Thoughtful Thursday

January 19th, 2006 by mnscooter

19 January, 2006 Temps: 24 degrees F (-4C)

The Windsock and Crystal Ball Guild got it completely wrong today. I awoke this morning to feckless forecasts of 2 to 4 inches of snow by evening. I flipped through every local channel, and they were all in agreement: Today we would get buried under a fluffy white blanket. Well, it didn’t happen. We saw maybe a quarter inch at most, and the bulk of the storm passed north of us. There wasn’t even a dusting on the roads.

This suited me just fine, as I was able to spare a bit of my cognitive energy for observation and contemplation on the ride home.

Let’s take the Saint Paul Ford Plant, for starters. Anyone reading the local newspaper knows that this plant is going to either shut down soon, or severely cut back on it’s work force. This is a local tragedy, but one which has been in the making for a long time. As irrational as it seems in these times of rising gas prices, people just aren’t buying small pickup trucks like the Ranger any more. They buy full-size, gas-guzzling V8 behemoths in full denial or defiance of reality.

The Ranger is built here at this plant in Saint Paul. One of the highlights of my daily commute past the plant has always been seeing the “Ranger of the Day” pulled up on the ramp and displayed proudly in front of the plant. They have come up with some interesting versions and paint schemes over the years, but to read the news, it seems they appeal to very few buyers.

Okay, so I’ve spent two paragraphs setting you up for this… When you receive information that one of the largest workplaces you pass on your daily ride is laying off large numbers of people, what does this mean to you as a commuter on two wheels? It means you either bypass the plant entirely, or be extremely cautious when riding past the exit from the parking lot. Sure enough, as I rode by at 4 pm tonight, there were folks burning rubber out of there, driving angry, probably headed for the nearest bar or liquor store. Who can blame them?

As I approached, I slowed down, looked pointedly at the next vehicle coming out, and didn’t proceed until he waved me by. The truck that had just left before I got there was already doing about 60 mph in the 25 zone in front of the plant. I wonder if that driver was holding a pink slip… what a damned shame. These people are the salt of the earth, the backbone of this country, and they are getting royally screwed by parasitic “shareholders” and executives who care about nothing more than their sacred bottom line. Oh, I know this isn’t the place for this discussion, but for me it hits a little too close to home.

Back on-topic, however, notice that I made sure I got visual feedback from that next driver before I passed the exit of that seething parking lot. At that place, on this underpowered motorbike, I had to make certain I had been seen in order to avoid being crushed.

“Conspicuity” is the word one of my readers used to describe our efforts to be seen by the often oblivious driving public. This illustrates two distinct schools of thought relating to our particular dilemma:

School number one is the old school of classic biker black. This is viewed as fashion, nowadays, but it wasn’t always thus. You see, black is the predominant color of bugs, road grime, and used motor oil. These are an accepted part of a motorcyclist’s life. You wear black clothing so the stains don’t show. But this aesthetic comes with a price…

When you wear biker black, you must assume that you are invisible to all other vehicles on the road. Anything that happens out there is automatically your fault, because the driver didn’t see you. You shoulder the responsibility for your own safety, and you must hone your skills and maintain your motorbike in top condition to avoid the oblivious box people blundering about on the highway. This is not a safe practice, and that is perhaps why it attracts the more adventurous and rebellious amongst us. Some of us go so far as to only carry liability insurance, as a further motivation to maintain our awareness and vigilance out on the roads. We control our own destiny, or we pay the consequences.

School number two is the modern, logical, and reasonable school of maximum conspicuity. This is where the ubiquitous “Start SEEING Motorcycles” stickers come from. The majority of thoughtful, educated riders adhere to this philosophy, and rightly so. They act responsibly, but they expect other road users to do the same. In order to aid them, the modern, rational rider wears bright colors and festoons his motorbike with accessories that increase his visibility in traffic. On the surface, this makes perfect, rational sense. But there are chinks in this flourescent armor.

Sadly, I don’t trust school number two. Call me a cynic, but trusting bright lights and colors to catch a manic SUV pilot’s attention so he doesn’t run me over is a leap of faith too far. These people are driving around in civilian armored personnel carriers for a reason: Nobody else matters. As long as they are safe, let the insurance companies and lawyers sort out why some poor biker splattered himself all over the undercarriage. Nuclear Tangerine riding gear will not protect you from a distracted jerk driving a tank.

