for dealers to buy and install the tasty bits at a better price than the rest of us can.

Oh, And About Your Dealers

I haven’t been to all motorcycle dealers, but I’ve been inside a bunch of them. As you know, they’re kind of all over the place. Some are true emporiums. Some are much less. This is the other side of the Alfred Sloan model.

A huge part of buying my priller was getting to buy it from Dave at MI. You should set up a shrine to him. He cares. He gets it. He knows his bikes and his brands. His dumpy little establishment reeks charm. I wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, I had an opportunity to buy an Aprilia from another dealer with a showroom that would do Toyota proud. I passed.

But hear me on this. It’s not the fancy tile or pricey clothes, though they may help. At this point in the game, the sellers and the buyers have to both love the brand for the sale to happen. It’s all about true believers, and helping keep those true believers in business. Just think about it.

Fix the Caponard; It Might Fix the Brand

It’s probably a small thing and I almost hate to mention it having talked your ear off while your dinner is getting cold. Who knows how it happened, but while nobody was looking, the mighty BMW GS ran off with the prettiest girl at the dance. It’s not just the class leader; it’s the whole school.

It’s possible that game is played and done, but I don’t think so, nor do you judging by the fact that you’re bringing the Stelvio to market. Again, I’m just spitballing here (horrible Americanism), but the faux bruiser corner of the market is well occupied at this point by the Tiger, Ulysses, V-Strom, Multistrada, and now the Stelvio (unless I missed something). Standing all alone over in the hyper-performance corner is KTM with the other icon of the category, the 990 Adventure.

Hint, hint. Go over there and play. You already have done it once with your wonderfully mad Tuono. Well go do it again with nobbies. Make the Capo more like Tony than Antonio. Make it a halo bike. Give some lunatic a couple of days and free run of the parts locker and you’ll have it done. It will do wonders for your brand.

Well, that’s pretty much it for now. Sorry to have gone on so long, but like I said, I felt like I needed to “clear the air.” Write soon and say hello to everyone back where you are.

Ciao

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What’s the best helmet? Treading bravely across a minefield of personal preference http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/24/whats-the-best-helmet-treading-bravely-across-a-minefield-of-personal-preference/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/24/whats-the-best-helmet-treading-bravely-across-a-minefield-of-personal-preference/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2008 01:19:23 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/24/whats-the-best-helmet-treading-bravely-across-a-minefield-of-personal-preference/ Helmets Galore

“So, what’s the best helmet to buy?

It’s almost a trick question; a study in ontology, metaphysics, and physics all rolled together. Still, the question wouldn’t come up so often if it were a layup. I’m either brave enough, or something else enough to bite. So here goes.

It’s not that there isn’t an answer. It’s that there are too many answers.

One obvious factor contributing to the confusion is the bewildering profusion of offerings: There are no fewer than 84 different brands of helmet for sale in the US that carry a Snell sticker. There are even more when you include helmets that are DOT certified only. Staggering. While you’ll never walk into a shop and see that many brands, it’s common to see half a dozen, and Internet stores typically carry twice that. This is an example where choice, normally a good thing, probably isn’t.

It doesn’t stop there. Motorcycles, and everything related to owning and riding them, are like any hobby or enthusiasm. And enthusiasts have opinions. It’s half the fun. In the case of motorcycles, the passions run especially hot, particularly around helmets where there are still a fair number of riders who conflate the use of mandated head protection with the entire Bill of Rights. So add endless amounts of opinionating and bloviating, particularly on Internet forums, as another source of confusion. As you would expect, some of the threads are actually very helpful. Many are just painful.

Finally, there is the issue of the science. There’s a fair amount of it due to the fact that there are multiple standards helmets must meet. But beyond general principles, there is a fair amount of disagreement between standard setters about what exactly a helmet is supposed to do in a crash. If your worldview begins and ends at your own border, maybe there are one or two standards worth noticing. If you prowl the Internet, or worse, if you buy magazines from across the big water (I’m referring now to those of us in the big PX buying UK mags; the inverse never happens), then you’ve got even more conflicting data to sort out.

Sooooooo, what to do?

Okay, with that hugely roundabout disclaimer, I’m going to wade in. So you can decide right now whether to read a word further, here’s my perspective:

I am 51 and in pretty good health and shape. I think I fully understand the risks and rewards of riding motorcycles. I live in a state that mandates helmet wearing. I value my physical well being enough that I put safety at the top of my list of values. I wear all-the-gear-all-the-time (ATGATT). I take classes every year. I read. I practice. I don’t drink and ride. I would wear a helmet regardless. So that’s my bias.

I own a Shoei, Arai, Suomy, and ZR-1. My first helmet was a Shoei. I bought the brand name. I mostly wear the Suomy for reasons I’ll go over in a minute. I am not an economic buyer: I don’t pay a lot of attention to what a helmet costs. When it came time to buy my son, wife, and daughter helmets, I bought them the best, as I understood that concept at the time, as well.

I have seen what happens to helmets first hand when they hit the pavement. My son destroyed a Shoei RF1000 while I was watching. The helmet did its job. He walked away. Had a bit of a concussion, but he’s fine now. And he went off at under 20 mph.

I make a living helping people structure and make difficult decisions. I bring the process, others bring the content. That’s what I’m doing here.

I am a research hound. So I offer no new science, but I can show you what’s out there.

To cut to the chase, here’s what you need to know . . .

1. If you know for a fact that you’re not going to crash and that no bugs, stones, or debris are going to hit you in the head or face, there is no need to wear a helmet. A doo-rag and a pair of sunglasses are probably just fine. If you also know the number for the winning lottery ticket, would you please call me?

2. The best helmet is the one on your head. If you’re still stuck in the completely pointless debate about why wearing helmets is a good idea, I have nothing that will help you. It’s your head. I have a strong libertarian streak in me, but the science is against you on this one. Wearing a helmet saves lives. Any helmet is better than no helmet.

3. Good helmets save more lives. There is a qualitative difference that shows up in comfort (which means many things) and the degree to which the helmet will protect your brain from damaging amounts of acceleration in a crash. Buy the best helmet you can.

4. The helmets that protect your head the best, meaning they transfer the least shock to your brain, are: AGV Ti-Tech, Fulmer AFD4, Suomy Spec 1R, Shark RSX, Schuberth S-1, Vemar VSR and ZR1. That covers the complete range of price points and styles. If you don’t like that list, buy an Arai, Shoei, Scorpion, or HJC. If you still don’t like that list, you probably shouldn’t be reading this anyway. I didn’t write it for gear geeks.

5. Contrary to popular misconception, helmets have little or no adverse impact on your ability to hear or see in traffic. See point 1.

6. The most important thing to look for in a helmet is quality (that means a lot of things). After that, it’s fit. If the helmet doesn’t fit you properly, it won’t do its job when the time comes.

7. There are many types of helmets: Flip-Up Helmets, Full Face Helmets, Off-Road Helmets,Open Face Helmets, Shorty Helmets. If your primary concern is protecting your head, there is only one choice: Full Face Helmets. Let me know the next racer you see wearing something other than a Full Face helmet.

8. If you’ve never bought a helmet before, the attributes you won’t think about are weight, ventilation, fogging, and aerodynamics. It turns out that these matter. The part you probably will think about is colors and graphics. These don’t matter except that brighter colors are more visible. Making yourself visible is good.
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. The rest is just detail.

How to decide for yourself

Before we go any further, and by all means skip ahead if you want, a word or three about making YOUR OWN decision about what helmet to buy.

There isn’t a right answer. There is a right answer for you. You can make your decision any way you want. You can throw darts, pull names from a can, buy what your buddy uses, or let a sales person tell you what to buy. Up to you.

