Thursday, June 29, 2006


With the ride length being doubled, my backside has become to creep to the forefront, as it were.

It may be the heat, but I notice the old hip bones starting to protest more. Ok, it could be age related. I doubt it, but I knew you were going to say it so I beat you to it! I've never stored much natural padding back there so I rely on a good seat.

Sophie is stock except for the back rest and Corbin seat. I put the back rest on for Katie. If you're going to have a steady passenger it's well worth the trouble to make her feel comfortable and secure. Believe me, if your partner won't ride with you, it might be the accomodations. I left the stock seat on for a while. It was actually pretty good except for one small problem.

At the same time we got Sophie, Katie got a new Aerostich Roadcrafter suit. You saw it in an earlier post. A new 'Stich is pretty darn stiff. I'm 5' 81/2" tall with a 30" inseam. Sophie came with a seat height that didn't let me get totally flat-footed. Not a problem when I rode alone. Putting a passenger into the equation changed things. The seat height and stiff, new, Roadcrafter combined into a formula with high entertainment possibilities. Mounting and dismounting raised my heart rate some.

It came to a head on an organized run. We had stopped for fuel and Katie was getting back on the bike. The cement sloped to my left more than normal. With the back rest Katie has to put one foot on the peg and swing the other over the seat. Sounds simple but the new 'Stich won't bend. If it won't bend, her leg won't bend. I say this lovingly, but she ended up looking somewhat like a helicopter with one rotor. Her right leg is swinging back and forth trying to get over the back rest. I'm trying to hold the bike up as her weight is up high and exerting a LOT of leverage. Gravity already has a head start because of the slope of the pavement. The bike started over and it was only sheer muscle force on my part that pulled it back up. That was way too close for me!

It was time to do something about the seat. Years ago the CM900 had been the recipient of a Corbin aftermarket seat. It had always felt good to me so I turned to Corbin for the ST. While they were building the seat I had them scoop some of the foam out in the seat front. You can see how tightly it hugs the fake gas tank in this picture:

That really did the trick for getting flat footed. The mount and dismount problem became a distant phantom. If you look closely you can see a drawback to the arrangement. There's a band across the front where the pattern is worn off and the seat is shiny. That's the place where the peg placement puts me due to a shorter inseam. Yep, there's this lovely scooped out saddle for the tush but it rarely gets used. For thousands and thousands of miles I have just dealt with it. It's not really uncomfortable, just not as good as it could be. The foam in this saddle is firm and gives good support. It's just in the wrong place for me. Now I'm starting to feel it more.

I guess you expect some rear end fatigue on really long rides so I never thought twice about it. It just doesn't seem like it should be a factor on a commute to work, you know? I guess I'm going to have to break down and move the pegs, or something.

The good news is that Katie really likes the passenger accomodations. We can ride for long, long, distances and she just snuggles in back there. Here's a close-up of her perch:

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The worn seat attests to hours of pleasure on this bike we are fortunate to have had in our lives.

Whether you are riding or commuting I would urge you to make sure you are comfortable. When we are on the bike we need to concentrate on our ride. This includes using our scanning skills to pick up clues that help us manage risk. If a rider gets the point that their "buttisimo" hurts, or the riding position makes other things hurt, concentration suffers. Pretty soon we start to think about what hurts instead of riding.

Doing it again, I would take a little more time. For example, I've had the chance to talk to other ST riders. You should talk to riders of bikes like yours. The Russell saddles seem to be favored by a large margin. From what I've hear they won't build a seat without pictures of you on the bike in your natural riding position. They also ask for pictures of you and your passenger together. Riders I know who ride long distances have been very happy with these seats.

Even with Corbin, I would take more care in ordering the seat. I'm sure they would have helped with a little more engineering. It never really mattered at the time. I've always been spartan in things considered as luxuries. Warriors don't use Lazy Boy recliners. Could it be that I am finally starting to crave a little soft luxury? No, it can't be. Not me.

I think I'll start exploring options. Otherwise, the next time you hear me say,

"Oh, my aching ass!" it might not all be because of my work day!

Miles and smiles,

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Slow-cooked commuter!

100 degrees(f). Say it out loud with me.

"One Hundred degrees!"

This was the last temperature announced on the radio. I am contemplative as I stand in the parking lot. It is time to go. 90 miles. Freeway. Commuter fishes with the perils and delays inherent in the species. I know it will get hotter. It is not yet time for the hottest part of the day. That will come an hour or so later. The National Weather Service recap the next day will prove me right. Official high at Portland Airport: 102. 106 at Tigard. 103 at Salem. I must pass through all of them on my route.

A breeze blows past me as I stand and ponder. I am wrong to call it a breeze. It is a hot and angry wind. As the air moves it picks up heat from things roasting in the harsh sun. Black asphalt has been storing fire all day. Cars baking in the sun give off heat visible as waves in the air. The wind gleefully picks these up like little torches and uses them as weapons. It wants to burn my skin and suck precious moisture out of my material body.

I shrug off the wind and consider my options. My gaze goes to Sophie and then to the little car. Soon my eyes are dragged back to the bike. Air-conditioned comfort or a hot ride? Of course, if given the choice I will ride. It is what I am, it is what I do. It is not Sophie I am worried about. I would be concerned about leaving her alone overnight. There is no secure place for her. Sophie looks willing to venture out into the heat. The burning wind and hot pavement will not bother her.

The opposite, actually. Warm pavement means warm tires. Traction will be increased. It is a shame that our straight-line ride will not require the extra stickiness in the tires. The wind that burns my face is still cooler than the hot fluids that will circulate through Sophie's core. It will be up to me to keep plentiful volume flowing through Sophie's radiator. I do consider the possibility of one of the frequent traffic jams. Will the little fan be enough to get her through? I have great faith in Honda's engineers. It will be ok.

It is me that I am most concerned about. I have been here before. Riding in temperatures over a hundred degrees is not a new experience. It is precisely this fact that makes me hesitate. Why am I showing this weakness? I have battled the Weather Gods in the worst winter conditions they can provide. This should be no different. I am still a warrior. Perhaps the difference is in the sunshine versus the cold. When it is cold and bleak one's mind immediately begins to prepare for battle. These sunny days are the ultimate diversion tactic.

Warm days start out promising. It is so refreshing to ride in the crisp, clean air of the mornings. One's mind embraces this type of day as perfect for riding. When the rider spends the day in a cool office there is no trigger for a battle alarm. The mind continues to regard this day as one very fit for riding. It is only upon emerging from the cave that the mind is confronted by the harshness of the adversary. There is little time to mentally prepare for the battle. This sudden confrontation can make a rider consider retreat. It is like being rushed by the enemy.

My gear feels so heavy and hot already as I pull it on. When I don the full face helmet and pull the visor down I feel like I will suffocate. Jacket and riding pants block the burning of the direct sun. There is a price to be paid in return. My own body heat now has nowhere to go. I am hot-blooded to begin with. Why am I doing this? It is so tempting to ride in pants and short sleeved shirt. Why should I suffer the heat to wear the gear? Why is it so important to me to do what I consider to be the "right thing"?

