Choosing between the several april 1st PR invites I’ve been gifted with was easy- theres a blizzard in the Dakotas and the Everglades State University, UPS, FDX, and USPS pressers are all in the same Everglades “neighborhood”, looks to be at the far south end of Everglades Boulevard South, around the 128xx block. Last time I was down that way Everglades Boulevard was closed just south of Alligator Alley, even had a gate and guard at the detour sign. Normally I’d be a bit suspect, but I checked out Everglades State and they’re a genuine university, with research specialties in drones, poultry, and VA funded research into brain/artifical limb interfaces. And if that presser bombs, there’s three more within shotgun range… What’s not to like?

Gotta run now and get a nap, the pressers are in the early am, suppose they want some sunrise in the swamp visuals. I found a couple Ural riders up for the adventure, so I should be able to live blog from the hack… See you from the Everglades in a few hours!

 

 

ImageI’ll confess- I didn’t even attend. Heck, the North Florida Airheads Tech Days next weekend sounds like a more enjoyable stopover on my migration north, and there’s a blizzard watch out for my place in Minnesota monday night, so no rush to get home. And the pictured Walmart greenwashing PR exercise not so cleverly disguised as a truck? ‘Twas at Louisville, and just from the PR it’s clearly fluff. Fluff, as in being powered by a gas turbine driving a generator and charging batteries that power this fluff, series hybrid style. And remember the gas turbine cars and trucks, that were abandoned back in the 70s because they were such gas hogs? In other words, a supersized Prius with the most inefficient engine possible. But heck, Walmart got to look kool…

Otherwise, there was little new… IIRC, not a single new model introduction. Navistar reminded us they’re still alive if not kicking, Volvo and their Mack brand showed the same old stuff with some new PR pitches (free tattoos of the new Mack logo, no waiting!), Daimler announced adding Western Star production at an east coast plant, and Paccar showed off the DAF cabovers wearing KW and Peterbuilt badges that replace the 80s “truck of the year” Leyland T45. Even the powertrain and trailer suppliers didn’t have much new, just a few revised axles and such.

But in a heavy truck industry that’s depleted to four manufacturers with seven brands, there’s no need to develop much new in this near monopoly. Especially when the North American market is almost the last refuge of the conventional cab truck, the rest of the world preferring cabovers. In fact, there are only five manufacturers of conventional cab heavy trucks left, and a couple of them are just pasting a hood on their world market cabover to muddle through the ‘merican market. And while Mack loyalists lament Mack’s morphing into a Volvo with a bulldog hood ornament, with Mack sales being but a tenth of Volvo’s total, it’s hard to keep the old dog alive. Two thirds of the worlds heavy trucks are sold in Asia today, and those are all cabover markets… Mack’s opportunity there was a couple decades ago, and they missed it.

And it’s a shrinking little conventional cab market we have here in North America too. Time was when trucking companies ran trucks 24 hours a day, putting 750,000 miles on in 5 years and trading for new. With the railroads taking over the long hauls, it takes twice as long to put on that many miles so they buy half as many new trucks. Even the industry’s most reliable customers in the “vocational” markets like utilities and such are less reliable buyers, as a lot of them have taken a hard look at what there trucks really need to carry and downsized to smaller trucks from Ford, Fiat/Ram, and even GM. So no surprise that while U.S. big truck sales used to run around 300,000 a year, they’ll be lucky to top 200,000 a year these days. 200,000 vehicles a year is about what the car/light truck manufacturers demand to justify a single model, and the big truck building biz here splits that volume among 4 manufacturers and a bakers dozen or so models… So no surprise we’re not seeing a lot of new models!

Enough lament… Looks like I’m suddenly popular with the PR departments and I’ve got a bunch of invites to April 1st new product announcements. Let’s see… UPS, Chicago-Milwaukee Corporation, Electric Boat Company, Walmart, Harley, Twin City Lines, and the Everglades State University Experimental Farm?

Was playing on http://www.healthcare.gov the other day to see how bad Florida rates are. They ain’t bad at all… punched in my $20k a year income and found several plans for less than $100 a month. So y’ll got no excuse not to get health care insurance in case stupid happens… As it always will!

Still uncomfirmed, but sounds like US DOT ain’t gonna fund the fought over passenger rail line I just wrote about. Of 15 applicants, this was one of two not funded. This probably sets back the project at least a year until the next round of funding.

