Things we think of while riding down the road

Archive for September, 2010

Just because you’re not paranoid…

…doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I read that on a fortune cookie at Folk Yews Szechuan Buffet in Walla Walla Washington one evening after a long days ride. When I got on my bike to head back to my deluxe accommodations, room 116 at the Motel 6, I looked over each shoulder, twice…I checked the mirrors, twice…when I got to the street I looked up and down and over my shoulders again. I knew they were out there. Waiting for me.

More and more you see them, or actually you don’t and that’s the idea. The ‘stealth’ cars. The unmarked cop car that oh so casually pulls in behind you and then fills your rear view mirrors with pretty red and blue lights. “Damn…where’d he come from?” Next thing you know a smiling officer is handing you an invitation to contribute to his states general fund. Isn’t that special.

Unmarked cars are nothing new, state troopers have been using them for decades, I believe Arizona was one of the first, clear back in the early ’70s…take a guess as to how I know. Wow, good guess. Early stealth cars were the standard highway patrol cruisers, the lights were tucked in the windshield (but still pretty noticeable), some even retained the push bar in the front. They weren’t too hard to spot, if you were paying attention. Over the years, law enforcement agencies have been getting sneakier when it comes to unmarked cars. Is it because we as drivers / riders are getting smarter? Look around you next time you’re on the road and you’ll know the answer to that question is no.

Coming home from the World Superbike races in Utah a couple of years back, we were just droning along I15 listening to Rush Limbaugh or some other loudmouth spouting off his views of the world on the radio, when we got passed by a little Toyota econobox doing about 85. As the Toyota was disappearing into the scenery, we were passed again, this time by a sweet looking Mustang GT. As I watch the GT motor off, I was thinking ‘people in Utah like to drive fast’, cuz I’m doing 80 and getting passed like I’m in second gear?! A little farther up the road we pass the Toyota and the Mustang like they were standing still, they were. The Toyota and the Mustang were pulled off on the side of the road and the driver of the Mustang, looking pretty spiffy in his Utah State Police uniform, was asking the other driver for the usual paperwork that means this is not a social visit.

State law enforcement agencies say they use unmarked cars for safety reasons citing speeding as a major cause, if not the major cause of highway fatalities and that by using unmarked cars they can catch more speeders, therefore making the highways of this country safer for law-abiding citizens like you and I. What a bunch of hooey…in my opinion. Here’s my thought, you knew you were reading this for a reason, if states really want to keep the highways safer, make sure all the cars are marked in such a way that it is painfully obvious that it, the car, is a highway patrol vehicle. The reason I believe that is very simple. All of us, whether we are in a car or riding a motorcycle, if we are speeding and we see a police car, we slow down…right now, even if the cop has someone pulled over on the other side of the road! None of us wants to pay a ticket and have our insurance go up. If we see more highway patrol cars and see them more frequently, we will all (well, most of us) be motoring along a little more safely. The mission of the state troopers has been accomplished. Is it really that simple? No.

More speeding tickets means more income for the state where the ticket was issued. State police ‘stealth’ cars are nice little revenue generators. The states all say no, that’s not the reason for using unmarked cars, it’s all about safety. Again, I say hooey. Every state in this country is in fiscal trouble (except maybe Tennessee) and they are raising money any way they can. Catching more speeders with unmarked cars may slow them down for a moment and bring more money to the state, but if highway patrols would show a greater presence, drivers and riders would be more aware of their speed at all times. Not just when they are getting a ticket.



Where to park a Winnie-Wasto?

Have you ever seen one? Do you even know what a Winnie Wasto is? Well, set right down and let me tell you. A Winnie Wasto was the preferred mode of race transportation for one of the biggest stars in Motocross racing. Every week, legions of fans would follow this star’s exploits on the track in the nations favorite weekly motorcycle newspaper, Cycle News. This racer wasn’t a legend because of his success on the race track, quite the opposite, he was legendary for his perseverance in the face of absolute disaster. Broken bones, broken motorcycle, dead motorhome…it didn’t matter, this racer was at the track every week racing as if he stood a chance of winning. Who is this legend of motocross? It could only be Motocross Cat himself.

