Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Classic Gabe: Cheapskates

This first ran in City Bike in October, 2005.

I just read in a national motorcycle publication about a guy who got a motorcycle practically for free. He purchased a 1983 Honda CX650C from a local salvage yard for the princely sum of $250. He then purchased a Clymer manual and fixed the thing up over the next five months, getting the clumsily-styled V-Twin roadworthy for under $1000.

He’s over 40 years old and has never owned or ridden a motorcycle before. God bless him for learning about motorcycles from the ground up. God bless him for not learning to ride on an 800-pound Harley or 160-hp GSX-R. And I’m sure he might become a dedicated, life-long motorcyclist. But where’s the sacrifice?

We’ve all met motorcycle cheapskates. They just don’t think motorcycling is something worth spending serious money on. They spend their money on supposedly important things, like cars, clothing, housing, children and vacations. They usually have many other hobbies and interests besides motorcycles that they like to spend money on.

I racked up tens of thousands of dollars of credit card bills on motorcycle racing. I spent $5000 restoring and souping-up an old BMW that I wadded on Mount Hamilton. I went years without even considering a vacation. I drove a cab for seven years because all that cash could be quickly plowed back into my two-wheeled lifestyle. When I was racing my beat-up 250 Ninja in the AFM, many of the guys younger than me or about my age were bankrolled by trust funds or parents. In the meantime, non-racing guys my age were buying houses, cars, vacation homes, and exotic pets. They were having babies, building careers and businesses. I accumulated a rented garage full of rusty parts and broken plastic while my body accumulated a collection of scar tissue and repetitive-stress injuries.

So this guy got himself a motorcycle for $1,000. I should be happy for him. And it’s not his fault that I made so many decisions resulting in my current state of financial precariousness. But I’m still pissed.

Pissed because he tells me quite clearly: motorcycles aren’t worth spending money on. His cheapness cheapens the sacrifices I made to learn what I know about motorcycles. I know not to buy early-90s Ducatis. I know (now) not to spend more money on a used bike than it cost to buy new fixing it up. I know now not to try to race competitively in a “builder’s” class with a 20-year-old bike.

The guy has plenty of bread to lay out on a motorcycle. He must have a clean, well-lit garage and enough leisure time to work on his bike. For that, you need money, more money than you would spend on a nice evening out with the wife to buy your motorcycle with.

I see folks like him every single day when I’m selling motorcycles. They’re middle-aged people who emerge from expensive, high-status cars asking if I have a running motorcycle or scooter for under $1000. Something they can “screw around on.” Because to them, motorcycles are toys, something you have if everything else in your life is perfect, locked down so tight that nothing can possibly go wrong.

Enjoy your bike, cheapskate. You worked hard for your place in the universe, so you can relax in the knowledge that you’re doing everything right. You can wait until the weather is perfect and take a ride on your budget bike and it will be fine. But you won’t be a motorcyclist.

A motorcyclist is more than a guy with a motorcycle. A motorcyclist suffers, makes sacrifices for his machine. He gets under his bike when it starts to fall. He doesn’t move into an apartment if it doesn’t have storage, a garage, or at least a kitchen door wide enough to fit the bike into. A motorcyclist will spend $60 on a gallon of synthetic oil and $12 on a gallon of Scotch.

Motorcycling isn’t an activity served by rational thought or common sense. It’s not about getting the most bang for the buck. There is no for motorcycling, no motorcycle factory outlet malls, as it’s not about getting the most frequent-flyer miles or saving a half-point on your mortgage. It’s about distilling a tiny amount of pure experience from a vast amount of emotional, spiritual and physical resources. It’s a war on common sense, one you will lose after winning a few glorious battles.

Just remember that you get what you pay for.

What did you get?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gabe Podcosts on Sidestand Up Radio!

I had a great time yesterday podcasting with Carla King and the gang at Sidestand Up radio yesterday. It was me, Larry from BMW San Francisco, Carla King, Joanne Donne (of gearchic), Jennifer Bromme from WerkstatSF, and Crystal Gurr from Scuderia West. The topics were varied, talking about City Bike, motorcycle testing, women's gear and all kind of other stuff.

We had technical problems meshing the audio gear and laptop-based podcast system, so we all had to huddle on a loveseat in front of Joanne's Mac Book. But it was fun and engaging, with people calling in and chatting in a chatroom as we were talking to each other. A lively discussion.

You can stream it here:

Or download it on iTunes. Thanks!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Orange Girl...

Last week, I attended a KTM press event--an introduction of all KTM's streetbikes, including the RC8, RC8 R, and Supermoto 990 R and T. I had lots of fun, but not as much fun as the cast of characters from a local lifestyle magazine that was photographing a young woman, dressed only in orange bodypaint and red wig, on a KTM RC8.

Needless to say, the presence of orange boobies shut down the trackday for a while, but nobody seemed to mind. I present the photos for your enjoyment.

Warning: You can see dark orange female nipples in the following photos, which can instantly warp or damage young minds (unlike gruesome and constant portrayals of graphic violence on TV and video games, which clearly have no effect), or possibly get you slapped with a sexual-harassment suit if you're at work. What a world we live in....

Read my full KTM story:

The crew of the Skip Barber Superbike School enjoying the view as they are photographed for a group portrait. Note Jason DiSalvo's line of sight...

Quick! What's that behind you?

What? Where?

Cycle World's Blake Conner apparently enjoyed the show as much as everybody else.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shiftless and Clutchless

I am not here to dish on automatic motorcycles, although making fun of Honda’s tragic new DN-01 is good fun, like harpooning a carp in a martini glass. If you haven’t seen one of these grotesqueries, it’s what happens nine months after a nice young sportbike from Teaneck, New Jersey, off her anti-psychosis medication, had one tequila shooter too many and was date-raped by an unemployed scooter and his no-good friend, a middleweight metric cruiser with a minor criminal record. The resulting child, given up for adoption and then raised by an orthodontist and his wife in Kansas City, means well, but there’s something terribly wrong with him you can’t quite put your finger on. But it’s not because he’s an automatic. I have a token automatic-motorcycle friend, the Aprilia Mana, and he’s okay. He could even date my sister.

Anyway, did you know something like 95 percent of cars and trucks sold in the USA these days are automatic-transmission equipped? Yes, it’s true, and ask a room full of 20-somethings how many of them can drive a stick-shift and you’ll see maybe three or four little pink paws thrust into the air. It’s shocking. And try to teach them how to work a clutch. You’d think the Goddamned thing was an Armenian-labeled electric zither, the way some of them struggle.

At least they’re struggling with something. After all, for many of us, especially the pale-of-hue and middle-of-class, struggling is optional. We all know the story, as the media hasn’t shut up about it for the last 60 years. The G.I.s come home after Saving the World, go to college, get subsidized mortgages and drive on the most expensive road system ever built by mankind, all on Uncle Sam’s dime. Suddenly, after 30 years of enjoying subsidized gasoline, food, heating oil and cotton, and with no sense of irony at all, they gang up on poor little government like a pack of wolves suddenly turning on its ailing alpha male. For the average American, life had gone from hardscrabble On the Waterfront/ Grapes of Wrath drudgery to bubbly Brady Bunch fun in a generation.

Seemingly overnight, life was not so hard. And even after the every-CEO-for-himself 80s, 90s and Oughts, the Enrons and Bernie Madoffs of the world let the middle class keep enough residual wealth so it could go on coddling its kids and enjoying the good life, happily ensconced in its green-grassed and Walmart-ized suburbs. And so we merrily bumble our way through life, trying out one lifestyle after another, expecting everything to come as easily as an adjustable-rate mortgage or ordering the all-you-can eat shrimp platter at Red Lobster (just $14.99 with coupon).

