All posts for the month November, 2017

The 1% moniker has taken on some new meaning of late. Formerly the exclusive province of outlaw motorcycle gangs, it now includes the richest of the rich. I’m not going to talk about either of those groups. I am going to talk about something far more exotic: high school kids who drive stick shift.

I taught my older son how to drive on my old B5 wagon. The hydraulic clutch and super short solid linkage make it so easy to drive, it’s like eating cake. It spoils you, but you love it. A friend of his was learning to drive at the same time and that kid’s parents had coughed up a Dodge Dart with a manual trans. Exactly two other kids in his class of 300 had any experience with the old ballet รก pied, and neither of them had routine access to a shifty car. Going out to lunch was fun because it nearly always involved the Dart and it also nearly always involved the kids who could drive it. The four of them morphed into a sort of teenage boy stick shift clique. Who knew?

One weekend when I had the wagon in the air, my son asked me why more kids weren’t interested in cool cars.

I had to think about it, because being interested in cool cars was is such a natural state for me that the idea of not being into them is completely foreign.

We worked out the population of the school parking lot.

40% of the kids had the latest and greatest safest car

8% of the kids had the most expensive car (it’s a pretty well-off place)

Another 40% had a recent hand-me-down

11% had a cheapo CL special

1% had cars that could maybe be described as interesting. Ok, it was one car. An old Bronco that a kid was working on. And a Ruckus.

We talked about his friends and what they wanted. Most did not want a car at all, but needed one to go to their jobs and back and forth to school. Some wanted nicer cars, some wanted faster cars. Only a precious few kids were actually interested in cars because cars.

I suggested that he survey kids and school and ask them what car they would have if nothing stood in their way. He said most kids just stared at him. He got some good answers, heavy on the AMGs and Teslas, but still more than just “something nicer”. More than a few wanted a car with a better stereo or better conectivity. A small handful, less than ten, wanted an older car for one reason or another. He asked why they didn’t have one, or weren’t trying to get one.

My son loves Initial D and all of the 80s goodness it features. Midway through his senior year, he discovered the cars&trucks section of Craigslist and began the hunt for an early Toyota MR2. I admit that my heart fell, I’m a Honda and VW girl. But the AW11 has pop-up headlamps, and I always allow pop-ups. Especially 6054s.

I set some rules out. It had to be running. It had to be reasonably straight. It had to have a clean title. It also had to be watertight. We looked at a lot of MR2s.

So why weren’t more kids rocking classic iron? We uncovered a set of conditions that had to be met for kids to have cool cars, and they turned out to be a high hurdle in these times. The first one is money. Fun cars tend to soak it up. Even cheap fun cars, ask any LeMons racer. Many kids cited not having the money to buy their own car as a key hurdle. The second is space. You have to put it somewhere. If your parents already got you the latest in hybrid technology, that is already taking up your allotted room. Quite a few kids were concerned about having that room, particularly garage space. That brings up part three: parental acceptance. You need parents who can feel the love. Without that, you are fighting an uphill battle against everyone, even those who should have your back no matter what. Nearly every kid said that their parents would support a hobby that they (the parents) were into, but didn’t see value in old/interesting cars. A major thread was safety. Kids keyed in on the fact that older vehicles are simply not as safe as modern ones and this was a huge barrier for their parents to overcome. The last part is tools and knowledge. If you have car-people parents, this one usually isn’t an issue. If you don’t, then you are looking at investing even more of your precious money in the hobby, money you already don’t have because you spent it on that AE86 or urQ that fills up every corner of your brain. The knowledge part is no small hurdle either, learning cars from scratch without a mentor is not something I would really wish on anyone. Here, take this complicated machine that is trying to set itself on fire and is made of about four thousand parts and sort it. Before your dad gets home so he can have the garage back. Kids felt this was the least significant barrier and felt that they could learn. As long as their parents were open to the idea to begin with.

It’s just not that easy to enable the car thing in kids, and the barriers to entry get higher every day. The kids who do pick it up are unique, their own version of 1%ers. Like the OMGs, they have to find a sponsor, commit, and do the deeds required to get in.

My son has a rusty MR2 now. I’m grudgingly learning how to read the big green book, and quite grateful that Toyota uses a slightly modified version of Bosch notation for their wiring diagrams. I’ve learned that MR stands for midship runabout. I’m reminding him that this is just his first one, so he needs to get all of the practicing out of the way so he’s ready for the perfectly clean one he dreams about. MY SON IS LEARNING RWD.

The college version of the high school stick shift club is the autocross club, and there are apparently quite a few kids in it. More than the high school survey would predict. It’s nice to know that there are more of these kids out there. I think I want to meet their parents. We can trade notes.

