The Truth About Cars » motorcycles The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 11:23:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » motorcycles Tales of Vehicular Mayhem – The Land Cruiser Tue, 26 Nov 2013 06:06:03 +0000 Ah. Muffy's perfect SUV

Ah. Muffy’s perfect SUV

Toyota is one of the largest manufacturers of cars in the world. It’s not a surprise, especially if you have travelled out of the US. They are everywhere. I have only owned three Toyotas; a coma-inducing silver Camry DX, and two MKII Supras.

Despite my lack of ownership, I have spent a sizeable portion of my career abusing Toyotas. Maybe it is latent Nissan loyalty surfacing as abuse, Dad was a Datsun salesman before I was born and continued in one form or another until I graduated from High School. To Toyota’s credit, they have taken it all without complaint.

A notable case was an innocent preppy green and gold Land Cruiser. An aircraft electrical malfunction resulted in an unscheduled stop in Boise Idaho and gave us a week to kill. A ladies NCAA tourney had snatched up all the econoboxes, so the unsuspecting agency offered up the keys to a new 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser. I grabbed them, signed the contract and was out of there faster than a Taylor Swift romance.

Opposite the runway of Boise Airport is McGowan Field, a multi-branch National Guard Center. Just across the road from McGowan Field, was a tank driving course.


My crew mate Randy and I established a goal of coating the roof of the Landcruiser with mud. While that seems simple, the rooster tails required for this take a lot of effort to generate, and it has to be done sideways. Luckily it had recently rained and the black soil responded well to throttle.

For the next hour the Landcruiser tolerated powerslides, Rockfords, doughnuts and even a little air time. We only got stuck once…ok, three times but managed to free the barge with minimum fuss. Inside, my partner in crime and I laughed manically in complete luxury. The heated leather seats were wide and comfortable, but offered no lateral support. The stereo was excellent, and it was eerily quiet, save for our cackling. After a time, our sides hurt from laughing and the course offered no further challenges. We opened the windows and sat on the door sills to see if we met our goal. The roof was covered, mission accomplished.

We plodded the now soil-colored SUV from the proving grounds and onto West McGowen Rd. As we proceeded back to the base entrance, two Chevy Luminas in USAF Security Forces livery emerged from the base, lights flashing and in a hurry. They passed us, nosedived and executed a “you are soooo busted” 180 in unison. We pulled over.

As the Technical Sergeant approached, I could actually hear his Lieutenant screaming over the radio on his belt. It seemed the “El Tee” wanted us to be locked in a room, so he could throw away the room. The Tech Sergeant was much more accommodating and clearly impressed with the level of filth we had caked onto the mall-rated SUV.

“Where were you coming from sir?” As if he didn’t know, he had been dispatched because of us.

I pointed to the field.

“You can’t drive there, that’s government property. That’s trespassing.” I mentioned there were no signs, warnings or fences of any nature to indicate such restrictions, and that I was in fact, a government employee.

“Why were you out there doing that?” He inquired.

“It’s a rental.” I replied. He smiled.

That answer with a genuine lack of attitude seemed to satisfy him. Over the radio he assured his LT that we had been dealt with in a most stern manner. The paperwork reflected that he had, but it was an administrative slap on the wrist. He also pointed to a ridgeline in the distance and said if I really wanted to go off-roading, that’s where the real trails were. As he handed me the ticket, he was grinning. He added a “Now drive carefully sir.”

The owner of that car wash should have put his child through a semester of DeVry with the quarters I spent cleaning the Land Cruiser. Save for the windows that required some additional attention (we had put them down while covered in grime), it was all done via hose to avoid scratching the finish with the brush. It took twice as long take it off as it had to put it there, but the SUV was returned in pristine condition.

Which is better than the Chrysler Intrepid in Atlanta a few years later…but that is another story.

W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. That Philosophy degree of his landed him on the infamous AWACS, the Frisbee of freedom. As a result he has driven a lot of  rented cars, if you bought this one, rest assured the abuse was nothing beyond the mechanical limits of the vehicle.

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Tales of Vehicular Mayhem – The Ninja Sun, 24 Nov 2013 14:00:56 +0000 lifted from and their 250 Ninja picture forum

lifted from and their 250 Ninja picture thread

The old saying goes; to be older and wiser, you must first be young and stupid. This is the story of my life. I’m older, but still waiting to be wiser.

While everyone has a story of the dumbest thing they have done, I have a book. Hopefully the point of this and other tales I share here, will not only be to entertain, but on a certain level, make you feel better about stupid things you have done.

This is a tale of 20 year-old W. Christian Ward stationed at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi two weeks after basic training. Behavior during technical training is slightly less regimented. Freedoms were granted in a phased system. Characteristically, I broke all of them. Travel was limited to a radius of 30 miles, so naturally the first weekend I was allowed off base, I went to Atlanta to get my 250 Ninja.

A challenge of my youth is a lack of foresight. I knew was it was spring, I was near a beach and I wanted my motorcycle. Saturday I hopped a plane, Sunday I packed some civilian clothes, strapped the bags to the bike and left early in the afternoon. I had afforded eight hours for the 400 mile ride over mostly interstate, curfew was 10 PM.