I started reading Cycle News in 1967 or ’68 when I started racing. My step dad got us a subscription when I got into racing and from then on I kept renewing that subscription for the next twenty years. Each week when Cycle News would show up Michael (my step dad) and I would fight over who got to read it first, he would always pull the old “I paid for the magazine so I’m first”, or “if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be looking for your name in there” and of course there was, ” I’m faster than you, that’s why I get it first”…that one only worked for about a year, maybe. We finally came up with a plan that was fair and it made reading Cycle News more interesting.

Instead of reading it all at one time and then having to wait a whole week for the next one to arrive, we picked certain segments to read each day…kind of like those people who read one bible passage a day? Hey, Cycle News was our bible. The first day was to skim the paper for two things, a story about the race you were in last weekend and then any other stories you might want to read later. The second days passage was ‘The Latest Poop’ by Papa Wheelie. Day three was Motocross Cat. The rest of the week was reading the other stories, feature articles and looking at all the ads for stuff that you knew would make you go faster. Every real racer knew everything in Cycle News every week.

Cycle News was one of the pillars of Moto Journalism for nearly five decades. There are a great many racers and journalists who owe the Clayton family (founders of Cycle News) a debt of gratitude for being instrumental in their careers. The list is long, loaded with names that are legendary both behind the handlebars and the typewriter. Cycle News truly was the window into the motorcycle racing world that we all looked through.

As I was thinking of how to write this story, I decided I wasn’t going to head down the path of why Cycle News succumbed, plenty of others have already done that. I want to remember Cycle News as something I looked forward to every week and while I would sit there in my garage staring at a broken Bultaco or a beat up Honda I could always read Motocross Cat, get a smile on my face and be thankful I didn’t have to work on his bike.

Thank you Cycle News, I will miss you.


Cool now, illegal soon…maybe

That cool sound that you paid hundreds of dollars for emanating from the back of your motorcycle may wind up costing you more than the retail price. A while back I mentioned in one of my Motoworld podcasts www.themotoworld.com that a state legislator from Southern California, Fran Pavely (Dem, Santa Monica) in 2009 was working hard to get her bill, SB435, through the legislature. That piece of legislature, SB435, was targeted at motorcyclists who changed or modified their exhaust systems. The bill was aimed at two fronts, one was excess noise and the other air pollution. Citing information from the California Air Resources Board (carb), motorcycles account for less than 1% of vehicle travel miles, yet produce 10% of the smog producing emissions. Ms. Pavely’s point at the time was that modified exhaust systems were not only too loud, they created too much smog. Under the original version SB435, motorcycles would have to be smog tested every two years just like cars. Can you just imagine what a nightmare that would be not only for we motorcyclists but for the smog check stations as well. Think of all the new equipment they would have to buy, the added insurance and the headaches….it’s a good thing the bill didn’t pass.

The bill not passing was only a minor setback to Ms. Pavely’s agenda, she has brought it, SB435, back again…you just can’t keep a good piece of legislation down now can you. This time around it is a bit watered down. It still goes after loud motorcycles yes, but, the smog testing of motorcycles is gone. Does that mean that he possibility of smog testing motorcycles is forgotten? Oh no. The new version of SB435 has passed both the State Assembly and the Senate and is heading for Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk for signing.

