Friday, August 24, 2012

A note from the Dept. of That Would Be A 'No'

The reason I check out every day is, they do a lot of actual journalism. Like, think up story ideas and investigate leads. Today, I see that they filed a Freedom of Information Act request that allowed them to learn how much the National Guard paid to sponsor Roger Hayden at Michael Jordan Motorsports. I mean, who even thought of that? "Hey, let's file a Freedom of Information Act request..."? Seriously, what a great idea.

The short answer is, they paid $2.25 million. Read the whole story here:

Now, what's interesting to me is, that the National Guard claims that it got $32,000,000 worth of exposure in exchange for that $2.25M investment. This is where, unlike Roadracing World, which is scrupulous with its research and always backs everything up with independently verifiable facts, as a blogger I am free to just say, "Bullshit."

I do come by it honestly, at least. You see, I spent about 20 years in the ad business. And I'm here to tell you that there are ways to measure the value of exposure, and although neither the National Guard nor I have tried to use those techniques to measure the value of National Guard's motorcycle sponsorship I KNOW THAT IT DOESN'T COME CLOSE TO THIRTY MILLION BUCKS. For that money, you could conduct a legitimate national advertising campaign.

Look, I'm on the road this week. I don't have access to my 'real' computer and high speed internet, and I really don't have the time or energy to research a few examples of recent $30M campaigns. Just trust me on this; I could find such examples, and my point here is, you'd recognize them. Thirty million dollars, spent professionally, would raise awareness for your product or service (or politician, this year) across a broad swath of the American population. You'd measure the effectiveness of that ad investment by surveying the target audience and determining things like unaided and aided awareness of your brand/product/claim.

If you focused $30M on a much narrower segment of the population, like the tiny slice of guys interested in motorcycle road racing, you would expect to completely OWN a HUGE chunk of their 'mindshare'. Let me tell you what $30M worth of exposure is worth, focused on males 18-24: If the National Guard got $30M value in that demographic, the National Guard logo would be as prevalent on their clothing as 'Affliction' is.

You'll rarely meet anyone more skeptical than I am, when it comes to believing that private enterprise, in a free market system, is a really efficient way to allocate resources. After those 20 years in the ad business, I've seen behind the curtain at too many companies to believe that entrepreneurs and businessmen have cornered the market on acumen. But if you could spend $2M on an AMA Superbike sponsorship and reap $30M in exposure, there'd be all kinds of businesses fighting over riders who currently go completely unsponsored. The truth is that the audience for motorcycle road racing in the U.S. is so small there is simply no way to deliver $30M in value.

I'd like nothing more than to be able to prove that sponsoring AMA Pro riders was so dramatically effective. But wherever the National Guard got those figures -- from Michael Jordan Motorsports? -- I'm sorry to say they're obviously bullshit.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

MotoGP rules makers have spoken: CRT bikes even more boring through 2014

According to, the Grand Prix Commission (which met at Indy) has issued new MotoGP rules.

We here at Backmarker laud the new level of transparency on the part of the GP Commission. We think Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta was being refreshingly honest when he said, "For MotoGP, ze factory teams will bore same as now for next two seasons, but for the CRT teams, zey are allowed to be even more boring zen factory teams. MotoGP is about special boring for sure; if you no want boring, you should watch World Superbike. To me, zey're using production bikes, most teams are not boring at all; if some are boring, eet eez kept to a minimum by zee rules."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Playboy or Mama's boy? Yamaha picks...

I spotted this comment the other day, from the usually well-placed Italian blogger Luigi Bunchacrappa...
Come una fonte anonima, altamente messo a Yamaha, ci ha detto, "Francamente, a questo punto della loro carriera, Ben e Rossi sono probabilmente circa uguali come piloti. Ma ci siamo chiesti, che è più divertente di avere in giro nel paddock? Uccio o Mary Spies? La scelta è stata ovvia. "
Plugging that into Google Translate, I figured Yamaha had had enough of Spies' high-maintenance madre/manager.
Really, when you put it that way, I guess the choice is obvious...