I should have checked the weather, especially springtime in the south.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Hide from the hurricane? Sure. Tornadoes..meh

10 miles outside of Atlanta, the rain started. I thought it would stop, but I had painted myself into a corner; a dark, stormy, tornado-spawning corner. I knew I was in real trouble when the semi-trucks started pulling over. I distinctly remember the sight of my front tire in 6 inches of water while I limped along in 1st gear. Within the hour I was soaked to my undies. On an overpass outside of Montgomery, a gust of wind moved my bike from the right lane to the left. Around 5:30, my water resistant Timex stopped working.

Side-bar, a 1989 Ninja 250R holds about 4.5 gallons and has a range of around 220 miles without 20 mph head wind. This trip should take at most, two gas stops. With that information, imagine being surrounded by the sound of pouring water, moisture all around you. Add a constant buzzing between your legs and being bumped on a tiny bike with overloaded suspension. Not enough yet? It was cold. Yeah, I made a lot of stops.

Around 7:30, it let up. I’m guessing about the time, my watch was still kaput. I leaned into the throttle to cover some distance. When I hit the outskirts of Mobile it finally stopped raining. West of the city, my watch recovered, it was 9:05. I had to be in Biloxi by 10:00 or my shenanigans would come to light, and my fledgling military career would be kneecapped before it started. It was just over 60 miles.

I-10 on the gulf  is characterized by tall bridges to accommodate shipping. The top expanses are metal one-inch squares of re-enforced jagged grate. They offer no traction and they were still wet. This would have been wonderful information to have before I passed that Greyhound bus close to the state line. Approaching the peak of the bridge, I was on the bike hard. The rear tire hit the grate under load and immediately stepped out. I over-corrected and entered a “tank slapper.”

I would love to tell you my skill, ability and cat-like reflexes saved me, but that would make me a liar.

No, I stared straight into the abyss and the Grim Reaper had pity; I was simply too stupid to perish right then.

I stopped at the Mississippi Welcome Center until the urge to vomit subsided.

The Ninja parked in front of my squadron at 10:05. I tried to get off the bike, but couldn’t walk. I had been shivering for hours and my legs had cramped on the tank. I hobbled across the courtyard to the Charge of Quarters, signed in and begged her not to report me. Perhaps it was my plea, my bloodshot eyes, or the puddle forming under me (after the bridge, probably mostly rainwater); but she permitted me to slip in unreported.

Those grates are now filled with asphalt, but I avoid them like the plague. I now dress properly for a ride, and have a gear fetish. Eventually I would learn to pad my travel times and check the weather. I am a dedicated rider and don’t mind getting wet, but my equipment is better.

I also know when to drive.

Oh yeah, I had a car, but chose my bike. I got the car later…but that is another story.

W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, five motorcycles and still rides every chance he gets.

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Editorial: The Mob Mentality, The Unwise Brag, The Witch Hunt Sat, 05 Oct 2013 15:02:30 +0000 wez mm2

By now everyone with an interest in any kind of motorsports has had a chance to view the terrifying video of an innocent New York City family surrounded and then attacked by a gang of motorcycle riding thugs. Every one of us has placed ourselves behind the wheel of that Range Rover, our wife beside us, our infant daughter in the back seat and thought about what we would have done had we been the head of that family under siege. What happened there is an unconscionable act of mob violence. It was precipitated by the stupid actions of a single motorcyclist and made worse by the general attitude among riders that it is “them or us” out there.

I have always thought that motorcycling is an individual endeavor. I grew up in the country and I didn’t know anyone who rode when I purchased my first street bike. I learned about the sport through the magazines and by actually going out and riding. It never occurred for me to seek out other riders and so I had almost a decade of real, on-the-road riding experience when I first logged onto AOL back in the mid 90s and found their motorcycle chat room. It was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience and it was the first time I ever spoke to other riders about things like gear, safety and how to avoid accidents. Thanks to my hard-won experience, I had a lot to share but I learned a lot too. As time passed and the internet expanded, I found Usenet and Yahoo groups and eventually forums like

By 2006, I was a regular contributor to and moderator of the New Riders’ Forum on the website (SBN). In the interest of full disclosure allow me to say that although my actual participation in discussions on the site has waned over the past few years, I still have close friends among the moderators there and that SBN, like TTAC, is a Verticalscope owned website. Unlike TTAC, which is an article based news and discussion website with a staff of editors, writers and automotive reviewers, the primary focus of SBN has always been its message boards. It is a lively place and SBN’s members come from all walks of life. Despite our differing socio economic status, levels of education, professions and politics, one thing united us: a love of motorcycles. It was then, and still is, a great place to talk about bikes.

Although the forum I was charged with managing was not one of the most active on SBN, it was the first stop for many people serious about getting into the hobby. We always encouraged new guys and gals to start small, use all the gear all the time and gradually build up their level of experience before jumping to higher powered bikes. Sometimes people were unhappy with our staid, conservative approach and we were taken to task by those who had started big and been just fine because they “respected their bike.” In the end I would like to think that those people who followed our advice had a better sense of the fundamentals than those who ignored us and that perhaps we saved a few lives.

