Friday, May 02, 2008


The clock keeps marching relentlessly forward. We go about our business as the hands go round and round. At some future point we look back. From "then" to "now" we say we've gained experience.

That statement bears closer examination. Does the mere passage of time mean we've actually gained "experience"? Let's take a look at it in our world of motorcycling. Especially where it comes to using a bike for commuting and transportation as opposed to mostly for recreation.

The other day I met a man on a bike. Actually, he was a student in one of our advanced training clinics. This man made sure to tell me he was only there to support his friend who had less experience than him. He himself had about a dozen year's riding experience, he explained. I try to take people at their word, although I had some doubts. Grandpa always said that the empty barrel made the most noise. The quicker people are to tell me of their high skill level the greater chance there is that the skills aren't all that high.

What people don't always think about is that a professional motorcycle trainer is also a professional riding skill evaluator. We're constantly evaluating what a rider shows us, deciding what they need, and offering positive feedback. It soon became evident that this man didn't have the skill level consistent with his claimed experience. Not that I'm saying the guy wasn't telling me the truth about how long he'd been riding. If you really think about it, riding experience can be described two ways. There's actual progressive experience based on riding and learning. Then there's riders who have one year's experience repeated over and over. Do you see the difference?

Riders who go play for the summer, riding only for fun, then put the bike away as soon as the weather goes bad tend to be in the first group. In contrast, riders whose main purpose is using the bike for transportation are actually gaining progressive, valuable experience. Part of it is attitude, part of it is where we ride. There's a huge difference between being a Road Warrior and Weekend Warrior. There's also a difference in how we're perceived.

I can across this in Lucky's blog. Sorry, my dear Arizona friend, this Lucky is Canadian. Here's a quote. You can go back and read the rest later.

I've had some biker friends mock me for adding large sidecases and a topcase to my bike ("looks like Silver has hemorrhoids" said one particularly humourous biker - funny, eh?). Truth is, the big cases allow me to pack groceries, laptop, equipment for work... in a nutshell, it allows me to live without having to drive a car. And for six to eight months out of the year, that suits me just fine.

We're different for sure. Most of us don't need the latest sportbike. A lot of us ride scooters. Or we ride smaller bikes. We've contrived interesting ways to carry "stuff" on our bikes. I seem to remember Gary actually having a milk crate hooked to the back of The Baron. Besides all the practical advantages, we're far better off in other ways. We're gaining extremely valuable experience. When we say we have so many year's worth of experience it's actually that. Not just the basics repeated over and over.

This is Tukwila, a city barely South of Seattle. Interstate 5 is straight ahead up the hill. Interstate 405 is off to the right of this picture. Motorcycle commuters here face heavy traffic every day. Real danger lurks at literally every corner. Besides sounding romantic, it's quite true. Mental skills are sharpened as riders watch for bogies. High awareness levels are rewarded by another trip that concludes safely at home or work.

Here's some bike parking in a busy college town. This is the spot in Corvallis near the Oregon State University campus that Stacy told me about in a comment. Yes, that's Sophie in the middle of the group. Here's another shot.

Besides dealing with traffic, those who use a for bike regular transportation learn to deal with inclement weather, dicey traction, road hazards, and many other things. This results in real "experience". To quote the Mastercard commercials, getting this kind of experience is "priceless".

I should take a moment here to plainly state something. This isn't meant to say that commuters are better than recreational riders. What I'm trying to say are these two things:

Recreational riders need to be honestly aware of what their "experience" really consists of. Not having an accurate assessment is like thinking our insurance policy covers something it really doesn't. A false sense of security prevents pursuing valuable loss prevention measures.

Secondly, when a rider's slogging through the rain, the cold, heavy traffic, putting on gear, and trying to carefully pack the bike, thinking of the great benefits can make it a little easier to deal with the harder times.

Speaking of benefits, there's another aspect, too. When we go riding for fun, whether as part of our route home or on a free weekend, we're going to be a lot better off having this experience. How so? Stay tuned for Monday. Here's a sneak peek in the meantime.

See you Monday!

Miles and smiles,



Doug C said...

I know that the likelyhood that I will attain the skill levels you possess is quite remote. I probably don't have enough years of riding left in me to catch you.

But rather than give up and hold steady at this plateau, I choose to always improve.

Gotta have a goal.

Arizona Harley Dude said...

With 37 years of real experience, I couldn't agree more with Dan. I personally have been to three MSF safty classes and find myself looking again at an advanced rider course. I have learned and/or relearned things at every class I have attended and found great value in each.

Us old bikers are old bikers because we watch and know when to ask questions. We also know when we need to think about what we just read.

Thanks for the refresher Dan.

Earl Thomas said...

Even after a lifetime of riding, I am still humbled by my own ineptitude in riding.