*As they say in Italian, "Ho appena fatto tutta questa merda."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Is Rich Schlachter the fastest American you don't remember?

As I post this, the Manx Grand Prix -- the other race on the Mountain Course -- is just getting underway. There have been changes in the MGP organization (it was, frankly, almost discontinued earlier this year) and it seems that the Manx vintage classes will be rebranded as "Classic TT" races. Until now, Dave Roper remains the only American TT winner, and the only winner of a TT race held for vintage motorcycles (the 1984 Senior Classic Historic TT.) 

I guess the most promising American was Pat Hennen. In ’77, he set the outright lap record, but a crash at Bishopscourt finished his career before he finished his first race. To my mind, though, the American most capable of dominating at the TT never raced there; that was Rich Schlachter. 

Go ahead. Ask, ‘Rich who?’ Schlachter is probably destined to be the fastest American people don’t remember. But here’s the thing; you remember the names of everyone who ever finished in front of him in a motorcycle race.

Rich, on the grid at the Loudon Classic in 1980. Freddie Spencer leans in. Yeah, that was the league Rich was in. Photo by Gary Remal, c/o John Butler, proprietor of Butler's Rest Home
Most of the stars of that first American wave of GP riders came out of flat track -- a discipline that doesn’t translate to the Mountain Course, Rich was a Connecticut kid who honed his skills riding a drum-braked Kawasaki Mach III on the narrow, bumpy, tree-lined roads around Old Lyme. 

It was perfect training for the TT, and the event organizers brought Rich to the Isle of Man after he’d caught their eye at the ’79 Trans-Atlantic Match Races. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Rich’s dad always had motorbikes and scooters, and some of Rich’s earliest memories are of standing on the floorboards of his dad’s Vespa. When he was a kid, Rich had a paper route, delivering newspapers on a ‘mustang’ bicycle with a banana seat and raised handlebars. “I used to ride that bicycle on trails in the woods,” he told me. “I’d go as fast as I could; I loved speed.” 

In high school, he bought a 100cc Moto Beta dual-sport bike, which he used for trail riding, and rode into New York City to see rock concerts. (The distance from Old Lyme to NYC is same as the distance from Norwich to London. On a 100!)

Rich stepped up to the 500 Kawi next, racing it at Bridgehampton, Long Island, in ’72 or ’73. “I seized it two or three times in the first weekend,” he told me. “I didn’t know shit about reading plugs or anything like that.” When Dave Roper entered his Kawasaki 350 Bighorn trail bike in a four-hour endurance race, they grafted the front end of the Mach III onto it, so they’d have some brakes. They had no idea they were racing against John Long and Gary Fisher, two of the fastest road racers in the U.S.

Over the next few years, Rich worked his way up through Yamaha TD, TA and TZ 250s. Then in 1977, he hooked up with tuning legend Kevin Cameron, and got his hands on a  a TZ750. They didn’t have the four-cylinder bike ready in time for Daytona, but in the International Lightweight race, he finished third behind Steve Baker and Katayama. (See what I mean about everyone who finished in front of him?)

In ’78, Schlachter was part of the U.S. team that traveled to Imola for the AGV Nations Cup. The other Yanks were Skip Aksland, Mike Baldwin, Randy Mamola, Wes Cooley, Dale Singleton, and Kenny Roberts. He won the AMA F1 championship in ’79, but his head was already in Europe. He rode his TZ750 for the American team at the Anglo-American Match Races in ’79 and ’80.

At home, he's best remembered for his AMA F1 championship-winning exploits on a TZ-750, but his most impressive feats were probably his top-10 finishes, as a newcomer, in the swashbuckling 250 Grand Prix class in the world championship.
In 1980, he finished right behind Randy Mamola twice at Oulton Park (Mamola was riding for the Suzuki factory then, and they built him a special overbored RG500.) Back then, there was nothing happening in the U.S. in April and May, so Rich decided to stay in Europe for at least a few months and try his hand at 250GPs. 

