City of Bismarck resumes annual program to maim motorcyclists

…who knows, maybe this year they’ll kill one!

I’ve got a really big chip on my shoulder, and my arms, and my legs, and my helmet, and a few other places about this issue. The issue is called “chip seal,” and it’s an extreme hazard to motorcyclists.

I took photos today to illustrate my story, which transpired last night. I was out for a leisurely cruise on the big bike when I came around the corner at the south end of Sertoma park…

Note the absence of any signs indicating that trouble might be lurking around the bend. Note how far from the actual corner the streetlight is placed. A motorcyclist would have no apparent need to think that anything is amiss in this corner…would they?

Here’s what greeted me at the exit of the corner. I will be the first to admit that the photo is underwhelming. It’s just not possible to convey a patch of gravel like this, especially not in a picture 500 pixels wide. But put a motorcycle on it, especially one that is leaned over coming out of a corner, and it’s like throwing a guy on a sea of marbles and giving him a good shove. Imagine how much fun that can be…especially with all those curbs around!

I was seriously injured in an accident due to a similar situation: chip seal gravel spread several inches thick on the crest of a hill, in a corner, where there was no illumination from streetlights. I was the first rider in a group, the only one without a passenger. I hit the gravel leaned over into the corner and almost saved it, but the bike went out from under me. I won’t give you a description of my injuries, because they’re pretty nasty. I’ve got photos and horrible scars to prove it. If I had not been wearing my helmet I would certainly have died…I slid straight toward a curb, hitting it hard enough to take a chip out of the concrete. I was able to push away from the bike at the last instant, thankfully. The gravel rolled up the sleeve of my riding jacket, allowing lots of damage to my arm. It also sliced right through my pants, and that was even worse. The rest I’ll leave up to the imagination. Thankfully we had a doctor, and RN, and a surgical technician there that night…I think God was really taking care of us that evening.

So, along comes the City of Bismarck, spreading gravel in dark corners with no signage. They own thousands of dollars worth of big orange signs saying “FRESH OIL – LOOSE ROCK” but only put them up in well lit areas around downtown. They won’t put them where real danger exists. A couple of years ago I saw a crew chip-sealing Fox Island Road, including the tight unlit corner at the end. I saw the foreman sitting in his truck, rolled up on my motorcycle, and asked if they were going to be putting signs up at either end. I explained that the gravel is dangerous to motorcyclists who can’t see it that easily in the dark. He gave me some smart-ass answer and just stared at me with a stupid grin. These are the people entrusted with our safety, and I guess the signs stay on the truck.

This is an annual thing, obviously. Those of us with a lot of motorcycling experience know that mid-June means surprises are even more likely around every corner in town. How many new riders know that? They stand to learn a very important, possibly painful, lesson that motorcyclists must always be twice as vigilant as your average cage (I’m sorry, car) driver out there.

With all the rich folks riding Harley-Davidsons™ these days, it’d be interesting to see some high-priced attorney lay down his Hog on some unmarked gravel, then heal up just enough to sue the living pants off the city. I’m not a fan of liability litigation, but I’ve been making noise on this matter for over ten years. Nobody’s listening. So if you’re a motorcyclist and are reading this, be warned: the City of Bismarck, in its negligence and carelessness, is setting the traps for you. Pay extra attention when you’re riding out there.

On Saturday the Patriot Guard Riders and their supporters gathered to support the second of two families grieving the loss of young soldiers. We had a rider’s meeting at 8:00 am, well before the funeral, for people to gather and for protocols to be set. We easily had two or three times as many bikes as on Thursday, likely because more people could make it than on Thursday. There were trucks with coolers full of water and ice tea for the riders, and it quickly got warm enough for us to need it; after all, leather’s pretty toasty.

We were briefed by the Patriot Guard leaders and instructed to just ignore the protesters if any showed. Our primary mission is to support and honor the fallen soldier, his family, and the community. I’d like to think we did just that.

