How to Comment on Schools

How to Comment on Schools

As a former teacher with 31 years of experience teaching junior and senior high English, I am continually faced with an onslaught of comments about education.  Whether in the paper, on social media, or television, there are comments to be digested, regurgitated, or discarded on a daily basis.

Almost all of them are pure crap, or at the very least misguided.

Here’s a handy guide to evaluating such comments, and also a method to determine whether you yourself are entitled to offer your thoughts.

Rule #1:  It is always “our school,” or “my school,” “the school.”  It is NEVER “the schools.”

Schools are living and changing things, evolving constantly. No two are the same, and even one school will vary drastically depending on the day and time and situation.   Visit a high school a few days before prom.  Go again the week after. Different deal.   Talk to students the day before their team goes to the state tournament.  Talk to them again the day after they lose.  Talk to elementary kids during a week of mandatory testing. Talk to them again the day before the annual “field day.”  Visit a school after a community tragedy, such as a death of a student, parent, or teacher.   Visit a school in October. Go again the last week of May.

Any comment that refers to “the schools,” or “American schools” can be disregarded immediately, as it will be false to a large degree and likely has no application to any school near you.

Rule #2:  Private schools are exempt. Private schools were created for many reasons, most of them invalid. They are allowed to bypass or ignore hundreds of requirements public schools are held to.  And they are private.  Comments about private schools do not relate to schools as a whole, and should be kept – private.

Most private schools are training academies for values the parents hold dear and are willing to pay for. These may include religion, racism, elitism, and a desire to shield children from “others.” This also applies to charter schools.  None of these are schools for all, despite propaganda to the contrary.  If in doubt, check the statistics for private schools for minorities, students of color, and students with emotional, physical, or behavioral special needs. A student may obtain an excellent education from a private school or charter school, but it will not be a complete education.

Any school commentary worthy of attention must apply to an individual school in a specific time frame. Further, in order to qualify as a school commentator, a person must score at least 20 points from the following list of opportunities.

You teach at the school:                                                 5 points

You are a student or parent at the school:             4 points

Your child attends the school:                                    1 point for each

You work as support staff at the school:                3 points

You are an administrator at the school:                 2 points

Your neighbor’s child attends the school:             1 point

You attend the parent night at the school:            1 point

You conference with the teacher:                             2 points

You assist with a field trip:                                         1 point

You volunteer in a classroom:                                   1 point

You attend a sports event at the school:                1 point each time

You attend a play or concert at the school:            2 points each time

You volunteer as a sports team coach:                   4 points

 There are reasons for each of these point values, and that is probably a different essay.

You can double the point values for any of these where the child affected is not your own.

Any comments from someone who cannot attain a score of at least 20 can be disregarded as the rantings of a person who has little knowledge of your school, and probably little knowledge of education in general.

They are usually selling something.

On the other hand, if you have attained the score of 20 or more, you are qualified to comment on the school.  What do you have to say?


Copyright 2016            David Preston



Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

2016 Motorcycle trips and adventures – Fifth Draft

 Looking for a ride destination?  Here is what I have planned so far, although “planned” is a bit of stretch.  The fall one is still under development, (other than the dates) but the late July trip is pretty much done.    I post this here to encourage ideas for you – feel free to borrow or adopt or modify any of the below. 

Of course you are welcome to attend the Riders for Health Scavenger hunt in August, and you should! 

The Canadian ride in the fall has enough going that more would really not be handy, but for the July ride I would welcome one or two for company.  I do enjoy riding alone, for sure, but having another along is safer.

2016 Motorcycle Rides –  5th Draft

July 22nd   (Friday) – July 31st   (Sunday)  Cal tour             9 days

Day #1:       I90 to Ellensberg, South to Bend, on to LaPine           (300 miles)

Day #2:       31 to Silver Lake                                   46 miles

31 to Valley Falls                                   72 miles

395 to New Pine Creek                          50 miles

395 to Alturas                                       39 miles

395 to Litchfield                                    88 miles

36 to Susanville                                     16 miles

36 to Chester                                                  36 miles

89 to Greenville                                     20 miles

(367 miles)

Day #3:        89 to Quincy                                         15 miles

E21 to Marysville

E 21 to Yuba City                                  120 miles?

99 to 113 to 80                                     80 miles?

80 to Davis                                           50 miles?      (265 miles?)

Days #4–6:   Visiting in Davis   (you would be on your own here)

Day #7:        West on E6 and 128 to Rutherford          70 miles

128 North to Geyserville                        200 miles

101 North to Eureka                                        100 miles          (370 miles)

Day #8         101 North to Crescent City                     71 miles

101 North to Newport                            192 miles

20 East to a motel                                 50 miles        (313 miles)

Day #9         to I-5 to Home                                      280 miles      (280 miles)


August 5th – 7th    Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt V

This event is a fund raiser for Riders for Health.  We camp out Friday and Saturday nights at the Cove RV Park and Camp at Brinnon, Washington.  (West side of Hood Canal).

Saturday there are street and dual sport routes offered. Door prizes Saturday night, as we sit around the fire and listen to stories by Mary McGee. Mary has been racing motorcycles and cars since 1957!  She was a friend of Steve McQueen, has done to Baja 500 and 1000 on two and four wheels – and has stories that will cause your jaw to drop.

September 2nd (Friday)  to 9th (Thursday)       6 days – 9 days

Head-Smashed In Buffalo Jump Tour

Day #1:        Over US 20 to Twisp and on to Omak

North on SR 97 to Oroville

Into Canada to Osoyoos (motel)            400 miles

The schedule from here on is up to Bill Hucks, and will probably include two to three days beyond what is listed here as the prototype

Day #2:        North on C97 and 97A to Revelstoke

NE on C 1 through Glacier Park

motel Radium Hot Springs?

Day #3:        South to Cranbrook  3  to Sparwood, East on 3 to Head Smashed Buffalo Jump                Motel in Fort McLeod

Day #4:     South on C2 to US, and Glacier Park

Counterclockwise lap of Glacier on 2 to Browning

Motel in Fairfield or Great Falls

Day #5:     South on 200 to Missoula – W on 90 to Spokane

Day #6:     Home by 90 or 20?

This one is still being laid out, but the dates are firm because most of these people need to put in for vacation time and have reserved these dates already. Last year we had 6 people on this ride – this year it may be 6 to 10.


Posted in Motorcycles | Leave a comment

Me, Kareem, and Mycroft

Me, Kareem, and Mycroft

I’ve never been into sports heroes, autographs, or famous people in general. The value of the autograph of someone you’ve known for less than 30 seconds and will never see again has eluded me. The author’s signature in a book is the exception, because by reading it you will really get to know the person who wrote the book. 

It also seems silly to extend athletic superiority to automatically include intelligence, wisdom, and leadership, although we see it all the time.

I prefer to focus on real people I’ve gotten to know who’ve proven by repeated example to be intelligent, warm, gifted with humor, and laced through with character.

On the other hand, we all benefit from hearing about people whose accomplishments in various fields we would like to emulate, or at least learn from. These people create a personal list of at least potential heroes.  For me, for example, dinner with President Obama and Mrs. Obama?  Oh yes!

Kareem Abdul Jabbar would make a terrific hero, or at least role model, to many.  A scholar, author, man of character, and also a great athlete.

And he and have so much in common!

I may need to explain that.

Kareem and I were born three weeks apart in the same year.  We both grew up to be very successful in our chosen careers.  Although he gained enormous fame and fortune in his basketball career, I think I had much more fun in mine. And now we write books.

