Between Centaur and Cyborg


The ultimate enduro setup



This Greek drinking vessel, a kantharos, painted before 700 BC, bears the first known image of a centaur.

The notion of fusing a horse’s speed and power with a human “front end” blossomed into a colorful herd of characters in Greek mythology.

It’s certainly a better idea than riding a horse.

To climb atop a flighty 1,100 pound beast with an alien mind and plans of its own, whose instincts as a prey animal scream “Repel boarders!” …seems unwise to me.


New Definition of the Ultimate Motorcycle

IMG_4192 “Bike”, published in England, is a great motorcycle magazine.   Reading it provides a fresh take on our sport (like watching the BBC News gives a different view of world events).  Rupert Paul’s column in the March 2013 issue offers the following characteristics of the ultimate motorcycle:

Retro  Every seasoned rider Rupert knows is increasingly fascinated by older bikes–simpler, more essential, less plastic.  This checks with my experience.

Personality  We’re not interested in something that breaks down, rather we want something with personality, something to talk about, stare at, show off, fiddle with, have a relationship with.

Engine  The ultimate bike needs the best looking engine…in the world…ever.  For Rupert, that engine would strongly resemble a Vincent V-twin minus the leaks and medieval complexity.   It would have fins everywhere.   A steel tube frame would show it off.   A radiator, if required, would be hidden under the seat.


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!