Sunday, April 30, 2006

Trying the ST1300.

I ended up working Saturday. Our motorcycle safety program offers courses all over the state of Oregon. We have an agreement with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The Motor Vehicles Division is a part of ODOT. Our program is approved by ODOT for the purposes of motorcycle endorsement testing. When a person successfully completes our beginning course they receive a completion card. DMV waives any further testing when a person presents this card. This waiver is based on ODOT's faith that the person taking the course received the prescribed curriculum.

In order for us to assure ODOT that the program presentation remains pure to what was approved we perform what we call "Site Compliance Audits". There's a few of us signed off to do these audits. That's how I found myself standing on the side of the parking lot watching a class. Somewhat boring duty, as I'd much rather be doing the actual teaching, but necesary.

The good news was that after all was said and done I had the chance to go ride another instructor's ST1300. I'd heard a lot about how this bike was a big improvement over the 1100. There wasn't anything to make me run out and trade up as my 1100 is fairly new and works perfectly for me. Still, I wasn't going to pass up a chance to try one out.

One of the first things I noticed was that it felt like I was sitting up on top of the bike instead of snuggled down in like on my bike. The 1300 feels wider to me. I think it's partly because I'm looking down onto it more. It probably is a little wider across the fairing, as well. The dash display is wider and higher. On my 1100 there's just the analog dials and a clock. The 1300 has a large digital display that shows a lot more information. It was difficult for me to see the orange numbers in the sunlight. Good thing, too. With all the information available, I'd probably run off the road while playing with the dash!

The bike is very smooth. I always thought the transmission on my 1100 was smooth. On the 1300, snicking into first from neutral and then from first to second was whisper quiet. The fuel injection pulls the bike strongly and evenly up to speed. I looked at the speedometer indication and saw I was doing 70 and didn't even realize it. Whoa, time to throttle back! I really like the carbs on my 1100. I know carbs need to be synched and are not as efficient as fuel injection in adjusting for elevation and such. It just always seems to me that carbs are better for smooth transitions between throttle settings, especially at low speeds. The fuel injection on the CBR600F4i is on/off like a light switch. With the front end stiffened up, riding over bumpy city streets makes my right hand twitch which does weird things to the throttle.

With the 1300 being a heavier bike low speed throttle response is pretty smooth. Speaking of low speeds, when I got back to the parking lot I decided to play with the bike on our course. We have a circuit ride set up for our Rider Skills Practice clinics. It's a hoot!

The rider starts with a 90 degree corner then goes into a barrel ride consisting of three large cones spaced in a triangle. The ride is a lot like what the rodeo folks do on horses. On the bike the riders run patterns around the cones, trying to stay within 10 feet of the cones in really tight turns. From there the rider rounds a cone and heads toward a curve. After the curve comes a tight swerve and then around to a maximum braking quick stop. The approach speed for the braking can be 30 to 35 miles per hour. By the way, did I mention that the goal is to be as fast as possible while making as few mistakes as possible? Like I say, it's awesomely fun.

So I'm riding the ST1300 around this course. One of the things I notice is from the way the handlebars are mounted to the triple clamp. There's some sort of foam spacer underneath each side. It creates some weird flex on these fast, tight, runs. The other big thing I notice is how easily I'm scraping in a parking lot! The footpegs are lower than on my 1100. I'd wear my boots out even faster, I'm afraid.

All in all, the 1300 seems like a great bike, which you would expect from Honda. It would be a comfortable commuter / traveller with enough sportiness to keep the rider entertained. It's a sport-tourer after all, not a sport bike. It looks like Sophie's going to stay a part of the family for quite a while longer, though.

It's been sunshine for a few days except for a rain shower Saturday afternoon. Riding in the rain was a disappointment but, hey, that's life on a bike. The sun's back for a few days according to the weather guessers. I'm going to dig my long underwear back out tonight. The low tonight is predicted to be close to freezing so it will be nippy in the morning. Refreshing, eh?

Oh, by the way, back to the picture up top. There's these two llamas who usually run over to the fence and watch when I go by. Don't know why. So I decided to take their picture. Trouble is, as soon as I came back and parked the bike they seemed to lose interest. By the time I got the camera out, they had settled back into the grass. Try as I might to get them to come back, or at least stand up, they remained stubborn. I figured they were being camera shy brats and decided to shoot them, anyway. You should see two heads sticking up out of the grass.

Miles and smiles


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Is "good enough" really enough? Part 2

Setting the scene.

Here's the situation. Commuting on two wheels makes a lot of sense. With the rising price of fuel it makes ever more economic sense. Single track vehicles are better for our world. I think we all have a moral obligation to emulate Native Americans and others who lived ( or still live ) close to the land. Mother Earth nurtures us and we must treat this as precious. Bikes take up less room on the roads. Bikes don't wear pavement down like bigger vehicles. Parking is usually easier and more convenient. Bikes can use high occupancy vehicle lanes and save us time on our commute. There are good things to be experienced commuting on a bike. Things that cagers probably haven't even a clue as to their existence. In warm and sunny weather the pleasure's divine. Adverse weather can be handled by selecting and using good gear. Obviously, ice and snow are in a class of their own. This isn't a huge issue for a vast number of potential bike commuters. In other words, there's a ton of good reasons to commute on a bike. There are very few reasons not to. You know you want to. Why don't you?

I'll tell you why. The 900 pound gorilla that keeps jumping in the middle of things is this statement:

Riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car.

This, gang, is a true statement. Not to the degree that has been built up in people's minds and folklore. To listen to most "normal" people, it's a wonder anyone has survived any riding whatsoever. You know what I'm saying. How many times, when you've told someone you ride a bike or want to, have you had to hear them trot out their stock of "horror" stories? They've always known someone who got hurt or killed. What's conveniently left out is WHAT CAUSED the accident! The rider could have been riding drunk with their helmet on backwards so it covered their eyes, but it was always that evil motorcycle at fault!

The sad thing is that there's a lot of people who would like to commute and could be competent, safe, riders. They could actually enjoy the commute for a change. Too often they're held back by fear. I'd love to talk to such ones in person. I'd urge them to go ahead and try commuting on a bike like they'd love to do. At the same time, I'm not going to paint pretty pictures of daisies and sunshine. Yes, those things are there, but there's actual danger, too. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. The good news is that risk can be managed once we know what those risks are.

We're not going to be morbid here. I just feel it's critical to have an accurate picture of what we face. I've always believed in entering a situation with my eyes open. I want others to be able to do the same. With that in mind, consider the following.

Yes, we deal with distracted, unskilled, and downright stupid drivers out there. I just saw a government study that was released recently. This is from an Associated Press release. I've done some paraphrasing and summarizing for brevity.

Those sleep-deprived, multitasking drivers-clutching cell phones, fiddling with their radios or applying lipstick-apparently are causing lots of crashes. Distracted drivers were involved in nearly 8 out of 10 collisions or near-crashes, says a study released by the Government Thursday April 20, 2006.

Researchers reviewed thousands of hours of video and data from sensor monitors linked to more than 200 drivers, and pinpointed examples of what keeps drivers from paying close attention to the road.

"We see people on the roadways talking on the phone, checking their stocks, checking scores, fussing with their MP3 players, reading e-mails, all while driving 40, 50, 60, 70 miles per hour and sometimes even faster," said Jaqueline Glassman, acting administrator of the government's safety agency.

A driver's reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or potential collision by 9 times, according to researchers at the National Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. They found that the risk of a crash increases almost threefold when a driver is dialing a cell phone. Video footage shows four different angles of the driver-the face, a view of the steering wheel and instrument panel, and front and rear views of the vehicle-and offers a look at the moments before a crash.

Researchers said the report showed the first links between crash risks and a driver's activities, from eating and talking to receiving e-mail. Data from police reports had estimated that driver inattention was a factor in about 25 percent of crashes. For many drivers, the research offered more proof of what they see on their daily commutes. ( italics mine )

For more than a year, researchers studied the behaviour of the drivers of 100 vehicles in metropolitan Washington, D.C. They tracked 241 drivers, who were involved in 82 crashes of various degrees of seriousness-15 were reported to police-and 761 near-crashes. The air bag deployed in three instances. The project analyzed nearly 2 million miles driven and more than 43,300 hours of data.

Drowsy driving increased the driver's risk of a crash or near-crash by 4 to 6 times, the study said. But the study's authors said drowsy driving is frequently underreported in police investigations. When drivers took long glances away from the road at the wrong moment, they were twice as likely to get into a crash, the report said.

Assessing cell phone use, the researchers said the number of crashes or near-crashes linked to dialing the phones was nearly identical to those tied to talking on handheld cell phones while driving. A goverment report last year found that about 10 percent of drivers are using cell phones. ( it seems they didn't look on the roads I travel )

This is my own editorial. Interestingly, the cell phone industry tries to defend itself by claiming that distraction takes many forms. Things like eating, going through papers, and inserting CD's into the stereo. I agree with their assessment without letting them off the hook. Although, to be fair, individuals can make the decision to not use the phones while driving. It's not really the cell phone companys' fault. The fact is that drivers are distracted by MANY things. It all means that they aren't paying attention to driving and that makes them a danger to us.

