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September QuickThrottle Column

This month's column is a discussion about remembering to live your life -- not let it slide by regretting you never did anything that you really wanted to.  Something that we all need to remember from time to time...

Next to riding, probably the sport nearest to my heart is skiing.  I started skiing before I could ride – growing up in Utah you kinda start to ski right when you start walking.  I get from skiing the same sense of freedom and the same adrenalin rush that I get from the back of my bike.  I started thinking about skiing while cooped up inside on a day it was 122 in the desert and too hot to even get in the pool. Like riding, I go where I want, when I want – the skis are attached to me and become a part of me just like the motorcycle does.  

One of my heroes in life is a guy named Warren Miller.  He made his home in Washington, up in the San Juan’s, and passed away last year. He made a living being, for lack of a better term, a “professional ski bum.”  He shot wonderful movies about skiing and about the freedom one feels while sliding down the mountain with two boards strapped to your feet.  I don’t think he’s worked a day in his life as his two passions are outdoor sports and filming people doing them.  He’s made a fortune doing just that and was my hero for that reason.  I pulled up one of his movies on YouTube that 122 degree day and pretended it was winter.

Warren always talked about the freedom one feels when skiing, and if you’ve never skied you need to just go out and do it – because, as Warren said “If you don’t do it now, you’ll just be another year older when you do.”  The same applies in our beloved sport of motorcycling.

You know, we all see it all the time out on the road; the envious look, and the glances at the biker riding through, the long stares from the neighboring car at a stoplight.  There’s something about a rider and his machine that makes people jealous – not in a bad sense mind you, but in a “Gee I wish that was me” kind of sense.

You get it in the gas pumps from the guy in the minivan at the next pump as you fill up, or outside a bar or restaurant as you park or get ready to ride off – “Nice bike”, or “Where ‘ya going?” or even “Gorgeous machine” (even when in my mind it’s filthy dirty.)  I often look at my bike and I see the dings, and the scratches and the dead bug splatter and rain streaks, but to a non-rider or wannabe rider, all they see is the big engine, the chrome, and the freedom that comes with being on the road.  A freedom we sometimes, I think, take for granted.

You see it in the smiles of the little kids walking with their parents and getting excited as you start the machine up and they hear it roar.   I was finishing dinner the other night with a friend and outside a bar when a young tike with his Mom stopped to admire the bike.  Mom said “he just loves motorcycles”, so I let him sit with me and had him push the starter button.  He got down just dancing with excitement he couldn’t hold still he was so thrilled and happy.

How many times have you been asked to let someone pose for a picture with your bike?  I was riding Route 66 from LA to Chicago and in St. Louis a few years ago and I’d just pulled up on a hot day to Ted Drews Frozen Custard – roadies who love 66 will know this icon that’s been there since the 40s.  I was in line with a zillion other folks getting a custard when I saw a guy kind of “stalking” my bike.  He was walking around it, taking a picture with his camera.  I was a tad worried – being in a not-so-nice part of St. Louis, with all my gear in a non-locked t-bag on my sissybar.  I wandered over and he said in a thick accent “Nice bike”.  I said thanks, and he asked where I was from.  “Seattle”.  “Long Way.”  I asked him where he was from as I didn’t recognize the accent.  “Bosnia”.  His wife came over and they asked if she could have her picture taken with the bike, and I said “As long as I’m in the picture too”, and they smiled and now somewhere in some family album in Bosnia is a picture of me and my Harley and this guy’s wife in the parking lot of Ted Drews Frozen Custard.

And I see it on any day I’m at a Harley dealership.  The guy walking around slowly, wondering, wishing, touching, and dreaming.  Maybe he’s afraid, maybe he’s broke, or maybe his wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother would have a fit.  He wants to, but he can’t bring himself to.  Sometimes when I’m killing time there I’ll walk up to them and comment on what they are looking at saying “nice bike”.  They often sigh and say yeah, and not being a salesman, will confide “sure wish I could get it.”

To all those people – the ones who stare out from their car at the stoplight, who glance with envy from their minivan at the gas station, or who live in Bosnia and can’t imagine riding coast to coast in America on a motorcycle, and those of you who don’t ride but who pick up this magazine at the dealership or bar every month and live a little fantasy in every issue, I have to ask “why not?” and  “What’s stopping you?”  Really now.  There’s no excuse.  I can argue away any of them.  Is it the money – there’s financing, and a plethora of used less expensive bikes.  Is it the spouse?  Hell it’s YOUR LIFE, YOU LIVE IT!   The only thing holding you back is you!  Go for it!

Now is the perfect time.   No excuses.  If you want it that bad, you can make it work.  Do it and you’ll instantly join a fraternity that will welcome you to the brotherhood and sisterhood of the two wheels and a motor.  Go on now!  You know you want to.  Because as Warren says, “If you don’t do it now, you’ll just be another year older when you do.”

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com

August QT Column

Dog days of summer in the desert. Hot, we hit 122 a few weeks ago, and it's a balmy 117 today. Not much riding, and it makes it difficult to come up with ideas for my September piece which I'm trying to work on. But in the mean time here is the colum for August -- a discussion of "healthy" living for those of us in the biker community...
One of the simple pleasures in life for most riders is the meal that is inevitably eaten as part of -- or even as the very reason for a motorcycle ride. Harley-Davidson’s motto is “Live to Ride, Ride to Live”, which my old Seattle HOG Chapter modified to be a little more accurate: “Live to Ride, Ride to Eat” -- because that’s what we inevitably always did. Even a solo ride will nearly always encompass a stop at or a ride to either a favorite eatery or a new one recently discovered or read about.

Now this can be either a short one- or two-hour ride to a favorite lunch or dinner stop somewhere out of town, or an all-day affair like our chapter’s yearly “Miner Burger Run” from Seattle over the mountains to Yakima with the destination being the venerable and always delicious Miner Burger. If done correctly this becomes a 350-400-mile day long excursion with friends. Or it can be like I used to do quite regularly when I lived in West Seattle, just a quick hop on the scoot for a few miles down to a great joint on Alki Beach.

