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Latest Magazine Column

For over ten years I've been writing a monthly column in Quick Throttle Magazine -- a regional biker publication. The confluence of the changes in how people get their news and read things, moving away from print to digital, and the awful COVID pandemic this year has defintiely put a strain on the magazine publishing business. The publisher of the magazine put out an issue back in June, and then struggled to get out an issue until this one, dated July/August 2020 which I got in October. Its not an easy time to be in the publishing business. I wrote this piece kind of with Father's Day in mind, although its way past Father's Day now. I'm hoping the publisher can continue to put out the magazine -- I'm saddened and depressed to see so many print papers and magazines struggling or going out of business, from the Desert Sun here in the Coachella Valley, to both the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News in my hometown of Salt Lake converting to digital only.

I wonder sometimes about genetics. It’s the stuff in our genes that makes us who we are in many respects – that’s most likely why I’m bald and built like a fireplug.  It’s in my genes. And I suspect that it’s partially genetics that influences our personality too – which is maybe what got us into riding in the first place. Last weekend I stumbled upon a local riding class just finishing up their afternoon on the range riding in circles and such.  I was watching a father about my age who was taking the class along with his roughly 20 something son. I spoke to them and I learned it was a Father’s Day present from the son to his Dad.  How cool is that!  I flashed back to my own father teaching me to ride way back when on an old Yamaha 125 dirt bike in the national forests of Utah and Wyoming.

It was an old yellow-gold late 1960s Yamaha 125cc dirt bike. I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. We’d go fishing up along the Henry’s Fork river that runs from Utah into Wyoming, often going with family friends who had scores of dirt bikes and mini-bikes for us kids to ride around the campgrounds and forest service roads. This was one of those bikes. I’d ride behind Dad holding on to our fishing poles, and eventually he taught me to ride with him sitting behind me. After I got the hang of it we even rode 40 miles into the town of Green River, Wyoming for some “supplies” (as I recall most likely a case of beer).   Wyoming cops back in the early 1970s were probably a bit more lenient – allowing 12-year old kids to drive dirt bikes down paved roads with their Dad’s on back holding a case of beer. Later on, Dad bought an old ‘62 Yamaha road bike for $25 bucks and we’d ride that.

I would be willing to bet that it was from our father’s that nearly all of us got the “bug” to ride. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, my hunch is that for many of us our first rides were behind Dad or an uncle (but in a few cases Mom), holding on as they roared out of the driveway on a bike. From that moment on, we were hooked. Whether that led to learning to ride ourselves, or just being content with riding behind someone, that first spark most likely came from Dad. I’m proud that I seem to have encouraged at least one niece and nephew who first rode behind me on Angus. Both have now gone on to get licenses.

I never got a chance to ask my Father before he passed away in 2007 where he had learned to ride, or where that spark came for him.  I do know that my Grandfather, his Dad, didn’t ride. But over on my Mother’s side of the family, apparently my Great-Grandfather rode.

I was cleaning out some files in the office a while back when I came across an old picture and a note from my maternal Grandmother.  She had just turned 95 when she sent it. She had found somewhere in her papers and photos an old photograph of her mother shortly after she had married her father (they would my Great-Grandmother and Grandfather). It probably explains a lot – at least for the riding gene, and I know I've loved riding since riding behind my Dad when I was a kid.

The photo was taken in about 1910 in the town of Farmington, Utah. Grandma didn’t remember the motorcycle at all, so it must have been long gone by the time she was old enough to remember such things. According to my Great Grandmother’s letters, he used it to motor about Davis County Utah reading meters for the utility company. Grandma she said she even thought the bike might have been a Harley, but she doesn't know. I asked her why she thought that it was a Harley, and she told me that when she was younger she remembered her youngest brother Larry coming home on his motorcycle to visit at the old family farm. His motorcycle had stalled in the yard and Great-Grandmother came out onto the front porch at their home in Clifton, Idaho and yelled at him to "Get a Harley!" Apparently from what Grandma says, that was a common thing to say to your friends if their motorcycle broke down and had trouble back in those days.

So I guess even back 110 years ago there were two kinds of riders -- those who rode a Harley and those who wished they did. I imagine this is where I got it from as well. It’s a nice sunny weekend now -- I think I'll head out and ride a bit, and silently thank my Great Grandmother and Grandfather for somehow giving me this desire to hit the road on two wheels nearly 110 years later, and to my Father for teaching me to ride on that old dirt bike along the dusty roads of the Uinta National Forrest. It’s in the genes.

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

With the pandemic shutdown, the loss of revenue, and everyone staying at home, the publisher decided not to put out a May issue and put out a combined May/June issue. The column I had written back in April for the May issue, with a little tweaking, was still relevant so we ran it. It's about what to do when homebound under the stay-at-home orders, and some litterary suggestions to pass the time.

]

Well it’s almost summer. The world is fresh and green and in any normal time, the open road would be calling, and I’d be planning a long road trip on Angus. Unfortunately, the open road still calls – just no one can answer right now. In this time of COVID-19, where we are all abiding by stay-at-home orders as best we can, discretionary travel is a no-no, and even if one could, motels and campgrounds are closed throughout the country. There are signs that the virus pandemic is easing up and some places are starting to reopen, but long-distance road trips on the bike are not likely this year, and if you are anything like me you are probably going plumb stir-crazy.