I’d heard quite a bit about Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) by the time I was in high school. He was recruited by every college basketball coach gifted with a pulse, while I was cut from the team at my own school.  On the other hand, that team did win the state championship, so at least I was culled from the best herd!

I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BS degree in English Education.  Jabbar earned, from UCLA, a BA in English and History.  The BS is not a typo, by the way, because at the time the powers that be at the U of M felt that education was more of a science than an art.  I see where they were going with that, but with 31 years of experience I think education is a blend of both, which is why it is so hard to quantify or evaluate.

Mr. Jabbar has gone on to pursue multiple career opportunities since his retirement.  Among them is the authoring of several books, all of which outsell mine by about the same ratio as our levels of athletic achievement.

I was interested to learn that Mr. Jabbar is what is referred to as a “Holmesian.”  This is a person who is a serious scholar of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and who is well versed in all things relating to Sherlock Holmes.  Mr. Jabbar has stated that he attempted to use Holmes’s methods of observation in his basketball career. Intense scrutiny of the minutia of details pertaining to opponents helped his preparation.

He has written a book titled Mycroft Holmes, and it is wonderful.  In this novel, Mycroft is 23 years of age, and the novel tells a tale that fills in the “back story,” or a plausible one, of how Mycroft came to be the character in Doyle’s stories that took place decades later.

I have now experienced what it is to create a mystery novel a few times. It is difficult, to put it mildly. To blend in the amount of research required to make a plot that includes settings such as England and Trinidad in the 19th century plausible is seriously daunting.   Even more so, the character in the novel needs to line up faultlessly with the older character written by someone else.

Published in 2015, this is available through Amazon, although I found my copy at the Kingsgate Library

I recommend the book highly as a great read.

Perhaps one day I can sit down and discuss writing and many other topics with Mr. Jabbar. 

But I won’t ask for his autograph.

Unless it’s in a book.

Copyright 2016                                  David Preston

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | 2 Comments

A Great Day on Whidbey Island

First ride of length  (in terms of hours) on my new Triumph.   I was accompanied by my friend Marv Travis.  Marv is a great riding companion because he is very skilled, and also does not care a jot about where we go, how fast we go, or where and for how long we stop.  This was handy today, as my intent (when I thought I would be by myself) was to just let the ride unfold and select roads that appealed as I went. Which is what we did.

When I was representing a dealership, I  used to lead customer rides on Whidbey that I called “Getting Lost on Whidbey,” because I intentionally left them incompletely planned, and on many occasions I did manage to get lost. On the other hand – it’s an island.

Today was even less organized, as it has been a few years, and roads I thought I knew I have partially forgotten, or the names have been changed, etc.

At the end I have provided a video link to my You Tube channel, and I made two videos today. One is leaving a park at Cultus Bay, and features a deer strolling across the road.  Deer have become a great threat to motorcyclists, as their predator supply has dwindled. Fortunately this was a small deer, and I had plenty of time to see him and judge alternatives if he changed his amble across the highway

The first video on the site is Deception Pass, and is utterly unremarkable, other than the beauty of the Deception Pass Bridge and then Rosario Road.

We ended up in Anacortes and ate at the Fidalgo Drive-In –  burger baskets at an outdoor table in the sun.  Fantastic.  Then we meandered back to LaConner, discovering one or two roads neither of us had been on  (that is REALLY rare) and then on to Highway 9 and Arlington and Granite Falls – and home.  A fine day, and my new motorcycle is going to work very well for the longer trips I have planned for summer.

Videos are here:


Posted in Motorcycles | Leave a comment

Jury Duty Day 1: Silence, Smokers, and Camping on Downtown Seattle

Day 1 of Jury Duty: Silence, Smokers, and Camping in Downtown Seattle

I am currently enjoying (yes, really) the adventure of being called for King County Superior Court Duty.

Not for the first time. About 20 years ago I was called at a time when I had a student teacher. At that time teachers could be excused from jury duty, but I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to learn a lot of things, some of which might transfer to my classroom here and there. The principal was irritated, but then she was irritated by almost everything I did, so that was not news.

In that first go around I was excused from the first panel because I snickered under my breath (I thought) at the defense attorney, because I’d sussed out the likely direction of his defense. He used a peremptory challenge to excuse “juror #13” immediately. I found out later than I was correct. He was going to argue that his client could not be convicted of assault with a deadly weapon if the gun was knocked out of his hand before he had a chance to fire it. Turned out that yes, indeed, he could be convicted.

In the second try I made it on to a jury because both attorneys ran out of peremptory challenges. I ended up as the foreman of a jury in a cocaine sales trial, and the miscreant was convicted. Job done – back to class!

I also have experience with downtown Seattle. From 1973 to about 1996 I was a lead guide for the Underground Tours. Back then getting to work was easy. I would ride my motorcycle over the Evergreen Point Bridge (no tolls), taking full advantage of the commuter lane than ran to about 50 yards before the bridge. Ronald Reagan signed the bill that made motorcycles legal in HOV lane, did you know that?  Actually, that part was a rider on a sort of maybe related bill. The odds are high that Mr. Reagan was not aware that he had done that either.

You could park a motorcycle for free in the spaces between the railroad tracks and the parking spaces under the viaduct, at the expense of having your bike showered with soot and dust all day. But free.  It took me about 30 minutes each way.

Those days are long gone, of course, and other than a few nights of adventure at concerts and musicals, we have hardly been in downtown at all for the past twenty years.

Things have changed.

Driving and parking are just not viable options, even with a motorcycle, so my first challenge was to obtain an ORCA pass to take the bus. Added on to that was the bonus of my advanced age – a senior citizen pass that allows me to pay a whopping $1 for each trip. Despite confusing and partially incorrect info on the Metro web site that seems intended to make it unlikely that seniors will be able to actually obtain such a pass, I persevered.

Now – which bus? The metro web site offered up more confusing information, but I got some of it right. Most of these things are obvious once you’ve done them in the flesh, but very confusing with the sites and charts provided on the web site. At least to me. Your results may vary.

So Susan drove me to the “Brickyard” Park and Ride near our home, where I soon discovered I was in the wrong place. Or at least the wrong side of the street. Fortunately, Susan was still in the car and came back and picked me up and drove me to a better spot, where I ended up catching a bus earlier than the early one I had planned. (I hate to be late).

I wound up at court a full hour early.

The differences from last time began to accrue. I have a long standing distrust and dislike of “smart phones,” and there are reasons for this. They tend to reduce people’s ability to think, for one, and utterly destroy their ability to converse.  I first noticed this about 20 years ago in airports. In those days most airports had a “smoker’s area” inside the terminal, whereas these days’ smokers are banished to the far reaches of the land, standing in miserable clumps in the rain. I used to carry my pipe with me at all times.  In the smoker’s areas there were all sorts of conversations going on. Smoking is a social activity, and with time to waste people would discuss flight schedules, family, various travel adventures, and all sorts of things. It was fun, and the time flew by.

Out in the terminal, on the other hand, were vast seas of humanity, all of them with heads down to stare at their phones, and nobody speaking to others.

This change is true of the jury panel waiting room as well. The last time I did this people were sitting at tables, doing jig saw puzzles provided for their use, playing cards, chatting, being human. Now it is like a morgue, but the bodies are still alive. I think.

The nice lady in charge tried, asking people to introduce themselves to the person next to them, to make friends, to have fun.  You could hear the quiet thud of conversations dropping all over the room.

