Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ultimate commute!!

I wish I could say I was neglecting the blog because I was out riding in great summer weather. I have been in the summer weather but it was all work. Mostly it was watching someone else ride. Oh well, satisfaction comes in knowing it's for the overall good of riders. At least I keep telling myself that.

Yesterday I had this awesome commute home that few riders will probably experience. Before I get there, here's some background to lead up to the ride home.

Saturday and Sunday combined into one LONG weekend. My training partner, Mary Kaye, and I started a fresh batch of 11 apprentice instructors on their journey. These folks spent the weekend trying to absorb the concepts of range safety and coaching skills. I feel sorry for them in some ways. The program is shorter than what I went through, but still, some of them look pretty dazed and glazed by Sunday afternoon! Their first few classes will be spent teaching with a mentor at their hip. Things will sort themselves out for our new instructors as time goes on. Mary Kaye and I put in about 25 hours this weekend, our students about 17. A lot of it was spent on a parking lot in 90 degree weather. Needless to say, we're pretty tired. Not much energy for anything else.

It's different being a trainer than an instructor for me. I always enjoy the dynamics and interaction with the students. As an instructor I can only teach so many riders directly. As a trainer I can teach instructors who will, in turn, each touch a lot of riders. As hard as it is to step back from teaching, there's a lot of satisfaction in helping to grow our program. A shift in focus was required, but I'm glad to have reached out to be a trainer. Besides, I see my riding students once or twice but I have such long and happy relationships with fellow instructors. So many newer instructors are like my children, now. It's cool to watch their progress.

Monday I took a vacation day. I know, I've only been on this job for 5 weeks. This was too precious to pass up, though. I was invited to be an instructor for some police training. These sessions don't happen very often. The instructors who teach the police courses are hand picked and invited by the director of our motorcycle safety program. Like I said, too precious to turn down.

We ended up with 19 officers and their bikes. I knew several of them. One had taken the Basic Rider Training a while back and I had been his instructor for that. Interestingly, when I went down hard a couple of years ago two motor officer friends of mine had responded. They took good care of me and made sure my bike was treated correctly by the tow company. Their names are Shawn and Brian and they were among this group.

It's an interesting contrast to me as a commuter. Admittedly, there are times when I travel at a pace you might call "brisk". ( quit snickering! ) At those times I'm keeping a sharp eye out for "Johnny Law". As a commuter these folks are an opponent of sorts. Not in any sort of harmful way, more the game of hide and seek. In this setting, the cops are my students. More than that, most are friends and fellow bike enthusiasts. It's also my class and that gives me somewhat of an upper hand. I enjoy it to the full, but have to remember that these students are armed!

They all ride in full gear which includes sidearms, flashlights, cuffs, extra clips, batons, you name it. For most it's a work day. Gee, tough duty, isn't it? Getting paid to take training on a bike. At the top there's a picture of some of the students and bikes. Most are the new BMW's but there were a few Kawasaki KZ1000's and a Harley. My photos lack a lot compared to Steve's. I confess I take pictures, not make pictures. Besides, I was so busy it was lucky I had time to even snap this one.

Working with cops on bikes is a lot of fun. They are usually fairly skilled to start with. They follow directions with good understanding of the concept. This isn't just training for the sake of taking a class. Some have to re-certify every so often. Having great skills is important to all riders but to these cops it's critical. The job puts them in dangerous situations on a regular basis. Great skills can literally make the difference between going home at night or not. Needless to say, the students are motivated. To a person, they all have great courage. What little fear there might be is quickly swallowed up in the face of competition and possible ridicule by the other officers.

Speaking of courage, instructors who teach this course have the opportunity to test their own.

After a classroom session of about two hours, we split the group roughly in half. Ten officers went with me and three other instructors to a drag strip. The other half stayed at the track. After lunch the groups and their instructors trade locations. The drag strip experience makes one's senses tingle, to say the least. This time we had some extra entertainment.

The man who owns the drag strip lets us use it for free the couple of times a year we do police training. We do not use it for civilian training. This time he had sort of double booked the place. He snuck in some paying customers. We usually have it to ourselves and use both lanes. That gives us room to run drills in both directions which gives the officers more repetitions. Yesterday we had to use only one lane. Why?