I know the arguments for wearing the gear. Riders can crash anytime in any weather. That's why things are called "accidents" isn't it? Whatever you brought to the party is what you dance with. There is no chance to hit the "pause" button so we can suit up and try it again. Cold or hot, crashes do damage to the body. Good gear can prevent or minimize these injuries. Heat dehydration can affect one's ability to make good decisions and remain smooth. My ride will be long enough and the weather hot enough that this could well be a factor. This would not be a good mix in heavy freeway traffic. Still, it is SO hot!

Why do I know the arguments so well? 25 to 30 times a year I present these arguments to my classes. Most classes have 24 students. If I teach 25 classes I have presented these arguments to 600 students. I am becoming well known in the community of riders in the areas I frequent. The answer to the question of "why?" is personal credibility and integrity. How would I answer a student who wanted to know why I said one thing and was doing another? There might be answers I could stammer out. I am afraid that if a student started questioning the validity of one thing I taught them they would question others. The carefully built foundation could begin to crumble with bad results. I am compelled to "walk the talk".

Besides, I personally believe in gear. All the gear, all the time. It is a very hot ride. Roadcrafter jackets and pants are built wonderfully for venting. No matter how much fiery air passes through, no cooling happens. My misery is somewhat compounded by the fact that every rider I see is in jeans and a T-shirt. The only exceptions are a kid on a Katana who is in shorts and an older man who has a leather jacket on. I feel like a man who wears a fur coat to the beach. Everyone else is in light swim wear. Only he understands why he wears the coat.

We arrive home safely. Sophie appears none the worse for wear. I am soaked under my 'Stich. It was worth it. Addictions require frequent fixes. True, there was suffering. I take comfort, no, I savor the victory. Seeing all the commuters stuffed in their boxes with the windows rolled up reminds me of why I do this in the first place. I chose to suffer discomfort as the price of maintaining my independence. Wearing all the gear probably made the other riders shake their heads at me. It does not matter. My choices stated who I was and what I believe in. I am still a Road Warrior.

Miles and smiles


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Another view on training.

As you may have read, I am an instructor for our State's motorcycle safety program. You have read things that I've written about our various classes. Recently a person who works for Motorcycle USA took our beginning class in Medford, the town where Motorcycle USA is located.

I thought you might enjoy reading about Bart's experience as well as getting a viewpoint different from mine, for once!

Here's the link to the article:

Read and enjoy. If you know of someone who has questions about training or is holding back because of uncertainty, please feel free to pass this along.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A different world!

I'm enjoying being on the bike, but I'm not really getting much pleasure from my commute. Having done the 180 mile round trip freeway commute for a while, I'll tell you with firm conviction that it's a different world.

Things will change when we are able to move closer. Right now it's tough dealing with the school of commuter fish in a sea of traffic. The main currents run counter to my path of travel. This is a good thing. Most of the heavy commuter traffic runs North to South. I run the opposite. It doesn't seem to matter how early I leave. Commuter fish schools run all the time. Let me tell you about the habits of this species that I have to deal with.

Commuter fish come in all sizes and shapes. Most are small and dart in and out of the pack to try to gain some advantage in space and time. Some are really large. These seem intent on trying to intimidate other commuter fish into moving out of their way. I never really figured out where they're all going in such a hurry. All of them, regardless of size, seem to be bred with the same deeply ingrained instinct. Having space around them seems to freak them out. This species, as evidenced by countless hours watching them, has a great need to have their nose buried in the tail of the fish ahead.

I must be missing some important genes. That just doesn't seem an intelligent way to travel. It would be bad enough having to sniff a dirty fish butt ahead of you all the time. It would be worse yet to have something happen and suddenly finding your nose buried deep in the ass of the fish in front of you. It seems to happen to them all the time and yet the behaviour continues. "Fish frenzy" over-rides intelligence in this species, I think.

Not wishing to be mistaken for one of these fish, I avoid exhibiting similar behaviour. Ample physical distance is left ahead of me, for instance. This becomes truly tiring to maintain as the commuter fish has developed an awesome ability to "dive" into these small spaces. None of the fish just casually "move over". No, their movements are very sudden. I have yet to determine if this "diving" reflex is based upon a lack of brain cells or has become an inbred defense mechanism. If all the fish are in a frenzy than it would be expected that none would make way for another fish that would like to change lines. Only further research will reveal this to me. I am not looking forward to the project.

Two distinct problems face me when travelling among these schools. The large fish are very difficult to see around. I usually try to move to a place where I can look up what I call the "alley". That is, the space between two lines of moving fish. Which brings me to the second problem. Diving fish aren't real good at looking where they are going. Being too close to the other line means I'm open to the possibility of being clipped by a passing fish as it tries to dive in front of me. I find that the vigilance required on my part rapidly becomes tiring.

Today I found out that most of these commuter fish have limited awareness of their surroundings. Consider this.

There are two major swells, like I mentioned. The main swell moves from North to South. There is a bridge on the migration route. Two commuter fish collided as they were headed South. The larger of the two fish ended up upside down. As you can imagine, this caused quite a back-up in the Southerly flow. Unfortunately, the flow Northward was not entirely unaffected. All the commuter fish heading North had to pause to look at the carnage in the other stream. Not that they learn anything, mind you. As a matter of fact, during the slowing to look process, two fish in the Northerly flow collided, as well.

There are entities in the sea that deal with these things. Coming up behind me I saw flashing lights. Parting the commuter fish like a shark passing through, this creature with two fins was coming up the shoulder. Maybe "parting the commuter fish" is too strong a statement. Most of the commuter fish had no idea that the two finned creature with the lights was there. It was only its small size that allowed it to get by on the shoulder. I was tempted to follow this two-finned master of the sea but was concerned that it would turn on me at some point.

A compatriot of the two-finned creature came along a little later. This one had the flashing lights but was much larger. It had four fins. The progress of this second creature was much slower. Several times it had to utter high pitched noises to gain the attention of the commuter fish. Even then, response time was slow. It was plain that this larger creature was getting frustrated. If not for the urgency of its mission, I'm sure several of the commuter fish would have gotten devoured.

It was not my first choice to be doing research into these commuter fish. In order to accomplish my own goals I have found myself thrust into this role. It seems prudent to become familiar with their behaviour in order to keep myself unscathed. I have been trying to find a way to communicate with these travelling schools. Some ways have been both effective and antagonizing. For instance, flashing my brake lights seems to cause some to become aware of my presence and avoid colliding with me. Other times the same form of communication seems to awaken rage with corresponding behaviour. I have also tried hand gestures. The gestures have been returned in kind but somehow I feel that no bonding has taken place. Perhaps some day I may find the clue. I am just as likely to stay perplexed.

About 1 PM I ventured into this sea on my homeward journey. Most of the commuter fish were placid and we were left in peace. One very large and elderly commuter fish did cause me some concern. I actually believe this was more of a RV fish than a commuter fish. It was dragging a smaller fish behind it. Whichever it was, it made a rapid move into my path of travel. I managed to avoid contact but it left me shaking my head. How such a creature can survive in the sea while exhibiting symptoms of blindness escapes me at the moment.

There was some entertainment on the journey. These commuter fish must be afflicted with some sort of skin parasite. I observed where one had scraped its left side against a concrete wall. I can only figure it was trying to relieve some sort of skin irritation. The wall must have felt good to this individual as it stopped there for a while. Two other commuter fish were so enchanted by watching the first fish scrape the wall that they collided with each other. More of the creatures with flashing lights were on the scene.