I introduced myself to the woman next to me, and she tried, for a bit. She asked why I have two wedding rings.  I have one that represents Susan, and the other is for our children and grandson.   Oh.

In turn, I asked her what she did when she was not on jury duty.

She sort of shrank into herself, and said “Not much.” Pause. “I’m a home maker.” Pause.  “And I volunteer some.”   Wow – what a summation of your life. Or lack of it.

I tried again later in a different spot and did not do any better. I did see two gentlemen in a lengthy chat that was evidently amusing, and restrained myself from trotting over and blurting out “Can I play?”

The leadership woman announced she would be calling out 20 names for a trial that had started yesterday. They had been unable to seat 12 jurors (and a spare) from the first 40 people.  

“Ding ding ding!” Alarms in my head. To me, that means an “icky” trial that would probably go on for a week or two. Or more. I got out of one of these twenty years ago because the judge explained that it would be a long trial involving serial abuse of children, and that teachers would be excused. I almost dislocated my shoulder raising my hand. Now I have no such excuse.

I waited with bated breath (“bated” is correct, by the way, not the more commonly used “baited.” Bated means halted).   She called out 19 names and said, “Just one more.”   Oh no.  But wait… Not me!

Back to another hour of silence. Then a call for 20 more jurors.   Not me again. Another 30 minutes of silence, and then we were all excused for the day. Did not see that coming.

That is when I realized there are many buses going in to Seattle in the morning, and many more coming out in the late afternoon. But none now.

I took off in the wrong direction for my bus stop, and walked about a mile due to my inability to analyze the tiny map. But I needed the exercise. And I had the time.  I walked by the old Union Street station, which brought back fond memories of a day there in 1992 where I hung out with Melissa Gilbert, who was filming a made for TV movie there, and my daughter had a miniscule part in it.  As in two seconds of screen time.  That section of the movie was ten seconds on the screen and an entire day of filming.  At one point the director introduced himself and thanked me for bringing my daughter. He asked if I wanted to be in the next scene!  Sure!  I was instructed to stand on my “marks” in the center of the room.

The assistant director explained that the camera was behind me, and when she said “Action” I was to walk toward the doors. As I did so Melissa Gilbert and my daughter would come through the doors and brush by me.

I couldn’t resist my college theater training. “What’s my motivation? Should I have an angry walk, an eager walk, a nervous walk?”  She shot me a look that would have turned a lesser man to stone and said “Just walk toward to door.”

That did not make it to the screen either.

The next year that was the venue for the prom of the class of 1993, where I served as the class advisor. Fantastic class, and a lot of good memories.

 I walked up 4th avenue passed more changes. Downtown Seattle is now a vast camping area. There are tents on sidewalks and in doorways, and any small park is overflowing. Sleeping bags in many doorways that do not have tents.  Sort of like a scout jamboree, but the scouts are older, not as well dressed, and have an air of resigned hoplelessness.

The homeless.

This has a dire effect if you’ve come from a suburban home with a yard, food, heat, three bathrooms, two refrigerators, two cars, and a motorcycle. We are not the 1%, but we’re probably the 8% or so.  We “make” more from retirement and Social Security than these folks will ever see. Sobering.

I have no solution.

And smokers! In the ‘burbs smokers are now so rare it’s almost refreshing (to me) to someone light up. Sort of a last stand of defiance against the mass wisdom.  And I Iike the smell of tobacco.  Your results probably differ.  In downtown Seattle smokers are everywhere. Not just the poor, but many office workers and attorneys and such. Amazing.

I had time to have a regrettable lunch at an eatery in Columbia Tower. How many times will I have to be taught the lesson that you should never go to the place that has no waiting line? No lesson can be taught so well that a student cannot find a way to ignore the obvious.   As I have proven.

Eventually it dawned on me that almost any bus with an east side destination would do, and Susan could pick me up. And so I would up in Redmond, and then home.

As Susan drove me home I discovered what I had suspected – there is a stop for the bus I want about 100 steps from my front door.

Let’s see how I do tomorrow!


Copyright 2016                               David Preston

Posted in Education, Services | Leave a comment

2016 Bonneville T 120 video

First video of my 2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120!


Posted in Motorcycles | Leave a comment

Motorcycles Ridden – the lost files

Motorcycles I Have Ridden – the Lost Files

(Or some of #1 – 92)

Since the first of the many lists I compiled of motorcycles I’ve ridden seems to have meandered into cyberspace, I’m going to make some anecdotal comments about the first few dozen of them. At least the ones I can remember.  Thou shalt be thus forewarned:  this mass of typing will be of little interest to anyone other than the more crazed of my motorcycle brethren. I may go back to this from time to time and add more as they burble up in memory. The reason for creation is so that when I am older and even more gray (is that possible?), I’ll be able to use these notes to reminisce.  Probably to the great annoyance of those unfortunates enlisted to care for me at some point, but I digress…

1965 Yamaha YDS3

  • First bike!  Purchased in August of 1967. I was 20 years old.
  • Only 400 miles, and $400. Blue and white
  • First owner frightened by a car turning left in front of him
  • Ridden for two years, including Minneapolis to Seattle and back in 1968 – camping.
  • Added one of the first Vetter fairings – essentially a road race fairing with a taller windscreen.  White with blue Yamaha “tuning fork” decals on the sides. That necessitated the removal of the front fender – cool!
  • Destroyed in a ditch at 60mph in June of 1969 by a rider who was behaving like an idiot – me.  Separated shoulder.


Honda 305 Superhawk

  • Owned by a college pal who went with me on my first big trip.
  • Painfully obvious that it was a much better bike than my Yamaha, although my friend was kind enough not to mention it.
  • Dead reliable, fast for its day, and capable of almost anything


1969 Honda 450SS

  • Second bike owned. Purchased in September of 1969.  $875 I think, with less than 900 miles.
  • First owner had removed the side and center stands, worked on them with a grinder for days, and then had them chromed.
  • Silver, with gold “lightning” graphics on the tank.
  • Gorgeous, and in many ways my best friend. I had just moved from Minneapolis and knew my Dad (Bellevue) and the staff of my first school – that was it.
  • Ridden for two years and 19,000 miles, including Seattle to Berkeley for Christmas (1969), Seattle to Minneapolis and back (1970) and Seattle to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1971.
  • A snapped cam chain in St. Pete ate the engine. I flew back with helmet in hand.


1969 Honda 350 Scrambler

  • Two of them, one in blue and the other red. Purchased by two teacher friends I was renting a house with.  Rode at least one of them at a staff party – faster than I should have.  Impressive bike.


1972 Honda 500 4

  • Purchased in September of 1971 – 3rd one sold in this state.  Gold.
  • A perfect motorcycle; so perfect it was boring.
  • Used for our honeymoon ride down the coast of Oregon in March of 1972.
  • Featured in “2 X4,” an article I wrote for “Road Rider” magazine. One of the first bits of writing I got paid for. “Road Rider” is now “Motorcycle Consumer News.”  They also published a poem I sent them that is too embarrassing to reprint here.  Trust me.
  • Sold for funds to purchase a rolling wreck of a 1958 Corvette


Honda 90

  • Belonged to one of my junior high students. Spent a fun afternoon bouncing around a vacant lot trading off with this 14 year old girl.   Today that would get you fired – rapidly.


Honda 450 CL

  • Purchased as a “commuter bike” in 1976.
  • I didn’t think the badly faded green paint on the tank would bother me, but it did.
  • Stupid mufflers with the welded seams
  • Functional as a motorcycle, but not very inspiring.