The other thing we always told the new folks was “Ride like you are invisible and remember that everyone in a cage is trying to kill you.” We repeated the phrase so often it became a sort of mantra. It’s a useful metaphor because it helps grab a new rider’s attention and lets them know what is really at stake when they are out in traffic. But sometimes, I wonder if our efforts weren’t too successful because it seems to me that many riders have the attitude that they are constantly under attack. Because of that, they tend to respond violently to any perceived threat.

The internet is an odd place. Protected by the anonymity of their username and from the comfort of their own homes, where they sit in warmth and light with full bellies, tablet computer in-hand, in front of the TV with their wife beside them and their pets or children frolicking at their feet, people say the damnedest things. It’s even worse when they are among their internet friends, in their own familiar forums where they imagine that they are sitting in the smoking room of some old-fashioned men’s club, cigar in one hand whiskey in the other, surrounded by wood paneling and with the trophies of some long ago African safari mounted upon the walls they let their words flow too freely. People forget that a forum is actually a “public space” and that their most obtuse comments can be intercepted, stripped of their context, copied and rebroadcast to people outside of the club. When those words land, sans their humor, tone and context there can be hell to pay. So it was when a man named John Parks posting as a user named “technoweenie” on his own familiar forum,, announced to the whole world that he purposely caused motorcyclists to wreck.

The message, which was part of a conversation about a you-tube video of a motorcyclist known as the Ghost Rider who stunted around Europe, read: “…Changing lanes is not illegal. I do the same thing to cars all the time when they are being dumb and try to pass me at 20 over. If they hit me, guess what, their fault. And yes, some people on bikes deserve to die. I’ve witnessed several bike accidents ’cause the driver is just plain dumb.”

Later he followed that up with: “I have done many stupid things. Speeding at 90 mph kills, end of story. Last I heard, your license is gone if you’re going 90mph, so it’s not just speeding. That is reckless, and I can’t remember the last time I did something reckless and put people’s lives (or my own) in danger. ”

The first few messages were quickly picked up by other members of who also happened to be motorcyclists and those people ended up linking to them on several biker forums. The message hit SBN on Feb 23, 2006 at 9:26 PM. By 11:02 SBN members had identified and posted the man’s email address. By 11:24 they had the VIN number to the car in question and the man’s Ham radio license number. By 11:41, they had identified the name and address of the company the man owned, an operation called “Pursuit Technologies” that sold light bars and other technology for police cars and then figured out that the car in question was actually a demo unit for the company and that it was outfitted with lights and other police gear which made it appear, despite the lack of official markings, to be an official police car.

At the behest of SBN members who lived in the region, the local news got involved and reporters showed up at Mr. Parks’ home with cameras in tow. They produced a story about the man with the “fake police car” and when they challenged him about the comments, he actually admitted he had written them. The police became involved and launched an investigation. One of SBN’s members created a special website, to track the progress of the investigation and on and on it went. In the end, the police investigation came up empty-handed and no one was ever able to attribute a single hit and run accident to Mr. Parks or his police lookalike Crown Victoria. A year later, was taken quietly down and the whole incident faded away with a wimper.

So, what is the moral of this story? That people in groups, acting in the heat of the moment can do stupid things. Although no one in the SBN episode was physically injured or attacked, John Parks suffered for his thoughtlessness. He had his name – which I used here because it remains part of the public record of the incident – blasted all over the internet, his face splashed on the TV and the specifics of his job, hobbies and life made public. I am sure that, to this day, wherever he lives, John Parks lives in fear of the retribution of a sportbike community he did not actually harm. His mistake was being insensitive and he made his situation worse by shooting off his mouth in an internet forum where he felt too comfortable for his own good.

The world has moved on and the videos of John Parks’ interviews have fallen off the far side of the internet after going un-clicked upon for years. The original thread on that started all the trouble has now vanished and only SBN’s thread, complete with its snippets of the offending original posts still exists. It sits today, 82 pages long, as a testament to one man’s thoughtless braggadocio and as an example of how a group of people with righteous intent was able to stir up a real-life hornets’ nest over something that, in the end, amounted to nothing. John Parks was stupid but we were over-reactive. It ended up as a witch hunt and, looking back on it now, I can see that no one comes out of it looking any better than anyone else. There is a lesson there, I think, for all of us.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Flirtin’ With Disaster – Motorcyclists’ Thoughts On Defensive Driving Fri, 29 Mar 2013 14:59:21 +0000

It can be murder out there!

I am always hesitant to write a “how to” article. I learned a long time ago that no matter how good I am at something, there is always someone better right around the corner. For every bad-ass black belt you meet, there is a Chuck Norris looking to teach him some humility. Still, when I know something it’s hard to keep it under my hat so I am going to risk drawing your ire in order to start a conversation. Let’s keep it congenial, mkay?

My first motorcycle experiences were not good. The first time I threw a leg over a bike I ended up riding it into side of my uncle’s house. Another time I dumped a Honda three-wheeler into an irrigation ditch and smashed my head on a rock so the fact that I turned out to be a rather proficient motorcyclist in my later years is something many people still regard with amazement. How proficient? In 20+ years of riding, 9 of those in Japan where I was on two wheels almost every day, I never had an accident that did much more than scuff my bike or an injury that required as much as a band aid to treat. Still, I had my share of close calls and the experience taught me a lot about road safety and made me a better driver.