The dangers are real. Nobody is immune. You'd think that trained professionals would be much better off than us run-of-the-mill commuters. You'd be wrong.

In a study posted on, it states that more than half of all law enforcement agencies allow motorcycle officers to take their bikes home and commute for free. This is one of the advantages, some agencies cite, of motor officer duty and makes the job more attractive. But get this.

In this study and one done by the California Highway Patrol, it was found that motorcycle police were more at-risk and had more commuting accidents than they did while on the job. Also, the accidents off-duty motorcycle officers had on their bikes were more severe and cost more than those on the job. The officers also log more miles commuting than they do on duty. The CHP study found that half the 208 million miles logged by CHP officers were in commuting with an average round trip of 58 miles vs. an average of 47 miles ridden on the job. The inference is that there's more exposure in terms of mileage. Bear in mind that a lot of accidents happened on the way home. You can imagine the exhausted and stressed condition of the riders.

All right, you say, I've put the fear into you. Is this supposed to help me decide to commute? Sounds like I'm trying to scare you away. Just the opposite, actually.

Now you've met the enemy. There are things we can do as riders to put ourselves in a position to achieve victory. Things like mental strategies and physical skills. Here's the thing, though.

It's not enough to be "good enough".

Go back to that statement I made. Riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car. A bike is smaller which makes us less Visible. The small size and being out in the open makes us more Vulnerable. A rider's Judgement is critical. It's certainly important to make good decisions no matter what vehicle we're piloting. It's critical on a bike because a BAD decision can have much worse consequences for us.

It's not enough to just "match" the opponent. A bike undeniably has a better power to weight ratio and is more nimble than a car. In many other ways we start out at a disadvantage, though. This means, that as riders, we need to be technologically and intellectually SUPERIOR to them. How can we accomplish this and what tools do we have at our disposal?

Stay tuned for part 3.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, April 24, 2006

What becomes of them?

It's been a busy last couple of days on top of a weekend filled with work as an instructor. I'm still working on Part 2 of "Good Enough?". It will be done soon. More than likely it will extend to three parts before I'm done.

My co-workers are starting to express envy about my mode of travel now that the sun has been shining so nicely in the afternoons. A couple of them were going golfing tonight. I told them they could relax their way, and I'd relax in my own way. It certainly is a blessing to go outside and see that beautiful, gleaming bike ready to play. There's very little that's more relaxing and pleasurable than a ride on lonely back roads. Being bathed in warm sunshine and having beautiful things to look at fills me with serenity not possible in a cage.

There was a large group of deer in a little grove of trees next to the road. There's no underbrush, just foot-high grass under the trees. I didn't spot the buck, just some does and fawns. They were relaxing in the shade of the trees. A couple of them were "taking care of business", if you know what I mean. By the way, did you know that does squat like female dogs when they urinate? Just a free natural history lesson. I know, the mind reels at the awesome bargain. The adventure of riding combined with learning about wildlife!

I want to go back to my weekend of teaching with this post. It counts because I commuted 30 miles each way both Saturday and Sunday.

Needless to say, the weather cooperated wonderfully. Learning seems to be so much easier in favorable conditions. As much as I hate rain, though, I almost prefer that my new riders get a feeling for riding in it right from the start. Kind of like facing the enemy and realizing he's not as fearsome as one conjures in the mind.

My partner was Donn, again. If you've read earlier posts, you'll remember him from early February when we both encountered black ice on the way to class. It was also the class where we met Ann. The students were a varied group. All were very personable and the rapport between us and them, as well as among themselves, was really strong. There were two gals. One is married with kids. The family are all dirt bike riders and she wants to venture onto the street, now. The other gal is young and was there with her boyfriend.

Three of the men stood out to me, in particular. One looks like the typical "bad biker dude". Longish white hair, the chin whiskers, the clothes, all of it. All except the attitude, that is. This man was so hungry to learn I had to quit looking at his appearance. It created too much of a mental conflict for me. I don't mean to stereotype folks, but my past experience is my past experience, you know. Anyway, Bill was about as coachable as they come. Not only that, but he listened and improved all weekend. He was so proud of himself by Sunday night. I was too, if I say so myself. If it stays with him, Bill will do just fine out there.

The other two guys that stood out were much older. One is over 70. The other early 60's. As much as I want to see people succeed, the older fellows don't usually do well if they've never ridden or it's been a long time. The oldest had never been on a bike, and the other was looking to relive the days of being powerful and dashing from long ago. The sad truth is that time takes its toll on all of us without exception. The wonderful thing about being on a bike is that it becomes a "freedom machine". We can be whoever or whatever we want to be on the bike. Common sense must always focus on actual reality. The spirit, however, is free to soar.

Both guys did ok. I'm not real comfortable thinking about them on the streets right off. I gently urged them to pick places to ride for a while where the need to multi-task would be less. New or returning riders need to spend a lot of concentration on bike control and inputs and the less distractions, the better, for a while.

I love teaching but there's an odd conflict. You see, I'm not really what you would call a "people person". Oh, the rapport I get with a class is great. There's a dynamic synergism that totally energizes me. Students often make comments that it seems I have as much fun as they do and they're right. It's just that, after the class is over, I still care about them but have no real urge to keep in touch. Once in a while we encounter students and it's great to hear how things have been for them. The close-knit tightness between instructors is a blessing, too. It's just that I'm happy riding by myself or with another trusted friend. Not into having to have social contact all the time. It works for some folks, it's just not me. Katie's my best pal and we're pretty self-sufficient.

One does always wonder how the riding goes for students long term, though. Whatever becomes of them? I suspect most remain social and recreational riders and their mileage is limited. How long does the training stay with them? Most riders who go through a beginning class won't ever come back for more training. My time with them only builds a foundation. So much can happen in the process of constructing the rest of the building. I can only hope for the best and take comfort in the fact that our graduates are WAY UNDER REPRESENTED in the statistics. I only know of one of my students who has been killed on a bike.

This lady was the wife of an instructor whom I trained. Suzy wanted to take the class. Her husband worked it out for me to be her instructor. It was a huge honor. Suzy took to riding like she was born to it. After graduating she bought a Shadow VLX 600 and rode the wheels off it. Suzy started her own riding club comprised of church members where she attended. She called the group the "Angel Wing Riders". Suzy and Steven spent many weekends riding with friends.

A year ago this month Suzy and Steven participated in the Oregon 250 ride. They stopped in Hood River along the Columbia River Gorge. It's the same highway I travelled on a couple of weeks ago when I went to Richland, Washington. The couple shared a big piece of peanut butter pie and then saddled up for the last leg of the ride. Not long later, a lone rider was ahead of them. Steven was next in line on the 'Wing. Suzy was at the tail on her trusty Shadow. On their left was a large rock cliff looming up over the river. Some shale started sliding which dislodged other rocks which, in turn, bounced down off the hill onto the roadway. Steven had some small bits hit his fairing. Looking in his mirror he saw Suzy slump on her bike, then fall off while the bike tumbled down the road. Horrified, he stopped his bike, just letting it fall. Suzy was already gone from a fist-sized rock that had slammed into her chest.

I consider an accident like this to be the "Finger of God". Absolutely unavoidable. I was not there to see it. Steven sent me an e-mail that night telling me what happened. I guess because I was his mentor and Suzy's teacher he wanted to share his heart with me. Many, many of his fellow instructors went to Suzy's funeral. As Suzy would have wanted it, the funeral was a celebration of her life and impish humor. Steven is doing ok but I'm sure he still misses Suzy terribly.

The e-mail to me started like this. "Today I lost my best friend". Wherever you are, Suzy, may the roads be twisty, the bike nimble, and the traffic light.

You'll have to excuse me, now. I have to go hug Katie.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Is "good enough" really enough? Part 1

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go".
T.S. Eliot

I was reading an article in Motorcycle Consumer News about long distance riding. In a sidebar was this quote. I had never come across it before and it intrigued me. What a great quote! It moved me to address a couple of things again.

One thing to come back to is to briefly touch on why some of us need to keep looking for "how far we can go". The other thing is to bring it back to commuting on a bike. There's been some discussion on Gary and Steve's blog about things like how much power do you need in a bike. How much skill do you need? Is 'enough" really enough these days? How wise is it to be "adequate" but have nothing in reserve? A rider can probably get by with "just enough" skills as long as nothing goes horribly wrong. Isn't it better to have "more than enough"? I prefer to have cards I'm not showing rather than be riding at the edge of my limits to just deal with normal traffic and small surprises.

