The Great Bikening

I’ve mentioned it on Twitter a few times, but I purchased a used bicycle about two weeks ago. My reasoning for this decision was because I’d cancelled my boxing gym membership and I needed something to provide a measure of physical activity. I’d loved boxing, but after moving five miles in the wrong direction, suddenly a 30 minute drive just to get to the gym didn’t seem so appealing. Not to mention, I’m trying to get financially squared away and a $45 monthly gym membership just didn’t fit with that goal, especially after I’d picked up a poor attendance habit and was only going about once a week (I’d been hitting the gym three times a week when I first started).

I’d been reading on a few blogs (Mr. Money Mustache and the Art of Manliness) about how rewarding it is to commute to work via bicycle. I checked the distance between home and work on Google maps and discovered it’s just a hair under 10 miles one-way. Shit, I thought to myself. That’s doable. Yeah, I could do that.

The math worked out. Google estimated the time at 50 minutes. My normal commute right now via motorcycle is about 25 minutes. But since I was already spending two hours on fitness when I went to the gym (and only getting one hour of actual exercise out of it), this scheme would allow me to spend my time more effectively since I was turning commute time into exercise time!

So I went out and purchased a used bike. It took a few tries; I looked into BICAS first but they didn’t have anything comfortable for my height. Bookman’s Sport Exchange had a very reasonably priced, very stylish looking green bike that I fell in love with after one test ride.

I rode it home. It was about five miles. I nearly died of exhaustion.

I recall lying on the carpet, gasping like a fish and wondering two things: first, how the hell was I going to do twenty miles a day and second, how had I let myself get this out of shape?

Because I used to bike a lot as a kid. And as a kid, I was able to go on my bike forever. It isn’t until you revisit things in adulthood that you loved in childhood that you realize how much slower and heavier adult bodies are if you don’t keep them in working order.

After that humbling experience, I spent a week building up my stamina. I took a long ride to get some miles under my belt. I tested the commute itself on a day off, reasoning that if I collapsed in a heap on the road somewhere, at least I wouldn’t have to call in.

The commute itself is lovely. I’m really lucky. Around 7 miles of it are on a dedicated, bike-only path that runs the length of a dry river, because in Tucson, rivers don’t need to have water in them to be considered rivers. Even the few miles I do spend on the streets are mostly well designed with generous bike lanes. I only hit three stop lights in ten miles. It’s amazing.

Today is my second day biking to work. I make sure to give myself an hour and a half, even though the commute itself is just about an hour. I have accepted the fact that I’m basically the slowest person on the entire bike trail. Senior citizens zip by me at roughly 1 million miles per hour and politely do choose not to mock me.

But I’m getting better. I’ve improved my commute time by almost ten minutes from the first time I rode it until today. I didn’t need to stop and catch my breath at any point.

I still feel bad when I see how much faster everyone else is. But it makes me really happy to feel the improvements already. I’m getting better. I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as the senior citizens on their carbon-fiber super bikes, but you know what? That’s okay. Because I’m doing this for me. I’m getting healthier again. I like that.

Azeroth Choppers Review

You might have noticed that I spend a lot of posts talking about motorcycles. I also spend a lot of posts talking about video games. Thus, it seems natural that I’d have an opinion on Azeroth Choppers, the web series that follows (some of) the Orange County Choppers crew as they make two bikes themed for World of WarCraft.

You’re right, I do have an opinion. Buckle up (or put your helmet on, since motorcycles don’t have seatbelts) and get ready, because I’m going full-bore nerd here.

So here’s the basic idea for the uninitiated who don’t play WarCraft. The (former) Orange County Chopper guys build a bike matching the theme for the two different player factions, the Alliance and the Horde.

If you ever watched Orange County Choppers when it was on the air, this was their whole schtick. A client would request a custom chopper to promote .  . . whatever and the crew would spend the entire episode designing it and building it and then finally showing it off to the client.

The early seasons were very much in the same vein as all the other “look at this cool job” reality shows. And to be honest, it really was cool seeing how custom motorcycle design works.

But along the way, the Reality Show Curse took hold, possibly because aside from the different designs, once you’ve seen how their build a bike a few times, the formula stays pretty much the same. So they decided to focus on the drama of bike building, which meant lots of arguing, lots of squabbling, etc. You can probably guess what point I stopped watching.

So now the makers of WarCraft decide they want custom bikes. And they want their players to vote for one of the bikes to be turned into an in-game item and given to players of that faction for free.

So when it’s all said and done, one half of the player base will get a free motorcycle in the video game that’s based on the real motorcycle that was built.

This is an incredibly terrible idea.

