Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Skull Masks, a rant

A few days ago, a post from Cycle World publisher Andy Leisner showed up in my Facebook news feed.

His message was directed at motorcycle industry marketing types, "Don't advertise on Facebook. Advertise in Cycle World, where your ad won't be lumped in with this tasteless shit that shows up in my Facebook feed just because I love motorcycles."

I'm not going to dwell on the fact that the small ads in motorcycle magazines are full of equally tasteless shit. Though I can't help but recall the first time Motorcyclist ran a full page ad for penis enlargement. I remember going into Boehm's office and telling him that he had to tell the publisher to stop running it.

"If you think business is shitty now," I told him, "wait until Motorcyclist's readers come upon that ad and conclude that they're holding a magazine for guys with tiny dicks. Yeah, lots of guys want to subscribe to that magazine, for sure."

Leisner's post was self-serving (or at least CW-serving) but it reminded me how much I fucking hate those skull masks.

Honestly, what fucking asshole would ever choose that as an accessory? Thank God they are only worn by idiots who also wear useless helmets, when they wear helmets at all. Do you have a skull mask? Please fall off,  so you can die as soon as possible.

Would it be legal to just shoot people wearing these masks? At least in stand-your-ground states I think you could get away with saying you thought the mask-wearer was a zombie. It's legal to shoot zombies, right? If not, it will be soon in Kansas.

Fucking skull masks. There's basically no overlap whatsoever between the kind of bikes or the kind of riding I do, and the kind of riding those fucking skull-mask-wearing twats do. But when I see one of those pathetic fucks on the road the thought occurs to me that I could walk away from motorcycling and never look back.

The next time some cager purposely narrows the gap as you're lane-splitting up behind him, or the next time someone strings a wire across trail, remember that to us, there are all kinds of motorcyclists but to non-riders, there's just "guys who ride motorcycles".

Those skull masks and all the other violent, sexist, racist, xenophobic shit worn and spewed by assholes who want to look like badass bikers... that shit sticks to all of us.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A note from the Dept. of "We'll always have Paris"

I initially wrote this essay about about “Le Circuit de Linas-Montlhéry” a decade ago. It first appeared on the old Road Racer X web site. In the intervening decade, the circuit has been saved (again) refitted with some new safety equipment. After a hiatus of several years in which the “Coupes Moto Légende,” was held in the Dijon region, it is again taking place on the outskirts of Paris. The event is highly recommended. 

À la recherche de motos perdues (in two parts)

A couple of months ago, I did something every journalist should do every few years: I (re)read A.J. Liebling. He was a brilliant essayist and war correspondent, a funny guy, and an insightful observer of subjects as diverse as the sport of boxing and French cuisine. He’s best remembered for his long stint at the New Yorker, a magazine so respected by writers that it is called the[ital] New Yorker, not “New Yorker.”

Liebling wrote eloquently about returning to Paris when the city was liberated in ‘44, and described spending the last night before liberation in Linas-Montlhéry. He was bemused by the town’s gigantic racetrack, but didn’t pay it much attention. Instead, he climbed to the top of hill and looked, through a spotting scope, at Paris. That was on his mind. But reading Liebling’s reminiscence of Montlhéry took me back to my own visits there, about 60 years later... 

The first time I went there, it was to write a story about an event. Afterwards, I realized the real story was about the track itself. So I went back to see the track again a few weeks later. 

That first time, I got a ride with Patrick Bodden; going back alone was more involved. I had to decode French train schedules, walk for hours after miscalculating the distance from the nearest station; a whole day was shot. When I finally got there, I innocently asked permission take some pictures of the empty circuit. I was told, “Fous-moi le camp! No one’s allowed in, and even if you were allowed in, photography is strictly forbidden.” To that, the jobsworth added, “And it’s never going to be open to the public again!” 

[A brief musical interlude goes here. I suggest Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien—MG]

For the previous 11 years, “Coupes Moto Légende,” Europe’s biggest vintage motorcycle meet had been held at “Le Circuit de Linas-Montlhéry” on the southern outskirts of Paris. That spring, I went because I’d heard that the 2003 version of the “Coupes” was to be the final motorcycle event ever held at “Montlhéry”. The event always drew an amazing array of rare bikes. I wanted to see them, and especially hear them, in their natural habitat. 

The Montlhéry circuit had remained virtually unchanged since its construction in 1924, making it a perfect setting for a vintage event. When the circuit was built it was in the countryside, but inevitably Parisian suburbs spread south and population density increased around it. More and more, locals opposed the roar of open megaphone exhausts and the traffic snarls caused by legions of fans. By the time of the 2003 event they’d gotten their wish—the locals were promised, “No more.” 

But oh, what a track it was. Although the layout allowed for road courses of up to 12 kilometers in length, Montlhéry was famous for its 2-1/2 kilometer parabolic oval. Way up at the top, the banking was a real old “wall of death.” If you had the guts and suspension for it, you could ride any motorcycle ever made all the way ‘round absolutely wide open. You think I’m exaggerating? 

Raymond Jamin, who engineered the track, calculated the rising slope so that up at the guardrail, a motorcycle could run through the turns at 220 k.p.h. with completely neutral steering. To build the banking up high enough, and make it strong enough to absorb the g-forces generated by the massive speed-record automobiles of the day, Jamin used 8000 cubic meters of concrete, reinforced with 1000 tons of steel.

Fame eluded Jamin, but his race track is a monument to the modernist style that appropriately became known as “brutalism.” Now, it’s listed in the official register of French historic sites and monuments.
The bowl was an ideal place to set speed and endurance records, and they were set here, by the handwritten, leather-bound book-full. Five years after the track was built, Herb Le Vack rode a Brough Superior to the world’s first closed-course lap of over 200 k.p.h. That bike, a 1927 model SS100 Pendine had been tweaked by Freddie Dixon. Before Le Vack rode, it was raced by George Brough himself. It’s currently owned by Peter Lancaster, a collector—like everyone here at the Coupes—who understands that even precious bikes need to run to live.