1977 Yamaha 750 Triple

  • Purchased in summer of 1977.  Silver with blue graphics. I added an owner’s manual and a license plate burglar alarm – came to just over $2,000. The house we had just traded up from paid for it.
  • Rode it for 22 years and almost 50,000 miles
  • Added a copy of a BMW R90S fairing in black.  Narrower bars from a Euro-spec Norton. K&N filters, S&W shocks, and (eventually) a MAC exhaust.
  • Fantastic motorcycle


1976 Harley Davidson “CR” Sportster

  • This was Harley’s entry into the Café Racer craze of the 1970,s and they were late to the party with a bike that looked the business but was seriously flawed.
  •  I had a weekend and summer job at “Drager’s” which at that time was an aftermarket shop on Dexter Avenue.  A customer came in and wanted to get some passenger pegs for his girlfriend, as a CR had none. We found some that could be bolted around the shocks. 
  • As I gushed over his bike  (I do that a lot) he asked if I would like to ride it.
  • Once underway I noticed that Harley had taken a few short cuts. The instruments were Honda 750 items, for one.
  • All was fine until I got to a corner, and it would not turn. The frame geometry was such that it cornered only with great effort.  I scared myself silly, but did not crash.  I mentioned this to the owner and he said “Yeah, I probably should have mentioned that.”   Um. Yeah


1977  Moto- Guzzi

  • Weirdest bike I’d ridden to that point. Two humongous cylinders jutting out to either side.  It sounded like a farm tractor. The shift felt like you were moving ten pound gears.  And yet, within ten minutes it all began to make sense and I really enjoyed it.  Dull brown and not much to look at, but extremely capable. Over a 20 mile or so ride it felt like there was a hinge in the middle of the frame.  I reported this back to the owner and he said he felt it too and wondered if I would notice it!


1971 or ’72 Triumph triple

This deserves a story. Originally belonged to a colleague of my friend. The colleague left for a high-paying job in Saudi Arabia, or something like that, and left it with Alan to be sold. Alan was not able to find a buyer, and occasionally tried to ask his friend what to do. He never heard from the friend again, and  started to ride the bike occasionally to keep it in fine fettle. I had been lusting after this bike for some time, but when I took it out I wondered what all the fuss was about. Right side shift, as well, which frightened me.  In any case, it seemed all roar and not all that much speed. When I brought it back Alan discovered that the middle spark plug lead had come loose. With all three cylinders firing I quickly learned what the hype was all about. Seriously fast for the day.

This bike was the first of my experience that seemed to have a personality. An evil one. It always seemed to me that it dearly wanted to kill me. I don’t know why.

Months later Alan and I were out for a weekend ride down one of our favorite roads. I looked in my rear view mirror and he was doing a somersault in the road!   No bike!  In fact, he had crashed into a ditch.

He sat there with a broken shoulder, while I rode the Triumph back to his house. The bars and I think frame were bent, so to ride it I had to hang off about a foot to the left, while remembering the shift was on the wrong side.

I don’t know what eventually happened to it.

1982 Gus Kuhn Replica of a Norton John Player Replica

There’s a mouthful.  While working on a car or bike of some sort at Alan’s house  (we did this about once a week for years) a friend called from eastern Washington. He was visiting a guy on a farm and found that the guy had an “old Norton” in the barn, in pieces, and it looked sort of odd.

“What sort of ‘odd’?”

“Well, it has a fairing on it with two headlamps.”

Alan and I paused and stared. Could this be one of the rare and valuable street bikes Norton built to capitalize on their “John Player” sponsored race bikes?

“Is it white with red and blue stripes?”

“No.  Black.”

“Hmmm.  How much does he want for it.”


“Tell you what.  You buy it, and if you decide you don’t want it bring it over here and I’ll buy it.”

Which I did a couple of months later.   A Norton!  With a huge fuel tank for endurance racing, rear set pegs, clip on bars, and the swoopy road race fairing with the twin headlights. I was pretty excited.

Research showed that it was not a real JPR, but a kit of parts produced by a go-fast place for café racer stuff in England called Gus Kuhn. I spent the winter spraying the white fiberglass tank with cans of black rattle can paint, which did not work all that well in the cold, and then applied some gold Norton decals. Alan pretty much re-engineered and re-wired the entire electric system.   It looked pretty cool.

That was the best part.  But to start it, you had “tickle” the carbs until raw fuel over flowed, and then fold out the shortened kick start lever.  You would romp down on it, which would slam your ankle into the foot peg, which did not fold.   As a 1982, it did have an electric starter, but the early ones were famous for not having enough grunt to turn the engine over.  You would repeat this a few times and it would start.  Once underway, the limited clearance of the grips and the enormous fuel tank  (I think it held eight gallons) would restrict the turning circle, so you needed a width of a freeway to turn around.

On a warm day on a flowing back road it was fun, but then so was my Yamaha triple.   In due time I sold it for $2,000, splitting the profits with Alan.

1999 Kawasaki ZRX 1100 

Purchased in 1999, as I sold the Yamaha to Alan.  In a riotous paint scheme of white and green with purple, which inexplicably looked fabulous.   A big old bus that returned 45mpg at any speed, never used a drop of oil or water, and offered extremely stable handling. Hidden storage area under the seat as well. One of my favorite motorcycles of all time.

2000 Buell Thunderbolt

My first “company” bike. Jim Boltz called the regional Harley sales manager and told him we needed to “borrow” the bike assigned to him.  Then he gave me a dealer plate and told me to go to Eastside Harley to pick it up.  The service manager at Eastside had to call the boss and say “You mean I am just supposed to give this guy the bike?”    yes.

It was brand new, and I had never ridden a Harley before.  I pushed it out into the sunshine and started it up. It sounded like a paint shaker machine, or that something was seriously wrong with it. They all do that, sir.  I prayed I would not kill the engine, because all of the technicians were standing there waiting for this doofus to screw up.  I rode it out of the dealership, and once on the freeway the vibes and noise toned down and it was a very nice bike.

This was their sport tourer, with very nice large saddlebags. To my horror, I scraped one of them on a post one day, and covered the damage up with a Harley sticker. Nobody ever noticed.

1997 Muzzy Raptor

What an adventure! Rob Muzzy ran Kawasaki’s road race teams for many years, with great success.  He also sold exhaust systems, etc. out of a race shop in Bend, Oregon.  He 1997 he chose to make some exotic sport bikes out of the Kawasaki 750s that were the core of his race team’s success.  Jim Boltz of Cycle Barn heard of this, and the original deal was that Muzzy would create 30 examples of the “Muzzy Raptor,” and Cycle Barn would purchase all of them.  They came in two varieties – the milder one was $14,000 and the more race-prepped edition was $18,000.  That was a LOT of money at that time.  Cycle World magazine did a road test of one of them that fairly oozed moto-lust all over the page.

Muzzy decided to make more, and Boltz decided to only purchase 10.  In the end, I believe there were 56 of them. Most were raced, and the Raptor is the only street legal bike to ever podium at an AMA Superbike race.  They featured lots of “unobtanium” parts for the time.  A full titanium exhaust, hand formed solo seat body with ram air, flat slide carbs, Marchesini magnesium wheels, and on and on. It was essentially a combination of every go-fast piece available at the time with a Muzzy-refined engine.