He sent Kevin Cameron back home to get their 250, bought a Ford Transit van and a tent, and drove to Hockenheim. He finished sixth, after a dice with Nieto. He had some technical trouble at Monza, but the next race was at Paul Ricard, a track he’d seen before. “I qualified second behind Anton Mang,” he told me. “Some people thought I’d actually gone faster than Mang, but there were some politics in racing back then.”

He finished fourth at Jarama and Silverstone, with a fastest-lap. Things were going too well to return to the U.S. (although he did fly back often enough to win the ’80 AMA F1 title, too.) Undergunned in 250s with no official Yamaha support, on unfamiliar tracks, Rich finished tenth overall in the World Championship.

That was as good as it got. The next year, a sponsor lured him onto the wrong bike; a broken wrist early in the season meant that the best he could do was a ninth place, in Sweden. He returned to the U.S. and raced until the mid-‘80s, before going back to his original trade, carpentry. Ten years later, when I was racing at Loudon, the locals still spoke of him with awe.

Unlike a lot of racers, Schlachter always approached racing as a business. So when the organizers brought him over to see the course, he did the math. “I knew what I’d need for tires, a mechanic for two weeks, and an engine rebuild,” he recalled. “I told them what I’d need as start money, and we just never made a deal.”

He still lives in Old Lyme, where the carpentry business has been good. He owns a bunch of bikes including a ’72 Commando and 500cc Triumph Daytona, but puts most of his mileage on a modern sport tourer. “There’s more traffic, and more cops than there used to be,” he told me. “But there are still lots of roads around here where I can scrape my pegs.”

Although Rich doesn’t seem to have any real regrets about being the forgotten American in Grands Prix, he seems a little wistful about never having raced the Mountain Course. There’s a part of me that wishes he’d raced there, because I think he’d have been the perfect guy for it. But I also like him, and I'm glad he's lived to tell the tales, so there.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Getting yer' Nickel's worth

When I first moved to Kansas City, I spent one Saturday afternoon exploring a warehouse district known as the West Bottoms. It's a triangle of a few square miles, defined on two sides by the Kansas and Missouri rivers. It's aptly named, since every decade or so floods put it on the bottom of the Missouri River. Nowadays, it's mostly abandoned but one of the few viable businesses down there's a shop called Cafe Racer. 

I wandered in with no expectations, wary of a tough-looking dog. Half the bikes had racing number plates, not license plates. A Commando awaited customer pickup, and a tasty Ducati bevel-drive had taken it's place on the stand; it emerged that the mechanic working on it had once been a modern dancer in Martha Graham's company. Suffice to say I was not in your ordinary tires-chain-battery joint. The dog turned out to be friendly.

The owner, Greg, took me back to show me his dyno, and when he turned on the computer, the curve on the screen belonged to a 1939 BMW R51 owned by Norbert Nickel. That name rang a bell. Nickel, one of the oldest active racers in the U.S., has won many AHRMA championships on that beemer. That I knew. But when I found he'd been a factory-supported flat tracker in the late '50s and early '60s, I decided to look him up.
Norbert, in his home shop, with one of his BMW road-racers
Nickel doesn't live too far from the West Bottoms; just a few miles upstream on the Kansas River (and on higher ground.) There was nothing about his suburban home that suggested it belonged to a motorcycle racer, at least from the outside. He led me into a room that I assumed was the trophy room. We talked there for a while; his scrapbook was in another trophy room. And passed by more trophies on the way to his garage.

Norbert told me that he'd raced grasstrack, mostly on a 250cc NSU, in Germany in the early '50s. He was also a sidecar passenger, and raced a borrowed KTT Velo at the Nurburgring. Then in '56,  Volkswagen opened up scores of new car dealerships across the U.S., and it was the company policy to ensure that each one had a genuine German mechanic. “I thought it would be a good way for me to see the U.S., and make some money,” he told me. “I was going to return in a year or two but then I realized I could race motorcycles here, too.”