There is a way to make this decision in a high-quality way, even if you know nothing about helmets. To do that, make a grid. On one axis, put your values. On the other your choices.

Values are what you want. Make a list of no more than five. Consider these: Quality, price, fit, noise/quiet, weight, graphics. That’s six. Think about throwing one overboard or making a bigger table. Or try: shock, fit, noise, weight, and fogging.

Choices are what you can choose. In this case, that’s the actual helmets. Again, no more than five.

What you’re going to do is use a scale to grade each choice by each value. The scale can be A, B, C, D, or 1—10, or anything that pleases you. Head to the internet and do some research. Talk to people. Read some reviews. Then grade each helmet by each criteria. Do the math and pick the helmet that’s best for you.

Helmet Decision Table

There are lots of subtleties and wrinkles to this. For example, you can weight different values as more or less important. Do that if you need to, but for now, just make the grid. It will help a lot. (For more on decision-quality techniques, go to www.decision-quality.com)

Buy A Suomy, Shark, Shuberth, AGV, Vemar or ZR1

For those of you who don’t like to read, here’s the very short story. If you believe the considerable science that supports what follows, you should buy a helmet that transfers less shock to your head. In the US, here are your best choices (with some quick comments):

  • Z1R ZRP-1 (Inexpensive, fits like a Shoei, doesn’t vent well, Made by HJC)
  • Fulmer AFD4 (No personal experience with these)
  • AGV Ti-Tech (Worn by Italian motorcycle gods)
  • Schuberth S-1 (Very expensive, heavy, large, and quiet)
  • Shark RSX (Very comfortable, vent well, noisyish, big chin bar)
  • Vemar VSR (No personal experience with these)
  • Suomy Spec 1R (Light weight, noisy, obnoxious graphics, vents superbly, fits tight, buy one size up)

That covers a full range of price points, features, and attributes. There may be other reasons to buy other helmets and other brands, but based solely on the single criteria of transferring the least shock to your head, those are the winners. As an aside, it’s worth noting that the AGV, Shark, Suomy, and Vemar are built with track riding in mind. In other words, the helmets built for the most extreme riding are built to a softer standard than what you’re wearing if you buy a Snell helmet.

Having said all that, not one of those helmets is among the U.S. market leaders. Although I’m not privy to actual share numbers, I have conducted polls of groups that are broadly representative of US-based, middle aged, non-cruiser riders. I’ve also talked to people who sell helmets for a living. Here’s the general consensus as to the general shape of the market:

  • The market leaders at the top are Shoei and Arai.
  • The market leaders for “price point” helmets are HJC and Scorpion.
  • The most popular flip up helmets are Nolan, Shoei, and HJC.
  • Everyone else is just everyone else.

There’s a bit of a reinforcing loop going on here. People but popular brands making them more popular. Beyond that, there is a certain undeniable logic in buying from large, well-funded companies that invest in research, design, materials, and manufacturing. This is true of any category or gear or equipment I can think of. It’s hard to argue with here.

So, if you just can’t abide my safety first argument, another strategy you could follow is “buy the market leader.” I actually don’t think that’s a bad idea. Shoei, Arai, HJC, and Scorpion are top quality companies that do their own research, development, and engineering. Bell has recently come out with a very fine looking helmet. Each of these companies take testing and certification seriously. They have good distribution and dealer relationships which means if there’s a problem, there’s someone to talk to. If you care, HJC is the largest in the world; Scorpion has a very large manufacturing facility right here in the big PX.

Stay away from “cheap” helmets completely. There are reasons why they’re cheap.

If you’re still grind your teeth because I haven’t yet mentioned your favorite brand, I apologize. If you know that much to have that strong an opinion, you’re probably not reading this anyway.

What you really need to know about protecting your head

Before a couple of years ago, the average helmet buyer knew next to nothing about how to tell a good helmet from a bad helmet. Beyond looking for a Snell or DOT sticker on the back, most people bought on some combination of what the guy at the shop was pushing, what a buddy recommended, or what they saw written across the front of a favorite racer. In the US, back in the day, that meant Bell. More recently, that’s meant Shoei and Arai at the top end, and HJC, Scorpion, and a bunch of others at the lower end.

All of this happy ignorance got detonated when Motorcyclist Magazine threw a grenade at Snell and pretty much everyone building helmets to that standard. In my mind, the article and everything that followed (a follow up, plus rebuttal from Snell, and back and forth) is now required reading. Here’s the link.

If the term “required reading” somehow didn’t register, the gist of their findings, and they hired a top-flight lab to do the hard work of destroying helmets, boils down to a pretty simple set of thoughts . . .

  1. Concussions are bad. They are even worse as you get older.
  2. Concussions come from rapidly accelerating the head and then rapidly decelerating it. Where the skull goes, the soft jello-like thing inside called the brain follows. The brain crashing into the inside of your skull is actually the problem.
  3. So anything that transfers less shock to the head in a crash is good. The lesser the better.

And as simple as that might sound, therein lies the controversy. Not the part about diminishing the shock. The part about the best way to do that. Here are the opening paragraphs from the motorcyclist magazine article. Hopefully you’ll decide to read it all the way through, and then come back.

There’s a fundamental debate raging in the motorcycle helmet industry. In a fiberglass-reinforced, expanded-polystyrene nutshell, it’s a debate about how strong and how stiff a helmet should be to provide the best possible protection.

Why the debate? Because if a helmet is too stiff it can be less able to prevent brain injury in the kinds of crashes you’re most likely to have. And if it’s too soft, it might not protect you in a violent, high-energy crash. What’s just right? Well, that’s why it’s called a debate. If you knew what your head was going to hit and how hard, you could choose the perfect helmet for that crash. But crashes are accidents. So you have to guess.

To understand how a helmet protects—or doesn’t protect—your brain, it helps to appreciate just how fragile that organ actually is. The consistency of the human brain is like warm Jello. It’s so gooey that when pathologists remove a brain from a cadaver, they have to use a kind of cheesecloth hammock to hold it together as it comes out of the skull.

Your brain basically floats inside your skull, within a bath of cervical-spinal fluid and a protective cocoon called the dura. But when your skull stops suddenly—as it does when it hits something hard—the brain keeps going, as Sir Isaac Newton predicted. Then it has its own collision with the inside of the skull. If that collision is too severe, the brain can sustain any number of injuries, from shearing of the brain tissue to bleeding in the brain, or between the brain and the dura, or between the dura and the skull. And after your brain is injured, even more damage can occur. When the brain is bashed or injured internally, bleeding and inflammation make it swell. When your brain swells inside the skull, there’s no place for that extra volume to go. So it presses harder against the inside of the skull and tries to squeeze through any opening, bulging out of your eye sockets and oozing down the base of the skull. As it squeezes, more damage is done to some very vital regions.

None of this is good.

To make buying a helmet in the U.S as confusing as possible, there are at least four standards a street motorcycle helmet can meet. The price of entry is the DOT standard, called FMVSS 218, that every street helmet sold here is legally required to pass. There is the European standard, called ECE 22-05, accepted by more than 50 countries. There’s the BSI 6658 Type A standard from Britain. And lastly the Snell M2000/M2005 standard, a voluntary, private standard used primarily in the U.S. So every helmet for street use here must meet the DOT standard, and might or might not meet one of the others. Just by looking at the published requirements for each standard, you would guess a DOT-only helmet would be designed to be the softest, with an ECE helmet very close, then a BSI helmet, and then a Snell helmet.

Dr. Hurt sees the Snell standard in pretty much the same light.