More specifically, it’s an incredibly terrible idea because of Blizzard’s own decisions about the value of digital content.

Collecting “mounts” is a big aspect of World of WarCraft. Mounts are exactly what the name implies: they are things that you can ride so you move through the game world. In the early days of the game, mounts were limited to things like horses, wolves, tigers, and other things that could increase your travel speed on the ground. Eventually, more fantastic mounts like dragons and phoenices were added so that players could fly through the skies.

They even added a motorcycle at one point.

The reason why mounts are a big deal is that they’re some of the game’s biggest status items. They’re the most coveted. Armor and weapons are cool and improve your character’s power, but those things don’t persist in value. You replace them constantly. Today’s legendary sword is tomorrow’s useless trash.

But mounts are pure vanity. Technically, your first ground mount and your first flying mount are the only two mounts you’ll ever need. There’s no real difference between flying around on a winged eagle-lion or a dragon, except that a dragon is amazingly cool looking. So everyone wants one.

Mounts are usually hard to get, rare items that require extraordinary luck, time, or both. And then Blizzard decided to starting selling them.

The ability to buy a mount debuted relatively late in WoW’s lifespan, during the Wrath expansion. Prior to that, the only way to get a mount was to play the game and earn it.

The first “for sale” mount was the celestial steed, often denigrated as “the sparkle pony.” For $25, you could equip your characters with a sort of glowing translucent blue version of an astral horse. The horse could also fly.

Keep in mind that this horse doesn’t fly faster or anything. It’s just like every other flying mount, including the other flying horses already in the game. You’re not getting a material advantage by buying the sparkle pony. It’s purely a vanity item, just like every other mount.

They’ve added more mounts since then, including a vampire bat, a dragon that changes colors (which I did buy, to my shame, because I’m a sucker for dragons) and most recently a two-headed dragon-ish thing (that I didn’t buy because of the incredible buyer’s remorse I had over the first dragon). All of these mounts are functionally just new models. New things to look at.

On their own, they don’t cause any harm, except for the buyer’s remorse factor that I felt. They don’t hurt the game. Ignore them if you don’t want one. They’re optional.

Here’s why this Azeroth Choppers thing is a stupid idea.

Throughout the entire course of the game, the developers have created the idea that mounts have value. Mounts have value. Initially, that value was represented by playing time and dedication. You had to run the toughest encounters, kill the toughest monsters, or get incredibly lucky to even have a chance at one of these.

Or you had to invest lots of time getting in-game money to buy one. It all worked to create the perception of value. More rare mounts were perceived as more valuable, simply because of that rarity.

The ability to spend actual money to buy a mount further reinforced this perception that mounts have value, especially because now they literally have value. $25 dollars per mount. If you’re an OCD mount collector, get ready to spend over a hundred bucks . . . you know, in addition to playing the subscription fee and all.

Mounts have value. They have value in terms of time, luck and/or actual money. This is the system that has been in place since the game first launched in 2004 (although I think mounts weren’t actually added to the game until 2005, it’s hard to remember. Doesn’t matter, they’ve been around for a long time).

And now we get to the heart of why Azeroth Choppers fails at its objective.

The idea was that although two motorcycles would be created, only one would be added to the game. That motorcycle would only be available to characters of that particular faction.

For the players of the other faction, they’ll get zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Sure, they could create a character on the other faction if they really want a free motorcycle so badly, but let’s be realistic. Most players have a group of players that they’re invested in. Playing both sides isn’t very common. You have your favorite character, you “main” character. And that character may not be on the side that gets a free motorcycle.

So half the players get something and the other half get nothing.

What does that accomplish, exactly? The players on the losing side feel shafted. They feel shafted specifically because the entire concept of the mount is built around the socially engineered concept that mounts are valuable. Mounts are $25 dollars.

So you, winning player, here’s a free $25 dollar thing. Enjoy. But you, losing player? You get nothing. Have fun.

This is a terrible fucking strategy. It would have been less shitty if mounts weren’t constructed around this idea of value, but they are. If the winning motorcycle had been made available to both sides, it would be less shitty, because then everyone gets something equally. Sure, the losing faction doesn’t get “their” motorcycle but they’re still getting $25 worth of value.

Most reactions seem to be that there’s no way Blizzard will enforce the competition aspect of this whole stunt. I’ve read a lot of opinions that suggest the winning motorcycle will be free to that faction and the losing one will be available in the real-money store, presumably for $25.

If anything, that idea is even stupider, a tax on the players who aren’t on the winning side. Not to mention; how many people really want to spend $25 on something that says, hey, remember that your side lost. This whole competition idea completely damages the perception of value for the item that they themselves spent money to build!