I can, and have, taken a few short rides around town on my bikes -- just to keep the oil circulating and the batteries charged. But I’ve not gone more than 100 miles total since this whole stay-at-home thing started in California in mid-March. I’ve picked every weed out of the yard several times it seems – there isn’t one to be found. I’ve organized closets, and the house is more or less spotless. I’ve watched everything on Netflix. And I’ve read a lot.  Mostly my favorite biker books.

I’m not entirely sure that “Biker Literature” is actually a category. I don’t think there is a Dewey Decimal number for it. But I love biker road trip/story books, and there’s a lot to be found if this is your taste in reading as well. Road trip books can be of two kinds. First there is the straight travelogue road trip, describing scenery, towns, and conversations with people and the sights one sees. Then there is the combination of a travelogue and the journey of the author themselves – to find or connect with their past, or their future, to forget something, or to remember it. The latter are the true gems of biker literature. Not only do I learn something about a place or a road, but I learn a little about myself by seeing what the author sees, feeling what the author feels, and listening to them as they go on two simultaneous journeys – one of the road, and one of the soul. When they meld into one trip, that’s a great biker book.

So herewith are some reading suggestions to occupy your time while cooped up waiting for this virus to pass, or to even take with you once the open road reopens.
Two of my favorites are “Freedom’s Rush – Tales From the Biker and the Beast” and “Freedom’s Rush II – More Tails From the Biker and the Beast” both by Foster Kinn.  I’ve had the pleasure of riding with Foster a few times, I was honored to be able to write a review of his second book for the cover, and there’s a couple of stories with him and I in it. Foster, who lives in Los Angeles when he’s not on the road, started riding late in life, and has since covered the US, ridden to Alaska and up the Al-Can highway, and even shipped his bike to Hawaii to tick off the last of the fifty states. (I’m still stuck at 48 since I’ve yet ridden up to Alaska and I’m not shipping to Hawaii.). Foster says in his first book; “I didn’t start out to write a book. What I did start out to do is ride. Just that. I wanted to ride my motorcycle, travel on roads I’d never before traveled, meet people I’d never before met, see things I’d never before seen. Breathe a different air.”


“The Old Man and the Harley – A Last Ride Through Our Fathers’ America” by Jon J. Newkirk is another that’s at the top of my list – and one even a non-rider will very much enjoy. When I first got this book, I could hardly put it down. I passed my copy on to my stepfather who had the same reaction, and he’s not a rider. “On June 22, 1939, nineteen-year-old Jack Newkirk straddled a well-worn Harley-Davidson VI Big Twin and set out to see the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition. Both the boy and his country were on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. Both would soon be at war. And both would emerge forever changed. But for one last gilded summer, the “World of Tomorrow” promised peace and prosperity to a weary nation.”  In the “Old Man and the Harley”, the author retraces this epic odyssey with his aging father. If you aren’t a little bit teary-eyed by the end of this one you have no heart.

Last but not least on my list, “Riding in the Shadows of Saints – A Women’s Story of Motorcycling The Mormon Trail”, by Jana Richman. I fell in love with this story for two reasons. One, you don’t read a lot about women riders and she has a wonderful voice. And second, because I come from hearty Mormon pioneer stock myself – and my great-great grandfather was one of the pioneers who came west with Brigham Young in 1847. This book has a deep personal meaning.  I’d already ridden much of the Mormon Trail before I found this book (and truth be told, I had considered writing something similar and was beaten to the punch by the author of this one.). Like the author I’m no longer a practicing member of the faith, but almost like being Jewish, one can leave the faith but not the culture. One hundred and fifty years ago her ancestors came west as mine did, traveling in covered wagons deep into the wilderness.  “One hundred fifty years later the author retraces that route searching for the peace and faith the women before her carried.”

And just for future reference, I’m working on my own such book, tentatively called “Ghosts of the Road”. Truth be told, I’ve been working on it for years. I go in fits and starts – and am about a quarter of the way done. I’d share an excerpt, but I’m out of space this month, so you’ll just have to wait. With any luck I’ll have it done before the next virus hits.


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

This whole pandemic thing, in addition to being very trying, has delayed a few things, including the publication of my column. I just got the April issue yesterday. And the publisher has decided to combine May and June's issues into one. It's not easy to write about riding away on motorcycle when one CAN'T exactly ride away on a motorcyle. One thing I love doing is riding somewhere for a good bite to eat -- which is what the April (now nearly May) column was all about...
As I write this month’s column I’m recovering from a bit of oral surgery.  Way back when I was a poor college student I could only afford to go to a lousy but very cheap dentist who graduated from some third world dental college. He did a really crappy job fixing two back molars, and for the last 25 years my current dentist has been trying to undo his handiwork and save those teeth.  We’ve finally given up and decided to have them yanked out, and some bone grafted in and eventually implant some new teeth.  I’m now subsisting on smoothies and protein shakes that friends are kind enough to bring me while I rest the left side of my face on an ice pack laying on my couch watching bad TV.


