And now – the ride down Mt. Erie

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Riding Up Mt. Erie

Many people have never been to Mt. Erie. It is a scenic vista just south of Anacortes, and the road to it can be hard to find. Well worth it, however, if you like a challenge. The road to the top is very narrow, and open to traffic in both directions, although there is usually little.  Today, January 26th, 2015, was warm for the Seattle area, but the road was damp in most places and had lots of sand and gravel and mud here and there, and bumps, and occasional moss. It is a road to be ridden carefully.  Here is the video.  This is on the way up, and I will post the down video tomorrow

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The Top Ten Motorcycle Fallacies

10 motorcycle fallacies – in order

I haven’t irritated or offended people in quite some time.  I never write to offend on purpose (almost never), but sometimes it happens.  This may be one of those times. 

You have been warned.

Certain truths we hold to be self-evident, the “we” being motorcyclists. Trouble is, many are not self-evident, and probably not true. Doesn’t seem to stop people believing in them. Alas, believing in any of the fallacies below can cost you money, time, credibility, or much, much more. 

They’re listed in order from most dangerous to your health, wallet, sanity, or ego down to the least.

  1. Loud pipes save lives.

This one makes me froth at the mouth, which is not a pretty sight. “Safety” is the “reason” cited by many to mount exhaust systems that serve mainly to irritate the neighbors, anyone else not into motorcycles, and many people who are.

We do have to explain “loud.”  Many companies make accessory pipes which allow the engine to breathe a bit better, possibly increase power a tad, and do make more noise. If memory serves, they are legal (in this state) to be sold as accessories, but not as original equipment. My own Triumph Speed Triple has “off-road” pipes. I suspect they are merely the stock pipes with about 40% of the exhaust baffles removed.  Louder than stock by a bit, but unlikely to be considered objectionable. 

For decades Harley-Davidson made millions marketing “Screaming Eagle” pipes, which to me made the bikes sound about right.  They were so successful at this that a healthy percentage of Harleys had Screaming Eagle pipes installed at the dealership before the customer took delivery of his or her brand new motorcycle. Harley was selling two sets of pipes for one bike, and the profit margin on accessories was higher.  I asked once if there was not something we could do that would be better environmentally and economically than tossing dozens of brand new exhaust pipes in the dumpster. At that time, nobody had a better idea. Everyone who wanted a stock system had one, and there was no known use for brand new stock Harley pipes.

Harley-Davidson chose to stop manufacturing “Screaming Eagle” pipes a few years ago as part of their laudable effort to make motorcycle noise less objectionable. At the same time, the stock pipes seemed to get louder.  A cynic might wonder if they’d been designing stock pipes for decades that were intentionally “too” quiet, in order to spur sales of the Screaming Eagles.  

We can separate such pipes from the truly loud. For decades you could buy pipes that had no mufflers at all, gambling that police officers had better things to do that write a noise citation. If you did get a ticket, you could request a court date and then show up with the stock pipes back on, etc.  

There’s a brand called “D and D,” and I liked to refer to them as “Dumb and Dumbers.” Back then, many of them made a whole lot of noise while not improving performance at all.  

These days most manufacturers have computer design programs that make stock exhaust systems that are very hard to improve upon from a performance standpoint, and noise restrictions are ever more stringent.

None of which deters a whit people who believe that loud pipes save lives. After all, they’re not that interested in performance. They’re interested in noise.

Loud pipes don’t save lives because the noise is going out the rear of the bike, or perhaps the side, and the motorcycle is moving away from it. Almost all threats to the motorcycle are coming from the front. We could explain the Doppler Effect and how sound travels, but why bother? Those who cling to “loud pipes save lives” are similar to people who rely on Fox News. They will believe what they want to believe, and facts so often just get in the way.

  1. A motorcycle is cheaper than a car.

This concept has been iterated by generations of first time buyers as a “logical” argument for a motorcycle purchase, usually presented by the intended rider to the funding source for the motorcycle.

It is true – up to a point. The point where the motorcycle is purchased. 

Unlike a car, motorcycles do not have fenders, windshields, a roof, and other such accoutrements that offer protection from the elements. With a motorcycle, those go on the rider, so just as the bike is purchased comes the expense of gloves, helmet, boots, jacket, and more.

Unless you skip all that and plunge ahead, where the first small mishap will teach an enormous lesson in the cost of preparation vs. the cost of folly.  Presuming you survive to learn it.

Motorcycle tires have to do a lot more work than car tires with a lot less surface area available, and they are made in smaller numbers. The result is that they are both more expensive and do not last as long. At least there are only two of them!  Insurance is more expensive. And on and on.

A particular motorcycle MAY be less expensive than a car, but that motorcycle is probably not the one the earnest shopper wants to purchase.

  1. Listening to music improves the ride.

Not to go all legal on you, but in this state listening to music with two ear buds is illegal.  One ear bud, which hardly anyone uses, is legal, but still lethal. There are a few reasons for this.

There’s a tendency when listening to your favorite music to ride to the music rather than the road. The people who designed the road were not listening to the same song. I know a highly experienced rider who holed the transmission case of his BMW because “Highway to Hell” did not match the terrain.

It is my belief that riding a motorcycle requires all of my attention and (limited) skills, all the time.  There is nothing else that I do that requires 100% of my focus, both hands and feet, and most muscle groups.  Sex, maybe, but I’m unlikely to indulge in that for six or eight hours.

I once had a chat with a colleague who liked to listen to music. He at one time was a rising star in professional baseball, before an opponent delivered a cleat job to his knee that ended his career. He described to me how intense pro ball was, where every day every single thing was watched, and any error was disastrous to your ranking with the team. I asked him if he ever wore ear buds at bat, and of course he said no. Riding a motorcycle is far more important than hitting a ball, so why give away a percentage of concentration and hearing to the “opponent,” in this case people in cages?

  1. You’re more likely to crash in the rain

I don’t have any data on this, but I led people on group rides for thirteen years and never had a crash in the rain.  It seemed to me that people slowed down in the rain so much that they were actually safer.  On dry days there were some people who would blow by me and walk away, and I was fine with that. On wet days, the same people would rapidly disappear in my mirrors. I was slowing down in the wet, but nowhere near as much as most people. As long as the tires on your bike are good and you are careful of painted lines, etc.., you’ll be fine.

  1. Chaps offer protection

Chaps are an item of motorcycle gear probably mispronounced by 98% of the people who wear them.  They were originally designed as leather covers for the legs to protect cowboys riding through areas of chaparral bush, covered with hard and spiny bark that could tear denim pants.  The brush was pronounced with a soft “c”, as in shaparral, shortened to “shaps.”  They have now been appropriated by motorcyclists who pronounce them as “chaps” to such a degree that either pronunciation is acceptable.  You can bring this up the next time you’re on a ride with friends who ride cruisers, the most common demographic for chaps. This will ensure that nobody speaks to you for the rest of the day.

