Monday, April 2, 2012

New 'Motorcyclist Hardiness' map released by U.S. government scientists

My bikes are all in desperate need of basic maintenance; even the bare minimums of chain lube and tire pressures have been ignored too long. My battered Bonneville needs a brake job and oil change at the very least; the Vino needs fresh oil; the Dream needs, well, any attention it can get but when a bike doesn't actually run, it can't complain that it's being ignored.

My excuse is, normally there are a few months over the Kansas City winter in which the only motorcycle activity available to you is maintenance. But this year, like most KC bikers, I rode right through the winter. There were only about ten days when a hardy rider would'a had to car it.

Yesterday, on April 1, it was 90 degrees here. What was that? Mother Nature playing an April Fool joke on climate change deniers?

If you are a gardener, you may be aware that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently updated its plant zone hardiness map for the first time since 1990. The map divides most of the lower 48 states into seven major zones - roughly horizontal bands about two hundred miles wide - that gardeners use to determine which plants can be grown in their region.

The USDA has gone to conspicuous lengths to point out that the changes to the plant zone map are not necessarily indicative of global warming (whether by human or other causes.) They say that global warming statistics are gathered over periods of 50 to 100 years, and that the plant zone map is based on a statistical analysis of the climate over the last 30 years, so it could not - by definition - indicate a global warming trend.

The new map is also much more fine-grained than the last one, making direct comparisons a little trickier. But, the upshot of a comparison between the maps shows that over much of the U.S., all of the old zones have been offset about half-a-zone to the North.

The 1990 plant map, above, is not as fine grained a picture of average low temperatures as the revised map, below, which takes into account more differences in elevation and microclimate effects of lakes, rivers and forestation. And, the USDA - which clearly is not sure whether the next administration will be Democratic or Republican is taking pains to distance itself from the radical Socialist business-killing theory that human activity is causing global climate change. No matter how you color it, though, most of the U.S. is half-a-zone warmer on the new map. Look at it this way: this could just as easily be motorcyclist hardiness map. Riding season's getting longer. Isn't that a good thing?

Why is this relevant to motorcyclists, you wonder? The zones are based on the average low temperature in the region. They are plant hardiness maps, but they could just as easily serve as motorcyclist hardiness maps, too.

A few years back, the L.A. Times' Susan Carpenter put the lie to the idea that motorcycles produced less smog than cars. But, a few motorcycle writers put forth plaintive arguments to the effect that bikes produce few greenhouse gases than cars and as such contribute less to global warming.

The motorcycle industry as a whole hasn't picked up that side of the story. The truth is, you'd have to juggle the numbers to make that case anyway, but the reason the motorcycle industry won't even examine the numbers is that it's mighty conservative. Most of the U.S. industry is based in Orange County, where a Democrat has about as much chance of being elected as Ducati has of winning a dry MotoGP race. Politically, the motorcycle industry won't try to make a global warming case for bikes, because it would follow that global warming is, gasp, real.

Still, I've got to think that if there's any reason for long-term optimism in the motorcycle industry, it's that riding seasons are getting longer and longer. That means more people will be able to justify the purchase of a bike. Let's face it, when you live in the northern tier and you tell yourself, it'll just sit idle in your garage six months a year, it's easy to find something else to spend your money on. And longer riding seasons mean more wear-and-tear will be put on bikes; that's good for the motorcycle industry, too.

Now, if we could only get to $6 gas...

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