I went to work for Cycle Barn in 2000, and they had two of the original 1997 bikes left.  Unsold.  I came up with a whacky plan that Cycle Barn would sell me one of them at a sharply reduced cost. I would ride it on the sport bike rides I was leading, and someone would want to purchase it.  I would then split the profits with Cycle Barn. This whacky plan had serious flaws I will get to, but it went forward.  Cycle Barn sold me the bike for $6,000, with 30 monthly payments of $200.   They then raised my salary by $200 a month. So the bike was mine for the cost of the insurance.

The day I purchased it someone called from Salt Lake City who wanted to purchase the other one!  I asked the finance woman to hurry up the paperwork before management changed their minds about the weird deal I had agreed to.

Late that night I got a call at home from a salesperson.  The couple from Salt Lake were flying in the next day and wanted to hear the Muzzy run, but the other one had not been prepped, so would I please bring mine back to work.

I explained that mine now had three coats of wax on the gloss black paint, and that it was raining.  I would drive my car to work and then bring the couple back to my house to hear it run. That is what we did, and I will never forget standing in my garage with this couple. As the bike warmed up we could watch the titanium exhaust change color.  Once warm, blipping the throttle produced a blue flame a foot long out of the pipes.  We went back to Cycle Barn and they purchased the last one, to add to a pretty extensive collection of high end bikes they both rode.

My plans for the bike went awry almost immediately.  The riding position was so radical that the eye port on my Shoei was too low – I could not see.  A new Arai solved that. Worse, riding it was an extremely intense experience that for some reason reminded me of playing football. When I got home from a ride I would be so amped up I had to walk around my garage for a while to calm down.  It was suxh an all-encompassing experience that I did not want to have any other motorcycle within 50 yards of me, so leading rides did not work well.  Plus, of course, the mirrors were useless.

The suspension was so hard it was virtually solid at any speed less than 85 mph. Above that it was silken. The flat slide carbs were designed to accept full throttle at high rpm. If you gave it too much too soon they would “drown,” and you could wait while the ignition cleared itself.

One day I was riding to work and all of a sudden the revs shot up. Had the clutch failed?  No, but the road was wet and I was on a blending white painted line, and the rear tire had spun up.  This did not bother the bike at all, but certainly got my attention.

Again, most of them were raced, and crashed.  The couple in Salt Lake put stock body work on theirs so it was better at sport touring!  By 2002 I had probably the best Muzzy Raptor on the planet. With 1100 miles, no races, and no track days.

I sold it to a fellow in Ohio who had a sport bike shop. He later sued me for shipping damage, (which was a completely bogus charge) and I had to fly back to Ohio for a trial in small claims court. Which I won.

In the end, I think I sold it for $12,750, so I made a $3,000 profit and Cycle Barn got back almost all of the money they had spent. Whew!   I still have a promotional sign with all of the specs and colorful graphics. I just need a big man cave to display it.

Honda Shadow 1100

  • Eminently practical cruiser than did everything well
  • While riding it on the freeway, the right hand mirror came loose. I reached across to tighten it with my left hand and hit the kill switch with my wrist. That was exciting.


Suzuki cruiser of some sort and year

This one made a real impression on me.  I wanted to ride it home to check it out and a salesman asked me why I would want to ride it, describing it as a “piece of shit.”  I replied that I had never ridden one, so I would find out for myself.

In this era  (2000 or so) all the major Japanese companies made multiple cruisers of varying displacement that were copies of Harleys.  Being Japanese, they could not understand why Harley would soldier on with such an antique engine architecture, so they could not help themselves and improved it. They added water cooling, shaft or belt drive, fuel injection at times, and so on. By doing so they lost the vibration and “potato potato” exhaust cadence that made Harley.  This one was  (I think) an 800cc version in a lovely cream and green paint scheme.

Long before I reached home I had sussed the intended buyer.  A man or woman who wanted a motorcycle to ride once in a while, when the weather was perfect.  The big trip for the year would probably be a ride around Mt. Rainier.  The bike asked very little of the rider. It was comfortable and extremely easy to ride.  The foot controls were mildly forward for that cool guy profile, but not out of reach of anyone’s leg. The handling was predictable, the brakes adequate, and the sound barely there.

Once home by daughter and wife came out and gushed all over it. They thought it was beautiful!  I questioned why they thought so and the response was “the classic lines.”   I sputtered on at some length about the radiator and the other things that were definitely not part of anyone’s definition of classic lines, and they were unmoved. To a person with only a mild interest in motorcycles, this one, glowing in dark green and cream with ample chrome, was beautiful. End of story.

So it was not my cup of tea, but I could imagine the customer who would like it. The salesman needed a check-up from the neck up.

Harley Fat Boy

Another bike that taught me a lesson. Looking at it, I just knew I would hate it.  Fat Boys had solid disc front and rear wheels, so a strong side wind would affect the bike.  Foot boards reduced cornering clearance to about nil.  Lots of chrome, and a wild black with red and yellow flames. Oh my. And forward controls, again, but more out there than on the Suzuki.

Determined to hate it, I wandered up the street on my way home, my feet waving helplessly in the air as I tried to locate the brake and shift controls. Little power, heavy as an oil tanker, mediocre brakes, and no cornering clearance.  And then something really odd happened.

I was having a great time!  For reasons hard to explain, it was just so much fun to ride!  Did it appeal to my inner 8 year old?  I don’t know, but I loved riding it home, and then back the next day, and I rode many more of them over the next few years.

I was not a “Harley” person, per se, but I could see the appeal.  Over the years I met many fine people who were passionate Harley riders, and although I disagreed with many of their opinions about other brands, I could at least identify with why they loved their Harleys.   Ironically, by the time I left Cycle Barn after almost ten years,  I’d ridden a couple of hundred Harleys of every description, assuredly more than any of the folks I’d met had experienced.

Honda Valkyrie

  • Mega-heavy cruiser
  • Essentially a Gold Wing without most of the bodywork
  • I actually liked it better than the Gold Wing
  • I rode one from Lynnwood to Smokey Point and back, and half way there was horrified to note that it was brand new!  It had been parked with the used bikes and nobody thought to tell me.


That’s about all I can remember.  For now.


Copyright 2016                          David Preston


Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120. First Impressions

2016 Triumph T 120 – first impressions

Appearance: the first thing that grabs. Or at least me. I think this is the most beautiful motorcycle being produced today.   This is as Triumph intended. The new Bonnevilles, and especially the T 120, were deliberately designed to look like a mid-1960’s version. 



I became a motorcycle enthusiast in 1962, at the age of 15. I purchased my first motorcycle in 1967. For several years I literally left fingerprints on the windows of the Triumph dealer, who always seemed to be closed when I walked by, staring with longing eyes at the beauty of each model. I friend had one when I was in college, and I have never been so filled with envy.  I could not have imagined that they would eventually create a bike that looks so similar and yet is massively superior in every way to its forebears.

My belief is that they are at the head of a coming wave – the return of motorcycles that are “pretty.” When I started, virtually all of the premium brands were rolling exhibits of colorful paint schemes and chrome everything. I remember a candy apple red Norton, the blue and white of a college friend’s new Harley, the chrome yellow of a Norton Commando, and virtually all the rest. My 1969 Honda 450 SS was a vision is silver with gold tank stripes, and a lot of chrome. My 1972 Honda 500 4 was a gorgeous metal flake dark amber gold.