I love camping, particularly fall camping. Temps are cooler, leaves are beautiful, and the air is usually pretty dry. It’s possibly the perfect camping season. However, my last few fall trips have left me a bit cold, largely because I chose poorly when packing my bag – my sleeping bag, that is.

Like most campers, I have an assortment (ok, way too many) of sleeping bags that I have accumulated along the way. Two Boy Scout sons hasn’t helped. I have everything from an ultralight +50F Lafuma to a -10F no-name bag from CampMor. Don’t ask about my tent collection! My bag collection is heavy on the standard +30F bags, which I’ve always found to be a poor tradeoff between the temperature range they are effective for and the space they take up. With my last few trips in mind, I took some time to try to sort out what I was doing wrong bag-wise.

Lots of camping (car, bike, and backpacking) has taught me that those utilitarian +30F bags seem to just never be warm enough to justify the space they take up, so I often end up bringing my tiny +50F bag and a blanket on moto trips when I really should be going for a properly warmer bag. Being female doesn’t help in that department – for years I’ve wondered who exactly can deal with 30F in a +30F bag, and recently I learned that it is guys, who are naturally warmer than ladies. No wonder I’ve never been happy with my +30F bags – it turns out that they are really +40F for me. So the ol’ +50F bag and a blanket aren’t any different in function, and are probably actually warmer. It’s time to break down what I actually need in a bag.

Packing for a motorcycle camping trip is an exercise in not just weight saving, but space saving. Every gram counts and every litre, too. I’m clearly biased toward space-saving, based my past behaviour, so that is going to take priority. Thankfully, most websites selling sleeping bags include information about both packed weight and size.

Making the decision to go small requires you to accept the limitations of materials. Modern synthetics are pretty awesome, but they are also puffy. A +30F synthetic bag will be roughly 1.5 times the size of a similar downbag, even in a compression sack. It will also weigh more. The tradeoff for this extra space and weight is better warmth when wet. Down is admittedly useless when it gets wet. However, it is very lightweight and can be compression packed to tiny proportions for travel. If you know ahead of time that you are likely to get wet, down is not a good choice. But if the humidity is low and flooded tents not likely, down will save you space and weight like nothing else. It’s also very very warm.

My first down bag was a +30F affair that I sold because I rarely used it. I loved the warmth, but lived in fear of the dampness that would kill it. Today’s down is a different story as it is treated to resist moisture and stay fluffy. It won’t change the flood response, but will resist humidity and condensation that would have done in an older, untreated bag. Some newer bags incorporate durable water resistant coatings to reduce the infiltration of water, too. Down has come a long way, baby.

Synthetics have, also. Newer synthetic bags incorporate linings that improve the temperature rating by carrying part of the thermal load. A fleece lining can add ten degrees to a bag’s rating. Fills have gone beyond the traditional Hollofil fibres to incorporating Polartech-based materials that can bear a ton of water without compromising insulation. Some newer PolarGuard bags will dry simply from your body heat. When you have room, these are an excellent choice.

I’m me, though, and after my last few cold excursions, I decided (sufficiently in advance of my next trip) to go bag shopping, and to open up my mind to down.

Research on various websites led me to the Marmot Angel Fire +25F 650 fill women’s down bag. Marmot rates their bags differently for men and for women, with women generally rated at about ten degrees Fahrenheit warmer for comfort. The +25F Marmot bag is actually a +21F for women and rated at +9F for men. That is a big range, and it fully explains why my +30F bags have never been enough – they are effectively +40F bags, and in the fall, that’s a very real number. Facing the limit of your comfort range at night is not fun, I can tell you!

I took the Angel Fire bag camping recently and found it to be pretty great. It measured up lighter and smaller by about 10% than my favored +30F bag, which made it easier to pack on my bike. It was definitely warmer – I did not wake up cold at any point during my night of lows in the mid 40s, and also did not wear any extra clothes to bed. That is a new one for me, as a +30F bag has always meant a least a fleece jacket and leggings in the sack. This bag kept me warm in a tshirt and shorts. That meant for a cold change of clothes in the morning, but nothing that was too difficult. Like most newer womens’ bags, the Angel Fire is cut wide at the hips, making for a very spacious sleeping comparment. I was able to move very freely inside of the bag and even get my knees up quite a bit without folding up the bag. My one warmer night in the 50s found me opening up the zipper and airing out a bit. Again, a welcome change. Two nights of rain did not dampen the down or my experience with the bag – it did not contact water directly, thank goodness, and any condensation from my tent did not have a negative impact.

I am pretty excited about future trips with this new bag. Now that I’m reacquainted with the wonders of down, I will be less stressed about bag selection in advance of trips. I still feel there is a place for synthetic bags – my adored +50F bag is proof of that – but for anything colder, I am going to be living it up in my new small warm down bag.