All posts for the month May, 2016

You see it in car ads all over the net:

“Driven to church every Sunday by a little old lady”


“My elderly aunt had it for the last ten years and only put about 20K miles on it”

I recently took possession of a car driven by a little old lady – my mother-in-law. I have a new view on what “little old lady driven” means.

First, lets discuss the interior. A Little Old Lady is probably pretty fastidious, that’s how she got to be so old in the first place, so the interior is probably kind of clean. It might even smell like perfume. But she’s not as strong as she used to be, and getting in and out can be a chore. Look for wear and tear on any surface that could potentially be used a hand-hold. Cubbies suffer too, because as dexterity fails, it gets more difficult to operate the opening and closing mechanisms. Good bye, $250 center stack trim….. Hello permanent creases in the upholstery from the box of stuff that never made it to Goodwill….

Now, on to the drivetrain. The mysterious “O/D Off” button was never touched, and neither was the RPM range over about 3K. You’re going to be blowing carbon out that motor for a month. Check the suspension, too, because as vision fails, so does the ability to recognize potholes. CV joints and wheel bearings can take a particular beating. I’m still sorting out what the squeak in the driver’s front wheel is.

That limited vision? The slowed reflexes? The deteriorating range of motion? Oh, man. They all add up to one thing – “I didn’t/couldn’t see it!”, and that means paint. All over the body. Usually belonging to other vehicles and stationary objects. The tears of a hundred parking bollards in this case. Plan on at least a solid eight hours of wheel work just to get the worst of it off the sheet metal. The plastic bumpers might be a lost cause, and we’re not even at the scratches yet.

If the paint is suffering, you can be sure the metal is, too. Look for misaligned panels (what? Oh, no, she/I never hit anything!), deep scratches, and other small dings that throw some serious shade on Grandma’s health condition.

Needless to say, this could have been a total cream puff, but in reality, it’s a damn mess. Because little old lady. Next time you read that in an ad, think twice. You don’t want to deal with parking bollard tears. They kind of melt into the paint and stay there.

Urgh, another rental. Wait, I have a blog, so I can tell you all about it!

I got to Enterprise yesterday and was asked if I wanted to upgrade to something roomier than the midsize I booked. Uh, no. Thank you, but no. I asked for something smaller, and the manager just sighed, wandered off, and eventually handed over the keys to a brand new (seriously – 102.3 miles on the odometer) 2017 Hyundai Elantra. I took it home, loaded up my stuff, and headed out to visit a plant in the middle of OH. Possibly the most boring road trip ever.

The stripper rental car was doomed when Volkswagen decreed in the early 90s that all cars shipped over to our shores should have at a minimum air conditioning. By the early 2000s, Honda had caught on, and by the mid-2000s, it was almost impossible to find a true stripper any more. There isn’t even a delete option for most automotive features now, so good luck with sweating. All this change has meant that your average rental car is now actually a decent place to be, like this Elantra.

The Elantra I got was a bit of a surprise to me. The 2016 was ok, but not something I would consider renting again. The 2017 has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a particularly good choice at the counter, the first being the incredibly adjustable front seat. Yes, I am swooning about a seat that is otherwise kind of stiff, not particularly supportive, and not really pretty either. The shear range of positioning is what makes this seat so great: in fact, the entire ergos for the car are far better than I expected, and frankly, might set a standard. The vertical adjust on the driver’s seat is nearly six inches. This means that I, as a person who does not enjoy the Actros or Mack seating position, can get the seat (and my H point) down to somewhere sensible. Forward and backward are manually adjustable and also generous. The seat is missing lumbar adjust, something that would prevent me from purchasing the car. Regular notched seatback angle is also impressive in range.

Complementing the extreme seat manipulation is a very adjustable steering wheel. It pulls out about five inches and has significant up and down motion. While it might not look like an F1 car on the outside, those of us who prefer the F1 seating position can almost get there. And still see out of the greenhouse. One noteworthy feature – the seat is nearly perfectly in line with the steering column. Otherwise perfect ergonomics have been ruined by misalignment of these two critical parts, so it’s nice that Hyundai has taken care here.

The rear window has a nasty fogging effect from its internal lamination that obscured vision in the lower driver’s quadrant. At first, I thought I had the generous AC cranked too far up, but the rear defroster did not help. Some investigation and reduction in solar angle of incidence revealed the tell-tale dot pattern of optical adhesive. Otherwise, visibility was very good, even with the seat all the way down.