In 1952, Norton’s race engineer Joe Craig was staggered by the speed of the Gilera four-cylinder Grand Prix bikes. He responded by building the Norton ‘kneeler’, trying to make up with streamlining what the single-cylinder Manx engine gave up in horsepower. English GP ace Ray Amm, aided by Eric Oliver, set a total of 41 records on that Norton when they brought it here in the fall of 1953. 

The noise they made! 

Norton, blaat. 

Brough, MV, roaring (the twin pitched flat, the four on song.) 

Honda six, Guzzi eight. I winced when they were revved. Partly due to the earsplitting sound, and partly because I couldn’t ignore the potential for mechanical mayhem within those irreplaceable crankcases. 

At a certain moment, it occurred to me that, yeah, I was getting an echo off the banking, but the parabolic shape was directing the bulk of the sound straight up into the heavens. High flying birds, at least, must’ve wondered “What the?..”

By Sunday, we had bounced too many shock waves into the clouds, and it started to rain. Thousands of people; most of the riders, exhibitors, and swap meet traders had been bivouacked under the infield trees. Handwritten signs dissolved into papier maché. “For Sale”, “Wanted”, “I’ll sell you this rolling chassis, or buy a motor if you have one to fit it”. (Either way at least someone could leave with a whole motorcycle.) One sign taped to a frame desperately asked, “Does anyone know what this is?” 
In the rain, anything being sold under an awning suddenly got a lot more interesting. I lined up for some ‘frites’, behind a couple in their late fifties or early sixties. She was wearing a tweed suit, white blouse; a brooch, little gloves. As though she’d just come back from mass. He was holding something made of black plastic: the air filter housing for a Suzuki GT750. “You see, here’s where the filter goes,” he said, pointing inside. “And is that something,” she asked, “which will have to be cleaned?”

They had both been faking this conversation since Suzuki introduced the GT. She was pretending that she cared, and he was pretending to believe her. Both were visibly relieved when I leaned in to ask, “Did they call GT750s ‘kettles’ here in France?” That way he could start talking to me instead.

That year as always, the actual “coupes”—the cups—were awarded by a jury. There were classes for absolutely everything, from utilitarian mopeds to bona-fide works GP bikes. Such bikes are often ridden by the men who originally raced them. Kenny Roberts made the pilgrimage in 2002; Agostini came to Montlhéry almost every year. In total, about a thousand machines took their laps during each event. 

Although the promoter sternly warned, “This is not a race!” putting riders like this on vintage race iron could only lead to one thing: racing! Even Sammy Miller—otherwise seemingly immune to the effects of time—lowsided, earning a ride back in the pace car, looking as close to embarrassed as a member of the Pantheon can look. 

Finally, it poured. In the infield, people folded wet tents, stuffed damp sleeping bags into sacks. “That’s the part that I would hate,” my friend said, as we slogged past a vendor loading his inventory of cycle parts—now wet, and even rustier—back onto a trailer. Vehicles inched out on muddy tracks. 
I hope you don’t mind if I leave you here, in the rain, for a week. It’ll do you good. Build character. Me? I’m heading over to a large tent, where I can hear an accordion and tinkling champagne glasses, but I’ll be back here next Thursday to conclude this essay.

Au revoir, Marc

Last week I left you in the rain, as the horde of fans and swap meet treasure hunters abandoned the Circuit Linas-Montlhéry in the face of an advancing rainstorm. 

I retreated to Eric Saul’s huge tent. Saul, who won a couple of Grands Prix back in the day, occasionally promotes classic races based mostly on the rugged Yamaha 250 and 350 twins that filled GP grids in the 1970s. The day before, Eric had highsided his Bimota 250 and broken his collarbone, for the nth time. I learned that the French word for “highside” is pronounced, “eye-side”. 

“I think,” said Saul with a one-sided shrug, “that there might have been oil on the track. Have a glass of champagne.” Hundreds of people were packed in with us, the hard core that didn’t want to leave, even though the Coupes Moto-Légende was over. Eric’s girlfriend, also a racer, was playing the accordion. Some song that was so French it hurt. She was tall enough, pretty enough (and fast enough by the way) that it looked and sounded good on her. I thought about pushing through the crowd to say hello to Giacomo Agostini, but I stayed on the fringes.

It’s not an accident that the expression “joie de vivre” is French. Eventually though, all things must end. The party fell quiet and the last of us filtered out, leaving the great track silent once and for all–if by “all” you mean, the public.

What does the future hold for Montlhéry? The land belongs to the government. Decades ago, the track and associated buildings were handed over to UTAC, a company which provides testing and consulting services to the car industry. UTAC, in turn, is controlled by Renault and Peugot/Citroen. This tangled ownership always made it easy to duck responsibility. When Montlhéry locals complained about noise and traffic, the administration said, “What can we do? The land belongs to the government; they’re the ones who made it a national monument; we’re sort of obliged to open it to the citizens every now and then.” 

At the same time, when 40,000 Coupes fans got up in arms over the impending closure of their favorite track the administration said, “Well, it’s not us that want to close the circuit.” 

But it was them. UTAC never wanted the public on the site. They do almost all their physical testing in modern buildings built outside the track, and their business is increasingly done with computer simulations. The company’s web site doesn’t even mention the legendary oval. 

The road course was occasionally rented out to car clubs, but the owners said the use they got from it, and the revenue it generated, didn’t justify the cost of basic annual upkeep. 