Meanwhile I’m both grumpy and hungry for chewable food.  Not that I need chewable food mind you – hell I might even lose a little weight (though I suspect I’m the only guy who could get stranded on a desert island, starve to death, and weigh more than when he got there).   The point of all this food talk however is that a neighbor biker buddy posted on Facebook that he was getting a burger at a local tavern called Dillon's Roadhouse that also happens to be one of the oldest building in Desert Hot Springs. They have a great lunch special of a cheeseburger and fries for $5.95.  It thought about throwing a brick at him, but hey it’s not his fault. Now I love me a good burger, and here in my winter home in the desert there’s plenty of little dives where one can ride for some good food.


And who needs an excuse to go for a ride to get something to eat, certainly not me. Lord knows we bikers love to eat. I’ve often heard the Harley motto of Live To Ride, Ride to Live modified to Live to Ride, Ride to Eat.   So, as I’m cursing my buddy out in my head, I’m also secretly plotting a ride as soon as I’m feeling well and able to chew.   And it reminded me of a debate – errrr discussion -- I had with some friends about which burger place was better.  Someone said; “remember nothing beats a Whataburger”. Other friends are fans of Sonic, and those of us who’ve ridden or spent time in Cali love In-N-Out.   To which I had to reply, “In-N-Out is better than Whataburger, but it’s moot up there in Western WA there is nary a Sonic or Whataburger or an In-N-Out to be found.”   What’s more there isn’t a Steak ‘N Shake either, or a White Castle – regional chains that most iron butts know about. One thing I love about living in the desert is access to In-N-Out as well as Steak and Shake, but I digress...

Burger joints are my thing I have to confess.  You might as well call me “Wimpy” after the Popeye character who would “gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today”.   It’s a “comfort food” for me too, and feeling sick as I do now, I’m craving some comfort food.  I’m so tired of fruit smoothies.  It looks like Carmen Miranda’s hat landed in my blender and on my countertop.
There’s nothing more filling or satisfying to me than a great burger after a ride on a scoot, be it a few miles from my house, or after a long day of riding on a major cross-country trip.   And although all the places I mentioned in the “debate” above are “fast food”, and pretty good, nothing beats a good burger at a small traditional drive in.  I used to have a hand signal that folks riding with me knew.  When someone would signal time for a food break, I’d make a swirl motion above my helmet, signifying to look for an old fashioned drive in with a giant swirly vanilla soft-serve ice cream cone on top.  That’s one of the sure signs of a great burger place.

In the thousands of miles I’ve traveled back and forth across the country on the bike as well as behind the wheel, I’ve found more than a few great little burger joints.  You know the type – places that you return to time and time again, usually on the bike either as a destination to ride to, or as a stop along the way.  And more often than not they’ll have a giant soft swirly vanilla cone, or maybe a revolving frosty mug for a sign or logo.

So, in celebration of the start of spring and riding season I present – in no particular order – my list of favorite Northwest non-franchise/chain burger joints worth a ride to on the scoot when hungry once this whole Corona Virus thing is over:  Big Bubba’s, Alyn, WA.  XXX Drive In, Issaquah, WA.  Miner’s Drive Inn, Yakima, WA.  Frisko-Freeze, Tacoma, WA. Hudson’s Hamburgers, Coeur d’Alene, ID. And last but not least, Dandy’s Drive Inn, Bend, OR. And I’m still in mourning for the loss of Norma’s in Olympia which closed earlier this year, and the classic Pick Quick on old US-99 (Pac Highway) in Tacoma which will be closing for a Sound Transit light rail project after serving folks since 1949!

Yes, this is a totally subjective list, and you may or may not agree with me with some or all of my list.  It’s not important.  What’s important is that you head out and enjoy one for me (for me I said, not on me), since unless I can run one through my juice machine, I’m not having one for a while.


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

So as we sit around under a shelter-at-home order to keep this virus from spreading, I thought it would be a good time to post my March column from Quick Throttle.  I've been writing this column for over ten years now!  How time flies.  I thought this month's column would be a good reminder of how we are all connected in some way, and how simple acts of kindness can open doors and bridge gaps and help us all realize how much we have in common rather than how different we are.  I wrote it before the pandemic broke out, recalling a motorcycle ride through rural Alabama, thinking more about the long political season ahead of us and how divisive the country seems to have become. Hopefully this will help us in some small way to realize we aren't all that different after all.  Stay at home -- stay safe -- stay healthy!


I love riding in the South. Not only for the warmth and the sunshine, but for the people.   We here in the Pacific Northwest – particularly in the Puget Sound region, tend to be rather cold and damp, just like our weather. We are introverted, insulated, non-social, and unapproachable -- walking around huddled in our Gore-Tex, holding a cup of Starbucks and listening to our Air Pods. A lot of people here tend to thumb their noses at the South – dismissing it as a region full of uneducated rednecks. Some of my friends make a face when I tell them I love riding in the South, and ask “why would you want to go to that backwater?”

As a rule, people in the Northwest really don’t talk to each other, or nod hello on the street, or even make eye contact. You can ride a bus downtown for 40 minutes and never say a word to, or even acknowledge your seatmate exists. I’ve had more conversations on the New York City subway than I have on a bus in Seattle I’m not sure why that is – if it’s the weather here, or what, but it’s the exact opposite it seems in the South.

