Monday, October 30, 2006

"See" vs. "Observe"

I saw this in the November issue of Motorcycle Consumer News. I thought it would be of interest to motorcycle commuters. This is a quote from the magazine.

"The UK's Motor Cycle Industry Association conducted a survey recently to determine how accurate the public's perceptions of motorcyclists are. When the results of the survey were compared to government data, the conclusion was that the public has inaccurate perceptions of motorcyclists, particularly when it comes to speed of travel.

Only 23% of the respondents thought car drivers would speed on their way to work but 57% thought motorcyclists would do so. Motorcyclists surveyed, however, were pretty much evenly divided: 35% thought drivers sped more, 33% thought riders did, and 30% thought both groups sped equally. Motorcyclists were better judges of who is doing what on the roads: According to government data, about 25% of motorcyclists go 5 mph or more over the speed limit, while 20% of car drivers do the same."

My comment:

I think this speaks well of the riders in the U.K. If only the riders here were as tuned in. A lot are but most don't seem to be. One of the challenges facing motorcycle commuters is taking care of ourselves in traffic. Getting good information is vital but isn't as easy as just looking around. Even what our brains tell us our eyes saw can be sort of a lie. That's where the difference between "seeing" and "observing" comes in.

Surrounded by their steel cages, car drivers often avoid dire consequences for bad decisions. Oh sure, the vehicle suffers some damage and the drivers involved face the aggrevation of paperwork, car repairs, etc. It's just not often that accidents in commuter traffic result in serious injury or death to motorists. Nothing can be written in stone, granted. This just seems to be what I've observed. Most of these bad decisions are based on inaccurate information.

A person's eyes will "see" something. The picture the brain receives can be quite a different image. We all have preconceived notions and prejudices. The brain uses these things to interpret the information coming from the eyes. Here's a common example of how we can look at a picture and see a couple of different things depending on what we're looking for.

If you're a "people" person you may have seen the faces right away. If you're a collector of antiques you may have seen the vases first. The point is that our brains will sort information based on its own set of criteria. Past experiences, the influence of the media, things we've been thinking about recently, as well as many other factors will bias what our brains tell us. The trick is to use our powers of observation to discern what's really there. Good decisions require accurate information. It's so critical for riders to have good judgement; consistently making those good decisions. Bad decisions on a bike can easily be disastrous.

Coming back to the report on the riders in the U.K. shows us that they must be getting fairly accurate information. That is, they're seeing what's really happening. The car drivers are jumping to conclusions based on the actions of a few motorcyclists. Their brains are interpreting reality based on too small of a sample. Or it could be that they're watching too much cheezey TV!

Here's some final tidbits for thought. How much of this power of observation do riders bring with them? How much is developed from the frequent riding while commuting? Don't we talk about how being on a bike helps us to tune into our world so much more? Is there something about the heightened awareness of imminent risk that also speeds up our skill building process? On the other hand, maybe it's not as noble and elevated as we'd like to think. Are we really just a snapshot of the larger world? A world where the fit survive? A world where those without good survival skills drop out of the gene pool, if you know what I'm saying? That can't be true, I think, because there are still so many stupid car drivers. Who knows what to think? I'm just a Warrior and sometimes Scribe. I'd scratch my head but my helmet's in the way!

Miles and smiles,

P.S. A couple of things crossed my awareness as I was writing this post. They're worth passing along.

The Oregon State Police just announced that in the first 6 months of 2006 there were 258 citations issued for speeders doing 100 mph or faster. This is a 19% increase over the same time period of 2005. Already troopers have cited more motorists for travelling 116 mph than in all of 2005. One of the areas with the most tickets written is a stretch I travel. I wrote about it earlier. This is the stretch where the construction has created the Canyon of Doom. My 180 mile freeway trip is getting more dangerous all the time!

A study was recently concluded in Oregon of motorcycle fatalities. This study was done by reputable researchers. 88% of the fatalities were deemed to be the fault of the rider. That's an extremely sobering statistic! Maybe that helps explain why I spend an average of 36 weekends a year involved in rider training. Hopefully I can help make a difference in bringing this percentage down.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Melancholy riding.

Time to leave for the office. I'm really dragging today. Did you ever see that old Dunkin' Donuts commercial? This guy's getting out of bed at what must be 3 AM. As he stumbles to find his robe he tells his wife it's time to go make the donuts.

For some reason I feel like I'm dragging through molasses with every step. Part of it's the long hours I've been keeping lately. I'm usually up by 4:30 AM. Especially if I'm going to the office. Some mornings it can take two hours to get there. Traffic in a few spots is habitually reduced to stop and go crawling. I'm making the trip pretty regularly. We have a new guy starting and I'm training him. That's kind of funny because I've only been with this company for four months. However, I have a lot more experience in how we go to market, so I get the job. It's ok. He's an eager young man and being around him lifts my own enthusiasm level.

On top of the commute I've had some late meetings the last couple of nights. I'm dragging so badly that there will be a knock on my door in a couple of days. It will be my rear end catching up with me. Now I'm facing another commute to work in the darkness, fog, and freezing temperatures. I really shouldn't be on the bike, should I? After all, I preach knowing your limits and riding within them. I teach students to recognize impairments and make the needed adjustments. Up to, and including, staying off the bike. I should listen to my own counsel. If only I could.

Like a moth to a flame I am inexorably drawn to ride. It's hard to describe exactly how I feel. I guess that's what makes it so hard to deal with. There's no logic to it. Just emotion. I could fall back on my line of "It's who I am, it's what I do". Even that's not enough to explain it. It's so much deeper than that. I've felt this way to some extent every fall but I have it worse than I ever have this year.

On the surface you could call it the weather. Looking under the ripples in the water to where the current is dark and deep, I'd have to say it's what the weather represents. These nice afternoons are jewels dispersed among coals. It gets so wet and gloomy here for so long. Soon the jewels will disappear. Only the coal will remain.

Mornings are cold, foggy, and nasty right now. By noon the sun has exerted its influence to transform the world into a warm and delightful place. The afternoons are perfect for riding. The Weather Gods are toying with us. They hold out the joys of the sun in one hand. In the other they show me the dark side. Cold, dark, tough conditions to endure. The Gods show me their power. They know I will defy their efforts to put restrictions on my riding. Bruised egos will be soothed by showing me how easily they can offer great riding conditions. Just as easily they can put the other hand forward and smite me with hardship. It has been, and continues to be, a never-ending struggle between us.

So I ride. Though I shake my fist in defiance to the Gods, I am afraid to miss out on each gentle and warm time they offer to me. Who knows when they grow tired of being patient and bring down the gloom they seem so fond of? A gloom that will last months with little relief. Now my rides are full of joy tempered by deep sadness. Dark clouds are literally hanging over my head. I will still find joy in the most adverse conditions. It is just that it will not be this sweet. My pleasure in the Winter will be that of victory in battle. The pleasures right now are more like a soft woman snuggled against my side. Two very distinctly different things. I do not relish the moment when the soft pleasure is replaced with the hardships of battle. Yet, battle I will. It is who I am, it is what I do.

Today the afternoon is devoted to the ride. The weekend will bring another class of eager new riders starting on their own journey. It is satisfying but the ride will be short. Katie's folks are coming for supper Saturday night. I will be working with my students until late Sunday afternoon. Before the darkness of winter sets in for good it is time to stock the senses with memories. It is hoped that these images and smells will serve as fuel to keep the spark burning in the gloom.

I decided to literally take time to smell the flowers. There are many roads and places with beauty to look at. My goal is to absorb as much of it as possible. There's also a couple of roads I've been meaning to check out. This will be the time to do it.

Wow! I had forgotten how different it is to leisurely ride a back road. After so much freeway riding I feel like I've just stepped off the merry-go-round. The world is moving more slowly. I can actually relax and breathe. It makes me wonder if it's really worth it to commute like I do. I like this job. I really don't want to move closer to the Big City. Out here surrounded by fields ready for Winter, my perspective is changed. I'm able to see a bigger picture more clearly.

For three and a half years I had this kind of ride home every night. Quiet, peaceful, country rides were mine for the taking. I could still be home at a reasonable time for a restful supper with Katie. Now I'm on a super-charged ride that wears on my nerves with little respite easily available. I hated the other job. I loved the ride home. I really like this job but have a nasty commute. Maybe it's time to simplify life. Would it be irresponsible to build a vocation around a pleasurable commute? It's amazing what a man will think of when you give him a chance to relax and look at something bigger than himself. If nothing else changes, I've resolved to make time for this kind of riding opportunity on a regular basis.

