In a little less than a month this nation’s most prolonged and painful presidential gestation period will come to a merciful end. Predictions of the impending apocalypse aside, I hope we will return to our normal state of disharmony and discord, the less consequential kind that can be addressed productively with a large Snap-On toolbox and a shelf full of shop manuals. We can get back to a world of fixing things that actually entails making something useful again rather than the amoral political machinations “fixing” implies.

The federal government has long played a role in the world of motorcycling, from the “Backwards Bike,” pictured above brought to us by our own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to Sen. John Danforth’s proposed superbike ban, from helmet and emission standards to HOV lane statutory mandates, both road and off-road, the broad reach of the federal government has touched all riders. This is why the AMA, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation, and the Motorcycle Industry Council maintain offices in Washington DC, and that is why federal elections matter.

But the vitriol accompanying this election cycle is unprecedented in modern times, and the currency of the day – sanctimony and rage – permeates even the motorcycling community. I try to reassure myself that nobody ever “unfriended” anybody arguing over the relative merits of Dainese versus Vanson leathers. We are motorcyclists after all, united on two wheels. If only our political discourse was so civil.

I’ve witnessed dysfunction and anger before; I worked at a bike dealership. Politicians exist to address citizens’ wants and needs, and so do bike dealerships. And most days basic services are provided and everybody goes about their business. Occasionally, needs and wants may not be adequately addressed, and an enraged man may want to throw a Suzuki LT50 through your showroom window. These things happen. To borrow a line from Bill Clinton, this would be a good time to feel that fella’s pain, the angry looking one.

Two reality television stars, one presidential candidate.

Two reality television stars, one presidential candidate.

Growing frustration with a system seen as unresponsive to one’s needs can cause a man to hoist 100 pounds of kiddie quad he paid something in the neighborhood of 600 bucks for above his head and say threatening things. The trick right from the beginning is to ascertain what the problem is so it can be properly addressed. Well, that is after resolving not to laugh out loud at the image of an angry man threatening to destroy a plate glass window with an HO-scale ATV. It may be funny, but it may also get worse. Time spent laughing might be better off spent fixing.

As pleasurable as it might be to launch that quad through the window – to blow the system up as it were – imagine how much more pleasurable it might be if we could rectify whatever problem this man seems to be having with his tiny quad? It’s a rare day a man wakes up and thinks this is a great day to throw a quad through a window.  What seems to be the problem here?

Quickly the story unfolds: The man bought the quad to make his young son happy. Young son was quite happy, but while dad is away at work, he has to rely upon mom to start the quad, and while the quad seems to start okay so long as dad is around, the same cannot be said when the task is delegated to mom and Junior. This frustrates the kid, who in turn frustrates mom, who likewise gets on the phone and infuriates dad: Ergo, we either fix the thing or take it back, or it’s going through the window.

Is that all? We are a motorcycle shop; we exist to turn that frown upside down. This is child’s play.

Mike, our shop’s manager, had a real knack with enraged customers and two-strokes. He knew why the little quad was loading up and refusing to run and he knew how to fix it. The little quad came equipped with a restrictor plate to limit speed for novice riders, and a zing string that allowed a parent to follow along behind and engage the kill switch if Junior got too rambunctious doing nac-nacs or some such. No self-respecting two-cycle motor wants to do plug chops barely off idle every 30 feet, and Cox .049 model airplane motors had larger exhaust ports than that permitted by the Suzuki’s restrictor plate, so Mike, after discussing the solutions with enraged dad in conspiratorial tones, set out to rectify the situation.

Gov. Mike Pence looking for the high road.

Gov. Mike Pence looking for the high road.

The mini-quad disappeared into the bowels of our shop, the restrictor plate came off, the carb was diddled with to Mike’s satisfaction, and the little LT-50 emerged cracking like a proper two-smoker on the start line at Loretta Lynn’s. I asked Mike what mom was supposed to do trailing with the kill switch tether? He tossed me a disdainful glance and suggested she trot faster. Enraged dad, meanwhile, was overjoyed and we never heard another complaint about the little quad again.

If you are keeping score, that is three happy people and one plate glass window left intact. This is what happens when clear-headed, experienced people are presented with a problem: they assess the situation and fix it. Rage has limited utility, and inexperience is of little value in these situations so long as a functional system exists to address the problems.

If only life were so simple. There are disreputable dealerships, incompetent mechanics, and sometimes limited choices comprised of bad, worse, or nonexistent. The good news on the political end of things is this mess will be over in less than a month. The bad news is there is a month of this mess left.

As if this election cycle wasn’t surreal enough already, this past Friday the Obama administration formally accused the Russian government of hacking the DNC to influence the election.

As if this election cycle wasn’t surreal enough already, this past Friday the Obama administration formally accused the Russian government of hacking the DNC to influence the election.

Some days you just can’t get what you want. Lack of a good choice is tantamount to a bad choice, it’s confounding. So is needing an aftermarket exhaust and finding only a MAC pipe available that requires a pry bar and a rubber mallet to install. You can have an exhaust loud and ill-fitting, or your dented, stock, status quo system. Likewise, having to choose between two presidential candidates with the highest unfavorable ratings in modern American political history is not exactly a prospect to relish.

Any pretense of civil debate or discussion of the issues in this election cycle has been abandoned months ago. This presidential election has devolved into one long ad hominem assault with no sign of abating short of Election Day.

But borrowing from another candidate’s inaugural address from an earlier time, it is my hope that with malice toward none, with charity for all, leaving the baseness, the coarseness, of this election behind, we can proceed forward together realizing that we all have much more in common than what separates us at the ballot booth.

Ride safe, look where you want to go, and get out and vote.


About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.

  • Tod Rafferty

    Don’t believe I ever seen a shot of the backwards bike, which ostensibly steered with the rear wheel. Looking at the photo, can’t see how it would do that. Of course, maybe it didn’t. Question is, where is it now? In Joan Claybrook’s basement? Please report back.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Tod, operating from memory, it was supposed to steer from the rear, it
      was deemed unrideable at least at some point during the demonstration
      phase of the project. Speculation at the time was the problem they were
      encountering was in trying to get motorcyclists to ride it, and the
      feedback from the “bike” was confounding them. Some suggested that
      the project might be better off soliciting their test riders from a
      pool of non-riding subjects.

      Where is it, now that is a great
      question. I don’t know. Again, working from memory here, hmmmm, it was a
      NHTSA demonstration project, contracted out no doubt, so who took
      possession of the bike at the conclusion of the project? I guess that
      would be the place to start.

      Oh, and like you, I stared for
      the longest time at a blown up version of that pic we had out at the AMA
      and for the life of me I couldn’t puzzle out how exactly one was
      supposed to ride that thing or how it turned. I figured the pic might have been taken during the mock-up stage of the build and perhaps all the pieces weren’t in the puzzle yet.

      Claybrook was very forthcoming on all of NHTSA’s activities while she was in charge there and had a series of pretty extensive interviews with the AMAs magazine as I recall. You got me curious now.

    • Starmag

      In Joan Claybrook’s basement where she still gets ruefully misty-eyed when she looks at it’s 85mph speedometer.

  • JMDonald

    Vote you conscience. If you have one.

  • Starmag