Monday, May 05, 2008

Experience, Part 2.

Yes, you saw it correctly. They're flowers. Get over it. You may be asking what the heck flowers are doing on the Ironman's blog. I'm secure in my manhood. I'll do what it takes to prove a point. Friday I put up a post about experience. How true experience leads one to peel deeper into the layers of what they're studying. That's the point of the flower picture. Take a look. What do you see?

A casual observer sees reddish colored flowers. That's a layer. The flowers have different shades of red. Another layer. Looking more closely, you see the petals, stems, and whatever else you call those inner flower parts. That further study takes us to a deeper layer of understanding. Still, though, we're not much past the surface. A person who devotes a lot of time to studying flowers, and I do mean a LOT of time, can tell us how the flowers work on a cellular level as they go about photosynthesis and whatever else a flower does. A deeper layer, yet. There's a huge difference between this level and the first few.

Back to motorcycling. Remember the discussion of how a person who rides mostly for transportation gains so much valuable experience? More time on the bike in more diverse circumstances forces a deeper study. You know what happens to those who never get past the first couple of layers. Why am I even writing about this? Remember this picture? Something happened just around this corner that made me think about how much difference there is between shallow layers repeated over and over again and actually delving into deeper layers.

These photos are ones I came back to take two days later. As I thought about the situation I decided to post it. The pictures will help you see what I'm talking about. The right hand corner is followed by a quick left turn. It's a downhill ride with limited sight distance. Just as it was time to make the flick to the left, I encountered a ragged old man standing by a bicycle. In the left third of my lane. He'd snagged a pop can out of the ditch and was putting it into a bag hanging from the handlebars. He could see well ahead of him but not behind him. Things turned out well for both of us. Let's rewind and look at how the layers of experience work here.

There's a curve coming up. First layer. In preparation for the curve, all my transitions need to be done before I get there. Braking, downshifting, moving the bike, turning my head to find my target, rolling back on the throttle, all need to be done while the bike's still straight up and down. The last thing that should happen is the actual press. This is the second layer. You'd be shocked how many riders don't get this layer correctly. Two thirds of our rider fatalities are in corners because of incomplete understanding of layer two.

The corner's blind. Layer three. If I can't see all the way through the corner what do I have to do? Stay wide and keep the speed down until I CAN see. Don't become vulnerable without all the information. Apexing equals vulnerable. Seeing the end of the corner means I have all the information. Hence, don't commit to an apex until I can see the exit of the turn. Layer four. My experience as a commuter tells me bad things can, and do, happen even when I can see all the players. Layer five. If layer five is true, then even more bad things lie in wait when I can't see. I know it's true. Layer six.

I've been through here before. I know the two curves come one right after the other. Linking turns smoothly means I need to make the exit of the first curve the exact line for a proper entrance for the second turn. A late apex is in order for this reason as well as limited visibility. Layer seven. You'd think we'd be out of layers. No, there's much more. The more we study something the more layers we find. There's extra layers in step two. Why roll on the throttle before the turn, and not in it. That takes up layers eight, nine, and ten. Why choose a particular line through a turn? That takes up layers eleven and twelve. Why only a gentle throttle roll in a turn? That's layer thirteen.

How about a cornering strategy? Isn't it enough to just get through the corner? How do you know what speed you can usually safely ride provided there's good visibility? Mine's double the posted speed minus 10. Layer fourteen.

How do we stop quickly in a corner? There's layers fifteen and sixteen. How does our line and speed affect the traction we can keep in reserve for those "oh crap!" moments? The coefficient of friction is inversely proportionate to the square of our speed. There's layer seventeen.

Then there's mid-corner surprises. Should you go inside or outside? Layer eighteen. What? You don't have a set strategy? My strategy is to dive inside if possible. Why? Evasive maneuvers require space. What if we have to swerve or straighten then brake after we go around the hazard? Where would we be if we gave in to our first instincts and went outside? Being at the edge of the road and next to the gravel or ditch severely limits our options. Why automatically put ourselves in an even tighter spot if we have a choice? If we've had to swerve, being right at the edge of the road means our first press had better be pretty darn precise. Pressing just a little harder than we intended could swerve us right off the roadway. Self induced crash. Ouch! A woman perished around here recently from exactly that mistake. I like to leave a little margin for error, just in case. Going inside as a first choice gives us more space to do what we need to do. Obviously, circumstances might take away one of the alternatives. Like a vehicle crossing the center line. Then it's the "outside" path for sure. Lesser of two evils, you know. I'll do just about anything to avoid a head-on collision.