So, where does that leave us? Obviously, you stand the best chance by combining both schools of thought. Develop the best skills and awareness you can and wear the kind of gear people can see. My Darien jacket is black, but it has hell-for-bright reflective stripes on the back, front, and sides. The Baron is bright red and silver. I ride like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

If your skills need improvement, wear brighter clothes, and install lots of bright lights and reflectors on your motorbike. This will help others see you when you are not aware of them. Get mirrors that work, rather than showing you realtime video of your elbows.

Next time, we will have a deep, thoughtful discussion of why Loud Pipes Save Lives! Or not…

Wednesday Wandering

January 18th, 2006 by mnscooter

18 January, 2006 Temps: 17 degrees F, (-8C)

The Baron and I had a nice, uneventful commute, both ways today. The End.

Well, that’s not true, really. Both the morning and evening rides were indeed uneventful, from a life-threatening danger standpoint. There wasn’t much adventure beyond the simple fact that we were out there riding, and didn’t see anyone else around on two wheels. I keep looking for other riders, but I haven’t seen anyone else since the infamous, um, “S.N. Incident”.

The only thing I had to watch out for today was that strip down the center of the lane, between the wheel tracks. That goes from dry pavement to slush, to remnants of ice cover with unpredictable frequency. Once I settled into one wheel track, however, I could almost relax.

There were plenty of people about, walking and running and driving. One notable fellow, driving an ex-cop Ford Crown Victoria with an NRA logo emlazoned on the door, gave me a big thumbs-up as he passed. I waved and smiled. I like guns too.

Er, sorry sir! I meant “weapons”. (Pardon me for a moment, I have to do twenty push-ups…)

Whew! Alrighty then. As I said, the ride itself was routine. But there are still plenty of variables out there on that ride which merit contemplation. This morning, for instance, I saw a fellow out jogging, in cold-weather running gear. Nothing peculiar about that. What was strange were the two large men flanking him, in reflective vests, obviously armed and carrying commo gear. Bodyguards? At 5:30 a.m. in Saint Paul? Well, it’s a dangerous world, I guess…

“Things have changed since 9-11.” Yeah, that’s what you-all keep telling us. I wonder who the V.I.P. was?

We keep getting waves and hollers from kids standing at school bus stops. This is encouraging. The future looks bright from that perspective.

So, tomorrow I return to “The Scenic Route”. This is the way I like best. It is the route I spent many years figuring out, and the one on which I encounter the least traffic. This is a grand tour for the nose: from the eggs-and-bacon breakfast smells amongst the houses, to the heady aromas emanating from the brewery, and the rich scent of roasting coffee beans coming from Dunn Brothers on the corner of the Lake Street Bridge.

Yes, it is slower. But slow is what a scooter’s all about.

Slick Tuesday

January 17th, 2006 by mnscooter

17 January, 2006 Temps: 15 degrees F (-9.44 C)

Well, it wasn’t quite frozen butter this morning, but it was close. The sleet and rain had laid down a thin base of glare ice, and that was covered by an inch of fresh snow. I could see pavement in places, but conditions were very adverse to two-wheeled travel. The Baron and I left early, and crept down the dark, lonely sidestreets as far as Minneapolis. I didn’t think there had been many plow trucks out overnight. Monday was MLK day, after all, and I know the Public Works guys usually get that one as a holiday.

Crossing the Lake Street Bridge, the Baron and I were in the left lane, because that had the most pavement visible. Suddenly, some yahoo in a big 4WD pickup truck blasted past us in the right lane, splattering us with slush. Then he swerved left in front of us and slammed on the brakes! I dropped my right foot, squeeezed the rear brake lever to initiate a skid, and managed to fishtail around him, just missing his fender on the right. I pulled over and stopped, absolutely enraged, and watched this idiot turn left at the stoplight, against the red. No, I did not get a license number. Too much slush on my visor from his big, fat tires. He spun those tires all the way down to the river road, headed south, no doubt to see who else he could menace. Just another brown hole sighting, I guess.

Well, I had planned to stop at the coffee shop this morning, and it was right there on that corner. But now I had so much adrenaline pumping through my veins that caffiene would have been redundant at best, and downright dangerous more likely. I headed down West River Road with maximum caution, continuously reminding myself to loosen my grip on the bars. By the time we made it to Lyndale, I had decided to take Highway 55 the rest of the way. This bypasses a lot of icy sidestreets in favor of the thoroughly de-iced four-lane. I have done this before, and I call it the Half-Fast Route (convenient pun intended).

There is nothing to see on this road, but traffic moves between 40 and 60 mph, and it gets the last few miles of my commute over with in a hurry. This morning, it was just what the doctor ordered.

