A Much Needed Escape

I’ve been “sheltering at home” with my family for over two months now. This is not a real hardship. This is not a generation that sent their sons to war, or endured the dust bowl, or the possibility of a nuclear attack on US soil. Still though, for a loner like me this has been surprisingly difficult. Ordinarily I’d have a commute to work, or a lunch out to get some me time. Not with COVID19 – they’re always there.

I figured motorcycle camping would be a great way to “social distance” while getting away – buy groceries at home, ride, pay at the pump, camp, eat over a fire, talk to no one. It seems like I got a different answer every time I talked to someone at a state or county park though. Yes we’re open. We’re open but not for camping. We’re open for camping but only if you already had a reservation in February. I’m down for adventure but I’m not going to risk showing up to park to be turned away, and then a campfire on random land in Northern WI.

Luckily ABATE of Wisconsin owns 80-100 acres in Greenwood. I was told there would be wood there and otherwise didn’t know what to expect since I’d never been to “Abate Acres”. This is private land I couldn’t be turned away from. Despite the prediction of severe storms all over the state, I packed a ribeye and all my camping gear and hit the road.

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Packed and ready to camp! #motorcycleCamping

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My plan was to visit Sturgeon Bay in the “thumb” of Wisconsin, but I had packed for warm weather and it was wicked foggy and cold in Two Rivers which is still quite a ways south. After checking the radar again I decided flexibility would be key and cut off the thumb to head for Abate Acres.

Despite severe storms all over the state, I was pretty lucky with sunny weather in the 80s until after lunch. Keeping with my social distancing theme, I’d packed couple PB&J along with my prized ribeye for dinner by a campfire.

Oddly enough one of the brackets for my windshield had rattled out, yet not fallen on the ground somewhere on the road, so I got very lucky and was able to make a field repair at a gas station. Thread lock and torque wrenches are your friends, folks.

I stopped and had lunch in a rest area in some tiny central-WI town I’ll never remember the name of and then proceeded to get rained on like crazy. I’ve been caught in the rain dozens of times, and it seems I’ll never get used to it. If there’s rain gear that’s not a huge pain to put on and wear I have yet to find it.

Arriving and Camping

There’s maybe 1/2 mile of gravel to get to Abate Acres. Wow. The land is 80-100 acres, and because I only had a cell phone and GoPro with me I wasn’t able to take a picture that really shows it off. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, I miraculously had a cell signal and a little bit of data so I could keep an eye on the weather. I had the whole place to myself.

There was wood, as I was promised, but it was all insanely wet. Part of my camping kit includes a hand axe (I own several) and a 13″ knife along with my pocket knife. My secret ingredient for fire is dryer lint. I carry a bag with a couple of handfuls in it to help with fire. I also have hand sanitizer and Gorilla Tape (burns like crazy) but I’ve never had to move beyond dryer lint.

I also had a good length of aluminum foil to try to preserve some fire when it started pouring.

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Wet wood is no match for patience and dryer lint.

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I post a lot of food pics on Instagram, but very few steaks as my family just doesn’t like steak all that much. My go-to campfire meal is a ribeye and mushrooms. This was as good or better as nearly anything I’ve ever made at home.

Just as my steak was nearing medium rare, the sky OPENED UP. I’ve been caught out on the bike in storms, and I’ve camped in the rain, but I was totally surprised that my rain fly actually kept my tent dry inside: this was some green & black movie storm shit.

Thanks to the power of my aforementioned cheats, I was able to get a fire going again after that storm passed. I was able to sit by the fire, have a couple of cold beers, and enjoy hours of solo mindful time. Mercifully the bugs mostly respected my fire smoke and my Cutter insect spray.

Cold beers? Yes, I added a Bison cooler to my gear. It’s great, but it takes up a ton of space. I continue to tweak my load-out.

It stormed again at 1am and 3am, and I was warm & dry.

Mother nature woke me up at 5am with sunlight, which in addition to being woken up super early by The World’s Most Mistreated Dog the day before left me in rough shape for the ride home. It looked like the Great River Road was going to be partially flooded again due to the storms, so I went home sooner than I thought and only did 400mi the second day.

