Saturday, April 28, 2012

It's not the rain in Spain that will dampen MotoGP

MotoGP returned to its European 'home' this weekend, and Spain was in the news -- but it wasn't good.

This report from Bloomberg summarizes Spain's precarious economy. While Americans are bemoaning the 8% rate of unemployment here, note that Spain's unemployment is about triple ours. And the situation's far worse for young people; less than half the Spaniards under 25 have jobs.

I don't know if Spanish race promoters are as exaggeration-prone as American ones, when it comes to attendance figures. And, even if they admit that Jerez' attendance is way down this year, it might only reflect the rotten weather. But I have to wonder how long it will be, before the dismal performance of the Spanish economy deals a death blow to MotoGP as we know it.

Four of 18 events in the 2012 championship will be held in Spain. Add in one race in Portugal and three in Italy -- two other economies on the brink -- and you've got half the series taking place in the so-called PIGS part of the Eurozone.

It's not as if, just because Spaniards are unemployed, they won't want to attend races. When I first traveled there (can it really have been in the '60s?!?..) Spain was a third world country -- at least it was, if you left Madrid & Barcelona. Many, if not most, homes lacked indoor plumbing or phones. And yet, Spaniards packed huge bullrings hundreds of times a year -- not at high ticket prices, mind you, but they came.

If anything, the desire to attend MotoGP races might increase in times of economic frustration. The threat's not really to live attendance, as much as to the sponsorship that is the real engine of the sport.

Six of 21 MotoGP riders are Spanish. Of the 32 Moto2 riders on the web site, 10 are Spanish. So are 10 Moto3 riders. Right now, the de facto Moto2 development series is a class in the Spanish national championship. A huge chunk of the money that supports those riders and teams comes out of the Spanish economy. A collapse of that sponsorship would, very likely, follow the sort of austerity measures that the EU would impose on Spain if it has to be bailed out, as has happened in Greece.

Forget the rain. Spain's economic problem is the thing that will really put a damper on MotoGP over the next few years.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Will all cars have 'black box' data recorders after 2015? Motorcycles?..

A bill has passed the Senate and is now before Congress, that has conspiracy theorists up in arms.

The bill is S. 1813: MAP-21, an arcane title for a fantastically verbose and multifaceted bill to, "reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes."

What's got some eagle-eyed observers' knickers in a knot is a provision, about a million words into this bill, to equip all new cars with aircraft-style black box event data recorders. I.E., after a crash or other 'event', the data in the black box could be downloaded to determine, presumably, driver liability. The legislation specifically applies to 'passenger motor vehicles' which is a class of vehicle that does not include motorcycles - although it's easy to imagine that once every car has such a black box, motorcycles may not be far behind.

Although the bill makes some provision for the private nature of the information contained in the black box, there's essentially no scenario in which the information would be useful in which it would not be subpoenaed. 

Conspiracy theorists have latched onto this provision as a way for the dad-blamed gummint to tax drivers per mile traveled, or possibly combine the event data with GPS data to compile electronic 'speeding tickets' any time you speed, whether the cops see you or not. And indeed, if the lessons of Google and Facebook have taught us anything in the last few years, it's that data has a way of moving from the private realm into the money-generating realm.

I don't know what pressures are being put on Congress. Clearly whatever companies think they'd have a shot a supplying black boxes will be lobbying for the bill. I am sure car manufacturers don't want to be told they've got to include another piece of expensive standard equipment on every new car, and their arguments that doing so will imperil the U.S. auto industry's post-Bush recovery will probably carry some weight.

On the face of it, I suppose the insurance industry will favor the bill -- the black boxes would, in theory, make it much easier to determine which driver's at fault in a multi-vehicle accident. That seems like something they might want to know, although if you do all the math (which is a little too complex to go into here) the insurance industry doesn't necessarily benefit from being able to impute causation in two-vehicle accidents. (I haven't done the math for multi-vehicle crashes, but I suspect there may not be a benefit there, either.) At the end of the day, the insurance industry will lobby for the bill because it will create a tool they can use to deny coverage for vehicles being used in a manner deemed reckless.

And, call me paranoid, but I'm sure many legislators will realize that knowledge is power, information is valuable, and data is the new currency. They may not know what they'll do with all that data yet, but I'll bet they find the prospect of mining it pretty irresistible. 

Is this the dawn of a new era in which vehicles simply can not speed? Given the whacky performance envelopes of contemporary sport bikes and the fact that motorcyclists are politically disenfranchised, we've probably got more to worry about than car guys at this point -- even though as of right now, that part of the bill doesn't even mention bikes.

