Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wait a minute... 'Nationals'?!?

I would love to have seen the reaction when the powers-that-be in Daytona noticed, as I did, how the individual events which make up the Geico Motorcycle Superbike Shootout series are named. For example, the first one (this weekend at Fontucky) is called the Yamaha SoCal Nationals. The Sonoma and Miller events are likewise dubbed Nationals.

Since, well, forever, 'Nationals' has been a word used to describe AMA Pro championship events. No longer, it seems. Does that choice of words suggest -- as I foreshadowed -- the possibility of expanding the Shootout and creating a rival national championship for professional road racing?

Hmm... John Ulrich, who created the series, is also a stakeholder in AMA Pro Racing's superbike series. So, presumably he doesn't want to alienate AMA Pro completely. On the other hand (besides four fingers and a thumb) is the fact that Ulrich is not one to shy away from an argument.

So, maybe calling those events Nationals is a shot across AMA Pro's bow, or maybe it's just Ulrich being who he is. Either way, I bet there was some shouting in AMA Pro Racing's headquarters, and I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't some kind of payback for an action that I'm sure AMA Pro regards as an encroachment on its turf.

By the way, I'm starting a pool on the topic of how completely Superbike Planet will ignore the events, out of spite against Roadracing World.

Friday, April 18, 2014

I'm finally cutting edge. Or, maybe, a joke.

I've got an office now. Well, really it's more of a cell, in which I can get down to the monastic task of writing. Not very glamorous, although it is, a.) not in my home, and b.) behind a dance studio in KC's trendy/arty Crossroads district.

The other day, I rode my bicycle in to work. I hadn't shaved, and I was wearing a bib-overall style lycra winter cycling outfit, with a motorcycle shop t-shirt under it, and a collared short sleeve Harley-Davidson work shirt over that; a spiff from the Road America launch of the ill-fated XR1200x model. Over that, I wore a bright yellow winter cycling jacket. Proper cycling cleats hurt my wonky knee, so I pedal in very old, black, Vans sneakers.

I actually do have a pair of trousers and a clean shirt at work, but since I had no one to impress, I didn't bother changing. I worked at the computer all morning, and at lunch I walked down the street to Mildred's, a hangout for local ad agency & production types, and the local digerati. I stood out like a wart on a porn star's perfectly waxed genitals. I don't think I was imagining things when it seemed that a few of the aspirational-one-percenters in there looked down their noses at me.

The thing is, I'm actually ahead of them on the hipness curve. Beards? Tatts? Cafe'd-out KZ650s? Home-made artisanal pickles? Those are so 2012. I'm 'normcore'.

Yes, for the first time ever I'm officially beyond merely hip. Check it out, it's a real thing.

Or, normcore may be a joke being played by a handful of bleeding-edge fashion bloggers, no one is quite sure. The word was coined by the accidentally-almost-perfectly-named trend forecasting group K-hole, in NYC. Basically, if you believe those K-holes , the ├╝ber-hip have embraced mediocrity, to enjoy the simple pleasure of belonging. Or they're finally exhausted by the constant effort expended on dismissing anything that anyone else likes.

I was normcore before it was... well, I was going to say 'cool' but whatever it is, it isn't cool. Anyway, about three years ago, I (briefly) had a real job, at Trader Joe's. Since regular work outside the home meant I was going to have to commute right through a Kansas City winter, often going to work at 5 a.m., I needed an enclosed, four-wheeled vehicle. Of course, at first I looked for something cool, like a Ranchero or at least a '70s vintage C10.

What I quickly learned was that anything that I could afford, that had any kind of cool factor at all, was a complete piece of shit that I could in no way count on actually starting at below-zero temps or getting me all the way to the store. After finally test driving an F-100 that the CL seller described as a daily driver, and which in fact had brakes on only one wheel, I admitted to myself that I was not destined to be cool. In fact, I took the opposite approach; I started scouring CL for vans that had absolutely no cool factor whatsoever.

I settled on a 15 year old Plymouth Voyager, which I found in fully driveable condition for $1,500. It looked like a very large, burgundy-colored suppository. Basically it was the sort of vehicle some Republican bought for his suburban wife/soccer mom. She drove it for years, until her last kid was going off to college. Then, when that kid needed a car, Mom said, "Take the Voyager," and the kid chose, instead, to use public transit.

The thing was, I loved it. I became a totally different person driving it; that guy traveling infuriatingly slowly in the right lane, listening to NPR while watching the gas gauge. It always started; it got me to Trader Joe's whenever it was too cold or icy to ride. Then came some fateful night when I had a bunch of stuff to unload from the van. After schlepping back and forth a few trips, I got inside and kicked off my shoes, and wondered, Did I lock it?

I told myself no one would steal such a bland vehicle anyway, but the next morning it was gone. It wasn't stolen for resale; when it was found later, smashed into a guardrail, it was obvious that it had been used as a rolling meth lab.

I was crestfallen, but I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. Thieves had already smashed off the ignition of my Triumph in an attempt to steal it, and it's a piece of shit, too. You might surmise that I don't exactly live in a gated community.

Anyway, I started taking more precautions with the bikes; the Triumph, my non-running Honda Dream, and the only really good vehicle I own(ed)... my Yamaha Vino scooter. I bought a long, heavy cable to connect all three bikes, a decent padlock, and kept them all covered. That was vainglorious; the scooter was stolen last fall.

