Monday, October 29, 2012

On God and Gays


The other day in Virginia I saw a woman campaigning on a street corner to not vote for Barack Obama. According to her signs, which draped around her neck in true "The End is Nigh" style, God says that it is wrong to support gay people.

The whole scene made me think of this passage from Hegel:

"At the  same time, if this substantial knowledge, itself so totally devoid of the concept, pretends  to have immersed the very ownness of the self in the essence and to philosophize in all holiness  and truth, then what it is really doing is just concealing from itself the fact that instead  of  devoting itself to God, it has, by spurning all moderation and determinateness, to a greater degree simply given itself free rein within itself to the contingency of that content and then, within that  content, given free rein to its own arbitrariness.

When the proponents of that view abandon themselves to the unbounded fermentation of the  substance, they suppose that, by throwing a blanket over self-consciousness and by surrendering  all understanding, they are God’s very own, that they are those to whom God imparts wisdom in  their sleep. What they in fact receive and what they give birth to in their sleep are also for that reason merely dreams."

Burn, lady. Burn.


W.T.F.


So, I have a predictive keyboard on my phone. It scans my texts and even my email if I tell it to, in order to learn how I use my words and construct my sentences. It is impressively accurate, often suggesting exactly the completion of the word that I intend, or all out suggesting the next word that I am looking for. Theoretically, all I have to do is press the first letter of a sentence, and the prediction can construct the entirety of the sentence that I am looking to type. So, I can type "S" and the prediction will auto complete "See you cats when I get there." 

So the other day I open a text and start a sentence with the letter H. I think, huh, I wonder what the key prediction will come up with if I just have it auto complete all the way. So, I do this and it comes up with the following:


"Hegel is the only real motivation." 


I was reading Hegel on my tablet at the time.


Not cool, technology. Not cool. 


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Illich


"I did not come here to argue. I am here to tell you, if possible to convince you, and hopefully, to stop you, from pretentiously imposing yourselves on Mexicans.


I do have deep faith in the enormous good will of the U.S. volunteer. However, his good faith can usually be explained only by an abysmal lack of intuitive delicacy. By definition, you cannot help being ultimately vacationing salesmen for the middle-class "American Way of Life," since that is really the only life you know. A group like this could not have developed unless a mood in the United States had supported it - the belief that any true American must share God's blessings with his poorer fellow men. The idea that every American has something to give, and at all times may, can and should give it, explains why it occurred to students that they could help Mexican peasants "develop" by spending a few months in their villages.


Of course, this surprising conviction was supported by members of a missionary order, who would have no reason to exist unless they had the same conviction - except a much stronger one. It is now high time to cure yourselves of this. You, like the values you carry, are the products of an American society of achievers and consumers, with its two-party system, its universal schooling, and its family-car affluence. You are ultimately-consciously or unconsciously - "salesmen" for a delusive ballet in the ideas of democracy, equal opportunity and free enterprise among people who haven't the possibility of profiting from these.


Next to money and guns, the third largest North American export is the U.S. idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world: the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the vacationing do-gooders. Ideally, these people define their role as service. Actually, they frequently wind up alleviating the damage done by money and weapons, or "seducing" the "underdeveloped" to the benefits of the world of affluence and achievement. Perhaps this is the moment to instead bring home to the people of the U.S. the knowledge that the way of life they have chosen simply is not alive enough to be shared.




All you will do in a Mexican village is create disorder. At best, you can try to convince Mexican girls that they should marry a young man who is self-made, rich, a consumer, and as disrespectful of tradition as one of you. At worst, in your "community development" spirit you might create just enough problems to get someone shot after your vacation ends_ and you rush back to your middleclass neighborhoods where your friends make jokes about "spits" and "wetbacks."


You start on your task without any training. Even the Peace Corps spends around $10,000 on each corps member to help him adapt to his new environment and to guard him against culture shock. How odd that nobody ever thought about spending money to educate poor Mexicans in order to prevent them from the culture shock of meeting you?


In fact, you cannot even meet the majority which you pretend to serve in Latin America - even if you could speak their language, which most of you cannot. You can only dialogue with those like you - Latin American imitations of the North American middle class. There is no way for you to really meet with the underprivileged, since there is no common ground whatsoever for you to meet on.


If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don't even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as "good," a "sacrifice" and "help."





I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the "good" which you intended to do."


--Ivan Illich, "To Hell with Good Intentions"


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Orpheo.



Orpheus has to put foot to trail on his exit from the underworld. He has been granted his lover if only he passes the trial. To not look back as he walks back to the world of the living. But he hears her voice. Eurydice. How sweet it must have sounded. The exhilaration seizes his heart. He looks back and she is banished to the darkness. The man who made the devil cry has still not the power to withhold his gaze.

Out on the streets I twist throttle as I leave the ramp and hit the highway. It is night. There used to be lights on this stretch but construction or outage has left the work to my headlights. I turn on the brights and go for the ton thinking, this used to be all that there was. The dial reads 150 before I apply brakes and veer to the next exit. 

It can be unbearably lonely on a ride.  As if Babel has fallen and I am the only man with this language. Or me and the bike, maybe. The Atlas. It needs work. According to the First Principle, we both do. But repairs are a long way out.

In my jacket, my phone is silent. Still, I put my hand over my pocket hoping for a vibration, that someone has reached out. I think of going to visit friends but the hour is ungodly. They sleep. Were it not for the ride, I too would be motionless in the dark. 

Was it even her voice? Or some terrible spell cast by the forces of the underworld? Did she witness the trick played on her beloved as he walked on? Don’t look back. This is the thing he wanted most in the world. In two worlds. How could he have succeeded? 

The Empty light. Awash in that sickening halogen. I watch as tiny drops of gas ping off the smudged luster of my tank. A man looks on as I leave the station. The reset trip meter reads zero. Nothing. 