Driving a car and riding a motorcycle are skills that are only loosely related. I know I just burst some people’s bubbles with that statement, but the truth is I may have just saved your life. I don’t care how many fast cars you have driven, you cannot step out of your car and leap onto the back of a 150HP superbike with no practice or training and expect to be fully successful. Still, some of the skills you learn on a bike, especially when they involve defensive driving, situational awareness and things like avoidance and evasion can greatly enhance your ability behind the wheel.

The first thing we teach new riders is to act like they are invisible, because to a lot of drivers that’s exactly what they are. Being invisible leads to a lot of bad things. Cars frequently cut across your path, pull out in front of you and even merge into your lane while you are riding along side of them. The trick to staying alive is to know that driver’s often don’t see you and that you need to be ready to react in a split second.

Sometimes that reaction needs to involve escape routes. Bikes are small and they can go a lot of places people might not think about. They can run in the gutter between a curb and the lane of travel with surprising ease, they can dive between cars – in fact the space between cars can be surprisingly roomy – and they can even split the space between their lane and oncoming cars if they have to. Cars can do this too. Look at any third world street and you will see five lanes of traffic where there are markings for just three. I’m not saying you should drive in these places every day, but you should be looking for them and thinking about how you might want to use them should that semi-truck you are running next to want your space.

That’s another thing, don’t get obsessed with your legal “right” to be somewhere. The law says a motorcycle is entitled to its place on the road as same as a car, right? If you decide to take your CBR up against grandpa’s Buick you are going to lose. If someone else wants your spot, move out of the way and let them in. There’s no point in getting pissy about it, just do it and move on with your life.

Because I love a good discussion and because I have discovered that there is a real art to brevity, I’m not going to spill all my secrets here. I want to ask you, the Best and Brightest to spill YOUR secrets. What do you know about driving and/or riding that can help save some pain, frustration and maybe even lives?

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Generation Why: Two Wheeled Inspiration Fri, 16 Nov 2012 14:00:40 +0000

Confession time: the motorized vehicle photograph that adorned my high school locker didn’t have four wheels. It had two. I have always had an interest in bikes, one which has slowly grown from drooling over the 2002 Yamaha R6 (which stayed in my locker through all four years of high school) to buying motorcycle magazines to spending more time reading about bikes than cars. But I’ve yet to buy one for the same reason that kept me from buying a car for so long; insurance.

By the time I was 16, I had enough money saved up to buy a car. Except my insurance would have been around $3500 per year for the clapped out Nissan 240SX I had my eye on. This kind of usurious gouging is an accepted part of life in Ontario, where one speeding ticket or accident can make driving literally unaffordable for young people. I am lucky that Miatas are so unpopular with theives and boy-racers, as my insurance, which started out at $2200 per year, is now a more manageable $1644 per year. Did I mention I have never been convicted of any moving violations and have never had an accident? Meanwhile, my friend in Miami pays $75 a month for both his Corvette Z06 and his F-250.

No surprise then that a bike is pretty much a non-starter for me. I could buy myself a pretty nice bike right now, but insurance would likely run many multiples of what I’m paying now for coverage on my car – a figure that, quite honestly, stretches my modest monthly budget, once rent, groceries and my recreational expenses are taken into account. Ok, I could insure an older GS500 or Ninja 250 but I’m not too keen buying such an old bike and dealing with finnicky carbs and frankly, I find most starter bikes to be pretty ugly.

I know, I know, it’s my first bike, not my last, and it’s a tool to learn proper riding technique on rather than a fashion statement. But a few grand is not an inconsequential sum to me, and if I’m going to spend that much on a bike, I want it to tick all the boxes. Frankly, I’m too cautious to hop right on a 600cc supersport, but the next step up from a starter bike, like an SV650, is above 600cc and is therefore in the next insurance class. What to do then?

The answer is wait; I’ll be 25 next year, and privy to a big break on my insurance premiums, but I’m also waiting for the new Honda CBR500. Yes, there’s a CBR250, but it it’s lacking in both looks and performance, despite rave reviews. The CBR500, on the other hand, not only looks the business, but packs a perfectly adequate 47 horsepower from a 470-cc fuel-injected twin. ABS is also available, and the same motor can be spec’d in a standard or adventure bike as well.

It’s been a while since the motorcycle industry has offered anything intermediate for novice riders. Many were content to go down the path of squidom, hoping on whatever sportbike was on sale, with little regard for life or limb. Anyone concerned about taking the proper steps to proficiently ride a motorcycle had to go use or exercise enormous self-control with a bike that may have been too much for them. But the lack of new riders, shut out by inappropriate motorcycle choices, exorbitant insurance premiums and a rapidly aging customer base means that motorcycle companies desperately need to attract young riders, and the new crop of 250-500 cc bikes are just the ticket.

Nearly half a century ago, a small Japanese company told Americas that “you meet the nicest people on a Honda“. Now they’re trying to re-create that magic, cognizant of the fact that if it can’t play the part of a big boy bike, it better look the part. Kudos to Honda for paying attention to such an ignored demographic.