The ride home was still a challenge, as it had snowed off-and-on throughout the day. Not nearly as hairy as our ride this morning, however. The sun came out for a bit, and the drivers were much more civilized. But we had some fun with the curves on East River Road, and that same hill down to Robert Street was still iced-over tonight. Landing gear down, we stopped well short of the crosswalk this time.

Sunday Ride, Monday Slide

January 16th, 2006 by mnscooter

16 January, 2006 32 degrees F

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. Being a good son, I rode over to visit her and Dad at their place in North Saint Paul. The sun was out with a vengeance, and it was a balmy 38 degrees when the Baron and I launched out of the driveway.

Huh… January in Minnesota, and I’m riding a scooter on a sunny Sunday morning as though it were April. What could be better than that?

We rolled down Robert Street and across the bridge into downtown Saint Paul. There were only a few cars about, and I was able to gaze up at the incredible variety of architecture, old and new. The contrasts are striking, but I have always preferred the former. When building a skyscraper, you can’t go too ornate in my book. The stark, newer stuff just looks like they were trying to cheap-out on the construction… and they probably were. It took real craftsmen to build the old art-deco courthouse, for instance.

Well, enough of that, I had better watch where we’re going here.

We turned right on Seventh Street and rolled up to one red light after another. We were hitting them all, but it allowed me to look around and enjoy the sunshine, and the smiling faces of kids staring and waving from other vehicles. I just know I am looking at future riders here, you can see the wonder in their eyes.

My route to North Saint Paul takes us way down Seventh to Johnson Parkway, through a lot of traffic signals and some pretty heavy traffic on most days. Then we take other sidestreets until we reach the other Seventh Street, which is the main drag in my old hometown. Most of my old hangouts are gone now. Time has a way of doing that. But our old house is just a couple blocks across Highway 36, and we arrived in plenty of time for me to enjoy a nice breakfast with my folks. They were heading up to one of the local casinos later in the day, but we enjoyed our eggs and toast and caught up on all the latest family news.

Dad told me about a shortcut that would bypass many of the traffic signals on the way home. Instead of turning onto Johnson Parkway, he told me to go straight ahead on Phalen Boulevard. This is a sort of parkway now, with a 35 mph speed limit, and no stops for several miles until Payne Avenue. Just perfect for the Baron and I.

Sure enough, we rode uninterrupted, on flawless pavement for several miles alongside the railroad tracks. This time of year, it isn’t what you would call beautiful, but I could see some potential here when things start to green up. I’ll bet it cut several minutes off our time, and made for a much nicer ride than the other route. The Baron certainly liked it. That’s his ideal cruising speed. Mom, I think I just found a reason to visit more often…

This morning, we had another routine commute on dry roads. I hate to feel like I’m taking this for granted, but that is an undeniable fact. However, when we left work this evening, it was under a brooding sky which showered us with sleet and freezing rain. It was 32 degrees, the exact freezing temperature of water. These are most dangerous conditions, because you really can’t tell if that is water or fresh ice you are looking at. The sticky mixture clogs your helmet visor, and you have to keep wiping it with something. Lucky for me, Aerostich sent “Vee-Wipes” for me to try out.

This is like a mini-windshield wiper that goes around the thumb or finger of your glove. You just swipe it across your visor or goggles whenever your vision is obscured. My only problem with it is the way it cuts down the circulation to whichever digit you choose to install it on. There are three sizes, but the largest still causes my thumb to go numb. Perhaps I will try my index finger next time.

Our roads are now “well-seasoned” with salt and chemicals, so the rain coming down wasn’t so quick to freeze. It wasn’t until we were only a few miles from home that the sleet turned to heavy, wet snow, and this started to freeze to the road. By the time we were only a mile from our driveway, there were snow-covered ice patches everywhere, and traction was becoming scarce. We had wheelspin when we took off, and brake-slide when we tried to stop. One of our hairiest moments occurred while negotiating the steep hill where Bernard Street descends towards the stoplight on Robert Street. This is a very busy intersection at rush hour, and we were not slowing down much. I squeezed and let-off the rear brake, and we fishtailed down the hill. The light going our way was red, and the cross-traffic on Robert was moving right along at about 40 mph.

I lowered my “landing gear” and dug my boots into the slushy pavement, just before I gingerly began applying the front brake. That did the trick. We got stopped in the middle of the cross-walk and waited for the light to change. Then it was a four-point crawl the remaining couple of blocks home.

Well, this was exactly what I asked for, wasn’t it? Something to write about in the blog? Why do I get so disgusted when life is easy? I just don’t know. Tomorrow morning might bring those impossible, frozen butter conditions again. I’m not taking the freeway this time. That was insane. Frankly, I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I will tell you about it tomorrow.

