Monday, December 29, 2008

Hard Times: The Upside

Strolling home with my lovely wife and our sass-pot friend Denise, I had a little epiphany. It seemed that most of the talk that evening at a friend's holiday party, indeed much of the small talk of the last few weeks is about the sensational bargains we're seeing at retailers in the midst of one of the worst holiday-shopping seasons on record. Kevin Cole 70% swanky new moleskin blazer (which, I'm dissapointed to say, contains no actual mole) marked down to $26 from $ galore.

Part of the daily lineup outside the State Employment Service Office. Memphis, Tennessee. June 1938. Photographer: Dorothea Lange.

Suddenly, I realized why whenever you see photos of breadlines, souplines, unemployment lines, even strikes from the Great Depression everybody is dressed so snazzily: there must have been some tremendous bargains, especially on fedoras and straw boaters. 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Power to Wait

This column originally appeared on in March, 2007.

Remember Steve Forbes' bids for the presidency in 1996 and 2000? Remember how he would bleat out "flat tax" as the solution for all our economic woes? 

There's a motorcycle equivalent to Forbes' unblinking lunacy; guys who insist having tiered licensing for motorcyclists -- a system that would restrict new riders to smaller-displacement machines until they develop their skills -- would somehow reduce the number of crashes. 

Recently, the State of Washington investigated the increase in motorcycle crashes and fatalities over the last ten years. Their report is an interesting and quick read [pdf], but despite any mention in the report of displacement, one of our readers glanced over it and wrote that it "reads like a good argument for tiered licensing." 
Did I miss something? The report cited "lane errors" (meaning the rider blew a corner), speeding and drinking as the vast majority of accident causes. Why do experienced motorcyclists that eschew helmet laws and other forms of government interference get all lovey-dovey over the idea of a tiered licensing structure that would similarly restrict rider choice? 

Why are we so certain having a faster machine makes you more likely to crash? The new report's findings are substantially similar to those of the 25-year-old Hurt Report's. Alcohol and rider error were cited as main causes by both reports. What that really means is lack of rider training and common sense. In the Washington state report, 86 percent of the victims lacked formal training, where in the Hurt study it was 91 percent. Not much has changed since the Carter administration; helmets don't even provide that much more protection then they did 25 years ago, and people still insist on wearing bell bottoms. 

The main thing that has changed is the attitude of consumers. Today the lowly SV650, with 70hp and about 410 pounds of wet weight is now considered a chick bike, even though each pony only has to push 5.8 pounds. Compare that to the 7:1 ratio of your typical early-`80s big-bore streetbike like a CB900F. Mr. First Time Buyer can finance a GSXR-1000 and be in charge of a cruise missile-like 2.7 pounds per horsepower. It sounds like that's the cause of rising fatality rates right there, but we still have to average in cruisers, the most-popular streetbike category. Even though power and displacement are up immensely, mellow tuning and plenty of lard means they don't accelerate that quickly, even if a middle-aged drunkard riding one has shaky command over 100-plus pound-feet of torque. 

Gabe's Learning Curve is Steep!

Gabe's Learning Curve is Steep!

Despite the fact that nobody cites any evidence to prove that there are more crashes because of the extra power, that's still the assumption. If we were all forced to ride Yamaha Jogs and Rebel 250s, we would probably still see similar crash rates, although there would admittedly be fewer fatalities and less-interesting crash stories. We all want to reduce fatalities, but the best protection for a motorcyclist is to avoid crashing in the first place. If a rider is untrained, will putting her on a smaller bike really make her less likely to crash? Since I have no idea how to fly an airplane, I'll crash an ultralight just as fast as I'll crash an F-117, although the F-117 crash would probably create a more dramatic explosion. 

A Neanderthal could look at the evidence and see the majority of fatalities are self-styled action heroes who buy motorcycles without getting proper training, or jackasses who think they can handle drinking and riding. That's regardless of displacement, brand, weather, time of day or any other factor. Tiered licensing merely moves the onus of safety from the riders to manufacturers and dealers. But how does tiered licensing make new riders get proper training? How does it make sure Bob doesn't stop for happy hour before he rides back home? 

How does it ensure he will leave the house wearing something more protective than a plastic yarmulke and scrotum-exposing Bermuda shorts? 

