Friday, March 30, 2007

Think about ridin', not fallin'!

That darn horse did it again! This thing's got to be the Devil dressed in buckskin. The "Devil" I'm referring to is Bud, one of the biggest horses I've ever seen. One of the craftiest, too. Every effort I made to ride him ended up the same way. With my butt on the ground and the horse galloping back to the shade of the barn. I was almost ready to put the bridle and saddle on him. That would signal my defeat. I'd ride the horse but lose this battle of wills.

I'd been around horses since I was born. Now I was all of 11 years old. Around the pastures we'd always ridden the horses bareback. No bridles or saddles. Just a halter and leads. There was no way I'd give in to this horse. My stubborn streak started early in life, you can tell. Bud hadn't been with us long. By the time the picture above was taken, Bud had been well trained in the fine art of being a rodeo horse. That's him next to Grandpa on the right. For a matter of scale, Grandpa is 6'4". I've used the picture before but it seemed appropriate for you to see this evil equine creature again. For now, Bud was a young horse full of mischief. I'd soon set him right.

Rubbing my behind that had already endured three or four falls, I hobbled determinedly back toward the barn. Grabbing the leads I stared Bud in the eye. He stared back. The tension mounted. I gave the leads a sharp, hard, pull and vaulted onto his back over his lowered neck. This was something Grandma had taught me since I was nowhere near as tall as Grandpa. A saddle's got those convenient stirrups. Riding bareback meant I had nothing to give me a head start. It got to be a pain to have to try to get a horse next to something I could stand on to mount up. It appealed to my adventuresome child's spirit to imagine I was mounting up like some Indian warrior. I came by it honestly. Grandpa was a quarter Mohawk Indian.

Bud and I took off around the pasture. Again. I was worried about staying on but was doing ok so far. Then it happened. This Devil Horse had a tricky way of quickly shifting his weight from one front leg to the other and back. The skin on his shoulders seemed to be looser than normal. Wham!!! This time I was thrown onto my back and the wind was knocked out of my lungs. Struggling to breathe, I slowly got up. As I did, I heard this quiet laughter directed my way. I hadn't realized Grandpa had been in the barn and come out to watch. Now I was not only in pain, but I was also embarrassed. Grandpa was my hero. He was one of the most natural and gifted horsemen I've seen in my life. He'd also seen my crash. Grandpa dropped his cigarette butt into the dirt and snubbed it out with the toe of his worn out cowboy boot. The physical embodiment of the Marlboro Man who smoked Camels.

"Think about ridin', not fallin'!" he told me.

My embarrassment turned quickly into irritation. What was he talking about? Did Grandpa think I was trying to fall off on purpose? I know my frequent visits to the hard ground might lead one to believe otherwise, but I thought I was trying to ride that darn horse. That was the whole point of getting onto a horse in the first place, wasn't it? Good grief!

I liberated Bud from the halter. This wasn't over. It was just going to be continued another day. I avoided the situation for a few days. I remember sitting in my fifth grade class and thinking about what Grandpa had said. Miss Hiligoss was feverishly writing fact after fact about the Aztec empire on the overhead projector. My mind wandered. It finally dawned on me that Grandpa was right. I was so worried about falling off that I wasn't really thinking about riding. All my attention was centered on waiting for that next trick the horse was going to pull. I should have been concentrating on doing the things I knew how to do. In other words, using my developing riding skills in a positive way. Instead of thinking to myself:

"I hope I don't get bucked off this time", I should have been saying to myself:

"I know I can ride this horse".

The thought of falling off shouldn't have been on my mind at all. Things didn't magically change overnight, of course. I hit the ground a couple of more times but finally got Bud rode, as they say. This post isn't really about riding the horse. The story just sets the stage for a valuable lesson I still carry with me. Besides serving me well in life as a whole, it's also invaluable for those on two wheels.

"You go where you look, so be sure to be looking where you want to go".

This axiom even goes a little further than that. The flip side of the record would be to not spend much time looking where you don't want to go. That has a lot to do with how we look at and perceive risk.

I've been mulling over doing a post like this for a while, now. Several things have arisen that have made it seem like a good idea. One, for example, was a comment by Krysta. In her comment she was looking for input on "getting back on the horse" after she'd got a deputy all excited by telling him she'd just "killed Olga!" Despite the little nudges I just never quite got there. Then two things happened that pushed me off dead center. A blog post and a country song.

This is really important stuff to me. So I'm going to let it have as much space as it demands. Go use the restroom then get something hot to drink. I appreciate the investment of your time. I think you'll find it worthwhile.

The blog post was by Steve Williams on the Scooter in the Sticks blog. I'm a cowboy, not a computer whiz so I'm not putting one of those clever little links right here. The link to Steve's blog is on right of this page. Look for a post dated March 23 called "Thoughts on Risk and Personal Responsibility". If you haven't seen this post I'd urge you to go read it. What I see is an honest man taking an honest look at himself. The rider's proud of having beaten the elements but the accomplishment's tinged with a little chagrin at having attempted it in the first place. The comments both support and chastise Steve. Things that have concerned mankind since the beginning are touched on. Things like Risk versus Reward, and Personal Freedom versus Responsibility to Others. It's a powerful post. I wanted to offer some thoughts as a complement to the post before it got totally cold.

Tim McGraw has a song out called "The Cowboy in Me". Here's the words that stuck with me.

"We ride and never worry about the fall, must be the Cowboy in us all."

There's the essence of successful riding. It's another way of telling us to look where we want to go and not look too hard at where we don't want to go. It's a philosophy for coping with risk that I've held ever since my experience with Bud.

Riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car. We who ride know it to be a fact. Just in case we should ever forget, there's plenty of people out there only too willing to remind us. Where I find real humor is that a lot of these folks are comprised of what are increasingly becoming the "normal" driver. Can't you just picture someone in a cage, latte in one hand, cell phone in the other, cigarette dangling from a lip, and steering with God knows what? Whoever is on the other end of the phone line hears a comment about how a rider just passed them by in the pouring rain. Don't these people know that motorcycles are dangerous?

Risk and danger isn't limited to motorcycles, is it? As riders we figure we have the risks figured out and take measures to deal with them. We hone physical skills, sharpen mental skills, and buy nifty protective gear. Then we tell ourselves that we have it covered. We are now MANAGING RISK. We are now IN CONTROL. Let me tell you a little secret. That's one of those Jedi mind tricks we're playing on ourselves. In this case it's not a bad thing. I'm not saying we should have reckless disregard for consequences. As always, a rider should exercise reasonable prudence. What it comes back to is not spending too much time looking where we don't want to go.

The actual amount of control we can exert over our environment is frighteningly small. Our world is just too overwhelmingly complex. Even if I parked my motorcycle indefinitely, there's no guarantee I'll see summer. There's no guarantee I'll be around to put up the next blog post. Heck, it's entirely possible I won't make it home to see Katie tonight. I'm not being fatalistic. It just happens to be the bold truth about our existence. The key is what we do with this truth.

One of my favorite movies is Men in Black. There's a scene where Will Smith tells Tommie Lee Jones that the public needs to be aware that a battle cruiser is close to blasting the earth into dust. Tommie tells Will that there is always a battle cruiser or some other pending deadly disaster. The only way people can go on living their normal lives is if they don't know!

That's what we have to do with risk. Think of the alternatives. Spending too much time thinking about all the risks riders, and especially commuters, face is counterproductive. We could become so paralyzed with fear that we decide not to ride anymore. I'd hate to think about a life where I gave up riding and missed out on all the pleasures and personal growth I've experienced. The risk has a price, sure. The rewards have been priceless. What a shame it would be to have missed out because of fear. To me it's been more than a fair trade.

It's also possible we could still ride but freeze up at the wrong moments. I see this all the time with new riders. They do great during the class. As soon as I pick up the clipboard for the skill evaluation they freeze up. Now there's pressure. Now they fall apart. Think there's no pressure on the street? Fear causes a lot of crashes. A rider is afraid of running into a stalled truck, a guardrail, the side of the road they've gotten too close too, or a myriad of other things. Frozen by fear, the rider spends too much time looking at the thing they want to avoid. They worry about the fall. They let their minds get filled by the danger the situation presents. Guess where they end up? Yeah, you know. They crash hard. Ever notice how easy it is to sit at a desk and clinically look at something? Ever notice how it's entirely another thing to be actually facing the fear? In their minds, riders know what to do. Despite that, they crash anyway.

