By Jody Weisel
You have to admire NASA. They spent huge sums of taxpayer dollars under the aegis of President John F. Kennedy to put a man on the moon. But,
just like vacationing in Atlantic City, New Jersey, once
we went there, we never wanted to go back. NASA’s
version of the “I survived Atlantic City” T-shirt was Tang
orange drink and a couple of souvenir rocks. After the
highlight reel and back-slapping, NASA’s funding was cut
and none of us are sunning ourselves on a beach near
the Sea of Tranquility today. “Astronaut” is no longer on
the list of things kids want to be when they grow up.
It ranks way below rapper, ne’er-do-well, beach bum,
Facebook master and drain on society.
But, government agencies have to survive. During the
rainy season, there is a Flood Control Board, and, when
it stops raining, they designate themselves the Drought
Control Board. NASA has reinvented itself as the
government agency in charge of looking for extrasolar
planets that could sustain life. They have narrowed the
search to something called the “Galactic Habitable Zone”
(or Ring 7 to those of us in the know). It doesn’t take a
rocket scientist to realize that a habitable planet needs
water, mountainous formations to contain dry land and a
climate not so cold as to freeze the water and not so hot
as to boil it, which eliminates Arizona.
I know that this is a NASA boondoggle. We are no
longer looking for life on other planets, but instead we
are looking for alternate planets that we can live on. The
good news is that we found one (named Kepler 186).
The bad news? It is 500 light years away from Earth. At
the speed of our fastest spaceship, the Voyager, it takes
17,000 years to go one light year. That means that you
could actually get a beer at Anaheim I before our
spaceship got to the end of the driveway.
I have trouble spending excessive dollars looking for
things we don’t need. I am a motocross racer, so I am
very familiar with useless technology. Kepler 186 is the
NASA equivalent of Showa SFF-TAC Air forks. The
perfect planet and the perfect air fork are out there somewhere, but they are at least 17,000 years away. The sad
thing is that I can’t drive across Los Angeles in the time
it takes to fly across the USA in the Concorde, but the
Concorde wasn’t allowed to fly across the United States.
So much for scientific advancement.
Today, I have a bike with Triple Air Chamber forks but
very little technical support to explain how to make them
work. Worse yet, a set of 2006 Yamaha SSS forks, with
antiquated coil springs, are twice as good as 2015 TAC
forks. My bike also has a programmable ECU to ensure
that I’ll never have to squint at a brass jet again. But,
in the place of brass, I need a computer, $400 worth of
software, an accessory pigtail and the base knowledge of
how to change the percentages in 94 cells.
Thankfully, considering my maladroit mechanic skills,
the 2015 Honda CRF450 has air forks that only require
35 psi, as opposed to the 170 psi of the Triple Chamber
variety. Thank goodness for small blessings, but of course
they added both high- and low-speed clickers to each
fork cap. Cool enough, except that one of the clickers
is virtually inaccessible unless I take the handlebars off
(shades of the Hubble telescope).
I don’t want to go to Kepler 186, nor do I want to race
a motorcycle so complex that it could get me there. I
appreciate it when a manufacturer transfers works-bike
technology over from the race team to the production
bikes, but I would be more appreciative if they sent
the team personnel with it to keep it up to snuff. Take
Honda’s infamous four-spring clutch. It came right off the
Honda works bikes—where it worked flawlessly. Why
did it work so well? Because a Team Honda mechanic
changed the clutch plates after every moto (and Honda
used special titanium clutch springs). In my hands, the
four-spring clutch was confetti. I shredded it in one moto
and then went looking for a factory mechanic to make
it better again. He was nowhere to be found at my local
track. For four long years, Honda CRF450 owners suffered
with an inadequate clutch. Heck, over those four years, I
could have been 1/10,000th on the way to Kepler 186.
I’m not a product manager at one of the “Big Six.” I’m
just a guy who races his motorcycle every weekend. I
need the best bike I can get, but I also need the best
bike that I can live with. Coil springs don’t go flat. Brass
jets don’t get computer bugs. Works parts rarely work
without a works mechanic. If I were a product
manager, I’d start looking at the men who race
motorcycles in this country at this juncture on the time-
space continuum. I wouldn’t be trying to emulate NASA.