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Riding Tips

So two days before the deadline for the April issue, my publisher calls and says "can you do a quick 1000 words for the "Get Ready To Ride" spring issue with tips on getting ready to ride. Ok, sure -- although here in the desert we can ride pretty much year round, back in the old stomping grounds of the Pacific Northwest, it took some work to get ready once spring rolled around. So i reached back into my memory and cranked this piece out for him...In addition to my column which I'll post tomorrow.

It’s April in the Northwest. The sun is shining (sort of), the rain has tapered off (somewhat), and the days are getting longer (most definite). It’s a time when riders start dreaming of getting back on the bike after taking a winter off from riding -- which the vast majority of riders around these parts do. I have to admire those hearty souls who brave the elements year-round on their scoots – they must all have synthetic motor oil running in their veins to be able to keep the bike running and them on top of it, day in and day out 365 days a year.

For those who don’t get the periodic transfusion of Syn-3, we have some getting ready to do as we start planning our summer road adventures. First and foremost is getting the moss and rust off the old bike and getting it ready to run. Yes, I said moss and rust. It’s wet in the Northwest. The longest I have gone without riding is 4 months, and that year I had some fungus growing on the spokes and some moss on the seat, I kid you not. I also had a family of mice make a nice nest underneath the bike cover and a black widow spider build a web from the kick-stand to the floor. So, in all seriousness, watch for the effects of moisture and critters if your bikes been in a corner of the garage for more than a month or two.

Now any biker worthy of the name in the Northwest knows that if you don’t ride all winter you at least keep your battery on a tender and charged up. If your bike is less than a few years old, all those new fancy things Harley and the other manufactures are putting on their bikes drain your battery even if you aren’t using it, and we all know how quickly bike batteries go out and how ridiculously expensive they are. Things like keyless fob starting and security systems put a constant drain on the battery even if it’s not running and after even four months or so you could be facing a dead battery. Make the investment in that trickle charger for next winter now while you are thinking about it. But If you’ve already done that, you know your electrical system is ready to roll.  If not, well, that’s the first thing you need to check. Make sure your battery is charged and working.

The other nifty trick us mossback riders will do in the fall before putting the bike up for the winter is add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tanks. I find this a heck of a lot easier than draining the tank, which also can tend to make water condensation a problem in the Northwest’s moist climate. If you topped off your tank after adding a bottle of stabilizer, your fuel system should be good to go. If you didn’t, open the tank and check for gunk and stratification. If you have bad gas, it’s wise to drain the tank and fuel lines (and carburetor on a non-fuel injected bike) and refilling with fresh gas before starting it -- and making a mental note to put in stabilizer next winter and avoiding that mess in the future.

Check your oil. I’ll do an oil change generally in December so in those months I don’t ride I know I’m full of good clean oil, and assuming any of it didn’t leak out over the winter, I’ll be good to go. If you didn’t do an oil change, now is the time to consider doing one or having it done. Oil degrades over time and settles and loses its viscosity. Make sure the oil is up to snuff. Check for other leaks as well – brake fluid, primary case, and coolant if applicable (remember those new Milwaukee 8s have their liquid cooled heads you old Hog-heads.)

Then check your tires. Make sure the air pressure is up to where it should be. Dollar to donuts they have lost a lot of pressure sitting over the winter – not enough to see with the eye or even feel with a good squeeze – but enough to affect performance. If they are low and you don’t have a pump, assuming they aren’t all the way flat, a short slow ride to the nearest filling station is in order to get the air back in. Also check for worn spots, cracks, and other flat spots.
After that, it’s time for essentially a good expanded T-CLOCS checklist. You should be doing this before every ride anyway, and a more thorough and expanded one before your first ride of the year after winter. When you fire the engine up the first time, make sure you let it idle a good minute or so. Make sure that the oil is circulating well, the charging system is doing its thing, and the engine is well warmed up before roaring out of the garage. It’s been sitting a while, and like a human operator, it’s going to be a little stiff and sore.

Finally, the last thing to check out is the operator. You. Ask yourself, are you ready to ride?  How long has it been since you sat on the scoot. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and that might be somewhat true. But we all forget our basic skills. We also may have (in my case definitely have) put on a few pounds of winter insulation – so we and the bike will handle a bit differently. Our muscle memory isn’t what it is. I know that after a long stretch of not riding, it takes me a few trips to build up strength and stamina for a long 200+ mile ride.  If you suspect you are rusty, and a winter in the Northwest makes everything rusty, take it slow and easy the first few miles, or better yet, go practice in a vacant parking lot somewhere for a bit. Get those skills and muscle memory back in shape before riding off down the highway.

And remember that the highway is going to be different after months of rain, snow, ice and traffic. More potholes and road cracks where there weren’t any before, bumpier rides, and lots of sand and road, especially in the curves, from road de-icing and plowing. You’ll want to be especially careful watching the road conditions early in the riding season.
Hopefully you’ve spent the winter pouring over maps and dreaming of places to explore so you have your list ready. Remember, spring cleaning isn’t just for the house. It’s for the bike and yourself. Get it done and enjoy the summer. See you down the road!

March QuickThrottle Column

Here is my March column in QuickThrottle -- in which we discuss the silliness that is Harley-Davidson's creating an electrick motorcycle... No.  Just no.

Last month I wrote about the death of Harley’s Dyna platform. Since then however, I’m seeing the early signs of what might be the impending doom of the entire sport as we know it. Sales of motorcycles are down. Way down. Polaris is closing-up the Victory line, but leaving Indian, who’s sales are miniscule. Harley just announced they are closing the Kansas City factory, consolidating production at the York, PA facility. The K.C. factory produced the now dead Dyna and V-Rod lines, as well as the Sportster and Street models, which now move to PA. What’s driving this downturn?  The economy is humming along. Harley is doing what they can to attract new riders, redesigning bikes for that younger crowd, but we oldsters are apparently dying off faster than new riders are coming into the market. My gut tells me that Harley’s top of the line massive cruisers are priced so high they keep folks out of the market. But what do I know?

So, what’s the answer? How do you re-tool an entire sport for a new generation? How do you take a 115-year-old institution like Harley and remake it for the next 100 years? Can you? I’m glad I’m not the CEO trying to figure that one out. But in the same corporate earnings report where Harley announced the Kansas City plant closure, they also announced their apparent vision for the future – and it isn’t a traditional loud piped V-twin motor.