There are some things I need to mention here in fairness. Nearly thirty years ago, twenty-seven I believe, the Anti Tampering Act was passed aimed at motorcyclists modifying their exhaust systems to be louder. Well, as we can all attest to, it has never really been enforced, SB435 basically brings it back to life and puts some teeth in it…teeth that will sink right into your wallet. If you are cited by an officer for your motorcycle being too loud…and by the way, what is too loud??? The bill targets a sound level of 80dbs. I wonder if my old BMW with stock pipes is that quiet? Back to being ticketed, the first offense could bring a fine of $50-$100 and future offenses $100-$250. The citation would be a fix it ticket, which means you will have to put your stock exhaust back on, get it tested and then if you wanted to risk another ticket, put your ‘other’ exhaust on. This new law will affect motorcycles built from 1985 but won’t take effect until 2013…at least that’s how I read it.
The bill has been heavily opposed by the Motorcycle Industry Council ( www.mic.org ) needless to say, because it will affect the motorcycle industry in a big way, and that will affect you and your choices too.

You’re reading this thinking to yourself, hey, too bad for bikers in California but that will never happen here in Texas. You’re wrong. Once this snowball starts rolling it’s going to pick up enough speed to roll right through states. Think about this for a moment, if law enforcement agencies start enforcing the noise ordinances and handing out tickets, that’s good revenue for the state and nowadays…money talks and your rights walk. What can you do now, if you’re here in California contact Arnie today http://gov.ca.gov/interact#contact even if you don’t live here in the Golden State, contact Arnie. Join the AMA www.ama-cycle.org and write to them for help with this issue. It’s bigger than it looks. I don’t mean to be ‘chicken little ‘ here but right now the government is working on taking away land from off-roaders, a federal agency is giving grants to five states to set up checkpoints to target motorcyclists, what’s next?
For more information about california SB435 there is a good article in the LA Times,http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2010/08/motorcycle-noise.htmlgive it a read and get involved in protecting your rights.

I am not a fan of the ‘loud pipes save lives’ credo, I think, more often than not, loud pipes just piss people off and apparently one pissed off lawmaker has made it her mission to quiet things down.


Baby Riders

I have spent the vast majority of my life on two wheels. From riding a Schwinn Stingray to school, throwing newspapers onto porches pedaling that same Stingray…well…occasionally the paper ended up on the roof or in the shrubs…”sorry Mrs. Cleaver…”. I wish I still had that Stingray…do you know much that would be worth on ebay right now??!! About the same time I started getting really interested in girls I also got the motorcycle bug. My friend Byron down the street had a Taco mini bike that we terrorized the neighborhood on for years but now, it just wasn’t cool enough. I needed a real motorcycle.

My first experience being on a real motorcycle was when my dad came home from Vietnam in 1966. The first things he did was buy a new car and a new motorcycle. The car; 1966 Chevy Impala SS, the bike; a brand new Honda CB160. Looking back I wonder…why did he buy a big Chevy with a really big motor, I think it was the either the 396 or the 427, and then buy a ‘little’ motorcycle? If you’re goin’ big go BIG…he could have gotten a Triumph, BSA or a Harley… and in the words of the late John Belushi…”But Noooooooo” he had to buy a little Honda.??!!

I was fourteen years old and I was spending a few days with my dad when he took me on my first driving lesson out at the Marine Corps base…I didn’t get to drive the Chevy, I drove my step moms VW, oh well, you’ve got to start somewhere. But then…but then…came, “you want to ride the Honda?”… “gee Dad, let me think about this a whilel, YEAH!!!” I may have called that Honda 160 ‘little’ but when you’re fourteen, sitting on that bike was better than kissing the prettiest girl in school. And what did I do??…I promptly rode into the rear bumper of my dad’s new Impala…yes, I Impaled the Impala…sorry dad. A rather auspicious start to a long motorcycle career don’t you think?

I was fourteen years old when I started riding motorcycles, started racing at sixteen and you know what I’ve learned of late? I was a late bloomer.