Oh, here comes the e-hate-mail to “My father slaved away at IBM so he could buy his house, and I had to work my paper route for three summers so I could buy my Honda Trail 90, you commie fag!” Indeed. We all work hard. But most of the planet’s population has worked just as hard—harder—for centuries, millennia, for the generous reward of an occasional all-you can-eat yam supper and a short life in a palm-frond shack before dying of amoebic dysentery. In fact, even today about three billion people live in appalling conditions, regardless of how hard they toil. If they could buy a Honda 90, they’d probably slice it carpaccio thin, drizzle it with olive oil and eat it. “Oh, sahib, If only we had some capers!”

Seriously, how can you be offended by the reminder that Americans are lazy? We’re the Little Richard of modern laziness. Consider the telephone: A boon to the sluggish, but once we realized we didn’t have to walk to our friend’s house to invite him to dinner, we slipped further down the slope of sloth, inventing the rotary dial, then push-button dialing, then the cordless phone so we didn’t even have to walk to the room with the phone in it (“what?” says the 12-rupee-a-day coolie, “you have a whole other room?”). Now we have voice-activated Bluetooth headsets. We literally don’t need to lift a finger, unless we get cut off in traffic.

So why extend that slothfulness to motorcycling? Learning how to ride a motorcycle without killing yourself is rewarding because it’s challenging. Part of the challenge is acquiring not just one or two, but a whole range of new skills that the rider has to exercise flawlessly, without thinking. Not everyone can do it, but given enough time, practice and the right attitude, almost anybody can. But you have to stick with it.

Stick with it?! We want it now. And if you think this is Old Man Ets-Hokin railing against Kids These Days, let me tell you that I see this in all ages and subgroups. They want an $11,000 sportbike, but can’t be bothered to take a 15-hour training class. They long to be that guy riding his chromed-and-krunked Street Glide down Grand avenue in Oakland, stereo booming louder than the 110-decibel drag pipes, but can you loan them your 50cc scooter, because they can’t do a U-turn in the DMV parking lot. They want to be the sassy 65-year-old grandma tooling around Castro Valley on a pink Sportster, but why is everybody driving so fast? I paid my $20, so give me my M1 endorsement, bitchez!

It used to be that motorcycles, along with guns, power tools and Soviet-built adult novelties were the last refuge of idiot-killing products. Now we’re loosing even that. We’ve got traction control, anti-lock brakes, automatic clutches and even a little red light that reminds us to shift gears (“oh, is that what that shrieking sound is? Guess I better shift! Wait, I don’t know how to shift!”). Next up: proximity alarms, heads-up displays, laser-triggered training wheels?

I don’t like being one of these middle-aged assholes constantly talking about how he was a U.S. Marine, but the comparison is too apt: motorcyclists are the Jarheads of public roads. Motorcycles are challenging, almost impossible to ride without dumping at some point. We don’t have boot camp or screaming drill instructors to weed out the bed-wetters, the non-hackers. We have Sir Isaac and his laws of physics, showing less mercy than the toughest, meanest D.I., killing, maiming or at least scaring shitless those who insist on repeatedly making bad decisions, exercising bad habits.

I’m not saying we don’t appreciate the brilliant engineering that’s making our sport safer, more comfortable and more enjoyable. I’m just saying our sport doesn’t need the inevitable audience idiot-proofed products attract.

Gabe Ets-Hokin is currently in a fetal position under his desk. Please bring him a glass of warm skim milk. Read more Gabe at, or recruit him to your 419 scam by emailing

Saturday, October 3, 2009

UK PSA: Don't TxT While Drvng

This PSA, produced by the Gwent (Wales) Police Department and filmmaker Peter Watkins-Hughes illustrates the dangers of texting and driving...or driving and being distracted by anything other than the road and traffic. I'll admit to having driven while distracted in the past: having an iPhone will do that to you. But no more.

The video--this is the 4-minute version, longer versions exist--is shockingly graphic and realistic, and a little manipulative, so be prepared.

Also, the people in it are Welsh, so you'll really have no idea what they're saying. Prepare yourself by listening to a few Tom Jones albums.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

How To Make a Million Dollars at Whole Foods

Love Whole Foods' huge selection of delicious-looking organic meats, produce, groceries and hemp hats? Hate their Buffy-on-holiday-in-Aspen pricing scheme? I figured out a way to not just get free stuff at Whole Foods, but to actually make money.

Yes, a person with sufficent chutzpah could actually make a few bucks. As any diehard Whole Foods shopper knows, if you bring a shopping bag with you (preferably made of hemp), the cashier will offer you a bag credit (or will donate to charity, probably to the widows and orphans of organic hemp farmers) of five cents.

So yesterday, we purchased three serrano chiles, priced at the 300% inflated rate of $2.99 (Berkeley Bowl offers the same conventionally grown peppers for about a dollar a pound). Luckily, serranos are very light, even if they pack a heavy capiscum payload, and they were only 12 cents. Curious, I asked the cashier what would happen if I had only bought one pepper, which would have been about three or four cents, and asked for a bag credit.

"I guess I'd have to give you change," was the answer.

Nice! Here's the scheme: buy the smallest pepper you can find, present bag, take change, and repeat. Figuring 5-10 minutes for the process ( I always seem to pick the slowest-moving checkstand) and an average of one to two cents per transaction, you could make a cool million bucks in just 380 years, if you could find a 24-hour Whole Foods and you were an eternal being who did not require food or sleep. Probably a better living than farming hemp...

Monday, July 20, 2009

The unlukiest and luckiest man alive

Today, on my way to meet with a City Bike story subject, I left my wallet on my lap as I was fuelling my bike; I usually don't get off my bike to gas it up. When I took off, the wallet stayed between my leg and the tank (I guess), and slid off...somewhere... I was passing Fruitvale on the 880-S when I realized my wallet wasn't making its comforting indentation in my right ass cheek (you in the back! Stop giggling!), and I pulled off the freeway to look for it...not in any of the 114 pockets of my Aerostich, not in my tankbag, not in my pants...oh Lord! Not again! Visions of numerous calls to credit-card companies, waits at the DMV and social security office...nooooooooooooooo!

So I rode the 8 miles abck to the gas station and asked around...have you seen my wallet? No. Have you seen my wallet? No. "Be sure to cancel your credit cards," said the clerk, helpfully. "Me and my family are homeless and living here, so we can keep an eye out," said the homeless guy.

Dejected, I rode home and reported my cards lost, found my passport (which doesn't expire for another year, luckily), and got back on my bike to go to the DMV. But on a whim, I checked the gas station again, carefully retracing my stepse. I then got on the same freeway onramp I had used before, thinking about my new race-compound rear tire, and how I should go easy through the turn. At the slower speeds, I was able to scan along the side of the road and...

A familiar blue rectangular shape among the debris! I rode to the top of the ramp, where there is a large shoulder, and parked. I hopped off the bike and ran the 40 yards down the ramp along the narrow elevated catwalk, running to the other side when I could see there were no cars coming for 75 yards.

Yes, there it was. Most everything had fallen aout and incredibly, was still scattered in a debris field for 10 yards along the low curbing. All my credit cards, some of my business cards, even a reciept or two. But no cash? Had somebody picked th ewallet up, stripped the moolah out and tossed the shell out the window?

Nope; 30 yards up the ramp a Twenty was resting against the opposite curb, and I think that was the sum of all the cash I had in there!

