Prescott, Arizona

Life is funny.  In my last blog post I described visiting Prescott, Arizona for the first time.  After 8 months of playful discussions, a decision, a home purchase and an eventful move, Rosalie and I now live…er,…’here’ while retaining a summer base on San Juan Island.  I’ll resume my long-suspended blog by describing part of the adventure.

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Rosalie was the pathfinder, taking one vehicle to meet the moving van in Prescott.  Three weeks later, cousin Mark and I, the San Juan Island closeout team, boarded a predawn Washington State ferry.  Mark’s classic mid-eighties station wagon pulled two bikes on their new motorcycle trailer.  My one-ton truck pulled a 20′ utility trailer.  I struggled more than anticipated to keep up with Mark in the mountain stretches of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  A truck scale later revealed that my combined rig weighed over 20,000 lb!  (more…)

Shinya Kimura–A Strong, Clear Vision


Aluminum–under the influence of the artist’s clear vision

Shinya Kimura and Ayu welcomed me to Chabott Engineering in Azusa, California.  We’d met at the “Festival of Thump” at Deus Ex Machina two weeks earlier, and they’d graciously invited me to visit.  I’ve been Shinya’s fan for a long time. He is the founder of Zero Engineering and the originator of what’s called “Zero-Style”.  Many in America first saw his work through his appearance on Discovery TV’s “Biker Build-Off” in 2005.  The book, Zero Chopper Spirit, beautifully documents his builds in Japan before he moved to California in 2006.  Ayu writes as “Menacing Ayu” the stalker, as she tracks Shinya’s day-to-day activities on


Gasoline Punk is about the oily, greasy, smoky, smelly, idiosyncratic, mechanical technology that’s going strong today after 100 years, but that won’t make it to 200.   The golden age of gasoline will not last.  Future bikers will be propelled by something cleaner and more elegant…hydrogen fuel cells, fusion reactors, maybe lasers or Higgs boson…

My DR650’s Mikuni carburetor, painstakingly re-jetted to shred 900 miles of the Continental Divide trail, will soon be just raw material for somebody’s ‘gasoline-punk’ table lamp.

Today, however, it makes nice explosions that push a piston down, that makes a crankshaft go around and around.  I hit the road with a silly grin, my Suzuki singing its smoky song…

“Bang, bang, bang!”

The Golden Age of Gasoline

Gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines evolved naturally from steam engines.  Drive systems ‘below the piston’ had been perfected during the golden age of steam.  The explosive innovation ‘above the piston’ was enabled by the unplanned appearance of cheap and plentiful gasoline.   In the second half of the nineteenth century, gasoline was a useless by-product created as petroleum was refined to yield kerosene for oil lamps.  It was usually dumped into a river.

The gasoline revolution’s impact is hard to overstate.   Gasoline (and I lump in diesel) drives nearly everything that rolls, flies or swims.

This is the golden age of gasoline.  The variety and intricacy of engine designs is dazzling.  The smallest is the size of a hummingbird’s heart, the largest is the size of a three-story house.   Internal combustion engines outnumber people.

A modern engine is an instrument with mechanical tolerances that suggest a fine watch (albeit a weirdly beefy, high-torque watch that lifts weights or stretches your arms).  Despite more than a century of development, however, a modern engine still essentially resembles the first ever to turn over.  An explosion pushes a piston.   “Bang!”

Pistons’ Song

My dad made a little flip book to show me how internal combustion worked.  When he fanned a dozen pages, I saw a little movie of a piston, connecting rod and crankshaft moving in the familiar reciprocating pattern.  Keith was an engineer and probably enjoyed giving me the lesson.  I later became an engineer too.

Internal combustion has enjoyed a daft, glorious, whimsical and murderous hundred-plus years of technology dominance.  Yet, consider the quirkiness of it; the improbability that cars & motorcycles (& boats & airplanes) would be propelled by a noisy, ripple-fire of EXPLOSIONS:  “Bang…..bang…..bang…..    (“Faster”) bang,bang,bang,bang,bang…..    (“Pin it!”)    bababababababababababababbang!”

Consider further:  FERMENTED DINOSAURS provide the gunpowder!

We’re so familiar with all this that we forget that it’s completely nutty!