Apr 27
A Victory for Indian
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes, News | icon4 04 27th, 2011| icon3No Comments »
Indian_Head

Indian head figure head on the front fender of a modern Indian motorcycle.

Polaris Industries, which owns the Victory Motorcycle brand, acquired Indian Motorcycle last week.
Indian is America’s first motorcycle manufacturer, beating Harley Davidson into production by two years and producing its first bike in 1901. Two years later, Indian sets the world motorcycle speed record of 56 miles-per-hour. Indian continues to update its designs until it eventually produces the classic, and much sought after, 1935 Indian Chief.
The 1940s see lean times for the company, with it being sold twice during that decade. Indian puts in its final appearance at Daytona in 1948 with a win by a 648 Scout. The company struggles through the post-war years, finally ceasing production in 1953.
Several companies attempt to revive the brand resulting in a 1999 complex merging of trademarks and brands into a company named Indian Motorcycle Company. But the venture proves unsuccessful, and 2003 is the last year it produces a bike.
In 2004, two entrepreneurs acquire the trademark and intellectual property rights. Production begins at a small plant in Kings Mountain, N.C., in 2008. The first model is released in 2009. Producing quality bikes, the company still struggles in a depressed economy with low production numbers, high production cost and barely two dozen dealers nationwide. Small volume keeps the per-unit costs so high that Indians start at $25,000.
Polaris Industries introduces the Victory motorcycle in 1998. It offers Harley Davidson-alternative cruiser-style bikes with V-twin engines. These are not simply Harley knockoffs, though, as the Freedom engine at the heart of Victory eschews style constraints over engineering. Using a 60-degree, overhead cam, dual-valve, oil-cooled, fuel-injected V-twin engine that quickly builds a reputation as “bullet proof,” Victory becomes America’s newest major motorcycle manufacturer.
Most of the articles I find in the motorcycle community are enthusiastic about the acquisition. And I will be too, if it proves to be a true acquisition, and not a merger. Polaris will no doubt be temped to cut production costs by simply branding some of their models with the Indian name. But these would not be Indians.
The Indian bikes use classic air-cooled, push-rod engines. It is a very different looking bike from anything currently in the Victory line, and is not likely to use many interchangeable parts or manufacturing equipment. So Victory must resist the temptation to sacrifice the integrity of the design to cut production costs. But doing so may keep the unit costs to high for a reasonable figure on the price tag.
But Victory’s parent company, Polaris, has very deep pockets. If it is willing to invest for the future, it can build the Indian infrastructure to support and match the Indian brand name. There is a lot of loyalty to the name out there in the motorcycle riding world. The next year will tell whether Polaris/Victory really respects Indian, or whether it simply made a cynical purchase. Time will tell if what it offers is an Indian, or a Victory with an Indian sticker.

- Guy Wheatley

Apr 22
Motor Dog

Motorcyclist Mary Gregory and “Hunter” don their helmets to join TxDOT
in launching the 2011 motorcycle safety awareness campaign. Since drivers
are often at fault when a car and a motorcycle collide, the “Share the Road”
campaign reminds motorists to look twice for motorcycles. It will run through
mid-May, which is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.
Photo Jody Horton

