Monday, April 03, 2006

Empowered or paranoid?

The latest ten-day weather forecast calls for rain showers every day. It's been hard to judge what I need for gear. Most of our weather comes from the West. We're about 60 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean here. Take this morning, for example. Looking West you'd swear that the rain and drizzle was settled in for a long day. At lunchtime the sun's out with just puffy high clouds. Don't get too relaxed about it, though. The sky will darken and the rain will wipe out any trace of the sun from earlier.

At least the temperature's staying fairly moderate. A light sweatshirt under the 'Stich keeps me feeling fine in the morning. Mostly it's just a matter of opening and closing vents in the jacket. To my dismay this morning, the side pocket zipper on the Roadcrafter pants finally gave up the ghost. A couple of teeth broke. The good news is that the hook and loop fastener will hold the flap closed. I can't really complain. The pants have been used almost every day for about the last six years.

Committing to commuting by bike also means a commitment to dealing with the weather every day. Buy the very best gear you can afford. It only hurts for a little while and the good stuff will last a long time. Integrating the motorcycle into your life as a commuter will be much easier with versatile gear. In all my years I've seen thousands of riders. None of them have ever come up to me and said:

"You know, Dan, I sure wish I'd bought crappier gear!"

So here I go off to work today in my nifty gear with the broken zipper. I'm avoiding the freeway pretty much like the plague these days. Old Highway 99 is a good compromise between making decent time and having a relaxing ride.

One of the challenges in commuting is keeping the mind clear and focused on the ride. A high priority is on managing risk. Riding the old highway creates a kind of double jeopardy for me. I have the kind of brain that never shuts off. It's always churning over about something. I manage to shut it off more on a pleasure ride. When I commute the everyday things and thoughts keep crowding in. There also happens to be interesting things to look at. Coincidentally, there also happens to be more variety in the kinds of hazards and in the places from which they can attack. Let's see, more mental distraction combined with more visual distraction, further combined with more potential for hazards. Sounds like a formula for disaster. I just have to be aware of the situation and maintain focus.

Speaking of hazards, say "Hello" to the dude driving a great big delivery truck. It's all white and if it was any bigger I could live in it. Emblazoned all over the sides and back is the name of the company and the phone number. They are proud to proclaim that this truck belongs to "Charlie's Produce". That would explain why a melon-head was driving it, I guess.

It always amazes me how a driver can look right at you and act like they don't see you. In this case the action was pulling in front of me from the little store's parking lot. How do you miss the headlight and bright yellow jacket? Another explaination would be that the driver was just being downright rude. Wait a minute, folks don't act like that, do they?

No harm, no foul. The reason being that I was anticipating the possibility and had slowed while covering the front brake. Like I say, it's just a matter of staying a step or two ahead mentally.

I'm not really writing this to complain about drivers who aren't on bikes. Although, it is fun, isn't it? Especially with a sympathetic audience. It's a far cry from other types of complaining. For example, griping about my in-laws to Katie. I mean, it's still fun but I do have to admit that the frying pan whacks do tend to rob the joy a little. Motorcyclists all love to 'diss cagers, right?

The reason I'm sharing this is because I hope a few of you reading this are poised on the brink of trying commuting on a bike. Actually, I'm just hoping that ANYBODY is reading this! Seriously, I know people want to try more than just short rides on a weekend. What happens when you tell people that you ride a motorcycle?

Don't you get to hear all the "horror" stories? "So-and-so did this". "I know somebody that this happened to" and on and on and on. Some people wonder how anyone can ride seriously because "nobody sees you". I've even seen those comments on these blogs. It's understandable if you're a little worried. Let me share a couple of things with you.

Firstly, you don't have to jump into being a "hardcore" rider and commuter. Everyone has different ways of getting into the water. Me, I just freaking jump in and go. Other people like to dip the toes and gradually ease in. If you write in here and tell us you rode your bike to work a couple of times this week, you will get RESPECT.

Secondly, attitude is everything. There's always going to be inattentive drivers. Driving skills in this country seem to be sinking lower and lower. Sometimes folks just make mistakes. I've been there. Luckily, the results haven't been deadly or even serious for anyone. A rider can't do anything about other drivers. What you CAN control is your attitude and skills.

Sure, motorists fail to look for bikes. It's easy to stop there and call it "fate" beyond your control. The other side of the coin is that there's also a lot the average rider fails to do, also. Like getting the head and eyes up and aggressively scanning their environment.

It might surprise you to know that the bulk of the wrecks motorcyclists are involved in are single vehicle accidents. Yeah, that's right, just the rider and their bike. Even in accidents involving other vehicles, the rider was at fault in a lot of cases. In fact, about 75 percent of the time the other vehicle came from between 10 and 2 o'clock to the rider. Weird, isn't it? They just plain made bad decisions or failed to REALLY look. So what I'm saying is that, although I can't promise you will ever be bulletproof, there is a tremendous amount you can do to improve your odds. It's up to you. Consider your choices.

One choice is to be paranoid. I'm sorry, but that just isn't fun. Being in the defensive mode all the time can actually work against you. I'm not talking about being prudent and using your senses to detect hazards early. I'm talking about being just plain timid like a mouse always looking up and ready to dive into its hole. That might work for mice but it's no way for humans to live. Being too timid can make you retreat into trouble when you should have charged to safety.

Here's a tip from a professional motorcycle trainer. Work on your skills. Scan aggessively and take the attitude that you're going to foil the evil plots by exposing and negating them. If you're a little uncomfortable at first, plan routes where you have as little multi-tasking to do as possible. As your physical skills improve they will fade into a background mode and you will be able to spare more mental energy for your surroundings. Take the offensive. Work hard on developing and using what you DO have control over. You'll find you're riding in the same environment but it will be totally different. Now you'll be empowered; large and in charge. Not to mention enjoying the experience immensely!

Give it a try. You know you want it. A whole new world is waiting for you when you commute on a bike.

By the way, the ride home was awesome. Sunshine won the wrestling match with the rain this afternoon. The sun is low over the horizon so it can be a little rude with the glare thing. Still, how sweet it is!

Miles and smiles,


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