In about eighteen months – sometime in late 2019 if all goes well, we will see the first electric Harley-Davidson. An electric bike, as incredulous as that sounds I know.  Think back a couple of years ago to Harley’s “Project Livewire”. When I first heard about it I thought it was a joke in a satire magazine. Harley? An Electric Bike? Yeah, sure and I’m gonna trade in my Hummer on a damn Prius. But it turns “Livewire” wasn’t a fluke, even though it looks like a metric crotch rocket.

And I just have to shake my head and wonder. Maybe I’m just too old school, but I love the smell of motorcycle exhaust and the rumble of pipes and a V-twin. I just can’t see myself on an electric bike, although I do admire the engineering complexity of the Livewire bike. It’s linear induction motor and the power that it is capable of is amazing. And while it only gets about 60 miles of travel at this time, I’m sure that technology will change that as time goes on. But still, an electric bike? Come on! It’s just so “not Harley.”

Already people are putting down deposits on something that isn’t even in production yet so they can be the first to have an electric motorcycle. I guess so they can ride to get some gluten free ice cream and a vegan salad maybe, and park it next to their Prius or Tesla. It makes sense and should sell wonderfully in the Northwest. According to Toyota, Washington is the highest per-capital sales market for those damn Priuses.  At least I think that’s how you pluralize it – maybe it’s Prii?  (And I just realized that these electric vehicles can’t be pluralized readily – for instance the Nissan “Leaf”. Is the plural form “Leafs” or “Leaves”?   If Harley goes forward with this they better come up with a name that can be readily pluralized.)

But there is this gross misconception about electric vehicles: that driving them makes some sort of “environmental statement” about saving the planet from terrible carbon pollution. But what most self-righteous Prius drivers seem to forget is that electricity in most parts of the world comes from burning the same fossil fuels that power a gasoline engine. In the Northwest, our power comes from hydro dams and windmills, which according to some factions of the environmental world, are just as bad as fossil fuels since dams mess with salmon and windmills are nothing but giant Cuisinarts for birds. Nothing is somehow “non-polluting.”

So, while all you electric vehicle drivers may think you are saving the planet, you actually are not making one iota of a difference. And if that’s Harley’s marketing ploy to get younger hip riders, I think they missed the mark. Younger hip riders would rather pay less than $30,000 for a bike I’m guessing. There’s your niche market guys.

Meanwhile I’ll go on enjoying my carbon spewing fossil fuel burning 103 cubic inch V-Twin rumbling between my legs and breathing in those wonderful smelling exhaust fumes as I roar out of my driveway and into the wind thank you very much.
But I know my time on earth is as limited as the fossils that fuel my engines, and one day I too will die out along with the rest of my kind (or ilk if you prefer.) The bikers of the future will be zooming around Sturgis on their electric bikes, the town will obviously have to put in some sort of massive magical power plant to produce enough plug-in stations, but that won’t be my problem. So, go forth Harley. Change the world with this first step. As a shareholder, I applaud the ingenuity and forward thinking and willingness to get out ahead of the curve. I hope it saves the company. My retirement savings will thank you.

But while I can, let me enjoy the rumble, the heat, and the smell of exhaust, and the freedom of the open road, my fists in the air framing the road ahead, and the wind blowing in my face. An electric bike? Sorry guys. Not for me.

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

Desert life is good -- especially this time of year. Sunny and mid 70s. I'm close to finally getting my garage cleaned out enough to park the truck in too. Been doing a lot of camping, hiking and some riding around town, but I'm due for a long ride and am itching for it.

My February QuickThrottle column tackles my impending geezerhood somewhat, as I mourn the loss of one of Harley-Davidson's iconic lines...
So, the first of February means its roughly halfway through this year’s Washington Legislative session, and the legislature is busy pondering all sorts of issues. For us riders, aside from the perennial helmet law repeal and lane splitting bills – both of which had in the past passed the Senate, but given the new Democratic majority in both chambers won’t see the light of day this session – there are some issues percolating that do affect us riders that you should be paying attention to.  Things like car-tab relief if you live in Western Washington and are getting hit for the first time with giant renewal fees that are causing mild heart attacks among some of my friends. But keep in mind the ultra-greenies who predominate in the legislature will maybe offer a modicum of relief for those high fees, at the same time they are proposing reducing by 60% the fees paid by electric vehicles that pay no fuel tax at the pump from $100 a year to $60! Remember that when you write a check to DOL for $500 for that Ultra Classic’s tab renewal.

There may also be some changes that would allow multiple motorcycles to share a street metered parking space, and to work around the need for a transponder to ride free in the high-occupancy toll lanes. All of these issues hit the pocketbook in one way or another, and will affect those of us who ride. Make sure you stay in contact with your rider organizations and clubs like Washington Road Riders, and ABATE, and stay involved.

And while our elected officials ponder what to do about those issues, and the other things on their plates, I’m sitting her pondering my ever encroaching apparent geezerhood. It’s coming from the fact that Harley-Davidson has discontinued the Dyna platform in 2018 and I’m a long-time Dyna rider. Dyna’s have been my preferred big-twin bike since, well, since I could legally ride. Over the years, I’ve owned many a Milwaukee product across all their lines. I’ve loved them all, but I’ve always loved Dynas the most. I kinda feel like the old bikers I knew when I was a young buck, who would lament and cry over the loss of their shovel-heads and pan-heads and wish they were still in production. I’d roll my eyes at them I suppose like new younger riders will do to me in a few years when they look over at my twin-outside shock ride with its square battery box on the side, rubber mounted engine and its rugged frame and wonder about that “old dude on the antique bike” just like I used to.

In some of the articles I’ve read in the trade press about the end of the Dyna era, they’ve described those of us who prefer the Dyna platform as “purists”, which is what I used to call shovel and knuckle head riders back in the day. And now I’m one of them I guess. I always loved the vibration that Dynas had due to the rubber mounted engine, especially at a stop light. And I’ve always felt much more confident in the curves and bumps with the twin shocks than I did on a Softail. Hell, the last Softail I had, a modified Rocker that I chopped, I couldn’t corner worth a damn in it – kinda like steering the Titanic, I’d have to start a turn a block before I needed to just to get it to corner. Touring bikes, while they felt great on long rides, I’ve never found them to be as responsive as a Dyna, and I love to carve a turn.

I have more fond memories of trips on my Dyna (and even my Sporster, which face it is just a mini-Dyna) than I do on my Softail or Touring bikes. My beloved Angus is a Dyna, and we’ve gone Coast to Coast and Border to Border together. And my other bike these days is Bandit, my Nightster which is so responsive that if I even think of carving a turn I’m half way through it. I’ve never had that kinda fun in a Softail or a Touring bike.