May is motorcycle safety awareness month. Link to press release. It may well be more appropriate this year than ever before with gas prices possibly on their way to $6.00 a gallon. The convergence of milder weather and higher fuel costs riding the crest of the boomer trend toward motorcycling means this year has the potential to add more new, and inexperienced, riders to the road than ever before.
The Texas Department of Transportation is launching a state wide public awareness campaign called, “Share the road.” They also kicked off the Look Learn and Live website featuring the 2nd central Texas motorcycle safety fair. They hope to impress upon the operators of larger vehicles to watch for motorcycles. They remind drivers that a motorcycle, “is a vehicle with all of the rights and privileges of any other vehicle.”
Be that as it may, a motorcycle doesn’t have the mass of any other vehicle. What may have been a minor bump between two cars can easily be a fatal incident between a motorcycle and another vehicle. And sadly, the new riders, driven to bikes by economic concerns, will have less experience in recognizing dangerous conditions, evading danger, and being prepared for an unfortunate event. The average driver will then be presented with more targets that are less capable of getting out of the way.
Texas Department of Transportation offers four bullet points for motorists.
• Do a double take. In other words, look twice and check for motorcycles.
• Be respectful. Motorcycles have a right to be on the road also.
• Give them space. Motorcycles have to avoid obstacles a car could just run over.
• Anticipate next steps. Leave the biker room to maneuver.
These are actually good practices for any driving. They just have more dire consequences for a motorcycle, when ignored.
The biggest single improvement to safety that the public can practice is to simply stop tailgating. I rarely see any car on the road that isn’t following too closely. In the larger metropolitan areas I go to, it gets absolutely ridiculous. And that is what concerns me most about the expected new wave of riders. These are likely to be people riding in metropolitan areas during rush hour traffic. This puts the most vulnerable riders in the most dangerous environment.
One statistic that may change could be the percent of alcohol involvement. Currently, TexDot says in the Drink, Ride, Lose campaign that 46% of motorcycle fatalities include some level of alcohol involvement. Although the total number of alcohol related deaths is unlikely to change, the percentage may go down as novice commuters ad to the death toll with out drinking.
Eventually, things will improve. More riders, and possibly more accidents, will increase public awareness of motorcyclists. And eventually natural selection will weed out those riders who will not, or can not ride responsibly.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 1

I rode to work one day last week in between the rain storms. Somebody commented to me that it was a good day to ride. At that time gasoline was pushing $3.00 per gallon and frankly, that had more to do with my decision to ride the bike than the weather.
“If gas keeps going up,” I said, “There are going to be a lot of good days to ride.”
Last year my decision to ride had more to do with the weather, or whether or not I needed to carry something large to work. Now, as gas prices climb toward $4, I find myself in the saddle on days I might have been in the pickup in the past.
Generally I’m pleased anytime motorcycling gets a boost. More people riding means more clout for this demographic, and better treatment from those needing our support —whether politicians or merchants. But this particular force may be driving more problems to the two-wheeled crowd than benefits.
People who buy a motorcycle to save money are less likely to dedicate sufficient resources to safety. Getting an MC license will cost at least $250 by the time you take the MSF course. And those frugal-minded bikers are more likely to skimp on good riding gear. Good gear is expensive. You can get the cheap stuff, but all too often with safety gear, you get what you pay for.
The true enthusiast begins riding in a less stressful environment than the daily commuter. And weekend rides are more often taken with other, more experienced riders who can set good examples and offer advice. Somebody lacking riding experience hopping on a bike and fighting rush hour traffic with the coming work day on their mind is a recipe for disaster.
I won’t advise against getting a bike for the gas mileage, but I will remind those planning such a move that the safety issues don’t change just because you don’t think of yourself as a biker.

- Guy Wheatley

Feb 10
Studebaker comeback?
icon1 Guy | icon2 News | icon4 02 10th, 2011| icon3No Comments »

A Studebaker V-twin?

Studebaker isn’t the first name that comes to mind when I think of motorcycles. In fact, it never came to mind until I recently ran across a story that the name “Studebaker Motor Company” has been bought and plans are in the works to manufacture Studebaker-branded scooters and motorcycles.
The Studebaker Motor Company Website lists Ric W. Reed as the president and CEO of the company. In fact, Reed’s is the only name on the site. With the physical address listed in Arvada Colo., the new company doesn’t appear to share anything other than the name with the original South Bend, Ind., company. The manufacture of scooters is merely part of step one in a six- step plan to produce Studebaker cars. The company is currently seeking “qualified investors.”
I’ll always pull for somebody trying to get a business off the ground. I wish them success and have hopes for new jobs, and a new product. But I also have concerns for those “qualified investors.” Listed in his six-step plan is the intention to have only the final assembly done in the United States. Most of the manufacturing will be foreign, meaning the lion’s share of the labor and material purchases will probably benefit non-Americans.
I’m also a little put off by somebody purchasing the name of an old company simply for the advertising effect. I see no more than verbal homage to Studebaker. Most of the manufacturing, if things progress that far, will be overseas. The assembly plant is in another state and there is no mention of anybody from the original company being involved in this venture. The only reason I can see for the use of the name is to make it easier to attract investors.
Finally, Reed says on the Website that he is still reviewing designs and that the right concept has yet to reach his desk. When I attended trade shows years ago we used to refer to software being hawked by vendors that had not actually been written as vaporware.
If a physical motorcycle actually materializes from the smoke, I’ll certainly be interested. In the first half of the 20th century, Studebaker forged an enviable reputation for reliability and quality. Let’s hope this new company acquired that ethos along with the venerable name.