Nearly all of my favorite rides no matter where I am – will more often than not -- end up at a place with food. It’s no doubt why I maintain a rather ample shape to this day no matter how hard I try otherwise. And I’m not alone, its why Harley tends to sell more XXL and XXXL t-shirts than almost any other size. It’s not that I even need an excuse to get on the bike, but going to get a great burger, or pizza, or steak, or bbq, or, or, or… is an even better reason for firing up the ride.  Am I right?  You know I am. To me there is hardly anything better than a nice hour or two on a back road to get dinner, or lunch, or when I’m in the desert, breakfast as we have to get out and back before the temperature crests 110 or so.

I’d be happy as a clam hopping on the bike and riding along Puget Sound to get clams at some little joint along Highway 101, or riding up on Thursdays along the backroads of eastern King County to get up to Cumberland’s Taco Thursday, or burgers at Issaquah’s XXX Drive In or a million other favorite roadside hangouts on a summer afternoon or evening in the northwest. It’s just part of the biker life, and a part that we all relish (with ketchup and onions on a toasted bun too).
But alas, I’m not getting any younger, and the 60 I see sneaking up on me is more often than not my age in the mirror and not the number on my bike Angus’ speedometer. And after my latest visit to my doc for my annual checkup, followed by a visit to the vampires in the lab who drained a substantial amount of blood and then a follow up visit with the doc, I got the wonderful news that “at your age we” are now going to do semi-annual visits, and that we now needed to “watch our diet”. (Like the doc is actually going to do any of the actual dieting.) I told my doc -- who looks like he graduated from med school last year at age 19 -- that “I’ve been ‘watching my diet’ since I was a kid – I watch me eat stuff and watch the numbers on the scale get big.” He was not amused, and further told me that not only did I need to “watch my diet”, that I was also going to have to go on a cholesterol pill too. This will nicely complement the blood pressure pill I am already on apparently.

So now I’m figuring out how to make this all work while still adhering to the motto of “Live to Ride, Ride to Eat” that is a part of the biker code. I know I’m not alone in this. Some of you are in the same boat as me. I always kind of snickered at the guys and gals on one of our group rides that would partake of a salad or some other noxious form of sustenance when we’d ride a couple of hundred miles on an adventure. I mean after all that exertion on the bike – the clutching and shifting and breathing clean fresh air and ogling gorgeous scenery and the thrill of the open road – well it works up an appetite. An insatiable hunger that can only be quenched by a good burger, steak, bbq, or massive breakfast that includes lots of bacon. Not some pile of green that looks like it came out of my lawnmower bag and to me tastes like it did too even when drowning in ranch dressing. Might as well just shoot me now and get it over with I’d always used to think.

Well no more. I’m unfortunately I guess a member of that club. It’s painful to admit I’m telling you. The test came the other day as I headed out for an early morning pre-115 degree day ride in the desert and ended up, after 70 miles of twisties, at a newly reopened 1950s roadhouse on CA-74 high above the desert on the side of a mountain along the road where they filmed the classic car chase at the beginning of the 1963 movie “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”. I’d worked up a nice appetite after all that turn carving and shifting and deep breathing fresh air while watching for wandering Big Horn Sheep.

The menu had such wonderful things as sourdough pancakes, classic French toast, 4 egg omelets, along with several different sausages and types of bacon, and near the bottom “artisan steel cut oatmeal”. And remembering the lecture from my pubescent doctor about “watching our weight”, I ordered the oatmeal and lightly buttered wheat toast. And truth be told, it was pretty good. It filled me up. And before the temperature had crested the mid 90s I was back home sitting at my computer writing.

Well maybe I can do this. But the real test will be when I’m back in the Northwest and headed up over Chinook Pass on highway 410 bound for Yakima. I have a feeling my doc is probably just going to have to “watch our diet” go to hell in a handbasket as there is no way in I’m going to be able to have a salad while sitting amongst the throngs enjoying a big ol’ juicy Miner Burger, fries and a peach shake. Not gonna happen. Anyway, I’m sure they have a defibrillator somewhere there, and if not, I’ll at least die with a smile on my face after a 300-mile ride over the mountains and a belly full of burger, fries and shake.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com

July QuickThrottle Column

The dog days of summer are here -- and in the desert it's actually been pretty mild. Of course we think anything under 110 is mild and it's been just that.  A tad too hot for riding in the day still, but not so hot that you can't do anything at all. Missing a long road trip on the bike -- it's been a couple of years. Kinda makes me sad. Here is my July column for QuickThrottle -- wherein we discuss the attrocious high fatality rate on riders, and the new requirement in Washington that riders carry liablility insurance....


Is it foolish for riders to go without liability insurance?  In my mind it is.  I wouldn’t dream of riding without insurance, yet a lot of riders are gleeful in telling me that they don’t have insurance. “Not required so I’m not gonna do it!” they proudly brag. You’ve just plunked down what my parents paid for the house I grew up in on a new bike and you aren’t going to insure it? But what about if YOU hit someone else?  Without insurance, you’re on the hook for their injuries as well. “But the law doesn’t require it so I’m not buying it.” 

Well not any more. Washington’s legislature passed mandatory liability insurance for motorcycle riders this year. Effective later this month, all riders must carry the state minimum liability insurance just as if it were any other vehicle.  That means coverage of $25,000 for bodily injury of a single person in any one accident; $50,000 for death or bodily injury of two or more persons in one accident; and $10,000 in property damage. If you don’t have that coverage now, you must have it by the 28thof July when the law goes into effect. Failure to have insurance isn’t cheap – with a fine of $450 and possible suspension of your license. The insurance is cheaper than the fine.