He swapped the German grasstracks for American dirt, replacing his NSU with a BSA Gold Star motor in a rigid frame. “They told me that swingarms didn't work on the clay tracks,” he shrugged. “Now everyone uses them.”

In the late '50s, the Midwest was a dirt track hotbed, and Norbert could race almost every weekend through the long, hot summers and still make it back to the Kansas City Volkswagen dealership to report for work on Monday. 
This is a photo of the section of fence Norbert knocked down, in the appropriately-named town of Norton, Kansas
Not that he just had 'local' speed; when future Hall of Famers like Sammy Tanner, and Dick Mann passed through KC on the way to races, they'd pick Norbert and his bike up. In 1960, he made the main event at the legendary Springfield Mile and finished seventh. That was no easy task when the field was stacked with established pros like Joe Leonard and Everett Brashear, Carroll Resweber and Mann at the height of their powers, and up-and-comers like Gary Nixon and Tanner – and that was under Class C rules when Norbert raced his 500cc BSA against 750cc Harleys. “Harley-Davidson offered to sell me one of their bikes for a dollar,” he recalled. “They'd sell the title for a dollar, and deliver the bike to a dealer sponsor, who'd maintain it – but I didn't want one of those cast-iron monstrosities. Of course, I regret not having it now!”

“I would have liked to race for a living,” he told me. “When I raced in Europe, the promoters paid start money. But here, it was all prize-money, and there wasn't much of it! You had to ride like the devil just to earn money for gas; you couldn't accumulate anything that way.” In '61, he crashed right through a fence at a dirt track race in Norton, Kansas and spent nine months with a cast on his arm. He raced a few more times, but knew it was no way to raise a family.

That was probably the right decision. “I had friends like Gary Nixon who raced very successfully,” Norbert said, “and after their careers they had not much left over.” When he left Germany it was still rebuilding; he moved to the U.S. at the beginning of a remarkable run of prosperity. He owned his own repair shop, and raised his kids in a suburb that could have served as the model for the American dream. 

He never forgot his own racing dreams. In the early '90s, pushing sixty years of age, he started road racing in AHRMA. He bought an early '50s BMW R51/2 and back-dated it to make it eligible as a 1939 BMW R51. In the last 20 years, he's won scores of races and 11 national championships in AHRMA's pre-40 and Class C divisions. 

In 2002, he had another encounter with a wall, at Sears Point, that nearly cost him his left foot. He modified the BMW's shift lever, so he could shift up and down in spite of the fact that his ankle is fused. His wife died; the kids long ago moved out, it's just Norbert and a few motorcycles filling the big house these days. I asked him if he was the oldest guy racing motorcycles in U.S. and he said, “Well, Al Knapp used to be the oldest, but he doesn't race any more. He broke his hip shoveling snow.”

I could still hear the accent of the German kid who, he recalled, “was a little too wild, I either won or fell down.” As I left, he told me that he'd keep racing until he got in people's way. That will be a while yet, since even now there's only one guy faster than him in his classes. I guess Norbert's more proof of my theory that if motorcycles don't kill us, they keep us alive.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A great film find from the TT's golden era

The late sixties were (at least arguably) the apogee of the TT. It was still the first among equals in the World Championship, but the program also included 250, 500 and 750cc production classes. In 1969, Triumph came out in force -- bringing not just bikes and riders, but a film crew. Triumph's efforts were rewarded in the sense that Malcolm Uphill won the 750 class, but bittersweet when his speed was officially 99.99 miles an hour.

Sure this film is dated, but it's well crafted by the standards of the period and (again, by 1969 standards) was not cheap to produce. Where's the contemporary manufacturer that is putting a comparable effort into PR?