- Guy Wheatley

Dec 21
Pink thunder
icon1 Guy | icon2 Events, News, Small Talk | icon4 12 21st, 2010| icon3No Comments »
Team SuperMartXe VIP

Paris Hilton announces the Team SuperMartXe VIP Moto GP entry in the
125cc class.
- photo by the Associated Press.

I’ve never been a big fan of Moto GP. It’s not that I have some passionate dislike of the sport, but there just isn’t much in it that appeals to me. I just see it as unrealistic bikes on an unrealistic course. I can’t make a connection between anything I see in Moto GP and the things that I appreciate about motorcycle riding.
I do occasionally watch the Isle of Man TT races. This races uses production motorcycles racing on actual roads. While it’s not exactly long-haul scenic cruising, it does at least resemble conditions an ordinary rider might find, and features bikes available at the local dealership. The 37-mile course offers enough scenic beauty and variation to make it interesting, going from cramped downtown streets to breathtaking coastal vistas.
Not so, with Moto GP. This features purpose made bikes that are neither for sale to the public, nor street legal, racing on a closed racing track. About thing only thing that could make this less relevant to my take on motorcycle riding would be to throw in some clueless celebrity endorsement. Enter Ms Hilton.
Wearing a low-cut, pink and white, rhinestone-studded racing suit, she announced the SuperMartXe VIP by Paris Hilton team in Madrid on Dec. 20. They will enter an Aprilla RSA bike in the 125cc class. Team colors are pink and white. Ms Hilton won’t be riding the bike, but promises to attend as many races as she can.
SuperMartXe VIP is a dance series in Ibiza, Spain. From what I can discover, it is known for its excess of, well, excess and its dearth of clothes. I’m at a complete loss to explain why they could have any interest in Moto GP other than the opportunity to see Ms Hilton bedecked in a low-cut, pink and white, rhinestone-studded racing suit.
Aprilla makes a low-slung, automatic transmission motorcycle, often thought of as a “woman’s bike.” Maybe it hopes to attract more female riders by bedecking Ms Hilton in a low-cut, pink and white, rhinestone-studded racing suit, and having her announce their pink and white addition to the circuit. Good luck with that.
If any of my faithful readers understand the motivation behind this, please don’t explain it to me. I’d rather just put on some black leather, and go for a ride on the open road.

- Guy Wheatley

Jul 21
Riding on the Sun
icon1 Guy | icon2 News | icon4 07 21st, 2010| icon3No Comments »

I’m always on the lookout for the next innovation in motorcycle technology. I’ve blogged about new engines as well as alternate power plants. I’ve talked about the KMV4 engine Katech is developing for Motus, and the electric E1PC from MotoCzyzs. I even did a piece about the motorcycles one might find in Paramount’s Motion Picture, “Star Trek,” and thought I’d stretched the imagination with flying bikes. But even in my most creative prognostications, I always focused on the motorcycles. I always assumed that roads, as long as we had them, would be paved with asphalt or concrete. I even envisioned a future when some biker would have the roads to himself on his vintage ground rolling bikes, while all of the contemporary vehicles of his day whizzed overhead. I thought the only change in roads might be that they eventually would disappear as they were no longer needed. I pictured cracked concrete and asphalt roads with weeds growing out of them, dusty from lack of use. It just never occurred to me these abandoned roads might be made of something else.
Roads made of solar cells are not an idea I would ever have come up with on my own. There is a certain appeal to the idea of having those millions of miles of ribbon laying there collecting power for the country rather than heat. I get the idea from the video that you wouldn’t even need to paint them. Just have any markings you need programed into the LED displays. And those markings could quickly and easily be changed as needed without ever touching a paint bucket.
But as much as I admit liking the idea, I have a hard time believing the logistical challenge of making something like this feasible can be overcome. The video also talks about the special glass that could stand up to the weight of an 18-wheeler. I’ve seen transparent material that is that durable, but it is extremely expensive. If we’re going to start paving hundreds of thousands of miles of road with it, it’s going to have to be cheap. And it will require more than just durability. It will have to maintain traction in many different weather conditions, while staying transparent enough for solar energy to pass through to the collectors. It will take some special kind of glass to make me feel safe taking a corner on two wheels in wet conditions.
I just don’t see this happening on any large scale. I’d sure like to be wrong.