Friday the 13th

January 14th, 2006 by mnscooter

Friday the 13th of January, 2006 Sunny and 30-some degrees F

I’m not a superstitious man. When a Friday occurs on the 13th day of the month, I don’t panic and assume that something bad is going to happen. But I do ride with extra vigilance, because I realize that some other folks out there are distracted by their superstitions, and may run me over whilst avoiding some specter conjured up by their fevered imagination.

This morning, the Baron and I left early to avoid the heavy traffic of our Twin City rush hour. We rode in darkness, with headlights on high-beam, so we would be quite visible to approaching motorists. We took a route which I have dubbed “The Fast Way”. This bypasses the labyrinthine side streets around the brewery by taking Highway 13 down to the bridge on I-35E, across the Mississippi River, and onto Shephard Road. It’s a bit boring, and I don’t get to smell the coffee and breakfast aromas from the homes along that route. But today I just wanted to get to work, get that over with, and get on with my life.

However, when we arrived at the ramp to I-35E south, we found it packed with cars waiting for the metered signal lights to allow them on to the freeway. There is no HOV/motorcycle bypass on this ramp, but I interpret that as an oversight. I’m sure the city intends to install one, they just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

So, in the spirit of trail-blazing pioneers everywhere, we ventured out onto the snow-covered grass, and scooted right past all those cars, trucks, and SUVs waiting for those infuriating signal lights. The rear wheel spun a bit, but I remained in control. We probably cut three minutes off our commute time by doing this, and didn’t hinder anyone else in the process. When I heard all the honking horns, I waved to acknowledge their admiration. Next year, surely, some of these folks will be riding scooters. Right?

After that, the Baron and I rode along, down the river roads, and under the trees where the number of crows seem to be diminishing. Do they know something we don’t? As I check the Intellicast 10-day forecast, I don’t see anything ominous in our future.

So, Friday the Thirteenth passed without drama. I’m home and safe, and feeling a little guilty about all the hype we started out with. Old Man Winter is not presenting his usual challenge here. Do you think he has gone into retirement? Is he down in Florida with all the rest of the Snowbirds? I just don’t know.

What I do know is that I am out here riding, every single day, and having a wonderful time doing it. I write this blog to let everyone know that this is possible, with the right equipment and skills. I also know that there are certain species of vulture who can’t wait for me to fail and/or die, so they can crow over my defeat and pick over my bones. Well, that’s just not going to happen.

Rust Never Sleeps

January 12th, 2006 by mnscooter

12 January, 2006 29 degrees F

Am I being sucked into an ambush? This was my thought as I rode, yet again, out onto the unseasonably dry roads for my daily commute. This is too easy! Here I was braced for a challenge, and old man winter seems to have taken a vacation elsewhere. It’s just not right!

Is the wily old bastard taunting me? Is he waiting for a day when I might cheat, and leave a layer or two of riding gear in the closet? I don’t think so. As so many people have reminded me lately: It’s not always about me.

I don’t know what to make of all the media reports about global warming. But if the weather here in Minnesota lately is any indicator, there must be something to that theory. The jet stream is remarkably stable right now, bringing relatively warm air and high pressure right over the part of the country where the Baron and I operate. This is not helping me come up with new topics for this blog!

Yesterday, I was going to report on all the corrosion I found in the nooks and crannies of the Baron. Here again, I was let down. All the frame tubes and structural members are painted with a resilient black coating. No rust there. The untreated aluminum of the engine cases and valve cover have grown a fuzzy white coating of aluminum corrosion. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a decent photograph of it, because of their location and lack of lighting, and it wasn’t really very dramatic anyway. I cleaned the portions I could reach with a brush, and sprayed them down with Boeshield. Hopefully, that will take care of them.

I did notice that the ground for the battery and electrical system was starting to rust, but again, it was in an inaccessible location for photographs. I pulled that loose, cleaned it up, and sprayed it with Boeshield. Hopefully that will take care of it. If not, I will resort to old, reliable axle grease.

The thing is, I am going to have to totally dismantle this scooter come Springtime in order to fully assess the damage caused by salt corrosion. I know it’s there somewhere. But I don’t have the room to do this in my garage right now, and there is too much snow on the driveway to spread all the body parts, screws, and clips everywhere in such a manner as to reassemble them again. All I can do is make sure I coat everything as well as possible, and tighten all crucial fasteners regularly.

