“To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with Indian Tribes.”

So sayeth what is commonly referred to as the “commerce clause” of the United States Constitution. It’s a law so powerful that Wisconsin was forced to end it’s ban on double trailers after Consolidated Freightways sued, arguing that Wisconsin’s ban interfered with interstate commerce as protected by the “commerce clause” of the Constitution. The courts agreed, and Wisconsin had to open their roads to the double trailers that while legal in surrounding states, couldn’t cross Wisconsin.

The Commerce Clause has also been applied to civil rights in Heart of Atlanta Motel vs. United States, a case involving a motel located near two major Interstate Highways that refused to rent accommodation to black customers. The courts decided that because the motel was critical to interstate commerce, and it had to obey the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

So a whole half century later, Indiana’s bigots, in drag as religious fanatics, have the conservative legislature and governor falling all over themselves to pass a bill that they think will allow them to get even with all those gay folks that can finally enjoy the blessings of marriage. Yup, Indiana has officially authorized and pretty much encouraged any bigoted innkeeper to refuse a couple retired lesbian “snowbirds” headed south a room in the middle of a lake effect blizzard on Christmas eve. And being that Indiana is in the way if you’re trying to cross the top part of the country, those bigots are sitting pretty smug, figuring you’ll have a tough time boycotting them while they push their “values” into your life.

Now if you’re in the biz of transporting stuff, Indiana can be hard to avoid. For truckers and railroaders, the only alternatives between the major hub of Chicago and the east coast are way out of the way via the upper peninsula of Michigan or Kentucky. Same with the railroads, with the Indianapolis suburb of Beech Grove being home to a major Amtrak maintainence base. Even airfreight is affected, with much of the parcel volume going through UPS’s Louisville hub being trucked to and fro  through Indiana. Thus those Indiana bigots figure we’re so dependent on them that they’re boycott proof.

Truck drivers, towboat crews, and train crews all need to stop for food and rest, in fact the rest is required by law and can’t always wait ’til you exit Indiana. And despite the Interstate and mainline rail routings you’d expect, a lot of trucking and railroading is done on or along two lane highways with nothing but small towns along the route in the middle of the night. If you’re in Indianapolis or on the Interstate there’s plenty of other restaurants and motels if one refuses you service, In Kentland, Plymouth, Vincennes, or North Vernon at 3 am your choices for food or a room are a lot more limited.

Some of Indiana’s bigots will no doubt take advantage of that local monopoly on late night rural food and rest, as backward restaurant and motel managers deny service to truck drivers, railroad crews, and the occasional airline or towboat crew that they perceive to be gay or otherwise in conflict with their prejudiced world view. Union stewards will be contacted, ultimatums will be issued, and if that doesn’t bring the bigots around the Teamsters, ALPA, UTU, UPS, Amtrak, CSX, NS, and a bunch of other progressive unions and transportation enterprises will be persuading the courts to throw Indiana’s “religious rights” law into the legal junkyard.

Add that to the growing boycott of Indiana- San Francisco has already put Indiana off limits to city employees on city business and others cities will follow- And the upcoming police convention and next year’s Work Truck Show will be poorly attended if they don’t move. And despite being lick split in the middle of the upper right part of the continent and within a days haul of a mere hundred million people or so, nobody is going to expand or build a new transportation hub in Indiana while this stupid law is on the books.

Indiana, you shouldn’t a gone there!

Super10My first two motorcycles were of Japanese manufacture, started with a 100 cc. dual sport Kawasaki in 1970… Which managed to grenade it’s 2 speed “dual range” transmission and hole a piston in the year I owned it. Thanks to Kawasaki’s busted parts system, it sat waiting for parts for 5 months of that year, giving me good reason to peddle it to a distant (out of gunshot range) cousin just as the warranty ran out. My second fling with Japanese motorcycles was a ’76 RD400, bought new for two thirds of list price after my first summer of earning them good union wages at Hostess. My impression of Japanese machinery was further cemented when half the bolts clamping the handlebars in place busted off when I swapped out the high bars for BMW style “Euro” bars… But none the less it carried me a reliable 25k miles over the next six years.