With or without insurance, motorcycle accidents are a fact of life. The main reason – the biggest reason -- we all ride is the sheer pleasure of it. I know some of us also ride out of necessity, using our rides to commute to and from work. I know a fair number of riders who only have a motorcycle for everything, brave souls that they are. But for the majority of us, we ride for the fun of it. So, if this is a pleasure activity, why on earth are we all killing ourselves in such big numbers? Boating is entirely a pleasure pastime – in my life I know one person who commuted by boat, living in an island off the coast of Olympia and taking his boat to the capitol every morning, but that wasn’t out of necessity, it was convenience and fun, and I’m getting sidetracked, and besides, boaters aren’t killing themselves in huge numbers like we are.

Riding is the same thing – or should be. Yet as of May this year, already more than twenty riders have died in Washington. TWENTY! And this was before the summer riding season got into full swing. This is a very very scary statistic, and a very sad one too. On average around 75 people die each year in Washington while riding a motorcycle. That’s a big number. And we have to remember, as Mark Medalen the manager of the Washington State Transportation Safety Commission’s Motorcycle Safety Program says, “these are not statistics, these are not numbers, these are people.”

And what’s worse is we are killing ourselves! It’s a myth that most motorcycle crashes are caused by other drivers. In reality, more than 75% of them are caused by riders themselves. It’s rider error in the vast majority of cases. Riding while impaired – alcohol or other substances; racing and speeding; engaging in excessively risky behavior like lane splitting; and riders who are quite frankly, in over their heads as far as their skill levels are concerned. They all cause more accidents than two vehicle crashes involving a car.

And here’s another little bit of information. More than half of the motorcycle crashes in Washington occur during the three-month period of spring and early summer – at the start of our riding season. Riders aren’t used to riding and it takes some time to re-develop those skills that we all gain with practice.

So how do we fix it? More “safety” laws aren’t the answer. Even greater enforcement of existing laws isn’t the answer. Lord knows we can’t legislate common sense – like don’t drink and ride or do a wheelie going down I-5 at 80mph. By far the best way to reduce solo motorcycle crashes is two-fold according to the stats: First -- get a motorcycle endorsement on your license. I know this is a no-brainer, and it is the law, but I know as well that there are far too many folks riding around withoutan endorsement. Second – riders who take and then retake advanced skill classes are statistically less likely to get into a solo crash. Continuing education is required for most professions – lawyers, doctors, engineers. Maybe we should require it for riders as well.

The City of Seattle has a silly little goal they call “Vision Zero”, in which they want to reduce traffic accidents to zero. Yes zero. Anyone with any common sense knows the only way to reduce it to zero would be to have no vehicles at all and knowing the mindset of many of the so-called leaders of the city, that plan wouldn’t strain credulity at all. Their plan calls for “thoughtful street planning, targeted enforcement, and public engagement.” However, we can and should wholeheartedly endorse ways to get the numbers down significantly – a much more realistic goal.

For riders, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. We need to keep up our skills. We need to practice riding, especially after a long winter. We have to set aside our egos and recognize our own limitations. And we need to stop acting like damn fools while riding. That is what will bring down the fatality rate and the accident rate more than anything.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com

June QuickThrottle Column

My June column for QuickThrottle magazine takes a look at Harley-Davidson's (and a couple of others) new electric motorcycle. You know I still can't quite wrap my head around an electric motorcycle -- but after having a chat with my friend Michael Roach who owns Palm Springs Harley, I've started to re-examine my prejuduce. Just a little.


It’s hard to tell when you “officially” become old, but I have a feeling I’m getting close to it if I’ve not already crossed over the line. I’m guessing one sure sign is when you start saying things – even if it’s just silently to yourself – like; “kids today…” or “back when…” Maybe it happens when you see the lineup for big outdoor music festivals like Coachella or Stagecoach and you don’t recognize a single act, and you have no desire to go anymore because you don’t “want to be out that late.”

And then you think to yourself “I’m too young to be that old.” But then you realize that your generation can still teach these youngsters a thing or two. “Oh hell” you think, if you wanted to you could screw up their entire way of life because you know how to do something they don’t. My school teacher friends say they aren’t teaching analog clock reading anymore – you know like a non-digital round clock with numbers and hands. Nor are they teaching cursive writing. Do a Google search online for videos of kids trying to use a rotary phone, or even using a wire line phone these days. They don’t teach typing – it’s now “keyboarding” and they start in first grade. There’s a post going around on social media that says something along the lines of “we could cripple this entire generation if we all started writing in cursive and every car was a stick shift.”  It’s actually kind of funny and there is more than a glimmer of truth in it.

Yeah our world – by that I mean those of us who are in the age 50 and up category – is changing. Golf as a recreation activity is declining significantly. And so is motorcycling. Just ask your Harley dealer. Sales are down across the board, and new younger riders are not entering the market in any great numbers. How to deal with it has had the industry perplexed for years. Harley seems to have a fairly good handle on it -- going with darker and edgier bikes aimed at the younger demographic. And now they have the new electric motorcycle as well that is supposed to appeal to that generation and folks my age who are “environmentally conscious” and drive a Prius. I admit I have laughed and pooh-poohed the idea of electric motorcycles since they were first announced, but after having a long talk with a friend who owns a dealership, I see that there may actually be something to this.

Remember that social media meme about being able to cripple a generation if we all had manual transmissions? Well my dealer friend says that coming back from the International Motorcycle Show in New York City, he just learned that when they tested the new electric bikes there with the millennial generation – Harley’s “Live Wire” and Erik Buell’s new “Fuel” (even though it doesn’t use any) or the “Zero” SR/F among the few on the market – the hipster kids came back and said “that was fun! I could see myself riding one.” And the biggest reason given? They didn’t have to shift! Apparently the thought of shifting a manual transmission frightens them and keeps them from wanting to take up riding in the first place.
Admittedly I rolled my eyes with a “you’ve got to be kidding” look and my dealer buddy said, “No it’s true – they are afraid to shift!”.  So, he bought his girlfriend one and with some planning they can take reasonably short half-day and longer loop trips if they scope out charging stations first – they can with care, get 100 miles on a charge. He tells me it’s just “twist and go” and it’s kinda like riding an amusement park ride with the quick take-off and rapid acceleration. And to deaccelerate (or slow down), you just twist it the other way and the electric motor slows you down. Think about your old toy electric train when you were a kid – move the throttle on the transformer to the right it speeds up, to the left it slows down, no breaking needed. It’s the same concept with an electric motorcycle.