How lucky is that?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Books Review: Bodies in Motion and Traffic

Bodies in Motion, Steven L. Thompson. 417 pps., Aero Design & Mfg. Co., $19.95

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt. 416 pps., Knopf., $24.95

Steve Thompson’s Bodies in Motion begins by relating an experience that’s probably happened to you in one form or another. On a hot summer day in 1965, he was riding his motorcycle to lunch when it slid out on some slippery pavement, high-siding him onto the ground. As he surveyed the bloody wreckage of himself and his bike, a white-haired lady in an Oldsmobile pulled up, lowered her electric window, said disapprovingly, “young man, you’ve gotten glass all over the road,” raised the window and drove off.

Two members of the species homo sapiens sapiens, but clearly not on the same page. And that incident put the question into Thompson’s mind: why do some people dig motorcycles and some people just do not? We all know that there is something different between motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists, and Thompson lays out his case for what that is in his book.

In Tom Vanderbilt’s book Traffic, the question is different: Why do so many people insist on driving like assholes? And what can society do to encourage better behavior? I read both books recently and thought it would be interesting to contrast the questions, assumptions and conclusions of the two writers.

Of course, as a motorcyclist, Thompson’s POV is much more interesting to me. But it’s also more interesting because it’s non-traditional as far as books on transportation go. It’s much more like a scientific paper, using biology, psychology, anthropology and physics to figure out what the hell’s wrong with us, anyway. He looks at traits in our ancestors – like a proclivity for swinging through trees, or taking risks to be better hunters – that may be stronger in motorcyclists, as well as the cultural forces that direct transportation choices. He then digs still deeper, trying to figure out why some riders like cruisers and why others are obsessed with speed and power. He even commissioned a study at Stanford’s Smart Product Design Lab in 2001 analyzing vibration from nine different motorcycle models with “archetypical” engines; V-Twins, V-Fours, thumpers, even a CBX Six-cylinder.

It’s not as esoteric, but for a frequent rider in the murky swamp of Bay Area traffic jams, Vanderbilt’s book offers plenty of insight. He conducted much of his research with traffic engineers and planners, and the perspective, while entertaining and packed with gee-whiz factoids (example: men honk more than women, but both men and women honk more at women then they do at men) is much more detached in its tone than Thompson’s book, seeing people in vehicles as factors to be managed. And how they should be managed is what is most surprising. After a few chapters, it is clear that rules, regulations and traffic cops don’t necessarily make us safer or help traffic flow. The afore mentioned assholes on the road may not even be making things worse: when drivers wait to merge at the last second, traffic actually moves faster, where early merging is the cause of many snarls. The best way to keep things moving and everybody safer may even be to eliminate lanes, traffic lights and crosswalks altogether.

What I noticed in Traffic – and I don’t think even Vanderbilt really picks up on this – is that in general, people don’t like being in cars and trucks, especially when they are boxed in by thousands of other people trapped in their cages. What Thompson shows us is that motorcycles, with their ability to lean into turns, accelerate swiftly and slip between gaps, feel more natural to the human body, a body evolved to swing from trees and freely explore the open veldts and savannahs of East Africa.

That’s why these two books complement each other so well. Both books are entertaining, well-written, even scholarly. Traffic shows us the artificial misery of the car-centered environment and what it does to human interaction, where Bodies explains why motorcycles are so liberating and rewarding to those with a genetic and cultural disposition to two-wheeled machinery. Vanderbilt has little to say about motorcycles, and I think the book suffers for it, as motorcyclists don’t display the behavior that other road-users do. Thompson illuminates why we’re different.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Tour of Erik Buell's Garage: The Bike Barn!

Yesterday I was in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, on a tiny old abandoned farm. On the property is the small shed where a racer and former Harley-Davidson engineer named Erik Buell started the company known today as the Buell Motorcycle Company.The shed, also known as "the barn" (even though it's next to an actual barn) has been recently restored to the condition it was in during the 1980s, when Buell was developing his RW750 and RR1000 roadracers. As recently as a couple years ago, Buell had not been in the building for many years and it was literally falling apart, filled with debris and deteriorating parts and relics.

Erik gave a nice tour and talk, which I've preserved on my crummy point-and-shoot video camera. I apologize for the poor video, sound and production quality, but just pretend you're 3 feet high, hard of hearing and have cataracts. After viewing the three videos, scroll down for photos.

And now some photos:

Buell's prototype VR1000 from 1989, with split radiators, a liquid-cooled V-Twin and fuel-in-frame design. Sound familiar?

 Close-up of the VR's headstock, with interesting VIN.

You wouldn't guess, but underneath that black bodywork is the V-Rod prototype.

This is the only RW750 in existence. It was powered by the evil Barton two-stroke Four.

Here are a pair of Barton cases. The motors made 163 hp at the crank, but didn't spend a lot of time running: high-speed seizures were common. The motor used two crankshafts, one in front of the other. I'm sure it was a good idea at the time. Buell bought Barton so he could have a steady supply of parts.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


This column is in the June, 2009 issue of CityBike.

I just rode the future. It’s good. 

It wasn’t a particularly impressive-looking future, though. The ride was on a 2009 Zero S electric supermoto. The hard numbers: it’s about $10,000, tops out at 60 mph and has a range of about 60 miles at moderate speeds. I enjoyed testing the bike and writing about it (you can see my online review at because I knew it was the first of many electric motorcycle reviews I’ll do before I retire to my beach house in the Aleutian Islands at the age of 79. I also enjoyed it because I knew that although it has its shortcomings, it’s a functional product that will help change the idea that electric vehicles are overpriced feel-good toys for silly enviro-wackos. This will enrage political conservatives, who will hopefully write many entertaining emails pointing out how wrong and stupid I am. 

“Ho ho!” they’ll say, spittle spraying at their computer screens as their plump, angry fingers hammer Chinese-made keyboards, “I’m an engineer, and I’ll tell you that electric vehicles will never work, because batteries carry only a fraction of the energy density of gasoline!”

It’s actually a good argument. The Zero’s performance is frankly, pretty lame compared to even a small gas-powered bike if you don’t care about the benefits of having an electric vehicle. But let’s look at two things:

First, the amount of R&D that’s going into electric vehicles and batteries is staggering. The communist Chinese are pouring colossal amounts of money into battery technology and it seems that the cycle of battery types happens faster and faster, from NiMh to NiCad to LiPo to GdKnWt (for God-Knows-What), with each new battery offering more capacity, power and life. The lithium-ion batteries in the Zero not only offer a huge advance in energy density over grandpa’s lead-acid (sorry, LeAc) batteries, but are non-toxic and could last much longer than the 400-500 charging cycles Zero rates them at. It’s likely that the replacement battery sold in five years could be much cheaper while offering far more power and range. 

But the tasty news for us motorheads is something I was talking to Michael Czysz about the other day. Besides having the hardest name in the world to spell, (say “sizz”), Michael Whatever is well-known for developing the MotoCzysz C1, a high-end sportbike that was designed to compete in MotoGP before the displacement limit was changed to 800cc from 990. Michael heard one of his guys ask to borrow the frame from his R1 to compete in the upcoming TTXGP, a race around the Isle of Man entirely on electric bikes. 

Michael decided it’d be better to design a racebike from the ground up, a bike that could be developed as a consumer model in the future. If he meets the deadline, the bike, which will be raced by American rider Mark Miller in June, will be an engineering feat. It will weigh about 440 pounds, make 115 hp and be able to make a 37.7-mile lap around the Isle at a race pace: up to 150 mph. Michael talked of using that design as a basis for a line of electric bikes with prices starting under $20,000 with a modular design that would allow the consumer to upgrade performance as the need arose. 

This means that you buy a basic bike, and when technology advances, you plug in your new batteries, software, motors, etc. What’s exciting is thinking about being able to order up the latest battery and doubling or tripling performance for a lot less than what you’d pay to double or triple performance in an internal-combustion engine. After a few decades of motorcycles making leaps and bounds in performance, I think the performance ceilings are closing in, much like the piston-engined fighter plane reached the pinnacle of its development in WWII. And what are you going to do with a 220 hp streetbike, anyway? Pull a horse trailer? 