But let’s go back to the ambush scenario… What if all my brash bellowing has aroused some kind of karmic backlash? Maybe Old Man Winter is allowing me to wear my Kenda knobbies thin on our dry pavement, just before he nails us with a month-long blizzard of heavy snow and freezing cold. I had better call my Kenda reps, to see if they can locate replacements for these excellent tires. I may well need them.

Repercussions and Routine

January 11th, 2006 by mnscooter

10 January, 2006 20 degrees F

It certainly felt colder than 20 degrees this morning. I noticed that there was frost on all the car windshields, and that same frost clung to the road in spots. These are perfect black-ice conditions. I would have to be extra cautious on the way to work. I would have no time to think about distractions, like yesterday’s firestorm of angry feedback from my last blog entry.

Well, I really stirred up a hornet’s (or should I say wasp’s?) nest, with my “Scooter Nazi” comment. For those who didn’t know, “Vespa” means “wasp”, in Italian. Our local “dedicated, traditional scooter community” went ballistic after I included that stereotype in my satirical “brown hole - existential gravity” piece. The truth is, I screwed up. For a crucial moment, I forgot where this blog was located: on the Ride to Work website. RTW advocates commuting to work on motorbikes of all kinds, and discriminates against none. I don’t think they are interested in illustrating the discrimination of one group against another.

That is purely one of my own pet peeves, and I put it out here when I probably shouldn’t have. My only excuse is that it flowed so well with the rest of my satirical rant, it just seemed natural to include it. I was amused by the whole incident, not offended. But there were repercussions… Now I have to moderate all comments coming into this blog to eliminate vicious personal attacks and unproductive bickering. That will take time out of my day, and delay the posting of really worthy comments from reasonable readers. Sorry about that, folks.

But, back to the ride…

The Baron and I are well-practiced at this now. I am wearing down the soles of my snowmobile boots, but we remain upright in some really slippery conditions. Smooth control inputs and weight transfer are key to controlling a scooter in a slide. I hold the throttle steady, because it is difficult to throttle-steer on a CVT bike. The inertia of the variator/clutch/belt arrangement causes the rear wheel to keep turning after you shut the throttle, and that can spin you right out on extended ice patches. But I find that if I hold a steady throttle and concentrate on weight and balance over wheels and feet, I can get us through the worst situations in some semblance of control. My best advice: Practice with a beater bike in an empty, icy parking lot before you take it to the streets.

One thing I noticed this morning was the huge number of crows roosting in the trees along the Mississippi River. As we rode by, they took off and circled above us until the whole sky was black with birds. The cacaphony of their “Caw! Caw! CAWWW!” was deafening as we rode beneath them. I was just waiting for the splatter of white to obscure my visor, but thankfully that didn’t happen. I don’t know much `bout crow biology, but maybe it was too cold, and they were all puckered up? It’s a thought.

By afternoon, when I left work, it was much warmer. There was little ice left on the roads. The sun was shining, and the ride was beautiful. There weren’t as many crows in the trees on my way home. They were probably out foraging for food and dive-bombing college students on the U of M campus across the river.

Wednesday I am taking the day off, to visit with an old friend who is coming to town, and take care of some scooter maintenance. This time, I am removing all the bodywork to see how the Baron is standing up to our winter corrosion. Then I am going to clean everything up, dry it off, and see how this Boeshield T9 Corrosion Preventive Treatment works. I will post photos on the blog if I find anything interesting.

Out of The Well

January 7th, 2006 by mnscooter

06 January, 2006 Temperature: 35 degrees F

Sometimes it’s hard to be a rugged individualist. When conditions conspire to present no challenge, how does one triumph over adversity? For the past week we have had grey skies, no snow, dry roads, and I’ve been riding a scooter that just keeps going and going like that long-eared critter on the battery commercial. Ho hum, no drama there.

Joe Soucheray has stopped calling me. So have Ian and Margery at FM107. WCCO TV? Am I bleeding? Fuhgeddaboudit! The “scooterboy” story is yesterday’s news. Well… fine!

Where the heck was all that media stuff taking me anyway? Was that the reason I did this in the first place? No! I did this to escape the phenomenon I have identified as Existential Gravity, which takes hold with a deadly grip during the normally harsh Minnesota winter. We have spoken here about the horror of a life lived in boxes. When the very atmosphere endeavors to kill us, we seek safety in our homes, cars, offices, cubicles, and finally, television sets. Boxes all.

But right here in Minnesota, in January no less, what do I see around me?

Dwindling snow cover that melts for two-to-three hours a day. People out jogging and bicycling and even riding motorbikes as if it were early spring or late autumn. The only thing missing is the sun, and that is scheduled to make an appearance tomorrow, along with more of the same balmy temperatures. Where’s the challenge? Where’s the adventure? This is almost like everyday riding during the normal season, except for the occasional treacherous ice patch.