(Thanks to Lunmad, an otherwise-anonymous Triumph fan, for uploading this to YouTube!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"We're going to be millionaires"

Thanks to Tom Guttry for bringing this brilliant little film (and this huge idea) to my attention.

Of course, the dynamics of motorcycle accidents are different than the dynamics of bicycle accidents. Motorcycle accidents happen at higher speeds, and as energy = mass x velocity squared, the energy dissipated in a motorcycle crash can easily be 10x the energy in a bicycle crash.

I'm definitely not suggesting this is an alternative to wearing a crash helmet for motorcyclists. Most of the people who ride helmet-less seem to be making a political statement of sorts, and they'd also reject this solution. I'm well aware that 'air bag' suits are already making inroads in racing applications.

That said, there are lots of places where scooterists -- especially female ones -- ride without helmets because they feel wearing a helmet will ruin their hair. This device would be a lot better than nothing at the relatively slow speeds scooters travel in urban settings.

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

This is the kind of creative thinking we need to make it safe(r) to negotiate roads full of car drivers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Motorcyclists playing (prairie) chicken

Cassoday, KS is a dot on the map, just off I-35 between Topeka and Wichita. Weathered signs declare it to be the Prairie Chicken Capital of the World. This is not a reference to chicken farming on the prairies, but a reference to a wild member of the grouse family. Back in the '60s, on the opening day of hunting season, thousands of hunters converged on Cassoday.

The Greater Prairie Chicken's current situation, however, is not so great – they've been extirpated over much of their historic range. This is not so much a hunting problem, per se, as the result of human encroachment of the natural long-grass prairie habitat the species requires for survival. Another problem is – if you can believe it – Chinese ring-necked pheasants. The latter birds, introduced from Asia a long time ago, lay their own eggs in prairie chicken nests. Pheasant eggs hatch faster, and when the pheasant chicks emerge, the prairie chickens seem to think they're their own young and that the prairie chicken eggs are duds. They abandon their own eggs and raise the pheasants.