The basic sportbike chassis – frame, brakes, suspension – is so good now that improvements are going to be incremental. Radial-mount brake calipers look cool, but do they really work that much better than the older style? We’re talking shades of grey. If electric vehicles can reach or surpass the performance of their gas counterparts, with a far smaller carbon footprint, why wouldn’t we want to offer consumers that choice? My car will require thousands of dollars of maintenance before it’s ready to be shredded into pellets and sent to China. Electric cars don’t blow head gaskets, chew up clutches, drop transmissions or piss a mile-long trail of radiator fluid down I-5. They’re also much easier on brakes and tires. And sure, the electricity needs to come from dirty powerplants, but because electric motors are so much more efficient than internal-combustion, they emit far less pollutants per mile traveled.  

We don’t have to get all weepy about losing the sounds and smells of big V-Twins and screaming Inline Fours. My hope is that electrics will offer affordable, clean performance and become so popular that gasoline returns to the status it had 100 years ago: a cheap by-product. This would let the small minority of automotive and motorcycle enthusiasts afford to ride and drive their passions to their heart’s content, freeing the masses from the tyranny of slow, polluting, unreliable gasoline engines. There is no doubt in my mind that within 10 years, a large part – maybe even half – of total motorcycle sales will be electric. 

The world’s changing. It’s getting better. It always has been. Get used to it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Street Triple Review

This column originally appeared in CityBike in March of 2008.

I would like to apologize to you for being light on the motorcycle-related content front as of late. Cranking out fresh copy for Old Man Halton every month like some kind of trained monkey is a challenge. “Not bitter enough!” he growls via email. “You call that irony?” he writes. So my columns tend towards the bitter and ironic, and the motorcycling aspect is sometimes left at the bus station, sleeping under the Racing Form until the transit cop rudely rousts him with a well-placed jab of the nightstick. Of late, I have been focusing on issues better left for the Northern California Jewish Bulletin. Sorry about that.

 So now, for your troubles, and to thank you for taking the empty Starbucks cups out of the Citybike rack, I give you an actual motorcycle review. To celebrate the fact that this is an unpaid (but tax-deductible) gig with Citybike, I will write this review in a very unstructured way. So if you are after information, and not entertainment, I beg you now, before it’s too late, to put this paper back under the pile of The Learning Annex and turn on KNBR.

 The bike: the Triumph Street Triple 675. It may be the perfect motorcycle, once a few glaring flaws are addressed. Let’s get them out of the way first:

 -Crummy suspension: To account for a weak dollar, I think Triumph needed to keep the price of the rear shock under £2, 5 shilling, sixpence per unit. It has a soft spring and little damping. I cranked the preload collar way down, which controlled the ride a little but made me bite my tongue when I went over bumps. The front suspension is non-adjustable, and will bottom out if you hit a dip at 50 mph.

 -Cheap brakes: Two piston calipers, much like what you’ll find on a Ducati SportClassic or SV650. At least Triumph has the class to use steel-braided lines, which means what feel there is isn’t squandered by rubber lines. Still plenty of power to loft the rear wheel, if that’s what you’re into. 

-No wind protection: my Speed Four came stock with a little flyscreen that was pretty effective, and the MSRP was $1400 less. It’s not my fault Bush wrecked our economy and made the dollar worthless against the Pound. Please don’t take it out on me.

Easy fixes, all three issues; hop on eBay and a universe of 675 Daytona parts will crop up; lower fork legs, radial-mount brake calipers and the Daytona’s stellar rear shock will be yours for the asking. And they sell a flyscreen out of their accessory catalog. What’s right about the Street Triple is everything else: this is a barely-fettered middleweight supersport bike that’s fun and comfortable to ride, has way more torque than rational people need in something so light and peppy and is fast where it counts: from 30-100 mph. All the while it makes these sounds through the airbox and mufflers that makes a V-Twin sound like Mr. Magoo’s Hupmobile. It will have you saying things like “Cack,” and “Bollocks,” even if you have no idea what they mean.  

Triumph hit one out of the park here, folks, and that any testicle-equipped twenty-something would pick a sportbike, which is really no fun unless you’re on a racetrack or a perfect stretch of road over one of these is another of life’s great mysteries. For the love of God, it does second-gear wheelies without being asked. It can slalom through Bott’s dots at 75 mph. It has near-perfect fuel injection, is smooth at 11,000 rpm and it’s wicked, wicked fast. For street riding it’s too fast; the bike’s attitude rubs off on you and encourages chance-taking you wouldn’t perform on another machine.

It doesn’t matter that the guy trying to pass on a GSX-R1000 has 60 hp on you; that triple-cylinder honk hits your inhibitions like a chain drug store’s house-brand gin (“Royal Guardsman”) and makes you roll the throttle open to the stop, leaving GSX-R guy wondering who the looney fucker on that weird green bike was, and why he took off like Mike Huckabee suddenly realizing he accidentally walked into the AVN Awards Banquet.

Can you tell I like it? Can you tell I want one? If the best sportbike is a modern middleweight, with a hundred-something horses and a featherweight chassis, then putting handlebars on one and stripping the bodywork makes it even better, possibly the ultimate streetbike. It’s the kind of bike that makes global warming acceptable, that makes you sympathize with sex offenders and repo men. It’s enough to make me stop saying “Oy, vey,” and start saying “Oi! Wanker! Out of me way!”

Gabe Ets-Hokin is an English actor, known for his hard man roles in the Guy Ritchie crime films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Revolver and Snatch

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

AMA Pro Racing Announces American SponsorBike Class for 2010

Photo: Paul Goff

Not confused enough by the new AMA Superbike series? Just in case you do have a firm mental grip on the differences between Daytona Superbike, American Superbike, Supersport and MotoST, Florida-based AMA Pro Racing today announced yet another class for the 2010 season: American SponsorBike.

The new class will pit an array of different-displacement motorcycles clad in unique bodywork designed for “maximal aerodynamic and revenue-gathering efficiency,” said Colgate Aamco, AMA ProRacing’s director of competition and cooperation. The neon-illuminated fairings, designed to resemble the “dustbin” style enclosures seen at Grand Prix races in the ’50s, must be a minimum of 9 feet long, 6 feet high and will be maintained by special crews from Clear Channel Outdoor.

To ensure exciting competition with “enhanced adequation,” a careful mix of motorcycles will be allowed in the class. The Buell 1125R will be gridded against the Suzuki SV650SF, Yamaha FZ6R, Kawasaki Ninja 250R, Royal Enfield Bullet Machismo and Honda Nighthawk 250RR. Ducati will be allowed to enter a Bianchi 12-speed if it’s ridden by a heavy smoker, preferably with arrhythmia. 

Other competition- and revenue-enhancing programs will be put in place for the 2010 season. In addition to AMA officials actually selling their personal naming rights, announcers will now replace select verbs, adjectives and nouns with sponsors’ names. For instance, the word “pass” will now be “Tide,” “win” will now be “IBM”, and “motorcycle” will now be “Sunoco,” among other changes. 

“I think this will be an IBM-IBM situation for everyone,” said AMA Pro Racing director McDonald’s Tyson. “There will be Fedex Cisco-ing and Google Nike-ing. But not too much Qualcom-ity will be allowed to Nordstrom the Sherwin-Williams or eBay the McKesson. But let’s not forget that first and foremost, AMA Pro Racing will always provide an Allstate to the loyal Home Depots out there, and not just Pfizer the 3Ms.” 