Ahh, railroad buildin’ was so much easier in the “good ol’ days”… The Empire Builder looked at the profit potential of various routes, picked some cities or places that weren’t even cities yet to connect, and turned loose the surveyors and builders. A year or two later we had a railroad, and if your town got bypassed, you just moved your town to where the railroad went. Really. How times have changed… We’re in the umpteenth year of the Minneapolis area light rail project known as the Southwest Light Rail Line, cleverly disguised as a continuing soap opera. Here’s a map:

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Yea, I know, this should be simple.

First, a backgrounder: Most of the route, from Shady Oak Station to downtown, follows the right of way of an old Minneapolis & St.Louis rail line that was abandoned three decades ago. Thinking ahead, Hennepin County bought the right of way and laid down a bike trail as a temporary use while they sought funding to build a light rail line. Then MNDot cut off Twin Cities & Western’s connection to most of the rest of the railroad world when they upgraded MN 55 to near freeway status a few miles east, so a bit over a mile of track was reinstalled in the right of way as a temporary measure between where West Lake Station will go and the BNSF line near planned Penn Station. In the meantime, a bunch of pricy townhouses and such sprouted along those reinstalled tracks.

Come the 21st century and prospects for funding improved, so planning began. After months of public hearings and such where everyone and their brother was given opportunity to offer their opinion, the planners and engineers looked at all the options and picked the best, which you see on the map above. As expected, it’s a compromise, that tries to deliver the most good transit to the most people. And some folks went away mad, especially some residents of a southwest Minneapolis upmarket neighborhood referred to a “Yuptown.” They demanded that the tracks and trains go right through their neighborhood, but the engineers said building through that populated and congested ‘hood was a financial deal breaker.

So it’s been over 3 years since the route was finalized, and they oughta be layin’ tracks and buyin’ trains by now. But seems like every group involved- the several cities, even Twin Cities & Western’s joke of a railroad, has veto power. So St.Louis Park, where the TC&W trains were going to be rerouted to by installing a couple short simple connecting tracks, has vetoed that. Seeing a free upgrade to their dilapidated tracks, TC&W has demanded a fancy flyover that will allow their trains to take those turnouts to BNSF at speeds their aged (Cat repowered GP20s) locomotives could only dream of. The Metropolitan Council, lead agency on the line, then considered letting TC&W stay on their temporary connection for another century or so… But the right of way is kind of narrow there, and a freight track, two light rail paths, and the aforementioned bike trail will never fit between the aforementioned pricy townhouses. So the ever politically astute Met Council suggests putting the light rail tracks through a tunnel, with the bike trail and TC&W tracks atop, at an increased cost of a mere hundred million or so. Problem is, the trackbed don’t look to be even ten feet above two neighboring lakes, and the floor of a tunnel tall enough to fit light rail will be at least twenty feet down. Minneapolis, already smarting from a built below lake level building basement that was dumping millions of gallons of water from it’s leaking basement into one of those lakes, seems ready to veto that. And remember those bicyclists? Shoulda never built them a trail… Despite parallel parklands with plenty of places to reroute, the cyclists refuse to give up their not all that scenic trail. And the Uptown yuppies? They’re using these multiple disputes to try to reroute the tracks back through their ‘hood, if not derail the whole project. Greedy they be, too… They’re slated to get streetcar lines down the same 29th Street and Nicollet Avenue routes they wanted light rail on!

Now a few parties have tried to lend some sanity to this madness- For example, the United Transportation Union proposed an alternate route that would have satisfied TC&W’s objections, but of course, TC&W objected to that… Maybe if we promised to reinstall the signalling system they ripped out, turning their tracks into “dark territory”, too? I and a few other local writers have suggested that TC&W use the light rail tracks at night when Light Rail don’t run, but I imagine the Met Council don’t want to share tracks with those dirty freight trains, and TC&W don’t wanna associate with “nonsense” like Light Rail.

So with what seems like a half dozen parties ready with their veto stamps, seems like Southwest Light Rail ain’t goin’ nowhere. James J. Hill, you wanna come down and get our railroad built? 

 

 

Speeds were at the posted on I-95 and along the Speedway, with reports of light traffic downtown. The usual ramp jams at “Destitution Daytona” were absent, with even lighter traffic that what we saw during the peak of the recession a few years ago. “Daytona Bike Week is back”, sayeth the Chamber of Commerce… I call BS!