But we bikers on the other hand are a little different – as a rule we generally aren’t quite as introverted as most folks generally in the Northwest. We have a good time talking and chatting and riding with, and even waving to total strangers. It’s said once you become a biker, you are instantly a friend with other bikers. Too bad the rest of the world isn’t quite that way.

In the South I actually tend to not ride as far every day because I simply don’t have time!  When I stop for gas, food, or to see something interesting, someone will always, and I mean always, start a conversation, offer advice, or suggestions, and just generally chat and be friendly and say hello. Since I’m a chatty guy by nature too, we end up in a long conversation and time flies away. Here if you stop and say hi, people look away, and if you ask for directions, tend to just mumble something and point. Why is that?


I was riding through Alabama a while back, taking a rental bike on a one-way return from Florida to Atlanta, but wandering all over the South along the way for a week. I was in Opelika, Alabama one evening – having ridden up from Tallahassee, Florida. I checked into my hotel and did my usual thing of asking the desk clerk “if you could eat anywhere in town where would it be?” Assuming they don’t say some chain place like Mc Donald’s, I generally get a good recommendation for dinner. This clerk recommended a small BBQ place down the road “a ways past the old white barn” (Southern directions are very imprecise when it comes to distance, but very precise when it comes to landmarks), so after unloading the bike I hopped back on it and headed there.


Apparently it was later than I figured, and closing time was 10pm, and I rolled into the parking lot at 9:58pm. As I walked up I could see them heading over to lock the door and turn the open sign off, so I waved and said, sorry, and turned around. The waitress opened the door and said, “come on in honey!”  So, I turned around and went back up the steps and apologized for not realizing how late it was and asking what they had left, and I’d be glad to take it to go. She beamed and said, “you just come in and sit down, we’ve got everything on the menu left, want some sweat tea?”


And there I sat, just me, the waitress and the cook – they cooked me up something special, even starting the grill again, and then sat with me and we had a grand old time talking for two hours. They wanted to know all about the bike and where I was from and going.  Neither of them had been “out west” as they called it, and they were curious about it and about the people. I had my iPhone full of pictures and we thumbed through them.  And I had not been in that part of Alabama, so I wanted to know all about the area, and they told me. We laughed, ate the best BBQ I’ve had in ages, and the three of us finished off a peach pie, and half a gallon of sweet tea. I’m sure they were looking forward to quitting time, but they stayed and served a wary traveler, and we all have a memory of a great evening. I can’t imagine a restaurant up here doing that.


Don’t get me wrong now, I’m not hating on Seattle or the Northwest. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have stayed there for more than 25 years. I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the prettiests places I know.  If nothing else, I’m illustrating the vast differences in this great country – from political, to climate, to social structure. It’s part of what makes our country so great.


And we are going to see those differences on graphic display this year. Election years always bring that out – and this one is going to be a doozy. I’m hoping though that through it all we can remember that freedom means that sometimes we don’t always get along. That doesn’t mean we can’t still be civil and respectful, smile and agree to disagree.  As my friends in the South say with a smile when they disagree with someone, “well bless your little heart”.


I hope we all remember that as we go through what’s I’m afraid is bound to be a very un-civil political campaign season. Fortunately for us bikers, there’s always the road when it gets to be a bit much.


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

Bikes vs Bikes. By that I mean Motorcycle Riders vs Bicycle Riders. Other than balancing on two wheels and mixing with regular traffic there's not a lot in common with the two. However in the granc political scheme, the bicycle riders have far more power and influence than motorcycle riders do. And now that bike riders are being faced with mandatory helmet laws, its a little bit fun to sit back and enjoy their suffering....
February generally marks the middle of the legislative session each year. And as regular as clockwork, there will be a discussion in the riding community and among sympathetic legislators as to the wisdom of the mandatory helmet law in Washington. It’s always been a priority of the rider advocacy groups across the country. It’s the original genesis for the ABATE chapters nationwide. Like every political movement it was started to oppose or support a specific idea – like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

And every year they make some progress – some years more than others. However, the arguments always remain the same. Riders should have the right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet. As a libertarian I can’t argue with that logic. By the same token we can argue that drivers should choose whether or not to wear a seatbelt. However, very few legislators respond well to either of those arguments, and it often works the opposite way. They’ll say since we require drivers to wear seatbelts we should require riders to wear helmets. (Hey, at least they’ve not mandated seatbelts on motorcycles – yet.)

But if there’s one particular lobbying group that tends to have a disproportionate amount of power relative to their numbers in the real world it’s the bicycle lobby. As any resident of Seattle, Portland or any big city in the northwest will attest to, the bike riders seem to get more of what they want than just about any other group. (If you listen to them they’ll tell you they don’t get anything, but that’s because they feel that they should have everything they want and when they get most of it, they tend to be mad they don’t get it all, but I digress.)

And do you know what has the bike lobby all up in arms these days? Mandatory helmet requirements. (Sound familiar?). The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended mandatory helmet requirements nationwide. “Head injury is the leading cause of bicycle-related deaths” says the NTSB, and they are putting their considerable weight behind a push to require that everyone should wear an age appropriate bike helmet when riding bike. Currently there is no state requirement for helmets in any state, however a few municipalities like Seattle and King County do require bike riders to wear a helmet when “riding in public.” (As opposed to what -- riding in private?). Oregon requires anyone under sixteen years of age to wear one.