In a ride of great anger, one cannot look back. Fellow racers are given by the sound of their engines. There is just too much in the road ahead for one to review the journey so far. It is mostly mistakes back there anyway. 

As I start from a light I am forced to recognize the age of my machine. Scratches and rust and uneven power bands. I too am not without scars. Three stitches short of a sausage creature. But alive. Even when I can’t quite find the pulse. 

For some, the ride is liberation or freedom or some such garbage. For those who think clearly it is enjoyment or escape. The kind of enjoyment that reveals the horrible boredom of the snail speed of living. The kind of escape that allows one to endure that boredom. The bike reveals the truth of the world and provides the opiate needed to endure it. If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion. The night air is warm. I can barely feel it under my gear. 

I don’t know what this story meant to the Greeks. But if it now belongs to us, it is a caution against desperation. I want you more than anything. But if I desire you beyond my limit, if I reach for you too soon, I will lose you. You will turn from me or something will take you away. One never learns how to strike this balance. 

There were nights when I would ride until dawn. I have since come to despise the sunrise. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

§ 5. What Kind of Rider Are You?



Our discussions of motorcycles from here on out will invariably reference the idea of what it means to be a good rider. We should get clear on what I take to be a good rider before talking about bikes.

Hunter S. Thompson has said many things better than others have said them. We still start with his clues into the nature of good riding,  taken from his legendary review of the Ducati 900 Supersport:

“But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity. We might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it’s right. The final measure of any rider’s skill is the inverse ratio of his preferred Traveling Speed to the number of bad scars on his body. It is that simple: If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. If you go slow and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles.”

Okay. Let's see what we can learn.

"Immaculate sanity." The rider does not ride while in a state of distress. The excitement that the rider feels is gleaned from riding and not from some unrelated life problem. One must strive to recreate the same level of focus each time one gets on the bike. Riding is not for drifting minds or ungoverned impulses. 

Good riders don’t crash. Or, at the very least, they are not crashers. They may crash on occasion, but they do not do so stupidly and for reasons that they cannot reconstruct or understand. They will rarely crash alone and they take care to not find themselves amidst the circumstances whereby they can get in accidents with other vehicles. Some will speak of accidents that, from the perspective of the law, are not their fault. But a good rider knows how to avoid the possibility of those accidents, knows how to stay away from the driver who does not see bikes, or is generally careless. The good rider knows that even the accidents that are “not his fault” were still nevertheless within his power to avoid. 

A good rider is also a fast rider.

There is some confusion surrounding what it means to be fast. It is often supposed that, because a rider is traveling along the highway at a high rate of speed, that this is a fast rider. Not so. Anyone can get on a bike, accelerate to triple digits and cruise the highway while managing to stay on the motorcycle. But this is merely “going fast on a bike.” So be a fast rider, one must know how to negotiate all of the road conditions that one may encounter as quickly as possible given the conditions. This is no easy task. 

Often, you will encounter on the road a person who blasts down the highway, but who slows the pace drastically at the sight of the slightest kink. Or those who will travel exponentially slower when it is raining. These are not fast riders. But notice, that in order to be fast, one must gain skill and proficiency, to learn how to get around turns and to ride in adverse conditions like rain. That is, one must become a good rider to be a fast rider. 

And being a good rider means, I think, having a margin.

A margin of error, I guess is what most people call it. That space that is leftover for error or for error correction. Two riders can go around a corner at the same speed in the same conditions, though one is the better rider because he has left more space in his mind and on the road to deal with a sudden obstruction or loss of traction. The rider who does not have such a margin just has an extra helping of foolishness.

And please, do not confuse foolishness with courage. To be courageous as a rider is to use your knowledge to push just a bit past your comfort, to ride out and meet your potential. Within courage there is risk, but much less than people often think. The foolish rider maneuvers on the road in ways that are beyond his knowledge. He does not know how close he is to ruin but still he flies along. Remember: “We might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it’s right.” Its right when it is courageous.

It must be noted that sometimes reckless ignorance can result in genuine skill. If I go into a corner in a manner that I in the moment think is “too fast,” traveling far beyond my margin, but nevertheless successfully navigate it, I can come out of this corner with knowledge. And I can use this knowledge to build my skill.

Speaking personally: I have crashed, made stupid maneuvers that were well past my margin, and in general used the full measure of my luck to get out of trouble. My growth has been slower than many, but I feel that it has been healthy. I don’t ever know what challenge the streets will bring. But for the most part, my margin is quite wide. 

I think.

This is perhaps the most difficult acknowledgement to make. It is often difficult to know about your skill level. I can say, yeah, I am a good rider, I am a fast rider. I can reference to my general lack of crashes, or the fact that I learned from my crashes, or my notes on riding. But none of these are sufficient for me to know without doubt that I am a good rider and not just a lucky squid with poor criterion of judgement. Which, I think, it part of the reason why we reference other riders. As we will see, this is also part of the problem.

Many, if not all, riders (who are concerned with being skillful or good or fast) feel the need to confirm for themselves that they are skillful or good or fast. So we ride in groups and use other riders as the measure. You can hear the quest for self certainty play out in the conversation at the gas station. “Dave doesn’t ride with us anymore because we are too fast.” “I could have followed that guy, but I knew you guys were behind me and I didn’t want to lose the group.” “I’ve had a lot of people crash trying to follow me…”

These may very well be statements of fact. But they are mainly the outcome of the internal ranking system that provides a rider with security and confidence in their own skill.

But notice. This external comparison does not accomplish its goal. For a rider can fail to account for general facts about other riders. Like, the guy you thought was too slow simply did not want to ride with you and your recklessness. Or, the fact that someone crashed behind you cannot be taken to mean necessarily that you are faster. You might just be luckier. On a racetrack, when the riding goal is harmonized to one simple result, these comparisons may be effective. But out on the street, the comparative quest for self certainty is distorted by each rider carrying a different criterion. 

