Be Paranoid

If you think they’re out to kill you, it’s because they behave as if they are.
Crane Truck McFuckface was hiding in this tunnel
The tunnel monster is real

Riding to work this morning on my dual sport, I negotiated this blind corner and came upon a stationary utility truck (the type with the dorsally-mounted crane) head-on smack in the middle of the road.

My guess is that the driver did this to allow the crane to clear the tunnel ceiling. Be that as it may, it was poor judgement as the this tunnel has a blind entry on both sides:

Blind entry to tunnel in both directions
Blind entrance, both ends

I’m assuming the driver had his window down, heard me, and stopped. There were no lights, no flag man, nothing. Had I been riding more aggressively than was prudent, had I been on my sport bike, this might have been a little hairy; you can see it is an appealing pair of corners; that’s why I ride this little road in the first place.

Ride safe, folks.

YouTube, Vlogging, and Filthy Lucre.

I can’t get a job, because if I had a job I wouldn’t have enough time to vlog.

The above quote isn’t attributed to anyone in particular, it’s rather a sentiment I’ve seen expressed a few times recently.

Motovlogging culture – those guys that go out on their bikes and record it for our entertainment – has become a big part of the motorcycle media landscape in recent years. I won’t namedrop because it’s vulgar, but like most entertainment media, the majority are forgettable, and a very few are excellent. Like most media, there is not always a correlation between quality and a channel’s success. In short, there are some utter clowns that have become very successful, and some truly great channels that languish with low views. If I understood why that is, I’d be vlogging myself.

That success has brought financial rewards, although it’s difficult to know how much, as both Google and the channel owners are cagey on the subject; it’s fair enough – it’s nobody’s business but their own. However, the mere suggestion of money can be ruinous to men, and creates something of a gold-rush mentality. I’ve seen a couple of vloggers give up their day jobs and chase YouTube money, and when it hasn’t quite worked out,they resort to asking their viewers for help with the bills. I believe one of the drivers is they’ve done just well enough to convince themselves it’s viable. I dislike myself for it, but this brings out the cantankerous old fart in me. Nobody’s owed a living, and if you can’t make it work you’ve got to be realistic and think about how to go forward. That might well involve having to take a regular job for a little while to make ends meet, and taking stock of the fact that you’re choosing to compete in a phenomenally crowded market which, to make matters worse, is only getting more competitive.

This reminds me of conversations I used to see on photographer message boards in the early 2000s; specifically the ire of professional photographers towards amateurs giving their work away either for free, or well below market value. The rush of consumer DSLRs and affordable pro-grade editing tools meant their world had changed; the barrier for entry was lower, their slice of the pie just got that little bit smaller.

YouTube is no different. The barrier for entry is again very low, and the productions standards on many channels are really very impressive, and this can only mean more competition for views. Some of those guys that are at the top of the pile now would certainly struggle if they were just starting out, but that’s capitalism; ’twas ever thus.

I feel bad for a lot of these kids, because they’re talented and they are entertaining enough, but YouTube’s model is based on a tiny number of winners and a lot of losers. Is it fair? No, but when was life ever fair? I suspect if you crunched the numbers, it would not be that different to the rest of the entertainment industry

Should they be paid? Unfortunately, that decision has already been made. You can consume gigabytes of video entertainment on YouTube for the cost of an internet connection and a device to watch it on; you just have to put up with the ads. Where that money then goes is up to Google, but you can be sure they’re the biggest winners. That leaves Patreon and similar services, but given the huge number of free channels out there I’d be surprised if there’s much money to be made there if you’re not already a giant channel somewhere else.