I suppose I should be grateful. When I planned this project, way back in late October, I anticipated heavy snows and arctic temperatures. Some pundits in the Windsock and Crystal Ball Guild had predicted a harsh winter for Minnesota, and I bought into it. I should be overjoyed by the fact that I can go outside in shorts and a sweatshirt, and wash the salt and grime off the scooter with the garden hose. I should be thankful that I can commute on a scooter in relative comfort, enjoying eighty-mpg fuel economy, when everyone else seems to be suffering from the ridiculous gas prices. I should be happy that I can go out and ride anywhere in the Twin Cities and have fun doing it, right now.

I should… so I guess I will.

To do otherwise would be to surrender to the Existential Gravity which has plagued my existence from the moment I started to do what I was told as a child.

You may recall that moment in your own life, when your cognitive skills reached a point where a parent or authority figure could compel your obedience by the use of either positive or negative reinforcement? The old “carrot or stick” analogy? That moment when you realized that food, comfort, and security weren’t just the natural conditions of life? Wasn’t that the first moment you became aware of Existential Gravity? Yes, and that’s when it all started going to hell.

I must tell you, I have some really brilliant friends. The Twin Cities motorbike scene breeds them like rabbits. So does the engineering firm at which I spend way too much of my time. The upside of this is that I get to have some very stimulating conversations. After my last post, when I was having a pity party about life degenerating into the routine, my wonderful, loyal friends came to my rescue and pulled me out of the Existential Gravity well with some really startling revelations.

To wit:

My friend Denny is especially brilliant. How so? Well, he parlayed a bachelor’s degree in music education into a master’s of software engineering. What would you call that? Ambi-cranial? This guy is a counter-culture genius! When I came into work looking glum on Thursday morning, he engaged me in a fascinating exploration of the Existential Gravity which was bringing me down. Together, we developed an astounding theory, which I will try to relate to you here…

Just as Newtonian Gravity manifests most strongly around Black Holes, we have deduced that Existential Gravity emanates most heavily from Brown Holes.

Think of the implications! Doesn’t it explain most of the miserable mysteries of human co-existence? Especially in the workplace? And what about traffic?

We hereby postulate: Proximity to Brown Holes causes most of the stress and strife in our everyday lives!

(We will use the abbreviation “E-G” to refer to Existential Gravity hereafter. That will simplify things, and cause future readers to refer to the earlier entries in this blog. I hope…)

The ramifications percolated in my head all day long. When it was finally time to punch out from work, I couldn’t wait to get to First Thursday, at Dulono’s Pizza in uptown Minneapolis, to reveal this theory and develop it further.

Now, First Thursday was originally a meeting of the Twin Cities Norton Owner’s Club, going back as far as anyone can remember. On the first Thursday of every month, they would meet and discuss club business over frosty beverages and some of the best pizza and pasta in town.

But in the nineties, people started showing up on other bikes, in huge numbers, and it soon became untenable as a functioning club meeting. So the TCNOC switched to other venues during the normal riding season. But in winter, when the barbarian hordes store their motorbikes, these cultured folk return to their roots, and hold their dignified proceedings here in relative peace.

As a struggling moto-journalist, I have been a welcome intruder in their midst on occasion, and for that I am duly grateful. This night, I went to seek the wise counsel of my friend “Buster Brown”. He is a charter member of this august body, and a Berkeley-trained attack lawyer whose services I have engaged on occasion, when being unfairly hassled by The Man.

Buster Brown has the uncanny ability to dissect any theory, hypothesis, or opinion with scalpel-sharp rhetoric and critical analysis. Especially when he is drinking. I found him “in his cups”, so-to-speak, and let fly with our whole E-G concept. He grasped the fundamentals quickly, confirmed our logic, and proceeded to expound with great eloquence.

Buster said: “The first question of concern to two-wheeled commuters is; Do SUVs naturally form around Brown Holes?”

See what I mean? His reasoning is so elegant. You want to embrace this hypothesis with both hands and nurture it. Unfortunately, this would predicate that Brown Holes attract heavy metals and luxury appointments around themselves in some complex form of natural selection. If you apply known scientific principals to this theory, it seems highly unlikely that this is the case, even though the preponderance of evidence supports the hypothesis. Puzzling… isn’t it? Well, that’s why he is such a good lawyer.

However, if you focus the investigation more tightly, you realize that the singular element that Brown Holes attract most strongly is… money! Yes, it appears that the main purpose for the existence of Brown Holes is the accumulation of wealth. This is a constant which tracks through all the equations one can apply to it.