Now go do this with cars and you’ll be as unstoppable as you were not so long ago.

 Disclaimer: I am not facile-minded enough to suggest that there is a direct analogy between Honda’s car and bikes, but here’s an example of how an accessible, entry-level product can be made to look appealing, attractive and even a bit aspirational. 


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Hooptie Harley Adventures: Hell Project Shovelhead Hauls LeMons Judge To Road America In Style Tue, 28 Aug 2012 14:30:29 +0000 When we speak of hoopties, we generally mean the four-wheeled variety. However, persuading a nowhere-near-complete Malaise Era Project Hell Bike to transport you to a race track 350 miles distant should, in my opinion, stretch the definition to include two-wheelers as well. My cousin Sam, aka Judge Sam of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, decided that he needed to hit the fast-forward button on his ’74 Shovelhead project in order to get from his home in Minnesota to the Chubba Cheddar Enduro in proper fashion. The bike wasn’t quite ready and the journey was an extremely arduous one, but it was worth it.
A little background is in order here. Sam was born about the time my parents decided to ditch Minnesota for California, and so I missed out on the biker culture of my relatives who stayed behind. Sam’s father/my uncle was the legendary Dirty Duck, shown here in his early 20s with the ’57 Plymouth Savoy that he used for the very lucrative Mexico-to-Los-Angeles reefer-smuggling trade in the early 1960s. The Duck taught me much of what I know about wrenching on cars, but I never did pick up any interest in motorcycles.

Dirty Duck died in 1989, but I was able to capture one his his thousands of biker tales on tape. Here’s The Legend of Hoot’s Panhead, circa 1967.
Sam, meanwhile, stayed true to old-time biker traditions, but a lengthy stint working as a roughneck in the Wyoming gas fields led to him forsaking two-cylinder Milwaukee machines for various cars and trucks. Finally, back in Minnesota, he picked up this very rough Shovelhead, built during the AMF era.
These days, many of the grizzled outlaw bikers who came up in the 1960s and 1970s have switched to German and British machines, because Harleys have become toys ridden by office-cubicle types who feel like they’re experiencing “freedom” when they trade the Dockers for leathers and go for weekend rides with “Born To Be Wild” on an endless loop in their heads. The younger guys with self-applied tatts who rebuild motorcycle engines on the kitchen counter and think nothing of riding a 50-buck bike across the country tend to pick beater Japanese bikes, because they’re cheap and reliable. There’s not much place for a beater Harley that’s used for everyday transportation these days, but that’s what Sam had in mind for his Shovelhead project.
So, he’d been pecking away at the project for a few years, but decided a couple of months back that he would ride the thing from Savage to Elkhart Lake when it came time for him to judge the Chubba Cheddar Enduro, whatever it took. It has a lot of nice custom touches, influenced by his irony-laden Generation X background. For example, this railroad-style lantern has a light-up skull inside and serves as a taillight. No prairie-dogging cubicle slave ever took a break from his PowerPoint slideshow and imagined putting this sort of thing on his $30,000 bike.
The diamond-plate seat looks uncomfortable, but works fine for the first hundred miles or so. Then it’s very uncomfortable.
With time running out, a lot of the linkages ended up being rigged up with hose clamps, zip-ties, and worse. Sam had to be at the track by Sunday night, and left Savage Saturday afternoon. Things started going wrong right away; the bike developed an intermittent power-loss problem that no amount of carburetor and timing tinkering could fix. Every few miles, something would rattle loose.
Sam feels that motorcycle saddlebags are a sign of irreversible moral decay, which means all his tools had to share space with his other supplies in this bungee’d-down milk crate. It took him about six hours to traverse the first 50 miles. When darkness fell, he would park beneath a lone streetlight in tiny Wisconsin towns in order to spin some wrenches, which meant that he kept getting sweated by citizens unhappy with the appearance of what appeared to be the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse.
This nightmare journey continued through the night, with the Shovelhead continuing to sputter, crap out, and shed parts at regular intervals. Naturally, Sam had no GPS, no smartphone, and no light with which to read his paper map, so he ended up lost in a maze of tiny rural roads in western Wisconsin.
Some of the problems seemed to be electrical in nature, but Sam finally figured out that the carb’s super-rich condition was being caused by his knee blocking the air-cleaner-less carburetor’s intake. Once he adjusted his riding position to put some space between his leg and the carb, the bike ran somewhat better.
Even with all the problems, he kept inching southeast. After spending hours trying to find a cup of coffee in Eau Claire, he rolled into Elkhart Lake at 4:00 AM Monday… about five hours prior to the green flag at the race.
When he wasn’t disciplining miscreant drivers over the course of the weekend, Sam worked at fixing the fritzy wiring harness. Here we see him finding the source of his ignition-system problems.
Eventually, he tore out most of the wiring and started over. LeMons racers were very helpful, loaning tools and expertise, and the racers who knew Harleys— that is, the ones who rode relatively modern bikes— just shook their heads in awe at Sam’s accomplishment on a funky AMF-era Shovelhead.
Back in Savage, the surviving greybeards of Dirty Duck’s generation approve of Sam’s customizing touches, as do the 20-year-old rat-rod types with their primer-black Kawasakis.
When the race was almost finished and I got into the usual huddle with Chief Perp Jay Lamm to decide which team got what trophy, we had a helluva time figuring out who most deserved the Most Heroic Fix award. There were the usual engine swaps and suspension repairs, but nothing that really knocked us out. Then we took a look at Sam’s Shovelhead and decided to give him the Most Heroic Fix.