So, as I thumb through the catalogue of the 2018s I see that the boys in the Milwaukee styling shop have done a fair job of making the Fat Bob, Street Bob and Low Rider kinda look like the old Dynas. Maybe no one will notice. No one except us “purists” I suppose. I look at them and see some elements of the Dyna, but where’s the damn battery box on the side? And that curved oil tank under the seat just doesn’t look right, and no shocks! Nope, you can call it a Fat Bob, or a Street Bob or a Low Rider, but it’s not, it’s just not.  I almost wish they’d have retired the name along with the frame.

I’ll ride Angus as long as I can and as long as I can make reasonably inexpensive repairs to him, which should be a good while. But when he’s gone I’ll miss that vibration that those old rubber mounts give, and I’ll miss the ground hugging I’d feel throttling up as the twin shocks did their magic as I sunk into a nice turn. Everything eventually changes, and the fact that I struggle with it is further evidence of my slide into geezerhood.

And I’m sure many of you have just as fond a memory of your favorite Heritage Softail or Deuce, or Breakout. You’ll probably even tell me that it’s my riding skills not the bike – that your Softail corners better than any Dyna, or that a Dyna rides too hard for you. And that’s cool too, you have your opinion and I have mine and we’ll all be happy riding off to Cumberland together for Taco Thursday come spring. But when we get there, I’ll likely find a cadre of fellow geezers and we’ll cry over the loss of our Dyna’s over in a corner for a while. We’ll be the pan-heads and shovel-heads of the next generation down the road when the Dyna is forgotten and we’ll have to scour junkyards for parts. Just don’t laugh and make fun of us old farts on our old bikes will ‘ya?

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

Here we go again, the start of another new year. The Washington Legislature started it's session yesterday, and I'm happy to be out of that mess. We are enjoying a much needed rain shower here in the desert today -- its not rained since September. It makes the desert smell wonderful, and I'm cozy in my house watching the raindrops hit the pool and trying to figure out what to write for my February column. And while I struggle with that, I'll post the January one, which by the way, in case you can't tell, is just a wee bit sarcastic....
Happy New Year!  And we know what a new year brings right?  Yep, a Legislative session in State Capitols across this great land. In Washington, this year it’s the “short” session – that is it’s supposed to be “only” 60 days, and will, in theory, end in early March after starting on January 8th. That hasn’t happened in years, but here’s to wishful thinking. In Oregon, the session is also “short”, and starts February 5th. It means that our elected representatives will gather to decide all sorts of things, and many of them will affect us as riders.

In all the years that I’ve been writing Road Signs I’ve always stressed how important it is for riders to get involved, either on their own – engaging and letting their own representatives know how they feel about issues, or as part of the many rider advocacy groups or ideally both. Each year the advocacy group ABATE of Washington sponsors Black Thursday, a day for riders to gather at the capitol and make their voices heard. This year it’s on January 18th. Weather permitting, you should ride your butt to Olympia and take part. You are welcome to go even if you aren’t a part of ABATE or any of the groups.

And while it’s a bit early to know exactly what issues may pop up this session, I know of a few that are pretty likely. Parking equity – i.e. allowing more than one bike in a parking spot should come up, hell I hope it does. This simple fix would go a long way to solving those parking issues in Seattle. There’s the dreaded High Occupancy Toll Lanes charge and whether or not you need a transponder to ride in them, not to mention the high cost that has car drivers screaming is something that’s likely to be addressed. I also expect the legislature to attempt (whether they actually do something is another story) to address the high cost of car tab fees in the Sound Transit jurisdiction. And who knows, maybe they’ll again tackle lane-splitting.

And for certain – as certain as salmon return to the stream where they spawned – there will be a helmet law repeal bill.  It’s great that ABATE still pushes this – it is pretty much why the organization was formed. However as much as I personally support a riders right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet, the arguments to date for giving riders that choice unfortunately have not been persuasive to the legislature. Until maybe now.

You see now we have the bicycle folks making the argument for us!  And we all know how the bicycle cadre gets damn near pretty much everything they want these days. It’s absolutely ironic, not to mention hysterically funny to read the weeping, wailing and hand wringing of the pedal bike crowd as they bemoan the fact that the apparent reason the bike-share program in Seattle failed miserably is because it required riders to wear a helmet! It wasn’t the steep hills, or the perpetually wet skies, or even the atrocious traffic that kept folks from using bike-share, it was the helmet requirement – a law in King County and in the city of Seattle.  And since Seattle tends to worship at the altar of those who ride the skinny tired contraptions, their arguments get some traction.

So, I’m guessing that the “law” that bike riders wear a helmet is somewhat more of a “suggestion” these days in Seattle. Three new bike-share companies have popped up to replace the one the city itself invested a few million tax payer dollars in that failed miserably. Despite the law, none require riders to wear a helmet. The city has only required that the companies “inform” riders of the law, not that they provide them with a helmet. Seattle and King County are the only major metropolitan areas with a bike helmet law, and police officers can cite riders without them – it’s a whopping $30 fine. Contemplate that next time the Highway Patrol pulls you over and looks over your helmet for a DOT sticker.

And helmets are apparently not what bike share advocates are suggesting needs to be focused on when it comes to bike safety at all. The real cause of injuries, crashes, and collisions outside of rider error, are, (get this) “cars and distracted drivers.” Hmmm, now where have I heard those exact statistics and that argument before? Aren’t those the leading cause of accidents to motorcycle riders too?  Hello??? They even have studies that show helmets make a minor contribution to cyclist safety. Wait a minute, don’t we have those studies and been saying that too? And they even tout that bike-share systems have been around for almost a decade all over the country, how many people have died using bike-shares in that time? Two. After millions of trips. Two.