In my job as a Moto Journalist I have had the opportunity to interview and spend time with every type of rider. Racers, travelers, industry types, photographers and everyday riders…it’s a great job. There is always one common denominator, the love of riding a motorcycle. Where does that love come from? Usually it’s dad, an uncle or a big brother…sometimes all three and occasionally it’s a friend who goes through the “this is the clutch, this is the brake,shifter…one down and three up” ritual with you. Most women I have talked with got the bug from a boyfriend or husband…I think they got tired of looking at the back of his helmet or, more often, telling themselves they can ride ride better than him.

About a year ago at the AMA Grand National Flat Track races in Pomona, California I was walking the pits doin’ my job…talkin’ to racers. I usually don’t spend too much time on race reports, I like to get to know the racer and the question I ask of everyone I talk with is…”how old were you when you started riding motorcycles?”. Everybody has a fun story about when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle.

On the way home from the race, I was mentally editing the interview’s and one common thread came through…nearly all of the riders I spoke with started riding very,very young. Somewhere between Pasadena and Fillmore I started reviewing all my roadracing interviews as well and I came up with the same thread. I worked through my interviews…MotoGP, World Superbike, AMA Superbike, AMA Flat Track, Motocross and here is what I found. Most all these champion racers were barely out of diapers when they started riding and racing. Take a guess, how old do you think most of these guys were when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle? If you said ‘four’, you win the prize…that’s right, four years old. At four years old pretty much all they could spell was PW50 or JR50 which, were the two most common bikes all these racers started on.

So what have I learned from all this research? I was a racer of no renown because I started ten years too late and that I’m going to have get my grandson a PW50 in about three years. Now if I can just convince his mother…..


My First MotoCross

It was a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon in the San Fernando Valley made all the more beautiful because I didn’t have any yard work to do. I had already gone for a good street bike ride and was now sitting in my garage with my ‘a little less than trusty’ Bultaco Pursang wondering what to do. A year ago, almost to the day, I sold my faithful Matador to a fellow enduro rider because he wanted a Bultaco Matador and I wanted a Pursang. Good enough reasons don’t you think. The man that bought my Matador was an interesting story in itself. I first met him during the overnight at the Greenhorn Enduro a couple of years earlier. A buddy of his drove up to Ridgecrest to meet him, help him with anything he needed to do on his bike and drink beer. It was long night for those two.

I woke up the next morning with frost on my sleeping bag, it gets cold in the desert at night! I climbed out of the bed of our truck heading to the porta john and here were these same two guys passed out next to their truck still in the clothes they were wearing yesterday. The rider was still wearing his boots. On the way back I went over and did my best to wake the guy up but after 15 minutes of shaking, yelling, poking and prodding, this guy was still dead to the world so I gave up. And besides, I had to get ready to ride.

Two hours later, this guy on a beat up old CZ pulls up next to me at a checkpoint, asks me if I was the guy trying to wake him up. I said yes, he looked at me and my motorcycle and said, “nice bike, next time try a little harder, thanks” and off he went.I saw him at the end of the Enduro, walking along with a beer in each hand looking for something, or someone. Turns out he was looking for me. He thanked me again for my efforts that morning, handed me a Lucky Lager beer and then asked if I wanted to sell my bike? I told him no, I liked it too much. This little “do you want to sell your bike?” scene happened at almost every Enduro I rode for the next two years.

At the end of a particularly grueling District 37 Enduro, I was sitting on the tailgate of the truck too whooped to take my boots off and here comes Mr. ‘You want to sell your bike yet?’ carrying the usual two Lucky’s. He hands me one and asks the usual question. This time I shocked him, “Sure, how much you give me for it?” “I got three hundred in my truck, I’ll be right back”. Half hour later my step dad and I are driving home with only one bike in the back and three hundred dollars I didn’t have that morning.

So, here I am sitting in the garage staring at the Pursang that the three hundred dollars, along with some help from the guys at Steve’s Bultaco in Van Nuys , California got me. There are no desert races this weekend so maybe I’ll just go trail riding, even though a Pursang is not what you would call an ideal trail bike…I wish I had my old Matador back. I call a couple of friends about going riding but everyone has plans, oh well, I didn’t really want to go trail riding anyway.