Chaps do provide additional warmth and protection from stones and that sort of thing, and rain.  Except that, because they are worn over pants and have no coverage in the crotch area, they are woeful in the rain in an area that you most want to keep warm and dry. I am also concerned with the integrity of the belt-like attachment system in a crash, although I’ve never seen any data on this. The saving grace is that most cruiser riders do not ride in the rain and rarely crash, so perhaps it’s a wash.

The real function of chaps is that they make almost anyone, male or female, more attractive to others. I purchased a set for my wife at one time because she enjoyed riding on the back of any Harley I was riding in a charity event.  As a side note, Susan liked charity event rides because she felt safest, despite my assertions that they were the most dangerous type of riding I did. Cruising along with dozens or hundreds of others you do not know, all on heavy machines that neither turn nor stop all that well. Some of the entrants are sitting on machines that are moving, rather than riding them.  High alert riding for me, while she leaned against the back rest and enjoyed.

In any case, when Susan put on her new chaps, she remarked “Wow – these really accentuate your butt!” 

I replied, “What would be your point?”

Becoming?  Yes.  Safety enhancing?  Not much.

  1. Tennis shoes give you a friendlier look

This one goes all the way back to the introduction of the Honda Gold Wing. Early adopters wanted to separate themselves from the image of (then) Harley riders, so they all (and I do mean almost all) mounted a stuffed animal on the luggage rack so all would know they were friendly. They also took to wearing tennis shoes to get away from the stomping engineer boots worn at the time by Harley enthusiast. Tennis shoes worn on a motorcycle that weighs over a thousand pounds with rider and passenger is not friendly. It is stupid.

  1.     Motorcycles help you attract women (or men)

I had a female friend who got into motorcycles as her next adventure. She bought a Harley, and was delighted to find that anywhere she went she was welcomed into any group of Harley riders.  She thought motorcycles helped her to meet interesting men.  I’ll admit the Harley helped, but the real reason was that she was attractive.  After two years of this, she switched to golf.

Motorcycles can help you attract others, but only others who are motorcyclists. Motorcyclists are a very small demographic. The vast majority of folks do not get motorcycles, do not like them, or actively fear them. You’d be better off with a new hat.

  1. Chicken strip width is an indication of rider skill

“Chicken strips” is a phrase that refers to the portion of the tire treads that show no wear.  Because motorcycles lean over in turns, the treads, unlike on a car, wrap around the tire and extend up the sides.  At the extreme, race bikes or track day bikes ridden by the adept will show wear all the way to the edge of the tread and at times small shreds of torn rubber. This is at the track. 

On the street,  no chicken strips or very narrow ones simply indicate a rider who is riding over his or her head, and a crash is imminent. You cannot corner that aggressively in a world with stray dogs and people backing into the road just past the apex of the corner. At least not for long.

Some posers have been known to take a file to the edges of the tires to make them look more used, which is just silly. 

I’ve had many people make sarcastic comments on the width of the strips on my tires (one to two inches), which they felt belied what they assumed was my “expert” status. My reply is that they are exactly the right width. For me.

  1. You know how to ride

If you’ve been riding for a number of years, you’re probably pretty confident that you know what you’re doing. You are correct, up to a point.

That point is where you take an advanced riding class or attend a cornering clinic. I started doing this when I’d been riding for 40 years. I attended several classes with customers as part of my job entailing customer support.

I presumed, in my folly, that such a class would review many things I’d known for years.  But no! Each time I took such a class, and even when repeating a class, I learned something new. Brand new. As in a concept or technique I’d never considered before and now use every day. 

I am not referring to a class for racers. These were all classes held for street riders on street bikes, and in one case, on the street. You may know how to ride, but you never know everything. If you have not taken such a class in the past two years, you need one.

  1. You have to have a “touring” bike to tour.

My favorite for last.  Over the years I had literally hundreds of conversations with customers who dreamed of the “big trip,” a concept whose definition varies from a three day ride to one lasting several years. It seems everyone wants to do this, but many are thwarted because they do not own a “touring bike.”

In the beginning, so sayeth the elder, there were no touring motorcycles. There were motorcycles. If you wanted to go on a long ride, you did.  My first such ride took place in 1968, a 4,000 mile trip from Minneapolis to Seattle and back.  My “touring bike” was a 250cc two stroke Yamaha YDS 3.  My buddy rode his Honda 305.  And.. we were camping. We had a fabulous time I can still recall with detail after almost half a century.  Three years later I rode a Honda 450cc street scrambler from Seattle to Florida.  Last summer I repeated the Seattle to Minneapolis and return trip in the opposite direction on my Triumph Speed triple. And so on.

If you own a motorcycle, you can tour on it.  You may need to pack less than on a true touring bike, and you may ride more slowly, or get to ride faster, and you may cover fewer miles in a day.  In other words, you can adapt, especially with cell phones and GPS available and a warren of road choices.

You don’t need a different motorcycle, you just need time and money and the attitude that you will have a great adventure.

And you will.


That’s my ten. Do you have others to add?



Copyright 2015                          David Preston



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The Cure for Tardiness

The Cure for Tardiness

Student tardiness can drive a teacher up the wall, and you may wonder why.  Let me explain.

Teen scholars are an exceptionally volatile bunch, and that makes sense when you think about it. In your teen years your body is changing on virtually a 24-7 basis. You are not the same person today you were yesterday. Your emotional growth is also raging, and mood swings are more the norm than the exception. Student activities can interact with classroom work and either enhance the learning environment or destroy it. For example, a winning football team can elevate the entire school, even for those who are not interested in sports. The last few days before a big dance will render most educational efforts null and void.  A student may fall in love, or out of it, several times a year.  His or her friends will have opinions on this.  Issues in the home get in the way. Students are distracted by thousands of new concepts and possibilities flooding the brain on a second by second basis, whereas most adults have learned to filter out a lot of this stuff while they are at work.

If you walk into a meeting of other adults at work a minute or two late there is a pause, or not, and life continues.  In a classroom, you disrupt the fragile attention spans of 30 others.

This is most obvious in junior high or middle school classrooms, but is also evident in classes of any age level up to the later college years.

I’ll use junior high for my examples, although middle school is currently in favor. To review, junior high is a phrase that usually refers to grades 7-9, while a middle school houses grades 6-8. There are sound educational philosophical reasons for either arrangement, but the real driving forces are the educational fad of the decade blended with population bumps that swell or diminish a particular student distribution.

Teaching junior high has some comparisons to stand-up comedy. In both, the first five minutes are crucial. You have to grab the attention of the audience, deal with any distractions, and herd the entire group in the direction you want to go. If it was easy, everyone could do it.

Toward the end of my career I was conducting experiments using a small stereo system. I could alter the mood of the entering students by the choice of music playing when they walked in. I was getting to the stage of selecting a song to fit the lesson plan for that class period when I chose to retire.

Additional factors in play were the direction for the class on the board when they walked in, plus something of interest that might be off-topic and/or weird, and greeting as many students as possible in a personal way, the latter often hampered by other issues.