So, is what’s good for the goose good for the gander? Can our rider groups take these same arguments and demand rider equity? Can ABATE and the rider advocacy groups learn from our other two-wheeled riding friends and perhaps sway lawmakers like the bike riders seem to have done?  Maybe if we all wear spandex on Black Thursday instead of leather, and instead of beards and long flowing hair (for those that have it) we all sport man-bun hairdos and hipster beards, and we show up driving a Prius instead of a pick-up truck, could we possibly get lawmakers attention?  Couldn’t hurt right?  Well maybe the spandex could hurt.  I don’t think I could squeeze into anything that tight, and if I could it would surely hurt the eyeballs of everyone around who looked at me. But hey, they seem to have won the helmet argument where we can’t. I think we need to join forces with our spandex wearing brothers and sisters. After all, the reason they ride are pretty much the same reasons we do, and they hate their helmet law like we hate ours. We probably have more in common than we 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

Digging Up Roots

Although I am an adopted child, I’ve never really felt like one -- that I didn't belong to my family. And my family’s history is, in my mind, my history too. Although in a technical sense this may not be true, in a legal and emotional sense it is. I have always enjoyed exploring my roots, not out of a need or sense to “find” me, but because of my appreciation of history and my connection to it. Even little things like learning my paternal grandfather who spent a few years of the depression working for the Union Pacific Railroad as a signal electrician, was once posted at Kelso, CA – living in the depot dorms that are now restored as part of the exhibit at the Mojave Preserve visitor center. I'd always loved that building from the first time I saw it, and found it incredibly cool and fun long before I learned about the connection with my grandfather, it now has a personal connection that I feel whenever I visit it.
Growing up Mormon doesn’t hurt either. The Mormon church puts a great emphasis on family genealogy and knowing one’s ancestral history. The church has the world’s best genealogical resources on earth, and on paper I can trace my family back for many generations on both sides. Thus those of us who grow up in the church know a lot more of our family history than most folks do. And we Mormons (and ex ones too) often don’t have nice simple family trees either. With the early church’s practice of polygamy, those of us with early Mormon ancestors have what amounts to a family bush or hedge rather than a “tree”.

But unlike my mother’s side of the family, who’s personal history I know quite a bit about, I really know very little about my father’s family. For whatever reason, my dad was not one to talk about his family history, nor did we spend a lot of time growing up with members of his family who could tell me about it. And while I have the biography and journal of my great great grandfather, one Archibald Gardner, who was among the pioneers settling Utah and who had numerous wives and kids and who’s name is affixed to things all over the Salt Lake valley, I know very little of my own father, or his father, or my great grandfather. On my mother’s side I know a lot of both my mother's and my grandmother’s personal story – where they was born, raised, lived.  And I was close with her mother and several of my grandma’s brothers and sisters – people who would be my great grandmother and great uncles and aunts, and even some of their siblings who are alive today.  I’ve even written about them before on several occasions.

But on my father’s side, other than his younger brother -- my uncle Paul -- and his kids who are my cousins and with whom we spent time with growing up -- we really never knew any of his other siblings or my other cousins. My father’s maternal grandmother was alive when I was younger and I vaguely remember her, and I remember his father, my grandfather, and his second wife—my dad’s mother passed before I was born. But that’s really about it.

Like I said, I know all about my maternal grandmother’s early life, as well as my mother’s. I’ve heard their stories, first and second hand, and visited many of the places in their history. Not so much my father’s. Dad just never really spoke of his childhood, or his family. I do know that my dad was born in Nephi, Utah, but that’s about all I know. Whenever we’d travel through Nephi, Dad would never stop and show us or tell us about where he grew up, and he never had any pictures from those days. Mom was born in Clifton, Idaho, and we’d go there often when I was a kid and I know where she grew up, where her grandmother’s house was, where she went to school, the canal she swam in, the fields they farmed and on and on and I have a number of photos of her as a child in Clifton.

This past summer, she and I even visited and documented all the houses she lived in after they moved to Salt Lake City.  I never got the chance to do that with dad before he died, and I’m not sure he would have done it if I’d asked. In revisiting her history with mom this summer I got curious as to dad’s early history. When I was in Salt Lake in August I went to the church’s genealogical library to see if I could find any records of where they lived in Nephi so I could stop by and see since Nephi is on my route to and from the desert.

I found a copy of the 1930 US Census, which was taken just before my father was born that summer, and it showed my grandfather Eldred, and his wife Florence my grandmother, and their daughter Margaret – my aunt -- along with Florence’s brother and his wife, who would have been my Dad’s uncle and aunt -- living at 129 S.100 E, in Nephi.
I took a copy of that handwritten census page from the 1930 US Census, and then stopped by the address on my way back to the desert this past September.  Unfortunately, there was no 129 S. 100 E. There isn’t even a vacant lot there.  I was stumped, so when I got home and I enlarged the PDF of the census page, the 129 is likely 124, and there was and is a house at 124 that dates from at least 1930.

I had my cousins ask their Dad, my uncle Paul, what he remembered, and he said that he grew up at another address on 300 N.  So, this past week on my way to Mom’s for the holiday’s, and having to stop in Nephi to mail a package at the 1930s vintage post office on Main Street anyway, I went over to that address.
According to my Uncle Paul, this house at 54 E. 300 N. (above) belonged to his grandmother – my great grandmother – Florence Inscore. I barely remember my Grandma Inscore and visiting her at a home on Hudson Ave. in Salt Lake City when I was a child. But I have no idea how she came to be at this address in Nephi or any of her history.
Next door at 70 E. 300 N. is this smaller square house, which according to my uncle Paul, was apparently built out of railroad ties by my grandfather Eldred Gardner in about 1930. That would have been the house my father lived in until he was 13, when they moved to Oak Ridge, TN so my grandfather could work on the nuclear project during WWII.
This house, at 124 S. 100 E. is a couple of blocks from where Great Grandma Inscore lived on 100 North and where my Grandfather built the house next door. The census shows my grandparents and aunt living there on April 19, 1930. My grandmother would have been pregnant with my father at that time – he was born a couple of months later, on July 27, 1930. My cousins say that the family lived at this address while grandpa built the small house, which would have been completed in 1930 or 1931. I'm guessing, from the position of the house and the location it was built on his mother-in-law’s land as it is just next to their home. Grandma Inscore's house is rather fine and grand for Nephi, and I understand her family was somewhat well-to-do. But you see I don’t know – and I don't know if anyone living knows.

It is amazing to me that all of these houses are still standing and in good shape. It’s probably not surprising since Nephi is a small farming community, and hasn’t grown (and more likely has shrunk) since then.

I’m sad that my Dad never spoke of those years. For whatever reason he didn’t. And I’m sorry I never asked him about it. Perhaps he never felt a connection to Nephi, or perhaps he was embarrassed to come from there, or maybe he just didn’t care to remember his personal history. But even though he probably didn’t, I do, in a small way, feel connected to Nephi, just as I feel connected to Clifton. It’s part of my roots and I wish I knew more.

The New Road Home

For many years, my road home at Christmas has been south from the Pacific Northwest. Even after I moved to the desert last year, because I went back to Seattle before Christmas, my road home was the familiar trek across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Northern Utah. It was pretty routine, with a route that only varied slightly. There was always a one or two day stop in Boise, Idaho to visit family there and drop off Christmas gifts. Then there was the familiar bump in the road on I-84 when I crossed from Idaho into Utah just before Snowville, a bump that told me I was “home”.