Motorcycles as rolling art continued for a couple of decades, until the crash of the economy and the motorcycle market in 2006 – 2008. For various reasons, in came flat black plastic covers on almost everything.  Harley hung in there with a new state of the art painting facility in 2002 or so, and their bikes stood out from the rest with stunning paint jobs. BMWs had always been black with white pinstripes, but eventually they began to dip a toe in the colored water, although a cautious one. They introduced a blah grey, an uninspired blue, and so on. Even their version of red, like on a K1300S I had in 2002, was not all that moving. Of course I am generalizing, as my 2000 K 1300S was “lava orange.”  I loved it, and but some people thought it was grotesque.  There were, and are, colorful bikes that are beautiful, but my point is that now they are the rarities, where originally they were the majority.

Chrome wheels became an afterthought, as most bikes came with dark grey or black wheels, which were easier to clean. Chrome became a piece of trim, or went missing altogether. I think Triumph is on to something.  This bike is gorgeous, even to people who have no knowledge or interest in bikes.

Technology: This is where the new bike firmly parts company with the original, featuring items now commonplace on other brands, in some cases for years, but technologies that for the most part did not exist back then.

When most people think of Triumph, two flaws come to mind. Oil leaks and dodgy electronics. Oil leaks have not been a concern for decades, but even my 2006 Speed Triple had a weak electrical system.  I could add heated gear, but not much of it, and it would be pushing the envelope.

A Triumph enthusiast back in the day would not know what to do with an USB port under the seat to charge your phone. And a fake burglar alarm that puts out a flashing red light at intervals on the instrument panel. Later, there will be an accessory burglar alarm to make it real.

LED head light and tail light! Really?  A gear indicator in the instrument panel.

Standard heated grips (on the T 120), as well as ABS brakes, two engine modes, and traction control that can be turned off or on? Really?  This is a Triumph?

It has a 6 speed transmission, and some sort of techno-trickery to make the clutch pull light enough that you can pull it back with one finger. Literally.

Dual disk brakes on the front. Many road tests on many bikes claim that one disc is sufficient for that model, but the lack of symmetry always claws at my sense of what is right. I prefer the pair.

A ten thousand mile service interval! A couple of decades ago that mileage was usually an indication that a full engine rebuild would be on the agenda. Soon.  My Honda 450 snapped its cam chain and ate itself to ruin. At 19,000 miles.  This new Triumph will be about ready for its second oil change at that point.

One technological throwback to days or yore is tubes in the tires, as Triumph has not yet figure out how to make spoked chrome wheels that can accept tubeless tires, although others have.

Another throwback that I welcome, and that surprised me, is a steel fuel tank. This allows the use of a magnetic tank bag. I LOVE using a tank bag, although I realize many people hate them. My only issue now is that the bike is so gorgeous I want to leave the tank bag off. There are solutions to this dilemma, or will be soon from the aftermarket – probably a small rack on the back.

One thing I do find amusing. It is now common to have an ambient temperature read-out on the instrument display.  Almost all BMW motorcycles have this, and with Teutonic exactness, they read in tenths of a degree!  The technology for this is now readily available, and the instruments of our Fiat show the same snowflake warning a BMW motorcycle does, at the same temperature of 37 degrees.  Triumph seems to say “That’s ridiculous. The real measure of cold must include whether or not it is raining and how much the speed affects wind chill. Feel cold? Put on more gear!  Too warm?  Remove a layer!” 

It occurs to me that the Germans might soon introduce a modified gauge with techno trickery that allows for wind chill and humidity to give you an even clearer indication of why you feel cold.

Performance: This is not the fastest bike I have owned by some measure.  On the other hand, it will stomp on the original.  Now 1200cc of water-cooled and fuel injected propulsion, it has been tuned for torque, and it makes usable power from low speeds. The surge in 3rd gear, even while under break-in instructions, is very impressive.  The Thruxton R arriving in a couple of days has been tuned for more power higher in the rev range.  On the T 120 it is turning over at a calm 3,000 rpm at an indicated 70mph, and only 4,000 rpm at 80mph.  (They did say to vary the speed while breaking it in, officer)

Handling: The front forks are not adjustable, which is unfortunate, but probably a cost-saving measure. The rear shocks are the old type with 5 settings accessed by moving the stop up a stepped ramp.  You used to do this with a large C clamp that usually slipped and bloodied your knuckles, scratched paint, or both. Now it is done with a 5mm Allen key, supplied with the bike. Still not cutting edge by a long shot, but probably fine for my intended use.

On the road, the geometry seems set up for solid handling at higher speeds. I did find that it is not particularly happy with 10mph or 15mph curves, however. Perhaps I will get better at these with practice.  My Speed Triple would turn sharply if you merely contemplated a change of direction. Fortunately, I don’t encounter corners that slow and sharp all that often.

One thing that does aid handling at any sort of reasonable speed is the narrowness of the rear of the tank. It is easy to cock your hips in the direction of the turn, as there is an inch or more of air between your knees and the sides of the tank, even with the rubber knee pads on the tank.

Ergonomics: Wow.  I had forgotten that it is possible to have mirrors that allow you to see what it happening behind the bike. Another exaggeration, but the quest for a 1960’s look also brought chrome mirrors on stalks.  Probably an aerodynamic disaster, but they do work as – er – mirrors.

Dealership experience:   Have to admit my experience would not be everyone’s. I worked for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group for ten years, and Triumph of Seattle was spun off of that. I know and have worked with almost all of the employees, and I am on good terms with both the former and current owners. In fact, I was invited to breakfast by the former owner at a diner near T of S, and afterward we walked over and were stunned by the new T 120, the first one either of us had seen.  When I wanted to purchase (the next day) I was able to skip the sales department and just sit down with the owner.   From experience, I knew what he would offer as a trade for my Speed Triple, and what the various costs would be. His numbers were about $35 less than mine, so for a $12,000 list price bike I was pretty close.  “Negotiations” took 5 minutes.

When the bike arrived, after an agonizing wait, I rode my Speed Triple in for the swap and was introduced to Andy. Andy patiently went through the new buyer walk through, and was very thorough. I was impressed by a couple of details. For one, the bike came with a full fuel tank.   Not a big deal, but attention to detail works wonders.  Secondly, a ‘pigtail’ for a battery charger had been installed and zip tied to a frame rail so it is virtually invisible. Another nice detail.

As we were talking I peeled off a couple of clear warning decals on the tank. Once outside I went back to get my gear, and the two friends who were with me were impressed with the zeal Andy showed in polishing away every shred of decal glue from the tank.  Then we took the picture they take of bike sold with the new owner – a customer service detail I tried in vain (for almost fourteen years!) to install as a 100% commitment from the dealership for every customer.  I don’t know if Andy gets the commission from this sale or not, but I would certainly direct others to him.

In the next few months I will probably purchase new brackets for the Ventura double bag system I kept from the old bike, assuming Ventura can figure out how to mount them inauspiciously. Other than that, for the first time in many motorcycles I have purchased or ridden, I don’t want to make any changes at all.

I will probably also further refine my analysis of the bike, and I may post further information down the road a few thousand miles.

But for now, as I said to my wife after the first day or riding: “This may not be the perfect bike for everyone, but it is probably the perfect bike for me.”

And – it is gorgeous!  


Copyright 2016                   David Preston

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

A New Bike For The Older Rider

Purchasing A New Bike for The Older Rider.

Ah, the joys of living to a ripe old age. Or at least riper.  I just turned 69, a fine number for a figurative waving of a middle finger to all the well-meaning folks who told me I’d kill myself when I started riding motorcycles almost a half a century ago.  500 plus bikes ridden many hundreds of thousands of miles later, I can say “Oh yeah?  Tell that to the right knee I screwed up back when I thought I could play basketball.”  Or something like that.

However, the piper must be paid.  Aging will have at least two effects.

