Archive for January, 2009

Zen and the Art of Buying a Motorcycle

Friday, January 30th, 2009

I am an occasional user of Facebook. I first got an account just to keep an eye on my kids. Over time, however, I “ran into” a lot of old friends and it was great making connections with them. Although I probably look at my page every day or so, I rarely post anything new to it. I’m annoyed by people who constantly twitter whatever they’re doing at the time, no matter how uninteresting it may be to others. Too often, their twitters are simple subtle (or not so subtle) crowing.

I don’t think I was guilty of this myself, but, perhaps so, when I set my status a couple of weeks to indicate that “Manny is looking for the ideal motorcycle.” For sure, it indicates that I can economically and psychologically afford spending money on a dangerous toy. Someday, I’ll write a post summarizing the idea of “biological handicaps and mating rituals”. The idea (not mine) is that the same way that some animals have ridiculous physical handicaps (e.g. peacock plumes), humans exhibit “handicaps” (long fingernails, expensive cars, anorexic bodies) that similarly say, “you should have sex with me because I’m so cool that I can handle the burden of this stupidity.”

What surprised me about the post was the number of responses that I got from my friends. No, not a single woman offered to have sex with me (not even my wife who is very hesistant to support or discourage my plan in any way). Rather, a bunch of guys all chimed in with advice about what motorcycle to buy.

What a great conversation opener! Several people whom I didn’t know rode motorcyles, gave me valuable insights and offered up pictures of their own bikes. I got so much traffic, I had to “clear” my Facebook status.

In addition to talking to friends, I’ve also been visiting a lot of motorcycle dealerships. There’s actually not that many of them in the Seattle area. I think our weather has a lot to do with this (riding is mostly a summer event around here), but the economy is playing a role, too. A Honda dealership in Seattle closed down recently.

Each dealer, of course, tries to steer you to whatever they think they can sell you. If you go in asking for a sport bike, they’ll tell you that a 100hp+ bike with a ton of torque is just fine for beginners. Ditto if you ask for a 250cc off-roader or a 2000cc touring bike.

My favorite approach, however, was the one taken by the BMW dealer. He asked, “what is your fantasy?”. He clearly understood that, when people are buying motorcycles, they’re buying more than transportation. True, people who buy Porsche’s or Prius’ are driven by fantasies, too, but those who buy Toyota Camrys are just looking at getting from point A to point B.

My motorcycle fantasy involves several things:

  • A bike that’s comfortable to ride (not easy being 6’6″)
  • One that will be easy to handle (I am a newbie rider)
  • A bike that’s underpowered enough to keep me out of trouble (while I learn) but powerful enough to take me on short (<500 mile) tours without rattling my bones too much
  • A bike that fits my personality

The first 3 points are mostly one’s of geometry and engineering. The last point, however, is much more difficult to quantify. Certain bikes are associated with certain personalities. Here are some personal observations/stereotypes:

  • Harley Davidson – someone who buys an HD would probably buy a Hummer. 20 years ago, an HD rider would work as a bouncer at a dive bar. Today, an HD rider is probably upper-middle class, 50 years old, and rides less than 1000 miles a year.
  • Ducati – this person would probably buy a Land Rover or Jaguar in spite of their terrible quality records. Probably a 40-year old, overpaid, middle-manager or lawyer.
  • BMW – drives a Lexus LS460 sedan and buys $100 Bordeaux’s. A 40-year old successful executive.
  • Anything Japanese – a baby boomer who’s never bought an American car. Shops at Whole Foods.
  • Triumph/Indian/Beull/Moto Guzzi – anyone who doesn’t fit into the above categories

Personally, I love the looks of the retro bikes (Triumph, Indian), do not fit on a Ducati, and can’t quite bring myself to pay BMW prices. Ultimately, I’ll want a touring bike (maybe HD, maybe not), but will probably start out Japanese (Suzuki V-Strom 650).

In spite of the grueling personal self-examination that’s involved, I’m having fun looking at motorcycles. I take my safety class at the end of February and hope to be on the road by mid-March!