Previous posts have touched upon why some of us do things on a bike that most folks might consider "extreme". I'm not going to go too far in that direction again. Suffice it to say that some of us have different reasons for finding out "how far we can go". In the process we sometimes find we're at that point where it's a fine line between "farther" and "too far". We accept that risk. Obviously we try to avoid falling over the edge but it's a constant factor to be contended with. Armed with our skills, resources, and with a little daring thrown in, we approach the edge one reasoned step at a time. In the end, I suppose, an accident is an accident. I just like to think if it happens that I "eased" over the line, rather than went over in a big, leaping bounce.

In the case of my Bro' Gary, he's found a great role with Baron Scooters. As near as I can tell Gary's job is to see if he can break them. It's like giving a kid a new toy and actually asking him to break it. I heard a story about how a father explained to his son how engineers knew the weight limit of a bridge. The father tells the son that workers keep driving heavier trucks over the bridge until it collapses. The weight of the last successful truck is recorded then the bridge is built back exactly how it was.

Gary's a test pilot for the Baron machines. When he finds the limit, the company determines if that limit is adequate for most of it's customers. If so, things are left alone. If not, changes are made and testing begins again. That explains the scooter thing. There's no explanation for the rest of what Gary does except that he's psycho crazy like me. We just don't like to be told we can't do something, I guess. Are we brats, or what? ( brats with skills, I'll have you know )

In my case I'm no test pilot except unto myself. There's this strong inner need to keep growing through meeting challenges. Specifically addressing motorcycling, I'm also looking for credibility as a trainer. The pursuit of increasingly stretched limits also gives me more of value to share with other riders. In my role as an "instructor" I meet a variety of skill levels both formally in classes and in my social interchanges.

Some of our advanced classes are attended by riders with more years in the saddle than me. I totally respect their desire for periodic tuneups. One of the challenges as an instructor is to establish both a rapport and credibility. To complicate matters we ride our own bikes for demonstrations. Our premier class is taught on a track and we're continually having students follow us or ride with us. For me, it's not enough to say I'm teaching a course designed by experts. To tell students that, despite the lack of my own skills, they need to just concentrate on what's in the course. For me to be satisfied with myself as an instructor I need to have the skill to be the shining example.

Isn't that the point of formal training? I've always thought the purpose was to sharpen the existing skills PLUS step up to a slightly higher level. For me, as well as for most dedicated instructors, I want to be in a place where I can reach out to the students and encourage them to stretch up a little to meet me. That's just not possible if my skill and experience aren't up there, too.

One of my prized experiences had to do with teaching an Experienced Rider Course a couple of years ago. We've replaced that course with something called Rider Skills Practice since we've split with the MSF. The morning was taken up by classroom and we'd go to the range after lunch. After my usual sandwich and V-8 juice I fired up the ST to warm it up. I was going to ride demonstrations which is harder to do with a cold engine. So I'm out in the parking lot running through the drills the students were going to be doing later. Ok, my riding had a little extra flair and swooping. Katie's watched me do this and can't belive the saddlebags almost scrape in the parking lot. I'm just having fun, thinking I'm pretty much out there by myself.

As I finally get tired of playing I ride off the lot. Much to my surprise, the whole class of twelve students have been standing and watching me. As I dismount, one of the students comes over to me and extends his hand.

"If that's what's called "E.C."; congratulations, you've done it. You've certainly Established Credibility with us!".

The other instructor said the students made the comment "Um, he rides real well, doesn't he?"

I don't mean it to sound like bragging. It just supports my philosophy that the Master should be a few steps ahead of the student. That's very serious to me. I'm literally giving riders tools to stay alive with. As long as I put myself in front of riders as an instructor my skills better be up there.

I always loved the old Kung Fu series with David Carradine.

"Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper".

Some of our classes are for motor cops. Life is more extreme in this kind of riding. Having explored "The Edge", I can pass on tips on how to handle these kind of extreme conditions. For example, did you know that in maximum braking for a quick stop there's actually two times you have a bigger danger of skidding the front tire out from under you? Once at the initial application and again right at the end when the weight starts to rebound off the front wheel? Nothing like doing maximum emergency braking from 75 MPH at a dragstrip to show you what that's like. That's plain scary with entirely too much time to think about it. These guys and gals face these kind of things on a regular basis.

As a "competent" rider I'd be in no position to offer any help to these everyday heroes. Thus the search to always "see how far I can go", among other reasons.

Stay tuned for Part 2. We'll talk about things specific to commuting by bike. It's a dangerous world out there and getting worse all the time. The good news is that the risk can be managed.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Buzzard Love.

I'm still working on my "Big Post". I get these really great ideas when I'm on the bike. Trouble is, when I sit down at the computer they're gone. Maybe I should bring a bike in and park it in front of the computer. Maybe sitting on it would stir the juices. I'm sure it would stir Katie's juices but that won't help me get the blog post done!

Excuse me while I insert a quick note here: To my bro' Gary. If you're reading this it means you're still alive. Hope you recover from your illness. Sorry you're sick. 104 degress, huh? Want some of my good "fever drugs"?

Riding home tonight I think I narrowly escaped trouble with The Law. I also saw something I have never seen before and I'm not sure I want to see again.

The weather was still warm and sunny although clouds are moving in as I write this. Friday is expecting showers but it's supposed to be short lived. I'm teaching a beginner rider's class this weekend and the outlook's hopeful for good weather. I decided on a different route home. I love my isolated back roads but decided I wanted some variety. There's a back road that has some sweeping curves but can have a little more traffic. This road joins up with my old Hwy 99 26 miles south of my home town.

Either way, I need to go through Coburg. This is an interesting little place. The whole town covers about 12 square blocks. There's some rural areas annexed for the purposes of generating ticket revenue. The Police Chief and City Manager are one and the same person. It seems like the only purpose of the officers is to write tickets to fill the city coffers. Coburg made national news for their activity. I don't remember the exact population but it's probably 1000. Yet, Coburg has 7 or 8 full time officers. It got so bad that the Legislature had to regulate their fund raising efforts by declaring that only a certain percentage of city revenue could come from tickets.

Coburg has two bikes, a Harley and a BMW. My encounter today, however, was with an officer in a cruiser.

Today I jumped onto the freeway for 5 miles to the Coburg exit. When you come off the freeway you hang a left and approach Coburg from the East. This part of town is a little busy. The road temporarily runs four lanes. There's a truck stop on one side and the entrance to Monaco Motor Coaches on the right. Monaco employs a bunch of folks. You've probably heard of their motor homes as well as their really fancy line, Marathon Coaches. The four lane stretch lasts about an eighth of a mile then narrows into two lanes. Immediately you find yourself in a residential area with a 25 MPH speed limit. Guess where the cop was?

Sophie and I are behind a little red car and a tan Buick. I am literally behind the "little old lady in the Buick". The red car takes the left lane at the light to Monaco and the little old lady takes the right lane. I'm trapped. When the light turns green the red car speeds up and then slows down. The little old lady moves left behind the red car but we're close to where the lanes narrow. Time to make a decision. I have this mental nightmare of being trapped behind this slow driver for miles. There's not room for a car to go around but the bike can do it. After passing the little old lady I get greedy and figure I might as well go all the way. Now I pass the red car, too. Needless to say, when the lane ends I'm doing a little more than 25 MPH. One block past the bottleneck sits a cruiser with radar aimed at traffic coming into town. Dang!

The way the car's sitting, you can't see it until you're too close to react. Good spot for a trap. Once I'm safely past the cars I hit the front brake hard enough to visibly dip the front forks. It was my way to say I'd done what I needed to do and was planning on minding the speed limit. It wasn't meant as showing respect to the pirate, just trying to avoid a fine. Must of worked because I got the hard stare but no bubble gum machine lit up. Could have gone either way, though.

It's always nice to cruise through the little towns on the old highway. One such is Shedd. Facing the highway is a grass seed warehouse, a building supply store, a diner, a small market, and a grange hall. Every third Thursday there's a gathering of street rods and classic cars at the diner. This must be the first one of the year. I can't resist pulling into the lot on the bike.

There's a timeless magic that makes almost any bike blend in with such a gathering. The bike can be almost new but it doesn't matter. The car folks fussed over the bike and asked questions while I did the same in return. The hour I spent was like entering a quiet pool off to the side of the rushing river. Everything else is put on hold while we talk fine machinery and trade stories. Very relaxing. Nonetheless, I finally had to mount up and head back down the road.

One the way out of town, such as it is, I saw a little boy on a shiny chrome bicycle. He must have been around 7 or 8 years old. His hair was a little long and he had a purple scarf wrapped around his head in the classic "do-rag" fashion. The young man was pedaling down a sidewalk when he caught sight of the bike. As I got closer the bicycle was losing speed until it was almost wobbling. He must have been totally engrossed and fascinated by the ST and I. As I passed him I waved and he waved back. I watched him in the mirror as I passed. His head followed the bike and I. Then I saw him do a slow tip-over on the bicycle. Talk about total distraction!

