Business Monday took me to the Oregon State University campus. Clouds dominated the sky for most of the morning. By mid-day, though, sunshine ruled. I set out for my appointment during the transitional phase. The reward came after my meeting was done. It was early afternoon and I had nothing really pressing to do for a while. There's something quite inviting about a university campus under sunny skies. There's also nothing like being on a bike to make one want to explore. One quirk of this campus is that most of the roadways are pretty cramped. Another quirk is that there are always a lot of pedestrians. Plenty of students and staff were ambling around enjoying the sunshine.
Navigating all this in a car can be extremely cumbersome. Sort of like motoring a barge up a stream. Being on the bike and opening my flip-up helmet I almost felt like a pedestrian myself. In fact, I actually had a conversation or two with some students about riding. Just another confirmation of why motorcycles are called the ultimate freedom machines.
As expected, there are a lot of cars on campus. My experience with universities has been that parking is sort of a hassle on all of them. Cars and trucks take up space. There's only so much space available. Most of the parking lots tend to be on the perimeter of the campus. Which means parking and then hoofing it to whatever destination a person has. During my explorations I came across little pockets between buildings. Yes, you guessed it. These pockets were crammed full of cars. Check out this picture I snapped.
Looking the other way from Sophie, you can see that's there also a designated parking spot for bikes. It's always sort of sad to me that bikes are forced into these ignoble little spots. Despite that, these rides were proudly claiming their space. Can you imagine how cool it would be if the ratio to cars and bikes were reversed? I could see this whole space reserved for bikes. The odd car or two would have to sneak in wherever they could find room.
It's protected bike parking even if it is crammed between a dumpster and a bicycle rack! I was sort of puzzled by why the bikes weren't backed in. Maybe it's a regulation although I didn't observe any signage. Anyway, there needs to be more effort to reward those who ride by making parking close and convenient.
Everyone who needed to be on campus could park so much closer to where they had to go. Not that walking is a bad thing, mind you. Healthy or not, walking a long ways in the rain isn't all that nice. I'm sure the morale and enthusiasm around campus would be greatly improved. I'm actually puzzled why there aren't more two wheelers here. Aren't colleges usually associated with people greatly concerned with conservation and ecological issues? I realize there's always extenuating circumstances but I'd expect to see more single track vehicles here.
All this exploring made me hungry. Up until now I'd plain forgotten about eating. Around 2:30 PM my stomach woke up and started rumbling. I suddenly realized I hadn't eaten all day. OSU is located in the heart of Corvallis, which has a population of around 50,000 or so. Riding through town looking for a sandwich shop I observed a number of riders out and about. Sunshine does that for us, doesn't it? One guy on a sport bike had a pretty close call when a car changed lanes into him. It looked like the rider was going down until he finally saw the car and dove into the other lane. Coincidentally, almost hitting a car himself in the process. The rider seemed to be fascinated by something on his left which made him oblivious to what was going on to his right. No, I didn't see an attractive female. I suspect he was watching himself in a large storefront window.
While I was eating I was doing some contemplation. There's quite a few folks out there who ride seasonally and / or recreationally. Most don't have a lot of experience. I know there's also a large number who've never been exposed to the proper techniques and strategies. Untrained riders just automatically know what to do, right? With gas prices climbing people are looking for relief from the weekly bite of filling up a tank. There's more and more of them climbing onto two wheels just for economic purposes. Still with no training. My oldest son called me just last night. His brother in law went out and bought a used dual sport to commute on. This guy has never ridden before but expects to just jump on and go. My son's comment to this fellow was,
"Dude, great plan, bad execution! You need to go take one of the classes my dad teaches".
Sad fact is that many will do the "learn by burn" thing. I and my colleagues will probably never have a chance to help give these riders a good start. If I had the opportunity to sit down with someone like this over a cup of coffee here's some wisdom I'd impart. Interacting with traffic is the biggest challenge they'll have right off.
What gear should we ride in around town? 2nd? 3rd? Makes one think, doesn't it?
There's no specific correct answer. There is, however, a guiding principle. Remember that SIPDE process for gathering critical information early and then making good decisions based on that information? After Predicting what might happen, as in a possible collision, we have to Decide what to do. One of the options is adjusting our speed. This can be either down or up.
