Monday, August 06, 2007

Something to think about

This was a recent training class my pal Dusti and I taught. We call it an IRT ( Intermediate Rider Training ). It was designed for people who know the basics of riding but want to get an endorsement. We figured we'd offer a class that lasted a day, offered some classroom training in mental strategies, and taught some vital street survival skills. Up until the beginning of last year we required students to bring their own bikes. You notice in the picture that there's a really sharp looking 'Busa and a Harley. The rest of the bikes are our training bikes. Some day I should share the story of the man riding the "Busa. Talk about having your eyes opened and being pleased with the results!

The student count never got up to the level we thought it should. We're not hurting for paying students. Classes are so full as it is that we're struggling to keep up. No, the worrisome thing is that we know how many unendorsed riders are out there. Not very many were showing up on our class rosters. Unendorsed riders are over-represented in accidents. I won't go any further with that subject. It could be a long post all by itself! Our goal is altruistic. Getting more of these riders in to see us will increase their chances of survival on the streets. How could we accomplish that objective?

Making the class easier was never an option. We pride ourselves on actually requiring students to exhibit skills in order to pass. Long story short, we found that one big obstacle was the fact that students had to use their own bikes. One reason was that they felt they'd be embarrassed by trying to manuever their own bikes around the parking lot. The other reason was fear of dropping their bikes during the class. We changed things so students could use our training bikes. The numbers of students in this particular class has more than tripled. That's good news in one way. It means that more riders are getting valuable training where they wouldn't before. The bad news is that these aren't brand new riders. They've been on the streets on larger bikes. I feel like they should be training on what they're actually riding.

Back in Spring of 2006 I wrote a post about riding one bike and learning to ride it well. In the jungle we call "commuting" we need to have our bike's reactions mesh to ours. Things should be second nature. We can't always take time to think which bike we're on and then ponder which reactions are appropriate to that particular bike. You can read the post if you click
here. Scroll down a little when you get there.

It's an interesting situation. Most of us have more than one bike. That's part of the fun, isn't it? I'm not saying that we should get rid of all but one. What I am suggesting is that we pick one to commute on regularly. Then get proficient with that bike. Train until the bike and rider act with one accord. Commuting on a bike has so many rewards but it's also arguably the most dangerous riding activity we engage in. Except for the CB900 my bikes are all of a sporting bent. On the other hand, I know a lot of folks with quite different steeds. Sometimes that big difference bites us.

I just visited a friend in the hospital. This guy is a regular rider. He's a firefighter / paramedic. A responsible guy who knows the value of training. His only bike for a long time was a big Harley with floorboards. Then he adopted a Kawasaki Concours. It wasn't long before the Connie became the commuter of choice. On this particular day he'd decided to clean the spiders out of the Harley's pipes. On the way home, as many of us do, he had work related things on his mind. There's some nice corners on his chosen route home. As most of us try to find. Coming up to the first corner, he set his entry speed based on reactions honed by riding the Connie. His mind was sort of distracted so his body took over. It would have been a great entry speed for the Connie. Unfortunately, he was on the Harley.

Ground clearance is a lot less when you're on a cruiser with floorboards. Something hard on the bike smacked the blacktop, lifted the rear tire off the road, and shot rider and bike off into the landscape. The bike was totalled. My friend has a nearly torn off knee cap among other injuries. Yes, he was wearing really good gear. Abrasions were minor but the twisting and tumbling got to him.

This is an extreme example, granted. What about all the little things, though? How a bike reacts to brake pressure, how much force does it take to swerve this bike, how does the throttle respond? The difference between a bike like the BMW R1150 RT twin and a Honda ST1300 four are dramatic to throttle response. Just the kind of "goose" you'd give it to quickly move out of someone's errant path.

I don't mean to sound like I'm getting conservative. I'm still an avid student of the "go for the gusto!" school. Two hundred miles a day on the freeway is really lowering my opinion of the average car driver, though. It's getting worse all the time. My commute also gives me a lot of time to think about things. Maybe too much! Until we get more people converted to two wheels we're going to have to keep riding upstream, so to speak. I'm just passing along something that I think worth's thinking about in helping to take care of ourselves out there. Oh yeah, don't forget to have fun!!!

Miles and smiles,



Krysta in Milwaukee said...

Speaking of errant paths... I almost got broadsided by a bike this afternoon.

Not a motorcycle, a pedal bike. With a grown man on it. He was coming down a steep hill and blew his side of the 4-way stop. I was just starting forward and caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Lucky for him.

Olsa & I would have been knocked over (an adult moving at 25mph has a lot of momentum) but I'm sure he would have come out the worse in the encounter - I have armor and Olsa's about 450lbs. He had a helmet & lycra.

I thought about your Bug driver from a recent post, and considered following the guy 'til he stopped somewhere, then having a Polite Discussion. Didn't have the energy for it.

Steve Williams said...