For one thing, your tastes change. For a long time I wanted to own the fastest bike I could afford, and I wanted to look fast.  I was never was as fast as I wanted to look, but the ego must be served.

I’ve now been there and done that. I’ve owned bikes with almost 200hp  (Kawasaki ZX 12R), a bike that was a thinly disguised superbike  (Muzzy Raptor) and ridden thousands of miles on a BMW K1300S, BMW S 1000RR, and many other high-powered bikes.

I’ve ridden to the edge of my limited abilities several times, and have been fortunate to pay the price for exceeding them only once.  That was in 1969. A self-induced accident destroyed my first bike, a 1965 Yamaha 250cc YDS3 that deserved a better fate. The separated collarbone was a small price to pay for the lesson that adrenaline and enthusiasm do not trump physics combined with a lack of experience and common sense. 

I’ve noticed in the past few years that very seldom am I trying all that hard any more, but with increases in experience and some training I’m about as fast over distance as I ever was.  But much safer.  And more relaxed.

As a younger rider, I was willing to put up with some discomfort to enjoy all this. A Muzzy Raptor has a suspension similar to granite unless you’re traveling over 85 mph. A BMW S 1000RR is comfy as far as super sports bikes go, but still requires a crunched up position with the knees tucked up high. As you age, the dictates of performance bikes begin to pall, just as your body is less willing to adapt.  Eventually, the wear and tear of the years takes a toll, even accounting for the days at the gym each week that keep me in relatively good health.  The first sign of old age is the physical where the doctor sums up a complete physical with the words “You’re in great shape, FOR A MAN YOUR AGE.”


Which gets us to the physical aspects. In the past year my right knee, a veteran of two operations, has gradually been evolving toward the status of a problem. Most of the little things that keep things sliding smoothly inside have been removed or have eroded away, or evanesced, or something.  It’s not likely to get better.  The occasional Aleve keeps the swelling at bay. 

An artificial knee may be out there, but who knows?

A few years ago I was having a lot of trouble with my left elbow. Swelling, a lot of of fluid, etc. After having it drained, twice, an MRI was taken. I’d severed both tendons in my left elbow, without ever being aware of it. I have nothing more than a couple of weak guesses as to when and how this occurred. Oddly, the elbow problem seems to have gone away. I have no idea why. But it might come back.  Surgery could repair it.  Maybe.

Your results will differ, depending on how much punishment you’ve meted out to the physical abilities you were born with, but we all share the fact that aging is going to take a toll.  You can’t predict when or what the cost to you will be, and in some cases what you did to create the problem will be a mystery.

The effect of my knee has been that at times riding my Speed Triple has given me pause. On a bad day I’m not completely sure that when I throw my leg over the seat and straighten up the bike my right knee will not crumple and send me and the bike crashing to the ground. Hasn’t happened, but the thought is there.

What to do?

Be mindful of what you’re doing when you get on the bike for one thing.  But still, it is a concern.

Some time ago I began to think along the lines of getting a bike that I could ride for as many more years as possible with fewer concerns that physical issues would get in the way.  Something with a lower seat height that weighs a bit less than my Speed Triple, for instance. I did not want to get a “slow” bike necessarily, or a cruiser. 

Here we shall pause to consider personal taste. In this country, motorcycles are in the majority purchased as a matter of personal expression.   They are, to some extent, toys.  What’s your passion?

What got you interested in motorcycles in the first place?  For many it was a father or older brother or some other relative. In many cases, the motorcycle they rode, and perhaps gave you a ride on, became imprinted on your brain and that, for you, will define “motorcycle” for the rest of your days.

There are thousands of people, for example, who consider a Harley-Davidson to be the only “real” motorcycle. Back in the 1960s Honda sold several million motorcycles to people who would not allow their son or daughter to ride a “motorcycle,” but a Honda was OK.

This is why you so often hear comments from people who are otherwise intelligent to the effect that they cannot understand why some people like fill in this space with any brand or type of motorcycle.  The reason is, almost invariably, that they have never ridden one of “those.

The greatest education I received about motorcycles came from the greatest job perk in the history of the motorcycle world. For fourteen years I was encouraged by the management of the dealership I worked for to ride – everything. For the first few years especially I took a different motorcycle home almost every night,  up to fifty different motorcycles a year.  I learned, very quickly, that motorcycles are designed by engineers to fit a particular market segment.  If you ride the bike thinking about who it was designed for, after a while you will “get it” and come to appreciate what the bike can do.  Most of them are wonderful designs, if you take the time to ponder what the intent was in the first place.

The first time I rode a Moto Guzzi I thought it was the strangest contraption ever. Ever control, every action, every movement and even the sound, everything was alien. Sort of like a farm tractor on two wheels.  But after about 20 miles I got it, and after 100 I loved it.  A few years later I almost bought one.

People who have never ridden Harleys think they are slow and rattly mastodons that cannot corner any better than a 1948 Buick.  This impression will be strengthened the first time you ride one, as compared with many bikes that is exactly what they are.  Given time, you will begin to understand the charm.   Harleys taught me the great joy of a ride where you are not trying to go fast, but simply enjoying riding on a beautiful bike and watching the scenery, while listening to a mesmerizing sound that fills you with confidence that everything will be OK.  I think they are linked to our limbic system in some way.  You will feel elated at the end of the ride, even though there was absolutely nothing special about it.

Of course, this is not true of all motorcycles. The 1977 Harley “CR,” which was their attempt at a café racer, looked spectacular and sounded great, but the steering was so slow and heavy I almost rode it off the road. It wouldn’t turn.  I rode a Harley chopper for two days that was so unbalanced to get the huge rear tire to fit that it leaned several degrees to the left while going in a straight line. It did corner well going left, of course, except that it had no ground clearance. Turning right was a wrestling match between ride and bike.  And so on.

The point (hurray – a point!) is that what you think you want may have been formed very early, and you might want to be open to a new idea or two.  Since I grew up in Minnesota (where motorcycles were fairly rare) in a home where nobody cared about motorcycles, my first notions were formed by reading Cycle World magazine every month. Several times.

Cycle World carried many articles about road racing.  Ergo – I wanted to be a road racer.   Of course, I simplify, but you get the point. What bike got you going, and does it still affect your choices?

One of the great benefits of aging is that you learn what you want in a motorcycle and what you do not want, and you care less and less what others think.  Let’s go shopping, and ponder some of our choices.

Cooling:  For decades almost all motorcycle engines were air-cooled, and they still call out to some. They tend to be simpler and lighter, and visually more appealing to many.  The downside is that they have a harder and harder time meeting increasingly stringent noise and pollution regs, especially when combined with the human desires for more of everything, which leads to more weight.

If you opt for water cooling, especially when combined with electronic fuel injection, there are many positives. More power, greater reliability, less pollution, and so on.  Electric fuel injection brings the potential for an entire suite of further electric aids, such a traction control, various engine operation modes, heated grips, cruise control, and more.

So first of all, what do you want your new bike to look like?  Jay Leno has been quoted as saying that a “real” motorcycle is one you can see through, and that resonates with me. A lot of modern bikes have “mass centralization,” which makes a lot of sense from an engineering point of view, but the appearance tends to come to a solid wall of stuff viewed from the side. The simplicity of the appearance and mechanicals of the bikes of your youth will fight with the appeal of modern technology.  Imagine a graph with a horizontal axis of old-school looks on one side and modern appearance on the other, with a vertical axis of cost. This will give you four quadrants, and you can place all the bikes on your “maybe” list into one of the quadrants.