“What should the [G] limit on helmets be? Just as helmet designs should be rounder, smoother and safer, they should also be softer, softer, softer. Because people are wearing these so-called high-performance helmets and are getting diffused [brain] injuries … well, they’re screwed up for life. Taking 300 Gs is not a safe thing.

“We’ve got people that we’ve replicated helmet [impacts] on that took 250, 230 Gs [in their accidents]. And they’ve got a diffuse injury they’re not gonna get rid of. The helmet has a good whack on it, but so what? If they’d had a softer helmet they’d have been better off.”

Again, to cut to the chase, Snell helmets are judged to be too hard. And after much bitching and moaning, the Snell foundation apparently agrees as they are going to implement a new standard somewhere out in the distant future. It’s called M2010, and you can read the draft standard here if you like. Basically they’re caving in to the science.

For more about the BSI standard, go to Suomy’s site and read all about it. It’s worth the time.

But how do I pick? Fit.

Unless you know for certain exactly what helmet you want, you’re a fool to buy sight-unseen on the Internet. The only caveat is if you can do a buy and try. Even going by the sizing charts many companies publish, the fit is still a crapshoot. You simply have to try them on.

Doug Micone

To sort out this part of the story, I wandered over to Seattle Cycle Center and talked with Doug Micone about what to look for in a helmet. SCC ha been around 25 years and Doug has been minding things there for five years. He’s sold hundreds and hundreds of helmets, mostly to middle-aged guys. Again, if you bore easily, I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s what he says you should look for:

  • Quality
  • Fit
  • Weight
  • Graphics
  • Noise
  • Ventilation

Here’s a snip from our conversation.

When you’re looking to carry a helmet, what do you look for?

Market share. Quality. If they’ve had problems in the past, we stay away.

When the newbie comes in, what do they ask for?

Safety mostly. Scooter people tend to what the least possible.

When and experienced guy comes in . . .

He wants an up-brand helmet.

If he’s an Arai guy, does he buy Arai?

Sometimes they swap. But they don’t step down. They’re not going to go from a Shoei to an HJC. They may go back and forth between Arai and Shoei.

When you recommend a helmet, what are you typically saying?

The fit. The biggest thing is the fit. A lot of people think a loose fitting helment is a good fitting helmet. That’s not a good thing. So that’s the first thing . . . make sure they have the right fit.

I’ve walked out with helmets that are very tight, and some are just tight . . .

A lot depends on the brand. The Shoei helmet uses a new padding that doesn’t break down. The fitting you walk out the door with is the fit you’ll get. With the Arai, it will pack out quite a bit.

After fit . . .

Fit, and then I think it’s weight. Guys that ride a lot tend to like the lighter helmet. Less fatigue. You enjoy the ride more.

For new guys, I recommend an inexpensive helmet. They don’t know how much they’ll enjoy. For a lot of new riders, we recommend HJC or Scorpion.

I’ve bought maybe five helmets in the last couple of years. What I notice now is noise, aerodynamics, how much air flows, the ability to control fogging on the screen . . . is there a quietest helmet?

I would probably say the Shoei . . . except the flip-ups. A lot depends on the jacket you’re wearing too. If you’re wearing a loose-fitting textile jacket . . . if you just push on it you can hear a difference in noise.
That would be the quietest . . .

Arai is pretty quiet, but not as. Shoei has a better mechanism and sealing for the shield. One of the noisiest is the Scorpion. People complain about it.

You mentioned the mechanism on the Shoei. It’s quite a flush fit on the side . . .

On the Arai they use these side plates, which can cause noise. Suomys are noisy but they vent well. That’s the trade-off. If they vent well, they can be noisy. It’s must more places for air to whistle.

So what’s best for keeping clear . . .

Suomy is best for venting. Keeping the shield clear: HJC and Scorpion. They use a fog-free lens. The Shoei does have a pinlock system you can buy that works really well. It will not fog. They have it for Shoei and HJC. Arai will come out with one next month.

Helmets are good. Here’s why.

I’ve put this towards the end because it’s the boring part. It’s the nitty gritty about why helmets matter. If you’re already drinking that brand of Kool-Aid, you can skip this part. If not and you find yourself easily swayed by facts, read on.

In the US, the first truly authoritative study of motorcycle crashes was conducted by researcher Harry Hurt, who investigated almost every aspect of 900 motorcycle accidents in the Los Angeles area. Additionally, Hurt and his staff analyzed 3,600 motorcycle traffic accident reports in the same geographic area.

An online summery lists 53 findings, all of which are worth reviewing. Here are the ones that relate to the topic of helmets.

1. Approximately three-fourths of these motorcycle accidents involved collision with another vehicle, which was most usually a passenger automobile. [That means breaking the first rule of motorcycling: Don’t hit anything hard. Rule two is: don’t get hit by anything hard.]

2. Approximately one-fourth of these motorcycle accidents were single vehicle accidents involving the motorcycle colliding with the roadway or some fixed object in the environment. [See the first rule of motorcycling; Roads and Fixed Objects are “hard.”]

6. In the multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents. [Remember Ben Rothlisberger? Drivers of cars just don’t see riders of bikes.]

15. The median pre-crash speed was 29.8 mph, and the median crash speed was 21.5 mph, and the one-in-a-thousand crash speed is approximately 86 mph. [Hold this thought. It’s important when it comes to understanding helmet standards.]

35. Likelihood of injury is extremely high in these motorcycle accidents-98% of the multiple vehicle collisions and 96% of the single vehicle accidents resulted in some kind of injury to the motorcycle rider; 45% resulted in more than a minor injury.

44. The most deadly injuries to the accident victims were injuries to the chest and head.

45. The use of the safety helmet is the single critical factor in the prevention of reduction of head injury; the safety helmet which complies with FMVSS 218 is a significantly effective injury countermeasure.

46. Safety helmet use caused no attenuation of critical traffic sounds, no limitation of precrash visual field, and no fatigue or loss of attention; no element of accident causation was related to helmet use.

48. Helmeted riders and passengers showed significantly lower head and neck injury for all types of injury, at all levels of injury severity.

49. The increased coverage of the full facial coverage helmet increases protection, and significantly reduces face injuries.

50. There is not liability for neck injury by wearing a safety helmet; helmeted riders had less neck injuries than unhelmeted riders. Only four minor injuries were attributable to helmet use, and in each case the helmet prevented possible critical or fatal head injury.

51. Sixty percent of the motorcyclists were not wearing safety helmets at the time of the accident. Of this group, 26% said they did not wear helmets because they were uncomfortable and inconvenient, and 53% simply had no expectation of accident involvement.

Don’t helmets make it hard to see and hear?

In a word, “no.”
Here’s the longer version from a study conducted for the NHTSA, by James McKniqht and A. Scott McKniqht at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation:

The Effects of Motorcycle Helmets Upon Seeing and Hearing

Motorcycle crash statistics indicate that helmets are about 29 percent effective in preventing crash fatalities. That is, on average, riders wearing a helmet have a 29 percent better chance of surviving a crash than riders without a helmet.

This study assessed the effects of motorcycle helmets upon seeing and hearing by having 50 riders operate over a test route, changing lanes in response to an audible signal under three helmet conditions: none, partial coverage, and full coverage. Half of the subjects were assessed for the degree of head rotation during lane changes, while the other half were assessed for hearing threshold (decibel level at which they first responded to the signal).

Results showed that subjects in the vision study increased the degree of head rotation in proportion to the vision restrictions imposed by the helmet, though not to the full extent of the restriction. Subjects in the hearing study evidenced no differences in hearing thresholds across the three helmet conditions. The authors conclude that the effects of helmets upon the ability to see and hear are, at most, far too small to compromise the safety benefits offered by head protection.