Here's what I found at the end of one of the small roads. It dead ends at a small lake. This house has seen better days but it has this great view. I almost didn't finish the journey to the house. All I saw was the pavement ending and the road turning into gravel. Sophie and I aren't real fond of chunky gravel roads. She's a great mount for the streets but a little ungainly for rougher ground. Katie isn't the first one to call me stubborn. More polite folks call it persistance. Either way, we had to finish the trip. I'm glad we did.

This road takes a sudden turn to the right. So far there's been nothing but trees and underbrush Right after the turn the road opens up just a little. The gravel ends in a wide area where a few cars could be parked. There was a woman doing some work in a flower bed when I arrived. I know the place doesn't look like it from the back of the house, but the front is well tended. The lady didn't seem at all surprised to see a rider in Hi-Viz yellow come down her lane. I told her I hadn't seen a mailbox and didn't realize it was a driveway. Her and her husband get their mail at a post office in the small town down the road.

Graciously, she told me a little about the house and led me around to the back. I took a couple of pictures and told her goodbye. After apologizing for disturbing her, of course. I think it would be so cool to retreat to a place like this. Can you imagine a great ride followed by sitting on the deck watching the sun go down over the lake?

I soaked up all I could before I ran out of daylight. It has been an awesome afternoon ride. Whatever the Weather Gods throw at me, they will never take this day away from me. I don't know how much longer we will have these sunny afternoons. Each ride will be a balance of joy and sadness. I will be riding the fine line between pleasure and pain. Winter promises to come early this year. I'm resolved to enjoy each opportunity I can. My hope is that you will be able to do the same. Like anything worthwhile in life, enjoy it while you're able.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What would you write?

I'm going to put Jon on the spot for a minute. A comment he posted spurred me to go ahead and explore something I've been thinking about for a while. Like I said, Jon, you gave me this idea for a post. Now you have to bear with me talking about you in the third person! Here's an excerpt from the comment:

" You don't want yours to be a posthumous memorial do you?"

This isn't meant to be morbid or fatalistic. I just figure that there's a good chance I could meet the end of my time on earth while riding. I do everything I can to avoid that eventuality. Everything, that is, except to quit riding.

The way I see it, regularly commuting on a bike ( which includes scooters ) is a mixed blessing. In some ways we're better off than the recreational riders. It really seems like it would be hard to keep skills sharp by just pulling the bike out on sunny days. Like any other aspect of life, skills will only remain at whatever level we practice them to. In that regard, we have a lot of time to sharpen and battle test our weapons. On a mile-per-mile basis I think commuters have less chance of getting into trouble. We're just better prepared.

Strangely enough it's those same miles that can get us in the long run. Increased exposure means an increased chance that the odds will catch up with us. Take the recent death of Steve the Crocodile Hunter.

Steve spent a lot of time fooling with wild animals. He obviously had skill and experience. At any point Steve could have quit doing what he was doing and would probably still be alive. He didn't quit and the odds caught up to him. Personally, I think he was a little "Over the top". On the other hand, there's probably those who look at me riding in nasty weather and heavy traffic who think the same about me. That's probably what spurred Jon's comment above.

What was interesting about Steve's death was that it came from a seemingly harmless creature in more relaxed circumstances. Facing obvious threats like poisonous snakes and other large reptiles, I'm sure his guard was up. It's when he relaxed that things caught up with him. What's even more interesting is that I don't think it was the actual sting from the ray that killed Steve.

I just read about another fellow who got stung by a ray that flopped into his boat. This guy had a similar wound to Steve's. This other man also happened to be much older than Steve. In this case the victim survived. The difference I see?

I'm convinced that Steve died because he pulled the barb out of his chest. That's an act that I and some of you would have done. Attack instead of retreat. Ponder it a moment. Don't we refer to ourselves as Road Warriors? How many of us think of ourselves as aggressors in traffic instead of as small creatures scurrying around hoping we don't get attacked? In my case I try to temper the first aggressive reaction. Choosing "fight" over"flight" can also get me killed or seriously injured. Most of my commuting time is spent in a careful balancing act between "advance" and "retreat".

Still with me? Good. Let's bring it back to motorcycling.

The threats to us out there are getting more real all the time. I firmly believe that the collective displayed intelligence and sense by humanity is taking a nose dive. No matter how badly people score on the "smart" test, they are still driving. My freeway commute puts me into a situation where I am constantly surrounded by these kind of drivers. Throw in days like this morning where it is dark, freezing, and foggy. My own visor is icing up. The roads are subject to freezing fog. Darkness and fog negate the ability of my radar to give me the advanced warnings I would like. So I play Starship Captain. Constantly going back and forth between Yellow Alert" and "Red Alert". At least I'm on Alert. That's what keeps me alive.

Riders can't and don't live on "Red Alert". It's those down times that pose the greatest danger.

Here's an example. Coffee shops figure into the commuter riding for some of us. How do you feel coming out of the shop? We're warmed up by the beverage. That scone was great and we can still taste how it blended with the coffee. Life's mellow at that moment. Gear gets pulled on. Still feeling mellow we start the bike into traffic. It's those moments that get us. Warp drive and Red Alert are still a few minutes ahead of us. Right now we're just sort of getting up to speed. A seemingly harmless old woman driving a Buick doesn't see us for whatever reason and changes lanes right into our bike.

Like I said earlier, I'm not trying to paint a depressing picture. On the other hand, riding is what it is. The world is what it is. With so many bodies in orbit at the same time, paths are bound to collide. More interaction with the moving bodies means more chance of an encounter. I spend a lot of time in the cosmic swirl. There's a real possibility that the odds will eventually catch up to me.

Which brings me back to the original point of this post.

What if one day I did perish on the bike? I've been doing this blog for about a year. It hasn't changed the world by any means, I know. Although I'd like to think that someone might notice if the posts suddenly stopped without explanation. I've played with an idea for a while. It hasn't actually come to fruition as of yet. The idea is to write a post ahead of time and just store it. When the post was ready I would show Katie how to publish it. "Just in case", you know. The post would be my way to explain in general terms what happened. It would put some sort of poetic closure to this venture.

Thus the question. What to write? These things would be in it.

I knew the risks. I accepted the risks and did what I could to manage them. There was never a question of not riding. The enrichment to daily life far outweighed any possible consequences. All of us meet death at some point. Many unfortunate folks ( although they may not realize just how unfortunate they really are ) spend the last days sitting on a shelf rotting away. Death comes as a relief to the pain or sheer boredom. Is just being alive really considered living? Aren't the last few days of life the worst time to have regrets about never having taken any risks? In contrast, how many die while feeling the most alive?

My intent is to live to the very end, whenever it comes. I sincerely hope I'm blessed with extended years to do this in. It would be good if Katie never had to publish the final post. Like they say, though, crap happens. These are my thoughts about it.

What would you write?

Miles and smiles,

Monday, October 23, 2006

Scooter fun!

I can't get this darn scooter thing out of my head! All around me are reminders of these little beasts. It was Gary's blog about The Baron that got me started blogging in the first place. Then there's Steve's blog about the Vespa. Art in Seattle is riding the Silver Wing. Scooter Guru, Mist Frog, and other scooter riders comment on my blog. Students are showing up in my classes with scooters.

You've heard how ignorance is bliss. As a side note, if that's true, how come there aren't more happy people in the world? I never paid much attention to scooters in previous days. Now there's more and more of them thrusting themselves upon my consciousness. Maybe they've always been there. You know how you buy a red sports car and then suddenly notice how many there are on the road? The cars were probably there all along but now you're sensitized because you bought one. I think that's what's happening to me!

Along with the awareness of their presence comes so many questions. Would a scooter really be practical for me? Will I suffer esteem issues from riding a small scooter? Is it possible that riding a scooter will mellow me out a little as some claim it has done for them? Or will I just remain the same crazed warrior on a smaller chariot? Like I say, so many questions and so few answers. I had the chance to get a glimpse into life with a scooter. I thought I'd share it with you.

It was time for Sophie to make a visit to the mechanic. The 16,000 mile valve adjustments seem to come more quickly all the time. This is such a bullet-proof motor. Five times the inspection interval has come. One valve is finally a little off but still within specs.