What a different world this is. I may never understand these commuter fish but am forced to deal with them. I shall try to look upon it as an adventure.

Miles and smiles,

Monday, June 19, 2006

Taking it on the Road!

What an awesome weekend! It was time to "get out of town" so that's what we did. Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles requires all riders under 21 to take our class in order to get a motorcycle endorsement. Since the class is mandatory we are obligated to provide training all over the state. There's a formula for how often and where to provide opportunity based on population. Up and down the I-5 corridor we have fixed sites at community colleges. Other locations are serviced by our "Mobile Program".

Not everyone enjoys working "Mobiles". I happen to like them. Coming into town and setting up a class involves a lot of work plus a long weekend. What I like is that you never know what to expect. It's up to you to make things work despite unforeseen obstacles. Sometimes our ingenuity is tested to the max. The instructors who work these mobile classes are special to me. There's usually four of us. Two for a morning group and two for an afternoon group. Even though the afternoon people don't need to show up until 11 AM they're always there to help set up. The morning instructors stay late on Sunday to help take things down and load bikes. Nothing breaks down barriers and builds bonds like working shoulder to shoulder in sometimes adverse conditions.

We have three pick-up/trailer units. These see frequent duty during the peak summer training season. The trucks are either Ford or Dodge one ton diesels with dual wheels. The trailers hold 13 bikes. You can see a bike in the bed of the truck. With two bikes back there we have enough for 12 students plus three spares. Remember, we can be a LONG ways from any of our regular facilities. There's also cones, classroom materials, loaner helmets, water for students, and a gas tank in the trailer to refill the bikes. The pump even has a battery so we can just squeeze the lever. We're pretty much self-contained. We used to have fold-down chairs on the walls and used the trailer for a classroom. Now we have real classrooms in various buildings.

A few of us are certified to drive the trucks and deliver equipment. Sometimes the driving is split between two of the instructors. One will bring the unit down with their personal bike secured in the trailer. Another instructor will ride to the site. The first instructor rides their bike home while the second instructor straps their bike in and takes the unit to the next location. Three years ago circumstances dictated that I trailer the ST home. That was the first time a bike of mine had ever gone anywhere without being ridden. Katie said I was as nervous as a new mother leaving her child with a babysitter for the first time. Just because I stopped every half or so to check on the bike? Come on, now!

This weekend we descended upon the unsuspecting town of Coos Bay, Oregon. This is a small coastal fishing town. Like all towns it has grown and become more varied but it still cycles with the ocean tides. You might remember the ship called the "New Carissa" that broke apart and beached a few years ago. That was at Coos Bay.

I really like this town. It happens that I was born there but that's not the reason I like it. Coos Bay and North Bend are so close together it's almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other starts. Together they have a population of around 27,000 people. Despite having grown larger over the years, the small town atmosphere seems to remain. That's probably due to the isolation. The nearest town to the North is Reedsport which is about 30 miles. The next town to the South is Bandon which is about 50 miles.

We've always been welcomed into the town. More than anywhere else I've taught friends and family come to watch. The students I've taught down there have been quite personable. That is, with one exception which I'll tell you about later. Our usual range site is at the Pony Village Mall. You can see the back of the mall behind the trailer. If you put yourself in the picture and were to look left you'd see the back of the Safeway store. A nice little corner to play in. Incidentally, the lady who manages the mall took our class about three years ago. The same weekend I had to trailer the ST, as a matter of fact. I had the pleasure of being the instructor. Needless to say, the mall management is very hospitable to us. Our hotel is on the other side of the mall from the range. Southwest Oregon Community College graciously gives us classroom space about 5 minutes away. Very cozy, all in all.

Now that you have the setting, let me tell you about the class. Here they are:

Sorry the picture's dark. As you can see, the clouds were ruling the sky at the beginning of the class time. Besides, I'm still trying to make my battered and broken camera work. It's always interesting to take a diverse group of folks and help them blend into "my students". Diverse, they were.

A third of my class were females. Women are figuring more and more into the equation. Good for them! One had some riding experience. One had no riding experience. One had spent a lot of time on dirt bikes which is both good and bad. It's good in that the coordination and riding ability is there. It's bad because dirt bike habits don't always work well for a street bike. My dirt bike girl had a little extra to deal with this weekend. Her husband of 16 years had passed away seven months ago, leaving her with four teenagers. This was their first Father's Day without him. I saw teary eyes a couple of times.

The fourth member of the female quartet was hard to read. I'll call her "Allison". She is right at about 20 years old. This girl would not communicate with either me, the other instructor, or her classmates. Any question I would direct toward her would be met with a blank stare. On Saturday her Dad showed up. On Sunday he was joined by Allison's mother and sister. I would see her laughing and visiting with them. As soon as she left them the blank stare returned. It is so bizarre to try to teach someone like that. Once I saw a very faint smile under the full-face helmet when I complimented her on something she did. Otherwise, the blank stare stayed there all weekend. Allison passed the knowledge test at 100%. She barely passed the riding test, but she got her card. I'm usually pretty good at reading people but I still can't tell you if the stare was hostility, fear, or a mask.

One of the gals, the new rider, was fun to watch. She told me at the beginning of class that she was so nervous she was ready to throw up. Despite that, things went well. She listened, improved, and actually started to have fun. I never grow tired of watching the light come on for riders, whether new or not-so-new.

The guys were a mix of young and old. Pretty typical of a class. They all had fun and we had the usual hassling each other that goes on. With the exception of an older gentleman. He will be 75 next month. "Frank" was the typical example of what I see in other classes. Having ridden many years ago, Frank wanted to try it again. The physical skills were just enough. It was the processing which seemed to suffer. Frank is one of the nicest guys you'll ever hope to meet. It was really hard to tell him that he didn't pass. It was even harder to have to gently suggest that he probably should try another hobby. Whatever he decides to do next, I take comfort in the fact that we provided Frank with a safe place to explore a return to riding.

Not long after class started the sun came out. I happened to end up with the afternoon group this time. There seems to be a thing on our coast that the sunshine brings with it the wind. We had a pretty steady stream of air blowing in from the North. On Saturday it wasn't too bad. Just enough to make me deaf from having it blow by my ears for a couple of hours. On Sunday it got more interesting!

Having not exerted itself too hard on Saturday, the wind had plenty of energy for Sunday. My partner was wearing a baseball type cap and it blew off his head several times. Not only did it leave his head, the hat started blowing rapidly across the parking lot! Katie got pretty good at plotting intercept courses. Since I was riding the demonstrations I just kept my 3/4 face helmet on. I don't ride with anything but a full face but this makes a good range helmet. The open face lets me communicate with students. What was really entertaining about the wind was that it kept blowing junk from the back of the Safeway store across our range. Paper bags, plastic bags, you name it. Nothing stayed with us as it just blew across into some people's yard to the South of us.

We did have one special obstacle, though. Right as our dirt bike girl was coming around a corner in the skill evaluation, a flattened cardboard box whipped across in front of her. It just missed her front wheel. My student wasn't at all ruffled, fortunately. Oh, did I tell you that we were also on the final approach path to the airport?