For insomniacs, the whole text of the bill can be found here. If you just want to read the provisions for event data recorders, read on...


  1. (a) Mandatory Event Data Recorders-

    • (1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part.
      (2) PENALTY- The violation of any provision under part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations--
      1. (A) shall be deemed to be a violation of section 30112 of title 49, United States Code;
        (B) shall be subject to civil penalties under section 30165(a) of that title; and
        (C) shall not subject a manufacturer (as defined in section 30102(a)(5) of that title) to the requirements under section 30120 of that title.
  1. (b) Limitations on Information Retrieval-
    • (1) OWNERSHIP OF DATA- Any data in an event data recorder required under part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, regardless of when the passenger motor vehicle in which it is installed was manufactured, is the property of the owner, or in the case of a leased vehicle, the lessee of the passenger motor vehicle in which the data recorder is installed.
      (2) PRIVACY- Data recorded or transmitted by such a data recorder may not be retrieved by a person other than the owner or lessee of the motor vehicle in which the recorder is installed unless--
      1. (A) a court authorizes retrieval of the information in furtherance of a legal proceeding;
        (B) the owner or lessee consents to the retrieval of the information for any purpose, including the purpose of diagnosing, servicing, or repairing the motor vehicle;
        (C) the information is retrieved pursuant to an investigation or inspection authorized under section 1131(a) or 30166 of title 49, United States Code, and the personally identifiable information of the owner, lessee, or driver of the vehicle and the vehicle identification number is not disclosed in connection with the retrieved information; or
        (D) the information is retrieved for the purpose of determining the need for, or facilitating, emergency medical response in response to a motor vehicle crash.
  1. (c) Report to Congress- Two years after the date of implementation of subsection (a), the Secretary shall study the safety impact and the impact on individual privacy of event data recorders in passenger motor vehicles and report its findings to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives. The report shall include--
    1. (1) the safety benefits gained from installation of event data recorders;
      (2) the recommendations on what, if any, additional data the event data recorder should be modified to record;
      (3) the additional safety benefit such information would yield;
      (4) the estimated cost to manufacturers to implement the new enhancements;
      (5) an analysis of how the information proposed to be recorded by an event data recorder conforms to applicable legal, regulatory, and policy requirements regarding privacy;
      (6) a determination of the risks and effects of collecting and maintaining the information proposed to be recorded by an event data recorder;
      (7) an examination and evaluation of the protections and alternative processes for handling information recorded by an event data recorder to mitigate potential privacy risks.
  1. (d) Revised Requirements for Event Data Recorders- Based on the findings of the study under subsection (c), the Secretary shall initiate a rulemaking proceeding to revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations. The rule--
    1. (1) shall require event data recorders to capture and store data related to motor vehicle safety covering a reasonable time period before, during, and after a motor vehicle crash or airbag deployment, including a rollover;
      (2) shall require that data stored on such event data recorders be accessible, regardless of vehicle manufacturer or model, with commercially available equipment in a specified data format;
      (3) shall establish requirements for preventing unauthorized access to the data stored on an event data recorder in order to protect the security, integrity, and authenticity of the data; and
      (4) may require an interoperable data access port to facilitate universal accessibility and analysis.
  1. (e) Disclosure of Existence and Purpose of Event Data Recorder- The rule issued under subsection (d) shall require that any owner’s manual or similar documentation provided to the first purchaser of a passenger motor vehicle for purposes other than resale--
    1. (1) disclose that the vehicle is equipped with such a data recorder; and
      (2) explain the purpose of the data recorder.
  1. (f) Access to Event Data Recorders in Agency Investigations- Section 30166(c)(3)(C) of title 49, United States Code, is amended by inserting ‘, including any electronic data contained within the vehicle’s diagnostic system or event data recorder’ after ‘equipment.’
    (g) Deadline for Rulemaking- The Secretary shall issue a final rule under subsection (d) not later than 4 years after the date of enactment of this Act.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shocking Audi-Ducati Developments!

Many commentators have described the Volkswagen group's acquisition of Ducati (through its Audi subsidiary) as essentially a billion-euro bauble -- a trophy brand that in the long run will be trivial to the German car giant.