But this year -- my first full year of living in the desert after uprooting from Seattle -- I went home for Christmas on a different road. It’s a road I’ve traveled many times before – but not home for the holidays which conveys another set of emotions. Coming down from the Northwest if it wasn’t rainy and cold it was snowy and cold, setting the stage for the holiday season. Coming up from the south one doesn’t hit snow until the second day afteer getting well into Utah. The first full day of driving is across the high Mojave Desert of Southern California, into Nevada, and Southern Utah, where the temperature remained in the 70s, the sun shines, and the vegetation is sparse. And like the route in from the north, the drive covers vast empty spaces – across a landscape where very few people live and work, and where most travelers grumble about how “boring” it is and how long it takes to get across. Not me. I love the great empty, and I find it starkness quite beautiful.
Like the road home from the Northwest, I’ve driven this road many times – most recently a few weeks ago on a run to Las Vegas. It’s quite familiar, I know every dip and bump, every climb, every pass, and all my familiar landmarks. The abandoned microwave tower at Sheep’s Pass, the salt mines and the old Roy’s Motel along Route 66 in Amboy, and coming up to the former Union Pacific Depot in Kelso -- now the Visitor Center for the Mojave National Preserve, where I stop for the first time since leaving the house. I visit with the rangers and look over the depot, and hope a train goes by. My Grandfather once worked here when he worked for the Union Pacific as a signal maintainer during the depression when this was a major rail center, and my Mom recalls him telling her he was in Kelso, so aside from it being a cool place it's got a bit of a family connection as well.
Time passes quickly – almost too quickly. Before long it’s up and over the Cima Grade, passing a train I wished I could watch rumble past the depot back in Kelso, then on past the abandoned store at Cima and through the “forest” of Joshua Trees and then onto I-15 at the California/Nevada line, all the while being able to count the cars I pass on one hand. It's why I like this back road through the empty land.
But suddenly there are people. Lots and lots of people. All streaming towards the casinos of Las Vegas, all pouring up 1-15 from SoCal, and for those who can’t wait to gamble there are the casinos built right on the state line at Primm, Nevada. A few years ago, just outside of Las Vegas an “artist” created one of those massive outdoor “art” projects called Seven Magic Mountains. It consists of a number of boulders piled on each other and painted neon bright colors. It is a sudden burst of color in the muted hues of the desert. I’ve wanted to stop and look at it every time I've passed, but again this trip failed to exit in time, so had to drive past it and double back. The place is crawling with folks taking pictures, so it takes some time to frame it so there aren't people taking selfies in every shot, or guys shooting their "wannabe model" girlfriends posing like Madonna is singing Vogue in the background. It makes what could be a very interesting art installation a tacky tourist stop for the Las Vegas crowd and that's unfortunate.
Then it’s back onto the freeway and into Las Vegas where it’s stop and go traffic all along the freeway through town, even at 3pm in the afternoon. It takes nearly an hour to get through the city. Once safely on the north side the road climbs up towards the appropriately named Apex before heading across more empty desert towards Mesquite and into Arizona. The sun goes down and it’s dark by the time I enter the Virgin River Gorge and start the climb into Utah, and crossing the state line from Arizona into Utah there is no “bump” to tell me I’m home, just a sign saying, “Welcome to Utah – Life Elevated”  which is almost lost among the lights of St. George. St. George is like Boise – the half way point on my journey home. But I don’t have any relatives to visit here, so it’s a quiet night by myself in a Holiday Inn Express.
The next day the sun is shining on the red rocks of St. George and the climb into Utah continues – headed North, passing Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyons, gaining elevation, and finally seeing snow just outside of Cedar City.  I texted Mom as I was leaving St. George, and she said “good, you’ll be home by lunchtime” and I replied “or thereabouts”, to which she just said “yes, knowing you...” She knows my propensity is to wander, to explore, to stop and take photos. She used to say when I’d leave Boise headed south, “you are the only person I know who can take a ‘normal’ four-hour drive and make it a ten hour one.”
But for some reason, this time I’m not in the mood to wander. I have no idea why. I’m not in a hurry to get home either, but the desire to stop frequently and often wasn’t there for some reason. I’ll pay for that with stiff legs the for next few days, but I just was comfortable in the cab of my big truck,  enjoying the emply land, the mountains, the long flat valleys dotted with cattle, and playing CD’s and eating sandwiches I’d packed the day before. The road just rolled away under my feet and I didn’t stop once, even for gas, until I got to Nephi, Utah.Since I wasn’t going to go through Boise, and my sister wasn’t going to make it to Salt Lake City this year, I needed to mail their gifts, so I had an errand to do in addition to getting gas and stretching. Nephi – the county seat of Juab County, Utah is also where my father was born and raised. It’s a small farming community named by the early Mormon pioneers -- like many other towns in Utah -- after one of the main characters in the Book of Mormon. The ancient post office sits on Main Street, on what was once US-91. The town, now bypassed by I-15 which circles to the east, has pretty much dried up as a result. Main Street is filled with abandoned two and three story turn of the century vintage buildings, with a few café’s and stores still open, along with the stately Juab County courthouse, and a wonderful vintage post office built in 1931, the year after my father was born there.
I wandered in with my package and unlike any other post office in a big city, there was no line at all today. The clerk weighed and sent my package on its way to Boise and we chatted for a minute.  I told her she was lucky to get to work in this classic old building, and I was glad to see the Postal Service hadn’t closed it up and moved to something a bit more suited to its present operation and less costly to heat than this neo-classical Romanesque edifice.  She agreed and said the folks in Nephi “are proud of their post office” and wouldn’t stand for it. I'm happy. “Merry Christmas” she said, and I replied back as I strolled out of a building I imagine my father visited a few times as a kid mailing letters for his folks a time or two.Then it's back on I-15 headed north, inching closer to my own hometown, although I feel very much at home anywhere in Utah it seems. And while I’ve not lived here for almost 35 years – since 1983 – I don’t think I’ve ever really left. I know these roads like the back of my hand. But much has changed and it’s almost unrecognizable in many places, it’s grown so much. The traffic starts just before Provo now and lasts almost to Mom’s house in the middle of Salt Lake – at 3pm on a Friday. The stretch of highway between Provo and Salt Lake that I drove nearly every day all the time I was in college at BYU is now 10 lanes wide and full of cars. I used to drive through miles of farm land that is now all covered with office parks for tech companies.