Admittedly it sounds fun. (I can’t believe I just wrote that but yeah it does.) I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a demo ride one of these days. I don’t know if I’d want to plan a long cross-country road trip on one – going only where there are chargers which is not likely the places I’d want to go along lonely back roads in the middle of nowhere. But for zipping around town it might actually be fun. 
But more importantly if it keeps the motorcycle industry alive, that’s even better. If giving up the joy of shifting gears – of rolling off the throttle a bit and pulling in a clutch, kicking the shifter, letting the clutch out and rolling on the throttle again goes the way of cursive writing and analog clocks in order to keep motorcycling alive, well so be it. I don’t think there’s anything that can save golf in the long run, but maybe motorcycling can survive.

Kids in the future may very well never know the joy and fun of shifting their way down the highway at just the right moment to get a little extra “oomph”, or the roar of a gas-powered V-twin in their ears. But they’ll still know the rush of wind in their face and the open road ahead. But the streets of Sturgis, in August will be a lot quieter, save for all us old farts shaking our heads and saying “back when I was a kid…”


Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

May QuickThrottle Column

Living in California as a rider and a driver means getting used to "Lane Splitting" -- wherein a motorcycle rider drives between cars on the freeway or highway. It's not something I'm a fan of, and is only legal in California where it is rather prevelant. I don't do it though. Utah is about to experiment with it, Washington has had bills that seem to always fail on it, and that is the topic of this month's column....

Everyone who rides pretty much knows that California is the home of “lane-splitting”. This refers to the ability of a rider to ride between moving or stopped vehicles on a roadway. It’s not uncommon to be driving down a California freeway at 70+ mph and have a motorcycle rider come flying up between you and the car in the next lane. The first time it happens to you the shock is something akin to a heart attack. After a while though you pretty much get used to it.

And although it’s common practice in California, it still causes a lot of concern and angst for both police, drivers, and in some cases riders. I rarely if ever lane split, and only when traffic is stopped, there is plenty of room between vehicles and it’s so ungodly hot that my engine and me are ready to burst into flames at any moment. For other riders it’s just something they do every day as a matter of course. They have more guts than I do – or are less sane – or both.

The interesting thing about lane-splitting, and why it’s allowed (or tolerated if you will) in California is because up until 2017 the law didn’t explicitly prohibit it.  In every other state in the union, the law specifically prohibits lane splitting.  In California until legislation was passed in 2017, it just wasn’t explicitly prohibited, and under the rules of statutory interpretation, it was therefore allowed.  In Washington the law says: “The operator of a motorcycle shall not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken.”  Other states have similar working in their vehicle codes.

While California’s code hadn’t explicitly allowed for lane splitting before, it now does allow for lane splitting -- the legislature passed a new law in 2017. It wasn’t until last year that the California Highway Patrol actually issued guidance for the practice, and it is still somewhat controversial. Many motorists hate it, and like I said, it is unsettling to be cruising down the freeway and have a biker come roaring up within inches of your side mirror when passing you. And I’m not going to debate the merits of lane-splitting, especially at high speed. I believe it’s a rider’s choice, just like whether or not to wear a helmet.

That being said, California remains an anomaly in being the only state to formally allow it. In Washington the last few years the rider groups have tried, unsuccessfully, to get the law changed to allow it like it is in California, but the legislature has always resisted. They’ve even tried some modified, very limited condition “exceptions” to allowing lane splitting – such as on a freeway at no more than 10mph faster than the surround traffic which has to be traveling less than 25mph. Even those have failed to win much legislative support.  This year a bill for limited lane splitting passed the Senate Transportation Committee on a solid 13-2 vote, but it was never voted on by the full Senate.

However, there is a bright spot on the horizon. California is no longer alone in specifically allowing for lane splitting. The Utah legislature authorized the practice this year in a few limited instances. The bill, HB 149, was passed and signed by the Governor and will go into effect on May14th. It allows for a very limited form of lane splitting, or as they call it in the Utah code, “filtering”.  The new law allows a rider to filter between cars on roads of two or more lanes in the same direction with a speed limit of 45mph or less, when the vehicle traffic is completely stopped. The rider can travel at no more than 15mph while filtering.

The proponents of the bill argued that filtering was necessary as a preventative measure to ensure safety to prevent distracted drivers from rear ending motorcycles when they come to a stop in traffic. Cars can handle being rear ended better than motorcycles can.  Allowing riders to filter to the front of the line or at least get some “protection” from a rear-end collision was worth it.  I would have to agree, having been rear-ended by a stoned pizza delivery driver on my ride in Yakima, Washington one summer while I was waiting to make a left turn.

The Utah law goes into effect later this month, so we’ll have to see how the drivers and riders adjust to the change there, but I’m optimistic for a positive result. If you are riding through Utah this summer remember that this is allowed now and test your skill. The one thing the Utah bill left out that the previous Washington bills and the California law have is a provision making it an offence for a driver to open a door or drive to impede someone who is lane splitting or filtering. We all know there will be drivers who feel entitled to open a door on a rider coming up on them in stopped traffic.

In my many years as a professional lobbyist, more often than not it made prudent sense to major changes in legislation in small “baby step” chunks. Think back to the step-by-step process Washington went through to legalize same-sex marriage for instance, starting with limited domestic partnerships and finally becoming everything but the word “marriage” and then chipping that away too.  It makes sense for the motorcycle community to tackle our major issues this way as well.