After the awards ceremony, of course, Sam had to get ready to ride back to Minnesota. The primary drive belt had a pretty bad nick and was making an ominous noise, but nothing could be done about that. He buttoned up the rejuvenated wiring harness and did what adjustments he could.
His new trophy got bungee’d onto the handlebars.
Wednesday morning and time to head west. The trip home was far easier, with most of the bugs having been worked out on the ride out and during further tinkering at the track. Sam made it home in about seven hours, and now he feels confident that the Shovelhead can take him anywhere. Say, for example, to a California LeMons race!

20 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1974 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead - picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 17
Clemens Gleich Explains How Press Trips Work Mon, 11 Jun 2012 13:50:12 +0000

It's a tough job. Our author, working his tail off evaluating product on a press junket to South Africa

If you’ve ever had a friend or relative who was both eager and nervous to show off a painting, piece of music or other creative work (“Tell me what you really think. Don’t sugarcoat it.” Who hasn’t heard that one before), then you’ll understand how PR people must feel when they’re tasked with introducing a new vehicle.

While your budding-actor-buddy may cajole you into attending his experimental theater show, PR types do things a bit differently; they just have to book a hotel and then invite every single person with an online presence. Journalist from a major outlet? Welcome, sir! Amateur sex blogger? Here’s your plane ticket! Cram them all in! If they can operate a keyboard to amuse an audience, they can come along. It’s gotten to the point where some press trips have you arrive in the morning, with four hours set to drive and take photographs, and then it’s already back to the airport for you. This way, the host also saves on bar bills.

Contrary to popular belief, there also is no advance briefing for newbies to only write good things. The reason is very simple; You don’t need it. Here’s an example. I love motorcycle riding. So when there was an uninterrupted layer of snow on my street (to the point where I was able to get my snowboard out and turn it into an impromptu downhill run) I really began suffering from an extreme form of PMS (parked motorcycle syndrome). I had the bluest balls a bike rider can have. The bike in question (a 600 Kawasaki Ninja with a delightful Lucy Liu squint) couldn’t even be considered just “parked” any more. It was buried. As I wallowed in my misery by watching fresh snow fall from my balcony, I received a message from Berlin; “Want to go ride a BMW in South Africa? Gimme a call at the office. Pronto.”

I obeyed. I went to South Africa. I rode. On my return, a friend at Honda was very interested. “How was the new BMW?” he asked. I looked at him for moment and answered: “It’s February. My street is full of snow. For all I know, my motorcycle is also full of snow now. I rode the BMW in glorious summer weather in a wonderful country. How do you think it was? It was perfect, of course. The best bike I have ridden in a very long time.”

Seeing the future: In a few days I will be driving this Toyota GT86 around the Nürburgring. It will be great, therefore I will write a slightly overenthusiastic text about a slightly underpowered car.

Manufacturers have nothing to fear. Everyone will love driving around no matter what is on offer. In a few days, Toyota will let me have a go with their GT86 (marketed as a Scion in the States). At the Nurburgring. Guess what; It will be great. And by “it” I mean the experience, which you cannot separate from the surroundings. They could send me around the track in an otherwise stiflingly boring Toyota Borreliosis 1.6 automatic station wagon and I still would have a blast.

The Aprilia RSV4 is the most different superbike experience money can buy. This experience includes an engine that destroys its own piston rods and guzzles its fuel tank bone dry in 75 miles, but I can practically guarantee you will love it if I let you experience an exhaust noise like a thunderstorm on the brilliant Jerez racetrack

All that talk about “ringers”, specially prepared press vehicle with more power, better handling and cushier interiors, isn’t true either. It doesn’t have to be. When Aprilia showed the world the first batch of their superbike RSV4, most of the piston rods broke. Didn’t matter. In Italy, nobody lost a word about it in any publication. It’s simple behavioral science. If you, as a human being, are invited to a gorgeous locale, put up in a nice room, fed wonderful food and wonderful drinks and a chance to run wild with a beautiful machine, you will respond in kind. It’s easy to hold back, partly because cars are at a level now where there nearly aren’t any really bad ones left, but mostly because you can always say to yourself “Well, I only logged four hours in this. Seems hardly fair to hate it already. Especially since they were such a nice bunch of people…”

Yes, we at Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. absolutely adore your work. Here's the Gallardo Superleggera. Here are some Alps along with it. Have a go. And then you will tell me and everyone else about how you have deeply fallen in love. Grazie.