A few years ago, they got the perfect excuse to close it: the French government being, well, French has a committee that exists for the sole purpose of homologating the country’s race tracks. Every track needs a valid certificate to stage events. For Montlhéry’s certificate to be renewed in 2004, someone would have had to spend $15 million repairing cracks in the concrete and repaving the whole thing. 

“15 million!” UTAC’s spokesmen acted suitably taken aback, and sputtered, “Who’s got that kind of money? We’ll have to stop holding public events.” 

Without a showcase event like Coupes Moto Légende, le Circuit de Linas-Montlhéry faces continued neglect, and slow decay. Eventually, it will be unusable, and the owners will be glad to padlock it once and for all. Weeds will push up through the cracked asphalt and vines will slowly overtake the concrete banking.

Motorcycling itself only goes back a hundred years; and Grand Prix racing barely goes back 50. So until now, as motorcyclists, the most interesting parts of our past have been held in our collective living memory. As a historian of our sport, I have always liked the idea that I could talk directly to the people who made our history—that I could see their motorcycles run, and hear them. 

No one would have thought—riding like we did, half the time without helmets—that we’d even last long enough to reach this point. But as time marches on, motorcycling’s history is starting to reach back past living memory. Into history history. That would be what? Dead memory? 

It’s funny. I went to the Circuit de Linas-Montlhéry for the bikes. Because it might’ve been my last chance to see and hear a bike like that Norton kneeler in its original context. I thought that hearing it would somehow make that memory my own; real, not just a historical note beside a static display. 
Then I went back a second time for the empty track. I was prevented from seeing it, not because there was any secret testing going on there that I might photograph, just because a typical, emasculated French petty functionary relished the opportunity to say “no.” 

I never expected to be so interested in the track. There was a certain, melancholy poetry to being denied a final visit, not that there’s any great philosophical conclusion to draw from it. Except that while it’s worth it to keep our history alive, it’s also important to remember the things we’ve lost.

This story is included in my book, On Motorcycles: The Best of Backmarker. If you enjoyed it, buy a book now and give it to a friend for Christmas. Then, you can borrow it back and read dozens more tales like this one.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dead horse, beaten. Pt. 2: Rossi vs. Marquez

Since I wasn't there, don't have access to Rossi's and Marquez' data (or the ability to mind-meld with them and actually know what they were thinking) I can't meaningfully contribute to the debate that has been raging for the last ten days, as to whether Marquez was purposely slowing Rossi and/or whether Rossi intentionally made Marquez crash. Of course, that hasn’t prevented millions of other punters from weighing in with their uninformed opinions. 

Based only on the video coverage, I feel the evidence supports but doesn't prove the charge that Marquez intentionally held up Rossi. Point: Rossi. I would characterize Rossi's move as hard racing, not a move worthy of a penalty. Point: Rossi.

So although I'm not a rabid Rossi fan, I understand his fans' anger and dismay.

My take on it, however, is that if Marquez was intentionally slowing Rossi, then Rossi reaped what he sowed by complaining about him at Philip Island.

One of my Facebook friends is a racer of long experience. He summed it up succinctly when he said that Marquez had finally succeeded in doing something no other racer has ever managed: to get into Rossi's head.

If I'm not a Rossi fan, it's mainly because he's the one with a long history of playing unseemly (and in his case, unnecessary) head games with rivals from Biaggi to Gibernau. But really, what was Rossi thinking with that diatribe in PI? Was he goading Lorenzo by implying that the only way the Spaniard could catch up to him was with help from his homeboy? Or telling Marquez, “I see what you’re doing.” Why? To make him just move over and let him through in the remaining races?

Even if Rossi believed his own story, that was bound to piss Marquez off. 

In that sense, Rossi got what he deserved when he tried to pass and get clear of Marquez at Sepang. Given his long experience (and the fact that he's an intelligent guy) Rossi should have known he risked a penalty for his role in Marquez' crash. He was lucky not have been black flagged, which really would've hurt his title chances.

His reaction to the penalty, which included a petulant, "Well maybe I won't race at Valencia at all" was exactly the kind of reaction he usually provokes in his rivals. I mean, what the fuck dude? You're still leading the championship.

So maybe Marquez really is in his head.
I couldn't help but noticing that my social media feeds were full of these "gay" memes, linking Marquez and Lorenzo. Ironically Rossi was dogged by gender-preference rumors for years. When I became the only motorcycle journalist to actually write about those rumors, Rossi's fans fucking attacked me—even though I took pains to point out that I didn't personally give a shit whether he was attracted to men, or women, both or neither. Those same fans obviously don't mind tossing a few gay slurs in the direction of Lorenzo or Marquez.
Meanwhile, MotoGP—having long ago decided to build its entire brand on Rossi—is reaping what it has sowed, too. 

Last week the FIM issued a letter, in which it argued that, “Riders, team, manufacturers and sponsors should not only respect the rules but they should accept the decisions of the officials, whatever they may be. Otherwise, they are contributing to anarchy and undermining the future development of our sport.”

I don’t think any stakeholder has an obligation to remain silent and take a punishment that he genuinely feels is inappropriate. The whole letter, with it's whingebag, "Can't we all play nice?" message is pathetic.

Rossi may really feel aggrieved at this point, or he may just be fucking with MotoGP. He’s appealed the punishment to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The Court only meets a few times a year; the last time it heard a case related to the FIM was the Ant West doping case. I’d pay good money to be a fly on the wall in a court session that has been promised soon, so it can rule before the race this Sunday. 

You can find a list of recent decisions handed down by the court here: http://www.tas-cas.org/en/jurisprudence/recent-decisions.html The cases make for eye-glazing reading. Most involve procedural matters, such as an athlete’s amateur status, or doping sanctions. There aren’t many analogous cases, although I did find one case that involved a decision made by the judges at a taekwando match. The arbitrators are lawyers, not technical experts in the sport they’re ruling on. Perhaps that’s why Wikipedia says that CAS is reluctant to overturn decisions “on the field”. 