— Guy Wheatley

Road made of solar cells

Road made of solar cells

Jul 7

On May 29, Austin Texas Police officer Damon Dunn was just finishing up with a traffic stop. The dash camera video shows the cruiser making a U-turn, then proceeding down the street, running a stop sign at the next intersection. It also tragically shows the police vehicle hitting a motorcycle driven by 74-year-old Lewis Oliver. Officer Dunn was placed on administrative leave, but ultimately no disciplinary action was taken against him.
This is absolutely inexcusable behavior. Too many police departments foster a “sheep herder’ mentality rather than a “public servant” mentality, while creating an atmosphere of arrogant entitlement on the force. There is absolutely no room for that attitude in uniform, and the officials incapable of understanding that need to be removed from office. The authority granted an on-duty police officer should only be given to an individual who has earned the respect required to weld such power through professionalism and dedication to the serving and protecting the public. Police officials who don’t steadfastly demand that of their officers have to go.
In October 2009, the Austin Police Department recommended to the City Council an ordinance forbidding electronic messaging while operating a motor vehicle. They obviously understood the danger of such recklessness. The law makes an understandable exception for emergency vehicle operators. But this, and other exceptions to the law, are never to be accepted as “perks.” These should be understood as exceptions required for well-trained professionals to perform their duties. One would have hoped APD Chief Art Acevedo understood that when he stated that his officers are “discouraged by policy, but not prohibited, from not using their on-board computers while driving.”
Officer Dunn’s dash cam would seem to indicate otherwise, and the Police Department’s failure to hold him accountable for his inexcusable negligence smells of an above-the-law, boys-club attitude devoid of any pretense of professionalism.
Two biker forums I belong to warn member motorcyclists to stay out of Austin. If this anger continues to fester on these sites, then calls for full-out boycotts may well demonstrate to Austin city officials a point I’ve made before. The economic power of baby boomer bikers is not to be taken lightly. Council members and the police chief may also get a lesson in biker demographics at the next election. If I were running against them, I’d certainly keep a copy of this video handy.

— Guy Wheatley

Jun 17
MotoCzysz E1 PC

This year’s Isle of Man Zero Emission race winner. MotoCzysz’s E1 PC
electric motorcycle.

The annual Isle of Man TT races can certainly be described as electric. Manufacturers and riders view the 37.7 miles of narrow twisting road as a proving ground for engineering and skill.
More than 200 riders and several spectators have lost their lives to this chase to push the performance envelope.
But there is now another electric element to the races. Starting last year, the event introduced a zero-emissions race. At the moment, zero emissions means electric.
Last year’s winner was the British-Indian team Agni, with an average speed of 84 mph and a top speed of 102 mph. With conventional bikes, an average of 100 mph is considered the benchmark of indisputable proficiency. The fastet lap ever recorded by any bike was set this year by John McGuinness at 131.578 mph.
This year an American team brought to the fray a unique machine built from the ground up. MotoCzysz’ (pronunced Moto-sizz) bike sported proprietary batteries, hand-built by a company that also supplies NASA, and an oil-cooled electric engine. The bike won the zero-emissions race with a lap speed of 96.820 mph and a top speed of 135 mph.
We could well see the zero-emissions race turn in times that rival standard races within a few years. And like all such races, this is a proving ground for the technologies and designs that will eventually make their way to the average consumer.
MotoCzysz holds several patents on this advanced electrical technology, and rumor has it the company is in talks with manufacturers, including Indian automobile giant Bajal.
Truly, the electric motorcycles at the TT races are giving us performances that can be described as, well, electric.