It’s not clear what the rest of the 2020 riding season holds, but this was some much needed solo time. Luckily all ABATE of WI members have a place to hide in Greenwood.

Brewtown Rumble 2019

Here I am at the 5th Annual Brewtown Rumble on June 2nd, 2019. What’s the Brewtown Rumble, you ask?

The Brewtown Rumble is a ride-in vintage motorcycle show. It doesn’t matter the make, model or condition of the bike. It just matters that you ride it! Everyone is welcome – riders and motorcycle enthusiasts alike.
The Rumble also features live music, a pin-up show, vendors and food from some of Milwaukee’s best cafes, restaurants and food trucks.

Proceeds from the Rumble support the BUILD Moto Mentor Program. Come see the BUILD bikes in person, and see which team wins the BUILD Cup.

The sun is shining, ABATE of Wisconsin has a booth, there’s bikes, beer, food, and music. This is my third time attending the Rumble, and I have to admit I was a bit concerned by the bikes this year. Between years of Momma Tried and the Brewtown Rumble, I’ve already got pics of a lot of the bikes within riding/trailering distance of these Milwaukee events. I tried to take pictures of bikes that I haven’t shown before, but I make no promises.

As I mentioned, my main reason for being here was to help set up and work the ABATE of Wisconsin booth.

AbateBooth.jpg

We had a lot of traffic and conversation, but something was missing. The same thing that’s always missing: people under 50 signing up to be members. I continue to marvel about the degree to which everyone involved in motorcycling at all is now grappling with the question of how to create the next generation of riders. More on that in a minute, first I had to stop next door and say hi to my Indian Motorcycle friends.

 

Does Royal Enfield Get it and No One else Does?

Across the street was the Royal Enfield lot. The got themselves a lot of space this year and I had to go check it out.RoyalYard.jpg

I do not get Royal Enfield. They are 1-cylinder bikes that ride funky to me. Who’s their target demographic? Are these retro bikes? Hipster commuter bikes? Bikes for dedicated Anglophiles who can’t get behind Triumph? I walked over and talked to a young lady who turned out to be involved with brand management and marketing for Royal Enfield’s North American headquarters. Within moments it became clear that she could teach things to me and perhaps others in the ABATE of Wisconsin crew.

Since she’s awesome and willing to talk to us, I’m going out of my way not to out her. The bottom line is that Royal Enfield is killing it, growing sales year over year at a time when most brands are struggling to slow down the decline. What have they figured out?

Royal Enfield has a story to tell that’s different from Harley or Indian. I don’t want to fuck up paraphrasing it here, so I’ll save my interpretation of their story for another time after I’ve been able to do more research.

I asked my guide if there were… certain stereotypes that I could guess about RE buyers. Did they also have man-buns, anachronistic curly mustaches, and perhaps have an affinity for mechanical typewriters, Polaroid cameras, and bizarre IPAs? She cut me off “Yes, it’s OK to say it: hipster boys buy these bikes”. These are 1 cylinder bikes with plenty of space around the main components: you can learn to work on these bikes easily. Royal Enfield has “shop days” in dealerships where interested folks can show up on weekend mornings and learn how to wrench on their bikes from certified mechanics: more on this later.

Royal Enfields are also inexpensive: my guide claimed that every single RE bike was under $7,000 and here’s an additional kicker: she claimed the bikes are nearly always naked on the showroom floor. There is no bait-n-switch or upsell where you fall in love with a bike on the dealer floor only to find that the beauty you’ve been talking yourself into buying is sporting thousands of dollars of extra parts. What you see is what you get and they hand you a catalog to make it your own. My guide quoted figures that are all to familiar: Millenials and Gen Z have student loan debt and credit card debt. They are less likely to own homes and start families than their parents and grandparents; their economic outlook is decidedly pessimistic. Being able to get a new bike with a great warranty for under $7k? Royal Enfield may be exploiting a great market niche.

My guide seemed a little confused: maybe thought I was drunk, hitting on her, angling for a photo, or any of the other bullshit that women have to deal with at trade shows. I explained that I was with ABATE of Wisconsin and that the question of reaching younger riders was something of an existential issue for us. I said I would really appreciate it if she had any advice for us.