But news out of Europe after the close of business this week suggests that Volkswagen will, in fact, take a very active role in managing Ducati and that it plans to dramatically redirect the legendary motorcycle company's overall strategy.
Ducati sold over 200,000 of these puppies, as clip-on motors for bicycles, before it started building its own complete mopeds. Still, it's not obvious that a new Cucciolo will replicate the commercial success of the 'new Beetle'.

"At Volkswagen, we're very familiar with the strength that comes from an economical, working-class foundation," said Chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn. "We trace our roots back to the original 'Beetle,' which we produced and sold for 65 years."

Winterkorn told a small room full of hastily-assembled German motoring journalists that Volkswagen has instructed Ducati to refocus its efforts on new version of its original Cucciolo -- the 48cc moped that was Ducati's first motorbike.

VW Chairman Winterkorn was licking his lips at the prospect of taking over Ferrari's prized booth location, right by the front doors of the prestigious Geneva Auto Show. According to Winterkorn, Ducati will invest the 20,000,000 Euros that they got for Rossi in the development of a new Cucciolo moped.

"The Italians have, as usual, let passion override reason," Winterkorn continued. "They've thrown good money after bad on a wasteful MotoGP project that, if anything, has weakened their image. As such we've traded Valentino Rossi to Ferrari for a one-time fee of 20 million euros and the rights to Ferrari's booth at the Geneva Auto Show; they have had a great spot right in front of the doors since forever, and we're always stuck in the back corner."

Winterkorn refused to take questions, leaving the German journalists gaping, until they came to their senses and grabbed their phones.  One of them managed to get Ducati CEO Gabrielle del Torchio on the phone for a quick reaction.
"I wish Mercedes-Benz had bought us," said del Torchio

"This is 1939 all over again," del Torchio frothed. "Il Duce told der Feurher that Italy couldn't possibly be ready for war by September. There's no way that we can have a new Cucciolo ready for the 2014 model year... Sure the old one was one of the most successful Ducati models of all time, but have you seen the new Honda Elite? That thing will kick our culo just as thoroughly as Stoner's kicking Valentino!"

My contact then tried to reach Rossi, but couldn't. Another journalist who claimed to have spoken with Rossi's confidant 'Uccio' told me that while MotoGP's senior posse-member was coy about specifics, he had given the reporter the impression that Winterkorn and Rossi had already discussed the Italian's future before making this shock announcement.
Ducati's now got conservative German owners and Valentino Rossi has,
we hear, agreed to try going straight...
into car racing with Ferrari. Rumors are already circulating that Rossi had been informed of the new marching orders before this afternoon's stunning press conference -- he may even have suggested the move as a way to get out of his contract with Ducati.
Both Volkswagen and Ducati's offices are now closed for the weekend, but you can expect major fireworks from the Borgo Panigale on Monday morning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A note from the Dept. of I Could Be Making Too Much Of This, But...

When the FIM announced the e-Power racing series (late in 2009, races beginning in 2010) it was careful to call it the FIM e-Power International Championship. Note that they didn't call it a World Championship (my italics.) As the first e-Power races started to take shape, the FIM clarified that choice of words, specifically noting that it was not (in the FIM's view) a World Championship like the ones awarded in ICE categories ranging from MotoGP through Trials.

The first event of the 2012 e-Power series took place recently, in support of the World Endurance race at Magny-Cours in France. During practice and qualifying, the FIM released an abashed statement about the fact that the grid was comprised of three bikes. I saw that the pole-sitter's time was 20 seconds off World Endurance pace, and that the third bike was about 30 seconds slower than that, and wondered if the FIM was even going to persevere with the electric sideshow.
Was calling the thus-far underwhelming e-Power series a World Championship just an editorial accident on the part of someone at the FIM? I doubt it. They're Swiss, after all. And they made the same editorial choice in English and French versions of the release, so it was proofed more than once...
I was surprised to note that today, on the FIM's web site, there's a press release that describes the series as a World Championship (Note the capital letters.)

I thought that could just have been an editorial oversight on the part of whoever writes the FIM's english-language press releases, since the FIM (based in Mies, Switzerland) works in French. But no, the corresponding French-language release describes the recent Magny-Cours race as, "la première manche du Championnat du monde FIM ePower".

That translates as, the first round of the FIM ePower World Championship.

I could be making too much of this. After all, elsewhere in that release there are references to the 'International Championship'. Still, I can't help but wonder if -- despite sparse and uneven grids -- the FIM has quietly upgraded the e-Power series to full World Championship status.

Why do that now? One reason might be that the FIM, like the rest of us, sees Mugen's TT Zero entry as a tacit entry by Honda in a rival championship (albeit a championship fought over a single lap.) 

