Sunday, October 01, 2006

Complete Idiots Building and Riding Bikes

Book Reviews

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Choppers
By Russ Austin and Michael Benson
Alpha Books
Penguin Book Publishing
ISBN #1-59257-452-1

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles
By Darwin Holmstrom and Charles Everitt
Alpha Books
Penguin Book Publishing
ISBN #1-59257-303-7
That’s just what we need, more Idiots on motorcycles
When The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles (3rd Edition) crossed my desk I heard a collective groan, “That’s just what we need, more Idiots on motorcycles.” Upon reading, I discovered that it was singularly the best basic guide ever published on the sport. Motorcyclist magazine alumnus Darwin Holmstrom and editor Charles Everitt had created a textbook that should be required reading for anyone thinking about standing near a motorcycle, let alone riding one. But thanks to the title all I could see was a wave of Idiots on gleaming new motorcycles heading right for me.

So you can imagine my dismay when I opened an envelope on my desk to reveal a copy of the newly minted: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Choppers.

Now understand that I’ve no qualm with choppers. In fact I think they’re cool. Very cool! And don’t feed me any handling, braking, ride-ability crap about them. The thing is that a Chopper is supposed to look cool. That’s its main job. Coolness is Number One! All else is superfluous. Besides, every motorcycle on the market is more motorcycle than any of us really need so why not have a cool one?

As for Idiots it’s no secret; we all know a few, and we all are a few. A psychology exploited in marketing philosophy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide series. The CIG’s savvy publishers have developed a style and that simplifies learning regardless of your own personal level of idiocy. Information is presented in small chunks with the most basic details first and later more advanced information is piled on. All the time cleverly disguised footnotes salted throughout the text act as mnemonics.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Choppers was written by Russ Austin, a custom builder and owner of Precious Metals Customs in Atlanta along with Michael Benson, a former car magazine editor and professional CIG writer. The duo do a fair job of explaining all the pitfalls and warning of the pratfalls involved with chopper building, buying and maintaining with a couple of secret handshake moments thrown in for good measure.

Austin’s warnings to the neophyte builder are born of his own sweat and scars which he makes abundantly clear, and at the same time he makes no bones about promoting his shop, private brand parts and personal philosophy which causes a large part of the book to read like a sales brochure. Not to be seen as all ego Austin does come clean on the source of his inspiration, necessity, admitting that his signature style of fender-free choppers was born of a painter who failed to deliver a fender in time for his first bike showing. He quickly fabricated a seat bracket and rode to the show sans fender. The crowd loved it, he took home the trophy and has avoided fenders ever since.

Overall, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Choppers provides the chopper-challenged a good platform of basic verbal information but it fails miserably on presentation. The few photographs included are too small to see details, have cluttered backgrounds and poor lighting. The photos in the color section look like the bikes were rolled out of the showroom at high noon for a snapshot then rolled back in. Choppers, especially such unique ones, deserve better. Choppers are the most creative, pictorial and coolest movements in the history of motorcycle culture. Worse, the section on Culture is the smallest in the book which is no surprise as there are pages of descriptions of motorcycles without images and boxes with bike builder biographies devoid of portraits. Such treatment leaves this reader wanting.

Buy this book if you’re admittedly absolutely totally ignorant about choppers, what makes a chopper or makes a chopper rider tick and need to know for some overwhelming reason like keeping up with the boys at the biker bar or avoiding that lost deer-in-the-headlight face when going to a custom bike show. You should also buy this book if you’re planning your first chopper build even if you’re already a top-rate tech because one piece of advice from the Guide will save you hours of cursing and confusion on something you probably never even thought of, which more than justifies the $19.95 cover price.

Now if your chopper desires extend merely to daydreaming and drooling over photos of cool bikes then your twenty bucks is better spent on some glossy custom bike magazines because the photographs are better and there might be partially clad or even totally naked girls in some of them.


Ride Far , Ride Fast and Ride Well!


