Each year that I’ve returned to my bike after a winter off of it, I’ve reflected on what came back. Why stop now? I’m starting my fifth spring season and it’s a good thing.
This year’s little surprise is riding slow. Stupidly slow. Playing in traffic slow. I’m actually enjoying it. I’m finding that I am much more stable than I used to be at slower speeds. I’m staying upright and rolling ever so slowly in traffic jams, relaxing and enjoying the proverbial ride. It’s so different. I want to try a slow race, something that was not really on my radar in the past. I’m also finally using my knees to brake – clamping down on the faux tank to anchor myself when I get on the front lever. That is very cool. Somehow, my body is picking and choosing new techniques to remember and cement into my riding arsenal.
Getting my lean back last year was a big deal, and my neck and shoulder are still not really right. But they are no longer really interfering in my riding. I’m well along the learning curve for riding with whatever I’ve got for nerves now. I am self-balancing much more securely. The Leatt brace works – I have banged my helmet on it a few times now and I’m quite grateful for it. If you don’t have one yet, get one. There are a few competitors out there, choose the one that will work for you.
Another oddity is that I raised my seat 10mm. I ended up having to raise my handlebars 20mm (no 10mm risers to be found). I now sit on the bike instead of in it. When I had the low seat and the low suspension, I often felt like I was in the bike. Add my tower of tank bag, and I was really sandwiched in the frame. The ten millimeters shouldn’t make much of a difference, but somehow it does. I feel different on the bike, like I’m able to push it with my feet and legs more. This is empowering. I took off my tank bag two weeks back to get even more of this “on” feeling.
I’ve been bouncing my pre-load up regularly, which is adding the the height. I can still flatfoot the bike, but it’s sagged a bunch now to do so. Tripod-ing it is actually much easier with the seat up under my butt. I wish I would have understood this earlier – I’d have raised the bike a lot sooner. I love that I can just skim the tarmac with my boots now, instead of having to pull up my knees. There is no danger of dragging hard parts, set low, the angle was 45°, now it must be close to 60°. Balancing at stops is strangely easier. My head is solidly up over traffic and I can see for miles and miles and miles as the song goes.
I’ll be hoping for a cheap CBR250R this summer, which I will likely be looking to mod for track work. I miss that little sucker more and more every day, now that I’m living up in the clouds, up in GS Land. I get it, all over again.
I have this new thing where I go to the mall and walk around and count people. Not so much the total sum, but the local totals in each store.
Some background: my spouse manages a retail shop for a specialty chain. They typically locate in mid- to high-end malls and sell moderately expensive, highly functional product. They tend to be a destination shop for their clientele and do high repeat business.
This means that on Saturday evenings when he’s closing up, I often walk over there to check things out, maybe shop a little, and count people.
A while back, I noticed that the Apple Store tended to attract a large number of people. This is kind of a given, but I also noticed that the Microsoft store was dead. No one in there at all. Even Build-A-Bear had a family making bears at that hour. But Microsoft? Bupkis. Granted, this is at 20:30 on a Saturday night, but I did not expect completely devoid of customers. Other stores, like Macy*s, the Gap, and so on usually had a few guests. Eventually I worked it out to about one shopper per 1000sf of retail floor for the general mall. That is terrible. Except in the Apple store, where it was closer to one shopper per 50sf. If there was a line outside of the store waiting to get in, it technically could get even denser. At holiday time, the Pandora shop was so crowded that they had to pay for extra security to manage their line.
Few stores in any mall seem to attract this level of shopping destination intensity. Apple, Pandora, Starbucks, but everything else is hopes and dreams. Unless you are selling something truly unique, you are hosed for clientele in a mall. Everyone is there to get something, and you have to hope that you are interesting enough to draw them in. The conundrum is that if no one is in your store, how interesting is it to anyone who isn’t already interested in it? No shoppers means no one else is interested, either. It is critical to have people in the store, even if they are just browsing, so that people outside of the store see the interest.
I experimented with arriving earlier, at 20:00 on the dot. Total numbers were higher, and the spread was lower. It turns out that you can only jam so many humans into an Apple Store before the fire department start to look at you sideways. The more total people in the mall, the more people that I found in the non-destination shops like Vera Bradley and Buckle. Hot brands like Michael Kors also rely on the total shopper density, a smallish point.
There are some notable exceptions to the Apple phenomenon, but they are just that – notable. Stores like Hot Topic, Lush, lululemon, and (I kid you not) Paradise Pen attract smaller but continuous customer streams. Their markets and merchandise are more specialized, sufficiently so to draw people out of their homes to try, to sniff, to take in the atmosphere. I admit, I am a regular at Paradise Pen. I write with a fountain pen and love to try different cartridges and nibs. It’s my little thing.