The shortcomings of 60s and 70s Japanese bikes were by then legendary- poor metallurgy, design cycles too short to debug said designs, and just plain too much cheapness. Meanwhile, BMW was perfecting their airhead twin which had been built on the design base of nearly a half centuries previous twins. By then I was putting on some respectable annual miles and decided I’d rather ride than wrench, so I bought a new R65LS that I’m still riding after over 100,000 miles. BMW went on to try to replace the airheads with a flopped over water-cooled four cylinder K bike. When that didn’t win over the Airhead riders they built an all new twin, but it was heavy and unreliable and still didn’t win over the airheads. Since then BMW has dumped upon us a dizzying array of designs, much like the Japanese industry of the 70s- A couple redos of the K bike, a six cylinder K bike, three successive redesigns of the boxer twin, a warmed over Aprilia single, a Rotax engined vertical twin, scooters, an inline four super bike, and even rebadged Husky singles. Heck, They bought and sold Husquarvarna so quick the ink on the brochures barely had time to dry! Today, a BMW motorcycle dealership and the very brand image itself look as confused and schizophrenic as a Japanese brand dealership of the 80s.

The motorcycle market swelled in the 70s and shrunk in the 80s, with Ford saving Yamaha from bankruptcy and Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki relying on their diverse other products to keep them solvent. From that near death experience the Japanese manufacturers figured out that short model cycles and throw away bikes weren’t sustainable, and all but Honda had to come up with all new 4 stroke engines to meet tightening pollution regulations. As the warehouses slowly emptied of left over bikes, by the 90s Yamaha had produced shaft drive XS series inline triples and fours with a life of well past a hundred thousand miles, Kawasaki was rivaling BMW with the Concours and Harley with the legendary K1000 police bike, and Suzuki produced the last and perhaps the best of the Japanese inline fours. Through the 90s and into the 21st century the Japanese manufacturers built on and refined these themes in an old skool BMW like evolutionary manner- The Concours first generation, KLR, DR650, and FJ1200 were in production for over a decade, heck, some of them were around for a couple decades!

So comes 2015 and the Japanese are still quite alive and kicking, same with Moto Guzzi, and Triumph is back from the dead. In most every market sector they offer bikes that equal or better BMWs for thousands of $$$ less. Want a sport tourer? The Concours, FJR, and ST, Norge, and I forget the name of the Triumph model equal BMWs best. Need a big dual sport? Instead of BMW’s $20k R1200GS(A) with it’s bleeding edge tech, a Stelvio, Tiger, Strom, or Super Tenere will do the job for thousands less $$$.

Which neatly sagways into how I came to buy a Yamaha Super Tenere today. Been looking for a newer sidecar tug for awhile, and given the winds we get here on the Buffalo Ridge, something over a thousand ccs. was required, and all our great gravel roads called for a dual sport bike. My short list was pretty much the Stelvio, as BMW has no dealer within 150 miles of here as well as being grossly overpriced and per Consumer Reports, unreliable. Then I got wind that DMC sidecars was developing a sidecar subframe for the Super Tenere and it joined the Stelvio on my short list. Went shopping last week and found a leftover ’14 Stelvio for $14k and a demo ’11 for $13.6k… I prefer the ’11 because it’s lighter and has a wider real wheel (think car tire…), but a 4 year old demo with 3k miles ought to be discounted a lot more than $2400 from MSRP. Unfortunately the bank that’s flooring it doesn’t agree, and won’t allow it to be sold for less than invoice price. But while Yamaha’s products have greatly improved since the 70s, their “inventory control” hasn’t… There’s three ’13 Super Teneres within a days round trip drive of here and reputedly more in Yamaha’s warehouses!

So for $10,500 out the door, about half the price of a “wethead” GS, I get a bike that will do everything the legendary lemon of Germany will do, except set fire to it’s final drive and a bunch of other stupid BMW tricks. And a mere $600 more bought a warranty extension to five years, BMW only goes three and 36k miles… They know their machine well! It’s gonna be a fun summer watching the BMW true believers look down their nose at it at BMW rallies…

Then come next winter I’m gonna ‘hack it!

If you’ve been following the press of late, you’ve noted the considerable angst generated by the unit oil trains that seem to be taking over the land. The “Chicken Little Caucus” has been running around so mindlessly predicting imminent immolation that they might as well have had they’re heads cut off. Their allies the “deep environmentalists” who’ve grown out of eco-terrorist groups like Earth First to run mainstream environmental groups are partners in this crime against science, egging them on in hopes they can confine all the oil in the ground, the trillion or so people that would starve as a result of such “cold turkey” measures be damned. With their pet politicians and legions of Facebook followers, they’ve built their fortifications on the left side of the canyon. On the right side Koch funded contingents of the Flat Earth Society, south Florida real estate hacks, and big oil have built their own fortifications, determined to ignore global warming until the oceans rise and drown them.