I'm one of those fanatics who run synthetic oil and then change it every 3,000 miles. Although I admit that lately the interval stretches by a thousand miles or so these days. If I go to the office every day it's a 180 mile round trip. That's 900 miles a week. Oil changes would happen every three and a third weeks. Granted, I don't do that trip all the time, but you can see how the mileage piles up quickly. I usually do the smaller maintenance myself. Between work and teaching the schedule's pretty full. Besides which, I'm blessed with several bikes to ride. I'm also cursed with having several bikes to do maintenance on. I'd much rather ride than tweak, clean, and polish.

This shop isn't one of those "Boutique" places. Bikes and accessories are just sort of crammed in here and there. The fork lift was out because some new scooters were being uncrated and assembled. God, I hope they didn't use the fork lift on Sophie! Kind of looks like it's getting ready to happen, doesn't it?

I planned the day around the service appointment. The agreement was to just leave it for a while. The last thing in the world you want is to have mechanics messing around in the guts of your bike while feeling rushed! This was going to take four or five hours. Weak sunshine was making itself felt. There were some folks within a radius of a few miles I could go see as a part of my job. Walking would be good for me. Of course, the first order of business was to go into the showroom and drool over the new bikes. This shop sells Honda, BMW, and Ducati. The sales manager told me that there was an open house planned for the next day which was Saturday. Some controlled group rides were going to happen on a few BMW and Ducati models. There was also some free food planned. That almost got me convinced to show up.

In actuality, it would have been fun to show up and ride the new bikes. It was just that I had other things going. Besides, I told Steve, I probably wouldn't be in the market for either bike. I was, however, thinking about a scooter. This shop has recently taken on the Schwinn line. Not that I would buy one of these, but there WAS a demo of the Graduate 150 model sitting there. The owner of the shop offered me the use of it for the day. What the heck, huh?

That's how I came to be a scooter rider in the city.

Except for the Yamaha I rode in the parking lot, I hadn't been on a scooter for years. Even then, it was very limited rides on my son's Honda Spree. I just wasn't interested. Now I'm looking at it from a different perspective.

Of course, I had to take some ribbing when I was getting ready to leave. The owner of the dealership came out and told me he hoped I could handle this thing and all the power. I replied that if I got too scared I would call them to come get me. With a couple of more traded insults I was left to my fate.

First thing I noticed was this was much smaller than the Yamaha. On that bike I could sort of put my feet forward. I took off out of the parking lot on the Schwinn, which is only 69.9 inches long overall. Where the hell do I put my feet on this thing? The floorboards were right under my knees. When I put my feet there I noticed two things real quick like. One, if I put my feet together on the floor boards, the soles of my boots were almost touching each other. I felt like I was trying to balance on a small fence rail. Both front and rear tires are 3.5-10's. Tiny little things. The more I spread my feet the better the balance felt. I finally got used to the balance thing.

The second thing I noticed right away took a little longer to adjust to. Since I was just riding in town I decided to leave the Roadcrafter pants in Sophie's saddlebag. I know, it was a calculated risk but that's how it went down. Even with just new jeans to contend with, putting my feet that close together caused an uncomfortable squishing sensation in a sensitive area, if you get my drift! This scooter is small with a capital "S"! So here I am, sitting kind of weirdly on a hard seat, precariously balanced, ready for the adventure to come.

Within a block or so everything settles in and sorts itself out. The next revelation comes three blocks later at the first stop light encounter. I'm sitting on this little scooter in my full-face helmet with racer graphics. The Hi-Viz 'stich is resplendant in the mid-morning sunshine. We are the very picture of a serious rider. Sitting on a small Schwinn dark grey scooter. Up next to me comes a man in a very large Suburban SUV. His window is open. He looks to his left and right at me. This is when I found out I had a little esteem issue.

I'm sort of ashamed to relate it, but it's the truth. My first thought was to say something to this SUV driver like, "Hey, I'm just playing with this thing, OK?"

That was really the only time I felt that. I don't know where it came from, but it was interesting to see that it popped up. Mr. Suburban driver and I just exchanged greetings and went our own ways. In the opposite vein, I came up behind a Toyota Prius Hybrid. These things are supposed to get such great mileage. It really depends on where you drive one. The real fuel savings come in town when the car runs off the electric motor. Out on the freeway they run on internal combustion just like every other car.

Anyway, coming up behind this car, I thought to myself how the Prius driver and I could sort of relate. After all, this scooter is supposed to get 87 miles per gallon. Scooter riders are treading very lightly on this planet. Big tip of the helmet to all of you!

This particular scooter doesn't feel like it has much torque. The single cylinder engine has a distinctly tractor-like rattle. I've noticed the same thing riding a BMW F650 Dakar. Even so, we could still beat cars off the light. We looked real good for a while. Until about 20 mph, that is. After that it leveled off but still seemed willing to buzz along at 35 or 40 easily enough. It felt like I was looking down at my lap to see the speedometer. I noticed that the scooter only had three miles on it when I started out. The little thing probably felt like a horse with a rider it knows isn't too experienced.

"Oh Brother, where did THIS guy come from?"

Somewhere along the way it seemed like a good time to go have coffee. I searched my mind for a place that would fit in with the theme of new experiences. My brain rapidly flipped its mental file cards and came up with The Coffee House. This doesn't seem too remarkable until you know more about this place. I usually avoid it. I'm a Redneck Cowboy Warrior. The usual clientele of The Coffee House is as polar opposite as you can get. Most of the folks hanging out there have dreadlocks, multiple piercings, weird clothes, and so on. What's really strange is that a number of these people are older guys. In for a penny, in for a pound, I figured.

Just around the corner was a place with motorcycle-only parking. The Schwinn only weighs a little over two hundred pounds. Being a former bodybuilder, I was tempted to just throw the scooter over my shoulder and take it with me. However, the sign on the door said NO PETS so I had to leave the little beast there! I got some coffee and a chocolate chip scone ( I said FORMER bodybuilder ) from a little gal with a ring in her nose and tattoo's all up and down both arms.

The rest of the day with the scooter went well. It only took a little while to adjust to having no clutch. Habits become so ingrained that I automatically squeezed with both hands while coming to a stop. The front brake lever is on the left where the clutch would be. ( just in case you aren't familiar with scooters ) The rear brake is activated by a lever on the right handlebar. On this particular bike, the front brake is a disc while the rear is a drum. Fortunately, I've deeply ingrained the "smooth" habit so when I squeezed what my brain said was the clutch it didn't cause a problem.

I laughed at myself several times as I took off from a stop. My left hand slowly eased off the lever while my right hand rolled on the throttle. There's no clutch, dude! Partway through the day my reflexes adjusted. We'd slow down by just letting engine compression do its thing. It was weird to just sit at a stop with neither hand having to squeeze a lever. I'm sure that if I added a scooter to the fleet my body would adjust like it does to the other bikes.

You knew this next thing was coming, didn't you? I went over to the college where we teach classes and played as best I could between the parked cars. I'm pretty sure now that those of my students who have troubles in slow speed manuevers do so because they're afraid to let the scooter lean. This little scooter is extremely agile. It drove home to me that I shouldn't encourage my scooter-mounted students to push very hard to countersteer. I'd be willing to bet that a small scooter like this would tuck under pretty easily if the rider were too aggressive!

All too soon play time was over and it was time to go get Sophie. I came away with more understanding of this scooter thing. Katie can't believe I'm even considering one. I'm not sure how much it would get used. 95 percent of my riding is covering long distances. Right now I just can't see riding a scooter for 90 miles worth of Interstate 5. I don't really take many short hops like the scooter would be ideal for. Although, if I had one I'm sure I would find excuses to ride it. Gary's suggestion of a 250cc sport model seems sound. The process of finding the right one will be an adventure all its own, I'm sure!

Miles and smiles,

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Run-in with "The Law"!

I'm sitting in traffic right behind a flatbed truck. There's no cargo on the trailer. From my vantage point the rear of the trailer is huge. The empty expanse of wood and chrome seems to stretch before me clear to the horizon. I wish I had a camera mounted to my helmet that would take snapshots of what my eyes are beholding. It would make for some interesting perspectives. Eventually the flat plane ahead of me ends at an ugly brown cab. I can see the driver through the window in the back. There is no sleeper on this truck.