I’m glad to see our rider groups in Washington scaling back the helmet repeal as an example – limiting both age and requiring liability insurance if riding without one for instance. It makes it much more appealing for a legislator to support it. Over time it can be scaled back even further after people adjust to the new status quo. Next year let’s hope they go back to Olympia or Salem with a “Utah Model” for “filtering” as a first step in the lane-splitting effort if that’s the route they chose to go. Yes, it takes more time, but remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise won the race by going slow and steady, taking baby steps all the way to the finish line.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

April QuickThrottle Column

Spring in the desert -- finally. We actually had "winter" here which is tough on us. Cold, windy, and lots of moisture. Still haven't gotten out on the bike much, but hopefully that will change soon.

April's column looks at motorcycle police officers. The iconic motorcycle cop might be vanishing. Some cities are closing their motocycle squads because of -- get this -- the dangers of distracted drivers!  And you thought chasing a bad guy with a gun down a dark alley was dangerous -- so is riding a motorcycle when Muffy is taking a selfie, putting on makeup and talking on the phone while driving down the road...
There’s some debate as to when the first motorcycle was used in police work. Haley-Davidson says the Detroit, Michigan Police Department was the first purchaser of police motorcycles from them in 1908, some 111 years ago.  The first official motorcycle unit in a police department is said to have been the one organized by Berkeley, California in 1911.  The City of Evanston, Illinois claims to have purchased a belt-driven bike for its first motorcycle officer in 1908 as well. And the northwest’s own Portland, Oregon Police Bureau says they had a police officer who used his own personal motorcycle to patrol the streets of the Rose City in 1909.

Suffice to say that there is a lot of history of police units using motorcycles, and it’s pretty safe to say that as long as there have been motorcycles, police departments have been using them. Indeed, they have become somewhat iconic in the law enforcement world. Everyone knows what a police motorcycle is like, and they have been a feature in movies from the Terminator series to the TV show CHiPs – although the CHiPs guys rode Kawasaki’s.

Police have tended to like motorcycles for the same reason we all ride – speed, pick-up, maneuverability in traffic to name a few reasons. They are ideal for traffic control and enforcement. In fact, the City of Desert Hot Springs, California (where I serve as an elected city council member these days), just purchased two motorcycles and hired two new officers for traffic enforcement in this city of 30,000 in the Coachella Valley. Try as I might to get them to buy Harley’s, they had to buy BMW’s for the job – as air-cooled Harley’s just don’t like the summer 125-degree days we have here. In years past, all the major motorcycle manufacturers offered police versions of their bikes – and you could pick them up used from dealers after their police duties were over, minus the fun parts, the sirens and lights. Kawasaki discontinued police bikes in 2005, leaving Harley and BMW to have the US market. And now who knows how long that will last.

It seems police motorcycles may be riding into the sunset. Sadly, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota has decided to disband its police motorcycle unit. It’s not cost, or lack of need that’s forced half of the twin-cities to divest itself of its motorcycle unit – it’s safety. The city actually feels that riding is too dangerous for police work! And here I thought chasing down armed criminals were dangerous! Silly me. It’s riding a motorcycle that is the most dangerous thing a police officer can do.

And what exactly is so dangerous that the city of St. Paul needs to disband both the motorcycle as well as their horse mounted units in their city?  “Increasing safety concerns due to distracted drivers” according to the city. Distracted driving has gotten that bad. Bad enough to warrant eliminating police motorcycle units because of concerns for officer safety. “As good stewards of the public’s trust and resources, we have to do everything possible to streamline efforts to keep our community safe, reduce response times, and…keep officers safe” the Chief of Police Todd Axtell told his department in an email that was obtained by the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.  Distracted drivers – those talking on the cell phones or texting, or applying makeup, or whatever is such a plague that the police department fears for its officers’ safety.

As riders, we face this each and every day – the plague of distracted cell phone using drivers. And I’d even hazard to guess we are all guilty of it to one degree or another ourselves when we are not on our rides and in our cars and trucks. We’ve all been scared or had a close call with a distracted diver at least once and more often than not on a daily basis.  I know I’ve fantasized about being a motorcycle police officer and going after the idiot on the cell phone that about hit me nearly every time it happens. You’d think that these motorcycle officers would be doing the same thing.

Nearly every state has a myriad of laws against distracted driving, using a cell phone, texting or what not and many, like Washington, have a law governing all of those activities.  Yet the matter seems to be getting worse and worse – enough to scare St. Paul into eliminating motorcycle officers. More laws aren’t going to do the trick.

What will? Strict enforcement for one, but that seems to be a never-ending job. Public shaming?  In this day of social media, perhaps.  If you are old enough to remember driving back before drunk driving became the social pariah that it is now, you remember that it wasn’t always seen as “that big of a deal”.  Kind of like texting and talking on the phone are viewed now. What needs to happen is a massive public shift in opinion on the dangers of distracted driving. It took the organization “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” years to turn that ship around. We need a similar effort on distracted driving today, and drunk driving is still a problem, though not as pervasive as it once was. Maybe it needs to come from the motorcycle community, standing up and screaming at the top of our lungs “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” like the character of news-anchor Howard Beal did in the 1975 film “Network”.
But until that day, I think we’ll continue to see distracted driving treated with a “pooh-pooh” attitude like drunk driving once was. We’ll see more riders killed and injured. And, unfortunately, we’ll may very well see the end of the police motorcycle unit in more cities than St. Paul.

But if there’s a bright side to this, it’s that St. Paul plans on redeploying three of their motorcycle officers to special “distracted driving” targeted patrols. That’s a never-ending job it seems like, and sadly from the seat of a patrol car, not the saddle of a motorcycle.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

March QuickThrottle Column

Winter in the desert continues today -- can't seem to make up it's dang mind. It was nearly 90 earlier this week -- today it's high 50s.  Had to get the long pants back out.  Meanwhile it's been in the 70s in Seattle -- record breaking early spring temps for them. This month I explore the never ending rivalry between Washington and Oregon -- but this time Oregon wins...