See the wisdom of thinking about the riding, not the falling? It's critical to look away from the danger and look towards where we want the bike to go. Look where you want to go. Easier said than done. A lot of the things that work to our good on a motorcycle are un-natural acts. So be it. Consider it an interesting and rewarding challenge. Since we have so little control as it is, make everything count.

I want to offer some comments directly related to Steve's post. Consider this a long comment!

Someone offered a thought that the more a person gets away with something, the less awareness they have of the risk itself. That's not an exact quote, of course, but I believe it expresses the gist of it. I agree with it. For example, someone who rides with little or no gear will likely get away with it for a long time. Sooner or later circumstances are bound to catch up with this individual. In the meantime, the attitude that "it will never happen to me" is reinforced.

I don't agree, however, that it can be applied to Steve. I'm going out on a limb here, Steve, because I'm expressing my own opinion of where you're coming from. It's not talking about you behind your back because I know you read this. I just feel it's important to make a statement here. If I'm all wrong please feel free to use the comment section to correct me. In fact, I would urge you to do so.

Being a Warrior, I plunge headlong into battle. Years of literal and figurative battle have left me assured of my ability to fight, if not win. When going swimming, I make a bold splash all at once. Steve, on the other hand, strikes me as one who is still searching for traction in this riding thing. Both in actuality and in confidence. This man has the heart of a poet and philosopher. If Warriors like me are ever civilized it will have been because of men like him. I will publicly state here that Steve has nothing to be ashamed of in his snowy ride. In fact, I applaud him. It was exactly what he needed to do at that point in time. Crazy, am I?

If I had a nickel for every time a brand new rider in my class told me they were going to ride in parking lots for a long time, I'd be rich. I tell them to "Get out there and ride!!"

They'll never grow until they face and successfully meet challenges. Not all at once, of course. Limited exposure at first followed by increasingly more complex situations is the key. Life in a parking lot will never get it done for them.

That's new riders, you say. How does that apply to Steve's ride in the snow? Fair question.

How many experienced street riders have decided that track days aren't for them? After all, it's irresponsible to ride a bike like that on the street. What good are racing skills to me? That would be crazy for a street rider like me to go to a track day. Not as crazy as you might think. While I agree that it's not acceptable to ride like a racer on the streets, not everything in a track day only applies to racers. Riders will be able to explore how far their bike will really lean. They'll get to know how to work better with the bike's dynamics. They'll understand cornering lines better. These are just a few examples. Bottom line is that next time something happens that's beyond our control there's a few more tools available. Maybe the rider will never use these things but by pushing preconceived limits these tools are now in the tool chest.

Back to Steve. Someone else made a comment that it would have been different if Steve had been partway home when the snow started. My question is how? Looks to me like either way there's riding in snow and ice involved. Would it be any more comforting to crash closer to home?

That's really the crux of the matter as I see it. That part of the country is known for cold, snow, and ice. Sometimes it's unpredictable. It's beyond our control. ( familiar theme, here? ) What do you do if you get partway home and it started to snow? Park the bike and walk? What if that's just not an option? Then you do the best you can. Steve took the opportunity to test things out. By the way, I really don't see how a guy riding slowly on a scooter presented a big hazard to other drivers. You know who the most vulnerable one was in this situation.

Would Steve purposely set out to ride in heavy snow again? I don't think so. I'm pretty proud of the fact that only Gary and I are crazy enough to do things like that. Come on, Gary, you 've said you're settling down but I know you want to, don't you? I know, I'm sick. Deal with it. Does Steve know he could handle it if the situation ever forced him into it? Bet your riding boots. It was a calculated risk like a lot of other things in our lives, sure. The time for the attempt had come. His riding level was such that the pump was primed. It was a critical step in the process. How many other riders can rest assured of their own ability to take care of themselves if the need arose?

I preach the gospel of knowing your limits then riding within them. Everyone's limits are different. It's not all about the expanding of those limits even though that happens during the journey. I'm never satisfied and keep stretching just a little more but I'm not "normal". For the normal rider it's primarily about finding out for sure what the limits realistically are. How will one know unless through testing?

Thankfully for your tired eyes, it's time to gear up and head for home through the Big City traffic. You can bet I'll be looking where I want to go. I'll be thinking of the ride, not the fall. It's going to be a great ride!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Snubbed and fired up.

I still have Steve's ST1300. My plan was to return it on Monday. The spare key that was supposed to let me into the garage wasn't there. Instead, a large orange cat greeted me with a series of long, irritated meows. I couldn't blame him. A food dish sat empty and echoing on the patio. There's a girl who's supposed to be feeding the cat. I think she's carrying the key with her instead of leaving it. Oh well, I'll just have to play with the bike for the rest of the week.

"Please don't throw me in that briar patch, Bre'r Bear!"

For once I'm looking forward to the rain. I want to see how the 1300's weather protection differs from the 1100. Since the hard core commuters out here deal with a lot of rain, it would be useful information.

This post was originally planned to be a ride report from the weekend trip. It's been postponed until the next time. Something happened to me on the ride home that set me off. It's not the first time it's happened. It won't be the last. This time it flat hit me wrong. We've finally reached that camel that broke my straw back. Wait. Strike that. Reverse that. The point's the same either way.

We woke up Sunday morning and looked out the window. Motorcyclists are much more tuned into the weather than a lot of folks, you know. First thing I usually do is go for the coffee pot. Right after I look out the window, of course. A light rain had fallen overnight. The good news was that the skies looked to be clearing. This post isn't about our ride home. It's about a particular incident during the trip. I'm usually pretty even tempered. Right now, though, I've got to let off some steam here. I have had enough!

I always wave at fellow riders. A lot of them wave back. I enjoy the brief moments of connection. There's no personalities to deal with. No individual quirks to like or not. It's just a couple of riders out enjoying what we do. Personally, I make no distinctions. There's other forums for that. Squids with minimal gear or fully outfitted touring riders get the same enthusiastic wave. The more I ride a variety of bikes the more I'm reminded that we're all enjoying the same things. The different bikes change our perspective just slightly but the big picture's the same for all of us. I make no judgements in these short encounters. The same can't be said of all riders it would seem.

Not all wave back. Most of those are riding a certain American brand of cruiser. OK, I'll just come out and say it. The vast majority of those who won't wave back are Harley riders. That was also the case with this particular encounter. My comments here are not a blanket stereotype. I don't believe in those. People should be sized up by their individual actions. Unfortunately, instead of deciding to be their own individuals, many people choose to join a group. Because of things lacking in themselves, they're willing to let the "Group" dictate to them what they do. What really gets me is that this "Group" is made up of individuals just as lacking as they are. It's one thing to follow a worthy role model. It's quite another to be led by those who have the exact same deficiencies as you. No good can come out of it.

This will offend some people. If it does, it does. I know a lot of riders choose to ride a Harley because they appreciate the bike, the fact that it's American made, and so on. I totally respect that. In fact, it's the way it should be. On the other hand, the Harley brand attracts the people I described in the paragraph above. Harley knows it. Their marketing shamelessly uses it. One ad in particular makes me fall on the floor laughing. It shows a big group of bikes on the road. Then the ad touts the fact that if one were to ride a Harley they could be a "rugged individual". There's a lot of insecure people out there that are easily swayed. Thus is born the stereotype. It's not really a stereotype, then, is it? Not if sheer numbers bear it out.

So what set me off, already?

Katie and I were winging along on a beautiful road in the Southern Oregon hills. It's early afternoon and the world's a wonderful place. Awesome scenery with a little sunshine thrown in to sweeten the recipe. We've passed and exhanged greetings with a number of riders. Except for those of us who are hardcore commuters, riders are like bugs. Sunshine brings out more of them! Not a biggie. If someone rides for enjoyment and decides that riding in the rain isn't so enjoyable, what's wrong with that?

At some point we encounter nine Harleys coming the other way. Four bikes are two-up, while five are being ridden solo. Both Katie and I show the raised palms. Katie really likes waving at other riders. Thirteen riders twelve feet or less away from us. To a person the only reaction was a stare in our direction. With their "beanie" helmets there's no mistaking the fact that we were seen. There's no doubt, either, that we were deliberately being snubbed.

I've tried to hold to the High Road in the past. "They don't want to wave?" Whatever. I'm above it and I certainly don't need their approval or recognition. This time I found myself seriously offended. This was meant as an insult to us. It was clear that the Harley riders considered themselves better than us. Katie added a couple of other possibilities. She thought maybe their skills sucked so badly that they were afraid to take their hands off the bars. When I asked her to account for the passengers Katie offered that perhaps their last "watering hole" stop was also a factor. From the horrible skills I've seen exhibited by riders who come to our classes trying to get legal, I can believe part of it. Still, though, I firmly believe it comes down to attitude.

