Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shiny side down ( not mine )

What a day! It began with a ride to Olympia, Washington. I had an appointment that might lead to working full time in motorcycle safety. That's all I'll say for now. I figure it's perfectly acceptable to ride in those circumstances.

The rain's back for a few days. I mentally pull the "operating on dry pavement" program card out of my internal computer. Time to insert the "operating on wet pavement" program card. It really does take a conscious effort to adjust for the different conditions. After months of riding on dry pavement in warm weather response habits can become subconsciously ingrained. In other words, you're likely to react based on recent but not current parameters. If the road's wet and our response is based on dry weather traction it can be very bad! Riders in general and commuters specifically need to always reprogram our brains based on the actual conditions at the time.

Just to drift slightly for a minute, it's kind of like ABS on a bike. Using ABS in a straight line versus in a corner are two different animals. ABS doesn't shut off when the bike's leaned. There's no switch that measures lean angle and turns off the computer. Just be aware that the computer assumes that full traction is available for braking. It just thinks you're straight up and down. It's up to the rider to realize that leaning takes traction. Traction in our leaning budget means there's less in our braking budget. We need to discern the true situation and adjust reactions accordingly.

Having reprogrammed my mental computer I set forth. It's going to be about three and a half hours and two hundred miles of riding in the rain. The area up there always seems to be wetter than here. Plus, no matter which way I look at it, I'm going to hit Portland right during the morning rush hour. As expected in a city of over half a million, it takes me 45 minutes to get through the traffic.

Before I even leave my home town, though, I brush up against another rider's misfortune. As I roll along a four lane street that takes me out of town I'm finding the need to pull off to one side. Two city police cars are coming up behind me with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Hey, I'm only five miles per hour over the limit, that's pretty severe, isn't it? They're not after me, of course. A quarter mile later I come upon the cause for their being dispatched.

There's an intersection where four major thoroughfares converge. Can you say "mega busy"? Part of the intersection's blocked off which makes me go the longer way to the freeway. Passing slowly through I can't resist the natural human urge to look over. What I see is the bottom of a motorcycle on it's side. That's not a view we're really supposed to see. Later on I'm able to ascertain that the bike is a '89 Honda. Not sure what model. My impression was a 'Wing. Given the time of day I presume the man is commuting. My contact tells me the name but I don't recognize it. Our commuter was passing through the intersection on a green light. A man in a Ford Escort ran the light and hit the bike on the right side. The rider's treated for minor injuries and released from the local hospital. I'm relieved it's not worse.

I don't know what evasive actions or mental strategies the commuter was using. The police report will clearly lay blame on the cager.

In an opposite case, here's what happened later that afternoon.

Having made the long trip, why not check out some of the local bike shops? Why on earth a bike nut would do such a thing is beyond me, but there I was. A man who looked to be about 60 years old and weighing around 300 pounds was mounting up his BMW K1200LT. The bike had been fitted with new tires. Rain was still drizzling down. Temperatures in the low 60's are about 15 degrees cooler than normal for this time of year. Can you see the pending outcome?

In front of the shop is a two lane street. If you're standing with your back to the building the street is a one-way running from right to left. I heard the mechanic remind Mr. BMW about new tires. Our soon-to-crash rider pulls into traffic using the near lane. Trouble is, the oncoming car seems to be closer than he realized. I'm a helpless spectator as the rider moves for the right lane while whacking on some throttle. This particular street is crowned more than usual for a city street. Just over the centerline the pavement is off-camber as it curves downward toward the gutter. Camber, rain, and new tires combine into a treacherous brew. Mr. BMW spins about 270 degrees around and crashes hard to the blacktop. The good news is that nobody runs into him from behind.

Weirdly enough, there's an off duty motor officer in the shop. I'm pressed into traffic control. An ambulance arrives. The paramedics think there's a broken shoulder and pelvis. Shop guys and a salesman get the bike upright. Pieces of bodywork tinkle down as the bike's pushed back into the lot. Sad ending that could have easily been written another way by using common sense. There's an oxymoron for you. Not much common about sense any more.

Sophie and I arrive home safely. I'm confident in my skills and in my bike. I'm aware that as a two-wheeled commuter I voluntarily expose myself to greater risks. I also take responsibility to develop and sharpen skills and strategies to help even out the odds. Still, I find myself wanting to tread gingerly on the wet ride home. Especially coming back through the Big City. I'm hyper alert and have to fight the urge to tense up whenever it looks like I might have to stop quickly or take some other evasive action. I just chalk it up to the day's experiences.

Somewhere in the rain I have a horrible thought. God, I hope I'm not some sort of catalyst that makes people crash when I'm in the area. That would be totally ironic, wouldn't it? A rider who's passion is teaching people to ride skillfully and stay alive becoming a lightning rod for disaster? No, I'm not even going there. Must have been the fact that I was totally water-logged by then.

Miles and smiles,


Steve Williams said...

A full-time job in motorcycle safety---that would be a merging of passion and work for you. Not many people have the chance to impact the safety and lives of people. You already do that. Working full-time would just expand that. Good luck with the interview process.