Washington vs Oregon – it’s a rivalry that has existed since the 19th Century, and it’s not just in college football or basketball. The WA/OR rivalry extends to just about everything in this corner of the country.  Ironic because the two states and its citizen are also so very similar in so many aspects. So much so that folks outside of the great Pacific Northwest often get the two states confused and view them as interchangeable.  But those of us who live here can list the differences and “bests” as easily as rain flows off the back of an Oregon Duck or splashes off a Washington Husky. Washingtonians will tell you they are the best at everything, while Oregonians will say no-way they are the best.  Mt. Rainier is bigger than Mt. Hood. Portland is hipper and cooler than Seattle. One has no income tax, the other has no sales tax. Washington has Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon. Oregon has Nike and…, well that’s about it.

From a motorcycle rider perspective, both have wonderful roads and destinations to explore.  Oregon has US 101 along the coast, and Washington has SR-410 over Mt. Rainier into Yakima. Washington has US 2 across the state. Oregon has US 395 from John Day to Pendleton. It’s hard to pick a winner, although at least in Washington you can pump your own gas.

But there is one category that Oregon beats Washington hands down. Yet again. According to Wallet Hub, a personal finance web site, Oregon is the best state to drive in in the United States. Washington is way down the list at number 48. Washington is the worst state in the continental United States -- even California, my other home, ranks higher in drivability than dear old Washington.  Now I’ve been writing this column for some nine years. I think every year someone comes out with some sort of a drivability ranking, whether it’s the insurance industry or someone else, and every year Washington ranks at or near the bottom. Kind of like the way Alabama always ranks at the bottom for education spending, Washington seems to always rank at the bottom when it comes to drivability. There just must be something magical about crossing over the Columbia River.

The Wallet Hub survey ranks the drivability of states with 30 sets of categories, the main ones being: Cost of ownership and maintenance; traffic and infrastructure; safety, and access to vehicles and maintenance. Washington ranked well below average in a few major categories too, coming in at number 48 when it comes to gas prices and 44 in both road quality and car theft rate, and 33 in congestion. Only 33? This despite personal experience in congestion that rivals Los Angeles whose state is dead last in that respect. At least Washington has a long way to go to the bottom of the congestion category.

Where did Washington come in above average you ask? Washington ranked 20th in per-capital car dealerships, and 21st in number of auto repair shops. This is truly the free market in action folks – the market goes where the problem is. Lots of dealers and repair places to sell you another ride or fix your motorcycle when it breaks on some of the worst roads in the country.

Compare that to the best place to drive in America according to Wallet Hub – Oregon.  And this despite the annoying gas pumping issue and a perpetually lower speed-limits everywhere. Oregon comes in above average – way above average in all those same categories where Washington falls short. They come in at number 11 in Traffic infrastructure, compared to Washington’s 33, and they rank at  number 22 in overall cost of ownership, compared to Washington’s  bottom dwelling number 48! 

In cost of ownership Washington ranks 48th – only California and Hawaii are more expensive. When you break down the cost of ownership, the biggest factor in that category are license costs, sales taxes, and gas taxes. In all three of those Washington ranks dead last. It has the most expensive car license fees, the highest sales tax on vehicles, and at the time the survey was done in 2018, the second highest gas tax. That has now fallen to third since California raised theirs.

With the legislature in session in both Washington and Oregon right now, these rankings could change. I’m not hopeful but it could. They could reduce Washington’s registration fees, especially in the Sound Transit counties, but I don’t see it happening, nor will they reduce the sales tax. Washington will likely remain a very expensive place to drive or ride in for the foreseeable future.

What I don’t understand is the traffic. Congestion in Portland is as maddening as it is in Seattle – I’d rank them equal with each other and slightly ahead of Los Angeles and San Francisco and New York City in descending order. And despite that, Oregon still comes out as number one. Good for them. And as they say, one man’s data is another man’s fake news.

In any case, if I had to pick a favorite place to ride between either Washington or Oregon, I don’t know if I could – despite Oregon’s silly gas pumping law (can you tell it really irritates me?) They both rank high in my book, and I couldn’t tell you which I like better to be honest, they both have fantastic places to ride. I love riding US 95 in Central Oregon, and US 101 on the Olympic Peninsula. I love SR 14 in Washington, and US 395 in Oregon. I can’t tell you which state I like riding the best. So, let’s split it down the middle – right down the Columbia River Gorge. But in that case, we’ll have to give the edge to Washington, as SR-14 is better than I-84 since a two lane beats a freeway in my book any day. So maybe Washington wins it after all. Especially since I can pump my own gas.


Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

February QuickThrottle Column

We have been having "winter" here in the desert this year -- over 90 days without a high over 80 degrees, and lots of snow in the mountains, and a tremendous amount of rain. More rain than we get in a year and it's only February!  Meanwhile back in Seattle they have been getting a ton of snow too. I've not done any riding yet this year either -- so busy with my City Council duties and recovering from the hospital stay in December, plus the crummy weather. Hoping all that changes soon.  Meanwhie, here is my February QuickThrottle column, in which we look at the slap on the wrist a rouge bad cop got after pulling a gun on a rider last year that made national news.  Very dissappointing.

I think like most folks, we bikers have kind of a “love/hate” relationship with law enforcement. We rely on them for protection, we appreciate it when they respond to our calls for help, and we mourn them when they are killed or injured in the line of duty. At the same time, we curse them when we are pulled over for no “real” (in our mind) reason, when we are given a ticket for doing something “everyone else does”, or when we are nearly run off the road by a cell phone using cage driver and there isn’t a policeman in sight.

And police are often in a no-win situation – damned if they do, damned if they don’t. It’s easy sometimes to forget that they are human beings just like we are.  It’s that “love/hate” relationship that drives our interactions with them and colors our perceptions when interacting with them. But the vast majority of interactions with law enforcement are – even when we get a ticket – non-confrontational and not entirely unpleasant. But all it takes is one bad apple, one bad encounter to make everyone suspicious of each other, be they biker or cop.