I've had plenty of time to absorb the details of the truck. It's been three light changes and we're still sitting. We're at the confluence of two small roads that carry vehicles in lines like ant trails. It's the state's Capital at 9 AM. The truck and I are facing North at a stop light. Just to the East of us, blocking the road, is a train. Yellow and black markings on the locomotive have seen better days. If the engineer would just use the "reverse" function for a few seconds we could clear the bottleneck. It's not to be, now or anytime soon, it appears. Mr. Flatbed truck driver needs to turn right but cars are filling the small space leading up to the parked train. Looks like Sophie and I, plus all the drivers behind us are just going to have to sit and enjoy the morning for a while. By law, the trains can't block a road for more than fifteen minutes. I think the train people flaunt the law on a pretty regular basis.

Off to my left I see an equally long line waiting to go if ever the train leaves. There's no hope of passing to the left of the truck. Many drivers decide to turn right and head South on the street I'm facing North on. Which means they're coming in a steady stream towards me. Some of the traffic facing us at the light is able to proceed, as well. Might as well just settle in. At least it's not raining. Clouds are supposed to burn off later in the day but for now it's just sort of grey. So I shut off the motor, put the sidestand down, and wait. It's been a great three quarter hour ride from home so far. I could cool my tires a while.

Suddenly, there's some movement from the truck. In getting ready to turn right, the truck has moved far left. The cab is pointed to the right. Now I see the truck move forward and the cab come into a straight line with the trailer. The driver looks back at me and motions me around to the right. There's a bike lane on the side of the street. Not being one to turn my back on good fortune, I wave back, fire the engine, and straddle walk up beside the truck. Our light is green so I pause, then head off when it's clear. Happy ending, right?

In my mirrors I see a police bike coming rapidly up the bike lane I had just used to go around the truck. The street I'm on curves left to another stoplight. I'm just rounding the bend when I see the lights of the bike come on in back of me a ways. At the same time I hear the siren start its Banshee wail. Thinking the cop's responding "code" to a call, I don't worry. I guess I should have.

Waiting at the light to make a right turn, I see the cop on the BMW stop behind me. He finally kills the siren but the lights are still flashing their red/blue tango. I turn the corner and pull into the bike lane with the cop behind me. First thing out of the cop's mouth is:

"Two things. One, the bike lane isn't a passing lane. Two, you passed a vehicle on the right that was turning right. Both are really bad and the kinds of things that get motorcyclists hurt and killed!"

Now, I'm wearing my vest from our motorcycle safety program. I have full gear. Obviously, this guy didn't see the whole sequence of events. On top of that, I'm thinking the siren and the bristling posture are over the top. The needle on my Attitude Indicator Dial takes a decided swing toward Negative with a touch of Combative.

I know, I know. Sometimes you just have to keep your mouth shut and take certain things. A stint in the Military and some years in law enforcement ( which is quasi-military ) has taught me that pretty well. As far as I'm concerned, though, this cop's my peer. I've been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Literally. The only difference is that I no longer have the power of arrest. He's talking to a guy who spends almost every weekend between the first of February and the the end of November teaching rider safety. Not to mention that I'm certified to teach riding and street skills to MOTOR COPS! I'm sorry, but I really resent his approach.

"So what you're telling me is that you did the very same thing I did, although a lot more quickly, to come pull me over?", I fire off.

"I had lights", he says. I reply; "I watched you in the mirror and the lights didn't illuminate until AFTER you went through the intersection. The truck driver knew I was there and made room for me." I know I wasn't helping my cause any. I just prefer to be wounded while fighting as opposed to remaining unharmed by cowering. They say discretion is the better part of valor. Try telling that to my cowboy blood.

The officer didn't reply to me. He just asked me if I had my driver's license with me. I told him I would have to reach deep into a back pocket for it. "Don't get all nervous on me while I go for it", I say. I figure anytime a cop pulls someone over with a siren a lot of nerve endings have to be tingling. At this point I hadn't removed my helmet, my gloves, or my black Ray-Ban sunglasses. I'd worn them because I knew the sun would come out at any time and didn't want to have to pull over just to put them on. I dismounted the bike, pulled my gloves off and fished for my wallet. At some point the cop finally softened. Barely. He asked if the bike was registered to me. I told him yes, and I had the registration handy. He said he wouldn't need it. Officer Uptight asked me who my insurance company was. I told him who it was and said I had the card handy, too. He said he didn't need it. By the way, he already had the ticket book in his hand.

I ended up with a ticket for "Unsafe Passing on the Right". I guess ticketing is the best revenge. Bail is $242.00. The cop spent a lot of time telling me how busy the court is and how I could save all the trouble by just sending in a check and a letter. He knows it's shaky. I'm going to show up and plead "Not Guilty". The only thing I was guilty of was straddle walking up the bike path. The judge may or may not agree with me. I'm going to tell how "filtering" works so well in other places and it ought to be legal in Oregon, as well. We'll see. I hope the cop has to come to court on his day off.

The rest of the day was more fun. I played with a small scooter for a while while Sophie was being tended to in the shop. That was the reason for the trip in the first place. I'll tell you about that in the next post.

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cautious Creeper.

I have to add a postscript to my last post. Remember the pictures of my old PC and the Harley with the CX500 next to it? I ventured the thought that, although stereotypes aren't good, it seemed easy to tell the real commuter bikes.

Today I have to eat my words. The rain has come in. This morning it was dark, cold and foggy when I left. I ended up back in the Capitol mid-morning. Guess what? The Harley was the only bike there today. Both the CX and the PC were missing in action. Go figure.

Last night on the way home I cataloged another sub-species of the Idiot family. Undertaking this study has proved to be amusing. I'm really glad I started. It's changed my whole outlook on taking trips through the Idiot Jungle. I'm actually starting to look forward to making new discoveries and seeing bizarre manifestations of Idiot behaviour!

This particular sub-species is called "I'm talking on a cell phone, have no ability to multi-task, so I'm cautiously creeping along". You know how scientific names are. They aren't real unless they're really long. For everyday reference we'll just call them Cautious Creepers. This example was wrapped in the skin markings of a gold colored Lexus SUV. Upon further examination a middle-aged male specimen was revealed. On the cell phone, of course. Hence the mention in the scientific name. Funny how that all works, isn't it? The old spouters of Latin had nothing on us, did they?

Any good scientific research project starts with questions. I've always heard that it was ok to err on the side of caution. Personally, I've never practiced it, but that's what people say, anyway. Would it be possible to be too cautious? Thanks to my research I can now say positively that being too cautious can be hazardous to one's health.

I came upon this subject in the midst of town traffic. Our town has a population of around 45,000. This doesn't count those who come in to work and shop from rural areas. My attention was first drawn by frequently flashing brake lights. I briefly considered that this was some sort of mating ritual. Nature is full of these displays. Firefly illuminations, peacock feathers full of color, teen-agers who wear their pants below their rear-ends, the list is endless. As a mating ploy it had possibilities. Many vehicles almost had close encounters with the hindquarters of the Lexus. Until one decisive encounter which I will relate shortly. It was definitely not a mating encounter.

As a researcher I am tasked with remaining a casual observer. Besides, I just wasn't feeling the attraction. I maneuvered my trusty mare Sophie into a position where I could just watch what happened.

Having reached a point where I could see the Cautious Creeper's head, I soon realized that this was no mating display. This was prey desperately attempting to avoid being devoured. The furtive head movements from side to side revealed the deep need to spot potential predators as early as possible. The cell phone was taking what little cognitive powers were available in the first place. Somehow the cell phone was satisfying some primal need that made it impossible for the Cautious Creeper to put it down. All that was left was to keep the head wildly swinging and the brake foot stomping.

Stomp it did. At every intersection the foot stomped and the brake lights flashed. Since conditions seemed to preclude the successful accomplishment of a speedy escape, the only conclusion I could draw was that the primary defense of this creature is to stop and play dead. I'm sure that them was being emphasized by the first three letters of the license plate. They were "ZZZ". Stop and act like one is snoozing, I guess. Being careful is a good thing. Being paranoid about what's coming to the exclusion of what's behind is not.

After identifying the creature, I had adopted a position of observation. Ok, I had actually passed it long ago and stopped for gas. There is a stoplight near the fuel station. I saw the Cautious Creeper come to the light, still swinging his head. The light flickered from green to yellow. A foot in a gold Lexus SUV stomped the brake. The Cautious Creeper stopped abruptly. Another sub-species, the "I'm preening myself by my reflection in your shiny bumper bird" or Bumper Bird for short, did not stop.

Preening must demand one hundred percent concentration. Or how else would this female have missed the Cautious Creeper and his amorous / defensive brake light displays? It will take further study, I'm sure. All the more ammunition for further grant applications.