In other words, we need to be prepared to either slow down or speed up. Having decided to speed up, what if we roll on the throttle and the bike says "huh?" A rider needs to stay in a gear that allows strong acceleration from their current rate of travel. My experience is that this gear is usually one lower than we're used to riding in.
Most riders aren't ex racers or speed demons. They're usually uncomfortable hearing the motor rev up like it will in a gear that allows for strong acceleration. In order to make the motor quiet down, the rider kicks it up one gear higher. Depending on the available torque, the ability to quickly speed up is negated. When a rider decides they need to move, they need to move right now! If our bike's a shifter, we should go out and experiment.
For those of us riding scooters, the CVT or whatever mechanism the scoot uses takes care of that automatically ( pun intended ). Lucky people!
What about blind spots?
How do we know if we're in a driver's blind spot? We can't see their eyes in their sideview mirror. That seems pretty obvious but how many riders actively check to see if they're in a driver's blind spot? Over and over again I see riders lingering in a blind spot. That's more trust than I'm comfortable with. As far as I'm concerned, it's our responsibility as riders to keep out of these kinds of situations.
Most multi-vheicle collisions happen at intersections.
A lot of riders seem ignorant of the fact that intersections aren't just places where there's cross streets. Alleyways and driveways are intersections. Riding along on a five lane street with numerous businesses on both sides is risky. After all, what are all the driveways into and out of the parking lots? Intersections. Vigilance is definitely required. I advise all riders to cover both the brake and clutch to reduce the reaction time. Scooter riders, just cover what ya got!!
Getting information early is critical, isn't it? Especially in intersections. Waiting until the last minute to make a decision is a surefire way to become a hood ornament. How many riders know how to prioritize information as they come to an intersection? Take a look at this crudely drawn picture. I drew it over a cup of coffee, coincidentally. Fortunately, I was able to edit out the coffee stains!
"Dangit, Jim, I'm a Warrior, not an artist!"
We are on a bike travelling toward the top of the picture. The bike is indicated by the "T". Get it, small body with handlebars? These are some typical situations we'll face. There's a very tall fence to our right. In front of us is a truck with the left turn signal flashing. There is cross traffic on both sides as well as a car behind us. Granted, we want to take in all the information we can as soon as we can. Our eyes aren't going to stay on any one hazard too long. Prioritizing can help us get the most critical information first. How would you prioritize these hazards?
If you said you would give first attention to the corner with the fence, gold star to you! Any time there is reduced or non-existent visibility that takes precedence. Remember, we're talking about normal riding. I can hear some of you saying that a hurtling truck or oil spill, or whatever would take first place. This is an everyday ride with the normal cast of characters. The area blocked by the fence is the big unknown. This gets first look as well as continued looks.
What's next? Statistics show that hazards from the front are next in succession for hazard supremacy. Left-turn Larry in the truck needs watched. Don't count on eye contact. I've raised teenagers. I've seen them look right at me but I knew nobody was home, so to speak.
What next? Cross traffic from the left because that lane is physically closer to us. Then comes cross traffic from the right. Then we check out Bob in the Buick behind us.
Again, this is a very quick assessment process. All the hazards need to be identified and accounted for in an extremely short period of time. The Hurt Study determined that the time is about 1.9 seconds between when a rider picked up a hazard and had to adjust or face a collision. Shows you how important an aggressive scan is, doesn't it? Having a system in place to prioritize hazards helps tremendously. As a matter of fact, good strategies are vital.
Well, I did it again, didn't I? I get to talking about taking care of ourselves out there and I start running off at the keyboard. This is such a passion for me it just bubbles out, I guess.
I'll leave you with something I saw this morning that kind of bothers me. Wish I'd had the camera with me to take a picture. I saw a fully dressed GL1100 'Wing in a handicapped parking space at Bi-Mart. Yes, the bike also had a handicapped sticker on the windshield. If a rider needs the sticker should they really be on the bike? If a person's sturdy enough to ride a bike should they have the sticker? I don't have enough information to make a good decision. It's the kind of thing that makes my brain hurt, though!
Miles and smiles,