Based on that, I’d say it’s unlikely CAS will reverse Rossi’s penalty, although I think that MotoGP is basically obliged to stand by whatever the Court decides (because the FIM has agreed to CAS jurisdiction.) 

What’s a certainty? Only this: Valencia’s TV ratings will go through the roof and MotoGP will earn extra millions in video streaming fees. This whole thing has turned into a shit-show worthy of the Republican Presidential primary process.

I hope that when it’s all over, MotoGP doesn’t think, “Hey, it was a shit-show but it attracted lots of viewers, let’s just keep the controversies coming.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Assigning responsibility in that Texas road rage crash, and advice on avoiding similar situations in the future

I'm the last guy in, when it comes to commenting on that famous Texas incident in which some angry old redneck swerved into the path of an unlicensed motorcyclist about to make an illegal pass across a double-yellow line.

Thanks to the video coverage provided by a following motorcyclist, the redneck will almost certainly be convicted of some kind of vehicular assault. In the past, I've been dismissive of riders who seem to be obsessed with this kind of self-documentary, but I have to admit that video evidence has sure proven handy.

Obviously, while the rider is guilty of poor judgement, as well as a moving violation for crossing that double yellow, the only person who committed a crime (as opposed to a moving violation) was the car driver. This is the kind of gratuitous vehicular aggression that I see directed at bicyclists more often than motorcyclists (for reasons I can't really explain.)

Having lived in Texas, I can attest to the fact that there are lots of angry rednecks there. There's a reason why in the Scandinavian countries 'Texas' is slang for crazy. But in the Lone Star State's limited defense, I did not experience as much sheer cage-driver aggro there as I did in California. This isn't a Texas thing, per se.

I'm not going to bag on the motorcyclist for passing across the double yellow line. As others have pointed out those no passing zones are engineered with the roll-on acceleration of cars in mind, and there are many situations where cars can't safely pass, but motorcycles can. Nor am I going to make the fatuous claim that any safe riding skills can reliably protect you from car (or truck, or SUV) drivers who are actively trying to hurt you.

But I think there are some safety lessons that can be drawn from this suddenly famous video.

While the pass would almost certainly have been safely executed if the vehicle hadn't swerved across the line, the motorcyclist might have avoided contact if he'd maintained a wider safety zone between himself and the car. I say this because while the car driver obviously and purposely crossed the line, I think he wanted to scare the motorcyclist, not actually hit him. (Support for this point: The car is actually cutting back towards its lane at the moment of impact. If you just wanted to take the guy out, would you stop and basically ensure you were going to get caught?) 

Also, my take on this is not that it was a case of traffic-law vigilantism; my read on this kind of driver is that it's more about territoriality and ego than anger about traffic rules being bent by two wheelers.

As a motorcyclist, you have to optimize a complex equation when you pass another vehicle in situations like this. You want to complete the pass reasonably quickly, minimizing your exposure in the oncoming lane, but blitzing a car with a high closing speed makes any unpredictable behavior that much more dangerous. (More on this in point in a moment.) And, it's not great public relations to rip past car drivers two feet from their driver's side window, scaring the crap out of them.

The motorcyclist justified his illegal passing maneuver by saying the car driver was traveling 20 miles an hour below the speed limit.

I doubt that was really the case, but if it was, it would be cause for an alert on the part of the following rider. Right off the top, driving well below the limit is often an indication the driver is drunk. That kind of ultra-slow driving could mean that the driver is aware of cross traffic ahead, or is about to suddenly stop, attempt a u-turn, or turn into a hidden driveway. 

If you find yourself in that situation, you should never just rip past without a second thought. Give that car an especially wide berth and, ideally, flash a high beam and/or make eye contact with the driver before committing to your pass.

If it's a 'normal passing' situation, where the car's going slower than you want to go but otherwise the driver seems normal, the appropriate protocol is to look well ahead to ensure there's space to complete the pass, make sure there are no hidden driveways; in rural settings you should be aware of the possibility animals could enter the road; and give the car as much space as possible. Pass as quickly as practical, and bear in mind that you're not doing other riders any favors by wheelying past the dude at 12,000 rpm, brushing his wing mirror while your passenger flips double birds. (Don’t get me started on the judgement, or lack thereof, displayed by the passenger, who got on a motorcycle ridden by an unlicensed bro’tard. Anyway, so far she’s paid the highest price, it seems.)

Again, I'm operating on the premise that the driver of that car is guilty of some kind of reckless endangerment but that he probably wouldn't have swerved all the way over to the left ditch. I think it's likely that if the rider had used better judgment, he would have experienced infuriating and stupid behavior on the part of that redneck, but that he would also have gotten past safely. 

If, as motorcyclists, we’re all going to look out for one another, the best thing is to pass as safely and reasonably as possible, and then give the cager a little wave if they don’t do anything stupid. We could, as a group, do a much better job of our public relations. Considering that the Texas motorcycle rider in question seems like an ass, I’d say he falls (pun intended) more on the ‘problem’ than on the ‘solution’ side.

  • The driver’s behavior was criminal.
  • The motorcyclist was a dumbass.
  • Individually, the rider shares some responsibility for what happened, but he’s still an aggrieved party, along with his passenger.
  • Collectively, motorcyclists could do a much better job our relations with car drivers to minimize the risk of these road-rage encounters.

That said, next time you find yourself following a guy who is shaking a .45 out his window, don't assume he's merely waving you past.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Distinguished Gentlemen? Maybe. But not discriminating. The motorcycle industry has its head up its ass. Again.