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Conversation with FJRobert: A boy with a cushman, combat veteran, long distance rider http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/23/conversation-with-fjrobert-a-boy-with-a-cushman-combat-veteran-long-distance-rider/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/23/conversation-with-fjrobert-a-boy-with-a-cushman-combat-veteran-long-distance-rider/#comments Sun, 23 Mar 2008 20:50:12 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/23/conversation-with-fjrobert-a-boy-with-a-cushman-combat-veteran-long-distance-rider/ FJRobert told me his story in one long sweeping email. I continue to be impressed, and this may come from some sort of archetypal father/son longing, with stories of boys and their dads and the first bicycle. Robert’s tale of building his first bike with his dad echoes so many others I know of. There is magic in the retelling because there is magic in remembering, even if it’s just a a collective memory.

I am a bit younger than Robert so I don’t have any personal connection to the old Cushmans, but I know a lot of guys do. And in another collective echo, Robert did what nearly every guy has done before and since: he customized it, putting a bigger motor in it and feeling the rush of piloting it to 60 mph, no doubt winding that 8-hp motor to the absolute max.

Finally, before turning this over to Robert, let me also draw your attention to the picture he included of himself standing on the saddle of his Harley. It’s painful to look at, not because it’s such an obviously dumb thing to do, but because of the story it wants to tell of a man home from a war that took so much from so many.

Truly and really finally, make sure you look at the photo of young Robert in SE Asia all the way at the end of this. If you remember the times at all, you’ll find it hard not to stare.

My first brush with owning two wheels was during the time of the Schwinn Stingrays. My Dad decided we could build one (cheaper) together from an old girls type bike. We proceeded to strip it down and apply Orange paint (My choice) and add the upright handlebars and Stingray seat. Man did that set me free! I could now roam a greater distance with my friends.

I lived in Torrance, CA at the time there was a large field across the street where the kids in the neighborhood built a track with small jumps and obstacles. Several years later I got a bike that had 10 gears! And hand brakes! I could really fly now. I remember doing “stoppies” at around 12-13 years old until one day I clamped on the brake and flipped it over, landing on my back in the middle of the street! Lost some of my bravery for a while after that . . .

One day when I was five or six a friend of my Dad’s came over on a Cushman scooter and took me for a ride. Talk about holding on tight and wind in your face! This was heaven! Also, by this time, a motorcycle club had moved into some old water type tanks in the field across the street, cutting doors into the sides. Of course I was told to stay away but really loved the loud bikes and bon fires at night.

My first real motorcycle ride was on a Harley Dresser that one of my Dad’s friends from work came over on. This was around 1958 (I was about 8). I remembered the thrill of the scooter ride and when he asked me if I’d like a ride I hopped on. Again, There was this awesome feeling of the wind in my face and a certain amount of danger like I had on the scooter only much more intense. I was hooked and knew what I wanted to have as transportation when I could get a drivers license.

Moving to Oklahoma

Due to my parents getting divorced I wound up with my Mom and Sister in Oklahoma City the summer of 1963. It was a rather traumatic experience leaving all my relatives and friends behind, leaving the beach where I had just started surfing after many years of tubes and boogie boards, to now be in the land of cowboys and Indians!

My Stepfather wound up being pretty cool. He was Cherokee Indian and had started in the Navy as an E-1. When he passed away he was a Commander in the Reserves! Pretty impressive if you think about it.

I came home from school on my 14th birthday and there was a like-new five horsepower black Cushman scooter! My life (at that time) was complete! My own motorcycle! During the next couple of weeks I went down and took the test to have a daylight only, under 10 hp bike license. Taking the ride around the parking lot to show the tester I could control that Cushman it put my heart in my throat. I had passed the written test and this was going to get me on the street if I completed it without problems. And I passed!

This was the beginning of my riding all the free time I had. I rode that scooter to school and then on the dirt roads south of town with another friend who had a bike. There is nothing like the freedom and feeling of controlling your own ride while having the wind in your face! I would stay out until dinner or dark whichever came first. It was such an escape for me. I no longer felt depressed about leaving CA. I had the world to ride!

I found some guys that had built a little oval dirt track and began trying to go faster and faster. It was evident I did not have nearly enough motor for this.

Stepping up to more power

My step dad’s brother worked at the airport and had an 8 hp Cushman industrial engine, new on the shelf. I made a deal with him and saved enough money to purchase it. As always my step dad said, “Do it yourself, that’s how you learn.” I pulled the motor out of the bike and put the new one in. Holy Cow! A turn of the throttle and the acceleration was so good I could barely hold on! I remember thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” I could get out on the highway and open it up, doing almost 60 mph winding out first before shifting into high gear (it had a two-speed tranny). It didn’t have enough power to go any faster in high, but to me, it just felt so powerful I knew all was right in the world.

My step dad owned an oil field pipe and supply company. He told me he would match dollar for dollar all the money I saved towards a new bike. I worked after school and weekends cleaning pipe threads and loading and unloading pipe from flatbeds with a “gin” truck. Finally I had enough money and went down and traded the Cushman for a new 80cc Yamaha.

The Yamaha opened a whole new world to me with its better handling and performance. I saved and put a set of Pirelli tires on it for street and dirt. I was now able to fly around the track compared to the Cushman.

Another side benefit was being able to go farther in the limited daylight hours. I soon became one of the better riders around our “group,” whether it was in the dirt or on the street.

I kept working and saving money and soon bought a twin cylinder 100cc Yamaha around 1965. I again put Pirelli tires on it and had a set of expansion chambers made for it along with adding a number plate and removing lights. I found a way to ride side streets to high school.

When I turned 16 I got my real drivers license and a 1957 Chevy. I saved and put five-spoke mag wheels on it and had it painted Orange. Now I could pull a small trailer and take my bike around to different tracks and race! The best I ever did was second place but really enjoyed scrambles and short track racing during high school. As an aside, I would recommend anyone wanting to ride motorcycles to begin on the dirt with a small bike where you will learn more about control than you ever could on the street. A Motorcycle Safety Foundation or equivalent course would be the next step. Those without experience and/or training are rolling a set of loaded dice when they put a leg over a bike.

Home from Vietnam

(crazy 70s, me on a bike)

Since then I have owned many bikes starting with a ‘57 Harley I bought just after leaving Vietnam. During a pass from boot camp I saw Easy Rider and when I jumped out of a helicopter on the Cambodian border I met a now life-long friend that was in a motorcycle club. These two things influenced me to buy the biggest American bike I could, the Harley Davidson. This became a way to get the huge adrenalin rush I had been experiencing in combat and needed to live and feel normal again. Looking back, I don’t know that without the danger if I would have become so involved in riding. Living off my bike and working at shops as a mechanic building motors, trannys and whole bikes for customers was a way of life for me during the ’70s and ’80s.

Robert on the Road

I’ve owned eight Harleys, two Hondas, one Kawasaki, and my latest, the FJR Yamaha.

Since the first of the year I have put on over 10,000 miles (2 1/2 months) and will put many more on now that the mountains are starting to get passable again. My preference in riding is mostly mountains, but have started to really enjoy the long distance type of riding.

My first long distance rally was the Land of Enchantment in New Mexico last year. I have recently completed an IBA certified ride from coast to coast in under 44 hours called the 50CC. I’ve always wanted to cross the nation by motorcycle and the timing was excellent to do this ride, meet and talk with some of the most accomplished riders in the nation at the annual IBA Pizza Party, visit Daytona during bike week, and visit a riding buddy in Orlando, FL all on the same trip.

I was a bit under the weather when I began the ride but persevered and finished within the time limits. I had a fantastic ride with a bit of weather and road construction thrown in just to cover all the bases. The rain wasn’t too bad but the wind kept me on my toes for a good deal of the ride. This was a way to test my mental, physical, and mechanical ability and preparation.