I totally resent being looked down upon by someone who has absolutely no basis for any sort of feelings of superiority. Let me see. You're somehow better than me because you overpaid for a bike that grants you entry into some sort of conformist club? Being desperately needy drives you to do things that aren't good for you. You're a victim of your own insecurity and that makes you better than me? All that somehow makes you some sort of "Elite" rider? Pardon me, I just peed down my leg because I'm so impressed with your greatness!

Let me tell you about "Elite". Most folks will agree that motor cops are among the most skilled riders around. I've been there, done that. What about the people who train them? I'm there, too. Motor cops don't go to training just because it would be nice to have a little better skills. No, these men and women need to have their skills so finely honed that they're second nature. It's one thing to ride a bike well. Imagine doing it while involved in all the other dangerous things involved in law enforcement. When a cop comes to training they expect solid instruction. Skills gained are literally the difference between coming home at night or not.

Which means they need instructors they can believe in. You know how cynical cops are. They make an instructor prove to them that they're worthy of trust. That means "Show me". If an instructor "ain't got it" they won't last long. They usually don't get picked in the first place.

All I'm saying here is that my peers and I are truly part of an "elite" group of riders. Yet you won't see us with these big neon signs on our bikes calling attention to the fact. When I'm out riding I'm just some guy with a goofy grin on his face. These riders have no idea who's on the bike going the other way. They think they're better than anyone else who's not on a Harley? '

Ok. I'm getting a long ways out on this rant. I'm just so sick of it. There's too much division among riders as it is. We're much better off working together than working against each other. Why can't folks see this? I know, I sound like Mary Poppins or something.

On the way to Medford we rode through Eugene. Not far away was a bakery. It's a big facility where Franz or Williams bread is produced. I can't remember which. The smell of the fresh baked bread grabs you by the nose. Your brain is filled with wonderful thoughts. I defy you to tell me that experience is any better based on which bike you're on. It just doesn't matter what you ride. It's the fact that you're riding. Period.

I feel better now. Nothing's magically changed by posting this. I just needed to release a little steam. Please feel free to offer your comments. I'm sure I'm not the only one with deep feelings on the matter.

Miles and smiles


Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Director's Bike

( is mine to play with this weekend! )

This has been an extremely hectic week. Like anything a person really enjoys, there's a price to pay in return. Having been un-chained from the one and only period I was ever stuck full time in an office, I'm enjoying work more than I have in years.

I have a tremendous amount of independence. Which means there's give and take in the hours I work. This week's fallen squarely into the "give" category. Four 12-hour days have preceded the writing of this post. I'm not complaining at all, mind you. The only drawback right now is that I haven't been able to post much lately. Next week will fall more into the "take" column. Most of the folks I deal with will be on Spring Break. My brain has stored up some ideas for posts next week. It should be a prolific time as far as blogging goes. Not only in writing, but in catching up on reading other blogs, too.

Right now I'm staring down the barrel of a trip to Medford. Sometime tomorrow afternoon Katie and I will mount a different steed and go for a three and half to four hour ride South. Maybe more if we stop for supper along the way. No, this isn't a new bike in my stable. This bike, gang, just happens to belong to the Director of our motorcycle safety program. He's leaving early tomorrow morning with his daughters for his own Spring Break adventure. In the meantime, I have his ST1300. I cannot clearly express to you what an elite group I now belong to. Imagine a highly successful Old West gunfighter lending his pistol to someone and you start to get the idea.

I fully intend to fire some rounds through the barrel, if you get my drift.

Just before I sat down to write this I went out and put a few miles on the bike. The two of us also made a trip to the local community college so I could play with the bike on our painted range. I'm going to like this bike a lot! We're already getting along quite nicely, thank you. It's a lot like Sophie but more agile. Tomorrow I'll put some more miles on the bike. I mean, I'm forced into it you know. Yeah, we all should have such problems. I'm not such a "wonderful" rider that I would put Katie on the back for a long trip without spending a little time getting to know the bike first. See, it's all for a noble cause!

Saturday will be spent conducting an instructor update. The first half of the day will be classroom. After lunch we'll all go running outside like kids let out for recess. The afternoon will be spent running through our Rider Skills Practice course with half a dozen instructors. I'm planning on riding some demonstrations in some tight maneuvers. They'll also get a chance to learn to coach riders with ABS on their bikes. I'll make several runs through the braking chute doing maximum braking. The instructors will get to see what ABS braking looks like when the rider gets into it. ( the ABS, not the braking! )

Yes, they get to have fun on their bikes, too. We have a circuit ride that combines low speed maneuvers, swerving, cornering, a barrel run around three large cones, and some more fun stuff. They'll also get to ride some of the other exercises.

I'm really looking forward to it. These are dedicated and talented folks who are working to hone their craft. Besides, they're also my friends.

Katie and I will probably spend Saturday night down there, too, then make our leisurely way home on Sunday. Most assuredly via the long route. Maybe even over to the coast and back up North that way. Classic two-wheeled commuting. Ride to work; ride for fun on the way home.

That's probably more than you ever wanted to know about my weekend plans. You most likely won't hear from me again until Monday. There will be plenty to report by then. Stories of my friends, our ride, and the bike. Can't leave out the bike. I've thought about moving to the 1300 but haven't felt the pressing need. This will be a great chance to check it out thoroughly and see how I really feel.

Have an awesome weekend. Catch up with you on Monday. We're out of here on a long ride to work.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Zen, mayhem, and soccer moms.

It occurs to me that I haven't written much lately about riding to work. Truth be told, there's not a lot to tell. I ride the interstate for an hour and forty five minutes, do some stuff, and ride the interstate for another hour and forty five minutes.

Oh sure, there's still all those weirdos I'm forced to share the roads with. Distracted drivers, those who can't or won't use turn signals, tailgaters, speeders, those seemingly blind, and probably aliens from another planet. What really bothers me is that this has become my normal world. If Katie asks me how my commute was I just tell her it was business as usual. I've made a personal vow to become "Teflon". I just quietly enjoy my own ride and let everything else slide off. It's either that or drop dead of a heart attack from getting too upset. That is, if I don't kill myself first by doing something stupid in reaction to a brain dead driver.

Weirdly enough, I do find my personal opinion of big touring bikes changing. My famous statement has always been "I'm not ready for a 'rocking chair' motorcycle, yet!" With all this interstate riding a Goldwing seems a better option all the time. No offense to any other brand. I'm just a Honda guy. More comfort, more farkles, and more space to haul stuff. Heck, I could even manage to hook up my cell phone to the intercom system. Somebody slap me upside the helmet! I must sliding into insanity from all this interstate commuting!

It's all this riding to work that led to my ride on Saturday afternoon. I couldn't help myself. I've had a bridle bit between my teeth for too long. I will finally get a day off next Sunday. I worked four weekends in February. The first weekend of March I had off. By the time Sunday rolls around it will have been another 20 straight days. To make sure you feel sorry for me, let me put it another way. In a stretch of 62 days there were four days off. One weekend a month on average. I just had to bust out. We were working at Lane Community College in Eugene.

You can see Sophie on the left. On the right is the ST1300 that the Director of our program rides. He was engaged in some site audit activities. Incidentally, I will probably ride his bike to Medford Friday night for an instructor update on Saturday. One of the things we're going to be covering is how to coach quick stops to riders on ABS bikes. Sophie doesn't have ABS. It doesn't appear we will have any instructors in the update who have ABS, either. Which means I will have to take a bike that does have it for demo purposes. The site is a little over 200 miles away. It will be a nice chance to check out the bike.

The students in our class are on their lunch break before they go to the classroom. You can see what a nice day Saturday was. Sunday, in contrast, was wet. That steady drizzle seems to soak everything so much more thoroughly than actual rain does. This day, though, the sun is out.

I wasn't directly involved in teaching the students themselves. A new instructor was teaching his first class. I was there to be glued to his hip for guidance, on the job training, and as a safety net. Normally a brand new instructor takes a lot of energy from me without being able to radiate any back. That's just the way it is. They have a lot to sort out. This new instructor beamed enthusiasm all weekend. On top of that, Phil's pretty sharp. Like many of us, motorcycling fills an essential role in psychotherapy to him. Phil's expressed desire is to share that joy and fulfillment with others while helping them be safe in the process. I found my association with him to be very rejuvenating. How awesome to have someone like Phil joining us!