This expands from inviting somebody to just giving somebody something. If I give you a car, you will have some amount of good will towards me, simply because a car represents a significant value: “Not everyone gets a car, you know, and we at Cadillac Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. love your work, man, we really do and we think this CTS-V wagon Superleggera version will ensure you’ll write nice things about other GM products and slag our competitors fits perfectly into your perfect weblog.” What will you write? Something nice, I assure you. I work for both sides. I produce texts for magazines, but I also produce texts or think of activities for manufacturers to use in advertising (these two sides of work are much more similar than you might think). So I can give the advice I got a long time ago: Be nice and give them your products. Don’t tell them what to do, because they will do what you want anyway: They will write about it and they will almost exclusively write nice things. It’s free PR.

Free PR also means that even TTAC gets a press car. “Yes, Mr. Baruth, whatcha say about having a go at the Nürburgring? You are the best for this, I just love your fashion sense. I’ve even ordered my own golden jacket.” The reason not everyone sees it like this is insecurity or pride or a number of other human emotions that get in the way of efficient conduct in press and PR. Ferrari is notorious for being mortally offended by anything less than extreme superlatives. In Germany, Porsche is so loved (and worshipped even) that they are truly astonished if someone doesn’t write that their car is “perfect”. Volkswagen PR is a crass control freak. There is a guy at Daimler who seems to dislike some publications for reasons only he knows. I could extend the list all the way to the bottom of your scrollbar. There is an element of deterrence in this, of course. One of the biggest fears for a motoring publication is not (or no longer) being invited to press events. Because of that, they print extremely boring stuff of such low originality that a machine could do the same and pass the Turing test. This is still free PR, but it’s no longer very remarkable or very viral, which is bad. The PR people in these examples could do much better for their company by remembering what they learned in school: There still is no such thing as bad publicity.

Let’s take BMW again. The Bavarians are a confident people and the company reflects this. I once did a whole article about the best-selling bike in Europe (BMW R 1200 GS) just to get under their skin. It is a good bike, but I just don’t like it, which is a pointlessly evil reason to write, albeit a very fun one. I compared a new GS to my old Aprilia RSV Mille, a repeatedly crashed Frankenstein monster of a track whore, and the Bimmer lost — badly. The readers loved it (or wrote bitter letters). BMW didn’t even comment. The article had no influence on anything. I also recently did an article about why Audis traditionally drive like they have a dung heap on the bonnet. Shortly thereafter, Audi showed me around their R&D facilities for a later article and everything was just König Ludwig. These companies know they have good products and they also seem to know something hard to accept: A scathing review people talk about is much better PR than the standard mediocre fluff the readers’ brains immediately chuck into the sea of forgetfulness. Confidence is the best thing PR can have.

So now you know why there are practically no evil articles written from press trips. But you also know what to do if you create something to sell yourself and need free PR: Give it to as many people you can afford to. And don’t worry. Be confident.

If you want to know how advertising in the motor industry works, write to Clemens. He might get around to explaining it.

Clemens Gleich is an evil communist Nazi goosestepper who writes for money in Germany. You can find his propaganda central at

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Splitsville For AMG And Ducati Fri, 20 Apr 2012 14:42:43 +0000

Once again, the temptation to create some sexually sugesstive headline like many other blogs is great – THIS IS THE AUDI THAT CUCKOLDED AMG’S DUCATI – is one that springs to mind. Instead, we offer you a dour, Germanic explanation of why things went south with Ducati and AMG.

“Since the end of 2010 a successful marketing cooperation has existed between AMG and Ducati. The company takeover by a rival car manufacturer has understandably resulted in the end of any further collaboration. The takeover of Ducati was never our aim – our focus lies clearly in developing and producing premium performance cars and we will be concentrating all our energy on this.”

Far less dramatic and interesting, but surely, it comes from a place of bitterness after Ducati told AMG “it’s not you, it’s me”. Some are suggesting that the Ducati Diavel AMG could be a collectors item, but surely such an ugly bike will never reach those vaunted heights.

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Canada: We Have Morons Too Wed, 18 Apr 2012 19:51:46 +0000

Some of you may be confused as this video seems to depict a warm sunny day, a dearth of moose (mooses? meese?), and the miscreant in question isn’t wreaking havoc with a snowmobile. But trust me, this is Canada, and this is one of our normally polite citizens tearing it up on a blue Yamaha R1 at extra-legal speeds on a crowded highway. He probably drank some bad maple syrup or something.

I know this piece of road well: it’s the 30km stretch between the provincial capital of British Columbia, Victoria, and the main ferry terminal to the mainland. It is, and I don’t think I exaggerate, one of the most highly patrolled pieces of roadway in Canada. The constabulary stack up their cruisers on a mid-point South-bound on-ramp and pick ‘em off like shooting ptarmigan in a barrel. Once I even saw an RCMP officer in a tree (his horse looked a bit uncomfortable).

The footage shown is clearly extremely dangerous behaviour, roughly equivalent to firing a gun over the heads of a crowd of people. All it would take would be one swerve of a mini-van and the results at this speed would be beyond tragic. The best you could hope for would be that you were killed instantly so that you wouldn’t have to live with the burden of having injured or killed somebody.