This means, quite simply, that, outside of a racetrack, one should be hesitant to stake a full claim on their goodness as a rider. Instead, one must simply dedicate to improvement, to always seek out ways to ride better. And this dedication is itself the first and truest marker of goodness as a rider. That, and developing a wide margin.

Even as these reflections end in their keystrokes, I see now just how vague my ideas are on this subject. Maybe if you have some thoughts, you can comment.

Let’s talk about bikes next time. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

§ 4. Okay. Let's Get Some Gear.



It should be clear by now that proper gear is a foundation of good riding. Though a new rider may not think of it in these terms, gear represents an implicit acceptance of risk. Wearing gear is an implicit attempt at managing risk. When your skill or your luck fails, gear is designed to pick up the tab and address as much of the balance as possible. So, regardless of the nature of your riding community, by now it should be clear that you should get and wear gear no matter what. Gear should meet the following requirements: 

1) It needs to adequately protect you. 2) You need to be able to wear it for an extended period of time. 3) You should like the way you look in it. 

The first two points are not surprising. The last point is important because you should minimize any disincentive to wear the stuff, and feeling like a power ranger at your auntie’s funeral could certainly fit that bill. 

Your personal clothing style may entail really baggy clothes or really tight clothes, but neither of these are appropriate for motorcycle gear. Your gear should be as snug as possible while still allowing you freedom of movement through the range necessary for the operation of a motorcycle. If it is any looser, the gear will shift in an accident and not optimally protect you. If it is any tighter, you will not be able to maneuver the bike properly because of the restriction of the clothing.  

Because of this, it is entirely likely that a certain brand of gear will fit you much better than another brand. Some European made stuff, like Rev’it, will be good for the slim tall men. American made gear, like Joe Rocket, will be good for cats who are bigger around the belly. The important thing is to try as much on as possible before you make a purchasing decision.

Some of this gear can be quite costly. You should remind yourself that it is worth it and you can find the same thing for cheaper on eBay. The most cost efficient way to do things might be to get a two piece suit. This way, you can have a jacket for life and some riding pants for long trips and track days. But then you will have to get any gear that is appropriate for the weather in your region. I have a two piece leather suit. But I also live in South Florida. So a mesh jacket is vital, as is a helmet that is good and flowing air. 

Riders often neglect to get boots. In some cases, they wear military boots or something similar that has ankle support. This is okay, I guess. But it is far from ideal. Some motorcycle boot manufactures to extensive testing to insure protection of the ankle and foot in cases of impact and abrasion. Alpinestars, for example. And Sidi. If you are a sport biker, it is in your best interest to get riding boots and wear them along with the rest of your gear every time you ride. 

It is easy to rider around life in a helmet, jacket, gloves and boots. Less easy to roll up to class rocking leather pants with knee pucks on the side. It used to be that we all just compromised our safety and wore regular blue jeans. But manufacturers of gear have addressed this issue by offering Kevlar lined jeans. These jeans might not be the best at guarding against impact, but they will certainly minimize road rash. And in most cases they look like regular jeans, so they will not alienate the conservative dresser. 

Lastly, we must consider the helmet. Much like other gear, the manufacturer will determine the nature of the fit. While Shoei fits me quite well, Arai is kind of tight on the front and back of my head. And Shark helmets are tight on the sides of my head. 

Helmets are rating according to standards set up by the Department of Transportation or the Snell Memorial Foundation. Unless a helmet is “novelty only,” it will be certified by one or both of these organizations and will say so right on the helmet. But, even though most helmets are certified with regard to their ability to protect in a crash, there is a serious gap in helmet price. Helmets can run from 60 bucks to 800 brand new. What is the difference?

Aside from the quality of the paint and finish, I think that the main difference is the amount of time the helmet can be comfortable on your head. A proper fitting Shoei will last an entire day of highway riding. It will fit well and also be aerodynamic enough to prevent excess fatigue of your neck muscles. A super cheap helmet, not so much. You will have a headache by the time you get to the beach. It is worth the money to get a good helmet. One that will fit well and that looks good. For many riders, the helmet is the signature—the most unique piece of gear that tells those in the know about the rider. 

There is another piece of gear that most riders I know neglect: ear plugs. I think you should get a good pair and wear them. 

“Noise” is a judgment that we place on the information source that is sound. That is, sound in noise just in case it impedes our ability to think or concentrate. Sometimes, we will actually turn down the music because we think we smell something, or because we need to have a closer look at the map when out on the road trip. The direction of our attention will determine whether the sound in our ears assists or distracts from the task of concentration. Riding takes concentration and excessively loud wind is just noise.

This is not to mention the general facts about motorcycle riders, tinnitus  and noise-induced hearing loss. If you want to have more mental space available for concentration and such and if you would like to be able to hear things in the not so distance future, it is best for you to wear ear plugs. 

To be clear: your subjective considerations of noise mean nothing. Just because you think “it’s not that loud” does not mean that the the aural architecture in your inner ear will be okay. It is a basic fact of psychoacoustics that physical damage to the ear can be caused by volume levels that the listener believes to be perfectly appropriate. 

It is only after getting the gear that a rider should put leg over bike. Anything else is just a youtube video waiting to happen. Of course, we must remember that gear is a foundation of good riding and not THE foundation of good riding. To have one without the others is equally youtube worthy.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

§ 3. How to Spot a Defective Community.

Here are a few more examples of what I term defective riding communities. They are communities that are not serious about safety or basic protocols, which are intended to protect against these kinds of accidents.

Note that I am not saying that a healthy community will be free of accidents. My claim is that any group that is so lackadaisical about the education of new riders--or so cavalier about its stunt formation on the road--is just not doing enough to prevent the wreckage of bike and body.




There are many bikers with whom you should not want to ride. These are merely a few.

Outside of seeing things go bad in person or on video for defective communities, you can also listen for certain tropes of interpretation when out talking to riders or perusing forums. Here are a few claims that are clear indications that you should not be listening to the speaker.