The point is to be very familiar with the fact that there's options and how to make them work best for us. Waiting until we get into a jam and counting on instinct just doesn't cut it. A lot of riding consists of unnatural acts. Giving in to our natural instincts can cause us a lot of grief. Trained instincts, however, are a totally different thing. The only way to get there is by progressive experience, study, and practice.

This isn't meant to cover all the levels involved in cornering. It isn't even necessarily in strict order of priority, although it's close. What it's meant to show is that the more we study something the more we'll see that there is to learn. The passage of time doesn't directly or automatically equate to "experience". Doing the same basic things every year doesn't, either. You don't have to be as dedicated as I've been to studying riding as deeply as I can. Just be aware that experience has to be progressive to be truly useful and meaningful. Commuting on a bike as much as possible is not only fun but a wonderful school to attend. Being a Road Warrior is an intense course. Most of the battle is won with excellent mental skills. That means getting critical information as early as possible, thinking things through, then making the best decision we can.

Here's a quote from Will Rogers. "Good judgement comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement".

Once in a while we're going to make the wrong choice. Happens to the best of Warriors. It's a part of the learning process. Hopefully, the effort we've made to learn from others makes the bad decisions of smaller consequence. Actually, that's another reason I'm posting this. Be careful who you seek information from. Now you know the difference between a truly experienced rider and a "long-time" rider.

Enough of reading this. Go forth and learn! In case that's too subtle, go out and ride!

Miles and smiles,



Steve Williams said...

I was just getting ready to watch an episode of South Park when I decided to take a lot at this post.

Now my brain itches.

Great post though. And all this time I thought you could just fly through those turns as fast as the little bike could carry a rider... *grin*

Around here there as more blind curves, turns, and rises than not. And still riders have great faith and ride fast.

Bryce said...

One point not noted.
There are two parallel solid lines down the centre of the road,
as much as some parallel
lines are seen as as one line depending upon the jurisdiction.

Double lines means danger, as much
as single lines in the same vein.

As Steve Williams pointed out, those turns are fast and furious and the inexperienced will ignore
them and where they terminate at
their peril. It takes a flick
of the wrist to over ride those lines, and without a moments notice
the motorcycle will be across the lines in the opposite lane of traffic. Then too that same flick
will allow the motorcycle to remove itself from the macadam and onto the verge and beyond into the forest, a tree, a rock or anything else.

All I could think of the second photograph was some young rider in
colourful full leathers wearing a full face helmet and going through
that corner on a fast motorcycle with three or four of his buddies close behind...and see what happen when one of the group over plays his handlebars. Splat!

Anonymous said...

I think the other tidbit is the prudence that comes with a little experience. When I first started riding, I caught a post of an excerpt from 'The Pace'. I've kept that post, and reread it at least once a year.

What it boils down to is that 'control' is a far greater asset in riding than 'fast'. With that in mind, learning all of the cornering techniques are a great asset, not testing the with excess speed in uncontrollable environments isn't 'control'.

You can practice proper cornering, control and good riding technique at 35 just as you can at 65, the difference between the two is that at 35 you have more time to react until you've done it enough that react != think.

Unfortunately, you don't get to that last unless you ride often, because so much of it is fast twitch muscle memory, and instincts that have to kept current and sharp.

What intimidates me, is that after 2 years of riding pretty much daily, and classes and reading, I still feel like that there is so much more to learn before I 'm truly competent, and still more before I could impart the knowledge I've gained to others.

irondad said...

South Park? I don't know about the itch part, but I hope I put a few more wrinkles in your brain.

Thus the admonition I give riders not to "slam" "throw" or anything else abrupt. Smooth and gentle with the inputs!

Prudence should always rule. I too, tell riders that first they should get "good" then they can worry about fast. Never fear, you're probably already making more progress than you realize. All of us keep learning.

I am a better rider now than five years ago. And I was a pretty competent rider then.

Take care,