This is, to be clear, a high-end mall. It has a Nieman-Markus – a store that closes at 19:00, ostensibly to avoid the after-hours riff-raff. The Saks 5th Avenue is forever under renovation. The Gucci, Tory Burch, and watch shops all cluster around those two anchors in a submall that was built out of the Saks in the 1980s. Those South Side shops are linked to the North side (Macy*s and Nordstrom) by a flying glass bridge, which may as well cross an ocean rather than a busy thoroughfare. Frankly, I’d shop at Niemans if they were actually ever open. They carry a very few precious things that I like (and can afford). I generally only make the trek across the bridge when I am so desperate for a kitchen gadget that I have to go to Sur la Table.
My conclusion from all of this counting and rambling is that the anchor phenomenon has changed shape and become a specialty retail thing. Where once you had big department stores as anchors to draw in traffic, now you have smaller specialty stores like Apple bringing the cars full of people. If the Apple count starts to swing to 100% of the traffic, you might have an issue with your customer base or store mix.
Time to do some bike maintenance. This is what happens when your countershaft seal fails on a Rotax 652:
Disgusting doesn’t cover it. Oil-soaked grime? Getting closer. Regardless, it’s quite interesting because my intake valves are pristine. Gorgeous. No buildup whatsoever. This is in start contrast to the time when the BMW dealer in Germany set the timing wrong and I ended up with a non-running motor thanks to the generous crusting on said intake valves. Speaking of valves, I dug in to check valve timing, which was spot-on. It’s never been out of spec. I think I’m moving to 15000km checks rather than the 10K recommended.
Oh, those ITBs? That ITB. It’s a Dellorto.
Whoa! Ducati Party!
Ducati of Detroit hosted a Ladies’ Moto Night this week and it was fun! Started with registration, snacks (oooo, very Italian, too!), wine, and socializing. Things then really kicked off with an intro from staff and presenters.
The first station (there were five) was intro to different types of bikes. They had three Scramblers, a Panigale, two Monsters, and a Diavel to sit on. The Hypermotard was sold out and the Multistrada was in the back somewhere. Lots of discussion on seat heights, no surprise.
The second station featured different types of gear and the Arai guy. Good for me, I’ve never been able to try on Arai’s long oval fit helmets. They definitely would work, but I’ll likely stay with HJC for now. The staff had an array of different materials to choose from for jackets and boots, and stressed the importance of CE armoring. Nice!
The third station was the crazy one. How to pick up your bike. The staff had a dry Scrambler with frame sliders and every lady was given the opportunity to practice picking it up. We did the back it up with your butt method. I learned that I’ve been putting my butt too low on the seat all this time, and that’s why I struggle with the GS. The Derpa? No prob. But my damn GS…. Anyway, I feel a lot more confident about that now. The other BMW rider in my group and I were just staring at each other like “OMG, we finally get it!” and all of the ladies were carrying on about butt position. Honestly, it sounded like a maternity ward – “Move your butt!” “Spread your feet out more!” “Now you got it, PUSH! PUSH! Keep pushing!” “YAY!! You did it!!”
The fourth station – wow – was an old Monster 620 on their dyno. The shop does sport bike tuning, focusing on Ducati (of course). They welcome all makes to the dyno, but readily admit that they really don’t know much about other EFI systems. I giggled and took that sucker all the way up to the redline in top gear, it really does go 140mph standing still. A few bangs off the rev limiter and I let it back down. It shifts like a GS (bang bang bang), but smoothly. That would be a fun track bike!
The last station was basic bike maintenance. As the night was winding down and all of the ladies in my group were riders with some experience, we mostly just talked about tyre pressure and then BSed about bikes with the senior tech and builder. He showed us two project bikes that they are working on, a race bike and a Scrambler. Seems like everyone is working on Scrambler builds, which is awesome mostly because I am tired of chopper and bobber builds.
We wrapped up with some swag bags and super cute tshirts. The team at Ducati Detroit definitely pulled out all of the stops for this event and it showed. I was very impressed at the thoroughness of the presentations – appropriate for all levels of experience – and the completeness of the event – covering so many aspects of riding. The dyno and the tipped over Scrambler were definitely highlights for me as I’ve never been on a bike dyno (many many car dynos, but no bikes) and getting coached on how to pick up a downed bike was incredibly helpful.
This past weekend marked the 15th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death in a violent racing crash at Daytona Speedway. Earnhardt’s death was due to a basal skull fracture in which his skull separated from his spine. The impact tore his harness and his body was further injured by impact to the steering wheel. To this day, no single person has made a greater or more significant impact on automotive safety. Earnhardt’s death shined a spotlight on the available safety gear and structural limits of vehicles that was far brighter than Nader’s dim bulb – millions of people watched their hero refuse to don a full face helmet and HANS device due to the restrictions they would impose, and avoid an antisubmarining harness for the same reasons. That freedom of movement cost him his life.
Today even the lowest levels of club racing require extensive safety gear, all more than Earnhardt chose, and participants wear it as a badge of honor. The day you have to upgrade to a HANS to keep racing is a big day. Automakers worked with suppliers to redesign seat belts and airbags, and the old standby – the crumple zone – got a remake in process, too. I spent some time with one of GM’s NASCAR safety engineers, who said that in the months after the accident, they spent most of their time meeting with safety teams from the “regular” car lines, all who wanted to upgrade wherever they could, because people were dying. It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact Earnhardt’s death had on passenger safety.