So if you were a prairie chicken you might conclude that guns don't kill prairie chickens, people kill prairie chickens. And the oriental outsourcing of egg production.
I assume that the pistol grip on this shotgun means this Christian biker didn't bring it to hunt prairie chickens.   I guess I could have asked him a question I've long pondered: "Who would Jesus kill?"
How this is, in any way, connected to motorcycles is that about 20 years ago when healthy prairie chicken populations were already just a memory, a group of bikers looked at a map and saw Cassoday, and thought it would be a good destination for a Sunday morning ride. One of them called ahead to ask the cafe if it was open on Sunday. The cafe owner told the biker that if he'd bring a dozen of his friends, then the cafe would durn well be open.
Cassoday wasn't much more than a good place to stop and stretch your legs before riding back home through the Flint Hills. But the truth is most of Kansas is pretty featureless – a town a couple hundred miles to the north promotes itself as, and I'm not making this up, the home of the world's largest ball of twine – so it didn't take much to capture local bikers' imaginations. Riding out to Cassoday on the first Sunday of the month became a Kansas tradition. By some estimates, as many as 5,000 motorcycles show up nowadays; that looks like a real crowd in a town without a stoplight and makes motorcycles as important to the local economy as bird hunting once was.
"You ridin' yer hog, Cletus?"
"Nah, she's got her own bike."
Another smiling, helmetless rider. My guess is that she'll eventually start wearing a jacket, if for no other reason than it provides sunblock.
Kansas City is half in Missouri (a helmet law state) and half in Kansas (where only  minors have to wear 'em.) So as I headed down there, about half the motorcyclists on the road were wearing crash helmets. As we got deeper into Kansas, picking up traffic from Topeka and such places, bare-headed riders were in the majority. 
Interestingly, their body language – especially on bikes that lacked full fairings and windscreens – was almost uniformly miserable. Trust me, I've tried it; riding at highway speed without face protection is not pleasant. You might think that a full-face lid is hot in the middle of the day, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the prairies, and it is. But so's a 95-degree, 70 mph Kansas wind-blast, and at least a crash helmet's effective sunblock. Almost no one who was riding bare-headed looked as if they were having fun.
As I expected, the parking lot was probably two-thirds Harley-Davidson. (Most of the sport-bike riders in the region would press further south and east, into the twisties of the Ozarks plateau.) There was a smattering of metric cruisers, adventure-tourers; a few extended 'busas. While the crowd wasn't all-white, it was white enough that anyone with skin that wasn't on the pink-sunburned spectrum stood out; so did anyone under about 50. One lost soul wore a Rossi shirt with a big '46' across the back, but most people identified him – wrongly – as a fan of part-time NASCAR driver J.J. Yeley. 
A terrible band belted out covers. There were a few dozen vendors, selling stuff ranging from BBQ and breakfast burritos to fringed chaps and German-WWII-styled helmets. Kansas riders need those to travel in Missouri, but they can stick to their principles by making sure they buy lids that provide minimal actual protection. Those are for sale in Cassoday for about $20.
I have to say that walking around in that crowd provoked quite a lot of thoughts, most of which were melancholy. I guess no matter how many times I'm reminded of it, I keep trying to forget that for the majority of street riders, motorcycling is not a sport but a kind of social (tribal?) activity. For the thousands of bikers converging on Cassoday (turning it into a one-day 'Sturgis' without the beer or bare-breasted babes) their motorcycles are a just a signal to, and selective filter for, like-minded individuals. They're literally and proudly rednecks; totally unaware of the irony that they've co-opted  the biker's rebellious image as a symbol of their political and social conservatism.
The crowd at Cassoday is peaceable. The county sheriff makes sure there are a handful of officers in attendance, but there's never been any trouble. His only complaint is that he can't write enough speeding tickets to keep the riders under control as they leave town. But judging from the T-shirt slogans, from the tired “If you can read this, the bitch fell off,” to “One Big Ass Mistake for America” they're an angry, frustrated lot. 
Basically, the T-shirts, patches, and stickers on bikes make comments that can be divided into three general types. There's aggressive, in-your-face jingoism of the if-you're-not-with-us-you're-against-us type, or there's just plain angry insults usually aimed at lily-livered liberals, or there's general grousing.
I have to say that riding a motorcycle without wearing a crash helmet is stupid. So a gathering of people who, mostly, ride without helmets is a selective filter for dumbasses. Don't get me wrong, lots of people who ride with helmets are stupid, too. I suppose there's an evolutionary case to be made that eventually helmetless riders will become extinct. But it's not that this huge crowd will all go and bash their own brains out by riding without protection – any more than it was hunting that killed off the prairie chicken.
It's habitat destruction that will do them in, too. Because in the same way that corporate farming has wiped out almost all the long-grass prairie, private enterprise is wiping out the middle class regular working stiffs who used to (among other things) buy all the motorcycles. I'm willing to bet that if you asked the Cassoday crowd – which shares none of my other opinions –  “Is the middle class under siege?” they'd certainly say it was. It really doesn't matter if you're inclined to applaud George Carlin's anti-corporate rant, or if you side with the Tea Partiers and say the middle class is being taxed to death; no matter where you are on the political spectrum, the truth as the vast majority of Americans see it is that real wages have been falling for years while wealth's been concentrated in the top 1% of the population and dramatically concentrated in the top 0.1%.
For years by the real-estate bubble gave a false sense of security to the middle class, who may have seen their real income falling, but thought it was more than counterbalanced by increasing home equity. The aging population of motorcycle buyers tracked perfectly with people who were spending that home equity. 
I suppose the richest 1%'s growing share of wealth speaks well for the prospects of motorcycle manufacturers like Vyrus. And the top 10% of the population's holding it's own, so Ducati and BMW might be OK (in fact, they survived the recent recession much better than OEMs with larger market share.) But don't kid yourself: the American motorcycle market absolutely needs to inculcate new young riders. Harley-Davidson's openly said that that's the goal of it's '48' model; ironically, it's also said that if it can't get concessions from its unions, it will relocate assembly plants out of Wisconsin. The motorcycle industry also needs to ensure that its offering models that median-wage earners can afford.
Henry Ford and his Model T rung the death knell of America's home-grown motorcycle industry. And you can love or hate America's obsession with the car, which he inspired. But it's noteworthy that Ford was determined to raise the wage of the American worker, if only to ensure that the average worker could afford to buy his cars.
Where am I going with this? I guess I'll just point out that even though it wasn't over-hunting that killed off the prairie chicken, it only made sense to lower bag limits as populations fell. 
A new focus on helmet use – and yes, I mean helmet laws; regulation – should be a focus of the AMA. They've spent far too long kow-towing to ABATE, and the like. While the AMA coyly suggests that it's a good idea to wear a helmet, it's lobbied to rescind helmet laws in many states. In coded language meant to appease the Cassoday crowd, it makes statements like, “We support research into the causes of motorcycle accidents,” instead of helmet laws.
I've got news for the AMA. 99% of the vehicles on American roads are not motorcycles. So non-riders are never, ever going to notice us, or expect us to do the things we do – like appear from behind a mailbox. You can study the cause of accidents all you want, they're still going to happen, and when they do helmets will make a huge difference in our survival.
So while I don't have an easy prescription for saving the middle class and getting the American Dream back on track, there are two things the motorcycle industry can do to ensure a future in which the the average guy with a median salary becomes a motorcyclist for life: we can introduce interesting new bikes they can afford (Kawasaki, bring the Ninja 400 to the U.S., not just Canada) and we can lobby for, not against helmet usage so that the new riders we do recruit have the best possible chance of becoming riders for life. 
If that kills off the scene in Cassoday, so be it. It was headed for extinction anyway.
What the fuck is with the needlessly aggressive dress of these fucktards? God DAMN It, this is tiring.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A note from the Dept. of Modest Proposals: Olympic Trials.