The awesome thing about riding back roads on a bike is being out in the open. I'm totally convinced that riders see things that car drivers miss. A lot of this highway is through wide-open farmland. Sheep dot many of the fields. In one field there were 6 or 7 vultures ( or buzzards ) gathered around a sheep carcass. Off to the side one of the birds was flapping those huge wings fairly rapidly. Looking closer I saw another buzzard under it. Have you ever seen buzzards mating? It looked so awkward and clumsy that it was hilarious. I rode the rest of the way home thinking about buzzard love!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fun in the Sun!

Ok, I admit it. I've been a Bad Blogger. I mean, when you keep a blog, people expect somewhat regular postings. All I can say is that I've been positively giddy with the sunshine the last couple of days. The sun has warmed us up to the mid to upper 60's(F). It's been a while since I've ridden in warm air and I'm out grooving on it while the Weather Gods smile benignly on us. The rain's coming back tonight.

In my defense, I've been shopping for a new camera to replace the one victimized by the squabbling squirrels. I'm also working on a "meatier" posting which is taking longer to compose than I counted on. Stay tuned for that in the next couple of days.

At long last I'm seeing a fair number of bikes on the road. Nobody really regularly but there's a variety of riders out now. Yesterday afternoon I started noticing that the "big bikes" were out in increasing numbers. The Goldwings and large touring bikes are getting dusted off in preparation for the coming riding season. The really cool thing is that EVERYONE seems to be trading friendly waves. Once the joy of the initial riding wears off I'm sure the segregration will return. For now, the riders are just so happy to be back on the bike in the sun that they're sharing the joy with anyone on two wheels. I even saw a guy on a Harley V-Rod wave at an old guy on a bright yellow scooter! Is that weird, or what?

Yesterday morning I rode out on an errand. There were a couple of motor officers working a short freeway that connects the East and West parts of the Metropolis here. One of the officers was in a short sleeved shirt with no jacket. The first thing that came to my mind really illustrates the difference between your average motorist and a two-wheeled commuter.

Where most people's first reaction is to get nervous and slow down, my first thought was that the officer must be pretty chilled with no jacket! The sun was out but there was still quite a chill factor. It's true, you just start thinking differently when you ride.

Today at lunch I had a couple of experiences with nearly getting rear-ended. Once was while I was turning into a gas station. By the way, I paid three dollars and a penny for premium today. Gulp! Although I'm told that in Southern California it's $4.15. Glad I'm on a bike. Anyway, back to the story. I always use my signals and flash my brake light to alert cars behind me. A big Mercury Marquis was behind me. I always watch my mirrors. The car's not looking like it's slowing down and I'm ready to abort the turn and get out of the way. All of a sudden I see the front end of the car dive abruptly. Guess they finally woke up.

After fueling I went downtown to get a new Oregon map from the Highway Dept.'s office. Then I needed to stop at a department store back by the gas station. This time I almost got squashed by a school bus! When I got to the store parking lot I seriously figured my lights were out or something. No, everything checked out fine. One time I was heading East and the other I was heading North so the sun wasn't a factor. How do you miss the bright yellow/green retroflective vest? I usually wear the Hi-Viz 'stich but had the vest today with a different jacket. I THOUGHT I was conspicuous.

Just goes to show you can never take anything for granted. Each thing you might do to be seen or to deal with traffic is just one tool. You can never rely on just one thing no matter how cool you think it is. There's no "magic bullets" out there for two-wheeled commuters. Stay sharp and stay tuned for the big post.

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Road trip. ( Part 2 )

Things had gone well on the job. Of course, as in all things when people are frustrated, the guy running the job thought I should stay and help him fix all his problems. After determining that the problems resulted from his own blundering, and not really caring for his attitude, I declined.
Needless to say, I just wanted to get on the road.

It's now around 12:30. Time for the commute home, so to speak. Let's see. Go back the same, straight, beautiful, but boring way I came? Or find a more interesting route? The interesting way will also have to be longer. What would you do? Fifteen minutes and a few miles later I'm sitting on a bench in front of a Subway looking at my map. Notice I'm also nicely away from the job site?

Dropping back down into Oregon is one option. There's some great rural roads with interesting curves and sights. The only problem is the predicted storm. The Weather Gods aren't willing to let go of Winter just yet. The snow level is dropping quickly. An Oregon route would put me on Santiam Pass in the early evening. The predictions indicate 4 to 12 inches of snow at 3000 feet with as much as three feet up higher. Santiam Pass is at 4850 feet.

I'm only about 80 miles South of Yakima, my old stomping grounds. From there I can head West on 12 and traverse the mountains via White Pass. This pass is somewhere around 4500 feet but I figure to hit it sooner in the day. Besides, there's awesome scenery, good motorcycle roads, and beautiful high mountain lakes. I end up taking pictures but my camera will meet an untimely end on this leg of the trip.

With a roast beef on Italian Herb and Cheese bread in the saddlebag I head for Yakima. One thing I've found really useful in long distance riding is to spread out the eating. Rather than sit down and eat a whole sandwich, for instance, I will take it along. At my stops I eat a little at a time. Seems to keep me more alert. There's a couple of Nalgene bottles full of ice water in a saddlebag to go with the sandwich.

There's a few choices for the route to Yakima. I choose an alternate based on the motor cop's advise. Normally I would run up 82 about 40 miles to Sunnyside and then take the Hwy 241 loop through the Black Rock Valley. The loop's 50 miles or so and decidedly not the direct route. Hey, I'm commuting on a bike, folks! The cop's told me there's construction on the first part of the loop. Plan B is to hit 240 and travel through the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Maybe my Hi-Viz Aerostich jacket will be even brighter when I'm done. At the North end of Hanford you can hang a left on 24 through Cold Creek and hit the Black Rock Valley loop at its Eastern point. Then a run through a place called Moxee City and on to Yakima! Wouldn't you love to live in a place called "Moxee City"?

Someone asks if you have "moxee". Tell 'em they named the town after you!

I know this is a lot of detail for roadways. All these numbers usually bore me when I read about rides in the magazines. At least you can look at a map and have some idea of the ride.

Just to be aware I stop at the Washington State Patrol office in Yakima and ask about the pass. I'm told there's snow up there but the road is fairly clear. Good enough for me. This really isn't the best time of year for someone new to riding or not comfortable with adverse conditions to hit these kind of roads. One of the biggest problems is the amount of lava rock on the road right now. Negotiating a downhill curve can be interesting with all the rock. It was also below freezing. According to the officer I talked with, the temperature was 29 degrees. What a contrast to Yakima which was at 56!

The ride was pretty but a lot of the places to pull out were snowed over. I figured it was just too treacherous for the loaded-down ST. My kingdom for a KLR with knobbies! There was one spot where I finally pulled in. Just before the summit is Clear Creek Dam on the Tieton River. Snow or no snow, I was going in for a picture. The body of water is long enough to offer some options for a picture. I found a spot where a stone wall curves around then angles to the ground. Perfect. I put the bike at the spot with no wall and set the camera on the wall opposite. The plan was to frame the picture, go set the timer on the Kodak, and then get into the picture with the bike. The picture snapped. I stood by the bike looking around before going to check how the picture turned out. As I started toward the camera I heard a loud, high-pitched disturbance. Two big blue squirrels seemed to be engaged in combat and were alternately chasing and being chased along the top of the wall.

My camera became a victim to squirrel violence. It got knocked off the wall. Of course, it didn't fall toward the parking lot. It went off the back side. Did I tell you that on the back side of the wall was a hundred foot drop down a steep bank? I was not prepared to rappel down after it. I gave it last rites and left it to history.

We soon dropped down to warmer temperatures. At somewhere around 30 miles down off the pass, the road runs alongside the Cowlitz River for a while. Not right beside it, but you can see the river off to the left ( South ). As I was looking around at the scenery, there was a heavy impact on the side of my visor. Another soon followed. The impacts became regular but random. As I looked ahead in the air I saw these small black dots. The air was full of bumblebees. Further away they looked like when you first see a C-130 cargo plane approaching. Low in the air, ponderous with their burden. As the bees got closer they suddenly seemed to gain speed. They hit more like F/A-18 Hornets, no pun intended. I started counting how many were hitting the bike and I. I hadn't counted the first few but I guessed it had been around 8. In half a mile I had been hit 27 times. I'm lucky not to have gotten one or more down my jacket.

Had that happen with a small black wasp, once. The thing got inside my shirt and stung its way around my thorax while I was trying to safely pull over and deal with it. The beggar got me 11 times.

The source of the bees came into view. There was several large orchards of small trees with pink blossoms. The trees looked like they had all been cut to be flat on top. A sign identified them as "Sweet Chemes" trees. I'm not sure what that is, but I think it may be some sort of cherry. If you know, please enlighten us.

By the way, I hadn't realized it, but I could have gotten a good water picture at Mayfield County Lake. It was warmer with no snow. Probably not as dramatic, though. I can't help but think the squirrels would be more sedate than their Mountain Man Squirrel counterparts.

All too soon, I came to Interstate 5 and started the two hour freeway slog home. Fittingly, I came under the black clouds I'd seen looming for a while. It rained most of the time I was on the freeway. Oh well, still beats a cage.