I love challenges and this was a pretty good way to push myself at 57 years young. The solitude gives you time to let your mind go without outside influences and really clear your head for a better attitude towards life in general. My own personal demons become more restricted when I’m able to ride. When you’re in a car your watching the scenery go by and on a motorcycle you’re part of it: you feel it, smell it and feel much more alive and in tune with the world.

I would like to do a Border-to-Border ride and a BBG next, but finances and family dictate how much I can do in the LD circles.

My present Wife of 13 years is completely supportive of whatever needs I feel and does a small amount of riding with me; nothing more than 1,000 mile trips so far. With my first child, a boy 5 years old, I have been given a new perspective on life and family since my parents and grandparents have long since passed on. Life has been like riding a mountain road on a motorcycle with tight and sweeping turns along the way, traveling with let downs and exuberance hoping to come out on the other side having done your best.

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Conversation with Kevin Cole; 300,000 crash-free miles and going strong http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/21/conversation-with-kevin-cole-300000-crash-free-miles-and-going-strong/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/21/conversation-with-kevin-cole-300000-crash-free-miles-and-going-strong/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2008 22:50:41 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/21/conversation-with-kevin-cole-300000-crash-free-miles-and-going-strong/ Kevin Cole Riding

I was sitting with Dave Richardson (of Guzziology fame) today and he was ribbing me about how I was filling up midliferider with other people’s words. “What a great gig you have. You get other people to do your writing for you.” Errrr, Ummmm, okay.

Leaving aside the fact that I generate plenty of my own words, too many some might say, where’s the beef? There isn’t one of these conversations I haven’t enjoyed. There isn’t one I haven’t read several times. They’re all just great stories and the most recent, no matter who it’s with and this is no exception, without fail, becomes my new all time favorite.

Kevin gets his seat at the big table for at least two reasons. His story about his first bike, a Honda 90, is the whole point of this blog all wrapped up and ready to take home. It’s transporting. You can’t read about Walter and Henry and Darwin and welding that busted up kick-starter without wanting to cast the movie and start shooting on Monday. It’s paragraph after paragraph of great story telling about a time, a place, a guy, and a bike, none of which will ever happen again in this country. In fact, reading it caused echos of a trip I recently made to Vietnam to reverberate . . . all those tiny-engined Hondas, Suzukis, and various Chinese brands being welded on and worked on, on every street corner and sidewalk around . . . same dynamics, different time and place. That’s good story telling.

The other remarkable bit about Kev is his record of 300,000 road miles without going down. That’s a lot of fine riding. I made it 2,500 miles before I dropped my first “mid-life” bike.

I said there were two reasons. There’s actually a third. Kev and his wife are both find photographers, a hobby/habit that seems to twin-up nicely with riding.

Enjoy reading and looking.

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, do you have family, that sort of thing.

I am 53 years old (54 in May) and work at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Tx. This is our nation’s final assembly point for nuclear weapons. I serve as the facility manager and procurement officer for the on-site medical clinic that performs a high volume of physicals per week, monitors hazardous materials exposures and takes care of all the minor OJIs that happen. We also have full-time shrinks on staff to administer our human reliability program that has the largest HRP population of any NNSA site. You can’t have whackos working on nukes ya know.

Do you remember your first bicycle? Is there a good story about it?

I don’t recall the first bicycle but I do remember my first multi-speed bike. It was a Raleigh three-speed with the cable actuated rear drive on the right hand grip. I was king of the road with that baby. Bought it in the summer of 1965 for $10 from one of the football coaches who was pissed at his son for letting it sit out in the rain a few months after getting it for his birthday.

I took that bike and cleaned it up really good. I rode it until I got my first motorcycle in 1968. Then in 1970, my best buddy and I decided to build a fishing wagon and cut the bike up to use it as power for a paddle wheel.

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

First ride was on a 1960 something Lambretta scooter that my uncle gave to my brothers. I wasn’t old enough then to drive but got to go for lots of rides; around and around a half-block dirt track across the street from our house. That went on from 1963 until about 1967 or so, but I sort of got the bug for bikes then and never lost it.

What was the first bike you owned?

Well, this is what I have from my journal:

1964 Honda 90—
Color—White
Frame—Box
Engine—89cc single, horizontal single
Accessories—none
Price–$100.00
Date—Spring 1968

I had convinced my parents that I was responsible and mature enough to use this bike for getting to and from work and that it would be much easier to operate and maintain than a car. Besides I could not afford a car and neither could they, and I had to work if I wanted any spending money of my own. So the permission was given, I found this bike in the Amarillo newspaper, and I made the deal. Dad took me to get it in his lime green ’59 Ford pick-up.

The first thing I did was add a set of Bates mirrors on the recommendation of Darwin Floyd (more about Darwin later). They were flat mirrors cost about $4.00 each. Back in 68 that was a very expensive mirror for a bike.

Another early modification that had to be done was repair of the kick-starter. It had been poorly welded before I purchased the bike and the owner had assured me that it was professionally done (What a crock). Anyway, one of my good friends and riding buddy, Henry Lingenfelter lived on a farm and said his father was a very good welder, so I drove out to their place about seven miles East of Panhandle on Hwy. 60.

Walter first used a torch to clean up the mess left by the last guy, and when he had remove all of the excess slag and the like we discovered that the shaft was only about half there. That made the new welding job more of a challenge. Walter gave it his best shot, not once but three times. Each time the kick starter held-up for about two or three weeks. After that I just got used to push starting the little beast. It was not that hard to run along side with it in gear and the clutch pulled in, and then when I had enough speed up, hop on and pop the clutch. I got so good at this technique that I could usually get started before the guys who had working kick-starters, but was no match for those with electric starters. What the hey, I was young, 14, and strong, and just considered it another part of staying in shape to play football.

On a side note, several years later Walter Lingenfelter was killed in a car/train accident out where he lived on the farm East of Panhandle. I believe it was 1978 while I was living in Lubbock with Mark Reynolds at the University Arms apartment complex. Walter had always treated all of Henry’s friends as if they were his own kids, probably better than most of their own dads treated them (that was the case with me anyway). He will never be forgotten.

That first summer I used the 90 to commute back and forth from Panhandle to the Stucky’s candy shop/gas station in Conway where I worked as a station attendant. That little bike would run 60mph on a good day and easily got me to and from work on a daily basis.

Not too long into that summer I quit Stucky’s and went to work for L.R. Copeland, a retired Air Force Colonel who farmed a half section of land about four miles East of Panhandle. Again the 90 came through as a great little machine. I even used it when Danny May and I both had to get to Copeland’s to buck bales each time his 50 or so acres of alfalfa was cut and baled. Of course it would only run about 50-55 with two of us on it. We both probably weighed about 110 pounds back then though.

Neither of us could afford a real helmet at the time so we used construction hard hats that we held on with shoestrings: Got kind of painful after a while. By mid summer I had enough money to buy a cheap helmet $15.00; thought I was pretty cool too.

Until we both had helmets, we would take the long way around town making a twenty-mile trip out of what should have been only seven. We thought we were fooling the cops that way. Little did we realize that they knew the scam all along but left us alone because they knew we needed the jobs and that was the only way we could get to and from work. I found that out later when we matured enough to not be afraid of them and got to know them as normal guys.

Another memorable time on the 90 was when I got a real ass-chewing from the school superintendent for having it parked on the old dirt running track at the high school. A bunch of us guys were up there playing flag football and he came along with a chip on his shoulder about something. Anyway they all had vehicles parked on the track but I was the only one he really singled out. I think he just hated bikes and anyone who rode them. Sweet revenge though, a few weeks later, I took one of his daughters for a ride into the country where we made out for a couple of hours. Seems like the only other girl I ever took on the 90 was my first love, Lana McCaskey, the most beautiful blonde in world; or so I thought at the time.