Every four years, the world (or at least the American TV audience) gets exposed to a bunch of sports we don't see at any other time.

I don't know how many other motorcycle racing fans did the same double-take I did, during coverage of the relatively new Olympic sport of BMX racing. Doesn't it really look like motorcycle racing, minus the motors?

BMX appeared for the first time in Beijing, in an obvious attempt by the Olympics to co-opt some of the young fans of events like the X-Games. It really makes me wonder just how hard it would be to include motorcycle sport in the Olympic program.

Not that there aren't some hurdles. While it is normal for Winter Games venues to be as much as 100 miles apart, most Summer Games are held by -- and within -- urban centers. So a full-scale road racing or outdoor motocross venue would be hard to integrate into a Summer Games program. But how different is the above photo from a Supercross venue? Not very.

Some people make the case that motorsport has no role in the Olympics because the machines aren't human-powered. (I guess equestrian events get in on tradition.) But it's clear that any full-distance SX race is a far sterner test of rider fitness than a two-minute BMX heat. And, if you really want to get technical, there are already Olympic events with motorcycles in them -- the Keirin bicycle races. If you want to go back far enough, there were motorcycle races presented as part of the Paris Olympics in 1900, although they weren't medal events. The 1908 Olympics in London included motorboat events, although the current version of the Olympic Charter specifically rules out "Sports, disciplines or events in which performance depends essentially on mechanical propulsion are not acceptable."

But here's my modest proposal: I think the perfect first-motorcycle event in the Olympics should be Observed Trials. It wouldn't present a difficult venue problem at all, whether it was a stadium-style trial like the world indoor championship, or a natural-course event; there's a little bit of rough ground that could be adapted in any host city. It meets the Olympics' need for a base of competitors that's spread across many countries, and it's less likely to result in a serious injury which would obviously be a real Olympic downer. Most of all, since speed is not a factor, it is less a test of mechanical propulsion than of rider skill & balance.