Around Point of the Mountain and the entire Salt Lake Valley sprawls out before me, the valley ringed by the mountains that embrace me as well as the city. I’m home. I feel it in my heart. It’s Christmas. What’s not to be happy about?  I drive into Mom’s driveway and while it’s not the house I grew up in, it’s still home. She’s happy, and a litle surprised to see me so soon. She’s got soup on the stove and rolls in the oven and once again I’m back. In my head I hear John Denver singing “Hey it’s good to be back home again…” In the days ahead family and friends will gather, we’ll eat her great food, tell stories, reminisce, catch up, and enjoy the love we have for one another. Once again we are all together. It won't always be like this, we are all getting older. But for now, it's time to enjoy it all -- to soak it all in, capturing it, and holding it our hearts for the time down the road when we can't.

And while it feels a little different coming home from this direction, no matter what I'm home and glad to be here. For the foreseable future this will be the road home and I'll be here until its time to head back to my own home in the desert -- heading back south across the vast empty spaces of the West, to the sunshine and warm winds of the Coachella Valley.

On This Day...

Today is my 56th birthday. This morning I got up and rather than go to the gym like I normally do, I set out on my “non-gym day” walk. It’s just shy of five miles, up the hills to the highest water tank in town and the boundary of Joshua Tree National Park above my house. It was sunny, perfectly clear, and about 60 degrees. It’s a great time to think, to enjoy the beauty of the land around me, and experience the joy of living. Birthdays are not really a big deal for me, almost just another day, except for the outpouring of love and greetings from friends and family far and near. Greetings that all of us tend to skip over saying the rest of the year as if we can only say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you” or “Have a great day” just once a year, and that's a shame.  It’s nice to hear from folks, it really is, and I’m grateful for so many friends and loved ones in my life.

On December 11, 1961, in General Rose Memorial Hospital in Denver, Colorado, someone gave birth to me. I do not know who that person was. I was adopted 12 days later by my mother and father in Salt Lake City, Utah. George and Carol Gardner are, to all the world legally, and more importantly, in my mind and heart, my parents. They loved me and raised me and made me the man I am today. I really never think of myself as “adopted”, it was not a stigma or something to be ashamed of, or in my case, even curious about. Many adoptees wonder why their parents gave them up, and who they are, and search for them like it's a quest for the Holy Grail. I really never have. George and Carol – Dad and Mom – they are the ones who are my parents, they are the ones I’m connected to, who’s spirit is infused in me, even though they didn’t biologically create me.

But for some strange reason this morning, unlike any other birthday morning, I got to wondering about my birth mother. On this day 56 years ago she gave birth to me. I’m sure that it’s something she remembers to this day -- especially this day -- if she is still living. On this day, of all days, she surely must remember the physical pain of childbirth, and the mental heartbreak of having to give that child up. It had to take tremendous courage and strength on her part to do so. And perhaps today she wonders what became of me. Maybe she even cries, I don't know.

Back in 2013, the wonderful actress Judi Dench stared in a movie named “Philomena” about a young Irish-Catholic girl who at 15 finds herself pregnant and is sent to a convent to give birth. The nuns then “sell” her baby to be adopted by an American couple. The movie opens with her crying on what was her son’s 50th birthday, and her saying a prayer and lighting a candle for him. The movie then chronicles her search for her son. I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve seen it you’ll know what a wonderful heart wrenching story it is, and if you haven’t, well do yourself a favor and rent/borrow/stream it at your next opportunity.

So somewhere out there is my equivalent of Judi Dench – Philomena. Something I never really thought about until I’d seen the movie, and I can’t help but wonder what she thinks on this day every year. Perhaps its because I’d seen a clip of Ms. Dench last night that this thought popped up while I was walking today. And while I have no strong desire to reconnect or develop a relationship with this unknown lady (and to be fair, the unknown man who had something to do with it too), I would, if given the chance, say how profoundly grateful I am for her courage and strength to give me up to my parents so that I could have the wonderful life I’ve been so fortunate to live these past 56 years, and that I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

I’m not one to deal in “unknowns” and “what ifs”. I don’t waste time and wonder what my life would have been like had she not given me up and raised me herself -- it would have been what it was. But on this day, if she’s wondering if I’ve had a good life, and if I’m happy, the answer to that is emphatically yes! In no small part it’s because she had the courage to give me up for adoption some 56 years ago.  For that I’m very grateful. And as Judi Dench as Queen Victoria said, in the clip from Victoria and Abdul that I saw last night “Happy Birthday to me!”

December QuickThrottle Column

I really never have understood why police officers and their union tend to band together regardless of how bad an actor they may have in their ranks. Last summer a clearly rogue police officer with multiple complaints against him for road rage, lost it with a biker who was fortunate enough to film him with a helmet cam. And despite this, and despite a personal apology from the King County Sheriff, the officer has yet to be disciplined and remains on paid leave. We clearly need more civilian oversight of the police, and that is the topic of my last column this year in QuickThrottle. (BTW, I've gotten a few comments from readers about my new column photo -- it's not too bad on this month's header...)
No one likes having to interact with the police. Either you are dealing with something bad that has happened to you like a robbery, or you are being stopped for something you may have done. Neither is fun. Getting pulled over while driving is always a nerve-wracking experience just by the simple nature of what is taking place.  You are being stopped by a police officer for violating a law. You look back, see the lights flashing, you wonder “what have I done?” and start to pull over to the side of the road. A rather intimidating person then walks up and starts to question you while you nervously hand over your driver’s license, insurance information and vehicle registration. You try to smile through your nervousness. You have a sinking feeling. You might be lucky and just get a lecture or a warning, or you might get slapped with a huge fine depending on the mood of the officer and the nature of the violation. And that’s when the officer is going by the book and doing what he was trained and what we pay him to do. We’ve all been there -- some of us more than others.

But imagine being in a similar situation only with a rogue officer who is clearly out of control, is not acting according to established protocol, and all while you are sitting on your motorcycle in traffic. This is what happened to a rider by the name of Alex Randall in the Seattle area this summer.  Fortunately for all of us, he was wearing a Go-Pro camera on his helmet that filmed the entire encounter, then uploaded it to You Tube where it went viral and was broadcast widely on both local and national media.  If you haven’t seen it, here’s the URL:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSNb6NPoCy0

The “officer” (and I use that term loosely as he is in no way acting as a true officer would) has been identified as a King County Sheriff detective named Richard Rowe. He has worked for the King County Sheriff’s office for 19 years, and is currently assigned to the Woodinville Police Department which is staffed by the KCSO. King County Sheriff John Urquhart, who lost his seat in last month’s election, was so disturbed by the video that he personally called Randall and apologized, and promptly placed Rowe on “Administrative Leave” while the incident is investigated.