Finally, class is done for the day. I have two hours or so to make my way home. I know some places where I can go to "let it all hang out". I have to do this. Things have been bottled up inside waaaaay too long. The ride would prove to be everything I needed with a couple of surprises thrown in as bonuses.

Making sure I am not easily identified as an instructor I set off. First task was to get to my chosen roads. Which meant a little trip through Coburg. When I first started this blog I mentioned Coburg. It's a tiny little place but you have to pass through it to get anywhere. At the North end of town's a tight curve to the West. In my case, it's usually a left turn since I'm heading North. I use this corner as a test of where I'm at as far as Rider Readiness goes. Am I right on or a half-click off? This time everything's right where it should be.

My first brush with mischief happens at the edge of town. A man in a small gray station wagon is holding at EXACTLY the 35 mph speed limit. I hate that. I also have less than warm feelings for those who tend to be self-righteous. Of course, I'm going to pass him. As I go by, the man toots his horn and points to the speed limit sign which, coincidentally, happens to be coming up. Sophie and I are beside the guy on his left. There's no other traffic in either direction as far as I can see. I should just ignore the man and zoom on by. Normally that's what I would do. Today, though, I'm after mischief with a capital "M".

I take both hands from the bars and feign surprise. I nod vigorously and fall back in behind his car. I'm laughing from thinking about what's going through his mind. Soon I see the sign coming up that says "End 35 mph limit". Amazingly, there's still plenty of clear space ahead. So I pull out beside the man again. Honking my horn while pointing to the sign, I wave goodbye and whack the throttle. I giggle for miles.

There's no traffic on my secret roads except for one gentleman. I presume he's a local farmer. He looks ancient. So does his Ford truck. The arm he extends in a friendly wave is deeply tanned and wrinkled by a lot of sun. I wave cheerily back. Salt of the earth. I'll bet he'd never talk on a cell phone while driving. My kind of people. I'm really pushing it in the corners. Very aggressive, stopping short of reckless. This kind of pleasure isn't worth dying for, after all.

Was it John in his blog that wrote about "chicken strips"? Hint, they're not something you'd find on the menu at a fast food restaurant. Here's a picture of Sophie's rear tire I took when I got home. I also took a picture of the front tire but I'll save that for a little later. There's a little story with that one.

I guess I inadvertently lied when I said there wasn't any other traffic. I forgot about the two riders on old bikes. Way up in the distance I spotted a couple of riders. It took me about two miles to catch up to them. Just for fun I followed the bikes for a while. The bikes were mid-80's vintage standards. As I got closer I noticed a couple of things. Both riders stayed in their staggered formation even through some pretty sensuously inviting curves. They also rode fairly slowly. Their corners were a series of small turns instead of one smooth line. Still, they stayed on their side of the road. I was wondering how can they ride a bike and not want to "whoosh" the corners. It's a reminder that not everyone's just like me. ( thank heavens ) We all have our own reasons for riding. I'm cool with that.

What I wasn't cool with is that I kept smelling a strong gasoline odor from one of the bikes ahead. It was time to pass. I'm sorry to say I sort of stuffed them in a left hand turn. Ok, there was no "sort of" about it. This section is an "S" turn that goes right and then left. If you look at a post from March 14, 2006 called "Riding like the Wind" there's a picture of a bent sign post. This is just before this particular set of curves.

I was just in a weird mood. Grandpa always called it "feeling your oats". Remember, we're of genuine cowboy stock. I was riding a horse before I could walk. With Grandpa behind me, of course! With clear visibility I showed the riders what corners were all about and went on my way with a wave. They waved back and used all their fingers. Good sports.

There was also an opportunity to use some of those "Zen" moments. All good things come to an end and I had to join traffic on a couple of more heavily travelled roads. This one road is still curvy and comes into the South side of Brownsville. It's the luck of the draw on Gap Road. Depending upon the time of day, etc., this road can be busy or quiet. There's very few places to legally pass. I know, what did I care today? A slower driver can bog a rider down for a long time. I can usually tell how my ride will go as soon as I turn onto it. My turn is to the right. I can see traffic coming from the left. Sometimes there's nobody there. Some days I'm forced to let a car go by before I can turn. I know I'm going to catch up to them pretty soon and resign myself to that fact.

Today the vehicle I had to let go by was a dark green Toyota Sienna mini-van. It was being driven by a woman. There were two kids with her. They looked to be somewhere in that "barely teen-ager" range. Typical soccer mom set-up. I had resigned myself to my fate. In about a half hour I'd be on roads where I could stretch Sophie's legs once again. Shocker of shockers! This woman was haulin' more than the kids. She was haulin' ass, too! The woman couldn't quite manage to stay totally in her lane all the time but there was nothing wrong with her pace and rhythm. Bonus!!

Unfortunately we both caught up to a slow moving Buick. Being on a stretch of road where I could see a half mile in both directions, I decided to do the Zen thing. I pulled off to the side to wait. Farm land is appealing in the sunshine. The sun itself felt warm. Better to hang out and enjoy some tranquility than worry about running into the back bumper of the van. Worse yet, being tempted to do something risky to get around both the vehicles. Properly calmed, I fired up the bike and continued on. I did eventually catch up to my fellow road users. The soccer mom never had gotten around the Buick. My choice to chill had proved to be the best one.

Periods of sedately joining traffic alternated with sections of riding hell bent for leather. It was a totally awesome and much needed release of pent up urges to raise heck.

Weirdly enough, my only close call happened at the other end of the block from my house. There's a retired man who lives across the street and down from us. He likes to put seed and bread out for the birds. Most of the time he just throws it into the street.

I saw the bread all smashed on the road. Never even thought twice about it. It was a bunch of dried up bread crumbs. How much trouble could it be? Lots, it turns out. Just after I came around the corner to the right my front tire encountered the bread. Said tire started to slide out to the left. Fortunately it grabbed traction before anything drastic happened but it certainly caught my attention! Who'd of thought?

After cleaning off the bike's seat I took this picture. You just never know about traction do you? This was totally my fault. I'd seen the bread. Instead of changing my line I'd dismissed the threat. Wrongly, it turns out. What's that old saying? "Physician, heal thyself!" How about "Trainer, coach thyself!"?

I feel so much better now. I'll be able to maintain for a while. I think.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Stopping quickly in a curve ( Part III )

The most efficient method to stop quickly in a curve is to straighten the bike then brake. The qualifier to that statement is "if there is room". We're not always going to have the space to pull this maneuver off. Which means we're going to have to brake while the bike is leaned over.

It's amazing how many students come into our classes with the notion that braking while leaned over will automatically cause them to crash. On the flip side, not many know about the straighten-then-brake technique, either. With such a lack of accurate information combined with wrong information being passed on, it's a wonder more riders aren't injured or killed. A lot of the information is passed along with the best of intentions. Riders faithfully parrot "accepted" wisdom like "don't use the front brake hard or you'll throw yourself over the handlebars". This is one example of many. The sad part is that others begin to believe the same thing. Sooner or later someone pays the price. I guess that's one of the reasons I have such a passion for training riders. I'm a small voice in the wilderness but at least every rider I touch in a class goes away with accurate information. The chances of them being able to take care of themselves has gone way up. When I train instructors it magnifies the effect. They go out and reach even more riders than I can reach alone.

My enthusiasm must be contagious. We conducted an instrutor prep workshop last weekend. There were two of my former students starting on the pathway to becoming instructors with us. Cool, huh?

Anyway, I digress. Sorry for the soapbox diversion, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

It is entirely possible to brake in a lean without crashing. The key is to keep in mind what's happening with our traction requirements and manage things accordingly. My graphics didn't survive the transfer from my word processing program so I'm going to paint a mental picture.

Put yourself back into the corner. Visibility is somewhat limited so we've planned a late apex. This curve is to the left. For most of the curve our bike is fairly close to the right hand edge of the roadway. This increases our line of sight and keeps us from committing ourselves before we have all the information about the curve. After all, it's at the apex where we're the most vulnerable, isn't it? That's where we're asking the bike to lean the most. It's also where we're using up the greatest amount of traction. To round out the picnic basket of disadvantages, it's also the point where we have the least amount of resources to take any sort of evasive action. Never commit to the apex until the exit of the corner is in sight. Only then do we have all the visual information available.

That's the situation I was in with Katie as passenger. We were in the right hand third of our lane. I kept the path of travel wide until I could see the exit. In this case, the truck was helping to block my view. As the truck started to move I realized I couldn't straighten the bike immediately. We'd of been off the road in a couple of heartbeats. The only other recourse was to begin braking while we were leaning.