Hey, Australia!
This post really touched a nerve with you guys. For the record, your health care system is nowhere near as massively fucked up as the U.S. system. That's where I live, and that's the audience I write for. I probably would not have felt compelled to write this, if I lived in Oz. (Curiously, I do live in Kansas City, near where the Wizard of Oz was written, but that's another story.) 

While an Australian is probably somewhat less likely to be overdiagnosed and overtreated for prostate cancer—and so the first part of this rant is less applicable to you guys—the big point, which is that motorcyclists support all kinds of charities that have nothing to do with us, while keeping our heads firmly in the sand when it comes to the medical research we should support.

Feel free to hate on my all you want, I'm all out of fucks to give, when it comes to pissing people off. 

Executive summary: The fact that motorcyclists just spent a precious weekend day raising money for prostate cancer research, instead of spinal cord injury research, is bullshit.  

Wasn’t the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride charming, on September 27? Think of all the money they raised for prostate screening. The thing is, the motorcycle industry could’ve just looked for prostate problems instead of funding high-tech screening apparatuses, because the motorcycle industry already has its head up its ass when it comes to choosing which 'charitable' causes it supports.

Don’t even get me started on the way prostate screening is part of a giant medical fraud, largely promulgated by the insane American for-profit “health care” industry (with assistance from drug companies in some places with otherwise-rational health care delivery systems, like the UK and Australia.)

According to the NIH: 
We can find microscopic evidence of prostate cancer in around half of 60-year-old men if we look hard enough. Yet only 3 in 1,000 will die from prostate cancer over the next 10 years. How can this be? Because prostate cancer isn’t just one disease: it’s a spectrum of disorders. Some forms of prostate cancer grow very rapidly and kill the men who have them. Some grow so slowly that, even without treatment, men die of something else before the cancer causes symptoms. And other forms look like cancer under the microscope but never grow at all or may regress spontaneously.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK126168/

According to Dr. Otis Webb Brawley (Chief Medical and Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President of the American Cancer Society):
A number of studies in the U.S. and Europe have shown that there is a type of prostate cancer that is localized to the prostate and of good prognosis, meaning it rarely progresses or causes harm if left alone.All of the organizations that set treatment guidelines based on the scientific evidence recommend that men diagnosed with this type of cancer be carefully observed. These cancers can almost always be effectively treated if found to be progressing. With careful observation, the majority of men will never need treatment and can be spared the burdens of unnecessary therapy.These low-risk forms of prostate cancer are commonly diagnosed through screening and commonly overtreated in the U.S. Indeed, the massive problem of overtreatment and the resultant large number of harms to the population is part of the reason that a number of respected organizations such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Academy of Family Physicians now recommend against routine prostate cancer screening.
So if you’re one of the dandies who took part in the DGR last month, I hope you love your motorcycle, because to be clear: Encouraging screening in the U.S. equals encouraging unnecessary and overaggressive treatment in literally hundreds of thousands of cases per year. This wastes billions of dollars that would be better spent in other ways, not to mention this: The #1 complication associated with all aggressive prostate cancer treatment is loss of sexual function. 

It's possible that these 30-something hipsters think, "Oh, by the time you're 50 or 60 you don't want to have any more sex, anyway." But I'm here to tell you that you fucking do. In fact, most 50- and 60-something guys would rather have another decade or three of sex, even if it meant risking the remote chance they'd die from prostate cancer at 70, or 80, or 90... a year or two before they died of something else. 
Thousands and thousands of American men are treated for harmless cancers—and no, ‘harmless cancer’ is not an oxymoron—every year, generating $8,000,000,000 in revenue for hospitals, which is why the for-profit health care industry loves you Distinguished Gentlemen. Of the quarter-million men who’ll be treated for prostate cancer in the U.S. this year, roughly half—whether treated surgically or with hormone therapy—will never have another orgasm. The majority of them would have lived their entire natural lives happily fucking their wives and/or girlfriends (both if they were lucky) or their boyfriends, or at least the occasional hooker. Whatever! Then they'd've died of other causes, while their prostate cancer was asymptomatic.

Like I said, I hope you really love riding your motorcycle, because if the prostate cancer business—and that’s what it is, a business, that you provided a bunch of free advertising for—has its way, your motorcycle is all you're gonna' ride.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride 2015 from TinMen on Vimeo.
I love this sexy video, but how ironic is it that all this is in promotion of prostate screening, which is one of the worst things that has ever happened to sex.

To be clear: I don’t really give a fuck whether you believe me, or you think I pulled these figures out of my ass. Because that long preamble was to get to a point that no motorcyclist can seriously argue against, and it’s this:

The only medical research the motorcycle industry and motorcycle community should be funding is spinal cord research. But we won’t fund it or talk about it because we’re terrified of admitting that a spinal cord injury can happen to any of us, any time we get on a motorcycle. 

Ask Wayne Rainey or Joan Lascorz, or Doug Henry or David Bailey if they worried about prostate cancer when they were racing. No way. But all of them wondered if they’d walk away from their careers when they were over, because every pro rider ponders the risks from time to time. 

So should recreational riders; almost 7% of all spinal paralysis is the result of motorcycle crashes. Considering the relatively small number of riders in total, it’s clear that being a motorcyclist dramatically increases your risk of paralysis. And here’s the thing: There’s a ton of promising research on spinal injury treatment; stem cells, electro-stimulation... we may well live to see the day when a spinal lesion doesn’t mean you’ll spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. And the three million bucks raised by you Distinguished Gentlemen could have made a real difference.

I’ve been arguing this for years now, and I’m so fucking tired of it that, at this point, I’ll just refer you to an older post if you want to read more, here.