Two beers and a bike wash later, my friend Tim wanders into the garage carrying two beers that I swear he got out of my refrigerator, and parks his butt on my BSA. “Whaddya doin’ tomorrow?” he asks. I told him I wanted to go riding either up Angeles Crest on the Beezer or maybe dirt riding somewhere. “You ever ridden Motocross before?” he asks. “No and I don’t have any plans to”. Two more beers and enough badgering by Tim, I’m changing the gearing on my bike for motocross.

Sunday morning as the sun is coming up, Tim and I are heading to Indian Dunes, a cycle park about 30 minutes from home. Indian Dunes is a big place, two motocross tracks, a flat track, and miles of trials in the surrounding hills. I had been to the Dunes a couple of times before to watch motocross and ride the trails but never to race. To say that I was a bit apprehensive would be an understatement. I had been racing in the desert for years, even rode a TT race a couple of times, but the push, shove and knock you off your bike world of motocross was going to be new and I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it.

Tim spent the whole time driving to the track telling / convincing me how much fun motocross was and how I was going to do great. On and on he went, giving me tips on the start, the first corner, the jumps, using the berm…etc,etc. After a while I tuned him out and started thinking of ways I could gracefully get out of this. I couldn’t use the old “the bike won’t start’ or, ‘ I think maybe it’s seized’, Tim’s too good a mechanic for those excuses to work. I couldn’t even pull off the ‘I’ve got a hangover’, he’s ridden with me when we were both hungover. I was doomed, I was going to have to race.

After signing up for the race, Tim in the expert class and me in the novice group (Novice??…how humiliating…I’m an Expert in the desert…) we had an hour or so to practice before the official practice sessions started. Off to the ‘easy track we went, and so did everyone else. I got bumped, knocked down, stalled my bike twice coming out of a corner, and run into a tree. If this is what they call practice what’s the race going to be like?? Now, I’m thinking maybe I could go ride off on one of the trails into the hills and come back after the race and say I got lost, or maybe I could crash and break something important so I couldn’t ride like, say, my arm…Ok, that last idea wasn’t such a good one. It looks like I’m still doomed to race.

Back at the truck, Tim starts right in giving me more tips and encouragement. Start in second gear, don’t get caught on the inside of the first turn, take the second jump on the outside and use the berm for the next corner, stay wide on the last turn ‘cuz that’ll give you a good run down the straight and into turn one and watch out for the guy on the Maico he worse than you…Thanks Tim. I’m sure he said a lot more, but after the first five minutes all I could hear was my poor motorcycle saying “I wanna go back to the desert…I’m not having fun…”.

Walking back from the outhouse I heard those dreaded words over the loud speaker…”Novice class to the start, novice class to the start”. As I was getting my helmet on I decided that my only goal in the first moto was to not fall down. Probably easier said than done I thought, but that was the goal.

As the starter was getting everyone lined up in position I couldn’t help but notice the kid next to me had to lean his bike way over just so he could put his foot down. Ok I thought, I can at least beat this kid off the line. The flag dropped and that kid was gone like he was shot out of a gun! And me…I stalled the bike right there on the starting line. Ok, I’m last but I haven’t fallen down…yet. A couple of kicks and the Pursang lights off, so do I. Turn one is littered with bikes from a pile up…uh, guys, there’s only room for two bikes to get through the first turn side by side. After picking my way through the tangled bikes I’ve got clear track in front of me. Let’s see what was it Tim said about the first jump? Too late, it’s behind me now. Hey, guess what, I’m actually catching up to someone!! Here we go, second jump…stay to the outside, use the berm, it worked, I passed the guy like he was standing still…well actually, he was laying still. Who cares, it wasn’t me on the ground. Two more laps, passed two other bikes, they were were still upright, hey this motocross stuff isn’t so bad after all.