So that was my long commute to work. How many folks in a cage would have had so much fun? How many would have purposely added miles to the journey home? What always amazes me is how something that seems like work in a car is an invitation to play on a bike.

I'm truly thankful that being a daily bike commuter put me in a position to live more fully on this work day. By the way, did I mention that the company paid for the fuel?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Roadtrip. ( Part 1 )

Yesterday's ride to work ended up at 14 hours and 679 miles. I will admit it, the buns are a little sore today. Even with my appetite for riding, I pretty much had my fill. Considering I spent a little over two hours actually working at my job, that puts the riding time to 12 hours. It all works out to an average of 56 miles per hour. I guess I could have taken a little nap and rode some more to make a SaddleSore 1000 for the Ironbutt group. Been there, done that, though.

This won't be a blow-by-blow account of the ride ( thank goodness ) but I wanted to share a few highlights.

The day started early with Sophie and I being on the road by 4:45 AM. I was up around 3. You know how it is when you know you're getting up early for a big adventure. The brain is active and sleep is hard to come by. At least that's how it is with me. I was picturing what things might be like on the job and how I was going to effect a repair. I must have done it a hundred times in my mind while in bed. How could I sleep? So I got up early and finished a blog post. Then it was time to leave. I had what I figured to be a five hour ride and planned to be on site about 10 AM.

It always amazes me how much traffic is out so early in the morning. I can remember a time when I had the freeway all to myself at 5 AM. Not anymore. By 6 I was close to Portland which has a population of nearly half a million. There's also quite a number of smaller cities ( relatively speaking, anyway ) that are bedroom communities for folks who commute to Portland. The rush hour crawl had already started when I got up there. Nothing else to do but deal with it.

The mess continued for another 30 miles or so up the Columbia River. I stopped at Troutdale which is the last outpost of the Metropolis. After Troutdale things settle down and there's actually elbow room for miles and miles and miles. ( he writes with a big smile on his face! )
Coincidentally, there's a truck stop, a restaurant, and a McDonald's. There's also bunches of people who are making the last pit stop before the long, empty road, as well as those who just came off this stretch and badly need fuel and a restroom! Not necesarily in that order.

I topped off the tank on the ST. It's probably 250 miles to my destination from here. With the 7.4 gallon tank I should be fine until I hit Richland. Walked over to McDonald's for a couple of breakfast burritos. There were a few truckers in there for morning coffee. I often think I would like to be a trucker. I know their life has it's share of hassles, but it seems like living on the road away from offices and telephones would be awesome.

The ride up the Gorge is like a very skinny, attractive girl with no brain. Great to look at but boring after a while. Looking for nice curves? Forget about it. Just mile after mile of pretty much straight road with the river on one side and cliffs on the other. The gusty winds can be entertaining, though. Some gusts are so strong they can literally move vehicles into another lane if the driver isn't alert. Hood River is on the Gorge and is one of the windsurfing capitals of the US. The reason is the wind. Not being on a windsail, I keep a good grip on the bars.

The good thing about the ride is that the speed limit is 65 miles an hour most of the way. The road is called Interstate 84. Two lanes either direction with no commuter traffic to speak of, only travellers. I set my right wrist at about 75 mph and just leave it. I chose this route because I knew I could make time. First priority was to get the job done and I wanted to save my time for unforeseen contingencies. I figured 75 mph would be fast enough to make time but not fast enough to attract law enforcement.

Speaking of law enforcement, I experienced two polar opposites in cops on the trip. I'd been on the road for about 4 hours when I noticed an Oregon State Police trooper coming up behind me. No lights, just cruising. The cop came up behind me and just stuck there. I stayed at 75 and ignored him. If he has an issue with the speed, so be it. He already knows how fast I'm going and I'm not going to play hypocrite. Besides, slowing down would be an admission of guilt, wouldn't it? Then the cop started to slowly pass me, looking hard at me the whole time. He was a big man who reminded me of my late Grandpa. Once upon a time he had been beefy but had turned what you might call "fleshy" with age. I still would hesitate to physically tangle with him. The trooper looked like he was close to retirement age. Mostly bald with close-cropped grey hair. A big, round head. He wore wire rimmed glasses with big lenses. As he passed I saw he had one arm draped over the in-car computer console. I nodded at him with no effect. Ok, maybe he just didn't see me knod. So I waved. Still the icy stare.

I'm amusing myself by talking to him which he can neither see nor hear.

"Lighten up, John Boy! Don't tell me. You had a bad experience with a bike when you were a kid, didn't you?" and so on. I certainly will be the last to show disrepect for law enforcement. This guy just seemed to be a little "over the top". These thoughts were just going through my mind to entertain myself. You see, I've been on the other side of the badge and I'm not intimidated.

I figure he's like me. Bored by a long drive and finding entertainment where he can. In this case he's probably trying to play mind games and figures he'll win either way. Just as the trooper finally goes past me he drops back until he's still in the other lane but behind me. We're coming up to a big truck, now. The big truck moves into the left lane to give an abandoned pickup on the right shoulder a wide berth. I hang back with the cop and let the truck pull back into my lane. Now I have to make a decision. I want to go around the truck but I have this cop just off my left rear. He's not changing position.

I decide to make it a draw in this mind game. I signal but the cop doesn't move. Ok, however you want it, John Boy. The throttle gets twisted and I shoot left while accelerating in front of the cop. Take that! I see the needle hit 85 before I roll back to 75 and pull into the right lane. It will be a tie, either way. If I get cited I'll contest it. Then the cop will have to go to court. Win or lose, he'll have to spend the day sitting on his ass on a courtroom bench. If it falls on his day off, he'll still have to show up or I win by default. The cop doesn't bite. He speeds up and finally passes me. I follow him until I get to my exit into Washington.

One of these days my attitude will get me into big trouble!

In Washington I have a different experience. After getting done with the job I jump on the bike and get out of there before I get entangled. Once safely out of Dodge, I pull off to the side of Interstate 82, take my helmet off, and pull the cell phone out. I need to report to the office and tell them a couple of things since I won't be back until Monday. As I'm making the call a motor officer on a BMW is coming from the opposite direction. There's two lanes each way with a dried grass median between us. I see him slow down and signal a turn in my direction. I hold up my hand and make the "OK" sign. He waves and goes on. In a few minutes I see him cross the median and the bike pulls up behind mine. My call is finished and I turn to him.

Seems he's decided to stop and chat with a fellow motorcyclist. The officer is with the Benton County Sheriff's office. After he went by he saw the Oregon plate. Sometimes an officer will use any excuse to stop someone and check them out. In this case, the officer seemed to be genuinely friendly. His name is Kevin and he's an avid rider and tourer in his personal life as well as being a motor officer. We had a short and friendly chat and went our own ways. When I told Kevin where I was going he gave me a tip about some road construction I would encounter. He also suggested an interesting way around which proved to be all he claimed.

That's one of the really awesome things about being a two-wheeled traveller. With people who have the heart of a motorcyclist ( as opposed to "posers" ) bikes are the Great Equalizer. The love of riding transcends all else.

The ride home turns out to be a great one. Since this is getting pretty long, already, I'll put it into the next post. Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The ST gets a name.

The ST now has a name. A motor cop inspired it. No, it's not "speedy"!

I've been thinking about naming the bike. I mentioned in an earlier post that it didn't seem right. The bike has been with me for a few years and still doesn't have a name. For me, the name had to be feminine for this bike. Just suits her personality, I guess. I consider myself a Road Warrior. It seemed fitting to name the bike after some Warrior Princess. An internet search revealed a few obscure names. If I gave her one of the names I could picture folks scratching their heads and wondering where THAT came from. The obvious name was Xena after the TV show, which I never watched, by the way. It seemed to be a popular series. A couple of things kept me away from this route. One, there was some sort of connotation to the Xena thing that I didn't care for. If you know what I mean, it will be obvious. If you don't, I'm not going there.

The second thing is that giving the bike a name like that seemed sort of pretentious to me. Kind of like putting on some sort of "exotic air". I may have an ego ( ok, no doubt about it ) but I really try not to take myself too seriously. So the name thing kind of simmered on a back burner.

Yesterday at lunch time I rode over to a park to stretch my legs. I spotted Brian on his bike up ahead. After a little "aggressive" riding I caught up to him. You have to be careful about this. One time I was mistaken about which officer it was on the bike and did some questionable things from a legal standpoint to catch up. The officer was not amused. Fortunately I ended up with just a stern verbal warning.

Anyway, I catch up to Brian and we are side by side at a stoplight. I give him a bad time about trying to run away from me.

"What do you expect?", Brian says. "I thought a giant sofa was chasing me!"