This entire thing was supposed to be a publicity stunt, which it was. Presumably, it was supposed to generate good publicity . . . which it didn’t. The concept was flawed from inception. If they really intend not to give everyone a bike, their own model of perceived value bites them in the ass.

If they change their minds and say, sure, bikes for everyone now, why the hell didn’t they just do the entire promotion like that from the beginning? The entire spectacle is based around the idea that “one bike goes into the game” and “the losers get nothing.”

Yes, the game is built around conflict. But now that you’ve taken that perception and turned it into something tangible, it’s no longer fun. Now it just feels mean-spirited. It doesn’t matter that Blizzard didn’t choose the winner, the players did. For players of the losing faction, they get to be exactly that. You guys are the losers. Enjoy playing your game, losers. Have fun being losers.

That’s . . .  not really a great feeling to instill in half your customer base.

On one final note: it really annoys me to hear everyone referring to the three-wheeled motorcycle as a “bike.” A three-wheeled motorcycle is not a bike. It’s a trike.

This annoys me both as a rider and as a fan of the English language.

Riders, It’s Time To Start Waving At Scooters

They’ll cover it in the MSF beginning rider course, even though it really has nothing to do with safety. Or you’ll learn its importance from the friend or family member who taught you how to rider (even though, seriously, go take an MSF course). Or you might just pick up on its importance after you’ve noticed your fellow riders flashing it at you as you pass each other like screaming chrome ships in the night.

That’s right, we’re talking about the motorcycle wave.

When you buy a motorcycle, you’re enrolled in a club. Enrollment is automatic and opting out is frowned upon. Like any good club, there are various traditions and disagreements about what behavior is proper and acceptable, but the bottom line is this: motorcyclists wave at one another.

For the non-riders out there, here’s how it works. If you’re on your bike and a fellow rider is coming towards you in the opposite lane, you stick your hand out in some fashion to that rider. Exceptions are made for circumstances such as when one’s left hand is busy with a shift or turn (in those instances, a head nod is acceptable if one can manage it).

There’s a lot of flexibility in what gesture you can make, as long as it’s not the raised middle finger, because that’s both rude to your brother or sister rider and also because we need to save that special gesture for, well, every single brain dead SUV, pickup and minivan driver that’s trying to kill us.

Me? I like a simple raised index and middle finger V (basically a peace sign) held out at a low angle towards the road. “Living the two wheeled life” is what it means to me. I have no idea if others interpret it that way. It doesn’t matter. It’s my wave and I like it.

Even with this tradition of waving to one another, there’s a lot of tribalism in motorcycle culture and that’s without even getting into the topic of motorcycle clubs or gangs.

You’re judged by what you ride, how you ride it, and what you’re wearing while riding it. Generally speaking, cruisers don’t like sport bike riders, and vice versa. Sport riders especially hate squids who tend to make sport riders as a whole look bad. And Harley riders hate everyone aside from themselves. They might even hate themselves. I don’t know any Harley riders, so I can’t verify.

I kid, I kid. You can’t take my opinion on Harleys seriously. I’m a Kawasaki rider.

The only thing all riders can agree on is a unanimous hatred of scooters.

Scooters don’t get the wave. At best, they get ignored. At worst, an icy glare and a feeling of smug superiority as one thinks of all the various ways scooters are doing it wrong and how we motorcycle riders are just so much better

Confession: I’ve been guilty of this.

“I don’t get scooter riders,” I’ve said. “I almost never see a scooter rider wearing a decent helmet, much less gloves, boots, or a jacket. Do they think that riding a scooter means the road will be somehow more forgiving when they go down on it because they fell off a scooter?”

Worst of all? “Scooter riders don’t even know about the wave. I can count the number of scooters who have waved at me on one hand and have five fingers left over.”

You know what I’ve begun to realize, though? This animosity between motorcycles and scooters is  ridiculous at best and pernicious at worst.

Let’s go back to the wave and why we do it.

I’ve tried to get a general sense of what rider culture is like with regards to the wave, so I’ve paid close attention to who initiates waves to me or who reciprocates waves that I initiate. My evidence is purely anecdotal, of course, since I don’t take the time to write down my findings while riding.

But what I’ve noticed is that Harley riders are the most responsive when it comes to waves in terms of both initiating and reciprocating, and that’s even coming from someone who is very clearly neither a Harley nor a cruiser rider.

Other cruiser brands are more hit-or-miss; I have to assume some of it is due to cruiser vs. sport bike rivalry. Sport riders are generally good about waving at me if and only if they’re a rider like me: full face helmet, jacket, gloves, etc. If the sport rider is in sandals and shorts i. e. a squid, I tend to get fewer waves than from any other group.