If some of you had your way, we'd all be riding these.

If some of you had your way, we'd all be riding these.

Like helmets, tiered licensing wouldn't lessen the number of crashes. Instead, it would merely mitigate the effects. If motorcyclists could somehow muster the discipline to not drink and ride as well as attend the MSF course before they purchase their dream machines, the crash rate -- as well as the numbers of fatalities -- would be so much lower that helmet laws wouldn't even be an issue. The number of lives saved by helmets in a state like Washington would be measured in dozens rather than hundreds. More people than that are killed hitting their heads after slipping in the shower. 

Rather than talking about the dangers of power-to-weight, we should be encouraging the power to wait. Wait until you've been trained to ride your motorcycle. Wait until you get home to have a beer. Wait until you've racked up some experience before you speed on a twisty road. Accepting tiered licensing would work to limit our choices as consumers and perpetuate myths and stereotypes about motorcycles being dangerous, uncontrollable machines. Training and promoting motorcycle awareness are the keys to keeping us and our sport alive.    

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Death of B.J. Mough

This is what happened one Monday evening in Athens, Georgia:

Two teenage girls were in a Nissan Sentra, waiting at a traffic signal to exit the Target parking lot. A guy on a 2007 Kawasaki 250 Ninja shares the lane with them as the light turns green, cutting in between the girls and a van as they turned left on to the main arterial back to their house. 

We don’t know how they reacted—not really, anyway. According to the older sister’s testimony, they were annoyed at his rude behavior and may have made a rude gesture in return. He sped away down the road, but they passed him. He passed them back, passing in the suicide lane and then cutting them off as he sped away. At some point the older sister called her mom…there’s a crazy guy on a motorcycle following us! 

He won’t leave us alone! What do we do? The mom tells her husband: the girls are in trouble, go get your gun.

 A few miles later, as they reach the intersection where they turn off the main road to get back to their house, they see the guy on his motorcycle, waiting to turn left at the intersection where they were turning right. They again flipped him the ol’ bird as they turned right, but this time the bluff was called: the scary biker, clad in a full-face helmet and space-age moto-armor turned his bars, gunned his motor and headed after them. He charged up the road, pulling alongside the

 girl’s car in the opposite lane. Maniac!

The girl’s panic reached a head when he raised his arm in a threatening gesture. The older sister cut a hard left turn, cutting the motorcyclist off so violently his bike scraped the driver’s side of the Sentra before he careened out-of-control onto a lawn as the car sped off towards home. They screeched through the neighborhood and made 

a hard left into their driveway and bolted to their rooms. Meanwhile, dad had his .40-caliber handgun locked and loaded and was waiting at the end of the driveway. The Ninja came growling down the street, turned around, came back.

Photo: Athens Banner-Herald

 Witnesses—the girls, the wife and the neighbors—heard two gunshots, then a third. When the sheriffs and EMTs got to the scene, they found the motorcyclist—21-year-old Bryan “B.J.” Mough (say “mao”)—dying from a gunshot wound and dad telling them he fired in self defense.

 The dad, 46-year-old Richard Gear, was charged with murder. The case went to trial in November, covered in meticulous detail by the Athens Banner-Herald. 

We learned a lot of things: Gear had probably waved his gun and fired “warning shots” at people in front of his house in at least one prior incident. Mough’s Ninja wasn’t headed towards Gear when he fired; he was just riding up and down the street near the Gear house. The eldest Gear sister, Samantha, gave surprisingly candid testimony that makes you wonder why she felt so threatened. And if she did, why did she call her trigger-happy parents instead of 911?

 B.J. Mough is the guy who could really answer our questions, as Gear and his family probably lied their asses off in court. Did B.J. road-rage? Or were the girls road-raging on him, goading him into chasing them home to gun-crazed dad? Or did he just want their insurance info for banging up his bike? Was he charging Richard Gear on his 249cc death-missile? Or did he not even see Gear as he stood in his tree-shrouded driveway? 

Thanks to the miracle of the system of tubes we call the Internets, you can follow the whole drama, and it makes you realize how anonymity is dying along with newspapers, AM radio and deep-frying. B.J.’s pre-death discourse with his motorcycle buddies is online for all to see (at, videotaped testimony from the trial is on the Athens Banner-Herald’s website, and you can get on the MSN Live website and see, with detailed aerial photography, the entire route of the chase and eventual shooting.