— Guy Wheatley

Jun 13

My last blog was about other drivers not seeing bikers. While that is definitely an issue, there is also something to be said about what we, the bikers, don’t see. Most people are surprised at what they don’t see. Our visual field is not created or maintained in our eyeballs. It’s actually in our brains. Our eyes are the major contributing organ to the information in the visual field, but they are not the only source, and they don’t record images unfailingly like a camera. A lot of image processing is done at the retina.
One would intuitively suppose that if there were a blind spot on the back of your eye, you would see a blank spot when you looked out at the world. In truth there is a blind spot where the optic nerve attaches. Yet we are unaware of the blank spot in our visual field unless we make a specific effort to recognize it. For a quick test, find a spot on the wall. Close one eye and focus on the spot with the open eye. Now hold your extended arm with thumb up and covering the spot you selected. Now, keeping your eye fixed on the spot on the wall, slowly move your arm to the side at the same level. Somewhere around 20° you’ll notice that you can no longer see your thumb. You’re not overtly aware of the blind spot in your field of view, but you won’t see anything that’s in it.
A lot of what we “see” is built upon our experience and expectation. Most people have had the experience of looking at something, but being unable to figure out what it is. Suddenly you recognize it and it becomes clear. I’ve had this happen to me while deer hunting. A place I’ve been watching will catch my attention. I’ll stare, but not see anything for a minute. Then the deer moves and suddenly I see it plainly. Even after it stops moving I can still see it, because I know it’s there. My eyes are not collecting any additional information. Everything I’m seeing now was there a second ago, but now that I know what I’m looking at I can see it.
One way this plays into operation of a motorcycle is in the head check. All good riders know that mirrors can’t tell you yes, only no. Before you change lanes you must do a head check, or turn your head and look to see that the lane is clear. Unfortunately human physiology often shows us what we expect, so if we’re looking to see an empty lane that may be exactly what we see whether it’s really empty or not. It may sound like semantics, but it’s a good habit to start looking to see where the car is. It’s the same physical movement, but a different mindset that may well have a different result.
Also move your eyes around as you look. Remember the disappearing thumb? As you look back over your right shoulder that thing in the middle of your face that the sunglasses sit on is probably blocking your left eye. That means you’re only looking with your right eye. A car coming up fast from 30 or 40 yards back doesn’t take up much more room on your retina than your thumb did at arm’s length. If it happens to be about 20° off the vertical on the horizontal plane in your visual field, you’re going to see exactly what you saw with the thumb experiment. The cage operator will be telling the police. “He just pulled right in front of me like he didn’t even see me.” And your biking friends will probably be sitting around convinced that a careless cager just wasn’t paying attention and ran over you.

— Guy Wheatley

Jun 10
The SMIDSY
icon1 Guy | icon2 News | icon4 06 10th, 2010| icon3No Comments »

I ran across the phrase SMIDSY recently in reference to motorcycle safety. The site said it was the most common type of motorcycle accident. I’d never heard of it so I checked out the website. In the UK, it’s an acronym for, “Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You.” I suppose an Americanized version might start, “Sorry Man.”
But whatever you call it, the fact remains that the most common cause of motorcycle accidents is the operator of a larger vehicle not seeing a motorcycle. Many bikers take the attitude that the blasted cagers need to be more careful and pay more attention. They vilify the motorists and place most of the blame on them. But most of these people are good people with no evil intentions toward bikers. The sad, SMIDSY effect is a result of human physiology and physics.
This was the subject of a pilot episode on British television about motorcycle safety. Advanced instructor Duncan Mackillop takes us through the physics involved and points out that it is ultimately the rider of the motorcycle’s responsibility to be seen. He introduces what he calls the SIAM, or Smidsy Identification and Avoidance Maneuver.
He offers an idea I haven’t heard before. He suggests weaving back and forth as you approach a car at an intersection to make your self move across the other driver’s background.
Until law enforcement departments become familiar with and accept this concept, it may result in a ticket. A police officer, seeing a biker begin to weave back and forth as he approaches an intersection, may instinctively react negatively. But to prevent the death toll from mounting, both bikers and police officers will need to leave convention behind and embrace new techniques to prevent tragedy.

— Guy Wheatley

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