*Helmets cause neck injuries, so one should not wear helmets.

To make such as argument, you have to be more committed to riding skull-free than you are to thinking critically. You also have to have a general aversion to peer reviewed research.

*Helmets restrict your peripheral vision and this limitation makes it unsafe to ride.

I suppose it is easy to believe this if the last helmet you wore was made in 1975. Or if you have a non-standard interpretation of the point at which the vision range counts as peripheral. The interesting things about this claim is that the alternative is riding around with sunglasses or goggles, most of which are more definitive limitations on peripheral vision than any helmet could ever hope to be. This is the kind of ridiculousness that Buell motorcycles evoked in its last ad campaign.

It is also worth noting that even the helmets that boast extra vision space, like the Shark Vision R, do not make the claim that this extra space makes riding any safer. I suppose one would never catch a helmet manufacturer throwing around the S word with such frivolity. But I believe that the point stands: The problem of peripheral vision in helmets is a myth used to sway those who are bad at thinking into rejecting safety gear.

*It's too hot to wear all that gear.

This has been said to me a couple times. I always respond that, if it is too hot to wear my gear, then it is too hot to ride. And it is never too hot to ride, so... But seriously, somehow implicit in this idea is that the possibility of a little extra sweat beneath the gear overrides the general concern for protection against injury out on the road. This, of course, is nonsense. It is a claim made by a rider who prioritizes a certain type of vanity over good ridecraft.

*You don't need all that gear, anyway. All you need is a helmet. Now, let's go stunting!

I cannot describe how false this is in words. So, have a look at the following video. Then give a call to your local dermatology practice and ask about the cost of skin grafts.



I want to stress that I am not averse to stunting. It is a perfectly awesome way to ride bikes. However, those who would like to stunt need to take the same kinds of precautions that wannabe racers take, since both groups are taking on substantial levels of risk, namely in the form of speed, for the sake of their passion.


Like this guy, for instance.

§ 2. Gear, Community and Helmet Laws.


Our journey into motorcycling must begin with a consideration of gear. The fractured world of riders has made it such that what should be a clear condition of riding has instead become a question that many do not bother to answer. This is foolish and I hope that you will soon agree. 

There are many cultures within riding. They are distinct and there is shockingly little communication between them. You have only to hear the jokes that sport bikers make about Harley Davidson motorcycles to observe this. How does a Harley go fast around a corner? On the back of a trailer. This kind of antagonism reveals the depth of a given rider community. It is an ingroup; unlikely to reach out for assistance from someone else. Wannabe racers will often not ride with stunters. Cruisers will not ride with Supermotos. We do not see each other on forums or at meetups, because we have different places to go for both. Only those of us who have had the privilege of owning more than one type of bike can peek into both worlds. 

What this means is quite simple. Most riders come into the sport in accordance with the culture that surrounds the bike itself. This is the best case scenario. Some riders do not fall into a community and start off alone, with no one to show them the way. 

When the riding culture is healthy, the new rider learns everything that she needs to know to ride well and safely. She has a community to help her out when she has trouble. And she does not have to ride alone if she doesn’t want to. But the culture can also be unhealthy. It can be a source of bad advice about bikes and riding strategies. Just have a look at some examples from Youtube.



These are mishaps that would not have happened if the new rider fell in with another community or simply spoke to different people within the community. The point here is that it is possible for the riders that surround you to be bad sources of knowledge concerning riding. Now, have a look out on the streets. Find a big group of riders. Notice how the caravan always wears the same amounts of gear and has roughly the same riding style with regard to formation and speed. 

Now, every rider who dons a helmet or a leather jacket does not know in their heart the full benefit of doing so. Being new to the game, they are simply following suit with other riders. Even if one can recite claims like “dress for the crash,” the true meaning of gear doesn’t sink in until after that gear has been field tested. Until then, they are just fitting in with their squad, or adhering to a theoretical reflection on safety, or noticing how cool they look in leather. Or a t-shirt

It is the same with the common perspectives floating around concerning helmet laws. Some riders reject helmets because of vague—and I mean vague—appeals to individual freedom in the face of what they see as overly paternalistic state laws. This is a fat wad of nonsense. 

There may be good reasons to resist state paternalism. But this does not have anything to do with the question of whether one should choose to wear a helmet. That would be confusing the requirements of the law with the imperative of our own reasoned reflection.

In this regard, eschewing a piece of safety gear in defiance of an authority that requires it is a stupid way to lodge a protest. Consider the biker who died from head injuries at a rally in which riders protested the helmet law. This is a cruel and needless irony. It may be the case that everyone should “have the choice.” But it does not follow that the particular option should ever be chosen. The only study I managed to find (from a search of hundreds) that calls mandatory helmet laws into question states exactly this. Sure, maybe it shouldn’t be a law, but given the availability and cost of helmets and safety gear, it would be several levels of unwise for a rider to leave them on the shelf.

On a side note: Do you think that the riders who were right behind the guy who died from head injuries at the anti-helmet ride are still campaigning for a repeal of helmet laws? I can imagine a perspective from which they could still be doing it. But this is a perspective in which ideological commitments to bad principles override basic facts about skulls and low speed wrecks.

There are other advantages to gear that are important. When you feel the back protector pressing against your spine and the knee pads and leather against your legs, that brooding background feeling of your all too human frailty is dimmed and you can ride more confidently. Confidence is a measurable good in motorcycling. An ill placed finger smudge on a visor can debilitate your ability to ride with precision and commitment. Well fitting gear and a good helmet are the natural accompaniments to a finely tuned bike.

So: If your squad is encouraging you to ride, but not encouraging you to get and wear gear, they are being irresponsible with your development as a rider. This is a danger on your life; you have good reason to be suspicious of the advice that they give you. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

§ 1. Introductions.