ABATE of Wisconsin marketing badass Doris was primarily responsible for our being at The Rumble this day, I went back to her and said “You need to meet this individual.” Doris talked to her and this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship: again, I don’t want to “out” anyone but this was a very productive day and I’m grateful.

So what?

When I come to events like this, I’m always energized. I try to figure out how to put into words whatever it is about this motorcycle culture that so captivates us. Those of us who are “into it” often wind up being really into it. It becomes less a thing we do and more who we are. I believe it’s less about the self reliance of wrenching on your own bike, and less about an excuse to drink beer and look at tatooed young people while a loud, obnoxious band plays.

I will talk more about this in the near future, but I believe the Fellowship of Those Who Balance on Two Wheels is simply a strong connection and shared experience, and we have reached a point in American history where those things are rare. No one at work understands why I’d want to ride from Milwaukee to Idaho – at the Brewtown Rumble I can talk to any random person in the crowd and they’ve either done a ride like that, plan to do a ride like that, or wish their knees were healthy enough to do a ride like that. If I talk about wanting to buy an offroad bike so that I can just leave the road, enter a national park, and truly disappear: every single person I talk to at least understands why even if it’s not “for them”.

It’s good to be among one’s people. It’s good to have people, to have a tribe. I used to have trouble making friends, and by most practical definitions I still do. But I do have people. Thanks to technology, I can enter the Internet and come out the other end with a group of fun bikers at a bizarre alien-themed bar in Campbellsport, WI 120 miles from home where the locals at the bar just down the road warned us to only drink from bottles and cans because “Those alien weirdos don’t do their dishes very well”. Me, a guy with all the social skills of a potted plant, could have burgers with Good People™ every single day of the week both during and after riding season. All because there’s something special about this motorcycle culture. Going to an event like the Brewtown Rumble is like a more intense version of “the wave” you get from another biker rolling past you. You are surrounded by your people, and that’s a good thing.

Maybe I’m full of shit. As the creator of This Motorcycle Life points out, there’s a would-be philosopher underneath nearly every motorcycle helmet. Maybe someone else has already said it better.

Of course, it’s a ride-in show and it’s always about the bikes. I don’t think I have taken pics of any of these bikes before, but I also didn’t go back and check.

 

The Road Won’t Leave Without You

I had the joy of traveling for work recently: Milwaukee, WI to San Jose, CA. It had been a while, and I forgot how much I hated air travel.

It’s not that flying bothers me: it’s amazing to travel thousands of miles in a few hours. It’s not that packing bothers me: indeed I rather like planning and compressing my needs for a week down into what I can carry. Rather, I hate the ceremony and the complete loss of control that comes with modern air travel.

“The Ceremony” is simple: if you fly in America today you have a taste of what it’s like to live in a police state. You need various identifiers and identification; if your name does not appear exactly on your driver’s license as you booked your flight, you may not get to fly. The US Government can put you on a “no fly list” without telling you, and without giving you any due process of law that would allow you to see why you are on the do-not-fly list, and without a clear legal path to getting off of it. Furthermore, in the United States you will soon need a “Real ID”, much closer to- or equivalent-to a Passport in order to fly.
All this to fly domestically. In the “land of the free”.

So you need “your papers” in order to fly: something the average middle-class traveler in Soviet Russia would certainly understand. But wait, that’s not where your privacy violations end. You are going to get SCANNED.

Consider first the “millimeter wave” scanners deployed at almost every US airport now. Depending on which article you read, this may or may not present TSA officers with a high resolution contour of exactly what you look like naked. The thing that people forget about TSA officers is that they are just like all other officers: they are just people. That means they are no better or worse than the average American. Some of them will be ethical and honest, with their mission in the forefront of their minds as they do their jobs. Others will behave as though they were a 14 year old boy who suddenly had X-ray vision into the girls’ locker room.

The TSA can also simply embarrass you. Suppose you, like my father, have various iron and titanium pins in your legs due to severe injuries from motorcycle accidents. The metal detectors are going to alarm as you walk through. You’re going to have to explain yourself at the very least. Maybe you’ll get “extra screening”.