Brian's a cruiser guy and thinks all bikes should have motor parts and chrome hanging out. Visions of the sofa thing stuck with me for the afternoon. On the ride home the thing all sorted itself out and I decided to name the bike......drum roll, please:

It's down-to-earth like me and the name has good vibes in my life.
The time is 4:15 AM as I finish this up to post. Today is one of those days a two-wheeled commuter drools over. We are doing a project in Richland, Washington. Friday is the drop-dead completion date. A supplier has made a machining mistake. There's no time to allow for new material to be sent up. The manufacturer is paying me to go to the site and fix things.
The sweet thing is that the job is 325 miles away. I'm off to an early start. It will be around 10 hours of riding with about two hours on the job. I can carry what I need in Sophie's saddlebags. After the first hour when I get out of the big city of Portland, the majority of the ride will be through the scenic Columbia River Gorge. Tough duty, huh? The weather should be decent today. We are expecting a big rain and wind storm to move in tomorrow and stay for the weekend.
Once I'm home it will be a three day weekend. My Welsh boss is Catholic and Good Friday is a paid holiday for me. I was supposed to teach this weekend. We have a class called Rider Skill Practise which is about 5 hours long. It's sort of a clinic to brush up on cornering and accident avoidance skills. I was scheduled to teach with Laurie, my dear friend, so I was really looking forward to it. This group is a special interest women's group of some sort. They have requested women instructors so I was politely asked to withdraw. The nerve!
I shall console myself by stating that the real reason they didn't want me to teach was the distraction factor. After all, with a ruggedly handsome motorcycling stud like me teaching, how could they pay attention to their riding?
Gotta go. Time to ride!
Miles and smiles,

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Off-road ST?

I had the opportunity to see how the ST does as an off-road bike. Yes, it was an off-road excursion that was PLANNED, not an accident.

This story ties in with riding to work. After all, it was in the town I regularly commute to, and I rode the bike to doing something I got paid for. That counts, doesn't it? Besides that, it's an entertaining story.

At the risk of sounding like an old guy reminiscing, this happened a couple of years ago.

It's early May and a somewhat sunny day. I had ridden the ST to work, as usual. There's a fish market downtown and their fish-n-chips were calling my name. Their parking lot's pretty small so parking is a hassle. Unless, of course, you are on two wheels. It's amazing where you can fit a bike. The bike and I get comfortable. That sweet motor gets shut off and the sidestand is deployed. About that time the cell phone in my jacket pocket rings. Good timing. I pull the phone out and thumb the button to make the connection. The caller's told they'll need to wait until I get my helmet off. The people who know me are used to that.

Turns out that the caller's from our motorcycle safety program headquarters. They've received a call from a small TV network that covers sporting events in the Northwest. The station's owned indirectly by Paul Allen of Microsoft, Trail Blazers, and Seahawk's fame. Seems they've recently covered a local runner's marathon. One of their camera operators rode backwards on a motorcycle and they got great footage. The Head Honcho was looking for a repeat on a track and field cross-country meet being held at Lane Community College. They were willing to pay $200.00 for the day and needed a good rider.

For whatever it's worth, my name was on the top of the list. Either because of my skills or because nobody else would be crazy enough. Did you catch the fact that it's a track and field meet? Marathons are run on streets. This would be on grass and sawdust. Was I up to the challenge? I think the real reason I got the call is that people know I will charge a challenge like a bull to a red cape. Of course, I was game. It would be extremely interesting, to say the least.

So, let's see. Not owning a dual sport, the ST was the logical bike. It was big enough to carry two people. I could take the saddelbags off. The camera person could sit facing backwards and the back rest would provide a means for them to avoid keeling over frontways off the back of the bike. I was a little worried about tires and traction, though. You can see the sawdust trail in the picture next to the bike. The trail goes down the hill to the road. The runners would go into the trees, make a loop to turn around, and then come back next to the main road. You can see that area toward the top and left of the photo on the other side of the baseball backstop. There's no sawdust there, only grass.

The tires were standard street tires for sport-touring. If I remember correctly, that set was Metzler ME-Z4's. They were just going to have to do, because there was no way I was going to buy knobby type tires for just one day. Although, if it worked out, I admit it might have been fun to go amaze people on trails with my knobby-tired ST1100!!

Saturday rolls around and I show up bright and early. Ok, not sure how bright, but I was definitely early. I noticed the grass was wet with dew but I figured it would dry out before too long. The weather was overcast but not actually raining. I find the camera crew and am introduced to my passenger, Chet. He's about 5'8" and around 200 pounds. The better for traction, I guess. Chet's got a friendly face but looks a little worried. Turns out he's not the same one who rode during the marathon filming. In fact, Chet's never been on a bike before. I try to establish a common bond by telling him I've never carried a camera-toting passenger before. It doesn't help. If anything, he looks more nervous. I finally end up telling him of my experience and skill level. That seems to reassure him. Hope it didn't sound like bragging, but it seemed to work.

It's a great idea to give a passenger the usual briefing. In this case, it's sort of hard to know what to say. The usual things don't apply. Chet can't put his hands anywhere but on the camera. I tell passengers that it's normal and necesary for the bike to lean. Just look over my shoulder in the direction we're turning. In this case, Chet's going to be sitting backwards on the bike and the speeds are going to be painfully slow. I finally end up encouraging him to keep his feet on the pegs as best he can and not to make any sudden movements.

The camera is HUGE! I've been interviewed for local news stations before and have seen the cameras. In those cases, my attention was mostly on somehow trying to say something meaningful and intelligent. The camera was mostly background. Now I get a good look. This guy's bulk combined with the camera being held up high will make for interesting riding. Especially at lower speeds!

There happens to be one of our beginner classes being conducted on an upper parking lot and I snag an open face helmet for Chet. The helmet is refused since it will interfere with filming. Well, the offer was made, anyway. The next logistical thing to work out was getting Chet on the bike. Think about it. Normally a passenger just puts a foot on one peg and swings the other leg over. If Chet did this, he couldn't get his leg over my head. I wasn't about to be kicked in the helmet. I finally had him hand the camera to someone else. Then he could put his right leg on the peg, sort of awkwardly swing his leg over the backrest, then get the camera back. It was ugly but it worked.

The actual filming went pretty smoothly. The plan was for me to ride just ahead of the runners mostly. The trick was to go slowly enough to keep close to the lead runners but not so slowly that we were any sort of physical or psychological roadblock. I have to say that we got the hang of it pretty quickly. Chet was good about telling me precisely and concisely what he needed me to do. We even got to the point that we started getting fancy. I found a stretch where I could pull off to the side of the runners and let them catch up. This allowed Chet to film the middle of the packs. We could then gracefully zoom up in front just before the path got squeezed back to a single trail.

The ride itself wasn't so smooth. A street suspension with limited travel can be a little rough over gopher holes and stuff. It's amazing how you can look out over a field of grass and it looks so level. Riding over it is another story altogether! I was worried that the camera's picture would be too fuzzy due to the rough ride. Modern technology is wonderful. The camera has some sort of electronic leveling system that compensates. Even this couldn't triumph over some of the bumps, though. A few times all I could do is wince as we hit some nasty bumps. Fortunately, we weren't the only camera. There were folks filming in a large number of spots. We were the mobile crew for the real color shots.

Chet had proven himself a pretty good passenger. He soon learned not to lean over too far or stand up too straight. I learned a lot about riding a big street bike off road. ( Ok, it's not wild off-road stuff for a dual purpose bike, but it was pretty extreme for my ST! ) We had settled in like a well-oiled mechanism. Until I decided to shake things up and try something new, that is!

A need arose for Chet to be at the other end of the fields ASAP. He asked if we could do it. The routes we had been on were filled with runners so I looked at alternates. The other picture you see is looking down the stairs into a depression where the actual track and soccer fields are. There are two of these side by side with a hill between them. These weren't being used at the time. I told Chet to hang on and down I went into the first one. About halfway up the hill on the other side I began to wonder what I had done. I felt the rear tire start to spin and slide slightly sideways as it searched for traction on the grass. Remember, this is a street sport-touring tire made to last a lot of miles. It's not really designed to run uphill on grass.

Many thoughts ran through my mind including a few off-colored words. My only reasonable choice was to stay committed. There's no half-way. Either we're going all the way up or we're falling down. Much to my relief we burst over the top and down into the second pit. Coming up the side of the second pit was actually fun, now that I knew I could do it! I even spun a little on purpose. Chet wasn't scared at first. After all, he was facing backwards and didn't see what was coming. I think it caught up to him when he looked back and saw where we had just come out of. Actually, to be more accurate, I think it was when he felt the bike heading downhill again. The grassy rooster tail coming up in front of his face on the way back out didn't help any, either, I guess.

All in all it was a successful day. Fox Sports Network got their coverage. I collected $200.00 which meant I got paid to play. It was fun but I just haven't had the urge to go play on the grass, again, for some reason. I did volunteer and ride as a motorcycle escort for a bicycle ride to the coast. It was a fund raiser for cancer research. All on pavement and a great day. But that's another story!

Miles and smiles,

Monday, April 10, 2006

Fallen Comrade.

It is with great sadness that I report on the death of Larry Grodsky. Larry was a great advocate for motorcycle safety training. Between his passion for riding and his dedication to training others Larry contributed immensely to the world of motorcycling.

