Monday, June 18, 2007

Motor cop mayhem!

Sometimes it's just not a good idea to have so many cops in one place at the same time. Testosterone fueled competition over-rules concentrating on the task at hand. This is about technique, not bravado, for crying out loud! In a perverse sort of turnaround the students have begun to take over the class. I look across the track and see that even The Director is shaking his head. How did we get here? It began like this.

Twenty eight police bikes sit waiting at the track paddock. This time it's mostly BMW's. There's a few Honda ST1300P's in the back of the pack. No Kawasaki's or Harley's in this group. Most of the Beemers are the R1150RT's but there's a few of the new R1200RT's as well. Twenty three riders are male. One is female. She will be able to give the guys a run for their money. A majority of the cops have had track training before. Some rookie motor officers will get their first taste today. Provided the rain holds off, that is.

My day started early. At 6 AM Sophie and I were sitting in the K-Mart parking lot waiting for two others to join me. Ten minutes later I see a flash of yellow. The Director and Training Manager of our program have joined me. These guys have fancy titles but I just call them Steve and Ray, respectively. In other words, Steve is the Big Cheese! Steve's on the blue ST1300 that I had previously ridden to Medford. Ray's on a '93 Honda VFR.

We're all wearing flip-up helmets. These are handy for combining riding and coaching. By coincidence they're all HJC's. White for Ray and Steve, mine's silver. Steve pulls his helmet up. He flashes me a wry smile from underneath that cheesy mustache of his.

"Ready to rock-n-roll?", he asks.

There's only a handful of instructors who do police training. You have to be highly skilled, both in riding and teaching. It also helps to be aggressive and not easily intimidated. Advanced motor training is not for the faint of heart.

"Bring it on!" is my reply.

With that we flip the helmets down. In a blinding flash of Hi-Viz 'Stich jackets we take off for the hour's ride North. On the way we encounter a little drizzle. This could be a bad sign.

When we arrive at the track all seems well. I go about running the big sweeper to clear debris off the surface. It's dry here but the radar shows we're due to get a soaking in a couple of hours. Time to put our heads together and see how we can make the most of it.

The normal plan would be to have all the cops in classroom for a couple of hours. I love this time because it means play time on the track for the instructors. Er, I mean, we're actually working on honing our technique and cleaning up our lines. Yeah, that's it!

After classroom we split the cops into two groups. One goes to the drag strip or airport while the other stays at the track. Then we switch after lunch. With the threat of rain comes the need to make an alternate plan. What happens is that we pull out the newer motors who haven't had this kind of training before. There's about 8 or 9 of them. A few more are selected to join this group to make up the 14 riders. This half, then, is mostly rookies.

They go into the classroom for a few minutes. We figure they should at least have a little exposure to what an apex is, what makes a good line, and that transitions need to be completed before the corner. The quick session ends and we're off onto the track.

Four of us are riding. Each of us takes either three or four cops in a line behind us. Our objective is to let each one follow us around the track to observe the best line through each section. After a lap, the first in line is waved around and we pick up the next rider. Speeds are purposely kept slow. This isn't about setting up for corners, yet. It's about finding the best way around first. Speed is supposed to come later. Things work out as long as the cops have to follow us. After each rider has followed an instructor we pull off and coach.

During this "follow the leader" drill it has started to sprinkle. With the lower speeds traction isn't as critical. However, once the instructors pull off the cops start going a little faster each lap. The rain's intensity starts to increase. Let's see. We have rubber already on the track. There's a layer of water forming on top of that. With the bikes we now have Rubber-Water-Rubber. Not good. It's time to call the officers in to the paddock.

At almost the exact moment we give the signal, we hear the grinding of metal on blacktop. In a tight, banked, right hand corner, a BMW has washed out. I look over in time to see the bike on its right side with the officer laying in the grass beside the track. He's taking inventory of himself. Interestingly, the bike is still running. The rear tire's still slowing turning. More interesting yet, it's finding a little purchase on the pavement. Little by little the bike's doing a circle, pivoting on the crash bar. It gains a little momentum and is starting to slide it's way towards the downed officer.

Ray is near the officer at this point. He can't hit the cut-off switch since it's on the down side. So he yells for the officer to move as his bike is coming after him. That cop's got quick reflexes, let me tell you! Now he's going to have to turn his patch upside down.

This isn't the exact patch of his department. Let's just say that the officer has been through our training before and is a good friend. I don't want to embarrass him by showing the actual patch that could be identified. This officer is in the rookie class because of his new partner. Motor cops have a tradition. When an officer drops their bike the patch gets turned upside down. It has to be worn this way until another officer in the unit drops their bike. Kind of a badge of dishonor, as it were.

Since its' raining all the cops go into the classroom and we're waiting around hoping for the best. Sure enough, the rain stops and the track starts to dry. We're back on schedule. After class we split the groups, letting the rookie group that was out before have first crack at the track. I'm slotted to go with my group of officers and head to the airport runway for braking and swerving practise at high speeds. I'll tell you about that in the next post. The pertinent part of this is that I'm with the group of experienced, aggressive officers. My work will be cut out for me.

Back at the track we run into an interesting situation with this group. To a person they are excellent riders. They're also pretty much fearless. There's four instructors with this half. Me, Steve, Jerry, and Scott. Jerry is a retired Oregon State Police Lt. Scott is still on the job as a Sargent. Both are former motor officers. In fact, the two of them were in charge of all of the State Police motors when the unit started. You'd think they would get through to this group of officers. Not!