The runway for the North Bend airport starts right across the main drag from us. Several times we had small planes buzzing us. Horizon Air runs commuter hops out of this airport. The jets can be quite distracting to students. Ok, to instructors, too. I still have funny mental pictures of my students trying to ride straight while staring up at the planes! The Coast Guard also has a facility there. Fancy turbo-jet helicopters provided variety in the aircraft overhead.

In a world that tries more and more to put people into preset moulds, working Mobiles provides a much needed change. There's just us, the trailer, and our wits. You never know what to expect when you "take it on the road"!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Motorcycle dating.

I write a lot about commuting, riding, and teaching. Most of the accounts are describing solo adventures. Riding alone becomes the modus operandi due to necessity. Even though riding by myself constitutes the majority of my bike time, it doesn't mean that's my preference. Granted, there's things I can do while riding alone that I wouldn't do with a passenger. Making sure I use ALL the tread width on my tires comes to mind, among others. Sometimes I ride in weather that's bad enough to make me not want to be responsible for another life. All in all, though, when I look back on my most pleasureable rides Katie is snuggled behind me.

One is truly blessed if they have a partner with whom they can share their passion. While physical passion is always welcomed, and even encouraged, ( yee haw! ) I'm talking about my love of riding. We've been married for almost 29 years. Some people say that being with the same person for so long leads to boredom. I say it's what you make of it. Here's my Forrest Gump mode: Marriage is like a blog.

If the blog author puts up the same post every day it WILL get boring fast. I think that people who complain that their partner is boring after so long are putting out the same post everyday. They should turn the mirror around and look at themselves. It's always good to evaluate what they're bringing to the table to keep things fresh.

Katie and I have managed to keep things fresh. We cherish the familiarity and comfort of having been together for almost three decades. Yet it seems that each day brings something new and fresh. Not always something outstanding, but she fascinates me more each day. I guess I should get on with the motorcycling thing. This isn't, after all, a blog on marriage. Maybe I should start one.

Last Sunday we went for a ride. Katie's been wanting to go for a while. On Saturday I had some errands to do and called home when I was done.

"Do you want to go for coffee? If you want to jump on the back of the bike have your gear on when I get home. If you don't want to ride, no problem."

Well, the gear was on. Off we went for coffee. It was 5 PM when we got back on the bike. I was heading for home when I heard this voice from the back seat.

"Aren't you going to take me for a ride?"

So I HAD to take a loop that took another hour. Honest, it wasn't me. She insisted. You have to love a woman like that. That's how we ended up riding Sunday. The short ride didn't give her enough of a fix. Katie has an endorsement of her own. About three or four years ago she took my class. I've probably mentioned that in a previous post. Did well, too. She's free to take a bike and go but she prefers to ride with me. Katie's knowledge as a rider makes her an awesome passenger. I remember once I ground the pegs through a tight, sweeping curve. Instead of beating on my helmet I heard her say,

"That was so smooth the way you touched down and held it there!"

The weather for Sunday's ride was great. Not a lot of blazing sunshine but it was warm with no rain. Backroads ruled the day. I was sneezing my head off. Our area is surrounded by farmland primarily planted for grass seed. The grass was in full bloom. I could see the pollen and dust hanging over the fields like fog. Each year my allergies seem to be getting a little worse. I don't suffer like some people do, but it gets to me at times.

After a stop at a Trader Joe's we went to Alton Baker Park. Katie loves these pretzel balls filled with peanut butter. I try to indulge her off and on. The nearest TJ's is 50 miles away. Good excuse for a ride, huh? Alton Baker Park is a huge grassy area next to a river in Eugene. There's some duck ponds and stuff that attracts family. That's where this picture was taken. I just love that cheerful smile!

I took Katie on some other back roads on the way home. We saw some young buck deer off to the side of the road a ways ahead of us. We stopped and watched them for a while. My wife has this fascination with these creatures. Both were three point or better with antlers covered in velvet. Suddenly they bounded over the fence. One minute they were standing still, the next they were up in the air. Amazing how they bounce. We continued on until we got to Roberts Lane. If ever a road begged a rider to corner aggressively, this is it. It's not a fast road. Most corners are posted at 20 mph. It's a technical road that you can get an awesome flow on if done right. Oh yeah, there's also a lot of peg scraping possible on the ST!

Had to take it easy, though. Not because of Katie. She loves corners! No, it's just that you can see a long ways on this road right now. At the end of my line of sight was a Sheriff's Patrol car coming the other way. If I could see him he could certainly see us. It wasn't the day to battle the Man.

After calmly riding Roberts Lane we saw something that made me laugh. No, it wasn't my reflection in my mirror. We came up behind this new Mustang. An old woman was driving. About 30 mph on a road with a 55 mph limit. We had all kinds of theories. I thought she had just bought the car she always wanted but was driving within her limits. Katie said she borrowed the car from her son and he told her to be good with his car. Either way, we passed her and turned off onto some more twisties. When we finally got back to Highway 99 we caught up to her again. The woman had taken the more direct route as opposed to our long ride. Yes, she was still driving slowly but had gotten up to 35 mph by now. You always wonder. A powerful muscle car piloted by a frail driver. What a contrast!

Our ride was about 4 hours. Wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Ok, I'll admit it. The ride was more like a date. Even brave and fearless Road Warriors get lonely. Sometimes the best rides are with a passenger. Motorcycle dating rocks!

It's Friday night as I finish this. We've just completed another three hour ride to get here to Coos Bay on the Southern Oregon Coast. I'm teaching a mobile course this weekend and Katie's keeping me company. I'll let you know if anything interesting happens with the students. It usually does.

Miles and smiles,

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

No Clue.

I didn't do the commute yesterday. After the nearly disastrous brush with my own fatigued state I made other arrangements. Besides, I had a 9 AM dentist appointment. The telephone got a workout, though. The commute today was pretty uneventful. Although every day I am newly amazed and outraged at the stupid chances drivers will take to get a little ways ahead.

Sophie and I cruise along at about 75 mph. The speed limit is 65 for most of the stretch. What usually happens is that we can find a relatively peaceful pocket to ride in. Then, like suddenly being surrounded by angry bees, a group of little rocket ships catches up to us. These idiots zoom in and out of traffic at speeds that have to be 85 to 90 mph. The outrage comes from the fact that they endanger others to get one or two car lengths ahead. Nobody's that important except in their own minds. The offenders cover all ages and both genders. The State Police numbers have been decimated by budget cuts made by politicians trying to punish voters for not passing tax increases. You know, the "give us what we want or we'll cut the things you really need" approach?

There has been one bright spot on the commute. I've seen this bike twice, now. Once on the way home and once on the way in. We're both on the same schedule, it seems. I came up behind him just after 6 AM in Salem. The bike is one of the early GL1800's. Probably late 80's or early 90's. His commute is from Salem to Vancouver which is about 60 miles one way. I'm judging that from where I've seen him enter and exit the freeway. Stickers cover most of the back of the bike. It's interesting watching a big bike like the 'Wing from behind. All this bike balanced on a wheel that seems so small compared to the bike itself.

This dude has a three quarter face helmet with a bubble shield. A cup holder adorns the right handlebar. I've watched the rider drinking from a travel mug while riding. His helmet has a cord plugged into the intercom. Since he's riding solo I presume he's listening to the radio. I'm also tempted to take up riding a Goldwing, myself. No, not yet!!