With both sides secure in their poor excuses for “science” and so far apart ideologically, not even the instant explosion  of a  for real 100+ car unit train of crude spiked with some particularly nervous lighter gases is going to move them from their worlds apart positions. None the less, I’ve spent the last few days braving the abyss, studying up on blast zones, derailment dynamics, and remote fire sensing tied to reverse 911 and social media alerting systems. Then it hit me: “A recent report prepared by several state agencies shows that about 3.3 million barrels of crude oil cross Minnesota every day. About 80 percent of that oil is being transported by pipeline. The rest moves by train.” Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio for that strategic snippet.

So the unit oil trains are essentiality “peakers”, very profitably hauling the overflows the pipelines can’t handle. Reduce crude oil consumption by 20% and the oil trains disappear, or haul ethanol or biodiesel instead. Actually, the repurposed oil trains would be making shorter hauls of those biofuels, because unlike dead dinosaur derived fuels which are concentrated in a few  oilfields, biomass is just about all over the planet. And the switchover would be relatively painless- most gas engined cars and trucks on the road can adapt to up to 30% ethanol, and up here in the frozen north of Minnesota many fleets are running on 20% biodiesel winter and summer. And unlike dead dino fuels, biofuels are darn near carbon neutral- the soy beans, rapeseed, corn, etc. they’re made from consume carbon as they grow.

That’s just the beginning… Bring on the energy conservation! Drag the gas guzzler tax threshold up to 10 liters/100 kilometers (24 MPG), with exception for bona fide occupational need for one of the full size pickups that baby boomers so love. Scania has a production truck that get’s 10 MPG at 40 METRIC tons, why are our 10% lighter ‘merican trucks stuck at 6 MPG? And IIRC, BNSF is competing with UP to be the country’s if not the world’s 2nd biggest consumer of diesel fuel behind the U.S. Navy, and doesn’t corporate parent Berkshire Hathaway own a big electric power company with a huge renewable capacity too? BNSF’s 4 track “raceway” across Illinois ought to provide an adequate ROI to justify electrification. And for the branch lines, between natural gas which BNSF is now experimenting with and the stronger than 20% biodiesel blends a buyer BNSF’s size can get would have even the pipelines suckin’ air!

And if we can find “adaptive reuses” for containers, DOT111’s should be no problem…

The plan was to spend a day at the Work Truck Show in Indianapolis on the way home from Florida. Unfortunately some hot moist air from the Gulf met up with some frigid arctic air along a New Mexico to New England track, dumping over a foot of snow in Kentucky and freezing rain and lesser snow along the rest of the storm track. Precipitation of the solid variety and states south of the Mason-Dixon line do not go well together, so following the most excellent graphical forecasts provided by the National Weather Service I made an end run around the west end of the storm via Louisiana. NWS pegged this storm with their forecast, and following their forecasts I had dry roads all the way… Your tax dollars at work!

Back to the Work Truck Show, brought to you by the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA). In an age when all too many “trade associations” are thinly veiled lobbying operations pimping their industry to the politicians, NTEA is educating it’s members and setting standards all about the art and science of properly mounting the stuff that does the work on the trucks that haul that stuff around. And unlike the Koch and big oil funded “educational charities” that preach climate change denial, the NTEA is seriously green, to the point of offering a two day “Green Truck Summit” that runs just before the show and organizing a green truck “ride and drive” event where the makers can show off their developments and the customers and media can sample them. And last but not least, NTEA appreciates bloggers, giving us pretty much the run of the place just like the traditional media. NTEA, sorry I couldn’t make it, I’ll try again next year.

NTEA does such a great job of helping the media with onsite photos and forwarded PRs that I could have just written a whole story on the show and never let on that I wasn’t even there… Heck, the dead tree media got away with that for decades. Remember my last post of the 4 am e-mail party invite? It was followed by another one at 5:30 before somebody caught that media fail, and it came from a mainstream PR shop that was charged with promoting a truck electrification kit. Such is the high stakes and high hype in the hybrid/electric truck market, where investors and execs with fantasies of being the next Tesla are cranking up the PR voltage in hopes of a market breakthrough. thus the show saw hydraulic hybrid, capacitor hybrid, and pure electric modifications of the near generic Ford step van chassis. Best of luck to them all, but Tesla has yet to attain sustainable market penetration, and Eaton’s reputed tire smokin’ hydraulic hybrid garbage truck drivetrain and their market share leadership will be hard to beat. And while the electric truck maker’s PR machine was braggin’ up a multi unit sale to major step van user Ameripride, a natural gas conversion kit supplier was also bragging up a multi unit sale of their product to the same Ameripride… Clearly, the users are still experimenting and sampling the market before deciding on a technology.