When a student enters class a minute or two late, all of your efforts go out the window. Some are able to come in quietly and unobtrusively, but they are rare. Some are tardy because they need attention, and entering with a bang, so to speak, will get that attention.  When we feel the need for attention, at some point negative attention is better than none at all.

In addition, the teacher needs to take and record roll, for both legal and safety reasons. This takes time, and the tardy student sucks more time away from your magic window of being able to get things going in a positive direction.

Some success was attained at Juanita High School for a few years in my sophomore classes.  At that time the curriculum was directed by a theme, and the key word was “choice.” All stories and plays and novels contain characters that make choices, and those choices dictate what happens next. Shakespeare made a good living with this concept.  To my mind, the “choice” concept (not mine) was brilliant. I had dozens of sophomores who, by the end of the year, were able to transfer the concept to their own lives and begin to take responsibility for their own choices, whether ill or good, and to understand just how deeply our own choices imbue all that we do. I could pick on a tardy student for an example, and run them through all of the choices made prior to the class that created the outcome.  Of course, this program of study was so effective it was tossed out in favor of the next great idea in just a few years, my strident objections to the contrary.

I had created a cure for tardiness much earlier, discovered by accident. One year at Kamiakin Junior High, the counselors had a problem. Due to the dizzying number of factors they have to deal with in trying to put together a schedule, they ended up with far too many students who needed an English class 6th period.  No matter how they sliced and diced the data, someone was going to have an enormous class.

In addition, 6th period (the last one) is the worst possible hour for an English class. The students, in most schools, have been under the “control” of an adult five times already.   Some of those adults are brilliant and fascinating, and some are horrible.  Keep in mind that the rankings may change for each adult each day depending on the student, due to the factors above. Students are mentally and emotionally tired, and here we go again with – English.

So I volunteered.  I ended up with a 9th grade class of 37 meeting five days a week during sixth period.  No matter how I arranged the desks, I could only fit in 32 chairs.  This problem turned out to be the solution.

I did have some advantages.  The counselors knew this was going to be a considerable challenge, so the 37 students were hand-picked. Almost all of them had taken my class in 8th grade, and all of them wanted to have me as a teacher again.

Today’s exercise in pounding on the obvious: this was not true of all students.

I always used seating charts, as it was the best way to reduce the time required for roll. In addition, I changed them on pretty much a weekly basis, moving people around either at random or to help solve one social problem or another. Faculty meetings are great for this, as you can make a new seating chart while retaining enough focus to be aware of anything you actually need to listen to.

The result of the lack of desks?  Students quickly figured out that to be late was to lose your desk, and be relegated to a folding chair at the side of the room. The most aggressive were the “floaters” for a particular seating chart, who would make sure they were in class in time to grab any desk not occupied at the bell. Usually there would be at one or two students absent, which made things easier.  Attendance became something of a game, and actually created competition and humor.  In fact, partly because the students had been hand-picked, it became more of an “English club” than a standard class, and was my favorite period of the day that semester.

It just occurred to me the other day that here was an opportunity I failed to use to my advantage for the next dozen years or so. What if, each year, I had removed desks from my room until there were three to five fewer than the class count?

A noble experiment I wish I’d conducted.

PS:  If this sounds in any way negative, let me add that I chose to teach junior high school out of college because I like junior high age kids. Still do.  This may have been because I had a terrific, successful,  and educational time when I was in junior high, or because I sensed my own immaturity. Turns out that in 1969, if you wanted to teach English to junior high students, were male, and wanted to coach, you could pretty much get a job anywhere in the United States. I only applied formally to one school district  (imagine that today!) and turned down a job offer (after a 15 minute interview) as a high school English teacher and assistant hockey coach in Minnesota.  English teachers who could play hockey were evidently extremely rare, and that was what the principal needed.

Imagine the repercussions of that choice had I gone the other way.


Copyright 2015                  David Preston

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The Finest Motorcycle Road Trip Plan of All – Maybe

When I worked at Cycle Barn, and for my first year at Ride West BMW, I led two separate 3 day rides that tended to be my favorite rides of each year.

The first took place in June, and was called “Lolo Pass – or not.”  This consisted of a one day ride on more or less back roads ride to Clarkston, in the south east corner of the state. The 2nd day was used for a ride over Lolo Pass for those who had not done that. After a couple of years I developed a 2nd option for those who had done Lolo at least once. This was a ride to a little-known town called Elk River.  Elk River is a  dead end ride, unless you have an adventure bike, but the ride out and back are priceless.  Miles and miles of winding curves along a river, with virtually no traffic and thus minimal State Patrol presence.

The Idaho State Patrol evidently spends its human resources on Lolo Pass, where one of our number got a ticket for 2mph over the limit while couple rode by on their Harleys drinking beer, helmetless, wearing shorts and t-shirts.  Legally. Bah and humbug.

The 3rd day was a ride back across Washington, where we often were able to get lost with amusing results.

This ride grew over the years, and expanded, as there are dozens of options. One year a separate group made a 4 day ride out of it, spending the first day romping over the North Cascades.  At its peak almost 40 motorcycles made the trip, but I was never riding in a group larger than ten.

The fall trip was to Bend, Oregon. Once again, a one day ride to Bend with at least some corners along the way. The second day was a 300 plus mile loop to the west of Bend, and the 3rd day a meandering route back.  The last time I did this one I was gifted a tremendous return route by Gary Thye, Ride West owner Keith Thye’s brother, Oregon resident, and all around fine human being.

Fast forward a couple of years and a snafu ensued with Tom Mehren, publisher of Sound Rider magazine.  That debacle is detailed elsewhere on this site, but it was four years ago and deserves to be left in the past. The upshot was that, after years of promoting Tom’s Rally in the Gorge event, and many hours spent assisting with its operation, I found myself banned from the event!

I felt this was unfair to an extreme, and the assault on my reputation did not rest easy.  One day it occurred to me that I could combine the two three day rides into one spectacular 5 day adventure.  I thought it would be fun to offer this the same week as the Rally in the Gorge, but Ride West management thought that would just be mean.  My wife agreed that the plan was riddled through with spite, so I abandoned my nefarious plans.

It dawned on me the other day (I can be very slow) that I have never done this ride. I hope to remedy that this year.  What follows are the route plans, which you are free to use. However, I am not sure they are entirely accurate, and I have not included my preferred motels.  I’ll check it over more carefully and add the motels, should the ride come to pass.  After the route directions, I have added some highlights of the ride.