So, how did I learn to ride? I don’t really recall, it just sort of came naturally after some brief instructions from my oldest brother, I think. I just seemed to take to it like a duck in water.

I did get some very good instructions, or some might consider them orders from our local “Arthur Fonzarelli,” Darwin Floyd. As I mentioned earlier, he was dating my good buddy’s sister, Julie Lingenfelter. Julie was Henry’s sister.

I believe Henry got a bike (blue Yamaha 250) shortly after I did and it was not long before we started riding together and Darwin kind of took us under his wing to make sure we learned to ride safely from the very beginning. He would take us out on the back roads around the Lingenfelter farm and teach us all about counter-steering, obstacle avoidance, quick stops, pretty much most everything you might learn in an MSF class today.

I had always been pretty mature minded for my age and took a real liking to Darwin for having cared enough to spend time with us younger guys like that. I suppose the safety stuff he taught me back in 1968 has probably saved my life more than once. Of course I did a lot of reading and practicing on my own back in those days too.

I kept that little Honda 90 for about two years and logged up approximately 12,000 miles on it. But it was getting old having the smallest bike in the group of guys that I had come to hang out with.

How many bikes have you owned?

Ten, purchased (or acquired) in this order:
1964 Honda 90 (1968 to 1970)
1968 Honda CB 350 (1970 to 1972)
1972 Honda CB 450 (1972 to 1979)
1976 BMW R75/6 (1977 to 1980)
1999 BMW R1200C (2000 to 2004–totaled by bro-in-law in Aug 2004)
1985 Honda Rebel 250 (2000 to present)
1998 BMW R1100RT (2001 to present)
1986 Honda Rebel 450 (2004 to present–wife’s bike)
2000 BMW R1200C (2004 to present)
1979 BMW R80S (2007 to present–gift from a friend)

How many bikes have you ridden?

Counting the Lambretta and the Sears Allstate my brothers had; only 15 that I rode more than a few minutes. That is discounting the literally hundreds I test road on my first job after high school, working for Sharp’s Honda in Amarillo, where I was assigned to assemble new bikes from the crate, tune them up and test ride them.

What do you own now?

1985 Honda Rebel 250
1998 BMW R1100RT
1986 Honda Rebel 450
2000 BMW R1200C
1979 BMW R80S

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?

At the current rate ~30K

Riding gear of choice?

  • Motoport pants for winter
  • Tourmaster mesh pants for summer
  • Joe Rocket Jackets (solid fabric in winter and mesh in the summer)
  • Tourmaster Winter Elite gloves
  • Held mesh summer gloves Planning to purchase Gerbing electric gloves for next winter season; circulation is making the mornings seem colder every year.
  • Currently using Nolan N100 helmet but considering a new HJC SyMax II this year
  • Rocky insulated military style boots

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now?

I ride every chance I get, although the cost of gasoline is beginning to put a bit of a damper on that. I commute to work every day that the temperature is above 25 degrees and there is no moisture in the forecast. Once spring is here, there has to be a very high probability of heavy rain or severe weather to keep me from commuting on the bike(s).

I will usually get on the bike every morning it is not raining with the attitude that if I can get to work dry, it doesn’t matter if I get wet going home; I probably needed the shower anyway. My daily commute is ~66 miles and the last two years I commuted on the bikes 191 days in 2006 and 189 days in 2007.

In the past few years, I regularly took the long way home that sometimes took me as much as 400 miles to get home when it is normally only 33. I call that miracle mileage.

I also wrote a newsletter for the local BMW club for six years beginning in 2001 through 2007, but the interest waned and peoples’ lives just seemed to get too busy (including mine) to keep that going. It was a rather eclectic group though.

The founder was Eddie Scott an Amarillo attorney who wanted the group to be open to all riders, not just BMW guys, so he adopted the policy of, “If you can spell BMW, come ride with us.” I did my best to keep that attitude in myself and in the group until we unofficially dissolved last year due to the afore-mentioned lack of interest and time.

The group was called the Palo Duro Riders of Amarillo though we had members from all over the Panhandle of Texas. They ranged in diversity from a retired dentist to young guys on R1100Ss. At the peak of interest in about 2003 we were having 25 to 30 people show up for our only regularly planned event called a ride-eat-ride or RER. We would simply meet at a restaurant determined at the previous RER on a Saturday afternoon for lunch and some would ride more miles some would just go straight to and from. We even had couple of older guys riding: the dentist who is now 80 something and another guy that just turned 82. I still get to ride with him on occasion, (he rides a 2000 R1100RT as good as any youngster I’ve seen).

Have you ever been able to get paid for any of your writing and riding?

While not my profession, I did get the opportunity to make a few bucks riding in the fall of 2006 when I landed a contract with Mad Maps to ride and report on interesting loops around the Texas Panhandle. They allowed me to submit five loops that should be published some time this summer. ( I’m the 10th guy down). I have also made a few extra dollars with some accessories I invented for the BMW R1200C and R1100RT (luggage racks & seats mostly).

You mentioned photography. How do you fit that with riding and owning motorcycles? For me, it’s a natural but difficult fit. Natural in when I’m riding, I’m usually passing through some pretty nice places. Difficult in that I never want to stop once I get going. So I only take pictures when I have to pee or get fuel.

For a while after I first got back into biking after my nearly 20 year hiatus, I simply rode the wheels off the ‘99 cruiser. After I met my wife who shared my passion for photography, I began to stop and smell the roses a bit more in the form of taking time to compose and shoot hundreds of pictures on virtually every ride we take together. (Gotta have something to remember it all when the mind starts to go and I’m too old to hold a bike up). I even take lots of time for pictures when I ride solo now.
What attracted you to motorcycling?

I guess it must have been the thrill of those first rides on the Lambretta in the mid 60s. Then came some good shows like Easy Rider, Electraglide in Blue and Then Came Bronson that sort of glorified the free spirit of it all.

Why do you ride?

It’s a way of life for me now. You already know the part about how I got started. Here’s the story about how I got back involved after nearly 20 years away from it.

It’s 1995. I had a new job that was paying very nicely. I had been driving my 1984 Jeep Scrambler since purchased new in the fall of 1983. I also had recently purchased a ’95 laser red Ford Mustang. Several of the mid-life guys at work were all into their Harleys and a variety of other bikes – mostly it was the image hound HD guys though. There were lots of conversations & debates going around about the “quality” of different bikes as there always is in a setting like I was in. With me being an old beemer guy from the 70s, I naturally had to throw in my two cents worth on occasion. Those little debates got me to sort of hankerin’ for another bike.

I spotted a 1977 R100/7 for sale in the local paper one day and went for a short test ride. Ended up not buying that one and then just sort of forgot about it mainly due to heavy involvement in golf, racquetball and overall fitness. A few more years pass by to the fall of 1999 and I had a new assignment at work that put me into an area where there were even more of the mid-life guys buying HDs and HD clones and acting like they knew a lot about bikes. I knew from listening to and visiting with several of them that they were pretty green to the sport. I couldn’t believe how many pretending to be seasoned riders had no clue what counter-steering was, something I had learned from an older rider in 1968 on my Honda 90.

As luck would have it one evening on an overtime shift, a buddy of mine who knew I was into BMWs, tossed me a BMW brochure someone had discarded. I got to looking at it and was amazed at the changes made from the time I rode in the late 70s to 1999. Wow! That R1100RT was absolutely gorgeous. I kept that brochure at my desk for a while and would pull it out and dream a little of times gone by and times that could be again.