It’s now four months later – so where do things stand now? Unfortunately still in limbo. Nothing has happened, except that the King County Prosecutor has declined to press criminal charges. I’ve not yet heard back from the King County Prosecutors office as to why that determination was made. The administrative investigation being conducted by the Sheriff’s office is still ongoing, and a final determination of any disciplinary action against Rowe is still weeks away (as of press time in mid November) and may even be left up to the new incoming Sheriff.
Meanwhile, Rowe is still on administrative leave, drawing a paycheck for the last four months, sitting at home, while the King County Sheriff’s office continues the investigation. Turns out however that Rowe has had three other complaints filed against him for similar conduct in the past and, guess what?  Yep, he was never disciplined. Here we have an obviously unsuitable officer that is allowed to continue on the force.  Surprise! There’s that “thin blue line” again, bolstered by the wall of police officer unions. If I were a police officer or union official I’d be mad as hell, just as the Sheriff was, that someone like Rowe continues to be employed, represented by my union, and smearing the reputation of the department and the vast majority of officers who are upstanding if not heroic in their jobs.

It’s going to be hard to ignore this incident I hope – it was captured on video for all to see. Mr. Randall is fortunate that he recorded the encounter, otherwise he’d have no proof. I’m seeing a lot of riders wearing these cameras now. I own a couple and have made some nice fun videos, but don’t want to wear one on top of my helmet all the time, but maybe we all should. At least until it’s mandated that all police officers wear body cameras. It’s unfortunate that it appears body cams are going to be a sad necessity to prove cases like this – both for the citizens making a valid complaint and for the officer who’s wrongly accused.

Down the road what is also needed is more civilian oversight of the police force. Limited oversight of officer misconduct complaints in the King County Sheriff’s office are handled by the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), which reports to the King County Council. In King County it works like this: when someone makes a complaint against an officer, it is the Internal Investigation Unit that first classifies the complaint in one of three categories, but only the most serious one results in an investigation and disciplinary action, the other two do not. However, it is the officer’s compatriots who make those decisions, both classification and conducting the investigation. There is not an independent outside body involved at all.  Perhaps that needs to change.

One way to fix some of these problems would be to put some civilian oversight on the complaint process and investigation. Legislation to do just that – to allow the OLEO to have more involvement and oversight in the process passed the King County Council, but since then has been tied up in collective bargaining with the union representing officers. Our riding groups and their representatives were successful a few years ago with legislation on the state level prohibiting profiling of bikers by police. Maybe they should get involved in getting more civilian oversight of our police forces as well.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 
We are very fortunate – indeed blessed – here in the Western US to have a number of wonderful National Parks and Monuments. I grew up tromping around Arches and Bryce Canyon in Utah as a child, and my home here in California is literally walking distance from the southern border of Joshua Tree National Park. I often walk up to the edge of the town to a marker that delineates the park boundary although access to the park itself is about 20 miles away. The corner of the park near me and the portion on the mountains near my house that I look at from my back yard is in the back-country part of Joshua Tree.

But that doesn’t stop me from going hiking and camping in the park and taking visitors and friends up through the main section of Joshua Tree when I can.  As often as I’ve driven through it or hiked its trails, I still always marvel at the wonderful rock formations and the forests of Joshua Trees for which the park is named (actually it’s a variant of the Yucca plant and not technically a “tree”). The Joshua Tree was named by early Mormon settlers who thought the upright arms looked like the biblical prophet Joshua.
My somewhat frequent posts on visits to Joshua Tree however prompted a former colleague and friend (and Civil War expert) from my days wandering the Washington State Capitol to ask me to chase a ghost for him in the park – quite literally.

It seems that the legendary guitarist and songwriter Gram Parsons – who played with such great bands as The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, who toured with The Rolling Stones, and sang duets with one of my all-time favorite singers, Emmylou Harris, was rather enamored with Joshua Tree Park, and he died of a drug overdose at the Joshua Tree Inn just outside the park. To fulfill his last wish, he was partially cremated by friends in the park where he wanted his ashes scattered. And so, this past weekend my guy Eric and I decided to head up to Joshua Tree on a cloudy Sunday afternoon to chase the ghost of Gram Parsons and his story and see what we could find.

Just outside of the park entrance is the Joshua Tree Inn. It’s a wonderful small motel that does a good business – both because of its location and charm, and because of music fans paying tribute to Parsons. It even advertises itself as the “Home of Gram Parson’s Spirit”.

He died in Room 8 of the Inn. According to the manager who was kind enough to let us wander the property, there is nothing left inside the room from the day he died some 44 years ago – September 9, 1973 – except for a mirror on the wall. Fans can reserve that room specifically if they wish, and many do, as it's not available to walk up guests -- it was occupied the day we were there.
Outside of the room is a guitar shaped memorial, where fans leave mementos and comments and occasionally light candles.
When he was found unresponsive in his room, he was taken to the nearby High Desert Hospital where he was pronounced dead. His family wanted a funeral in Louisiana where he was from, but his manager and friends wanted to fulfill his last wish of being cremated and ashes scattered in Joshua Tree National Park. So, impersonating funeral home workers and driving a friends vintage hearse, they managed to convinced Western Airlines in Los Angeles International Airport to release the body which was waiting to be flown to New Orleans to them. They drove it up to the park, and in the middle of the night, doused the open casket with five gallons of gas and tossed in a match.

The giant fireball was noticed by nearby campers who called the police and park rangers who gave chase.  The culprits ran -- in the hearse, and evaded police because, as they later said, "the police had the handicap of being sober."  They were later arrested -- Gram’s manager and his accomplice friend – not for stealing the body, but for stealing the casket and destroying it, and fined $750 dollars for creating a nuisance. At least, as Arlo Gutherie would sing in Alice's Restaurant, they didn't have to "pick up the garbage" as well -- that being what was left after the fire was put out.

