Monday, March 27, 2006

Ride one bike, ride it well.

Yesterday was my day to do whatever I pleased with. Katie spent the day with a girlfriend of hers doing whatever they do on their "shopping" days. The first thought to spring into my head was to just hit the road and go. There are some little roads I've been meaning to check out. Where do they go and what might I find on them?

The bikes in the small stable were vying for my attention. I had my mind on my ST. It's funny how I always seem to gravitate toward this one. I don't think it's a matter of the ST being more comfortable physically. While this is certainly a factor on longer rides, this ride wasn't going to be all that long. In fact, the lighter CBR is actually a more willing steed for buzzing up little roads to take a look. Not to mention the fun factor!

Here's my take on it. I am a dedicated commuter. My consistent choice of which bike to ride directly relates to what I face as a commuter. Firstly, a commuter needs to pick out a bike that works for the function. Most of the time we can only support one bike. If you have a short trip with little to haul there are probably more choices available. For me, I need to carry a certain amount of stuff with me. My ride is 44 miles one way. Weather protection and comfort become bigger factors. I also run errands on the bike. Which means I need saddle bags and they need to lock.

The bike also needs to be something I can use on weekends. Since I teach motorcycle classes frequently the weekend commuting duty is similar to what I do during the week. On those rare times when I ride just for fun, the bike needs to have some sporting capabilities. It also needs to be able to carry my sweetie comfortably when she comes along on weekend rides. For all these reasons I would chose the ST1100 if I had to have only one bike. With me so far?

Now throw into the mix the fact that there a few bikes sitting here. It's tempting to throw a leg over a different one every day. Something about variety being the spice of life, and all. I think it can be potentially deadly to do that on a regular basis while commuting. Here's why.

It's one thing to take a bike and just go for a ride. Traffic is just something to be dealt with for a short while on the way to the good stuff. At these times I think a rider gets their head totally into the ride and is tuned into the bike. That works for that situation.

Commuting is a whole different species of animal. One isn't always totally into the ride. For the most part the ride to work is in traffic consisting of other commuters. Everyone, even the rider, can tend to be distracted. Thinking about what is going to happen at work that day. Or, thinking about what did happen if it's the ride home. There's something about going to and from work that invites thoughts of family finances, vacations, or whatever. It's times like these that I see the huge value of always riding the same bike.

Muscle memory gets honed into that bike. Where are the controls, how much squeeze on the lever does it take, how quickly will this bike stop, what kind of feedback are we used to? All these things the inner rider knows through long familiarity. In high adrenaline situations it's important for habits to be the right ones. Our attention is too divided as a commuter to have to stop and think what bike we're on. Even worse, to make the mistake of doing something automatically that works on one bike but, wouldn't you know it, we're on a different bike today.

Does this make sense? There is an extremely high value in riding one bike and riding it well as a commuter. I guess that's why I find myself gravitating more and more to the ST.

We got our short ride. I stopped and talked to as many riders as I saw yesterday in gas stations and coffee stops. I was curious how many commuted and how many were just out for the nice day. I came to the conclusion that I've been right all along. Motorcyclists are like bugs. The nicer the day the more you see. It was still good to visit with them. Maybe the commuting thing will slowly spread.

There was still a little daylight when we got home. I treated the ST to an oil change and a bath. I always have mixed feelings about washing the bikes. One the one hand, a bike with road grime is like a badge of honor. On the other, a great bike deserves a little better. So the ST got washed. When Katie came home I had a nice dinner ready. A great woman is like a great bike, she deserves special attention once in a while!


James said...

I just came across your blog. You have a great way of writing about the reasons we ride and the nuances of motorcycling. Keep it up, I just added you to the motorcycle blog aggregator.

Steve Williams said...

Since I only have the Vespa scooter I am a one bike man by default and can't really respond from experience on the pitfalls of multiple two-wheeled rides. I certainly don't have any trouble moving from VW Jetta to Ford Ranger truck but I think your comment of muscle memory might be the key. No real muscle memory is required for cages.

I find a more relevant comparison for me with cameras. There is definitely a fine motor skill and muscle memory thing going on with a camera. I use a Leica M6 rangefinder and having run a thousand rolls of film through it has caused it to become an extension of my hand and eye. Use is intuitive and every control is available without thinking. I find a similar feel with the scooter. My body and mind are fully engaged.

I was reading Gary's post on the new "Rush Hour Rambling" blog site and he is talking about riding everything. I see the point he is making. If I were riding a lot of different machines I would have to be extremely careful that my expectations of my own skill with the different bikes would be in line with actual skill and not perceived via my more extended experience with another bike. I remember my MSF instructor talking about how many people crash their new bikes because they are not their old ones.....


irondad said...

thanks for the mention on your site. I cruised over there briefly and it looks like a useful resource. I'll be back to look some more.

it's weird that gary and I took opposite sides on this one. I think he's talking more about exploring as opposed to being a brand snob. i'm making note of a situation peculiar to commuting. In the Hurt study it was determined that a large number of riders who crashed had less than 6 months exerience on the bike they were on. Interestingly, a lot of them were on borrowed bikes.

Mad said...

I had two bikes, a Bandit 4 and Kwak Z750. The Bandit had been off the road for a month waiting for a new rectifier. During that period I was deeply in tune with my Zed riding it on my commute every day in all weathers. Then I got the Bandit back on the road and it returned to its main purpose - that of a winter hack. I had no problems returning to it BUT when at the end of the week I took a long fun trip on the Zed I ended up chucking it up the road and writing it off. Was it caused by my week on the Bandit? I don't know it was something I hadn't considered before your post... Food for thought Irondad.

Gary Charpentier said...

Hi Dan,
You make some valid points here. Muscle memory is a huge factor in our reflex reaction to emergency situations.

Throughout my riding experience, I have always only had one bike running at a time. Becoming "one-with-the-machine" is a great feeling, as it lets you get the maximum enjoyment out of your rides with little mechanical distraction.

I'm going over to my blog now, to answer your incredulous comment there...

Ride well,

Kellye said...

Even though I have heard people dog its power capabilities over and over again, I keep getting the sneaking suspicion that my Rebel 250 might be my "first and last" bike.

I want the kind of connection with my bike that allows me to strip it down and put it back together again, if I so choose. I want the bike to become an extension of myself. I don't know if I'll be able to get that switching around from model to model.

Maybe I'll move up one day, but for now I'm happy with my 250. It's sleek, it's feisty, and the parking is fantastic. :)

Charlie6 said...

Thanks for the link Irondad, I didn't recall reading this one before but perhaps that was when I was a one motorcycle guy.

You are spot on in what you write about muscle memory and honing it on one motorcycle.

I switch between three based on weather conditions and have to spend a few seconds reviewing what it takes to be safe on each one.

I think it also helps me, knowing that I am on a different motorcycle to shove away the worries of work and family and concentrate strictly on the commute.

I do find myself doing the right things in terms of lane positioning, spacing at stops and pointing one's bike into the escape path if someone behind me decided he can't stop. Some things don't change when on a different steed right?

Lately, the V-Strom has been the choice, it's now got heated grips and a Stebel horn, so best choice for those cold morning commutes....

But I wander....none of the above negate your good points re training on one's ride till actions you take under stress are ingrained and immediate, not having to recall what to do.

I just have more training to do, an ongoing process to reinforce what I've learned. Then again, there's always the "riding like your invisible" and anticipating trouble through situational awareness also....

And yet, it's some of the most fun you can have with your pants on!