Because they were running cars on the other one!! That's right. The owner had rented the track to some folks who were doing set-up type stuff. A couple of guys had alcohol burning cars that looked sort of like Camero's. Every so often the guys at the launch area would radio us to clear off. There's nothing like sitting on your bike next to the concrete wall and having a car zoom by at crazy speeds! Now that we mentioned crazy speeds, let me tell you about the exercises we run at the strip. Put yourself in the picture, riding your bike on the freeway, and see how you feel about doing this:

Approach a stopping area at 70 mph. Keep your speed steady until you reach two stopping cones then stop your bike as quickly as possible. Tell you what. You can start at 45 mph for a while. Then you can speed up and try it at 60. If you haven't crashed, yet, let's try it at 70. Did I also mention that the instructors have to provide demonstrations so the students can see the technique?

After that we move on to swerving. You will run up a chute of cones which stop 23 feet from the barrier. You will be signalled which direction to swerve just before you reach the end of the chute. By the way, there's a lot of room if you swerve to your left. Careful going to the right, though. From the cone barrier wall to the concrete wall there is six feet.

Once you've mastered swerving, which includes keeping a steady throttle all the way through the swerve, let's add some braking. You will now be signalled to either "swerve, then brake" or brake, then swerve". Still at 70 mph. Just to keep it interesting, you won't know which sequence or which way to swerve until you get there. We call it "The Decision Maker". The 'brake, then swerve" isn't so bad. You just slow, get back on the throttle, then swerve. If you are signalled to "swerve, then brake" you will have to swerve in the indicated direction, get the bike back up straight, then come to a stop as quickly as possible. That's why we need the drag strip. It takes room to get the bikes up to speed and more room to stop.

It's pretty amazing to stand to one side of the braking area and watch the bikes. They come in with motors singing and then haul them down.

Our police officer students did an awesome job. There was some tuning up required but none of them hesitated to throw themselves into the fray. Granted, the BMW's have ABS. The Kawasaki's and the Harley don't. Even the ABS bike riders improved a lot in their braking. At first you would hear the ABS hot and heavy. Pretty soon the stops were just as impressive with less ABS activation. The riders were modulating the brakes on their own.

These skills aren't just for motor cops. Think about it. How often as a commuter do you ride at 60 or 70 mph? Sometimes faster, you say? Do you ever consider that you may have to execute a stop calling for maximum braking? Like in "stopping right now"? How about a swerve? Stuff falls off trucks. Car drivers dive in front of us. We might have to swerve and then brake, or vice versa, at high speeds. You may actually be called upon to do these kind of things. How comfortable are you that you can do this?

You may have taken some sort of experienced rider course. Awesome for you! As great as it is to practice accident avoidance skills, it's at parking lot speeds. The fastest I've ever done a demonstration for maximum braking in a parking lot is about 35 mph. Think about doing it at twice that speed. Does it make you nervous? Let me tell you something. It sure did it to me! The night before I knew I was going to have to do this for a class I hardly slept. I had these dreams that bordered on nightmares. Yeah, I was nervous as, well, you know. Then it was time to actually do it. I'm sure my nether cheeks clenched the bike seat pretty hard. That's the only way I could explain that strange ridge in the middle of the seat. I thought I had a pretty good chance of sliding the front wheel as my bike didn't have ABS. Sophie doesn't either. Did you know that you actually have two chances to skid the front wheel? Once upon initial application when the weight hasn't transferred to the front wheel, yet. And another when the weight has started to rebound OFF the front wheel and is starting toward the rear tire again. Great, that's all I need. A chance for double jeopardy. Guess what?

I survived. Not only that, I actually enjoyed it after I nearly puckered myself on the first run. Ok, the first time I concentrated so hard on braking that I forgot to downshift. It was pretty tough trying to take off in 5th gear. The pay-off? I know I can do it if called on. My skills have been tested at the actual speeds I might have to use them.

Be honest. How many riders can truly say that? Oh, we know the theory. And that's way more than most riders can honestly lay claim to. The pressure required to swerve a bike and make it move a few feet at lower speeds is one thing. The pressure required to move a bike eight feet at 70 mph is a whole different animal. This is stuff we really need, especially as commuters. We mix it up with traffic, we encounter other hazards, and we often meet these hazards are highway speeds. Yet, speaking from personal experience, fear holds up back from practice. We assume we will be able to do what we need to do. Ah, can we really? How do we know? I would urge you to find some fairly sensible and safe way to try it out. You'll be scared. You'll also come out the other side supremely confident and proud of yourself. When the time comes to use the skills, you won't have to guess. You'll know for a fact that you have what it takes.