In line with krysta's experience I have several times while making a right turn at a stop sign almost been rammed in the rear by a bicycle flying down the right hand side of the street between curb and cars and then running the stop sign as if they own the entire road. It is like that on a college campus with some bicycle riders.

Dan, I can't agree more with your premise of learning to ride one bike well. And then being aware of the differences and limitations when getting up on something else.

The performance and handing of my Vespa GTS is second nature to me. The things I can do with it are intuitive in most cases and I process it's limitations without thought and more my some other senses.

Whenever I get on a motorcycle I now feel like a fish out of water and have to consciously think about the footbrake and make sure I don't grab the clutch thinking it is a brake. And the handling is so much different. Obstacles and riding lines that embrace the scooter's ability to flick around just aren't there in a big bike. And I can't haul on the throttle the same way I can with the scooter without sending the front wheel aloft or some other display of power.

If I had a big bike I hope I would have the ego courage to take some advanced training on the bike I ride. The reasons you outline for people not wanting to use their own bikes in training seem pretty ego driven. Even the idea of dropping their bikes. I hope whenever I don't know what I'm doing I continue to have the courage to seek out help and not pretend it doesn't exist.

Another great post Dan.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Dick Aal said...

Dan, I can relate to knowing one well. I almost lost it going around a corner after riding my bike (CB750 Honda) for a long time then taking the car on the same corner going to work. I almost didn't make it. Another time I was in Boston and had a rental J2000 front wheel drive Pontiac piece of crap. I was used to my Porsche 356B and again almost lost the J2000 in a curve. I was mentally on a different machine than I was driving at the time and it was dangerous.

Bryce Lee said...

Errant paths...that is when others
cross yours. As per Krysta. Doesn't matter if it's two wheels or more, pedal powered or internal combustion or even horse powered. If they want the right of way, and you're the opposing direction, keep an eye out and watch for them. Never a police constable when you need one eh?

As to knowing your own stted, my oncologist today (August 7) guardedly suggested I should try and ride my motorcycle once again. And if I am not happy with myself and it, sell it.

Which I really don't want to do...
The 26 year old Goldwing has a big solo seat, wider than normal handlebars and a heavy duty suspension to hold me. I weigh
170 kg and my height is 205 cm.

No motorcycle manufactured these
days even come close to being suitable to ride. No, shall keep
the bike for another year, fire and theft, 3rd party liability is all of C$650.00/yr.

However sure as heck wish I had a
refresher course like you've got in
Oregon close by. Sitting on those
small course bikes would be a hoot!
And most dangerous given my size as well!

Allen Madding said...

and this is just another fine example of why I keep coming back and reading your posts, Dan :) Thanks for writing for us buddy!

irondad said...

I hate it when a bicycle rider gets hit and acts so indignant about it. The very same rider who flaunts the rules of the road. I recently saw a rider in the middle of the lane on a country road. He was flipping off anyone who tried to "honk" him out of the way. I just rode up and stayed beside him. Want to act like a motorcycle? Then let's ride like one!

How's the late night commute home going?

I've actually done the reverse several times. Gone from a bike to a scooter. It's a good thing the left lever is the rear brake and not the front!

You would be one to bring your own bike. I couldn't see you letting your ego get in the way of bettering yourself.

Thanks for sharing the examples. Muscle memory is a powerful force for good or bad. Thanks for making me feel bad I'm not used to driving a performance sports car! My muscle memory could get used to that, despite having two too many wheels.

Doctor's orders to ride? Yee haw! Good luck with that new journey. Portland has a professional basketball team called the Jail Blazers. I'm sorry, I meant the Trail Blazers. Back in the days when they were made up of more well behaved guys, there was a player named Kevin Duckworth.

Kevin was 7 feet tall and about three hundred pounds at the time. He took a beginning motorcycle class to get his endorsement and some training. He just would not fit on our training bikes. We finally arranged an insurance waiver for him to use his custom Shadow.

Then he wanted to become an instructor. We had to turn him down. Part of the requirement is that he be able to ride demonstrations on the training bikes. Just couldn't happen!

I am honored by your words, Sir!

Take care,


Krysta in Milwaukee said...

"How's the late night commute home going?"

Mostly OK. I think of it as an exercise in slowing down & being conscious of doing things safely. And at that time of night, there's no reason for me to be rushed.

I slow down a lot [15-20 mph] from my usual daytime speed through certain wooded areas, and was rewarded the other night by NOT hitting a couple of raccoons.

Last night we had some big storms blow through for a couple hours, but cleared up about 30 min before I left work. It caused some fog, and of course the streets were wet. That's on top of the wandering critter problem.

Generally the only thing I really worry about is the bars closing & throwing the drunks out to drive home.

Speaking of which... Dan, if you are in the mood to do a DUI rant in the near future, gimme a yell. (Contact info on my web site.) Someone got killed by a DUI on the way home from the BMW national rally a couple weeks ago, and it's looking like the drunk who hit him will be getting probation. I can point you to news stories & the court info. It's pathetic.