But the small stuff was the big news of the show. For a start, the new (to this market) Ford Transit and Dodge vans are selling well, so every up fitter is making stuff for them- propane and natural gas conversions, cargo control stuff, ladder racks, etc.. There was unexpected innovation to- upscaling the Polaris UTV mounted all purpose “power pack” generator/air compressor/etc. to big truck size, Miller of welder fame is offering a 20 odd horsepower diesel engined multifunction power pack that can do all the same stuff, allowing the trucks much bigger (and thirstier) engine to be shut off. Toward the same goal of keeping that big ‘ol truck engine from idling all day, International introduced a software upgrade for their engines that starts the engine when the cab gets cold or the batteries get low, then shuts the engine down when the cab is toasty warm and batteries topped off. Amazing what can be done with a few software hacks… Now why can’t every engine offer these clean, green, and practical features?

Back on the road, I again tolerated McDonalds in exchange for their WiFi, which is now fairly reliable. The food though, was predictably unpredictable, with almost every single order screwed up in some way(s). With competitors now offering free WiFi along with better food, the flow of red ink at McDonalds is probably only just beginning. I’d almost forgiven Motel 6 for past offenses as they’ve been reflagging some of the conglomerate’s upmarket properties as Motel 6s… $40 a night for a decent room and free WiFi ain’t bad. But in Texarkana I was reminded that the Motel 6 management is still clueless… They’d reflagged an exterior entry motel and given it the standard Motel 6 “upgrades” of cheap ‘n’ cheerful new furniture and flooring. But the building was so structurally decrepit that daylight shown through the door jam and the movement of anything of mass shook the whole structure… The past it’s prime motel proper should have been demolished and replaced with a new interior hall structure with central HVAC and actual insulation in the walls and ceilings! With all the noise and nocturnal noisemaking naughtiness that exterior entry motels promote I didn’t get to sleep ’til after midnight. Thus got a late start next day and drove the final near 900 hours home in 15 hours.

Got the car unloaded, made a Costco run, and picked up the ’15 tabs for the Minnesota bikes. Rode ’bout 50 miles in the 50s today, maybe ride over to the Guzzi dealer and see if I can work a deal on a way leftover ’11 Guzzi Stelvio tomorrow…

PR Missive received at 4 am this morning, they still drinkin’ from last night? Or maybe starting early…

“Please stop by for a drink on us right now and learn how Motiv is leading in the electric truck market!

Cheers,
(PR hack’s name redacted to protect the guilty)

Previous message below:

Hi Diana,

Happy WTS15! AmeriPride has ordered 6 all-electric F59 chassis for walk-in vans from Motiv Power Systems. You can check out the first one at booth #501. Also, we’re having a happy hour TONIGHT @ 5pm. Please join us for a drink on us!

The new zero-electric F59 chassis option opens up a wide variety of vehicles for electrification, from delivery trucks and food trucks, to refrigerated trucks, tool trucks and even a type B School bus. Press release below.

Are you curious to learn more about how Motiv can electrify any truck and by working within the commercial trucking system, instead of outside of it?”

Maybe I had these electric vehicle people pegged all wrong… Out for a jog or yoga at Happy Hour time, followed by a light dinner of organic whole grain brown rice served on tofu, with fresh squeezed fruit juice beverages… NOT! Heck, maybe this is the image the lumbering and staid electric vehicle biz needs, an image of party animals keeping the truck show display open ‘n’ hoppin’ all night, ready to seduce a firm order from a drunken fleet manager just as the sun rises over the Indy convention center. Heck, could even do some “product placement” in the next “bootleggers” reality show, with shower of sparks filled scenes of the bootlegger’s electric truck stealing a recharge from remote power lines, then quietly slipping past the revenuers…

In the meantime, might want to equip the show’s “ride and drive” event with a breathalyzer…

The empty canvas, AKA “tabula rosa”:  DSC_3762

You’d probably guess the task will be to put some sort of useful container on the sidecar’s bare frame, but actually the box will just cover the wheel and extend over the right side of the sidecar- The space between the sidecar wheel and bike’s will be left open so the outfit’s carpenter owner can transport materials. Jigging up the pieces:

DSC_3764Yup, that’s aluminum, and not a riveting tool in sight! I’m a welding virgin (save for spot welders) and the bikes owner, Florida Air Marshall Kevin Reimer, welded up the sturdy steel frame. But Roger is the best and maybe only aluminum welder in our Florida Airhead bunch, so Kevin rode the hack down to Roger’s shop in Naples to build and install the aluminum cargo box. Which is now beginning to look like a box:

DSC_3768

Interesting to see the quality welding that can be done with a modern consumer grade welder, operated with some considerable care!