Both the gold Lexus of the Cautious Creeper and the red Chevy Nova sedan of the Bumper Bird suffered damage. The ponderous low speed of C.C. was more than made up for by the flitting velocity of B.B. ( I got tired of typing the names so many times ) I decided my research period was over. It had been a tiring day of work followed by field research. Let the creatures fend for themselves. A warm house, a hot woman, and a shot of whiskey were calling my name.

The Idiot population is flourishing. There will be plenty of opportunity for research later. Unfortunately, they aren't going anywhere soon!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Winding down.

Friday turned out to be one of the last nice days. By that I mean a day with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures around 77 degrees (f). The long term weather forecast is calling for temperatures back into the sixties. The good news is that there's more dry weather than wet predicted for the rest of October. Clouds are staking their claim on at least half the skies right now. I taught this weekend and got absolutely soaked on Sunday. At least it tried, but my Darien jacket and pants kept me cozy. Nothing gets through that Darien jacket and liner.

With the clear skies came cold nights. Last week the mercury dipped into the mid-30's during the dark times. The cold lasts until about 2 PM. There's a brief period of warm and then the sun starts to go down. I like cold, crisp weather. I just miss my pants right now. The Roadcrafter pants are on their way back from Aerostich and should be here by Thursday. Hours on the road had taken their toll. A zipper was broken, some hook-and-loop was getting worn, a snap was pulled out, there was a hole in one pocket liner, and some stitching was getting stretched. It was time to send the pants home for a rejuvenating visit. Interestingly, the repairs only totalled $70.00. How can you go wrong with gear like this? It's a little more expensive up front but lasts forever. I'm truly convinced that Andy makes some of the best gear in the world.

Being without the Roadcrafter pants made me pull out the Dariens. These are just as tough as the Roadcrafters but there's a huge difference in the insulating factor. The first morning I took off with the Dariens I thought I was going to freeze my Royal Rastafarian nay-nays off! I think the onset of the cold weather has stopped the flow of bike commuters, too. There's a sudden drop in how many bikes I see. Oh sure, they're out there on the sunny afternoons! Where are they when it's cold and dark?

Friday brought the prospect of visiting distributors. Taking the bike sort of makes for different conversation material. As in, "Are you crazy?" Like the revered Mr. Honda claimed, "If you've never experienced it, I can't explain it. If you have experienced it, no explanation is required."

During the summer I posted a picture of this motorcycle-only parking area. It was full of bikes. Now there were three. This was taken about 1:45 PM so it should have been between lunches and going home. Quite the difference, isn't it?

When I pass through Salem I travel this street fairly often. It's a major North-South artery. This BMW is usually parked there. I know it's not good to perpetuate stereotypes. On the other hand, you'd expect a Beemer rider to be more hardy, wouldn't you? We'll see what Winter brings.

Speaking of the "judge a book by its cover" thing, I've seen a sudden increase lately in the number of 1980's vintage standard bikes like the Suzuki GS series. It's amazing how many have milk crates strapped to the passenger seat. I think it's pretty fair to say that these are being used a lot more for utility than sport. If gas prices keep rising, it will be interesting to see how many more of these type of bikes show up next summer.

In the vein of gas savings, it seems like everywhere I look I see these scooters.

They're a little Honda. Most have some sort of box on the back. Maybe I never really paid attention before, I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm looking with more interest at scooters these days. Either way, suddenly there's all these little white ones all over the place. This is a close-up of the parking spot in the earlier photo. I didn't do it on purpose when I took the picture, but it sure shows a contrast, doesn't it? The small scooter and the touring bike. That's a Suzuki Cavalcade behind the scooter. The Suzuki's got to have a few years on it since I think they went out of production a long time ago.

Farther downtown I stopped to visit with one of my old bikes. I've had two Honda Pacific Coast motorcycles. The first one was a 1996. I was actully working my way up to something else when I got the first one.

This was the first brand new bike I ever bought. I paid cash so I didn't have to finance it. I had ridden one when they first came out in 1989, I think it was. The bikes were a sort of pearl white. I remember taking the demo model for a ride. The bike and I are waiting at a stop light. Two young gals, somewhere in the 16 to 18 year old range, were crossing in front of me. They both slowed to look more closely at the bike. One of them said "Rad bike, man!"

Yes, these bikes were different, for sure. I actually came to appreciate how versatile and capable this bike really was. The motor was from the Shadow 750 but slightly tweaked for a little more displacement. The valves were hydraulic so no adjustments were ever supposed to be needed. Storage space is underneath the seat. When you trip the release the whole back end of the seat and the top of the things that look like saddlebags come up. Just like a car trunk. That got sort of inconvenient after a while if you had a bag strapped to the passenger seat. I never really got fond of the brake rotor covers on the front, either.

Anyway, I had the bike a couple of years and put 26,000 miles on it. For whatever reason, the guy who owns it now wanted one badly. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse. So I sold it to him. He still works at the local paper. Since 1998 the bike has only had another 10,000 miles on it. Sometimes the wanting is better than the having, isn't it?

I took the money and bought a 1998 model. It was the same color but no longer had the rotor covers. In 2001 I sold this one to a doctor from Greenland for the same price I paid for it. Not bad for having gotten 38,000 miles out of it. My boys always gave me a bad time about the PC being a scooter on steroids. From the back it kind of looked like it. They also work as snowmobiles but that's a story for another day!

Also in front of the paper office were these two bikes. The front one is a fairly new looking Harley. Behind it is a bike that looks like a Goldwing. It's not, but it is a 'Wing. Well, sort of. Honda made a bike called a Silverwing. While that model is a scooter today, in the 80's it was a 500cc bike. The idea seemed to be to make a half-sized Goldwing. I had one for a while and really liked how smooth it was. The bike in the picture shares the same motor but is a CX500. More of a standard type of bike. This one has a frame mounted fairing with a sissy-bar / luggage rack set-up. At the risk of coming back to stereotypes, one sure looks more like the serious commuter, doesn't it?

All this looking at bikes and taking pictures made me hungry so I went for a sandwich at the other end of the block. This place has sort of a creepy past. It used to be a funeral home and mortuary. I've even been to a funeral there! Now it's a hacked together coffee house and bar.

I tried to ask about the name. It would be interesting to know if this was some sort of joke on the origin of the place. Are we supposed to think of "Ice Box" to remind us of bodies in cold storage?

I actually did pose the question. All I got in return was an unintelligible grunt. Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe it was the planned theme for the place. The only two people working seemed to be the cook and the waitress. I never saw the cook. Sounds coming from behind the scenes told me somebody was back there. The waitress looked like she was from some sort of horror flick. There's a name for that style, I've heard. What do they call it, "goth" or something? I call it just plain ass weird and morbid. Her face was deathly pale. There was black and heavy eye liner that made her look like a cross between a beating victim and Cleopatra. Her hair was shoe-polish black. Black was also the color scheme of her clothes. A leather vest bore what looked like ten pounds of metal rings and chains. Her stockings were ripped to the point that it was a wonder they even stayed up. At least I could identify with her boots. They looked like something a biker would wear. I tried to count the piercings I could see. I lost count. In contrast to the abundant piercings, she had absolutely no personality. I was surprised she could write to take my order.

It was tempting to just leave. I admit I did look around for the little certificates that the Health Department leaves after an inspection. There was one there dated recently that said the restaurant passed with no violations. It must have been food prep violations the certificates were talking about. Several good taste violations were certainly happening!

The only real rise I got out of the girl was when I pulled the camera out to take some pictures of the inside of the place. She loudly protested for reasons unkown and un-stated. Having not been served my sandwich yet, and leery of sandwich sabotage, I put the camera away. All's well that ended well. My sandwich was more than palatable. As of today I haven't gotten sick. The coffee was really good. On top of that, it was an adventure. What the heck, huh?

So that was my Friday. Being on a bike just seems to bring adventure and interesting things my way. That's one of the things I love about commuting on a bike. I'm a part of the world around me, not just an observer. Being liberated from the "cage" puts me in the mood to explore. People who don't cringe and run off scared come up to talk to me. Kids always wave. How cool is that? I'm enjoying these last nice days. Pretty soon it will be cold and wet. Not to mention lonelier as I see fewer bikes. Only the hardcore will be left as another season winds down. That's ok. Let the Winter adventures begin!

Miles and smiles,

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Where did they get their licenses?