Eastern Promise

Part One

As winter got underway, I started to consider whether I should get a second car. My reasoning was it would cut the mileage on the family Toyota (I don’t use the bike on snow or ice days, I might be British, but I’m not that crazy) and would limit inconvenience to the family when I had to take it for the day. Secondly, I wanted to take the strain off my Ninja 300, which was clocking up nearly one-thousand hard commuter miles a month at peak use. I really didn’t enjoy how much work it was in winter time; it isn’t the easiest bike to keep the weather off, and it’s surprisingly heavy on consumables like tyres and brake pads. Maintenance could be stressful if there were delays due to parts, my incompetence, or visits to the shop. It could really disrupt my transport arrangements, not to mention piss off my ever-supportive wife when I have the car for days on end.

I quickly dismissed the idea. I didn’t want to pay for another one; I could scarcely afford something decent, anything I could afford would become a maintenance money-pit (been there) and I would resent the thing for the majority of the year when I wouldn’t be using it and it would be sitting in the car park eating money.

I’d thought about a second bike, and reckoned I could make it work as long as it met some criteria:

  • It had to be cheap to purchase and run.
  • Simple to maintain and clean, the former more important than the latter.
  • Suitable for the rough winter pavement conditions present in Western Pennsylvania.

I’d been reading a lot about the various offerings from China, with the knowledge that you get what you pay for, and an awareness of the strong prejudice toward Chinese kit, but I’d been impressed by the commitment of CSC Motorcycles in California. They’ve built something of a reputation for selecting good bikes from Zongshen (a giant Chinese manufacturing concern) and applying some American customer service know-how with the proviso that the owner is part of the process (no dealer network, you wrench the bike with support from CSC). I’d been through a lot of wrenching with my Ninja, including the hell of shimming the valves, so I reckoned I could handle it with enough support and reading. CSC’s best-known offering nowadays is the RX3 Cyclone, a 250cc adventure bike which has carved out a market that was practically non-existent in the US.

However, the RX3 was not in my plans. It was a out of my budget (although clearly outstanding value) and a little too similar to my Ninjette in terms of my needs. I would probably replace my Ninja with something like an RX3, not supplement it.

No, I was looking at something like a dual sport. I liked the utility of it, and the fact that I could take it on some trails if the mood caught me, plus it would easily handle some bad back roads I had purposefully avoided beating the Ninja up on. Enter the CSC TT250

Here’s the TT250 as described by CSC:

The CSC TT250 dual sport motorcycle is rewriting the definition of affordable quarter-liter enduro riding! Featuring a digital speedometer (new for 2017), counterbalanced air-cooled engine and 5-speed transmission, the TT250 was identified by Motorcycle.com magazine as the best motorcycle value in the US! The lightweight TT250 has 18-inch rear and 21-inch front wire wheels, knobby tires, hydraulic front and rear disk brakes, inverted forks, adjustable suspension front and rear, a 300-watt alternator, handlebar-switch-controlled underseat accessory outlets, and more. The TT250 is perfect for riding around town or around the world on both paved and unpaved roads. When coupled with CSC’s free Service Manual and online maintenance tutorials, the simple-to-maintain and highly reliable TT250 is a great motorcycle!

I had actually toyed with buying a TT250 not long after they were released much earlier in the year, just for the hell of it, perhaps as a gateway drug into a different kind of riding. I hadn’t considered it would make a really good second bike in its own right.

I pulled the trigger one Saturday night over a few beers, and went for a great end-of-year deal. I’d considered waiting, but I didn’t know when CSC would get the 2017 consignment, and if they would have any issues – the 2016 model was now a known quantity. The snags had been worked out (minor things like the occasional wrong countershaft sprocket, or the odometer being in KM). Plus, it was nearly Christmas and my birthday, so screw it. Retail therapy.

One week later on a chilly December morning, a truck turns up outside and deposits a tidy-looking crate in a parking space I’d set aside for the purpose. I eagerly got to work hacking into the cardboard and freed the bike rolling it around to my patio. The bike ships ready to roll, with a small amount of petrol (I assume from a test engine-firing and drive) and a crank case full of 10w30 engine oil. You only need to attach the mirrors.