It was a few bad apple police that would “profile” riders and use that as an excuse to pull a rider over. Things like wearing a leather jacket, or a patch from a club, having loud pipes, ape-hanger handle bars, then using that as an excuse for harassing or looking for a reason to write a ticket, that created the need for Washington State’s first in the nation “anti-profiling” legislation from a few years ago. As far as I’ve been able to tell, incidents between riders and law enforcement are down because of that, and we should applaud our rider groups for getting that legislation enacted.

Which is why the now infamous incident in August of 2017, where a rider was stopped in the middle of the road and had a gun pulled on him by an off-duty, un-unformed officer who proceeded to pull a non-service issued gun on him, caused such a stir.  I’m sure you remember the incident – which I wrote about as well back in the December 2017 issue. The video, which was recorded by the rider, one Alex Randall who was fortunately for him wearing a helmet cam, went viral and can still be found on YouTube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSNb6NPoCy0) If he hadn’t had that camera, no one would believe what happened him. In fact, watching the video a year later is still frightening.
But what is even more frightening is that after a year-long investigation, and clear evidence of the terrifying if not illegal behavior on the part of King County Sheriff’s detective Richard Rowe, it netted only a five-day suspension for the detective and a $65,000 payment (of taxpayer dollars) to the rider, Alex Randall. Five days off and a settlement that didn’t cover legal fees was all the punishment for the abhorrent behavior. Watch the video. Tell me that the officer, who had three previous complaints of road rage and misconduct against him, shouldn’t have been fired.

The reason he wasn’t fired?  His behavior was not considered a “use of force”. In who’s topsy-turvy world is having a gun pointed at you by someone isn’t a “use of force”, especially when it’s a police officer who failed to identify himself as such, who’s standing in the middle of the road blocking traffic, and who said to Randall “you’re driving f-ing recklessly, give me your license or I’m going to knock you off your bike.”  Really?  This isn’t a “use of force”?

The Sheriff’s office internal investigation unit determined in December that the detective had violated some internal policies during the incident, but he had not used excessive force because “no actual force was used.” Now apparently as a result of this incident, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht is revising their internal policies to state that drawing a weapon is in fact a “use of force” – so perhaps there is some good that will come out of this. It seems kind of obvious that drawing a weapon is a use of force. I’d suggest that keeping track of such incidents should be required.

Detective Rowe is quoted as saying he had drawn had pointed his gun at citizens “multiple times” and never reported it. Let’s hope the Sheriff makes this a policy. And maybe even take it to the next level – have the legislature require it of all police departments. There is a review of all shootings and other uses of force – maybe we need a review of all weapons drawn and pointed at individuals too, or at least some training that an officer needs a lawful reason to draw a weapon and point it at someone. Something Detective Rowe clearly did not.

Why is it we’ll tolerate a “bad apple” – whether it’s on our side or theirs?  I know riders who will defend other riders regardless of their behavior, out of some sense of loyalty, just like law enforcement officers have their infamous “thin blue line” who defend all police actions regardless. Why is that?  Especially in obvious cases like this one?  I’ll be the first to call out a rider for asinine behavior – why can’t the police do the same?  This officer deserves to be fired at the very least.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

January QuickThrottle Column

Yesterday marked the start of the Washington State Legislature's 2019 session -- and the fifth session since I retired and am no longer wandering the halls of Olympia. About the time I would have been heading off with all my colleagues and friends to the opening day "Third House" reception (the association of lobbyists), I was sitting in my new office at the Desert Hot Springs City Hall on my first day of "open office" hours in my new role as a member of the City Council. I'm enjoying the new role quite a bit -- and sitting across the table from my old job.


In the mean time, my January column focuses on what's going on for motorcycle riders in the halls of the state capitols of Washington and Oregon...


Happy New Year and welcome to 2019. The beginning of the year always heralds new goals, new wishes, new dreams. It also hails new legislatures. Yep, it’s that time of year again, when the folks we elect to govern us and make laws descend on the state capitol for the annual legislative session.  This year the session in Washington starts on January 14th, and will run 105 days, or so – till sometime in April if all goes well.

This is the “long” session year, and there are a lot of new faces in this legislature, and a number of old-timers have retired. What this will mean to the riding community still remains to be seen, but there are a few more positive signs than there have been in the past decade or so, which could signal some real progress on issues that concern we as riders.

Probably the most significant change is that of the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Long-time chairman Rep. Judy Clibborn did not seek re-election this last year and retired. Rep. Clibborn, while generally supportive of overall motorcycle and road issues, was not supportive of helmet repeal or limitations, or of lane splitting – two issues that resonate with most of the riders and would fall on their wish-lists.  Replacing her will be Rep. Jake Fey of Tacoma. He was the vice-chair of Transportation. It’s not entirely clear where he will land on the spectrum of support for those two issues, but it’s never too early to start educating him and convincing him to move in those directions.

Over on the Senate side, the Senate Transportation Committee remains chaired by Senator Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens. Senator Hobbs has not been supportive of helmet law modifications or of lane splitting in the past. Despite his opposition, there still is a better chance this year than in years past of getting some traction and movement on these issues.

The reason for that is that already several bills have been “pre-filed”, for introduction when the session starts. Among those pre-filed bills are SB 2007 from Senator Chirstine Rolfes, of Baindbridge Island.  The bill would eliminate the requirement of a rider to purcahse liability insurance if one is wearing a helmet and requires a helmet if the rider is under age 21. In other words, if one wears a helmet one not need buy liability insurance, if one chooses to ride without a helmet you must have liability insurance.  This is a novel take on the helmet debate, one that I don’t recall seeing before and might actually have some traction – particularly since Senator Rolfes is the chair of the Ways and Means Committee which oversees the state budget – and she could use this as a way to trade votes and get support from members who might not otherwise support a helmet modification bill.