But that simple recommendation has bike advocates all up in arms. Listen to some of these arguments: “Helmets only work after the crash has happened – we need to make sure the crash doesn’t happen in the first place.”  “Helmets are a distraction.”  “The issue should be safer streets, slower speeds, and more emphasis on driver education.”  And my two favorite ones: “it gives police an excuse to stop some cyclists and find other reasons to detain them,” and “Mandatory helmet laws discourage bicycling and we’ve seen enforcement be uneven and target people of color.”

All of those arguments – every single one of them – can and has been used to try and persuade policy makers that the motorcycle helmet law should be repealed. Yet we’ve had much less luck than our skinny-tire foot-powered riding brethren.  Why is that? I do think there is, for whatever reason, an inherent prejudice against motorcycle riders, especially in the transportation departments of major government agencies – local, state and federal. Corinne Kisner, the executive director of the National Association of Transportation Officials said, in response to the NTSB recommendation, “While requiring helmets may seem like an intuitive way to protect riders, the evidence doesn’t bear this out.  Experience has shown that while bike helmets can be protective, bike helmet laws are not.”  Care to bet if she’d say the same thing about motorcycle riders?

We all know that politics and policy making can be unfair at times. Loud voices get disproportionate attention, and well-funded lobbying groups often have more power than their numbers would warrant. Consistency in policy arguments are rare. But in watching the bicycle riders go through the same arguments that we motorcyclists have been saying for years means that there is merit in their arguments. One has to wonder if the consistency argument could work in our favor.  I’d like to think so, but I’ve been around the policy making arena my entire life – I’d be more inclined to say that it would work against the bicycle riders. It’s much easier for a policy maker to say, “motorcycle riders have to wear helmets, you should too”, than for them to say, “well if we aren’t going to make the bike riders wear them, we shouldn’t make the motorcycle riders wear them either.”

And since misery loves company, maybe we can capture a pyrrhic victory of sorts by pushing that argument and making them as miserable as motorcycle riders are by being forced to wear a helmet. After all, it’s only fair – right?  Schadenfreude is the German term for taking pleasure in another person’s misery. If we can’t win our arguments against mandatory helmets, maybe a little schadenfreude for the bike riders should make us feel good for a minute don’t you think?


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

Starting the new year off with predictions of the future...not that I'm very good at predicting much. The art department however is getting creative with my photo in the header though...yikes!
Well here we are in January of the new year, and the final year of the decade. I’m not great at making predictions at all, but I have to wonder what the world of motorcycling will be like ten years from now when the decade closes out. I would hazard to bet that in many ways it will be very different than what we are enjoying today.

For those of us who love the sport, who love the thrill of riding down an empty backroad, winding through the countryside with breathtaking scenery, and enjoying the wind in our face and the sun on our back. while exploring the places and things that make our world so fascinating from atop a motorcycle, I’m sure some of those elements will remain. But they will also change, and exactly how things will change, I have no idea. If I did, I’d be a rich guy investing in sure bet stocks. I’m not.

The core design of a motorcycle has pretty much stayed constant, and aside from a few cosmetic details here and there and bigger more fuel-efficient engines, a thirty-year-old Harley looks remarkably similar to a new one on the dealership floor today. The basic design elements have changed very little, nor has the functionality of a V-Twin gas-powered engine and 1-down, 4-up (or 5) transmission.

But as the world transitions away from gasoline powered engines to something else, I think we’ll see a radical change to our sport, and not just how bikes look, but how they function. Add to that the rapidly aging out of the traditional motorcycle riding generation, and the frightening lack of new riders coming into the sport, I’m going to bet the world of motorcycling will be vastly different ten years from now than it is today. Much the same way the steam locomotive era of railroading, and the propeller generation of air travel changed dramatically with the introduction of diesel locomotives and jet aircraft.

I’m still not convinced that electrically powered vehicles are the wave of the future, but they are on the horizon and as range and battery life increase I expect we’ll see exponential growth in them. And how does that affect how we enjoy our sport?  I love the long road trip, winding on back roads, making my way across the country, as Willie Nelson sang “Seeing things I’ve never seen before, I can’t wait to get on the road again.”  In my gas-powered ride, I can go 150 plus miles before I have to stop for gas, and the roar of the engine keeps me company. On an electric bike, even if I could go that far, it would be whisper quiet. And without the infrastructure to support it, I’d have to stick to main roads. No more rides along US-50, the loneliest road in America.

Ten years ago, did we ever imagine motorcycles with the size of the engines we have now, or a “water cooled” Harley, or an on-board entertainment system that rivals a trans-oceanic 747?  Did we imagine the traffic and road conditions we have now, or the price of gas? And electric bikes?  Ten years from now will we be looking back on this decade and saying, “this is when motorcycling died”, or will it be a decade like the 90’s and early 2000s when the sport really took off? We can’t predict, but it will be interesting to look back.  But I don’t think gasoline powered V-Twin’s will go the way of the horse and buggy just yet – we’ll just be the antiques on the road.