So basically, for every year I've lived here, someone's attempted to steal one of my vehicles; twice, they've been successful. Some day, I'll dedicate a whole post to describing just how completely nonplussed the Kansas City Police Department is, on the subject of vehicle theft.

Anyway, now that it's spring again, I really could use another scooter, but as long as I live here, I know that it has to be something so uncool that, a.) hipsters haven't driven the prices up on it, and b.) thieves won't target it.

I was having coffee with a local motorcyclist/friend the other day, who was aghast when I told him I was thinking about putting in an offer on a Honda Helix--arguably the homeliest Honda ever, although like the Voyager, a remarkably functional vehicle.

At first I fantasized about customizing it somehow; yarn-bombing it, or hand-beating alloy bodywork with steampunk brass hardware; maybe just doing an elaborate, trompe-l'oeuil paint job of rust, dirt and dents so that any thief would reject it out of hand. Then I realized that I don't need to do anything to it. The Helix is already beyond hip; it's normcore for motorcycles.

Seriously: Do a Google image search for "Honda Helix" and just look at the owners proudly posing with their Helixes (Helii?) They are so normcore it hurts.

Now that's my style.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Will Obamacare give club racing and track days a little shot in the arm?

I was one of the people who, at the last minute last week, signed up for Obamacare. That means that I have health insurance for the first time since about 2007. Since I’m a self-employed writer and my wife is a dancer (neither of which are particularly high-paying jobs) our insurance, such as it is, isn’t costing us much. 

Prior to Obamacare, there were no meaningful coverage options that made any financial sense for us. What I’m saying is, although I’ve obviously not had to use my health coverage yet, on the face of it I’d say Obamacare works for me.

For a day or so, I had a tiny little warm glow thinking, Huh, maybe I don’t have to live in complete fear of being bankrupted by a health problem that would only be an inconvenience in a socialist country like, say, Norway or Great Britain. (For the record, given the sizable deductibles on any of the plans I can afford, I’d almost be bankrupted, but whatever.)

Then it hit me: Hey, I could do a track day; I could go racing; I could actually have fun.

One thing that’s held me back, when it comes to doing any real quality riding lately is, club racing organizations and track day operators typically insist on medical coverage.

Obviously, participating in events like club racing or track days is a selective filter for people who have thousands of dollars to blow on a hobby. And I suppose the vast majority of people who can afford the motorcycle they need for such a purpose, not to mention the truck or trailer, leathers, etc., already have health insurance. Most of the fifty million Americans without any health coverage (prior to Obamacare) probably have other priorities. And anyway, so far, on 7.1 million of them have signed up.

Still, amongst those millions, I bet there are few others, besides me, who are now looking for an affordable way to treat a serious illness not covered by Obamacare: the racing bug.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

National Association of Embalmers & Undertakers joins forces with ABATE

From a press release issued by AE&E national headquarters, Columbus Park, MO.

One of the largest  trade groups in the funeral direction industry will announce an official partnership with ABATE later today. The two groups are the Association of Embalmers & Undertakers (AE&E), a 12,000-member organization representing funeral directors from all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and ABATE*, with chapters in 25 states.

"As an organization, the AE&E is committed to freedom of choice," says national spokesman Randy Glaholt. "We don't think the government has a role in dictating our clients' choice of interment or cremation, and we saw a brother organization in ABATE, which maintains the belief that motorcycle helmets are an infringement on another basic right, namely, the right to die in an otherwise-harmless low speed motorcycle crash."

The partnership will begin with the two organizations sharing databases, and holding joint strategic planning sessions. It's expected that the groups will merge their Washington and state-capital lobbying organizations soon, too.

ABATE spokesman Buck 'Stump' Brown admitted, "They've got a huge database, but of course all their clients are dead, and it is getting harder and harder to count on their votes in helmet referendums. But, our strategic goals are closely aligned, so we should save a lot of money and increase our effectiveness when it comes to fighting totalitarian helmet laws.

This strategic alliance was the brainchild of AE&E's North Dakota state director, Harley Bridgewater. "We've always noticed an uptick in business in our state, during the big biker gathering at Sturgis," Bridgewater says. "For us, that time of year is like the old days, before socialists in Washington forced seat belts on us, and interfered with the free market by restricting tobacco ads."

"As a young apprentice embalmer," Bridgewater recalled with obvious fondness, "I remember my dad telling me about the days when, after a funeral, the men would all go outside and stand around smoking. We all wish it could still be so, but let's face it, that fight's been lost. That's what's great about working with ABATE. It does my heart good to see a funeral attended by a huge column of Patriot Guard riders, with their American flag do-rags snapping in the breeze."

AE&E spokesman Glaholt added, "You can only do so much to fight demographics. How often have you heard people say things like '70 is the new fifty'? Baby Boomers are watching their diets, and doing yoga. I mean sure, they're eventually going to die but how long can we wait for their business? It only makes sense for our group and ABATE to work together."

(*According to Wikipedia: ABATE is an acronym which originally stood for "A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments" and alternatively stands for "American Bikers Against Totalitarian Enactments", "A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education", "American Bikers for Awareness, Training & Education", "American Bikers Aimed Towards Education", "American Bikers Advocating Training & Education" with other combination used.)