A lot of people wonder what the big deal is with bikes. They are too dangerous, some say. Or you can’t go places when it is raining. Or they are too loud

Still others set out to explain to people what bikes are all about, maybe even try to convince people that it would be cool to own a bike. Melissa Holbrook-Peterson directed an entire memoir at the phenomenon of the motorcycle, searching for a formulation that a non-rider can understand.

This is something that no one should do. 

There is indeed something awesome about riding a bike. But it cannot be named. It is not "feeling the wind in your face" or "freedom" or anything of that sort. Those are the nonsense ramblings of people who cannot express themselves. Which is true for all of us. As a rider, you are condemned to silence. You know only what you feel, and what you feel is a high immediacy, ungoverned by sensible justifications and universal appeals. 

On occasion, I will hear from a stranger that, well, he would get a bike, but his girlfriend won’t let him. I do my best to withhold that look that emasculates those for whom masculinity is important. But I do say to him that perhaps he should try getting both a bike and a new girlfriend. Because this would be the option for anyone who was serious and not engaging in the fantasy of small talk.

You want to set out to be a rider. That is cool. Welcome. Just know that you are not really doing something reasonable. This is not about good gas mileage or the convenience of parking. Those are the myths that we lay on the people who don’t really understand. Riding is deeper than that. 

Or much more shallow, as the case may be. On a motorcycle you can find a sage, a searcher or an idiot. Often you will not find a rider at all, but some kind of pretender working out his or her life process atop a machine to which they will never truly connect. This world is diverse and soon enough it will be your world.

Over the next few months, I will distill my perspective on motorcycles into a series of advice columns to you, the new rider. These reflections will be terribly biased, occasionally technical and mostly philosophical. 

I will speak from the vantage of the sport bike, the only type of bike I have ever owned, or ridden really. Other types of bikes may see themselves represented, since there is a fantastic commonality among any who are on two wheels. But for the reader who suspects that the secrets of life are revealed on corner exit, the coming paragraphs may be especially helpful. Or ridiculous. 

I haven’t ridden for that long in the grand scheme of things. Not even a decade yet. I know guys that have been on motorcycles since I was a baby. 

But I want to ride forever; that is, I want to ride my whole life without having to leave the bike for reasons that I myself don't will. Like an accident. Or a wack girlfriend. I want you to ride forever too, if you so choose it. And that is the baseline from which everything to follow will be based. Stay tuned. 

Discursive Shifts



Recently, the Green Ninja and I have been talking about recording our moto reflections into something structured and useful to people other than ourselves. For my part, I think I will start a series on the blog here aimed at being a kind introduction to riding.

The idea, I think, is not to simply talk about riding technique, but to deal with the strange totality of motorcycling, like dealing with the social world of riders and how to put your bike in the back of a truck. I am thinking of calling the series "How to Ride Forever" or "Throttlebody and Mind", after a tumblr I run of the same name.

Anyway, these upcoming posts are going to be a bit wonky, since they will be all about finding the voice needed to communicate these ideas at a hopefully more popular scale. But they will be enlightening for new riders. I hope.

Keep a look out. And if you know anybody who rides bikes, or would like to ride bikes, send them a link to the blog.

Thanks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Traction.



You will always hear me echo the Dane in saying that purity of the heart is to will one thing.

It is an appropriate retort every now and then, to others. But I don’t know that my life reveals my commitment to this idea. We are talking about religiousness, after all. 

Still, the latest ride in the rain has revealed something for the riders and equally foolish philosophers who are willing to set out in a storm just to see what they can learn.

As a rider I am dedicated to the improvement of my skill. For me, this means that I have to ride, to get my hours in, be on the road where things are learned. But it also means that I must think riding. I have to find the ideas that merge with my practice so that I can discern what lesson the road is trying to teach me in the first place. I am always in search of an ordering principle, an anchor around which my thoughts can weave. It is not about keeping things simple. It is about being centered in space so that one can preserve the awful complexity of life and traffic patterns. 

Many miles from home, I pulled in to a station to get gas. The card wouldn’t go through at the pump, so I went inside. By the time I got to the door, the skies delivered their promise. A sheet of rain came down so hard that I got wet yards clear of the edge of the huge awning. Cars in the street immediately put on blinkers and began driving at the snail pace that Floridians know well. 

I thought of Nietzsche. Then I asked the man behind the register for a plastic bag. I wrapped it around my phone and set out into the deluge. 

Rain drops can be cold, yo. It is hard to relax the body as the rider should. I was splashed up to my chest when I would pass a car, or get passed by a truck. I tucked and rode out as best I could. On even moderate curves I could feel the rear slide, connect, slide, connect. In the kind of rain I was in, it did not take much to encounter limits. 

Nor did it take much to encounter accidents. The highway was backed up miles out from any exit. Now we sittin in a drop top, soaking wet, in a silk suit trying not to sweat. I got back to the crib and fell asleep wondering how many days of steady rainfall would put rust on a brand new chain. 

Two days worth is the answer to that, if you are wondering.

When the sun finally emerged, I hit the streets on a regular cruise. Except I was hitting the known roads a bit harder than usual. The roundabouts were a bit shorter. My rear tire showed more signs of work. 

The difference, of course, was the rain. My concentration out in the storm was consciously directed at not getting hit by cars and such. But on deeper levels I was reaching out to feel the road, to apprehend my connection to it. What I gained from riding in the rain was immediately reflected on dry streets. All clear thinkers must work to make ambient or hidden processes explicit. 

Here lies the principle that perhaps should be put above all others for the rider on the path to skill. There is nothing more important that the connection of your tires to the road. I have heard more empirically oriented people give better senses, but we will be forgiven if we resort to the sign: Traction.

You set up suspension so that the tires can have optimum contact with the road. You are loose on the bars around turns so that you do not disrupt the connection of the tires to the road, or tell the bike to go a direction you would not really like to go. You improve your brakes so that you can better take advantage of the tire’s connection to the road. You might get stickier tires for the same reason. 