Friday, September 01, 2006

My First Column for US Rider News!

I've started writing a monthly column for US Rider News. Here's the first installment (as seen in the September edition):

As is the tradition in enthusiast rags I’ll first thank the El JefĂ© and his team, for this space to spout my views of motorcycles, motorcyclists, and the motorcycling life.

It’s been over a year since I’ve coughed up moto witticisms on a regular basis. Ya see, I too used to be the publisher of a motorcycle tabloid only mine had a distinct Yankee flavor.

For nearly a decade life was great. I’d earned enough respect to be invited on press introductions and get free goodies to test. I’d also reached the point where I had to pay the government, and get a check back at the end of the year.

Then came the explosion of free moto-rags and I felt the sting of competition. Not in content or quality, as the El Jefe will agree, but in the fact that to stay in business I had to kiss the butt of every dip wad, dork and dimwit inhabiting a motorcycle shop, few of whom even read. And if anyone out there thinks I’m talking about you; You’re wrong! (Unless someone is reading this to you.)

Not that the experience of publishing a moto-rag makes me an expert on motorcycles, I’m just another schmo who spent too much time in the saddle as a rally-rat cum traveler instead of going to work, lavishing my wife with attention or stashing money for retirement.

I do lay claim to having earned my saddle sores with real mileage and I have the proof. On my wall is an award, emblazoned with the logo of a certain brand and a number-300,000 miles-to be precise, which was awarded to me for riding those miles on that brand of motorcycle. Though not specifically mentioned on the aforementioned certificate, I would include; Supporting the service department of their dealers along with a consortium of oil companies, diners, donut shops and the like. What is not mentioned in the adoring calligraphy is the resulting rotator-cuff tendonitis, advanced arthritis in my neck and a cholesterol count that rivals the top end of most speedometers.

Along the way to being a mega-mileage rider I’ve been employed as a certified MSF instructor, which makes me personally responsible for keeping some of the clowns off two wheels and in cages. I’ve volunteered on the Safety Crew of more than one racetrack.

To prove that life does get better as you age - the best gig I’ve had recently was as a Sports Reporter for the New York Times covering the United States MotoGP.

The story began with an email from my buddy in Venice that he’d scored two extra tickets to Laguna Seca Raceway for the MotoGP and assorted other racing events.

This little package wasn’t the only offer to appear. My buddy Lee Parks had rented a booth on Vendor Row at the track to hawk his book, Total Control and all his self-designed trinkets like gloves and helmets refresher spray. Lee had borrowed a fleet of super-scooters for the ride and all I had to do was fly to Cali and help him schlep in exchange for camping and a ride.

I starred in that movie two years ago and ended up on the side of Pacific Coast Highway with a totaled Ultra Glide watching Lee and overload gang blow by like a freight train on crystal meth oblivious to my fate.

While tickets to the races were quite the lure remember that I’ve been suffering from mid-life-outta-work syndrome and unless someone was going to spring for the airfare I was not going to the races.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the Golden State my buddy Mike who suffers from a similar income situation offered a trove of frequent flyer miles in exchange for helping him organize his photo portfolio.

With an airfare “in the bag” I figured that earning a few shekels to cover expenses wouldn’t hurt so I fired an email inquiry to the New York Times and they bit! Journalist friends all inquired as to the pay rate and I replied, “for my first byline in the Times; I’d pay them!”

Now back in the days of my moto-publishing I’d send a three-inch thick “This is what we’ve done for you lately” package overnight to Spain begging for credentials. Last year, they decided no credentials would be issued to free magazines.

The New York Times got me full access and the name got me 10 minutes one-on-one with both Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden!

Meanwhile Mike waffled on booking my airfare as the Times confirmed the assignment so my wife dusted off the emergency plastic and I got on the Net.

You can read about the races elsewhere in this issue.

Oh, and that’s how I got here. See ya next month.

Ride well, ride far and ride fast!


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