The truth is that the TT course, with its long lap and elevation change, is a far better proving ground for real world EV technology than a handful of laps around any circuit. If, as I assume he will do, John McGuinness hands Honda a historic first-EV-lap-over-100mph, Honda will generate far more positive exposure than they could ever get in the e-Power Whatever It Is Championship. 

The FIM is all about protecting its turf, and while it grudgingly acknowledges the Isle of Man TT, it doesn't want the Isle of Man to consolidate its status as the de facto world championship for the emerging EV moto category. Upgrading e-Power to full World Championship status sprinkles a little FIM piss on that rock.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rossi/Ducati plight reminds me of Yamaha's problems post-Rainey

Like everyone else, I've been watching Rossi struggle with his Ducati, and reading the tea leaves (or should I say, the espresso grinds?) vis-a-vis Rossi's lack of competitiveness on the Duc compared to Casey Stoner a season-and-a-bit-ago.

It puts me in the mind of Yamaha, after Wayne Rainey's career-ending crash in 1993.

Rainey won three consecutive World Championships for Kenny Roberts' Marlboro-sponsored factory Yamaha team, but as soon as Rainey was taken out of the equation, it became apparent that the 1993 OWF2 GP bike had not been nearly as competitive as it seemed.

While it's true that Rainey's teammate, the ex-250 champion Luca Cadalora, won two races in '93, it was the hospitalized Rainey who finished second to Kevin Schwantz. (One of Cadalora's wins came after Rainey was paralyzed.)

Cadalora finished second to Doohan in 1994, scoring 6 podium finishes. He scored two wins again, but both came late in the season after Doohan had locked up the title. For 1994, Team Roberts' 'B' rider was the Aussie Darryl Beattie, and he really struggled with the Yamaha and crashed on it quite a few times. He finished 13th overall and -- maybe he thought that was an unlucky number -- switched to Suzuki for '95.

In the 1995 season, Cadalora again scored 6 podiums, including two wins, on the way to an identical 176-point total. But in '95, that was only good for third place. Ironically, when Beattie left Yamaha for Suzuki, he jumped from a season total of 44 points in '94 to 215 points in '95.

Things spiralled downhill for a while longer at Yamaha, but I won't dredge up the stats. Suffice to say that in 1996, Norick Abe was the top rider on a YZR500, in fifth overall with a single win. By then, the Yamaha's dismal performance had prompted Roberts to have a public falling-out with Yamaha and in 1997 Roberts fielded his own team on a bike of his own creation. That was just about the only bike on the grid worse than the Yamaha.

In short, it turned out that in spite of Rainey's great results, the Yamaha he'd been riding sucked when almost anyone else tried it.

So, does the analogy of Rainey/Yamaha OWF2 apply to Stoner/Ducati GP10?

Looking back on it, I don't think that it was a case of the Yamaha somehow actually being good for Rainey and bad for everyone else; I don't think Rainey's riding style was that unique (although, if any Backmarker reader has one degree of separation from Rainey and wants to ask him, I'd love to hear his thoughts on it.)

I think the truth is that Rainey's bike was pretty crappy even for him, but that his crew chief Warren Willing was able to set the bike up in way that it was, at least, consistently crappy; it was crappy the same predictable way from track to track. The performance envelope of Rainey's Yamaha was slightly but measurably more constrained than Doohan's Honda for example. But Willing found ways for the bike to give Rainey lots of feedback about where the edge of that envelope was, and that allowed Wayne to feel comfortable enough on it to over-ride it for several years before it caught up to him at Imola in 1993.

Cadalora, Beattie, Abe,.. even Jean-Michel Bayle had goes on it afterwards and either none of them could feel what Wayne felt, or none of them dared to push that deep into the danger zone. (The one time Abe won on it in '96 was at his home GP, where he was inspired to take more risks. After the race, I remember him saying something like, "I crashed at least eight times, but each time I somehow stayed on my wheels!")

That might gibe with Stoner's situation at Ducati in 2010. The Aussie might just be a fucking whiner, but he could also have been telling the truth when, over the course of that season, he complained that Ducati weren't getting him the parts he and his crew chief, Cristian Gabbarini, needed to improve the bike.

I think that like Willing in the early '90s, Gabbarini's skill was giving his rider a Ducati that might have been a turd, but at least was a consistent turd that allowed Stoner to push it very, very hard. (One of the most interesting ways to examine Stoner's 2010 results on the Ducati is not to merely look at his three wins -- which overshadow Rossi's failure to come to terms with the GP11. Over the 18 race season, he was on the podium or DNF 14 times. Talk about "rostrum-or-hospital".