Finally, the TSA can search your luggage at any time and for any reason. If you have a diver’s computer, a special piece of hardware for work, or maybe a particularly flashy pack of condoms in your luggage: someone with close to zero training is going to be flagged that they should look through your luggage. Did you bring a pair of fuzzy handcuffs on your vacation with your wife, or did you bring something to clean your CPAP, or are you traveling with a few things to spice of the bedroom while you vacation in the Caribbean? The TSA can poke, prod, and confiscate any of that.

Here’s the thing: once you reach a certain age, a doctor is going to poke around your most private parts and ask you uncomfortable questions. This is a part of getting older: we get pap smears, testicular cancer checks, breast cancer scans, prostate checks, and so on. But being a doctor is not easy: when you drop your pants for a doctor you are doing so for someone who has gone through 8-12+ years of school and has seen it all before and has everything to lose from being accused of sticking their finger in the wrong place. A TSA agent is different from a doctor in all the wrong ways.

Once you are physically on your flight, you lose even more freedom. You must obey a US Air Marshal or any random Southwest employee or face felony charges. Sure, nearly every flight goes well, but how do you feel about the idea of being beholden to someone who didn’t like the political message on your jacket? Remember, people are just people

If, by Odin’s grace, you don’t make your flight, you are likely fucked. Did you get trip insurance, or did you get the kind of tickets that will not be refunded? You see, Americans have decided over the past 25+ years that all they care about is the cost of a flight. It doesn’t matter if they are sitting literally on top of someone who is hand-pumping their colostomy bag out into their neighbor’s coffee, if they can get to Vegas for $50 less they’ll deal with it. They will not remember this experience and vote with their dollars to have a more dignified flight next time. So, you are likely missing a day or more of your vacation if you miss that flight. Does it matter that it’s Spring Break and Airline X didn’t staff their counters enough? Nope, go back home loser.

Maybe you get bumped from an overbooked flight. Maybe you have to hand over a prized pocketknife you had in your jeans out of pure habit. Maybe the counter was too busy and they leave without you…

But the Road Won’t Leave Without You

Now, suppose you are instead packing for a motorcycle trip. Assuming that everything you’re packing is legal, you have nearly zero concern for anyone looking at it. The chances of you getting pulled over and searched are, anyway, incredibly small.

Suppose it’s spring break for some local schools and you start out a little late?

Oh well, you sit in traffic a little bit. You don’t miss your flight, you don’t lose a whole day of your vacation.

Suppose a tornado tears across the road a few miles in front of you? OK, you wait, and you move on when it’s safe.

Suppose the thunderstorm of the century tears across the state you’re riding through and you find yourself stuck in a rest area in Knoxville?

Fine, that’s great. Survive. There is no large insurance company who will not let your bike take off without considering a billion variables: you can leave whenever you feel like you can ride. If you take off and discover that the roads are really terrible, you can pull off on the side of the road and sleep anywhere you’re equipped to sleep. Sure you shouldn’t build campfires on someone’s private property but you can judge for yourself. You are in control. Maybe you do pull off the highway and park your bike in a ditch and throw your bivy over yourself. Rain pours, lightning strikes. Thunder follows. A man who is shurely Clint Eastwood reincarnated rides a horse near the tree you’re camped under and politely but firmly asks what the hell you’re doing on his property. Flustered, you explain how you’re on a motorcycle trip and you pulled over to escape the storm and you meant no disrespect to his property rights…

There was a time when he might have said at best “Why don’t y’all come up to our cabin” and at worst “Y’all take care, feel free to camp on my land, but ride up and tell me if you’re staying past tomorrow.” The way we treat each other today, that’s a topic for another day…

You see, the Road won’t leave without you, and the Earth won’t refuse to let you sleep there. When you are traveling on your own steed, you have so much more freedom. An airplane cannot decide to camp underneath an overpass. An airplane cannot ask the bar owner if you can pitch a tent out back. Your saddlebags know that anything packed in there is not for anyone else to know about. You can pull over to the side of the road and wait out traffic if that’s what makes sense. If not, you roll on by in your rain gear.

