Why ‘Servi-Car’? Because it was for servicing cars

 Back in the 1930s, quite a few garages offered to pick up and drop off customers’ cars. (Imagine that, eh? Customer service!)

Back in the 1930s, quite a few garages offered to pick up and drop off customers’ cars. (Imagine that, eh? Customer service!)

Considering that it was offered in the Harley-Davidson lineup from 1932 to ’74, it’s hard to call the three-wheeled Servi-Car a dead end. But few Servi-Cars ever served their initial purpose. 

The idea was, garage operators would send a man out on the Harley to collect the customer’s car. The delivery driver would then attach the trike to the customer’s car’s bumper, and tow it back to the garage. After servicing the customer’s car, they’d return it to the customer with the Harley in tow. Then they’d unhitch the hog and return to the garage.

 The initial concept didn’t catch on all that well, but the idea of a small, fuel-efficient vehicle with a large cargo capacity found a niche with police departments and all manner of delivery services and tradesmen.

The initial concept didn’t catch on all that well, but the idea of a small, fuel-efficient vehicle with a large cargo capacity found a niche with police departments and all manner of delivery services and tradesmen.


 
 This text is excerpted from my  Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia . (The first  Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia  was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

This text is excerpted from my Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia. (The first Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

Harley's dead ends, con't.: Was it a Blast? Not really

Decades after the Aermacchi debacle, Harley-Davidson tried to produce an entry-level bike again with the ill-fated Buell Blast, sold (read: almost given away) from 2000 to 2010.

 Some day, even this will be collectible.

Some day, even this will be collectible.

The Blast was a small, light motorcycle with a relatively (for Harley) sporting stance. Basically, the motor was a 1,000cc Sportster missing the rear cylinder. The bodywork was made out of Surlyn plastic—a material normally used in golf balls. Presumably that was to make it crash resistant. 

It was a good idea. Really, it was. And according to Harley’s PR, the Blast was used to train over 175,000 riders in the Rider’s Edge program. But it was so unloved that after announcing that it would discontinue the model, Buell crushed remaining Blasts into cubes rather than sell them.

Harley-Davidson's dead ends: How do you say 'potato-potato' in Italian? (Hint: It's "ringa-dinga-dinga")

 Since Villa was the only Harley-Davidson rider to carry the #1 plate in the World Championship, I assume this is he. Note the unique ‘hydro-conical’ front brake setup. Aermacchi-designed and manufactured H-D Sprint motors. Though totally different, they also did well in U.S. short-track racing. Neither the public nor, I suspect, Harley dealers really knew what to make of those smaller Harleys. Aermacchi was sold back to the Italians after a few years.

Since Villa was the only Harley-Davidson rider to carry the #1 plate in the World Championship, I assume this is he. Note the unique ‘hydro-conical’ front brake setup. Aermacchi-designed and manufactured H-D Sprint motors. Though totally different, they also did well in U.S. short-track racing. Neither the public nor, I suspect, Harley dealers really knew what to make of those smaller Harleys. Aermacchi was sold back to the Italians after a few years.

Considering that underwhelming Superbike history, you may be surprised to learn that Harley-Davidson actually won several Grand Prix World Championships in the mid-1970s. Americans hardly knew it was even happening; it was an all-Italian effort.

Aermacchi was an Italian company that started out in the airplane business, but shifted into motorcycles after WWII. In 1960, Harley-Davidson acquired a 50% interest in the Italian company, because Harley dealers needed smaller entry-level bikes for customers who weren’t ready (or couldn’t afford) a big v-twin. Aermacchi designed and built the 250cc ‘Sprint’ for U.S. sales. Meanwhile, its racing team developed some fast two-stroke twins, like Yamaha’s Grand Prix racers.

In 1974, AMF acquired the rest of the shares in Aermacchi. Those Grand Prix racers were rebadged as Harley-Davidsons, and Walter Villa won The Motor Company its only World Championships from 1974-’76.

Although Aermacchi was obviously capable of hand-building a few top quality race bikes, the company’s mass-production fell further and further behind Japanese imports in terms of both performance and build quality. AMF sold Aermacchi to the Cagiva Group in 1978.

Harley-Davidson's dead ends: They were into VR before ‘VR’ meant VR

The Harley-Davidson VR 1000 had a frustrating history in AMA Superbike racing. The idea of building a competitive superbike first occurred to a small, renegade group in Milwaukee, in 1988.

 Pascal Picotte rode the wheels off the VR1000 for a couple of years. And occasionally rode the valves, piston crowns, and other engine internals a little too hard. Early in the bike’s race history, H-D mechanics actually ran a 1% premix to improve top-end lubrication.