In November that year (1999), I traveled to Tulsa for a hazardous waste seminar and got my national certification as a hazardous materials manager (CHMM). While in the class in Tulsa, I had plenty of free time in the evenings and made a point to locate the BMW dealership. I wanted to see those new RTs first hand. Ah, but alas, the @#%$ Germans had made them waaaaaaaaaaay too tall for a vertically challenged guy like myself.

I guess when I was younger leaning the R75 way over at stops didn’t bother me. I knew that this newer RT could present some mighty precarious problems though. I looked around the shop some more and spotted a canyon red R1200C. Hmmmmm, looked pretty low; I sat on it and discovered that even in running shoes, I had the balls of both feet pretty solidly planted on the ground.

Of course the week long class with a rental car on company business didn’t give me much of a chance to do any dealing. I returned home and got really busy with work and other hobbies like golfing, bicycling, sailing and fishing, but something inside me was still being drawn back to motorcycling. Practical type that I am though, I just couldn’t justify a bike (like you need to justify a bike –right?).

Anyway, I found myself out on the lake one January afternoon fishing from my water-wagon when a sailing buddy of mine heaved-to and drifted up to chat for a few minutes. We exchanged a few tales, then he hoisted sails and went in for the day. I found out a week later that he had gone home that night after I saw him and died. An aneurysm in his brain had ruptured and he went quietly in the night.

Now this fella was as fit a 57-year old as you were gonna find. He ran 3 to 5 miles every morning, rode bicycles, lifted weights, etc. In fact, he and I had made several long morning bike rides from the boats when the rest of scurvy dawgs were still sleeping off the previous night’s booze. John’s passing got me to thinking; “That can happen to anyone any time without warning just like it did him.” With that in mind, I promised myself I was not going to go through the rest of my life saying I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that.

On my short list was to get another motorcycle and start enjoying the open road again just as I had nearly 20 years before. By April of 2000 I had made a pretty righteous deal on a still new ’99 R1200C and have not regretted it nor the other bikes I’ve acquired since then. I have now logged up another 197,000 miles since then to add to my previous miles 20 years ago for a lifetime total over 300K and loving every minute of it.

What does your wife think?

I was already well into my second round of riding when Deb and I met and she found it sort of exciting after 24 years in a boring stressful and unsuccessful marriage. Now she still rides, but some of the initial excitement has worn off. Thankfully, she is very understanding and accepting of my still burning passion for it.

Does she ride with you now?

She was much more into it when we first met (fall of 2001) and seems to be getting interested again. The past few years have been very busy for her and she simply hasn’t had the time nor the energy to do it.

The 1986 450 Rebel mentioned earlier was her B-day present in summer of ‘04 and I am hoping to rekindle the riding enthusiasm for her this summer. But, whether she gets the passion or not is entirely up to her. I am not going to push it and have told her that she can ride pillion for as long as she wants. It makes me feel pretty good to have an understanding (and skilled) passenger after riding for most of my life solo.

What do you think about when you ride?

It varies. Sometimes when I am wanting to work on skills, the ride is all I think about. I’m a believer that “perfect practice makes perfect.” And that practicing of skills on a motorcycle is what has kept me accident free for over 300,000 miles on the street.

Then there are times when I come up with some of my best ideas for solving problems while on leisurely rides and just thinking about nothing until an idea hits me, then I dwell on it while maintaining a close watch on all the crazy cagers who are always out to get us.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

I sort of touched on that already, so to expand that a bit . . . Riding motorcycles is a risky choice of transportation/entertainment/etc. But I am living proof that you can go for long periods of time and miles without crashing.

I believe that it is all about being the very best defensive driver you can be at all times while in traffic. I also avoid cities where the most danger exists, contrary to what some believe about “short, safe rides around town.” I would estimate that 90% of my miles have been logged on the open highway.

I’ve done a lot of reading as well. Some of that reading recently has been to scour David Hough’s first two books again and again since April of 2000. I not only re-read them, but I go out and practice things I feel that I may need a little work on.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

Take the MSF course and then read Hough’s first book and practice like your life depended on it; because it does.

[amtap book:ibsn=1889540536]

[amtap book:ibsn=1931993033]

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

I am very partial to BMWs and would probably recommend an old airhead for a first bike because they are light weight, easy to work on, handle well, and are nearly bullet proof.

Next to that, a mid-sized cruiser (Honda, Kawi, or Yamaha) would be a good choice for a first bike. That would keep a novice from getting into too much trouble with too much power and weight before they are ready for heavier more powerful bikes. I definitely would caution any and all beginners against getting super-powered sport bikes — that’s just a death wish waiting to come true.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

Riding 300,000 miles without an accident.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Anywhere; keeping in mind, it’s the journey, not the destination that makes it what it is.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding” (not just collecting), what would you pick?

BMW R1200C

Kevin Cole

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Conversation with Lowell Goss: Founder of Fast3R http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/20/conversation-with-lowell-goss-founder-of-fast3r/ http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/20/conversation-with-lowell-goss-founder-of-fast3r/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2008 20:57:11 +0000 admin http://midliferider.com/blog/2008/03/20/conversation-with-lowell-goss-founder-of-fast3r/
Lowell Goss is too young to be having this much fun. (I think that’s known as a “Zimmerman” opening.)

Lowell is yet another boy-genius who has figured out a way to combine a passion for riding with making a living. Actually, he’s working hard on a new internet venture called Fast3R, so the making a living part is still a fiction buried on page 11 of some PowerPoint. (If you haven’t checked it out, you should . . . but only after you finish here!).

Fast3R has huge promise. I say that as someone who has spent more than a little time and effort on “web 2.0″ (look it up yourself) businesses and applications. The part that has been so roundly missing, and the part that I think Lowell is on to, is linking all this cool community-building technology that’s floating around out there with communities that already exist. That’s where we motorcyclists come in.

Lowell’s tale of popping a wheelie in the Rose Bowl parking lot the first time he rides a real motorcycle is a smiler. I wasn’t that clever or brave, but I do remember the parking lot part (except it was outside D.C., the bike was a Honda CB500, and the guy’s name was Ralph). But I was hooked, just like Lowell. It just took me way longer to do something about it.

He’s still a ways from Mid-Life, but kudos to Lowell for being thoughtful and articulate about riding and the great meanings of life. Anyone who has ridden as many bikes in as many fun places as Lowell has gets a place at the big table.

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, do you have family, that sort of thing.

Here are some facts about me.

  • 34 years old
  • Married with one kid on the way
  • Grew up in a small town in Indiana
  • Mother was/is scared of motorcycles. they were never allowed.
  • My dad had motorcycles in his teens and early 20s. He has several good stories about them including hitting a large pig while riding and wrecking with my mother on the back.

Do you remember your first bicycle? Is there a good story about it?

My first bike was a black and yellow Huffy. Nothing special. When I got older my dad bought me a Schwinn that he had the bike shop customize for me. It was a yellow Stingray with a banana seat, BMX bars and yellow fiberglass mag rims. When I first got it I thought it was super cool. It was certainly unusual and extremely heavy. Other kids made fun of it for being weird looking.

Sadly for my dad, that made ME think that it wasn’t cool. I started trading other kids for parts to customize it. Eventually I traded for a Mongoose BMX frame that I used to make a BMX bike. The frame was all scratched so my dad took me to a local body shop run by a car customizing guy name Johnny Guardo (sp?). Johnny painted the frame candy apple and metal flake. It was super cool.

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

I guess there are really two stories here. When I was about 12 my uncle John bought a 50cc moped. I think it was a Puch. When I would go to visit him all I wanted to do was ride the moped. I rode it flat out all the time. By this time it was clear that I liked things that had motors and went fast.