Protesters? What protesters? We were not there to acknowledge any. Again, our mission is one of patriotic support. We kept our flags held high and kept our back to anyone who might have a different motive, as we were allowed to be in front of the public or anyone else who might decide to show.

This line of supporters was a block long and pretty deep. Many veterans were in attendance. I saw local officers I know, wearing their Blue Knight colors. I also saw a few friends who are active duty Guard members. We had a diverse crowd again; sportbikes, Harleys, import cruisers, sidecar rigs, Gold Wings…the works.

It’s that unity that makes this day even more special. There were a few times I was greeted by a friend I hadn’t seen forever…Sid Hardt, one of my favorite all time DJ’s; Gary, an old riding acquaintance and teller of tall tales; some of the guys from Mandan PD. If you want to talk about diversity…come hang out in this crowd. This isn’t the kind of “diversity” that divides people; rather, we were united. And that in itself is an emotional experience.

Even the youngsters were there on their rides! They didn’t have any leather jackets or chaps though. Give them a few years, maybe they’ll grow up to be Patriot Guard riders! These kids apparently were from the neighborhood, not part of our riding group…lots of people other than that Patriot Guard Riders came to show their support.

Whenever a uniformed soldier went past to enter the church, the crowd applauded. Most of them were tearful at the display of support for them and their mission; they’re modest about what they do. We don’t underestimate their bravery and commitment, and it’s great to have the opportunity to applaud them and their service.

The Governor was there, of course…he and Mikey thanked the people gathered to support Travis’ family. Rep. Earl Pomeroy was there as well, only one day after he voted NO on a bill in the US House declaring “that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.” You’re not fooling anyone, Earl.

Again, no images from the ride; but I can sum it up for you:

Today, as expected, there was an even greater showing of support along the procession route. There were a lot of people with homemade signs applauding Travis, his family, our military forces, and our country.

Officers and military were all along the route, sharply saluting as the flag and procession went by. There were many soldiers in uniform along our route, lined up in uniform. I saw a lot of flags. A LOT of flags. Many were homemade. Taking the time to sit down and make a sign or a flag to come and stand in the heat and show support is not an impulsive thing; these people are patriots.

It was good to see employees of businesses along the route lined up as well. The median along Memorial Highway in Bismarck had a lot of people standing on the grass. The crews from the car dealerships were there. The fellas from Schwan’s quick lube building were out, hands over their hearts, as the flag went by. The staff of Roughrider Harley-Davidson were lined up tightly along the road in front of their dealership; they were busy with an annual charity day for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, but stopped the festivities as the procession went by. The most beautiful woman in the world was standing there too, looking on in a spring dress…she doesn’t really understand why I’m such a motorcycle and speed enthusiast, but she understands that I am.

All the way to the Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery we saw cars pulled over with people standing in support. There was a crane with the flag held high above the boom. People young and old, clean cut and otherwise all took part in this day. As Travis’ loved ones look back on this day I hope that’s the memory that they keep with them.

I can’t imagine that lonely ride down Highway 1806, knowing that their beloved soldier isn’t coming back. But hundreds, probably thousands of people stood with you that day. As most of the homemade signs said, “God Bless America” and “God Bless Our Troops!”

Tears in the helmet today

As you know, today was the funeral for Curtis Mehrer, one of two fallen Bismarck soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Over 200 motorcyclists, myself included, were in attendance to support his family and loved ones, brothers and sisters in arms, and to make sure no monkey business took place. Fortunately the Phelps jackasses did not show, although I am told they have a permit to protest on Saturday morning.

Many of these men and women would have been here anyway, I’m sure; there were many veterans among the ranks of the riders. These riders are no strangers to the flag or the uniform and the respect they are due. While there was a solemn air over the grounds today, there was also a sense of brotherhood.

As you can imagine, ALL branches of local and state law enforcement were present. If any weirdos were to try crashing this affair, they could be dealt with. It’s uncommon to see the “bad biker” types standing around with law enforcement, so it was nice to see the stereotypes shattered for a little while. I can only describe the attitudes there as “professional courtesy.” We got a lot of waves from city, county, and state officers.