Triumph got a ton of great PR by leveraging their involvement with the Distinguished Genitalmen’s Ride, and I get it, they’ll never put that effort into spinal cord research because it unsells bikes by reminding us all of the inherent risk and the worst-case-scenario. But I’m going to keep making this case until someone, somewhere, decides they’re going to look out for motorcyclists, instead of profits.

UPDATE: January 16, 2017

Guy Martin agrees with me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

HoAME m/c club's First Friday ride-in bike show in Kansas City

The Crossroads District hosts Kansas City's biggest regular arts event every First Friday. Judging from the success of the Heart of America Motorcycle Enthusiasts' ride-in bike show, the First Friday in September might also become a motorcycle thing. This event was hosted by member and lifelong motorcyclist Dave Wilhm at his KC Brake garage. Big thanks to Dave, and kudos to organizer Jim Van Eman (Ducati 750 GT.)

In honor of Ralph Wayne's much-missed "Backyard National" event, everyone got a First Place ribbon.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On “Motorcycle Journalism Not Suck[ing] Anymore”

I saw a FB post from Sean MacDonald the other day, and followed it to a Jalopnik/Lanesplitter story announcing the relaunch of Lanesplitter, with Sean at the helm. This all goes back a few months, to a provocative post by ex-Hell For Leather editor Wes Siler. He’d written “There’s no good motorcycle content anymore.” I responded in four parts; if you’re a real sucker for punishment, there are links to those posts at the bottom of this one.

Anyway, in a sort of response to the fuss kicked up by Siler, Lanesplitter has apparently hired his ex-partner(¿do I have that right?) to, well, as MacDonald wrote...

I once took the trouble to actually write H4L, so say how much I enjoyed a story Sean MacDonald wrote about riding through the Sierras. I hardly ever do that. And he helped to turn Revzilla into a pretty cool site. Now he's got a new gig.
He meant it, of course, as not sucking for readers of motorcycle journalism. But since I am a motorcycle journalist I first read it as a plan to make it not suck to be a motorcycle journalist.

For a moment I thought, About fucking time. Just for a moment. But when I read the Lanesplitter launch announcement I realized that it was not about improving the ‘career’ (sneer quotes sadly needed) of motorcycle journalism.

I started writing about motorcycles, and for motorcycle magazines, in the mid-‘90s. I was old then and I was really old when I briefly worked full-time and on staff at Motorcyclist. So although I’m the age of senior motorcycle journalists who made a good living and have now retired to wine country, I only just caught the end of the profitable (¿profligate?) period before the double whammy of the Internet and ’08 eviscerated print media. I’m in a weird place where I know what it was like in the heyday, but I didn’t really benefit from it. And though I’ve been a staffer, the vast majority of my motorcycle journalism has been as a freelancer. In the time that I’ve been writing for magazines, rates have dropped 70%.

Going forward, I imagine that virtually all future motorcycle journalism opportunities will be freelance, and in the age of the Internet, that sucks. I mean, if Huffington Post, with its millions of readers, won’t pay for content, how much will motorcycle sites pay? We live in the age of “You’ll get exposure” but as a full-time writer, exposure is precisely the thing I have to sell in order to eat.

Back when I still attended launches, there was at least one well-known web site (I’m looking at you, Dean Adams) that was happy to send a journalist to a press launch for nothing but the privilege of the free trip and track day. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Superbike Planet didn’t send a genuine expert in Danny Coe. He wrote exhaustive, great assessments. So why would Adams pay for something he could get for free? I don’t blame him, but that attitude’s obviously a career killer.

Let me quickly point out, then, three things that would have to change for motorcycle journalism not to suck—for motorcycle journalists
  • Pay rates have to reach a level such that writing about motorcycles is a viable job. I don’t expect to see a return to the days when I was paid as much as $2,500 for a feature story, but if you’re going to work for a few days on a feature, it’s gotta’ pay over $1,000. The baseline for pay should be, say, what you could make driving an Uber.
  • We need to get paid faster. American magazines, especially, take laughably, ridiculously long to pay for material. I once wrote a feature for Cycle World; I was not paid in the year that the story ran, I was not paid in the following year, either. I was paid the year after that. And, back then, I was carrying expenses on a credit card. I probably lost money on the story.
  • Magazines and web sites need to take responsibility for the risks motorcycle journalists take. There are plenty of Jackass/Nitro Tour wannabes who take unnecessary risks. I’m not talking about those guys; they deserve what they get. But this shit’s inherently dangerous. When I crashed and broke my wrist on a GSX-R1000 launch at Philip Island, I was out of pocket for an amount of money roughly equal to all the money I made writing about motorcycles that year. I’ve had friends who were good, sensible riders injured, crippled, and killed on the job. We need to be insured, or magazines and web sites need to just step up and pay those bills.

Does anyone need professional motorcycle journalists anymore? Looking back on it, when I started writing for magazines, I had a full-time job in the ad industry; I paid all my own riding and racing bills with those glorious ad agency pay checks. I wrote about motorcycles as a hobby. Actually, as a sideline to my hobby, which was motorcycle racing. I was as good a writer then as I am now; looking back on some of those early stories I realize there was nothing about making a living at it that was essential to doing good work.

So no, motorcycle journalism—even good motorcycle journalism—doesn’t actually presuppose a need for motorcycle journalists. MacDonald and Lanesplitter won’t necessarily fail if they don’t do the things they need to do to ensure the survival of motorcycle journalism as a job

It’s not up to Sean MacDonald and Jalopnik to do those things, but if they want to set a new standard for readers, it’s reasonable to point out that this is what goes along with setting a new standard for writers.

The original discussion:
Is there really no more good motorcycle content?

Friday, August 14, 2015

UPDATED—Is AMA Pro Racing treating us like dopes?