Elk City and Bend –  5 day trip

Day #1         Home to Clarkston           8am brekkie           9am start

  1. 9:00 AM depart North Bend McDonalds (fuel)
  2. EAST on I-90 to Ritzville Exit #221 – RIGHT on SR 261
  3. Across SR 261 into Washtucna (lunch at Sonny’s) (fuel)
  4. SOUTH on SR 261 and LEFT (still SR 261) to Starbuck (fuel)
  5. Through Starbuck to US 12- LEFT on US 12 (East) to Clarkston               

Day #2         Clarkston to Elk River to Clarkston  6am brekkie  7am depart

  1. NORTH on 5TH ST toward DIAGONAL ST/WA-129 0.1 mile
  2. SLIGHT RIGHT onto DIAGONAL ST/WA-129 0.3 mile
  3. DIAGONAL ST/WA-129 becomes US-12 (into IDAHO) 0.4 mile
  4. RIGHT onto SNAKE RIVER AVE                                   0.1 mile
  5. RIGHT onto DIKE BYP. 1.9 miles
  6. LEFT onto MAIN ST/US-12 E. US-12 E. 72.3 miles
  7. Pause for fuel.
  8. Continue to follow ID-13. 15.1 miles
  9. SLIGHT LEFT onto ID-14. 49.6 miles
  10. End at Elk City, ID (fuel) 64.85 miles
  11. Return on ID-14.                                                   41.0 miles
  12. Slight LEFT on MT IDAHO GRADE ROAD 9.6 miles
  13. LEFT at STOP on Main Street
  14. Grangeville, ID Bishop’s Bistro (food / fuel)               51.41 miles
  15. Through Grangeville to
  16. RIGHT onto US-95 N. 37.2 miles or so
  17. LEFT at “Winchester” sign – gas station also (fuel)           
  18. Continue on small road to WINCHESTER GRADE
  19. LEFT at STOP (T) on US 95
  20. LEFT at US 12
  21. Return to Clarkston

Day #3         Clarkston to Bend – 6am brekkie – 7am depart

  1. South from Clarkston on SR 129 through Anatone
  2. Pause at Bogan’s Run for ice cream
  3. Into Oregon on Oregon 3
  4. RIGHT on 82 at ENTERPRISE  (fuel)
  5. LEFT on I 84 at LA GRANDE
  6. RIGHT on 7 at BAKER CITY
  7. RIGHT on 26 at BATES
  8. LEFT on 126 at PRINEVILLE
  9. LEFT on 97 at REDMOND
  10. Bend
  11. Exit 137 for Revere Ave – merge onto NW Wall – right on NW Harriman


Day #4         Depart 8am

  1. LEFT out of Motel
  2. RIGHT at LIGHT onto NW Revere
  3. LEFT (North) at LIGHT onto US-20 (US 97 Bus.) for .3 mile
  4. LEFT (West) onto OB Riley Road for 1.6 miles
  5. Right to become COOK AVENUE
  6. LEFT on US 20 to Sisters. Fuel at the Shell station

Stroll to breakfast

  1. Continue west on Highway 126, McKenzie Highway. 

Stop at the observatory at the Lava Fields

  1. Continue west to Rainbow. (about 45 miles). LEFT at T 
  2. At NFR 19, take a left (you can only go left) towards

Cougar Reservoir.  Also Aufederheide Scenic Highway

  1. STRAIGHT at STOP (covered bridge to your right)
  2. Oakridge – fuel and food, then SOUTH or EAST (however it’s marked) on SR 58.
  3. 35 miles or so – LEFT at Crescent Cutoff road.  (County Road 61)
  4. LEFT at County Road46 (Cascade Lakes Highway)
  5. Arrive at Bend (85 or so more miles)

Day #5         Depart 8am 

  1. NORTH from Bend on 97 to WEST on 20 to SISTERS
  2. Pause in Sisters for breakfast and fuel.
  3. WEST from SISTERS on 20/126
  4. RIGHT on 22
  6. becomes NFS 46 – becomes 224
  7. 224 to Estacada to I-205 to I-5 to home


Seattle to Clarkston:  Lunch in Washtucna.  I LOVED stopping at “Sonny’s” for lunch.  Washtucna has very few operating businesses, and Sonny’s has little to recommend it as a dining establishment.  But I loved the fact that “Sonny” greeted you at the door, took your orders, prepared the food and served it. One year we had about 25 people who showed up at about the same time (several of them had used different routes to get there) and afterward Sonny was outside smoking a cigarette and looking exhausted. We also had many memorable conversations with local residents.

In Clarkston: Just across the river is “Old Spiral Loop Road,” the finest stretch of pavement in the state. It rises from the river’s edge up and up and up for about 13 miles with dozens of corners, several of them hairpins. This ride can be done in the late evening of the first day or the morning or evening of the 2nd. It is magic.

To Elk City: You will think you are in a dream. Spectacular scenery of woods and rushing river water, and over 50 miles of corners, in each direction.  Lots of room to spread out, and one year I marveled that I was “leading” about 30 riders on this route and had been riding by myself for almost an hour. Some go faster, some slower, and some pause for pictures…it’s all good.

Grangeville:  “Bishop’s Bistro,” assuming it is still there, is highly recommended for good food and a sarcastic waitress.

Winchester Grade:  Finest road in Idaho. You find it by turning left off the main highway at the tall pillar with the pink Cadillac impaled on it.  (!) This road runs downhill for 15 miles or so. There is no traffic, and lots of hairpins. These grab your attention because there are no guard rails on the outside of the corners – just a long view into a lot of empty space. A bit of caution is advised.

To Bend:  You stop at “Bogan’s Run” after a 50 mile ride down the slopes of what could pass for the Swiss Alps, but warmer. By the bottom you will have earned a break. You have ice cream here because – everyone does!

The route from “Bogan’s Run” to Bend I have ridden in parts, but often when I did not know where I was, so there are many details along the way I will remember when I get to them.

Bend:  The motel we used had a large expanse of lawn and tables, and a covered pool. Bend also has a lively night life with micro-breweries and jazz clubs and such. I preferred a picnic dinner from the local Safeway and a lounge on the lawn, but those who walked the few blocks to the entertainment raved about it.

Sisters:  We always stopped for fuel at the Shell station in Sisters because it belonged to the brother of a friend. Good a reason as any. There are several excellent choices of breakfast fare.

Lava Fields: Be sure to catch the abrupt left turn leaving town so you do not miss the ride to the Lave Fields. Spectacular ride and pause to climb the lava tower for the scenic views. After that the ride gets better! The road is closed off to long trucks, as the hairpins are too sharp. One year a corner had highway workers with leaf blowers getting rid of pine needles that might cause problems. Bravo.  Pause to rest at the end – you will need it.

Cougar Reservoir:  Another great place for a break. Followed by 60 miles or so of intensity to reach Oakridge.  The ride back to Bend is peaceful, and by now you will be grateful for it.

Final Day:  Another several hours of winding roads with no traffic through forests and farmland.  Once you reach I-5, your last task is to hope for mild traffic for the freeway slog home.


Copyright 2015                  David Preston






Posted in Motorcycles, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

Book review – Head Check by Jack Lewis

Book Review:  Head Check                  by Jack Lewis

Once again, I must present a few caveats.

  • I know and admire Jack Lewis.  He has done me several kindnesses.
  • Jack and his wife Shasta introduced me to the concept of publishing e-books through Amazon 
  • In a sense, I owe every sale of the 7 books I have published through Amazon to them.
  • I’ll be appearing with Jack and a 3rd author at a book signing event at Ride West BMW on January 24th.  This event was originally set up for Jack and the other two of us to take part.

In other words, I owe Jack several favors.  And I fully believe that none of that affects this review.