As the procession exited the church the soldiers were sharply at attention. Also standing tall were the biker guard, flags held high with pride and respect for the fallen soldier. The loss of this young man is sobering…also sobering was the atmosphere here as we united in respect of the sacrifice he made for his country.

I really didn’t like the feeling of being among the photographers outside the funeral. It feels cheap. But I wasn’t there to get a “scoop” or to try to get hits for my silly little blog; I was there to ride, and to bring back images to show you the honor and respect shown here today. Thankfully this family didn’t have to deal with the horror of protests; I’m sure today was overwhelming enough. But maybe they’ll see some of these pictures someday and recall how people came out to honor their son.

The riders were given the duty of escorts out to the Veteran’s cemetery at Fort Abraham Lincoln. This is a remarkable duty, one we should feel honored to receive. Many of the officers in attendance and others coming out of the church were shaking our hands and patting us on the back as they walked past the lines of motorcycles. I think they were relieved that there weren’t any protestors and were reassured that people were lined up to protect the dignity of the ceremony.

Obviously I can’t take pictures and ride safely at the same time, so I have none. But among some of the other images I have, I’ll tell you what I did see.

I was overwhelmed with patriotic pride and emotion as we left the church to see people stopped on along our way and on the street corners to pay their respects to this young man, his family, and the other soldiers. There were flags on cars and flags being held and waved. All the way the procession and flag were saluted.

As we passed by many of the businesses we saw lines of uniformed employees standing at attention… Cedric Theel Toyota, Schwann Pontiac, Open Road Honda and Roughrider Harley-Davidson, Bill Barth Ford, and many others let their employees stand for this man.

Public and private road crews working along our route stopped and saluted. One worker cheered with both hands in the air as a motorcycle with a large flag went by. I saw moms point at the flag as we passed and explain to their kids. One mom with her children stood by the Sitting Bull Bridge in Mandan, hands over their hearts as the flag went by.

Along the route I saw lots of cars and trucks, many of them work vehicles, stopped and their occupants standing by the side of the road. As we rode down Highway 1806 towards Fort Lincoln I saw more vehicles pulled over, some with their hats in hand over their hearts.

That’s my America. These are the people that liberals scoff at as uneducated, superstitious morons. These people have respect for our soldiers, our flag, and the country they represent. They know the meaning of the words respect and honor. They’re aware of something bigger than themselves, and I don’t mean global warming. They’re aware that soldiers risk their lives every day so that we can enjoy the freedoms we do, and honor that. Hundreds of them showed that honor and respect today.

You see, these people certainly weren’t saluting the bikers, although there are many veterans among the riders. They were saluting something greater, something even bigger than Curtis and Travis. They were saluting our country, our God-given freedoms and those who sacrifice to protect them.

Of course we were all there today to honor a fallen soldier, to remind ourselves that he willingly gave his life because he pledged to do so, and served when his country called. We also honor the loss of those who were close to him and whose grief is so great. Such soldiers tend to be very modest about what they do. Their sense of duty is what helps us sleep at night. Americans who serve when called and put their nation before themselves make our country great.

It’s pretty sobering to be a part of a procession like that, to see such patriotism poured out. I suppose that’s why I’m being dramatic in my writing. But today I saw honor and respect on display, the likes of which should be a part of every day in America. Rather than hear soldiers being accused of atrocities and war crimes by politicians with a (D) next to their name, I’d just like to see everybody show more respect for our military, our flag, and our country. Today the street corners and parkings lots had many people doing just that.

That’s the part that had me teary-eyed. I can’t talk about how I knew Curtis and Travis…I didn’t. Some people from my church did. But I got to see a lot of people who never knew them — all kinds of people, lots of them taking time from work — who still feel a sense of connection and a wish to honor these men. North Dakota has a lot of soldiers serving overseas right now. They do so for our sakes. How could a person not feel a connection to them?