If you make a mistake, you leave a little late. If the road is unsafe, you choose another road. You decide how much risk to take, you decide how long the “layover” is. You travel with your rights and dignity intact. You can even carry a bottle of water if that suits you.

The airlines will leave without you, they’ve already got your money and quite frankly you dropping dead in the check in line or not is all the same to them. Out on the road, though, you’re in control. There may be challenges and decisions to make, but the road won’t leave without you.

 

Goals for 2019

Like in 2018, I have some goals for 2019: Goals for what I’m going to do for the good of motorcycling in 2019 and goals for myself and my love of motorcycling.

  1. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a new bagger. Why? Nothing’s wrong with Red Sonya except that Polaris is no longer making Victory. Plus, well, who doesn’t love the excitement of a new bike when they can afford it? Once the dealers are doing test rides, I’ll be picking a new two-wheeled freedom machine and writing about the experience.
  2. Get one person their first motorcycle: I have someone in mind who’s very close to joining the life.
  3. Participate in ABATE Bikers in the capitol day. More information coming in a podcast soon.
  4. Take lots of video: watching bikers on youtube helps get me through the winter months.
  5. I need to get Mrs. Roadrunner on her bike. Like, a lot. Why should be obvious, but additionally…
  6. Late in 2019 I will start planning motorcycle trip around Scotland in 2020, riding its famous NC 500.
  7. I’m going to camp more than I did in 2018.
  8. This year I’m planning to ride:
    1. To either Colorado Springs or Pocatello to visit family. On the way could be Deadwood, Needles Highway, Cheyenne, Beartooth pass…
    2. The Hurricane Highway in the UP of Michigan
    3. US 2 in Northern Wisconsin
    4. The Hoka Hey off year event.
  9. And of course I’m going to keep spreading the idea that motorcycling is mindfulness.

That’s a lot of fun for a working guy with kids at home, but I’m willing to try. Additionally I’ll probably hit some of the yearly motorcycle events like the Slimy Crud Run, Momma Tried, Brewtown Rumble, The Milwaukee Rally, and other small scale goofing off.

Looking forward to a great 2019. I’ll see you on the road.

The Biker with the Electric Car

I haven’t been following the Harley LiveWire much, nor any of the other electric motorcycle options. Why?

Because I’ve been following electric car development for just over 10 years, I know where battery tech and the electric charging experience is at, and I’ve had experience with a Tesla Model 3 for a while now.

Story time: I recently attended a board of directors meeting for ABATE of Wisconsin in Wisconsin Rapids. Given the cold weather (more on this later) that meant a single charge (310 miles under ideal conditions) wouldn’t do it round trip. A stop at a Supercharger in Oshkosh on both legs of the trip was in order. Some quick facts based on the state of battery & charge in 2018:

  • Lithium Ion battery tech at this level does not last as long if you fully charge & discharge it every time. The suggestion is no more than 80% charge for daily community, only 100% for road trips.
  • On a NEMA 15-50 (dryer outlet) at home, you’ll recharge around 30 miles per hour of charge.
  • On a standard 10 amp/110 volt circuit, you’ll charge 1-2 miles per hour of charge.
  • Going faster and accelerating quickly uses a lot more juice. This is true of gas as well, but we tend not to think of it.
  • Cold weather decreases the range of lithium ion batteries for reasons we won’t explore here.

So, hitting the cruise control at 75mph at dawn when it’s 15 degrees outside meant the 80 mile trip to Oshkosh from my house took the battery down 120 miles of ‘range’. No worries, I pull into the Tesla Supercharge at Oshkosh and plug in. This is a specialized 80w circuit that piles in well over 100 miles per hour of charge. At least at first…

  • The closer you get to filling up a lithium ion battery, the slower it charges.

I’m able to nap a little bit, but I’m there for a lot more than an hour before I’m approaching full. Having seen what a lead foot did to my range, I slow down a bit and head to the Hotel Mead in Wisconsin Rapids and my ABATE meeting. There’s around 180 miles of range left as I park.

  • The battery will drain about 1% per day in ideal conditions, and more when it’s cold.