One thing we can predict with certainty though is the legislative session.  It is something that obviously and annually affects the future of the sport for sure. The annual gathering in Olympia is set to start shortly after you get this issue. It’s a sixty day “short” session this year, starting on January 13th.  Because it’s a short session leading into an election year, it’s highly unlikely that anything major legislation will pass on things most riders care about. We will see bills on helmet use, and maybe even lane sharing/splitting. But the biggest issue facing the legislature in Washington this year will be dealing with the aftermath of Initiative 976 which blew a hole in the funding for road and transit projects. And while its constitutionality is being debated in the courts, the legislature will be trying to figure out how to maintain funding for road and transit projects in the event it will be upheld by the courts.

The hard reality is that there is too little funding for road projects because of declining gas tax revenue, and more and more vehicles on the roads causing wear and tear. The voters chose to save a few bucks on car tabs at the expense of road and transit projects, so unless something is done, the roads will continue to get worse, making our rides much less enjoyable and less safe. Figuring out how to pay for those repairs is not a task I envy our legislature.

But you can put your two cents in on those and other issues.  Remember the annual motorcycle day at the capitol, known as Black Thursday, is once again scheduled for Thursday January 16th. Sponsored by ABATE and is open to all riders.  It’s your day to meet your legislators and tell them what’s on your mind and remind them that you vote and your vote counts.  If you’ve not gone before I encourage you to go. It’s the best way to make sure your voice is heard.

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

Last column of 2019! If there's one thing about me most folks know is that I don't suffer fools or foolishness lightly. The Washington State DOT is certainly full of them based on their idiotic plan to reduce traffic deaths and injurty to zero -- known as "Target Zero".

A few years ago, Washington State set a goal and adopted a program called “Target Zero.” “We’re gonna aim for zero fatalities on our roads by 2030.” It is hardly a realistic goal. It’s one of those feel good throw away lines that bureaucrats and legislators like to use to make everyone feel good and think something worthy is about to happen.

The Washington State Traffic Safety Commission recently put out their 2019 report on Target Zero – a whopping 235 pages of data. Tons and tons of data. It’s enough data to make your head spin. I looked at an electronic copy – if they printed this thing we could open up a few closed paper mills but that wouldn’t be good for the environment. You can download and read it yourself by going to the WTSC web page at www.wtsc.wa.gov.

Data is always useful in making decisions, but the only thing this much data does is make bureaucrats look like they are doing something. And more importantly, this much data obfuscates the real world and consequently obscures common sense. People tend to look to data and make a leap of logic and attempt to link statistics to causality. This report and the goals of Project Zero are a prime example. In the opening paragraphs it states: “A fundamental element of the Target Zero plan is that it is data-driven. Through evaluation we identify the critical factors that contribute to fatal and serious injury crashes on Washington’s roads…uses those factors to determine proven and recommended strategies along with new ones for reducing traffic deaths.”

For instance, the data on motorcycle accidents – both fatal and those with serious injuries – is essentially flat, and given the increase in population, has slightly declined. From 2012-2014 there were 225 fatal motorcycle crashes, and 1,165 ones with serious injuries.  From 2015 to 2017 there were 236 fatal crashes, and 1,209 serious injuries. While statistically that’s up 3.8%, given that Washington’s population increased 3.6% in that same time frame, motorcycle crashes are essentially flat. Yet given Project Zero’s unrealistic goals, it appears we are experiencing an increase in fatalities and accidents when we actually aren’t.

And the cause of those crashes? Speeding is the major factor – 95% of all fatal and serious motorcycle accidents are caused by speeding, followed by impaired driving at 93%. And a whopping 75% of all crashes, according to the statistics in the report, are caused by the motorcycle rider. Only 25% of them are caused by other drivers. The report also breaks crash data down into sub-categories like distraction, lane departure, and older 70+ drivers. But in these mountains of data, it doesn’t give us any links to how many of those motorcycle crashes are caused by the sub-categories – distraction, lane departure, and age etc... And they are missing what I and others consider as the major factor – riding above one’s ability.

And this is why it’s easy to get lost in the wilderness of data. If we boil it down, the vast majority of motorcycle crashes are caused by riders doing stupid things – driving too fast, driving impaired, driving beyond their skill level. Did you notice I just said, in 23 words, what their entire 235-page report says?  And now that we know the “what”, how do we address the “why?”  WTC’s answer to the “why” is that riders aren’t well trained enough, and that if we just increase the training, increase the required skill levels, we’ll start down that magic yellow brick road path towards the “Zero” in Project Zero.

Their plan is to “increase the difficulty level of the endorsement tests, and thus push more riders into training they will need to gain the skills needed to pass the exam. This should result in an increase in the demand for additional training above basic/novice course levels and result in riders gaining the skills and knowledge needed to avoid crashes.” In other words, a tougher skill test for an endorsement.

The new skills test that goes into effect at the first of the year makes it much harder to pass the test, requiring a significant increase in braking skills and turning skills. So, tell me how this is going to address riders doing stupid things like driving too fast and driving impaired?”  I have news for you:  ITS NOT!  The report states 72% of the riders in fatal or serious injury crashes have an endorsement, and the lack of an endorsement is “more likely an indicator of risk-taking behavior rather than a cause of fatalities.”  Making the endorsement test harder is not going to have any impact on reducing motorcycle crashes. Yet this is their plan to move them towards the shiny unicorn on the hill of the goal of Project Zero. And note that none of this addresses the root cause of accidents. It’s not so much a lack of skills, as a lack of intelligence.  Stupid people doing stupid things.