Anyway, I seem to have wandered off the path I was heading for.

Quiet rides mean time for contemplating. I was thinking about how being on a bike makes me feel more alive. Other riders have expressed the same thing in similar terms. Expressions like having one's senses heightened, going into a state of higher alert, and so on. Information from an article in Men's Health magazine about amplifiers also crossed my mind. I know it seems like all I think about is bikes but I try to stay healthy. In fact, that's how I came to acquire the moniker of "Irondad" which you may have seen in the comment section.

Once upon a time I was a natural bodybuilder. My oldest son had an art class in middle school. As part of the class they had to make a figure out of clay and then "fire" it. My son made a statue resembling the Sandow statue given to winners of the Mr. Olympia contest. Bulging muscles, six pack abs, the whole works. Lovingly inscribed on the base was "Irondad". Talk about feeling good about being a hero to your child!

That six pack stomach is still there somewhere. At least I think so. I haven't seen it for a while. It's got to be under that squishy layer on top of it.

There I go wandering again. What I was coming to was that the feeling of being on the bike suddenly came together with the article on amplifiers. My brain told me that a bike is a lot like an amplifier. Either for good or bad. Think about it.

An amplifier gives greater magnitude to whatever is input into it. Maybe that's why I feel so much more alive on a bike. The bike takes my spirit and amplifies it. A bike can also amplify negative qualities. If a person has rebellious tendencies the bike provides a means of expressing those to a greater degree. The other thing the article said about amplifiers is that by turning them way up, a lack of talent can be disguised. The slight distortion covers up a guitar player who isn't really that good. It also covers for a singer who doesn't have the tonal qualities of a better singer.

Then I started thinking about a class I taught recently in Eugene.

Eugene is home to the University of Oregon. Civic leaders have long set the tone of liberalism. Between them and the college setting, Eugene has become a haven for those with very liberal views. Whatever they may be. I don't teach there often. Eugene has a core of local instructors. I have to ride about 50 miles to teach there. Once in a while I get down there as happened a couple of weekends ago. I'm more of a right wing conservative. Combine that with the fact that I don't get down there too often and you'll understand why I find myself having to adjust again. The students tend to be more "diverse", if you will. I'm a professional and keep my personal views from interfering with being a good instructor for everyone. The diversity just makes it more interesting.

We're seeing an increase in the number of female students. The increase seems to be more noticeable in Eugene. 9 of the 24 students were female. I was thinking about three of the females in particular who seem to illustrate my theory about bikes being amplifiers.

Two of the females were a mother-daughter pair. Neither one had ridden before. What made them stand out is their accessories. Both had custom painted Harley Davidson helmets. They had HD denim jackets and jeans. They had the boots. They had the gloves. They drove up in a big black Ford pickup. Harley Davidson edition, of course. It even had the HD logo cut into the grill. The girls had all things Harley Davidson. The only thing they didn't have was: A clue.

I don't mean this as a put-down. After all, we offer a safe place to explore. It's not about pass or fail, it's about the discovery. The mother made a comment after the first day's riding practice that she had no idea how uncoordinated she was. Neither passed the class. The skill just wasn't there.

Another female presented the opposite picture. We'll call her Lucy. Her attire was just a sweatshirt over jeans. Like our mother-daughter pair, Lucy had never ridden before. Lucy took to riding like she was born to it. Her pleasure in riding was expressed by what she told me after the first morning's session.

"I think I'm in love!"

Lucy wants to get a dual sport of sorts and commute. She works in a hospital emergency room and is taking some college courses to advance in the medical field. I don't know what was motivating the mother and her daughter. I can only figure that there are male members of the family behind the scene.

I saw such a contrast in these students. The bike amplified Lucy's spirit and enjoyment. Being on a bike magnified what was in her heart. All the HD gear covered up the lack of ability in the other two gals. Looking at them would make you think they were real riders.

You can't fault Harley's marketing. People can find things to buy that will wrap them up in the "lifestyle" to their heart's content. More power to them. I'm sure that a lot of Harley riders are normal, decent folks who enjoy the American made bikes. There's also a lot of people looking for something that's missing. They don't all ride Harleys. But they're all searching.

This isn't really meant as any sort of blanket stereotyping. It only recounts my musings as I was riding my long commute.

I'll leave you with a quote from a Disney movie named "Cool Runnings". It's about the first Jamaican bobsled team. Good movie for family enjoyment. The quote has to do with winning Olympic gold medals but can apply to anything. Like motorcycles and riding.

"If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it".

Miles and smiles,

Monday, June 12, 2006


Groan! Did anyone get the license number of the truck that hit me? Not literally, thank goodness. I crawled out of bed at 4:18 AM. I had the alarm set for 5 but gave up trying to sleep. Crawled is the operative word, here. My lower back had started hurting last evening. This morning I could hardly stand straight up. My eyes were burning and fuzzy, both from lack of sleep and allergies. The back pain was new, the allergies were old enemies. Top it off with a headache and you have what resembles a shuffling traffic accident victim.

This isn't really about my aches and pains. Most of you have your own issues. There isn't much room for sympathy over mine. What this is really about is commuting 180 miles in the rain. Mixed in with freeway traffic. Definitely feeling impaired.

What a contrast from yesterday! Katie and I took a ride of about three hours. Admittedly, the allergy thing started then. Fields of grass are in full bloom. Yesterday the junk from the grass was blowing in the wind. It looked like there was a foggy haze hanging over the crops. By the way, having sneezing fits inside a full face helmet isn't much fun. I don't think the inside of the chinbar enjoys it much, either. You can only get the gloved hand inside so often.

Yesterday the Weather Gods smiled on us. During the night they changed the smile to a frown. Rain was falling when I went outside. They just neglected to turn down the thermostat. Muggy is the word that came to mind. After several less flattering words came out of my mouth.

Impairment is a serious thing to be aware of. Bad things can happen while riding impaired. These things can happen to all riders. It can more likely affect commuters who battle on that front every day. It's also a big factor for those who ride long distances. We're not talking impairment from alcohol or drugs. I'm talking about the impairment that comes from living life as a human in today's world. Take me, for instance.

I probably should have driven a car today. Sorry, I'm trying to be stubborn. Actually, Katie says I'm not really trying to be stubborn. No, she says, it just comes naturally. Whatever the root cause, I'm shrugging on gear and filling Sophie's saddlebags. Off we go at 5:30 with my fuzzy vision, aching back and head, topped off with a big helping of fatigue.

Some impairments should definitely keep us off the bike. Other impairments might mean we can go ahead and ride. It's vital to our risk management to recognize we're impaired and make the appropriate adjustments. How do we recognize the onset of impairment? In my case, I knew I was impaired the moment I fell out of bed. Other times it may not be so readily visible to us. In an ideal world we start the day at 100 percent. ( I guess I don't live in an ideal world ) As we near the end of a long ride or a long work day we need to evaluate ourselves.

One sure indication of impairment is shown in our inputs. Shifts get less smooth than normal. Inputs are not as subtle as usual. Surprises happen to us more and more. We have to be open to what we are being told by these things. Bravely pressing on may make us feel manly but it can also get us hurt or dead. Adjustments must be made.

This morning there was no gradual onset of symptoms. Physical inputs were smooth. Years and years of habit, practice, and teaching others were doing their job. Once I got onto the freeway I noticed the manifestation of impairment in a weird way.