That would give a whole new meaning to the term 'Olympic Trials', eh?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why can't NBC be more like NASA?

It’s a good thing that the rest of the world can’t see NBC’s coverage of the London Olympics. If they did, Al Qaeda-like groups dedicated to the destruction of America would spring up in even the most peaceful nations and our closest allies.

I am not kidding. The subtext in NBC’s coverage is an endless cycle of us-versus-everyone else; we’ll probably win all the medals in all the sports, or at least all the sports that we’ll choose to broadcast; every storyline in the prime-time broadcast will be carefully packaged with the maximum made-for-TV drama and then presented as if it was live and just happened to come out that way. 

Lebron James, totally pumped at the idea of going out to beat up on... Argentina.
Classy touch, the red, white, & blue teeth.
NBC, please, just start by letting the bronze-medal winner actually cross the finish line, before cutting to the close-up of the American gold-medalist. And athletes, no matter what you think, God didn’t pick you. God does not prefer Americans to Argentines. America kicked Argentina's ass in basketball for the same reasons Argentina would kick U.S. butt in tango dancing. Which the Argentines would do without any chest beating afterwards. 

If you want a lesson in sportsmanship, watch the post-race interview that Oscar Pistorius gave after finishing last in the men's 400 semi-final...and then look at this photo of McKayla Moroney during the presentation of her silver medal.

And while I’m on this rant, heavily-favored (by NBC) vault specialist Mckayla Maroney came across like an entitled brat when she stiffly accepted a heartfelt hug by the surprised Romanian gold medalist. Maroney’s just a child, so some would excuse her pouting. What’s inexcusable was the interstitial/athlete profile that NBC produced to run just before her vault -- a bunch of narrated photos and video closeups of Maroney vamping for the camera. All of America got to see a bunch of highly sexualized photos of her -- what, were they setting her up for her own TV show, or doing some sponsor a favor? -- instead of seeing actual sport.
Don't get me wrong, I love sex. I am a sex-positive dude. And I'm all for the photographer saying, "Look sexy for me girls." But even I draw the line when they are actually girls, not women. 
Compare that to NASA’s amazing success with Curiosity, the Mars rover. I admit, NASA did go and create a Nike-like slogan, ‘Mars is hard’. And it gave this video a flashy title, ‘7 Minutes of Terror’. But when you watch this video, it’s all about the difficulty of the challenge, and what a spectacular, worthy-of-a-gold-medal success it was when Curiosity actually did land and send back those first pictures.

There’s no jingoistic bullshit in the NASA video. They don’t say, “Hey, only the USA could do this. We’re #1 in space!”

Do you know why they don’t say that? Because they know they don’t fucking have to. It's obvious; only the USA could do it. And do you know why Curiosity’s landing was celebrated and admired all over the world? Because the subtext of NASA’s coverage of Curiosity is, this is for everyone.

Even the name -- Curiosity -- is perfect. It’s not ‘America’, or ‘We claim this planet!’ It’s Curiosity.

I know that the Olympics brings some of that nationalism on itself, what with the anthems and flags at medal ceremonies and all that. But it’s a shame that NBC works so hard to ensure that any curiosity Americans might have about sports they’ll never see again until the Rio games in four years is stifled, and that we’ll learn nothing meaningful about the places those sports are played. Nor will our curiosity be satisfied about those small-nation losers who merely finish second or third, off camera, while NBC cuts to the winner’s obese parents, waving the Stars & Stripes in the stands. 

The Olympics are a great opportunity for the entire world to see good sportsmanship on the part of the world’s sporting superpowers. And a great opportunity pique Americans’ curiosity and encourage them to learn something about the rest of the world. But the American broadcaster is too busy chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! to give a shit.

It’s a shame NBC can’t be more like NASA.