If I'm right, and if this analogy holds, the future doesn't look too bright for Rossi.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Two wheels good, four wheels bad - Indonesian, and L.A. style

Reuters reported a major earthquake near Indonesia yesterday, that triggered fears of another Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. Photos coming out of the country highlight the advantages of single-track vehicles in an evacuation scenario, as millions of scooters and mopeds filter past gridlocked cars.
On your marks,..
...get set,..
Much closer to home, my friend Susanna "Pinkyracer" Schick was cycling in L.A. the other night and had an altercation with the driver of a white Lexus. Knowing Susanna, I'm sure she had a few choice words for the driver who swerved across several lanes and into the marked bicycle lane where she was riding. After harassing her for the next block or so, the driver rear-ended her and drove away, leaving her unconscious in the street.

Susanna's injuries include a broken collarbone, several broken ribs, and a broken pelvis. This angers me, especially, because it denies me the opportunity to complain about my own recently broken collarbone!
If there's a lesson in this, it's that if you're going to have an argument with a car driver while you're on a bicycle, you'd better haul the fucker out of his car and beat the shit out of him, because leaving him able to drive puts you at risk when you ride away from the scene.

My friend Paul Livingston, of Falkner-Livingston Racing, once gave me his theory on a non-violent way to 'mark' offending drivers. It was to equip everyone with paintball guns, and encourage drivers to pop a paint cap on cars driven by assholes. That way, cars covered with paint splats could be avoided, and they'd probably end up getting closer scrutiny from the cops, too.

Anyway, I digress. Susanna's going to be slowed down for a couple of months, at least. Please make a donation to this ChipIn fund that has been set up for her.

If it gets to $10,000 I'll write a funny Backmarker column about the first time I met Susanna, which was years after I stopped racing against her. (And don't worry, Susanna, I won't mention the time that...)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rossi, down to earth...

Much has been made of the way Valentino Rossi recently, openly, criticized Ducati, and the bike he's been given to race this season in MotoGP. I guess one way to look at last season was, it was lost to Ducati Corse's misguided 'frameless' design. But now that Ducati's reverted to the aluminum beam frame du jour, Rossi's running out of excuses.

I was rankled, a little, by a passing comment he made (now that I'm looking for it, I can't find it) to the effect that the bike must suit Nicky better than it does him, because Nicky's finishing in front of him -- and we all know that I can usually kick Nicky's ass -- those weren't the words (the comment was translated from Italian anyway) but that was the sentiment.

It has, no doubt, been a difficult couple of years for Rossi, coming back from injury and failing to come to terms with either the GP11 or GP12 bikes. But frankly, the way I saw the results last year, looking at all the sessions, I didn't see Nicky as clearly slower than Rossi. Lorenzo flat out beat him as often as not in the sessions just before his 2010 mid-season, leg-breaking high side.

If I had to bet I would probably bet that Rossi will win again in MotoGP -- but it's clear that Rossi's no longer a rarefied alien but is once more merely a denizen of Earth, along with several billion punters.

This begs two questions. The first is, What does MotoGP do now? The entire sport's spent about ten years riding Rossi's coat-tails -- basking in the reflected mass-media attention he attracted (attention that has been denied motorcycle racing since the days of Ago vs. Hailwood.) As an outsider looking in, I don't have any reason to think that MotoGP's major stakeholders had any strategy to leverage Rossi's personal popularity or transfer any of Rossi's personal brand equity to the sport as a whole. Let's call that an 'F' in Communications Strategy.

The second question is, how will Rossi himself handle normalcy -- or what passes for it in the MotoGP paddock? He has been one of his sport's handful of Brahmins since he was a teenager. He has been subject to a high degree of scrutiny, to be sure, but he's been given a lot of latitude and openly criticizing him has been seen as a 'career-limiting move' not just in his teams, but anywhere in the sport.

Frankly, a lot of the Rossi japes that make him so popular with fans strike me as pretty conceited. I've always been in the 'anyone but Rossi' camp. But even I have to admit that, no matter what happens between now and Rossi's final MotoGP race, in the long run he'll be remembered as one of the all-time greats.

The thing is, if he cares about the medium term, it may be time for Rossi (and Ducati, for that matter) to formulate a MotoGP exit strategy that maximizes memories of the good times, and minimizes the recent past. Surely those rally cars are looking good now?.. and there's even a seat for Uccio as navigator.