And along a similar vein, Rep. Laurie Jenkins of Tacoma pre-filed HB 1014 which would eliminate the liability insurance requirement entirely for motorcycle riders. Rep.  Jenkins is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and as such pulls significant weight in the House. Again, we have an opportunity for some horse trading of votes in this case, which could give this a greater chance of passage than in previous years.

And these are just two pre-filed bills – who knows what will happen once the session gets rolling in earnest in January. On average there’s usually a couple of thousand bills filed in the course of the session, and who knows what other issues might come forward that will affect riders in the Northwest.

Which is why it’s very important for you to attend if you can, the annual “Black Thursday” motorcycle lobbying day at the Capitol that is sponsored by ABATE and other motorcycle clubs.  Black Thursday is the key event for those interested in influencing policy at the state level. If you’ve never gone it’s a great event – an opportunity for you to get to know your legislators and make your concerns known when it comes to issues that affect us as riders. It’s early in the session, and a good time to get on the ground and let your elected officials know where you stand on key issues.

Black Thursday this year will be held on January 17th at the State Capitol in Olympia. You can find more details in ABATE of Washington’s ad in this issue. Suffice to say thought, it’s a good event, a great way for you to get to know your fellow riders, and perhaps even make a difference in the laws and policies that govern us in the Northwest when it comes to riding.

As I’ve said many times – elections have consequences. And as a result, laws can be changed for the better or the worse. If you want to make sure you voice gets heard, work with your motorcycle riding clubs and organizations, participate in Black Thursday, and keep in contact with your elected officials. It is the only way things will change.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net or www.grgardner.com, and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com

December Quick Throttle Column

Well it seems another year has gone by. And the only thing I've written or posted have been my Road Signs columns this year. That saddens me, and as we make a new years resolution, I'm going to do my best to write more than just my columns for here.  I miss writing, and my focus has been elsewhere this year for sure. Next year is right around the corner, and among a few other changes, I'll be making a better effort at writing more.

So here's my December column, last of the year for Quick Throttle -- in which we talk about the misperceptions many people have about bikers, and wonder why that is....

Merry Christmas and my 2019 be fantastic!

The surest sign it’s the end of the year are all the annual biker Toy Runs.  The biggest and grandest one in the Northwest is the Olympia Toy Run, now in its 41st year.  This thing seems to grow bigger each year, and its longevity is a testament to not only it’s organizers and sponsors, but to the biker community as a whole. It’s one of the most popular rides in the Northwest each year and has raised zillions of dollars and put smiles on even more children’s faces – not only on Christmas mornings, but from the sound of a thousand or so bikes rumbling around the streets of Washington’s state capital. 

Bikers on the whole are among the most giving of any group. Get two bikers together and the next thing you know someone will suggest a charity and voila they’ll be out collecting for it. Entire clubs have been formed to raise money and awareness for an issue or cause – Bikers Against Child Abuse for example. It’s very common for HOG chapters and other groups to adopt a cause or two, and groups of bikers to pass around the hat for a fellow rider who’s injured, sick, or just plain down on their luck.

I’ve often wondered why is that?  Why are bikers among the most charitable and giving people?  What is it about the motorcycle community that makes us that way? I honestly don’t have a good answer. It’s easy to discern “why” with some groups – churches for example. It’s part of the basic fundamental value of all religions to help those less fortunate or in need. It’s also why clubs and fraternal organizations like Rotary and the Elks were formed and still exist – community service and charity.  But bikers? Why is that?

We riders will use any excuse to get together for a ride, and more often than not we are riding for a charity or to raise funds for someone in the community who has fallen on hard times or for a fellow biker who is injured, or to honor the passing of someone.  So why are so many people so afraid of bikers. Why is that?  Is it the noise from the bike?  Is it a cavalier attitude towards traffic laws?  (Sort of like how I get very irritated at the small number of obnoxious bicyclists who when they ignore traffic rules and get pissed off at cars make all bicyclists look bad.)  Is it the black leather we wear which makes everyone look menacing?  Is it the long hair? (or lack of it in my case) tattoos and other piercings. Is it the "devil may care" attitude, or the often obnoxious and semi-obscene (or really obscene) patches we sometimes sew on our leathers?  All of the above? 

My friend and pseudo Grandmother Madelon who is about to turn 90 years old this month once said to me: "You sure scary when you pull up on your bike and if I didn't know you, I'd be scared to death, but I know the real you. But I won't tell anyone you're just a big pile of goo inside."  Goo?  A pile of goo inside?  Me?  Maybe I'm just a big softy, who knows -- but damn near every biker I know is like that too!  And it's not a front! 

And while we may look like tough bastards on the outside -- as Madelon said, we are all just "a pile of goo inside."  My sister likened it to the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and company are trembling in fear before the Wizard -- his scary disembodied head floating above them with flames on the side, before Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the real guy. Well that’s what we bikers are. We just have to work to make sure the public pulls back that curtain from time to time. 

Toy run season is the perfect time for that. Alas, by the time you read this the big Olympia Toy Run this year will be over – but make plans for next year or check the calendar section in here for other similar events this month. There’s always some sort of charitable ride going on, even in December, and if it’s not a ride, it’s a gathering, or party where the admission is a new toy, and many dealers have giving trees for needy kids in their lobby. The options are endless if you look for them.

But I still don’t have an answer to my question. What is it that makes bikers some of the most giving people I know? I don’t have a really good answer. The only thing I can think of is that it is a result of the joy we all feel when we are riding, and the smiles on our faces when we hop off our bike after a great ride. It’s infectious, it makes you feel good about life and no matter how awful things are, a ride makes you feel good. We wanna share that feeling with everyone we meet, even if they can’t ride. Our rides make us happy – we want everyone to feel that way, so we work to make it happen. We give to make folks happy when they are down. To put a smile on their face that matches the one we get when we ride. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know, but it makes sense to me.

You can reach Gary at roadsigns@comcast.net, and his blog can be found at http://grgardner.livejournal.com