You may be familiar with Larry's column in Rider Magazine called "Stayin' Safe". In one of life's ironies, Larry was killed Saturday night, April 8 when his bike hit a deer at night in Texas. Larry had purchased a bike in California and was taking it home to Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania.

Katie's comment to me was that Larry died doing what he loved. Not to sound morbid, but Katie wished the same for me. I guess she means that as a compliment. The point is, the more a person rides the more risks they are exposed to. Those of us who live on bikes may be likely to die on bikes. When you see an obituary that says "So and so died at home", the same can be said for us. The bike is our home. I hope to live to a ripe old age but it would be far preferable to go out active instead of rotting away with my mind gone.

Please don't fixate on the irony of Larry's being killed on a bike. He and I shared discussions on and off over the years. We both started out as MSF instructors and went other directions in our training paths. We both disagreed with the direction the MSF was heading but remained totally dedicated to promoting training. Larry was as open and willing to share as anyone I have ever met. In fact, the first time I sent him an e-mail I was astounded that he took time to answer it. That started a long acquaintance that enriched my life. Larry's passing will leave a hole in the universal Karma.

I implore you not to consider Larry's death as an unfortunate statistic. Honor the man by considering him a fallen Road Warrior. A warrior who dedicated his life to fighting a battle. A battle against the Grim Reaper. A warrior whose weapons were his intelligence and skill which he tried to pass on to other riders.

For those of you who knew Larry or knew of him and would like to express condolences to his family and to his dear friend Mary Ann Puglisi you may do so at the following link:

I'm not always good at html so if the link doesn't work just paste it into your browser.

Godspeed, Mr. Grodsky!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Free ranging sheep outside the fence!

Meandering Musings

I had to put off doing a new post last night. I went straight home and did yardwork. ( GASP! ) The lawn REALLY needed mowing. I grew up a redneck cowboy and still am, I guess. As I struggled to push the mower through the tall grass I thought of Jeff Foxworthy and his redneck jokes.

"If you finally mow your lawn and you find an abandoned car, you might be a redneck".

A jungle became a lawn again so I can live with it for a while, now. I was kind of disappointed not to find a car, though. This blog isn't about lawns, but even us hardcore riders have to do domestic chores now and then.

The price of gas is going up again, as you've probably noticed. I pass the Wilco station each morning and afternoon. Two days ago the price went up 6 cents a gallon from morning to afternoon. Over the last two days it's gone up 10 more cents. That makes it sixteen cents a gallon in a short while. The way the prices keep shooting up really makes me angry. Especially considering that the oil companies are making record profits. They blame anything they can for raising the price. What's even worse, the oil companies are pulling fuel out of American markets and sending it to China where they know they can make more money. That's just plain wrong.

Dan, get off that soap box, already!! As frustrating as it is, there's nothing we can do about the prices. I can, however, choose commuting transportation that uses less fuel.

One of the really cool things about commuting on two wheels is that the gas prices don't hit so hard. The ST averages about 45 miles per gallon. With 247 miles on the trip meter, it took 5.7 gallons to fill up. I spent $15.40. Compare that to my old diesel pickup which would have required $44.50 for the same number of miles. I fill up on average twice a week. That's not too hard to take!!

For me the extra fuel mileage is just a bonus. I'm still totally in love with riding. The thrill is still there after all these years. Some people either don't want to or can't ride very often. They treasure their big trips. Commuting allows me to experience the little things that add up to magic every single day. Awesome little things like the way the bike feels moving underneath me. It's still amazing how I can pull out of a parking lot, turn my head to look far down the road in the direction I want to go, and the bike just goes that way. Speaking of corners, there's no feeling like getting set for a corner, pressing to make the bike lean, and gliding through like the bike is on rails. On some of my backroads I stay in one gear and can literally lean and lift the bike with the throttle. Dancing on two wheels.

There's so many things like the feel of the air, the way the motor sings and the bike surges ahead in response to the throttle, the maneuverability, all of it. When I get in a truck it feels like an elephant running in loose sand in comparison. So big and sluggish! Without commuting on a bike I'd miss all this wonder!

The ride in yesterday was unique. It was that odd time of morning when the sun was just coming up. Up above me like a ceiling was a layer of gray clouds drizzling a little rain. The clouds ended farther East before the mountains. As the sun was coming up it was just peeking over the mountaintops. Being low on the horizon the sun was shining underneath the clouds. So while I had rain drops falling from on top of me, I had bright sun from the side. It was kind of like being in a fishbowl with an opaque lid and a lamp shining through one side. Weird.

There was also a wake-up call. Road construction is temporarily messing up the old highway. Long delays coupled with some spots that are really nasty to ride the bike over made me reconsider going to work that way. I figured to take the freeway to work and then escape to my awesome twisty roads for the ride home. Just after getting onto Hwy 34 and heading East toward the freeway I pick up a rider on a BMW. Glad for the company, I ride behind him. Just before the Interstate is an Arco mini-mart. A LOT of people use this as it's right off the freeway and the gas is cheaper. Personally, I won't use this gas. They sell the bottom of the bottom of the tank and there's too many horror stories of bikes with clogged fuel systems.

So the Beemer guy starts signaling the right turn onto the Interstate. Thing is, he signals just before the Arco. Someone is waiting to pull out and sees the signal on the Beemer. "Assuming" the signal is indicating a turn into the Arco, the driver pulls out in front of us. The BMW guy makes good use of the ABS. I have room to do what I need to do. Awesome reminder of a couple of things.

1. No matter how many bikes are together, each rider is responsible for themselves. Think of it as a number of bikes who just happen to be on the same road, not a single entity.

2. Make sure you don't signal false intentions. In this case, it would have been better to wait until being past the Arco ( or something similar ) to signal the right turn.

Took a ride to Lane Community College at lunch yesterday to take some pictures for an upcoming blog post. 30th Ave goes up a hill from the campus. That stretch always calls to me. You can see the road going up the hill in sweeping curves with trees on both sides. I just had to ride up it and drop down the other side into town. Got to chat with a couple of Eugene motor officers on the way down to town. One I knew and one I got to meet.

Speaking of motor cops, I got a call from Jeff who used to work with me but left to become a postal worker. Seems he was miffed. I was riding the ST at lunch and it seems Jeff was coming at me from the opposite direction in his nifty Postal Service truck. Jeff was complaining that I waved at the motor cop behind him and ignored Jeff. Well, what can I say? Have to wave at a bike and it never hurts to score points with the cops on bikes!

I rode by the Gateway Mall this morning as usual. The new Kohl's store opened this morning. At 7:30 AM there was already a long line of people waiting to get in. The line was three or four people wide and stretched about four blocks worth in the parking lot. The store wasn't opening until 10. What drives people to such madness?

There's a bank at Gateway Mall. An elderly gentleman works there as a security guard. For a long time he rode an orange Goldwing to work and we used to talk bikes. I haven't seen the bike for the last year or so. Instead, the man drives a red Pontiac. I think he's gotten to the point he's either uncomfortable controlling the bike or just can't ride anymore. He'll be sitting in his car with the front door open and eating his lunch when I ride over to the mall. Bike or no, I always pay him the honor of one rider to another and give him a "thumbs up".

Katie tells me she dreads the day I can no longer ride. Barring unforeseen accident which brings that day sooner rather than later, that day will come. I always wonder how I'll do. Will I realize on my own that I'm getting close and quit while I'm ahead? Or will I be reluctant to miss even one day I could have had and hang on too long? Gym teachers always try to end the game while the kids are still having fun. I know if I quit riding I'll always wonder how much longer I actually could have ridden if I hadn't quit. Tough questions.

Had the chance to see two totally different reactions to me as a motorcyclist today. At lunch time I went to Valley River Mall to pay a cable TV bill. On the way I ended up having to dodge some loser in one of those ugly Pontiac vans with the weird pointed nose. This driver was all over the road and quite the nuisance. To top it off, he threw a cigarette butt out his window which came close to landing on me. I paused after I parked the bike and called Clinton, my youngest child. He turned 18 today. After birthday wishes I went on in. Just after I got into the mall I saw this guy and the woman with him walking down the hall coming toward me. I had left my gear on and was carrying my helmet. When I got close to the guy I gave him a hard stare and held his eyes. He's a tall man but he literally shrank under my stare. He pulled his shoulders in and hunched a little.

On the way home I cut across some industrial roads to hit my backroads. I was stopped at a stop sign waiting to turn left. A middle-aged woman with a pleasant face was turning left onto the road I was waiting at. She smiled really big and gave a very pronounced nod of her head. Wonder what her story is.

Speaking of this industrial area, there's a lot of workers here. Symantec ( the software people ) has two big buildings here. There's also the Royal Caribbean Cruises call center down here. To ease traffic there are several new roundabouts. I really love these things. I cross over three streets to get where I want to go. So I go through a couple of roundabouts and then turn off at the last one. These are so much fun! Flick right, flick left, flick right again to exit. Yee Haa!