Pascal Picotte rode the wheels off the VR1000 for a couple of years. And occasionally rode the valves, piston crowns, and other engine internals a little too hard. Early in the bike’s race history, H-D mechanics actually ran a 1% premix to improve top-end lubrication.

It may have been a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Harley farmed out most of the v-twin motor’s design to Roush Racing. Steve Scheibe, an engineer at Roush ended up moving to Harley to manage the project. Scheibe brought in a friend, Pete Mohar, who ran an engineering consultancy called Gemini Technology Systems to work on other aspects of the bike, while the chassis was the responsibility of Mike Eatough.

They were all smart guys but the VR 1000 took a long time to get off the drawing board. It was conceived in 1988, but wasn’t raced until ’96. In that interval, competitors’ bikes improved by leaps and bounds. Harley hired Miguel Duhamel, who’d spent the previous season racing in the 500GP World Championship, but even he wasn’t really competitive on it.

Harley stuck with the VR 1000 for five racing seasons. The bike showed flashes of brilliance, such as the time Chris Carr put it on the pole for a Superbike race in Pomona, or the time Tom Wilson crossed the finish line first at Mid-Ohio, only to have the results put back a lap due to a red flag. Harley finally killed the project in 2001.

 
 This text is excerpted from my  Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia . (The first  Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia  was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

This text is excerpted from my Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia. (The first Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

Ant West again!?! Here's what I wrote in 2012...

I have no way of knowing what banned substance turned up in Ant West’s pee this time, but last time the Aussie’s urine was contaminated by bullshit. In 2012, I wrote the following column under the title, “In the Ant West case, it's the FIM and MotoGP who are acting like dopes”.

I’ll update this post when and if I get information on West’s specific infraction but until then it’s useful to realize that motorcycle racing is a little different than putting the shot.

 This image courtesy of the incomparable David Emmett’s Twitter feed. If you don’t follow @Motomatters, you should.

This image courtesy of the incomparable David Emmett’s Twitter feed. If you don’t follow @Motomatters, you should.

Herewith my column from 2012. (Shameless plug: If you appreciate this kind of long-form writing, you’ll like reading my book, ‘On Motorcycles: The Best of Backmarker’. Buying a copy would be a great way to tip your hat… and me.)

An Australian guy, named Anthony, tests positive in a random drug test. 

That sounds like the beginning of an old joke, where the punch-line is 'Anthony Gobert'. 

But Ant West's retroactive disqualification from the French Moto2 event (where the sample was taken, in May) and 30-day ban (beginning October 30, in the wake of the recent ruling by the FIM's International Disciplinary Court) are not the same thing as the "Go-Show's" repeated recreational drug transgressions. Here's why...

West tested positive for methylhexaneamine. This 'drug', which is extracted from geranium plants, is a mild stimulant that wears off in hours. It's similar to caffeine. No expert believes it's a meaningful performance aid even in sports like running or rugby. Methylhexaneamine certainly didn't influence the results of the French Moto2 race, in which West finished 7th, almost one second behind Pol Espargo and six seconds ahead of Max Neukirchner.

Methylhexaneamine confers only a trivial advantage, but it's actually a pretty frequent drug 'catch' in doping controls. Want to know why? 

It's a common ingredient in body-building and training supplements. Putting it in training supplements isn't any different than chugging a Muscle Milk shake followed by an espresso shot before hitting the gym. (That, in fact, is my formula.) The makers of those supplements are under no real pressure to even list all their ingredients, nor is there a standardized nomenclature for ingredients. An athlete that wanted to avoid methylhexaneamine would have to look for...

Geranium -oil, -extract, -flower, -stems, -leaves, Methylhexaneamine; Methylhexanamine; DMAA (dimethylamylamine); Geranamine; Forthane; Forthan; Floradrene; 2-hexanamine, 4-methyl-; 2-hexanamine, 4-methyl- (9CI); 4-methyl-2-hexanamine; 1,3-dimethylamylamine; 4-Methylhexan-2-amine; 1,3-dimethylpentylamine; 2-amino-4-methylhexane; Pentylamine, 1, 3-dimethyl-.

...and that's not even an exhaustive list.

West's 30-day ban (which he has until Sunday to appeal) has the effect of denying him a start in the season finale in Valencia. I'm not sure if, according to FIM rules, he can partake in early post-season tests or whether the ban applies to competition only. Either way, though, it's bullshit.

The irony of West's ban, in a sport in which riders routinely expose themselves to deadly risk, and where there is a traveling doctor in the paddock at all times whose main duty is to provide pain-killing drugs to riders who want to compete with injuries, should not be lost here. That irony is doubled by the fact that West's ban is for a mild stimulant. Presumably he'd've been fine if he'd glugged down a Monster Energy or Red Bull, since those companies are major sponsors.