Here's an interesting little fact relating to speeds and stopping distances. These are for bikes without ABS. Check out the standards for stopping distances at a few different speeds.

At 15 mph the standard is 13 feet. At 20 mph the standard increases to 23 feet. At 60 mph the standard is 177 feet. Guess what it goes up to at 70 mph? It goes to 241 feet. That's an increase of 64 feet! Provided the rider is really proficient at braking! Think of how far 64 feet is. I know there's times we all ride faster. Still, stopping distances don't change with the fun factor. By riding 60 mph instead of 70 we reduce the distance required by 64 feet. If we ride faster, it should tell us something about following distances and the need for an aggressive scan.

Here's a question to chew on. How many times have we entered a corner at 70 mph and not been able to see at least 241 feet?

Enough of that. We spent a great afternoon circling the track and riding corners. Fast ones and slower ones, but all those lovely CORNERS!! On a track! Later on I'm going to do a post on cornering so I'll save our track time for that post. I do want to share a couple of fun things before I wind this up.

I'm happy to say that Sophie's front tire is now scuffed fully from one side to the other. Her pegs and centerstand got a manicure by scraping here and there. All in all, a happy day for her!

For the final evaluation on the track we cut the cops loose to run the track on their own. This time, though, we run it THE OTHER DIRECTION.
Now it's a whole different track. We give them some practice time to let them apply the principles we've worked on all afternoon. This time in new situations. Then we follow them for two laps to critique their riding. Each instructor ends up with about three different riders, one at a time. I have to tell you, it sure felt different jumping on Sophie and chasing the cops on their bikes!!!

My last rider to evaluate gave me the funniest moment of the day. I noticed while following him that his lines for most of the first lap were really sloppy. On the second lap the lines got much better. After his second lap he pulled into the paddock where the other officers were already dismounting. I went over and asked him about that first lap.

"I hate to say it", he said. "But I was so nervous watching you in my mirror and knowing you were following me that my riding went all to heck!"

I laughed and told him, "Welcome to the world of the civilian!"

Oh, and the ultimate commute? It had been a hot afternoon and we had required the officers to ride in full gear. The instructors do the same. It's our policy. This kind of training has more of a risk of riders going down and we much prefer it happen in full gear. One of the guys from down South made a comment about riding home at 80 since they needed to "do some serious airing out". I said I lived almost as far South as they were going and would follow them. They invited me to "jump on the pony".

Riding in a group of 9 motor officers is like being safe in your mother's arms. If we do 50 mph in the fast lane it is NOT AN ISSUE! If we do 85 so what? People get out of the way. Can you picture doing 20 mph over the speed limit and never feeling the urge to look over you shoulder? Of course, you're expected to ride in parade formation with them. Small price to pay, I say. Once in a while, giving up weekends and Mondays to teach in the hot sun pays off!

Miles and smiles,



DaveT said...

That sounds like SO MUCH FUN! Especially the ride home. No worries about a ticket that day.

A couple quick questions. First, you said your bike, and Sophie, didn't have ABS, did you use a different bike on the drag strip? Second, even though I'm in WA I suspect the instructor training is similar. How does one go about becoming an instructor?

irondad said...

I rode Sophie, my ST1100. It's just a philosophy of mine to use the biggest bike I have to do demonstrations. It seems to build better credibility than doing something on a small bike that I want the students to do on a big bike. Also, the ST is more like the Kawasaki and BMW police bikes. We also offer passenger rides so they can see and feel the track while riding with us. The ST is more comfortable than falling off the back of the CBR. I have had people who were afraid of leaning freak out on the back of a sport bike.

To answer your second question, the training is similar but we are not using the MSF program while Washington is. We have one central organization in Oregon and all the instructors work for it. In Washington it is sub-contracted out to different entities. You need to speak to Carl Spurgeon. Here is the link to the website. You may have to paste it into your browser.


Just in case, go to a search engine like google and type in Washinton State motorcycle safety training.

Keep me posted.