There were so many motorcycles that, doubled up, we still took the length of Memorial Highway. Once we got to the cemetery we had to go all the way around the circular road to let the rest of the procession in. It was at this time that I needed to get back to work; I’m one of the fortunate ones who was able to take time to participate and show support, but I also had responsibilities back at the shop.

At least one guy there told me that his boss told all his employees a few days ago that if they were participating today, to “make sure you put it on your time card. YOU’RE GETTING PAID.” Amen to that! Obviously we have a pretty high ratio of patriots in Bismarck-Mandan.

I took the big bike today. Normally I’d be really out of place among so many “bikers”; sportbike riders and Harley riders don’t exactly mix. But on a day like today we were all unified. I kinda get a pass on circulating with the Harley guys, since I’ve moonlighted for a pair of Harley-Davidson shops for ten years, and I’ve met some of these guys through ABATE. But today we were all one pack, riding in support of those who have lost their son, their brother, their friend.

What lies before us now? The ugly business of dealing with the wackos on Saturday. I pray they just don’t show up at all. It would be best if we were just able to honor these fallen soldiers without having to deal with a freakshow. In any case, the bikers will be there to make sure the family doesn’t have that awful task.

What a way to celebrate Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this, but while my drywall mud is setting I had a few minutes to think about it. This article comes (with permission to publish) from my friend Jason over at KFYR Radio News:

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) The Highway Patrol says man riding a motorcycle was arrested and ticketed for traveling 101 miles over the speed limit.
Troopers say 19-year-old Vitaly Poberezhnik (POH’-bears-nick) was clocked at 176 miles per hour Friday afternoon.
Captain Mark Bethke says the motorcycle was clocked from a trooper airplane, about 10 miles east of Bismarck on Interstate-94.
Bethke says the trooper who made the traffic stop said he could hear the motorcycle coming before he saw it. The trooper says it was just a blur as it went past.
Bethke says Poberezhnick was issued tickets for speeding and reckless driving.
Bethke says the fee for going 176 miles an hour in a 75 mile an hour zone is 505 dollars. He says Poberezhnik license is suspended, and 15 points have been charged to his license. That means he doesn’t have it any more.
Bethke says it’s the fastest speeding ticket he can recall in North Dakota.

So here’s my random thoughts on the whole deal:

It would be kinda hypocritical for me to be too hard on this guy, since I’ve done 176 mph on numerous occasions and been pulled over a few times for goofing around on one motorcycle or another. I could almost say I haven’t had a ticket this century, but sadly I did have a bit of an infraction in 2000. But we’re violation-free ever since. But there I go digressing again.

Apparently this guy was also involved in that multi-bike crash on March 8th over on the Expressway Bridge, but fled. That’s according to the Bismarck Tribune article I saw, if I remember correctly. On a brand new bike…a friend of mine owns the Kawasaki shop in town, and he has seen a lot of the bikes he’s sold come back wrecked within a week, such as one of the March 8th bikes. Sad.

One thing you don’t do if you’re a speeder: do it on the Interstate or Highway 83. It’s just too heavily patroled! They got this fella with the airplane, which I didn’t know they were still using, and officers on the ground. Talk about a bad day to test out the bike.

Then there’s the fact that you ruin a new engine if you take it to top speed within a certain number of miles. I have been breaking in new sportbike engines since the 1980s and have NEVER had a bad or weak engine because I break them in properly. You do it by doing lots of short rides, getting the engine up to full temperature, making it work under moderate load and medium RPMs, then let it cool. Heat cycles and moderate load are the key. Running high RPMs on a new engine like that will either score or glaze the cylinders, and then your engine is ruined (or will never reach its full potential).

I knew right away the guy was riding a Suzuki. I too have a Suzuki 1000 and it’s pretty much the only literbike out there that can even attain such a speed. The computer shuts down the fuel at 186mph but the speedometers are slightly inaccurate, so it would indicate 186 at 176. Yamahas and Hondas can’t attain this speed, and I don’t know of any new Kawasaki 1000’s out there yet. I wish I had one, the plan was in place until I found out I was destined for daddyhood. 3 bikes is gonna have to suffice for now.