This book is a series of essays on (mostly) motorcycles and everything that goes with them, many of which have been published previously in Motorcyclist magazine and elsewhere.  No harm in that, as I’ve published two books of essays with the same previously published basis myself. An added attraction to this one is the addition of pieces that magazines rejected due to length.

There are two groups of people who will enjoy this book, for similar but opposite reasons.

Motorcyclists often have a hard time expressing their passion for bikes to others who do not get it, or have not gotten it yet. If you’re really into motorcycles, you quickly learn (or in my own case learn slowly) to temper your remarks and tone them down a bit, lest your enthusiasm overwhelm and drive everyone else away.  This book gives you a wonderful personal space to hear your own passion expressed more clearly and with much greater creativity and specificity than you could probably muster yourself. It’s a fun roller coaster ride to an area of your soul that you normally keep hidden from others.  Once there, you reaffirm that you are correct in your passion and this part of your soul is a wonderful place to be. 

Another of Jack’s books is “Nothing in Reserve.” It is based on his experiences in war and the aftermath, and I can also highly recommend it as one of the most gripping books I have ever read.  I believe it ranks with Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead as one of the finest works of literature in this field. 

Nothing in Reserve is also a good sub-title for this book. You get all the passion, the concerns, the dangers, and the joys of motorcycling. Pure, unvarnished, and raw. The actual sub-title for this one is “What it feels like to ride a motorcycle,” and that is where the 2nd audience jumps in.

If you love someone who’s into motorcycles, and have a hard time understanding the passion, this book will make the thinking of deeply engrossed motorcyclists clear to you.

Not all of the essays deal purely with motorcycles.  Some of the side-topics get into military issues. There are parallels between riding motorcycles and combat, and some positive and some tragic. Although these pieces can occasionally get a bit preachy, they’re still captivating reading. After all, “A good preachin’ shores up your life. Whether you attach a religion to it or not is your choice.”   Who said that?  Actually, I did, but it sounded sort of Samuel Clemens-ish, didn’t it?

All of Jack’s books are available as e-readers from Amazon, and the two mentioned here can also be ordered as paperbacks. Get yours now before the rest of the world discovers Jack’s talent to the degree he deserves. 

Copyright 2014      David Preston  

Posted in Education, Marketing, Motorcycles, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Marshawn Lynch and the NFL

Mr. Lynch and the NFL

A few basics to start. 

1.) I am not all that much of a Seahawks fan, although it is not possible to live in the Northwest and not get caught up just a bit in the excitement the team brings.  It is not just that they win, but how they win and how they express themselves to the media and to others. 

2.) I do not own a single piece of Seahawk attire or other rooting regalia. 

3.) I have attended only two Seahawk games in my life, and both of those were pre-season games where I was given a ticket.

Having said all that, the continuing comic opera of Marshawn Lynch and the NFL over issues related to free speech has to grab your attention.

The first is Mr. Lynch’s apparent aversion to talking to the press. He was fined for this last year, and then the fine was put in abeyance for a year. Then it was reapplied.  Why does he not want to talk to the media?  It is apparent from other videos that he does not have a problem with speaking. He merely does not wish to put himself through the rigors of post-game or other interviews.

I don’t know his reasons, but there could be many.

Perhaps he does not like to feed the media with answers to questions that are entirely repetitive. “How did you feel after that touchdown?”  How many creative ways can you answer a question like that? 

Perhaps he has grown tired of reporters who are all over your bandwagon when things are going well, fawning on your every word and delighting in exaggerating your accomplishments. They go the other way in a hurry if you have a bad game or two, and spew all sorts of ink with negative efforts to trash you for thousands of people to read. Both techniques sell papers. 

Perhaps he is aware that none of the people interviewing him have ever played football at his level.  It is not possible for him to communicate what it is really like, and giving pat answers to questions is a form of lying he may wish to eschew.

Perhaps he would simply prefer to let his actions make all the statement that needs to be made.

Perhaps he is aware that his career will be over in a very short time.  In fact, it could be over after any given game. Perhaps he wishes to be remembered as a football player, and nothing else.

None of this is acceptable to the NFL. The NFL is a non-profit that puts restrictions on players that would be illegal at your place of work.  An NFL player may not accept payment for ads espousing alcoholic beverages, even though a beer producer is the NFL’s greatest source of ad revenue.  A player is not to make political statements, although this has recently been tested.  An NFL player is forbidden to use products such as marijuana, away from work, that are legal in the state where you are employed.  An NFL player may not divert from the prescribed uniform design, even when Denver quarterback Peyton Manning wanted to wear shoes similar in design to those worn by his hero Johnny Unitas, a man who did a great deal to popularize the NFL itself. Request denied.

Almost all of the dictates of the NFL would not stand up to legal scrutiny if applied to you in your workplace.  How a non-profit can get away with such shenanigans is probably a tale involving many clever lawyers, some influential politicians, and money. A lot of money.

Almost everything in the NFL comes down to money. A lot of money.

Mr. Lynch’s most recent fine came from his vaunted touchdown run of last week, where he capped off an improbable display of force of will and talent by leaping into the end zone backwards and evidently grabbing his crotch as he fell to earth.

Why?  I have no idea. A clue might have come earlier in the game, where the cameras caught him delivering a “death stare” to the opposing team. I would presume that was a result of one or more comments made to him that were not complimentary. For his actions, a fine of $11,500.

Not that such an amount will bother his all that much. All of this may increase his income for commercials, in fact.  What will the charge be for a TV ad where he speaks, at length, after all this hoop de doo?  I am guessing it will be more than the sum of all the fines he has accrued.

What is obscene? I am not comfortable with the whole grab your crotch thing which started (maybe?) with Michael Jackson and has since spread like crotch rot (sorry) across what we call our culture. But obscene?  I am reminded of the Supreme Court Justice who said, and I probably paraphrase, “I may not be able to define ‘pornography,’ but I know it when I see it. You have to see a still photo of the act to even notice it. I had not noticed it in several repeat showings of the run in real time.

Contrast this to Mr. Lynch’s normal practice after a touchdown. He does not slam the ball to the ground, or indulge in a patented and carefully rehearsed celebratory dance of some sort. Have you noticed? He merely drops the ball and then walks toward the sidelines, shaking hands with the team mates who got him to the end zone. Now there is a touchdown ritual that is individual.  More of it by others would be welcome.

So we have a non-profit organization that takes in billions of dollars a year while restricting the people who earn the money in what they say, what they wear, what they do on their own time, and every manner of personal expression they might choose.

It would be nice if the NFL brass would spend some time with a really good dictionary.  For starters, they might look up “humility.” Then they could move on tie “hubris,”  “irony,” and “hypocrisy.”

The Seahawks are playing a game today. I hope Mr. Lynch scores several touchdowns, and then in the locker room delivers a filibuster of a speech covering any topic that comes to his mind for at least an hour, with an assistant carefully noting which reporters leave after what amount of time.

I wonder what the fine would be for that.