I decided that since we were on the freeway in the rain I would just keep to the speed limit. A quiet backroad would be nice about now. That's out of the question at this time. It's already a 90 minute ride one way. I'm not willing to spend any more time than three hours a day commuting. Freeway, it is, until I move closer. Traffic seems heavier than normal. It always amazes me how many people are on the freeway so early these days.

Anyway, I decide to ride at the speed limit. This means I get passed a lot. My back aches and my vision is blurry so I'll live with it. Allergy medicines always carry the risk of drowsiness so I have stayed drug free. Trouble is, I can't seem to hold a steady speed. I start at 65 mph and notice that my speed has slowly fallen off to about 57. Rolling back on, I determine to hold steady. Despite my determination the speed goes back down. It's almost like I'm waking up each time I look down and see 55 to 57 mph. I don't remember slowing down. I do remember wanting nothing so much as to shut my eyes and sleep.

More adjustments are made. For the first time in as long as I remember Sophie and I stay in the far right lane and ride at 55 mph. Ego and bravado must be set aside. Survival takes center stage. I console myself with the old quote "Disgression is the better part of valor".

Riding home is better. All symptoms except the fatigue are just faint echoes of this morning. It hasn't helped that Ben Rothlisberger, the quarterback of the Pittsburg Steelers has suffered a bike accident. Riding a sport bike with no helmet, Ben become the victim of the classic left turning car. Or made himself a victim, as the case may be. Ben requires surgery to repair a broken jaw and other injuries. At least that's what the radio announcers are saying. Along with the usual rhetoric about how dangerous motorcycles are. I wish I had as much influence toward the good side as these celebrities have for the down side!!

There's some gentle ribbing coming from one of the guys I share the office with. The other fellow rides and knows the real score.

Did I say the ride home was better? I felt better but the ride had more adversity in store. The work day had taken it's toll and now I was getting cranky. Riding usually restores my good humor. Not today, for some reason.

Rain was falling heavily after a respite in the afternoon. Sophie and I started out at 4 PM. There's no avoiding the big city rush hour no matter how early you leave. We have to cross the Columbia River on the Glen Jackson Bridge. Five lanes wide and whipped by the East wind coming out of the Columbia Gorge. Extra entertainment was added by the presence of standing water. Can you spell "hydroplane"? The local Neanderthals ignored the peril and zoomed by unheeding.

At least until we got a couple more miles down I-205. It looked like someone asked that the word "hydroplane" be used in a sentence. Not being able to come up with one, someone offered to provide a real-world illustration. Five miles of stop and go traffic later we got to stretch our legs. At least the rain had let up a little.

Finally, it looked like clear sailing. The road was drying out and traffic thinned some. Turned out I wasn't home free. I swear I was jinxed by reading Gary's account of the guy in the big pickup. Only my encounter wasn't quite so dramatic as his.

This guy in a little Geo Metro came up behind me. My pace was dictated by traffic in front of me. Wasn't good enough for the man in the beat up little white car. He was following me more closely than I felt comfortable with. Tapping my rear brake pedal, I flashed the brake light. Most people would have gotten the message. Having only two brain cells and being a club-toting species of male, the guy came up even closer. I couldn't help wondering if he would tried it on an SUV. It's easy to be brave when your opponent looks smaller. How could he think he was threatening me when he would be involved, also?

Options came to mind as to what to do. I have a concealed weapons permit. At any time there could be a Glock, a five shot 38 revolver, or a Colt Commander 380 auto on the bike. The term "imminent threat" is open to intrepretation. I nixed the idea. Then another option for a weapon came to mind. I flashed the guy. Repeatedly.

Get that disgusted look off your face. The Roadcrafter suit makes that hard to do in reality. I always carry my cell phone in the right front pocket of the 'Stich. It is a camera phone. I never use it. All I know is that if you push this little button on the side of the phone it takes pictures. I have accidently taken pictures of walls, the inside of my pocket, my ass, and so on.

I stuck the fingers of the glove of my left hand inside my helmet. Yesterday's ride gave me practice in this move. Remember the sneezing? Pulling my hand out of the glove, I stuck the glove in the strap on the front of the jacket. With a bare hand I pulled the camera out. I discovered quickly that camera phones are made to take pictures in front of you, not behind you. Sticking the camera over my shoulder, I repeatedly pushed the button. There's a little flash unit on the phone. Acting like I was going for different angles I moved the camera around and flashed some more. My act was convincing and the guy backed off. As soon as he could the guy whipped around me and flipped me off. I took that picture, too!

I think I have that last picture. It seems there's another little button you have to push to save the pictures. Doesn't matter, I wasn't looking to put together an album. It was all for show. Mission Accomplished!

The down side was having to ride a while with no glove. A few miles down the road I pulled into the Wilsonville Rest Area and put my glove back on. The rest of the ride was dry and uneventful. I was so pleased to see Katie. She's feeding me supper and putting me to bed early.

No matter how hardcore or tough we are, all of us can fall victim to things like impairment. I should not have ridden today. Probably not even driven in that state, truth be told. I would urge you to always do your own assessment. If you find yourself becoming impaired listen to what your body is telling you. If you decide you shouldn't be on the bike make that choice. Sometimes riding "smart" can mean not riding. Live to play another day.

Miles and smiles,

Friday, June 09, 2006

Rocket Man!

This is something I wish I had on the bike. Unfortunately, the saddlebags are too small. The thrust of the launch sequence does bad things to the bike's handling. At least the missles would be aerodynamic. The extra weight will surely degrade my gas mileage. Oh well, I'll just have to keep relying on the manueverability of the bike to get around weird drivers and left lane hogs!

I needed to go to Kirkland, Washington for a couple of day's training for the new job. This is a 'burb of Seattle. The actual ride up was fairly uneventful. Most of my long rides start at 5 AM and this was no exception. The timing was such that I avoided rush hour at the larger metropolitan locations. Washington has a lot of road construction happening north of Tacoma. At least the Department of Transportation thinks about bikes. There were signs up all along that warned motorcyclists to use extreme caution. They didn't leave good places to ride but at least they gave us fair warning! I hit I-405 about 9:15. Sophie was feeling a little extra excitement as we passed Renton. It was in Renton that her and I first met. Salem Honda did a dealer trade to get the ST for me. I handed over a check to the dealer and rode Sophie home from there.

About the time I was feeling like I had breezed through the trip traffic slowed waaaay down on 405. Thank goodness for the fact that motorcycles are allowed in the carpool lanes! It was so cool to go breezing by the slow traffic in the other lanes. We did get sort of suckered into missing our exit, though. Washington has this weird pattern of having the off ramps parallel the freeway for a ways before they branch off. Signs that are actually on the off ramp appear to be on the freeway farther down. I should have trusted the directions I had printed. The sign confusion made me think my exit was actually farther down than it was. No biggie, we made it back.