You know what will help them get closer to that goal – and make it a more realistic one?  How about we follow the simple rules that back when I was the lead road captain for Seattle’s HOG chapter. It’s so simple we put it on a laminated card and every road captain read it out loud before every ride: “Obey the traffic laws. Stay in your lane. Ride your own ride (i.e. within your skill level). Under no circumstances ride impaired by alcohol or drugs.”  All common-sense simple things, and you don’t need 235+ pages of data to tell you that.

And if we really wanna get to “Zero”, how about zero tolerance. Zero tolerance of stupid behavior. Riding drunk or impaired, riding too fast, riding recklessly.  One ticket and a year’s suspension of riding privileges.  Two and it’s two years. Three and permanent suspension.  You don’t think that will get things down closer to zero?  No, we can’t fix stupid. There will always be people who ignore those simple rules. But if you drill that into folks head often enough and with conviction, you’ll just might move the needle closer to that magical zero of Project Zero.


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

It's mid November, and it's yet to feel like fall here in the desert. Heck we've had nearly 100 degree temps this week, although cooler air and rain are on the way. Makes me think of my days in Seattle getting ready to put the bike up for the winter. Fortunately we don't do that here...




It’s fall. The weather’s changed – it’s colder and wetter. The leaves have changed too, turned golden, orange and red. And the time has changed as well – damn daylight savings time. And yes, the legislature voted to get us off daylight savings time permanently, but it was a hollow gesture. It will take a literal act of Congress to do that, and Congress isn’t about to tackle something as trivial as that especially these days, even though the entire Pacific Time Zone has voted to move it off. Its dark early and the sun comes up late and the days are ridiculously short now.

The snows have come early this year to the Pacific Northwest -- one of the earliest snowfalls ever at Stevens Pass. But for the most part they’ve not stuck around. But they will. Sooner rather than later. When I lived full time in Washington and the weather turned like this I’d always be telling myself – “gotta get in one last ride”.

Once the weather changes for good you’re kinda stuck. So, gotta get in one last ride.  One last ride up over the North Cascades Highway, up past Concrete and the Seattle City Light dams and down into Winthrop and then across Loup Loup on the way to Twisp before they close the pass for the winter. Wash DOT tries to wait until Thanksgiving, but the early snows this year may be a harbinger of an early closing.

Gotta get in one last ride up and over Stevens Pass and down into Wenatchee. Now after the apple harvest has cleared the orchards of fruit and the roads of apple trucks. Then up and over Blewett Pass, stopping at Owen’s Meats in Cle Elum for some of the world’s best jerky and sausage.

And then one last ride over my two favorite passes, Chinook and Cayuse. Riding up past Mount Rainer and down into Yakima for a burger at Miners, then up the windy and oh-so-quiet Yakima River Canyon on the old road to Ellensburg and then back to the city over Snoqualmie Pass.

Gotta do it one last time before winter comes. Gotta do ‘em all, one last time I’d tell myself. One last big ride for the year. Dang winter. Why does it have to come so darn early? Ask most folks and they’ll tell you that fall is their favorite season. The air smells fresh, the leaves are a brilliant color and the light hangs low on the horizon. There’s the smell of wood smoke on the air, and we can break out the sweaters. It’s the last gasp of color and light before the long wet gray dreary winter of the Northwest sets in for its interminable duration.

Time though – there’s never enough time it seems. My old Seattle HOG chapter used to do a “Five Pass” ride every summer. It was an all-day affair and in the summer the days are so long you can do it with ease. Over North Cascades and Loup Loup on SR-20; then over Blewett on US-95 and Chinook and Cayuse on SR 410.  This is about a 550-mile trip and takes all day in the summer when we have all day to do it and over 15 hours of daylight. With meal stops, gas and restroom breaks, and rest stops it’s about a 15-hour day or longer.  But what a day.

So one last ride over the Cascade passes in the fall seems a bit out of the question. But still, the mind wanders and dreams and the clock keeps ticking. The days keep getting shorter. The weather keeps getting colder. The window keeps closing. Which also sums up life. The clock keeps ticking, time keeps passing, the window of opportunity keeps sliding closed. Before you know it the opportunity is lost.

Fortunately for me these days I live most of the time in the desert of the Coachella Valley. And our weather window rarely closes. From its base I look over to the 11,000-foot Mt. San Gorgonio, which is the center of the Sands to Snow National Monument. It’s obvious why, I’m standing in sand and looking up and snow. But the roads there don’t close in the winter, and the snow is generally high enough to stay off the roads. We can ride year-round here, although in the summer it’s a bit challenging.