Always Be What You Is

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Today’s number: 17.3 stone

When I was a kid, I used to watch a lot of cartoons. They were great back then. Superheroes. Herculoids. Foghorn Leghorn. Tom and Jerry seriously murdering each other. The later Saturday fare (Archies, Smurfs, The Banana Splits, et. al.) always seemed to feature insipid characters trying to indoctrinate the viewer to be Good Citizens. I’ll take mindless violence anyday.

To this day, for reasons that are unclear, I remember a particular cartoon from the 60’s: “Tooter Turtle”. It was definitely in the Indoctrination category than in the Fostering Future Felons genre, but it made an impression on me, perhaps through sheer repetition. In each episode, Tooter Turtle (a stupid turtle) would insist that his friend, Mr. Wizard (a lizard), would turn him into something else. Tooter would ask to be a knight or a hunter or a sky diver and Mr. Wizard would oblige. Tooter would then experience an episode (possibly hallucinogenic) where he would see what it was like to be this alternate identity, would get into trouble and would end up with the same moan: “Help me, Mr. Wizard!”. The wizard would hear him, incite his magic incantation (or, perhaps, inject the turtle with Thorazine) and Tooter would return to reality. Mr. Wizard would then repeat his oft-repeated mantra, “Be just vhat you is, not vhat you is not. Folks vhat do zis are ze happiest lot.” You could tell the Wizard was wise due to his German accent.

“Always be what you is” (attributed to “Dennis Ross” but clearly ripped off from Tooter Turtle) is a good motto to live by. To me, it’s a corollary of “don’t regret your mistakes” and “never look back.” Let me explain.

We are the total sum of every decision we’ve ever made and every random happenstance that has affected us. Just as the flap of a butterfly’s wing could have caused hurricane Katrina, so might have any change in our past decisions and circumstances caused us to become different people.

If I’d not sold Microsoft stock to build a house in 1993, I might have an extra $5M in my bank account. If I’d not eaten all those cookies, I might weigh 30 pounds less. If I’d taken my father to the doctor more often, perhaps he’d be alive today. Perhaps, but then, again, I wouldn’t be me. Oh, I’d have the same DNA and many other recognizable characteristics but the things that define who I am, at this moment, would be different.

Perhaps, I’d be in a different job. Perhaps I would have left Microsoft early and started a company and made a killing in the dot com days. Perhaps I would have started and lost it all. Perhaps, being 30 pounds lighter, I’d assume myself to be healthier, would have never exercised and would have died from a heart attack 5 years ago. Perhaps, I’d be agonizing over putting my father in a nursing home.

Unless you are truly despondent and have absolutely nothing in your current life that you would keep (in which case, you need more than a change in mottos), you should accept the wisdom and folly of everything you’ve ever done. You are the sum of every decision you’ve and every random happenstance in your past. There is no more point in regretting your mistakes than in wishing you were someone else. Always be what you is.

Turning 50

Friday, January 16th, 2009

This post is a bit premature as I’ve still got a year to go or so (Jan 17, 2010). Nevertheless, given the significance of the semi-centennial, I am starting my party planning early.

It is my sentiment that celebrating the big “L” (as Julius Caesar referred to it) should be a significant event. What I’ve done is to ask a set of friends to celebrate it with me (most of them are L-ish, too) by proposing some adventure. As long as they’re willing to do it with me and the adventure entails an equal challenge for both of us, I’m game. I’ve suggested that the adventure involve a certain degree of discomfort if not danger. Not “work as an Arabic translator in Mosul”-type danger but perhaps “jump out of an airplane”- or “take a long sail”- type danger. After all, what better way to feel alive than to face death (if only at a hundred paces)?

So far my friends have responded with a language immersion trip (Chinese), a motorcycle trip and golf in far-flung places. I’m still hoping for a long hike, sail or kayak trip, too, maybe a safari. For sure, this will justify buying the Canon 5D Mark II.

Admittedly, these are indulgences. I figure a budget of $50k (naturally) will probably cover all the activities. Although this is a lot of money, it’s cheaper than buying a Porsche 911. Yes, the money would be better spent donating it to UNICEF. I prefer to view this as my own personal economic stimulus package.

When I do embark on these, I’ll try to post here as I experience each adventure. First stop: motorcycle lessons in February.