Think back to the two budget accounts. Say my total available budget for traction is a hundred dollars. Most of the funds are being eaten up by the traction account. We're close to the apex so the expenditure is increasing all the time. The good news is that not all the funds are in the traction account. There's a small amount in the braking account that can be spent. I applied the brakes accordingly. Gently. Ever so gently. Enough to cause an effect but not so much as to make the check bounce, as it were.

Gently applying the brakes doesn't do much by itself towards stopping the bike. The magic happens in what this gentle braking initiates. Guess what the bike is going to do once the speed is reduced? You guessed it. The bike will begin to straighten up. Little by little the funds that were being demanded by the traction account are freed up to be deposited into the braking account. At first the amounts are small. Like 5 bucks or so. Each successive transaction gets larger. Next time it's 15 bucks. Next time it's 30 bucks. Next time it's 70 bucks.

It's like a mud dam starting to leak. First there's a trickle. That opens up a channel for a larger flow which, in turn, opens up a channel for a torrent. Think about the traction dynamics.

The contact patch of the tire has an important but limited role here. That's not really the contributing factor we might think it is. The biggest difference is the change in side forces. Remember that formula from the previous post on stopping in a curve? The traction required is proportional to the square of the speed. In other words, increasing our speed by a factor of two means the traction appetite quadruples. 2 times the speed squared is 4 times the traction required. The great thing is that it also works in reverse. It's the reduction in speed that has the biggest effect. Halving the speed quadruples the amount of traction available for transfer into the braking account. Letting the bike gradually straighten up allows it to take advantage of the situation.

Is that too technical? Basically it's a gradual transition from leaned over to upright. The more we reduce speed and the straighter the bike is the more braking traction becomes available. Our braking needs to follow the same progression. Start out gently and increase pressure as traction allows. We're managing the flow of funds between accounts. By the way, there's a reason we're stopping quickly in the first place. While I use the word "gradual" I don't mean to infer that a rider can be all day about it. It's relatively gradual compared to the immediate action of straightening the bike. It will still need to happen fairly quickly.

Go back in your mind to our corner to the left. We are near the apex and to the right side of the lane. During this more gradual braking and straightening process the bike is still moving through the curve. This will normally mean that at some point the bike is going to head towards the center of the lane. That's the whole purpose of spreading the transition over a longer distance. It lets the bike continue on its path which increases our chances of staying on the road.

A lot will depend upon where the hazard makes itself manifest, where we are in the curve, what comes after the curve, as well as other factors. Your technique may need to be modified accordingly.

That's why I urge everyone to practice and become proficient at skills before the need arises to use them. Once a rider truly understands how to manage traction in a variety of situations they can use a little finesse to increase their options. It's quite possible for a skilled rider to move the bike's line a little, for example, while still executing a quick stop. Technique can't be refined, however, until the technique itself has been perfected.

In some perverse way it reminds me of my bodybuilding days. Arnold had a great quote:

"You can't define bone!"

A lot of guys were at the gym doing "sculpting" exercises. The trouble was that you can't really sculpt and define muscle until you actually have some muscle. Better to stay with the basics until they are solid and then worry about refinement. It's the only way it works well in motorcycling. Like I tell some of the young hot dogs in my classes. First you get good. THEN you get fast.

There's also a couple of small differences here in our head turns and what we do just before the bike comes to a stop. In the straighten-then-brake method we need to snap our head and eyes forward right away. In the gradual transition method our head and eyes will move forward at about the same pace as the bike's angle. Leading a little but not too far ahead. Here's another really important thing to remember.

Just before the bike comes to a stop, SQUARE THE HANDLEBARS! What holds a bike up when it's moving? The motion of the bike. What holds the bike up when it's not moving? We do! Do yourself a favor by not letting the bike come to a stop with the bars turned. That will lead to a lesson in picking up the bike. There's more constructive ways to burn off the extra adrenaline, I assure you!

So there's the story on the two techniques for stopping quickly in a curve. I would feel totally remiss as a trainer if I didn't include a couple of parting thoughts. These are physical accident avoidance skills. It is far better not to get into situations in the first place by using mental skills. Have I shared with you my definition of an expert rider?

"An expert rider is one who uses expert mental skills to avoid using expert physical skills".

Sometimes crap just happens. Take me, for instance. Of all the folks who should be able to avoid situations I found myself in one. Then I called upon expert physical skills. The more powerful skills are mental. Find trouble before trouble finds you and deal with it while it's small.

The number one determining factor in how fast to take a corner is how far the rider can see through the corner. I have people tell me that they were surprised by gravel in a corner. It wasn't their fault that they crashed. If you can't see all the way through a corner what do you have to assume? Be prepared for the worst and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen. Speeds will obviously need to be slower than if you can see all the way through.

If you do see gravel in a corner what do you do? Yeah, slow down and move to avoid it. So if a rider crashes in the gravel what went wrong?

What do you do when you see a potential hazard by the side of the road?

The saving grace in my encounter was that I was aware of the truck. I saw a person in the driver's seat. I wasn't going to just stop in the middle of the road. However I had started to roll off and had hands ready. I also changed my line slightly to avoid the possibility of having to begin braking in the gravel that was thrown onto the road. The movement of the truck was a surprise, as was the mentality of the driver, but it didn't prove to be costly. Keep the mental skills sharp.

What are you waiting for? Go practice!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I am really sorry but the third and last part of the "Stopping quickly in a curve" post will have to wait until tomorrow morning. All I can do is urge you not to ride any corners until the post appears!!

Two things happened today that totally screwed up my plans. The first thing that happened I'm going to blame on Steve. He put an idea into my head. Truth be told, it was a good idea. Something in the execution went horribly wrong. What the heck am I blathering on about?

Somewhere along the line Steve told me he would do some of his posts as Microsoft Word documents. Then he would copy them to the blog post. What a great idea! It works for me. I can work on a post using my laptop. This allows me to write when I can even if there is not Wi-Fi available. Graphics don't always transfer successfully as evidenced by the post just previous to this. No matter what I did on the blog site it would not duplicate what I did in the original document. So I had to perform what I call MSU. In other words, I had to Make Something Up.

I spent an hour at lunch working on the final installment. It was almost done when one of my fingers went some weird place on the laptop's keyboard. The whole document disappeared faster than my paychecks. One second the document was there and literally two seconds later it was gone. I've found that when I'm typing on the laptop the cursor will suddenly move and I'll be typing in the middle of a previous sentence. I've never had a document totally disappear like this. I didn't even get the "Would you like to save changes?" window. I searched everywhere but could not find the document. Maybe someone has a suggestion on how to retrieve it.

The second thing that happened was the need for a headlight replacement on Sophie. This one is my fault, actually. Not that I personally destroyed the headlight. It did that all by itself. The problem was that I got either greedy or lazy. Sophie has two headlights. It seems to be a pretty established pattern that the headlights burn out at 50,000 mile intervals. The last time a headlight burnt out the bike was due for a 48,000 mile valve adjustment. I do a lot of maintenance on the bikes but I don't care to tackle the valve adjustment on Sophie. While the bike was in the shop I had them replace both bulbs.

Now it was time to replace a bulb once again. I bought both bulbs but only replaced the bad one. The service manual shows pictures that make everything look so simple. Yeah, right!! I found myself working in a tight space. What else would you expect on a bike with full bodywork? The Honda ST has this annoying spring clip that holds the bulbs in place. What a pain!! It's a recipe for scraped fingers and frustration. Working by feel is the only way to realistically do it. What's especially frustrating is that if I look down the steering head I can clearly see the clip. There's just not enough room to get my hand in there. I have to reach up under the headlight assembly to actually touch the spring clip. Of course, it's far enough away that I can't look down the forks while reaching under for the clip. Oh bother!!!!

Stupid me. I only replaced the one bulb. I was hoping the other bulb would last a long time more. That was less than three weeks ago. Wouldn't you know it? I usually do a check of the lights as part of a quick pre-ride check. Leaving for home today my spirits dropped. The other bulb is now burnt out. Since I'm riding in the dark in the mornings and am travelling an hour away to teach tomorrow night, the bulb needs replaced today. As you can see, I pulled Sophie under the carport instead of the garage so I could take advantage of the extra daylight. Both bulbs are now brightly burning. I wish I could say the same for me!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Stopping quickly in a curve ( Part II )

The two “budget” accounts that figure predominantly are side forces and braking forces. To save me some typing I’m just going to call them Leaning and Braking.