Sitting in the board meeting, I can see the battery range dropping. Quickly. It’s still between 15 and 20 degrees outside. 180 miles comes and goes… 170 miles comes and goes… 160 … range is dropping by the hour and visions of being towed back to Oshkosh are dancing in my head. I ask the hotel if I can plug in outside and someone graciously fetches me an extension cord. The bleeding stops, we have a great board meeting, and I drive home the next day.

I have good reasons for buying an electric car, but my two-wheeled freedom machine will be a gas-powered American V-twin for a long time to come.

Tesla has had 10 years at the breakneck Silicon Valley pace to build a nation-wide network of proprietary charging stations. The stations are meant to be able to get you “about anywhere” with their lowest range car, which is 200 miles. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks the LiveWire will have this kind of range, or that Harley will build a nationwide network of chargers. People who don’t realize how much tire inflation, wet roads, cargo weight, aerodynamics, acceleration, and hills affect their energy usage might be in for some difficult rides.

I ride to get away. In order to reach critical mass, companies are building electric infrastructure closest to where most people want to go most of the time. That’s the opposite of where I want to go on two wheels. I also stop in less than 200mile increments to stretch and sunscreen: adding in staggered charging station stops would make long trips painful. How fast will it charge? I don’t want to stop for a minimum of an hour every time.

For urban riders and those who primarily commute, electric bikes might be an option. I’ll be burning dead dinosaurs for a long time to come.

Brewtown Rumble 2018

On Sunday, June 3rd, the Roadrunner attended the 4th annual Brewtown Rumble in Milwaukee, WI.

The Brewtown Rumble is a ride-in vintage motorcycle show. It doesn’t matter the make, model or condition of the bike. It just matters that you ride it! Everyone is welcome – riders and motorcycle enthusiasts alike.
The Rumble also features live music, a pin-up show, vendors and food from some of Milwaukee’s best cafes, restaurants and food trucks.

This is the type of event that’s just good for the soul. It’s been a shitty winter, and while I’m already 1400miles into the riding season, it still feels like I’m shaking frostbite off. It was a great day, and I got there early to help set up the Abate of Wisconsin booth. Last year this even was up in Pabst Park which is a fine outdoor venue and very “Milwaukee”, but moving to South 5th Street this year was a fine move. In terms of a home base, you could do a lot worse than the Fuel Cafe in Walker’s Point.

 

In addition to all the vendors and bikes, I found a new friend here today: God’s Outlaw. These guys were playing covers of Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe, and Hank Jr – and they sounded good. It sucks going on at 11:45 during a bike show that started at 11, so they didn’t have much of an audience but I’m keeping my eye on these guys. Check their music out on Amazon. Every song these guys played is in my playlist when I’m on my bagger.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-26,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

I ran into a lot of people I knew, and have ridden with, and that’s an odd feeling. It’s good to have people, to feel like a part of a group. To feel you have something to contribute to a group. As someone who’s been a barely-social-outcast-weirdo his entire life (even among bikers, already a fringe group) it’s beyond strange to run into people I know at an event with thousands of people and hear “Hey, Roadrunner!” randomly while I’m taking pictures. There is a lesson here that I’ll write about more in the future: if you show up, and you do the things, and you’re not an asshole, you will become part of communities.

There’s not too much else to say about events like this. It’s all about the bikes, isn’t it? So many of these bikes are obviously labors of love: carefully maintained machines caressed into staying alive by people who cared. Maybe it’s been their machine for decades, or maybe they have a romantic connection to an engine that’s as old as they are, or maybe they bought a bike from an era they grew up watching racers on.

Maybe it’s just a big smile riding down the road on something that no one else has anything like. Here’s to you, vintage riders! Cheers to the organizers of the Brewtown Rumble for making my day on a Sunday in early June.