The story is that he was cremated at Cap Rock in the park – a large pile of boulders with one that looks like a “cap” on top of it. Now days it’s a popular climbing rock with a picnic area at the base.
However, the actual cremation – or partial cremation as the body wasn’t completely consumed and about 35 pounds of him was left once the fire was extinguished – took place in an open field a few hundred yards away from the rock.  The National Park Service doesn’t advertise what happened here, and rangers are given the option of telling the tale or not when asked. It’s not listed on any of the park maps or brochures.  A cement slab was put in by Gram’s fans shortly after the cremation, but the park service removed it and it now resides at the Joshua Tree Inn outside Room 8 and serves as the base for the guitar memorial.
Yet all the same, fans of the late musician build memorials in a little cove on Cap Rock’s base that people have mistakenly assumed is where the body was burned. They leave small crosses in the rocks, CD cases, carve things in the stone, and sometime even leave a bottle of Jack Daniels. And campers in the nearby Hidden Valley campground have said they’ve seen a mysterious fire in a field sometimes at night, and the Joshua Tree Inn is said to house his spirit and music sometimes can be heard from room 8.But to me, Joshua Tree is magical not because of the ghost of Gram Parsons, or his music – but because of the wonderful trees and rock formations that are forever protected because of this National Park designation. At night, there are more stars than you’ve ever seen, and during the day, on quiet ones especially when it isn’t inundated by tourists, the desert here is wonderful, and I love walking among the boulders and rocks, looking at the fantastic Joshua Trees that grow only in this area, and enjoying sitting on a ledge staring out at the desert solitude.

November QuickThrottle Column

Seven years ago this month I wrote my first Road Signs column for QuickThrottle magazine. It's been a wonderful experience and I'm flattered and  honored that the publisher, Mike Dalgaard has let me spout off and annoy the readers of the magazine for these many years. This month however marks a transition -- Mike sold the magazine and we have a new publisher. Welcome to Michael Cupp who takes over with this issue. He says that things will not change, (except for my column photo -- they requested something "with my shirt buttoned") and to keep doing what I'm doing. So I will... And here is my column for November...a look at the changing demographics of the sport....
Everywhere around it seems there are signs reminding me of my advancing age, especially when I watch TV. I turn 56 later this year and I realize I’m still on the “not so old” side of the equation, especially among the riding community. But nonetheless, I’m getting to the point where I’m closer to the eligibility ages for Medicare and Reverse Mortgages than I used to be, but thankfully not old enough yet to make the “walk-in-tub” and “stair-lift” demographic. Hopefully that will be another twenty years or so.

But like I said, in the motorcycle community I’m still a bit of a “youngster”, or so I’m constantly reminded. Looking over a number of marketing and demographic studies, it seems that more than half of the motorcycle riding community is age fifty and older, and nearly half of that group is age 60 and older. So is it any wonder that Harley-Davidson’s giant cruiser bikes are nicknamed “Geezer Glides”?  Revisiting my HOG chapter friends, it seems the older they get, the bigger the bikes get. But not me, I still seem to be a bit of an anomaly riding a bagged-out plain Dyna and a Nightster as my main rides. I’m not sure I ever will go the route of the full-fledged half a car with all the creature comforts locomotive sized bike – or if I do I will be dragged kicking and screaming.

But what does our aging demographic hold for the future of the sport? The Motorcycle Industry Council reports that bike sales last year were half as many as a decade ago when they were at their peak. Yeah, we had a major recession in that time, but car sales have rebounded while bike sales have not.  Bikes for most folks are a discretionary purchase. For some of us they aren’t – it’s a lifeblood – we have to have a bike. Like the Harley motto – we live to ride. But for most people it’s a luxury, and not for when we are young and just starting out in life, even if we grew up riding. Bike manufacturers targeted that older market, and pretty much won us over. But that generational timebomb of geezers on glides doesn’t bode well for the future of the sport or the industry. Younger riders are not flocking to riding classes or to motorcycle dealers. Is it time to sell that chunk of Harley stock that’s sitting in my IRA I wonder?

I’m not selling. Not just yet anyway. Harley’s been around since 1903. They know what they are doing. Have you noticed the trend in Harley’s marketing these days? It’s pretty much all geared towards younger riders on smaller bikes. Giant baggers are out as the major focus of marketing, and smaller, blacked out Dynas and Sportsters and Softtails are in. The Sturgis demographic is getting less of the marketing dollars and the Coachella demographic is getting more. For those of you in the Sturgis generation who don’t winter in Palm Springs, Coachella is the three-weekend giant music festival in the desert each winter that attracts virtually every millennial in the United States to come party --  and for those of us who winter in the desert to flee.

Harley’s entry into this market, which came out in 2010, is the Street 500 and Street 700. And just like Cadillac changed its marketing and styling and even bragged “this isn’t your Grandma’s Caddy”, these little Harley’s are a far cry from the Geezer Glide. They even come in cheaper than the old “entry level” Harley, the venerable Sportster. I had a chance to ride a Street 500 this winter when I dropped a friend off at the Harley riding school. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a hell of a lot of fun to ride and a great bike – even a bit more zippy than my beloved Nightster. The other major manufacturers all came up with similar new models aimed squarely at the urban millennial generation too.

So why am I not seeing more of these bikes on the road? These are perfect rides for those herds of Amazonians wandering around downtown Seattle these days, and would be ideal for zipping up to their overpriced small apartment on Capitol Hill after work, and then out and around Mt. Rainier on the weekend. Sales stats for smaller bikes, with engines 600ccs or less increased nearly 12 percent in the past couple of years, while the giant bikes increased only 7 percent. They sell well in Europe, where small motorcycles and scooters are what most young people drive every day as opposed to cars. Car ownership in Europe is less than in the US – it’s prohibitively expensive over there, and public transportation abounds – two things lacking in the US. Although we are rapidly approaching the sky-high costs of Europe, especially in Seattle with those damn Sound Transit fees. I’ve said it before, if policy makers are serious about reducing car miles traveled, they should encourage motorcycles and scooters. It fits the “green” thinking and the lifestyle of the millennial, who if they adopted in droves, would make a serious dent in traffic congestion. But that’s another story for another day.

It remains to be seen if these new little rides will lure new riders to replace us old geezers as we slow down and stop buying our glides. I hope it does. We need new riders to breathe new life into this sport. Lets just hope there are still roads for them to ride on and explore when they do. Maybe multi-day cross country excursions on big rigs, or what my Harley sales friend Vik calls “Harleybagos”, are over, and quick day trips are going to be in. It fits the millennial lifestyle perfectly.

Meanwhile I’ll be watching for the vendor lineup for the Coachella next year. If Harley’s smart they’ll bring their Sturgis tent to the desert this Spring. About the same time I’ll be loading up the Dyna and riding off somewhere to escape the crowds and traffic those weekends. If they do that – start marketing to the Coachella crowd like they do the Sturgis crowd -- I’ll know the future generation of our beloved sport is safe and secure and not to sell the Harley stock in my IRA.

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