This topic can carry over into almost any aspect of life as well. I've been playing the guitar as long as I've been on two wheels and I still amaze myself with how little I actually know....Let me rephrase that, what I am actually capable of; bikes, guitars, airplanes, you name it.

My bikes keep me humble and remind me that I may never be "The Master", rather a very respectful student and I'm O.K. with that, I hope that I never stop learning, the day that happens, well......

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

"Recreational riders need to be honestly aware of what their 'experience' really consists of."

Saying I've been licensed since 1990 sounds really good... 'til I admit that the first 7 years were summer-only and completely self-taught [looking back, I'm amazed I didn't get hurt, and badly]. Then there was a hiatus of 5 years or so when I didn't ride at all.

I've gotten more experience and training in the last 3 years than the other 15, and I like it! I wanna learn to be better.

"... slogging through the rain, the cold, heavy traffic, putting on gear... thinking of the great benefits can make it a little easier to deal with the harder times."

I had this Discussion with myself yesterday morning. I was planning to spend the afternoon down at the Coast Guard station helping with something, and the forecast was for some pretty heavy rain all day.

It's only 10 miles or so each way, I know the area, and there are both surface streets and highway routes. Lotsa places to pull over and pause if it gets Really Bad.

It's a small dose of bad-weather experience, and I can choose routes based on conditions and my comfort riding in them. So I took the bike instead of the car.

The Coasties I was working with all commented on my 'bravery', riding in the rain. (Turns out, most of them ride.) I looked at it as expanding my skills a little.

Other than wet socks & a couple people trying to change lanes into me (extra-loud horns helped rectify that mistake... yes, Dan, as I was also braking) things went pretty well. I was a little worried about traction in a couple of curves, so went WAY slower than I like to take them, and it worked out OK.

Vision was also interesting. Has anyone developed a hands-free wiper blade for a face shield yet?

Steve Williams said...

I am always impressed by your ability to deconstruct riding situations and apply experience and common sense. My own experience is limited geographically to a rather small area. Generally all my riding occurs within a 150 radius of home. Most days far closer than that. I do ride a lot though for a small scooter --- usually around 8K miles per year.

Commuting back and forth to work like you say means I'm exposed to a lot of weather and hazards that other riders avoid. So I guess I have spent some time figuring out how I was going to get somewhere without problems. It's like a little thought puzzle.

I still have lots of deficiencies in skills and approach that even I see from time to time. No one would ever compliment me on the lines I choose. Looking for pictures all the time I tend to wander...

Last week I was talking to a fellow at work who was telling me of a colleague who just broke his personal no hands record. 72 miles without touching the handlebars. Did it out west somewhere. I suppose it takes practice and experience but I just couldn't figure out what the application would be unless it allows for better text messaging while riding. Or self stimulation...

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Allen Madding said...

RainX = hands free wipers for visors :)

Stacy said...

Darn it! I finally broke down and bought an OSU motorcycle permit, and Dan comes by to visit when the Rebel's parked somewhere else.

At least you got a pic of my partner's F650GS (the ice-blue one in the second pic). :)

Bryce said...

Simple question Dan..

the story please of the clock with the ST1300!


irondad said...

Doug C,
You've totally got it. Progressive, even if it's small steps.

Harley Dude,
There's great value to actually physically practicing things we might think we already "know". Our brains are pretty efficient at storing and retrieving information. Things that aren't used much tend to get pushed aside to increase the speed of the more active connections. Physical practice keeps the motor skill connections on the "active" list. My helmet's off to you for your dedication to training!

Wise words.
Thinking we no longer need to be a student is a recipe for humiliation. I'm still an ardent student of several things these days. I just read something about musicians that said most were great because of practice more than natural ability. It was based on a study where their brains were hooked up to sensors, or something.

Your experience with the "coasties" illustrates the learning curve exactly. You're a great example. Limited exposure to adverse conditions. Not enough to be in extreme danger but enough to stretch personal limits. All topped off with prudence. Love your attitude!

I'm so glad you're still circulating in this neighborhood! Thank you for the kind words. You're my hero in some areas. I agree with you about the uselessness of "no hands" riding. Even without your camera you put a strange picture in my head! Thanks a lot.

I've always been leery of putting "stuff" on my visor. It's not based on bad experience, just personal prejudice. If you've tried it and found it ok, I might even give it a shot. Did you ever try it in the cold rain? Mostly I use the windstream to clear the water.

I'd hope to find the Rebel and have it in a picture. Now I know why it wasn't there. Cool parking spot, though!

It's actually an 1100. I got the clock because the guy who gave it to me purchased the 1300. He bought the clock on e-bay before he decided to buy the new bike. I wish he'd have given me the bike instead, but I'll settle for the clock! Somewhere in the first two or three posts I wrote about my friend Al. He's the one who gave me the clock.