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Traffic was light around HOG(NYSE)’s new water cooled V-Twin, despite it being abandoned right in the middle of the main traffic flow through HOG(NYSE)’s vast exhibit. A HOG(NYSE) spokesperson termed it a “training bike”, with HOG(NYSE) clearly hoping it’ll be traded on at least a Sportster if not a Big Twin before the newbie rider’s learner’s permit expires. But a modern water cooled 750 can easily show even the 1200 Sporty up, and no way is HOG(NYSE) going to allow such precocious children to grow and flower. Take a look at the lack of space for rearsets… The foot-binding has already begun! Shame to see a bike with so much potential born into such an abusive home… Child Protection, where are you when we need you? ImagePolaris showed a bit more class with it’s new Indian brand, featuring this tasty replica of Mr. Munro’s land speed record bike. But traffic was light at the cruiser (bound) brands, and was light here also…ImageMarketing to the same target demographic, I suspect this purveyor of fetish wear is running into the same demographic dead end as HOG(NYSE) and Polaris: Elder buyers who are more in the market for depends and durable medical equipment than corseted motorcycles. Polaris will respond quickly with a line of midsize bikes targeted at younger riders… But a company that labels it’s new 500-750 cc. products as “training bikes” has the same prospects for future success as the old GM, but without a government bailout.

ImageEBR was a bit of a disappointment, and one would have expected more from Hero’s multimillion dollar investment than a floor mat. I’ve chastised EBR on another forum for the amateurishness of coming to Daytona with an 18 wheeler display trailer mislabeled as an RV, despite EBR’s new found affluence. My apologies to EBR for that mischaracterization- This time, you really were amateurs! Next time, bring a whole trailer load of those new Hero bikes you helped design, and pay your taxes like every other trucker…ImageMeanwhile, Team Green was a class act, putting on a bike show with customer’s classic and custom bikes, with several two stroke triples and KZ fours in attendance. Over at Honda they were heavy with their 700 cc. range of standard, adventure, and touring bikes, with Suzuki and Kawasaki giving ample display space to their midsize models too. Yamaha was promoting their reintroduced SR400 thumper, but with a discouraging $6k MSRP. Wait a couple years and they’ll be emptying the warehouse of them at $4k, has Yamaha learned anything since the 80s? Traffic was heavier in the Japanese big four brand’s exhibits than the domestics, and most of that heavy traffic won’t be getting AARP junk mail for years…Image But Daytona will always be Daytona, even if hardly anybody comes anymore…

Shortly after 9 last night I had a campfire all to myself at a campground a bit north of Daytona. “Twas too early for sleep, and in awhile another soul braved the cold and joined me by the fire ’til it died out. Around us was a thinly populated campground, with 4 wheelers probably outnumbering bikes and a lot of those bikes on trailers. One could see exhaust plumes from many of those 4 wheelers and humming generators, despite temps well above freezing… I slept pretty well in a plain old tent with a below zero rated sleeping bag I never even zipped up all the way. Meanwhile, the campground’s electrical “system” struggled to cope with the load of CPAPs AND electric heaters.

Did hear a few Harley’s pass by on the freeway ’round bar closing time, riders no doubt having failed to check the weather forecast before going bar hopping. I’m encamped with the Airheads, and we’re making an attempt at a comeback after last years official “Airhead Central” was cancelled due to lack of volunteers. Not doing much better this year, as the encampment was down to two overworked volunteers wensday eve when I arrived, but we’ve got reinforcements coming for the weekend. So not sure if I’ll make it to downtown Daytona (not much more than chrome, etc. left there) or even the Speedway parking lot where Honda et al have their wares on display. In another symptom of disappearing Dayrona bike week, even Harley has consolidated at the Speedway, joining the great unchromed masses in a venue where helmets are actually hawked… Meanwhile, if the DOT hasn’t caught up and impounded EBR’s display 18 wheeler trying to pass itself off as an RV, might be worth visiting whatever vacant lot they’re probably sqautting on.

So might sneak out and get you some coverage (from GHG’s twisted point of view) of uptown if not downtown Daytona as well as greater Daytona out here. No big deal if I don’t though… Despite the sparse population, I’ve met some great riders out here and the HOG(NYSE) products seem to be in the minority…

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