Eureka! Think about it….

Whenever you feel the dragging, loathesome effects of E-G, look around you. Obviously, Brown Holes are not always visible to the naked eye, but they are detectable by the negative effects they have on your well-being. When you are feeling put-upon and beaten-down, are there rich people in your vicinity? Or maybe those people who are desparately trying to become rich? Hmmmm…

I tell you again, my friends are brilliant!

But tonight, I may have found an exception. It was an anomalous encounter, and I don’t quite know what to make of it.

It was dark, as it usually is this time of year. I rode up to a stoplight in Minneapolis, just south of the Mississippi River on Plymouth Avenue. Like an apparition, a stylish black scooter with a sidecar appeared out of the darkness in the intersection on my right. I waved at the rider, and he couldn’t have failed to see me. I saw his helmet turn my way. But he didn’t wave back…

Snubbed by a Scooter-Nazi?

When my light turned green, I gassed it across the road and honked the horn, but still he didn’t wave. Here we were, the only two scooter guys out on a Friday night in frozen Minneapolis, yet he couldn’t wave to me because… why?

- His hands were frozen to the handlebars? Not likely in 30-degree weather.

- His scooter is an Indian copy of an Italian original, but mostly made out of metal? Hence my Chinese “tupperware” scooter is beneath his recognition? How dumb.

- My scooter is a Chinese original, copy of nothing else, but unworthy of any respect, or even acknowledgement. Why?

But then another, much more alarming possibility occurred to me. This is something that I have been reluctant to introduce into this blog, because the implications are too horrible to contemplate. However, somebody must have the courage to sound the alarm, if indeed this is what is happening…

Are you ready?

I think I have just encountered the first Brown Hole wrapped in the bodywork of a scooter. Sure, it had three wheels, but you have to recognize the significance.

Am I the first to point out that we have seen this phenomenon with certain segments of the Harley population? No. There are well-documented reports of the existence, even convergence of Brown Holes at annual events in Sturgis, South Dakota and Daytona, Florida. These are not Ride-to-Work people, but rather just poseurs out to impress people with an image that they don’t actually own in real life.

Let’s face it: Brown Holes are everywhere. They seem to emanate from either Texas, or Washington DC… but we can’t confirm that. They may be randomly scattered amongst the worlwide population. What we do know is, if you show any independent tendencies, like riding a motorbike to work, for instance, they are just waiting to bring you down, in more ways than one.

Your motorbike is your only salvation. Ride! Ride fast, ride well, and be vigilant.

Haze Grey Days

January 4th, 2006 by mnscooter

04 January, 2006 Temperature: 32 degrees F

It is January in Minnesota, and the sun has gone into hiding. The temperatures lately have been hovering around the freezing mark, and the hazy grey skies are bringing everyone’s spirits down after the highs of the holidays. Even the joy I find in riding a scooter when everyone else is driving has diminished somewhat, as the rides blur together into a daily (dare I say it?) routine. So, I think it is time to take care of a few administrative things, since I’m having a hard time finding something new and exciting to tell you.

For those of you who didn’t know, Andy Goldfine is the founder of Aerostich and RidetoWork.org. He has asked me to recruit other daily motorbike commuters, who would like to try blogging, to run their blogs here.

In Andy’s words:

These other blogs do not need to be on scooters or in winter or any other specific except that the riding being blogged is for the most part being done for utility transportation. The idea is that those looking for information about everyday riding would find several different perspectives at a ‘Ride to Work Blogspace’.

Use sstillwell@ridetowork.org as the contact reference. (Note: this would be Shane Stillwell, KLR-ist and web guru for RTW)

Also invite your readers to refer us to other daily rider type blogs they feel may be of value for the RTW site, and we will then contact them ourselves.

I think this is a wonderful idea. Personally, I would love to read more about other rider’s experiences using a motorbike for daily transportation. Too often we see people treat them as toys and/or status symbols, but we almost never hear from the daily motorcyclist. This is your time and place to shine.

On another note, the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show is coming to Minneapolis the first weekend in February (3rd through 5th). I plan to attend the show, and would encourage anyone who can get there to go too. Look for me at the Ride to Work booth, or wandering around drooling over motorbikes I can’t afford.

If you can’t make the date here in Minneapolis, make sure you check the schedule for dates and locations near you at:

http://www.cycleworld.com

Finally, tomorrow night is First Thursday, where the local hardcore riders gather at a pizza joint to kick tires and tell outrageous lies. During the regular season, this event is HUGE, with several hundred riders showing up, filling the streets for blocks around with motorbikes. Tomorrow night, I will be surprised to see more than a dozen. All you local riders, consider this a challenge: Surprise me.