But I lived in Victoria for the past two years and drove this road quite frequently, and I can’t quite put my hand on my heart and say that I always drove at or below the posted (and very slow-feeling) 80km/h speed-limit. What’s more, Victoria’s mild weather and relaxed lifestyle means that it is both a favourite of retirees and folks so laid-back they’d make Jeff Lebowski look like Donald Trump. That means left-lane camping like you would not believe. A Buick Century and an Astro-Van side-by-side at fifteen under the limit, giving new meaning to the term “drag race”. After fifteen miles of being stuck behind such a clot, I must confess to wishing I was on a litre-bike so that I could slip in between them and make the jump to plaid. Being a good Canadian I, of course, did no such thing.

So while I’m front-line for the public stoning, with a nice pointy rock already picked out, I have to ask myself, would this video have been okay at forty over? Thirty over? Ten over? All would be illegal in the eyes of the law: who am I to cast the first stone?

Oh hang on, I just remembered: he’s ruining it for the rest of us. TAKE THAT YOU HOSER!

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How Honda Survived the Vigor, the Del Sol, and the Lawsuits: Super Cub! Tue, 03 Apr 2012 18:20:53 +0000 For about 15 years, the Civic and the Accord were untouchable in the American marketplace; Honda sold all they could build here plus as many as they could import under the limitations of the Voluntary Export Restraint agreement of 1981. Then… well, Soichiro Honda died and Honda sort of lost its way. Sure, their cars were still good, but the competition had caught up and the Honda magic had worn off for American car buyers. Honda car sales in Japan had never been so great, so what kept Honda going through the lean times? Two-wheelers! I spent two weeks in Vietnam last month and came away with a new appreciation for Honda’s utter dominance of the Asian motorbike market.
Scooters and motorcycles are central to the culture of Vietnam; farmers ride them to their fields, parents use them to drop the kids off at school, furniture stores use them to deliver bedroom sets, and so on. Saigon and Hanoi are boiling maelstroms of bikes everywhere. Want to ride on the wrong side of the street? Go for it! On the sidewalk? Sure! Traffic signals? What traffic signals? Most of the bikes are sub-200cc machines, most are clutchless, and most are Hondas. The Honda Wave is one of the most popular, with the newer Air Blade a big seller as well. Those shiny new bikes were kind of interesting, but nothing approaches the majesty of the most-produced motor vehicle in history: the Honda Super Cub.
If you see a motorcycle piled high with an outlandish quantity of weird stuff in Vietnam, there’s about a 90% chance that it will one of the 60+ million Super Cubs built since 1958.
Hauling 150 kilos of soybeans to your restaurant in Danang? You know what to do!
As James May says in the Top Gear Vietnam Special, after selecting a Super Cub for his Saigon-to-Hanoi steed, this is the machine that put Asia on wheels.
You see a lot of completely beat early Super Cubs in Vietnam, no doubt pieced together from bits of several junked bikes. The Vietnamese I spoke to about the Super Cub were a little puzzled by my interest; to them, the old Super Cub seems to be your entry-level bike, something you sell as soon as you can afford to move up to a Wave or Vespa.
Which isn’t to say that you don’t see early Super Cubs in cherry condition. The owner of this one, parked in front of the Saigon tailor shop where I had some custom shirts made, protects the seat from sun and grime with a plastic stool while parked.
The Super Cub is the real business workhorse of the country. While Toyota Innova minivans are getting more popular for deliveries, the venerable Honda motorbike still rules the narrow streets of Vietnam. Here’s a trailer-equipped Super Cub serving as a beer truck in Hoi An.
It’s good to know that my frosty Biere Larue was brought to this excellent restaurant on a Super Cub. Vietnam is still a regional-beer place, with Danang-brewed Larue the top beer in the central part of the country.
Adding a trailer to your Super Cub makes it tougher to negotiate traffic, but saves time tying stuff down and makes it easier to balance while riding.
It’s easy to find parts for your ailing Super Cub in Saigon and Hanoi; little hole-in-the-wall shops sell every component imaginable. I asked several semi-English-speaking street-corner mechanics (more on them later) about motorbike junkyards, but nobody seemed to understand my question.
You can still buy new Super Cubs, and many do. The Little Cub seems especially popular among young women with office jobs.
The Super Cub was sold in the United States, but the Piper Super Cub airplane meant that Honda had to use a different name on these shores. So, Americans bought Honda Passports.
I’ve never owned a motorcycle in my life, but I’m now shopping for an old Passport. If I find a good one, I’ll head over to eBay and buy some Super Cub badges for it.

41 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 01 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 12 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 14 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 15 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 16 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 17 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 18 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 19 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 20 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 21 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 22 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 23 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 24 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 25 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 26 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 27 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 28 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 29 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 30 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 31 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 32 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 33 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 34 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 35 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 36 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 37 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 38 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 39 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 40 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 42 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 43 - Honda Super Cub in Vietnam - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden ]]> 62
Incredible Transformer Motorcycle Wed, 17 Mar 2010 17:22:40 +0000

Umm, what’s that strange looking motorcycle up ahead?

A transformer obviously. And what does it transform into?

A tow bike!

Although these seem to be most common in China, the Retriever is built by a Swedish company, aptly called “Coming Through“. The benefits in clearing a stalled car in jammed traffic are obvious. But somehow, I doubt we’ll be seeing them in the highly tow-averse US.

(hat tip to Ray Charlton)

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