 Nobody, including myself, really understands why riding motorcycles is so special and liberating. B.J. might have an idea, and you might also. But I know one family of Georgia suburbanites whose misconception of motorcycles, motorcycling and motorcyclists (mixed with a healthy dose of good ol’ American shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later stupidity) contributed to the death of one of our own.

Go here to check out the Athens Banner-Herald's outstanding coverage of the trial.

BJ's introductory post to Bloke's Sportbike Forum:

Hey guys figured this be the best place to start ^^.

The name is bryan and on the net i am know as Fenix. I only started riding a biike about 3 months ago and never even riden a dirt bike before then. I had a desire to learn a skil and BAM , just like with my high learning curve with Computers i learned to the most extent of what i think it is to ride a bike. I hope to learn a hell of alot more and meet some new freinds along the way for the ride. 

Some quick info about me:

I am a computer guy, i build , repair and fix networks. I am also a Anime Freak, so if im not riding my bike or on my computer doing who knows what 
 , ill be watching Anime or attending a local convention as one of my Favorite characters. I am a Japaneese enthusiast so i like all things of Eastern Culture and my room is lined with swords ^^.(l love shinny things) 

Other then im a crazy person as my parents would say im the only one in the family who has enough balls to ride a motorcycle and the only one in the family to do so in the past 50 years or so. 

Hope to get to know the locals and everyone else in between. ^^ 

nice to meet ya 

Fenix Airilius Solen (if you figure out were i got the middle name from your a Genius )

Here's B.J.'s forum signiture (cribbed from a video game's theme song lyrics, but moving nonetheless): 

"What was the start of all this?

When did the cogs of fate begin to turn?

Perhaps it is impossible to grasp that answer now,
From deep within the flow of time...
But, for a certainty, back then,
We loved so many, yet hated so much,
We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...
Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
Whilst our laughter echoed,
Under cerulean skies..." 

Ride hard , live long, injoy your Freedom , and never look back

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ask Gabe: Should I Buy a Used Helmet?

This picture of a crash-damaged Quantum is off the Arai website; the rider took out a street sign with his head. He doesn't remember much of that day, but he suffered no permanent injuries. I'm guessing he's a lifetime Arai customer! 

I read this question on BARF, and thought my reply would be useful to post for the fans of my Blog, in case there are any.

Given the economy right now, I'm watching every dollar I spend (working for a startup right now is a bit hairy...). That being said, I'm debating if I should buy a new helmet or if a pre-owned (never crashed, good condition) helmet is worth it. I'm a bit hesitant to buy a used one, but given how much money you can save, it'd seems stupid to not consider it. Anyone have good or bad experiences buying used? 

Most of the other BARF posters hated the idea of buying a used helmet to the point of silliness. The poster wasn't asking if he should buy a fucked-up, shitty, smelly, dipped-in-pigshit helmet, but about buying used in general. 

First off, is the helmet clean and well-maintained? If it looks and smells clean, what's the problem? Nobody ever died from cooties. I wasn't even worried about them in 6th grade.

Second, look for signs of obvious damage. If there are any bad scratches or scuffs on the shell, (other than little nicks from rock chips or rub marks from hanging on a bike or just being bounced around in a closet), you should probably pass. BUT: blows to a helmet, even severe ones, sometimes don't show up on the shell, as the quality of paint and shell are so good from companies like Shoei and Arai. So remove or gently pull back the comfort liner (one reason not to buy a helmet with a non-removable liner) and look for signs of compression in the EPS lining. And if the helmet has been painted or "customized" in ANY way, pass! Just like customized sportbikes, a likely reason for painting a helmet is to cover crash damage.

Finally, look at the manufacture date. Some helmets have it embossed on the safety strap, others have a sticker in the shell somewhere. If it's more than 5 years old, it really is worthless, and not a good deal at any price, unless you know for a fact it spent some portion of that time in a sealed box in a climate-controlled warehouse.

But many posts brought up a good point: with so many excellent $100 (and less) helmets on the market, why bother buying used?