Implicit in the lives of most riders is the quest for Feel. For really good riders this quest is fully explicit. The better notion I have of the connection between tire and road, the harder I can push. If the connection is really on, I won’t even feel like I am going that fast. 

I think that good riders become great riders when they learn to develop feel. I suppose that some of us are gifted and blessed with this magical sense. I was not. To this day, I am not sure where the limit of my grip is on a dry road. I have never accelerated so hard out of corner that my back tire breaks lose. I have never pushed the front so hard that it slides on me. I live, like most riders, in that zone of comfort and ignorance. Out at the edges there is danger, but there is also true speed.

So I have been experimenting. I will ride in the rain, sure. But I will also cruise around sandy patches. I will also accelerate as hard as I can out of a turn, hoping for a moment that will give me knowledge but not freedom. 

Because it is not just about the connection. It is also about how one interprets lightness. 

Anyway. It is raining outside.

You should ride. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Memoriam.


William R. Jones died on July 14, 2012.

He will be remembered for his uncompromising dedication to critical thought and the liberation of his people.

His life is a reminder to all of us that no fucks should be given in the pursuit of world-changing ideas.

I don't want Dr. Jones to rest in peace.

I want his ghost to taunt anti-gay clergy and religious people who memorialize their hatred of difference and call it good Christian Values. I want people to rediscover his work and curse his name because it has shown them that their belief in the almighty is untenable and hurtful to others and themselves. I want all the black mega preachers to realize that the only thing appropriate to do in light of the passing of Dr. Jones is to STFU and disband their congregations.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Life Fragment


The Pharmacon Atlas leans into soft asphalt in front of my new crib. If I looked outside my window, I could see its blue luster in a neighbor's porch light. The sun doesn't set in that window, but I still wish the curtain was more opaque.

If I were not exhausted with many statuses to rock on the morrow, I would ride. Instead, I sit slumped on the futon nursing the last bottle of ginger beer. My gear is not yet dry from the last storm I was caught in. It wasn't fully dry from the storm before that. The rains of the gulf have come; if I held off because of dark clouds, the engine would never turn, the rubber would not wear and this is a life no rider should live. 

Across the world, my child plays with nuns. I remember her sitting next to me, drawing on the tablet, speaking her innocent exposition of the world. Without her, there is nothing special about a day. 

On the way home, I saw a few bright stars on the horizon. Didn't recognize the constellation.  So many styles are unrecognizable in the darkness before dawn. I only hope that I am in dreamless sleep before the sun comes. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Verse Fragments.




I know what's on your mind
fine
we can dowhatever that is
she tell me that it's mine
I said fine
shit, I was taught to live and let live
go 'head and live it up baby
giddiup baby
It's your world, ain't trying to interrupt
but
maybe we moving too fast
but fuck it, let's crash
one day we gonna have to leave our love
in the past
but for now it feel lovely
it feel great
I slide in ...
safe.

--Lil Wayne, "Marvin's Room Remix"


Let us make man in our image
spit it
I'm Huey P. and Louis V.
at the Eulogy throwing molotovs for Emmit.

--Nas, "Queens Get the Money"


No I can't bring another beach to the sand
And know I am well aware
that you can bring a man to his knees
And get what you need
without saying please
But
Can you bring a man to his feet
when defeat is on repeat
And they gon' put this man's Grammys on the street?
What,
Why so quiet?

--Andre 3000, from Lloyd's "Dedication to My Ex"


Carolina Blue Cakes
pedal to the metal
feeling like a puppet
and the devil is Gepetto.

--J.Cole, "Back to the Topic"


This is the sound of what you don't know
killing you
This is the sound of what you don't believe
still true.

--El-P, "Tasmanian Pain Coaster"


I hope your bullet holes become mouths
that say my name.

--Lupe Fiasco, "Let me Put You on Game"


I rock brass knuckles over my kid gloves.

--Dessa of Doomtree, "Kid Gloves"


If it brings me to my knees, it's a bad religion.

--Frank Ocean, "Bad Religion."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to Own a Sport Bike for Cheap.



Motorcycles can be inexpensive to insure and inexpensive to maintain. But sport bikes can get expensive quite quickly if one is not paying attention. I have owned a few sport bikes and I think I have centered on some ways to keep costs down. Sharing means caring. 

So, if you are not full of money but thinking about getting a bike, start with this, maybe:

1) Get an older bike. 

This is crucial. You have to get a bike that has been around long enough for its parts to be well represented at salvage yards, craigslist and Ebay. You don’t have to go back that far to accomplish this. Four years ought to do it. Your search for a bike to buy should also include a general search for that bike’s parts on the internet. The more parts there are, the more likely those parts are to be less expensive than parts for newer bikes that have not had a chance to get crashed by squids.

2) Okay, so you got a bike. Awesome. Now, you have to keep it stock. 

You can put all the stickers and fender eliminators that you want; just leave the engine and drive chain sprocket ratio alone. 

A lot of cats really want performance increases from their bikes. Racers need them. But racers have already decided to throw mad chunks of money at their machines. If you are not a racer, the only performance upgrade that you really need is personal improvement as a rider. Remember. There are a lot of slow riders on fast bikes. And a lot of fast riders on "slow" bikes. There are dudes out there on SV650s that will leave the rest of us in the dust. We should strive to be like those guys, instead of guys with trick parts that can’t square a corner. Keep the bike stock. I’m serious about this. 

Even if you are like, “oh I just want to go down a tooth in the front and up a couple teeth in the back so I can get more power durr dah durr,” you are setting yourself up for grief. If it is a 1000, the new sprocket will most likely be a 520 conversion kit, which means you will have to get a new chain. But no matter what displacement your bike, your gas mileage will decrease since the (differently sized) front sprocket will now be making more revolutions per mile traveled at any given rpm. Then your speedometer will be all fucked; it will tell you that you are going slower than you really are. And one day you will forget this and think you are going an okay speed as you pass the cops… Yeah. Also, your odometer will be off; it will register more miles than the bike has actually travelled, which will decrease the value of your bike if you have to sell it.