I miss my mountains of the Northwest. Today’s Seattle Times predicted an early closure of the North Cascades along with Chinook and Cayuse passes. “Climate change” has brought on early snow this year they say. And although I’m sitting in 70 degree sunshine in the desert, after reading that I found myself thinking for a moment like I did when I lived in Washington full time: “gotta get one last ride in” and I’d be trying to finagle a way to sluff off work and just do it. Sometimes I could, but more often than not I couldn’t. That’s the saddest part. I think we all have to remember we ‘gotta get one last ride in” each and every day. The seasons changing. The days are getting shorter. The clock keeps ticking. Gotta get one last ride in.

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

Reading my Facebook news feed a few weeks ago I came across an article from the Daily Olympian, the newspaper in Olympia, WA where I lived and had my lobbying firm for many years.  They were talking about one of my favorite hangouts up there closing. As you will read, the joint was on old US-99, which at one time was the road that connected the desert to the Pacific Northwest. Reading about Norma's closing and being metaphorically connected via US-99 is the subject of my October column, which also marks ten years of doing a monthly column for Quick Throttle too!

I got some sad news the other day. Apparently one of my all-time favorite roadside burger joints closed for good last month. Any biker who’s ridden in the South Sound area around Olympia and Lacey along Pacific Highway South and old US-99 has ridden past Norma’s. This place is a classic, and if you blink you’d miss it. It’s maybe 15 feet wide. There’s only a couple of tables inside with room for about six people and a few picnic tables out front. And you couldn’t miss the giant fiberglass hamburger on the roof. It’s been around for twenty-six years but alas is now gone.

I even took a few legislators there back in the days when I was a lobbyist.  It’s not the usual place you’d think someone would try to wine and dine an elected official, but there were a handful of them that always enjoyed going to Norma’s and I liked it because it was not  one of the fancy-schmantsy places in Olympia where we’d run into other lobbyists and legislators. It would be a “go-to” place when I needed a break from the capitol, especially on warm spring evenings. I could hop on the bike and ride out the old highway and enjoy a burger and a shake from this tiny hole-in-the-wall.

Norma’s sat on Pacific Highway South.  At one time this was US Highway 99. Most of old 99 was supplanted by Interstate 5 when it was built, but the remains of the old road are still there in places. And there’s a connection to US-99 that I still see almost every day, whether I’m in the desert or in the Pacific Northwest. Reading about Norma’s closing got me to thinking about that connection the other day too.
You see back in the pre-interstate highway days, US-99 was the main way to travel up and down the west coast, along with its parallel cousin, US-101.  Where US-101 ran – almost literally – along the edge of the world, US-99 ran inland. It connected Vancouver BC, to Bellingham, WA, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia Portland and all down the Willamette Valley into California. In the Golden State it ran down the San Joaquin Valley – that big long valley that is the nation’s supermarket, then up over the mountains into the Los Angeles basin, then east to the desert of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs, before heading south and ending up at the Mexican border near Calexico.

The whole route was essentially decommissioned, like US-66 was, when Interstate 5 was completed. And here and there it’s still signed as a state highway 99, the Departments of Transportation in the coast states have put up signs saying “Historic Highway 99” in a few places where the old highways still exists too, which makes a highway romantic like me smile. I’m the kind of a guy who reads maps like a book, loves the history of the highway, and who not only collects old maps, but likes to find the old highways wherever I can and ride them on Angus.

It’s on the old highways that you find America – not on the super slab of the Interstate.  You’d never find a Norma’s on the Interstate; you have to get off them and wander the old roads to find the Norma’s of this world. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars” when Sally and Lightning are discussing the demise of Radiator Springs, and Sally says back before the Interstate, the road moved with the land, it didn’t cut through it and people traveled on the road to “have a good time, not make good time.” Now days you can’t even “make good time”, particularly on I-5 through the South Sound, you might as well get off on the old highway – at least up until last month you could still find a Norma’s.

And the old US-99 is what connects me to this day. Connects me and my life in the Coachella Valley desert, and my life in the lush green Pacific Northwest. I can stand on Indio Blvd. here, look to the Northwest, and know that this road at one time connected the spot I’m on to the spot I’d like to be – at Norma’s ordering a cheeseburger and a peach shake. It’s not the same standing on the side of I-5, if I even could stand on the shoulder without being run over. But I can stand on the side of Indio Blvd, or Pacific Highway South, next to an old motel, and down the road from a small burger joint, in the shadow of a “Historic US-99” highway sign and feel in my core the connection between the desert and the forest.

Back when I was in graduate school in Tempe, Arizona, I could feel the same connection on the old US-89. It was main street in Tempe and ran past the university, over the bridge across the Salt River, and north up into Utah where it was the main road into my hometown of Salt Lake City. Whenever I was homesick for my family or my friends in Utah, I could stand on main street, and know if I followed that road long enough I’d get home. Like an electrical cord, I could feel “plugged in” to home whenever I would walk the street and look up and see that black and white shield sign with a US-89 in it.

When I’m in the Northwest and I’m missing the desert, I know US-99 will take me there, and when I’m the desert and I need a break from the heat, US-99 will take me back up. In the pre-interstate days that’s how we got from Washington to the Coachella Valley – it’s where the road went. I think to this day that’s why so many people from the northwest make their winter home in the desert. That’s where US-99 went.

And now with Norma’s gone, it means another piece of US-99 is gone. But somewhere out there along the old road is another Norma’s – I’m just going to have to follow the old road until I find it.

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