Traction is defined as friction between the tires and the road surface. In any given situation there is a finite amount of traction available. The total traction available has to be shared between all the forces demanding their piece of the pie. In fact, the pie analogy is a good way to look at things. Each slice will vary in size depending upon the appetite of the consumers. However, the total of all the slices cannot exceed the overall size of the pie itself. We can change the size of the slices but when the pie's gone, it's gone! That’s when riders get into trouble. They try to get too many big slices out of the pie. It amounts to deficit spending, as it were.

Good money management is the key to financial success. In the same vein, successful riders do a great job of managing available traction.

I’m going to take a small side trip here. Bear with me. It will be pertinent to the discussion that follows. Managing speed in corners has a direct effect on traction management. It might surprise you to know how traction demands in a corner really work.

Setting a proper entry speed for a corner does more than see us safely through the curve. It also helps us to manage the available traction. We'll know if we have a proper entry speed because two things happen. Firstly, we make the corner! That's always a bonus. Secondly, we're able to maintain a steady or slightly increasing throttle. Not too long ago I wrote about not getting too aggressive with our throttle through corners. In that post I was talking about not having to waste traction by fighting to make the bike lean. Heavy throttle makes the bike want to stand up and go straight. Here's a little further explanation of what too much speed does to work against us.

Anytime we're in a corner on a bike, the cornering force is proportional to the square of the speed. Huh?

Think about taking a corner at 15 mph. I know, you're asleep already from riding so slowly. Bear with me. It's easier to talk to you if you're not whipping by so quickly. I'll put you out of your misery and allow you to go 30 mph this time through. A rider would think that if they doubled their speed the traction required would also double. Not so. The traction appetite has now quadrupled! That's what the statement above means. Ready to go faster? Now you can take the corner at 45 mph. What do you think the traction appetite is now compared to the first corner at 15 mph? We tripled the speed but the traction required is now nine times as much!

The most important tool for managing traction in corners is controlling our speed. Not that we shouldn't have fun. Heaven forbid. On the other hand, maintaining a useful traction reserve will go a long ways toward helping us survive those "Oh crap!! moments that arise once in a while.

Time to get back to the subject at hand. We have the bike deep into a corner. Here’s what our two accounts look like at this point.

LEANING A whole bunch of traction used here! tttttttttttttttttttttttt

BRAKING Not very much available here at all! ttt

Right now we’re really grooving in this awesome curve. We have a great head turn and we’re looking to the exit of our corner. (you do have great head turns, don’t you? ) Suddenly a body falls from the sky. D.B. Cooper has finally come to earth with his backpack full of money and a tattered parachute. My God, I’m really dating myself, aren’t I?

Looking at our traction statement above, it’s pretty obvious which account is eating up the most funds. This is especially true just before, during, and just after our apex. Unfortunately, circumstances require that we make a very rapid stop.

Here’s where our human instincts can work against us. When we’re startled our first reaction is to want to squeeze something. It’s called the “Human Grasp Reflex”. That’s why we ask new riders to cover the clutch during our classes. It’s also why we ask them to keep the fingers of the right hand around the throttle when they’re not using the front brake. We know they’re going to squeeze. Squeezing the clutch means they’re just coasting. No harm, no foul. Squeezing the front brake hard can have bad consequences.

Our first instinct is going to be to start braking hard. The squeeze thing, remember? Bad move. The leaning slice of the pie is really large. The braking slice is really small. If we apply the brakes hard while leaned over we face the possibility of low-siding. That’s the second least favorite way to leave a motorcycle. The rider and the bike will find themselves sliding in tandem down the blacktop. Ouch.

What really needs to happen is a very quick transfer of funds. Traction has to be quickly moved from the leaning account to the braking account. It will look like this.

LEANING There's a sudden need to pull a bunch of funds out of this account!

BRAKING This account needs a large deposit, like, yesterday!!!

You all know what position the bike needs to be in to allow for maximum braking. It has to be straight up and down. Easier said than done. Time and time again I see so called “experienced” riders reach for the brake way too early. What makes the situation even worse is that riders have a habit of covering the front brake all the time. This can be good or bad depending upon how we've trained ourselves. Even if they don’t fall down, the stopping distance is going to be longer. Every foot counts. It seems weird that we can stop more quickly by waiting to reach for the brakes. Nonetheless, it’s as true as if it were carved on a stone tablet. Maximum braking can only happen once the bike is totally upright. The traction advantage will make up for the slight delay in starting our braking. Repeated practice is going to instill the proper skills sequence. You knew I was going to come back to urging you to go out and practice, didn’t you? Build the habit. Habits are what we are going to fall back on during high-adrenaline situations. Make the habits ones that will work for us, not against us.

Here’s the sequence. What might surprise you is what needs to happen before anything else. The rider’s been looking through the turn. The very first thing the rider needs to do is to bring their head and eyes back so that they’re looking straight ahead. Remember the thing about the bike going where we look? Acquire a target that’s in line with the path we need the bike to follow. I know, you’ll be looking at a point that’s off the road. It can seem a little scary. The trick is to remember that you’re looking at the direction, not the destination! If done properly, the bike will stop before it runs off the pavement.

After acquiring the target, press on the outside handgrip. It’s a forward press. Remember countersteering? Remember how I urged everyone in a past post to practice it? We all do it but not all riders understand exactly how it works. Like I wrote before, countersteering needs to be a tool that we take out of our toolbox when we need it. Now would be a really good time to use this tool! Just in case there’s any confusion about “inside” and “outside”, “inside” is the direction we’re turning and “outside” is the opposite. If we’re in a curve to the left “outside” would be the right handgrip. If we’re in a curve to the right then the left handgrip is “outside”.

There’s the sequence. Look straight ahead. Press the outside handgrip. Once the bike is straight up and down, THEN apply good braking technique. At this point it’s become a matter of maximum braking in a straight line. The size of the pie slices have been successfully managed so that their total stays within the overall size of the pie tin.

Straighten and brake is the preferred method of stopping quickly in a curve. We can’t always use this method, though. It requires that there be sufficient room on the road for this to happen. Sometimes circumstances are such that we just don’t have the luxury of run-out space. Now what?

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Braking in a curve.

I guess if I’m going to hang out in this neighborhood I might as well make myself useful.

A couple of recent posts have been about braking technique. Most of the discussion’s been about braking in a straight line. A large share of the braking errors that lead to crashes happens in that scenario.

Emergencies don’t always happen while riding in a straight line, though. Not too long ago Katie and I were winging around a corner on Scenic Drive. The picture above shows the curve. You can’t really tell from the picture but this road goes uphill from where I’m sitting when I took the picture. There are several sharp corners and the sight distance is a little limited. On this particular day we were actually coming down the hill. You can see in the other picture how much brush is alongside the roadway. It will be worse when Spring fills the trees with leaves.

As we were coming down the hill I noticed a utility truck on the side of the road. It was parked in the wide spot ahead of where I’m sitting. You can see the corner of the bike’s windshield in the picture. As much as possible I’m keeping an eye on the truck. I’m always looking for clues. Front wheels provide great ones, as does the body language of the driver. It would be too much to hope for that the driver would actually signal, I suppose. So I try to take care of myself. With absolutely no warning the driver made a dive for the side road you can see in the picture. The problem with big rigs going uphill is that their forward progress takes a while to happen. Kind of like vultures trying to take off. Don’t ask me how I know.

All I can say is that a kid who thought it would be fun to scare a bunch of vultures around a dead cow got a huge surprise. My dirt bike hit the middle of the flock a little while before they could get airborne. Ask a few of your friends to beat you about the head and shoulders with pairs of three feet long bony feather dusters. If they are any kind of friend they’ll be happy to oblige. You’ll know what I felt like. Gleeful mischief quickly turned to pain. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention one other little thing. In order to get more lift these birds lighten the load by dumping unspeakably nasty ballast.

So here I am, heading for possible disaster. To make matters even worse, I have my soul mate on the back of the bike. Being the calm cool, competent professional that I am, my first words were,

“Holy crap!!”

Expressive, but not entirely helpful in this situation.

Emergency braking in a corner is a whole different exercise than when in a straight line. It’s the kind of skill you never need until you need it, if you know what I mean. Then you REALLY need it. Be honest. How many of us actually practice skills like this on our own for the times we need it? I have an advantage because I teach this stuff all the time. It’s always fresh in my mind. Would I do it as an average rider? I would certainly hope so. But there’s a good chance I wouldn’t, either. I can tell you for sure that I never did prior to 1987 when I finally took the Experienced Rider Course. I was lucky I managed to skate an examination of my missing skills for so long.

