“To comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”

That creed is seldom adhered to in moto journalism, and all too frequently forgotten in journalism, period. Back in the 60s I admired Car&Driver for their forthright style, only to be let down when I found that they had pulled a whole issue because Porsche didn’t like their review of the 914. American truck mags were the worst, full of badly rewritten press releases glorifying the latest from IH, Freightliner, et al… I’d later drive the same noisy almost out of control gutless truck and it was obvious the mag’s paid by the word writer had never driven it. Same with the glowing reviews of motorcycles and farkles, neatly correlating with the maker’s ad spending in the mag.

And then came the internet and bloggers… Amateur and even a few pro journalists owing nothing to much of anyone, but with the occasional axe to grind. Thus we are seeing a return to the Upton Sinclair and more lately Steven Brill style style of muckraking that keeps democracy sharp. An excellent example is Cory Heidelberger, author and publisher of the Dakota Free Press, the go-to authority on South Dakota politics. Now Cory leans to the political left, but his investigative journalism is so good that republicans read and even buy ads on his blog. And if it wasn’t for Cory, I and most of South Dakota wouldn’t know what “EB-5″ is, ’cause the mainstream media didn’t cover the brewing EB-5 scandal in South Dakota until Cory covered it so much they couldn’t ignore it.

So what’s an EB-5, and what does it have to do with anything with wheels? EB-5 is an immigration loophole that allows any foreigner to buy green cards (residency permits) for themselves and their family by investing a half million bucks in a U.S. business and creating a few jobs, at least on paper. Now that sounds all well and good, with foreign investors helping to capitalize startup businesses here in the good ‘ol USA… Problem is, despite all this capital flow, a lot of these businesses seem to strangly go belly up after feeding on all those EB-5 dollars. In South Dakota these spectacular bankruptcies have befallen a string of mega dairies so big they can probably be seen from space, and most recently a massive beef packing plant plopped down in Aberdeen, thousands of miles from the mass markets for it’s beef.

Well, EBR was a receipent of EB-5 funding too, and EBR is now insolvent too. I should have been suspicious when I was thrown off a Buell forum just as Erik Buell was launching EBR just after HOG(NYSE) shut Buell down. I’ve been through a plant closing before, and was starting up the usual “community organizer” strategy of finding out what all suppliers and communities were affected by the Buell shutdown and thus might be brought together to bring Buell back. Perhaps I was interfering with the EB-5 scheme? I don’t know, but I’m gonna stay on this story and follow it to truth.

Thus I’ve learned to be a bit suspect when an organization suddenly tries to censor this little ol’ blogger. Couple years back I was thrown off of the American Truck Historical Society forum when they were trying to cover up some fiscal stupidity, largely involving taking on too big and expensive a headquarters building, then sweetheart leasing part of it to some buddies. Since then the crap has hit the fan, and ATHS has a new director and hopefully they can put the past scandal behind them.

So when I thrown out of BMWMOA today, I took notice… Why pull the free trial membership of this same little ‘ol blogger because I disagree with how they run some aspects of their organization and have questioned the reliability of their favorite motorcycle? I mean, they’d be smarter just to take my money and ignore me… So I’m beginning to smell something suspect at BMWMOA too. But BMWMOA will have to wait while I dig through the rubble of EBR, and not being of the BMWMOA caste, I won’t have the money to renew my membership ’til the first of the month anyway. If I’m lucky, I’ll have enough to buy some new work/riding boots with my stockholder discount at Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting/looting of Omaha. The BMWMOA Brahams in their stylish imported moto boots will sneer, but who cares?

So ya, I’m making room for some muckrakin’ motojournalism… In between the ride and rally reports, and whatever else fits will get printed!

Buell, AKA Erik Buell Racing, has filed for receivership under Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 128. That chapter is a part of Wisconsin’s progressive tradition, allowing citizens relief from debtors while they reorganize their business and begin a payment plan. While liquidation is possible under Chapter 128, you can liquidate a business at any time anyways,

There’s simply too much good stuff that EBR has created to allow the company to be broken up for scrap, unless the creditors are really dumb and refuse to cooperate…And their being plenty of dumb creditors out there, that’s a possibility. But a cutting edge sport bike that needs only some rough edges taken off, ABS, and hard bags is too valuable an asset to scrap, ‘specially when it’s all tooled up and in production and needs only better financial management and marketing.

Buell will be back… His bikes are too great to die!

No, I ain’t talkin’ ’bout license fees nor the few cents we pay at the pump that don’t even keep up with patchin’ the potholes and plowin’ our streets and highways… Heck, those taxes ain’t even kept up with inflation! Couple years back on tax day I wrote about how the often high cost of shipping amounted to a rather gross “tax” on everything. ‘Twas reminded of that the other day when I plopped enough oil filters and crush washers and such in my “cart” at Wunderlich America to see my new Super Tenere past 100,000 klicks, then clicked on to “shipping” and found that getting this few kilos of stuff from the left coast to Minnesota was going to cost near as much as the filters and such themselves. Wunderlich, if that abandonned cart bothers you, just bring it to the MOA rally and I’ll buy it, minus the inflated shipping costs. Heck, I’m even tempted to invest in the biggest hard bags and racks known to AdvRider so I can load up at rallies and save the shipping, even though I’m addin’ a big ‘ol ‘hack next winter. Now I will say in Yamaha’s defense that the local dealer’s price for the filter wasn’t felony level highway robbery, though the concept of “crush washers” is still foreign to them. But the bike is remarkably free of service reminders requiring dealer reset, I’ve already got a Yamaha repair manual in my hot little hands, and despite being a 21st century design the bike has no desire or ability to “call home” to “Mama Yama”. Taking a break from perusing the Yamaha manual, what should jump over the virtual transom but a PR missive from Volvo’s Mack brand informing me that if I’d given in to their previous PR pitches and bought a new Mack with their M-Drive automated manual transmission, they’d be following MY transmission all over the country. In fact, for the last couple years “telematics” has been a default option on new Mack and Volvo trucks, allowing Volvo to track YOUR Mack or Volvo as you wander the continent. Nice to know that Volvo is worried about the welfare of YOUR transmission and truck, but Macks have quite well covered billions of miles all over the world without Volvo’s newfound supervision. So you’re driving down the road in YOUR new Mack enjoying the beautiful day and shiftless Volvo transmission until the video display in the dashboard starts flashing and demanding your attention. You are informed that terrible things are about to happen to YOUR transmission, and Volvo has thoughtfully provided directions to the nearest dealership. You call your shipper and receiver and let them know you’ll be delayed, and drive a hundred miles out of route to the Volvo/Mack dealer… They’re kinda thin on the ground out here. Pull into to the dealer and you see they’ve been expecting you, with a new transmission in the crate at the ready and a stall held open for your truck. What the hell, it’s under warranty for 5 years and 750k miles, so you head off to the motel and to a sound sleep. Next morning you head back to the dealer, you’re truck is done and you head to the cashier to sign off on the warranty and collect your keys and get back on the road. But… What’s with this dollar sign followed by five digits at the bottom of the bill? You bother the service manager, who informs you that despite not even being halfway through warranty, Volvo has disallowed the warranty claim… And passes you off to Volvo’s 800 “Customer Assistance” number. Despite not having ever spoken with them, they seem to know a whole lot about your truck and where it’s been. Denying the claim, they cite that miserable dirt road you had to deliver down last month as “improper and abusive usage for a highway model truck”. And those 88,000 pound permit GCW loads you hauled last winter during the propane shortage? Volvo has rated and warranties the M-Drive software version you bought for only 80,000 pounds, even though the rest of your Mack is good for at least half again that. And how’d they find out about all this “abuse”? Remember how the salesman bragged about how YOUR new Mack could see the hills ahead, and adjust to the weight of the load? Yup, besides being able to “call home” to Volvo, YOUR new Mack has a road map of North America in it’s brain and thanks to the “wonders” of telematics, the ability to “call home” and rat you off! Now I don’t want to single out just Volvo here for some rightous indignation, they’re just the trend setter. Heck, I suspect GM bought OnStar from Hughes to make they’re too frequent RePos easier, and then figured they’d sell access to the actual car owner to defray some of the costs.  All over the industry, paper and even CD/DVD manuals are disappearing, replaced by online manual rental. And while the “evil” “Guvmint”‘ OBD2 standards democratized powertrain diagnosis, everything else is becoming proprietary- If you buy a new VW or even BMW, budget $350 extra or so for an aftermarket software or hardware “hack” so you can do basic diagnostics on YOUR vehicle. Yamaha didn’t get the memo, my new Super Tenere still happily displays diagnostic codes at no extra charge, but I suspect the next generation will “fix” that marketing “mistake”. But the trend is clear: Every manufacturer is working on putting a big ol’ video display in the dashboard and an extra antenna on the roof, and “freeing”you from the bother of buying all those manuals and disgnostic stuff and tools for YOUR vehicle.

So you think you own YOUR new vehicle because you bought and paid for it… The manufacturers think of it as a lease with a hefty front end deposit!

Prepare for much excuse making from the BMW camp…
“Ratings Overview
Brand Reliability
More than 11,000 riders sound off on over 12,300 motorcycles

Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki are among the more reliable motorcycle brands. Conversely, Triumph, Ducati, BMW and Can-Am are among the more repair-prone brands. That’s what we found based on the feedback of more than 11,000 subscribers reporting on over 12,300 motorcycles purchased new between 2008 and 2014. The graph shows the percentage of motorcycles from each brand that we predict will need a repair by the fourth year of ownership. Our statistical model estimates failure rates for 4-year-old motorcycles not covered by a service contract and adjusts for mileage driven over a 12-month period. The mean annual mileage is around 3,800 among all motorcycles included in this analysis. Differences of fewer than 10 points between brands are not meaningful. Note that models within a brand may vary, and design or manufacture changes may affect future reliability. Still, choosing a brand with a good repair estimate can improve your odds of getting a reliable motorcycle.
Brand Repairs and Serious Problems
Motorcycles

Yamaha 11%
Suzuki 12%
Honda 12%
Kawasaki 15%
Victory 17%
Harley-Davidson 26%
Triumph 29%
Ducati 33%
BMW 40%
Can-Am 42%”

Thanks Consumer Reports for the great research, well worth the price of a subscription!

Note that differences of less than 10% are statistical noise, even with a sample of around 10,000 bikes! That means that I and my buds discussing the reliability of our half dozen or even baker’s dozen of BMWs or whatever around the campfire is statistically worthless. But we do know that there’s a 95% chance that the 4 Japanese brands are more reliable than Harley, Triumph, Ducati, BMW, or Can Am. The only non Japanese brand that is even close to the Japanese brands reliability is Victory, and Polaris should be duly complemented on that achievement. That puts Victory a near statistically significant 9% ahead of rival HOG(NYSE), a major accomplishment for an upstart which proves that Americans can build a bike near as reliable as the Japanese… HOG(NYSE), what’s your problem? Triumph and Ducati slightly trail Harley, but who ever expected Brit bikes and Ducs to be reliable? And BMW… Clearly the “Legendary Motorcycle of Germany” to quote BMWs own airhead era ads has become the legendary lemon of Germany! Fortunately there’s no shortage of online forums for BMW riders to comiserate about flaming final drives and failed $2k ABS units… Tread gently on the BMW forums for the next few days folks, the egos of the worshipers of the Fatherland’s finest will be kinda tender. And thanks to Can-Am for bringing up the rear and giving the BMW riders a bit of solace… They’re bike wasn’t quite the worst!

Gonna be fun reading the BMW forums the next few days…

Back in the days when April Fools Day was damn near a national holiday I brought both the Milwaukee Road and the Rock Island back to life, did new model press releases for the new Mack B model and U model sidecar outfit, staged a chase and even a dragrace in Minneapolis long forgotten subway system between a new Light Rail Car and a hopped up PPC streetcar piloted by none other than the late owner of the Minnesota Twins. I made folly of government too, with Minneapolis annexing most of the country overnight and the discovery of the city documents of Farmersville, which undid Minneapolis annexation of darn near half the city and returned it to, well, farmland. But unfortunately April Fools hijinks have gone out of style, and all too many of the people running governments and corporations have so little sense of humor left that they’d have a Cease and Desist Order on my way before they even figured out it’s a joke. And given the current boardroom drama at Volvo, I’ll have to save the news of the new Mack Superliner and Valueliner models with the mighty 750 hoursepower Mack/Scania V8 for another year.

Meanwhile, people seem to make the same hilariously bad decisions in both government and mobility. As a reluctant candidate I noted that all too many of the topics of debate were leftovers from the last century if not the one before. For example, welfare and alledged cheating thereof are regular topics of political diatribe, but as unlikely a president as Clinton ended welfare as we know it. That leaves the conservatives to try to relabel “food stamps” as welfare when in most places they don’t even use stamps anymore, and the whole deal is an ag subsidy program that benefits farmers, food processors, and grocers more than the mainly young and elder direct beneficiaries. Dig into the big data that is all around us today, and you’ll find that there’s been more tax dollars stolen by crooked food industry middlemen than receipients, and WalMart’s profits would take a big hit if the conservatives succeeded in killing “food stamps”! The left is just as bad, back when I lived in north Minneapolis I dug up the neighborhood’s crime stats and Detroit’s and found a similar crime rate. But the city fathers and mothers insisted there was no crime problem anywhere in Minneapolis, citing citywide statistics that were much better than Detroit’s while they used north Minneapolis as a convenient dumping ground for newly released criminals. But the data told a far different story- In one neighborhood, over 60% of the adults had felony records. I still have some worthless property there, so I still track stats for the area… For example, the census track I used to live in has a working age adult workforce participation rate of only 44% while neighborhoods in other parts of the city and suburbs have rates in the 60%, 70% and even 80% ranges. In a labor market with less than 4% unemployment where “any warm body” can get hired, clearly a lot of young men and women have instead chosen to hang out on the streets and peddle drugs, stolen goods, and themselves intead of punching the clock. But despite this data, the city insists there is no problem…

Consumers make the same stupid data ignorant decisions when it comes to buying cars, trucks, bikes, etc.. Look at the reverence given the German auto and bike makers, with supposedly well educated consumers paying up to twice the price for a 3 pointed star or some semblance of a propeller on the hood. Fact is, all three german companies are full line manufacturers, Daimler even building an “A”series to compete against VW’s low and mid market offerings, but the keep it on the other side of the big pond so as not to cheapen Mercedes luxury rep here. Daimler is also the world’s largest builder of medium and heavy trucks, and they didn’t get there by charging premium prices- Make the rounds of the truck dealers shopping for a new truck and Daimler’s Mercedes and Freightliner brands will generally match price with anyone. And can these german brands justify their premium prices with higher quality? Again the big data, thanks to Consumer’s Union, says no… The German cars generally do no better than even the Asian economy cars for reliability, despite higher prices. And motorcycles? BMW and Harley had twice as many defects as Honda, Yamaha, and Kawasaki!

Same with the two contrasting schools of  vehicle design, the “old skool” gearheads and the hybrid and electric car loonies. On one hand we have people speccing and buying vehicles with no attempt at improved efficiency whatsover, escuing aerodynamics and powertrain efficiency for bluff fronted trucks and other motorized antiques that probably have better aerodynamics in reverse than forward directions. They choose the biggest motor available, then spend a fortune “unstrangling” it’ ignoring the fact that big two valve pushrod engines are loosers right from the draftboards they sprung from decades and centuries ago. Just the publicly available big data from road tests, SAE tests, the Energy Department, etc. tells us that the way to effiency is small hard working engines with lots of valves and preferably overhead cams too. Meanwhile, the other camp derides anyone who hasn’t put themselves deep in debt to buy an overprice hybrid or electric car. They brag of cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gases, ignoring the fact that on the highway a hybrid has no advantage and electric cars largely get recharged with coal generated electricity. I have to admit though, most consumers seem to be paying attention to the data on electric cars- the Tesla and Nissan Leaf are fighting it out for the best selling electric car crown at a rate of around 3000 a month, with the Chevy Volt trailing. With a new battery needed after 10 years or so costing more than the electric car will be worth then and limited range even with a new battery, all but the greenest environmental fanatics are steering clear of electrics. Those environmental fanatics are as lockstepped in their ways as the Harley good ‘ol boys, drag out the data and prove them wrong and they throw you off their online forum or worse!

So in a way, every day is April Fool’s day as the Harley faithful keep the showrooms busy and the environmental fanatics keep Tesla’s stock jacked up despite unsustainably low sales. In politics, the presidential primary season(s) are just beginning and the candidates will be tripping over each other across Iowa, hawking “solutions” to all the 20th and even 19th centuries pressing problems. Enjoy all the wealth of data available today in making your gearhead buying decisions… But for the politicians, there’s little hope!

“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!

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