Over the last few days, I’ve been tracking a story about cheating. In particular, tire doping. In laying it out for you, I’m going cite a lot of anonymous sources. But as you read on, you can assume the story has been corroborated by a number of paddock regulars, including team principals and experienced riders. All those people have legitimate fears that they’d pay a price for talking to a reporter. Honestly, I would not be surprised to pay a price for breaking this story myself. But what the hell; I don’t go to that many races any more anyway. If I never get another Media Pass, it won’t kill me.

Bryan Smith (42) won the race at Du Quoin this year, but current championship leader Jared Mees (1) finished second with a tire that looked very second-hand by race end. That tire ended up being examined by Dunlop and tested for evidence of doping at Blue Ridge Labs, in North Carolina.

Fact: At Du Quoin, GNC1 Championship leader Jared Mees’ Harley finished the race with a rear tire that was visibly, dramatically worn. Mees finished in second place, behind Bryan Smith, whose tire still looked new. Seasoned observers felt that Mees’ Harley looked like it was a “good-handling” bike that night, which is usually consistent with minimal tire wear.

Fact: At the next race, Mees’ tuner Kenny Tolbert turned a tire over to AMA officials, which he informed them was Mees’ Du Quoin main event tire. The tire was visually examined by Dunlop personnel at the track. (It’s currently in Dunlop’s possession in Buffalo, NY. I spoke to Mick Jackson, Dunlop’s Manager of Product Development, and he told me he’s seen it, and “it looks like it overheated.” Jackson also specifically told me he had not seen, nor would he expect to see, any analysis related to tire doping.)

This is where things get interesting: many people have told me that the tire (or, possibly, rubber samples cut from the tire) were sent to Blue Ridge Labs in Lenoir, NC for analysis. Blue Ridge Labs frequently tests tires to see if they’ve been chemically treated in contravention of the rules of motorsports organizations like Nascar. 
This is an example of a test result for a negative test from Blue Ridge Labs. My question is, was the Mees test determined to be inconclusive because there was no chemical evidence of tampering, or because the handling of the tire/evidence was unprofessional and thus, any evidenciary value was compromised?

I believe the test was performed; I believe I spoke to the person who performed it. When I called Blue Ridge Labs, Kim Johnson, a technician there, told me that their confidentiality agreements precluded discussing the results of the test, and that I’d have to contact the person who ordered the test. To be clear, she never said anything to the effect of, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “I can’t remember any motorcycle tires coming through here lately.” It felt, to me, that we were both talking about a test that she acknowledged had taken place, without divulging any specifics about the content thereof.

I’ve spoken to one person who claims to have handled the test report; I’ve spoken to others who claim to have seen it. On balance—although I’m protecting my sources and they’re protecting their sources—the stories I’ve heard are consistent with the notion that someone privy to the test purposely showed it to someone outside AMA Pro Racing’s inner circle. 

More than one GNC stakeholder has alleged the tire “failed” the test, which is to say it had a chemical signature that was inconsistent with manufacturer-supplied samples and which suggested tire doping.

This is where things get really interesting: paddock insiders have told me they believe that, after the Blue Ridge Labs report came back, there was a conversation between AMA Pro Racing head office staff—I presume Michael Lock and Michael Gentry—and AMA Pro’s men on the ground at races, including Ronnie Jones, Steve Morehead and Al Ludington (who is now a contractor and no longer an AMA Pro employee.) I assume that would be a conference call, since some of those guys live and work far from Daytona. I hear that four out of five of those people basically asked, “What’s the penalty [to Mees] going to be?” and that they were told there would be no penalty. Furthermore, there’d be no further discussion of the incident.

The technical term for this would be, sweeping it under the rug. 

Why AMA Pro would sweep it under the rug is an interesting topic for speculation. Jared’s leading the Championship, riding for a high profile team backed by (still) the only manufacturer that’s really committed to the series. The consensus is that Flat Track’s moving in the right direction and it’s easy to imagine AMA Pro Racing doesn’t want a high-profile cheating scandal.

The problem is, great big chunks came off that tire, and you can sweep the incident under the rug, but there’s still some great big lumps in the carpet. People are tripping over them and asking, “What are those lumps?”

I’ve heard from multiple sources that Dunlop personnel at Indy for the MotoGP/MotoAmerica event last weekend openly discussed tire cheating in the GNC, in situations where more than one person could hear them. Team principals have told me that they asked for meetings with AMA Pro senior managers and were turned down. Emails to those senior managers have yielded no response. I left a message with Ronnie Jones, and he did not reply.

Suddenly a run of the mill cheating scandal is being talked about as a cover-up. And I don’t mean, Mark Gardiner’s talking about it like a cover-up. About half the people I spoke to on this story started talking by saying, “I can’t believe it’s taken this long for a journalist to get interested.”

Stakeholders have told me that they are looking into the possibility of pursuing a lawsuit, which would be based on the legal notion of a ‘civil conspiracy’. Such a lawsuit would hinge on proof that the organizers of the GNC conspired to give one team an advantage, and by doing so causing harm to other competitors. In short, people are pissed. And I don’t mean, “Oh what have they done this time?” pissed, I mean, “We’ll sue their asses!” pissed.

Tire Doping 101

Until seven or eight years ago, tire doping was not against the rules. A number of Flat Track teams routinely, openly, treated tires with a variety of chemicals. From what I understand, a common chemical was WD-40. Seriously, eh? You’d hardly think that would increase traction, but tires were soaked and heated (often just left out in the sun) and presumably the slippery components evaporated away. What you were left with was a tire that either heated up faster, or provided better cold grip. Either way, tire doping conferred an advantage, particularly in the first few laps.  

The downside was that in search of an advantage, you often ended up with a tire that suddenly got worse in the late going. So a lot of people experimented and then gave up.

