About Me

Pearl City, HI, United States

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Oil Emergency: Hard Times, Hard Choices

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

Over the years, I’ve come to understand a fundamental truth. People’s political attitudes are formed in the events and experiences that make up the chronology of their lives. These days, the foundations of those attitudes are, more often than not, based on deeply held emotions rather than critically evaluated information. Thus, there is no longer a widely held consensus of right and wrong. Everything is filtered through the prism of each individual's personal experiences. What seems incontrovertible truth to one is complete nonsense to another. This reality is a big part of the reason why politics is a subject considered verboten in polite conversation.

Our political attitudes have become tightly interwoven with our sense of self-identity and esteem. Consequently, when someone disagrees with us, we feel defensive, which then triggers emotional responses. And when emotion, by its nature an irrational state, enters into a debate, all hope of a calm, rational discussion is lost. My high school debate teacher once said, “You can debate conclusions; you can debate positions; you can debate policy. But you cannot debate emotion. Emotion listens only to its own version of truth, and refuses to entertain anything else.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Honda PC800 Pacific Coast

My '95 On Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

History, Design, and Mission

Riding a Honda Pacific Coast makes you a lightning rod for all kinds of questions and comments. Over the years, I’ve gotten used to the worst of them, realizing that any motorcyclist who utilizes the term “rolling porta-potty” has issues of their own.

The Pacific Coast, or PC800, was introduced by Honda in the 1989 model year. It was a revolutionary look back then, the bike completely sheathed in plastic body panels, and a spacious clamshell trunk in the place of traditional saddlebags. The appearance was pure Starfleet, sans phasers and warp drive. Had it arrived in ET's UFO, it could not have been more striking. The futuristic shape caught the eye of filmmakers, appearing in movies such as “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man,” “Back to the Future,” and “The Bourne Identity.”

Honda wanted a bike that would appeal to the suit-and-tie set; a bike one could ride to work without the risk of soiling the Armani. With that in mind, they purposely modeled the rear end after the very popular Honda Accord, the Yuppie flavor of the month for that era. But while the broad rear and long taillights looked good on the car, it was a decidedly odd look for a bike.

Honda produced the PC initially for two years, the ’89 in an ethereal Pacific Pearl White, and the ’90 in a magnificent Candy Glory Red. However, the marketing folks at Honda rolled consecutive gutter balls, choosing a soft, jazzy, avante-garde approach for their ads (a technique also used initially by Infiniti automobiles). The popular image of the motorcycle, all leather, do-rags, and sweaty biceps, completely clashed with this approach. Bikers snickered, and Yuppies remained confused. The price point was too high, and the flood of execu-commuters never materialized. With a ton of surplus machines on hand, Honda halted production.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Day of Remembrance*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, May 13, 2008
*Clinton, IA Herald, 5/12/2008

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

If you were to ask a stranger, particularly a younger one, the question “What is Memorial Day?” its likely you receive the answer, “The official beginning of summer.” It’s a natural answer, borne out of the timing of the holiday, since it coincides with the end of the school year in most parts of the country. The real meaning of Memorial Day has been somewhat lost in the shuffle, a victim of cultural amnesia, or perhaps just neglect.

In 1868, General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union Civil War Veterans, proclaimed May 30th as the day “…designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.” Initially, it was known as “Decoration Day.” The first state to officially recognize the commemoration was New York in 1873, and by 1890 it was so recognized by all of the former Union states. The south, not surprisingly, refused to acknowledge the day, keeping to their own schedule for honoring the Confederate war dead, a tradition that continues to this day.

However, after World War I, the meaning of the day was changed to honor Americans who died fighting in all wars. Memorial Day was made official in 1971 by congress, adjusting the day to the last Monday in May.

On Memorial Day, we remember the fallen. For far too many families, there was no joyous homecoming; only the memories of the loved and the lost. There are no possible words, no magic phrases that could possibly ease their pain. For the husband or wife looking at a wedding ring through a veil of tears; for the parents who stood in the doorway of a silent, empty bedroom; for the child who struggled to understand why Daddy or Mommy didn’t come home; for the friends, the co-workers, the neighbors who have felt that aching void in their lives; for all of them, we as a nation have shared their grief. For some 4,000 very special reasons, this Memorial Day should be cherished by all.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Future of Motorcycles

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

Motorcycles are one of my passions, I will readily admit, although at times, my wife has suggested the “O” word (obsession). I have written uncounted words about the emotions bikes have awakened in me, and while I am respectful of tradition, I am always looking for those designs that not only push the envelope, but change the paradigm altogether.

Engineers continue to push the limits with engine designs and suspension setups to enhance performance. But with gas prices continuing to climb, and environmental issues impacting transportation, the future will, by necessity, bring fundamental changes to the sport and the vehicles themselves.

New propulsion systems are being considered, but since many are still in their big-boned clunky stone-age era of development, their utility on a two-wheeled conveyance is still in the future. There are some prototype all-electric bikes, and hybrids can't be far behind. Ultimately, manufacturers will be forced to abandon oil altogether, which means the rise of the hydrogen fuel cell. A British firm has built such a bike, called the ENV, but it is small, short of range, and wouldn't work in the wide-open environment of American roads.

The ENV, from the Intelligent Energy website

Lately, there have been some intriguing developments that not only involve pushing development, but changing the basic machine as well.