Taking it a little further, does the average rider actually know what technique to practice in the first place? I’ve encountered a lot of so-called “experienced” riders who really had no clue. Eventually they’ll face a critical situation. It might be another ten years. It could also be within the next few minutes. They’re going to just have to take their best guess. Will it be the right one? Even if they have a clue, has training and practice been enough to make their habit overcome their first instinct? In this case, a human’s primal instincts will probably work to their detriment.

My mind’s quickly weighing the situation. How much room do I have? Can I straighten and brake while staying on the road? You can see in the picture that there’s not much room. I’ve already planned on a late apex since the visibility through the corner is restricted. I’m pretty close to the outer edge of my lane already. Will I have to brake while leaned over? How much traction am I using in my lean? How will the gravel in the curve affect me? Heading downhill is preloading the front tire already. How much more can I ask of the front tire? With the added weight of my passenger will the back brake be able to do extra duty?

I’m pleased to say that I was able to stop in time with no harm to any parties involved. Understanding the dynamics involved will go a long ways toward saving a rider’s hide in an emergency. Not to mention a perfectly good motorcycle!

Just like our local money’s the currency of the land, traction’s the currency in riding. Similar to the small amount of money that comes my way, traction’s got a finite limit. There’s only so much currency available. We divide our total budget into smaller accounts.

If I had to name a few major expenses in our household, they’d probably look something like this:

Housing: Rent, house payment, taxes, utilities, etc.
Food and supplies: All my household stuff.
Vehicles: Bike stuff at the top of the list, of course!
Savings: I’ve heard of this but haven’t actually managed to have any.

These things are always fluid. Some months bring greater demands in one or two areas and less in the others. Next month it might be just the opposite. Summer brings a little more money to our budget since I teach a lot then. Winter’s a little leaner. Either way, I can’t spend more than my total available funds without being in big trouble.

Traction works the same. There’s a set limit at any given point. Some days the available resources are higher. Some days they’re lower. Either way, I can’t overspend the current limit without dire consequences. Here’s what the main categories would look like for traction accounts.

Driving force: Anything that propels the bike forward
Side forces: Pretty much any time the bike’s in any position other than truly perpendicular
Braking forces: Anything that wants to impede the forward movement of the bike
Traction reserve: You do try to keep some traction for those “pucker” moments, don’t you?

What really makes it interesting is that the demands of each account are always changing. There’s no way to really get into a single pattern that works all the time.

Next post we’ll talk more about managing these separate accounts when braking in a curve. Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wisdom from the Master

I've been working on a two part technical post in between everything else. My intention was to post the first installment today with the second one appearing on Friday. Alas, life has interfered with that plan. In the meantime, here's a few things to pass the time. At the end of the post I'm going to share some distilled wisdom from the Master. Be ready, Grasshopper.

Tuesday was a really long day. I saddled up Sophie and headed for Kirkland, Washington for a sales meeting with the gang up there. We left home at 3:45 AM and got back home at 9 PM. Hey, it's a chance to ride a long ways and I get to turn in for mileage at 45 cents a mile. The weather was MUCH warmer than the last trip I took just before Christmas. Coming home, the little thermometer I installed indicated 67 degrees (f).

I might pass on a couple of notable things from the ride up. I hit the Portland area at about a quarter to five in the morning. There was a young gal in the lane to my right. As she was driving she had a cell phone glued to her right ear. My first thought was "Who is she talking to at this time of morning?"

There's some road construction happening on Interstate 5 in the Tacoma area and then again between Fife and Seattle. It seems like it's been going on forever. I narrowly avoided disaster. My habits saved me. In heavier traffic I always fight to keep a space cushion around me. It's hard to maintain a good following distance when cars want to dive in front of me. I'm glad I work so hard at it, though. I was planning a lane change to the right to get out of the HOV lane. There was a transit bus farther ahead in the same lane. I figured I'd go around the bus then get back into the HOV lane. Between the bus and I were several other cars.

As I scanned the road ahead I saw a spot right on the edge of my lane where the cement was missing. There was a rectangular hole about 6 inches wide, 4 feet long, and about a foot deep. If I was right behind the vehicle ahead of me I'd never have seen it in time to avoid it. I shudder to think what would happen if a bike got the front wheel trapped in there. Good habits are priceless!

The other interesting thing I saw was a Tukwila motor cop on a big, white Goldwing. We rode side by side for a while. It looked a little cumbersome for a police bike, but a lot of agencies in Washington seem to be using them. One of my friends up there is an accident reconstruction specialist. He needs to carry a lot of gear. Best of both worlds for him. Riding a bike and taking everything with him, too.

Speaking of Goldwings, on some days I swear I'm going to get one. I seem to be spending my life riding the Interstates any more. At least I'd have a great stereo and other fabulous farkles to entertain me! Have you seen the airbag on the new 'Wing?

The way the bag's anchored makes it look weird when it's inflated. Between that and the color of the airbag I saw, it looks like someone's giant rear end. If the rider hits the bag in the middle it looks like they're doing a face plant in a huge butt crack. Maybe it's meant that way as a deterrent factor. As in, "If you run into something you're going to pay by having to insert your face 'you know where'!" It certainly makes me want to work harder at avoiding crashes.

Yesterday I had a presentation to a very large corporation. They'd just purchased this company for 8 BILLION dollars!! Yeah, you read it right. I met with some executives to discuss the products of ours they were currently using. I also made suggestions on other things that would solve some problems they are having. This time I was in a suit and tie. Had to drive since part of the deal was transporting them to lunch. Imagine that. This Warrior on a motorcycle rubbing elbows with executives from a multi-billion dollar corporation. Blows your mind, doesn't it?

Once the pressure was off, I came home and fired up the VFR. I needed to decompress. These pictures are from a little stop-over at Freeway Lakes. These little lakes span both sides of Interstate 5. I was afraid to get the bike too close to the water so it could be in the picture. You can see that it's still muddy and soft. Not to mention sloping down toward the lake at a pretty pronounced angle. So I wimped out and left the bike on the only cement available. There's a little patch of concrete that the outhouse sits on. Just enough room for a bike to one side. Anyway, when I saw the trees reflected in the water I just had to take the shot. The time's somewhere around 4:30 PM.

Today's my daughter's 26th birthday. Even though she's married and working on becoming an architect, she still expects Dad to "do" something on this day. We have dinner reservations real soon. It will be a race to see whether I finish this before her and Katie grab me by the collar and drag me out of here. I hope to finish the two part posting tomorrow so I can publish it in the next couple of days. As you can see, time's been more scarce lately.

I continually stress to my students the need to be smooth. I provide counsel on communicating our intentions to other traffic. We discuss our responsibility to put ourselves where traffic expects to see us. These among many other things. I've been looking for a way to express the philosophy in modern day terminology. I don't want to be looked upon as a square fuddy duddy. No, I wanna be considered "with it". I need to remain relevant. Which means I gotta keep up with the times, dudes and dudettes. Having pondered it for weeks ( ok, days )(ok, ok, minutes ) here's what I've come up with. Here's the strategy for being smooth in traffic. It doesn't only apply to bikes. It's also useful advice no matter what we're driving.

The strategy I've come up with is called "The Principle of Least Surprise". Here's how it goes.

"Never do anything in traffic that might make a soccer mom spill her latte!"

Miles and smiles,


Monday, March 05, 2007

An "Irish" Jaunt.

You gotta love a woman like her. It's Saturday and a rare weekend off for me. I was feeling refreshed. Lately there's been too much work and too little sleep. It had been a lazy morning and the level on my second cup of coffee was working its leisurely way down. The weatherman on the KOIN newscast had promised a little sunshine for the weekend. It was beginning to look like that promise would hold true.

White clouds floating high in the sky were tinged with gray patches. Standing outside I saw that we were in a little circle of sushine. To the South and North the clouds looked darker. I looked East to the Cascade foothills and saw no blue sky. The same was true as I looked West to the Coast Range. Both sets of hills still have snow on them. For now the elusive rays of sunshine warmed us. Who knew what the rest of the day would bring?

Katie and I were discussing options for the day. Sunshine and dry grass usually mean lawn mowing. There's some work in the flower beds that's been begging to be done. Katie suggested we go riding. She hadn't been on the bike for a while. Katie's not as addicted as I am, but she's definitely hooked. Yard work would wait. Like I said, you gotta love a woman like her.

Knowing we didn't want to go too far in any direction, I flipped through my mental filing system. I keep a running catalog of back roads in my mind for any particular area. We're fortunate to be surrounded by open farm land and preserved wetlands. One day we'll all be swallowed up into a giant suburb of either Portland, Eugene, or both. For now we have elbow room. Suits me just fine.