What do you want your bike to sound like? Road tests never cover this, as music appreciation lies in the ear of the beholder. For some the “potato potato” of a Harley V-twin is the only sound they like.  I love the sound of a triple engine, especially with some mild enhancements, while you might prefer the smooth whir of a four or even six cylinder engine. It’s your choice.

Chrome?  Once a feature of every motorcycle, chrome is now used as a trim piece, if at all.  I like chrome wheels and chrome exhausts, and both are becoming rare.

Ergonomics?  Aging often brings a desire for a lower seat height. Most cruisers make this a feature, but I’ve never liked cruisers all that much. As an example of the fickle minds of consumers, the cruiser I liked the most was the Triumph Thunderbird of recent vintage. I loved it.  The first and only cruiser I could imagine spending my own money on.  Nobody else did, and now it is being dropped.

Power, handling, and brakes?   It’s hard to get all three at the same time.  I usually prioritize comfort first, brakes second, handling third, and power last. The reason for this is that almost any motorcycle the older rider is interested in will have “enough” power.  If your motorcycle has more than 100hp, the excess is mostly to prop up your ego. You will rarely use it.

Drive train?  You have at least three choices here.  (I am only discussing street bikes). You can have shaft drive, chain drive, or a belt.  The best compromise of weight and simplicity and efficiency is probably the belt, especially with modern materials that make the belts very sturdy. But, unless it is a Harley, your choice may have either a chain or a shaft. How big a deal is this to you?

Wheels?  I love chrome and spoked wheels, but that usually means tubed tires. How important is it to you to have tubeless?

Ease of cleaning? Not a factor for me. In fact, I LIKE to clean the motorcycle I own. It is a form of relaxation for me that goes back to my first three or four motorcycles.  Sitting out in the driveway listening to the Mariners lose on the radio while polishing chrome is a favorite pastime that comes close to the joy of actually riding.

Some of these categories overlap.  I prefer twin disc brakes on the front end. There are many motorcycles with just one, and the road tests usually point out that one is plenty for the motorcycle in question. I careth not. For me, one front disc looks unbalanced. I want the twin discs for appearance, and excess brake potential is preferable to “enough.”

Time to make your choice!

The Triumph Bonneville has appealed to me for half a century.  I spent my college years obsessing about the joys of the Bonneville, ignoring such practicalities as the dodgy electronics, the extreme unlikelihood that I could maintain it, and of course a chronic lack of funds.  When the “new” Bonneville came out in the early 2000s I had the chance to ride a several of them when I worked at Cycle Barn. Lovely bike, but just a tad low on power for my tastes.  My son purchased a “Bonnie Black” model in 2006 and it served him very well.

Earlier this year I attended an open house at Triumph of Seattle staged to welcome the new for 2016 Thruxton versions of the Bonneville. Spectacular looks, and this bike shot to the top of my wish list. Bars a little low, but I could cope.  Engine has more power, but still not quite enough.  The R model came later, with even more power.  Now we’re getting there.

And then… I was invited to have breakfast with Jim Boltz, the owner of Cycle Barn and the guy who hired me into full time work in the motorcycle business 16 years ago. He’s in the process of selling Triumph of Seattle (which used to be Cycle Barn Triumph) and evidently still consults with the new owner from time to time. So we met for breakfast at a lovely dive a half a block away.

Stuffed to the gills, we walked back to Triumph of Seattle and…  boom.

In the front row, with ribbons around it indicating it had already been sold, a new Bonneville T 120. This has the new 1200cc partially water-cooled engine and fuel injection, amounting to a 30% to 40% increase in both power and (especially) torque.  Now we’re talking.

The new one looks so much like the classic Bonnevilles of the 1960s that both Jim and I stood there for a couple of minutes while the right and left sides of our brains argued. Keep in mind that the ‘60s versions were ones I lusted after for years. Jim owned a restored 1967 when I worked for him that was one of the rare bikes that nobody but him got to ride. Couldn’t blame him.

We both KNEW it was a 2016, and yet it looked so much like a classic ‘60s version. It was weird.  Later I figured out that silver with maroon paint scheme is not actually identical to anything used back then, but so close it could pass for an original.  All by stated intent from Trumph.

I stared at it and started running through the list I’d made of what I wanted.  Lower seat height than a Speed Triple.  Less weight.  Center stand.   Fuel injection.  Longer service intervals (10,000 miles).  Knee pads on the sides of the tank. ABS brakes.  Heated grips.  It had everything on my list, and the looks (to me, and I am the only one that counts here), utterly stunning.

So I came home and laid out my ideas to my wonderful wife. The ups and downs of continued ownership of my Speed Triple which is still a wonderful bike. Plus, we just spent $1300 on new tires and some electrical repairs and various other ills!  Then there were the advantages and disadvantages to the new bike. Like cost.  You’re a fortunate person if you lay out such a list out and hear this response.  “You should do this.”

So I rode into the dealership with a printed list of the many assets of my Speed Triple. Because I know both the old and current owners, I got to skip a sales person (although theirs are perfectly nice) and dealt with the owner. I knew about what mine was worth retail, and about how much he would offer as a trade in.  I knew the list price of the new bike. “Negotiations” might be too strong a word, as the numbers he came up with were pretty much identical to the numbers in my head.

The only downside – no bike.  There are several T 120s in my selected color scheme on order, and several deposits ahead of me. 

Fortunately, one of the advantages of getting older is increased patience.  I can wait a few weeks.

But it won’t be easy.


Copyright 2016               David Preston

Posted in Education, Marketing, Motorcycles | 8 Comments

Motorcycles I Have Ridden Part XII

# 506 to  #509  (and that’s all – for now)

David Preston:                                          Motorcycles Ridden Log

As of January 1st 2014:                                   8 owned   497 tested  Total:  505

#506   2014 BMW F 800ST           Ride West demo

  • White is not my favorite color, but suits the bike well
  • Too polite and civilized for me
  • Exhaust like a vacuum cleaner
  • Belt drive is nice
  • Good weather protection for a smaller sport tourer
  • 46 miles when I left with it – 147 when I returned
  • Adequate power –  but that is not enough
  • Excellent brakes and handling
  • ESA is nice, and I set it to “Sport” (firm) immediately
  • Usual ample info from BMW gauges
  • Under seat fuel tank would be nice on trips with a tank bag
  • Probably the bike I should be riding!  (with an accessory exhaust)

#507   2014 BMW F 800 GS         Ride West demo

  • Lovely maroon
  • Such a simple and easy bike to ride
  • Wish it had a belt instead of a chain
  • Probably the bike  (or the F 800 ST) I SHOULD be owning/riding, with all due respect to the Speed Triple

#508   2014 BMW R 1200 RT       Ride West demo

  • Massive changes from 2013
  • New engine has more power and more leg room
  • Adopted lots of tech from the K 1600 GT
  • Could not get comfy with the adjustments during my ride
  • Windshield made too much noise in all positions except totally up
  • In upper reaches, brings cold air to the shoulders and back
  • Seemed too tall to me – sitting on it rather than in it
  • Infinitely better, perhaps, but I did not like it much at all

#509   2012 BMW G 650 GS         Ride West MSF bike

  • If you have to have a BMW at the lowest cost
  • Practical in an extremely limited range of uses
  • Singe cylinder engine struggles at any speed over 50 mph
  • Gear change actually hurt my foot
  • Nimble for sure, and good brakes, but not very impressive at all
  • Pretty much a POS, sorry to say.



Posted in Motorcycles | Leave a comment