Dulono’s Pizza is at Lake and Lyndale in uptown Minneapolis. Riders start showing up around 5pm.

On Friday, the sun is supposed to come out for awhile. That would be nice. But what if it doesn’t? After writing all this, I realize that the only way my commute can become routine is if I let it. If you have read this blog from the beginning, you know I’m not going to do that.

2006 I-Cycle Derby

January 2nd, 2006 by mnscooter

01 January, 2006 Temperature: 30-some degrees F

As far back as I can remember, the first official AMA event of the season is always the I-Cycle Derby, and it is always held here in Minnesota by the Traveller’s Motorcycle Club on New Year’s Day.

I have competed in this event before on an NX-650 Honda dual-sport motorcycle. This year, however, I felt obligated to represent the scooter contingent on the Red Baron. There was one other scooter present, ridden by a lady whose name I did not get, but she finished the event as well.

This is no casual affair, mind you. Some of the best riders in the area attend this event, with serious intentions and equipment. There are no classes, so the Baron had to compete on equal terms with dual-sport motorcycles, and hardcore sidehack outfits manned by seasoned veteran Iron Butt riders and navigators. These folks take their rallys seriously! They use high-tech GPS gadgets and stopwatches to gauge their progress on route cards which are handed out at each checkpoint. They even have clipboards for the route cards!

Me? I taped my route cards over my tachometer, and away we went.

High Tech Navigation

The routes take in such unpredictable elements as auto traffic and stoplights, speed limits and police presence, even train crossings! Essentially, this is an official AMA motorsports event held amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday city traffic. Granted, it is New Years Day, so there aren’t as many people driving around as usual. But you still have a motoring public completely ignorant of the fact that a motorsports event is going on in their midst. They just wonder why there are so many motorbikes running about.

I had one near-altercation with a big, fat fellow who opened the passenger door on his Lincoln Navigator while I was creeping past along the curb on the right at a stoplight. I was directed to make a right hand turn by my route card, and it was perfectly legal, but I had to face down this hung-over neanderthal moron who was threatening to have his wife run me over… blah blah blah. With the clock ticking in my head, I backpedalled, bypassed them on the left, and then crossed over in front of them to make the turn. No time for their foolishness, I had a rally to run.

This year, the overall average speed called for on all the route cards was 30 mph. That helped to simplify things for folks who didn’t have the high-tech, satellite aids. Speed limits along the route ranged from 30 to 45 mph, so they were well within the Baron’s capabilities. Theoretically, all you would need was a stopwatch and a calculator in order to gauge your progress. I had neither, of course. Riding a motorscooter in the winter, I am only concerned with watching where I am going in relation to other traffic and the conditions on the road. So the Baron and I acquired lots of penalty points for arriving either late or early to the many checkpoints. Still, we stayed upright and finished the rally.

Others didn’t fare so well. On the first leg, I encountered a husband-and-wife team who had fallen in the middle of a packed snow, ‘frozen butter’ kind of side street. She was laying on her back, and he was picking up the pieces that had fallen off their Kawasaki KLR. She got up as I approached, and I stopped to make sure they were alright. He told me that yes, they were, and she didn’t seem to be injured, so I continued on. I saw them later in the day, during the second leg of the competition, and they were doing fine.

My friend Mark Foster fell down twice on his TransAlp Honda, on the same treacherous type of road. There is no telling how many other riders met the same misfortune. The Baron and I rode those sections with both my feet out in the same manner that we did the other morning on our way to work. This was just another daily ride for us.

The eventual winners of the event were Victor Wanchena, who is my former publisher and editor at Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, and his sidecar passenger, Kevin Kocur. They were riding a Ural sidehack rig and had all the advantages I mentioned earlier. Second place was taken by my friends Shannon Lee Bruns and Sev Pearman, in a sidehack rig that I myself have driven called “Metallic Waste”. From what I saw, it appears that they have been successful in working out some of the development issues in that outfit since our last ride together.

What a motley crew

So, a good time was had by all. The Baron once again proved his mettle, as we did a 20-mile, full-throttle run at 55+ mph down highways 13 and 77 to get to the rally. The same thing on the way back. That little GY6 motor really is a trooper. The thirty-some degree weather didn’t challenge anyone’s cold weather riding gear, and the sun came out at midday. The hotdogs were delicious, and most of all, I really enjoyed catching up with old friends. We should do this more often.