Copyright 2014      David Preston

Posted in Marketing, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Working Out – With a Lawn Mower

The Lawnmower Workout

Don’t have time for the gym? Here’s how to increase your effort and reps while mowing the lawn in only 8 easy steps.

The first two are the most difficult, because they require a certain degree of stupidity.  Both of which I recently demonstrated.

Step 1:         Leave the mower under the porch deck, covered only by an old upside down litter box. This will keep the ignition systems and fuel tank covered.  However, when there’s a patch of freezing or below weather for a week or two, this also allows water to condense on the roof of the fuel tank each day. This will gradually contaminate the fuel.

Step 2:         Attempt to start the mower on the coldest day of the year. You will not succeed, but you will transfer some of the water from the tank to the fuel line and carburetor, insuring that the mower will not start at all.

Step 3:         Frustrated, and with a dim idea that the rain and cold may be a factor, move the mower into the dry garage next to the motorcycle. Then recall that you have done this earlier in the year each of the past 20 years or so.

Step 4:         After a week for things to dry out, attempt to start the mower.  Voila!  It will run!  For about 60 seconds.

Step 5:         Repeat Step 4 several times, allowing the motor to get a little warmer each time.

Step 6:         Now you can begin to mow. Each time the engine dies, give it a few minutes for the warm engine to evaporate the water in the carburetor. If you have any available, pour the last dregs of the fuel can into the tank. This will allow the engine to run a little bit longer each time.  Use the extra time to empty the grass bag, move the trash cans to the curb, sweep the garage, whatever. This keeps your entire body moving.

Step 7:         In so doing you’ve avoided polluting the grass by pouring out the bad fuel, mowed the lawn (eventually), and reminded yourself to fill the gas can the next time you are out running errands. Your right arm has now yanked the starter rope about 6 dozen times – a good workout. You have exercised more than usual walking around the yard taking care of small stuff each time the mower dies and dries itself out. For the advanced athlete, figure out how to pull the starter rope with your left hand while holding the kill bar closed with your right.

Step 8:         Resolve to move the mower into the garage a month earlier next year.


David Preston                                                      Copyright 2014

Posted in Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Dirt Bike Riders and Street Bike Riders

Differences Between Dirt Bike Riders and Street Bike Riders

It’s amazing how something as simple in concept as the motorcycle can be developed, massaged, improved, and altered into so many sub-categories, most of them unknown and of little interest to people who do not ride.

If you’ve not had the chance, a ride on a Harley Sportster of almost any vintage will be demonstrative of the original simplicity. For sure, there are many reasons to criticize the Sportster compared to other motorcycles of similar size and price.  Little power, barely adequate brakes, handling that is best not pushed, and standard foot pegs designed to punish your ankles every time you stop and put a foot down.

And yet… when you ride one you’ll understand the primordial motorcycle ooze from which the Sportster sprang. The earliest bikes were essentially bicycles with a motor of some sort bolted into the middle of the frame.  When you ride a Sportster, your initial sneer of elitism will soon give way, if your mind is cracked open at least a tad, to a realization of the beauty of simplicity.

The Sportster as one of the most honest motorcycles made today. It is what it is and does not try to be anything else. The essential early elements of a motorcycle are a frame you could design yourself on a piece of paper, an air-cooled engine in the middle, a transmission that feels and shifts like a farm tractor from back when farm equipment had manual transmissions with heavy gears, and basic instruments.  The Sportster, ridden as its designers intended, is a charming bike. Multiple inefficiencies and iron age technology are soon overwhelmed by the fun you’re having riding it. Which is exactly the point. 

What a tangled web of choices we’ve wrought from such basic beginnings.

Before dividing into street and dirt classifications, let’s enjoy a short detour to cover the differences between “bikers” and “motorcyclists.”

“Bikers” are almost always riding a V-twin motorcycle, It is either a Harley or one of a great many other brands trying to carve out a piece of marketing pie by creating a motorcycle that looks and rides like a Harley. One of these may be better in almost every measurable way than a Harley except one. It is not a Harley.  For a surprising number of people, that is the only issue.

Bikers usually dress to impress in a fearful way. Lots of black leather, lots of black everything else, and often a collection of sayings on decals on the bike and helmet (if a helmet is worn), broadcasting messages that span a gamut of inappropriateness from mildly out there to “if you do not find this offensive you must lack the ability to read.”

Like all other motorcycle genres, there’s less to this book than meets the eye. After all, the fabled “1%ers” of the 1960’s never got close to being an actual one percent of the motorcycle population. Almost all “bikers” you will meet are in fact friendly and warm people. 

Besides, there is some method to their masquerade. Whenever I see a person look at me on my motorcycle with fear in their eyes, I thank the “bikers” who created this reaction, which is almost completely unfounded.  Anyone who is afraid of me or what I might do is going to pay attention and stay as far away from my motorcycle as possible. I regret the false assumptions and the fear, but I cherish the increased safety. 

In my 20’s I was on a quest to educate the world about the true nature of motorcyclists, but I gave up on this quixotic quest decades ago.

“Motorcyclists,” on the other hand, can be seen riding anything and everything.  They tend to be more concerned with how they look to themselves than how they look to others. Like bikers, they are striving for a certain look, and that look is determined by the sub-category they wish to be seen as occupying. This may be based on reality but, like bikers, the result is often quite a bit removed. Which gets us to dirt bike riders vs. street bike riders.

Back in the day, (insert yawn as the old coot takes off again) dirt bikes were designed to be ridden in the dirt – imagine? Street bikes were ridden on the street.

This all changed about thirty years ago when the dirt began to disappear. As a child I played in a huge dirt and grass field (weeds, actually) down the block from our house in Buffalo, New York.  How many empty lots are there within 5 blocks of where you live now?  As an increasing rarity of empty spaces collided with a fear of lawsuits, dirt riding areas disappeared, and the cost of a “dirt” bike came to include the expense and hassle of a pick-up truck to carry it increasingly long distance to get to where the dirt could be found.

Then came the rise of the “dual-sport” motorcycle, led by BMW. The dual sport motorcycle has a license plate but is also capable in the dirt, saving you $30,000 or so because you no longer need to own a pick-up truck.

Now you have street bikes and dual sport bikes ridden most of the time on the same roads, and the friendly (mostly) jibes and insults fly back and forth among them.  Bikers ignore all of this, of course.

Although the rivalry is friendly, street bike people and dirt bike people often assume that those who do not ride the “correct” type of bike are not able to. This is a casual way of self-asserting superiority, and fairly harmless.

I choose not to ride dirt bikes, and this was a bit of a problem when I worked for dealerships that sold dirt bikes. Pretty easy to work around, as I could attend dirt events on a street bike. Since I also usually brought door prizes for the event it was all copasetic.  I also could schedule evening seminars on all manner of dirt bike techniques and gear, without the requirement that I actually listen to them.

Many friends made in those days continue to make comments that I should try dirt bikes because I’d love them if I did, or make snarky comments about my limited manliness because I don’t. 