Maybe you can tell from the picture that I have a strong suspicion! It reminds me of when I first took my exam for a motorcycle endorsement. The guy told me to just take off, return with five more miles on the odometer, and if I was still alive and undamaged when I got back I passed.

I swear half the drivers were tested the same way and most of those were lucky to have gotten back alive.

Mornings are getting a little more complicated now. Official sunrise doesn't happen until 7:20 AM these days. Which means I'm riding in the dark during most of the morning commute. What it really means is that the idiots are still out there but I just can't see them as well.

I'm going to have to move farther North before too long. If for no other reason, to avoid going to jail or getting killed. There's just too much time spent on the Super Slab. Just when I think I've seen it all and it can't get worse, it does. How can people be so stupid and selfish that they'll endanger themselves and everyone around them just to get one car length ahead? What part of riding four feet off someone's bumper seems like a good idea? Stuff like that makes me shudder. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm not man enough to understand how they do it.

These people must all be superhuman. As a mere mortal I obviously have no clue how these Gods live and think. I just know that there's no way I could smoke, drink coffee, talk on a cell phone, and still be able to competently drive a car. Is my anger due to my frustration at being farther down life's chain then they are? All I really know is that the middle finger of my left hand gets awfully light and wants to float up into the air. So far it's been controlled but the struggle is becoming more difficult with each passing day.

It's like a little sore on your hand. If it was just quietly ignored the wound would heal. Instead, though, it gets picked at every day. Pretty soon it's so dang sensitive that it drives you crazy. I'm getting there. My crystal ball is showing an assault somewhere in the future. That would not be good, I'm pretty sure.

Fortunately, I have a working brain. I can control how I perceive things. I am choosing to avoid that pathway. I am changing the context of the story. No longer am I a commuter forced to share the freeway with inattentive and less than competent drivers. No, I am now a Researcher. Remember people like Jane Goodall? She voluntarily inserted herself into the habitat of the apes to study them. In the same vein, I am voluntarily inserting myself into the native Idiot habitat in the name of research. I want to know to what depths these creatures will sink. I want to know if there are limits to the stupidity that can be shown. My hypothesis is that there is a limit but finding it may take years. By the time I find it I may have become extremely nauseated. Nonetheless, I will bravely undertake the task.

Out of this will come entertaining stories, I'm sure. I will keep a log of my observed activity. I will create classifications of behaviour. Most Reckless, Most Inattentive, Most Just Plain Stupid, and so on. It will give my commuting life new purpose and may actually become fun. Each year I will tally the results and create awards in each category. If you all observe examples that will contribute to my research, please feel free to share them. We may never understand the native Idiots completely, I'm sure. Yet research we must.

Here is an observation from this morning. It will be the first official entry into my logbook.

The Highway Department has created The Most Dangerous Stretch of I-5 anywhere. There may be some master plan but for now it is dangerous terrain. Heavy traffic going to and passing through the State Capitol passes through this stretch. It is now reduced to two narrow lanes defined on each side by huge concrete barriers. I call it the Canyon of Doom. You see, a very busy road that leads to the freeway enters in the Canyon. Picture heavy traffic on the freeway squeezed into a bottleneck. Picture hordes of impatient Idiots wanting to join the traffic flow in this bottleneck. Picture the joke the Traffic Gods must have felt they were pulling off when they made the entrance ramp extremely short. Get the idea?

I travel in the left lane but am not immune from danger. Much of the road is grooved, covered with steel plates and patches, and is very uneven. The little rubber bases of the pylons somehow end up scattered all over the freeway. Much of my attention goes towards searching out the next road condition surprise in store for me. So it won't actually be a surprise, just a challenge. As I pass the on-ramp I observe a woman in a blue-grey BMW 5 series car attempting to merge. It appears that she has picked her gap in traffic. I know that her car has the horsepower to successfully pull off the manuever. She's getting closer to the end of the ramp. Just a little more pressure on the "Go" peddle will do it. It's a big truck coming up, true. Just remember who has the best power to weight ratio and go for it.

The woman snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Brake lights suddenly brightly illuminate and the BMW comes to a dead stop. That's right. Just like a boulder in quicksand her car stops all forward motion. She's the only one not moving. Cars start diving everywhere. It's like tearing the top off an ant hill. Things scurrying in all directions. Thank goodness nobody hit anyone else despite some pretty close calls. I was past her when she slammed on the brakes so most of what I saw was in the mirrors.

I'm not sure how she got underway again. I just know she did. I-5 passes through Salem. The speed limit's reduced and the County watches it fairly regularly. I try to be good most days. The woman passes me. Not a lot faster, just enough to go by. I can't resist. She deserves some reward for her performance. I was vastly entertained. Taking my cue from that, I pull just slightly forward of her. I honk the horn and look at her. The face turns toward me. Blank expression on a pleasant middle-aged face. I take both hands off the handlebars and applaud. That's why I got slightly ahead. You know what happens to your speed when you take your hand off the throttle, don't you? I expected at least a smile but got nothing in return. She just looked ahead again and ignored me. There wasn't even a hint of sheepishness. Does she realize that this isn't normal driving practice?

My first day as a researcher has been rewarding. I hadn't dared hope to bag something so extraordinary on my first journey. Now I contemplate what caused this strange behaviour. Was it some bizzare mating ritual? Did she just get her left and right foot mixed up? So many questions and yet I can't wait for my next observation session!

Miles and smiles,
Dangerous Dan

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Anniversary ride.

warning: Those who have adverse reactions to "touchy-feely" stuff should change the channel.
The following post is laid upon a roadbed of sentiment. Some riders may have traction issues.

This isn't about a ride to work. It's more about what we go to work for in the first place. It's easy to get caught up in work, riding to work, motorcycling, blogging, and whatever else we do for entertainment and diversion. Still, the core of it all is family and friends. I enjoy my secular work but if I was single I'd probably be doing something a whole lot different. As it is, the decisions I make about employment ( and other things ) are always influenced by the effect on loved ones. It's ok. I like taking care of my special folks. Men and women all over the world share the same feelings.

I ride to work. The work takes care of those I call mine. The riding takes care of me. Works out just fine, thank you.

Like I wrote earlier, this weekend was our 29th anniversary. I'm proud of that. That's a lot of history together. Somehow we manage to relish the familiarity while finding adventure within that framework. I'm a wildman that needs a little settling and Katie's a shy country girl who craves adventure but needs a trusted partner to help her find it. Together we do better than each of us alone.

Friday night and Saturday brought the traditional stuff you'd expect. Candlelight dinners and romance. I did it because I wanted to. You see, she doesn't "demand" it. Katie "inspires" me. Same result but more fun for me! By the way, guys, I discovered a perfume that was new to me and was a big hit. One of my students was wearing this great fragrance. See, I told you that all I need to know in life I can learn from motorcycles! It's called Cashmere Mist. It has this great smell that sort of reminds me of baby powder. Not Wal-Mart priced but not bad as far as good perfumes go. Keep this idea in mind just in case you might have some reason to deflect trouble in the future.

So far, there's been no two-wheeling involved. Until Sunday. We decided to just take a day to kick back. You know, a lot of real love and friendship happens in the day to day moments and small events. Sunday was a day chosen to celebrate those kinds of things. That's how we found ourselves looking for something fun and simple to do. It was Katie who brought up the possibility of going for a ride. She likes being on the bike. Everyone knows how I feel about it. After making sure that Katie was suggesting it for her sake as much as mine, we started getting ready to go.

This time of year the preparations include checking the weather. Sunday was kind of a funny day. One moment it would be sunny with no clouds. Wait a little bit and the clouds have taken over. Now there's no sun to be seen. Back and forth it went but it appeared that the clouds were winning. The internet got called into play. I checked the website for the National Weather Guessers. Hmm. High of 69 degrees (f). No possibility of rain even mentioned. You should never trust these folks.

There were several classes going on around the Valley. This made for a good starting pattern. We would stop by to offer greetings to the instructors. I like to do this when I can. Everyone can use a little encouragement and I truly enjoy the company of many of them. The rest of the ride would consist of finding interesting ways to connect the dots.

At the first stop I encountered Kyle. He's a college kid with a heart of gold. I noticed that his usual VFR wasn't there. Instead, there was a brand new Yamaha FJR 1300. After I made sure he actually got one with a real clutch, Kyle showed me that the key was in his pocket and was going to stay there. Jeez, I don't scrape pegs EVERY time I ride! What was he thinking? Just because he let me ride his VFR at the track doesn't mean I'd ride his FJR like that on the street!