One of the guys at the office took me out to lunch. We ended up at an Italian restaurant called Cafe Veloce. This place not only had good food but there were vintage Italian bikes on display. There must have been 8 or 9. Display cases hold other vintage racing memorabilia. Thursday night my new boss took me to dinner. He didn't realize I had been there for lunch and I wasn't going to object, anyway. I like this place! Sometimes they have gatherings of riders on Italian bikes. Here's a link that shows one of the bikes:

Dealing with traffic up there on a bike is murder. As an example, after work on Thursday I was going to check into the hotel before going back for dinner. All I needed to do was turn left into the parking lot. It was a little after 5 PM and the two lanes were crowded. Nobody would let me in. We didn't have the bulk to crowd our way in. So we ended up aborting the left turn. Managing to get over to the right we went around the corner and turned around. Two left turn lanes take traffic in front of the space where my driveway target is. I figured that by getting in the right hand of the two lanes I could get to where I needed to go. Never discount the stupidity, rudeness, and inattentiveness of commuters. A large silver Ford pickup was in the lane to my left. The idiot cut right across our front tire like we weren't there. Good thing my skills are honed enough that we avoided contact.

Friday afternoon at 1:30 saw us itching to get on the road to home. It was a 5 hour ride up and I figured we'd get home at a reasonable time. I had to be up at 4:30 AM Saturday morning to go teach a motorcycle class. ( I know, what was I thinking?) Right after we pulled out of the parking lot the skies opened up. I swear the lightning was so close I could feel my hairs stand up. The thunder almost knocked me off the bike. Oh goodie. This was not promising but we soldiered on. Remember I left at 1:30? The ride home was 252 miles. By 4:30 we had covered a dazzling number of miles. 52 to be exact. 52 miles in three hours. Aaaargh!!!!

All people seem to know how to do up there is to run into each other. These people run nose to tail at 70 mph or more. Literally. I had one gal so close to me I could not see her headlight in my mirror. I just got out of the way and let her go close up on the next car. At times it felt like we were going backwards. If you leave a proper following distance drivers are pissed off that you're not going fast enough. So they whip around you to tailgate the car ahead. They act like there's a big neon sign saying "Dive in here"! Everybody drives the same bloody way.

Washington freeways have signs that tell drivers to pull over to the side of the road if they have fender benders. Four times I saw sets of two vehicles pulled over. This was just in the first 18 miles. The front of one and the rear of the other mashed up. Gee, guess what happened? For God sakes, people, GET A CLUE!!

At least we were moving at those times. Not long after getting onto I-5 Southbound we were sitting in stop and go traffic. Oh, did I mention the rain was still coming down hard? After half an hour we passed the wreck. If you figured it was another rear-ender collision you would be exactly right! Finally, we got to run at freeway speeds. For all of 11 miles.

I had a bad feeling when I saw the signboards telling us the freeway was closed at milepost 123. The Washington Highway Department was kind enough to warn us early and suggested using alternate routes. Yeah, right. Here I am in a place I'm not familiar with. I'm supposed to find some other way to go South? The only way I know involved going almost to the coast and down. Just another 400 miles. In the rain and thunder.

Traffic was still moving very quickly so I figured this was just a leftover from earlier. Hoping that was the case I kept riding. Turned out my hopes were dashed. Took me 90 minutes to go 9 miles. We would move 25 feet and then stop and wait. 25 more feet and stop and wait. Lane splitting isn't legal. As thin as everyone's patience was, I'm sure somebody would have gone for me if I had tried. At least the rain turned into just showers here and there. I have to say that the crotch of my Aerostich Roadcrafter pants held up despite the puddling there.

Several hours earlier there had been a serious 18 vehicle pileup initiated by a pickup that rear ended another pickup. The impact forced the second vehicle under the back of a semi that was slowing down. One thing led to another. What do they expect driving nose to tail at freeway speeds? I called on my deep Zen skills and survived with only a very sore clutch hand. I'm lucky that the constant running of the electric fan on the bike didn't run my battery down. State Patrol officers had opened the hammer lane. Using the shoulder and the hammer lane two lanes were created for traffic to pass. Five lanes filtered into the two and we crept along.

Eventually we got through. I risked a severe speeding ticket running down the freeway looking for the next rest area.

Seven hours after leaving Kirkland we pulled into the driveway at home. Whew! As much bravado as I project as the Intrepid Commuter, I don't think I could handle freeway commuting in the Seattle area. We'd find a place to live that was accessible by back roads and had lighter traffic. Trouble is, I don't think there is such a thing up there. If I'm ever offered the chance to transfer to Kirkland, my answer will be "Thanks, but no thanks"! It may be a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.

Miles and smiles,

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Handshake of Death!

We had a meeting of our Leadership Council last Wednesday night. It was held at a community college. I can't resist parking on sidewalks and taking pictures these days. At least until my broken camera's memory fills up.

The Leadership Council is part of our motorcycle safety program. It is comprised of instructors who have shown a dedication and willingness to be leaders in the program. The struggle for consistency is always present. New people need to be mentored. Policy needs to be clarified. Out of around 130 instructors, 10 have been invited to belong to the Council. I happen to be the chairman this year. This isn't really about the meeting. It just sets the scene for the little story of riding to and from the meeting.

You would think that most, if not all, of the instructors and staff would have ridden bikes. We are bike people, after all. We're the evangelizers spreading the word. There seems to be a huge difference between bike people and commuters. 13 people came to the meeting. Three rode. Ok, I admit, one had an excuse. She's due to pop with her second child in July. Makes leaning over the tank a bit rough, I suppose. Although, it's nothing a cushy tank bag wouldn't cure, I would think!

Actually, the third rider, Ray, only did it because I shamed him into it. Ray's the Training Manager for our program. He's fair game for a hard time from me. I'll come back to Ray in a while.

In my early years I thought bike commuters were just people who liked riding so much that riding to work was just another chance to enjoy the bike. Over time I've come to realize I was wrong. I just couldn't explain the difference satisfactorily. Then I met a guy named Jesus. He's of Latin descent. My Spanish language skills are getting rusty. Jesus needs to brush up on English. I told Jesus in Spanish that I needed to practice. He smiled and told me to go for it as long as I returned the favor. In our conversations I finally found the way to explain what I feel is the difference between the average rider and the hard core commuter.

Jesus thinks in Spanish. In every circumstance that will be his default reference. I, on the other hand, think in English. English will be my default reference. No matter how much I enjoy speaking Spanish I will always think in English.

Now change the languages to "car" and "bike". Most riders think in "car". No matter how much they enjoy speaking "bike", "car" will always be their default reference. Some of us, the hard-core riders who commute every day, think in "bike". This language is our default. Last Wednesday night provided the practical illustration of this difference.

There was a threat of rain all day. At some points the threat became reality. Which means riding became a little wet at times. Those who think in "car" as their primary language naturally brought four wheels. Those of us who think in "bike" rode. There was really no other way to go. We just fell into our natural language reference.

Rain? Sun? Very hot? Bitter cold? Doesn't matter. Getting on the bike to go somewhere is as natural as speaking English. It just happens.

Does my explanation make any sense? Do you have other ideas why we choose to commute on a regular basis in all kinds of weather?

The meeting got out at 9 PM. It was cold and wet. Ray and I rode home together. We did make some concession to the dark night and inclement weather and took the freeway. Ray lives a little further down the freeway than I. At my exit we performed what seems to have become a normal ritual for us. We call it the "handshake of death". It's not that dangerous but the name makes it seem exciting.