After fifteen minutes of this pounding my body was screaming at me. My arms were pumped up, my thighs were burning and I think every filling in my mouth had been bounced out along with the teeth they used to be in. Only five more minutes in the moto, I can make it?

As I rode over to the truck, Tim was standing ready to catch me as I fell off the bike completely beat up. “ Wow…you did great!! Did ya have fun? Motocross is way better than desert racing yeah!?!” I couldn’t even answer. Tim leaned my bike against the side of the truck, handed me a canteen full of cold water and just started laughing . “Man I can’t believe you stalled on the line?!, what gear were you in? Second like I told ya? and you should have seen yourself over that first jump…I thought for sure you were gonna do a ‘flying W’…” Now he was laughing so hard that I couldn’t help but laugh too.

I watched Tim’s first moto to get some ideas on how to do it. I watched the leaders, of which Tim was part of , and, I watched the guys in the back of the pack, figuring that that would be where I would be racing. At the end of his twenty minute moto Tim rode over to the truck, parked his bike against the fender and instantly started planning his next moto. All I wanted to do was wash two aspirin down with a cold beer.

An hour after my first moto was the second one, I had to beat myself up one more time today before I could go home. I was lined up next to the kid that was too short for his motorcycle again but this time he was leaning the other way? I thought he was just trying to psyche me out..it was working, I almost blew the start again. The flag dropped, the kid shot off and I actually got a decent start. Remembering the melee at the beginning the first moto, I backed off just a bit and sure enough, five or six bikes got all tangled up and I went right by..ha ha, I’m getting the hang of this motocross stuff. Or so I thought.

About half way through the moto I was in a heated battle with two other riders including the guy on the Maico that Tim said was worse than me. This battle went on for three more laps before I was getting just too tired to fight. This is a bad time when you’re a racer, your race mentality (read ego) takes over and good sense just goes freewheeling down the track without you. Coming to the second jump I was on the outside (like I was told) planning my attack on the guy in front of me, when out of nowhere comes another racer with the same plan as me but he was going a lot faster.
When I finally opened my eyes and mentally counted all my body parts, there was my buddy Tim looking down at me with a big grin on his face…”man, you should have seen you fly!! I wonder if anybody got a picture of you?” and then as an after thought, “oh hey…you OK?” Without waiting for my answer, he picked up my bike and said “How good of friends are you with those guys at the Bultaco shop?” Not what I wanted to hear at that moment.

Tim went on to place second, I think, in his moto and combined with his first moto finish, gave him third place overall for the day. Not bad considering he spent a lot of his time babysitting a novice motocrosser.

We drove home that evening, me licking my wounds and Tim just going a mile a minute telling me all about how funny I looked flying over the edge of the jump heading right for the tree, legs over my head and still holding onto the bike with one hand. On and on it went and I don’t think Tim stopped laughing all the way home.

When we got to my house Tim headed straight for the fridge and returned with two cold beers, “beer before unloading, that’s the motocross way”. When we finished our beers we unloaded my beat up Bultaco, dumped my riding gear in the corner and opened up a couple more beers. We didn’t talk much during that second beer, I was too beat up and I think tiredness finally hit my friend.

Tim hauled himself out of the chair and made his way to his truck. I stayed in my chair because I couldn’t move. As Tim drove away, waving his trophy out the window, he yelled out, “I’ll call you later this week about going again next Sunday!!” Fortunately when Tim called on Thursday, the broken parts of my motorcycle were on back order, as in I hadn’t ordered them yet back order, but I didn’t tell him that.

When my parts did come in, I promised my Pursang that there would be no more motocross for us, the desert was our home. And there friends is the story of my first, and last, motocross race.

One note here, I don’t have any pictures of Tim and I from that day as a matter of fact I don’t have any pictures of Indian Dunes Cycle Park so I got these from Elrod Racing at www.elrodracing.com. Thank you.