I’ve seen a lot of new riders out there this year – no helmets. No protective eyewear. No jackets in many cases. No gloves or boots. Yikes. I’m a walking scar these days due to mountain biking and other sports, including a nasty crash that hurt me really bad despite the protective gear. These days I prefer to ride in my leather racing suit; it looks like I got dragged behind the bike for a couple miles due to a few crashes on the racetrack, but I have yet to get too seriously injured while wearing it.

While it’s easy to judge the flashy bikes that look like they’re breaking the law even while they’re sitting still, I still say the percentage of Harley-Davidson® riders in this town that misbehave is as high or higher. Their bikes are louder, and since Harley riders mistake noise for horsepower, they all grab as much throttle from stoplights as they can, in order to reinforce the “bad motor scooter” stereotype they spent tens of thousands to portray. But since their ranks include doctors and lawyers and real estate agents, they’re not as easy a target. I’ll say one thing, though: you always see Harleys lined up outside the bars at night – you never see lines of sportbikes parked out there. Ponder that one for a while.

Not to excuse the behavior of sportbike riders. I’ll admit that in my younger days, I was crazier than the rest. While I’ll never be one of those guys who “used to ride,” I have tamed down a lot. But when I see newspaper reports of a guy who flipped his motorcycle over backwards in a wheelie while speeding with someone’s drunk 14 year old daughter on the back (you think I’m kidding? That HAPPENED.) it reminds me of why people glare at me when I’m doing 24.9 mph in full safety gear through their neighborhood.

One thing that none of these guys – the sportbike guys popping wheelies in traffic OR the Harley-Davidson® riders roaring around as loudly as they can – understand is that they’re not impressing anybody. All they’re doing is making people angry, and adding to the numbers of people that dislike motorcycles. They don’t care if you held a wheelie all the way across the Expressway Bridge or hit the apex perfectly around Airport Road at 120mph. They certainly don’t buy into the fallacy going around out there among the H-D crowd that “Loud Pipes Save Lives!” either. All they know is they don’t want to have to hear it, see it, dodge it. I finally figured that one out in my mid-20s.

Yep, that’s me. I know the pic is grainy – it came from video

That’s when I decided to take it to the race track. Racing allows a guy to go as fast as he wants without fear of tickets, cars, curbs, chip-seal, and (most of the time, in Minnesota) wildlife. It’s the biggest thrill, and makes street riding seem dangerous by comparison, which it truly is. Try convincing your parents or girlfriend that going faster is safer…it doesn’t really work. But it’s true – the surface conditions are known, the traffic and obstacle problem of the street isn’t there – and the fact that a guy can go out and wring his throttle hand till it’s numb and come home with a smile on his face is testament to that. I’ve crashed on the track at speeds that would land me in jail on the street, and raced the next morning. That’s where the real riding is.

What the result of this arrest, and the resulting publicity, will mean for motorcyclists is a crackdown. Any leniency motorcycle riders used to have with law enforcement is certainly spent for the year. If these new rider nippleheads keep crashing their bikes before they have time to bolt a license plate on it, my insurance will continue to go up. Hey guys, try insuring six bikes sometime – it’s not fun, even with a clear driving record! I’m actually glad I sold a few right before I got married. So I expect now, after the radio/tv/print news has told us of the latest sportbike accomplishment, to have even more dirty looks from passers-by, more self-proclaimed know-it-alls telling me how dangerous “those bikes” are, and I’m sure a second look from any law enforcement personnel in the area.

Hazardous pastime

The news has been talking this week about the hazards of motorcycling with the death of another rider west of Mandan, Neal Geiger. It was another case of the classic “I didn’t see him” syndrome from which many “cagers,” a term we motorcyclists use for car drivers, suffer.

We’re in a very tricky season. Not only are the roads still scummy and sandy from the winter, but the sun is still very low in the sky this time of year. That can make for some very dangerous visibility problems at dusk and dawn. Compound that with the fact that area cagers have probably not seen a motorcycle on the roads for several months now, aside from the diehards, so they’re just not used to looking for them on a conscious or subconscious level.