The CSC TT250
The CSC TT250, in the fastest colour.

First impressions? Build quality is good. I would happily say the fit and finish is as good as my Thai-manufactured Kawasaki. It looks the business. No loose fasteners, and the bike had been prepped properly. I wasn’t sure about the tyres, they had the look of ‘just good-enough no-name OEM rubber’ to me, but I’d soon learn that things aren’t always what they seem.

Was there any China showing? Not really. Some of the plastics like the muffler guard and the fork covers appear a little shiny and cheap, but they are sturdy. A couple of design details are telling,- the rear brake master cylinder and pedal assembly is a bit clumsy, the shift lever is long and ungainly-looking, and some welds though solid enough look a little rough to my untrained eye. Generally though. this is a well put-together bike. The hand controls and switchgear are well made; the levers have no slop or play, and the throttle action is superb. The engine looks gorgeous with its smooth black finish.

As ever, paperwork is the boring part, and a nice lady at CSC does the hard work for you and sends you everything you need to make registering the bike as painless as your state’s bureaucracy allows. I hadn’t done this before, and I ended up going through a tag notary, sucking up the fairly high fee as the cost of getting it done quickly. I got my plates same day, and was ready to ride. More of that in part two!

Here’s Johnny.

December 12th, 2016.


Groundhog Day

Last year, we were blessed with winter staying almost entirely within bounds; a late December to February even, most severe in late January. This year the lake-effect weather system, resulting low temperatures (10F!!!) and snow started early.

I also got the seasonal man-cold a couple of weeks ago. Any medical professional recognises the seriousness of this condition, for those unfamiliar it is outlined in this documentary:

This coincided with the final November weekend which wasn’t utterly freezing, coincidentally the occasion I’d planned to weatherproof my bike. This involves taking the mid-fairings off (an utterly tedious job that entirely encourages my tendency to procrastinate) and drowning everything that isn’t a brake component in ACF-50. As this didn’t happen, I’ve been reluctant to use the bike much, so I’m just going to have to put on my big-boy pants and do it, even if it causes my extremities to shrivel up and drop off.

That being said, over the last weekend a couple of inches of snow fell, the local authority dumped its customary million tonnes of salt and sand everywhere, but it warmed and rained, and today felt almost like early March; not particularly cold, and very damp. Don’t worry though, by the end of the week it’s going to be utterly freezing, again.

frigid
Oh ffs

I’d forgotten how much crap is on the road surface at times like this. It’s a godawful mix of mud and grit; occasionally very slippery, and I can hear it scrunching on my rotors every time I pull the brake lever at low speeds. Everything gets covered in this fine coating of brown mist that looks a bit like raw sewage. As usual, the most dangerous part of my commute are the hundred yards of road in my apartment plan, which despite the sterling efforts of the property managers, remains unusually slick in poor weather.

For the winter rider, I think this thawing condition is every bit as hazardous as black ice when freezing. In similar circumstances I nearly dropped the bike last January:

Losing the rear
Wet road from melting snow, mixed with mud/sand.

Smoothness is key, but if you’re going over, there’s not a lot you can do. It is also at these times I dislike the abrupt throttle transition on the Ninja 300; it can cut suddenly and unsettle the rear end.

So why do it?

For me it’s a mixture of practical and emotional. I really love riding, I love the challenge and discipline of it in difficult conditions. I desperately do not want to buy a second car; it’ll cost a fortune (as cars do) and I’ll resent it sitting there and devouring money I need while it’s barely used for most of the year. When the weather’s really severe, I take the family Toyota. It is a matter of enduring about 10-12 weeks. It’s not terrible.

Any other winter riders there? I know there’s a few. Share your experiences!

A Close Call

There’s a lesson in everything.

This could have gone very badly, luckily nobody was hurt and nothing was damaged.

What could I have done differently?