We're all fearless, top notch riders, too. The difference is that we never abandon good technique. It's the familiar mantra. First you get good, then you get fast. Precision firstly, power secondly. In the exact opposite order, these cops were using bravado instead of brains. Power over precision. These are great riders but there was something in the air this day. It was like they were crazy with a competitive lust. Everything else went out the window. Or over the windshield, as it were. I'm surprised, frankly, that nobody else crashed. It was probably only their fast reflexes and deeply ingrained survival instinct that prevented it.

Even though there weren't any crashes there were some very worrisome off-track excursions! We tell them that if they leave the track they should keep the bike upright and stop as best they can. At least they listened to that part! Speeds down the long straightaway were so fast I swear I could see the leaves on the trees moving. I could hear ABS kicking in as they slowed for the first turn which is a really tight right hander.

So you might ask what's wrong with all this as long as they made it around the track. That would be a great question. There's a couple of issues here.

Firstly, these are professional riders. Discipline is fairly high in a police unit. It's quasi-military, after all. When faced with peer pressure and the competitive atmosphere, even these riders started over-riding their abilities. If these motor officers could succumb so easily, how much more so the average rider? It's so dangerous to let oneself get out of their own ride. I describe it as letting one's Gorilla mouth write a check one's Hummingbird ass can't cash!

Secondly, these cops weren't really as fast as they thought. At the end of the session we follow each cop for a few laps and offer feedback. During this time all the cops are still on the track so the frenzy continued. I'd follow a cop who was going flat out. Repeatedly, I'd be nosing up beside them in corners. A few times I could literally have nudged them off the track. Transitions and lines were being butchered in the name of "SPEED". Because of this, the cops were having to fight their bikes, using up precious traction and eliminating any room for error. Most of the time their lines would throw them wide. When a rider's on the edge of the road, there's really no place to go if something unexpected happens. This is a track. Like us, though, motor cops spend their time in the real world.

In that world we all need traction, space, and ground clearance in reserve. That's why technique is so important. Don't get me wrong, though. I have the utmost respect for motor cops. This training session was an exception. Usually these riders are deadly serious about training. It was just unfortunate that this ended up being a wasted session. Most of these cops get one shot a year. This time it ended up being more of a play day. Oh well.

I want to make a comment on the bikes. This group was all mounted on Beemers. Some still have the R1150RT-P. Others have moved on to the newer R1200RT-P. Here's a close-up of the first picture. The 1150 is on the right, the 1200 on the left. Most of the officers riding the 1200's like them much better than the 1150's. I've been told that the 1200 is more responsive in power and handling. The ABS is a little smoother. After watching them at the airport, I have to agree on the ABS.

Despite being a little better bike otherwise, I find the 1200 a little less visually appealing. I really like the integrated look of the 1150. The 1200 looks more like it was built from component parts stacked on top of each other. That's my opinion, of course. It's too bad the 1200 couldn't have been blessed with ability and beauty, both!!

Stay tuned for the next post. We spent some time on a coned off airport runway. What a rush! By the way, the new Metzeler Roadtec Z6 tires on Sophie are now well scrubbed in all the way across. Shocked the heck out of me when I saw the front tire that way. I'm glad I wasn't aware of it at the time!

Miles and smiles,



Krysta in Milwaukee said...

I'm still saving pennies to take an advanced course. Can't imagine how much more fun & useful it'd be to go through the LEO training!

(But I'm definitely not fearless or aggressive. If those are requirements, I'm sunk. Not that I'm exactly timid; more like rationally cautious in evaluating my skills.)

Too bad the more experienced officers couldn't admit to themselves they just might be able to learn something from the pack of you instructors. I mean, there is a reason YOU are the instructors and they're not.

Out of curiosity... when you get a mixed group that has some Harleys, once they see how other models perform do they go away understanding that they have at best a 4th-rate machine, and bug their departments to buy them better equipment?

Aside from their other problems, I read a couple articles that say Harley finally offered ABS in 2005! Only on police models. And screwed up the installation. And doesn't plan to offer ABS to the public.

Bryce Lee said...

Looked at the list of machines
and thought "gee, they're all too small for my big body!"

And of course the female motor
officer put the gentlemen to shame;
always happens that way in my experience.

And as to Krysta's comment, how
can you deride your home town produced product? Not difficult eh?

Given all technology available you'd think somebody would've
improved on the farm tractor
known as a Harley-Davidson.

irondad said...

I don't know what they do when they get back to their departments. I do know, though, that they never use the bike's limitations as an excuse. They make the best of what they have. I'm sure it's a matter of budgets. Eventually they get updated.

Harley is a victim of their own success. They've heavily marketed a certain type of machine. Harley has to be really careful of updates that take away from the "traditional American iron" image they've so effectively sold riders on. We can fault the machines but not Harley Marketing!

On the other hand, they're getting worried about not having the younger buyers filtering in. That's why the V-Rod series exists.

Michelle said...

It's a shame that some of the officers did not take full advantage of the training. Like Krysta, I would love to take an advanced (well even intermediate!) course to improve my skills.

Very nice to see those police bikes, though. Around here almost all of the officers have Harleys or similar styled cruisers.

I've heard that officers here have to buy their own bikes. I thought that was odd but have noticed that there isn't a consistancy in their bikes besides being white/black and a cruiser style.

irondad said...

That is strange to have the officers buy their own bikes. A lot of departments let the cops commute to work on the bikes as a perk. Having an officer own a bike seems like a liability nightmare. One never knows about departments, though!