Of course, you could get the speedo healer to fix the odometer and speedometer. But that shit costs money, as does the chain and sprocket. And we are trying to not spend any money, dummy. Try to keep up.

Case in point: the other day I bought a brand new chain from a salvage yard for 30 bucks. A chain and sprocket conversion would have cost at least 150. Plus the extra gas due to decreased gas mileage. And, once again, fuck all that. Spend that money on tires. 

3) Tires!

Speaking of tires, if you are a daily commuter type rider, or a squid, or a weekend warrior type cat, you should probably stick with the sport-touring tires. Like the Michelin Pilot Road 3 or the Dunlop Roadsmart. These tires last a long time. A loooong time. Like, I know a guy who rides a 600 who got 21000 out of his front tire, a Roadsmart. Also, they are surprisingly sticky, since they are dual compound tires. I have ridden on race tires, super street tires, and sport touring tires. There are differences, yes. But the differences are not worth the money unless you are a stupid fast knee dragger. And if you were, 1) you would be able to go fast on any kind of tire and 2) you would not be reading this shit. So get  tires that last long. Do not get fucking Shinkos. Don’t get cheap tires. Which brings me to a general point:

4) Get shit for cheap, but don’t get cheap shit.

Ebay is your friend. Just don’t buy non-name brand shit from outside the country. It may seem like a good idea, because of the cost. But it ain’t. Brake rotors will warp. Parts won’t fit right or be the right color. Get new stuff from brands that everybody knows or salvage stuff. Or wait for deals to pop up. Save the auction so that you can bargain with other people. I got a wiring harness the other day for 30 bucks less than what the salvage guys initially asked because I showed them the item for the cheaper price on Ebay. Keeping tabs of things on Ebay will give you an overall idea of how much something costs, and this will help you know when a thing is a deal and when it really ain’t. Once you get the deal, you can go forward to the wrenching.

5) Work on the bike “yourself.”

A lot of jobs that seem hard really aren’t that bad. It helps if you have a friend who has rocked bikes before. It also helps to check the online forum for your bike. Every bike has a forum online. Join it at read all you can. Forums will save your life. With the right knowledge and advice, you will be surprised what you can do. The only time you should see the dealership is when it is time for the valve adjustment. Other than that, it should be all you and some tools. I know a dude who built his own tire change station with wood. Like, just wood, yo. WTF.

6) Let’s see, what else… Oh yeah. Wear gear.

Hospital costs are bike costs. If you go down all basic, like in lowside, your gear will keep you from needing skin grafts or repeat doctor visits. I got hit by a car once. Broke some shit. It was rough. But when I was in ER, all the nurses kept asking me: “You were in a bike wreck? Where are the rest of your injuries?” Most of the bozos who come in there are way worse off than I was and therefor had more expensive hospital bills, because they didn’t wear gear. Wear your fucking gear. (A note, I am not even addressing the asshats who don’t wear helmets. You people don’t even exist to me.) 

7) Next up: roll with the right crew. 

If you are slow, but you are trying to roll with cats who are mad faster than you, you are basically biding your time until 1) you crash or 2) you get pulled over. I have run off the road following fast cats. Cats have run off the road following me. It is not even about having an ego, wanting to be as fast as the fast guys. It is also just a matter of following a cat and getting “sucked in” and suddenly realizing that you are going faster that you are comfortable going. Or following a cat around a bend that they know well and you don’t know that well. It is important to push limits, yes. But you need at least some level of speed parity to ride as safely as possible. Crashes cost money.

And so do run ins with the cops. If you are the slowest rider, the police car is going to pull over your slow ass and your fast friends are going to roll off into the distance. This almost happened to me once; a super fast friend of mine said that when he saw the police lights, his first thought was to just take off. Then he took pity on me and pulled over. This is a good friend of mine. Imagine if he was just one of many people in a fast crew that didn’t give a fuck. Police tickets are also bike costs, yo. You can’t do anything to get you in trouble with the law. This contributes to a related, more global point:

8) Watch for the cops. 

I mean a few things by this. Don’t ride with reckless abandon. Be fast, but don’t be i-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-anything-else fast. Take your moment. Steal some speed on the on ramp, or out in the farm landy countryside, or on that one stretch where you never see anybody. Don’t ride the fuck out on the highway right in the city center. Don’t ride balls out coming over the crest of a hill. Because the fucking cops will be at the bottom of that hill. And yeah, you could try to outrun them. But you will have to step outside of your comfort level to ride in the mode of escape. And that is always a bad idea, since you could make mistakes to jack you sideways. Plus, cops are like agents in the matrix. They could radio ahead and have you set the fuck up. Or god forbid they get a glimpse of your plates. Then they will just be at your house. And that will suck. 

When you do get pulled over, be super cooperative. The crucial moment is all the time before the cop goes back to his car. When you pull over, dismount, remove your helmet, go to get your info with your hands in full view of the cop. When he asks why you got pulled over, take the tone of, yeah, I know what I did without saying exactly what you did. “Yeah, I took off from the line a bit quick” or “sigh. I have been getting a bit too excited about riding today. I’m sorry, officer.” See? You respectfully placate yourself before the law without giving details. If he asks you what the speed limit is, you fucking say what the speed limit is. Don’t act like you don’t know. If he asks you how fast you were going, give a number higher than the speed limit. Be specific, depending on the vibe you are getting from the cop. And look them in the eyes, as though you are complete equals. Cops hold all the cards, yo. If they think you are trying to get out of facing up to the moment, they will stick you. They will stick you regardless probably. But you have to make the best possible case at the outset. This, at least, is how do things. I have been pulled over like 10 times and I have never gotten a ticket. I can’t imagine this streak will last too much longer, but the previous  10 fucking times is already quite a bit of savings, yo.