So the day went. Later in the afternoon I felt something sting my face. I had the visor of the helmet up some for fresh air. The stinging sensations got closer together. It wasn't bugs, it was rain. Small, scattered drops turned into real rain. It had been a fair spell since the last rain. We were on a road that follows a river and is full of great curves. Traction started getting a little dicey. Time to throttle back and take it easy.

I turned around to ask Katie if she wanted to just head home. She told me she'd ridden in rain before and let's just go for it. By now it was late enough that there weren't any more classes to visit. Besides, that whole "braving the elements because I knew I could find sanctuary" thing was buzzing around in my skull. Thanks a lot, Steve, for making this gearhead think about philosophical things! On the other hand, what a great justification for heading to Starbucks!

Just so you know, I don't go to Starbucks because it's trendy. I started going to one that was a lone outpost before the burst of new stores. Many, many, many years ago. Now it's getting way too busy for a loner like me. Today we had to go because Katie likes their cinnamon scones. This particular store happens to be in a mall.

I always find amusement in the reaction of folks to us walking down a mall hallway in our riding gear and holding helmets in our hands. Most move out of the way without meeting my gaze. It would be interesting to do a whole blog post on how people perceive and react to different types of riders, wouldn't it?

We had our coffee and watched the world go by in a different way than we see on the bike. Soon it was time to saddle up and head for home. The roads were still wet but the actual rain had stopped. I know this great back road with more twisties. This road is good for wet days. The curves are mostly sweepers and not the tight kind. Even on sunny days a rider needs to keep the speeds down somewhat. A lot of the curves are blind. I know that when I'm running the road from North to South all the blind corners go to my right. That still doesn't help with knowing what surprises lie around the bend. Best to just take it easy and live to play another day.

At the end of the road is a small place that looks pieced together from everyone else's discards. There's a small trailer house with a fence built of everything imaginable. Indistinguishable things lurk in the tall grass. Two or three Emu's are usually scratching around one section of the yard. This day there were two chicks. I say chicks but they were the size of hens already. What do people do with Emu's? Do they eat them?

Once we were home it was time to order a pizza and snuggle in to watch Sunday Night Football. San Diego defeated the defending Super Bowl champs, the Steelers. Big Ben didn't play too badly for someone who did a face plant off a Hayabusa. I did notice that his full beard was gone, though. Did they have to shave his face to fix it? Katie likes football, too. How can you go wrong with a gal like that?

I felt kind of bad about the ride. You know, with the rain and all. I made a comment that I knew it wasn't very romantic to take her for a ride in the rain on our anniversary. Her reply was that any husband could do the "mushy" stuff. Not many could offer adventure and excitement on top of everything else. The funny thing is that I think she really meant it. Am I lucky or what?

Consider this post as a sort of reminder. We ride to be different from the masses. We ride for adventure, sport, conquest, and many other reasons. It's a great thing to be dashing and daring. It's an even better thing to love and be loved. Riding to work provides many great and fun adventures. Just remember who we keep going to work for and let it guide you.

Miles and smiles,

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Some good news and some fun.

Yesterday was Katie's birthday and tomorrow is our 29th anniversary. However, in between times, I am making a little time to post a blog entry. Got to keep your priorities, right? Am I first and foremost a husband or a motorcyclist? That sounds like a funny question but riding is that much a part of me. It's who I am, it's what I do. I came across this and wanted to share it with you.

It seems like we motorcyclists, especially those of us who commute, are in a Rodney Dangerfield situation. We don't ever get no respect, you know?

Most people think it's deserved. Like any other avenue of life, there's a few idiots who get all the publicity. I really hate the sensationalism of the bleeding heart liberal press. They've all got an agenda. So the bottom of the gene pool gets the attention while thousands of us who are responsible barely rate a whisper. The good news is that there are folks and organizations who are looking after us in meaningful ways.

The following information is from the October issue of Motorcycle Consumer News. I subscribe to a lot of bike magazines and pull from each what is useful and entertaining to me. So Dave, I'm giving you credit for the information to follow. ( Dave Searle is the editor )

Under the heading of "State laws get tougher on motorists who kill riders":

A bill including "Clutch's Law" was signed by Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and will go into effect Jan. 1. Clutch's Law is named in memory of John Michael "Clutch" Clubine who was killed by an inattentive driver. The Missouri law increases penalties for right-of-way violations that result in injury or death of other road users to $1000 in fines and a license suspension of up to 180 days.

In Iowa, motorcycle and bicycle awareness is now part of Iowa driver education, thanks to ABATE of Iowa and the sponsorship of state Sen. Keith Kreiman. Also, similar to Missouri, penalties have been increased for motor vehicle violations resulting in the serious injury or death of a motorcyclist or bicyclist. The new law took effect July 1.

The laws passed in Missouri and Iowa were supported by the American Motorcyclist Association's Justice for All campaign. Other states that have also passed similar legislation this year are: Louisiana, Wisconsin, Georgia, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Iowa, and West Virginia.

The Tennessee CMT/ABATE group was awarded a $75,000 grant from the state's Department of Safety to implement the "Save a Life" campaign that targets driver education classes in selected high schools throughout the state. The grant enables the group to purchase equipment, produce videos and train volunteers.

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It's a fine thing to see legislation being passed but it's not a magic bullet. I support the American Motorcyclist Association monetarily to help them do what they do to help riders. I've always held the philosophy that you can't legislate morality or intelligence, though. Punitive measures are great but don't help the rider in the first place. ( or their families, for that matter ) I support making drivers more aware of motorcycles because there's a better chance of getting them to look for us when making traffic decisions. Still, who's ultimately responsible for what happens to us out there?

That would be "US". My first advice would be to keep physical and mental skills sharp. Use peer pressure to get the "less than smart" riders to take training and act more responsibly. I know I keep pushing training. I know it's not a "cure-all". But why is that guys think just because they have certain, er, "plumbing" that they automatically know all there is to know about riding a motorcycle? I hate to say it but I sort of fit into that category many years ago.

In 1987 I was the Road Captain of a motorcycle group. I planned the rides, etc. One day a spokesman for the state's motorcycle safety program came to our breakfast meeting. He encouraged us to take the MSF's Experienced Rider Course. You can imagine the reaction. Here we were, a bunch of macho law enforcement guys, having ridden for a lot of years, being urged to take training. "We don't need no stinkin' training!" Somehow two of us ended up going anyway. Guess what?

We didn't know half of what we thought we knew. Larry fell down coming to class because he tried to duck under the ribbons marking off the range. Caught the darn things on the sissy bar of his Suzuki XS 850 and fell right down. This guy was a Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant! On top of it all, I didn't know what I didn't know. The experience gave me new skills I had never owned before. More importantly, it opened my eyes to the fact that I had a lot to learn. That's why I became an instructor. I wanted to spread the gospel.

Not to sound boastful, but I'm a professional trainer. The more I delve into the subject the more I find there is to learn. If you think you know a lot, let's sit down and have coffee. We'll see how brightly the light shines. Knowledge is power. The power to save our asses. Literally. Managing traffic is one thing. How a bike responds in a corner is another thing. Understanding the dynamics of a bike's chassis at high speeds can help us make good decisions. Right after we made a bad decision that put us in this spot in the first place. I've come home and told Katie that I made an incredibly stupid mistake and saved myself by my incredibly honed skills. That happens to all of us.

I know I sound intense. Taking care of riders is a passion for me. It all starts with professional training. It lights the fires of awareness that drives us to seek more knowledge and skill. That's why I push it. Ultimately our long-term health as a group of riders begins with what we do as individuals. Friends don't let friends ride ignorantly. Help me and fellow instructors take care of "US".

Here's some fun to top things off with. This is still from the same issue of MCN.


According to The Malibu Times, in early August Malibu residents Zack Howard, 24, and Robert Krafft, 27, drove to the Honda dealership in nearby Thousand Oaks, parked in front and walked in. Howard then sat on a dirt bike and rolled it out a door held open by Krafft. They proceeded to load it into their broad daylight and in front of customers and employees who not only noticed but ran out after the pair.

Employees were able to wrest the motorcycle from the vehicle and Howard and Krafft then sped away. But not before witnesses wrote down their license plate number. Ventura County Sheriff deputies then contacted the pair at their homes. Both turned themselves in and were charged with vehicle theft. But, in between the failed theft and the booking, apparently the two repented their actions and called the dealership offering to bring in beer and quesadillas if they'd let bygones be bygones.