What cannot be accepted is that I have ridden dirt bikes and can ride them.  Not with anywhere near the level of experience and confidence I bring to a  ride on pretty much any street bike, but I can do OK. 

The part that does not sell is that I simply do not like to ride dirt bikes. I wonder if it is the same for people who love only dirt bikes. Can they not convince others that they can ride street bikes but do not like to do so?

Each side can make compelling arguments. Street bikes bring with them a world inhabited by mechanical creatures that weigh one to three tons, driven by people whose attention is often directed elsewhere. In a confrontation between a 500 pound bike with two wheels and a 6,000 pound SUV with four wheels – the bike loses. Every time.  Street bikes must deal with speed limits.  And pedestrians. And gravel and dogs and horse manure and wet leaves where you were not expecting them.  For some, the street can be confining. You cannot go fast enough anywhere, even illegally, for a modern large sport bike to be approaching its limits. There are lots of reasons to not like riding on the street.

Dirt bikes are – dirty.  There are bumps and holes and obstacles of all sorts. Falling down is a fairly frequent and expected experience.  When I was a reasonably competent water ski enthusiast in high school I knew that if I was not falling down a few times a day I was not trying hard enough. Same with hockey.  However, I was not able to make that leap with dirt bikes. I don’t like falling down.  When you have a mechanical issue on a dirt bike (the odds go up because you’re throwing it on the ground from time to time), you may be far away from mechanical assistance and it might be a long push back to civilization. The bike gets dirty and you get dirty.  A paucity of gas stations may be an issue. Injuries are usually quite a bit less severe than after a street bike mishap, but can occur much farther from help, And they seem to occur far more often. There are lots of reasons to not like riding in the dirt.

Beyond that, I find many similarities in the two sides that might not appear obvious.

Appearance:  Motorcyclists like to look the part, whatever it may be.

Sport bike riders tend to dress to look like they are about to enter a road race (I did this for years), a drag race, or a stunt show.  Almost none of them are about to do any of these things.  There is no real harm in this, as long as the rider has some competence. You are simply a “poser.”  Don’t fret – it’s OK!  If you’re not a competent rider and do not know it, then you’re probably a “squid,” which may or may not be an acronym for “Surely Quicker Until I Die.”   Not good.

Favorite story. A number of years ago I was returning to the dealership after some event. I had on my best “poser” gear. Astride a Triumph Sprint in glistening British Racing Green, I wore my full Vanson leather’s suit, race gloves, black boots, and an Arai helmet in yellow.  Quite the ensemble. Waiting at a traffic light, I could tell the gaggle of early 20’s females in the car next to me were discussing – me.  I thought it would be fun to crank up the tinted visor on the helmet to reveal the actual age of the man they were discussing, but as the light changed I changed my mind. I was afraid the screams of horror would cause the driver to cause an incident!

Sport touring riders like to look like they’re about to take off on a cross-country trip at any second. Expensive textile riding suits and GPS and telephone technology are on display. Most of these bikes never leave the state.

Heavy duty tourers have outfits that vary depending on the brand and model of motorcycle.  This can be confusing to the newbie, but attendance at any event will make it clear. The Harley tourers dress differently than the Gold Wing aficionados.

This is where it can get weird. When the Gold Wing and the hundreds of enthusiast clubs for it first became popular 40 years and more ago, the riders of these bikes wanted to separate themselves from the hard-ass “biker” image. To do so, they mounted stuffed bears and other animals to the back of their bikes. All of them. OK, I can see that. Then they went further.  To get away from the black leather engineer boot style, they went for tennis shoes and white socks, because it is “friendlier.”  Many still do.   Tennis shoes and white cotton socks on a motorcycle that weighs 800 pounds is just not a good idea. And then when it rains…

Dual sport riders bend their attire toward an image of an imminent entry in a 5,000 mile rally in the dunes.  Most of them never ride further than the nearest coffee shop, which is where the phrase “Starbucks Adventure riders” originates.

There is no harm in any of this. Most of the farkles added to machine and body to create one’s personal image of choice also enhance comfort and safety, so no harm, no foul. Motorcyclists (and bikers) may be chasing an image of reality they will never attain, but it’s all part of the fun.

Let’s say you’re an “outlier;” a motorcyclist who wants to ride a bike for the approval received from the eyes of the great masses.  Based on experience, this is simple. You want to purchase a Harley V-Rod Night Rod.


I once rode one of these to a charity golf tournament, where it would be the prize in the unlikely event someone aced a hole in one on the specified hole.  This bike, with its high-tech water cooled V-twin engine, is not really a “biker” machine. It is also not a sport bike. It is designed to look like a drag bike with forward pegs. Relatively forward bars give you a riding posture that emulates a large “C.”

As I rode it away from the dealership the handling was so weird I determined that the front tire was almost flat. Back to the shop, where my favorite technician checked both tires and confirmed their correct inflation.

At speeds above 30mph it started to feel almost normal, but the skinny front tire and massive rear made cornering – interesting. As I rode up the freeway in black jeans and boots, black jacket, black gloves, and black helmet with tinted visor, I received more thumbs up gestures and smiles from drivers in cars than any bike before or since. By a lot.  People admired my Kawasaki ZX 12R, or appreciated the exotic nature of the Muzzy Raptor I owned for a bit, or the beauty of a ZRX or Harley Road King, or even the over the top nature of a Thunder Mountain chopper.  But of the over 500 bikes I’ve ridden, nothing has come close to the approval this bike received from others, even though it was a severely compromised design. If I thought the handling was awful at low speeds on pavement, a more heightened experience awaited – riding it across wet grass at the golf course.

You can also have fun by riding the “wrong” bike for the “wrong” purpose. On my 4,000 mile ride to Minneapolis and back last summer I received many comments on the order of “You’re riding that?”  Many people could not see a “naked” Triumph Speed Triple as a sport touring bike.  People from time to time express confusion when talking with a man of my advanced years riding a Speed Triple, which has the carefully marketed image of a “hooligan” bike for your tear-abouts. Kind of a compliment, in a way.

We all want to look good.  No harm in that.

In short, whether on a street bike or a dirt bike, we’re all doing pretty much the same thing. 

We just don’t admit it very often.


Copyright, 2014         David Preston


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How To Buy Toys for Children

Purchasing Toys for Kids

I’m entering the second toy purchasing phase of life, as our grandson arrives next week to spend the Christmas holidays,  As he is 1.25 years old, I plan to spend the next several years showering him with toys.  Which ones? 

Here are rules for toy purchases, learned, sometimes the hard way, with my own children years ago.  It was going to be a list of ten – but there were more than that.

  • You’re purchasing a toy for the child, not for yourself. As a life-long car and motorcycle nut case, it’s hard for me to stray from my roots. When our children were young, I was struck by how much accuracy had evolved in small replicas of cars and motorcycles and trucks. So much cool stuff, and such temptation!  I wanted to buy every cool car model or motorcycle that was not available in my own childhood.

Somewhere buried in the dirt embankment of the driveway of the home of my childhood is a “Dinky” toy model of a Fraser Nash sports car. I lost it there and spent hours excavating the dirt looking for it. Still miss it.