Gabe Ets-Hokin has been taken out behind the woodshed, where he will be safely recycled.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Build Your Own Ducati Streetfighter! Part I

I like sportbikes. I like a motor tuned for high-rpm running, a close-ratio transmission, rigid chassis, good brakes and light weight. What I don' tlike is hunching over my gas tank like I've just been punched in the stomach. I don't like sore wrists. I don't like worrying about my bike getting stolen so some putz can sell my shiny plastic bodywork on eBay.
I also find I ride better if I don't have all that fancy plastic on my bike. Riding on a fast, bumpy, twisty road with a $10,000, full-fairing sportbike feels like jogging through a minefield while carrying a tray full of wineglasses. How many salvage-title bikes are out there with nothing wrong with them but scratched and cracked bodywork? One little spill of diesel fuel, one slippery dead squirrel, and you're looking at a $4000 work order. Funny how a huge piece of ABS plastic sold as a child's toy is $14.95, but a similar item is $798.54 from Suzuki, Ducati or BMW. Gotta pay for that performance somehow, no?

Nothing's better than getting something for nothing, and there's no better way to do that than to get 2009 technology at 1985 prices. How do you do that? It's easy, my friend: buy a crashed late-model motorcycle on Craigslist and turn that into a streetfighter.

I did that with a 2000 Ducati 750SS recently, and I gotta say it's been tremendously satisfying. a Ducati customizer had built it for his brother as a first bike. He took a 620 Monster motor, bolted 800cc jugs on it and slapped the resulting contraption into a donor chassis. The exhaust was a weird old 2-1 Staintune unit allegedly dug out of a dumpster behind the Staintune factory. I saw the bike on Craigslist and felt I needed to at least go look at it. 

Pierre Terblanche, I love you, but the bodywork and your torturously low clip-ons gotta go. A guy in Canada bought the exhaust system, eh.

Every piece of bodywork was scuffed except the fender and right-rear tailsection, and one panel was finished in primer grey. But it was clean and the 2005 Monster 620 motor had just 1000 miles on it. Remembering my wife’s 620 was, I figured it could be fun. The seller (not related to the builder or his hapless brother, who dropped the thing on both sides) seemed frustrated; despite having an aftermarket FI-tuning thing on the bike, he couldn't get it to run right. He was asking a bit much, but I could tell he was ready to deal.

 I took it out for a testride, and it was touch-and-go for a while. The SS was almost impossible to ride at low speeds, the way it twitched, spat and bucked, and the suspension was stiff, frequently bouncing me off the seat. But over 6000 rpm the motor ran strong and clean. The Staintune sounded good, flat and mean and not too loud. It was indeed fun.  

"I shouldn't buy this thing,” I said when I got back from a 5-mile testloop. “But if you'll say yes to $2600, I'll have to take it home."


I should never have read “ You Can Negotiate Anything.” Damn you, Herb Cohen!

Now what? Well, I've wanted a streetfightered Ducati Supersport for a while. I like Monsters for the ideal of how they look: a motor, two wheels, a gas tank and not much else - but they always seem to handle in a strange way, like you’re riding a bike in a low-budget video game. I've never liked that. But these Supersports...slow, linear steering, unmatchable high-speed stability, firm suspension that re-creates the sadomasochistic ‘70s cafĂ©-racer experience, brakes like hitting a Bagdad blast wall. My idea of perfection. What I don’t like is the torturously low bars and fuzz-attracting sportbike fairing. What if I took the fairing off, added an LsL handlebar kit and a headlight and called it a day? 

If only it were that easy...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Road Rage and You

A Guide to Surviving the Urban Jungle on Two Wheels

I originally wrote this story for in 2006, but have reposted it here for my friends at the Bay Area Riders Forum. Would it kill you to click on an ad or two here? All proceeds will go to Gabe's Foundation for Babys, Puppies and Kittens.

But as this charioteer lurched over towards me
I struck him in my rage...
He was paid back, and more!
Swinging my club in this right hand I knocked him
Out of his car, and he rolled on the ground.
I killed him.... I killed them all.
- Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, 430 BC

You're on your brand new Super Moto bike and you want to go for a ride. You call up your friend, and you meet for coffee. You talk about your new KTM and how fast and fun it is, how it will give you an edge over the plodding, inattentive masses in their Volvos, rental cars and SUVs.

You roar around the car on the shoulder of the road, scream a few choice obscenities at the girls and do a wheelie around the bend.
You head out to the beach, the thumper's motor roaring in your ears and the cool salty air filling your lungs. As you come up to a stop sign, two young women in a sedan hesitate in front of you, looking at the water. You honk at them, and one of them waves a saucy middle finger at you.

Something snaps inside the reptilian core of your brain stem. You roar around the car on the shoulder of the road, scream a few choice obscenities at the girls and do a wheelie around the bend. Panting, you start to grin a little bit as you wait for your friend at the next stoplight when a guy in a pick-up truck suddenly pulls up next to you...

"Hey, that was my daughter in that car you were yelling at. Why don't you chill out?" he yells.

"F--k you!" you respond, startled. You take off after giving his door a well-placed kick with your steel-toed motocross boot. You gun the throttle, but he was already on the gas and his truck swerves towards you.

What happens next? Maybe the guy in the truck purposely swerves and hits you, knocking you off your bike and crushing your body beneath three tons of angry metal. Maybe your rear tire slips on something and you lowside underneath the truck. Maybe you escape unharmed.

Whatever happens, you've been involved in a road-rage incident. And when a car and a motorcycle are involved in a crash caused by road-rage, it doesn't matter who was right or wrong, or if the car driver deliberately tried to make the motorcyclist crash, because the end result is usually the same: a killed or injured biker.

"Road Rage" is not a legal, medical or scientific term. Instead, it is a term used in the news media to describe "a range of anti-social behaviors and/or acts of aggression which occur on the road", according to a 1999 Australian study. Such behaviors can include speeding, swerving, cutting off other drivers, running stop signs and other traffic signals, to extreme acts like ramming other vehicles, getting out of the vehicle to physically fight, or using firearms to settle "disputes". According to a 1998 study by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), six out of 10 drivers felt personally threatened by another road user in their past year of driving.If you think road rage is any threatening display of aggression, then road rage is a rampant epidemic that touches everybody who uses public roads. According to a 1998 study by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), six out of 10 drivers felt personally threatened by another road user in their past year of driving. However, only one or two percent of drivers from a 2002 study reported either getting out of their vehicles to assault or argue with another driver or attempting to hit another driver or vehicle with their vehicle. These incidents rarely result in injury or death, but when they do, they receive much attention from the media.

On Christmas Eve, 1999, an Oakland, CA motorcyclist named Julius Long was riding his brand-new KTM Duke II near Ocean Beach in San Francisco when he had some kind of verbal altercation with a pair of women in a car. The father of one of the women, a Pacific Bell employee named Gerald Bowen, saw the incident from the cab of his pickup truck and followed Long so he could tell Long what was what. When he caught up to Long, the 49 year-old biker started screaming at him and kicking his door, according to Bowen and other witnesses.

What followed is the subject of debate. Long pulled away and Bowen followed him. According to Bowen, Long pulled ahead of his truck and then lost control of the KTM, which dumped him under the truck, killing him. Other witnesses say Bowen intentionally hit Long's bike. Bowen blames Long's aggressive attitude and what he believes is a dangerous, highly-strung bike that is ready to spit off an unwary rider at any moment: In a phone interview Bowen told me that Long's bike was a "260cc Duke II: it's very unpredictable, fast and top-heavy, not advised even for experienced riders". Whatever happened, Bowen maintains it was completely Long's fault, even though he tearfully apologized to Long's wife in court and said he felt "immense responsibility."