Mike Hailwood is Rossi's only rival as the all-time GOAT, and the clincher -- besides Hailwood's strong run in F1 and F2 cars, and his George Medal for bravery -- is his 1978 comeback win on the Isle of Man.

What do you say, Vale? Time to take a few years off and race cars? Then bring a Ducati to the TT? That would redeem both the Rossi and Ducati brands in one fell swoop. Win a race that makes MotoGP seem like a video game, then quit again, literally at the top of the mountain.

It'll never happen, of course. And anyway, it won't solve MotoGP's short term problem, which actually gets worse and worse with each race that the sport's biggest star languishes in mid-pack. Communications strategy is what I do, but I'm not sure I'd relish that assignment.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Razorbacks coach rides hog, is pig, has $#!+ for brains*

*I wanted to finish that headline with some other porcine pun, but I couldn't come up with a pig-related expression for 'is a fucking idiot.' If you know one, please suggest it.

Bobby Petrino's hog, in appropriate 'Razorback' colors 
Bobby Petrino's face, which now is also Razorback red
So, over the last few days, when I should have been focused on MotoGP's opening race, I was distracted by the American pop-culture motorcycle-story-du-jour. That is, the literal and figurative fall of University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino.

Leave aside the extreme, sick irony that he is the highest-paid state employee in Arkansas, I hate this fucking idiot for two reasons...

The first is that he's drawn national attention to Arkansas, which until now has been a largely undiscovered motorcycle paradise. The Ozarks are full of scenic twisty roads. The Arkansas climate is temperate enough that they aren't frost damaged; Spring comes early enough, and Fall is late enough, that there are months of good riding before and after the summer break when a few tourists serve as rolling chicanes. Long stretches of great roads run through National Forest lands where there are few driveways and crossroads, and they are not over-policed. All in all, it's the destination for bikers who, like me, live in Kansas City. The last thing we need is riders from all over the U.S. making pilgrimages to the Ozarks, the way they now congregate at places like 'the Tail of the Dragon.'

A few days ago, while riding his hog on Arkansas Highway 16, Petrino proved for the 98,472,935th time that being macho is not a substitute for actual motorcycle riding skill. While traveling at a speed at which, I guarantee, I could easily have negotiated Highway 16 even on his crap bike, Petrino had the classic middle-aged-loser-on-a-Harley single-vehicle accident.

He was not wearing a helmet -- another colossal irony considering that in his job he coaches people who he would never let on the field without helmets -- so despite the fact that he sustained a few injuries, he got off lucky.

Speaking of getting off, though, it's not the crash itself -- or the attention it drew to some of my favorite roads -- that I find so infuriating. It soon emerged that he had a passenger: his uber-hot 25 year-old assistant, Jessica Dorrell.

Who wouldn't want this former volleyball star, uh, working under him?..
I mean, sure Petrino's married -- he spent part of the day with his wife before slipping away for a motorcycle and a ride -- and he met up with Dorrell who just left her car at an intersection; it was a real tryst. That's despicable but, at some level understandable. I mean, look at her.

That's what pisses me off about this whole, um, affair. It's not that another mid-life crisis wannabe biker has an inane single-vehicle crash, or that another football moron crashed without a helmet... I'm so used to that shit that I hardly notice it any more.

What pisses me off, is that Petrino put a babe like that at risk. I've been to Arkansas, and I'm here to tell you that chicks like Jessica Dorrell are a critically endangered species down there. (My friend Bill Jeffreys likes to point out that one of the few major inventions originating in Arkansas was the toothbrush. If it had been invented in any other state, it would have been called a 'teethbrush.')

After the crash, Petrino told passersby that he didn't want them to call 911. Instead, he called the Arkansas State Trooper who is tasked with providing Petrino personal protection. That was probably an attempt to keep the whole affair off the record, but it failed. (Obviously, the state which, in its wisdom, makes a football coach its highest paid employee doesn't want him to be exposed to unnecessary risks. They could save money by reassigning that trooper to normal duties, and just throwing away Petrino's motorcycle keys. On balance, that would make him a lot safer.)

Hmm... on second thought, I take that back. Reassigning Petrino's bodyguard might just increase the number of troopers patrolling Arkansas roads. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think Petrino's a state treasure; I mean, look at his record. He should have several police bodyguards. And while they're at it, they should protect his assistants, too.

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...