Coming back to my title, who will be the Dale Earnhardt of motorcycling? Who will be the person who is so well-known and respected that everyone follows? Who will shine a bright light on our safety issues, make the world turn around and notice? The adventure and dirt bike crowds seem to spend enough time picking themselves up that gear is not a question for them. Brittany Morrow has done an excellent job advocating for more gear, and by and large, the sportbike crowd is slowly coming around. People like one of my old coworkers, though, aren’t. In one sentence, he explained that even a 3/4 helmet was too limiting to his hearing and visual field while bemoaning the deaths of two of his riding crew buddies who were hit while processing through a red light to keep the group together. Motorcycling is a club, but it is a club of clubs, with no unifying center. Unlike NASCAR and the automotive world, there is no one person everyone recognizes, no one who can impact the entire group.
Our chrome-and-black-leather colleagues (and certainly many of our friends in the power rangers) have a lot in common with Mr Earnhardt when it comes to choice. Safety gear is limiting – it restricts you in some ways and takes a while to get comfortable in. Choosing which gear to wear is a privilege, and I understand that people want that privilege. The AMA continues to give lip service to the notion that wearing gear so basic as a helmet is a choice. As a senior driver on the NASCAR circuit, Mr Earnhardt used his privilege of choice to avoid the single most effective piece of gear the safety guys had to offer that year – the HANS device – and paid with his life for it. No doubt, the crash would have put him out of racing for a while anyway due to the failure of his harness. But he likely would have lived to tell the tale. Riders without helmets don’t.
It’s time for motorcycling to catch up with our four-wheeled friends on the safety front. I’m hoping that we don’t need our own Dale Earnhardt to make the case for stronger equipment rules. And if we do, who would it be, anyway?
It’s on the bike! A few notes….
One. The plastic bit that comes up at the back is a bit annoying. My butt is going to have to acclimate to that.
Two. I sit closer to the “tank” than on the other seats. This is ergonomically weird, but kind of cool. I can see the top of my windshield for the first time ever.
Three. The height is perfect. My feet graze the ground nicely. I can get them down plenty, all the way, actually. One foot down is super comfy.
The star of the NAIAS needs to be the Chrysler Pacifica for one simple reason: It’s the only new vehicle or concept shown that is actually going to make its builder a ton of money. The gorgeous concepts from Buick and Acura are gorgeous. The Chevy Bolt EV is technology realized. The Golf R put-your-hands-in-the-air-and-wave-them-like-you-just-don’t-care is cool. The Pacifica? It’s the first time something new has happened in the minivan world in a long time. The hybrid drivetrain will likely find its way into the rest of FCA’s big vehicle fleet, making FCA the first company to produce a huge number of huge hybrids. I predict that the Pacifica Hybrid will have a 30+% take rate and be the “it” car for quite a while. The fact that anyone cares about anything else at the show is telling.
What is up with the suppliers? Not only is I75 littered with a quadruple dose of supplier billboards (how many turbos do you need?), but the show floor is starting to add more suppliers. Could this be a trend back to a more regional focus with the Tiers taking their rightful places as technology developers? Who knows. If it wasn’t for them, though, the floor would be even more empty. With five makes not showing, it’s kind of bare in there.
On to the actual flakes….
Look at them….
OMG, the huge, giant flakes of sparkle in so many colors!!
We have been looking at silver cars for so long. Deep creamy color started to make a little bit of a comeback about two years ago, and we have seen a few more metallic colors like that ridiculously luscious cinnamon on the Ford Flex. This year, we got flakes. I’m not saying that we are going full-on metalflake here, but these are some big flake metallic colors and they are very very welcome in my world. I’m curious to see how far this goes, and if it develops into a trend or is just a little bit of fun in an otherwise black, silver, and white world.
Everyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of Hawk Performance brake linings. Ever since my first set of HPs pads on the B5, I’ve been running various Hawk compounds for various purposes. I usually match the compound of the brake linings to the tyres I’m running, so HPS with my winters and HP+ with my summers.
Recently, I needed to repair a leaky power steering line and in the process discovered that I had a loose pad on the front axle. Further investigation found that the lining had separated from the backing plate. This is pretty much a catastrophic failure for a brake pad, so I’m glad I caught it when I did. Considering what the car has been through, I wasn’t too upset with the situation – the car sits for longer periods of time in the summer when I don’t really drive it at all. Add in all the winter salt and who know what’s going on there.
We do some brake bonding at my employer – designing the adhesives used to hold the linings on the back plates, so I was curious to hear what Hawk had to say. I reached out through their customer service contact page. A few days later, they came back, asking for photos, which I gladly sent in. Almost immediately, the answer came back – “we can warranty those for you.”
So, I have to say, I’m pretty darn pleased with Hawk. Not only for the performance of their linings, which I really like, but also their Customer Service team, who took care of this issue. No doubt there will be some sort of work on their end and hopefully my pad set was an anomaly. It’s refreshing to know that they stand behind their product even when things go pretty wrong.
Thank you, Hawk!