Bowen was arrested and eventually pled nolo contendre (no contest, which works like a guilty plea but doesn't admit guilt for the purposes of future civil lawsuits) to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. The San Mateo County court gave him a reduced nine-month sentence in county jail. After six years, Bowen is still sad Long died; "I still think about Mr. Long every time I drive by [that spot]", but does not feel his actions were to blame.
This is the stretch of Skyline Boulevard in Daly City where Julius Long was killed.

Bowen told me he said that because he was in a situation where the motorcyclist died, even if it was all Long's fault, as 58 year-old Bowen was an avid motorcycle racer and enthusiast and had only sold his last Harley about five years before he killed Long. In Bowen's view, the relationship between cars and motorcycles in a crowded urban setting like the Bay Area is an adversarial one that will lead to death or injury of motorcyclists; "I had a Harley, [but] you couldn't settle back and relax ...I didn't like to defend myself riding down the road." Now Bowen sees "motorcyclists cutting through traffic, smashing mirrors..."

Bowen maintains he was framed by over-zealous San Mateo prosecutors, but my call to Deputy San Mateo District Attorney Kathleen Rodgers revealed anything but a zealot. "I don't like motorcycles: I think they're dangerous", Rodgers said when I told her who I worked for. Rodgers had been assigned the case from another DA and was not a homicide prosecutor. The DA's office in San Mateo county, like most DAs, just wanted a fast conviction.

The Long killing is eerily reminiscent of another killing that occurred just 50 miles away in 2004. Rick Stern, a 55 year-old Harley rider from Monte Rio, Calif., was riding along Bohemian Highway, a meandering, two-lane road that winds its way through the redwood forests of Sonoma County. It has some annoyingly long double-yellow line zones, especially if you're on a motorcycle and stuck behind tourists or other slow-movers. Stern passed a Ford Explorer driven by 48 year-old Mark Fournier, a man who has admitted to having "anger issues" and who has been described by his doctor as having "a hair trigger". Fournier gunned the motor of his SUV, passed Stern, and then attempted to teach him "a little bit of a lesson" by hitting his brakes.

Stern skidded 111 feet before he hit the Explorer. He died of massive chest injuries in a helicopter on his way to the hospital. Fournier admitted to authorities he passed Stern and purposely hit his brakes ten months after the crash. Fournier's trial for vehicular manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, and assault with a deadly weapon is scheduled for May, 2006.

Another biker was killed last year in Delaware when 40 year-old Joseph August was riding with a friend near Hartly, Del. August and his buddy were cut off by a Chevy Suburban driven by 27 year-old Willis Miller. August and the friend followed Miller about 100 feet down the road, parked their bikes and confronted him. In the ensuing argument, they yelled and screamed at each other, and one of them damaged Miller's rear-view mirror. Then they got back on their bikes and took off.

Smart has noticed what may be a link between perpetrators of road-rage incidents and what psychiatrists call "explosive personality disorder" (EPD).Miller, who had been drinking heavily earlier that day, turned his truck around and took off after the two men, hitting speeds up to 80 mph. When he did catch up, he hit the bikes from behind, shoving August off the road and making the other rider crash 300 feet further up the road. August died from internal bleeding. Miller tried to hide at first but turned himself in and pled guilty to manslaughter earlier this year.

What turns ordinary motorists into killers of motorcyclists, pedestrians, and other motorists? Although there isn't as much scientific research as you'd expect, many researchers worldwide have done some work in this field. Dr. Reginald Smart, who works with the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, has analyzed road-rage incidents from thousands of surveys, interviews and studies.

Smart has noticed what may be a link between perpetrators of road-rage incidents and what psychiatrists call "explosive personality disorder" (EPD). He theorizes that this "disorder may be more prevalent among road rage perpetrators," although he admits that no studies have correlated it with people who have injured or killed other motorists during an instance of road rage.

There are two distinct categories of road-rage incidents and road-ragers. The first is common; you've either had it done to you or done it to some hapless schlubb on the road yourself sometime. Smart calls it "verbal" road-rage; driving aggressively, passing somebody closely or cutting them off, flipping somebody off or screaming and yelling. We've all done it, or if you're especially saintly, at least had it done to you.

The second category is more serious. "Dangerous" or "frequent" road-ragers differentiate themselves from their more casual brothers by actually acting on the rage they feel. "That's what we're concerned with" said Dr. Smart in a phone interview. These are people who report having a road-rage incident more than six to 10 times a year. They have "psychiatric problems, short fuses, things bother them that wouldn't bother most people." Acting out can range from getting out of their cars to confront other road users to brandishing -- and using -- weapons like guns, bats, tire irons, knives or even their cars and trucks. This behavior is correlated with a psychiatric condition known as "explosive personality disorder", which is marked by the subject suddenly exhibiting violent, destructive behavior.

How does this affect motorcyclists? Smart acknowledges there is little research about motorcyclists and road-rage, either as victims or perpetrators. He says that motorcycles "just don't come into view, but maybe they should." However, there is an interesting link between high-performance sportscars and road rage, which is germane because almost every motorcycle on the road is, by automotive standards, a high-performance vehicle.

Such vehicle drivers engage in mild road-rage incidents like weaving in and out of traffic, speeding and cutting off other drivers more frequently than drivers of slower vehicles. However, the incidents of severe road-rage behavior are much more prevalent among commercial truck drivers. Men far outnumber women in all kinds of road-rage, and younger men are far more likely to engage in risky, dangerous, aggressive behavior. Motorcyclists probably engage in aggressive, obnoxious driving habits more than other road users, but are no more likely than anybody else to escalate that aggression into something truly dangerous. How big a problem is road-rage, really? If we're talking about burly truckers exiting their rigs to punch out old ladies or toss their poodles into traffic, it's not really a big problem. True violence and destruction happens so infrequently that when it does, it's usually national news. However, if you define it as aggressive driving in general, then it's a huge problem. According to the NHTSA, 30 percent of fatal traffic accidents in 2004 were somehow speed-related, if not directly caused by what we would call severe road-rage. That's 13,000 people killed and by extrapolation, 800,000 injured annually and billions and billions of dollars in property damage, medical bills and lost productivity. That's like 9/11 happening every 12 weeks, except we have nobody to bomb to make us feel better. What can be done?

Like every social problem, there are two schools of thought. The first school consists of what legal scholars call "retributionists". They believe that harsh legal penalties will keep people's behavior in check and let victims and families taste the sweet sensation of revenge. However, when reviewing what happens in the legal cases of road-rage incidents, it seems the prosecutors often fail to even ask that the full force of the law be visited upon the perpetrator.

"I think murder is an inappropriate charge for what we know as road rage. [In] a lot of road-rage incidents, the perpetrator did not in fact intend to kill the other person...they intended to `teach them a lesson', they intended to bump them...I asked Ian Kelley, an up-and-coming San Francisco Bay Area criminal defense attorney, about what the legal system could do to damp down the seeming epidemic of road rage. I was surprised to find out that road-rage crimes are by their very definition, difficult to seriously penalize someone for.

The problem is that "heat of passion crimes are not deemed as morally blameworthy in the same way as deliberated and planned homicides are", according to 36 year-old Long Island transplant Kelley. In general, a "heat of passion" defense negates the intentional aspect of many crimes; the rage itself makes it impossible for a person to think clearly. That makes it impossible to murder someone, since murder is by definition an intentional act. The red fog clouds your mind and lessens the ability to act rationally, reducing murder to vehicular manslaughter, negligent homicide, or some other crime that does not require specific intent.

Kelley goes on to explain: "I think murder is an inappropriate charge for what we know as road rage. [In] a lot of road-rage incidents, the perpetrator did not in fact intend to kill the other person...they intended to `teach them a lesson', they intended to bump them...just to flip them out a little. They acted with a reckless disregard for the well-being of another, but it's no different than driving with a reckless disregard if they are impaired by alcohol, drugs, age, or whatever."