The stereo works pretty well, and was minimally difficult to figure out. The base stereo and button-intense control surface seems almost quaint in today’s world of full-color TFT touchpads. XM works as expected, with three bands available for presets. The preset function is super-easy to use. I would recommend this stereo for technophobes, it’s straight out of 1995, but with more words on the screen.

Climate control controls were scattered and took me a few minutes to sort out. Seriously, though, GM-level AC in this thing.

Riding down I75 in Detroit, the car started beeping at my, with no indication in the instrument binnacle of the source. I quickly learned how to operate the steering wheel controls, the various functions on the dash, and a few other odds and ends before realizing that my purse, coat, and adapter bag were enough weight to trigger the passenger airbag/seatbelt interlock and warning. Ooops. I swished my purse and coat to the floor and the beeping stopped. The angle of the late afternoon sun had made the warning light on the center stack very difficult to see.

The car struggled with grooved pavement and winds, with very unsteady tracking. The first one hundred miles or so of the two-hundred mile trip were difficult. Once I was through the grooves in Michigan and the construction zones in OH, the car started to settle down a bit. The sensitivity may be related to the tall-sidewall tyres the car is shod with, or to air in the steering rack. I don’t know, but it was super annoying and made an otherwise pleasant ride into a more stress than it should have been.

The engine is plenty powerful for rental abuse, and the transmission is remarkably not annoying. In sport mode. In regular and eco modes, it is a dog. Way too much lag off the line. Gear-hunting was rare, downshifts were smooth, and no clunks or lurches. No shifter weirdness because the shifter is like the radio – an artifact, but a very welcome and pleasant artifact. If it ain’t broke… you know, don’t “fix” it.

The interior is not upscale, but it’s also not downscale. It’s extremely neutral. Hyundai uses a better quality hard plastic and textures it to avoid surface glare. The upholstery is smooth, but looks to be a fine knit that may pill or pull. Time will tell. No one is going to mistake this thing for a Genesis, that is for sure, but it’s noticeably better than a Corolla. The trunk includes a rear seatback release button and is roomy.

It’s a car with decent looks and controls. It’s boring, but predictable. Overall, you won’t go appreciably wrong by selecting the 2017 Elantra at the rental counter.

(pics coming soon)

Each year that I’ve returned to my bike after a winter off of it, I’ve reflected on what came back. Why stop now? I’m starting my fifth spring season and it’s a good thing.

This year’s little surprise is riding slow. Stupidly slow. Playing in traffic slow. I’m actually enjoying it. I’m finding that I am much more stable than I used to be at slower speeds. I’m staying upright and rolling ever so slowly in traffic jams, relaxing and enjoying the proverbial ride. It’s so different. I want to try a slow race, something that was not really on my radar in the past. I’m also finally using my knees to brake – clamping down on the faux tank to anchor myself when I get on the front lever. That is very cool. Somehow, my body is picking and choosing new techniques to remember and cement into my riding arsenal.

Getting my lean back last year was a big deal, and my neck and shoulder are still not really right. But they are no longer really interfering in my riding. I’m well along the learning curve for riding with whatever I’ve got for nerves now. I am self-balancing much more securely. The Leatt brace works – I have banged my helmet on it a few times now and I’m quite grateful for it. If you don’t have one yet, get one. There are a few competitors out there, choose the one that will work for you.

Another oddity is that I raised my seat 10mm. I ended up having to raise my handlebars 20mm (no 10mm risers to be found). I now sit on the bike instead of in it. When I had the low seat and the low suspension, I often felt like I was in the bike. Add my tower of tank bag, and I was really sandwiched in the frame. The ten millimeters shouldn’t make much of a difference, but somehow it does. I feel different on the bike, like I’m able to push it with my feet and legs more. This is empowering. I took off my tank bag two weeks back to get even more of this “on” feeling.

I’ve been bouncing my pre-load up regularly, which is adding the the height. I can still flatfoot the bike, but it’s sagged a bunch now to do so. Tripod-ing it is actually much easier with the seat up under my butt. I wish I would have understood this earlier – I’d have raised the bike a lot sooner. I love that I can just skim the tarmac with my boots now, instead of having to pull up my knees. There is no danger of dragging hard parts, set low, the angle was 45°, now it must be close to 60°. Balancing at stops is strangely easier. My head is solidly up over traffic and I can see for miles and miles and miles as the song goes.

I’ll be hoping for a cheap CBR250R this summer, which I will likely be looking to mod for track work. I miss that little sucker more and more every day, now that I’m living up in the clouds, up in GS Land. I get it, all over again.