Jared Mees’ tuner, Kenny Tolbert, is a guy whose name comes up when people talk about doing tire doping right. But then, Tolbert’s name comes up whenever people talk about making fast Flat Track motorcycles; he’s the best in the business.

After the AMA instituted rules prohibiting the chemical treatment of tires, it became a relatively common thing, in tech at the end of races, to clip a few rubber samples from top-3 machines and seal them in plastic “evidence bags”. I’m not sure how often those samples were tested, or how often people were caught cheating.

I know of at least one instance in which tire doping likely influenced the outcome of a race. A currently active rider, who won the race in question by a wheel-length, later admitted that he himself had doped that tire.

To be clear, no one that I’ve spoken to feels that Mees or his team have committed some outrageous, scandalous violation of the rules that is deserving of draconian punishment. Everyone agrees that he’s one of the fastest guys, if not the fastest guy, out there, on one of the best-prepared bikes. He’s a deserving champion, and I haven’t heard anyone suggest tire doping has meaningfully impacted results. If anything, most people’s attitude is to shrug and admit that if you’re not cheating, you’re not really trying.  Cheating is part of the culture of motorsport. What people are upset about is that another part of that culture is the idea that, if you’re caught, the rules are applied the same to everyone.

Note that until this year, tires were supplied by Goodyear. Now, they’re made by Dunlop. And, new compounds were introduced partway through the season, with Du Quoin being the first race in which the all-new compound was mandated. So it’s easy to imagine that a tire doping strategy that had worked in the past might suddenly fail in spectacular fashion.

Blue Ridge Labs’ Kim Johnson told me that the standard protocol is for tires or tire samples to arrive in sealed evidence bags. The significance of this is, there’s hardly an unbroken chain of evidence as far as Mees’ tire is concerned.

Ideally, officials would pull a tire off a bike right after it came off the track, bag it, seal it, and have the responsible official and the rider sign across the seal. That’s not what happened in the case of Mees’ Du Quoin tire. The tire disappeared for week, and then it was walked over to AMA Pro Officials and handed off.

There’s no proof it was the same tire, and at least theoretically it could’ve been adulterated after the race, even accidentally. That said, it would be hard to pawn off another tire, considering the unique wear pattern of the tire in question, and it’s not obvious why Tolbert would dope a tire after it had been trashed in the race. So, the tire was handled was not up to ‘criminal trial’ evidence standards and not up to the standards required to prove that an Olympic athlete is a drug cheat, but the team said it was the tire; I believe them.

I’ve spoken to at least one team principal whose feeling is, if the report indicated cheating, it would be up to AMA Pro to penalize the rider and team, and up to the rider and team to appeal. Presumably that appeal would be successful, because the handling of the tire was not up to the strictest evidenciary standard.

Mat Mladin, too, was a guy known for his ability to go very hard in the first lap or two. Ex-tire guru Jim Allen told me that Mladin’s crew chief Pete Doyle experimented with tire doping at a time when it was not specifically against roadracing rules. 

AMA Pro? What are the next steps?

When AMA Pro Racing’s communication department gets a call on this topic, it’s referred directly to Michael Gentry. He did not return my call. The official position of AMA Pro Racing, transmitted to me by Al Ludington, is that the tire was tested, tests were inconclusive, and no further action will be taken. (Al’s statement was, almost to the word, the statement that I got from a team owner who told me, “Let me give you AMA Pro’s talking points...”) 

That said, witnesses tell me that Mees’ team had to submit tire samples, which were properly bagged as evidence, after the heat races in Sturgis—and no one can remember the last time samples were taken after anything but a Main Event. So I suppose it’s safe to say Jared’s “on report”.

At this point, AMA Pro Racing has already disappointed a lot of stakeholders, who feel that the combined weight of evidence and scuttlebutt suggests that one team’s received favorable treatment. It’s going to be tough to un-ring that bell.

However, it behooves AMA Pro Racing to shed some Florida sunshine on this incident. They should release the report, and issue a statement explaining whether the chemical analysis itself was inconclusive (in which case a lot of people are misinformed about the results and it’s time to quash that rumor) or whether it was the less-than-ideal handling of the tire evidence that made it “inconclusive”. 

There’s been some weird stuff coming out of Daytona lately. The ill-considered rules I wrote about last Backmarker are really just part of the story. But in spite of that, I think every participant feels that the GNC1 class is moving in the right direction. 

If AMA Pro Racing doesn’t get out ahead of this story, they’ll set all that back. For decades now, the championship has struggled to shake off the image that it’s a Harley-Davidson playground. Now, a whole bunch of people are grumbling that a Harley-backed team and rider are getting favorable treatment.

If that’s not true, then transparency is urgently needed; AMA Pro should release the report. If it is true, heads should roll.


At about 6 pm Central time on Saturday, I got a call from AMA Pro's Communications Director Gene Crouch. We had a forthright conversation, most of which should remain off the record. Suffice to say, I was not encouraged to retract anything written above, nor did I hear anything that caused me to make any corrections. I will say that he seemed genuinely surprised that my query to AMA Pro Racing was directed to Michael Gentry and not him. I'm ready to accept the fact that another call might well have gone to Mr. Crouch.

Here's AMA Pro's official statement:

“AMA Pro did not have consistent custody of the tire between competition and testing. Without being able to conclusively determine that the chemicals were on the tire during competition, the company cannot proceed with issuing a penalty. The company has taken a series of steps towards implementing rules, policies and procedures to correctly handle situations of this nature moving forward.”

Based on our conversation, I'm ready to believe AMA Pro Racing when they say that they'll be clarifying rules and implementing new procedures that will keep the paddock much better informed about infractions, tests, and who passed and failed them. In the future, I expect to see tire doping test protocols that are more like the current fuel tests.

It's a step in the right direction.