 

Helmets don’t cause spine injuries in a crash

I support your right to ride free, and that includes your personal choice of whether or not to wear a helmet. Among our long history of legislative wins at ABATE of Wisconsin is defeating helmet laws. Whatever you decide, though, it should be based on facts. There’s some odd “tribal wisdom” in the biker community that wearing a helmet makes you actually more likely to get hurt in a crash. Some people quote anecdotes and some make some questionable claims about the laws of physics. Well the latest study says quite the opposite.:

“The results of this study demonstrate a statistically significant lower likelihood of suffering a CSI among helmeted motorcyclists. Unhelmeted riders sustained a statistically significant higher number of vertebral fractures and ligamentous injuries. The study findings reported here confirm the authors’ hypothesis that helmet use does not increase the risk of developing a cervical spine fracture and may provide some protective advantage.”

You can read the whole study here. Ride educated, ride free.

Mama Tried 2018

Merle Haggard said it right: Mama Tried to raise me better. She busted her ass, yet here I am drinking beer, getting tattoos, and working the ABATE booth at Mama Tried 2018.

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From the site:

Mama Tried Motorcycle Show is an indoor invitational that connects motorcycles and builders to fans and riders alike. Keeping the fire stoked all winter long. The Show features over 100 motorcycles from builders of all calibers—flat-tracker, hill climber, chopper, and bar hopper.”

Last year’s show was the best kind of dumpster fire. It was in an old warehouse on the Milwaukee River and it was unseasonably warm: even fair-weather riders road in.

Rode in. February. Milwaukee.

I was sure this year would be calm and under attended by comparison. Not only was it actually cold, but the ancient and storied venue of the Eagles Ballroom is owned by an ancient and storied Milwaukee family that will never allow $2 cans of Pabst to be sold in their hallowed halls. No sir, beers were $7 and up. I was wrong about attendance: at times on Saturday the venue was at capacity: one person had to walk out before one person walks in.

The Spectacle

I try to walk into this show with my wannabe-journalist hat on. My first question is for all the vendors: Hey you in the Vance & Hines booth: do you get enough action here to make it worth it for you? No matter how I asked the question, every vendor said yes. Every “biker lifestyle” clothing seller, accessory maker, and crew there to promote their own future event was happy with the the turnout and fan feedback.

Yes, every moto brand that’s been creeping on your Facebook wall was here.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-26,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

The Bikes

I just want to ride my bike. I tweak it some, I pay for parts or paint, I adjust my highway pegs. That’s me, but I can really appreciate the labor of love that goes into the custom bikes on the floor. There’s a lot of history and craftsmanship to admire. Just seeing the bikes is worth the price of admission. This is not the place to come look at the new Milwaukee 8 engine or Indian Chieftain. These are show bikes and bikes kept alive with pure love and willpower.

 

Extras

On top of the usual stuff, there’s some cool extras. The Build Moto guys have a great mission and they’re worth checking out. Milwaukee loves live music, we are home to one of the largest outdoor music festivals, so there’s always going to be a band at any event in Brew City.

Working the ABATE booth, trying to get people to care about motorcycle rights, drinking some microbrews. It’s not a bad night. Of course it kicked my “When will the roads be clean so I can ride?” vibe up to 11, and that’s a big part of events like this. It’s the same with any kind of conference or gathering: you may learn something, you may meet people, you may buy something useful. What you really leave with, though, is a reminder of how much you love this. And if you’re the RoadRunner, you also sew a new patch on your vest.

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What about us?

Note: this was shared on Facebook, but I’m re-posting here for those that don’t do social media.

WHAT ABOUT US?
Why the Bikers of America Cannot Continue to be Ignored or Forgotten

I’ve held the position of Vice-President of Government Affairs for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation for roughly 18 months. And during those months I’ve sat in countless meetings, congressional hearings, public information sessions, symposiums, conferences and breakout sessions which have covered a gamut of issues that affect riders. Anything and everything from ethanol to self-driving cars to road design and infrastructure, I’ve sat, listened and taken detailed notes. However, during the last couple of months I’ve started to uncover a deeper (and darker) underlying message in my meetings. I’m not one for conspiracy theories so I won’t suggest that my theory is the product of some sort of anti-motorcycle secret society, but what I am beginning to believe is that the future of riders – our future – is questionable.