Another problem is that many in the general public--including prosecutors, juries and judges--just don't "understand motorcycles just don't fall over...they think that motorcycles are dangerous, tipsy instrumentalities. The driver will say that `I didn't mean to hit him, I just swerved and he fell over.'" In other words, many people assume a motorcycle will crash easily in a straight line, which is what Bowen claimed happened to Long. Even when multiple witnesses--even the driver himself--describe the road-raging driver tapping, bumping, or hitting the brakes and causing a crash, proof of an intentional act to actually kill the motorcyclist still isn't certain beyond the "shadow of doubt" the law requires to prove a defendant guilty of murder. Because motorcycles seem so "tipsy", maybe the motorcyclist himself caused the crash, not the road-raging driver who might never have actually contacted the motorcycle. Therefore, most district attorneys will seek a lesser charge than murder to be positive of securing a conviction in a road-rage case.

Does this mean killing a motorcyclist is basically a crime without the severe penalties a non-vehicle based killer would get? From my research, I would say yes; I found no cases of a defendant being convicted of murder for killing a motorcyclist with his vehicle. Our common-law legal system, which treats murder and other homicide crimes the same way it has for hundreds of years, cannot punish moto-killers. In Kelley's words, "The way to teach people to act with more deliberation is from education from when they're young, not from increasingly penalizing them. The very nature of what the crime is suggests that penalizing it more won't help anything, because people are not thinking about penalties at the moment they're acting. In fact, they're not thinking about anything."

Another component to "Justice for All" is to include motorcyclist awareness as part of each state's driver-education program.Before you accuse him of being a mamby-pamby bleeding heart, consider that requiring more education of motorists in general is always a good thing. Even the most John Birch-worshipping GPTB in our MO peanut gallery acknowledges this fact. The American Motorcyclist Association also agrees. AMA Spokesman Tom Lindsay acknowledges that "any motorcyclist killed by a willful act is something that should anger all citizens. Regardless of how, it still has the same result: a dead motorcyclist. We can't bring back a dead rider, but we can make sure the system has the ability or the option to adequately punish motorists who injure or kill other motorists." However, the AMA does not sponsor or endorse any legislation that specifically targets the killers of motorcyclists. Instead, they have a multi-faceted program known as "Justice For All" that promotes safe driving through awareness and education. It will take time, according to Lindsay: "what needs to change are the laws state by state. It's a process, not an event." There's no single magic piece of legislation that will change things; rather, a combination of education, legislation and public awareness will make things safer for all road users.

On the legislative side, the AMA is working in all 50 states to increase penalties "for those who commit manslaughter with a motor vehicle" and increase "fines and driver's license suspensions on drivers who commit traffic offenses that injure or kill others." The legislation doesn't differentiate from those who kill motorcyclists from those who kill any other road user; it's easier for the general public to support broader legislation than that which only protects one group. The AMA website for "Justice for All" claims to have enacted pieces of this legislation in four states but needs the help of motorcyclists in the other 46. (Hint, hint: join the AMA!)

Another component to "Justice for All" is to include motorcyclist awareness as part of each state's driver-education program. A major component of this awareness campaign is a module the AMA lobbies to be included in all state's driver's training programs called "Motorcyclists Matter" that alerts prospective drivers about sharing the road with motorcyclists. I asked Lindsay if it talked about how road-rage affects motorcyclists; he told me that the AMA assumes "all training includes admonitions not to use a vehicle as a weapon. We reinforce that we are vulnerable to other road users."

Yes, we are. No matter how tough and invincible you think you are, no matter how fast your bike is or how skilled you are, no bike on earth can stand up to a 3,000 pound car. The problem happens when a motorcyclist somehow triggers a severe road-rager--someone who lets his road-rage turn violent--with their mild, garden-variety road-rage that almost everybody exhibits. As Dr. Smart says, "in some cases victims turn into perpetrators [of violent assault or other crimes, and]...someone who starts as a perpetrator may become a victim."

Telling a road-raging rider to chill out is easy for me to say now, sitting in front of a computer. However, the reality, out on the road with adrenaline coursing through your veins and the feel of a 100 hp machine between your legs is something else. The monster awakens deep in your cerebral cortex and makes you do crazy things. Just remember this; there are other monsters slumbering out there too, waiting for some crazy guy with loud pipes to wake them up. Do you want to do battle like a pair of middle-aged Komodo dragons? Is it worth it?

One road-rage death affected my life. Julius Long was a friend of mine; we drove for the same taxicab company in San Francisco. I bought a motorcycle from him and we used to go riding together. It's easy for me to say that Julius made a bad decision, tangling with a psycho redneck in a pickup truck, but it's not that clear. I could have made the same choices; in fact, I often have. I've kicked my share of car doors and broken a mirror or two (I think). But I'm going to think more about how I interact with other road users from now on. I hope you do, too.

Taming the Monster: How to Avoid Road Rage.

Most of this advice will seem pretty obvious, but what's obvious to you, Mr. educated college-degree 21st Century man, will not seem so obvious to that primeval Neanderthal that dwells just a few millimeters below your ironically hip "Twisted Sister" concert T-shirt. The next time things start getting hot between you and another road user--whether you're in your car or on your bike--run a few of these through your conscious mind.

If you are raging:
Think of what you're doing. Would you do it if your mother, wife, daughter or girlfriend were watching? Is this something that would be appropriate if you were in a crowded elevator or in a crowd at an airport? Keep a laminated picture of your kids or other loved ones on your dashboard or gas tank. If you knew the person in the other vehicle, would you be acting this way? You might actually know him!

If you can't get away (you might be on something slow like a moped or a Harley), let them get in front of you and then pull over. Let them go!

If you're confronted by a rager:

If you're on your bike, get very, very far away from them. Don't assume you outran them. Keep checking behind you for a long, long time. If you see a police officer get their attention. Nothing chills a road-rager like a black-and-white. If you can't get away (you might be on something slow like a moped or a Harley), let them get in front of you and then pull over. Let them go! If they come after you, find a crowd of people or a brightly lit area. If you're on a bike you are more vulnerable to them when you're moving. If they do corner you and they get out of their car they might start talking about damaging your bike or hurting you. Stay seated on your bike and keep them talking, but don't antagonize them; often times when they stop talking it's because they have a weapon of some kind. In some states (like Arizona), over 10 percent of motorists are armed some or all of the time, and alarmingly (but maybe not surprisingly), serious road-ragers are much more likely to be armed. If they do pull out a weapon you should revert to my people's ancient martial arts technique of screaming and begging for your life. It's not very noble, but at least you'll be alive to feel the shame and humiliation. If you are in a car or truck, don't get out of the vehicle. This will escalate the situation and increase the chances of it ending badly. Maybe he'll kick your ass (or worse) or you'll kick his; in either case you're either going to the hospital or jail (or both; cops don't really care who "started it"). Both places are like hangovers from single-malt scotch; expensive and not much fun.
Maybe he'll kick your ass (or worse) or you'll kick his; in either case you're either going to the hospital or jail.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Aerostich Transit Waterproof Leather Suit

By Gabe Ets-Hokin

Photos By Bob Stokstad

If the San Francisco Bay Area’s motorcycling community was to become a separatist republic and design a flag, it would probably be a picture of a lane-splitting commuter wearing an Aerostich suit. Come to think of it, the flag would probably be a tattered, faded Aerostich suit. In fact, the Bay Area is Aerostich’s best market. For 26 years, the one-piece (and two-piece) Roadcrafter suit has been the gold standard of riding apparel.