A hard fact of life is that the child, or in this particular case the parents, may not be so gaga over miniature replicas of great machines as I. Since hardly anyone is, this should be obvious.

  • Eschew the electronics.  Anything powered by electricity, either plugged into a wall socket or by batteries, should be avoided if at all possible.  Not so much for safety reasons, but because any operations done with electricity are things the child does not do. The goal of a toy is to play with it, to let the mind roam, and to expand thoughts and fantasies. Simply watching someone’s creation run through its bag of tricks does not engage anything except the eyes. 

The late Johnny Carson once devoted the entire monologue at the beginning of “The Tonight Show” to this topic.  It must have been 40 years ago, but he’d been in a department store and was appalled by all the new electronic toys that required the child to merely sit and watch.  He did several minutes on what he called “Dickie the Stick,” detailing all the wonderful play a child could have if given only – a stick. Like all comedy, it was based on anger.  It was brilliant.

There are caveats, of course, While perusing the stock at a Radio Shack store a month or two ago while waiting for my 88 year old mother in law to straighten out an issue with her purchase plan phone, I was struck by the number of really cool radio-controlled vehicles you could purchase. And they were not all that expensive, These, purchased in pairs, get a pass, because what could be more fun than racing against your grandson around the back yard with your matching off-road vehicles?  In addition, I’ve owned several slot car race track sets in my life, and assuredly will purchase another one in a few years.

In a fit of excess, at the age of 30 I collected several sets of discarded slot car sets from friends and made a slot car track that required several transformers, mounted on saw horses covered by three or four 4’ X 8’ sheets of plywood. The lap time for this track was about 47 seconds.  I called it “Kirkland Junior Raceway” and had parties where friends would come over, ante in a buck or two, and indulge in races. As it was my track, and I had lots of practice, I tended to win a lot. And then people began to come up with custom paint jobs and modifications to the cars to make them faster.  I fought back with a model of an AMC Matador NASCAR racer, which I figured would handicap me with its size and weight. And it did.

  • Stifle the noise. Any toy that makes noise will drive the parents up the nearest wall in short order, in contrast to the melody of a child creating his or her own sound track.  Worst gift my children received in their youth was a game that involved a clucking chicken circulating a track, You were to depress a lever at the correct time for an egg to be delivered to you, and you tried to get more eggs than your opponent.  The clucking noise was a prescription for an eventual trip to a well-padded room when the noise defeated your brain. At the time, I wondered what heinous crime I had committed against my brother for him to respond in such a cruel way. Fortunately the children tired of this monstrosity in short order.
  • Avoid weapons.  This will arouse consternation for many, I am sure, but I don’t see the value in teaching children the “fun” of shooting things. I have to admit we did have fun back then with a set of laser tag pistols, which were weapons AND electronic, AND made noise, but in general, children will learn enough about violence in the fullness of time. Santa need not assist.
  • No computer games. Every child alive today or that will be born in the future who is fortunate enough to live in a first world society will spend an appalling percentage of a lifetime in front of a computer. You need not add to the total.
  • No videos.  Same as computers. TV is something to be tightly controlled.
  • Dolls are a toughie.  We may look at them as teaching “violence” (G.I. Joe) or “sexism” and “unrealistic body image expectations” (Barbie) and all sorts of other woes, but at the end of the day many children like them and have fun playing with them. The solution that worked for us was a variety of stuffed animals, especially ones that could be draped over a hand and used as a puppet. The child (or parent) provided the personality and voice and adventures, without the implied restrictions of a humanoid doll in a costume of some sort. 
  • Non-computer games are a go.  There are all sorts of games that require the child to engage parts of the brain dealing with logic or math in some form or strategy.  I spent hundreds of hours as a child with a set of “Soma blocks’ that could be put together in various combinations.  I’d recommend spending up for wood ones if possible. Teaching a child how to play Checkers and eventually moving on the Chess will give them a game for a lifetime.  My older brothers enjoyed a 3 dimensional chess set with three levels of clear plastic “boards.” The pieces could be moved in several directions. That one was a step too far for me, as I was not capable of playing it with any skill.

When my son learned to play chess, we had fun while playing if I was also watching Monday Night Football on the TV behind him. That way he was competitive and won often enough to retain his interest.  After a while he could beat me with the TV off.  And then, easily…

  • As a general rule, any toy made of real wood or steel or paper will be more valued that one of plastic. Sometimes you will have no choice.
  •  You can create a toy that is a “fort kit” from items in your home. Any child from 1 to 15 wants a fort. It could be three chairs with a blanket over them up to a tree-fort in the back yard as age appropriate.
  •  Avoid sexism. Some boys like to play with dolls. Some girls like to  play with radio kits, erector sets, or basic tool kits. 
  • Go for manual manipulation and dexterity.  Some (but not all) “classic” toys attained their status because they’ve provided millions of hours of play for children across decades. Most of them allow or require the child to put things together or take them apart, and they can be selected based on the age of the child.  Remember “Lincoln Logs”?  Erector sets, Lego kits, and models of one thing or another – the choices abound.

When I was about ten my older brother received a “visible man” kit for Christmas. This had the skeleton and bones of an adult male in small parts which fit into a clear plastic “skin.”  George went beyond the kit to paint in the arteries and veins in blue and red model paint, showing the focus and patience that would serve him well in his eventual career with a doctorate in chemical engineering.  I was more interested in basic items, like a new hockey stick.

  • Music is fine…if…  Does the child like music?  A gift that the child uses to create music, not merely listen to it, can be a wonderful thing.

Fun story. In elementary school I took up the flute. On Christmas morning I was excited to tear the wrapping paper off what emerged – a new case for my school rental flute. I was thanking my parents when they suggested that I actually open the case. It never occurred to me that they would actually purchase me my own flute! I still have it.

  • Books, books, books, and more books. A child who is read to, and then learns to read by him or herself at an early age will be streets ahead of everyone, for life.  There are books for non-readers, books for beginning readers, and on and on. The reason books are so great is that when you read, your imagination has to picture each scene and provide all the sounds and smells and colors.  This is a good thing.  It is pretty easy to keep track of the child’s tastes in literature and gently lead them toward a life of wonder and exploration.

Another fun story.  My children loved the “Berenstain Bears” books. I read them so often I thought I would lose my mind with our second child. I came up with a better idea. I would simply start to tell my son a bedtime story that I made up on the fly. I did not have to worry about the ending, because he would fall asleep before I had to figure out how it all came out.  I paid little attention to what was in each story. This worked a treat until the fateful day when my son said, “Daddy, tell me that story you told me last week again.”

Panic. I had no recollection of what the story was about.  Quick thinking got me to “Which story was that?”

“You know, the one where the boy is in the attic and he opens an old trunk and finds a toy fire truck.”

“Oh, that one,” I lied. I then took up that story and kept it going until he fell asleep again.  Whew!

If you remove all the gifts from this list that are “don’ts” you’ll still have millions of choices. I look forward to making mine.


Copyright 2014                                                       David Preston

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