And don't go thinking you're a catylst for two-wheeled disaster. You're not responsible for the bad decisions, unfortunate luck, or lack of skill of others. Heck, I can screw things up just fine without the help of others...

I'm interested in your program cards. I assume dry pavement in the warm weather offers more traction than dry pavement in the cold. Seems like the road should be "stickier" in warm weather. Does it make much difference? I find myself making turns slightly slower when it's cold. At stoplights I grind my boots on the road surface to get an idea of what the traction is like. I just have this idea in my head that the road has less friction when its cold.


ScooterGuru said...

I own an Aprilia Scarabeo 500 scooter, and have found it to be pretty squirrely turning in the rain. It already likes to fall-into the turns, far enough that if I am not mentally on top of things the rear end will drift slightly. That's just on dry pavement. In the wet, things get really interesting, especially over painted lines. I have switched from the OEM Maxxis tires to Avons, and will try Michelins next. As a long-time motorcycle rider, I am definitely re-thinking my techniques right now.

Mistfrog said...

I'm reading this in Melbourne, Australia - a good deal south of Oregon (for that matter, a good deal south of the rest of Australia) - but your writing reminds me of how much I loved Oregon during my three or four visits.

I'm surprised by your ability to impart so much information and still community the sheer joy of riding. Having owned a Scarabeo 250 scooter for just three weeks, your journal is inspirational.

While I'm a young scooterist, I've been a journalist for 44 years, writing for magazines and metropolitan daily newspapers, so I hope you won't think me presumptuous, if I congratulate you warmly on your style.

Mistfrog said...

Hmmn. Should have been my own proofreader! Of course I meant "communicate", rather than "community", but perhaps it was a Freudian slip. Because you are certainly building a little community of riders.

Steve Williams said...

Dan: I wholeheartedly second mistfrog's assessment of your writing, enthusiasm, and commitment to riding!

You bring riding alive in your blog.


irondad said...

I'm no engineer. The coefficient of friction as it applies to traction combined with thermodynamics makes my head spin. The actual composition of the pavement doesn't change with temperature within the normal range you'd see. Remember, traction is friction between the tire and road. Tires get traction by interfacing with the road irregularities. Parts of the rubber get squished down into the little holes in the blacktop. The road temperature can affect this action somewhat.

It's tire temperature more so that affects how much of this squeezing into little holes happens. Cold pavement will contribute to tires not warming up the same as hot pavement will help warm tires but it's not the biggest factor.

What affects tire temperature more is the compound and how it reacts to the movement of the tire. Belts and tread blocks rub, sidewalls flex, and so on. This is what affects tire temperature more than ambient temperature.

Barring ice or extreme heat, after a tire has come up to operating temperature, road heat makes little discernable difference.

Wet roads are another story because of the water layer between the tire and road. So my program cards are "Dry", "Wet", and "Slippery substances". Not exactly that simply defined, but you get the drift.

irondad said...

did you adopt the name I gave you? How big are the tires on your scoot? It used to be that scooters had 10" tires and they were squirrelly on anything. Some are larger now and it helps. I actually found Dunlops to be one of the better gripping tires on my bikes.

I can see how you would have to cement in a new set of parameters. I'll bet it would be really hard to keep switching back and forth between a more traditional bike and a scooter.

thanks for weighing in! We're just winding down Summer so you must just be starting, huh? Interesting how you and scooterguru both comment next to each other and have Scarabeo rides. I am honored by your compliment. My blog just expresses my enthusiasm for riding. Glad it carries over. A compliment from someone with your background is a pleasant surprise. Kind of like finding extra cream filling in the middle of a cupcake. :)
Let me know if you are coming back to Oregon.


Mistfrog said...

Yes, we're in early Spring down here, Dan, although global warming means that a couple of days ago Sydney (a little north and a little warmer, but not all that much larger than Melbourne) experienced runaway bushfires waa-aay earlier than usual.

Unfortunately, although it's great to be riding in warm weather, we get some strong winds with the change of the seasons, so I'm just beginning to experience having the Scarabeo abruptly reposition itself sideways.

What with still trying to assimilate the concepts of countersteering, head-pointing, rolling and leaning, it sharpens the mind wonderfully.

I was planning to move up to a Scarabeo 500 when my restriction period ends, so I'm particularly interested in scooterguru's remarks on "squirrely" conduct in the wet. We don't have squirrels down here, but I imagine it means the bike gets a touch too active for comfort.

I'm not aware of the 250 falling in, but I'm such a novice I wouldn't really know. I'm taking some private tuition on Friday to hone my cornering skills, having noticed a tendency to get a touch wider than I would like.

The compulsory skills course that prepares one for a Learner's licence in my State (Victoria) helps somewhat, but you're always in an enclosed training area, where the speedo scarcely reaches 20 kph - and that's for the emergency stopping test. So the move to the street is much like moving from a playground to the jungle. You're suddenly surrounded by fast-moving potential predators, feeling a little like you're sitting on a lunch box.

Much like learning Unix, feeling out of your depth, if not terrified, seems like a rite of passage. It's better than it used to be, but we could do much more, I think. Hence the private lessons.

I'd love to spend a little more time in Oregon. Who knows, one of these days ...