The FIM and MotoGP have voluntarily acquiesced to WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency. Thus, the unique drug control 'needs' of motorcycle racing have been replaced by WADA's one-list-suits-all approach. A big part of the FIM's embrace of WADA actually goes back to the chip motorsport has on its shoulder about whether racers are athletes. ("Look, our guys have to pee in a cup just like Lance Armstrong.") 

WADA itself warrants some skepticism. What began as a legitimate and generally-agreed-as-necessary quasi-independent organization supervising doping control at the Olympics quickly became an IOC-style old-boys club of its own. 

To grow, WADA convinced non-Olympic sports governing bodies to sign up; the FIM pays WADA dues and relies on its testing and protocols. (Half WADA's funding comes from sports governing bodies, and half comes from national governments.) Now WADA, an organization that justifies its existence by catching athletes who have an 'adverse analytical finding', has an incentive to create the longest-possible list of banned substances -- and in effect to ban substances on the flimsiest evidence that they could confer an advantage in any of hundreds of sports. 

The range of sports that have now agreed to turn over their doping controls to WADA is so diverse that athletes face the risk of being banned for the accidental use of drugs that put them at a disadvantage. Stimulants are banned across the board, so they're banned in shooting sports. Jockeys are tested for all manner of steroids.

It would be great if common sense could prevail, and the FIM and MotoGP could consult a few experts  and -- once they'd determined that West didn't gain an advantage or even knowingly cheat -- void WADA's finding. It would be great if the FIM told WADA, "Hey, you give us all the drug reports, and let us decide who's cheating." Instead, WADA and the FIM spent five months smelling and tasting West's piss, holding the test tube up to the light, and then announced West's 30-day ban.

The Lance Armstrong debacle (and BALCO before that) proves that in sports where doping can and does influence results, WADA in particular and doping control, generally, is still playing catch up to the cheaters. Motorcycle racing needs to police the use of recreational drugs for safety's sake, and to keep an eye on performance-enhancing drug technology. But WADA's exhaustive list of banned substances and the FIM "court's" decision in West's case is bullshit

Why I don't give a shit about Romano Fenati's career

Unless you’ve been living in the Tora Bora cave complex, you’ve already heard all about Romano Fenati’s famous ‘brake grab’ in the Misano Moto2 race.

Fenati got into it with Stefano Manzi after Manzi pushed him wide a corner or two earlier. Manzi was not completely innocent; race direction imposed a penalty on him, too. But Fenati’s retaliation was pretty spectacular. He caught up to Manzi on the straight, reached over with his left hand and grabbed Manzi’s front brake. Manzi didn’t crash, though he might have done.

The incident was captured on Misano’s CCTV system. Fenati was black flagged, and soon after we got word that he’d received a two-race ban.

That sparked its own outrage, by riders and racing insiders who argued – especially in light of Fenati’s history of, shall we say, anger-management issues – that he should have received a much harsher penalty. Cal Crutchlow vehemently declared he should be banned for life. Frantic motorcycle journalists further degraded the signal-to-noise ratio by saying Fenati should be charged with attempted murder.

In the end, the two-race ban was moot; Fenati was dropped by his current team and, for good measure, MV Agusta reneged on his 2019 contract. But wait, there’s more: the Italian motorcycle federation took away his racing license, effectively putting his entire career on hold. Then, the FIM called him onto the carpet. Fenati, overwhelmed, announced he was quitting racing altogether and going back to school.

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 5.57.01 PM.png

Predictably, while those dominoes were falling, I read a few comments to the effect of, “Well, maybe a lifetime ban is excessive”; “Could he get counseling?”, and; “You know, other racers have done some daft and dangerous things without such draconian punishment…” Finally, even Stefano Manzi released a statement suggesting that a lifetime ban was certainly too strong a reaction to Fenati’s intemperate grab.

I say, “So what?” I don’t give a shit whether that two seconds of bad judgement permanently derail Romano Fenati’s career, and it’s not because I think the offense was so egregious as to make a lifetime ban the only appropriate punishment, or because I think Fenati lacked the talent to be in a World Championship in the first place. (I do not think either of those things, BTW.)

The reason I don’t give a shit is, up-and-coming careers are derailed all the time. A young rider’s climb from youth racing, to national and then international racing, up the pyramid towards MotoGP – that climb is inherently incredibly precarious.

Young riders’ careers are derailed when they have an ordinary fall but an unlucky bounce, ending their career before it starts by injury. Or because by sheer fluke they’re paired on a team with an even greater prodigy who makes them look slow only in comparison, but that impression taints them when teams are recruiting for the next level. Or when a team manager makes the wrong frame choice. Or, more likely, when their dad simply can’t afford the massive, six-figure investment that has to be made to get a young rider the experience they need to even seek sponsorship.