The not quite finished product:

DSC_3788The aluminum sheet intended to be the lid was a bit small, and the  supplier, a sheet metal shop that supplied the aluminum scraps on the cheap, was called off to a job out of town. The fender? Kevin’s making one out of fiberglass. But the box was complete enough to mount, install the tail lights on, and Kevin rode it homeward via an Airhead Tech Day on the other end of the state.

Being new to aluminum fabrication we took our time, measuring twice and thrice before recalculating and finally cutting. Thus the project took us four days filled with the frequent and lengthy breaks you’d expect of a bunch of retired gear heads. But it was worth every minute to produce a unique product and have a bunch a fun in the process!

 

Or a shot of something.

In the past couple weeks I’ve properly lambasted, roasted, and otherwise cajoled a triad of storied organizations- The Postal Service, Volvo and their Mack trucks operation in particular, and the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (MOA). That’s a journalist’s duty… “To comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. With all too many professional journalists now being forced to cowtow to the advertising departments, that duty has fallen on us lowly underpaid bloggers… And we relish it!

‘Bout the time I was dissecting the old age maladies of the Postal Service fleet, they popped a lengthy request for proposals with general specs for the replacement for the aging LLV vans. Skimming over the lengthy tome, it looks like they want a full size step van, with a 6 foot wide and 9 foot long floor area with stand up height, perhaps to carry APCs? They also want right hand drive, a completely rustproof body, the option of four wheel drive, and they hinted at a hybrid feature too… And they want 180,000 of them built in what sounds like only 7 or so years! I don’t know if they’ve been pricing step vans lately, but we’re pretty much down to one supplier, they’re rather busy, and even in those volumes with a garden variety gas engine a price of over $50k apiece is to be expected. That’s over a billion dollars a year, though some of that cost would be offset by lower repair costs… Hopefully the Postal Service still has good credit at the U.S. Treasury, and I suspect at least the sane bidders will price in the possibility that the order might get cancelled before it’s completed. Then again, wouldn’t be too hard to adapt a cube van box to the new F150’s aluminum cab, and I suspect Ford has already engineered the right hand drive…

The nice folks at Volvo’s Mack operation have advised me that the website’s techy gear head spec content will be improving. and that’s good to hear. If you weren’t familiar with Mack you might peruse their web page and assume that only a limited range of options are available, then surf over to a competitor and buy something there. Happened to some family farmers I know, their first choice was a new Mack truck because they liked Mack’s rear suspension and double reduction axles. Upon visiting the Mack dealer to buy said new truck they were wrongly told that option was no longer available, and they bought a Peterbuilt instead, Today you can still buy a new Mack truck with a Maxidyne engine, Maxitorque transmission, and legendary Mack double reduction drive axles and bogie, just like the good old days of the legendary R model. Mack needs to let the world know that they don’t build generic trucks, and they’ve a host of options like sleeper cabs on vocational trucks, taller and thicker frames on highway trucks, tridem drive axles, axles built for loads far above the legal limits, etc.. At least I think so… I’m going by spec sheets from a couple years ago scattered about the web and internet chatter.

Eager to dig deeper into the BMWMOA story, I took advantage of their free trial membership so I could read the board meeting minutes and their online club business discussion. The news is good and bad- They cut costs to match they’re declining membership, so they’re solvent for now. But they’re losing around 5,000 of their 30,000 members a year, and they can’t afford that forever. Doing a bit of amateur forsenic accounting from the skimpy numbers available, it looks like the rally has become a good sized profit center for the club, though smaller than memberships and magazine advertising. And despite the degree to which they’ve been pimped, the all-in tours aren’t making much money… I hope they’re at least having fun. Apparently I’ve not been the only complainer, because some positive changes have been made- the website has been toned down and the link to the events schedule with the local rallies we love has been restored, and this years rally will offer a one day only admission package. But they had to maintain the BMW image and attitude, so the cost will be $30!

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