I say this because as I’ve sat through these meetings and conference calls, my takeaway increasingly becomes that the U.S. population at large, just doesn’t give a shit about motorcycles. We’re ignored or perhaps forgotten. We’re relegated to the category of recreation. And dangerous recreation at that. We’re swept into the same column as shark cage diving, or bull running or cliff base jumping. And though I have no problem with any of those recreational activities, riding motorcycles is not the same. It’s not even CLOSE to the same! Though many of us ride for the fun and the thrill of it, our bikes also get us from place to place. Unlike swimming with the sharks or running with the bulls, riding a motorcycle is a form of transportation. Motorcycles get us to work, to the post office, to the dentist. So why, in America of all places, are we forced to say again and again and again, what about us?

There is surprisingly little research done about the benefits of riding motorcycles. And I am not talking about benefits to the rider. You ask any one of our MRF members and they’ll tell you that riding is cheaper than seeing a psychiatrist. So lets put that aside for a minute and talk about the benefits to society. In Europe several years ago, there was a study done to test mobility – that is moving from point A to point B. They looked at commuting routes from outside major cities and within major cities as well as rural areas over varying distances and compared the mobility of a motorcycle to that of a car. And out of the fourteen tests they conducted to measure mobility, the motorcycle won 85% of the time. So in other words, a motorcycle is more likely to get you to your destination faster (and not just because you’re speeding).

The impacts go on from there. Another study (also in Europe where motorcycles are better viewed and accepted as a legitimate form of transportation) showed the impact of what might happen if just 10% of cars were replaced by motorcycles. Time loss for all vehicles would decrease by 40%. That means a quicker commute for everyone whether they are on a motorcycle or not. And with less cars on the road and less sitting in traffic, that means an impact on emissions. Though I have not uncovered a comprehensive study on the specific issue of reduced emissions and motorcycle usage, a case study by Transport & Mobility Leuven (yep, Europe again) stated that, “New motorcycles emit fewer pollutants compared to average private cars (less NOX, NO2, PM2.5 and EC, but more VOC). They also emit less CO2. Total external emission costs of new motorcycles are more than 20% lower than average private cars. On the section of motorway between Leuven and Brussels, total emission costs can be reduced by 6% if 10% of private cars are replaced by motorcycles.”

There are other benefits too. Things like fuel efficiency; most bikes get as many miles per gallon as a car if not much more. What about infrastructure? Right now, the Trump Administration is currently figuring out how to raise $200 billion to upgrade our nation’s infrastructure which is in dire shape in some parts of the country. What may have helped our nations’ crumbling infrastructure? A motorcycle’s lighter touch could mean less wear and tear on a bridge or a road than a heavier, wider-set vehicle.

Given all the aforementioned benefits, you’d think I’d hear some praise from non-riders. Instead, I hear a lot about noise pollution. And that’s when they even talk about motorcycles. In many cases, they aren’t. Take the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); when they put out their initial guidance on autonomous vehicles and potential policies and safety factors, motorcycles weren’t even mentioned. They revised the document a year later, and though they did mention motorcycles, it was in the context of what vehicles NHTSA has jurisdiction over. Where it was blindingly not was in the section that has to do with the ability of this technology to identify and respond to objects on the road. Interestingly, the guidance names cars, trucks, pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. But not motorcycles.

Another instance of riders being forgotten (or ignored)? The newly minted U.S. version of Vision Zero, called Road to Zero. It’s a program with an admirable goal – to completely eliminate deaths on our nation’s highways in 20 years. The program spends very little time or resources on motorcycle and related issues in every meeting I’ve attended. Even the logo can’t be bothered to contain a motorcycle rider.

It is estimated that there are more than 300 million powered two-wheelers in the world. These are substantial numbers, so when it comes being viewed as a legitimate form of transportation, why are riders having to fight for a seat at the table? And an even bigger question is how we can change this dynamic? I don’t have the answers, but I bet if enough of us put our heads together we can start to chip away at the problem targeting not just society as a whole, but the different segments that contribute to this pervasive problem. From policymakers to media to public interest groups and everyone in between, we need to make sure that riders everywhere, regardless of what patch you hold or bike you ride, deliver the message that motorcycles have a place in the future.

Megan Ekstrom
Vice-President of Government Affairs & Public Relations
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation