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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!

Hunter S. Thompson woulda loved this place… If he were still ridin’ with us today, would he have stuck with the Duc and be on a Multistrada, or changed with the times to a KTM or Ural?

First off, to appease any concerns, I wasn’t directly involved in the crash. However, I could probably be cited as an accessory both before and after the fact, but the officer responding to the scene didn’t seem interested in writing tickets, so I need not wait out the tolling of the statute of limitations before committing the dirty details to posterity, or at least the internet. The “directly involved” is recovering, assuming he survives the shock of seeing the bill for the ‘copter ride to the hospital. Oh, and the parts fallin’ off… If you got a 6mm by 20mm long bolt or two through your tire on Sabel Pine Road, Collier Boulevard, or US 41 lately… I might take responsibility for it. The official Florida Winter Rally bottle opener and keychain and the taillight and rear turn signals found happy “nesting” points to rest on the bike, and were readily reattached with cable ties and electrical tape. The trunk lock probably lodged in the trunk somewhere, I haven’t looked yet, having the better part of a pack of a hundred cable ties yet in inventory. Back to our lead story…

Let me set the scene… Florida from Disney World south is a swamp, with the exception of thin ridges along the eastern and western coasts. Said coastal ridges quickly fell victim to the developers, and even the late bloomer Gulf Coast is pretty much the turf of multi-millionaires, the millionaires having been relegated to the inland condos and six figure motor homes for the clever ones. Theoretically there are public beaches, but if you don’t pay real estate taxes here they want $50 a year for a beach parking permit, or else feed the meters. Otherwise, it’s just a warm and flat hundreds of miles long suburb like any other, ‘cept for all the rich octogenarians fouling the plugs on six figure luxury and sports cars, and I hear they have ‘hoods in Miami, but I don’t go there much. Rapidly running out of ridge, the developers then proceeded to persuade us taxpayers to attempt to drain the swamp, with occasional success. Or spectactular failures, like the failed “Golden Gate Estates” housing development that left us the bare bones of a several thousand acre city, with dirt, gravel, and the odd paved and potholed roads to nowhere, out in the middle of nowhere. This questionable “asset” was soon put to use by drug runners, who found the miles long roads wide and sturdy enough to handle a DC-3 “freighter” while the conveniently located Gulf allowed said drug runners to go “multimodal”. The drug markets and logistics paths having shifted, the ADV dual sport motorcyclist crowd has discovered these ruins of a road system, and put them to use. Meanwhile, the state bought up much of the failed development and turned it into an underfunded state forest, while “the Corps” made plowing the roads back into the ditches that drained the area into a multi billion dollar “Comprehensive Everglades Recovery Project (CERP).” Thus our dual sport riders are greeted by unmaintained and unpredictable road surfaces, interupted by massive new pump stations, levees, and “spreader canals” and the construction machinery building them. Throw in the spotty cell phone service, dozen or more miles to the Forest Service compound and EMTs, and the long ‘copter ride to the nearest level 1 trauma center in Miami… And this clearly ain’t our private MX track!

So based on a thread over on advrider.com, I show up for a pre-ride breakfast on the edge of the park, expecting the usual elder and full figured GSA riders that I have a chance of keeping up with on my underpowered ‘hack rig on street tires. Given how a couple guys on Urals motored right on by the GSA boys who were literally falling all over themselves in the sugar sand on a ride through the area last year, that was a realistic expectation. Instead, I found one parking spot jammed with a KLR, DR, and at least one of those orange things that go fast and are unfairly way too tall for me. Inside, they devoured breakfast… A self respecting GSA poseur would have leisurely worked their way through all those eggs and sausage and such, then loitered for at least another cup of coffee. I lowered expectations, saying I wouldn’t mind at all if they lost me…

DSC_3753Our cast of characters.

Everybody behaved them selves pretty well on the paved road headin’ into the place, even had a four wheeler pass us. But once the pavement ended, the pace picked up to 60 or so, a decent ‘hack outfit can do that on gravel roads all day. We stopped at the park “gate” here and duly paid our $2 fees, then headed on at similar pace. I took exception to said pace when they turned off on a two rut cowtrail, slowing to 30 or so in deference to whatever potholes and bumps might be hiding in the vegetation. We last met up when they pulled off through a ditch, probably could have diagaonalled through it but didn’t want to chance it. I told them not to wait for me, and they didn’t… Back on the “main” road I slowed in deference to the occasional foot deep pothole, and they sped on. I rode around looking for a viable route to one of the other exits from the area, Janes Memorial Drive, with no success, then headed back to the Forestry Service compound/picnic area/campground for a break.

Was munchin’ on a bar and surfing’ the web when two Forest Service fire rigs headed out, lights and sirens. The Forest Service two way radio was sorta audible from my picnic table, and a couple minutes later I heard “accident on Merritt”, then “get out your EMT kit” from the first to the second Ranger arriving on the scene. Merritt is closed for construction, even got security guards at the gates to make sure you don’t wander back there. Headed over that way and talked to the guard at the gate, a nice guy and a rider. He told me he thought it was a motorcycle accident, and he’d let four emergency vehicles through, including an ambulance. Here’s a better description of the accident scene and discussion since on ADVrider: http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=368848&page=185  It’s starts on page 185 on the “S.W. Florida rides thread in the “Flatistan” section of the regional rides section, in case the link goes dead.

So we’ve got 3 riders crashed, one requiring a ‘copter Medivac and the response time was measured in hours. Be careful out there…

DSC_3757Yup, went through Minneapolis 554 Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) on January 3rd, disappeared for most of the month, then got shipped out of 553 (western suburbs of Minneapolis) on the 30th and was finally delivered here in 34114 (eastern suburbs of Naples) on February 5th! Yup, a month and a couple of days to cross barely half the country… The Pony Express could have beat that! What the heck has happened to the world’s best Postal Service?

I’ve worked for both Hostess and the Postal Service, and their lives and declines were quite similar. Heck, Hostess even appears to have sized their bread and cake and the “enrobed” cartons they shipped it in to fit in the same Railway Post Office spaces as letters in “sleeves”. Both were capital intensive low margin businesses, and both are a easier and cheaper to fix than to shut down. To give an example, over two years after the Hostess bankruptcy, the administrators still haven’t been able to track down all of Hostess thousands of trucks and trailers, never mind all of the hundred thousand shelves on wheels (“racks”) that were used to carry bread and cake on those trucks and trailers. The Postal equivalent of a “rack” is an “All Purpose Carrier” (“APC”) and they’re like a rack that died and went to heaven, and if the Postal Service goes bankrupt they’ll probably go for scrap metal prices too… If they ever find them all.

Which explains why whole industries of scrappers, salvagers, and similar corporate vultures as well as Fed Ex and UPS’s lobbyists would just as soon see the Postal Service laid bare for the taking in bankruptcy court. They’re being assisted by Postal execs who exemplify the “Peter Principle”, and have long since been promoted above the low limits of their ability. Thus we find a nationwide network of world class mail sorting centers being gutted, because said “in over their head” postal execs think they should be closed and the mail hauled hundreds of miles away to other centers because the sorting centers aren’t being “utilized” dang near 24 hours a day. This managerial brilliance results in mail taking days longer to arrive, while the abandoned sorting centers sit idle and deteriorating, because there’s little market for million dollar mail sorting machines. Thus a recent First Class lettered mailed in Sarasota took five days to travel the mere hundred miles to Naples, probably passing closed sorting centers and making it’s way via Tampa, and maybe Orlando and Miami too.

Maybe spent some time on a broken down truck, too… As the bankruptcy was filed, Hostess’ average truck was 18 years old, and with rare exceptions the newest trucks were 2004 models. The Postal Service last bought new big trucks and trailers in 2006, and some of them get worked near 24 hours a day and are overdue for replacement. And like Hostess, the Postal Service is expensively supplementing it’s fleet with rentals, though at least they signed a cheaper long term contract instead of the daily rental rates that helped bleed Hostess to death. It get’s worse… You know those little step van “Long Life Vehicles” (“LLVs”)?  The first number of an LLV’s fleet number is the year it was built, if it’s a “7” you’re looking at a first year ’87 model, now 28 years old, If it’s a “4”, it’s a ’94, the last year they were built. The Postal Service has more LLVs than just about anything else with wheels and a motor, which means the the 24 year average age of the LLVs is pretty much the average fleet age. The LLV was designed to last 24 years, and those same postal execs have decreed that they’ll now last 30 years. And despite the years long process required to design and tool up a replacement, the Postal Service ain’t even started on the project. That means Postal Service mechanics are taking on expensive tasks like replacing rusted out frames, which is essentially dismantling and then assembling a new vehicle, without benefit of an assembly line. Cost? About the same as a new loaded minivan!

Now granted, much of the Postal Service’s red ink is the result of some downright dirty requirements that the Postal Service fully fund their employee’s retirement health care, ON THE DAY THE EMPLOYEE IS HIRED. But self inflicted wounds like Postal Service (mis)management’s logistics looniness don’t help any. Worse yet, the cuts in service standards drive away business- Mail forwarding is now so unreliable and unpredictable that I’m now forced to do all my financial transactions online so I can be assured of getting statements by tax time… Otherwise I’d have to endure a Florida summer to wait for all my winter mail to got here! And given that the Work Truck Show has made the mistake of giving me a press pass entitling me to the best free lunch Indianapolis Convention Center’s commissary can provide and lesser perks, courtesy of Ford, I dang well intend to be in Indy before the show packs up on March 6th instead of waiting for waylaid mail in Florida!

Here’s the presser:

“LAS VEGAS (Feb. 3, 2015) – As further evidence of Mack’s commitment to application excellence, Mack Trucks today unveiled a heavy-duty version of its game-changing Mack® mDRIVE™ automated manual transmission. The mDRIVE HD will be available as standard equipment on orders as of March in the rugged Mack Granite® model, offering improved performance for demanding on- and off-road applications.

Mack made the announcement during World of Concrete 2015 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“Our construction customers told us they wanted a heavy-duty version of the mDRIVE designed specifically to handle rough jobs in tough conditions,” said Stephen Roy, president of Mack Trucks North American Sales and Marketing. “We listened to them and developed a reinforced rugged transmission that will help our customers deliver power, performance, enhanced durability and improved driver satisfaction in a time when the industry is experiencing a driver shortage.”

The mDRIVE HD is designed and engineered to work exclusively with Mack MP7® and Mack MP8® engines. The 12-speed mDRIVE HD has an automated clutch, so no clutch pedal is required. Operation of the transmission is controlled through a dash-mounted shift pad by selecting drive, neutral or reverse. For more demanding jobsite maneuvers, the premium shift pad can be operated manually to hold a gear, downshift or upshift.

Available in overdrive and direct drive, the mDRIVE HD continuously monitors changes in grade (both up and down), vehicle speed, throttle position, acceleration, torque demand and gross vehicle weight. It automatically chooses the best gear for the road condition, allowing drivers to focus on the terrain rather than shifting gears, increasing safety on worksites.

The mDRIVE HD is based on the innovative design of the standard-duty mDRIVE, a proven performer that Mack made standard in the Mack Pinnacle™ model in October 2014. Compared to conventional automatic transmissions, the mDRIVE HD requires less service, significantly reducing maintenance needs.

In the event the mDRIVE HD does require attention, the transmission can be serviced at any Mack dealer, eliminating the additional time and hassle of visiting a third party service location. In addition, the mDRIVE HD is supported by Mack’s Uptime services, which reduce downtime and maximize productivity through real-time monitoring and proactive repair scheduling.

Key features of the mDRIVE HD include:

The mDRIVE HD is lightweight. Including transmission oil, the mDRIVE HD is up to 237 pounds lighter than other transmission offerings, enabling customers to haul even more payload.
It features reinforced internal components. With stronger gears and synchros, the mDRIVE HD is built to withstand more frequent shifting that is often needed in construction applications.
The mDRIVE HD uses a transmission-mounted oil cooler. The mDRIVE HD’s oil cooler helps maintain an optimal operating temperature, despite repeated, heat-generating shifts common on a jobsite.
Unique software packages, specific to the customer application, are available with the mDRIVE HD. The “Enhanced Construction” package provides optimal on/off-road capability and gives the driver full control over any terrain. “EZ Shift” delivers smoother shifts for sensitive payloads like livestock or bulk liquids.
The mDRIVE HD offers a Rock Free feature. Should the vehicle become stuck, this feature allows the driver to rock the truck back and forth simply by pumping the accelerator.
It features Grade Gripper. Working with the truck’s ABS system, Grade Gripper allows the vehicle to momentarily hold a hill, giving the driver time to move their foot from the brake to the accelerator pedal without rolling backward.
The mDRIVE HD will be available for order in March. For more information about the mDRIVE HD, please visit Mack booth No. C-5203 at the World of Concrete 2015 Feb. 3-6 in the Las Vegas Convention Center or contact your local Mack dealer. An online video highlighting the mDRIVE HD and its features is also available by clicking here.”

As always, the real meaning is between the lines: Volvo is so determined to stick buyers with their so-so automated manual transmission that they’re not just going to make it a questionable option in their construction market Granite truck, they’re making it standard equipment! Now all of this would be fine and dandy if said Volvo automated manual was up to the job… Which it probably ain’t. If Volvo had the humility to pick the brains of Mack’s retired engineers, they’d have found that they’d designed a transmission with some super low low granny gears so cement mixers and dump trucks could creep along at not even a walking pace. They did that not to cope with slow parades, but to do things their customers demand their mixers and dumps do, like creep along while chuting concrete to pour curbs or spreading gravel to make a smooth driveway. Those super low gears were pretty much a Mack exclusive, and sold a lot of Macks over the years. Try doing that with an automated manual like Volvo’s with gearing more suited for the interstate and you’ll soon have a cooked clutch!

That’s just the beginning of the problems with Volvo’s misapplication of their highway transmission… Mack’s own transmission sports triple countershafts and will be just be getting broken in by the time Volvo’s single countershaft box is shipped off to the Volvo mothership for an expensive rebuild or replacement. Yup, there’s no service parts available. While awaiting that inevitability, this Mack/Volvo will be delayed every time the transmission thinks it’s time to upshift, only to get bogged down as the upgrade steepens or the mud deepens, unless the buyers paid extra to have the “up” and “down” shift buttons activated. Meanwhile an old Mack truck passes, it’s Maxidyne engine producing power over such a wide range that shifts are seldom necessary. If it’s old Maxitorque transmission ever does wear out, they usually outlast the truck so a used one might cost less that just the shipping on Volvo’s automated wonder box.

And one more thing, Volvo: You might want to tell your agency of record to use a font and layout that won’t be mistaken for this freebee one… Just think what fun a creative blogger could have on April 1st!

The Quant family having lost their controlling interest in MAN Truck & Bus to VW, the dirty deed will have to be done by a gas guzzler tax eligible 7 series V-12, which probably gets worse mileage than a MAN bus.

Now in the sorta good old days the BMW Motor Cycle Owners of America published a nice monthly magazine about all things BMW motorcycle and put on a most excellent annual rally in late July. The local affiliate clubs put on smaller rallies, and MOA and the local clubs scheduled around each other so there’d be few conflicts. Pick up a copy of the “MOA News” or check out bmwmoa.org today and you’ll be assaulted by bright full color promotions for every overpriced unneeded accessory it’s possible to attach to a BMW motorcycle, and MOA’s own plethora of regional rallies and tours. Yup, MOA is competing with the very local clubs that built and comprise MOA! Now for awhile this was halfway tolerable, just go to the back of the “News” or click on the “calendar” tab and up would come a nice schedule and info on all the local rallies.

Tried that a couple times lately, no joy… The local rally schedule has been buried deep in the website, while MOA’s own rally offerings get front page billing. ‘Tis a shame, because many of the local BMW clubs are quite well run and offer excellent value per dollar in both membership dues and rally fees. Meanwhile, MOA struggles under the self inflicted weight of a staff of ten, most of whom seem to have a travel industry mindset. The membership is fleeing, only a few years back 100,000 members was a serious goal, and now MOA is down to only 30,000 or so left to pay the bills. MOA’s solution: Turn the screws even tighter, hide the local club “competition”, jack up the annual rally fee, and make the online forum a “members only” benefit!

Which says something of just how out of it MOA is… With 30,000 members and a couple thousand hits a day, they’re trying to compete with advrider.com , a site that gets more daily unique visitors (40,000) than MOA has members, and it’s FREE! In fact, MOA and BMW Motorad would be wise to surf advrider a bit and note the demographics (young and diverse) and preferences (dual sports) and remodel their offerings appropriately. They might also notice where there former members and rally goers have gone too- It’s not unusual for someone to post a ride and get together on advrider, and have it snowball into a rally in all but name with no need whatsoever for MOA’s bloated “travel agency” bureaucracy!

Update: Hmmm… MOA all of a sudden redid the front page with an events ticker and the glossiness is gone! Wonder if the forum is unlocked again and the annual rally fee has been reduced? Maybe even free coffee? Fat chance!

http://tickets.amtrak.com/itd/amtrak

Looks like a few trains left ’til AMTK shuts the North East Corridor down for the blizzard tonight. But $105 only gets you from Boston to DC…

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