I haven’t even ridden any of my motorcycles this year. Only a couple of years ago I made a point of riding every month of the year, including ice racing. But these days I’d rather not sandblast my paint with the remainder of the winter sand, and I’m a little spooked by the whole angle-of-the-sun thing. It was that type of scenario that led to the horrible death of my friend Kirk on his Kawasaki Ninja several years ago. That kind of thing makes you think.

When one participates in high risk activities, our own vulnerabilities and mortality are something we try to brush off so they don’t interfere with the fun. But after a while, the law of averages and the benefit of experience tend to make those concerns harder and harder to put away. Maybe I’m just getting old…more or less, I’m lucky to be getting old. As several of my friends would attest, we hung it out there farther and faster than any one of us should have dared and yet survived. I’ve got the scars, the almost invisible limp, and the 24 hour pain to prove it.

I was talking with a friend today about the newspaper article about Mr. Geiger’s fatal collision, and it brought to mind memories of friends that have passed. There have been several fatalities among my friends here and abroad. One particularly awful memory was the crash of Norm Kukert, a friend who died literally right in front of another friend and me. I still can’t see a motorcycle on its side without seeing the horribly grisly accident scene. Facing not only the tragedy of a fallen friend, but also one’s own mortality staring back at you, can be a sobering event.

I remember when my friend Mike announced he was going to quit roadracing. He and his wife had a new baby boy, their first, and he decided to hang up racing for their sakes. This was interesting given his particular career, which is inherently dangerous. The next weekend, the weekend immediately following the 9/11 attacks, I was all set up and ready to race on my own. For a number of reasons I packed up my pit gear and came back to North Dakota without racing. That very weekend a young man was killed in turn 2 while his fiance and their little girl were in attendance. Suddenly Mike’s choice didn’t seem so cautious after all.

Why do I continue to ride? It’s what I am. It’s all I’ve ever known, since before I was even in first grade. It’s where I feel at home, it’s where I find peace, it’s where I find excitement and relaxation all bundled up into one. Tragedies and dangers notwithstanding, it’s where I belong.

We all take chances. Different folks have different levels of chance that they’re willing to take. Many of us will be out there this summer on two wheels, occasionally one, trying not to go pinballing between the cars of hapless drivers who “just didn’t see” us. Please take the time to watch out for motorcyclists. We’re counting on you to help lessen the risk of simply doing what we love and were born to do.

Off-road hospitality

East of Bismarck you can see this trail cut into the hills east of Midwest Motor Express. It winds all around the field along the highway and up along the hill behind the trucking company. There are No Trespassing signs posted along the side of the road. But you know what? There’s an option.

The owner of this property maintains the trail for motorcycle and ATV use. He’s been gracious enough to open it up to people who want to ride. There’s only one catch: you must stop in at the office of Midwest Motor Express and sign a waiver. It’s a shame that in today’s litigious society a guy could get sued for just about anything. This waiver shows that you agree to use the land at your own risk. I believe you must be 18 to use the trail (since you can’t sign a legal document if you’re a minor, maybe parents can sign for their kids if they agree to supervise them).

It’s a really neat trail and a lot of fun to ride. There are no big jumps that I’m aware of, just a fun trail winding over several acres. It’s really a huge trail…the pictures just can’t do it justice at only 500 pixels wide.

So if you are over 18 and you are looking for a nice place to ride, and perhaps “the Desert” is just too sandy for you, pay the nice folks at MME a visit, sign the waiver, and have fun. But please ride responsibly…don’t ruin it for everyone.

For Superbike fans, 2006 starts today

That’s right, the AMA Superbike series starts today with the Daytona Bike Week. Obviously the week started a few days ago, but today is the first day of actual races.

Naturally those of us with motorcycle roadracing disorder took off work today to watch the action. Today’s racing coverage included qualifying for the 600cc Formula Xtreme series and races in the 600cc Supersport and 1000cc Superstock classes.