The offer was not accepted. To quote Sheriff's detective Eric Buschow, "It's not the smartest crime I've seen." Ya think?

My note: Takes all kinds, don't it?

Miles and smiles

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Barge pilot.

This isn't about riding to work. It's about what it feels like like to have to drive a tank when you'd rather be on a bike. It also seems like a memo went out that proclaimed it "matching scooter day".

Circumstances dictated that I drive a car for work. I have a 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass. It's for sale, by the way. It was purchased for sort of a "knock around" car. This thing was built before all the cars started looking like jelly beans. The Olds Cutlass is the same as the Buick Century. It's big and comfortable. Did I mention that it's big?

Part of my job involves troubleshooting. I have to determine if the problem is due to a factory defect or improper installation. Then I take the appropriate next step. I'm not really supposed to be a service and repair person. Sometimes I do it anyway. It just makes sense that if I'm already there and the problem can be fixed with a little time spent, why not? I've always hated what I call the "K-Mart" mentality.

If I go ask someone to show me where something is, I usually get told that "it's not my department". They tell me to go ask somebody else. Nine times out of ten they won't even go with me to find the right person to ask. I think it really sucks to do business like that. Isn't customer service supposed to be the primary goal? By the way, I quit going to K-Mart willingly years ago. Katie drags me in there sometimes because her vitamins are cheaper. The things we do to keep sleeping with an attractive woman, huh?

So if I'm there and can fix the problem without a major tear-down, I do it. I keep my boss happy by filling out a form and billing $85.00 per hour to somebody else.

What this is all leading up to is that I ventured to "The Big City" in the Olds because it was all I had available that I could fit a 4 foot step ladder into without messing up upholstery. The ladder fits great sideways in the trunk. It really looks dorky strapped across the back of a bike. Makes negotiating traffic a little more difficult as well.

While I'm up there I decide I should make the trip more efficient by making some calls. That's how I found myself in big city traffic in a car that feels like a barge. The whole day felt like I was piloting a barge in tight quarters. You don't realize how accustomed to piloting a small vehicle like a bike through traffic You become until you drive something much bigger.

It felt like there was barely any space between me and the cars in the lanes next to me. Miss a turn and need to get over? Hope Katie packed me a lunch. Could be a while. Parking? Damn, how much room does this thing need, anyway? Expense? The lad who minds the parking garage I use often lets me put the bike next to his shack for free. Right next to his, you know? What do you mean I have to go seven floors up and pay three dollars per hour? Crap, am I going to scrape the front bumper in this tight spiral ramp that takes me back down?

That brings me to the matching scooter thing. I saw three sets of matching scooters parked here and there. I swear I tried to get pictures of all of them. Those little suckers are as mobile as flies. Unlike me in the Olds who felt like an aging buzzard ponderously flapping to get moving. By the time I could find a place to safely park the car and get back the scooters were gone. Except for this set. I finally got smart. When I drove by the first time I threw salt on the rear fenders so they couldn't fly away. Why are you laughing? Haven't you ever done that to a bird?

So that was my day. The best day on four wheels is still far, far behind the worst day on two wheels. There's still an hour of sunlight left. Gotta go ride and shake off the claustrophic feelings!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, October 02, 2006

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
( who will guard the guardians? )

I just have to tell you what I saw on the freeway today. Integrity seems to have gone right down the old flushing toilet these days.

Morning commuter traffic. I'm passing a dark green small Chevrolet. Just a few miles an hour faster than their pace. Plenty of time to scope out the driver. The woman's actually pretty attractive. She's of a petite build. Long black hair looks freshly washed and shines. My guess as to her race is East Indian.

My opinion of her soon plummeted. The young woman was eating cereal from a bowl. I can only figure that she's steering with her knees. Both hands are busy feeding her face. The cereal had better be Lucky Charms because she's going to need them!

Wait, you haven't heard the best ( or worst ) part yet. She had yellow lettering on the car. Guess what they proclaimed? This is a Driver's Education car!

I'm sorry but this disgusts me so much I wanted to run her off the road and read her the riot act. That might have been hard on the bike but we would have managed. Is it just me or are people selling out their values more these days? It used to be that people actually lived what they professed. The Sheriff I used to work for always preached that we should live in glass houses. When we hire new instructors we stress that they also take on the responsibility to set a good example in their motorcycle gear and riding.

Here's someone who I presume is actually a driver's ed teacher. Even if she isn't she's in a car that has "Driver Education" written all over it. Does she not care what she teaches or does she lead a double life? Either way stinks. Can't you just see one of her students riding with Mom or Dad and seeing her eating cereal? What happens to credibility? If admonitions to concentrate on your driving are found to be contradicted by her behaviour, what other things will they now question?

I managed to commit the website, phone number, and plate until I could get somewhere and write them down. I will be pursuing this matter. Call me anal and intense, but I feel cheapened. I'm a fellow educator in vehicle safety. It brings us all down.

Take care out there. You're sharing the road with some real losers. Be careful and ride proud.

Miles and smiles,

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Skating out of painting.

There's another class going on this weekend. We have some new instructors who are still trying to get signed off from apprenticeship. Time's running out so I've been making myself available for training. As of Saturday it has been 26 days without a day off. I have next weekend off. By the time Friday night rolls around I'll have 32 days straight.

I actually have to take next weekend off. Not that I won't be glad for the rest. It's just that next Sunday will be will be our 29th anniversary. Don't know how she's put up with this bike nut for so long. I think it's the old "ladies love outlaws" thing. Hey, I even have a black cowboy hat. When I have the beard and I'm wearing the hat with sunglasses Katie says I look like Hank Williams Jr. I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult. A lot of people do stare my way for a while, I have to admit.

Katie's got this inspiration to paint the other two bedrooms in our house. There's some wall patching required due to the normal wear of raising boys. Time fades paint but you never really notice because it happens gradually. It just crossed my mind that our riding suffers the same fate. Think of it. We age gradually. Our reactions, physical strength, eyesight, and any other thing you can think of fades. It just does it so slowly that we never really see it. The day to day change is small. Looking at the picture on a year to year basis would probably scare us. We just need to be aware that it's happening and adjust accordingly. Our rider clinics are like a fresh coat of paint. I firmly believe that all riders should find a way to clean out the cobwebs and spruce up the skills on a semi-frequent basis.

Anyway, the plan was for me to come home Saturday and help paint. I got home about 2:30 PM. To tell you the truth, the last thing I wanted to do on a sunny afternoon was be inside sucking up paint fumes. There's not many of these nice days left, after all. I had to find a way to persuade Katie we should go ride. I've tried using the "puppydog eyes" thing. It just doesn't work for me. Picture a Doberman trying to look sweet. Ain't meant to be, folks. Another approach would be needed.

So I pulled the old "I'm feeling so guilty because I've been neglecting you, lately. All we've done is work. Let me take you to dinner. On the way we can enjoy the sun by taking a ride. Those bedroom walls will always be there but these nice afternoons are going to start becoming scarce."

Say what you will, it worked for me. We had a great time meandering back roads. It was time for a pit stop and so we took care of that in Brownsville. This little town still has the feel of it's history permeating the air. The Moyer house is a museum dedicated to one of the early inhabitants.

I know, I've got to work on the photos. I get in too much of a hurry. Like a lot of things, I shoot from the hip. If I had the patience of Steve things would turn out better. I guess I'm still a soldier at heart. Gun and run.

Anyway, here's the house. John Moyer came to Brownsville in 1852. He and a friend were in their early twenties. Both got jobs building houses. John started a sawmill. Timber was plentiful and folks were coming out and needed buildings. In 1888, after realizing quite a bit of financial success, John built this elaborate house. Italian marble graced the floors. All the wood was sawn at his mill. The windows had venetian type blinds with each slat being formed individually by John. It was quite a showpiece in it's day. Still is, actually. It just took on some different forms over the years. Towards the last of its private ownership it was actually being used as apartments. The Brownsville Historical Society and Linn County procured it for $7500.00 and restoration began.

John Moyer most likely never rode a bike. His spirit, however, would probably move him to be a rider if he were around today. You have to admire the men and women who came out West with very little to call their own. It would have been easy to stay with the crowds back East. Some had no choice in the matter, but most wanted to blaze their own trail. A lot like us motorcycle commuters, isn't it?

We ended up having a nice supper and a great ride. Most of all, I got out of painting!

Miles and smiles,