And this is why I think you should keep your exhaust stock, or at least quiet. Cops will interpret that loud as shit as an invitation. Thieves will look at your aftermarket niceness in exactly the same way. And plus riding around all loud, blowing out people’s ears is kind of douchey. I know, you can save money and still be a douche, but come on, yo. Be nice.

Aight. I’m done. Think I will go riding in this crazy ass heat.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Image of the Race.

Graphic artist RM88, also known as DJ Fuego has put out a round of pics that are based off the latest rounds of MotoGP and WSBK racing. 

There is something to be gained in this transformation of race footage. The era of HD has put us on the seeming front lines of our beloved games and races. But this is the grossest ideology. Increased immersion through resolution and production value is, really, the seal of the viewer's hopeless distance from the finish line. If you were there, you would not see a replay in slow motion. You would not hear a commentator narrate your world, overtly controlling your interpretation of the action. You would not be taken in by the nervousness of the mechanics back in the pit garage. In front of the screen, your feeling of "being there" is a powerful lie. You are enraptured by your own absence.

The serene stills of these pics do more to evoke the machine-extended passion of the moto race than the live feed could ever hope to do. There is an incomprehensibility in the conduct of the world class racer. Apollo and Dionysus meet on the side grip of a race worn tire and there is no commentator or camera pan that brings us to the truth of that moment. Behind the visor of any given racer is an abyss of instinct and desire, a drive at once for death and resurrection. If we could peer within, we would have to shut our eyes, blinded. Only the sideways glance allows us to understand the brightness of these cyborg bodies who spit in the face of gravity so long as they have the traction.



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Fractured Reflection on Astonishment.


The Astonishment Bias. 

This is what I would call it, anyway. It is the tendency of human beings in a media saturated world to find interesting things interesting. The TED talk makes us go, wow, that's really neat, and the very neatness of it all is what constitutes its value. Or the news story or blog post or whatever, focuses on the next zany thing that some company or laboratory is doing. The authors of Freakanomics and Guns, Germs and Steel get to go on super powered book tours because they put such seemingly disparate concepts together, no matter how tenuously. 

Listen carefully whenever someone says that they saw a talk or movie or article that "made me think." I bet that they will never follow that shit up with what the fuck it was it made them think about. Because what they really mean to say is "That article's neatness engrossed and entertained me in a way that I spuriously associate as encouraging within me a need for reflection and further research though I am in no way going to reflect or do further research."

Most of us do not remember the details of these talks, or these books, but we retain that feeling of awe that hit us when we first came across them and on this ground we venerate them. Once we look past that feeling and get down to criticism, we discover that, actually, this shit is not that dope and in fact could benefit from a bit more due diligence. 

So, in a way, I am an advocate of regular ass shit. I am all about those things that seem fucking obvious when someone puts them into words. I am about that shit that half of the people who already thought it through simply say "duh" when they hear it again. Because that is the shit that will change the world. The simple stuff will change the world because it will demythologize it, it will show us that, really, the power to put ideas into action belongs to everyone. Oh, wait a minute, saving the world is complicated and difficult? I can't solve the problem of poverty and disease by buying things that make me feel good about myself and Bono? Um. Duh. There's no such thing as objectivity in social discourses? Duh. Racism is a problem despite the race of the President? Fucking duh. 

Hegel, whose great revelations, once you can finally discern them, are not terribly complicated, once said that the "familiar and well known" is itself a cover for our garbled confusion about things. So yeah, we have to get over the veneer of common conception. But you don't have to go far beyond it. On just the other side is a relatively boring revelation that could change everybody's worlds for the better. 

I was just kidding about Hegel, by the way. No one can discern what he is saying, you big dummy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This I Believe.




I believe in anger. 

Not rage or hatred, but anger. 

It is an appropriate response to injustice.

For a person of even mild moral consciousness, the world is a terrible place. One can be thankful for what one has, but that general thankfulness should not override the sickening weight that comes with knowledge of the suffering of others and our complicity in the machinations that bring about their plight. 

When I was in high school, I drove with some friends to a pool hall. In the parking lot we encountered men who were deeply unimpressed with our racial diversity. They called us hateful names and made monkey sounds and threw bottles at us. One broke upon the windshield of my car as we frantically drove away. We had not driven a mile before we happened upon a police cruiser on the side of the road. We explained to the officer what had happened, that we had been taunted and attacked. I thought that he would call for backup, get our statements, or go find the men. Instead, he mumbled that he would check it out, rolled up his window, and proceeded to do nothing. We waited until we realized that he had no intention of doing anything. Then we drove on. That night, my fear in the face of my helplessness began its slow transformation into the anger that carries me today. 

Aristotle teaches us that the emotions must act in service to reason, that we can think of ourselves as virtuous only when we have harmonized what we feel with what we know to be right. So that if we encounter something wrong in the world, someone who has gotten something that they did not deserve, or someone who has been punished too harshly for a crime, we should be angry about it. We should not feel despair, for that is paralyzing. We should not feel blind rage, for that leads to foolish action. Instead of blind rage, we should feel the focused intensity that bell hooks has called "the killing rage." Which I understand as anger. 

Anger, properly controlled, is a stance against docility. Against complicity. Against the cultural distractions that an old French philosopher once called the Merchants of Sleep. We have to be mad enough about the state of the world to change it. My belief in the hallowed power of reason is not always enough to get me to speak up when someone casually says something racist in mixed company.  But my anger, which ultimately is in service of that belief, does the trick every time. 

These are hard times. They have always been hard times and the challenges ahead will not be met by equanimity or non-attachment or peaceful obedience. Nietzsche says that “the great epochs of our life come when we have the courage to rechristen our evil as that which is best in us.” 

If anger has ever been seen as evil, then I agree.