Sure, it has its flaws. It’s not 100% waterproof (although Aerostich claims it is with proper preparation). The baggy fit isn’t exactly flattering and can slow you down at higher speeds what with all the flapping and fluttering. And although pound-for-pound nothing is as abrasion-resistant as the heavy Cordura, a freeway-speed crash will usually total a Roadcrafter. And importantly, for Aerostich at least, is the fact that a guy riding a cruiser or vintage bike in a bright-colored jumpsuit looks freakish, closing off a huge segment of the U.S. motorcycle market. The dream: the fit, look and abrasion resistance of leather with the versatility and comfort of a Roadcrafter.

Luckily, former DuPont chemist Bill Gore built a multi-billion dollar company based on tapping the potential of polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. Only in America, I tells you! Gore-Tex outerwear is well-known for being waterproof and warm, thanks to its semi-permeable nature which allows water vapor out and blocks water droplets from coming in. Hey! Why not bond it to leather? Well, because it’s a pain in the ass, but after 32 years, Gore finally brought its Pro Shell leather to market, and Aerostich quickly (okay, not so quickly) brought its take on waterproof leather to market, the Transit suit. 

The Pro Shell leather is a unique, much-engineered and very expensive material. It’s perforated and treated to reduce absorption of both water and solar radiation. It’s a truly global product: Spanish cows sacrifice their hides to Italian tanners who send the leather to the U.K. to be turned into Pro Shell. Aerostich then has its Transit suit sewn in a specially-equipped factory in Vietnam

The Transit is designed to be your basic black leather riding suit with some of the functional features the Roadcrafter has. It has full-length zippers on the pants and plenty of pockets inside and out. It has the big back vent with massive reflective flap. It’s got a tall collar and numerous stretchy panels for a comfortable fit. For safety, it has Aerostich’s latest CE-approved armor, dubbed TF-5, at the knees, elbows, hips and spine.

Your relationship with a leather jacket starts the moment you touch it for the first time. The Transit’s first impression is very favorable. It’s very light (the jacket and pants weigh only 2 pounds more than my one-piece Roadcrafter) and is nicely made. Fit is familiar to anyone with an Aerostich, if a little closer. For leather, especially brand-new leather, it’s comfortable and easy to walk around in. If you’re used to textile apparel, it’ll seem restrictive, but if you’re used to heavy roadrace leathers, the simple, boxy jacket and jeans-cut pants will feel like pajamas.

The riding experience is what you’d expect from Aerostich gear. It’s warm and comfy – the perforations don’t flow any air (thanks to the PTFE film bonded to the inside) – and a 20-minute shower (in an actual shower) revealed true waterproofiness, with no damp crotch or damp anything underneath. It dries off quickly, too. The leather is remarkably flexible and soft, and Aerostich tells me it will get better as it breaks in and molds to the rider. It’s also warmer than either textile or standard leather, which is handy as there isn’t much room to layer underneath; order a size larger if you want to wear a fleece and an electric liner. Ditto for the pants if you want to wear street clothes underneath. 

Warm weather will be a little more comfy than a Roadcrafter or standard leather gear, as the Pro Shell is designed to absorb less heat, keeping the rider cooler. Let’s hope that’s true, as there is no front venting other than the main zipper.

Other downsides to consider: sizing is even only for the jacket (sizes 38-52) and pants (30-44), with no provision for inseams or short or tall sizes. And as of press time, Aerostich can’t do any alterations or add any features like knee-slider Velcro. Expect this all to change if the Transit catches on.

So that’s what you get for almost $1500 ($797 for the jacket and $697 for the pants). That’s a lot of money for street-riding apparel, but less than a custom-made roadrace suit, and most riders only use theirs a few times a year. The Transit is an everyday leather suit that won’t look out of place on any bike from a vintage Triumph to a BMW GS to a GSX-R1000, or whatever it is you’ll be riding 10 years from now.

Aerostich/Rider WearHouse




Monday, February 16, 2009

Crystal 'Meh'

Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.

            -Elie Wiesel

About 40 years ago, researchers built the foundations of our glorious Internet, with the intent of creating a robust, reliable system to transmit data around the world and hasten scientific progress. Futurists of the ‘60s expected that our technocrats, aided by such technology, would cure cancer, establish colonies on other planets and provide stylish jumpsuits for every man, woman and child on Earth by the turn of the 21st century. 

Well, that hasn’t worked out as planned (where’s my ^&%$ jetpack?!), but porn is much better now, you can order pizza through your TV and we’re blessed with the word “meh.”  

What is “meh?” First off, let’s get one thing straight: it’s not Yiddish. You’re thinking of “feh,” which conveys disgust and disdain. But our friend “meh” is something even more sinister. “Meh,” which actually made its way into the Collins English Dictionary last year, is an expression of indifference and uncaring. We Jews are too excitable and intrusive to even have a word for that concept. Meh’s origins are odd, with Lisa on The Simpsons credited with its first utterance in that context (previously the only usage was as the sound a goat makes). 

Nowadays, the Web is a forest of “mehs.” New Kawasaki ZX-6R? Meh. Ben Spies wins yet another race? Meh. Britney Spears displays her genitals? Meh. Been there, done that, seen it all. Meh, meh, meh. 

Oh ye who meh! How the rest of us tremble in the shadow of your omnipresent worldliness, where only the most extreme, outrageous and exotic experiences have any merit. That Internet has brought the world directly into our brains, so naturally the only way to filter that maelstrom of data is to just notice the superlative. 

Well, that’s one theory. But as far as motorcycles go, I blame the Japanese. 

Used to be we would slaver and quiver with the thought of a real 100-hp streetbike, no matter how heavy. If you wanted decent brakes and handling, you’d pretty much have to do that yourself, and if you wanted good tires, you needed a time machine. But then along came the CBR900RR, the ZX-9R, the YZF-R1 in the ‘90s, affordable machines with GP levels of performance. Then came cheap, grippy tires, then affordable, functional riding gear. Compared to what you could get in the ‘80s, 10 grand would get you a perfect riding experience, making a mediocre rider into a self-determined ‘expert’ in months, ready to “meh” at a moment’s notice.

So when Kawasaki’s multi-million dollar efforts at producing the perfect sportbike are met with a burbling whisper of “meh” on a thousand discussion boards, it has only itself and its sister Japanese OEMs to blame. The victims here would be other industry players who struggle to keep up with such leapfrogging ingenuity, only to get smacked with meh. Ducati builds a 1200cc V-Twin sportbike that makes as much power as a Japanese Inline-Four with a price differential that’s less than the purchasing-power difference between the Yen and the Euro? Meh, too expensive. BMW builds a competitive Superbike racer that will be sold to the public for about what a Yamaha YZF-R1 costs, despite the high price of doing business in Europe? Meh, it looks too much like a GSX-R. 

An odd effect of meh-ism is that new riders seem more hardware focused than before. They don’t want a motorcycle. They want the fastest sportbike they can purchase; it’s okay if I start out on an R6, right? They don’t want to just get out there and experience life on two wheels: a Sportster is a girl’s bike, so I need a blinged-out, customized Road Glide. After all, we don’t want someone to turn the meh cannon on us

I just took the MSF Basic RiderCourse. That’s right, after 20 years of riding, I took that 15-hour class so I could go on and get trained as an MSF RiderCoach. I’ll admit to having a bit of meh in me before I started, but I actually learned a thing or two, and I was even dinged some points on the final evaluation (stay away from the Rebel if you take that class!). I learned I don’t know everything and that I am far from perfection as a motorcyclist. That washed those traces of meh from my bloodstream. 

So if you’ve added “meh” to your browser’s spellcheck dictionary, take it out. The world’s a big place and getting bigger, and you’ll never see it all.