  • Fumbling the horn didn’t help. I cancelled the shit out of that turn signal, though…
  • The police vehicle was being erratic long before the incident. I could have hung much further back.
  • It didn’t occur to me to jump off the bike; maybe I should have. It could have been a very serious accident if he’d continued reversing. Not impossible I would have gone under the rear axle, or been pinned under the bike.

In fact I was confused, as I thought for moment I was going to get pulled over, especially at the top of the street when the vehicle stopped for no obvious reason a few feet in front of me. I fully expected the blue lights to come on.

Fear.

Motorcycle accident, Balham. By Drew Leavy. License

You have to learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

(Unattributed)

When you think of riding, the elephant in the room – or if you prefer, the SUV at the intersection – is the prospect of getting killed, or seriously injured. Motorcycles are dangerous, so the received wisdom goes.

Well, in some cases, definitely. You can go on Wikipedia and discover that “Motorcycle riders aged below 40 are 36 times more likely to be killed than other vehicle operators of the same age.”(“Motorcycle safety,” 2016). You can find all sorts of information, anecdotal and peer-reviewed, that might persuade you to not even look at a bike, for fear you may spontaneously self-combust.

I didn’t want to turn this post into a statistical dive, mostly because I find that too hard, and I’m lazy, and honestly, it’s been done to death by more qualified people. Have a look around the work for yourself: The reality is, there’s a lot you can do to help your dice rolls, and most of it is training and attitude. Every ride is a lesson. The biggest risk, assuming you are appropriately protected and aren’t riding like a twat, is still other road users.

IMG_2711, by Killbox. License

Like most things in life, you can go a long way to helping yourself with the right approach.

If you spend any time on YouTube “researching” (looking at crash videos, like some knobber totalling his GSXR on Mulholland Drive) there’s a chance you will scare yourself away from riding. I watched – and of course cannot find it now – a video wherein the narrator strongly advised not looking at crash videos for exactly this reason. Likewise, the Reddit board /r/motorcycles tends to have a notable focus on accidents. People like the drama.

I take a different point of view. Look at them, don’t shy away from it, because it could be you. Try to understand what happened. Recognise and accept that it can happen. Knowledge and training the rational part of your mind can help keep the anxiety reflex – which is dangerous – away. It surprises me even now how, in times of stress, much my body tries to fight me when on the bike. Nearly all accidents contain useful information that will help the rider build a good mental picture on the street. Also note that in a large number of cases the rider makes a full recovery. Here’s a classic example, similar bike to mine:


If you’re new to riding, you’ll probably wonder how on earth such a thing happens. Ride a few thousand miles, and you’ll understand exactly how it happens.

The other side to this is, we see what we want to. For all those Mulholland Drive bike crashes, there are plenty of cars filmed doing worse in exactly the same place. You have probably known more people that were killed in cars than on bikes.

you start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.

(Unattributed)

This is one of the truest things I’ve read about riding. I wish I knew where it came from; it appears to have originated in Aviation; another pursuit terribly unforgiving of errors. You will have close calls when you start out. As a novice, you are so occupied with simply controlling the bike that situational awareness is very poor. You won’t signal, you won’t cancel signals (you will usually leave them blinking for about 38 hours), you won’t do enough shoulder checks. You’ll stall on hills, you’ll nearly run wide at stupidly low speed a few times. You’ll nearly run wide at stupidly high speeds a few times.

For all that, and well beyond the fear, it’s like nothing else. Concentration and relaxation doesn’t come naturally to me. On a bike I feel completely relaxed; it is practically therapy. YouTuber TnP puts it well:

You ride motorcycles? Seriously? I mean if you want to live, if you like living, why would you ever get on a motorcycle?

Has anyone every said that to you? have you seen that attitude come up in conversation with family, friends, for that matter, strangers?

Yeah, me too.

I have lots of responses, but here’s the core of it: If you want to live, if you like living, why would you not get on a motorcycle?

(nutnfancy, 2014)

Hell yeah.