My re-introduction to bikes was in 1997. My friend Jerry had just started riding and purchased a Yamaha Seca II. The Seca II was not a great bike, but I really wanted to give it a try. We went together to the Rose Bowl parking lot in Pasadena. Lots of people go there to learn to drive and practice. He parked the bike, handed me his helmet and the keys. I got on the bike and started it up.

Now on the old moped you had to give it a handful to get going. This is not the case on a 900cc motorcycle. I gave it a handful of gas, let out the clutch and pulled a huge wheelie. I managed to not fall off, but scared myself silly. I was hooked. Now I don’t even really know how to wheelie.

What was the first bike you owned?

I immediately went from my first adult riding experience to reading everything I could find about bikes. I ended up buying an ex-press fleet 1997 Ducati Monster 750 from Pro Italia in Glendale. I didn’t even have a permit yet. Earl delivered the bike to my house in the back of the shop van. The bike was a steal. It had about 550 miles on it. I bought it for way under sticker price because it was a press bike. A couple years later I sold it for almost exactly what I paid for it. Since it was a press bike it had probably been ridden hard, but other than a faulty rectifier (which all Ducati’s of that era suffered from), it was great.

How many bikes have you owned?

Let me see

  • 1997 Ducati Monster 750
  • 1998 Yamaha R6
  • 1999 BMW R1100S
  • 199? Gasgas trials bike (never ran)
  • 1999 KTM Duke II
  • 2003 Ducati ST4s
  • 2004 Ducati Multistrada 1000DS
  • 2004 Ducati Monster S4R
  • 2006 KTM 950 Supermoto
  • 1965 BMW R50/2

How many bikes have you ridden?

Many. I have had the good fortune to have great relationships with Pro Italia, Ducati North America, Ducati (in Italy), Dylan Weiss and the Motorcycle Industry Council. This has given me many great opportunities to ride lots of bikes. Here are a few.

  • Ducati 999
  • Ducati 748RS
  • MV Agusta F4 750
  • MV Agusta Brutale 750S & 910
  • MV Agusta Brutale 910
  • Every Ducati Monster, ST and Multistrada
  • Harley V-Rod
  • Suzuki V-Strom, SV 650, SV 1000
  • KTM 950 Adventure
  • Kawasaki KLR 650
  • BMW R1150GS, R1200GS, R1200RT, R1150R, K1200S

What do you own now?

Right now I own a KTM 950 Supermoto. It is a fantastic bike. I think KTM makes the coolest, sexiest, most fun motorcycles on the market.

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?

Not that many. Probably about 10,000.

You are the moving force behind Fast3R. I spent a lot of time and money over the last two years on a “web 2.0″ project. I have lots of my own observations about what’s going on, on the web. One of them is that there is a lot of money and technology in search of an audience and a purpose. What inspired you to start Fast3R? Was it an extension of your interest in motorcycles, or did it just seem like a logical market?

I started Loud3r Inc. in June of 2007. Our aim is to build a network of enthusiast content sites for many topics. When it came time to pick topics to test the software, motorcycles were an obvious choice. There is a great passionate community of people involved with motorcycling. The content and interest areas are very diverse. To be successful we needed to be able to find and publish the best content about everything from Sturgis to World Superbike to Stunt riding.

Because motorcycles are a huge passion for me I knew that I could provide a good eye in judging whether the product was really working. When I started finding cool articles every day that I couldn’t easily find elsewhere, I knew we were on to something.

Motorcycling isn’t a singular thing. In fact, there is arguably a fair distance between the person interested in sport bikes, the person interested in heavy cruisers, and the dirt bike rider (just to name three). How do you see bridging those diverse interests? Few traditional media companies even try.

I think you’re right that motorcycling is incredibly diverse. At the same time, every time I go to MotoGP at Laguna I see many guys there who love racing, but rode there on their Harleys.

Riders have much more diverse personal tastes than traditional magazines and sites seem to understand. How many riders have a dirt bike and a sport bike. Here in Southern California, many Ducati riders also own custom bikes. The idea with FAST3R is to let the individual user pick the content they think is cool. The product helps you find just Honda content if that’s your thing or you can choose to read about Motocross or Adventure Touring. I think that’s much closer to the reality of people’s interests.

There are certain brands that inspire a great deal of passion. I’ll name a few. I’d be interested in what you observe based on what’s going on with Fast3R and the sources you feed from: Harley, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, KTM, Triumph, BMW, Buell.

Wow. That’s a big question. The site has been live for a little over a month, but we are definitely seeing trends from both writers and from readers. The big areas of activity so far are around BMW, Ducati and KTM. The Moto Guzzi Stelvio has gotten a fair amount of attention. The KTM RC8 launch is a big deal.

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now? Do your business ventures suck all the air out?

Business is time consuming. I try to ride every weekend, but sometimes 2-3 weeks manage to slip by without starting the bike.

What attracted you to motorcycling? Why do you ride?

My dad rode bikes when he was younger, but motorcycles were forbidden when I was growing up. I guess that was part of the initial interest. My friend Jerry was riding and it seemed fun and cool. Once I started to ride I got swept away by it.

With all of the intrusions of work, life and technology, riding is one of the few things that requires my full concentration: 100%. There an incredible satisfaction in riding and controlling the bike. There’s also a paradox of being in greater touch with the world around you. Let’s face it, a motorcycle is an artificial intrusion into the world. It’s loud. It pollutes. But, when I ride I do feel more in touch with the world around me. The smells. The changing light. The surface of the road.

You said you’re married. Was riding something you discussed? Were there issues? Were there deals made?

I am married. Twice. No deals. My wife loves riding on the back. The Multistrada was a great two-up bike. I would not date or marry a woman who tried to forbid me from riding. I meet guys all the time who say. “Yeah, I loved riding, but my wife made me give it up.” I have a hard time understanding their situation. I am not interested in anyone forbidding me from doing anything. I like the illusion of free will.



What do you think about when you ride?

I really try to not think about anything. For me riding is an opportunity for focus and concentration. Especially at track days, but even on the street. The ride is the point.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

Riding a motorcycle is a dangerous activity. It’s a fact. Other drivers are hazards. The road surface can be dangerous. We sometimes exceed our own skill and ability.

It’s important to try and manage risk. I always wear a full-face helmet, gloves, jacket (back, shoulder and elbow armor) and boots. I should wear leather pants, but I often don’t. I try to keep my skills sharp with track days. I NEVER DRINK A DROP IF I AM GOING TO RIDE.

I believe that people are free to make choices, but wearing no helmet (or a skull cap), no protective gear, not getting training and drinking are stupid choices.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

Acquire skills through training. Take the MSF course. Take advanced rider courses. Ride your bike on the track to keep your skills sharp.

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

I love KTMs. They deliver sharp riding performance. Their design is distinctive. I like orange. The 950 Supermoto is a great “sport-bike”. It will do about anything you’d want except touring. If I was buying a bike for distance I’d get the Moto Guzzi Stelvio or a KTM Adventure.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

I went with a group of friends on a trip riding across part of Alaska on KLR 650s. Fast dirt roads. Glaciers. Moose. A great trip with a great group of guys.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Last summer I rode in the Italian Alps with my friend Bill Nation. We rode over the Gavia Pass in the cold rain, which sucked. Gavia is a one lane road with two way traffic. The next day we rode the Stelvio Pass. Absolutely the best road I have ever ridden. It was cold (late June), but clear. Snow at the top. The Italian Alps are absolutely fantastic. Great roads. Great little roadside cafes.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

Hmm. I keep a wishlist of bikes that I’d like to ride or own. Right now the #1 spot on the list is the BMW HP2 Megamoto.

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