My feeling for this is based on the general rider profile. Harley riders, in general, tend to have a larger percentage of “the old guard” in their ranks and among the old guard, it seems that a rider is worthy of a wave no matter what he or she is riding. Other groups have less adherence to tradition, so there is correspondingly less waving.

How does this pertain to scooters?

My thought is this: maybe scooters don’t know about waving because so few motorcyclists take the time to wave to them. We haven’t invited them into our club. And why haven’t we?

It can’t be a gear thing, because many riders go without jackets, boots, or a brain bucket of any kind.

It can’t be a matter of engine size. We don’t judge a rider who putters by on a Honda Rebel 250. We think “there goes another new member of the tribe,” because a 250 is a fine bike to learn how to ride on, so we accept them as a member of the tribe or because it’s a cheap bike to buy and maintain and a cheap bike is always better than no bike.

Scooters tend to be cheaper than even little bikes like the 250. But regardless of the reason for why a scooter rider has chosen such a mount, the fact is they’re out there on two wheels, the same as us. They’re in it, just as we are, even if they don’t look as cool.

But that’s what the wave is all about, isn’t it? We wave at other riders to acknowledge that we’re all out here facing the same risks. We’re 37 times more likely to be killed than a cager and that breeds a certain solidarity, no matter what one is riding. Scooters are facing those same risks. They’re enjoying the same freedoms. I think that’s worthy of membership in the “wave club.”

And that’s why I wave at everyone now. Scooter, cruiser, Harley, tourer, it doesn’t matter. The wave is about solidarity. It’s about showing that we’re all in this together, that we’re all facing down the Grim Reaper when we swing our legs over our mounts. We’re all out there living life on two wheels. We’re all family in that regard.

. . .

Motorcycles just happen to be the cooler uncles and more awesome cousins of that particular family. 

Had To Lay This Post Down

This post is going to be about motorcycles.

If you talk to a motorcycle rider long enough, it’s possible you’ve heard the phrase “laying the bike down” or some variation thereof. It generally refers to a situation where a rider is faced with a difficult choice: crash into some sort of obstacle or vehicle, or ditch the bike and intentionally crash to avoid the impact. It communicates a certainly steeliness that exists within the rider. It’s a willingness to make hard choices and to think quickly under pressure.

It’s an incredibly stupid phrase and I despise it.

I’ve dropped my motorcycle once. I’ve also fallen off my motorcycle once. I didn’t “lay it down” either time. I dropped it and I fell off it. The first time, I had no idea what I was doing and tried to turn far too slowly and sharply. The bike tipped and gravity took hold of 400+ pounds of metal and did the rest. It was tremendously embarrassing, especially since I hadn’t actually bought the bike yet. At least it was a used bike and the owner was my brother, instead of some stranger.

When I fell off my bike, it was exactly as it sounds: I was riding, I was inexperienced, and I tried to pull onto a shoulder and rode through a deep patch of gravel. The only thing I remember was having just enough time to think “well, shit” and then I was lying flat on my back on the side of the road. The only injuries were some bruises on my leg and my pride.

I didn’t lay the bike down, though. Let’s be clear on that.

The reason I dislike the phrase is that it implies that leaping off your motorcycle is some sort of valid defensive strategy, when really, it’s not. If you’re off your motorcycle when it’s moving, it’s a crash. Maybe it’s a small crash and does indeed avoid a bigger crash, but it’s still a crash.

The idea that you would have the time to see a dangerous situation oncoming, assess the situation, realize there was no time to swerve, brake, or otherwise evade the situation, steel your reserve, and then push yourself off the bike . . . does that seem realistic?

You know what’s easier and faster than jumping off a motorcycle while it’s moving? Hitting the brakes. You know what’s better than jumping off a motorcycle at 60 miles an hour and possibly getting crushed under your bike or run over by a car behind you or slide along the ground for a while? Braking first, so that even if you do hit something, you’ve cut your speed by 15 or 30 miles per hour.

It’s true, older bikes had inferior brakes to what’s available today. Maybe there was a time and a place when “laying it down” was the only viable strategy. But that’s come and gone and to suggest that it’s still a good idea is just ridiculous.

The fact is, most riders are too proud to admit that they fell off or that they braked incorrectly and locked the wheels. We need to start admitting that. Yeah, it’s embarrassing to say “I fell off my motorcycle” or “I crashed my motorcycle.” You know what’s not embarrassing, though? Following that up with: “even though I fell off my motorcycle, when I was physically able to do so, I got back on.”