Our valley has a little prominence in the world scene. At one time most of the hops for beer production came from here. Not so much anymore, but it's still a significant share. Grass seed is the premier export right now. Hazelnuts, or what us locals call Filberts, are another showcase crop coming out of here. Maybe the emergence of ethanol based fuels will help preserve our farmlands. Corns and grains will become the new cash crop if this takes off. I'll enjoy the open spaces to the full while I can.

As I'm flipping over cards in my mind, the sequence stops at Eastern Benton County. There's a network of small farm roads around a place named Irish Bend that I've been meaning to explore. I tell Katie that we should have an Irish Jaunt. I have some ideas of how to combine food, beverage, and riding under this theme. What more could you ask for? Riding, eating, and being in the company of an attractive woman. Works for me!

If it helps, I did feel guilty. Here we are with temperatures in the upper forties and low fifties. I know that the Mid-West and East is being hammered by one snow storm after another. Minneapolis and the surrounding areas had a lot of folks without power. I wondered if Gary was doing ok back there. Still, worrying about the rest of you wasn't going to stop me from enjoying. My riding or not wasn't going to either hurt or help anyone back there. No sense all of us suffering, right?

Irish Bend is no longer an Irish community. At the time this area was being settled, there was an Irish community here, though. The Willamette River runs through much of our Valley. In this particular area the river makes a wide turn, or bend, toward the East. Thus the name Irish Bend. This is an old Grange Hall. I finally got Katie to pose with the bike but she wouldn't take off her helmet. Silly girl. Maybe it's just as well. We kept being serenaded by the "caretaker and watchman" of the place. It would actually be more accurate to say "watchdog"! The helmet provided some extra hearing protection.

This roads in this area were clearly laid out by someone in no particular hurry. Cumbersome farming equipment had to be moved so there's no really sharp turns. On the other hand, nobody seemed to mind if the road bent around the edge of someone's field. We found the roads to be perfect for just gracefully leaning the bike from side to side as we negotiated its serpentine pathway. Traffic was very light. Just a few pickup trucks and a sport bike rider coming at us from the opposite direction. If you're headed somewhere in particular there's faster ways to get there. Nobody comes here unless they mean to be here. Cows and sheep grazed contentedly or snoozed in the unexpected sunshine. The whole effect was very relaxing.

The one thing we didn't see was the Irish Bend covered bridge. Mostly because it wasn't there anymore. It had been moved to a place on the outskirts of the Oregon State University Campus. Even though we were only about 15 miles away, it sounded a little more crowded than I wanted to deal with on this ride.

The bridge didn't actually span the Willamette River. It allowed passage over a slough. 1954 saw the birth of this bridge. The design, interestingly, was one from the 1920's. Traffic was restricted by the narrow width. Finally, in 1975, some big culverts were put in and a new road built over them. Irish Bend bridge sat neglected and deteriorating until 1988. At that time a group interested in preserving historical things had raised $30,000. This allowed them to dismantle the bridge, replace rotting timbers, and reconstruct it where it now sits. Here's a file photo that shows the bridge in 1957 when it was still pretty new.

After leaving the Irish Bend area with our deepest thanks for a great time, we headed sort of Northeast. Some of the roads were old familiar haunts. In between we weaved those "let's just see where this goes" journeys. One of my old haunts hadn't felt my presence for around eight months. I was pleased to see that the pair of llamas ( or alpacas ) were still keeping watch from their fenced pasture. They always present an air of curiosity mixed with a look that says they've seen it all. Farther along we came upon a flock of wild turkeys. I tried to get a picture but memories of the days leading up to Thanksgiving must have been fresh on their minds. As soon as I stopped and Katie dismounted, the fowl were off to parts farther away from us!

Just South of Brownsville we saw some deer slowly feeding their way up a hillside. Not wanting to repeat the problem with the turkeys, we pulled off but didn't get off the bike. Katie seems to have a particular soft spot in her heart for deer. While we sat quietly watching the deer, several vehicles went zooming by. How many folks never see what's really there in their haste? Speaking of zooming, I try to keep the pace relaxed when Katie's along. She likes to sightsee. I see and notice everything, too, just at a faster pace! On a flat and straight stretch of road, we got passed by a big, black, Ford pickup. How humiliating! The things I do for this woman.

I got a little of my own back on Roberts Road. This is a short stretch of road but has some really awesome curves. There's one tight "S" curve with a lot of visibility at both ends. Seeing that the road was clean and dry, I dropped one more gear than I normally would. Then I gently kissed footpegs to blacktop in the right turn, picked up the bike with a little throttle, and did it again to the left. Not a peep out of Katie. She acts all ladylike, but deep down she's got a wild streak. That's why she hangs out with me. She can satisfy the wild side but blame it on me!

The trainer in me is leaping out for some attention. Ok, you've got two paragraphs so you better make them good.

I always tell the average rider to set a corner entry speed that allows for steady or slightly increasing throttle in a curve. If the rider feels like they need to roll off anywhere in the corner the entry speed was too fast. Notice I wrote "slightly increasing"? Grabbing a big handful of throttle in a corner presents a couple of problems. One, it's possible to break the rear tire loose. Unlike sophisticated race tires, most street tires give very little warning. They just do it. The other problem is that rolling on the throttle wants to stand the bike up and make it go straight. In a corner, we need to have the bike lean and turn. You see the contrasting effects? More throttle means more pressing to make the bike lean. All it does is eat up precious traction as the rider fights the bike to stay leaned. Which means less traction is available for dealing with surprises.

Once a rider gets a certain amount of experience, however, using the throttle judiciously can be a helpful tool. I'm not talking just seat time experience. This is a dedicated concentration on learning what a bike's telling us at any given point. The bike will talk, all right. We need to find the channel to tune into as well as have an understanding of the language. Many times I've negotiated curves for miles and miles just using throttle inputs to lean and lift a bike. Sweet.

By now we've been about three hours since our last stop. Taking the back way into the Spicer area, we stop at the Allan Brothers Beanery. I'm a coffee drinker, Katie's a tea drinker. Today I forego the coffee in order to stay with our theme. Holding steaming mugs of Irish Breakfast tea, we settle into a booth. It's more like a table with high backed wooden benches. The benches are polished smooth by the backsides of countless customers. This particular booth is on the West wall of windows. Being Winter still, the sun's low to the South. During this time of later afternoon, it's also towards the West as it prepares to set in a couple of hours. It's gotten colder outside and the sun through the windows feels great.

A couple at a table near us starts up a conversation. Well, the man does, at least. He looks like a ship's captain with a weathered face. An English Tweed motoring cap rests on his head. He asks us if we're doing like them and riding on one of the few dry days. Katie pipes up and tells him that she wanted this ride and that I rode whatever the weather. Funny how it sounds like bragging in public but at home it sounds more like a bad thing. Literature says that ladies love outlaws. Perhaps it's been like this for ages when a lady loves a badman. There's a certain mix of pride and worry.

Our couple aren't on two wheels. Their vehicle of choice is a Torch Red Datsun Roadster with no top. The man and I have a short discussion on the relative merits of a four speed transmission versus a five. He's contemplating installing a rebuilt five speed in the car. We all wander outside at the same time. Of course, they are off sooner. No riding gear and helmets, you know, for the Roadster. Despite the differing vehicles, I feel a kinship of spirit with him.

Katie and I decide we have time for about another hour of riding. It's time to head for Buena Vista. Since there's only a couple of ways to cross the Willamette River, we opt for a little town riding. Farther North, in the Dever Conner area, there's a small ferry that commuters use for crossing the river. I'm not sure if the water isn't still too high for the ferry to run. The ferry spends most of the Winter in dry dock. Not wanting to dead-end at the river and be left looking across with that "oh so close, but oh so far" look, we head for the bridges that go into North Albany. It means a few miles of town traffic but what the heck.

There's not really much specifically Irish out here. Plenty of farm land, though. The same river we saw before is running through this spot, too. We're about 70 miles North of where we were earlier. Then I see it. A field where hops will be growing. Let's see. Hops = beer = a good Irish Stout. Close enough for me!

On the way home we stop at a small shopping complex. A quick run into Ray's Food Place scores a cold bottle of Guiness. I notice that there's a Starbucks coming soon. Right close to a Subway. How convenient. Once at home, with feet resting comfortably on the footstool, we raise our frosted beer mugs and toast a great ride. Of course, Katie's not drinking Irish beer. She's more of a Hefeweizen person. I won't hold it against her. After all, nobody's perfect!

Miles and smiles,