Katie wasn't due to get home until about 8:30 so I took the LONG way home. Met some free ranging sheep along the way. It would really suck to meet one at full speed!

So, as boring as it is, you're all caught up for now.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Don't B.S. the Bigdawgs!!!

The price of a great and sunny ride home yesterday was frost this morning. No more warming blanket made of clouds so we got a little chilly.

The upside to it all was that I could see the stars shining bright in the dark sky. Yes, it was still dark. I got up at 5 which was actually 4, and believe me, it felt like it. Leaving the warm house was done with a little reluctance, I'm ashamed to admit today. It wasn't long before I was fully awake, though. I dare you to ride a bike on a 33 degree morning and stay sleepy! Now I can wax poetic about how I watched the sun come up from the saddle of my bike which was being given free reign. Ok, enough cowboy talk. Sorry, I was raised on a horse and I get nostalgic once in a while.

Actually, it looked so cool this morning. ( no pun intended ) When I left home it was under clear skies. As the sun came up and I got farther down the road, the wisps of fog started to appear. The fog hung in tendrils and bunches. What was so neat was that as the sun came up it didn't look like direct sunlight. It was more like that hidden track lighting. You know the kind? You can't see the lights, just the glow from the lamps. As I rode I experienced a sort of detached sense of realism. The hard reality of the roads and fields were veiled by the fog. I knew exactly where I was riding yet at the same time it felt like another world. A world somehow more mysterious and intriguing. An adventure begging to be discovered just beyond that next curtain of fog.

Weirdly enough, just as I got close to the office the fog closed in entirely and heavily. I could see it coming up to me like I was climbing to Transylvania. Fitting for arriving at work, I guess.

Today was a special day and the weather cooperated exactly as I would have wished. I don't know if I should thank the Weather Gods or be more determined to look over my shoulder. Are they being kind or trying to lull me into a false sense of security? I don't know and that's what makes it so fun!

The reason I was getting to the office an hour earlier than usual was to get some pressing things done. Then it was off to the Fairgrounds for a vendor show where I went in search of new ideas. Once I was done there, the rest of the day was mine. Guess what my plan was? Ah, I'm getting too predictable, aren't I? Katie gets off work at 2 and by 2:30 the plan was for both of us to be on the road. The winsome lass snuggled up against the back of her Hi-Viz jacketed Knight!

So by now you're probably wondering about the picture of the sticker at the top of this post. It's a sticker that we bought from Rider Wearhouse. By "we" I mean my wild Irish friend Patrick and I. Long story but it's been a joke between us for years. Trailering a bike that's not crashed or blown up somehow is totally obscene to us. Bear with me and I'll get to the pertinent point here. I'll come back and tell you about someone I saw at the vendor show and how it relates.

First, you have to understand who I hang with and why the "Bigdawg" reference.

One of my colleagues and friends is Jeff Earls. This crazy guy finished 2nd or 3rd in the Ironbutt Rally last year. ( sorry, Jeff, can't remember ) And it isn't his first run, either. Jeff is definitely a "Bigdawg" among long distance riders. If you could name two guys who would be sure to get into trouble if you sent them out of town, it would be Patrick and I. We're known for taking off on the bikes at any excuse and riding until we drop or succumb to spousal fear.

Here's a recent example. Last November we had our annual instructor banquet. Patrick was staying at the hotel where the banquet was being held. I live about 30 miles South. Neither of us happened to have anything alcoholic. It's around 11 PM and Katie and I are taking our leave. I had to be back at 8 in the morning for a task force meeting. Since most of the instructors were around it was logical to have our meeting the next morning. I told Patrick I'd see him in the morning. Katie made a smart comment that, knowing me, I'd come up by way of the Coast. One thing led to another and next thing I knew I was meeting Patrick at 3 AM. We rode from Salem to Lincoln City on the Coast, down the Coast to Newport, back inland to Corvallis, and back to Salem for the meeting. A distance of about 180 miles. That's how we are.

Patrick calls me "Bigdawg Dan". I know, we think we're big-time hardcore riders. Our bikes aren't garage queen showpieces by any means.

Back to the vendor show. You probably thought I'd forgotten, didn't you? One of the vendors was bringing us a drafting table. My Welsh boss is cheap and wanted to save delivery charges. So I had a company pickup to haul the table back in. This convention / show is going on for a few days. The back lot is full of motorhomes and trailers. As I was going between buildings looking for the coffee stand, I noticed a fancy motorhome and trailer. Both rigs had striking and matching paint jobs. The back ramp of the trailer was down and a guy was sitting on a bike backing it down the ramp. I guess the sun's emergence today drew a lot of bikes out. I was nearly blinded by the bling installed on this bike. I won't name the brand but it's one that's hugely popular with a certain crowd, if you know what I mean.

I sort of dismissed it and continued my hunt for coffee. I am such a coffee hound! As luck would have it, I saw the man and the bike under different circumstances later. Just after lunch I had returned the truck and took off on the bike. All the while shouting "I'm free! I'm free!" Having made the decision to head through town and hit the old highway, off I went. Passing the Shell station which is about the only game around downtown, I decided on impulse to top off the bike. Just after I pull up to the pump, guess who joins me? The man and his bling covered cruiser. He has no idea that I know who he is. The fairgrounds are not too far away and somebody's directed him to the nearest gas station. I'm totally relieved when he shuts down the bike with the "Look at me, I'm so needy" pipes. I want to say something about the pipes but fate presents me with a chance to do worse to him.

This thing's got a license plate from someplace a couple of states over. The guy pulls in to the gas island facing the same way as I am. As he shuts off the bike I happen to look at the odometer. I'm sorry, it's a fault, I know. I just have this theory about how many miles most of these bikes actually see. So far my research has shown the average to be about 3500 miles a year. This bike has just over 13,000 miles. Here's the part that's funny and a total pisser at the same time.

This guy starts in asking me about my bike. It's obviously covered in road grime. My 'Stich is showing years of wear. My boots, well, you've seen them in an earlier post. In the four years I've had this ST it's got almost 68,000 miles on the clock. It's not the only bike in the family, either. The bike and I both look like we spend a lot of time on the road.

What amazes me is that this guy is even talking to me. Most riders of this brand seem to look down on scruffy actual riders like me. What's even more amazing is that he seems to want to be known as a long distance rider so bad he can taste it. As he's telling me about the bike I find out it's one year older than mine. That puts him at a little under the average at 2600 miles. Yes, he bought it new and has put about every accessory he can think of on it. To listen to him, he's ridden everywhere, all the time, and so on. He even claims to have ridden the bike from the state the plate's from to here. I'm looking at the shiny studded leather boots with almost no shifter mark on the left one. I look at the leather jacket with no permanent creases where you would expect them on a well-worn jacket. I look at the bike seat. If it's got that many miles on it, I want one that wears that well. Finally, I've had enough.

"You know, it's an amazing thing that defies odds" I say to him.

"What do you mean?" I hear in return.

"Well, you've obviously put a lot of effort into personalizing that bike to make it truly unique and yours. I find it amazing that two people can buy the same bike, put all the bling on it, and they both end up looking exactly the same."

Now he's really looking puzzled. It's time for the killer barb.

"I was over at the fairgrounds this morning and I saw another bike just EXACTLY like yours coming off a trailer."

His face turned pink and his mouth shut faster than a Venus Flytrap snapping over a juicy bug. I took my bank card back from the attendant and put my gear on while he filled his tank. As I pulled out I gave him a cheery beep of the horn and a wave. Left him standing with his desperate need for attention still unfulfilled.

Thus the sticker. I choose not to trailer or truck a bike to an event. I also have absolutely no problem with someone who does. I understand that it can be tiring, uncomfortable, or impractical to ride a bike somewhere. Especially if you want to take the family but still have the bike to ride when you get there. I do have a problem with pretenders. Those who ride to an event, park out of town, and then ride in like they came all the way. All I'm saying is, make your decision and then be honest about it. And for Pete's sake, don't insult me by trying to bullsh*t a "Bigdawg". The only way to get there is actually riding the bike for a lot of miles. Like me, like Patrick, like Jeff, and hundreds of others like us. Don't disrespect us by trying to claim what isn't yours!!

I did get a great idea as I rode to meet Katie. I'm going to find a ride that will be predominantly attended by riders of these cruisers. I'm going to make arrangements for a truck and trailer to meet me there. For a cause this worthy I will make an exception and trailer my bike. I have determined to ride to the event. Once there, I will put the bike on a trailer and pull it on the ride behind a truck. At the end of the ride I will take the bike off the trailer and ride it home. It will be my ultimate protest against pretenders.

The ride my sweetie and I took was awesome. The extra hour of daylight is truly appreciated. I ended up with something on the front of my bike and visor I haven't experienced for a few months. Bug guts everywhere. The sun beamed all day and the temperature got up to about 65 degrees (F). The bugs came out to celebrate. Actually, so did a lot of riders. I'm seeing a few more on my commute everyday. Isn't life fun on a bike?

Miles and smiles,

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,