Ray has a ST1300 with a throttle lock. He takes the left position and locks the throttle. I come up on the right and match my speed to his. This manuever has to be performed at 70 mph or better to count. Riding side by side we shake hands. His right hand and my left hand. Followed by an exchange of smart salutes. The Air Force guy and the Army guy. I would only do this with a very skilled rider. It can be tricky, you know. The handshake has to last for a count of 5. Then we part and go separate ways. Chalk it up to male bonding, I guess.

Miles and smiles,

Monday, June 05, 2006

Eyes up!?

I am SO far behind! Sorry if you've been checking in and there's been no new postings. I spent a couple of days just riding and clearing my mind. Then I changed jobs. That brought a chance to take a trip on Sophie but it was a whirlwind two days with no time to blog. I no sooner got home from Seattle and it was time to go teach a motorcycle class. Finally, I'm at my new office with a laptop. The good news is that there's a lot of commuting related stuff to tell about. It will spread over several posts.

Let's start the week out with a little homework assignment. Don't worry, it won't be too strenuous. While you're doing your homework you will be doing something you really enjoy-riding!

Do you remember the postings a while back on mental skills? I wrote that I would come back to physical skills at a later time. You probably thought I brushed it off, didn't you? It's not forgotten, just delayed. Here's the first installment.

Good physical skills are important for all riders. For someone who daily commutes on two wheels good skills are even more critical. We need to be proficient with all the tools available to us. I can hear the wheels turning in your heads. You're probably thinking I'm stating the obvious. That's quite true. Here's the complication, though. A rider might agree that good skills are needed. Ah, but exactly which skills?

A rider might make a list but it will most likely be incomplete. Even long-time riders don't always have a complete list. Self-taught riders don't have a reference point to know that their lists are missing some things. One of the reasons that teaching classes is so satisfying to me is that I get to help riders complete their lists. Most of the students coming through are new riders. For them the barest basics are enough in the beginning. There's no relationship to the real world for them yet. Some of our classes are for riders with more experience. It's a sad fact that the vast majority of beginning students never come back for more training. These ones are missing out on so much.

When the more experienced riders come back to training it gives me the chance to evaluate what's on their lists. Then I can fill in the blanks. Their experience makes my coaching so much more relevant to them. I feel great knowing they've gone away better able to take care of themselves than when they arrived. Most had no idea what they were missing. Sometimes a rider sort of does something but doesn't understand it enough to be effective with it. An example of this is countersteering. A rider has to do it to turn. Yet very few really understand it or even realize they are doing it.

Something similar happened to me in 1987 and that's what motivated me to become an instructor.

I was the Road Captain for a motorcycle club. That means I planned our monthly rides. One day a representative from the motorcycle training organization came to our breakfast meeting. He invited us to take the new Experienced Rider Course they were conducting. You can imagine the reaction from the macho law enforcement guys who had been riding forever.

"We don't need no stinkin' training!"

Nonetheless, two of us decided to take the class. Arriving at the range on the morning of the class proved interesting. I had my Honda 900 Custom with the dual range transmission. Sort of a big and heavy bike, relatively speaking. My buddy, Larry, was on his Yamaha XS 850. It had a sissy bar sticking up in back. By the way, Larry was a Lieutenant in the Sheriff's Office, and thus one of my bosses. The range was strung off with those flag banners. Attempting to duck under the flags to enter the range, Larry's sissy bar caught on the flag's rope. Yes, he fell down coming into an Experienced Rider Course. It was good we were here.

The day can be summed up by saying I didn't know what I didn't know. My eyes were opened to so many things that could save my bacon on the streets. Not just save it, but prevent it from even going near the fire in the first place. That class moved me to share with as many others as possible.

This has been a long preamble, I know. I've missed blogging so much that it's all pouring out. So be patient with me, will ya?

This week I want to start with "Head and eyes". Looking is both physical and mental. We use our eyes to get information which is a mental skill. Looking also has an involvement in the physical operation of the bike. Most riders do not look nearly far enough ahead.

We have had the chance to see and play with some eye tracking software developed in Southern California. This is a pretty cool setup. A video camera records the scene in front of the bike. There are two small cameras/sensors mounted in the front of the helmet. These track the pupils of the rider. When all the data is compiled and combined a video is produced. This video shows the ride with crosshairs superimposed on the scene. The crosshairs represent where the rider was actually looking. The results are surprising.

We saw footage taken from riders with varied experience levels. The purpose of the research is to try to establish some sort of baseline. What do we typically see from riders with little experience? What do we see from someone with a little more experience? And so on. You would think that the more experienced the rider is the better the head and eyes would be. It seems we would be wrong.

Time after time we saw riders with 10 years or more experience not looking very far ahead. One thing that really struck me was a rider on a BMW "K" bike. This was a rider with 12 years experience according to the information he gave. Going through a curve this guy was looking three paint stripes ahead of the bike. He was not unique!

Here are a couple of pictures I snapped with my broken camera. The first shows the perspective of looking closer to the bike. The second shows the perspective of "head and eyes up looking well ahead". In the second picture notice how much more of the horizon is visible. Again, my camera is broken so it's not quite as contrasting as I would like. But you can get the idea. In the first picture my focus is just over the top of the windshield. In the second one, my focus is just past the place where the road starts to curve. A big difference!

The value of looking well ahead can't be overstated. Stability is increased. I know that when Katie is getting on the bike I feel so much more stable when I look far ahead than when looking down. Turning the head to get the next target is priceless. The bike will go where you look. It is an undeniable fact of riding. Make it work FOR you, not AGAINST you. Use head turns in corners, keeping your eyes up and level with the horizon. Use your head and eyes to guide the bike where you want to go. It's like your brain is a travel agent and the eyes dictate the destination. The eyes tell the brain where to aim for and the brain makes the body do it. If you look someplace, that's where the brain figures you want to end up. Be sure your eyes tell the brain the ACTUAL destination.

Avoid target fixation. It was discovered in fighter pilots. They would stare at something and then fly right into it. What's a surefire way to hit something on a bike? Yep, stare at it!

Time after time I have riders tell me they know why they crashed now. They didn't want to hit the ditch but they stared right at it. They found they were going wide in a corner. Guess where they looked? They were so worried about running too wide that they stared at the side of the road. Yep, that's where they went. I guess riders feel like they can avoid something by looking at it and knowing where it is. They should have trained themselves in looking where they want to go. If a rider is getting close to the gravel at the edge of the road they MUST look where they want the bike to end up. Trust that the bike will go where their eyes tell it to. Same way in a swerve. Look at the escape route, not the obstacle. I don't care if there's 48 of those little Shriner's cars on fire in front of me. The most interesting thing is that few feet of escape route.

A lot of what it takes to be successful as a rider are unnatural acts. Only training and conscious effort will ingrain the proper habits. Proper use of head and eyes is critical to our success.

Did I mention homework? Oh, yeah. Here's what I would like you to do for me. ( and you, ultimately ) As you're riding the next few days, notice where you habitually look. You might be surprised. If you actually do look far ahead as a natural habit, good for you. If you find you could stand to look further ahead, or turn your head more, it would be good to work on it. Get in the habit of always looking for your next target.

If you're in the mood, drop a comment and let us know what you find. Consider it as contributing to the well-being of all of us, your fellow motorcycle commuters.

We'll address some other skills as we go.

Miles and smiles,