Before Misano, no one looked at Fenati and thought, “He shouldn’t be here.” He already had a reputation as a hothead, but he was a fast hothead. So what? On his rise through the ranks to Moto2, he managed to swim while other riders – who were every bit as talented and probably slightly more worthy human beings – sank.

Fenati’s dream, I’m sure, was to make it to MotoGP, win races, get a factory ride, and win the Championship. That is not something that talent alone can possibly guarantee. Along the way, careers get derailed all the time, often for random reasons utterly beyond a rider’s control. Only a handful of the dozens of Moto2 riders in that Misano race are destined to get a call-up to MotoGP and of those, most will only linger at the back of the grid and bottom of the points table for a season or two and then they’ll be forgotten.

So who cares whether the initial ban was too lenient, or the Italian Federation went too far pulling his license altogether, or MV Agusta went too far tearing up an entire year’s contract? All around the world, in classes from Metrakits and underbones to World Superbikes and MotoGP, riders’ careers have been – and will continue to be – derailed for less.

Fenati, at least, was the architect of his own misfortune. We’re only talking about him because the moment his career came to a premature end was captured on video. Did he deserve a de facto lifetime ban? That’s irrelevant; young racers’ careers are derailed for random reasons, deserved or not, all the time.

If you can’t handle that, you need to take a cue from Romano Fenati; quit and go back to school.

 
 If you dig this kind of philosophical rambling about motorcycle racing, you’ll love my book ‘On Motorcycles: The Best of Backmarker’. Buy it on Amazon right now by clicking on the cover, or read it tonight on Kindle for less than ten bucks  here ..

If you dig this kind of philosophical rambling about motorcycle racing, you’ll love my book ‘On Motorcycles: The Best of Backmarker’. Buy it on Amazon right now by clicking on the cover, or read it tonight on Kindle for less than ten bucks here..

Harley's dead ends: Nova? Or ‘no va’?

 Ironically, the decision to kill the Nova project helped create the circumstances that led Vaughn Beals’ employee buyout, and ultimately saved Harley-Davidson from a slow death under AMF control.

Ironically, the decision to kill the Nova project helped create the circumstances that led Vaughn Beals’ employee buyout, and ultimately saved Harley-Davidson from a slow death under AMF control.

In the late 1970s, Harley spent millions on the Nova project; designing and prototyping v-twin, v-four, and v-six motorcycles ranging from 800-1,500cc displacement. The Nova motors would be liquid-cooled, with overhead cams. The intent was to take on increasingly sophisticated and powerful bikes coming from Japan. 

So, what killed the Nova? It wasn’t a technical problem; it was corporate bureaucracy.

At the time, Harley-Davidson was owned by American Machine and Foundry. AMF had two divisions, one focused on industrial equipment and the other focused on leisure products. 

A change in AMF management led to a new strategy. They decided to use the leisure division as a cash cow (or should I say, ‘cash hog’?) while pumping capital investment into the industrial division. Harley had already spent about $15 million on the Nova project, with 30 working prototype motors and a dozen complete bikes, but there was no way AMF would allow the company to make the capital investment required for new tooling and assembly lines.

Weirdly compelling motorcycle movie: Roadside Prophets

This 1992 film was written and directed by Abbe Wool (she also wrote the critically acclaimed Sid and Nancy screenplay.) 

‘Prophets…’ is a wacky road-movie that stars L.A. punk icon John Doe and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz. They’re two guys on Harleys, riding from L.A. to Nevada, looking for a place to dispose of a comrade’s ashes.

Wool roped in an incredible cast of supporting actors, from John Cusack to Timothy Leary (the LSD guru) and Arlo Guthrie. The script is antic, but the cast makes it all work. Doe also scored the film, and the music’s great.

You can watch the entire film on YouTube for free, here.

 
 One of the many trivia categories in this book is ‘Weirdly compelling motorcycle movies.” Where else are you going to get a year’s worth of reading on the john, including tips on what to watch when nothing on Netflix or Amazon catches your eye? (Something obviously caught John Cusack’s!) Click the cover to buy the book, and you can score a bonus point with your wife or room-mate by cleaning up that dog-eared pile of magazines on the back of your toilet.

One of the many trivia categories in this book is ‘Weirdly compelling motorcycle movies.” Where else are you going to get a year’s worth of reading on the john, including tips on what to watch when nothing on Netflix or Amazon catches your eye? (Something obviously caught John Cusack’s!) Click the cover to buy the book, and you can score a bonus point with your wife or room-mate by cleaning up that dog-eared pile of magazines on the back of your toilet.